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Reptiles As Pets ...by Bill Knell

Years ago when people got the urge to own a pet they would run down to the local pet shop and check out all the puppies, kittens, fish and other possibilities. I fell into the Ďother possibilitiesí category because I just loved turtles. I enjoyed the way they crawled around their bowl, ate chopped meat out off the end of my finger and took off like greased lightening when I let them walk around freely on the kitchen floor. I didnít know it back then, but I had become an archetype of the pet owner of the future.

Reptiles have become incredibly popular as pets over the past fifty years. Small turtles, lizards and snakes started the craze, but today anything goes. People own snakes of all sizes and types, Geckos, Tortoises, Frogs, Water Dragons, Iguanas, Chameleons and the list goes on. Prices start at just a couple of dollars for some and skyrocket for others. It all depends on what you want, how rare the pet is and how much their artificial environment will cost you to set up and maintain.

Getting started as a reptile owner is a tough process for the person and the pet if you do not plan ahead. Owning these creatures can be an incredibly rewarding experience if you make the right choice. Deciding which reptile to own requires research and a decision made with your ability to care for a particular pet, not how much you may want one. While Iguanas are always in demand, they are not a good choice for beginners due to their aggressive nature, feeding and environmental requirements. Bearded Dragons are also very popular, but not easy to care for due to their need for special lighting and food mixtures.

Lizards are a good starting point for people that want the experience of owning an exotic pet without all the hassles. Most pet stores recommend Leopard Geckos for newcomers to the world of reptiles as pets. They grow to be just seven to ten inches in length, are nocturnal, live for fifteen to twenty years, are easy to care for, do not require a complicated environment (a twenty gallon tank is fine) and eat a wide variety of insects. The worst reptile choices for newcomers or those not willing to spend a great deal of time, effort and money on their pets are Iguanas, Savannah Monitors, Green Anoles and Chameleons.

Snakes are also a good choice for a reptile as a pet because they do not require special lighting, eat just once a week and can be left on their own for several days if necessary. The bad news is that they have feeding requirements that may turn some pet owners away. Snakes must be fed rats or mice. The majority of snake owners feed their pets pre-killed prey and that is what many experienced reptile keepers recommend.

Corn Snakes are excellent starter pets for reptile enthusiasts. They only grow to about three to five feet in length, are docile and live up to ten years. Next up on the list is the Ball Python. It is a constrictor that grows to about three to five feet in length, lives twenty to thirty years and does not require a lot of special care. Their downside is a reputation of being hard to feed, so get as much advice on that area as you can before you buy or adopt one. Kingsnakes make good pets. They grow to no more than six feet in length, are easily tamed, easy to feed and survive well in a pet environment. Gopher Snakes have excellent temperaments, grow to just over six feet in length an do not require a complicated environment. They also feed well.

Do turtles make good pets? It depends on the species and there are hundreds of them. While I always preferred Red-Eared Slider Turtles, they are not as popular as they once were because they can have short lifespans and do require some extra effort. They swim and need both wet and dry environments. Aquatic turtles are generally difficult to care for, prone to many diseases and require artificial environments that can be fairly expensive to set up and maintain. Box Turtles are a better choice. They are common in North America and remain popular as pets. They grow to be about eight inches in length, live fifty about years and can be kept indoors or outdoors. The downside is that they require a lot of space to thrive and a fairly complicated substrate of potting soil, sand, leaf mulch and sphagnum moss.

One of the things that reptile owners can do to make their petís life better is to go the extra mile by providing little extras like a hide box. Snakes and lizards like dark places to hide. By providing them with a small box that has just one opening you are giving them the gift of privacy. While it may sometimes be annoying to you because your pet will not always be there for viewing every time you want them to, it is helpful to the reptileís well-being. Pet ownership should never be just about what the owner wants, but also what is best for their pet. Reptiles as pets? Yes! But with careful consideration and planning before you purchase.


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