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A (non) typical day in the life of a reptile owner

Updated on April 7, 2016

Actually, this article comes as a result of an accidental experiment I decided to carry out when I got an unexpected day off. “Days off” are something unexplored and mysterious for me because I always have plenty of things to do. However, that morning I woke up and realized that I had no arrangements to make, no blogposts to write and even no grass on the lawn to cut. It was overwhelming at first: what would I do with this load of time? And then the answer came: what if I make this day special both for myself and Togo. Ah, yes, you haven’t met before, have you? May I introduce Togo, my respected companion and a proud Australian goanna?

Quick info: goannas

Goannas, or monitor lizards, are quite typical in Australia, Indonesia and other countries of that region but in our country they are relatively unknown. The reason for such neglect is, sure, their origin which makes the price rather high (starting from $100 for smaller species and up to a couple of thousand for the biggest ones). However, I am convinced that the situation will change soon. Goannas can be bred in captivity, and my Togo comes from Costa Rica, not Australia, so soon, as I hope, goannas will be as common as iguanas.

But I am getting off the subject. Here is a quick overview of goannas’ habits which may be of use:

  • Food habits. Monitor lizards are natural predators, so one of my responsibilities is to stock up with insects and snails. Bigger goannas never refuse a nice mouse either, but Togo is a Timor tree goanna about 10 inches long nose-to-tail and is not really keen on food of that size.
  • Environment. It depends on the species because goanna is too wide a term. For example, Timor tree goannas, as their name suggests, like all sorts of vegetation to climb on, while some other species prefer to dig holes. They always try to have water within sight but not particularly eager to swim in it.
  • Behavior. Wild goannas tend to avoid people as much as possible, but when bred in captivity and cared for properly, they demonstrate a calm and friendly disposition. (Note: the bigger the goanna is, the more difficult it is in terms of behavior.)

And now let’s…

Lizards are not difficult to handle
Lizards are not difficult to handle

Get back to the topic

So, I got up full of enthusiasm and new ideas but first things first – I had to take care of myself. I won’t trouble you with all the details of my morning toilette – I will just say it did not take much time. Then the big day began.

First of all, it was time to feed Togo. I always have got enough food in stock, so it was no problem for us. Some nice slugs and mealworms and a pinch of vegetables (they are necessary in lizards’ diet even if they are predators) were a perfect breakfast for my little friend. By the way, I should say that I never give him meat. Some owners do but I read that meat bought in the shop does not meet the requirements of healthy food for reptiles.

Then it was time for some cleaning. At that time Togo lived in a 40 gallon vivarium 36 inches long x 13 wide x 20 inches tall. Now I admit it was not a good apartment for the goanna that likes all sorts of climbing surfaces, and Togo must have felt really uncomfortable there. (For those who want to claim me as an irresponsible owner, I am eager to say that I bought a new bigger vivarium two weeks later). I always do some soft cleaning every other day and Big Cleaning Day is scheduled every other week. As you have probably guesses, that day was exactly Big Cleaning Day. I should go into details here.

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How to Clean a Vivarium

The to-do list may look frightening but, actually, it is easier done that said. Big cleaning doesn’t take more than an hour if you do it properly (that is, without answering messages every fifteen seconds and gazing into nowhere in a dreamy way now and then).

  • Step 1. Make sure you have a “reserve airfield” for the reptile. For this purpose I usually used the old aquarium which had not been inhabited by fish for years but I was too greedy to throw it away. (And I was right not to do it, as it turned out pretty useful.). However, I think any box will do – it is only a temporary accommodation.
  • Step 2. Take out all the “furniture”. Rocks, trees, bowls and décor – remove all the stuff and place it into a box or on a paper towel. We will get back to it later.
  • Step 3. Remove the substrate. Actually, it is not necessary to throw it away every time. If you see that its condition is still pretty good, you can just throw the debris and you-know-what and add some new substrate, if necessary. That time, however, I was determined to do everything on a big scale, so everything was thrown without mercy.
  • Step 4. Scrub off the debris. Before you start washing, make sure there is no mess left. I used a hard sponge for that (now I am equipped with a good cleaning brush).
  • Step 5. Wash the terrarium. I know some people use soap or dishwashing liquid to clean their terrariums. Personally I think a good cleanser is worth buying. First of all, cleansers designed for reptiles do not contain anything that could harm your pet’s health and well-being and, secondly, they usually come as all-in-one, so you won’t need to clean, sanitize and deodorize the place. Faster and more convenient!
  • Step 6. Wash the “furniture”. I use the same solution as for the terrarium but I always make sure it is suitable for reptiles’ dishes as well. Normally they are, but I prefer to be sure.
  • Step 7. Add new substrate and have the things put back to their place. As I skipped sanitizing and deodorizing, my list came out shorter than it could be. If you prefer using several different cleaners, you should add them to your list.

Now we can go and check on Togo!

The rest of the day

While the terrarium was drying up, I decided to wash all my equipment (and myself) and then spend some time with Togo. He didn’t look particularly happy in the tiny aquarium, so at first he did his best to avoid contact with me. However, as I handled him regularly, he was not a bit shy and finally agreed to have a nice chat with me.

Yes, I know it is hard to imagine a grown man cuddling a lizard but I’m telling you – it is a great pleasure. For example, Togo likes to be scratched behind his ears (just like many other pets do). Still, I always watch out. Monitor lizards are not very patient, so if the goanna thinks it is enough, it means this is enough. If you disagree, be ready to get some nice scratches!

After these serene moments I put Togo to his clean house and he happily got down to his business. I decided to continue my reptiles-only day with reading some information on the net and ordering some things for him. A UV-producing lamp was to be replaced by a new one and I wanted to buy some more food for Togo.

Then I had another thing to do. Togo was a big boy by then, so I wondered if it was possible to find him a girlfriend. As I said, he himself came from Costa Rica but it would be great to meet some other goanna owners within 2-3 hour drive from my house.

Reproduction is a touchy issue for goannas, so it was not that easy. I knew some guys who kept male goannas, and they all told me that “blind dates” usually led to nowhere. Lizards turned out to be rather picky!

However, I finally managed to find a nice lizard girl for my Togo. I contacted the owner and we started to discuss our experiment. We didn’t agree on details that day, but I showed a photo of his future bride to Togo and he seemed to like her (How could I tell? No idea.). But it was quite a different story…

The end

This is what a day of intense reptile care looks like. Sure, it is not every day like that, but I liked the experiment and I repeated it several times. Focusing all your efforts and thoughts on one creature for a whole day is surprisingly refreshing, so the following morning I woke up ready to face that day with renewed energy.

This cute lizard wishes you all a nice day!
This cute lizard wishes you all a nice day!


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    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 

      2 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Nice article. Is that last photo of your Monitor? Take some more pictures of him!!


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