If you are just starting your journey into herpetology, you have a lot to learn!
These seven reptile facts will get you started in the process of acquiring the knowledge you need to become a responsible and educated reptile owner!
1. There are over 4,600 species of lizards!
Currently, the known number of lizard species stands at 4,675. This includes chameleons, iguanas, geckos, skinks, and monitors. Lizards can be found on every continent except Antarctica.
While there are certain species that are better for beginner reptile keepers, you certainly will have a variety of species to choose from as you become more experienced!
A few of the best species for beginners are the bearded dragon and the leopard gecko. Both are incredibly friendly, easy to handle, and have relatively simple care requirements.
2. Reptiles are ectothermic
Ectothermic is the scientific term for cold-blooded. Essentially, this means that they get their body heat from outside sources. It’s why in nature you’ll often see lizards or snakes sunning themselves on a rock on a warm day!
For domesticated reptiles who won’t usually see the sun, you’ll need to provide them with artificial heat and light sources. All reptiles will need a heat gradient—a warm side of the tank, as well as a cool side.
Different species have different specific needs; be sure to research what equipment you’ll need to keep your individual pet healthy.
3. You’ll have a companion for years to come
Reptiles aren’t a short-term commitment! Be prepared to house your pet for the long haul, and be aware of the average lifespan of your species before you buy.
The Russian tortoise, for example, can live for over 50 years!
Unfortunately, because many owners are unprepared or ignorant about the long-term care requirements for these animals, up to 75% of pet reptiles either die or are abandoned within the first year of acquisition.
Make sure you and your pet don’t become part of this statistic by thoroughly researching and preparing to meet their needs, and scheduling regular vet visits to ensure their health for years to come.
4. Snakes aren’t actually slimy
In pop culture, snakes get a bad rap. They’re often portrayed as scary, gross, and slimy. This couldn’t be further from the truth!
Snake skin will generally feel cool and dry to the touch. In fact, reptiles can’t sweat, so your own skin is most likely moister than your snake’s.
Many kinds of snakes are great for beginners. This list from Everything Reptiles specifies 20 different species and gives some great tips for the care requirements for each one.
If you’ve never owned a snake before, this is an excellent resource to help you pick out a species that fits your lifestyle and what you’re looking for in a pet (easy to handle, care requirements, etc.).
5. You can train your reptile
Reptile’s brains are less complex than mammals’, so you won’t have as easy a time training your gecko as you will your dog. However, with some hard work and patience (and treats!) you can definitely teach your scaly friend a few tricks.
Focus on simple, cause and effect patterns: your reptile completes a desired behavior, and it gets an edible reward. It will soon learn to associate the behavior with the reward.
Using this method, you can train your reptile to come to you, eat from your hand, and even walk on a leash.
Never train a reptile (or any animal) using punishment or negative reinforcement. They will not understand, and will only learn to fear you.
6. Reptiles can get along with your current pets
A bearded dragon and a border collie might strike you as an unusual pairing; however, with proper introduction and socialization, your multiple species of animals can happily coexist, and even become great friends!
The keys to remember are to make sure your dog is well trained, start slowly, and never leave the animals together unsupervised.
You know your animals best, though. If your dog or cat has a high prey drive and you don’t think it will be safe to introduce them to your new reptile, simply keep them apart by closing a door to the reptile room.
7. You won’t be alone!
In 2019, there were a reported 4.5 million households in the United States that owned reptiles. The amount of individual reptiles owned was over double this number, meaning that many people don’t stop at just one reptile!
There is a whole community of herpetologists you can become a part of if you just know where to look for it. Online you’ll find countless message boards and forums dedicated to keeping reptiles. These websites will often advertise for in-person events, including expos, fundraisers, shows, and rescue organizations.
Herpetology may seem like a unique hobby, but you’ll be in great company once you get started!
Years from now when you look back at your process into becoming a seasoned reptile keeper, you’ll remember these unique facts as some of the first you learned! Remember to do thorough and responsible research outside of this list before you get your first reptile—different species have different needs and husbandry requirements.
Which fact was the most surprising to you? Let us know in the comments below!