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rec.pets.herp Frequently Asked Questions (3 of 3)

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See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge

		An Introduction to rec.pets.herp
		Part 3/3: Questions About Herps
		Bill East <>


This document is copyright 1995-1998 by Bill East, and may be redistributed
freely under many circumstances; the details are explained in Part 1 (section
3.1).  Some sections were written by other authors, who are also identified in
Part 1.

This document is provided as-is, with no expressed or implied warranty of
any kind.  Every effort has been made to make this FAQ an accurate and
comprehensive source of information; however, the maintainer offers no
guarantee that these efforts have been successful, and assumes no
responsibility for damages resulting from errors or omissions.

This document represents the understanding and opinion of the maintainer,
and, where possible, a consensus of posters to rec.pets.herp; it is not
endorsed by, and does not necessarily represent any position of, the
maintainer's employer or ISP.


Section 7: General herp care

Subject: <7.1> My herp got away. How can I find it? Guess which WWW page to look at? <> contains the Finding Lost Herps FAQ. It is a collection of comments from various individuals; no guarantees are made that these comments will be consistent with one another. Fortunately, most escapes can be stopped before they happen with some attention to the enclosure of the animal in question. Use common sense: Don't leave snake-sized openings in the lid of your snake's tank. Don't leave the lid off while you wander away to get a food item (for the herp or yourself). Don't take small, quick-moving animals out to play on the lawn. As a general rule, assume that your herp can levitate, walk through walls, cloud your mind so that you cannot see it, pass through the holes in pegboard, and gravitate unerringly to the most inaccessible spot in your home. Design enclosures and herp rooms accordingly.
Subject: <7.2> Is there something wrong with using mealworms as food? Yes and no. Many people use mealworms as feeders with no ill effects at all, especially with lizards. However, mealworms have hard chitinous shells and may cause digestive problems in large quantities. Moreover, mealworms have mandibles; at least one poster reports having seen mealworms literally eat their way out of a garter snake (yuck), and this author has lost leopard frogs to internal injuries caused by "king" mealworms. The chitin problem can be almost entirely ameliorated by feeding mealworms that have just shed their exoskeleta. Since they shed their mandibles as well, this procedure should also help with the problem of internal injuries; however, if you're feeding mealworms to an animal that can reasonably be expected to swallow them whole, it is prudent to cut the worms' mouthparts off first, or to crush their heads and mandibles with a pair of forceps. It's not pleasant, but it beats risking your herp's health.
Subject: <7.3> Is there something wrong with using live feeder rodents? (This question pertains, essentially, only to snakes, which are the main consumers of feeder rodents. Although some lizards and amphibians will eat rodents, amphibians typically will not take dead food, and most carnivorous lizards eat rodents too small for the concerns of this section to be a factor. Large monitors are an exception, and this question may apply to them as well.) Although a snake is a pretty formidable adversary for even the toughest rodent, a feeder can occasionally get lucky and manage to bite its predator. Such bites can be serious; in extreme cases, the rodent can land one fortunate bite at the base of the skull and kill the snake outright. Most feeding bites are much less serious and pose no real threat except from infection, but such catastrophes really have occurred. This is one very good reason to prefer to use dead feeders; a prekilled mouse will rarely bite a snake. This goes double for gerbils, which are fast and scrappy, and at least triple for adult rats. Another convenient feature of prekilled rodents is their availability; it is possible to mail-order hundreds of frozen rodents, fill a freezer with them, and have a practically permanent food supply for your snakes. Many of the rec.pets.herp regulars (the author included) do precisely this. It's convenient, and also much cheaper than buying individual live rodents at pet-store prices. Most snakes of commonly-kept species can be conditioned to accept prekilled prey, though the conditioning process is sometimes lengthy and frustrating. The tricks used to encourage feeding are innnumerable and really beyond the scope of this FAQ, but often simply wiggling a dead feeder (with a pair of forceps---don't use your bare hand or you *will* get bitten) is enough to interest a reluctant snake. Some snakes simply refuse to eat anything other than live prey. It behooves the responsible herp keeper, when faced with such a specimen, to take every precaution to make sure the predator-prey relationship doesn't reverse itself (and, yes, there *are* cases in which snake keepers have found an intended feeder rodent making a meal of the snake)! Never leave a live feeder rodent alone with a snake, especially in the case of tough scrappers like rats. If possible, stun the feeder before offering it; many snakes that turn up their rostral scales at prekilled prey will still eat live but unconscious animals. In short, don't invite trouble. Naturally, many of the caveats of this section do not apply to pinky or fuzzy rodents, which are not yet developed enough to injure anything larger than a small insect. However, conditioning a snake to take prekilled pinkies or fuzzies while it is a juvenile may help encourage it to eat dead prey as an adult. In the first draft of this answer, I wrote "A prekilled mouse will never bite a snake." I'm wrong; in March 1996, a poster actually reported seeing his corn snake receive a "bite" from a dead mouse! The snake managed to knock the mouse's mouth open and drag the teeth over its side while searching for the head. (Fortunately, the injury was extremely minor.) This anecdote should only strengthen your resolve to feed prekilled; if even a *dead* prey item presents a slight hazard, just imagine what a *live* one could do! Legislation affects the use of feeder animals in the UK (the Protection of Animals Act) and perhaps other countries as well. The UK law is not particularly restrictive---it requires that live feeder vertebrates be used only as a last resort and that the feeding process be monitored. Local US jurisdictions may also have relevant regulations. Apprise yourself of the local legislative situation as it applies to your feeding practices.
Subject: <7.4> I can't keep my <whatever species>. What do I do? Let it go? No! Never release a captive animal back into the wild, especially if it's a species that's not native to your area. The animal will either die, in which case you didn't do it any favors, or it won't, in which case you have just introduced an exotic species into your local ecosystem. This Is Bad; the most drastic example among herps is the giant toad (_Bufo marinus_), which created ecological chaos when it was introduced into Australia for pest control (and it didn't even work for that). Even if your herp is a native species, it may be carrying pathogens that shouldn't be released into the wild, and if it was captive-bred, its genetics may have drifted enough that you're introducing destructive genetic material into the wild population. The problem of pathogens is not just theoretical; some wild populations of herps have nearly been destroyed by well-meant releases of captive animals. If you have a native herp that was caught in the wild, and you know exactly where it was caught, and you're very sure it hasn't been exposed to any pathogens while in your care, and it hasn't been in captivity too long, you *might* think about releasing it. Even then, it probably isn't a good idea. If you really can't keep a herp (or other pet), try to find it a good home. If nobody wants to take it, a local herp society might be willing to put it up for adoption among its members. Zoos generally will not accept donations of this sort (they have enough Burmese pythons already), but if you have something really unusual, it couldn't hurt to call the zoo and ask if they want one. Or you can sell the animal to a pet store, though it behooves you to find a good, responsible store that keeps its animals in decent conditions. Just don't let it go.
Subject: <7.5> Can't you get salmonella from reptiles? You can, indeed. However, if you take the most elementary precautions, your chances of getting salmonella from a herp are much less than from, say, incompletely cooked chicken. Wash your hands after handling herps or herp supplies. Don't put herps in your mouth (yes, this probably means you should resist the urge to kiss that bearded dragon). Keep herps away from food preparation surfaces. In sum, don't treat herps as if they were "clean" for human consumption. With that caveat obeyed, the risk of catching anything from a herp is negligible. Children and immunocompromised individuals are particularly vulnerable to salmonella and other zoonotic infections. Therefore, it's appropriate to observe additional precautions. Foremost among these is not allowing small children to interact with herps without supervision; they tend to put their hands, if not the actual animals, in their mouths, which is a good way to expose themselves to any pathogens the animals might be carrying. Steve Grenard of Herpmed maintains a document about salmonella and reptiles on the Web, at <> It's a thorough and valuable document, with brief case histories of some recent reptile-associated salmonella cases and detailed guidelines on how to avoid becoming one of them. ============================================================================== Section 8: Choosing a herp Subject: <8.1> What's a good first herp? Any answer to this question is necessarily colored by opinion. This question attempts to list species that will be generally suitable for beginners with no prior herpetological experience. It also focuses on species of which captive-bred specimens are readily available in North America. (Information on the availability of these species in other parts of the world, and suggestions for suitable species where the ones below are hard to obtain, would be welcome.) See question 8.2 for some generalities to keep in mind when purchasing a first herp. <8.1a> Snakes Good first snakes include corn snakes, common king snakes (of which there are many subspecies: California, desert, Florida, speckled...), and captive- bred or captive-born baby ball pythons. Imported adult ball pythons are a poor choice, because they tend to be heavily parasitized and unwilling to feed. Many people's first snake is a garter snake collected from the back yard, but garter snakes are actually quite a bit harder to take care of than the above-mentioned species. Boa constrictors and Burmese pythons are popular pet-store items and very attractive snakes, but they grow rather large--- especially the Burmese---and should only be attempted by people who really are prepared to share their home with a *big* snake. <8.1b> Lizards There are many good starter lizards whose care requirements are not extreme, but that can still provide much enjoyment and interest. The leopard gecko, a desert-dwelling insectivorous species, is readily available captive-bred and is easy to tame and maintain. Captive-bred bearded dragons are more expensive but equally easy to keep and handle, though it is recommended that the beginner start with a juvenile rather than a hatchling. Captive-bred blue-tongue skinks are charming animals that can be easily set up in a temperate enclosure with moderate supplemental heating. There are also many suitable starter lizards that, however, are bred less frequently in captivity; these include collared lizards, desert iguanas, chuckwallas, ameivas (also called dwarf tegus), savannah monitors, and anoles. <8.1c> Turtles & Tortoises A number of turtles can be maintained in captivity by beginners, if they are willing to devote the time necessary to keep them appropriately. Aquatic turtles will require a large tank, basking areas, heat sources, filtration, and frequent water changes. Hardy beginner turtles are sliders and cooters (adopt a red-ear from your local herp society!), related species of sliders, mud and musk turtles (including the African mud turtles), and some Asian water turtles such as Reeves' turtles (_Chinemys reevesii_). Land turtles require a large amount of land, heated quarters, hiding areas, and an appropriate diet. Good beginning turtles/tortoises are red-footed tortoises, leopard tortoises, African spurred tortoises (which, however, grow rather large), and captive-born box turtles. If at all possible, buy a captive-born turtle; they generally do much better in captivity than wild-caught individuals, and this may make the difference between success and a dead turtle. David Kirkpatrick wrote an article for _Reptiles_ magazine on starting out with aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles; it's available on the WWW at <> <8.1d> Frogs & Toads Any frog is more delicate than the "starter" reptiles listed above. This doesn't mean they're off-limits to beginners, though. Popular first species include White's tree frogs (sometimes called dumpy tree frogs) and "Pac-Man" frogs (properly called horned frogs; there are several species). There are good Advanced Vivarium Systems books on both, and plenty of keepers on the net who will be helpful. Those who are willing to work with an aquarium have the opportunity to keep aquatic frogs; the dwarf frog and African clawed frog are very easy to keep and are excellent first frogs, while the related Surinam toad is slightly more delicate but is included here in a shameless display of favoritism by the author. <8.1e> Salamanders & Newts Several commonly available caudates make good first herptile pets. They are just as interesting as frogs in most respects and don't vocalize (read: make noise when you are trying to sleep). Probably the easiest to keep are western US newts of genus _Taricha_ (the California or golden newt and/or the rough-skinned newt, which will happily eat tubifex worms or chopped earthworms, and can even be trained to eat dry food pellets with time. They are friendly, robust, long-lived, and fairly big for newts. (They are also *extremely* toxic if placed in the mouth; wash hands after handling!) The eastern newt (eats tubifex or *small* earthworm parts) isn't bad, and neither are the frequently seen Japanese cynops species, fire-belly and paddle-tail (a.k.a. shovel-nose) newts, which feed as do _Taricha_. If you insist on a big salamader, stick with tiger salamanders (US), or fire salamanders (Eur.), or a similar rugged and cheap species. In the US, tigers can often be had, often erroneously labelled "waterdogs", "mudpuppies", or even "axolotls", for a dollar or less from bait shops, in larval form. Tiger larvae are very similar to the more fragile axolotl, and eat water bugs, worm chunks, small fish and just about anything suitably sized for their mouths, including small newts, or even smaller siblings! Don't mix-n-match. Adults enjoy bugs of many sorts, meal worms, and earthworms. European readers would do well to start with _Triturus cristatus_ (the crested newt) or _Pleurodeles waltl_ (the ribbed newt); both are hardy, active, aggressive feeders, and easily obtainable in Europe. <8.1f> Caecilians The only commonly available caecilian, the rubber "eel", can be found in lots of aquarium shops (many of whom have no idea what it is - be sure it is in good health, as it may not have been fed properly). They eat small worm bits, tubifex, and small water-dwelling creatures including tiny feeder fish, water insect larvae, etc. A parting word of caution regarding caecilians: They love to escape. Get a tight-fitting screen top, and make sure it stays closed at all times. Even a few seconds is long enough for them to go wandering, so keep an eye out when feeding them with the lid open.
Subject: <8.2> My kid wants a reptile; what should we get? There are some things to consider before buying any herp. Remember, first, that buying the animal itself is likely to be the *cheapest* part of the process; that $20 iguana will cost closer to $250 when equipped with housing, a substrate, furnishings, lighting, heating, food, and initial veterinary care. Second, many herps are sold as juveniles and will be many times larger at adulthood than at purchase; consider whether you are prepared to provide suitable enclosures as the animal grows, and just where you're going to put those enclosures. Third, many lizards, and all frogs and snakes, are carnivores; to keep one, you will need to provide other animals as food items, possibly killing them yourself (see question 7.3). Fourth, even vegetarian herps have specialized needs; lettuce is *not* a suitable diet for an iguana or other vegetarian lizard, and you are likely to have some strange conversations about turnip greens with your produce manager. When a herp (or other pet) is being entrusted to a child, there's also the issue of responsibility. Many herps require relatively little care to do well, but this ease of maintenance actually makes neglect easier; after not feeding the frogs for three or four days, it's easy to forget for another week or two. In addition, certain large or flashy herps have a surface appeal that may draw people (and especially young people) for the wrong reasons: "If I had a *really* *big* snake, I could scare the heck outta my friends!" Let's assume that the kid is responsible enough to take care of a pet, and that its reasons for wanting a reptile are good reasons. In this case, the species described in the answer to question 8.1 are good places to start looking. The large snakes, however, are particularly contraindicated in households with small children; incidents in which a snake injures a human are *extremely* rare, but the effect on the public image of herpkeeping and the potential for tragedy are great enough that it's better to play it safe. For obvious reasons, venomous herps should never be kept in households with children. Many, probably most, herpers started as children, and strongly encourage the fostering of a child's interest in herps and other animals. This answer is not intended to discourage children from keeping herps, but to suggest the most responsible and rewarding routes to that end.

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