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Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
 Issue 14   
July, 2005
Fear and Loathing in Balnarring
In this Issue

(with apologies to Hunter S Thompson - may he rest in whatever he determines to be peace)

No, this is not about drugs and Gonzo journalism. Although it is about Gonzo. Gonzo the dragon and how I wanted to stop him hallucinating.

Gonzo was a gift. A young fellow with lots of zip and bit too much nip. He had been too much for his previous owner to bear, chewing the tail off a favorite roommate and being a little out of control, much like his namesake.

A central bearded dragon (pogona vitticeps), Gonzo is an adolescent who had continually attacked my nephew's other dragon with some zest and so it was decided that he should go to a good home. Mine.

I was a little un-prepared. I did have an unused terrarium I could use as a temporary home and also an older, larger cage that could be used as a permanent home. The older reptile cage did need some re-working. For example it had a fixed glass front and only opened at the top. It was also a very little plain looking, had no UV light fitting, no basking light and no thermostat, although it did have a functional heat mat. I also wanted to add a sliding glass door in addition to the existing top openings and also dress it up a bit. Whilst I know bearded dragons can be fast, the sliding doors offered some degree of access whilst limiting escape and the top openings were a precaution.

Gonzo arrived before the cage was ready so I had to place him in the terrarium with a make shift light and some cobbled together shelters and food and drinking trays. I wasn't worried about a heat mat as at night as I knew Gonzo, being a desert reptile, could cope with reasonably cool nights as the desert gets cold at night, and the room has a reasonably consistent temperature.

I decided to paint the old cage inside and out whilst Gonzo resided in the terrarium. The painting turned out to be a real nuisance in the end. I should have just covered the inside of the cage with Contact or something similar. The paint took a week to dry. I didn’t seem to matter how much I heated the cage up, the paint still reeked of volatile fumes. The last thing I wanted was to have Gonzo doing a Hunter S Thompson in the cage, seeing giants bat and other fearsome creatures flying about him whilst thinking he was driving a fast car to Las Vegas.

Gonzo was also clearly out of sorts when we got him. He didn’t feel like eating much. He would not move about his cage. I had to hand feed him initially. Crickets were ignored unless they were within 2 inches of his nose and he could get them with little or no effort. He simply turned his nose up at them. Humph! This was a very disgruntled lizard.

Over the next few days he gradually started to move about his cage and began to eat some of the greens offered in his food bowl. By the time he was ready to move into his new abode he was running about chasing the crickets and having a grand old time, feeling much more at home. He is now quite frisky and a great little pet.

The family think the world of him now, with his rather curious personality and peculiar sleeping habits. My daughter carries him around on her shoulder he even falls asleep there. So it with some pride that we can say that Gonzo is no longer suffering from fear and loathing in Balnarring.

Handling Lizards - part 2

By Christina Miller -

Large Lizards

Medium to large-sized lizards, like iguanas, monitors and tegus, may be more difficult to handle, particularly because their claws, tails and teeth can do more damage if agitated or if not properly restrained.

If the lizard is calm and comfortable being held, minimal restraint is required. So that the lizard feels secure, all of its body must be supported. A common technique is to support the lizard's chest and belly on your forearm (so that the lizard's head is towards your palm), and keep the tail tucked between your arm and side to keep it out of the way and safe. This method supports the entire animal (except the tail, which is guarded by your arm). If the lizard is a little more agitated and you want a firmer grip, keep the lizard in this hold but wrap your fingers around its pelvis and chest (thoracic) regions a little tighter.

If the lizard is aggravated but must be kept still, such as for nail trimming or administering medication, wrapping the lizard firmly in a towel can be quite effective. Single limbs can be extracted from the towel for examination, and the head can also be accessible. To help calm the lizard down, you may cover its eyes with towel or your hand, but NEVER wrap the lizard's head in the towel. You do not want to hurt, or worse, suffocate the lizard. Of course, a stronger, thicker towel is necessary for stronger, larger lizards that are finicky.

With even larger, potentially more dangerous lizards, such as large monitors, handling is not recommended unless you have experience with large lizards (that, consequently, have large teeth and claws!). If the lizard is aggravated, covering the its eyes may help. Restraining the neck may help control the head, however you must still be careful to not put too much pressure on the neck, particularly the throat. If the entire lizard must be held down, using your entire arms, and chest to put weight on the animal's side, may help hold the lizard down. Depending on the size of the animal, an additional person may be needed to control the tail, and neither of the two people already occupied with restraining the animal should be expected to be able to examine the lizard.

Next Issue: Handling Lizards - Part III - What to do if you get bitten.


Bartlett, R.D. and Bartlett, P. 1997. Lizard Care from A to Z. New York: Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

Jenkins, J.R. 1996. "Diagnostic and Clinical Techniques." In: Mader, D.R. (ed.), Reptile Medicine and Surgery. Philadelphia: WB Saunders Company.

Kaplan, M. 1997. "Handling Reptiles." (

Christina has always been interested in animals, but at nine years old discovered reptiles and amphibians to be the most intriguing. For her tenth birthday she received two Gekko
ulikovvski, or golden geckos. Since then, she has moved her way around the reptile and amphibian kingdoms, now owning seven herps.

Christina studies animal health (veterinary) technology at Vanier College and is in the process of writing a detailed book about the care of leopard geckos

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What's New

I have just had a very comprehensive and informative bearded dragon care sheet provided to me by Jeff Stewart. Jeff breeds bearded dragons and his web site is:
Take a look and see what he does. If you want to buy one of these fantastic pets, I'm sure Jeff will help you select the right bearded dragon for you and help you with all the info you need.

Jeff's bearded dragon care sheet is a free download from the link below:
Many thanks to Jeff for the use of this great resource material. I'm sure those of you who keep bearded dragons will find some great material in these resources and care sheets. I know I learnt quite a bit from it.

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