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The word reptile means "crawling animal," but this is not the only feature that distinguishes these interesting animals. They are cold-blooded, backboned animals that breathe air. All reptiles are covered with scales or modified scales which are dry and firm; they ae neither cold nor slimy. Some, like snakes and lizards, shed their skin periodically to allow for growth; others, such as turtles and tortoises, are surrounded by a shell to help protect them.
Reptile is the familiar name given to a member of the class Reptilia. Included in this class are Turtles which include tortoises, terrapins and sea turtles; the Tuatara; the Crocodilians which include Gavials, Alligators & Caiman; the Lizards; and the Snakes. A rather large group Reptilia are all vertebrates. They are cold blooded creatures that require heat from their environment. The family Repitilia is of the most pervasive group of animals and to a degree they are of the most successful as they are found in most all habitats on earth and comprise almost 6,000 species compared with mammals with just over 5,000 species. Reptile's have become a huge force in the pet trade and are now commonly kept in 1 of 7 pet homes. Their innate prehistoric looks, ease of care and recent accessibility to the pet trade has proven the reptile to be a formidable aspect in the mix of pets being kept in homes today. With at least 7 major full color magazines dedicated to reptiles in the U.S. and hundreds of professional herpetological societies around the world as well as specific veterinary organizations dealing exclusively with reptiles, their popularity is growing at a tremendous rate.
· Some facts
Reptiles have been walking around on the earth for millions of years. The fact that some reptiles are large and predatory has led to many attitudes, myths, and legends about them. If you mention the word snake most people cringe and voice a negative attitude. Not because they have had a bad encounter with a snake, but because misinformed people have attached a negative connotation to the snake through the centuries. The snake's bad rap started before it was used as the subject of a metaphor in the Bible. Even though only about 10% of the 3000 species of snakes are venomous, the snake has become a symbol of evil.
The fear of the crocodile is easier to understand, yet many times misplaced. The crocodiles are of the oldest living reptiles. Some grow to in excess of 16 feet and can weigh over a ton! Attitudes towards lizards have grown very favorable over the years as more lizards are kept in captivity than snakes. Those that fear snakes usually have a better attitude towards lizards merely because they have legs. The lizards are a very diverse group including one specie of chameleon that is known to have the smallest bones of any living vertebrate to the giant Komodo Dragons which are the largest living lizards. There are a two lizard species (genus Heloderma) that are venomous, yet their venom is only employed when provoked, otherwise these are very docile creatures.
· Accommodating the Reptile
There are a few ways of making these creatures feel at home. There are strict rules regarding this as any variation particularly in heating can cause the demise of a reptile pet. These conditions are left to the hobbyist yet there are many products that are available now make the requirements for reptiles very easy to maintain. Indoor terrariums are best, these areas of course must be escape proof, and have adequate room for your pet, along with essential heating, ventilation, humidity, and lighting all depending on the specific needs of the reptile in question.
· Terrariums Types:
oThe heated dry terrarium for the desert and semi-desert species. oThe heated humid type for the tropical species. oThe heated dry type for the species of the temperate climates. oThe heated humid type for the damp woodland species. oThe heated & filtered aqua-type for those that require a body of water.
The shape of the terrarium is unimportant, however a tall type would be advisable for the arboreal species and a shallow type for the terrestrial species.
Most pet shops carry complete terrariums that are ready to be habited. Some hobbyists build there own terrariums from found objects yet these may present problems such as poisons and insects. The reptile could care less about this as long as it's requirements are met. One of those requirements is the size of your reptiles home. This is dictated by the size, number, and habit of the pet you choose. As an example, a pair of small terrestrial lizards could be at home in a 2x1x1 foot terrarium. For the arboreal lizard the same dimensions would be suitable with the terrarium being upright, length being the height. The same could be used for terrestrial and arboreal snakes up to 18 inches long. A 8 foot boa or python would require a cage of 6x3x3. There are excellent books that can give you the required information pertaining to caging individual species of reptiles.
The inside of the terrarium needs to have materials for your pet to feel at home. There are a wide range of materials that can be used, yet there are only a few that are recommended. Aspen wood particles is the substrate of choice for most species, yet if the reptile requires more humidity or high moisture than moss or cypress mulch may be required. Remember, you will need to change these materials frequently to keep the cage clean and free of bacteria. Rocks and driftwood make a great place for your pet to hide, bask, and they are an aid to shedding.
Plants are a common consideration for the terrarium. Use of plastic plants are better than most live plants as reptiles may uproot live plant or worse they may try to eat them, many plants are toxic.
The terrarium is a life support system for your reptile. Many of the accessories you will need can often be purchased at your local pet store. It should include an appropriate heating device, lighting, some ventilation, and potentially some humidity controls depending on the reptile specie. Temperature controls are needed for the pet to remain healthy and active. Direct sunlight and human house heaters can cause problems for the reptile terrarium as it can raise the temperature to a dangerous level. Different species need different temperatures. When purchasing your pet it is advisable that you purchase a book concerning the environment conditions that your reptile requires. Plus, it makes for interesting reading and you may soon become interested in more than one specie. The best heating devices on the market today are ceramic heat emitters and under tank heaters. These heaters are made to heat different sized terrariums so be certain to buy the correct size to prevent under heating and over heating your pet reptile.
An aquarium heater should be used to heat the water of any reptile requiring a pool of water. The pool should also be filtered to keep the water clean. The addition of an air stone will help in keeping the water oxygenated.
A proper amount of light and complete darkness is essential for the good health of all reptiles. Very few reptiles like the green iguana require special lighting. They need to be provided with ultraviolet lighting. There are special bulbs that you can buy to keep these pet reptiles healthy in captivity by providing them the special light they need. Be aware that there are only about 5 species of iguana that require this special lighting, no other reptile should be exposed to ultraviolet lighting as too much ultraviolet light can be very harmful and can cause blindness and cataracts in reptiles that do not need it.
Reptiles from moist regions may require a humid environment. Others from seasonal areas may require increases and decreases in humidity. Spraying several times a day with a spray bottle can produce the humidity needed. It is advised to check current literature on the desired specie as many do better in captivity with little to no humidity in the cage. An increase in humidity can produce an environment that is conducive to mildew, mold, bacteria and odor.
Ventilation is not an issue with reptiles as they are known to do rather well with little if any air flow. Increased ventilation produces a big problem with cold air flow - and should be reduced as mush as possible to keep your pet reptile healthy. In most cases small side vents will provide proper ventilation or the screening of the lid is all that is required.
Most books concerning reptiles will suggest ways in which to obtain proper conditions for your pet. In the reference area of this site you will find many books on these pets.
All animals must receive a balanced diet. Feeding captive reptiles exactly the foods they eat in the wild is nearly impossible. We must provide substitutes for this. Depending on the types of food they eat, reptiles can be categorized into three groups:
oCarnivorous: The largest group, feeds on animal material.
oHerbivorous: Feeds on plant material.
oOmnivorous: Equal amounts of plant and animal materials.
For the reptile too, variety is the spice of life. Making sure that a supply of certain food types for your particular reptile is available, is a must. Affordability is another factor to consider. Most pet stores carry a variety of foods for reptiles or you may raise the food at a lower cost to you.
· Finding Specimens
The wide open spaces are good places to find specimens of reptiles, but, be sure you are not breaking any conservation laws. Many reptiles are protected in many countries.
Before you buy a reptile always make sure it is healthy. Look for tell tale signs of ticks, mites, and broken skin. Make sure that they are plump, alert, and clear-eyed. Look at the mouth and vent for signs of abnormality or disease.
· Transporting Your Reptile
Cloth bags are great for transporting reptiles. The exception being aquatic reptiles. In this case you should transport them in something insulated and the pet should be kept moist. Avoid transporting during cold weather without preparing something with heating or something insulated. Upon arrival to it's new quarters the pet should be kept in quarantine if it is to live with other reptiles. Two to three weeks should be sufficient.
· Cleanliness is Next To Godliness
Health and hygiene go hand in hand. Keeping your pets area clean will greatly enhance it's chances of living a long life. We must remember that these pets have a propensity to wander, and during their escape from their areas they can become wounded. These wounds are susceptible to infection and must be treated. Scrapes and scratches will usually heal on their own. It is a good idea though to treat the wound with an antiseptic.
Any wound that is deep or infected should be treated by a veterinarian.
If ever in doubt about the health of your reptile do not hesitate to get it to the veterinarian.
If you feel you are interested in one of these animals as a pet, go to our home page where you will find our reference page link and read up on these great pets. Or visit your local pet store and ask about information or books about the reptile you are interested in purchasing. Pet store owners should be more than happy to help as they should know that if you're happy with your pet chances are you'll be back to buy another.
DID YOU KNOW....?
· ...reptiles belong to the classification of reptilia which includes snakes, lizards, turtles, crocodilians, the tuatara, and numerous extinct fossil species?
· ...reptile fossils date back about 315 million years?
· ...reptiles are often referred to as cold-blooded, but reptiles must maintain a body temperature that is higher than most mammals?
· ...reptiles rely mainly on external sources (heated earth, sunlight, warm stones or logs) to maintain their body heat? Other mammals rely on internal heat to maintain their body temperature.
· ...the majority of reptiles lay eggs, but many lizards and snakes give birth to living young?
· ...snakes and lizards have been called the pets of the 90s? The reptile business is one of the fastest growing businesses in the pet industry.
· ...the python is one of the largest eaters in the world? It can devour a grown leopard.
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