Leapin’ Lizards! The Reality of Owning Reptiles

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Ian Stewart likes lizards. He likes them so much, in fact, that he dedicated a better part of the last four years of his life researching, writing about and, of course, living with them. Over time he’s learned one simple truth: Everything you think you know about lizards is a lie. Well, almost everything.

This Saturday, Ian and his wife, Lyzz, will bring three of their scaly friends to Kazoodles to give a hands-on lesson on lizards that will dispel some common misconceptions about the reptiles once and for all.

Ian and Lyzz haven’t always been reptile aficionados. They started, just like everyone else, knowing very little about them. But a harmless video of a pacman frog turned into a life-changing fascination. After the video, Lyzz bought Ian a pacman frog of his own. That Valentine’s Day Ian bought Lyzz a water dragon. Since then they’ve taken care of a dozen different herptiles (that’s reptiles and amphibians), from common chameleons to Cuban knight anoles.

“Once you meet the lizard you start to understand. They don’t act like mammals,” Ian said. “They have their own way of thinking.” That stereotypical image in your mind of the zen lizard sitting motionlessly atop a rock is one of the few true stereotypes out there. “Lizards are pretty much entirely in the now. They don’t think ahead, they don’t think back, they pretty much just do.”

But while they seem calm and collected, many lizards have a wicked temper. Take the chameleon, for instance. It’s common knowledge that chameleons change color, but it’s not for camouflage as most of us are led to believe. The color doesn’t correspond to the chameleon’s habitat but its mood. There are colors for anger, sadness and, well, for mating purposes.

And while we imagine lizards eating flies and small bugs, as a species they have a very varied diet. Iguanas are strict vegans, while monitor lizards eat small mammals and large insects. Even their defensive tactics vary. Some lizards hiss, bite or squirt blood at their enemies, but others aren’t so bold. A Uromastyx lizard might look tough, but its primary defensive mechanism, like a lot of lizards, is to run away.

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“You find out a lot about reptiles as you own them. You find out a lot of the things you know just are not true,” Ian said. By bringing his pets to Kazoodles, kids have a chance to gain valuable firsthand education about lizards, to separate fact from fiction.

And before you get down on yourself for not knowing much about lizards, bear in mind these aren’t animals that are exactly common in the Pacific Northwest. You might find some small lizards in eastern Oregon and Washington, but most are too quick to catch and examine closely.

That makes finding pets a little difficult for Ian and Lyzz. While some of their lizards come from breeding facilities via big box stores like Petco, many are from local breeders or are sick or injured lizards they adopt. The day after he bought his wife their first water dragon, he adopted another one with three legs from a pet store.

Those two water dragons, along with a uromastyx, monitor lizard, Cuban knight anole and bearded dragon, make six lizards that call his house home. And while the serene creatures might seem simple to own, they actually require specialized care that can be just as tricky as owning a dog or a cat. A slight change in temperature is enough to kill most lizards, and while heat lamps regulate that well, a sudden power outage can turn tragic for reptile pets.

“When you buy a lizard, the lizard is always going to be the cheap part of it,” Ian said. A lizard can cost as little as $80, but after your buy a tank, heat lamps, habitat and food (which, depending on your lizard, could be live bugs or dead mammals), you can end up spending a few hundred dollars.

Although that might shatter any illusion you might have about lizards being cheap and easy, it’s important to realize that they’re on the same level as other common household pets. “Many people think they’re less intelligent, less worthy than dogs and cats,” Ian said. “We like to tell people that reptiles can be neat animals.”

Ian, Lyzz and three of their lizards will be at Kazoodles this Saturday, September 21 at 2 p.m. Holding and petting the lizards is allowed and encouraged. Take the opportunity to learn something new about these riveting reptiles!

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