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Reptile Care

March 6, 2017

 

Snakes and lizards make excellent pets, but they require specialized care. You must consider the

environment that the reptile lives in. Is it humid? Are they arboreal (tree-dwelling), terrestrial (ground-

dwelling), or semi-terrestrial (both tree- and ground-dwelling)? What kind of foods are they accustomed

to eating? What are the temperatures like? Are they nocturnal (awake at night) or diurnal (awake during

the day)? Finding answers to these questions will help you create an enclosure perfectly suited for your

scaly friend and ensure that it will live a long, healthy life. With proper care, many reptile species can

live 10-15 years!

 

You will likely see a variety of reptiles at your local pet store. Bearded dragons and leopard geckos are

great beginner lizards due to their temperament and relative ease of care. If you are more interested in

snakes, ball pythons or corn snakes may be good options. Think about your expectations of keeping a

reptile. Will you be able to accommodate the animal once it grows larger? Do you hope to handle it

often? Will you be prepared if your female becomes gravid? Research different types of reptiles to see

which would be the best fit for your expectations and to make sure you are purchasing it from a

reputable source. Here are a few important aspects to consider for any reptilian pet.

 

  • Temperature

Reptiles are exothermic, which means they rely on their environment to regulate their body

temperature. Your reptile’s cage should have a temperature gradient - a warm area to absorb

heat and a cooler area to cool down. The temperature range varies by species. Heating the

warm area can be achieved by a heat lamp, a heating pad, or a combination of the two.

Terrestrial reptiles typically benefit most from an under-tank heating pad, while heat lamps are

usually more practical for arboreal animals. In any event, it is very important to monitor these

temperatures.

 

  • Lighting

Diurnal lizards require ultraviolet (UV) light for proper calcium metabolism. Maintaining a

correct light setup is absolutely critical for the health of your lizard. You can find linear UV lights

and compact/coil UV lights at pet stores. Coil UV lights are not recommended; they have been

known to cause eye irritation and are generally less reliable. Also, your linear bulb should be

changed every 6 months to ensure the UV output is strong enough for your pet. The most

efficient way for your reptile to absorb UV is from a natural source—the sun! You can certainly

enjoy time outside with your lizard, as long as the temperature is warm enough.

 

  • Enclosure

Creating and decorating an enclosure can be one of the most exciting aspects of having a

reptilian pet. Many keepers aim to simulate the reptile’s natural environment as much as

possible, including things like live plants and misting systems. Snakes, lizards, turtles, and

tortoises all require a different kind of enclosure. You can follow a general rule of thumb: if the

animal is arboreal (tree-dwelling), its cage should be taller than it is wide. If the animal is

terrestrial (ground-dwelling), its cage should be longer than it is tall. An ideal setup for an

arboreal lizard, for example, would include branches/bark at varying levels. This maximizes

surface area and allows the animal to thermoregulate. You must also consider the humidity your

reptile would experience in its natural environment. A reptile from a tropical rainforest will

require different care than a reptile found in the desert. Humid environments can be achieved

by a humidifier, hand-misting, or an automatic misting system.

 

  • Diet

Reptilian diets vary across species. Most pet snakes are fed mice/rats and many lizards are fed

insects. You must make sure you are comfortable feeding these types of prey items before

purchasing a reptile. Many lizard diets will require additional supplementation in the form of

calcium and a multivitamin, which can be dusted on the insects. The amount and frequency of

dusting varies by species. Some lizard diets do not require this additional supplementation.

Crested geckos and gargoyle geckos, for example, will obtain all the necessary supplements

from a complete gecko diet like Pangea or Repashy.

 

Knowing these important factors will create a good foundation of knowledge before purchasing a

reptile. However, make sure you research the care of the specific animal you are interested in. If you

think you have done enough research, do some more! Like any pet, reptiles should never be an impulse

buy. The preparation for a pet lizard or snake may be a little more involved, but caring for them is an

extremely rewarding experience. Be warned: many reptile keepers will tell you that it is impossible to

have just one!

 

There are many reputable forums and websites dedicated to reptilian care. If you have any other

questions, you can also contact me (Rachel) at rdrown@bgsu.edu. I have experience caring for many

reptile species and would be happy to help. :)

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