Bringing home your first reptile can be daunting.
Each species of reptile has specific husbandry requirements and there is usually so much information out there, that it can be easy to be led astray.
Here are a few basic tips and factoids to beef up your reptilian knowledge and help you make the best choices for your new reptile. There are an infinite number of personal opinions and care sheets online and in pet stores- make sure you do all your research in order to make the most knowledgeable decision.
There are a lot of controversial opinions regarding sand as a substrate and the dangers it imposes for reptiles. There are reptile keepers that swear by using sand and have never had any issues and there are other reptiles keepers that have lost one or many reptiles to sand impaction.
When reptiles use their tongue to eat or sense their surroundings, sand can get ingested. The sand that gets ingested isn’t easily digestible so it builds up internally. Sometimes, very painfully, reptiles can pass the blockage, but most times it needs to be removed surgically or can cause them to get very ill and result in death.
Sand is marketed as a “natural” substrate for desert reptiles, but likely the reptiles you’re bringing into your home aren’t used to an actual desert and are captive-bred. Sand isn’t overly hygienic and is one of the messier substrates. Particles can get stuck in eyes and other openings and cause irritation and significant damage if not addressed.
Different reptiles have different calcium requirements. Some reptiles need calcium dusted feeders daily, or a cap full of calcium available at all times; while others don’t need calcium at all, or very rarely. Make sure you do your breed specific research before bringing home a reptile. Over-supplementing your reptile can be just as detrimental as under-supplementing.
Juvenile and breeding females typically need heavier calcium than other reptiles. There are two types of calcium supplements you will see in most pet stores; calcium with and without vitamin D3. D3 is what allows reptiles to use the calcium they are given, which they produce when exposed to UVB rays (natural and artificial). Nocturnal reptiles can produce D3 without UVB exposure.
Under-supplementation can result in Metabolic Bone Deficiency (MBD) which causes the bones to be weak and can break, fracture, and become deformed. This affects their ability to walk, eat, and catch prey. It can be fatal if left untreated.
Each reptile has a different temperature requirement. Some reptiles need a temperature gradient (a cool side and a warm side) because they need to thermoregulate. The temperature of their environment is what determines their body temperature.
Other species need warm temperatures and a basking area, which is usually around or upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. And others need cooler temperatures at night than they do during the day. Some species need under-tank heat to warm their belly and digest their food.
With the right equipment, all of these specifications are easily attainable as long as you know what you need. There are timers and bulbs and under-tank heaters to help you maintain the exact temps your reptiles need to be happy and healthy. As well as the appropriate heat system, it is important to have a thermometer that works well in order to appropriately gauge and monitor the temps in your enclosures.
This is also important to take into consideration depending on the temperatures where you live. It may be difficult to maintain certain heat requirements if you live in an area where the temperatures drop, and vice versa if you live in an area where the temperatures get very high for a period of time during the year. Home heating and air conditioning can also throw your temperatures off, so it is important to monitor your temperatures closely.
In addition to the heat requirement, each species has a specific light requirement. Some nocturnal reptiles need a red or blue bulb at night, where other diurnal reptiles need no light. Some lights have heat components, and UVB and UVA rays to help meet your specific needs.
Some reptiles need no light at all, other than the natural daylight that comes in through the windows. However, it is important that your tank is not in a space where the sunlight will shine directly into the tank; this extra light can unnecessarily alter the temperature in your enclosure, which could be fatal to your reptiles.
Based on where your reptile is native to, they will have different moisture requirements. Some tropical reptiles need a very high level of humidity, whereas desert reptiles can be harmed by high levels of humidity. There are some reptiles that benefit from concentrated areas of high humidity when shedding. It all depends on the breed.
For reptiles that require high humidity, there are different misting systems that can be as complex or simple as you choose. Some reptile keepers prefer to hand-mist with a spray bottle multiple times a day, while others choose to buy a system that does the misting for them. You can see that one option takes a little more time and effort on your part.
Quite a few reptiles stay hydrated this way, as many species won’t drink from a standing water source, and prefer to lick the water as it drips off leaves and the sides of their tank. Keeping your tank appropriately humidified is essential to the well-being of your scaled pets.
For reptiles that need increased humidity only when shedding, you can buy or make your own humid hide. These hides can be filled with moistened moss or paper towels, and placed in their enclosure for your pet to use at their discretion when necessary.
The most important part of bringing home a new reptilian pet is to do lots of research! There are plenty of conflicting opinions, ideas, and advice on the Internet, in books and in pet stores- it is important that you make the best decision for you and your new pet!
Do you have a reptile? Show us in the comments below.
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