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Reptiles and amphibians are some of the most invasive and expensive pets to own. When searching for a new pet, most people think of reptiles and amphibians as being low-maintenance animals that live in a terrarium and occasionally need to be fed. This perception, though common, is entirely false; reptiles and amphibians are demanding pets that require expensive equipment and plenty of space. They also need to be handled frequently to promote conditioning to being touched. Some reptiles and amphibians (i.e. water turtles and salamanders) can carry Salmonella, a bacterium harmful to humans, therefore proper hygiene by washing hands after handling is necessary.  Also, some local governments place restrictions on which reptiles and amphibians are legally allowed to be owned as pets. Prior to purchasing a new reptile, check with your local government agencies to learn their limitations.

What pets are reptiles or amphibians?

  • Snakes – Corn Snake, King Snake, Ball Python, Red Tail Boa
  • Turtles/Tortoises – African Desert Tortoise, Red-Eared Slider, Box Turtle
  • Lizards – Green Iguana, Chameleon, Leopard Gecko, Bearded Dragon, Salamander
  • Frogs/Toads – African Dwarf Frog, Firebellied Toad, White’s Tree Frog

Children are not preferred pet owners for reptiles or amphibians and require adult supervision whenever they handle one. Kids should also be advised of the health risks associated with handling a reptile and should be compelled to wash their hands thoroughly after holding one. In addition to children, reptiles or amphibians are not recommended pets for: anyone with HIV, AIDS, or another immunodeficiency disorder; pregnant women; elderly people; or anyone in poor health, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy patients.

What do reptiles and amphibians eat?

Depending on the reptile or amphibian you choose to purchase, dietary needs will vary. Keep in mind the following information when purchasing your pet.

Carnivores/Insectivores eat fresh, whole prey including: 

  • Beetle larvae
  • Crickets
  • Mice/Rats
  • Rabbits
  • Minnows
  • Worms

Herbivores eat foods such as: 

  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Carrots
  • Sweet potato
  • Corn
  • Carnations
  • Chives
  • Hibiscus
  • Mango
  • Apple
  • Banana

Herbivores clearly have a more versatile diet and are an easier reptile to feed; however, there are not herbivorous snakes, and there are very few herbivorous lizards, which limits the types of herbivorous reptiles to choose from.

Most reptiles and amphibians need supplements in addition to their diet, including calcium. Such considerations should be investigated and known prior to purchasing a new pet.

Reptile housing

Housing a reptile is one of the biggest complications pet owners run into. Many unsuspecting owners will purchase a terrarium for their new reptile, unknowing that within one year, they could be substantially larger than their current size. In fact, some reptiles are not meant for vivarium enclosures (indoor, enclosed living space). Before purchasing a reptile, consider the standard adult size for your particular animal of interest.

Whether housing your pet indoors or outdoors, their enclosure needs to be escape proof. Similar to all other animals and pets, reptiles can escape their enclosure and flee. An enclosure also needs to be considerate of your reptile’s optimal body temperature. Often a heat lamp will need to be set up on one side of the enclosure so a reptile can obtain heat when necessary while the other side, of their enclosure, allows it to escape the heat if it becomes too warm. Heat lamps with UVA/UVB spectrum(s) allow a reptile’s enclosure to simulate being outdoors. UVA bulbs provide heat and aid in maintaining diurnal behavior. UVB bulbs provide the necessary spectrum for a diurnal reptile/amphibian to absorb calcium from their diet. They are otherwise not able to synthesize Vitamin D which could result in metabolic bone disease. Nocturnal reptiles and amphibians can absorb enough heat from an under tank heating mat and don’t always require a UVA/UVB bulb, but read species specific information prior to purchasing your new pet. Most reptiles also need a high level of humidity. Daily misting is necessary to help maintain humidity levels. Depending on an animal’s size and needs, a simple water dish may suffice, while other reptiles need aquatic filtration built into their tank.

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