Reptile Care – Keeping Exotic Pets Tue, 26 Dec 2017 10:39:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Beginners Guide to Keeping Terrapins at Home Sat, 01 Oct 2016 14:06:13 +0000 In the past terrapins have been unfortunate enough to earn a rather bad reputation. When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles entered public awareness in the 1990’s thousands of school children decided that they wanted to keep their very own Leonardo or Donatello. Sadly, the solution offered up by pet shops was far from ideal. The […]

The post The Beginners Guide to Keeping Terrapins at Home appeared first on Keeping Exotic Pets.

In the past terrapins have been unfortunate enough to earn a rather bad reputation. When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles entered public awareness in the 1990’s thousands of school children decided that they wanted to keep their very own Leonardo or Donatello. Sadly, the solution offered up by pet shops was far from ideal.

The species of terrapin that was imported in vast quantities is known as the “red eared terrapin” or “red eared slider” thanks to the red stripe through their eye.

Many died as youngsters due to the specialist care they require in captivity, while those that did survive to adulthood grew into 10″ long monsters. Many owner simply couldn’t accommodate a large, long-lived and potentially-aggressive animal so thousands were released into the wild.

Its a sad tale, for certain. But things have changed an awful lot in recent years. No longer a “fad” pet, these days we not only have a range of terrapin species which grow to a far more reasonable size, but we also know ever more about keeping these fantastic animals happy and healthy for the long term.

Today, keeping terrapins has really come of age. If you’re interested in purchasing your own pet terrapin then read on to discover how best to care for these fantastic little reptiles at home…

Introduction to Keeping Terrapins in Captivity

Keeping terrapins as pets in captivity.

There’s something about keeping terrapins which makes them special. Maybe its how cute they are as hatchlings, or maybe its how graceful they are swimming about, but keeping terrapins as pets is a decidedly enjoyable pursuit. You’ll get to watch to watch them swimming about, going about their everyday lives.

That said, terrapins do require some specialist care, and arguably take more time, effort and money to keep when compared to many pet reptiles. Potential owners should be certain they do their research and are happy with the necessary investment before bringing their terrapin home from the pet shop…

Terrapin Cages

Terrapins spend most of their lives either swimming around in ponds and streams in the wild, searching for food, or basking on dry land, warming up in the sunshine. Their cage needs to allow your terrapins to exhibit both behaviours.

Typically terrapins are kept in suitably-size aquariums, filled with water, where they can spend the majority of their time swimming around. Alongside this you will also need a dry area where they can haul themselves out to bask.

The size of the aquarium used needs to be decided by the size and number of terrapins being kept. The RSPCA recommends 80 litres of water for every 5cm of shell length,  while the British Chelonia Society suggests “100 square cm of water surface area for each centimetre of shell length”.

In reality this means that even hatchlings should be provided with a cage no smaller than 60cm x 30cm, while adults will require a tank several times this. Buying a terrapin tank is therefore not a cheap exercise!

Once filled with water you’ll then need to provide one or more areas of dry land for them, and here there are a number of options.

An increasing number of accessories are available from pet stores to help you create the necessary basking spot. For example one can now buy floating terrapin “islands” or ramps, both of which allow your pet to leave the water when they desire.

Terrapin Heaters

terrapin photoTerrapins are cold-blooded creatures, which come from the warmer parts of the world.

It should therefore come as no surprise that they will require artificial heating in all but the warmest months of the year.

One of the things that can make terrapins rather more expensive to keep than some other reptiles is that they will require two different heaters; one for the water and one for the basking area.

The water is best heated using an aquarium heater. In the past terrapin keepers simply used the aquarium heaters typically sold to fish keepers in aquarium shops, but recently a small number of specialist terrapin water heaters have come onto the market. The particular benefit of these terrapin heaters is that they include a heater guard, which prevents your terrapin from burning itself if it rests directly on the heater.

This heater should be carefully submerged in the water, carefully fixed to the inside wall of the tank, and placed in an area of good water flow so that it can effectively heat the entire body of water.

Most terrapin water heaters have a built-in thermostat so you can set the water to a comfortable 25’C and feel confident that it won’t overheat in warmer weather.

The second type of terrapin heater than you will require is a basking spot. There are a number of options here. In the past many terrapin keepers used fluorescent bulbs, which provide both light and heat. However the risk of such a heater is that they get very hot indeed, and if splashed with water from the tank, can sometimes explode.

A safer option, therefore, is to make use of one of the many ceramic heaters for sale. This will need to be attached to a suitable thermostat, in order to provide a basking area of 28-32’C.


terrapin photo

One difficulty when keeping terrapins as pets is ensuring that they receive enough calcium. Without this, their shell can become soft or misshapen, causing considerable discomfort.

Terrapins have an interesting solution to this problem. In the wild they will bask in natural sunlight, and the UV rays which they absorb help to bolster their levels of vitamin D3. This in turn helps them to effectively absorb calcium from their diet.

This means that in captivity it is necessary to address both issues; the requirement for UV light, and a diet that is rich in calcium. We will cover diet in more depth below, so for now let us concentrate on the provision of ultraviolet light.

A range of specialist reptile lighting units are now available, providing the necessary UV light. It is critical when keeping terrapins that you provide such a light. Typically you will end up purchasing a fluorescent tube designed specifically for reptiles, a lighting unit to provide the necessary power, and a UV light reflector to ensure that as much of the useful light is pushed down into your terrapin tank.

These tubes should ideally be placed as close to your terrapin as possible (less than 12″ is ideal) and the bulb should be replaced every six months. This regular replacement is important as studies have shown that over time the UV output of bulbs declines, even if the bulb itself still seems to be giving off suitable visible light.

Water & Humidity

terrapin photoWe’ve discussed the importance of providing a large body of water for your pet to swim in, but what is equally important is that this water is kept as clean and hygienic as possible.

Here there are three elements to concern yourself with.

Firstly, the water that comes out of our taps has a variety of chemicals added to it. While these chemicals serve to keep us healthy, they can do quite the opposite for terrapins.

Chlorine, in particular, should be avoided in terrapin tanks. Fortunately there’s a simple solution to this problem in the form of dechlorinating liquids. Simply follow the instructions on the bottle, adding the necessary volume of this fluid to your terrapin’s water and the chlorine will quickly dissipate.

The next concern comes from the waste that your terrapins produce. Over time this will build up in the water, not only causing it to be unsanitary but also risking algae growing. Just like in a fish tank, therefore, you’ll need a powerful filter to continually clean your terrapins water.

There are a range of options available, though aim for one of the more powerful canister or internal filters that can process plenty of water, as terrapins tend to be quite messy animals.

The final stage of maintaining suitable water quality for your pets comes in the form of regular water changes. While your filter will extend the period between cleans, it does not properly replace the process.

Generally speaking a pattern of replacing a third to a half of the water every few weeks is a good start, though if you find the water becoming messy in-between you may want to consider more frequent water changes.

Cage Furnishings

Once you’ve bought your tank, installed your floating islands or land area, together with your UV light, filter, water heater and basking spot you’ll be pleased to hear that there aren’t many more hardware factors you need to consider.

Terrapins can be quite messy creatures, so placing live plants and suchlike in their cage tends to end in disaster, as they dig them up or start nibbling them.

Indeed, apart from some gravel on the base of the cage most keepers maintain quite a “bare” tank. This tends to make cleaning easier and to relieve any annoyance that all the effort you put into landscaping the tank soon becomes ruined.


terrapin photo

Terrapins are voracious feeders and rarely go off their food. As with all species of reptile in captivity, a varied diet tends to work best. This ensures that your pet is getting a wide variety of nutrition. Fortunately, terrapins will eat a wide variety of foodstuffs, so finding suitable food for your terrapin shouldn’t be too problematic.

Here are some of the better options:

Commercial Terrapin Diets

A number of commercially-produced terrapin foods are now available. These are typically dried foods, sold in small tubs like fish food.

In my experience terrapins can vary wildly in their response to such diets. Some terrapins will happily gobble up as much as you provide, while others seem to find them rather less interesting. While you won’t want to feed your pet solely on such a diet, it can be handy to keep a tub of terrapin food on hand for the days when you run out of other foods.

Raw Meat

In the wild a large part of a terrapin’s diet comes in the form of meat. Feeding raw meat to your pet is therefore an ideal way to mimic this wild behaviour. Examples of suitable foods include chicken and beef, though this should be fed raw (rather than cooked) and should be carefully chopped into tiny “bite size” pieces.

If you choose to feed raw meat to your pets from time to time it is wise to establish a “feeding tank”. This is a separate tank, with no clutter in it. The terrapins are placed into it, they are fed, and then moved back into their standard tank.

The “feeding tank” can be completely bare apart from the water, making cleaning up wasted meat much easier than in the confines of a standard terrapin tank.


Interestingly many terrapins seem to enjoy a variety of seafood. The most common source are prawns, bought frozen and thawed out as necessary. They will also readily accept oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and tuna, though again these should ideally be fed raw rather than cooked.

Live Invertebrates

Feeding live invertebrates to your pet can be a great “bonding experience”. I have often found that gently feeding your pet with mealworms, small locusts or waxworms can be an ideal bonding experience. Using forceps (to protect your fingers) simply dangle the item close to your terrapin. In time, most will build up enough confidence to feed from your hand, helping you to gently tame your terrapins.

The livefood available for tropical fish keepers – such as artemia, tubifex and bloodworm may also be fed on occasion as a treat, though take care that no dead prey items are left to rot and so contaminate the water.

Plant Material

While the vast majority of a terrapin’s diet should come in the form of meat in one form or another, some terrapins will also enjoy the odd bit of plant matter. From water cress to apple, carrot to strawberry, these should be grated or finely-chopped to prevent choking.

Dietary Supplements

While a varied diet is critical to the health and well-being of your pet terrapin, the subject of dietary supplements should not be ignored. These supplements help to increase the essential minerals in your terrapins diet; especially calcium which is essential for a strong shell.

Reptile supplements come in a variety of different types, but many of them can be problematic in a terrapin’s aquatic environment. For example, one of the more popular reptile supplements is “dusted” into the food – rather like sprinkling sugar onto fresh strawberries. However once the food is placed in the water this can quickly wash off.

As most terrapins prefer to feed in the water, placing dusted food on the land area isn’t always very successful (though feel free to try it with your own terrapin to test the response).

Arguably the best feeding supplements for terrapins are therefore “gut loading” supplements. These are fed to live insects for a period of 24 hours before they are given to your pet. In this way when your pet terrapin eats his or her cricket, they will also consume all the calcium in the insect’s digestive tract.


terrapin photoGenerally speaking terrapins are not really pets for handling.

While they may look very cute as babies, many of the more popular terrapin species grow to quite an impressive size, and large terrapins can have an equally impressive bite on them!

I’m not saying necessarily that terrapins can’t be handled at all, but rather that as they grow you need to take more and more care to avoid an unpleasant experience.

Arguably the best way to pick up your terrapin if you need to do so is the grasp them at the back of their shell. In doing so you’ll keep your fingers well out of the way and avoid a potentially unpleasant nip.

Lastly when discussing handling terrapins you should note that there have been reported cases of terrapins carrying salmonella. If and when you do handle your terrapin, therefore, its essential to thoroughly wash your hands afterwards to avoid the risk of illness.

All things told, I recommend only picking up your terrapin when it is necessary for practical reasons (such as when cleaning them out). Children should avoid handling them at all times and great care should be taken to avoid nips and to sanitize your hands afterwards.


Below you will find a wide range of terrapin photos that I have gathered together. Feel free to click on any picture to see it full size, and please remember to follow me on Pinterest for more exotic pet pictures.


Photos c/o sk8geek, Squeezyboy, r3beccaf, smagdali & hodgers

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Best Ball Python Cages – Types & Setup Tue, 16 Aug 2016 07:13:23 +0000 Much has been written in the past about ball python cages, and each keeper will have their own preferences. The intention of this article is to provide a balanced guide to choosing and setting up your ball python cage, in order to keep your pet snake happy and healthy throughout its life. If there’s one […]

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Much has been written in the past about ball python cages, and each keeper will have their own preferences. The intention of this article is to provide a balanced guide to choosing and setting up your ball python cage, in order to keep your pet snake happy and healthy throughout its life.

If there’s one key factor that differentiates keeping reptiles from other types of pets it’s the importance of their cage.

While a rabbit cage is really just a container designed to stop the rabbit from escaping, ball python cages have rather more factors to consider. For example, the right ball python cage will:

  • Allow the maintenance of a warm environment (they are cold blooded animals after all)
  • Allow the maintenance of of a suitable humidity (especially important at moulting time)
  • Provide an environment where your ball python can feel safe and secure (ball pythons without this can cease to feed)
  • Prevent the escape of your python, where damage could come to it
  • Provide an attractive feature for you to enjoy observing your pet

As you can see, there are a lot of factors involved with selecting the best ball python cage, but we’re going to cover everything you need to know…

Ball Python

Types of Ball Python Cages

Over the years ball python keepers have experimented with a wide range of different caging alternatives. Here are the most suitable options being used at present in the pet trade:

Glass Tanks

Glass fish tanks have been used by numerous keepers in the past, as they offer excellent visibility for the owner. They do, however, represent a significant number of difficulties when it comes to creating the ideal ball python habitat.

For starters, ball pythons are well-known as escape artists so it’s critical that any fish tank you consider using has a closely-fitting (escape proof) lid. Fortunately a number of cage toppers are now available on the market, and typically consist of a black mesh lid, often with a glass panel which slides in and out for easy access to the cage.

Truth be told, however, even these tank toppers aren’t perfect. Ball pythons are adept climbers and are surprisingly strong for their size, so its not unheard of for them to manage to push such lids off the top of their cage before making a break for freedom. If you are to use such a device, therefore, be certain that it is very tight-fitting or weigh it down with some heavy books.

Another consideration when selecting the best ball python cage is how you’re going to heat it – and keep the warmth inside. These mesh lids can present problems with warm air rising up and out of the cage, making it difficult to maintain the required temperature for your pet. For this reason it may be necessary if using an aquarium to cover up some of the mesh or install more powerful heating than in other types of cages.

As you can see, while glass tanks certainly have their benefits, they also represent a number of potential pitfalls too. Personally I have used them as short-term homes for young snakes when the weather is warm, but as the mercury starts to drop (or the snake starts to grow) I prefer to make use of other cage types.

Ball python

Wooden Vivariums

Wooden vivariums which are designed specifically with snake owners in mind can make far better ball python cages.

The wooden surroundings of the cage mean that keeping in warmth and humidity is far simpler. This keeps your electricity bill down and helps your ball python to feel more comfortable.

Furthermore wooden vivariums are easy to “modify” – meaning that attaching or installing heaters of all forms is quite simple and efficient.

Another aspect of ball python vivariums which makes them such a tempting option is that the solid walls and back of the cage provide extra privacy for your pet. Ball pythons tend to be quite sensitive and shy animals, and benefit from areas where they can escape your gaze and feel safe.

Warning: I strongly advise you to invest in a suitable cage lock for any wooden vivarium you’re using for a ball python. This prevents your muscular snake from accidentally opening the sliding glass doors, and also ensures that children or visitors to your home aren’t tempted to open the cage without your authorization.

Exo Terras

Exo Terras are specially-designed glass cages designed for keeping reptiles and amphibians. They offer handy glass doors that make accessing your tank a breeze, while also locking shut when not in use. Thanks to their design, adding heating to Exo Terras is also simplicity itself and they represent, in my mind, one of the most attractive forms of caging around.

That said, the greatest weakness of Exo Terras for ball pythons is that they come only in a small range of sizes, none of which are really suitable for larger pythons. As a result while an Exo Terra can make a fantastic-looking and very practical cage for a hatchling ball python, they’re next-to-useless for larger specimens who require suitable space to feel comfortable.

Plastic RUBs

ball python photoPlastic containers have become surprisingly popular as ball python cages over the last few years, mainly thanks to exhaustive experimentation by experienced breeders.

The reality of keeping ball pythons is that they’re not the most active of snakes, they can be nervous in captivity when exposed for too long and in the wild they’ll spend most of the day hiding out in a burrow.

All this means that ball pythons don’t necessarily need the biggest cages in the world; indeed a huge cage with nowhere to hide is arguably the worst thing possible for a ball python.

Compact plastic containers therefore have a number of particular strengths. While they’re certainly not the best-looking caging option they do make it very easy to keep warmth and humidity in the cage.

Their plastic nature also makes them lightweight, cheap to buy and easy to clean. Just as importantly (for breeders) these plastic cages take up minimal space, meaning that those with a large collection can accommodate them in a relatively small space.

Here in the UK I use a brand known as “Really Useful Boxes” (or simply RUBs for short) which are strong, light and have useful locking handles that keep the lid on no matter what. All you need to do is to drill some ventilation holes (simplicity itself with an electric drill) and you’ve got a perfectly serviceable ball python cage. These can also be purchased in the USA from sites like Amazon (direct link).

Homemade Cages

Wooden vivariums are such a practical option that some keepers opt to make their own. Doing so can reduce your costs and allow you to build a cage of the perfect dimensions for your home and your snake.

Of course you’ll need some DIY skills, and the ability to source the parts you’ll need. Remember that it’s not just the wood you’ll want to buy and cut to size, but you’ll also need the glass doors, runners and ventilation panels.

As an alternative to buying a premade wooden vivarium homebuilt cages can be highly effective cages if you’ve got the skills and patience to build one in the first place.

So What’s The Best Ball Python Cage?

We’ve covered quite a few alternatives by now, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each. The obvious question is really what’s “best”? Personally my preference is for wooden vivariums. I feel they’re ideal for retaining heat and humidity while providing an excellent view of your pet. They’re also available in a dizzying range of colors, sizes and shapes to suit any home and really create a fantastic focal point for any room.

As a secondary option, for those who plan on keeping a number of ball pythons, are the plastic tubs.

What Size Cage Does My Ball Python Need?

ball python photoSelecting a suitably-sized ball python cage is a critical part of the whole process.

Too small and your snake won’t have suitable space to move around.

Too large and some snakes can feel insecure, refusing food and losing condition.

Generally speaking it is my belief that ball python cages should be at least as long as your pet is, and a minimum of half this width.

Height is unimportant for ball pythons who may try to climb, and risk potentially harming themselves in the process.

More specifically I would suggest the following measurements:

Hatchling Ball Python Cages – Minimum of 24″ long, with the knowledge that you will have to keep an eye on your python’s growth and invest in a larger vivarium and he or she grows.

Adult Ball Python Cages – Should measure a minimum of 36″ long and ideally more. Personally I typically house my ball pythons in 48″ long vivs.

Here are what some other authorities recommend in terms of cage sizes:

“Adults require at least 400-600 square inches of floor space.” –

“A royal python needs a vivarium which allows it to fully stretch out. Allow at least third of the snake’s length for the width and height. For example, a 120cm long snake will need a minimum 120cm long, 40cm wide and 40cm deep vivarium.” –

“Adult ball pythons do not require exceptionally large or elaborate enclosures. A 36-inch by 18-inch by 12-inch enclosure will more than comfortably house an adult ball python.” –

Creating The Habitat

One of the most effective strategies for keeping any species of reptile or amphibian successfully in captivity is to consider its wild habitat. The more we can understand about where ball pythons live, and how they spend their time, the better we can replicate this in captivity.

The ball python naturally occurs in sub-Saharan Africa. Here it is a surprisingly wide-spread snake, found in countries such as Senegal, Benin and Uganda. Here it spends much of its life in the security of a dis-used rodent burrow or natural crevice.

While many of these countries are relatively dry, within the confines of the burrow the humidity levels are likely to be much higher. Indeed, many authorities point to the problems that can occur from low humidities in captivity, especially in terms of difficulties moulting.

Equally it should be noted that keeping snakes on damp substrate can lead to all manner of problems, including respiratory problems and skin complaints.

There are a number of factors we can draw from this in order to provide a suitable captive habitat for ball pythons:

  • Artificial heating will be necessary for your ball python to feel comfortable.
  • A dry substrate should be used, but with the option for higher humidities especially during moulting.
  • We should aim to mimic the ball python’s burrow by providing a number of secure hides for concealment.


There are ever more substrates available in the reptile trade, and many of these are ideal for ball pythons.


This light and fluffy substrate is excellent at absorbing any excess moisture and looks fantastic within the confines of a cage.

Unfortunately the fact that the particles are so soft and light can cause problems with feeding. On more than one occasion I have observed ball pythons grabbing a rodent to eat, while taking a large mouthful of aspen shavings at the same time.

The consistency of these shavings mean that they can get lodged in the ball python’s mouth, causing discomfort and distress. Sometimes the python will be able to get the sticky chippings out of its mouth; at other times you might need to intervene.

While aspen shavings are far from a bad substrate in captivity, great care should therefore be taken when feeding your pet. You may opt to either select a different substrate or to move your ball python to a different cage for feeding purposes.

Beech Chippings

My personal choice for ball pythons is beech chippings. While these aren’t as absorbent as aspen, they look great and – being heavier and chunkier – tend to cause far few feeding problems in my experience.

Just be aware how much you’ll need; with a good-sized vivarium you’ll find that you always rather more than you expected. If in doubt, buy a bigger bag of chippings, just in case.

Corn Cob Granules

Less commonly-seen than either of the two previous substrate options, corn cob granules are another possible option for your snake. Just as the name suggests, these are the ground-up middles of corn cobs, which dry into a tough and gritty consistency.

A range of different “grades” are available though I would always advise that you use the largest particles possible to minimize the chances of accidental ingestion when feeding.

Note that while corn cob granules look great, they do have a nasty habit of going mouldy quite easily. Therefore you should keep a close eye on this substrate, especially around the water bowl or where you pet feeds, to make sure that no mould is growing. Spot-clean as necessary and replace with fresh bedding.


Some ball python keepers – especially breeders with large collections – promote the use of newspaper as a potential substrate. After all it’s free, and makes cleaning simplicity itself. Personally however I must admit that I’m really not a fan of newspaper for a number of reasons. Firstly, of course, it looks terrible. I want my snake tank to look fantastic.

Secondly newspaper has very low absorbency meaning that it needs to be replaced far more regularly than the other substrates listed above which can be “spot cleaned” when required.

Lastly, I dislike the way it is so “unnatural”. Call me soft but I like to provide a substrate to my ball pythons which at least has a passing resemblance to a “natural” substrate. I believe doing so adds an extra layer of environmental enrichment for my pets.


ball python photoAs stated earlier, it is critical that your ball python should be provided with at least one secure place to hide.

If space allows I always like to offer two hides; one at each end of the vivarium in order to give my snakes the ability to choose the hide that suits them best.

Any hide chosen should allow your snake to safely curl up beneath in its entirety.  There are a number of possible options for ball python hides:

Cork Bark

Cork bark is the bark of tropical oak trees. It is harvested from the tree, which then carries on to grow more. This means it is a natural and renewable resource.

There are a number of things that make cork bark ideal for a ball python hide. Firstly cork bark looks great in any cage. Secondly cork bark is very lightweight, which means there is little chance of damage to your snake if he or she tries to burrow underneath.

The only thing to be aware of is that cork bark is a “natural” product so you’ll find a range of sizes and shapes. For best results try to find a piece of bark with a decent “curve” to it, creating a dark “burrow” beneath for your snake to recline to.

Custom-Designed Bark Hides

While I’m a huge fan of cork bark, my personal preference for ball python hides are specially-made hides. The model I use is made from wood, giving it an attractive rustic and “natural” feel.

They’re also available in a wide variety of sizes, meaning that no matter what the size of your snake you’ll be able to find an appropriately-sized hide. Best of all, I’ve found these custom hides to be much easier to clean than cork bark – and hence rather more hygienic.

Cereal Boxes

Cereal boxes are another simple idea as a hide for your ball python. These are of course free and easily replaced, though quickly become soiled in the cage.


Ball pythons require artificial heating to keep them healthy, though the specific type of heating will be affected by the type of caging you use.

Ideally ball pythons will benefit from a thermal gradient, with one end of their cage being far warmer than the other. In this manner they can pick-and-choose the area most agreeable to them.

For the hot end, a temperature of around 30-34’C tends to work well, with the cooler end measuring somewhere closer to 24’C.

In some containers, such as rubs or wooden vivariums, these temperatures can often be reached with a simple heat pad placed at one end. For more open cages, with greater air movement, it may be necessary to add a secondary form of heating, such as a heat lamp or ceramic bulb, to the hot end of the cage.

Do you have questions about housing your ball python? If so, why not leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible…?

Photos c/o The Reptilarium, daveparker & snakecollector 

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The Best Reptile Hides – An Examination of the Options Wed, 20 Jul 2016 06:00:25 +0000 As the reptile-keeping hobby has grown, so too has the selection of reptile-keeping equipment on offer. These days there are more reptile hides than ever before available; some custom-made for the reptile-keeper, with others being easily re-purposed from other sources. In this article we’re going to look at some of the options available to you, […]

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As the reptile-keeping hobby has grown, so too has the selection of reptile-keeping equipment on offer.

These days there are more reptile hides than ever before available; some custom-made for the reptile-keeper, with others being easily re-purposed from other sources.

In this article we’re going to look at some of the options available to you, in order to help you choose the best reptile hide for your needs.

The Importance of Reptile Hides

Many reptiles and amphibians are know to be quite shy in captivity. Even the bolder or more confident species will generally benefit from a hide of some form; somewhere they can hide away from prying eyes and feel safe.

Indeed, some species (notably snakes) can become noticeably aggressive in the absence of somewhere to hide. It seems that being forced to constantly sit in the open leads to stress, which can then boil over into aggression towards their keeper.

But there are other reasons to provide a reptile hide besides limiting stress and minimizing aggression.

Providing somewhere for your pet to hide away also makes for a more natural environment. The natural world isn’t sterile and dull; it’s a multi-layered experience with plenty of plants, rocks and bits of old bark to explore and hide within.

Lastly, appreciate that reptile hides can enable you to create “micro-habitats”. For example many of our more commonly-kept snake species (think Corn Snakes or King Snakes, for example) tend to be kept in arid surroundings. A damp substrate can lead to sores or skin problems in many snakes. But what happens when your snake struggles to moult, thanks at least in part to their dry surroundings?

Here a hide can be used as a source of moisture. When your snake enters the humid surroundings of their hide they’ll find their remaining skin softens and becomes easier to slough off. Outside of the hide the substrate can remain as dry as ever, giving your pet snake the best of both worlds.

The provision of one or more hides should therefore be considered an essential part of keeping any reptile or amphibian in captivity, as it leads to happier and more docile captives.

Types of Reptile Hides

There are more reptile hides available than ever before. While some are freely available from most pet stores (or online) a handful might be rather more difficult to find.

For clarity we have opted to separate the range of reptile hides available into three core groups. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses which we will cover in turn.

Natural Reptile Hides

“Natural” reptile hides are those made from natural materials; most commonly wood.


Organic Appearance – Most natural hides look absolutely fantastic when placed in a reptile cage. For those of us (like me) who appreciate a well landscaped vivarium, such as for smaller lizards or tree frogs, natural hides can become an attractive and integral part of the overall design.

Habitat Simulation – Arguably natural materials like wood can also benefit your reptiles and amphibians by more accurately mimicking the hides that wild herps use. In other words, natural hides can more accurately simulate the wild habitat of many species.

Large Variability – Natural hides are often available in a wide range of sizes and shapes thanks to their natural origin. For example pieces of bark may be found that are a matter of six inches long or several feet, and they may be flat or curved.

While this can mean a fair amount of shopping around to find the “perfect” hide, it also means that with enough patience you will almost certainly be able to find one or more natural hides of a suitable size and shape.


Mould Attractant – Of all the different hide materials wood is the most likely to attract mould and fungus, especially in more humid tank environment. While problems are unlikely in drier environments (think of bearded dragons or most snakes) great attention should be paid in humid rainforest set-ups like those for day geckos.

Difficulty of Cleaning – The rough and absorbent properties of wood can make cleaning such hides rather more difficult than more “artificial” hide materials.


One of the smaller natural hides comes in the form of coconut halves, typically with a small access hole cut in the side. While these are unlikely to be much use for those of us keeping ball pythons, for smaller critters such as poison dart frogs they can be ideal. They’re lightweight, they look great and the cost is minimal.

Cork Bark

Cork bark has been one of my “go to” reptiles hides for as long as I can remember. This natural and renewable resource is lightweight and as each piece is different its possible to find a huge range of different sizes and shapes.

Taking the time to select an attractively curved piece of bark under which your pet can hide is well worth the effort and can look fantastic in a vivarium.

For arboreal reptiles and amphibians such as day geckos and tree frogs (and even some tarantulas) it is often possible to find whole “tubes” of bark, which can be placed on end in the vivarium. This not only gives vertical height to creatures that like to climb, but also allows them to climb inside to hide away at will.

Curved Wood

There are a small number of hides which look like pieces of log, yet have had the inner surface smoothed off and rounded. These are typically considerably heavier than cork bark or coconut shells, and come in a smaller range of sizes. They can however look good and are one of my preferred solutions for smaller snake species.

Artificial Reptile Hides

Artificial reptile hides are typically man-made, from materials such as plastic. While they are often priced similarly to more natural hides, they offer quite the opposite list of pros and cons.


Easy to Clean – The artificial materials that such hides are made from can make them considerably easier to clean. Consider, for example, how easy it is to spray down a plastic container in comparison to a wooden one and you’ll get the idea.

Varied Appearance – There is a growing market in “pre-fabricated” reptile hides. From artificial caves to dinosaur eggs through to skulls, if you want to create a truly memorable vivarium design then there are all sorts of options available to you.


Less Attractive Appearance – Some might argue that artificial hides are less attractive than natural hides made of wood. While the overall effect depends on the actual hide chosen, I have to admit that I generally prefer the appearance of more natural hides.

Fewer Range of Sizes – As artificial hides are made by people, there is far less variety than one might find with naturally-occurring hides like cork bark. It may take extra effort to find a suitable hide, therefore, especially if you’re keeping a larger species such as a common boa.

Plastic Hides

I stumbled across plastic hides just recently while in a reptile store. To be fair, they are worse than hideous; just a shiny black plastic box with a hole cut out of the front. They’re completely at odds with the aesthetics of a naturalistic vivarium, but I must admit they have a range of practical benefits.

They’re super-easy to clean, incredibly lightweight and come in some very generous sizes. I’m slowly moving most of my ball pythons over to these hides simply due to the practicality of being able to clean them easily, and quickly lift them up to check on each of my captives even if they’re hidden away.

Moulded “Caves”

“Caves” is in speech marks, because this word rely doesn’t do justice to the wide range of options available now. While most of the more popular options do indeed mimic the appearance of a small cave, a growing range of different styles are available, including the skulls and dinosaur eggs mentioned earlier.

Re-Purposed Reptile Hides

Lastly in the list of potential reptile hides there are a range of household objects which can be effectively re-purposed for use as reptile hides. While the range is really limited only by your creativity, I would like to take a moment to discuss two of the more popular options among reptile owners.

Cereal Boxes

An empty cereal box, placed on its side with the “end” open can make a cheap and effective hide for snakes. If necessary the box can be “cut to fit” so that it properly accommodates your pet. These are of course available free of charge and can be easily sourced and replaced.

As with all the other options, of course, there are a number of downsides of such a solution, not least their less-than-attractive appearance. In addition its worth noting that such boxes cannot be cleaned, and can become easily soiled.

As a result you might need to eat a lot of cereal in order to keep throwing them away when soiled and replacing them with a fresh box.

Plant Pots

If your vivarium has a decent layer of substrate then a second alternative is to place a plant pot on its side, and partially bury it in the substrate to create a semi-circle. This is a solution which I personally use regularly for tarantulas, but rather less so for reptiles and amphibians.

For ease of cleaning I make use of plastic pots, though terra cotta pots are another option if you’re willing to put the necessary time into cleaning them.

What Is The Best Reptile Hide?

Now we’ve covered some of the more popular reptile hide options the next obvious question is that the best reptile hide is. The answer here isn’t an easy one, and is largely down to personal preference after considering their appearance, the size of your pet and the pros and cons outlined.

Personally I’m a huge fan of using curved wood hides, carefully placed into the vivarium so that one end is flush with the back of the vivarium. This provides just one access point, and looks great. They can also be very easy to clean and come in a range of sizes, so are ideal for smaller snakes.

Increasingly I’m using the boring plastic hides for larger ball pythons due to the practicalities of keeping larger snakes. Here a piece of cork bark is so light that it is likely to be slowly shifted around the cage over time, making it harder to site it in the most appropriate location.

However the only wrong answer here is to provide no hide at all for your pet. No matter what species of reptile or amphibian you’re keeping you should put some thought into which option is likely to work best for you.

What Size Hide Should You Buy?

Reptile hides come in a range of different sizes and styles, and many beginner reptile keepers struggle to decide on the most appropriate size for their pet.

The primary goal of your hide is that it should allow your pet to entirely conceal itself. Hides for snakes should therefore allow your coiled-up snake to comfortably sit inside, without its head or tail poking out of the entrance. So pay attention to the approximate dimensions of your snake when curled up and aim for a hide at least as large as this.

Ball pythons are a good example of a reptile species that can benefit from a hide. In the wild these snakes would typically hide out in old rodent burrows during the day, only leaving the safety of their burrow at night.

As a result ball pythons tend to feel most confident and comfortable with a reasonably-small hide. Given something much larger than they need can make them feel rather less secure than a hide which offers a rather more snug fit.

The goal when choosing a hide is therefore to find one which is large enough for your pet to conceal itself in fully, but small enough that it mimics a small hole in the wild.

This means that it can be necessary, especially if you own a baby snake, to progressively invest in larger hides over time, replacing it a couple of times a year as your snake outgrows its existing hide.

How to Clean Your Reptile Hide

It’s critical when keeping reptiles and amphibians to maintain their cages in hygienic conditions. While many keepers are happy to remove soiled substrate and to wash out a vivarium, its equally important to regularly clean and sterilize the hides that you use.

Here there can be significant differences in how easy different hides are to clean. For example one of the moulded plastic hides discussed earlier may not be the best-looking solution, but they are supremely-easy to wipe over with some anti-septic reptile-safe cleaning spray. Left to air-dry the hide can be sterilized and back in your pet’s cage within minutes.

Contrast this to a piece of cork bark, with all its rough surface, and they can be a lot harder to keep clean.

Broadly speaking I have found that the best way to clean your reptile hide largely depends on the material it is made from.

Cleaning Plastic or Moulded Hides

Simply scrub the hide clean to remove any faeces, sloughed skin or other debris. Next spray liberally with a reptile-safe disinfectant and leave to air dry before placing back into the cage.

Wooden Hides

Natural wood can be rather more problematic to clean due to its rough and absorbent surface.

The best solution I have found is to start off by soaking the hide in warm water to soften any attached debris, then follow up by rubbing firmly with a scouring pad to remove any debris.

The challenge comes next, when it comes to sanitizing the hide; in my experience reptile-safe spray can be rathe rless effective, as it is often absorbed by the wood rather than treating the surface.

Instead I recommend boiling the kettle, and in a safe place (in the garden or the bathtub) liberally pour this boiling water over the wood. In this way you should kill any micro-organisms or fungal spores present. Then leave the wood to cool before placing it back into the vivarium.

How Many Hides Should I Give My Pet?

The number of hides you give your pet will be affected by a range of factors, including the size of the cage and the number of inhabitants.

If your reptile cage allows it then offering two different hides can be a good idea. The reason is that it gives your pet choices, and allows you to see which they prefer.

As a first experiment try placing one hide at the hotter end of the cage, and the other at the cooler end. Pay attention to which one your pet chooses to use over a period of a week or two. The reptile always sat at the hotter end may want the temperature in their tank to be increased slightly.

The opposite may be true of reptiles always cowering at the cooler end. By slowly moving these hides around the cage over a period of weeks you’ll be able to identify the “ideal” temperature that your pet likes to rest at.

The next experiment can then involve moving both hides to this locality, to see which hide they actually prefer. Providing a piece of cork bark and a moulded plastic hide next to one-another, for example, can help you to identify which of these hides your pet prefers.

Once you know which hide your pet prefers, and where in he cage they like it placed, you can consider removing the less-popular option to give your pet more space to move around in their cage.

In situations where you keep two or more reptiles or amphibians together I would recommend always providing at least two hides. In this way if one of the animals is more dominant or aggressive there will always be somewhere for the less dominant individual to hide.

Questions? Please use the comments section below and I’ll get back to you 🙂

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Keeping Milk Snakes (Care Sheet) Sun, 19 Jun 2016 10:39:30 +0000 My obsession with keeping exotic pets began at a very young age. By the time I was twelve I had already kept a range of different tarantulas, stick insects and praying mantis. I’d also begun to branch out into reptiles, where I started by keeping green anoles. However it wasn’t until the age of 16 […]

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Learn all you need to know to care for milk snakes as pets in this extensive care sheet, written by an experienced reptile keeper of over 25 years.My obsession with keeping exotic pets began at a very young age. By the time I was twelve I had already kept a range of different tarantulas, stick insects and praying mantis. I’d also begun to branch out into reptiles, where I started by keeping green anoles.

However it wasn’t until the age of 16 that I landed my first few snakes. Alongside the handful of corn snakes I soon became the proud owner of a breeding pair of milk snakes; a species I later went on to breed myself.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, milk snakes hold a very special place in my heart. To my eyes they’re still one of the most beautiful snakes of all, and one that I still keep to this day.

With their colorful, contrasting rings of red, white and black and their smooth appearance milk snakes really are something special. Fortunately, with a little information they’re also quite easy-going and forgiving pet snakes. If you’re considering buying a milk snake read on to discover how to care for these stunning reptiles…

Wild Habitat

Beautiful Nelson's milk snake.

Milk snakes are a surprisingly diverse group. While most of the pet trade focuses on either the Sinaloan or Pueblan Milk Snakes, there are currently over 20 different varieties recognized.

Interestingly, the Milk Snake is generally categorized as a single species (Lampropeltis triangulum) with the different varieties being classed as sub-species.

However not all authorities, agree, however, and believe that many of the varieties deserve to be classified as unique species in their own right. Their taxonomy may well change in the coming years, therefore, as experts disagree over how best to classify them.

Milk snakes are a New World species, occurring across a wide range. They are to be found as far north as southern Canada, throughout the United States and down into much of Central America.

In the wild milk snakes may frequent a wide range of habitats, though are most commonly found in more arid areas.

From rocky mountainsides to prairies and even woodlands these are snakes that are well-adapted to drier conditions and highly adaptable in their lifestyle. This adaptability helps to make them ideal pets as they will tolerate a wide range of different conditions with ease.

It is interesting to note that their presence in cattle-farmers fields led to their common name, whereby a myth arose that they must be drinking the milk of these animals they were so commonly found in close proximity.

Milk Snake Caging

Sinaloan milk snake.
Sinaloan milk snake.

Like all snakes, milk snakes are born escape artists. When I bought my first milk snakes they seemed to forever be getting out, though were always soon found relaxing on the windowsill above the radiator.

I soon learned from personal experience that it is critical to ensure that these slim and agile snakes are kept in escape-proof containers. You’ll be astonished by just how small a gap they can get through or how well they can climb (my original problem was a loose lid, which they could nudge just enough to slip through the gap).

Milk snakes tend to be quite modestly-sized snakes in captivity, generally quite a bit smaller than corn snakes (though exceptions do of course exist). Despite their smaller size, milk snakes should not be kept in overly-small cages as they can be surprisingly active when going about their nocturnal activities.

I recommend a cage that offers at least one square foot of space for every foot of snake length. This means that a four foot milk snake will require a cage no less than 4 feet long by a foot wide at the bare minimum, though larger is of course better.

Milk snakes can be surprisingly adept climbers in comparison to many other commonly-kept snakes, so a vivarium which provides a degree of height can also be beneficial. Personally I sometimes include carefully-fixed pieces of wood to provider some vertical interest in their cages, and will quite often see them climbing.

While there are a range of different vivariums available for snakes, my own personal preference in the case of milk snakes is a wooden vivarium. As milk snakes tend to be kept on a dry substrate there is little worry of the wood warping or rotting, as can happen in a humid set-up.

The solid sides of the vivarium help to provide privacy, making your snake feel more confident in their surroundings. As the same time the wood construction can be ideal for keeping in heat. Even a standard heat pad placed inside the viv can keep it warm and toasty on a cold winter’s day.

Lastly you have the benefit of the sliding doors at the front, which provide excellent visibility for keeping an eye on your snake and watching their activities. The fact that these slide open can be helpful for tank maintenance, as you don’t need to open the entire cage to change the water or spot-clean the substrate. For a species of snake that can be surprisingly fast when it wants to be, this minimizes the chances of them slipping past you when the cage is open.

A milk snake makes an ideal first pet. Read on to discover how to care for them in captivity.Siting the snake vivarium is as important as its construction. As milk snakes tend to be most active after dark, especially at dawn and dusk (a lifestyle known as “crepuscular”) they generally appreciate a darker cage than diurnal species.

Additionally, it is important to appreciate that snake cages can rapidly overheat if they are in direct sunlight – especially during summer months. Lastly, take into consideration any chills or drafts that may be about. Placing a milk snake vivarium next to an external door, for example, will rapidly chill it when you open the door in winter.

All of these elements should be considered when deciding where to place your milk snake tank. Ideally this will be away from direct sunlight, radiators and windows, all of which can affect the internal temperature. Also, try to avoid “noisy” areas of the house such as children’s bedrooms or close to your TV set. A quiet room tends to be kindest for your pet.

Heating Milk Snakes

milk snakes photo

Milk snakes are cold blooded creatures and so will require artificial heating in all but the very hottest months of the year. In comparison to my ball pythons I have found that their preferred temperature tends to be quite a bit lower; typically a hotspot of 25’C tends to work well with milk snakes.

This is most easily provided with a heat mat. If you use a wooden vivarium then this should be placed inside the tank, at one end. If you have opted to use a plastic or glass tank then this can be placed underneath.

It is important when purchasing a heat mat that it should be of the correct size. Ideally the heater should cover no more than a third to a half of the overall floor area. This means that one end of the cage will be kept noticeably warmer than the other end. In this way you create a “thermal gradient”, allowing your snake to choose the temperature that suits them best.

The option to choose their location can also be useful for modifying the environmental conditions in the cage. For example if your snake seems to spend most of its life curled up in the hot area then you can surmise that the cage may not be warm enough. Here a second heat mat, attached to the back of the cage, can be used to increase the temperature further in colder weather.

Alternatively if you snake spends the majority of his or her time right down the cold end of the cage then it may be that the cage overall is too warm. Try moving the cage off the heater a little to see if this improves matters.

A healthy, happy and suitably warm snake will still hide away during most of the day, but will be active and inquisitive in the evening, coming out to explore and hunt for food.

Experts recommend that a thermostat should always be used with heat mats, in order to eliminate the chances of overheating. These can be particularly effective as the seasons change. As spring moves into summer, a thermostat is your insurance if the weather suddenly gets hotter one day while you’re out of the house.

In this instance the thermostat will turn off the heater to maintain a suitable temperature, only turning it back on again when the room temperature drops again.

A digital thermometer can also be a handy (and cheap) addition to your milk snake cage. With such a device you can quickly and easily monitor the temperature of your snakes cage without needing to disturb him or her to try while trying to “feel” whether the heating is working effectively.

Water & Humidity

While milk snakes may largely come from drier environments, it is critical that they should have a bowl of fresh water available at all times. I have found that from time-to-time my milk snakes like to bathe in their water, so I recommend providing a bowl that is large enough for your snake to fully immerse itself. Additionally, don’t fill water bowls to the very top or your snake could make quite a mess if it decides to go for a swim!

Generally speaking milk snakes aren’t fussy when it comes to humidity. A normal household humidity level should serve them fine, though a few keepers recommend giving your snake a very occasional spray with tepid water to mimic a light rain shower.

Cage Furnishings

milk snakes photoOnce you’ve selected your milk snake cage and heater, you’ll want to invest in a few other pieces of hardware to keep your snake healthy.

Firstly, you’ll want to consider substrate options.

Here there are a wide range of possible options, including corn cob granules, beech chippings and aspen, each of which can make a suitable substrate for your pet.

Personally, my preference is for beech chippings or aspen, with a layer several centimetres thick on the bottom of the cage.

As discussed previously, milk snakes can be surprisingly adept climbers, so if you have space in your snake tank it can often be fun to put some climbing apparatus in there to provide additional interest. Drift wood, as sold for aquariums, can be used if firmly fixed in place to avoid it moving.

Lastly milk snakes tend to be much shier and more secretive than many other snake species. As a result you’ll want to ensure that your pet has a suitable hide in which they can feel secure.

Feeding Milk Snakes

Milk snakes are avid feeders and I have never had any major problems with encouraging them to feed. Studies suggest that in the wild milk snakes tend to be quite “generalist” feeders, and may eat anything they can fit in their mouths. For youngsters this can include invertebrates, while adults may on occasion take baby birds or lizards.

An interesting study carried out by scientists involved inspecting the stomachs of wild milk snakes, with some surprising findings. Not only have milk snakes been shown to feed on the chicks of ground-nesting birds, but the study also found one specimen in Central American that had consumed the eggs of an iguana.

However other studies have suggested that their most common food stuff in the wild for adults are five-lined skinks (Plestiodon fasciatus).


In captivity the most common source of food is dead mice (most milk snakes won’t get large enough to take rats).

Rodents can be bought frozen from most reptile stores. When feeding day comes around you can simply place a rodent into a plastic bag and suspend it in hot water. This will not only thaw out the item quickly, but the warmth of the rodent itself can serve as an attractant for your snake.

If you are prone to feeding room-temperature mice, but find that you snake is being fussy, try warming them up in warm water before feeding. This increases the scent they give off and can make them rather more appealing for milk snakes.

As a rough guide try to feed a food item which roughly matches the widest part of your snakes body. This means that hatchling milk snakes will readily accept pinkies and fluffs, with the size of the prey items increasing as the snake grows.

Adult milk snakes will happily take jumbo mice, with the largest specimens sometimes accepting smaller rats.

I have found milk snakes to have healthy appetites, so tend to feed youngsters two or three times a week, with adults eating slightly less frequently. Under such conditions they will grow rapidly, only going off food for short periods of time immediately before or after a moult.

Try to avoid handling your snake for a 24 hour period after feeding. Some owners have found that the stress of handling can on occasion encourage milk snakes to regurgitate their last meal. This is neither pleasant for owner or snake.

Handling Milk Snakes

Milk snakes can be wonderful snakes for those that want a pet they can handle. I have found them to be some of the most docile snakes, and despite 20 years of keeping them I have yet to be bitten by a single specimen. This is in contrast to other typically docile snakes – where both corn snakes and ball pythons have taken the odd pop at me over the years!

That said, milk snakes can be surprisingly quick, and also rather skittish. A startled milk snake can make quite a getaway when you open the tank, so take the time to get to know your snake. The last thing you want to do is open the vivarium only for them to dash out of the corner and make a break for freedom.

Once in the hand, milk snakes will normally remain calm, and prove to be highly inquisitive, exploring the world around them. Note, however, that even a tame snake may be easily startled and suddenly try to bolt to safety. It is key, therefore, when handling milk snakes to remain slow, calm and deliberate at all times. They may not be the ideal snake for children, therefore, who may accidentally spook these sensitive snakes.

It is worth noting that a scientific study in Japan found Salmonella in the stomach of a captive milk snake. While the sample size was tiny, it is wise to carefully wash your hands after holding your snake to avoid the risk of any cross-contamination.

Do you have any other questions not answered here? Please feel free to leave your queries on the comments section below where I will try to answer them as quickly as possible….

Learn all you need to know to care for milk snakes as pets in this extensive care sheet, written by an experienced reptile keeper of over 25 years.

Photo by Ben Evers, Sheila in Moonducks & ShadowWolf13

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Differences In the Wild Habitats Of Green Iguanas And Spiny Tailed Iguanas Mon, 14 Nov 2011 12:00:41 +0000 Having spent some time in Central America recently I have been lucky enough to spend considerable time observing both green iguanas (Iguana iguana) and black spiny-tailed iguanas (Ctenosaura similis) in their natural surroundings and whilst at face value these two species appear very similar I observed some surprising differences between their preferred habitats. As you […]

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Having spent some time in Central America recently I have been lucky enough to spend considerable time observing both green iguanas (Iguana iguana) and black spiny-tailed iguanas (Ctenosaura similis) in their natural surroundings and whilst at face value these two species appear very similar I observed some surprising differences between their preferred habitats.

As you might imagine green iguanas were found mostly in warm, humid, forest-like conditions near water. One of the best places I found to observe these reptiles in the wild was to look into dense plant growth overhanging rivers where often dozens of specimens of varying sizes could be found sunbathing or browsing on leaves.

Watched from a safe distance these lizards seemed oblivious to any attention and could be observed without causing them any stress or worry.

As a side note, should you ever visit Costa Rica, look up the Iguana Cafe in Montezuma where you can relax in the sunshine with a cold drink and get closer to wild green iguanas than you could possibly imagine. The following video shows just how close an encounter you can have with a wild iguana though I would strongly caution you against taking risks by trying to hand feed wild green iguanas…

The real interest came when I observed spiny-tailed iguanas which I assumed would have very similar habitat requirements and lifestyles to the common green iguana. My own experiences suggest that while spiny-tails can and do climb trees they are far less likely to do so than the green iguana and you’re far more likely to see them on the ground than up in the canopy.

The environment in which the spiny-tail iguana is found is almost very different to that of the green iguana as it is far hotter, drier and dustier and looking out over fields used to graze horses and cattle one could often see these giant lizards skulking around looking for any ground-dwelling plants to eat.

This could make sense when comparing the colors of the two species. The green iguana is perfectly camouflaged when up in the forest canopy while the spiny-tail with it’s sombre markings in black, gray and brown are far better camouflaged against the parched, dusty soil of the more arid areas of Central America.

An additional difference I observed while in the field was that whilst one sometimes saw several spiny-tails in the same field at the same time they seem far less sociable than the green iguanas. While it wasn’t uncommon to find trees literally dripping with adult green iguanas who seemed to be carrying on without a care in the world the spiny-tails were far more solitary and I rarely saw them in close proximity to each other.

Interestingly the fact that spiny-tailed iguanas seemed perfectly at home on dry, dusty ground meant they had also taken up residence on the beach where we stayed by the Pacific coast and a walk along the sand sent dozens of immature individuals darting off to hide behind rocks or shimmy up palm trees to escape from “danger”.

So two very similar-looking and closely-related species yet two totally different lifestyles. And it is understanding these differences and the habitats that reptiles come from that will help us to keep them properly in captivity.

My general findings from a month of watching these incredible reptiles in the wild is that spiny tailed iguanas are likely to prefer hotter, drier conditions than green iguanas and should also have a large amount of floor space where they will likely spend a considerable part of their time.

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Tips For Buying Exotic Pets From A Reptile Show Tue, 12 Apr 2011 09:45:22 +0000 Buying exotic pets from a pet shop gives you a degree of insurance in that if you have any problems at all you know exactly where to return to so you can either demand your money back or ask for advice. It’s also easy to ask around and get an idea of the reputation of […]

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Buying exotic pets from a pet shop gives you a degree of insurance in that if you have any problems at all you know exactly where to return to so you can either demand your money back or ask for advice.

It’s also easy to ask around and get an idea of the reputation of a shop before you actually go in and buy anything and furthermore a quick walk around the shop will quickly tell you if you have walked into a professional establishment or whether it’s run by cowboys who have no idea what they’re doing.

In short buying reptiles and amphibians from a pet shop is the safe option.

But buying reptiles and amphibians from exotic pet shows – now that’s a whole different kettle of fish. After all there’s no shop to look around. There’s no local people to check on the reputation of a seller. And at the end of the show the seller will go home leaving you holding whatever it is that you bought.

In other words buying exotic pets from a pet show offers far more risk.

But if it’s so much more risky why would anyone actually go to these reptile shows – and even more importantly why would anyone actually buy a live animal from one?

Reptile shows are exciting. You never quite know who you’ll bump into or what animals will be for sale. A building full of passionate reptile keepers and breeders can turn up all sorts of exciting specimens that youd struggle to find in a standard reptile shop.

There are also masses of animals for sale so if you’re looking to start breeding a species you can often find different sexes, sizes and blood lines of the same species and so come home with a “ready made” breeding project. Lastly, and just as importantly, the prices at reptile shows are often significantly less than at you would pay in a pet shop so you can often save yourself a considerable sum of money.

Personally speaking I think reptile shows are the best thing since sliced bread.

So if you’re considering going to a reptile show with money in your pocket what can you do to put yourself in the best position possible to make an intelligent buying decision?

Get Prepared

Never make a rushed decision when buying an exotic pet. That goes for buying from a reptile shop or from a show. Take your time to look around, carefully weigh up your options and never make an impulse buy. Better to miss out on something than hand over your money too soon only to discover later that you’re not capable of giving the animal the level of care it needs and deserves.

It also pays to go to a reptile show with a vivarium set up before you go – or at least to have all the equipment at home and ready to go. Sure, there are always surprises but if you go with a clear plan that you’d like to buy a corn snake and you have a vivarium all set up ready then not only will it reduce the chances of you coming back with something you didn’t intend but even more importantly you know that as soon as you get home you have all the housing set up and ready to go.

This not only makes your life easier but is also the best plan of action for any reptile you buy at the show. The sooner you can get them into a properly set up vivarium the happier and healthier they will be.

It’s also a good idea to take a few books with you in the car so that if necessary you can do a quick bit of swotting up on a species that interests you in order to gain a better understanding of it’s needs before making a buying decision.

Get To Know The Seller

Once you’ve found an animal you’re interested in don’t rush into a purchase. Instead take your time to get to know the seller a little bit. Ask about how long they have been breeding the species, how many young they produce and see if you can get their contact details incase of any questions in the future. If they’re open, chatty and honest then this is a very good sign in comparison to the person who avoids your gaze and tries not to answer your questions.

Ask The Right Questions

Take the time to ask the seller how they’re successfully keeping the species you’re considering. Keep poking questions at them until you’re confident you have a handle on the care of the pet you’re looking at. Ask about housing, feeding, handling and so on. Ask about lifespan, temperament and any common problems seen. Treat the seller as your “go to guide” for advice on the species and only seriously consider a purchase once you’ve gained the knowledge you need.

Get Hands On

Liking what you’re hearing so far? If so it may be time to actually consider a purchase. If more than one specimen is for sale then carefully weigh up the options and ask if you can have one or two out. Getting them out not only helps you ascertain their temperament but also allows you to do a basic health check to ensure you are getting a healthy specimen.

Ask About Reservation

Lastly once you’re confident you have a vivarium set up at home, that you have grilled the seller and got all the information you need and you’ve selected a healthy specimen you should either take the animal straight home to put in it’s new cage or ask the seller to hold onto it while you finish looking round the show rather than carting that new treefrogs or boa around the hustle and bustle of a busy reptile show.

In closing I should say that most reptile shows are very carefully regulated. Most of the sellers know each other (or at least know of each other) so the risk is far less than you might imagine. I have bought a number of exotic pets from shows over the years and have never had any problems with my purchases at all. If you’re considering visiting your first show then a little preparation and common sense will keep you safe and ensure you have the best day possible.

If you have been to a reptile show recently, what were your experiences? Are you a fan or would you never go back? Why not leave me a comment below with your own experiences of buying animals from reptile shows…

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Secrets To Creating And Maintaining A Humid Vivarium Fri, 03 Sep 2010 12:07:32 +0000 Dry desert vivariums are reasonably simple to set up typically. A high temperature from a suitable reptile heater like a ceramic bulb, together with some dry substrate such as reptile-safe sand and you’re well on your way. However creating a humid “rainforest” vivarium requires rather more time and effort if your exotic pets are to […]

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Dry desert vivariums are reasonably simple to set up typically. A high temperature from a suitable reptile heater like a ceramic bulb, together with some dry substrate such as reptile-safe sand and you’re well on your way.

However creating a humid “rainforest” vivarium requires rather more time and effort if your exotic pets are to thrive in this kind of environment. Even more so, regular maintenance will be required if the environment is to stay constant.

Humid vivariums are ideal for a whole range of reptiles and amphibians including tree frogs, poison dart frogs, iguanas and water dragons; all of whom hail from the moister parts of the world.


When creating a moist, humid environment one obvious idea is to limit ventilation in the cage. This will keep moisture in thus helping you to create a humid rainforest vivarium far easier than in a cage with plenty of air movement. However stale, stagnant air can cause mould and fungi to grow so in contrast to what you may think providing adequate ventilation is essential to creating a moist environment.

Adding Moisture

There are three common ways to add moisture to a vivarium and thus keep the humidity up. The first of these is to spray the terrarium with a house-plant spray gun containing tepid water and this can work well. If you go down this route ensure that you buy a new spray gun specially so you can be certain it has had no harmful chemicals in it and remember you will probably need to spray the cage several times a day to keep up moisture levels.

The second method is to include a body of water in the cage. By having open water in a warm environment a degree of evaporation will occur which will help to keep the tank humid. Care must be taken with this method though as some animals like poison dart frogs may risk drowning if a large body of open water is present in their cage. In contrast lizards like iguanas may appreciate this open water and may even drink from it or bathe in it.

A slight modification for the smaller or more sensitive herptiles is to place an aquarium heater into a small container of water which can be placed behind some gauze to prevent your pets coming into contact with it. However the heater will warm up the water, leading to evaporation. You will still need to check the water level daily to prevent the container from becoming empty which can cause damage to the heater.

The third method is to use a special mister designed to keep reptile cages moist and these can be bought from many specialist reptile stores online. Artificial waterfalls are also available and will help to increase the humidity in the cage though as with the previous method you will have to be careful to ensure that the equipment does not run out of water.


There are a range of houseplants from bromileads to figs which will thrive in a warm, humid environment which accurately mimics their natural habitat. The use of live plants, while requiring more effort from you to maintain them, can also help to raise humidity but also absorb excess water and hence avoid the risk of water-logging. Try to keep plants in their pots where possible – burying them just below the substrate – so that they can be easily removed or fed if necessary without having to dig them out of the substrate.


One final point I’d like to make is the importance of monitoring a vivarium setup like this. If your cage dries out because of lack of water or lack of warmth you could find yourself in rather a mess. So it is wise to not only check your equipment daily to avoid any nasty surprises but also fit a digital hygrometer which will measure the ambient humidity in your cage and check this morning and evening to ensure your vivarium is within reasonable boundaries.

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Feeding Herbivorous Reptiles Tue, 18 May 2010 15:26:06 +0000 Whether it’s iguanas, bearded dragons, uromastyx or tortoises, there are a range of herbivorous reptiles available. Indeed, many people prefer to keep a pet that can be fed on fruit and vegetables rather than having to deal with live crickets and suchlike which make some peoples skin crawl! You would be shocked at the number […]

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Whether it’s iguanas, bearded dragons, uromastyx or tortoises, there are a range of herbivorous reptiles available. Indeed, many people prefer to keep a pet that can be fed on fruit and vegetables rather than having to deal with live crickets and suchlike which make some peoples skin crawl!

You would be shocked at the number of exotic pet shops I have been in where herbivorous reptiles have had nothing but a day-old shrivelled-up bowl of iceberg lettuce to eat and clearly this isn’t sufficient for a whole raft of reasons.

In this article then I would like to provide some simple guidelines will help you to maximize the health of your pet reptile when it comes to feeding plant-based foods.


Different fruits and vegetables contain different nutrients and it is obviously essential for your pet reptile to receive a wide variety of different foods in order to stand the best chance possible of receiving all the nutrients it requires.

Therefore feeding just one item for prolonged periods of time should be avoided. For best results, a range of food items should be fed each day, carefully chopped to encourage your pet to sample as many of these food items as possible.


Not all plant foods are created equal. Lettuce, for example, contains mainly water and can cause diarrhoea so is generally best avoided except on very rare occasions. On the other hand, plants which may often be overlooked, such as watercress and dandelion leaves are packed full of nutrients and offer a lot to a herbivorous reptile.

So try to get to know which foods are better than others so you feed only the best to your pet.


Whilst some pets will eat grass, dandelions, chickweed and a variety of other wild plants, be careful of chemicals. Fumes from cars, herbicides and pesticides may all be present, not just in “wild” foods but also in shop-bought fruit and veg.

Wherever possible try to source organic produce and wash it thoroughly before feeding to your pet.


Not only do plant-based foods quickly lose their nutrients after picking but they may also dry up or go mouldy if left in the cage for too long. All fresh food should be changed at least once a day and ideally even more often to keep an enticing selection of food available at all times.

Remember that as there are less calories in plants than animal foods, typically a herbivorous reptile will need to eat far more, and far more often, than for example a lizard feeding on crickets.


Various vitamin and mineral dusting powders can be bought from specialist reptile dealers and should be added to the fresh food. This further adds to the nutrient content of the food and reduces the chances of deficiencies.


As food can go off quickly in the warm environment of a reptile cage, try to place all food in a bowl which makes disposal of uneaten food easier. In addition, check around the cage regularly as stray pieces of food often find their way into water bowls or corners of cages.


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An Introduction To Reptile Electrics Sat, 15 May 2010 15:19:55 +0000 Like keeping fish, the key to success when it comes to reptiles is creating them the right sort of environment that will mimic what they are used to in the wild and have evolved to thrive in. And this will typically involve controlling heating, lighting and humidity to create the right environment. Reptile-keeping is therefore […]

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Like keeping fish, the key to success when it comes to reptiles is creating them the right sort of environment that will mimic what they are used to in the wild and have evolved to thrive in. And this will typically involve controlling heating, lighting and humidity to create the right environment.

Reptile-keeping is therefore a hobby that requires investment in a range of electrical products to help you care for your pet and so in this article I’d like to examine some of the basic electrical equipment that may be required for your pet.

Reptile Heaters

Essential to many reptiles is the issue of heat. Quite simply reptiles will need artificial heat in most places apart from perhaps on warm, sunny days.

Depending on factors such as the size of your pet, the housing you are using and the species you are keeping this may be as simple as a low-cost reptile heat pad or could involve a high-powered infra-red heater for desert-dwelling reptiles.

Be aware that in most cases a thermostat will be required to ensure that your reptile cage is heated to the optimum temperature.

Reptile Thermostats

Your reptile heater will typically plugin into a thermostat which will control the temperature in your reptile cage. The average thermostat has a lead with a heat sensor on the end which you place into your reptile cage while the actual thermostat itself stays on the outside.

By turning the dial on the thermostat you can increase or decrease the temperature in your reptile cage.

Reptile Lighting

Whilst some species – like most snakes – do not need artificial lighting, other species like lizards and tortoises generally will require artificial lighting. This isn’t just so that your reptile cage looks attractive (though it will help) but really serves two other even more important purposes.

Firstly, many reptiles have daily cycles and are used to basking in the sun during the day. Controlling day length to create a very obvious “night” and “day” will not make your pet feel happier but these photo-periods can be adjusted to bring reptiles into season and encourage them to breed.

However most importantly of all is the need by many reptiles to absorb ultraviolet light (UV) in order to provide them with vitamin D3. Without vitamin D, many reptiles will suffer from metabolic bone disease where the bones weaken and may break, joints swell and become solid and in some extreme cases lizards may lose their ability to even walk.

Reptile Misters

Most reptiles and amphibians will be perfectly happy without this electrical element. Reptiles from dry habitats typically will be happy with a dry environment and just a water bowl to drink from. Reptiles from the tropics are often happy to be sprayed from a plant spray gun on a regular basis.

But some species like treefrogs like a really moist environment and to help create this some reptile keepers use a mister which goes inside the cage and pumps out a fine spray of water droplets to keep the humidity in the cage up.

Reptile Monitors

To ensure your reptile is kept in the optimum environment it is essential to keep an eye on the environmental elements and so digital thermometers and hygrometers (for measuring heat and humidity respectively) should be used and monitored on a regular basis.

In Closing

Whilst some snakes will be perfectly happy with just a heat pad, some reptiles such as bearded dragons may need a heat pad for background heat, and basking spot provided by a heat bulb, artificial UV lighting, a thermostat and a digital thermometer and hygrometer.

Be aware of this before you invest in buying a reptile. Be aware that all these electrics come at a cost – not just of buying them but also of running them consistently – and that you will need a lot of plugs available if you’re going to successfully keep a reptile as a pet.


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What Is A Herptile? Wed, 12 May 2010 12:38:24 +0000 Many people in the exotic pet world refer to “herptiles” but if you’re just taking your first tentative steps into the world of exotics, you may not be totally comfortable by what is meant by a herptile (often shortened simply to “herp”). Quite simply the term herptile refers to both reptiles and amphibians as a […]

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Many people in the exotic pet world refer to “herptiles” but if you’re just taking your first tentative steps into the world of exotics, you may not be totally comfortable by what is meant by a herptile (often shortened simply to “herp”).

Quite simply the term herptile refers to both reptiles and amphibians as a group. So an exotic pet store which sells reptiles and amphibians could be referred to as a “herp supplier”.


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