Reptiles have always been a favorite choice of pets. Most pet lovers opt for lizards. With the wide variety of species available, knowing the right food for the right species can prove to be a challenge.
There are many recorded species, and having a standard diet for all is impossible. To remain healthy, each different species requires its specific diet. The majority of the small ones are carnivores and feed on insects like crickets, flies, ants, among others.
Very large species like the Komodo dragon that prey on big animals like buffaloes, antelopes, pigs, and even human beings also exist. They attack their prey by releasing very poisonous venom that causes death. These are, not kept in homes.
Geckos and chameleons are examples of some common carnivores that feed on small insects. There are omnivorous species that feed on both plants and animals. Examples are the bearded dragon and the exclusive herbivore species like the iguana that feed on plant matter.
After deciding to keep one of them in your home the next challenge becomes providing nutrient adequate food for it. It is, therefore, important to conduct extensive research before getting one. It is also advisable to consult an expert. In the wild, there exists a wide variety of food sources at their disposal including eggs, different kinds of fruits and vegetables, eggs, a wide variety of insects and small animals. In homes, however, the choices are limited with most owners only feeding them with crickets and worms resulting in severe nutrients deficiency problems. The addition of nutrients comes as an obvious requirement to ensure a complete diet. The nutrients commonly added are calcium and vitamins.
The amount of nutrients to be added is determined by the specific species, age, and the expected time of mating. These nutrients come in the form of powder and are introduced to the food based on the diet. For carnivores that eat crickets, the nutrients are fed to the insects before being used as food, a process commonly referred to as gut-loading. For omnivores and herbivores that feed on plants, the nutrients are sprinkled on the plants. The goal is to pass the nutrients from the food to the animal. Normally, calcium only and then a mixture of calcium and vitamin D3 should be given with the food simultaneously, and a dose of multivitamins every week.
Another major requirement is water. It is life not only for human beings but also for all animals. Every pet owner is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the availability of clean water and at its convenience. Chameleons do not take water from a bowl. Instead, they drink the water coming from plants. Hence, it is the owner’s responsibility to ensure they have a machine that can hydrate the plants near its habitat to keep it hydrated at all times.
Now, it is already known that lizards can either be carnivorous, herbivores, or omnivores. It would be interesting to learn about the feeding habits of some of the species usually kept in homes as pets.
Bearded dragons fall under the Pogona species and are omnivores. It means that they can feed on both plant and animal matter. For the plant matter, leafy green vegetables like broccoli cabbage and kale, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, mixed with fruits like bananas, apples, peaches, plums at a smaller percentage is a good meal for them. For animal matter, bugs that can be fed to them include; crickets and worms (sparingly for worms as they contain a lot of fats). Bearded dragons eat more insects when they are young compared to plant matter and vice versa when they mature.
The leopard gecko is beautiful. It gets its name from having the same spotty skin as a leopard. The gecko feeds exclusively on insects. The most common insects are mealworms and crickets. They are not able to eat large insects. Large grown-up leopard geckos can go for one day without feeding. They should, however, be fed sparingly as they tend to overeat. A healthy gecko will have an average-sized tail, not bigger than their bodies and not so small. The tail is where they store their fat. For those that are left to feed without any control, they become overweight and develop a protruding belly with and sagged arms and legs filled with the excess fat.
Some people have been known to refer to the chameleon as the lovely lizard due to its ability to change its color. In comparison with the others, the chameleon has always been said to be the most difficult to maintain. The majority of the chameleon species is carnivorous and feeds on insects like locusts, crickets, grasshoppers, and wingless fruit flies. A few species also feed on plant matter.
There are a few feeding rules that cut across the board for the three reptiles. They are:
The insects used to feed them should not be collected from the crawling insects around. The insects could carry harmful chemicals that could be harmful when eaten. Instead, they should buy the insects from pet stores and ensure they have been fed with nutrients enriched foods.
A person will opt to buy fresh produce in the market instead of the frozen produce because of the simple fact that the fresh produce still has all its nutrients intact. This is the same case for insects. Fresh insects have more nutrients and are better food compared to dead insects that have been frozen. Other than the nutrients, the movement of the insects increases its alertness to the movement around and improves its hunting skills.
During feeding, the insects offered should only be enough for that one meal. This is to avoid the insects remaining after mealtime to start nibbling on their necks causing discomfort. For the case of a leopard gecko, any insects eaten after 20 minutes of feeding is considered as an over-feed.
It is important to note is that fireflies should never be used as food for insectivores as they could cause instant death once ingested. For omnivores and herbivores, it is important to get expert advice on the right fruits and vegetables. Some foods have more benefits than others and some should not be given to specific species as they could be toxic. Common fruits and vegetables used as food include; apple, lettuce, honeydew melon, celery, strawberry, yellow squash, blueberry, collard greens, grapes, and turnip greens.
All reptiles are cold-blooded. This means that they depend on the heat from the environment to balance their body temperature. Exposing them to cool conditions throughout and denying them access to sunlight, greatly affects their rate of metabolism. This, in turn, affects their appetite for food, their ability to fight off infections, and their level of activity. Ensuring alternate periods of sun-basking and then cooling off is important. Not just offering them nutritious food and then overlooking their environmental requirements. Always keep your pet lizard in its preferred optimum temperature range to enable it to utilize fully the healthy food you are offering.