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Reptiles 101


Dr. Laurie Hess goes in depth on some of the most common reptile pets. For more from Dr. Hess, find her on Facebook!

Some people love them. Regardless, most of us would agree that they are at least very interesting to look at.

Reptiles: they can make fascinating pets if you are a reptile fan. Whether they hop, climb, or crawl, have legs or not, there’s a reptile for everyone who is intrigued by these animals. With so many reptiles from which to choose, if you’re considering a reptile as a pet, where should you start? Here is part one of my blog on reptiles. Below are 3 different reptiles commonly kept as terrific pets. Next week, I'll add to the list.

1. Bearded dragon lizard
These medium-sized (1-2 feet long), yellow/brown/orange to red-colored lizards get their name from their ability to puff up the skin over their throats when they are angry or stressed. They are housed in glass tanks heated with over-the-tank lights so that the temperature in the basking zone should be 90-105°F and in the cool zone in the mid-70s°F. They need a tree branch or log for climbing and full-spectrum lighting with a UV-B/UV-A bulb to help them synthesize vitamin D-3 in their skin so that they can properly absorb calcium from their food. They should be fed crickets, mealworms, pinkie or fuzzy mice (dusted with supplemental calcium powder at least twice a week), plus a variety of chopped vegetables such as collards, kale, mustard greens, yellow squash, zucchini and shredded carrots. They should be sprayed daily with water which they will absorb through their skin and lap up off of their noses. If handled often, captive bearded dragons can be tamed to be quite docile and can live, on average, about 7-10 years.

2. Leopard Gecko lizard
These large geckos (8-9 inches long) get their name from their yellow skin covered with brown stripes initially that fade to spots as they age. They live in heated glass aquariums with rocks on which to climb. Temperatures should range from 90°F in the basking zone to the low 70s°F in the cooler area of the tank. Although they are nocturnal, captive leopard geckos living indoors that are never exposed to direct sunlight fare better when exposed to some UV-A/UV-B rays from an ultraviolet bulb. They should be fed crickets regularly, along with occasional mealworms and wax worms (plus a pinkie mouse, if they are large enough to eat it). To provide better nutrition for the gecko, insects they are offered should be fed a diet containing vitamins (“gut-loaded”) and dusted with calcium powder before being fed to the gecko. Leopard geckos need a shallow water dish in which to soak and should be provided with a hide box containing moss or vermiculite that can be misted to provide a high enough humidity to allow normal shedding of skin. These gentle lizards live 8-10 years, on average, in captivity and make great pets for families.

3. Ball python snake
These snakes get their name because they curl themselves up into tight balls when they are nervous, with their heads pulled into the center. They are curious, gentle snakes
that generally grow to 4-5 feet long. In the wild, they eat amphibians, other snakes, birds, and small mammals and do not typically eat the mice that fed to captive pythons. Thus, many ball pythons can be picky eaters that resist eating for weeks to months, at times. They can be housed initially in 10-20 gallon glass tanks with tightly fitting screen lids to prevent escape and with branches on which to climb. Shredded paper products are best used for bedding. They need a log or upside-down cardboard box in which to hide. Tanks must be heated to provide a 90°F basking zone, an 80-85°F cooler zone, and a 70-75°F overall temperature at night. While ball pythons are nocturnal, many captive ball pythons are healthier when exposed daily to full-spectrum light. They must have a shallow bowl of water in which to soak and should be sprayed daily so that tank humidity is 60-70% to shed properly. Ball pythons should be fed only pre-killed rodents (never live, or they may be bitten by their prey). Young snakes may be fed fuzzy mice, and adults may eat full-grown mice or small rats. Ball pythons may be tamed by frequent handling but should not be touched just after eating or in the middle of a shed, as these are times when snakes may be cranky. If maintained properly, ball pythons can make great pets that can live 20-30 years.

If you’re considering a reptile as a pet, whichever one you choose, remember always to wash your hands after handling them, as all reptiles, in general, carry Salmonella bacteria plus other bacteria and parasites that may be transmittable to people. Also, supervise all small children when they handle these pets, as the quick movements of young children can startle and scare these animals. Finally, once you get your new reptile family member, be sure to visit a reptile-savvy vet to have him/her checked and to make sure you’re caring for him/her properly. Remember, many reptiles are so long-lived that if you take care of them right, they may outlive you!

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.


8. Pancake Tortoise

The Pancake Tortoise is found in sub-Saharan Africa and is famous for its flat, sea turtle-like shell (most tortoises have high rounded shells).

Their flat shells do not provide much protection from predators, so they avoid them with speed and flexibility.Their speed makes them a very fun pet tortoise!

A small species, usually growing to 7 inches long, they do not need much space.

They are happy to be housed in a 40-gallon aquarium (or 4-square foot turtle table), provided it has a basking spot, UVB light, 70℉-75℉ temperature gradient, and a 60%-75% humidity.

Their enclosure should have a screen-top or high walls as they can climb very well for a tortoise.

Like many breeds in this list, Pancake Tortoises eat leafy greens and grasses and have fairly easy-care requirements.

They are not as popular as others in this list because their export is heavily monitored and they do not always breed readily in captivity.

Because of their export restrictions they can cost $400-$600.

Vital Facts
Price: $400-$600
Size: 7 inches long
Lifespan: 30 years


Caring for Reptiles

The lot of a reptile captured or bred for the pet-store trade is grim. The trip from the breeder or dealer is typically cramped and unsanitary, and many reptiles do not survive it. Those who do will probably have health problems that don’t show up until months later. Unfortunately, reptiles are perceived as requiring minimal care rather than specialized care, so they’re big business—nearly 4 million U.S. households owned a reptile in 2000. Pet-store employees are rarely trained to effectively tend to the sensitive needs of reptiles and therefore cannot educate prospective reptile caretakers.


Reptiles 101 - pets

I am often asked what the most popular choice for a reptile pet is, and I can easily say that without any doubt the most popular choice seems to be the bearded dragon. I treat .

Each year, Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) offers residents a chance to adopt a desert tortoise. This year, nearly 100 desert tortoises will awaken to prepare for summer and AZGFD wants to make sure .

Not very long ago, we had a turtle named Augustine. Many of you will remember our years with this little guy. We sort of inherited Aug from my dad, who had received him as .

We just saw the new blockbuster movie, Jurassic World, and it was wonderful! "Clicker-trained velociraptors?" "Yes, please!" As we sat in the darkened theater, I could hear the kids whispering, “Mom, can I have a .

There are dozens of varieties of tortoises and turtles. If this is a pet you've been thinking about acquiring, it's important to bring the right one in for your families personality. Today we're going to .

For those who are new to the world of reptiles, leopard geckos can be the perfect starter pet. They are docile, friendly, naturally hypo-allergenic and very easy to care for. We’ve compiled the perfect starter .

Most reptiles are carnivores, and eat whole prey or insects. Some reptiles (adult green iguanas, for example), are herbivores and eat green plants. There are about 250 species of turtles, 25 species of crocodilians, 5,500 .


The red-eared slider is a turtle native to the southern United States. It is a popular pet species and, unfortunately, this has led to the red-eared slider becoming an invasive animal in New England. Many pet owners, either unable or unwilling to care for their sliders, released the reptiles into the wild instead. They have become a nuisance pest, so much so that as of 2017, the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife banned the ownership of red-eared sliders completely. It is now illegal to buy or own these turtles in Maine, and that includes buying them out of state and transporting them back.

If you have a red-eared slider you need to give up, call your local PetLife. PetLife stores have an arrangement with IF&W and will take your turtles to be sent to participating sanctuaries in Georgia (their native habitat).

Painted turtle
Chrysemys picta Northern black racer
Coluber constrictor constrictor American bullfrog
Lithobates catesbeianus


Watch the video: Pterosaurs 101. National Geographic (October 2021).

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