I guess sometimes I rant, and sometimes I rave. Warmer weather is finally here, so I'm in a pretty good mood. The next few posts are happy posts to mark the occasion.
I guess I'll start with a topic that I love: lizards as pets. I love our furry, feathered and finned friends, but I have found through experience that lizards make unique and pretty amazing pets. I had a green iguana as a teen and loved him dearly. Unfortunately I was pretty irresponsible back then (to say the least) and Gaby suffered. I had to have him put down at only 4 years old due to MBD (metabolic bone disease) - I did not take enough care with him. I did not give him the amount of calcium or UV lighting that he required to be as healthy as he could. He was a fantastic pet and believe it or not - he loved eating pizza and mac n' cheese. I cried like a little baby when he had to go. We buried him in the backyard surrounded by flowers. May he rest in peace.
But on to happier things. I am now older and wiser and when it came down to picking pets for my kids, I decided upon lizards. I did a little research on the easiest ones to take care of. Some require a lot of care, while others are pretty easy. There's also the subject of handling, some like it while others will bite your fingers off. I decided not to go with an iguana this time around because they do grow rather large and I wanted something which would stay pretty small. I started reading up on bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) and fell in love.
I was lucky that a friend at work happened to be looking to sell hers. Her kids liked them, but did not want to actually clean up after or feed them, so she was looking for a home for the girls. You can see them above at feeding time - Citrus is the one eating, Vexus is the one looking to eat. I gladly took them in, not knowing at the time that they were still juveniles, which is why they were perfectly happy to share a cage. Imagine my surprise a few months later when they finally hit adulthood and decided that they loathed each other. This may sound mean, but it was so funny when they got angry and chased each other around! We never let them hurt each other, and they have been kept in separate enclosures since then.
Lizards in general, and bearded dragons (beardies) in particular, are such fantastic pets for a number of reasons. I seem to have developed allergies to dogs and cats over the years. I do not have such issues with lizards. They do not bark in the middle of the night. They do not howl like a beaten child when they're in heat. Generally, they do not stink. I say generally because Citrus does have a habit of acting like a monkey and flinging her shit around and rolling around in it when she's pissed off at me. They will not try to smell your guest's crotch or hump their leg. They will not try to perch on your 102 year old grandmother's head, nearly giving her a fatal stroke. They live longer than 3 months (I'm looking at you, Betta). You don't have to walk them at 4:00am in the middle of a snowstorm, them pick up the shit in a little baggie to bring home. You don't have to clean a litterbox. The smell in your home doesn't give away the fact that you have pets (you know the smell as soon as a pet owner opens their door). I could really go on, but I'll leave it for now. These little girls are fantastic.
But you may be asking: do they do anything? Don't they just lie around their tank all day waiting to be fed and then lie around some more? I guess some lizards do. We also have a gecko. She cannot stand to be handled. She's a gorgeous little thing, but we adopted her when she was already 10 years old and her previous owner did not handle her. It's too late now. I try with her, but she's not impressed. So yeah, many lizards don't want to be touched, some can't be for safety reasons, but many can be held and played with and enjoyed. Some species, like the gecko and iguana, can be safely handled from the time they're small and they will learn to be OK with it. Some species, like beardies, crave love and affection.
Our little girls spend very little time in their enclosures, in fact. We give them their "basking" time, which is absolutely necessary for their health and good digestion. But they would rather be outside of their tanks and hanging out with the family. They are incredibly funny at times, and truly, their mannerisms often remind me of dogs. They'll sit by the sliding door looking out into the yard, watching the birds. They'll pace back and forth outside of Mica's tank (the gecko) trying to figure out how to get in there, probably to eat her, because she's little. Vexus has even been known to sit by the front door waiting for the boys to get home from school. They'll sit with you while you read a book or watch TV, and they'll even curl up with you and fall asleep. When you first take them out of their tanks, they're warmed up and raring to go, so they run around the house like little maniacs, sliding on their claws and slamming into walls. Tell me that doesn't sound like something a dog would do?
Having a beardie may sound like all fun and games, but there is a serious side I'd like to mention, in case you're thinking about a dragon for yourself. Lizards, all desert-dwelling creatures in fact, require specialized care. Sticking them in a cage and feeding them whatever is at hand is not going to cut it. Our girls have specialized lighting and large enclosures with basking spots and hiding spots and things to climb on, even though they don't like to hang out there much. Thankfully CFL lighting has been introduced, so that your pet can get the correct UV and heat requirements, while you can save a few bucks. Think 20w versus 75w 18 hours a day. My electric bill thanks me. They are also omnivores, which means they need a good mix of fruits and veggies, as well as insects. A few lizards are happy eating the freeze-dried ones available at pet stores, but mine will only eat them if they're moving. This can get rather expensive, because you have to give them a varied diet consisting of crickets, mealworms, superworms, waxworms, butterworms, silkworms and hornworms. Most of these are high in fat, but make excellent treats. Mine are crazy for hornworms in particular. When I pull one out for them, they actually hurl themselves out of the tank to get to them. Citrus is especially good at catching it mid-flight. They're so funny to watch while eating. They absolutely must have their calcium supplements at the least and a good multivitamin will keep them healthy. Balance is key - do not give them too much of either. Beardies also need baths so that they can soak up water, they generally won't drink from a bowl, although I have heard of a few who will.
You should also be aware of the extreme expressive nature of these lizards. Citrus is very good at letting you know when she's not happy - which is often. She's a grumpy little thing, but she's cute so we let her get away with it. She is particularly good at giving you "stinkeye", which is her equivalent of "meanface". We get that quite often, and especially after a bath. Beardies also have the ability to puff out their bodies and make their spikes rigid. When they're happy little clams, the spikes all along their bodies and heads are soft. When they puff out those little things can puncture you if you're not careful. This baby girl is excellent at using our hands as a pincushion. Bearded dragons get their name from their beards, which can be regular in colour and flat when they're OK. When they're upset, the beard goes dark brown in colour. When the beard is puffed out and black, stay away! This is an excellent signal that this particular lizard is in no mood for anything, you'd better give her some space. Citrus has either yellow or black beard - there is no in-between. Vexus, on the other hand, is so expressive that you know immediately what her mood is. She can have the black angry beard, the brown unhappy beard, or the wonderful orange happy beard. Her beard will go brighter orange the happier she gets. Since she's such a social creature, just picking her up and sitting with her will net you a happy orange beard. Note the orange beard while "releasing the dragon".
Other beardie behaviors to make note of are the head bobbing, which is hilarious, and the waving, which is the cutest thing ever. Our beardies only head bob at each other, never at us, and they're just trying to assert dominance over each other. Since we keep them apart, there's no danger, but head bobbing usually precedes one trying to jump on the other for a ninja attack frenzy. Since ours were almost adults when we got them, we did not have the pleasure of seeing the arm waving first hand. I have seen videos, and it's one of the cutest things I've ever seen. Juvenile beardies seem to wave to each other to let each other know "hey! I'm here, I'm like you!". It's quite amazing and I wish mine did that. Google 'beardie waving' and a bunch of great videos can be found.
So there you have it. I could probably go on forever about our girls, they're just that special. I probably missed half the stuff I wanted to say about them, but I hope I've given you a good idea of how wonderful it is to have these lizards. They're work and can be a bit costly (not like a cat or dog, though), but on the whole, they're so worth it. Lizards, as long as you do the research and get the right species, can give you just as much love as you give them. Thinking about a pet? Get a lizard, you won't be sorry! I only ask that you please remember that they are living things and should be treated with the proper care and respect.
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