Ten minutes watching a programme on lizards starring the great David Attenborough should be enough to show anyone that lizards are not easy to feed. They are shown stalking their prey, catching or missing locusts and other insects, catching worms and all sorts of predatory behaviour. Other lizards are herbivores and there is even one species which drinks nectar. Tempting lizards to eat in captivity when none of the natural predator prey or fresh vegetation is on offer can be difficult as they are easily put off their food when stressed or unwell with another condition.
It is usually impossible to feed your vegetarian lizards exactly the same food as they would be eating in the wild. It is best to prepare a salad with as many different vegetables in it as possible and chop everything up really small so that it can’t just pick out its favourites and leave the rest, resulting in an unbalanced diet. When making up a ‘salad’ for your lizard, think carefully about what the various vegetables have to offer and add dark greens (chard for example), avocado (full of ‘good’ fats), celery (fibre) and add something tempting like cantaloupe to attract the animal to the bowl. Lizards are attracted to yellow food – if yours is such a one it is worth picking dandelions when they are numerous (and thereby also saving you a weeding problem later!) and popping them in the freezer to bring out in the winter to tempt your lizard if it is feeling low. And just like a human vegetarian can be tempted from their path by a lovely crispy piece of bacon, so a vegetarian lizard which is not feeding well or seems a little jaded can be tempted by a small handful of mealworms in its food now and again. This treat is so much enjoyed by some that it is often repeated too often by owners who want to spoil their pet a little. This is not good practice and can easily result in fatty liver disease and obesity.
Feeding insectivorous lizards is fraught with problems. Firstly, in the wild the lizard will obviously be eating live prey. This is not always practical and in fact it is essential that all uneaten prey is removed before the lizards go to sleep in the cooler temperatures of the night time habitat as the insects have been known to bite the lizards and even eat or damage their eggs, if you are running a breeding programme. Make sure that you will be comfortable feeding live prey to your lizard – if you feel at all squeamish about it, do not take on the pet, as some lizards will simply never learn to tolerate killed food. If you are able to, catching your own insects in the wild is best and if they are then dusted with a vitamin supplement you will know that your lizard is getting the best quality, super fresh food. If this is not possible and you ‘buy in’ insects, it is important to buy the right size insect for your lizard. A bit of a change can be introduced by feeding waxworms or mealworms occasionally. This should be an occasional treat only and you must also make sure that none of them survive to grow into adult beetles. They have strong jaws and can be very dangerous to your lizard if left in the habitat. Some lizards have such specialised diets that unless you are an expert you should not get them as pets; lizards for example which eat ants are almost impossible to keep in captivity.
Omnivorous lizards are quite easy to keep, but even so some have to be tempted to eat killed prey. It is unethical to feed live mammalian prey to any other animal and even if this was not so, live prey can attack the lizard. If feeding frozen mice, for example, it is essential to warm them up before offering them to the lizard; some people use warm water, others have found that a hairdryer on low does the trick. There are proprietary foods which give all the nutrition that an omnivorous lizard needs, but most thrive better if given rodents and insects as well.
Lizards need to have the perfect temperature in their habitat to ensure that they feed properly. If it is too cool they become torpid, their metabolism slows right down and they do not feed. If the temperature is high, their metabolism will speed up and they will need more food to keep it going. It is not good practice to go outside of the natural limits of your lizards temperature requirements and sometimes their attitude to food is the first thing that will alert an owner that the temperature is not entirely to the lizard’s liking. If live insects are being fed to lizards, care must be taken to make sure that they have all been consumed as if they are allowed to remain in the habitat they can cause considerable damage to the lizard by biting it in the night. These bites can become infected and it is quite serious, so it is important that the habitat will allow for a thorough search to be made without stressing the lizard. Whether lizards are insectivorous, vegetarian or omnivores, it is important that their diet includes enough vitamins, especially calcium. There are plenty of supplements available, many of which can be added to even live prey, by dusting the insects with the powder. Lizards are not necessarily easy to feed, but once an owner has got the recipe right, they will take a balanced diet and this will help them fend off infections and other problems which in an undernourished animal might become quite serious.