The Irish Blue Cross,
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Top Ten Questions asked about Reptiles
(1) Are reptiles cold blooded?
Yes, but this does not mean they have cold blood, only that they can't regulate their body temperature internally. They are ectotherms which means they rely on external heat sources for normal body functions. Temperature status is a crucial part of good reptile husbandry.
(2) Where should my reptile live?
All reptiles require specific temperature and humidity conditions to function normally. Depending on the species and their natural environment it is very important you obtain the correct information from good reference books about the particular reptile you are keeping.
(3) Does my reptile need toys?
Reptiles don't play like other pets but they do need certain furniture depending on the species. Furniture provides stimulation and can assist in many roles of natural behaviour such as with skin shedding (Ecdysis) allowing the reptile to rub against the furniture aiding the shed. The species will determine what furniture is required i.e. Iguana's are aboreal (lives in trees) therefore branches must be provided for perching and basking. Rocks and logs can be provided for other lizards such as Water Dragons which like to bask closer to ground.
Semi aquatic reptiles like some terrapins need a heated water tank and land area for basking. Providing a separate feeding tank helps prevent water fouling as they can be messy eaters. Reptiles must have access to fresh water baths and drinking water.
(4) Do all reptiles need the same vivarium temperature?
As noted above, the temperature required varies on species and what part of the world they come from. By now you should have researched what YOUR reptile's correct housing temperature should be! Placing a thermometer at either end of the vivarium will allow you to closely monitor your reptile's environment. Ensure you have an adequate variation at each end of the vivarium allowing your reptile to move to areas of temperature change when needed i.e. the vivarium should consist of a cooler end and a warmer end. For example, after your reptile eats a meal you may notice your reptile basking under the heat lamp which allows them to digest their meal. Once they have absorbed enough heat, a nice shady area may become appealing allowing them to thermo regulate.
(5) How do I maintain the correct vivarium temperature?
The primary heat source is provided by heat mats or infrared lamps which emit very little light. The primary heat source must NOT be provided using a light bulb. The primary heat source is constantly maintaining the reptiles correct environmental temperature.
The secondary heat source provides diurnal heat and light stimulating night and day, which can be in the form of a light bulb which is switched off at night. This provides an additional heat source for basking. Position your basking cage furniture below this source ensuring your reptile cannot come into contact with the bulb. Reptiles will seek out this heat and can be easily exposed to thermal burns. BE CAREFUL!!
(6) How can I provide a humid environment for my reptile?
While you were researching your reptile's preferred temperature zone you should also have learned what level of humidity is required! This can also be a vital part of husbandry allowing your reptile to function normally and assisting in ecdysis.
Humidity can be achieved simply by placing an adequate size water bath within the vivarium and regularly mist spraying the inside of the vivarium with water. The humidity levels can be checked by using a hygrometer.
(7) Do reptiles like to sun bathe?
In addition to the secondary heat source noted above, your reptile requires ultraviolet light rays which are normally provided by the sun. When possible you can closely supervise outdoor exercise for your reptile during the sunny days ensuring they do not get too much sun exposure or the opposite and become too cold. Ultraviolet light is essential for the metabolism of calcium and for well being.
Specialised fluorescent ultraviolet light bulbs must be provided within the vivarium and replaced every six months for full effectiveness; these bulbs should be sited within 30cm of the animal. Again, be careful of thermal burns!!
(8) What food should I feed my reptile?
Depending on the species this will determine what the correct diet is for your reptile. Reptiles can either be herbivore, omnivore or carnivore. The Iguana for example is herbivore and their diet should consist of 90% leafy greens and vegetables and 10% fruits. Snakes are usually fed a diet of mice and rats depending on their size, which are purchased frozen from pet stores and defrosted prior to eating. The Garter Snake for example is a fish eating snake and can be given small fish. Other reptiles, like the Water Dragon are omnivores but the diet mainly consists of meal worms, wax worms or crickets. The Red Eared Terrapin is also omnivore but mainly eats animal protein such as raw liver, dry cat food and commercial turtle food.
Nutritional deficiencies can be a main cause of illness in reptiles; therefore a vitamin and mineral supplement specifically for reptiles should be added to the diet. A good supplement can be sourced from veterinary practices or reputable pet stores. Ensure you feed all insect prey with fresh fruit and vegetables that are dusted in a calcium supplement. Otherwise your reptile will develop metabolic bone disease from a calcium deficiency, as insects do not naturally provide adequate amounts of calcium.
Further dusting of the insects prior to feeding also provides additional supplementation. Carnivores like large snakes usually do not suffer from this calcium deficiency as their prey consists of adult vertebrates. Smaller snakes such as juveniles being fed a pinkie or fuzzie diet should have calcium supplementation.
IT IS NOT RECOMMENDED TO FEED LIVE VERTEBRATE PREY TO REPTILES.
(9) How Should I clean my reptiles vivarium and how often?
It is very important you keep a clean vivarium. Remove any soiled material daily and replace the substrate regularly i.e. twice weekly. The most suitable substrate is newspaper, it is cheap and easy to replace and provides a clean environment. Wood chip substrates can sometimes be eaten leading to intestinal obstructions, therefore a feeding area would be better lined with newspaper.
The vivarium should be cleaned weekly with a soapy solution or product such as Milton sterilisor, ensuring the inside of the tank is washed clean and free from any remaining residue of product. Always use gloves when cleaning your vivarium and practice good hygiene by washing your hands after handling you reptile.
(10) How should I handle my reptile?
All reptiles should be handled gently but specific handling will vary with species, all lizards should be held by supporting the body with both hands behind the fore legs and in front of the hind legs. Snakes should be handled very gently particularly around the head, snakes bruise very easily which can have serious health repercussions. Tortoises are easily handled but avoid turning them upside down. All reptiles can bite so be very careful, also be aware of strong whipping tails!!
A LIZARD MUST NEVER BE GRABBED OR HELD BY THE TAIL.