Last updated 21 July 2008: updated Savannah Monitors, Cordylids and Cunningham Skinks sections.


LEVEL 2: Just one or two drawbacks with these..

Green or Brown Anoles (Anolis spp)

A lot of pet shops will have a tank of these small lizards, the green or brown anole. While not very demanding in terms of space, heat or lighting, small lizards do need smaller-sized prey, which is not always available. Furthermore, the small lizards always seem to be incredibly fast and tricky to catch hold of, and tend to hate being handled. A cage full of anoles makes a good display, if you don't mind a hands-off approach.

Small Skinks and Swifts (various, but mainly Eumeces spp, Mabuya and Sceloropus spp)


See the remarks about Green and Brown Anoles. If anything, Swifts are even quicker, acting rather like squirrels and chipmunks do, leaping from branch to branch (or shoulder to shoulder). The small skinks (eg Golden Skinks) are attractive creatures but have the same disadvantages, and in addition tend to spend a lot of time hiding until they get used to their surroundings. Both types also seem to come in many different varieties, which can be a bit confusing.

African Fat-Tailed Geckos (Hemitheconyx caudicinctus)

Although very similar to the Leopard Gecko (both belong the Eublepharid, or "eyelid" branch of the gecko family), African Fat-Tails are somewhat more delicate and prone to going on prolonged hunger strikes. Also, owing to the smaller availability of captive-bred stock, most are wild-caught. At least one shop I saw had lumped their Fat-Tail in with a Leopard Gecko (both male), which obviously did not suit either party. They are beautiful, but the doe-eyed appearance belies a determined bite if they feel threatened.

See also African Fat-Tailed Gecko Page and Gecko Page

Day Geckos (Phelsuma spp)

These small-to-medium-sized geckos are among the most beautifully coloured and shaped lizards in the world. They are also diurnal rather than nocturnal, so can be seen by visitors and guests as well as their owners. I say this because they are strictly display animals and do not appreciate handling: in fact many of them have very sensitive skin. The other drawback is that they require, in addition to the normal insect diet, a varied mixture of honey, mashed fruit, baby food and possibly other sweet substances. The tank also needs to be taller than usual, since they are arboreal. See also the remarks above about small lizards.

See also Gecko Page and Phelsuma page.

Ameivas (Ameiva spp)

These South American lizards are members of the teiid family, but grow to a maximum of 20". Although attractive, they are rather highly-strung and need a lot of room. They also seem to hide a lot.


Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)

To be honest, I nearly put this one in the "Difficult" section. Despite their fame and popularity, few creatures have been as hard put upon as the green iguana. Before you even consider getting a green iguana, you should note the following:



If you are serious about a green iguana and can conscientiously handle all the above, you will find igs to be entertaining and intelligent pets that usually come without the bad temperament of some other giant lizards.

Water Dragons (Physiognathus spp)

The Chinese or Australian Water Dragon have also become popular lizard pets in recent years. Very like the green iguana in appearance, water dragons tend to be smaller (up to 4ft in length in adulthood), with a greater love of water, less aggressive but a bit more skittish. Therein lays the main problem with water dragons, as they feel confined within anything less than a large tank and tend to rub their snouts raw against the walls or glass. I have seen some with the end of the snout (bone and all) literally worn away, exposing the mouth and teeth (which are then prone to infection). They also need a large container of water for soaking, swimming or diving in, which usually needs changing each day as they tend to defecate in it. If you can provide the large enclosure, you should find these rewarding. Otherwise pass them by.

Savannah Monitors (Varanus exanthematicus)

These are probably the only commonly available monitor that can be recommended to most reptile keepers. Compared with most other monitors they have a more docile temperament, grow to smaller adult sizes and require less space. This is all relative, however, and Savannahs can still be pretty aggressive at times. For this reason they require plenty of handling when small, so they can tame as they grow older. Otherwise you may find yourself with a snappy, hissing grouch on your hands. On the plus side, most grow to a maximum of 3ft, and while a 6ft cage is mandatory for an adult, it can be furnished very simply. Lighting, heating and humidity requirements are also fairly straightforward, and they will eat like pigs if you let them. Do NOT feed them a diet of mice, contrary to what some books state: they should be fed largely on large insects and other invertebrates. They are quite intelligent.

NB The White-Throated or Cape Monitor, Varanus albigularis, was once classified as a subspecies of this species but is now a full species. Do not get the two confused as White-Throats grow up to 5ft and have a meaner reputation.

See also Savannah Monitors

Uromastyx (aka Dab-Tails or Mastigures)

The various Uromastyx species hail mainly from arid or desert regions, and have lately become quite popular, prices having fallen. They are not over large, but any tank will usually require a good depth of sand and some pipes (or other artifical substitute for a burrow) sunk into it, often in a right-angled pattern. 99% of the time these lizards eat vegetation, from where they get most if not all of their water. For this reason a water bowl is unnecessary and can even be harmful, the humidity arising from it causing respiratory distress. Their other main requirement is that most of them must be kept at very high temperatures during the day - some are out and about at temperatures up to 110 deg. F. It is also important to note that some of the Uromastyx species have come under a lot of pressure in their home territories and may soon become protected under CITES, so it has been suggested that herpetologists should only buy them if they are willing to breed them, a difficult task at this time.

Agamids (variously Butterfly Agamids, Mountain Dragon, Tree Dragon, Toad-Headed Agamid, etc) (Agama spp)


Agamids are actually a large family of lizards that also includes the Uromastyx, the Bearded Dragon and Water Dragon. However, other than the aforementioned, there appears to be little information about most agamid species, so for that reason alone they are probably not ideal for beginners. Most require very large cages, and some have a reputation for being difficult to maintain. The Mountain Dragon and Tree Dragon both require rainforest-type habitats, which may necessitate dripping water. I have only seen one book devoted to the care of Agamid species, although more general works do at least touch on them.

See also A Look at the Agamids

Cordylids, aka Sungazers (Cordylidae spp)

These are interesting relatives of the Geherrosaurids, or plated lizards. While not colourful (most are a mud brown colour) they have spiny keeled bodies and the defensive habit of curling up with the end of their tail in their mouth when feeling threatened. Some of them also bite hard and readily. The only drawbacks with the cordylids is (a) most are now quite rare, due to import restrictions and conservation in their African habitat, and (b) there is a dearth of in-depth information about them. The smaller ones are fairly easy to care for, but the larger ones carry a hefty price tag as the result of their rarity and threatened status in the wild. The true Sungazers (Cordylus giganteus) is now virtually unobtainable in the UK and are best in the hands of dedicated breeders.

Cunningham's Skinks (Egernia Cunninghami)

Related species, Egernia hoseriThis was for me a borderline case between Level 1 and Level 2. Cunningham's Skinks are from Australia but unlike most Australian reptiles they can be found captive-bred in other parts of the world, including the UK. Lesser known compared to the more famous blue- and pink-tongued Skinks (Tiliqua spp.), they are in some ways more striking and handsome due to their flattened and keel-spined bodies (in some ways reminiscent of the Cordylids of Africa), with a black or brown overall colour flecked with white and attractive round eyes. They grow to about 12-18". They have the drawback of most skinks, ie shyness leading to a hasty flight under a log when a human appears, and the males also bite hard if they feel threatened. Maintenance and feeding is quite easy, and they do breed well in captivity. Recently I have become convinced that these are best kept in colonies with plenty of rocks - a point to remember if the weight on your floorboards is an issue.

See also Cunningham's Skinks

Basilisks (Basiliscus spp)

Basilisks are medium-sized lizards from South America related to the green iguana but very similar in care to water dragons and sailfin lizards. Like the latter they are somewhat nervous creatures and require a large vivarium, plus a body of water. In the wild they have the trick of being able to run across the surface of water without sinking, but unless you can provide them with a swimming pool-sized enclosure you are unlikely to see this behaviour.

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