Purchasing and Quarantining Pet Lizards
Table of Contents
Endangered Species Regulations
Today many species of wild animals and plants are threatened by the destruction of habitats by fire, lumbering, use of insecticidal and herbicidal sprays, and not least, by hunting for the leather industry. In order to save what can still possibly be saved, an international agreement for the protection of endangered species, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Flora and Fauna (hereafter, the Washington Agreement or WA), was entered into on July 1, 1975, to regulate the traffic in living animals of those species designated endangered.
Because a large number of reptiles are listed in the appendices to the WA, the agreement has considerable significance for reptile fanciers. The degree of endangerment of individual species varies, so the WA includes three appendices. An importer must see to it that the correct papers according to the appendix are provided for any sale that crosses international borders. A successful breeder of endangered species must register his breeding animals and offspring with an appropriate government office, usually an agricultural authority, and upon the sale of animals must pass on to the next owner a certificate, issued by that office.
There are additional state and federal regulations, as well as listings of endangered and threatened species that were not entirely covered by the WA. As a result not only is it difficult if not impossible to acquire such animals but the possessor of such animals is subject to special regulations.
As complicated as all this procedure seems, it is urgently advised that any possessor of protected species obey the regulations.
In some cases failure to do so is punishable by arrest, fine, and/or confiscation of the animal. The lizards included in the WA are designated in this on this site by the symbol *.
Where You Buy Lizards
You can buy lizards in a pet store or from a breeder. In a good pet store you'll receive sound advice. Breeders will often offer lizards in herpetologist society journals and newsletters. The number of males and females will be represented by two numbers separated by a comma: 1,2 means one male and two females; 0,3 means three females.
Important: Inspect the store or the breeding terrarium very carefully. They must be hygienically clean. You should not buy lizards from uncared-for or dirty terrariums.
Advice on Buying Lizards
Before choosing a lizard you should take plenty of time to observe the animals. Notice the following signs:
- The lizard must be in well-nourished condition: ribs, vertebrae, and pelvic bones should not show too noticeably under the skin and the eyes should not lie too deep in the head. Thighs and the root of the tail should look muscular, and skin in these areas should not have deep folds. During its active period the animals should be alert, with open eyes, observing what is going on in its surroundings. A healthy lizard reacts to disturbance with flight or tries to bite.
- The mouth of the lizard should be closed. If it is always open a little at the back and bubbly froth can be seen around the mouth slit, at the openings to the nose, or around the eyes, the animal is unhealthy. In this case you shouldn't buy it.
- If the skin of the lizard exhibits pustules or lumps, very often systemic infections or skin mycoses may be responsible. Likewise, the metabolism is disturbed if molting is completed only with difficulty or the toes (especially frequent with geckos and skinks) have been constricted by molting problems. Such illnesses are difficult to treat, and you shouldn't buy an animal with these signs. Scars from bite wounds or a broken tail are beauty flaws that scarcely affect the animal.
- Watch out for external parasites. To do so, observe all the animals in the terrarium. If one animal is infested, most of the other animals will have parasites, too. A moderate attack of parasites will not injure a healthy lizard so much that you should refuse to buy it.
Carrying Your Lizard Home
The pet store or the breeder will put the lizard in a linen bag for taking it home. In cool or cold weather, if the lizard is small, you can put it under your jacket, where the animal will be warmed by body heat. A large lizard will be put in its bag in a carton. In cool weather the carton should be made of Styrofoam. If it is very cold and there is a long way to go, you should protect the lizard with a hot-water bottle. But the temperature should not be higher than 90°F (32°C) because otherwise it could produce a concentration of warmth and lead to overheating.
Before you put your newly acquired pet in a terrarium that is inhabited by other lizards, it should spend some time in a quarantine terrarium. There the lizard can get used to its new surroundings without having to undergo the pressure of territorial disputes with other animals. Furthermore, this is the only possible way for you to monitor the intake of food and carry out the necessary fecal examination.
The Quarantine Terrarium
Prepare the quarantine terrarium before you buy the lizard. A discarded aquarium is quite suitable for this purpose. As a rule of thumb for the size, you can use about half the measurement given for your lizard species in the last chapter. The terrarium should be covered with a lid of wooden molding strips covered with fine wire screen. Side ventilation is not necessary. For lighting and heating use a reflector lamp or a heat lamp. You must install additional floor heating only if it gets too cold at night.
The arrangement: Artificial Turf, which is simple to clean and disinfect, is recommended as a floor covering. Besides, it serves some lizards as a cover. The humidity can be regulated if you dampen the absorbent mat as necessary. Artificial turf isn't suitable for basilisks and agamas because these lizards get their claws caught in it. You can use shredded newspaper for these. Be aware, however, that the paper will be continually scuffled up by obstreperous lizards.
The drinking-water container can also serve as a bathing pool for those lizards who like to swim. Thus it should be large enough so that the lizard can fit its whole body into it. For tree-dwellers you can place a branch in the terrarium for climbing; for shy and nervous animals a halved clay pipe, decorative cork, or nonresinous bark as places to hide.
If the lizard is especially uneasy, cover the front of the terrarium with a cloth or with paper. The curtain should only be removed when the animal has calmed down completely. If you want to be particularly cautious, you can take away the cloth or paper a little at a time and only remove it entirely after some days.
Maintenance note: If your lizard has ticks or mites, the animal must be treated in its transporting bag before it is placed in the quarantine terrarium.
Herbivorous lizards can be offered leaves or fruit on the second day. Carnivorous lizards receive their first nourishment from four to seven days after their arrival. To excite their appetite, put the food animals into the terrarium live. Don't put in too much at once, and observe the lizard. Mice, crickets, or roaches that are not eaten after several hours must be removed again, since they likely will not be eaten by the desolate lizard that is not yet acclimated to its changed environment.
Variety of proffered food is especially important at this time. Different colors and smells of vegetable food and the various movements of live food animals can awaken the appetite of your pet. Take time during the acclimatizing phase to observe your lizard. This way you will learn how much food it needs. If the animal rejects food for longer than two weeks and visibly loses weight during this period, it must be force-fed.
During quarantine the feces of the lizard must be examined.
- If the feces are viscous and have a penetrating smell — normal for the fish-eating monitor lizards — an inflammation of the digestive tract is usually the cause.
- Bloody feces — not to be confused with the red color after a feeding with grasshoppers — indicate an injury to the intestine.
- If you find worms in the feces, you must collect them and have them examined by a veterinarian. A worm infestation is also possible if no worms are found, however. Therefore the veterinarian should be given the freshest possible fecal sample. Only he or she can determine if worm eggs are present and start treatment if necessary.