Where do lizards live in your backyard

Lizards are reptiles. There are over 4,675 species of lizard, according to the San Diego Zoo. Others sources say there are about 6,000 species. Included in this large number are lizards with four legs, some with two legs and some with no legs at all; lizards with frills, horns or wings; and lizards in nearly every color imaginable.


Lizards generally have small heads, long bodies and long tails. With so many species of lizard, it’s understandable that they come in a wide variety of sizes. The largest lizard is the Komodo dragon. It grows up to 10 feet (3 meters) long and weighs up to 176 lbs. (80 kilograms). The smallest lizard is the tiny dwarf gecko, which grows to 0.6 inches (1.6 centimeters) long and weighs .0042 ounces (120 milligrams).


Lizards are found all over the world in almost every type of terrain. Some live in trees; others prefer to live in vegetation on the ground, while others live in deserts among rocks. For example, the Texas horned lizard is found in the warm areas with little plant cover in southern North America. The northern fence lizard, on the other hand, likes to live in cool pine forests in northern North America.

Komodo dragons have long, forked tongues that they use to help smell and taste. (Image credit: Sergey Uryadnikov / )


Most lizards are active during the day. Lizards are cold-blooded animals, which means they rely on their environment to help warm their bodies. They use the heat of the sun to raise their body temperatures and are active when their bodies are warm. The sun also helps lizards produce vitamin D. Their days are spent sun-bathing on rocks, hunting for food or waiting for food to come their way.

Some lizards are territorial, while others can easily live with dozens of other lizards of many different species. Other than mating times, most lizards are not social, though. There are some exceptions. For example, the desert night lizard lives in family groups, according to research by the University of California.

A lizard’s scaly skin does not grow as the animal ages. Most lizards shed their skin, or molt, in large flakes. Lizards also have the ability to break off part of their tails when a predator grabs it.


Many lizards are carnivores, which means they eat meat. A typical diet for a lizard includes ants, spiders, termites, cicadas, small mammals and even other lizards. Caiman lizards eat animals with shells, such as snails.

Other lizards are omnivores, which means they eat vegetation and meat. One example of an omnivore lizard is Clark’s spiny lizard. These lizards like fruits, leaves and vegetables.

Some lizards are herbivores and only eat plants. The marine iguana, which lives in the Galapagos Islands, eats algae from the sea. Iguanas and spiny-tailed agamids also eat plants.


Many lizards lay eggs while others bear live young. For example, frilled lizards lay eight to 23 eggs, according to National Geographic, while some skinks have live young. The gestation for a lizard egg can last up to 12 months.

Most baby lizards are self-sufficient from birth and are able to walk, run and feed on their own. The young reach maturity at 18 months to 7 years, depending on the species. Some lizards can live up to 50 years.

A wild brown basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus), photographed in Guatemala. The animal is nicknamed Jesus lizard for its ability to run across water. (Image credit: Ana Balcarcel)


Here is the classification of lizards according to Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS):

Kingdom: Animalia Subkingdom: Bilateria Infrakingdom: Deuterostomia Phylum: Chordata Subphylum: Vertebrata Infraphylum: Gnathostomata Superclass: Tetrapoda Class: Reptilia Order: Squamata Suborders: Amphisbaenia, Autarchoglossa, Gekkota, Iguanias, Serpentes

The suborder Dibamidae, with the genera Anelytropsis and Dibamus, may also be included, though ITIS says these categories have “uncertain position.”

Conservation status

Lizards vary in their conservation status, much like their traits vary. Many, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, are endangered or critically endangered, meaning they may be close to extinction. Some lizards that are critically endangered include Campbell’s alligator lizard, St. Croix Ameiva, Frost’s arboreal alligator lizard, Be’er Sheva fringe-fingered lizardand the Doumergue’s fringe-fingered lizard.

Other facts

Frill neck lizards have a large, round collar of skin that pops up when they are trying to intimidate attackers.

The green basilisk lizard can run on water at about 5 feet (1.5 m) per second for 15 feet (4.5 m), or more according to National Geographic. Their special feet give them more surface area to hold them up and as they run, they create air bubbles that keep them afloat.

Chameleons’ tongues are longer than their bodies, and their eyes can look in two different directions at once.

You can shine a light in a banded gecko’s ear and the light will come out the other side, according to the American Museum of Natural History.

Two species — the Mexican beaded lizard of western Mexico and the Gila monster of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, are venomous, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

Additional resources

  • National Park Arizona: Lizards
  • BioInteractive: Video of Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree
  • The New York Times: Lizards, too, May Sleep in Stages

Settle down everybody. A backyard lizard invasion has not begun. OK, maybe it has, but no reason to panic. Alligator lizards, Western Fence lizards and even the occasional side-blotched lizard are feasting on summer bugs and living large reptilian lives in our residential back yards. Yay for lizards!

“Lizards are not poisonous, harmful or anything other than interesting,” said Steve Bennett, vector ecologist at Orange County Vector Control. “In fact, during the mating season it is fun to watch the males doing their push-ups to show off, or squabbling over girlfriends.”

The truth is, there probably aren’t more lizards now than there were just a few months ago. But lizards sort of hibernate during the cold months.

“It’s called diapause,” Bennett said. “Not a true hibernation, but they slow way down, their metabolism slows down, and they are inactive for a few months.”

When the weather warms up, they get going on their antics again, skittering over rocks, darting between bushes, sunning themselves on the concrete and showing off for the girls.

Lizards are considered beneficial companions consuming more than their share of crickets, cockroaches, ants, beetles and sometimes flies if they can catch them.

But most lizards are usually more prey than predator. “In the wild they don’t live more than a year or two,” Bennett said. “In captivity they can live much longer.”

Cats, birds, even black widows will make a meal out of a lizard, especially when the lizards are young and small.

To the gardener the lizard is a constant companion, sitting on rocks, scurrying under shrubs, getting out of the way when the garden hose goes on. Or not. Lizards don’t seem to mind the occasional squirt from the hose, perhaps because like other reptiles, lizards can’t control their body temperature. A cool sprinkle in August probably feels good.

The male Fence lizard turns a bright blue on his belly and throat during late spring and early summer. If he’s lost his tail though, the girls won’t like him much, no matter how blue he is.

According to Californiaherps.com, if a male lizard loses his tail, and they can drop their tail at will, they get smacked down a rank in social standing.

Lizards will drop their tails if they are stressed, preyed upon or bitten by other animals.

The only time lizards are not so fun for me is when they scurry into the house. I had one crawl out of the couch cushions once when I had company. The guest who planned to spend the night on the couch changed his plans.

Contact the writer: [email protected] or 714-796-5023

Common Lizard

Zootoca vivipara (formerly Lacerta vivipara)

If you see a legged-lizard (as opposed to a Slow-worm) in your garden, it is likely to be a Common Lizard as Sand Lizards (the only other native ‘legged’ species) are very rare and restricted to heathland.

Common Lizards vary in colour, though they are usually dark brown with a complex pattern of lines running the length of the body. Commonly, they have a dark brown stripe running down their back. As a general rule, males are more spotty and females more stripy. Males have yellow/orange mottled undersides, which get brighter during the breeding season, while females are pale.

Common Lizards are found in a variety of habitats including woodland, brownfield sites, heathland and larger gardens. They are diurnal, spending their nights beneath piles of rocks or logs, or in small burrows underground. During the winter, they also hibernate in similar places.

Unfortunately for Common Lizards, they are a popular prey item for predators ranging from cats to hawks to jays. Luckily for Common Lizards, they have a lizard’s way to distract a predator. Common Lizards can shed their tail, which continues to wriggle and keep the predator’s attention, while the lizard escapes.

Common Lizards are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 from intentional killing, injury or sale. As there appears to be a decline in the UK population, Common Lizards are also listed on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Common Lizards mostly breed during April and May. They give birth to an average of seven live young (as opposed to laying eggs like most reptiles).

Common Lizards feed on small invertebrates such as flies, grasshoppers and spiders. They are fast moving and agile and therefore, can catch a range of prey.

Create a Lizard Friendly Garden

Blue tongues, skinks, water dragons, and other lizards are fantastic buddies to encourage in your backyard.

Skinks will eat up insects and their larvae, and larger skinks will take care of slugs and snails for you.

To encourage lizards in your garden:

Try to:

  • Plant local native grasses and ground covers. A thick ground cover gives lizards plenty of good places to hide.
  • Plant berry or nectar producing local natives as these will attract insects for lizards to eat.
  • Leave leaf litter around your garden for small insects and their eggs.
  • Mulch your plants – not only will this conserve moisture in your soil, but it will provide lots of good hiding places for lizards and their prey.
  • Include some vines or creepers to cover your fences or walls. This will allow lizards to move up and down easily.
  • Include areas of shade and heavy vegetation, as well as areas with lots of sunlight and sparse plantings, as lizards love the variety.
  • Keep your cat indoors as much as possible, as they are natural hunters and will eat lizards and skinks if they can catch them. Install a cat run so that your cat can safely go outside without harming any lizard or other buddies.
  • Check for blue tongues before mowing the lawn or reversing out of the driveway.
  • Include rocks, big bits of bark, and logs in your garden for lizards to sun themselves on, and hide in and under. Place your rocks and logs near some dense bushes or shelter so the lizard can quickly hide if a predator comes along.
  • Provide a shallow bowl of water in a protected spot, and keep the water supply regular and fresh, and keep the bowl clean.
  • Plant a strawberry plant as a special treat for a lizard such as a Bobtail.
  • Include PVC pipes or stacks of bricks as sheltering spots for lizards if you can’t get fallen branches, logs or rocks. Old tin or roofing is also great in the garden as somewhere for lizards to sun themselves or hide under.
  • Include a pond in your garden as somewhere to drink from, which will also encourage insects and frogs. Use some sticks or rocks to as a ramp to make it easy for any lizard that falls in to get out again.
  • Compost your veggie scraps. Not only will this save waste from going into landfill, it will be great for your plants, and it will also attract insects and snails for lizards to eat.


  • Using chemicals, pesticides, non-organic fertilisers, or snail pellets in your garden. If a lizard eats a poisoned bug or snail, it can become sick and die. Lizards also won’t hang around if there aren’t any bugs or snails to eat in your garden.
  • Feeding your pets outdoors, as blue tongues may be attracted to food from the bowl. While they are eating they are vulnerable to attack from domestic pets or birds.
  • Taking rocks or logs from the bush to place in your garden. They are already someone’s home where they are!
  • Collecting lizards from the park or bush for your garden. Simply provide the habitat for them, and lizards will find it – build it and they will come.
  • Raking up. Let your piles of leaf litter, mulch and twigs accumulate and the lizards will love you for it.
  • Feeding lizards in your backyard, as they are great at finding their own food, and can become dependent on you for a feed. This can quickly turn against the lizard if you go on a long holiday or move house.

Some good plants for lizards include:

  • Bottlebrush, Callistemon species
  • Grevilleas
  • Grasses such as Wallaby Grass, Kangaroo Grass, Weeping Grass
  • Native Violet
  • Mat Rush
  • Purple Coral Pea
  • Dianella species
  • Dwarf Baeckea

Be a backyard buddy

It’s easy. All you have to do is care… and take a few simple steps. Backyard Buddies are the native plants and animals that share our urban areas, waterways, backyards and parks. Backyard Buddies are also the people who value native wildlife and want to protect it.

Find out more about your buddies


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Attract lizards to your garden

Prepare your garden

Lizards can thrive in suburban gardens and rural properties if you meet their needs for food and shelter.

Make homes for lizards like this one

Untidy gardens are great for lizards. They need places to hide and cover when hunting, feeding and resting, they also need shelter when it’s really hot or really cold.

Lizards like to squeeze into body sized holes no more than 5-19 mm wide.

They like plenty of holes because many lizards are territorial so they need their own space. They like their homes to stay in one place too. If it’s disturbed, they’ll move out and they might not have anywhere else to go.

Lizards need escape sites and they don’t really mind what they’re made of. Any old non-toxic building like old roofing iron can become a good home for lizards. Plants can grow around or over them so they can look quite tidy.

Look around your backyard and find a warm, dry, sunny place. The most important thing for lizards is cover.

Use rock and wood piles to create cover for lizards

Use old concrete, bricks and stones and stack them loosely so there are plenty of cracks and holes. Spiders, slaters and beetles will head inside, especially when it’s cold. That’s good news for the lizards that feed on them.

Smear yoghurt on some stones and lichens might grow. If your rock pile turns into a rockery, plant bulbs like crocuses between the rocks. Your insects will have an early nectar and pollen supply.

A good pile of dead wood is an adventure playground for lizards. Pile up a few logs and bits of wood and leave them to slowly rot, undisturbed. Let the fungi grow! It takes hold and helps recycle rotting wood by breaking it down. It makes good food for slugs and snails which in turn attracts birds.

Make an Onduline lizard home

Onduline lizard home

Onduline is an extremely tough, lightweight corrugated roofing and cladding product made from organic fibres saturated with bitumen.

Sheets are 2 m long and can be cut into smaller pieces (290 mm x 400 mm or larger) with a handsaw or skillsaw. These should be stacked two or three-high with small stones in between the layers.

Place your lizard home in a warm, dry sunny area with good cover such as divaricating shrubs, tussocks and rock piles. Once in place do not disturb your lizard home. Prospective tenants will abandon habitat that is frequently disturbed.

Grow plants in your backyard that will attract lizards

Plant thickly is the rule. Lizards need safe habitats to run to when cats are on the prowl. That means thick ground-cover, vines and dense plant growth on banks.

Berry or nectar producing plant species are good, especially native divaricating shrubs, and if you have a range of plants the lizards will have plenty to eat, all year round.

Coprosma species and kawakawa provide fruit and flax, while mānuka and rātā give nectar.

Ferns, tussock grasses and rengarenga provide thick ground cover and attract insects for the lizards to eat. Plants like speargrass and the shrubby tororaro offer protection from predators.

Vines like New Zealand clematis and climbing rata connect habitats, and cabbage trees form in clumps for good cover.

A local nursery should have a range of plants native to your area and if you grow organically or limit the sprays you use, your lizards will do very well indeed.

Kiwi Guardians Habitat Creator – Lizard Lounge medal

Get the kids involved

The Habitat Creator – Lizard Lounge medal is part of our Kiwi guardians activity programme.

Get kids involved in conserving our lizards by creating a lizard lounge in your garden. They can earn a Kiwi Guardians medal for becoming a habitat creator.

Just tell us if there are any lizards in your backyard and about the lizard lounge you’ve built, and we’ll send you a Kiwi Guardians Habitat Creator – Lizard Lounge medal.

More about the Kiwi Guardians Lizard Lounge medal

More tips

  • Mulch your garden heavily – it will improve water retention for plants and also create a humid environment for lizards and their invertebrate prey.
  • Try growing organically or minimise the use of sprays to ensure that insect populations thrive. Allow vines to grow a long way up walls or steep embankments, so animals can easily move up and down.
  • Provide lots of debris such as rotting logs, bark chips, rock and boulder piles, untreated timber, corrugated iron and firewood, and encourage plants to grow around it.
  • Design stone walls, retaining walls or embankments that have plenty of small gaps, cracks and crevices, and encourage fungi, plants and vines to grow on them.
  • Be patient. If your lizards have already gone, it may be a little while before they return.

I suspect it’s my recent success in increasing the bee population of our property that has reminded me that gardens are not just about plants.

They’re also about wildlife, and what you encourage – bees, monarch butterflies, frogs, birds – is a matter of personal preference.

I used to have to be careful that whatever I encouraged did not fall prey to our cats, but now aged 10 and 14, they’re no longer interested in catching their own food unless it flies into their mouths on the dot of five with a sprinkling of cat biscuits on top.

So I’m keen to establish some lizards here, because I always loved them as a kid. I went to primary school in Dunedin with an interesting little boy called Keith who was a consummate lizard catcher. He knew where to find skinks and even geckos, and occasionally brought them to school in his pockets. It’s illegal to collect lizards in New Zealand now and they’re protected by law, but were it not for Keith’s transgressions, I would probably never have met a gecko and wouldn’t even be thinking of creating a habitat for lizards.


There are about 80 species of lizards found in New Zealand and for the style-conscious among us, there’s a broad range of colours and patterns. Sadly you can’t buy the ones you like at your local design store, so the deal is that you create the perfect lizard environment, and wait until word gets around the local lizard population. A sort of “build it and they will come” philosophy.

When you start creating your lizard hotel, you’ll probably find you already have some elements in place, but just in case, here’s the list.

*Plant thick ground cover so they can travel incognito.
*Put berries and nectar producing species on the menu so they have fruit and insects to eat.
*Offer private rooms – rotting logs, rocks, bits of old bark, and layered or stacked rocks or terracotta tiles.
*Get some climbers going up walls so they can rock climb.
*Try your hand at building stone walls. The worse you are at it (lots of gaps and crevices) the better your guests will like it. Face it to the sun so they have somewhere safe and warm to sleep. Otherwise, build rock stacks or piles of old concrete tiles with small gaps between.
*In summer, provide shallow water basins nearby.
*Don’t encourage hedgehogs, stoats, ferrets, rats and mice. If you have cats and they’re keen on investigating the lizard habitats, put some netting over them (the habitats, not the cats).

When your lizards check in, respect their personal space. They’re wildlife, not pets, so they don’t want to be picked up, stroked or cuddled. Observe them quietly from a distance and enjoy that they’re there. You’ll need to enjoy it, because chances are you’ll have them for ages. Lizards will stay in more or less the same place for years, and they’re long-lived – one gecko found in Canterbury was estimated to be over 40 years old.

Make a habitat

If you have space, planting a garden specifically for lizards is a great project.

Choose a quiet area in a warm, sunny space and collect all the junk around your garden – stones, old pieces of timber, decaying logs and even pieces of corrugated iron to create stacks that will appeal.

Arrange them artistically and call them sculptures if you like, but make sure there are plenty of gaps and holes for your lizards to occupy.


Plant crocuses and other bulbs between the rocks for a nectar and pollen supply, and to enhance your new garden’s look.

Stack old concrete, bricks and stones loosely so there are plenty of cracks and holes. Spiders, slaters and beetles will head inside, especially when it’s cold. That’s good news for lizards that feed on them.

Smear yoghurt on some stones and lichens may grow. If your rock pile turns into a rockery, plant bulbs such as crocuses between them. Your bees will have an early nectar and pollen supply.

If you can lay your hands on some Onduline (lightweight corrugated cladding made from organic fibres saturated with bitumen), cut it into 400mm squares and stack them with small stones between the layers. If you set each piece at a different angle you’ll end up with something both artistic and useful.

Place in a sunny spot and pack-plant ground cover, shrubs and tussock alongside. Lizards like thick planting so they can hide.

Plants for a lizard garden
Tussock grasses
Native clematis
Climbing rata
Mikimiki (Coprosma propinqua)
Porcupine shrub (Melicytus alpinus)
Pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia axillaris)
Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium)
Coprosma crassifolia
Muehlenbeckia astonii
Wild Irishman (Matagouri)

Odd facts on lizards

*Skinks are generally carnivores, but they’ll eat a berry or two.
*Geckos and skinks can shed their tails.
*Both sunbathe to raise their body temperature.
*Geckos can’t blink so clean their eyes with their tongues. Gross!
*Geckos have loose skins they shed, but skinks hang on to theirs.
*They chirp, chatter or croak.
*Geckos and skinks are exceptionally keen of smell, sight and hearing.


Generally when we think of backyard habitat, we think of beautiful birds and butterflies, fantastic frogs, persistent possums and a host of other cute critters. Unfortunately, we tend to forget about one of the most important and most vulnerable of our native vertebrates – the reptiles!

Now, before you recoil in horror, or turn off the computer to watch Junior MasterChef, consider this: our urban reptile and frog populations have declined enormously since European settlement, to the point that one in four of our 850 reptile species are now in serious strife.

Think that’s no big deal? Think again. Of the 850 species of reptile found in Australia, 90% of these are found nowhere else in the world, meaning we really have to do something about this rapid decline, and fast. There are five distinct families of lizards in Australia; geckos, dragons, skinks, legless lizards and goannas, many of which would love to hang out at your place!

Reptiles get seriously overlooked when we talk about habitat gardening, but they are enormously important in a biodiverse backyard. But, how do we encourage them in, and, more importantly, how do we ensure they survive and thrive in our gardens? This factsheet is designed to give you a swag of ideas, tips, tricks, dos and don’t when it comes to creating a lizard longue at your place.

Love Your Lizards and Can the Chemicals!
Not convinced that a lizard or two is the ideal addition to your garden? How about the promise of free, natural pest control in the patch? Many lizards and little grass skinks feed on insects and larvae, while larger lizards such as Blue-tongues and shinglebacks will happily slurp up slugs and snails. While we are talking about lizard lunches, it is important to avoid using chemicals and products in the garden that may harm or prove fatal to your beloved lizards. Wiping out the insect population in your garden with a pesticide may seem like a good idea, but in doing this you are removing the lizards’ food source, and, if they can’t get a feed, they won’t hang around. Avoid using snail and slug pellets, as these can prove deadly to our lovely lizards!

Gimme Shelter!
To encourage lizards to your garden, provide the following:

  • Tussock grasses, groundcovers and hiding spots in rocks and logs.
  • Protected sunny spots on rocks, logs or brick paths
  • Natural leaf litter to support insects and larvae
  • Logs, fallen branches, natural cracks in soil and ground-cover plants

Lizards need debris that will provide shelter and a bit of a hiding place from critters that might make our lizards their lunch. This can include leaf litter, wood mulches, twigs on the ground, rocks, logs, old clay pipes, appropriate native plants – all of these give lizards shelter, and provide habitat for insects and micro-organisms, delicious if you are a lizard!

Some native plants that lizards love include: Dwarf Baeckia (Baeckia sp.), Dianella sp., Purple Coral Pea (Hardenbergia violacea), Mat Rush (Lomandra longifolia), Native Violet (Viola hederacea), Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra), Weeping Grass (Microleana stipoides), Wallaby Grass (Austrodanthonia spp.) and assorted Grevilleas and Bottlebrush (Callistemon sp.) to attract insects. Don’t forget to mulch these plants with a nice layer of chunky leaf and wood based mulch (not pine bark or redgum).

Lizards Rock!

Lizards, unlike us, are cold-blooded and rely on the sun to raise their body temperature and keep them happy and warm. Lizards love nothing more than lounging the day away on rocks, logs or brick paths, but do ensure that the sunning area is protected from predators, and offers lizard shelter nearby, just in case they are startled out of their sunning slumber. A really good idea is to elevate the rocks slightly, or put them in a little pile so the lizard can slip under it if threatened. Whack a few plants nearby, and you’ve got yourself a Lovely Lizard Longue!

Flat Out Like a Lizard Drinking!

Lizards get the bulk of their moisture from the food they consume, and are incredibly efficient when it comes to moisture retention, however they will happily have a drink if water is provided, especially in really hot weather. Pop out a shallow bowl, in a protected spot and your lizards will lap it up!

Okay, there is one rule to remember here… if you build it, they will come! There is no need to head down to the local park and collect lizards, and, in most places, this is illegal and can draw a hefty fine, so please don’t do it! Lizards will seek out a well designed and lizard-friendly gardern, and, although it won’t happen overnight, it will happen!

Once they have moved in, you can pretty much sit back and enjoy. Try and keep pets away from your lizards (they do tend to munch and frighten them), and, don’t rake up mulch, leaf litter and sticks too often… this upsets the little ecosystem, and can do more harm than good.

Now all that is required is to sit back on a sunny summers day, and enjoy your lizards lounging in your patch!

Lizard Pictures by Mary Trigger (SGA)

Resource Center

Reptile Remodeling: Proper Habitat Setup

Your reptile has certain biological needs, and this guide will help you set up a habitat that meets those needs.

When creating a habitat for your new reptilian friend it is important that your terrarium doesn’t just look like your reptile’s natural environment, it also acts like it. Your reptile has certain biological needs, and this guide will help you set up a habitat that meets those needs. Let’s get creating the perfect space for your new friend.

Your Reptile’s Basic Environmental Needs


A larger habitat is always preferred. Larger habitats allow you to set up a more effective thermal gradient.


Reptiles are cold-blooded animals, so they are unable to regulate their body temperatures on their own. This is why a heating source is critical. Most reptiles need a constant temperature between 70 to 85 degrees F with basking areas that reach over 100 degrees F. This number is different for each species, time of day and season.

A wide range of reptile heating devices including light bulbs, pads, tubular heaters, under-tank heaters, ceramic heating elements and basking lights are available to regulate the temperature environment for your new reptile. You’ll need to research your particular species or ask a Petco associate to determine your herp’s optimal requirements.

“Basking” reptiles move in and out of sunlight to gain the heat they need, which is their form of thermoregulation. A basking lamp set up on one end of their terrarium will give your pet a temperature gradient that will allow them access to heat for digestion purposes and a cooler area for sleeping or resting.

Be sure the low ambient temperature doesn’t fall below the low-end of your pet’s ideal temperature range even with all the lights off. Ceramic heating elements and under tank heaters are advantageous because they maintain heat without the need to keep the light on 24 hours a day.


Depending on the reptile you have, they may require different amounts of humidity or need different methods utilized to introduce moisture into their environment. Tropical Iguanas and other similar species require high humidity levels to maintain their health. Many different types of Chameleons rely on droplets of water on foliage or the sides of their habitats to drink rather than standing water. Every species has preferences when it comes to moisture, so become familiar with what types of moisture your pet will need and what equipment you will need to provide.

Moisture levels are controlled by ventilation, temperature and the introduction of water into the atmosphere. You can raise the humidity level by spraying the air with water frequently or by providing a source of standing or running water. Use a hygrometer in your pet’s habitat to track humidity. You can maintain the appropriate level of humidity in your pet’s habitat through commercially available humidifiers, misters and aeration devices. Decorative mini-waterfalls are growing more popular, not only to add interest to the vivarium set-up, but also to provide appropriate humidity levels.


Lighting is another factor that varies greatly by species. Lizards, such as Collared Lizards and Green Iguanas, require certain amounts of light exposure each day, while nocturnal reptiles require more subdued lighting.

Basking species need special lamps, correct positioning and even specific light bulbs. They require vitamin D3, which they typically obtain from direct sunlight. D3 helps your little lizard absorb calcium. Normal household lightbulbs cannot provide this, so be sure you find an ultraviolet bulb. Your reptile will need to get within 12 inches of the light. Be sure there is a barrier to avoid risk of burns.

Before you build

Cedar & pine shavings

These shavings contain oils that may irritate the skin of some reptiles and they are not appropriate.

Heat lamps

Heat lamps should always be mounted well above the enclosure or with a barrier so there is no risk of injury to your reptile.

Driftwood & rocks

If you find and want to use a nice piece of driftwood or a rock for your terrarium, be sure to take the proper precautions. You must soak all décor n a light bleach/water solution for 24 hours. Next, soak it in clean water for another 24 hours to clean it of the bleach. Do not ever place items found outdoors in your terrarium as they may harbor dangerous organisms or bacteria.


A filter is not needed for a terrarium, but it is a necessary part of a vivarium or aquatic setup. You will need to change it regularly to remove bacteria and other toxins that form in the water or in the filter itself. Read the label and make a note of when to change the filter. If the water looks dirty, it’s time for a change.


Living wood should never be used as a pet habitat decoration. The sap could be harmful to your pet. With aquatic or semi-aquatic habitats, the sap can actually contaminate the water. You should never use items obtained from outside for your reptile’s home.

Metal objects

Metal object are best kept out of terrariums, particularly in aquatic, semi-aquatic or humid environments. Heavy metals such as copper, zinc and lead are toxic and can contribute to gradual poisoning of your pet.


Finding a plant for your terrarium can be very tricky. You want it to look natural, but above all you want it to be safe. Many plants are toxic to your pet and can cause a reaction anywhere from minor itching to death. Never use a plant from outside as a decoration in your reptile’s habitat.

The signs a plant is causing an allergic reaction for your reptile:

  • Swelling, particularly around the mouth
  • Breathing problems
  • Vomiting
  • Skin irritation

If you notice any of these signs, take your pet to a veterinarian immediately. These reactions are often life-threatening.

These are the basic elements that will help you set up a home for your new reptile friend. Remember every species has different needs, and as a pet parent you will want to provide them with everything that they need to live a long, healthy life. Be sure to research the specific needs of your type of reptile and bring any questions you may have to your veterinarian.

DEAR JOAN: For more than a year we have experienced several little lizard-type creatures around our yard. In general, they seem harmless yet we do not know where they came from.

Yesterday, the largest I have ever seen, about 6 inches long, appeared in our garage. Before chasing the lizard out, I took a photo. Can you help with identification of the species and also what we should do about them?

Don Kinell

Los Altos

DEAR DON: Your visitors are common Western fence lizards, also known as blue bellies. If you ever have a chance to see one from underneath, you’ll see they’ve earned that nickname with a beautiful shade of blue on the undersides of their abdomens.

I love the little lizards and it always makes me happy to spot one warming itself in the sun, or darting around my plants. They are a good companion in the garden as they help keep the insect population down by eating them. They also eat spiders.

In cold winters, the lizards usually hibernate, emerging in the spring to mate and make baby blue bellies. The lizards don’t mate until their second year, and the female will lay up to three clutches of eggs — usually eight in the clutch, but as many as 17 — from now through July. The eggs will hatch in August.

What should you do with them? Just admire and appreciate them. They are of no danger to humans or pets. There is an added benefit to have a healthy population of Western fence lizards in your yard. The lizards have a protein in their blood that kills the Lyme disease bacterium in ticks. So if a tick bites a lizard, it is cleared of the disease and can’t transmit it to us.

If you want to encourage them to stay in your yard, reduce or eliminate the amount of pesticides you use, and build them some hiding spots using bits of broken pottery.

DEAR JOAN: We have a Meyer lemon tree that we have kept more bush than tree because of our pruning and not wanting to pull out a ladder to pick lemons.

The tree is loaded with some fantastic lemons, but about two or three weeks ago, we noticed fruit on the ground. Upon closer inspection, it’s literally just the fruit — the peel is gone and only the flesh is on the ground.

I set up a “trail cam” over the bush — whatever happening is going on at night — to see if I can figure out what the nocturnal thief is. The camera is infrared, so I should capture what is going on, if the camera works.

Suggestions proffered have been raccoon or Norwegian roof rats. Any guesses?

Bill Light

Castro Valley

DEAR BILL: No guesses. It’s roof rats.

Rats have a peculiar eating pattern that readily identifies their work.

In orange trees, they gnaw a hole in the rind and eat the pulp, often leaving an empty peel still hanging from the tree.

In lemon trees, they eat the rind and leave the pulp, which is a sad indication that they find the peel more appetizing than the pulp.

You can try wrapping the trunk in sheet metal to keep the rats from climbing up, but the tree needs to be at least 6 feet from structures and other trees, otherwise the rats can jump from there into the tree.

I’d love to see any video you get.

Contact Joan Morris at [email protected] Follow her at Twitter.com/AskJoanMorris.

5 Great Pet Lizards

By John Virata

Lizards are often the first pet reptile for a lot of folks. They are the closest reptile that looks like a dinosaur and they don’t carry the innate fear that snakes bring to certain people. Lizards can make great display animals and depending on the species, can be regularly handled. Here we present to you five great friendly lizards in no particular order.

Bearded Dragon

Robert Keresztes/

Beardies are widely captive bred and their care requirements are easily established given the right information.

The bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) along with the leopard gecko, shares the top spot in the pet lizard kingdom. The beardie is probably the more popular of the two by virtue of it having more of a personality than the leopard gecko. Beardies are widely captive bred and their care requirements, while more than that of a leopard gecko are easily established given the right information. Pogona vitticeps comes from very hot regions of Australia and like it hot. Give them a basking site of around 100 degrees Fahrenheit at one end of the enclosure while the other end stays relatively cooler. Speaking of enclosures, give them a minimum 75-gallon or equal sized enclosure with full spectrum UVB lighting. Beardies eat insects and plant material and are usually very hardy feeders. They are also available in a variety of color morphs as well. For more information on this lizard for intermediate to advanced keepers, visit the Bearded Dragon Care Sheet here.

Gold-Dust Day Gecko


The gold dust day gecko is one of the most beautiful lizards.

The gold-dust day gecko (Phelsuma laticauda) in my opinion is one of the most beautiful lizards. Native to Madagascar, these lizards are better kept as display animals rather than one that you would want to handle. By this I mean you can keep them in a nice enclosure and observe them in this fashion rather than take them out and hold them. They tend to be on the nervous side and can easily lose their tail if stressed. They can grow to 4 to 6 inches so keep this in mind when housing them. Choose an enclosure that will enable you to add a variety of live plants with large leaves. In Hawaii, I usually spot them lounging underneath large leaves. You can house a single day gecko in an upright vivarium of 10-18 gallons or so. The larger the enclosure, the more elaborate your can get with its living space. The gold-dust day gecko lives 5 to 8 years in captivity and feeds on insects such as small crickets and mealworms. You can also feed them commercially prepared, fruit-type foods as well. Read the Gold-Dust Day Gecko Species Profile here.

Leopard Gecko

With proper husbandry, The leopard gecko is probably the easiest pet lizard to keep in captivity.

The leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) is probably one of the easiest pet lizard to keep in captivity provided you follow their care requirements. No special lighting is required and their diet is fairly simple. You can keep up to two (male and female or two females) in a 10-20 gallon long aquarium with reptile carpet as a substrate. Reptile carpet eliminates any chance of impaction when feeding. I use a covered plastic salad bowl with moistened sphagnum moss as a hide, as well as a paper towel roll. I keep a single heat pad on one side of the enclosure to keep them warm and that is it. No lighting is required as long as you dust the crickets with a calcium supplement. It is recommended that you keep a small container of calcium dust in the enclosure as well as they will lick calcium. I feed mine crickets dusted with calcium and mealworms. I tend to alternate between the two as some times they prefer one over the other.

Leopard geckos come in a variety of morphs and colorations and are widely available. Pricing ranges from $25 to upward of several thousand dollars for a single lizard. It all depends on the rarity of the coloration. One neat aspect of the leopard gecko is the fact that it uses just one corner of the tank as a bathroom. For easy cleanup, I cut out a paper towel into triangle shapes and place these in the corner. Clean up is easy as all the droppings are on the paper towel. Read the Leopard Gecko Care Sheet here.

Crested Gecko


Once a crested gecko drops its tail, it does not grow back.

The crested gecko (Correlophus (Rhacodactylus) ciliatus) makes for an interesting display animal that you can occasionally handle, but remember that if you are rough in the handling department and stress out the gecko, it will drop its tail, and that tail doesn’t grow back. Feeding these guys is fairly straightforward. They are pretty much nectar eaters and there are several commercially prepared crested gecko foods on the market that enable you to easily feed them. You can also feed them crickets that are dusted with a vitamin/mineral supplement, The crested gecko hails from New Caledonia and are widely bred in captivity. They come in a variety of color morphs and their pricing, like the leopard gecko, varies widely depending on commonality or rarity. You can keep a single adult specimen in a 20 gallon tall enclosure with a screen top. You can keep them heated with a low wattage incandescent bulb or a ceramic heat emitter in a reflector type fixture on the screen top. Place some branches or other material under the bulb and this will create a nice basking spot for them. Because they spend most of their time above ground, you can use reptile carpet or a peat-moss-based soil mix as a ground substrate. You can read the Crested Gecko Care Sheet here.

Blue-Tongue Skink

The blue-tongue skink (Tiliqua scincoides intermedia) is probably the most popular of the “larger” lizards in the hobby. Why? For the most part, they are easy to handle and have great personalities. The blue tongue skink hails from Indonesia and once acclimated, love being handled and even scratched on top of the head or under the chin. They are a terrestrial lizard, so when choosing an enclosure, make sure there is plenty of floor space. Adult blue tongue skinks should be kept in enclosures that are a minimum 3 feet in length by 1.5 feet wide by 10 inches tall.

Heat can be supplied by a heat mat or heat tape and an overhead incandescent basking light or heat emitter. UVB lighting is recommended for eight to 12 hours each day. The blue-tongue skink eats a variety of foods, ranging from canned dog/cat food to hard boiled eggs and cooked ground turkey to fruits and leafy vegetables, squash and carrots. For a full list of recommended foods and how to care for the blue-tongue skink, read the Blue-Tongue Skink Care Sheet.

John B. Virata keeps a western hognose snake, a ball python, two corn snakes, a king snake, and two leopard geckos. His first snake, a California kingsnake, was purchased at the Pet Place in Westminster, CA for $5. His first pet reptile was a green anole that arrived in a small box via mail order. Follow him on Twitter @johnvirata

Making A Garden For Lizards: How To Attract Lizards To The Garden

You may have never considered this, but attracting lizards to your garden can be beneficial. Like turtles and snakes, lizards are members of the reptile family. Although their physique is similar to salamanders, which are amphibians, lizards have dry scales while salamanders have moist skin.

There are over 6,000 species of lizards worldwide and it’s likely that native species of common garden lizards live near you. So why should modern day gardeners take an interest in these scaly remnants from the age of the dinosaurs, as opposed to getting rid of them, and how are lizards good for gardens? Let’s learn more.

Lizard Friendly Gardens

First and foremost, many species of lizards eat garden pests, such as slugs and harmful insects. More importantly, common garden lizards also serve as a barometer of environmental health. Since lizards are vulnerable to pollutants, their mere existence in the garden indicates low levels of pesticides and heavy metals. This ensures food grown in the garden will also have low levels of these particles.

How to Attract Lizards to the Garden

For lizards to take up residency in the backyard, they need an adequate habitat. Creating the right environment is essential for making lizard-friendly gardens. Begin by learning which species of lizards are native in your area. Find out where they lay their eggs, what they eat and which environmental elements they prefer. The following tips will help gardeners make a safe haven in their garden for lizards:

  • Avoid using chemical pesticides. Instead, try natural methods for pest control such as insecticidal soaps, companion planting and natural predators.
  • Avoid using weed killer, especially on the lawn. Spot treat weed problems rather than using wide spread application of weed killer in the yard. Thatching, reseeding and mowing at recommended heights creates a healthier lawn that will naturally deter weed growth. Weeds in the garden can be hoed or pulled by hand.
  • Mulch the garden. It not only deters weeds, but also conserves moisture and creates a humid environment for lizards.
  • Give lizards plenty of hiding places. Lizards are low on the food chain. Providing protection from their natural predators ensures their continued existence. Plant bushy perennials, create a rock or brush pile or use man-made items like stacks of bricks or pipes.
  • Include areas for lizards to sun themselves. Large rocks, concrete blocks or a stone wall absorbs and retains daytime heat for those cool, late summer nights.
  • Provide water. This can be achieved by creating a pond, water feature or even by using a small bowl. Include rocks or sticks as a ramp for lizards to access the water.

Finally, avoid mowing in the evening or at night when reptiles are most active. Keeping pets, like cats, in at night will protect and preserve the common garden lizards that visit your backyard.

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