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For someone who wants to begin keeping reptiles, one of the best “starter” lizards is the leopard gecko. This plump-bodied creature, with its bright black-and-yellow colouring and nubbly skin, is attractive and easy to keep.
One of its advantages is that it lives in a dry environment. This means that food and waste dry out rather than rotting, and if the animal is injured, the wound is less likely to become infected.
Leopard geckos are among the calmest reptiles, and very easily handled. A regularly handled one becomes quite tame. They can live for ten years or longer, and reach a length of twelve inches from nose to tail-tip. A male and female, or several females, will live peacefully together. A group of females is also peaceful, but the males are very territorial and two in the same tank will fight.
A 36-gallon tank is adequate space for a leopard gecko, although larger is definitely better. Such a tank will take a one-by-three foot floor space. The leopard gecko needs a temperature of 80 to 90 degrees in order to be comfortable, as well as a warm spot for basking. Make sure there is also a cooler place in the terrarium so that the gecko isn’t always at basking temperatures. Reptiles are cold-blooded, which means their internal temperature responds to the surroundings, and even a desert animal can overheat. Fresh water is a must. Leopard geckos are strict carnivores, and are happy on a diet of crickets.
The leopard gecko is a terrestrial lizard, which means it will not climb out of the terrarium and is much less likely to escape. The terrarium should still be covered with a screen or mesh lid, however, to keep the gecko safe from household hazards such as cats and small children.
Geckos rarely bite their keepers, especially if regularly handled. If a gecko is not yet used to being handled, it will first try to escape before biting. If it bites, the injury should be washed and disinfected. There are no disease or bacteria hazards in a gecko bite. Never seize a lizard by its tail when you are trying to catch it – always grasp the body.
The leopard gecko is native to the Middle East, but all leopard geckos available in the pet trade are now captive bred.
I like goldfish. Though often dismissed as mere”starter” fish in the aquarium world, they’re hardy, inexpensive, undemanding and attractive. For a cold-blooded critter, a goldfish can be remarkably friendly. I once had a black moor who would come to the surface of the bowl to be petted.
Goldfish are carp, developed over centuries of careful breeding for colour, shape and fins. They vary from slender, single-finned comets to almost spherical orandas, fantails and bubble-eyed “stargazers”, and from plain orange to white, black and tricolour, but they share the hardiness of their ancestral breed.
There are two essentials to keeping goldfish well; enough clean water, and enough food. You’ll need more than you think of the first, and much less than you expect of the second.
The rule for enough water is this: one gallon of water per two inches of slim goldfish, like a comet, measured from nose to the end of the body. For a round-bodied goldfish, double that requirement; one gallon per inch of goldfish. Your fish will grow; either allow growing room or be prepared to get a larger tank. Don’t crowd the tank. If you do, the waste will overload your filter, and the water won’t stay clean.
The rule for food is: less. Goldfish are incredible liars. If you were to feed them ten times a day, they would still try to convince you that they were starving. A goldfish actually needs about as much food as would fit into its eye. (This doesn’t apply to bubble-eyed fish!)A goldfish digestive system is one long tube, so tiny, frequent feedings are better than larger, less frequent ones.
Goldfish don’t need landscaping. If you do add pieces of wood, plants or doo-dads to your tank, make sure the fish can’t get caught in them. I had an oranda who was badly injured when he got stuck between a log and the side of the tank. He lost his tail and dorsal fins and a lot of scales. Although we thought at first of putting him out of his misery, he continued to show interest in his food. We kept an eye on him, and in a few weeks his fins began to regrow. Eventually he made a full recovery.
Cover your aquarium if you have a cat; some become proficient fishers. We caught one of ours actually standing in the tank to chase goldfish. Half-inch hardware cloth is a good choice.