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Socialization Among Reptiles

By: Dr. Margaret Wissman

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It can be tempting to think of our reptilian pets as "domesticated." But unlike a cat or dog, reptiles face stress simply from being in a captive environment.

It's our duty as their stewards to provide them with as natural a setting as possible and to minimize stress in their lives. In most cases, this means housing them singly. While this creates more work for you, in the long run, it's the kindest, safest and healthiest way to maintain most reptile species.

Shared Housing

If you must house lizards of the same species together, try to choose those that are close in size. Males shouldn't be placed in the same enclosure, due to the real risk of fighting and territorial displays. A cage for more than one lizard should be as large as possible – with visual barriers so that they can stay out of sight of each other – and it should provide separate locations with access to basking areas, UV light, food and water. Chameleons, rock iguanas and green iguanas are very territorial species that become extremely stressed when they have to share their environment in captivity.

To minimize stress, reptiles should be kept out of sight of the same or similar species, if at all possible. All reptiles should be provided with some sort of hide box. Providing a snake, lizard or chelonian (turtle or tortoise) with a secure, dark place to hide is one of the best things you can do to make him feel as secure as possible.

Snakes should be housed alone. They should only be placed together for breeding, after conditioning and temperature manipulation, if necessary. Larger snakes may consume smaller ones or two snakes in the same container could both strike at a prey item, ending up with the large one eating the smaller one along with the prey item. Adult males often will fight with each other and inflict mortal wounds.

Geckos are an exception regarding housing. It's common practice to house a group of females with one male, for breeding purposes. But, it's still bad to house more than one male per enclosure.

Water turtles may be housed together successfully, if they're all close to the same size and a few aren't nipping at the others. A general rule of thumb is that all the residents' shells shouldn't exceed 25 percent of the cage floor surface. Aggressive species, such as snapping turtles, large soft-shell turtles, mud and musk turtles, should only be housed with similar species of the same size.

Box turtles and tortoises can often be housed in groups of similar species. If several are kept together, the cage should be as large as possible. Land turtles and tortoises are usually quite gentle and don't harass each other. However, observe them closely for any signs of negative interactions and remove any upstarts.

Beware of the Pet Store Illusion

Often, in pet stores, several (or many) lizards may be housed in the same cage, giving the false impression that they're social animals. Crowding will exacerbate stress and, usually, the more dominant and aggressive lizards will feed, while the others will slowly fail to thrive.

When you think of reptiles, you may picture in your mind those ancient dinosaurs, often portrayed in a group, grazing or hunting. However, modern reptiles aren't normally found in a group; they're usually quite solitary creatures that only manage to come together from the urge to reproduce. This solitary nature can pose a problem when the reptile enthusiast wishes to own more than one of a species or several different species.

Are Your Pets Capable of Living Together?

Almost all species of reptiles are solitary animals and housing several of the same species together can create a very stressful environment for them. Mature male iguanas, other types of lizards and snakes should never be housed together, due to the very real risk of fighting.

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