Reptiles, Amphibians Gaining Favor As Pets

While dogs and cats still remain the most popular companion animals, an increasing number of people are keeping reptiles and amphibians as pets. Generally hypoallergenic, quiet, clean and relatively undemanding, they’re popular with allergy sufferers, people living in small spaces and those with busy work schedules. With careful consideration and appropriate accommodations, reptiles and amphibians can be a fascinating and rewarding alternative.

But before adopting a reptile or amphibian (also known as “herps”), it’s important to take into account several important factors:

Commitment

Most reptiles and amphibians are long-lived. Some lizards can live more than 20 years and a few species of snakes have broken the 40-year mark. Turtles and tortoises can often live 50 to 100 years or more! Be prepared to take care of your pets for their entire life, not just until you or your child becomes bored with them.

Adult size

That cute little baby green iguana will soon be more than 5 feet long and that golf ball-sized Spurred Tortoise will eventually tip the scales at more than 100 pounds. Research the growth potential of the herp you’re considering and its future space requirements. There are many species that stay small, and a few that grow extremely large.

Cost

The often elaborate enclosure requirements for reptiles and amphibians can make initial setup expensive. Large terrariums, special heating and lighting equipment, specific substrates and cage decor can add up quickly. Veterinary care is also considerably higher priced for exotics, so be prepared to spend and keep some money set aside for emergencies.

Expectations

While many herps tolerate handling, they don’t relish it and will not seek out affection like a dog or a cat. Herps are, however, fascinating to watch and their behaviors are unique. They have their own personalities and can be enjoyable in their own quiet way.

Research

If, after careful consideration, you believe a reptile or amphibian is right for you, the next step is to do your homework, and lots of it. There are hundreds of species and all have specific and diverse care needs. Cage size, temperature and humidity requirements, necessary furnishings and proper diet vary greatly, and it’s crucial for your herp’s health that you provide them with appropriate accommodations. The internet is the most extensive and up-to-date resource for reptile and amphibian care, but take caution, as there’s also a great deal of incorrect and contradictory information. Looking at as many websites and forums as you can find, reading recently published books and speaking with experienced keepers is the best way to filter out the good from the bad and give you a complete and balanced understanding.

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Adopt don’t shop

The reptile and amphibian trade is big business — and notoriously cruel. It’s morphed from brick-and-mortar shops to large-scale online sales. The latter even includes overnight shipping of these delicate creatures. According to the New York Times, “on their journey to your living room, reptiles and amphibians first survive unregulated and sometimes illegal methods of capture or breeding, housing and transportation.” In 2012, Marin Humane was involved with an investigation at a large-scale wholesale distributor, which uncovered inhumane and unsafe conditions resulting in the suffering and death of tens of thousands of these animals. There are some reputable breeders but as always, it’s important to do your due diligence — for your sake and the animal’s.

Marin Humane often has reptiles and amphibians available for adoption and our staff can help you welcome a herp friend into your life.

Samantha Winegarner is the animal care manager at Marin Humane which contributes Tails of Marin articles and welcomes animal-related questions and stories about the people and animals in our community. Go to marinhumane.org, Twitter.com/marinhumane, or email lbloch@marinhumane.org.

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