Taming a 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 that 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 that 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 that this lizard taming method works very, very well. The question is: are you going to adhere to its proven results?
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.
© 2011 ReptileRevolution
ya on August 13, 2020:
ugh i feel bad for force-handling my lizard :( this helped alot thank you! (also its a wild lizard, would that effect anything i do or just make the process longer?)
Wook on July 27, 2020:
Thank you so much!
Aqua on June 21, 2020:
I think this is so helpful thankyou so much
josh joshiiwa on May 27, 2020:
i think my lizard will ofically be growned into a big boy when i do this
thank you so much ok
person on May 08, 2020:
can i train a week old lizard with that step?
Baby yoga on April 04, 2020:
I now regret forcehandling my past pet (14) lizards
Screw me for not knowing what lizard feces were
Mary Boyd on March 09, 2020:
what if you caught this lizard from the wild and it happens to be a Ornate tree lizard does this advice still stand? :/
gavins wild animal taming center (gwatc) on November 14, 2019:
this isnt always how you tame a lizard.but its GOOD ADVICE!
Zac on November 01, 2018:
I love the advice. Although I do have another way of reptile domestication. It has worked for bearded dragons, juvenile rattlesnakes, alligator lizards, skinks of many kinds, and more.
Rae on September 01, 2018:
I have a leopard gecko and I got him over six months ago (got him on Christmas). He really doesn't like me and hides whenever I open his cage. I've tried forced handling (a lot of the websites I used said this works) and I guess I should stop. Will this still work even if I've had for a little under a year?
Acrophile on May 31, 2018:
Our anole is a year old. We don't handle him unless there's a reason (example: we had to help him get a bit of moss out of his moutn; he looked like he was choking). Mostly we let him be because he's so FAST! We are afraid he will escape and we'd lose him if we tried to just "take our time". But we can try your way, of course. My biggest question though, is, how to "hand-feed" him when the little crickets can get away from us, too? (sorry, I don't love the idea of having stray crickets running around my house). Should I just put my hand in the cage and just leave it there for a while every day at first? Just to become "part of his world"? I know you advise working with a hatchling, but we love our little anole and would really like to be able to handle him. I saw a guy on YouTube talking about good anole habitats, and he had several anoles that were just kind of "hanging around" on his arms and hands, and even "biting" his earlobes, like living earrings! It was cute and funny, and we would love to have our anole be that tame (though we wouldn't show him off as jewelry!).
Jesse on March 26, 2018:
If the lizard has already seen you and you have picked it up before what do you do?
Sully.S on January 23, 2018:
Thank you so much your one of the only articles i've seen on this very helpful! ill try this method asap!
Elsa.S on January 21, 2018:
Green anole was killed by my parents
They thought it was poisonous
And it was just a baby,I sneaked him into the house
hdhde ndhfhf hb on December 30, 2017:
this artical was really helpful
Thank you for this helpful information on May 12, 2017:
I have had a lot of pets that I have had no problem bonding with. I recently got a Lizard and he is beautiful yet he is extremely leary. Thanks for the information that he needs some time. Its is day 6 and I have given him his food and watched him eat. Ive noticed that at the beginning when I sat down by him he would run to the other side of the tank. Now he will chill next to me in the tank. I'll continue to take you advice and in a month put my hand in the tank and see if he will come to me. My only issue is that because there has not been bonding he immediately tries to run out of his tank when I slide the top screen. Any suggestions? firstname.lastname@example.org thank you...
Person on March 16, 2017:
i found a sand gecko down here in florda. i think im scaring it to mutch. I fell so bad. and the cage i mad was for an anole ;-;
Metanoia on February 15, 2017:
shelby on November 03, 2016:
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!
Jacob on November 12, 2014:
But how do i tame a wild lizard
Jacob on November 12, 2014:
Love the article, and you're very funny
Graham on November 05, 2014:
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
SIMONE on August 14, 2014:
This is great advice, the only thing is, my anole lizard never eats while I'm watching him. Any advice?
SIMONE on August 12, 2014:
I have an anole, and I'm taking it using your method. So far it's working.
Isaac on June 29, 2014:
Don't ever buy from backwaterreptiles.. that site is horrible.
zac on April 25, 2014:
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.
Kolton on April 01, 2014:
Hello im trying to trane a bearded dragon so it comes to me when i say its name
Kitten on March 11, 2014:
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.
alexander on August 01, 2013:
i caught lizerds this morning
Kat on July 31, 2013:
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
kole on April 15, 2013:
i caught three lizerds today
cobeal on December 27, 2012:
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.
Austin on November 04, 2012:
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.
Dean Enterline on October 01, 2012:
"Super-sized" ... quality information, indeed. Thanxs for the through instructions on How To Tame My Water Monitor, Varanus salvator. Sincerely, Dean!
Trent on August 20, 2012:
I mean 3
Trent on August 15, 2012:
Can a foot long bearded dragon fit in a 30 gallon tank. (2ft long)
Boo on August 13, 2012:
How do u get ypur mom to get u a reptile!! I have tried all the websites!!! PLZ HELP!!!
Other alex on August 09, 2012:
I know they r not smart at all. They r 4 show.
Jack on August 09, 2012:
Can I tame a chameleon?
user on August 08, 2012:
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....
Other Alex on July 30, 2012:
Yes u can. She's doing great. My friend tamed a wild lizard
me!! on July 24, 2012:
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 on July 20, 2012:
I mean an armidillo lizard!! I am going to tame her.
Other Alex on July 18, 2012:
Getting a red sand ameiva
Hi on July 17, 2012:
Name some small lizards
not geckos. PLZ!!!
Alex on July 17, 2012:
Yes u can. I have a green anole and she climbs right on me
user on July 14, 2012:
No you cannot tame anoles. They are hardwired to be the way they are and lack intelligence.
James on July 06, 2012:
Can a catch a baby wild lizard
La on July 03, 2012:
I breed wild anoles and I am trying to tame their baby. Does it work
Casey on June 29, 2012:
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?
Brandon on May 08, 2012:
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?
Ian on April 20, 2012:
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.
yo on April 16, 2012:
that's how i tamed a feral cat.
Tom on October 30, 2011:
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?
Blue Belly on October 14, 2011:
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.
misspeachesx from Northeast, Washington on October 03, 2011:
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.
Snakes for sale on August 07, 2011:
I've been trying to tame my bearded dragon lizard for a couple years. Is it too late to tame him/her?
brennawelker on July 23, 2011:
ReptileRevolution? I like your hub.. Also your lizard, I am glad and really love it.
ReptileRevolution (author) from California on March 16, 2011:
Thanks guys--reptiles and amphibians are a real passion of mine--glad you enjoyed the article!
yuli on March 14, 2011:
Lizards are awesome !!! In my life I always have them...plus my dog is OK with them, not jealous with another mammals....
GetSmart on March 13, 2011:
It sounds like you are very good with lizards! I think they are very beautiful and seem very mysterious. Thanks for the information.