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Scaly but sweet
Reptiles & Amphibians in general
Member Name: Sohlaris
Reptiles & Amphibians in general
Date: 23/11/09, updated on 23/11/09 (74 review reads)
Advantages: Usually low maintenence, pretty, make a nice display, usually cheap to keep
Disadvantages: Expensive to set up, a lot of people hate them!
Reptiles and amphibians, otherwise known as herps, are a definitely love em or hate em pet! Some people find them creepy, others find them beautiful. I'm definitely in the latter camp!
Reptiles and amphibians, in my opinion, are an ideal pet for modern lifestyles. They do not require a lot of social attention like dogs, cats, bunnies, birds and a lot of other common pets do. Quite frankly, if they are fed well and kept at the right temperature in a big enough environment, and see the vet when they have to, they are generally happy. That is not to say that neglecting to care for your reptile is any better than neglecting a mammal, sadly their low maintenance has led a lot of people to think that they do not feel pain and suffer, when they do.
Although they may seem like "dull" and "pointless" pets to some, a lot of reptiles, and a fewer number of amphibians, are actually very friendly. We know so little about how their brains work that its hard to tell how much they feel for and recognize their owners, but they have a charm and appeal all their own, especially some of the friendlier lizards such as leopard geckos, bearded dragons and crested geckos.
All reptiles take heat from their environment rather than having a body heat of their own, so almost all require some sort of heat source in their tank. For cooler climate creatures such as corn snakes, a heat mat will be perfectly sufficient, whereas a desert lizard such as a uromastyx or a bearded dragon will require a spotlight. All heat sources should always be used with a reptile themostat such as Microclimate or Habistat, otherwise your lizard can be literally cooked...their habits are such that they can get serious burns before they realise they are in trouble.
Most lizards and certain snakes also require specialist lighting. The type will depend on the animal, tropical rainforest species may only require a general spectrum or 2% UVB bulb, whereas a desert lizard may require up to 10% UVB. You MUST use a bulb designed for reptile use, fish tank lights are not suitable. The bulbs should be replaced around every six months to a year as the UVB wears out even when the bulb still appears to be functioning.
Most snakes require a diet of mice and rats. Most people buy frozen from their local reptile shop. People with large amounts of snakes may breed their own. This might seem cruel but the mice and rats are killed harmlessly in a CO2 chamber which knocks them out before they feel anything. Live feeding is not technically illegal in the UK (though many think it is) but it is VERY much frowned upon, not only is it cruel for the mice, or rats but there have been cases of snakes being seriously injured by the prey animal. Unless there is no other choice, pre-killed food is best.
Most lizards and amphibians eat insects...these are available in tubs in specialist pet shops, or can even be delivered to your door! Generally, good choices of insects are crickets, locusts, giant mealworms, roaches, butterworms, silkworms and cut worms. Maggots from the fish shop (these are usually dyed) shouldn't be used and keep waxworms to a minimum as they are fatty. Normal mealworms are a subject of much debate, some people think they are very bad for lizards, others think they are fine. Either way, everything in moderation and its best to feed at least three different species. Livefood must be fed prior to feeding to your reptile, as they are not fed in the shops and will be void of nutrition before being fed. They should also be dusted with a good reptile supplement like Nutrobal or Repashy...the frequency of dusting depends on the species being fed.
Some lizards are partly or entirely vegetarian. For these species calcium rich veg should be fed. Healthy choices include alfalfa (plants not sprouts), escarole and endive lettuce, prickly pear and cactus pad (you can buy cacti to grow these for yourself), papaya and butternut squash. So as you can see, NOT exactly iceberg lettuce from the supermarket!
Most people keep reptiles in wooden vivariums in the UK, some people use glass tanks, some people even use Really Useful Boxes with ventilation holes added. All species have different tank requirements...for example crested geckos like to climb and need tall tanks, and royal pythons need relatively small tanks for their size. The tanks should be kitted out with hides for the reptiles to hide from view (important for stress levels), decor for them to climb (although some people keep tanks very spartan), water bowls, and if necessary, food dishes. Thermometers are important to monitor temperature as thermostats aren't always accurate, and hygrometers are needed for humidity loving species.
These are the basics of reptile keeping but it is important to do thorough study on the species you want as a pet...they all have specific requirements of their enclosure, heating, lighting and humidity to thrive.
Its also important to choose a suitable species if you are a novice...ie, no green iguanas or giant pythons! Generally, anything large is a bad choice for beginners as you need to learn to handle smaller snakes before you move on to larger! Giant burmese pythons are generally very docile in temperament but they are still massive and capable of killing their owners in many circumstances.
Good beginners lizard choices include crested, leopard and fat tailed geckos, blue tongued skinks and bearded dragons. Good first species of snakes are king and corn snakes, and in some cases royal pythons (although these can be fussy feeders). Horned frogs, White's treefrogs and clawed frogs are good beginners amphibians. But if you want a different species, there is no reason why you can't have it so long as you do the research and it isnt a very large or aggressive species.
Reptiles are excellent modern-day pets for many reasons. Their general low maintenance makes them great for busy people. Not ALL reptiles are low maintenance however, tortoises are deceptively hard to care for, as are green iguanas. However, most of them are easy to cater for, so long as you pay attention to the thermometers and feed them correctly.
They are fascinating, too in their own way. A pair of dwarf clawed frogs are great fun to watch as they swim about in their tank, watching bearded dragons eat is downright cute, and watching a snake consume its prey whole is absolutey amazing. Some are very friendly, and will come right up to you when you open the tank doors. Bearded dragons are notorious for being incredibly friendly. They are also incredibly beautiful if you are into that sort of thing, and holding a pet snake is just wonderful (so long as they are tame).
A reptile display tank also looks wonderful in the home...naturalistic rainforest or desert displays can create a tiny microclimate in your home. They are of course, naturally a good talking point too.
Most reptiles are fairly cheap to keep, although setting up the environment usually costs up to a few hundred. Snakes only eat once every 5-14 days depending on the species, and a single rat costs a few quid to buy. Similarly, a few boxes of crickets and mealworms weekly or even monthly will be enough for a single pet lizard, or you can even breed your own livefood.
They mostly live a long time, which is always a plus for people who really love their pets!
Because they have not been inbred for generation upon generation like hamsters and the like, and also because of their naturally longer lifespan, reptiles tend to be healthy pets. Most health problems with pet reptiles arise from the wrong amount of heat or humidity or a poor diet...and if you do plenty of research beforehand and join a reptile forum you can easily avoid these issues. Some more exotic species, those that are still largely caught in the wild, and fancy colours of more common species, do tend to have more health problems though.
A great upside to reptiles is the relatively small amount of cleaning needed. A snake will poop a couple of times a week, as will a lot of lizards. Some are more frequent but most dont poo daily. You can just spot clean a vivarium for some species for a few weeks then do a full clean every few weeks. They also have no odour unless they have just done a poo, which is a big plus to some people.
You are also very unlikely to be allergic!
Reptile keeping often turns into as much of a hobby as the keeping of a beloved pet. There are so many things to learn about them, and one pet reptile normally turns into more than one!
On the other hand, reptiles CAN become expensive if they do need veterinary treatment as they need a specialist vet and it can cost quite a bit. Because vets are just learning about them often nothing can be done for some serious conditions such as IBD in boid snakes.
They also don't "do" much in comparison to mammals. Some are much more active than others and are in fact very interesting to watch, but many generally stay quite stationary in their tanks. However they are great to watch when they do move, lizards have a funny flailing way of running and watching a snakes muscles propel itself along is quite fascinating.
Some herps cannot be handled...most frogs have very delicate skin, as do some sorts of gecko like day geckos. These should be seen as like keeping fish, one to watch and make a great naturalistic display for so they can indulge in natural behaviour, but no touching!
Those are about the only downsides I can think of to reptiles and amphibian pets. You are either into them or you aren't but personally I think they make wonderful pets. Even for people who move about lots and still are not settled, most landlords I've met don't really mind about a lizard or snake so long as its not a massive one, and you don't need to worry about smells or messes! They really are beautiful, fascinating creatures.
Summary: Interesting, fun pets to have!
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