Exotic pets are a broad spectrum of animals ranging across reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates and as a result there are a massive number of different types of exotic pets.
Indeed the phrase “exotic pets” is open to interpretation with it generally meaning any pet that is unusual or requires specialist care and so some people broaden the definition still further – and therefore increase the number of different types of exotic pets – by including animals such as fish or exotic birds into the mix.
It would, of course, be impossible to profile every single species of reptile, amphibian and invertebrates ever kept in captivity here but we can instead take a closer look at some of the more common and popular types of exotic pets to give you a basic introduction to their care and maintenance in captivity.
From the small, docile and easily managed species like corn snakes, garter snakes and milk snakes right up to the more difficult-to-keep species such as anacondas because of their agression or reticulated pythons thanks to their size snakes offer a huge diversity of species that can be kept in captivity.
Many of the smaller and more common species make ideal exotic pets even for the beginner because they are easily handled, reach a suitable size, suffer from very few health problems and have very few special requirements. As an example a ball python or corn snake can make a perfect first exotic pet.
Lizards require rather more specialist care than snakes in general but as a reward for your increased efforts there is argiably an even greater diversity of different species available and as an exotic pet to watch from the comfort of your sofa they can be even more fascinating to watch than snakes.
For example whilst most snakes are kept singly to prevent any issues with feeding or with potential aggression many lizards can be kept in pairs, trios or even small groups. Couple this with the fact that they can be far more active than snakes on the whole and it’s possible when keeping lizards that there is always something going on within your vivarium and many lizards will display a fascinating range of behaviours in the confines of their vivarium.
The difficulties in keeping many species of lizard – when contrasted to keeping snakes – is that most reqauire artificial lighting to remain healthy which adds to the cost and difficulty of keeping them and in addition with most species you will need to become comfortable feeding them on live insects.
A few decades ago there were only two commonly-kept tortoise species but over the last few years the number of species being kept has grown significantly. Despite the costs involved in buying a tortoise or two in many ways they can make ideal exotic pets.
Whilst a few species have more specialist requirements and will need to spend most of their lives in a large vivarium many species can still be kept rather like they have been for years – being allowed out in a run during the summer months to bask in the sun outside and then hibernating during the colder months.
Additionally most people – even those that profess to not like “slimy reptiles” - find tortoises captivating and as a result anyone who want to keep exotic pets but is finding resistance from family members may find that selecting this type of exotic pet may be perfectly acceptable and a way to gently ease other people into an interest in the more unusual pets available.
Terrapins And Turtles
Turtles as they are known in the US, or terrapins in the UK, are related to tortoises in that they have the same bony shell to protect their body but these species are typically much flatter rather than rounder – an adaptation to help them swim better.
Of all the exotic pets my own personal experiences suggest that turtles are the hardest to keep satisfactorily for a number of reasons. Firstly some species can be aggressive not just toward their owners but also towards other creatures. Many of the more common species grow to a very large size making it difficult to accommodate them properly in the home. They also require a large body fo water to swim in and this water will quickly turn sour with feces and rotten food which can make the tank smell unpleasant.
As a result, while terrapins are incredibkly cute and just as fascinating as many other exotic pets, the size of their accommodation and the need to strong filtration and regular cleaning means that serious investment and effort will be required if you are going to keep these creatures successfully.
Frogs And Toads
Frogs and toads are another diverse group of exotic pets ranging from tropical tree frogs like the Whites tree frog through specialist species like poison dart frogs and through to easier and simpler species to keep like fire bellied toads.
Frogs and toads are some of the most vocal of the various types of exotic pets and my own small collection produces a wonderful cacophony of croaks and chirps late in the evening making you feel like you’re in some far-off land.
Whatever your level of experience there will be some species of frogs and toads suitable for you and they can make an excellent introduction to keeping exotic pets with the priviso that, like all amphibians, thanks to their sensitive skin they are not really handleable. If you want an exotic pet to old you’re probasbly better off with a reptile but if you want to create an eye-catching display, watch fascinating behaviour and potentially even have exotic pets breeding in your home then this group is well worth considering.
Newts And Salamanders
Newts and salamanders are typically grouped together because their requirements can be so similar in captivity. Generally speaking they prefer a cool, moist, dark environment meaning that very little expensive, specialist equipment is required to keep them successfully though a few of the more tropical species will benefit from some gentle background heat.
Examples of ideal start species could include the fire salamander from the moist forests of Europe or the Japanese fire bellied newt which are arguably the easiest exotic pet of all to care for in captivity.
There are dozens of different species of tarantula commonly kept in captivity which gives the tarantula keeper a huge amount of scope to pick and choose the perfect species for them and also to rapidly expand their collection to the more exotic and unusual varieties once they’ve gained some experience with the simpler species.
Interestingly while many people merely see tarantulas as boring (even scary) brown spiders there are actually a massive range of different colors available and while some of these such as the Poecilotheria can be expensive and challenging to keep there are others which are equally brightly-colored yet are very easy to keep indeed.
I must admit that tarantulas are one of my personal favorite types of exotic pets for a huge number of reasons of which both the variety and the colors are just two. In addition once you have a cage set up tarantulas are actually incredibly simple to keep and require minimal maintenance so if you have a busy lifestyle they can be the perfect pet. In addition many species will breed freely in captivity and can live for many years.
Contrary to popular opinion not all scorpions are deadly and indeed those which are potentially fatal generally require a license to keep in many countries. The frequently-seen scorpions are on the whole relatively safe to keep with their sting only being about as bad as a bee sting – and that’s coming from someone who has personally been stung by one.
Like tarantulas, scorpions require minimal maintenance once they are set up in a suitable vivarium and while most scorpions are kept singly a handful of species can be kept in community groups if they are provided suitable space and food to avoid the risks of fighting or cannibalism.
One potential downside of scorpions is that they can be overfed and so unlike many other types of exotic pets care must be taken with their feeding to ensure they do not suffer from digestive problems. This aside, scorpions are generally easy to keep and their mating rituals can be fascinating to observe.
Praying mantis come in hundreds of different varieties, sizes and colors though most are cannibalistic so should be kept on their own though a few species, such as the Miomantis, can be kept in groups to make a more interesting and appealing display.
Praying mantis are of course predators and as such you will need to feed them live insects on a regular basis. While a tarantula or scorpion may be satisfied with a feed once or twice a week, praying mantids are more likely to require feeding on a daily basis so they tend to require more time and effort than either tarantulas or scorpions do.
Like many other invertebrates though their space requirements are minimal and the more common species are reasonably easy to keep. Unlike most invertebrates though praing mantis are diurnal – that is they are awake during the day – and so can be particularly interesting from this point of view. While your tarantula or stick insects will spend most of the day motionless in a dark corner of the cage, your praying mantis will be out exploring and hunting for insect prey.
Forget about the boring, green, twig-like insects you may have in mind right now. Thanks to passionate hobbyists stick insects now go a lot further with many of them being brightly-colored, huge in size or are covered in impressive lumps, bumps and spines.
So while stick insects are considered by many as the most boring of the various types of exotic pets when you “get your eye in” and discover some of the more unusual varieties there is as much interest in keeping stick insects as there is in many of the more “showy” invertebrates available.
Stick insects feed on plant matter – examples are oak leaves, privet and bramble – which can be placed into a jar of water and will then stay fresh for a week or so meaning that routine maintenance really amounts to a once-a-week clean and replacement of their food.
That said it may be necessary to take a walk to your local park or nature reserve to gather the necessary food plants and so these are higher maintenance than a tarantula that simply requires a handful of crickets or locusts once a week.
In many ways the appeal and care of leaf insects is rather similar to that of stick insects with the main difference being that of course leaf insects have evolved to look more like leaves than sticks or twigs.
Giant millipedes can reach 30cm or more in length as adults though the more commonly-kept species tend to each a size closer to 15-20cm in total. These gentle giants are easy to keep on a plant-based diet, will breed in captivity and can be handled with care.
As so many of these invertebrates are imported into the pet trade rather than being captive bred it is wise to try and buy several specimens at once to be certain that you will end up with at least once breeding pair and can then produce your own captive-bred youngsters for other exotic pet keepers to enjoy.
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