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Big Lizard Enrichment: How to entertain your Monitor Lizard

Monitor lizards, on par with tegus, are amongst the most highly intelligent reptiles out there. If you are keeping a big lizard as a pet, you will be amazed by their inquisitive nature, memory and awareness. As smart creatures, though, they tend to get bored easily and it is important for you as a caregiver to provide enough stimuli to keep them intellectually stimulated. This is called “enrichment”, and can be achieved in several ways.

A monitor lizard taking a bath.

Enrichment Ideas for Big Lizards

1. Environmental enrichment

The most important and effective way to enrich your reptile’s life is to make sure they live in an adequate environment. Big lizards need a lot of space – they are burrowing creatures that enjoy exploring their surroundings, but also need hiding spaces where they can feel safe from predators. Some species may enjoy climbing or bathing in water. Placing large logs, branches and ledges in your enclosure can make the difference between a “cage” and a more natural-looking environment.

Here’s a few ideas on how you can enrich your lizard’s enclosure:

  • Place adequately sized hides such as large logs or buckets
  • Provide a large enough bowl of water or small bathtub for your lizard can bathe in. Replace water daily.
  • Setup heat lamps in different areas within the enclosure, so that there are hot basking areas as well as cooler areas to allow for thermoregulation
  • Consider setting up a bioactive substrate with live plants and isopods
  • Rearrange “furniture” in the enclosure every time you take it out for cleaning 

2. Scatter feed enrichment

Feeding enrichment is a particularly effective way to enrich a monitor lizard’s life by allowing them to develop their natural hunting and foraging skills. In nature, monitor lizards are mostly carnivores, but will also scavenge on dead meat and feed on other animal’s eggs. Other big lizards such as tegus will even forage for plants and fruits. Instead of feeding your pet with tongs, you can mimic a more natural behaviour by letting them catch live insects or hiding their food so they can both have some fun treasure hunting while also staying active.

Here’s some scatter feed enrichment ideas:

  • Release farm-raised insects such as crickets and roaches into the enclosure
  • Hide food treats within the enclosure, preferably on logs or branches or underneath leaves. Better not burying food in the ground to avoid risk of substrate injection which may lead to impaction.
  • Get a dog’s treat toy or easter egg for hiding treats

3. Scent enrichment

Reptiles have a very developed sense of smell which helps them forage and hunt. Adding natural scent trails around the enclosure can create enrichment and motivate your lizard to be more active. This is similar to scatter feed enrichment but you do not need to offer food rewards every time, which can be especially useful to avoid the risk of obesity if your monitor tends to eat too much and not move enough.

Here’s some scent enrichment ideas:

  • Spray some water mixed with essential oil around the enclosure
  • Place a few drops of animal urine scents (such as deer or hog hunting scents)

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