While it’s easy to become enamored with a particular creature that you’ve seen in a pet store, an impulse buy is never a good idea. To make sure your reptile of choice is the right pet for you and to avoid the common mistakes that make for a disappointing experience, it’s important that you do your homework before you bring your new pet home.
Prior to acquiring your new pet, it’s best to research the herp you’re interested in. How much does one usually cost? Are there breeders in the area who have some for sale? If you’re planning to purchase one from a pet retailer, check several stores to compare prices. Regardless of the price, what sort of guarantee is offered?
What sort of diet will your new pet consume? If your whole family is vegetarian (or just squeamish), will you be able to feed a mouse to your pet snake (even a frozen and defrosted one?). If your new pet will eat insects, is there a constant source of them available to you? Can you provide the appropriate diet at the recommended intervals?
You must be able to provide a proper environment for your new herp in order for it to remain healthy. Purchasing an escape-proof cage or tank of adequate size is a must, but you must also take into account the growth rate and final size of your new pet. That cute little iguana hatchling that you just bought may fit in the palm of your hand now, but within two or three years, it may end up taller than your youngest child!
You’ll not only need to provide correct caging, but you must also purchase appropriate heating devices, water receptacles, lighting (full-spectrum and basking), devices to monitor temperature (thermometers) and humidity (hygrometers) and soaking/swimming equipment. Some herps will quickly outgrow their habitats, requiring additional expenditures.
When choosing a potential pet herp, you should learn what the mature size and weight will be, along with the average longevity. For example, many little tortoise hatchlings are available now in the pet trade. They’re adorable when they’re the size of a golf ball. But if cared for properly, they may grow to be quite large and they may live for 50 to 75 years or longer!
Specific Habitat and Diet
Each type of reptile and amphibian requires a specific type of habitat and diet. Each has an optimal temperature range for keeping it healthy. Reptiles and amphibians are cold-blooded animals, or ectotherms, which means that they’re dependent on external environmental temperature to maintain their own body temperature, unlike mammals and birds, whose primary source of body heat is internal.
Some lizards, such as the uromastyx, come from desert locales and, therefore, require a hot and arid environment. Others, like the green iguana, come from tropical areas, and thrive in a hot and humid environment.
Providing the correct temperature, humidity and environment is extremely important. It’s not good enough to provide a young water turtle, such as the red-eared slider, with a fish tank, rocks and a light. As a matter of fact, water turtles are among the most difficult of all reptiles to maintain properly. They require warm water, a basking light, a place to climb out of the water completely and clean water.
Your Own Species-Specific Requirements
Some reptiles seem to accept handling better than others. Some may never tame down at all, skittering away at every chance. Others become very stressed by handling, especially chameleons. Some green iguanas, bearded dragons and tortoises seem to enjoy human companionship and may seek out a human for affection or food treats. Some snakes also appear to tolerate handling very well (never handle a snake for at least several days after it eats a meal to prevent regurgitation).
What is your family’s expectation for your herp? Do you want a reptile that you can hold or do you prefer a critter that you can just watch and feed?
The ages of family members should also be taken into consideration. Your small child shouldn’t be allowed to handle a reptile until she’s aware of how to properly handle it and should only handle herps under adult supervision. Your young child should be taught that she must wash her hands with antibacterial soap afterward. And she must also learn not to touch her eyes, nose or mouth after handling it. This is because reptiles may carry potentially harmful bacteria, protozoa or parasites that can cause disease in humans. Finally, consider whether or not your young child possesses the skills to handle some of the more fragile herps.