Reptiles are wild animals that are best left in the wild. Only keepers with enough knowledge and experience should keep reptiles as pets. Reptiles have very different requirements to those of most traditional pets, therefore you will need to consider a range of issues before jumping in.
Without an appropriate level of preparation and commitment, the novelty factor will soon wear off, with the likely outcome being a neglected animal and a disappointed owner. Although most reptiles may become tolerant of some forms of handling, they are not affectionate animals and do not crave human contact. If a companion animal is what you are after, then better to get cat or dog.
Although captive pythons are not inherently ‘aggressive’ towards their keeper, they can be quite defensive when feeling threatened or territorial, and many will bite. The apparent zeal with which some individuals will bite can blur the line between ‘protective behaviour’ and outright attack! Many pythons become very food-oriented and will bite just about anything that moves – including the keeper’s hand. When that happens, it can take a great deal of time and patience (and blood!) to dislodge the hungry python without injuring it.
Young pythons will grow – and before any hatchling is acquired on the basis of ‘cuteness’, an adult specimen of the species should be viewed.
The expense incurred in the purchase of a python is only the beginning of the costs that will have to be met – the most ‘up front’ of these being appropriate specialised caging, which needs to be 100% ready upon arrival of the Snake Ranch hatchling. Provision of food requires planning, and can be costly. The keeper will need to either maintain a breeding colony of rodents, or purchase frozen stock from a commercial source. In the interest of continued family acceptance of having a snake in the house, a separate dedicated freezer should be acquired to store rats and mice. Licensing fees are a factor in most states, and significant veterinary expenses may be incurred if health issues arise.
Some of the smaller lizard (e.g., blue-tongued skinks and bearded dragons) species are the most popular pet reptiles, and for good reason. They’re well-suited to captivity and quite easy to care for. Once settled in, many individuals adjust to handling very well. Diurnal lizards such as these can be quite entertaining with their day-time activities and displays, especially if keeping more than one together. If you do keep more than one together you will have to ensure that they are of a similar size, well-fed and provided with plenty of shelter, otherwise you might end up with one very large lizard.
When your lizard sheds its skin, check its toes and its tail tip to make sure that all the skin has come away from these areas. If the old skin remains around a toe, it can constrict the digit as the animal grows, prevent blood flow and ultimately cause the digit to fall off.
When you first get your new lizard friend, it can be hard to resist the temptation to play with it immediately. But resist you should! After your scaly buddy has just moved into a strange new environment, the last thing it wants is for a gigantic, threatening creature to start grabbing at it. It’s best to let it settle in, and then start handling it briefly.
Housing requirements for reptiles vary between species, but all reptiles share some basic requirements. Reptile enclosures need to be kept clean and dry, so it is important to have a design that can be easily maintained. It is important that enclosures are secure not only to prevent the escape of the captive animals but to prevent pets and children from getting in. Security is obviously extremely important with snakes. An escaped snake turning up in your neighbour’s house is unlikely to endear them to you or make them feel sympathetic towards your unusual hobby. A secure, well ventilated, easily maintained enclosure is best.
It is important that reptiles have access to a warm area and a cool area that they can move between to be able to maintain their preferred body temperature. Be aware that a glass enclosure left in the sun will very rapidly heat up above the temperature of the rest of the room. Be careful when considering where to put such an enclosure. In the wild many species of Tasmanian reptile enter a torpor during the colder months, during which time any prolonged disturbance such as unnecessary handling can lead to sickness as the reptile burns up energy reserves. If reptiles get too cold, they are unable to digest food. It is best to keep Tasmanian species in conditions that allow them to shut down over winter. This may make them rather boring “pets” but reptiles are not generally affectionate anyhow. If you tend to have a roaring fire at night in the same room that you keep your reptiles, their metabolism will speed up and they will require food.
Many reptile species are naturally timid and need to have access to hiding places as otherwise they become stressed. Some reptiles never adapt to captivity and will always shy away at the approach of a person. Shelter can be provided in the form of a hollow log or a small box with an narrow entrance (a hinged lid will allow access for cleaning etc). Some species, like White’s skinks, are strongly territorial and may injure or even kill “strangers” introduced to their territory.
Many species of reptile are fussy eaters, requiring live food such as insects or a varied diet. All captive reptiles should have access to clean water. Some reptiles will feed on smaller reptiles, and it is important to avoid putting very differently sized animals in the same enclosure.
While most skinks can be trained to feed on fruit, baby food or dogfood, some individuals will only ever accept insects. It is important to vary the type of insect food presented. Ask yourself whether you have the commitment to care for these animals before you decide to keep any.
Many reptiles harbour parasites such as worms, nematodes, ticks and mites. Some diseases, such as salmonella can be passed on to people by handling reptiles and it is strongly recommended that anybody who handles reptiles washes and dries their hands thoroughly before eating. It is important to quarantine any new reptiles before introducing them to a collection.