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.
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
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. I have experience caring for many
reptile species and would be happy to help. :)