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How to Safely Catch and Hold a Wild Lizard

Thomas is a reptile enthusiast who has cared for several varieties of lizards.

Learn how to catch a lizard⁠, safely and responsibly: locate, catch, handle, observe, and release.

Learn how to catch a lizard⁠, safely and responsibly: locate, catch, handle, observe, and release.

How to Catch a Lizard

Where I live in North Carolina, we have a lot of anoles and blue-tailed skinks. In their native habitat, anoles are a great natural pest-control resource because they eat a lot of bugs. I like to put large, flat rocks with some room under them in my garden to encourage the local anoles to hang around and help manage my plants' pests.

I also see blue-tailed skinks all the time. Both of these lizards can be captured with a small, butterfly-style net and kept temporarily in a 10-gallon tank with a mesh top for observation.

Catching and Handling Wild Reptiles

Before you approach a reptile in the wild, you should make sure that it's legal for you to catch a lizard in your particular area.

I suggest catching one or two, keeping and observing them for an hour or two, then letting them loose in the same place where you captured them.

Should You Catch Them With Your Hands?

Do not attempt to catch wild lizards with your hands. Lizards' small bodies are easily injured, and many species' tails detach when they are grabbed. This can be stressful and unnecessarily risky for the lizard. Always use a net when attempting to capture wild reptiles.

In this photo is a Carolina anole. It's a fine specimen.

In this photo is a Carolina anole. It's a fine specimen.

Supplies for Catching and Containing a Wild Lizard

  1. A small butterfly net with which to catch the lizard.
  2. A glass terrarium or other safe vessel in which to contain and observe the lizard.
  3. Crickets or mealworms (if you would like to watch the lizard hunt while contained).
  4. A small, wet sponge for the lizard to drink from.
  5. Artificial plants or other safe objects for the lizard to climb on and explore while contained.

How to Safely Catch and Hold a Wild Lizard

While successfully catching and handling a wild lizard takes both time and luck, you can maximize your chances of doing so by using the following method.

1. Know Where to Look

You can find wild lizards along old wooden fences and around rocks, especially flat rocks. You'll also see them around porches on houses—especially here in North Carolina.

Be sure to use care when exploring rock formations and rock walls because snakes love to hide in crevices and sun themselves on flats just like lizards do. Watch where you step and where you reach—you don't want to walk up on a venomous snake and not know it's not there.

2. Prepare Your Cage and Bring it With You

Take your cage with you to the site where you plan to search for wild lizards. Before going out, stock it with the materials mentioned above so that you can contain a lizard as soon as it is captured.

3. Have Your Butterfly Net Ready

Have your butterfly net in your hand and watch for a wild lizard. When you see one, try to gently catch it inside your net, then carefully place it into your cage and quickly put the lid on. If you don't, it may escape. Remember, lizards' tails detach when grabbed firmly, so be gentle when attempting to place the lizard in the cage.

4. Determine What Species You've Caught

Having done your research on the reptiles that live in your area, determine what species of lizard you have caught. Feel free to catch multiple lizards, but do not put different species in the same container. If two lizards of the same species begin to fight in your container, gently remove one and release it.

5. Safely Handle the Specimen You've Caught

It is imperative that you use extreme care when holding wild lizards because they can quickly and easily become injured. You wouldn't believe how very easy it is to accidentally break their tails off. Lizards' tails will grow back with time, but they will never again be the beautiful specimen they once were.

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Read More From Pethelpful

Note: Both wild-caught and captive-bred lizards may bite. The bites of smaller lizards, while sometimes painful, are not usually dangerous. Some lizards like anoles may cling for some time after biting. Never attempt to shake a biting lizard off your finger, as this will likely cause it to become injured. Wash any bites thoroughly with antibacterial soap then bandage with a topical antibiotic like Neosporin.

6. Observe the Lizard for a Short Period of Time

Watch the lizard explore the features of the cage. A newly caught lizard may not move much at first but should begin to explore after a while. If you've stocked your container with crickets or mealworms, you may be able to watch the lizard hunt and eat if it is comfortable enough to do so in a captive environment.

7. Release the Lizard

After observing them for a short time (I recommend keeping wild-caught specimens for no more than two hours), release the lizard(s) back into the wild. Try to place them as close as possible to where they were collected. As always, be extremely gentle when handling them.

This wild, blue-tailed skink is another fine specimen.

This wild, blue-tailed skink is another fine specimen.

Should You Keep Wild Lizards as Pets?

You may want to catch a wild lizard in order to keep it as a pet, but for its own health and safety, I recommend catching a lizard, containing it, and observing it for one or two hours. After that, be sure to release it back into the wild.

If you want to keep lizards long-term, I suggest buying a couple of green anoles from your local pet shop. Purchased lizards are just as much fun as wild ones. I really enjoy keeping them.

I began keeping reptiles about forty years ago, and I've worked with everything from alligators to king cobras. Dangerous animals and venomous snakes should only be kept by professionals. It's one thing to keep a cage of green anoles, but it's something else entirely to keep venomous snakes and collect their venom. Never touch or mess with a venomous snake. If you see one, get away from it.

For now, please stick to lizards. I remember I first caught green anoles on my grandfather's farm here in North Carolina many many years ago. My grandfather would only let me keep them for a day or two, and then I had to turn them loose. My grandfather knew even way back then that green anoles loved to eat bugs.

Every little kid should have the opportunity to keep pet lizards. You never know what they might learn from the experience or what they might grow up to be. If my child wanted to a lizard, I would be at my local pet store right now learning everything I could about caring for them. You could even plan a lizard-related project and involve your child's class. Maybe you're raising a future zookeeper or scientist. You just never know, do you?

While catching wild lizards for observation and release is a great educational exercise, keeping them as pets is not recommended.

While catching wild lizards for observation and release is a great educational exercise, keeping them as pets is not recommended.

Keeping Anoles as Pets

Green anoles can range from seven to nine inches long when they are grown. They can turn from green to brown, so they can easily blend in with much of their environment. Anoles are sometimes referred to as chameleons due to their ability to change color, but they are not chameleons.

Where to Purchase Anoles

Check out your local pet store and purchase one or two of these lizards for about $10 each. If you do purchase green anoles, please don't turn them loose. If you can't keep them, find a friend or pet shop that will take them from you.

What You Will Need If You Keep an Anole as a Pet

Like other pets, anoles need special supplies and care to thrive in captivity. In addition to a safe enclosure, food, and clean water, anoles also have heating, lighting, temperature and humidity requirements.


You will need to get your lizard's cage or enclosure ready before you put them in. Only put lizards of the same species together. You can keep several Anoles in the same 20-gallon aquarium.

Humidity and Temperature

The humidity of a lizard enclosure needs to stay between 60–70 percent, and the temperature needs to be between 60–80 degrees. Don't let the temperature drop below 60 degrees. You can use an under-tank heater to keep the temperature where it needs to be.

Mist the cage or enclosure several times daily to keep the humidity up. For the health of your lizard, you need a thermometer and a humidity meter in the enclosure so you can keep an eye on the levels. If you like, you can create an artificial waterfall to keep the humidity up.


A good UVB bulb needs to be turned on over your lizards' enclosure for 14 hours per day. This helps the lizards to synthesize vitamin D3. If you don't use a UVB bulb, you will reduce the length of your pets' lives and the vibrancy of their color.


Your anoles need a basking spot where they can sit to raise their internal temperature. Situate a basking rock below your heat lamp. Use a timer to keep the lamp on for 14 hours per day. Keep your heating pad on in case any of your lizards need to raise their temperature when their lamp is off.


Anoles' diets should be principally composed of crickets and mealworms. You need to dust the crickets and mealworms with a calcium supplement before you feed them to your anoles.

Substrate and Hides

Use a 70/30 sand and coco husk mixture as a substrate in the bottom of your lizards' cage or enclosure. Provide them with a couple of places to hide. These can be purchased at the pet store or constructed at home out of safe, natural materials.


In addition to a large piece of sponge that must be kept wet at all times, you should also have a large water dish in the cage. Keep the water in the dish filled-up and clean all the time. I always use distilled bottled water because tap water contains chlorine, fluoride, and other additives.

Captive-bred anoles are inexpensive and educational pets.

Captive-bred anoles are inexpensive and educational pets.

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.

© 2013 Thomas Byers


Julia on July 30, 2020:

I have been feeding a brown anole trapped in my screened in porch for months. If I can get him out, will he be able to survive on his own???

BIg VibES on May 01, 2020:

I think lizards are thiccc

Pony on April 14, 2020:

Can you tell us how to breed anoles? (

But not to much)

Boy I ain't tellin' nobody on April 13, 2020:

I've caught many blue bellied lizards and let them go in my neighbor hood so that I can have lizards near me. Then maybe someday see them again

Ashlyn on April 07, 2020:

Love it

Person on March 18, 2020:

If you catch a brown anole in Florida, please do not release it as they are invasive and very bad for the environment. Those you can take a try on keeping as pets, but they usually carry parasites that they have gained a immunity to so quarantine them before putting them with any wild caught specimens. Also, don't keep them in tiny tanks please.

Not telling you on February 14, 2018:

I love catching lizards and this time I wanted to do it right, so I looked it up, and I’m glad I did.

Nicole on March 23, 2016:

Thanx I looked up this website becouse I am going lizard hunting today

Josh Woods from United States on April 30, 2013:

Here in Georgia I see small lizards all of the time. When I was a kid I would catch them with my hands, and just like you warned about they would usually slip out and their tail would get broken off. I certainly wasn't worried about taking care of them then.

Now that I have a home of my own, I really enjoy having them around. We rarely get any bugs in our home, and I would have to say the lizards play a big part in that. I know I have seen blue tailed lizards around my home and green lizards too, but I don't know the species well. They like to hang around just beneath my siding on my foundation.

My Aussie-Lab mix, Boppy, likes to eat them, so I try to hold him back for a second when walking outside. If I don't I will look up to finds him slurping a lizard like spaghetti. I once found him with almost an entire swirl still alive with it’s tail hanging out of his mouth.

I love your idea to put flat rocks near your garden to encourage the lizards to hand around....natural pest control at its best. I think I’m going to pick up some flat rocks when I go to the creek this weekend. Hope it helps my garden out.

I also read your Hub and I mentioned how I would like to get sea monkeys for my daughter when she was old enough to enjoy them...well a lizard may be an even better idea. I never had much of a chance to have pets, but I want my little Sophia to have many. Did you raise a lot of animals growing up? If so what were your favorites?

Thanks for another awesome hub crazyhorsesghost, you're gonna have to stop keeping me up reading all night.

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