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The Complete Idiot's Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians

by Liz Palika, Bill Love (Photographer)

The average reptile owner has two or three reptile pets, not necessarily of the same species, and needs one book that will answer all their questions. What can you expect from a reptile as a pet? How do you set up a habitat for a desert snake or a rain forest frog? What should you feed these most finicky eaters? There are also tips on avoiding salmonella, advice


The average reptile owner has two or three reptile pets, not necessarily of the same species, and needs one book that will answer all their questions. What can you expect from a reptile as a pet? How do you set up a habitat for a desert snake or a rain forest frog? What should you feed these most finicky eaters? There are also tips on avoiding salmonella, advice about handling your pet and a section on what to do if you are bitten. The most comprehensive information on every aspect of the subject is presented in an easily-accessible, quick, fun format.

Product Details

Howell Books
Publication date:
Complete Idiot's Guide Series
Product dimensions:
7.32(w) x 9.12(h) x 0.88(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Reptiles & Amphibians - CH 3 - What Would Reptile Ownership Require?

[Figures are not included in this sample chapter]

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Reptiles & Amphibians

- 3 -

What Would Reptile Ownership Require?

In This Chapter

  • Reptiles need a long-term commitment

  • Can you afford the upkeep?

  • Can you spare the time and energy?

Reptile ownership will make some demands upon you, for your attention, your time,and your pocketbook. Many a new pet owner has bought an inexpensive small reptile,only to find out that small reptile requires a large aquarium, a complicated filtrationsystem, lights, heaters, and special foods. What was at first glance an inexpensivepet turned into quite a financial investment.

Before you add a reptile to your household, make sure you are willing and ableto do what is necessary for your pet.

Long-Term Commitment

Reptile ownership can be a long-term commitment. Many reptiles have been knownto live 10, 15, or even 20 years or longer.

Because so many species are long lived and because many species are new to zoologistsor have just recently been bred in captivity, we really don't know how long manyof these species can live. With new knowledge about nutrition, environmental needs,and breeding, we may find that many of these (and other) species are even longerlived than we first thought. Because of this, when you decide to add a reptile toyour household, you must be prepared to keep and care for this living creature fora long time.

Known or Estimated Life Expectancies

Water snakes (various species) 10 to 12 years
Red-bellied newt 15 years
Monitor lizard 15 to 20 years
Milk snake 20 years
Spotted salamander 20 years
White's treefrog 20 to 25 years
Eastern indigo snake 26 years

If you get a reptile and later find you can no longer keep it, it can be verydifficult, if not impossible, to find your pet a new home. As with many pets, mostbuyers want a you ng animal. Many people also assume their local zoo will take theirtreasured reptile, but that isn't necessarily so. Most zoos refuse to accept petsfor many reasons. An unknown animal may introduce disease or parasites to their population.Also, the zoos concentrating on breeding threatened or endangered animals want, forthe most part, known animals. That means the exact bloodline (pedigree, geographicalorigins, or genealogy) and the exact species or subspecies must be known for thatanimal.

Are you prepared to take care of this monitor lizard for 20 years?

After You, Who?

Something else you need to think about is who will care for your pets when youcan no longer care for them?

To protect my pets, I have been indoctrinating my nephew, Alan, to the uniquenessand special qualities of reptiles. When he comes to visit, he wants to visit thetortoises in the backyard first, then he'll visit the lizards, feed a cricket toa frog, check on incubating eggs, and then he'll say hi to the rest of us. His motherthinks it's rude, but this pleases me to no end. If he continues to treasure them,as I hope he will, I won't have to worry about them in the future.

Meanwhile, a special clause in my Will specifies my instructions on how to carefor my pets, should something happen to me.

Regarding Reptiles

Not many American presidents have owned reptiles while in the White House. Theodore Roosevelt, however, was an animal lover and owned numerous pets while he was president. Included among them was a lizard of unknown species named Josiah.

Did You Get that Raise You Were Asking for?

Rep tile ownership requires an ongoing financial commitment. Some reptiles arevery affordable; you can probably find a young green anole for under $5. Most reptilescost more than that, but some are still quite reasonable. The price usually dependsupon how rare (or common) the reptile is and whether it is being bred in captivity.However, the purchase price of the reptile is just the beginning of your expenses.

Your Animal House

An aquatic or semi-aquatic reptile will need an aquarium to live in. The aquariummust have a strong filtration system that can keep up with the messes reptiles canmake. The aquarium will also need a water heater, a cover, and a light. A 20-gallonaquarium is the smallest you would want to use for a small aquatic reptile; for largeranimals you'd need a larger setup. Depending upon the size of aquarium, all thisequipment can be purchased for between $100 and $200 and up.

Other reptiles need a different type of cage. Desert species need a dry, hot terrarium.Rainforest species need a damper terrarium. Arboreal species need a tall, well-plantedcage. Most cages also need one or two heat sources, a cover, and a light.

Some terrestrial or arboreal species do better outside. These species need a secure,escape-proof enclosure. They may also still need a heat source. Outdoor cages orterrariums will vary in price, depending upon the size of the cage. You can usuallyset up a fairly standard reptile cage for between $100 and $200.

Can you provide the kind of habitat these bearded dragons need?

Herp Help

Our knowledge of reptile husbandry is constantly increasing. Scientists, reptile breeders, and ke epers are discovering more every day, and this is wonderful news for our pets. But it means we, as reptile owners, must continue learning, too.

Thought for Food

Daily upkeep costs money, too. Some aquatic and semi-aquatic species eat someplant material, but most also need protein foods: live fish, worms, and a balancedcommercial reptile food. Snakes are carnivores and need mice, rats, insects, or fish.Frogs eat mice or insects. Some lizards are herbivores and need a balanced greendiet. Most reptiles also need a vitamin and mineral supplement added to their foodregularly.

Other Budget Burdens

Something else you may not have thought about is your utility bill. The heat lampover your reptile cage will use up a lot of power. The water heater, filtration system,and light on the aquatic reptile's aquarium use electricity, too, which will showup on your bill. If you add multiple reptiles to your family, that increases thepower usage.

You may also need to budget for occasional visits to the veterinarian. Althoughwell-cared-for reptiles are, for the most part, fairly healthy and hearty, they dosometimes get hurt or sick. It's a good idea to have a veterinarian on call who specializesin reptiles, including the species you own.

Reptile ownership can be very addicting. To paraphrase a certain brand of potatochips, nobody can have just one. My husband and I started out many years ago witha snake and two California desert tortoises, and now we have over 50 reptiles, notincluding hatchlings and eggs incubating. It is addictive. And it can drain yourbudget dry, if you're not careful.

Regard ing Reptiles

A 20-year-old man was arrested in Miami for smuggling 200 tarantulas, 300 poison dart frogs, and 14 boa constrictors in his suitcase. The wiggling of his folded jeans tipped off a Customs agent.

Can You Spare the Time and Energy?

Reptiles will require your time; obviously, some more than others.

Aquatic and semi-aquatic reptiles in an aquarium require daily feeding. You willalso need to check the aquarium's filter, heater, and light daily to make sure theyare working properly. This should only take a few minutes each day.

Weekly, you will need to clean the filter and perhaps do a partial water changein the aquarium. This may take an hour or two, depending on the type of filter youhave and how the aquarium is set up. Several times a year, you will need to completelyempty and clean the aquarium. If you have a big aquarium, this can be an extensivechore requiring a full day's work.

Indoor reptiles need to be fed each day or a couple of times a week, dependingupon the species. For example, snakes generally eat once a week, but herbivorouslizards must eat daily. Uneaten food and feces must be picked up daily. This shouldonly take a few minutes each day.

Indoor cages need to be thoroughly cleaned weekly. This could take a half an hourto an hour, depending on the size of the cage.

Outdoor reptiles may need to be fed daily or a few times a week, again, dependingon the species. Feces needs to be picked up daily. This should only take a few minuteseach day.

As you're deciding whether you have enough time to care for reptiles, keep inmind that part of the fun of having them is watching them. Although most re ptilesdon't like to be cuddled, they don't care if you watch. I have found, by watchingmy pets, that some are bolder than others and some are more cautious. Some like redflowers, while others like yellow. Some of the males are very macho, while othersmore romantic. Watching my pets has been great fun over the years--much more so thantelevision.

Herp Help

Reptile keepers must become familiar enough with the animals under their care to notice when something is wrong. When an appetite declines or behavior changes, pay attention. Sometimes the symptoms of an injury or illness are subtle, because in the wild, an animal showing weakness becomes prey.

The Least You Need to Know

  • Reptiles can be long lived; therefore, pet ownership should be considered a long-term commitment.

  • The original purchase price of the reptile is only part of the equation. You must also consider the cost of the cage or enclosure and the cost of upkeep.

  • Reptile ownership requires a certain amount of your time, daily and weekly.

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