How to Tame Your Lizard (or Reptile)

Taming 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.

A Western Fence lizard I caught in Lincoln, California.
A Western Fence lizard I caught in Lincoln, California.

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 snakes. 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 (ie. 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," because they are both extremely subjective subjects. As ten people, and you'll get ten differing answers. Suffice it to say, lizards can become very interactive captive reptiles.

One of my Children's pythons (Antaresia childrenii).
One of my Children's pythons (Antaresia childrenii).

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, you're 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.

A young Water monitor of mine (Varanus salvator)
A young Water monitor of mine (Varanus salvator)
A hatchling Black Roughneck monitor (Varanus rudicolliis) I purchased.
A hatchling Black Roughneck monitor (Varanus rudicolliis) I purchased.

The 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.) 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.) 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.) After a couple 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.

4.) 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.

5.) 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 sustinence--a positive influence in its life. A partner in survival.

6.) 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. 

A picture I took of a giant Water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator) at a reptile shop in Lodi, California. See what I mean when I say he's looking back at you?
A picture I took of a giant Water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator) at a reptile shop in Lodi, California. See what I mean when I say he's looking back at 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?

  • Lizard
  • Snake
  • Turtle
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Comments 43 comments

GetSmart profile image

GetSmart 5 years ago

It sounds like you are very good with lizards! I think they are very beautiful and seem very mysterious. Thanks for the information.

yuli 5 years ago

Lizards are awesome !!! In my life I always have my dog is OK with them, not jealous with another mammals....

ReptileRevolution profile image

ReptileRevolution 5 years ago from California Author

Thanks guys--reptiles and amphibians are a real passion of mine--glad you enjoyed the article!

brennawelker profile image

brennawelker 5 years ago

ReptileRevolution? I like your hub.. Also your lizard, I am glad and really love it.

Snakes for sale 5 years ago

I've been trying to tame my bearded dragon lizard for a couple years. Is it too late to tame him/her?

misspeachesx profile image

misspeachesx 5 years ago from Northeast, Washington

What a great method! I agree that regular handling and interaction is key once your reptile has learned to trust you. I do believe that regular handling and interactions keeps them tame. However, forced handling is a big no-no and many people seem to think that if they just pick up the animal, it'll just tame down. It always puzzles me when people forcibly try to tame a reptile, and they wonder why the snake/lizard/etc just gets worse. Or the reptile freezes like you mentioned, and irresponsible people think they've "tamed" it.

Blue Belly 5 years ago

Im wanting to try and tame a Western Fence Lizard (Blue Belly), specifically, a male, as their colors are more beautiful to look at. Living in CA, theres plenty around, and they are not endangered or protected.

Tom 5 years ago

Im trying to tame a berber skink but it stands still if im in the room and if i open the glass it just hides, any advice?

yo 4 years ago

that's how i tamed a feral cat.

Ian 4 years ago

I'm trying to tame a wild house gecko. Not sure what type it is. It is bright green with red spots on its back. It hangs out by my desk all the time. I started feeding it a couple days ago. Today it ate out of my hand.

Brandon 4 years ago

I've had an Egyptian Uro for about 4 months now and have not made any progress in taming the little fella. He eats peas right out of my hand, but as soon as I move he freaks out. Should I just keep on trying with hand-feeding?

Casey 4 years ago

I bought an armadillo lizard a couple of weeks ago from petco and iv done some research on them and i know they like to hide and are pretty shy. I am new to lizards so i have been doing this wrong! Is there anything special that i need to do with this kind of lizard to get it to like me?

La 4 years ago

I breed wild anoles and I am trying to tame their baby. Does it work

James 4 years ago

Can a catch a baby wild lizard

user 4 years ago

No you cannot tame anoles. They are hardwired to be the way they are and lack intelligence.

Alex 4 years ago

Yes u can. I have a green anole and she climbs right on me

Hi 4 years ago

Name some small lizards

not geckos. PLZ!!!

Other Alex 4 years ago

Getting a red sand ameiva

Other Alex 4 years ago

I mean an armidillo lizard!! I am going to tame her.

me!! 4 years ago

Blue Belly,

I'm trying to do the same thing. There was one in my pool in West Hills, CA. He's still quite small, and I wanted to know if anyone knows if I could somehow tame him? My cousin is determined to keep him as a pet; there's no way he'll let me free him. Do you think I could tame him, anyone?

Other Alex 4 years ago

Yes u can. She's doing great. My friend tamed a wild lizard

user 4 years ago

anoles are arboreal and will climb on anything vertical.... tame anoles. dear god. the absurdity of this statement is staggering. as you venture into other species, you will understand....

Jack 4 years ago

Can I tame a chameleon?

Other alex 4 years ago

I know they r not smart at all. They r 4 show.

Boo 4 years ago

How do u get ypur mom to get u a reptile!! I have tried all the websites!!! PLZ HELP!!!

Trent 4 years ago

Can a foot long bearded dragon fit in a 30 gallon tank. (2ft long)

Trent 4 years ago

I mean 3

Dean Enterline 4 years ago

"Super-sized" ... quality information, indeed. Thanxs for the through instructions on How To Tame My Water Monitor, Varanus salvator. Sincerely, Dean!

Austin 4 years ago

Okay, I have to object to the cuddling statement! I had an iguana for years who I babied and whenever I got home he would literally climb up to my shoulder, put one arm around my neck and nudge his head into me as if he was hugging me. He also liked to take naps with me and hang out, he was like a dog! he definitely showed some emotion and was a big baby. nice guide to taming and I am currently working on a basilisk.

cobeal 3 years ago

It is good that someone like you has taken the time to help people understand that these creatures can experience fear and discomfort and deserve to be treated as individuals and will likely warm up to you as a reward for that show of respect.

I agree, if you must have captive reptiles it is best they feel free to come and go as they please. Growing up in the country we had access to plenty of wild part-time pets. One male blue belly liked a particular rock but would run when approached. So I spent a week or so arriving before the lizard and never looked directly at it. Sometimes just laid down and stared at the sky knowing it was there when it finally arrived yet paying it no heed. After some time we developed a bond. Over time, this wild lizard allowed me to stroke its back and later would see me approaching and run to the rock from the distance to receive its daily stroking.

Like hawks and cats, lizards are both predators and prey. They are intensely tuned to eye contact and tiny muscle tone changes that might signal an attack. In the animal kingdom such things can represent a desire to catch and eat something. They love their freedom and with the right amount of patience and good intent you can enjoy and interact with many wild and free creatures.

Don't get me wrong, I've had plenty of captive reptiles but usually locals and only for awhile then released. A friend has 2 iguanas that are more like cats than lizards and wander the house freely. I have just reached a point in my life where I feel more and more that there is less difference between humans and animals than society would have us believe. And it is my experience that each wild creature enjoys its freedom so much that I no longer feel right taking that away.

Captive bred is probably a different animal than captured from the wild.

kole 3 years ago

i caught three lizerds today

Kat 3 years ago

I had caught 2 little geckos outside . They where scared at first but later warmed up to me and where like 2 little happy monkeys!! I'm am currently trying to catch a whiptail lizard and hope to use this method

alexander 3 years ago

i caught lizerds this morning

Kitten 2 years ago

Ok...but does this work for a Frog Eyed Gecko also known as the "wonder" Gecko? Because I have 2 whom well....STAY underground 95% of the time and I really wish to handle them but there biters! And trust me they HURT!! But they seem so cute and friendly, please tell me if it'll work for these lil guys.

Kolton 2 years ago

Hello im trying to trane a bearded dragon so it comes to me when i say its name

zac 2 years ago

Im trying to tame a baby wild bearded dragon and its to scared ive had him for 2 days I dont know wh

at to do.

Isaac 2 years ago

Don't ever buy from backwaterreptiles.. that site is horrible.

SIMONE 2 years ago

I have an anole, and I'm taking it using your method. So far it's working.

SIMONE 2 years ago

This is great advice, the only thing is, my anole lizard never eats while I'm watching him. Any advice?

Graham 2 years ago

Awesome page. I've had my bosc for a year and a half now and I'm having no luck with him trusting me using everything else I've read online. Your article makes perfect sense. I just hope it's not too late

Jacob 2 years ago

Love the article, and you're very funny

Jacob 2 years ago

But how do i tame a wild lizard

shelby 4 weeks ago

I feel so bad, im twelve and I think I forcehandled my lizard, he seems to like me holding me, he will crawl around and we will have fun once he gets off his basking rock and he is a little more active, but thx for the tips, I will try but cant make any promises, I am only twelve after all!

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