The weather is changing, and the end of an unprecedented cyber semester is on the minds of many. With Thanksgiving break and the pandemic cutting off all in-person activities at UB, winter break and the following months could become lonely for those who long for the full college experience to return once again. Luckily, there might just be something that could make some people a little less lonely.
Yes, pet lizards were my solution to the quarantine blues, and it could be yours, too. With many reasons behind this decision, I can confidently say that these fascinating creatures have brought joy into my everyday life.
Reason #1: Their diet is 100% vegan
Yep, you heard that right. Hailing from arid regions of the world like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and others, preserving water is a key instinct of the uromastyx or “uro” for short. Due to their efficient evolutionary design, a Uromastyx can simply obtain the water they need from the fresh vegetables you feed them. This not only makes it easier to care for them (no mealworms, crickets, roaches or other bugs), but it also means that you can do all of your grocery shopping in one trip. This alone was a dealbreaker for me, and it is quite remarkable as most other reptiles require some form of insect protein.
Reason #2: Everyday care is kept at a minimum
Unlike other pets like dogs, cats and birds, uromastyx don’t require much upkeep on a
day-to-day basis. In fact, they can healthily go a full week without eating fresh greens, which is a big plus for any student with a long to-do list or a busy schedule. Besides feeding them around two to four times a week, you’ll need to clean their enclosure periodically. That’s it.
Reason #3: They make great companions
Uromastyx don’t need the same attention you would give to other pets in order to lead happy and dignified lives. This means that if you are busy for a short period, you can pick right back up where you left off, like an old friend. When the warmer months arrive, you can purchase a kiddie pool so they can bask in the natural sunlight. I find that, especially under the pressure of a difficult semester, it is calming to open up their enclosure and let them roam free. Giving your animals a sense of control and not forcing them to play with you (i.e. picking them up and holding them for long periods), makes each interaction more personal.
Reason #4: There is a vibrant online community of hobbyists
As you might expect, caring for an exotic lizard comes with its challenges. The biggest challenge is finding a lizard that is born in captivity, not captured from the wild. In my case, I originally bought one from a local pet store (never do that), and quickly learned about the underbelly of the pet trade industry. Luckily, there is a Facebook page entirely dedicated to uromastyx keeping, so you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did. Here, you can find a spreadsheet of all known reliable and ethical breeders in the U.S., Canada, Europe and more. Additionally, the page provides invaluable information like a recommended diet, location-based vet recommendations and a complete guide to crafting your own DIY wooden enclosure.
Reason #5: Housing them is rewarding
Keeping a reptile is a feat in its own right, but actively being a part of that success is even better. I remember how daunted I was when I first considered building a five-foot by two-foot wooden enclosure for my scaly friends. I had no idea how simple electrical wiring worked, and when it came to woodworking … let’s just say I needed some help. But this barrier to entry made the final outcome much more enjoyable. It took around 22 hours of crafting with the help of my girlfriend and a family friend to complete my custom vivarium. Most enclosures aren’t this big, but if you intend on keeping two uromastyx like myself, it is an appropriate size.
Engaging in this new project during quarantine gave me a sense of accomplishment when I desperately needed it, and also helped me become handier along the way. Whether you decide to purchase your vivarium or build your own, creating an environment that your uromastyx can thrive in is one of the most satisfying endeavors: It is a labor of love.
In my eyes, uromastyx are one of the most adorable and intriguing pets out there. It’s a shame few people know how wonderful these creatures can truly be. Each uro has a unique personality, so falling in love with an animal like this is not hard to do. They are curious, lively and deserving lizards when properly cared for. With a lifespan of around 15 or more years, this reptile will be your buddy until the thought of quarantine is a distant memory.
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Jack Porcari is the assistant features editor at The Spectrum. He is a political science major with a minor in law and journalism. Aside from writing and editing, he enjoys playing piano, flow arts, reptiles and activism.