Monday, July 2, 2007

The Most Important Thing to Know About Reptiles

The sudden popularity of reptiles and amphibians as pets, in particular exotics, has created a host of problems for those who want to keep them. Legislation regarding type, size, breeding restrictions and cage requirements have been swiftly passed at many levels of government to ensure that the general public and local fauna are not put at risk by the accidental introduction of non-indigenous species. Meeting these requirements can mean unexpected expense and frustration.

Husbandry can be problematic for potential owners as well. When one keeps a dog or cat, a general understanding of their needs exists and people are usually prepared to meet those needs. Reptiles and amphibians are not as easily cared for as conventional pets. For one thing they have a wide spectrum of environmental needs. One may require a constant supply of vitamin D via exposure to sunlight, while another is completely nocturnal and sun-reclusive. Not meeting these needs can result in needless suffering, big veterinarian expenses or loss of the animal.

Sustenance can pose even more of a challenge. One must be able to meet the dietary needs of the animal they plan to keep. For instance, most people are not aware that snakes are carnivorous without exception. The cute, colorful animal at the pet store will not eat fruit or vegetables. Depending on the species, you will have to provide mammals, fish, other reptiles and amphibians or insects. Even if you opt for pre-killed frozen food, many find this a repulsive task.

Then there are the vermin that may come with the animal. Snakes are prone to mites, lizards and turtles to burrowing parasites, amphibians to fungus. Then there is mouth rot, rickets and eye caps, just to name a few of the scores of ailments that can occur.

There is much to consider before choosing a reptile or amphibian as a pet. Responsible husbandry should start with knowing the facts before you acquire an animal. If you want to be happy with the creature you choose and provide quality care, impulse should yield to knowledge. Don't just jump at the first animal that catches your eye; research their needs and peculiarities to ensure it is a good fit.

Libraries and the internet are excellent resources for arming yourself with necessary knowledge, but joining a local herpetological group or society will pay even bigger dividends. Even if the nearest herpetological society is a two-hour drive from where you live, it is worth the once a month trip to attend meetings. There you will meet others who already have the knowledge and experience you are trying to acquire. Most, if not all, will be willing to spend time with you before or after the meeting to answer your questions and give you pointers.

You will benefit from the different speakers who will be headlined at the meetings and be added to the mailing list for the society to receive relevant herpetological news. Through your networking you will develop friendships and associations with other members that can benefit you in many ways.

Finally, for very meager annual dues, you will be a member of a group of people who come from all walks of life, who all work together for the society's common cause, which is educating the public on herpetological interests. As a co-founder of the Everglades Herpetological Society, I made friends with many well-known zoologists and other scientists, policemen, college professors, authors, professional football players and a host of others. Our common interest in herpetology bridged all cultural and societal gaps and great friendship developed.

Best of all, my attendance at meetings and associations with other members gave me a free education in the care and breeding of reptiles. As a result of my membership, in less than a decade I went from being a complete novice to someone others sought out for expert advice on Florida reptiles and amphibians.

The bottom line is this; if you want to have a pleasant, successful experience with keeping reptiles and amphibians, know first what you are doing. To "know", you need to be around those who have already been where you want to be. You will find them at your local herpetological society. Find it. Join it.

The author is a retired Coast Guard Officer with over 32 years of service. He is a co-founder of the Everglades Herpetological Society of Miami and a field expert on Florida herpes. His most popular book, "Cold Noses at the Pearly Gates" delivers hope and comfort to those who have lost a precious pet in a very gentle, yet convincing way. Visit at for more information and tips.

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