When you think of cute and cuddly pets, reptiles are probably the last thing that spring to mind.
But just ask Shepparton’s Jess Flegeltaub and she will tell you a very different story.
The 21-year-old’s new companion is a four-month-old blue-tongued lizard named Stanley.
A sleek and stripy specimen, Stanley is full of personality, loves a cuddle and is so swift that his forays out of his glass tank usually end with a game of hide and seek.
“He’s so quick, I have to keep a close eye on him when I have him out,” Jess said.
“One time he took off and hid behind the heater, and another time I found him curled up in my hoodie in front of the heater.”
The adventurous lizard crawls up the leg of Jess’s pants and the sleeve of her top and he loves body warmth, so one of his favourite places to sit is on the back of her neck, safely hidden under her hair.
For now, he’s content to sit on his owner’s hand for a back scratch or head pat but that won’t be possible as he gets older, with some lizards growing up to 60 cm in length.
“When I first got him, he was only the size of my hand, he has grown a bit longer, but he’s really filled out, he’s much fatter,” Jess said.
He dines on fruit and vegetables such as berries, peas and beans, wet dog food, crickets and snails, and will soon have kale, fresh from the garden, added to his diet.
The crickets come from the pet shop, but the snails are caught in Jess’s backyard and spend 48 hours in detox, being fed greens, to make sure any pesticides are eliminated from their system before they are devoured by Stanley.
“There is quite a bit to looking after them, but I’ve done a lot of reading and there is an online forum for owners of blue-tongues,” Jess said.
His glass enclosure is temperature-controlled with a hot end, which sits at 32 degrees, and a colder section at about 20-22 degrees. In addition, a UVB light globe supplies artificial light to synthesise calcium in Stanley’s body to maintain good health.
While a lizard may seem an unusual pet, Jess said she had always been into reptiles.
“When I was younger Mum wouldn’t let me have a pet snake, so Dad and I got a lizard each. They were adults though so were quite aggressive,” Jess said.
“I make sure I handle him every day so he gets used to me, they can live up to 20 years so he’s going to be a very long-term pet.”
Jess said she liked other animals too, particularly dogs, but a lizard was a more manageable fit for a busy lifestyle.
Stanley has already given her a scare when a respiratory infection required trips to the vet for antibiotic injections every second day for just over a week.
“I’d only had him a couple of weeks and his eyes were watery, he had gunk in his mouth, and he was very sluggish. I asked other lizard owners on the forum and they said I needed to get him to the vet straight away,” Jess said.
Fortunately, he made a speedy recovery, but the vet couldn’t determine one important fact: if Stanley was male or female.
“I suppose I will find out as he gets older, but for now he’s Stanley,” Jess said.