By Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, DABVP
Q. I have a couple of young lizards, including; uromastyx, bearded dragons and blue tongue skinks. Right now I feed these lizards collard greens and turnip greens almost every day. I add escarole, mustard greens, dandelion greens, chicory and watercress for variety, plus some food items like carrots, zucchini and blueberries.
However, I have read negative comments about almost every green vegetable in regard to feeding lizards. Is it OK to feed these lizards a lot of collard greens and turnip greens? What other vegetable greens are safe to use almost every day with lizards? Which vegetable greens are safe to use sometimes and which should I avoid altogether?
Also, my herp vet said no peas or corn for my lizards. These lizards all get vitamin and mineral supplements. Does this counteract the negative aspects of certain vegetables? Looking forward to your reply.
A. Those are good questions! I’m glad you have done your homework regarding food items for your lizards. It can get confusing when you read the negatives that can accompany each type of vegetable green, but there is a good reason to know them. It is never a good idea to feed any lizard ONE kind of food exclusively, or to allow a herp to preferentially choose ONE type of vegetable green to the exclusion of the others. So, the information given about each type of vegetable green is more to explain what could be detrimental if this green vegetable is fed to the exclusion of all others.
For example, spinach contains a good amount of calcium, but it also contains oxalates, which can bind calcium. Therefore, spinach is a good green to feed in combination with other greens and food items, but if it were to be consumed exclusively, it MIGHT cause problems (but even this would be unlikely).
I think that the vegetable items that you are offering your lizards are excellent choices. Collard greens and turnip greens as the mainstay of the lizards' diet are good choices. You can also offer dark green lettuces, such as romaine, Boston, red leaf lettuce, etc. (avoid iceberg lettuce as it has no nutritional value). You can also offer beet greens, kale, bok choy, Swiss chard, parsley, spinach and alfalfa pellets. Vegetables you can offer include frozen mixed vegetables, squash, zucchini, sweet potato, bell pepper, broccoli, peas, beans, okra, carrot and sprouts.
Many vegetarian lizards love flower petals, including roses, hibiscus and others; just make sure that they do not have insecticide or pesticide residue on them. Many published herp diets include frozen mixed vegetables, which include peas and corn, and I don’t know why your vet excluded those as acceptable food items.
No more than 10 percent of the lizards' diet should be fruits, as they tend to have an inverted calcium: phosphorus ratio. Fruits that are good to offer include figs, papaya, melon, apple, peaches, plums, strawberries, tomatoes, banana (with the skin), grapes, kiwi and blueberries.
I also recommend feeding some canned or dry species-specific diet as a percentage of the total diet. Bearded dragons, in particular, seem to thrive on commercial bearded dragon diets, when offered as a portion of the total diet.
You didn’t say if you are feeding your omnivores (those critters that eat both animal and plant material, such as bearded dragons) insects or other animal proteins. Make sure that you are offering the bearded dragons size-appropriate insects. Larger bearded dragons enjoy an occasional pinky mouse, as well.
Ask your herp vet why he/she doesn’t recommend peas or corn. When choosing food items, variety is best. The more you can vary your reptiles’ diets, the less chance there is of nutritional problems occurring. It is possible to supply too much in the way of supplements, so be sure to discuss this with your herp vet. I think the food items that you are offering are excellent, so I wouldn’t worry about the “negatives” for each type of green vegetable being fed. But make sure that you are offering the omnivorous lizards some animal proteins, as well.
Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, DABVP has been an avian/exotic/herp animal veterinarian since 1981. She is a regular contributor to REPTILES magazine.