When it comes to choosing a new pet, some people are opting for a beady eyed and scaly companion in preference to the traditional cat or dog.
According to Ben Taylor, manager of Albany Animates Pet Store in Auckland, lizards are certainly growing in popularity although this is no doubt helped by his infectious enthusiasm for all things reptilian. Ben grew up in the UK where he kept a royal python known simply as 'the snake' and green anoles, stunning green lizards originating from the United States.
As a long time lizard keeper myself, I certainly understand the attraction. I have been enchanted from an early age by the way these cold blooded creatures look and feel and the aloofness and superiority they radiate from their scaly little faces. When asked what lizards have to offer as a pet Ben has many positive things to say.
"They have just as much character as any other pet, they are very unique, they can be handled and they don't smell. They will watch TV with you and sit on your shoulder while you play games on the computer," he says.
Keeping native lizards with an appropriate permit from the Department of Conservation has long been enjoyed by those hobbyists who are happy to keep their lizard pets at arm's length. In contrast to their local cousins, exotic lizards such as bearded dragons, leopard geckos and blue tongue skinks are more of a hands-on pet, allowing for an interactive reptilian experience.
Ben says his customers are amazed by the bearded dragon lizards and leopard geckos they have on display.
"We have them at the front of the store and everyone spends time looking at them'. There is more of a range of lizard pets available in the UK he says, though they are still considered an unusual pet even there.
Two Eastern Water dragons. Photo / Damon Bailey Eclipse Photographic
In my experience I find Australian Bearded dragons the best lizard pet with their relaxed demeanour and ease of handling. As for keeping all the exotic lizards, specialized heating and lighting is required as well as a terrarium - which is like an aquarium with extra ventilation. According to Ben, all the equipment and live food options are available. A full set-up that will last your bearded dragon its whole twelve or so years will set you back about $900, with a baby dragon itself costing around $300. The very cute little leopard geckos cost about the same, with a set up cost of around $500.
Blue tongue skinks are another of the popular pet lizards, though there are rules around keeping these in Auckland due to their possible environmental impact. These Australian cousins of our tiny brown garden skinks are capable of producing up to thirty offspring at once, born live and ready to go, making restrictions in warmer parts of the country a sensible precaution. Another Australian lizard, the eastern water dragon is sometimes available, though with an adult size of up to a metre - complete with sharp claws and teeth - these don't quite fit the bill as 'pets'.
Part of the appeal of lizard pets is their popularity with both children and adults. I would recommend lizard keeping as a family hobby rather than having a child as sole carer, as they do have specialized requirements. Young children should be supervised while handling their lizard pets and reminded to wash their hands afterwards.
Whether it's scaly or fluffy, taking on a new pet requires research, thought and planning. There is plenty of information available on lizard care, so be sure to do your homework before being sucked in by the beady little eyes at the pet store.