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Steppe Runner 

Steppe Runner on my hand

The steppe runner is a uniquely affectionate little pet reptile who loves being handled ... and cuddling up too!   Photo courtesy of Wimimedia Commons

Exotic pets represent a significantly growing sector among pet lovers. For one, they are preferred by people who lead busy, hectic lives since they generally are far easier to care for than traditional pets such as cats and dogs, and two, they are much less costly to raise and maintain.

Reptiles are also often better choices for people with allergies to traditional pets; reptiles also do not bark, don't need to be walked twice daily, don't litter your home with dander or damage your furnishings, and are usually a very low maintenance pet that will provide companionship with no demands ... A great choice for beginners and pro exotic pet owners alike.

two Steppe Runners on a rock

Steppe Runner Lizard 

The Rising Star of Exotic Pets

Although very new on the pet lizard scene the Steppe Runner is rapidly gaining popularity in the pet reptiles world and it is predicted that they may even gain center stage in the exotic pets industry.
Unlike other small reptiles that sometimes can be skittish or even bashful, like leopard geckos, these really cute scaly lizards are the Ms. Personality of lizards as they are extremely friendly, even tempered and really enjoy being handled by humans; they are also very easy to care for.
Steppe Runners are very hardy and enjoy robust health (with proper care), are inexpensive (ranging from $30 - $50), have a 9-11 year lifespan in captivity, and are an especially good choice for beginners (especially children) due to their calm nature and patience with humans.

Be the first in your neighborhood to know all about these delightful lizards.  Because they are so new to America, but are sure to gain immense popularity when people find out about them, you'll be able to get a head start by getting all the knowledge you need to be at the forefront of the trend and be the talk-about-town in your circle of friends.

A Brief History of These Lively Lizards

Their scientific name is eremias arguta.  Just introduced to the North-American market in early 2012 these little reptiles come from the desert regions of the Ukraine, Romania and South-western Russia, grow to 6 inches (15 cm) in length on average and are diurnal (are active during the daytime) so you can enjoy watching their antics.  They have slim bodies with smooth scales, are tan colored with darker brown round spots on the back (with a white dot inside the spot), a short snout and relatively short legs, with long toes.
Steppe runners can release their tail, if they feel threatened or if grabbed by the tail; this serves as a self-defense / survival maneuver to escape predators.
Steppe runners are very calm, personable and interactive, gregarious and not aggressive; not at all like the typical smaller lizards which can be shy, skittish, and difficult to hold.  They enjoy being hand fed and will often curl up in your hand due to their fondness for warmth.

The species has so far been breeding well in captivity and captive-born steppe runner lizards are now available as well as imported ones.  Captive-born hatchlings are available all year round and have less health concerns, although even imported adult lizards have been very hardy.  
Healthy lizards are active, with open ear canals, bright and fully opened eyes, and they are very curious about their surroundings. Check to ensure that there is no retaining of shed skin on their toes and that their nostrils are clean and without any discharge.  As with any reptile purchase, look it over carefully and watch how it moves about in it's vivarium before purchasing it.  If it seems  sluggish or sick-looking in any way, advise the store manager and do not purchase from that group of lizards;  if one of them is ill, chances are all of them may have health problems.

The Steppe Runner's Diet/FEEDING

Steppe Runners are insectivores that love a variety of live prey: insects, grubs, moths and worms.  They can be fed daily or every second day. Like most lizards their food should be dusted with Calcium Powder, to help in their bone and skeletal development, and vitamin D3 (every day for babies and juveniles - and every third day for adults) to prevent metabolic bone disease.  In the rearing of any reptiles the key to their health is in providing a good variety of live feeders, enough heat in the daytime to promote appetite and digestion, darkness at night, and regular handling for proper socializing.

Most steppe runners will enjoy (small sized) Phoenix Worms (BSFL), Silkworms, Horn worms, Super worms, Butter worms, Wax worms (as a treat), Crickets and Mealworms (all insects to be small sized, due to the steppe runner's tiny frame).

When feeding larger sized insects to your pet always make sure the insects have just recently molted (pale in color) since insects with a hard exoskeleton are difficult to digest and may cause impactions.  It is a good practice to feed as many insects as your lizard will eat in 10-15 minutes, and remove uneaten foods from the cage.

It's always a good practice to place these worms in a feeding dish (so they don't escape) and remove uneaten foods from your pet's habitat since they can bite your lizard, disrupt it's proper sleeping cycles, and stress him out.

Note: These reptiles should never be fed lightning bugs (fireflies) which are toxic to steppe runners, and you also should never feed your pets any insects which you've caught wild (outdoors or indoors) as they may be contaminated with pesticides or herbicides, or diseased, and can be harmful to your pet.

Always provide your pet with fresh water (non-chlorinated) in a water bowl that cannot be tipped over, on the cooler side of it's vivarium, changed daily, as these lizards are known to use the water bowl as a swimming pool - and potty too!  They do enjoy a light misting of warm water every other day.

 Steppe Runner's Habitat/Housing

These pets need a glass terrarium of 15-20 gallon size, and although they are ground dwellers not known for climbing, their tank needs a well-vented metal screened lid to prevent them from escaping.  In order to imitate their natural habitat, they also need a 'warm side' and a 'cool side' (70-75 degrees on the cool side to 82-85 degrees on the warm side) with the basking area at around 100 degrees.
They enjoy bright, warm days and dark, mild nights, so you'll need a proper heat lamp as well as a UVA-UVB bulbs for 8-12 hours a day. Steppe lizards also need their darkness at night, and they enjoy relatively low humidity levels.
Like 'beardies', Steppe Runners will need a hiding cave, wood pieces and flat rocks for basking. These lizards absorb heat from above - not below - so never use under tank heaters or heat rocks since they can badly burn your lizard's belly.  

NOTE: Steppe runners should not be housed together with lizards of other species (this is a good rule for all lizards/exotics). 
Housing male steppe runners together will create a dominant/submissive hierarchy which can result in one lizard being stressed to the point of anorexia, illness, and even death.  Male runners can be very aggressive toward one another and will fight often to the death.

Female steppe runners may be housed together as long as you provide ample space and food for each lizard.
Males and females - one male runner can be housed with several females, again IF there is ample food and space for each lizard.

Steppe Runner Substrate for Tank

Many people recommend 'play sand', which is ideal for larger lizards like bearded dragons, but is not a good idea for a small lizard like the Steppe which can ingest the sand and become impacted.  Most experts recommend aspen shavings, newspaper, or even a mix of the two.  Do not, however, use cedar or pine shavings and stay away from 'calci sand' of any kind or colour!  It's important to clean out waste daily, and once a month, empty all the bedding.  Wash the rocks and wood, clean the empty tank, and then refill with clean bedding and put their rocks, etc. back in roughly the same locations so as not to stress them out.  Never use a heat rock as they can get too hot and burn their bellies.

Habitat Maintenance

Daily maintenance consists of: Spot cleaning with removal of soiled substrate, thorough cleaning of water bowl, wiping glass clean.

Monthly maintenance: Thorough cleaning of Entire tank and furniture - 

Note: we have found the very best method of cleaning glass tanks is using a cloth with warm tap water only (NO detergents or dish soap - which are all irritants to your steppe runner, and can cause some health issues).
 Steppe Runner in Vivarium >>>
steppe runner in vivarium

Steppe Runner Handling and Temperament

Any new reptile should be allowed a few days to acclimatize.  Once settled, your steppe runner can be hand fed and handled; however, they dislike being grabbed and/or held in wrapped fingers.  Stroke gently and call them by name as you reach into the vivarium and then gently pick them up and they will happily rest on your palm or the back of your hand.  Be sure to support his entire body since this allows him to feel secure and relaxed.

Steppe Runner SHEDDING

Lizards, unlike snakes, shed their skin in patches and not all in one piece.  Your steppe runner will become a dull color overall and the skin over the eyelids can even 'pop' and make it look like a bug-eyed bullfrog - don't peel the skin off (even though it is very tempting) if it's not ready to come off easily, as this can be dangerous and painful too!
If the enclosed environment is ideal your steppe runner will shed every 4-6 weeks; in the wild they have a much easier shedding process as they are in a naturally humid environment and also have access to water in which they can soak at will.
Even reptiles in arid areas find humid places to go to during the shedding process, such as moist burrows in sand, or in caves.
To increase humidity, during shedding time, the entire tank can be lightly spray-misted twice a day, but make sure the tank is completely dried out before lights-out for the night.

Steppe lizards will also enjoy a swim in warm (wrist warm -- not hot) water every few days especially if they are shedding.  Make sure they can stand on all 4 legs and effortlessly keep their heads out of the water.  Don't take your eyes off them for a minute!!!  Also, when they're shedding, use moss (packaged from a pet store) lightly misted, in one of their hides.  This keeps humidity levels high and promotes an easy shed.  Be watchful of their toes when their legs/feet are shedding to ensure that the shed is complete and that none of the toes have shed remaining as this can lead to lost circulation, and lost toes!!!

The Steppe Runner is a very exiting new addition to the reptile pet industry; its diurnal activity provides enjoyable amusement and its calm demeanor allows for great interaction between the steppe runner and its owners.  These small, cute lizards are really growing in popularity so don't be surprised when you begin seeing them riding on people's shoulders very soon!

Also see Steppe Runner Lizard Care Sheet

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 Steppe Runner Lizards

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