You”ve decided you”d like a four-legged reptile pet. Like any new-pet pursuit, a cautious approach and doing research about your animal of choice are important. Diet is of particular concern with lizards. While cat and dog foods are prepackaged and plentiful, the lizard cuisine is quite particular. Lizards also have specialized habitat needs, requiring specific features that include a constant temperature.

Three popular pet lizards are geckos, chameleons and iguanas. Although they share similar lizard characteristics, each has specific requirements.

The Gecko

The gecko is known as a beginner”s reptile. It is an easily tamable lizard and needs less maintenance than chameleons or iguanas. These nocturnal reptiles come in a variety of shapes and colors, are relatively smallfrom three to five inches longand have a lifespan of twelve to fifteen years. Of the three popular pets, geckos are the most healthy and easiest to care for. They eat easy-to-find insects including mealworms, crickets, flies, spiders, roaches and moths. Like most reptilian pets they demand a specific habitat. A knowledgeable pet store representative should advise you of the basics of the lizard environment.

The Chameleon

The chameleon is a much more demanding lizard, requiring a screen enclosure for ventilation and religious watering procedures. He is also a territorial pet and much more solitary than the gecko. He demands a low traffic environment and little handling. If you do play with him, be sure to handle him slowly and carefully because the chameleon is an easily stressed lizard. His change in color can help you identify his moods. While a dull or dark color means he”s upset, brighter colors indicate a content chameleon.

The Iguana

The iguana, or the playful reptilian pet, can embrace a cat or dog as a sibling, live for over twenty years and grow to five or six feet in length. A very large cage or even an entire room should be devoted to your pet iguana. He needs room to climb, jump and swing around. He wants to play with you and play on his own. Unlike geckos and chameleons, these playful pals are vegans, needing loads of veggies and foliage to survive. Iguanas are probably the most popular lizards people keep as pets. Kindred to their kind, iguanas can also be difficult to train or even aggressive if provoked.

When Looking for a Lizard

When looking for your lizard, be sure to observe lizards as a collective group. Most are easily stressed, territorial and prone to parasites. They are carriers of salmonella, a potentially deadly disease to humans, especially young children, pregnant women and the elderly. Common sense hygiene is very important when handling and raising a reptile. Also commit to being a lifelong lizard caregiver. As with any animal, the stress of abandonment is enough to kill your pet. A careful, thoughtful choice is just as crucial as diet and habitat when selecting your lizard.

If this is your first lizard purchase or adoption, we recommend that you seek out a store that specializes in reptiles, or a pet store that has a resident expert on the subject.