How to Tame Your Lizard (or Reptile)
Ok, here's the deal. 99% of the population has no clue how to tame a reptile. Zero. None. Nada. I can almost guarantee you, whatever you think you know is dead wrong. Maybe that sounds harsh, but sometimes the truth hurts. If you are willing to accept that what you've done in the past is wrong, and would like to learn the truth about how to tame a lizard or snake, then read on.
Throughout the instructions, I will be talking specifically about lizard taming, but this method will work for taming snakes and turtles as well.
Can a Lizard Be Tamed?
Absolutely. In fact, you may be surprised at the level to which a lizard can be tamed. Snake-lovers don't like to admit it, but I personally feel that lizards are generally more interactive with their keepers—there's just something different about how they look at and respond to you. To put it in really simple terms, when you look into a monitor lizard's eye, you can tell he's looking back at you, thinking and wondering what you're up to. When you look into a snake's eye, you look into a black abyss.
Before anyone claims I'm partial to lizards, keep in mind, I have several snakes, and appreciate all reptiles and amphibians. It's my opinion that there's just more going on behind a lizard's eyes when compared to a snake's. I can't prove it scientifically, but I'm convinced it's true after decades spent with both reptiles.
Anyhow, back to taming your lizard. How tame can a lizard become? Well, that depends on your definition of a "tame" lizard. Here's where I have to burst a few bubbles: your lizard will never cuddle up to you--they just aren't capable of that level of emotion. If you desire that response, get a dog. However, you can get your lizard to a level where he or she will seek you out, voluntarily climb on you, feed from your hand, and the like. They are more intelligent than many give them credit for, and if scientific tests are to be believed, they can count to six, and repeatedly pass simple tests involving choices and food rewards (i.e. push this particular color lever to get food). It's amazing to watch.
It's not fruitful to get involved in the "how intelligent is a lizard" or "what is the definition of tame" discussions because they are both extremely subjective subjects. Ask ten people and you'll get ten different answers. Suffice it to say, lizards can become very interactive captive reptiles.
The Taming Myth Debunked
The most important first step is actually not that easy. If you're serious about taming your lizard, snake, or turtle, you must be willing to forget everything you've ever been told about taming a reptile. Period. End of story. Don't bother reading any further if you insist upon clinging to the myths and suppositions you've been told in reptile shops and on the web.
How many times have you been told that the key to taming a snake or lizard is regular handling? It's a complete and utter myth, and in fact extraordinarily contrary to the truth. You do tremendous (and often irreparable) damage to your relationship with the lizard or snake by force-handling it. Whether you want to believe it or not, the reptile is petrified with fear when you do this.
Ok, let me guess, your defensive response may be: "But when I hold my iguana, it's perfectly still in my hands, so it's pretty tame already." Wrong again! It's frightened to the point of remaining perfectly still, sometimes called "going cryptic." It's an instinctive response, the same response as when you see a snake or lizard in the wild, and they freeze--hoping you won't notice them. Trust me, do not force-handle your reptiles if you want to tame them.
Now that we've covered what not to do (regular forced handling), let's go over the solution to your goal of taming your lizard or snake.
My Taming Solution
The beauty of the best method for taming a lizard is that it takes the least amount of effort—literally. If you follow the below rules, I believe you will be very successful at taming your lizard. This is what I do to tame my lizards, and it works like a charm:
1. Get a Young Lizard
Start with a hatchling lizard--they are "clean slates," so-to-speak. Captive-bred is preferable. If you try taming a wild caught lizard, you will have the added effort of having to "de-program" all of the prejudices and hard-wiring that it has already developed. Get a hatchling if you're serious about this.
2. Leave It Alone at First
When you bring the lizard home for the first time, put it in its cage and leave it alone for a few days. Make absolutely sure you have several hide spots (cork bark tubes, cork bark flats, etc) available for it to utilize. This allows it to feel secure, and is of vital importance for the taming process. Not being able to go to a "safehouse" when it so chooses leads to stress.
3. Feed and Observe Your Lizard
After a couple of days have passed, open the cage and let the lizard see you put in some food. Let the lizard eat while you watch. Repeat this process for two weeks.
3. Use Tongs to Place Food Near Your Lizard
After a week or so, start using tongs to place the food in the general vicinity of the lizard, taking care not to make any sudden movements. Repeat this process for about a month. I know it's tempting to interact more, but don't. Let the lizard set the pace, and use your judgment. If it still seems skittish after a month of this, keep going until it's not.
4. Begin to Feed Your Lizard by Hand
Now it's time to try feeding the lizard by hand. It should be small enough that gloves aren't necessary. Do it slowly, and try to let the lizard come to you. Repeat this for a couple weeks. You should eventually find that the lizard will seek you out when he or she sees you, and this is your ultimate goal. When you reach this point, it means that the lizard no longer sees you as an aggressor or a threat, but instead, a source of sustenance—a positive influence in its life. A partner in survival.
5. Let Your Lizard Come to You
Now, it may be extra tempting to try to pick-up the lizard at this point—don't. Instead, let the lizard climb up your arm, or lay on your hand inside the cage. It will explore you, trust me on that. If it doesn't happen immediately, just give it some time. When lizards are small, they are a little more cautious because they are prey to so many things. As they grow, they tend to mellow out. So, as your lizard grows, so will the food-bond between the two of you.
My Most Recent Lizard Taming
Here's a real-life example for you: I purchased four (0.0.4) hatchling Red ackie monitors (Varanus acanthurus acanthurus) in very early January 2011 (at the time of this writing, it is February 11th, 2011). I followed my above lizard taming plan, as I always do, and just under six weeks into it, they don't have any perceived fear of me. I can get as close as I want, and they don't care one bit. You see, they no longer view me as a potential danger--that's the key.
Two days ago, I hand-fed some really small pinkies to them, which they relished. Obviously, this involves getting up-close, and they never flinched. But what was really funny is that one of them was chasing another trying to get its food, so I gently picked-up the instigator and moved him or her a foot or so away. It acted like I wasn't even there (which is great). This was the first contact I'd had with the lizards, and needless to say it was positive. Ordinarily I wouldn't have done this (picked one up) so soon, but I try to make sure all the lizards have plenty to eat. It helps that they've doubled their hatchling weight, so they're a little more confident.
My point is, this lizard taming method works very, very well. The question is: are you going to adhere to its proven results?
What reptile are you attempting to tame?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.