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rec.pets.herp Frequently Asked Questions (3 of 3)
Section - <7.5> Can't you get salmonella from reptiles?

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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

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.

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Top Document: rec.pets.herp Frequently Asked Questions (3 of 3)
Previous Document: <7.4> I can't keep my . What do I do? Let it go?
Next Document: <8.2> My kid wants a reptile; what should we get?

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