Pet appeal doesn’t always come in a warm, furry body with four paws. Although many folks shy away from reptiles as pets, a growing number of people are choosing to bring home a “cold-blooded” new pal — and some reptiles actually do make great pets.
Ben Team, director of Autrey Mill Nature Center and Heritage Preserve, says he frequently recommends reptiles as pets to families who visit the center.
“In a number of situations, [some] reptiles make more appropriate pets than dogs or cats,” he said. “The trick is figuring out which ones do make good pets.”
Before choosing a reptile pet, Team says the things to consider are the eventual size of the animal (will that lizard grow to be 6 inches long or 6 feet long?), the dietary needs (does it need mice, grapes, bugs or a little bit of everything?), the habitat requirements (a 10-gallon aquarium or a dedicated room?), and temperament (some reptiles tolerate handling/interaction; others do not). Do some investigation on your own and don’t rely on the retailer to supply you with this information.
The top suggestion on Team’s list of reptile pets? Snakes.
“Snakes eat infrequently, foul their cages infrequently, require no specialized lighting, and those that are commonly kept are somewhat inactive (therefore require smaller habitats),” he explains.
Team’s recommended list includes:
• Rat Snakes (unfortunately, many are illegal to possess in Georgia, so you have to select a species that is not native to Georgia)
• Ball Pythons
• King Snakes (again, it must be a non-native species)
• Leopard Geckos
• Blue Tongued Skinks
• Bearded Dragons
• Various other Geckos
These reptiles are all reasonably small, easily housed and generally amenable to some handling/interaction.
“Perhaps more important is the list of reptiles that I would recommend that people do not keep,” cautioned Team. “That includes Large Monitor Lizards, Green Iguanas, Burmese Pythons, Boa Constrictors, and Red Eared Sliders or other aquatic turtles. The main reason against keeping these animals relates to space. They all require incredibly large habitats.”
Team warns that it is important to know the source from which your reptile pet is coming. “One constant regarding any pet reptile is that you should only purchase an animal captive bred in the United States,” he said. “Some retailers will lie about this, so question them and research their answers.”
Before selecting a reptile, think about the type of space you will be able to provide for your pet. Also, give careful consideration to the amount of time and effort that will be involved in its care — especially if a child is expected to be the primary caretaker.
Johns Creek resident Adam Fuchs, age 10, says his gecko, Chomper, is an ideal pet. “I like watching Chomper. He moves around a lot, plays, likes to hide under things and he’s really fast,” said Adam. “He’s also a good pet because he can crawl up on me.”
When Adam brought Chomper home a few months ago, he had to learn about feeding and caring for a gecko.
“He eats worms and crickets, so I have to buy those. And he needs fresh water in a bottle,” Adam explains, adding that Chomper’s cage is a rocky, semi-desert habitat. “We keep the temperature in his cage at 85-95 degrees during day and 70-75 degrees at night, and the humidity range is 40-60 percent. The lights are on a timer.”
In addition to care at home, as with any type of pet, reptiles may occasionally need the services of a veterinarian. It’s a good idea to locate a vet who specializes in exotics or, specifically, reptile care — before you need one.
A quick search online will yield numerous resources for information on reptiles and their care and feeding, such as Petfinder ( www.petfinder.com) and PetMD ( www.petmd.com). Or you can pay a visit to Autrey Mill Nature Center and talk to the knowledgeable staff there, while observing some reptiles in their habitats. You can learn more about the 46-acre nature preserve and the educational experiences it offers at www.AutreyMill.org.