Looking For a Reptile
There’s more to the pet world than ‘man’s best friend!’ Have you considered the reptilian world for your next family member?
When most people think of animals that make great pets, cats, dogs, bunnies and hamsters come to mind. But not all animal friends need to be furry. Reptiles may not be cuddly, but they can be excellent pets. If they don’t give you the heebie-jeebies, lizards and snakes can be fascinating, with personalities and habits all their own.
Reptile species cover a wide range of animals, many of which are well-suited to being kept as pets. In fact, there are lots of advantages to reptiles over hairy animals. For one, they won’t claw or shed on your furniture or bother people with allergies. They are also relatively low-maintenance – they certainly don’t need to be walked and most species only need to be fed one to four times per week!
These unique pets can be great learning opportunities for children. There’s nothing like seeing a snake shed its skin entirely or watching a lizard catch and eat some crickets! The experience is different from having a cat or dog, but some lizards will perch on a shoulder the way a bird would and snakes may curl up with their owners for some quiet time.
There are many types of reptiles that make good starter pets. Things to consider when choosing are how big it will grow, what type of food it will eat and the environment it needs.
It’s a common myth that keeping reptiles such as turtles in small enclosures and feeding them a minimal amount will keep them small. In fact, turtles and all other reptiles will grow to their full size, even if it means outgrowing the space they’re in. Many reptiles have the potential to grow extremely large – think of an anaconda that can grow to 28 feet long! This is just one reason that you should give a lot of thought to what type of reptile you want to keep in your home.
Many people enjoy feeding their reptiles a diet similar to what they would eat in the wild – insects or rodents! Many snakes will only eat if they kill their own prey, so a steady supply of live rodents is necessary. Fortunately, some species do just as well with pre-killed rodents. Most lizards require insects as part or all of their diet, and they tend to prefer it if their meal of crickets is still chirping, although some will eat them whether they’re living or not. Fruits and vegetables also play a part in the diets of some reptiles, and many reptiles adjust to a dry-food format, specifically formulated to meet their dietary needs.
In the wild, reptiles spend a lot of their time basking in the sun. Since they’re cold-blooded, they need the sun’s heat to warm their bodies. In your reptile enclosure, you must give your pet a place where he can warm up, such as a basking spot lamp. On the other hand, if he’s kept too warm, he may become dehydrated or overheat. Fortunately, reptiles know their own heat needs, so they will lie in a warm place until they have reached a high enough temperature, then move to a cooler place. Your terrarium should include a thermometer though, so you can monitor the temperature as well.
Many reptiles have relatively simple needs and do very well as pets (see our starter list below). They need food and water, a terrarium (their home) and a substrate material that absorbs waste and stimulates natural burrowing and digging. Many other reptiles have very complex needs and require more complex care, such as UV lights. These include iguanas and monitors. Some are very delicate and will react poorly to any type of stress, such as chameleons. So, as with any decision you make about a new pet, it’s important to think about what type of animal will fit in best with you and your family, rather than choosing one based on looks.
One last thing to remember: always get a reptile that has been bred in captivity. Reptiles are common in the wild, but catching one yourself isn’t a good idea. Wild animals are more likely to have diseases or parasites, and they often won’t adapt well to being kept as pets. Many wild-caught reptiles have difficulty feeding, especially if they are switched from live to pre-killed food. When you adopt a reptile, make sure it comes from a reputable breeder or pet distributor.
Where to Start
Some reptiles are easier to care for than others. Here are a few that are best if you’re new to cold-blooded pets.
Their spotted appearance gives these reptiles their name. They are low-maintenance and will only require an aquarium with a good amount of floor space and a heat source. Insects such as crickets and mealworms make up their diet, but be warned, they like live food, so be ready to deal with some bugs!
These docile snakes are easy to care for and can be found in a variety of beautiful colors and patterns. An aquarium with a heat source and a dark place to hide will make a good home for a corn snake, but make sure you have a secure lid – they like to escape! They usually will eat pre-killed rodents and grow up to six feet long.
Bearded Dragons make good pets because they are tame and are easy to handle. They are a good starter reptile for children because they are hardy animals, but they do require some special considerations in their environment. They will need a UV lamp and a fairly large aquarium with a heat source. Their diet consists of live insects and vegetables.
What to Avoid
Some reptiles are hard to manage or even dangerous as pets. These creatures are exciting and magnificent to see, but they are best kept in zoos where professional handlers can keep the reptiles and themselves safe. In addition, many cities have laws against keeping potentially dangerous animals as pets.
If you do end up with a reptile that you can’t care for, make sure you find a suitable new home for it. Never release a reptile into the wild. It’s unlikely an exotic pet would survive outside its natural habitat, and if it does, it can wreak havoc on the local ecosystem.
Many snakes and lizards have venomous bites and do not take well to being handled, or even approached, by humans. Even if it appears docile, a venomous reptile is too dangerous for anybody but the experts. Since these are exotic pets from faraway places, it’s unlikely that your local hospital would have anti-venom on hand in the event that something goes wrong.
A Burmese python or boa constrictor might seem like a cool pet, but when it’s more than ten feet long and unfriendly, you will probably find yourself unable to manage it. And just imagine how your neighbors would feel if it got loose!
Alligators and Crocodiles
Every few years, you’ll hear a story about a crocodile living in the sewers of New York City. Most of these are urban legends, but occasionally an alligator or crocodile does show up in a city, possibly because a pet owner released it after it became too large to care for. These animals are simply not suitable to be kept as pets – even dwarf species need more space and special care than most pet owners can provide.
These are the bare necessities for your new pet reptile:
- Heat Source
- Light Source
- Water Dish