Reptiles make for quite unusual, fascinating, and exotic pets. But owners without experience get overwhelmed by the expenses and difficulties of caring for them. Many new owners leave pet stores with reptiles they didn’t get adequate information about. This usually leaves an unprepared and unequipped owner struggling and an unlucky reptile facing mortality.
Contrary to common thought, certain reptiles make for excellent pets. What is needed is good information and the right reptile supplies. So, here are some essential things about reptiles that will be very helpful for a first-time reptile owner to know.
Need-To-Know Information About Reptiles
There are some crucial things to note before or while owning a reptile for the first time. These things are pertinent to your satisfaction and safety and the pet’s.
1. Know About the Animal
You need to understand that every reptile is different, even if they belong to the same biological family. Some reptiles are not suitable for beginners to own and you should just accept that.
Pay attention to how much space the new pet will need. Take note of specific needs like temperature control and nutrition. Some reptiles may require live food, so think about that.
Determine whether you are willing and able to make the effort needed. Think about the financial implications too. If you are unprepared, don’t get the reptile. The scene won’t be pretty if you do.
2. Legal or Not
You need to know whether your reptile of choice is legal where you live. This is the first step to getting one as a pet. There are laws about keeping exotic reptiles in most areas. Some laws are general, and some are very specific. Any reptiles that can be dangerous are illegal to own in many places. If you’re caught with an illegal reptile in your house, the consequences might be dire.
3. What It Eats
The majority of reptiles eat live food. So, you may have to store mealworms, dubia roaches, or even mice alive. But some reptiles feed on fruits and vegetables. So if you can’t stand handing live food to your pet, go for the vegetarian or those that don’t mind lifeless snacks.
Ready-made products are available online, like turtle feed, iguana feed, canned grasshoppers, and worms.
Feeding is synonymous with proper care for a reptile pet. Ensure you have this well assessed.
4. Care for Reptiles
Just like dogs or cats, reptiles need space and quiet sometimes. You need to pay attention to that. It would be best if you took the time to understand their ideal habitat, habits, temperaments, and quirks. This is crucial to the success in caring for them.
Some reptiles like to dig and burrow. Others want to climb or swim. So get their living area correct, and most potential challenges will not be an issue.
5. Light and Heat
Providing proper heat and light for reptiles is essential to their health, but it can be expensive. In addition, many problems with reptiles can be linked to improper heating and lighting. For example, some require ultraviolet A light, and others ultraviolet B. So, find out exactly what your pet needs and make it available.
6. Caution With Handling
Some reptiles don’t enjoy being handled too long, but others don’t mind. Find out how best to handle a reptile before you get one. It’s good to know species that are friendly and easy to hold or play with.
No matter how tolerant your pet reptile is to being held or cuddled, it is important to know how to hold them and when not to. You also need to know where not to hold a reptile. For example, don’t hold any type of lizard by the tail. Some lizards will break off their tail if they feel threatened.
7. Be Sanitary
It’s a wise practice to wash your hands before handling your pet. Some reptiles have a powerful sense of smell which allows them to hunt at night in the wild. So if your hands smell like prey, your reptile might attack it like one.
It would help if you washed your hands before and after petting or playing with your reptile, so you don’t transmit germs.
8. Feeding Is Not Playing
Some reptiles, especially snakes, get feeding time and playing time mixed up. That’s because snakes bite to feed or defend themselves. So poke the nose or snout of your pet with an inanimate object if it tries to bite when it’s not feeding time. Also, keep food away when handling a snake. Moreso, ensure you have fed your reptile adequately before handling it.
9. No Head Restraints
Don’t use any form of head restraints on your reptile if it often bites. It’s counterproductive to do so because it will aggravate the animal’s predatory instincts. It can also change your pet’s mood and make it fearful. That will ruin your relationship with it.
Reptiles for Beginners
There are reptiles whose needs and characteristics make them unsuitable for a novice pet reptile owner. On the other hand, there are readily available reptiles that are excellent for beginners. These animals need little maintenance compared to the others. But carry out your research before you decide on one. Get the proper equipment and construct your enclosure beforehand.
There are a few types of lizards that are suitable for beginners. However, many species are far too complicated to care for. They need specific lighting, heating, and diet. While some get pretty big and hostile, others are too delicate.
Getting a tamable and hardy lizard for a start will do you well. Some examples are:
- Leopard Geckos: Although they need UVB light, they are easy to care for. They are relatively small, docile, and easy to handle. They eat insects, so feed them different types. A 15–20-gallon enclosure is sufficient for an adult leopard gecko.
- Bearded Dragons: These are more challenging to maintain. An adult bearded dragon needs a 50-gallon enclosure, and it costs a bit to get one. They thrive on high temperatures and need both UVA and UVB light. They eat a combination of insects when young and various fresh vegetables and fruits when adults.
Other selections include frill-necked lizards and blue-tongued skinks.
Although they are pretty popular as pet reptiles, avoid these:
- Iguanas and Monitors: These lizards require large enclosures as they grow very large. They sometimes become aggressive as adults. You may find them overwhelming to care for as a beginner.
- Chameleons: These reptiles require particular care and get easily stressed. They are challenging to care for.
Many species of snakes are great for people new to reptile pets. These beginner species are easy to care for, feed, and tame. Snakes don’t eat frequently – once in a week or two. But you must be ready to feed whole prey like mice and rats to your snake, and many times, pre-killed. They do not need special ultraviolet light and can be left unattended in their enclosure for days.
Good snakes for beginners include:
- Ball Pythons: This is a species of small constricting snakes which are often very docile and easy to maintain. They have a reputation for declining to eat, so ensure you find a healthy captive-bred ball python. Ask for a feeding demonstration to make sure they will accept killed mice. Ball pythons will live as long as 20-30 years.
- Corn Snakes: These snakes are easy to care for and docile. They grow between 3ft and 5ft and can live for ten years or more. However, corn snakes can easily escape if their enclosure is not tightly closed.
- Other snakes in this beginner group are king and milk snakes.
There are snakes a beginner should avoid at all costs, and they include:
- Boa constrictors are generally docile but very large and robust. You need some level of expertise in handling these kinds of snakes.
- Burmese pythons are generally docile but large and strong enough to pose a danger when mistakes are made in handling them.
- Most constrictors are not recommended because of difficulty providing the correct care and dangers posed because of size, strength, and temperament.
- Venomous snakes are a big no-no. They are just too risky to manage.
Now, turtles are not easy or cheap to maintain. They grow large, are messy, live long, and need ultraviolet light. But, if you can handle these factors, a turtle can be a good pet for you.
The essential aspect of having turtles as pets is knowing what they eat and where they thrive.
There is one specie of turtle that may be the best choice for a beginner:
- Eastern Box Turtles: These reptiles live very long but don’t get big. They do not have the aquatic needs of most turtles, so they are easier to maintain. They are very adaptable and eat both plants and insects.
Like mammals, reptiles have basic maintenance requirements as pets, like food and water. But there are many differences between reptiles and mammals regarding their handling, diet, and care. Research is vital, so take the time to do it if you are serious about keeping a reptile as a pet.
Start with one reptile first. Then, live with it for a year or two before getting another one. These interesting creatures need good attention for a successful pet experience.