The Library - Reptile Education
*Please note that we no longer see reptiles. The following is just for your information*
Picking the Reptile that is Right for You
The first decision to make is whether you want a snake, lizard, tortoise, or turtle. Once that decision has been made you can start to research individual species. For example if you have decided you would like a lizard, you may consider species such as bearded dragons, leopard geckos, iguanas, etc. When considering each species, you should ask several questions.
- When is this species most active?
Some reptiles are only active during the day (diurnal) and some only active at night (nocturnal). If you want to interact with your pet during the day, a nocturnal species would not be a good choice. However if you are only home in the evenings, a nocturnal species may be the right choice for you.
- What does this species eat and how often do you need to feed it?
Nearly all snakes will need to be feed a diet of rodents. The variables will be what size and how often.
With lizards there are 3 major diets: insectivores, carnivores, and herbivores. Insectivores eat primarily insects (crickets, waxworms, etc.) Carnivores typically eat small rodents, much like snakes. Herbivores eat a diet of greens, vegetables, and fruits.
Turtles and tortoises also have 3 major diet groups: herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores. Most tortoises are herbivores thus eating greens, vegetables, fruits, and sometimes hay. Aquatic turtles are usually carnivores that eat worms, crickets, and small fish. Semi-aquatic turtles are typically omnivores meaning they eat a combination of herbivorous and carnivorous foods.
Many species of lizards, turtles, and tortoises will also need vitamin and calcium supplementation.
- How big will this species be when it becomes an adult, how long will it live, and what will I need for it to live in?
The adult size should be a very important consideration when choosing a reptile no matter how small and cute the babies. Many reptiles stay under a foot in total length, however some get much larger. For example an adult iguana can reach up to 6 feet in length and some species of boa constrictors can reach over 10 feet in length.
Adult size is very important not only in whether or not you will be able to handle the animal, but also in what type of cage you will have to purchase. An adult iguana will require a cage ~6 feet tall x 6 feet wide x 3 feet deep.
Longevity in captivity is primarily associated with the care given to the reptile. 50 - 90% of reptiles die in the first year of captivity due to owner inexperience. However if properly cared for many reptiles may live 10 - 20 years in captivity.
- Last but certainly not least. Who will be the primary care giver and will you be able to afford the reptile?
Parents should consider that the amount of care a reptile needs to thrive in captivity may be more than most children can provide. While the child may have certain responsibilities caring for the reptile, an adult should be supervising the overall care.
Financial responsibility is also a major commitment. The actual reptile is usually a small fraction of the overall cost. Make sure to consider the purchase price of the reptile, cage, furniture, feeding dishes, lighting, food, and veterinary care.
Once you have decided that you are ready for the commitment of caring for a reptile and have chosen a species that fits with your lifestyle, you will need to pick out a healthy new pet. There are many sources of reptiles including pet stores, breeders, and reptile expos. Choose a source that is reputable and willing to provide support after you purchase your reptile. Look for a healthy reptile. Signs of a healthy reptile include: an alert attitude, clear eyes, upright posture, a well filled out belly, no injuries or swellings, and a clean vent.
Caring for Your Reptile
Each species of reptile has specific care requirements. This handout is does not describe the care of individual species, but general things to consider for every reptile.
Size - It is truly important to purchase a cage large enough for your new pet. This will allow appropriate exercise, room to thermo regulate (adjust their body temperature), and minimize stress.
Shape - Choose a cage that is designed with your pet in mind. For instance, a lizard that spends most of its time in the trees should have a cage that is taller than it is wide allowing room to climb. A reptile that spends most of its time on the ground would benefit more from a cage that is wider than it is tall allowing room to move around on the floor.
Melissa Kaplan's Herp Care Collection is a very informative website dealing with all aspects of reptile care, health and behavior. There are many articles and links. The author has even written a book, "Iguanas For Dummies".