How Does the Backwater Reptiles Shipping Process Work?

One of the biggest concerns many people have with purchasing an animal of any kind online is the safety of the animal during transit. To the unexperienced, it would seem like delivering a reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate in the mail would be dangerous. However, at Backwater Reptiles, we have years of experience packaging, shipping, and ensuring safe delivery of our animal cargo.

In this article, we will explain how we go about making sure that our animals and our customers are happy.

We will answer questions such as:
Exactly how safe is it to package and ship an animal? Isn’t it risky?
How does the entire ordering process work?
What happens if the animal is unintentionally harmed during transit?
How do I know that my pet will arrive safe and sound?
How will my pet be packaged?

We’ll even include a video demonstrating our packing method so that you can see exactly how the animals are boxed up.

How safe is it to package and ship a reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate? Isn’t it risky?

The short answer to this question is that it is very safe. Although there are rare instances where an unforeseen occurrence can injure an animal during the shipping process, it is rare. Most pets will arrive safe and sound at their new home with little to no stress.

Truthfully, the types of animals sold by Backwater Reptiles are all critters with pretty hardy dispositions. Most reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates don’t need to eat on a daily basis, so not eating for a day or night while they travel to you is nothing out of the ordinary for them.

hybrid box turtle
Turtles and tortoises fare particularly well during the shipping process. They do travel with their “homes” on their backs anyways!

And rest assured that at Backwater Reptiles we do everything in our power to make sure that the manner in which our animals are packaged and shipped keeps them within the proper temperature and moisture range. But we’ll touch upon that a little later in the article.

The bottom line is that it is very safe to ship snakes, lizards, frogs, spiders, scorpions, and all other types of pets sold by Backwater Reptiles. In fact, ninety-eight percent of orders we send out arrive safe and sound and we’re very proud of those numbers.

How does the entire ordering process work?

Our ordering process is very straight forward and simple. It’s not really that different from ordering anything else online.

You can browse www.backwaterreptiles.com by the type of animal you’re looking for. For instance, we have a section for lizards, snakes, toads, frogs, spiders, etc. Each of these categories is further divided into specific species categories. The lizards section contains species tabs such as geckos, iguanas, and chameleons. The snakes section contains species tabs such as boas, pythons, and corn snakes. We like to make browsing as uncomplicated and easy as possible.

You also have the option to use the Backwater Reptiles website’s search feature. This is useful if you have a specific species name or even a scientific genus and species you’re looking for.

One you’ve located the pet you wish to purchase, simply add it to your cart. Generally, you can also purchase all the needed supplies and accessories for any given type of animal on that specific animal’s “for sale” page. For example, on each chameleon for sale page, you can scroll to the bottom of the page and add a chameleon kit to your order.

What happens if you have a question? What if you have a gender request, size request, or even color request for any given animal?

All you need to do if you have a question of any kind before placing your order is email our hard-working customer service team. They work full-time to ensure that all your questions are addressed. After all, we do want you to be one hundred percent satisfied with your order!

We would like to mention that the main difference between ordering a living creature and ordering any other product online is that we require our carriers to obtain a signature from the recipient of the animal to ensure that it was delivered in a timely, efficient, and secure manner. So check out our shipping schedule when you place your order and make sure that you are ordering for delivery on a day when someone will be present to sign and accept the animal.

antilles pink toe tarantula spiderling
Invertebrates such as this Antilles Pink Toe Tarantula spiderling also fare extremely well during the shipping process.

How do I know that my pet will arrive safe and sound?

While we can’t guarantee with one hundred percent certainty that all will go exactly as planned during the shipping process for every single order placed, at Backwater Reptiles we take every precaution to ensure that each and every animal that we ship out is packaged with care and attention to detail.

When packing a shipment, we take into consideration everything from the external temperature in our location to the temperature of the animal’s final destination. We also make sure that each animal is packed in an appropriately sized container with the correct amount of air circulation.

Furthermore, we clearly and distinctly label each and every box with a stamp that indicates that there is a live animal inside. This helps make sure that the carriers are gentle with the boxes and therefore makes the journey safer for the animals.

All animals that depart from the Backwater Reptile facility are sent out using overnight shipping. This means that the animal is transported quickly and with minimal stress. Although most of the animal we ship don’t mind being in a small space for periods of time, we do like to make sure that they get to their destination as quickly and efficiently as possible. Most will depart our facility in the morning before or around noon and arrive at your doorstep the following morning.

Using overnight shipping not only means that your pet arrives quickly, it means that you receive up to date tracking information that allows you to follow the progress of your pet and make sure that you are home to sign for it. While being able to sign for the animal on the first attempt is ideal, most FedEx and UPS facilities will hold the animal for pick up at your convenience. If you do happen to miss your delivery window for any reason, we do highly recommend retrieving the animal as soon as possible to avoid stress or injury from occurring.

What happens if my pet is unintentionally harmed during transit?

It’s beneficial to all parties involved if the animal arrives at its new forever home safe, sound, and without incident. However, there are unfortunate times when animals will arrive either injured, ill, or dead on arrival (DOA). And while nobody wants to have to deal with the heart ache or hassle of such an occurrence, just know that at Backwater Reptiles, we take good care of our customers and we will do everything to make sure that you have a good experience with us.

contact backwater reptiles
If you ever have any issues with your order, all you have to do is use the contact form on our website or email our customer service team via sales@backwaterreptiles.com.

We also think it’s worthwhile to mention that we have a shipping success rate of ninety-eight percent, which means that only two percent of all orders sent out have any issues. We’re very pleased with this statistic because it means that our animals are treated well, our customers are treated well, and we can rest easy knowing that we do and will continue to do everything within our power to be humane and ethical when delivering our beloved critters to their new forever families.

Because we do offer a live arrival guarantee PLUS an extended seven day warranty on all animals ordered from us, if you do ever happen to have something go wrong with your order, the process of either getting a refund or a replacement animal is very straight forward. All you have to do is email our customer service team and tell them your situation. They are fully equipped and ready to address your concerns and want to make the process go as smoothly as possible.

How will my pet be packaged?

Packing and prepping an animal to be mailed is not as simple as putting a frog in a box. It requires a bit of planning and careful placement and organization. After all, you don’t want your pet bouncing around inside a box or getting too cold, too wet, or too hot.

Most animals sold by Backwater Reptiles are small enough to fit inside small plastic cups with breathing holes. Most hatchling snakes, invertebrates, amphibians, and small lizards fall into this category. However, sometimes reptiles that are too large (i.e. some iguanas, some mature snakes, and other adult animals) will be sealed inside a breathable bag for transportation. No matter what temporary container your new pet is inside of, we make sure that said container is placed comfortably but securely within the shipping box to minimize movement and jerkiness.

Styrofoam inserts are placed on all sides of the box to not only secure the container from moving around, but also to create additional insulation. The styrofoam helps maintain the desired temperature within the box.

Whether or not a heat or cool pack is included inside your new pet’s shipping box depends on several factors – namely, the local temperature at our facility and the temperature at the animal’s final destination.

For instance, because the Backwater Reptiles facility is located in Northern California, our summers can get into triple digit temperatures. This means that even if the animal’s destination is somewhere cold, we can’t include a heat pack to keep the animal warm because it would overheat while in transit from our location. It’s a balancing act taken case by case, and usually we choose to take into account the most extreme temperature situation at either the departure location or the destination and compensate for it.

We will also take temperature into account when poking air holes in the actual shipping box itself. More holes does allow for more air flow, but it also allows the temperature exchange to occur more quickly. So, for instance, if the exterior temperatures are very cold and we’ve packed the animal with a heat pack to compensate, it doesn’t make sense to poke a ton of air holes in the shipping box because it allows all the heat created by the pack to escape. There’s no need to fret though – the boxes themselves aren’t sealed to the point of preventing proper air circulation, so your new pet will not suffocate.

All of our shipping boxes are also properly labeled to help the FedEx and UPS carriers understand that there is a live animal inside. Not only are the boxes labeled as such, but we use a special “LIVE ANIMAL” stamp to add extra security.

All you have to do once your new pet arrives is crack the tape seal on the box, open and remove your critter! Most animals will need anywhere from a day to a week to feel at home in their new enclosure and to begin eating, drinking, and functioning as normal.

Below is a video demonstrating the details of how we package each animal. The video does go over much of the same information that’s listed above, but it’s a useful visual representation for those who prefer watching a video over reading.

Conclusion

We hope that this blog article has helped make you comfortable with the process of ordering a living animal online.

Our goal is to show current, past, and future customers that delivering animals through the mail is safe. Even if something does go wrong in transit, Backwater Reptiles will do everything to make sure our customers are happy by either offering a replacement animal or a refund.

We also have the best live arrival and warranty terms of any online reptile vendor!

If you have any questions or concerns that were left unanswered by this article, feel free to ask them in the comments section.

How To Set Up Rack Systems for Reptiles

If you only own a single reptile of any sort, and you’re not a reptile collector, odds are you might not have even heard of a rack system. So, we’re going to preface this article by explaining exactly what a rack system is…just in case you’re unfamiliar.

When reptile enthusiasts and hobbyists speak of rack systems, they are referring to what is essentially a shelf filled with reptile “cubby” habitats in the simplest of terms. It is a specially designed shelf lined with bins that are heated to support reptile thermoregulatory habits and tend to be most useful to breeders or hobbyists who keep many reptiles.

How To Set Up a Leopard Gecko Rack System

First, we’ll tell you a little about using a rack system when breeding leopard geckos. We’ll outline what you need, how to set it up, and even include a brief video tutorial to explain how to set up our rack systems for leopard geckos at Backwater Reptiles.

leopard gecko rack system
Leopard geckos like this super snow morph, thrive in rack system set ups.

Items needed for a leopard gecko rack system set up
Plastic bins or tubs. These are used to house individual animals within your shelving unit. They function as lidless mini “cages.”
Shelving system to stack bins. Obviously you’ll need the shelf system in order to accommodate the bins your leopard geckos are living in. These units can be purchased online from specialty retailers or, if you’re handy, you can build your own.
Heat tape. Rather than hook up many pesky individual heat pads and wind up with a bunch of bulky electrical cords and ultimately, an electrical hazard, you should use heat tape to make sure the temperatures within your leopard gecko’s bin stays within the proper range.
Appropriate substrate. Just like with any other enclosure, your leopard gecko rack system bins will each require an appropriate substrate. You can use sand, paper towels, or any other substrate suitable for leopard geckos.
Water dish, food dish, and vitamin dish. Leopard geckos will need three kinds of dishes within each bin. Each dish’s purpose is pretty obvious based on what it will hold.
Egg laying bin or box/Hide space. Because most people using a rack system with leopard geckos intend to breed them, it’s necessary to have a hide space with dirt inside so that the females can lay their eggs when the time is right. The egg laying box also functions as a hide space for when your geckos feel like being secretive.
Drill. Each individual bin will need to have air holes drilled into the sides to allow for proper ventilation and moisture retention. You will only need the drill to poke holes in the sides of the plastic bins.

How to set up a leopard gecko rack system

As we’ve already established, a rack system will house numerous bins with various geckos living separately in each bin. The best strategy for success is to make each bin the same. In other words, follow the instructions below and replicate for however many number of bins you have in your shelving unit.

Step one – Drill holes in each leopard gecko bin. This is fairly straight forward. You should have at least ten to fifteen holes on each side of each bin. Spread these holes out evenly.

Step two – Hook up your heat tape. You’ll want to make sure that each bin that will have animals in it is properly heated. If you need some guidance using heat tape or setting it up, we’ve got an entire blog article dedicated to this process.

Step three – Line your bins with substrate. As we’ve mentioned prior, there are several substrates known to be appropriate for leopard geckos. Simply choose your favorite and line the bottom of each bin.

Step four -Set up your leopard gecko’s hide box. We use plastic shoe boxes with lids. You’ll want to put organic, chemically untreated soil inside and cut a round hole in the top so that the geckos can exit and enter easily.

Step five – Prepare your leopard gecko’s dishes. You will need three dishes, as previously mentioned above. The largest dish should be used for water. The mid-sized dish should contain mealworms, reptiworms, or whatever type of insect you will be feeding to your gecko. And lastly, the small dish should contain vitamin powder.

Voila! You’ve set up bin number one! Now all you need to do is repeat the process for each breeding pair of geckos you wish to house.

Leopard gecko rack system video tutorial

In the video below, we show you a physical example of how we set up our leopard gecko bins that we use within our rack systems.

How To Set Up a Snake Rack System

Items needed for a snake rack system set up
Plastic bins or tubs. Again, these bins or tubs will be home to a single snake. They will be “cages” without lids.
Shelving system to stack bins. As we discussed with leopard gecko rack systems, you will need a shelving unit to organize your snake bins. Shelving units can be purchased from specialty retailers or you can always make your own if you prefer.
Heat tape. This is the alternative method used to heat rack systems as it’s much too cluttered and unsafe to use individual reptile heating pads when working with so many animals.
Appropriate substrate. The preferred substrate for most species of snake (but not all!) is aspen bedding. You can use whatever substrate works best for your particular species, but always avoid cedar bedding as the fumes given off are toxic to snakes.
Water dish. Unlike leopard gecko bins, which require three dishes, a snake’s bin will only need a single water dish. We recommend one that is sturdy enough that the snake can’t tip it over.
Two hides. Ideally, snakes should have two hide spaces available to them, no matter what type of cage they are housed in. One hide should be on the warmer side of the cage and the other hide should be on the cooler side of the cage. This allows the snake to thermoregulate while still feeling safe and secure.

How to set up a snake rack system

snake rack system
Snakes such as ball pythons do quite well in rack systems.

Just like with the leopard gecko bins, once you’ve set up one snake bin, all you need to do is replicate the process for the remainder of the bins. Uniformity works well when it comes to rack systems.

Step one – Drill holes in each snake bin. Just like with leopard gecko bins, snake bins will require “breathing” holes. These holes aren’t so that the snakes can breathe, but rather so that their miniature ecosystems can. The holes will allow moisture to exit and will allow air to circulate better. As with leopard gecko bins, ten to fifteen holes per side should suffice, unless you are housing very large snakes in very large bins. Use common sense and space the holes evenly for best results.

Step two – Hook up the heat tape. Again, this process should be exactly the same as with the leopard gecko bins. Although we’ve already given you this link above, just so you don’t have to scroll back, here’s the link to the article we wrote discussing the ins and outs of how to set up reptile heat tape.

Step three – Place your chosen substates within the bottom of the bin. A thin layer is fine. Don’t overfill the tub/bin. You should have just enough to absorb any spilled or collected moisture and snake waste.

Step four – Set up a hide box on each side of the snake’s bin. One should go on the cooler side and one on the heated side.

Step five – Place the snake’s water dish inside the bin. It’s not really that important where you put it, but be aware that if you place it above the heated side, you will create more moisture in the environment due to more rapid evaporation. If your snake likes humidity, this is great, but if you have a species that prefers a more arid, dry climate, then it’s probably best to put the water dish on the unheated side of the bin.

Guess what? Your snake bin set up is now complete! All you need to do is repeat the process for each pet snake you have and finally…add snakes!

Setting up a snake rack system video tutorial

In the video below, we walk you through how we set up our individual snake bins used in the rack systems at Backwater Reptiles.

Reptile Rack System Frequently Asked Questions

-How do I heat a rack system?

Hopefully if you’re invested in reptiles enough to need a rack system, you’re aware that they need a source of warmth in order to thermoregulate. But because rack systems are not set up like normal cages and you can’t place a heat lamp on top of the cage or attach a heat mat to the bottom of the cage, how then, do you provide heat to all the individual bins?

The answer is simple really. At Backwater Reptiles, we use reptile heat tape. This allows us to control temperature and is also safe and convenient for both humans and animals alike.

As we’ve previously indicated, we actually have an entire blog article tutorial complete with video instructions on how to set up heat tape. Click here to read the entire article.

-Do I need UV lights when using a rack system?

Luckily, most of the species that thrive in rack system set ups (i.e. leopard geckos, corn snakes, ball pythons, etc.) don’t require UV lighting.

You can always take each animal out individually or in groups and expose them to natural UV light by taking them outdoors, but due to the way rack systems are set up, there’s really no way to provide a consistent source of UV lighting.

Ultimately, this means that reptiles that require UV light in order to process vitamins and maintain healthy bones and immune systems cannot be housed in rack systems. So do your research before your invest in a rack system for any particular species.

-How many animals can live in each bin?

This is a question with variable answers. In reality, the answer will depend on the species you are housing as well as how large your individual bins are.

With leopard geckos, generally a breeding pair or trio is acceptable. A single male with one or two females tend to get along just fine in the amount of space provided in a single bin within a standard sized rack system.

We don’t recommend keeping more than a single snake of any species within a single bin. The bins are just too small and the snakes will end up feeling stressed and competing for resources.

-Don’t the animals escape since there are no lids or screens?

The short answer to this question is yes, the animals can escape due to the more open nature of the rack system.

Because the plastic tubs or bins that house individual animals don’t usually have lids, some more tenacious and stubborn reptiles can and will find ways to climb over the edges of the bins and out into the real world.

There really is no guaranteed way to avoid this other than keeping a close eye on your animals and making sure that all their needs are met so they have little to no reason to seek outside stimulus.

We recommend checking each bin at least twice daily if not more. And as you learn the personalities of your individual animals, you will learn to watch out for the trickier ones who might be more inclined to be escape artists.

Conclusion

Rack systems are efficient for serious reptile hobbyists who intend to keep many animals or start breeding projects of their own. They take up less space than keeping multiple large cages would and they give convenient and easy access to the animals all in one place.

We hope this tutorial on setting up reptile rack systems has proved helpful. If there’s anything we didn’t cover or if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments!

How to Care for Pet Crocodilians and Pet Monitor Lizards

Most pet reptiles sold by Backwater Reptiles can live comfortably within a tank or enclosure that maxes out around twenty gallons. However, there are some really amazing reptiles that people keep as pets that grow rather large.

While we definitely feel that these large pet reptiles make rewarding pets, it’s very true that they are not necessarily the best animals for beginners to the reptile hobby. For obvious reasons, they are also not good pets for people who have limited space, live in compact city environments, or don’t have the physical capabilities to transport such large animals when they need to leave the house (i.e. take a trip to the vet).

In this article, we will discuss our favorite large pet reptiles. We’ll go into detail about how to care for them, the pros and cons of keeping such large animals, and what is required to keep these amazing reptiles happy and healthy in captivity.

Crocodilians

We want to preface this section about pet crocodilians by making it very clear that we are NOT endorsing alligators, caimans, and other crocodilians as pets for just anyone. These animals can not only be dangerous, they have very specific care requirements in captivity that make them suitable for very special owners who can meet and understand their needs.

So please, if you are interested in owning a pet crocodilian, do your research and be prepared to handle the animal when it attains its full size.

When considering a pet crocodilian, it’s also necessary to be sure that it is actually legal to own this type of animal within your state, city, and county. Check with your local fish and wildlife department and obtain any necessary permits before adopting.

Creating a Crocodilian Enclosure

Of all the large pet reptiles discussed in this article, crocodilians are certainly the most difficult to maintain. They require a large habitat with both land and water elements as well as a specific protein-based diet and warm temperatures. In the long run, they are costly and their enclosures require quite a bit more effort to maintain and keep clean.

Even caimans, which are considered small by crocodilian standards, grow to be around five feet long. They will need an enclosure that is at least several times their body length with both aquatic and land elements. Crocodilians do spend most of their time in the water, but they do need a dry area to emerge to bask.

Despite rumors indicating otherwise, crocodilians do not stop growing to fit the size of their enclosure. So if you’re not prepared, your crocodilian can and will outgrow its home. If you don’t enlarge your pet’s space as it grows, its health and life span can be compromised.

american alligator
Pictured is a baby American alligator. They grow to be quite large pets and require dual wet/dry habitats, so please do your research and make sure you can care for an alligator or other crocodilian species before you adopt.

So, how big should a crocodilian’s home be then? We recommend that the width and length of the cage, tank, or terrarium be at least three to four times the animal’s length, but the larger, the better. Your crocodilian should be able to swim around and walk around comfortably in both portions of the enclosure.

Hatchling and juvenile crocodilians tend to start out small enough to fit comfortably in glass tanks that are readily available at commercial pet stores. But be advised that as your pet outgrows the tank, odds are you will need to have some sort of custom enclosure built to keep your pet at its peak health. You’ll be hard-pressed to find the proper housing for a medium to large-sized croc at any brick and mortar store.

What to Feed Your Crocodilian

In the wild, caimans and alligators are very opportunistic predators who will eat pretty much anything they can get their jaws on. Obviously, the type of prey varies based on the size of the animal. Juveniles tend to consume foods such as insects, fish, and small amphibian and reptiles. Adults eat everything from birds to mammals. They’ll even eat crayfish and mollusks when obtainable.

The most important thing to keep in mind when feeding your pet crocodilian is that they will eat pretty much whatever you feed them, so you’ll need to balance their diet and make sure that your pet is getting all the proper nutrients in the correct doses.

In the wild, crocodilians eat entire animals and are able to therefore ingest all the minerals, vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients that are essential to their health. The best diet for a captive crocodilian is one that replicates what they eat in the wild – entire prey animals. So if your pet is large enough, whole chickens, rodents, and other feeder animals varied at meal times is a great place to start. Juveniles do well on a varied diet of fish and chopped up meat.

Handling Your Crocodilian

Caimans and other crocodilians are generally “look don’t touch” pets. However, there are some owners who actively interact with their croc. It’s generally accepted that the amount of handling will vary from owner to owner and animal to animal depending on temperament.

If you do plan to interact with your crocodilian on a regular basis, we highly recommend starting from a young age to get the animal accustomed to you. This will also make it easier when it comes time to clean your pet’s home.

dwarf caiman
Dwarf caiman are the world’s smallest crocodilian species. Males max out around five feet long.

Please be aware that although you can handle your crocodilian, it is always a risky move. There is ample opportunity to be bitten. We recommend having plenty of experience with these types of animals before owning one as a pet and taking preventative safety measures (i.e. wearing gloves and occasionally taping the animal’s mouth shut if need be) in order to safely move your pet from place to place.

Monitor Lizards 

Although they do grow quite large, there are many species of monitor lizards that can be trained to be friendly family pets. Some Savannahs and Black Throats can be trained to go for walks on leashes, watch television with their owner, and even go on road trips. They can prove to be quite interactive companions with proper husbandry and attention.

Creating a Monitor Enclosure

The best thing to keep in mind when it comes to your pet monitor’s home is that size is extremely important. Bigger is definitely better, even for the juveniles and babies. It’s always a good idea to go with the biggest cage possible.

When your monitor is young, you can likely make due with a large, commercially-produced tank or enclosure purchased from a pet store. However, once your monitor reaches six or more feet long, it’s likely that you’ll have to order a specially built enclosure or, if you’re handy, build a cage on your own.

A large monitor should have an enclosure that is at least eight feet long, three feet wide, and six feet high. Many people construct cages using two-by-fours, wire screen, and plywood to meet these dimensions. But, we’ve even heard of specialty homes for pet monitors where entire walk in closets have been specially modified with screen doors and proper ventilation in order to give the monitor plenty of space and comfort.

No matter what size your monitor is when you purchase it, please do your research and be prepared to handle it when it grows to its full potential.

What to Feed Your Monitor

In the wild, monitors are opportunistic hunters. They will eat virtually anything appetizing that fits in their mouth. The primary diet of each monitor species varies from habitat to habitat, but the most commonly consumed monitor meals are: eggs, birds, small mammals and rodents, crustaceans, fish,  and even other smaller reptiles.

Monitor lizards of all species, sizes, and genders require a balanced diet in order to stay healthy. Nearly all will have ravenous appetites and consume virtually any food you give them, so it is up to you as an owner to be sure you are feeding nutrient rich meals that cover all the bases when it comes to vitamins, minerals, and protein.

So what are acceptable foods for pet monitors?

Juvenile and hatchling monitors are pretty easy to feed. They will readily eat insects such as crickets, roaches, reptiworms, and waxworms. Gut loaded insects are the best option as they are fed nutritionally dense food in order to be as nourishing as possible for your pet.

Pet monitors of all sizes can also be fed commercially produced pellets from the pet store. While these pre-packaged food items are certainly nutritionally dense, we don’t recommend making them your monitor’s only food source. It is always a good idea to vary the food your lizard eats.

Mice and rats are also good in moderation. We highly recommend using frozen rodents that have been thawed as it is safer and more humane for all parties involved in the feeding process. Believe it or not, live rodents can actually put up quite a fight and harm your monitor.

Many other common super market food items can also be fed to your monitor. Raw chicken, fish, shrimp, turkey, and eggs are all acceptable options. The only thing to keep in mind when feeding any type of meat is that  you will need to cut up or chop the meat into acceptably sized pieces. Most monitors gulp their food without chewing, so anything that is too large can cause impaction in the gut and an unwanted trip to the vet.

As with most pet of all kinds, a water dish is a requirement for all monitor species. Not only will your monitor drink water, but a water dish allows for soaking and aids with making sure the environment is humid enough.

Handling Your Monitor

As we’ve already mentioned, pet monitors can be far more interactive than a pet crocodilian. If you handle your monitor regularly from a young age, you can train it to become very docile and accustomed to human interaction.

Monitors are very intelligent as far as reptiles are concerned and they can sense discomfort, fear, and anxiety in their owners, so be sure that you approach your monitor with a calm demeanor and patience.

mangrove monitor
Pictured is a baby mangrove monitor (Varanus indicus). While some monitor species can be tougher to tame than others, most will acclimate to human interaction very well by the time they are fully grown if they are handled and interacted with regularly as hatchlings and juveniles.

Baby monitor lizards can be skittish and fearful, so it is best to handle them on a daily basis in a routine manner so that they learn to associate human interaction with a reward. Offering a treat item before, during, or directly after being picked up, handled, or otherwise played with is a great way to reinforce positivity and teach them that being removed from their enclosure is nothing to be afraid of.

Savannah monitors are particularly known for being “dog-like” in their interactions with their owners. As they mature and grow larger, many enjoy being walked outdoors on a leash and soaking up sunshine. They enjoy bath time, anticipate meal time, and enjoy sitting on their owner’s lap during down time. Many Savannahs will even fall asleep with their owner on the couch – just Google it!

Conclusion

Both monitors and crocodilians are very different as pets. Crocodilians are best as “look don’t touch” animals whereas many species of monitors actually thrive when allowed to bond with their owner.

The one thing that both large reptile species have in common when it comes to a life in captivity is that they both require large, often times specially built enclosures. They are active animals and will need plenty of space to accommodate their size and habits.

Again, although this article is dedicated to keeping these amazing reptiles in captivity, we can’t stress enough that if you are considering getting either a crocodilian or a monitor lizard as a pet that you do your research and be one hundred percent prepared to care for the animal for the duration of its life. This includes being fully prepared for their voracious appetites and extremely fast growth rates.

How To Help Your Snake Shed Its Skin

Every snake owner knows that as their pet grows it will shed its skin. Normally, this process is accomplished quickly, easily, and without any issues. However, some snake species are prone to “bad” sheds or problem sheds where the entire skin does not come off in one neat, tubular piece.

Because incomplete sheds can become a health issue for a pet snake of any species, we’re dedicating this article to explaining what we do to remedy this problem at the Backwater Reptiles facility.

The Ideal Shedding Process

A normal shed occurs when a snake’s skin comes off in one single, tubular, opaque piece. It’s a very cool process and when your pet snake has completed a shed successfully, you actually have a really cool souvenir.

When a snake sheds its skin normally, the process is referred to as ecdysis. When the process doesn’t go smoothly and the skin sheds in flakes, pieces, or fails to come off properly in any way, the proper term becomes dysecdysis.

black blood python
Healthy snakes with proper husbandry and humidity in their enclosure should shed their skin in one solid piece.

You can tell your pet snake is preparing to shed its skin because not only will its behavior change, its physical appearance will also change.

Many snakes will go into hiding prior to shedding. They will retreat into their hide box and tend to stay pretty immobile most of the time. They might also become aggressive or refuse food if you offer it. But don’t worry. If you notice your snake has become lethargic, you can also detect changes in its physical appearance that will tell you that your pet is not ill, but just preparing to shed.

Prior to shedding, snakes will develop grey, cloudy looking eyes. You will also notice that their skin appears duller in nature. For instance, many snakes have shiny, iridescent scales. You will be able to see them become less brilliant in color and the iridescence may disappear altogether.

Side note: When you notice the signs that your snake is preparing to shed, you should handle it as little as possible. You also should avoid feeding as odds are the snake won’t eat the food being offered anyway.

Often times, your pet snake will shed without you even being aware of the process. You might notice a change in behavior and appearance one day, go to sleep, and wake up the next morning with a clean tube of snake skin waiting for you in the cage.

Solution Number One – Giving Your Pet Snake a Bath

If you do notice that your snake has shed some skin but not cleanly, the first solution we’d recommend would be to provide a large soaking dish within your snake’s cage if there is not already one provided. Often times problem sheds are caused by lack of humidity, so providing a bowl or water dish where your snake can go to naturally remedy the problem is a good place to start.

But what if you have an arboreal snake that doesn’t necessarily enjoy a good soak? Well, then you may just have to help the snake by giving it a bath or confining it to a sealed container with water for a time.

We recommend manually giving the snake a bath only if you know your snake has a pleasant temperament. You don’t want to try bathing and removing stuck skin on a grumpy snake.

If your snake is small enough, calm enough, and receptive enough to a manual bath, then fill a bowl or basin with lukewarm water. You want to be careful the water is not too cold or too hot as you don’t want to shock the snake’s system. Carefully immerse the snake in the water while making sure its head doesn’t get submerged. Many small snakes will let you hold them and dip them in the water. You can also dribble water over the snake while holding it if your snake doesn’t enjoy being in the water fully.

While manually bathing, it’s also useful to massage the snake’s body where the problem skin resides. Generally, once the skin has moistened, it will loosen naturally and you can gently rub it off.

If your snake is too large for the manual bath method or gets grumpy easily, then obtain a container with a lid that is large enough to hold your snake. Fill the container with enough lukewarm water so that your snake is submerged as much as possible but does not have to swim. You don’t want your snake to drown!

Once your container holds the appropriate amount of water, it can be helpful to place a rough object in the pool with the snake. This is because the snake will rub against it, either intentionally or unintentionally, and this will help remove the remaining skin. We’d recommend a textured rock or brick – just be sure there are no sharp edges for the snake to injure itself on.

The final step is obviously to place your snake in the container and shut the lid so that it has no choice but to hydrate. We always recommend standing by or placing the container somewhere it is always visible. It is never wise to leave a soaking reptile of any kind unattended, despite taking all the proper precautions.

If all goes well with the confined soak, you should be able to gently slough off any remaining skin pieces very easily after about fifteen to thirty minutes without harming the snake.

Solution Number Two – Putting a Rough or Coarse Object in the Snake’s Enclosure

Sometimes all a snake needs in order to complete a tough shed is something rough to rub itself against.

If you’ve noticed your snake soaking itself, placing a rough object in the cage is probably the easiest and most low maintenance solution.

Just like with the manual bath/soak method, a textured stone or a piece of brick can work wonders. As previously mentioned, please be sure that even though the object is rough that there are no sharp edges for the snake to cut itself on.

Once the object is in the cage, keep a close eye on the progress of the snake. If the problem skin still isn’t fully coming off, you can always try a confined soak or manual bath to finish off the process.

Solution Number Three – Use a Commercial Shed Aid 

If all else fails, there are actually commercially produced reptile shed aid solutions that can assist your snake through a tough shed.

These products are essentially “snake conditioners” and can be used in conjunction with the soak/bath method.

You can use the products by adding them to the snake’s bath itself, or you can lightly coat your snake after it has had a bath to help remove any remaining skin pieces.

We’d like to make note that we prefer the natural method of lukewarm water because nine times out of ten, this method will eliminate any stuck pieces of skin.

Troublesome Eye Caps

One aspect of problematic sheds that we’d like to touch upon specifically is what to do when your snake doesn’t properly shed its eye caps. Just for reference, the eye caps, or spectacles as some like to call them, are the scales that cover the snake’s eyes. Because snakes lack eyelids, they have a special scale to protect and keep their eyes moist. This scale can often stay put during problem sheds and can require special tactics to remove safely.

Retained eye caps can occur with both normal and problematic sheds. If you notice after any kind of shedding that your snake’s eyes are still cloudy, you might have to intervene and remove the eye caps yourself.

Because your snake’s vision will be impaired, sometimes it will make the necessary efforts to remove the retained spectacle itself. You may have to do nothing at all. We recommend making sure there are rough surfaces for the snake to rub on within its enclosure and waiting a day or two after noticing the problem. If the eye cap is still present, then you should make efforts to remove it manually.

bull snake pre-shed
Although this bull snake is only in pre-shed mode, a retained eye cap will look cloudy and grey like this snake’s eyes. It may also appear somewhat wrinkled.

Make sure that you are confident and comfortable handling your pet snake before you attempt to remove retained eye caps by yourself. It requires patience, confidence, and a knowledge of your snake’s mannerisms and temperament.

The first thing you should do is to moisten the eye cap. Because snakes don’t like to have their heads submerged under water, we recommend dribbling lukewarm water onto the affected eye cap and allowing it to sink in as much as possible. Next, gently rub the eye cap with a q-tip or fingertip. Make sure you have a light touch. This is simply to attempt to begin the process as you will usually need tweezers to completely remove the eye cap.

After you’ve softly rubbed the retained cap enough that you can see an edge, very carefully  grip the loosened edge with your blunt tweezers. Please don’t use sharp or pointy tweezers because if your snake jerks or moves, it could spell disaster. Very slowly remove the retained spectacle using the tweezers. Don’t pry – if it is not coming off with gentle manipulation, it needs to be moistened more or your snake might need to make a trip to the vet.

Make sure to monitor your snake’s behavior closely during this entire process. Many snakes will sit calmly through the process, but others will not like you being that close to their head and may start to show signs of aggression, even if they are normally well-behaved.

It will take some time and lots of patience, but with proper moistening and effort, you should be able to remove the eye cap safely.

Side note: If your snake has several layers of unshed eye caps (usually only happens with poor husbandry habits), or if it is known for being aggressive, it’s probably best to take the snake to your local veterinarian. They will be able to properly anesthetize the animal and remove the eye caps during that time.

Preventing Future Problematic Sheds

The number one reason why snakes have issues with shedding is that their enclosure is not humid enough. Although different species from different habitats will obviously require different humidity levels, most species tend to need anywhere from fifty to seventy percent humidity.

Once you have determined the proper humidity level that is required for your species of snake, there are several things you can do to maintain this humidity.

The number one thing is to make sure your snake has a water dish! This should be common sense as snakes do actually drink water, but having water present in the snake’s immediate environment is key. You can also place an under the tank heating mat directly underneath the water source to help speed evaporation and therefore increase humidity within the cage.

Another option is to include a moisture box in your snake’s home. What this usually entails is creating a separate hide box and filling it with a substrate that retains moisture well such as sphagnum moss or moist paper towels. Be sure to check your moisture box frequently for mold though as you don’t want to unintentionally create a toxic environment for your snake.

And lastly, instead of altering the humidity levels within the snake’s cage, you can actually change the humidity within the room itself. Just go to any drug store or big box retailer and buy a humidifier. A hygrometer can help you measure the humidity in the room to make sure it is at the proper level for your snake.

Helping Large or Temperamental Snakes Through Problem Sheds

If your snake is very large, or if it has a bad temper, it might simply be wisest to take the snake to the vet to assist with an incomplete shed. This is particularly true if you are having trouble with retained eye caps.

However, this is pretty much going to be up to the discretion of the owner. Most snakes will put up with a certain level of handling, even if they do have a testy disposition.

We would however recommend that you wear leather gloves or some other form of protection if you know that your snake is prone to biting.

Conclusion

Snakes make wonderful pets, but like all reptiles, it’s very possible that you will have to deal with an incomplete or problem shed at some point during your snake’s life.

This article is intended to help out should your own pet snake encounter this issue as well as help prevent this issue from occurring in the first place.

If you have any other tips or suggestions for how you’ve helped your own snake through a difficult shed, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

 

Boas, Pythons, and Anacondas in Captivity

Boas, pythons, and anacondas are all fascinating species of constrictor snakes. But do you know what makes them similar? What about what makes them different from one another?

In this article, we’ll discuss pythons, boas, and anacondas. We’ll cover what defines each as a species, how to care for each in captivity, and hopefully help you make an informed decision as to which species would work best as a pet in your own household.

Boas

 

Common Attributes and Traits of Boas

The group of snakes commonly referred to as boas all hail from the family Boidae. This family includes approximately fifty plus species of snakes that attain medium to large lengths.

The Boidae family is further divided into three subfamilies – the true boas (subfamily Boinae), the sand boas (subfamily Erycinae), and the dwarf boas (subfamily Ungaliophiinae). Each of these subfamilies possesses its own unique set of characteristics that sets it apart from the other subfamilies.

Boas are considered “primitive” snakes, meaning that they still retain a number of vestigial anatomical features.

Vestigial features of boas include the remnants of a pelvic girdle and vestigial legs, or cloacal “spurs” as they are more accurately described. The pelvic girdle in most animals consists of the hip bones and supports and attaches the legs, however most non-primitive species of snakes have evolved beyond  this adaptation since obviously snakes have no use for it due to their lack of limbs.

Cloacal spurs are essentially the remnants of rear limbs. As you can surmise from the naming of this vestigial appendage, the spurs are located on either side of the snake’s vent or cloaca. They actually attach to the remnants of the vestigial pelvic girdle and thus are also commonly referred to as vestigial “limbs” although they are far from normal legs in terms of physical appearance.

clocal spurs
Pictured are the cloacal spurs of a ball python. They appear much the same in boas.

Cloacal spurs can actually be used to help determine a boa’s gender. Males tend to have larger cloacal spurs than females.

Most species of boa are ovoviviparous, which means that they give birth to live young rather than lay eggs that hatch at a later date. This also distinguishes them from most species of snakes which tend to reproduce by laying eggs.

Keeping Boas in Captivity as Pets

Boas are very common pet reptiles with the most well-known species being the common boa constrictor (Boa c. imperator). They are known for their generally docile demeanors and they tend to acclimate well to human interaction.

Not all species of boas attain large sizes, however the common boa constrictor and other popular species can grow to be up to ten feet long. They also live for twenty to thirty years on average, so please be sure that you are able to care for such a snake before purchasing one.

dumerils boa
Dumeril’s boas (Boa dumerili) don’t usually exceed six feet in length and are widely considered to be one of the most docile species of boa.

The housing needs of most boa species are relatively simple. First and foremost, you’ll need to be sure that the enclosure is large enough, particularly if you are not caring for a juvenile snake. You will also need a hide space, a water/soaking dish, appropriate substrate, and reliable heating source(s).

Like most snakes, nearly all species of boas kept as pets should be fed appropriately-sized mice or rats. Rodents can be purchased from pet stores and we prefer to feed our snakes frozen/thawed over live mice. It’s much simpler and safer for the snake as well.

Did You Know…?

-The Boidae family includes the largest species of snake in the world – anacondas. We’ve dedicated an entire section of this article to anacondas. Read on to find out more!

-All boas are nonvenomous. Rather than develop venom to paralyze or incapacitate their prey, they kill their food by constriction.

-Boas can be found worldwide in tropical and sub-tropical climates, however they are not present in Australia.

-Boas eat a wide range of food depending on the species. The most common diet in the wild for the majority of species includes small mammals (i.e. rats, mice, rabbits, squirrels, etc.), but they are also avid eaters of frogs, smaller snakes, and even lizards.

Pythons

Common Attributes and Traits of Pythons

Like boas, pythons are constrictors. They tend to be ambush predators who wait for a prey item to come along, lunge, and then perform their signature constriction.

Also similar to boas, pythons possess vestigial cloacal spurs (AKA vestigial limbs) and the remnants of a pelvic girdle. Feel free to refer to the above section on boa characteristics to refresh your memory on what purpose these vestigial organs serve.

Pythons tend to have slightly different frames than boas do. They have stocky, bulky bodies regardless of their length and size. Their heads are triangular in shape and they have serrated, backward-pointing teeth that aid in gripping prey. They also possess heat sensing labial pits that allow them to detect and capture prey more efficiently.

Another interesting trait of the python family is that snakes in this family have two lungs. This seems normal to us, but in reality, it is considered primitive as far as snakes are concerned because most snake species have evolved to only have a single lung.

We’ve established that boas give birth to live babies, but pythons do not. Pythons are oviparous, which means that the females lay eggs in order to reproduce. And pythons are actually pretty good mothers…at least until the babies are born. Once she’s laid her eggs, the female will coil around them to protect them, maintain proper temperature levels, and can even “shiver” in order to generate heat for her clutch if necessary. However, once the hatchlings have emerged from their eggs, the mother python will provide no further care.

Keeping Pythons in Captivity

Like most snakes kept as pets, pythons don’t require a lot of maintenance in order to stay healthy and happy. As with all large snakes, probably the most important aspect of their care is to be sure that the snake has a big enough enclosure that allows it to move about properly as well as feel secure and safe.

Some pythons are arboreal, while others are more terrestrial. Do your research when purchasing an enclosure for your own python and be sure that if you have a terrestrial python you are providing enough floor space. The opposite is also true if you have an arboreal python – you will need to provide more vertical space and items to climb on and wrap around.

leucistic ball python
Ball pythons like this blue-eyed leucistic ball python make excellent pet snakes. They are docile and due to captive breeding efforts, they have become quite accustomed to living with people.

Pythons are pretty clean snakes, particularly ball pythons, so as long as you provide a good substrate, you should only need to spot clean as the animal defecates. A thorough cage cleaning should only be necessary once per month or every six weeks.

Just like boas, pythons will eat mice or rats in captivity. No vitamin dusting is necessary. But keep in mind that pythons can be pickier eaters than boas. Because they can be shy and secretive, you might have to feed your python live rodents instead of frozen ones. This will depend on the personality of your snake as well as what species you own.

Did You Know…?

-The reticulated python (Python reticulatus) can grow to exceed twenty feet in length. This is the largest species of python.

-The anthill python, also known as Australia’s pygmy python, is the smallest documented species of python. It usually doesn’t grow larger than three feet long.

-There are approximately forty documented python species all within the family Pythonidae. Also included in the python family are Mexican burrowing pythons (Lococemidae) and sunbeam snakes (Xenopeltidae).

-Burmese pythons are another very large species of snake that can exceed twenty feet in length. Due to being released into the wild in Florida, they have actually come to be considered an invasive species. They are a top predator and can even consume alligators!

Anacondas

Common Attributes and Traits of Anacondas

Anacondas are actually members of the boa family (family Boidae) and belong to the genus Eunectes.

There are four known species of anaconda – the green anaconda (Eunectes murinus), the yellow anaconda (Eunectes notaeus), the Bolivian anaconda (Eunectes beniensis), and the dark-spotted anaconda (Eunectes deschauenseei).

Anacondas spend most of their time in and around bodies of water where they ambush prey and constrict to kill it like boas and pythons.

Like boas, anacondas give birth to live young and are considered “primitive” snakes because they possess vestigial cloacal spurs and the remnants of a pelvic girdle.

Keeping Anacondas in Captivity

Because they can grow to such massive sizes, anacondas do not make great pets for most people. It takes dedication, space, patience, and knowledge to be able to successfully and safely keep a pet anaconda. We only recommend these snakes for experienced herp hobbyists who understand the extensive care requirements of these large snakes.

green anaconda
Although anacondas are “cool” snakes to own due in part to hype from the media, they are definitely not for beginners. Be sure to check your local laws to make sure it is legal to own one in your region before purchasing.

It is actually illegal to purchase and/or own a pet anaconda in many areas of the United States, so please do your research before buying an anaconda of any species. If you’re unsure of your state’s laws, be sure to check with your local fish and wildlife department.

If you are fully prepared to tackle a pet anaconda, we recommend starting off with a juvenile. Young snakes tend to have fewer parasites and more docile temperaments. Plus if you start handling your anaconda and training it to be accustomed to human interaction, it will grow up to be a more tame and manageable pet.

Be aware that anacondas have long life spans and we can’t stress enough that they grow to be enormous animals that will need to eat enormous food. Be prepared not only to provide a large enclosure for your pet anaconda, but large prey items as well. A large, captive anaconda will eat anything from rabbits to chickens, so a strong stomach is required.

Did You Know…?

-The green anaconda (Eunectes murinus) is the most well-known species of anaconda. It can grow to surpass twenty-five feet in length and weigh over five hundred pounds, although more commonly documented weights are between one hundred fifty and two hundred pounds.

-Because anacondas are so heavy and can consume such large meals, wild snakes may not need to eat for an entire month after consuming a good-sized meal.

-There is much debate on whether or not the anaconda can be labelled as a “man-eater.” While they can certainly grow large enough to eat a human being and they do eat deer, pigs, and other large animals in the wild, tales of anacondas consuming people are few and far between and most likely exaggerated. In reality, the natural habitats of man and anaconda don’t overlap too much so the possibility of an anaconda eating a human is pretty low.

Conclusion

While boas, pythons, and anacondas are very similar in terms of care requirements, temperament, and even morphology, they don’t all make equally good pets.

Many species of boa can grow quite large, while many species of python can get quite heavy. Do your research and keep in mind that constrictor snakes don’t stay small for long. Like any pet, you’ll want to be sure that you can commit to both the time and maintenance required to keep the animal healthy for the duration of its life.

And please remember, although anacondas are extremely cool snakes and many people would be thrilled to show one off as a pet, these large predators are best suited for experienced reptile enthusiasts with plenty of space. Anacondas are strong, hefty snakes and they have the potential to be deadly, so they must be respected and anyone who owns one must be prepared to accept the responsibility of caring for one.

Best Pet Reptiles and Amphibians for Kids

Is your son or daughter interested in a pet reptile or amphibian? Are you unsure where to start when it comes to choosing a suitable herp companion?

Well, search no further! This article is dedicated to covering the animals we think are the best pet reptiles and amphibians for kids in terms of care level, responsibility, and hands-on interaction.

But please, keep in mind that adopting a pet reptile or amphibian is just as much responsibility as owning a traditional pet such as a cat or dog. While exotic animals like the ones on our list might require slightly less maintenance on a daily basis, they are still a life-long commitment, so it goes without saying that we do highly recommend that your child is fully prepared and ready to handle any pet before you purchase.

Best Pet Reptiles for Kids

Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularius)

Not only would we recommend leopard geckos as excellent pets for kids, we’d also say that they make great starter herps for people who are just jumping into the world of keeping reptiles. They are generally healthy animals with a great history of being captive bred which means they’re accustomed to a life with people and take well to being handled by kids.

Leopard geckos are ground-dwelling, desert lizards with simple needs. All you will need to successfully keep a single leopard gecko happy is at least a twenty gallon-sized tank, substrate, heat source, water dish, and food.

Many reptiles with track records of being bred in captivity are now available in seemingly countless morphs or phases. This means that the animals have been selectively bred to exhibit specific traits, colors, or markings. Leopard geckos have a high success rate of captive breeding and there are so many morphs on the market that it can be hard to choose a favorite!

super snow morph leopard gecko
This leopard gecko is a super snow morph, which is an exaggerated version of the Snow/Mack Snow morph. This morph is known for its bold black and white tones and black eyes, but there are a seemingly infinite amount of morphs on the market from breeders these days.

If you are interested in learning more about that basics of leopard gecko morphs, including what the most popular and well-known varieties look like, we actually have an entire blog article dedicated to this very topic. There’s a leopard gecko morph for all aesthetic tastes!

Caring for a leopard gecko is also really easy. Most desert substrates only require spot cleaning as feces or dead bugs collect every other day or so. A full tank cleaning is generally only required once a month. So cage maintenance is simple and uncomplicated.

Leopard geckos don’t require a full-spectrum UV light, so there is no need to worry about lighting the enclosure and replacing bulbs every six months. In fact, bright lights can actually be too harsh for leopard geckos, so we only recommend a heat lamp.

Your cage will also require a hiding place or two, a water dish, and a dish for live insects such as mealworms. You can decorate with fake plants and other accessories if you desire, but it’s really not necessary. Remember – the more items in your animal’s cage, the more items you have to clean!

Want a guide on exactly how to set up your leopard gecko’s enclosure? Guess what? We’ve also got an entire blog article dedicated to that topic! We highly recommend reading it if you are a first time leopard gecko owner.

You don’t need to search very far if you’ve decided a leopard gecko is the right fit for your child. Backwater Reptiles has many different leopard gecko morphs for sale.

Cherry Head Red Foot Tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria)

While there are many species of tortoise that would all make agreeable pets for children, we’ve selected the cherry head red foot as our top pick mainly because it stays a very manageable size even when fully grown. Some tortoise species, such as the sulcata, can grow to very large sizes and weigh upwards of one hundred pounds, but a cherry head red foot tortoise won’t surpass eleven to fourteen inches in length making them the perfect size for children to be able to handle them without issues.

Cherry head red foot tortoises are known to have curious personalities. They aren’t shy or frightful reptiles and so interaction with people of all ages shouldn’t pose any problems.

Many parents also like keeping tortoises of any species for their children because tortoises are primarily vegetarian, even if they occasionally ingest an insect or two while grazing. This means there is no need to go to the pet store to pick up crickets or any other type of invertebrate and ultimately a much simpler meal time.

cherry head red foot tortoise
Cherry head red foot tortoises are named for their bright red-colored feet and heads. They thrive in outdoor pens but can also be kept indoors.

Cherry head red foot tortoises will eat many types of veggies and fruits such as spring mix lettuce and berries, but commercially produced tortoise pellets are also perfectly acceptable. They have strong appetites and children really enjoy watching them chow down at breakfast, lunch, or dinner time.

Adult red foots can be kept outdoors provided the weather stays reasonable. Make sure that if it gets colder than fifty degrees you have a heated area or hide box available. Shaded areas are equally important during summer time.

Baby and juvenile red foots are best housed indoors. This keeps them safe from predators, allows you and your children to monitor their diet closely, and also facilitates more human interaction. Luckily, creating an indoor habitat for a young cherry head red foot tortoise is very easy. Your tortoise’s enclosure can be something as simple as a plastic sweaterbox, provided the walls are tall enough to prevent the tortoise from climbing out. What’s more important to your tortoise’s health is a good substrate, UV lighting, a heated area, and proper cage “furniture.”

Backwater Reptiles does sell captive bred cherry head red foot tortoises.

Best Pet Amphibians for Kids

Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum)

While salamanders in general probably aren’t the best pets for children due to their secretive nature, aversion to being held, and tendency to spend most of their time hiding, tiger salamanders are the exception. They are the largest of the land-based salamanders and they have docile dispositions with quirky personalities.

We’ve seen many tiger salamanders come to recognize their owner. When the cage opens for meal time, it’s not uncommon for them to come running in anticipation of their meal. Many will even take insects from their owner’s fingers with some training. They are quite entertaining at meal time.

tiger salamander
Tiger salamanders are burrowers, but they enjoy meal time and will emerge from hiding for food. They can even be trained to accept insects from your fingers!

A pet tiger salamander doesn’t require a tall enclosure. They are burrowers so a tank with horizontal floor space is more important than vertical climbing space. It’s also very important that you choose a proper substrate to facilitate their burrowing behavior. We recommend a commercial topsoil mix free of any additives or chemicals that you can find at most hardware stores. However, coconut fiber will also work. You want something that allows the salamander to burrow and that also retains plenty of moisture. The substrate should feel moist when you pick some up in your fist, but shouldn’t be dripping wet.

If you want your children to be able to see your tiger salamander and not have to dig into the substrate to uncover him/her, we recommend investing in some lightweight hides that the salamander can burrow directly underneath. That way, rather than digging for your salamander, you just have to lift up the hide and your salamander should be waiting for you underneath.

Your salamander’s enclosure should be kept in the temperature range of fifty to seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit. You can provide a gentle, soft light, although it’s not necessary and is really only for the owner’s benefit, not the salamander’s.

If you think a tiger salamander is a good fit for your child, Backwater Reptiles has healthy medium to large-sized ones for sale.

Pixie Frog (Pyxicephalus adspersus)

Pixie frogs are known for being the second largest frog in the world. They are very humorous to observe and their appetites are seemingly endless. They make great pets and your child will enjoy watching his or her pixie grow into a monster frog.

Not only are pixie frogs entertaining amphibians with long life spans (fifteen years is not unheard of), they are pretty simple to care for. They don’t need much in terms of cage accessories, lighting, or temperature gradients and simpler is usually better when it comes to pixie enclosures.

A single juvenile frog can be kept in a ten gallon tank, while adults will need at least a twenty gallon. Because pixies enjoy burrowing, we do recommend lining your tank with coconut fiber and sphagnum moss. These substrates will not only help maintain proper moisture levels, but they are also visually appealing.

young pixie frog
Pixie frog hatchlings are hardly bigger than a silver dollar, but they grow quickly! Pictured is a two to three inch frog next to a quarter for scale.

You don’t need to provide many cage accessories for your pixie frog as they do tend to topple fake plants and decorations. However, lightweight hides that won’t harm your frog if they fall over or are burrowed beneath are always nice touches.

A water dish large enough to allow your pixie to sit inside of it is a necessity. Pixies enjoy a good soak and can actually spend a considerable amount of time in their water dish. Just keep an eye on the water for cleanliness as frogs and other reptiles and amphibians are known to defecate and urinate in their water sources.

As we’ve already established, pixie frogs have impressive appetites and children will love watching them eat. But what exactly do pixie frogs eat?

In short, pixie frogs will eat pretty much anything that fits into their mouth! They are piggies and will eat to the point of obesity, so pixie owners must be careful about how often and how much their frog consumes.

We recommend a varied diet that consists of insects such as crickets, roaches, wax worms, horn worms, and reptiworms. Be sure to dust your pixie’s insects with vitamin supplements once or twice per week, particularly if you have a juvenile frog that is still growing.

Once your pixie has grown up and reached maturity, it will be large enough to eat mice! However, as we’ve previously mentioned, pixies are prone to obesity and overeating, so we recommend avoiding feeding them mice. Because mammals possess much higher fat levels than invertebrates, if you feed your pixie mice regularly, it will not only cause it to gain weight rapidly, it can also be hard on the frog’s internal organs.

If you think a pixie frog sounds like the perfect pet for your child, head to the Backwater Reptiles website. We’ve got healthy, captive bred specimens for sale.

Conclusion – Best Pet Reptiles and Amphibians For Kids

We love all reptiles and amphibians, however not all of these amazing animals would make good pets for children. We’ve compiled this list of four reptiles and amphibians that we think are the most suitable companions for kids and provided some insight as to how to care for them and what is involved in keeping one as a pet.

However, keep in mind that this list of the animals we think would make good matches for kids certainly isn’t exclusive. Children have all sorts of personalities and parents can certainly have different experience levels with herps themselves. Our list is just intended as a jumping off point for parents who might not know where to start or who are unsure what species would mesh best with their own family.

What do you think? What was the first reptile or amphibian you purchased for your children? How did the experience work out? Are there any reptiles or amphibians you would recommend for kids? Let us know in the comments!

What To Do If Your Pet Reptile Or Amphibian Escapes

You might not be aware of this, but many reptiles, amphibians, and even pet invertebrates are known to be escape artists! If you accidentally leave their cage unlatched or the screen door slightly ajar, they can and will take advantage of the opportunity to take themselves out for a stroll around your house.

Often times, good owners who keep a regular eye on their pets will notice their missing critter right away and no harm will come to the animal. However, because there is always the possibility that a loose lizard, snake, or tarantula could injure itself or another family member (human or non-human), we wanted to take the time to write this article that will hopefully help you out should you ever find yourself in this sticky situation.

What to do if your pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate escapes its enclosure

The first thing we’d like to say is don’t panic! This is not an uncommon occurrence and odds are your missing pet will turn up safe and sound. They can only journey so far within your home and with patience and the proper “hunting” tactics, you’ll likely locate him or her in a timely manner.

what to do if your reptile escapes
Snakes are notorious escape artists. They can be sneaky and they are rather skilled at pushing up screens and squeezing through small spaces.

The first step we recommend taking before any other is to close all doors and windows in your home. This will prevent the animal from venturing outdoors and into more extreme danger.

Nearly all reptiles, amphibians, and inverts don’t need to be fed on a daily basis like other animals do because their metabolisms are much slower than that of a mammal. So as long as they’re not missing for an extended period of time, they won’t starve to death. In fact, odds are they’ll pop up when they do get hungry since they tend to know where their meals come from.

The only time we’d say that time is of the essence when trying to locate a missing animal is when there is a possibility that your pet has ventured outdoors. Because there are many more threats outside including predators, weather, and the ability to travel farther, we’d say that if you are at all concerned your pet has gotten outside, you should search in earnest until you locate him or her.

Getting the proper cage to prevent escape

The number one thing you can do as a responsible pet owner in order to prevent escape is to make sure you have the proper enclosure. This means secure cage latches, doors, and screens with no small holes to squeeze through.

Snakes

Although many snakes can be housed just fine using rack systems with open tops, they can be fairly energetic. In order to prevent escape, we recommend a cage with a secure lid and/or door. If you have a glass tank with a screen top, make sure the screen slides securely into place each time you close it.

If you have a very curious and active snake, we don’t recommend a glass tank with a screen top that fits over the entire top of the cage. We’d say go with the kind that slides into place on a track and clicks into place when it’s locked.

Glass tanks with doors that open in the front are also commonly used to house snakes and these are also great options to help prevent escape. Just make sure that the doors get shut securely each time you open them as snakes are strong and can push open a mesh door that is not latched.

Frogs and Other Amphibians

Pet frogs don’t usually bother to escape as they tend to feel safer in their enclosures. However, we do still recommend that pet frogs be kept in glass tanks with secure tops, especially if your frog happens to be an arboreal species such as a tree frog.

Salamanders are known to be burrowers and newts are aquatic, so odds are your pet salamander or newt won’t attempt to escape simply because the environment outside their enclosure is not appealing to them.

Lizards

Because there are so many species of lizards that require all different kinds of habitats, there’s not really a wrong kind of cage for a lizard. However, we would like to mention that bored lizards can get sneaky and will actively attempt escape. Large lizards such as monitors and iguanas will sometimes try to get out if they feel confined to their cage for too long, so our remedy for this issue is to make sure you interact with your pet frequently and give it exercise outside the cage so that this desire is curbed.

eco terra terrarium
Pictured is an Exo Terra terrarium. Notice that it has a set of front access doors. In order to prevent escape, always remember to latch these doors as reptiles can be stronger than they appear. Pushing open a door that is ajar is not unheard of.

As with all other species of reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates, we do recommend that all lizard cages have secure latches and doors. Be mindful of your lizard’s size and climbing habits and make sure that there are no gaps in the seams of the doors or screen that could allow the lizard to squeeze through. Small geckos are notorious for squeezing through tiny cracks and crevices, so we recommend sealing these with a strong tape if need be.

Turtles and Tortoises

Non-aquatic turtles and tortoises (i.e. box turtles and sulcata tortoises) are often kept in outdoor spaces. This means that you’ll need to be especially careful about maintaining strong borders, especially if the species you own happens to be a digger. Turtles and tortoises will wander naturally and you’ll just want to be sure that the bounds of their outdoor enclosure are robust and secure enough to keep the animal within its boundaries.

Indoor turtle and tortoise enclosures are fairly simple. Non-aquatic turtles and tortoises can usually live in containers without lids provided the walls are high enough. You also don’t want to provide any tall cage furniture that allows them to climb out over the rim. This is particularly important not only to prevent escape but for the safety of the animal itself. If your turtle or tortoise accidentally climbs out and in the process lands upside down, it can actually die very quickly.

And although many aquatic turtle enclosure don’t have lids, we still recommend that your tank have at least a screen topper that fits over the entire cage. Aquatic turtles can be quite active and explorative and it’s not unheard of for them to escape.

Invertebrates (Spiders & Scorpions)

Because most pet invertebrates like tarantulas and scorpions are ground-dwelling animals, they don’t generally escape all that often. Like any other pet that lives in a cage, we do still recommend that all enclosures have secure access points. This is particularly important if your arachnid is very small since spiderlings can easily squeeze through small openings.

secure tarantula cage
Pictured is a tarantula cage set up suitable for spiderlings. It includes everything the spider will require and also has no cracks, holes, or crevices that will allow the small spider to escape.

Backwater Reptiles actually sells some very secure and aesthetically pleasing spiderling cages. We highly recommend them. Check them out here.

Animals that are the least likely to be escape artists

If you want a pet that is less active and therefore less likely to be an escape artist, we can make several recommendations, although there are plenty of animals not discussed below that are also great options.

Salamanders make great pets and aren’t likely to escape or go missing. Because they like to hide and burrow, they’re not likely to try to climb the walls of a smooth enclosure made of glass or plastic. They’d much rather shelter under their substrate or inside their hide box. You’ll likely only see your salamander emerge when it’s feeding time.

Newts are also very unlikely to escape due to their aquatic nature. The only time your newt is likely to emerge completely from the water is to bask. They are not known to be climbers and their fingers won’t allow them to grip glass and crawl out.

adult bearded dragon
Bearded dragons are so tame that they’re not usually at risk for escaping. They tend to get a lot of attention from their owners due to their affinity for people and are out of their cages enough for escape to rarely be a problem.

Non-arboreal lizards such as blue tongue skinks (Tiliqua sp.), leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius), and bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) are also not usually particularly adventurous. Blueys have stocky bodies and can’t really climb due to their short limbs. Leopard geckos have been kept in captivity long enough to be extremely docile and therefore it’s not really in their nature to try to escape. And finally, although beardies are very active lizards, because they interact with people quite a lot and tend to get plenty of time outside of their cages, they are not really prone to trying to climb out of their cage.

How to draw out a missing animal

If you’ve searched your entire home top to bottom and still can’t seem to locate your missing pet, we recommend trying to draw it out using food as bait.

Obviously, this tactic won’t work on animals that eat live insects such as many species of lizards and invertebrates. It also probably won’t be effective to use with snakes since they eat rodents and also really only eat on a weekly basis.

The food-as-bait method will work best on animals that really enjoy feeding time and eat daily or every other day. For example, putting out fresh vegetation to entice an iguana or a uromastyx lizard out into the open would certainly be a good idea, but it would have no effect on a tarantula.

Because many pets will emerge at night time when there is less commotion and the house is quiet, you can actually set “traps” to alert you if the animal makes an appearance. Try lining the floors with grocery store plastic bags that make noise when crinkled. Even if you’re sleeping, the crinkling should hopefully make enough noise to signal you as to the whereabouts of your pet.

Places to search for a missing animals

The first thing you should do when searching for a missing pet is to try to think like a reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate. They all tend to prefer secrecy and hiding places, so the first places you should search should be hiding places – under the bed, in a shoe box in your closet, behind the TV, etc.

Warmer areas are also popular places to end up – near vents, close to appliances that create heat, and near lights. Potted plants near windows would also be good hiding places.

Take into consideration if your animal is arboreal or ground-dwelling. Ground-dwelling animals will tend to hide in places that are easily accessible from the ground such as low cupboards, in closets, behind toilets, underneath furniture, etc.

Arboreal pets on the other hand will likely climb somewhere seeking security.  We’d recommend searching all cupboards regardless of height, on curtains and curtain rods, in the clothing hanging in your closet, and even in laundry bins. However, just because an animal is arboreal by nature doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll find it up high. You should also check all the places you’d search for a ground-dwelling animal.

Conclusion

It’s never fun to know your pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate has gone missing. But, the good news is that most animals will be recovered shortly within the home and they will recover from their adventure with no issues.

Keep in mind that preventing the animal from escaping in the first place is the best remedy to this problem. We can’t stress enough that all lids and latches should be tightly secured. All cracks and crevices should be sealed or better yet, nonexistent.

And lastly, don’t panic. If you keep your eyes peeled, odds are your pet will resurface in no time.

How to Preserve a Reptile or Amphibian

We’d like to preface this blog article by stating that it’s never a happy occasion when a pet reptile or amphibian passes. It’s a sad occurrence and we’d like to make it known before you delve into this piece that we’re not writing this tutorial with an attitude of callousness or disregard for the lives of the beautiful reptiles and amphibians with which we gratefully share our homes.

We also want to state that this post will be somewhat graphic and depict photos of deceased reptiles and amphibians being preserved. To some people, this might be disturbing and we wish to alert those with sensitive constitutions of this fact before they continue reading.

All of the Backwater Reptiles team loves reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates and we are writing this article from a place of appreciation for these wonderful animals and the enrichment they  bring to our lives. We’re of the mindset that even after they’ve passed, our loving pets might live on through the preservation process, but we definitely understand that not everyone wishes to see their dearly departed pet after they have moved on.

So  now that we’ve warned you that the content of this post is not going to be appealing to everyone, let us continue forward. We’ll discuss everything from how to humanely euthanize a reptile or amphibian to how to safely create a wet specimen or dry specimen out of an animal that has moved on due to natural causes.

finished-wet-specimen
This is a completed wet specimen of an elephant trunk snake. It is a bit more buoyant than some specimens due to being an aquatic animal by nature.

How to humanely euthanize an ill or dying reptile or amphibian

It’s never an easy decision to euthanize a pet, no matter what type of animal you care for. It’s natural to grow attached to your pet, no matter if it has scales or fur.

It’s standard operating procedure to take a dying or ill cat, dog or other domestic creature to the vet to be euthanized, but what do you do when that pet is a reptile or amphibian? Is the process the same? What is the most humane way to go about helping your reptile over the rainbow bridge?

Obviously, we always recommend taking your reptile to the vet when it comes time to make such a tough decision. Although there are ways to do so at home, they are controversial and we feel that it’s always best to leave such matters in the hands of professionals, so we won’t be touching upon these methods, even though some people might endorse them.

Your herp veterinarian knows how your pet’s body works and will be able to euthanize your herp in a manner that alleviates pain and causes the least distress to the animal and to the owner. Some vets are even kind enough to perform house calls for an additional fee.

How to create a wet specimen from a deceased reptile or amphibian

Before we delve into the process of preserving your reptile or amphibian as a wet specimen, we should probably explain what exactly a wet specimen is.

Unlike mounted skeletons or taxidermy, which both require extensive studying and experience to perform, wet specimens are animals suspended in a liquid matrix in some sort of container such as a jar or a bottle. The liquid can range from ethyl alcohol to formalin, but either way, it will essentially “pickle” the animal in question, preserving it in its entirety.

For the purposes of this article, because we’re not experts on the subject, we’ll stick strictly to preserving a complete specimen. In other words, it is certainly possible to preserve parts and pieces of an animal, but we’re only discussing capturing the essence of an entire creature prior to its decomposition process.

When creating a wet specimen, it’s best to start right away. The less rigor mortis that sets in, the better you can pose your animal into a resting position that you like. However, if you are unable to begin the preservation process right away, you can store your reptile or amphibian in the freezer.

Just keep in mind that freezing works better on animals with scales as the porous skin of amphibians can actually get freezer burn if you’re not careful.

preserving snake in freezer
If you have to put your animal in the freezer for any reason, make sure it is in a tightly sealed container to help prevent freezer burn.

List of supplies needed to create a wet specimen

A jar or container large enough to hold the reptile or amphibian that you will be preservingThis is a no-brainer. You’ll need something to hold both the liquid and the animal in question.

When we’ve created specimens in the past, we’ve purchased glass jars with either twist top silver lids or vacuum sealed glass tops. Pretty and decorative jars and containers can be found in abundance at thrift stores for very cheap or you can head to your local craft store for a wide range of sizes. Just be sure your container is glass because plastic can react poorly with chemicals.

Side note: Although jars with cork lids definitely look appealing and will do the trick for a short amount of time, the cork lid is porous and you will lose preservative through it over time. So although you can certainly cap your container with cork, keep in mind that you’ll have to refill your jar with preservative from time to time.

Preservative liquid. Again, our preservatives of choice are either formalin or ethyl alcohol, although there are others that you can use if you know where to find them.

Ethyl alcohol is a clear alcohol much like rubbing alcohol, however its chemical composition is slightly different. We use a solution of at least 70% alcohol to water that can easily be purchased from any drug store.

Formalin is a bit trickier to work with and is actually a carcinogen, so we recommend using ethyl alcohol if at all possible, even though it is not as strong of a preservative.

Formalin is not as easy to secure due to the strength of the chemical, but it can be purchased online.

No matter whether you choose to use ethyl alcohol, formalin, or some other chemical, be sure that you have enough to inject your animal and enough to fill your holding container.

Needles in syringes. Depending on the size of the reptile or amphibian you’re preserving, you’ll need various gauges of needle, but for most animals, the very small hypodermic syringes used by diabetics work just fine.

If you need needles larger than insulin syringes contain, you can order them online. However, insulin syringes can be purchased at any pharmacy in bulk for relatively cheap.

Plastic sheet liner. This item is not necessary, but we prefer to line our work space with some trash bags or disposable plastic bags just to keep things as sanitary as possible.

Gloves. Here’s another item that is not strictly needed, but we certainly prefer to utilize when available for sanitary reasons.

You can wear latex or rubber gloves, but either way, we choose gloves that are fairly fitted to the skin. This is because a lot of the needlework can require a delicate touch and oversized bulky gloves can make this difficult.

Steps to creating a wet specimen

1. Thaw your reptile or amphibian if necessary. You will be injecting it with a preservative liquid, so if possible, you’ll want the animal to be soft to the touch and pliable, rather than stiff and frozen.

2. Empty a small amount of your preservative liquid of choice into a bowl or temporary holding container. You will be sucking up the liquid into your syringe very frequently, so we’ve found it’s easiest to have the liquid in an open container where your needles have easy access to it.

3. Uncap your syringe(s) and fill it with preservative. Begin either at the tail end of the animal or at the head and start injecting the preservative. Because your animal still contains all its internal organs, you’ll want to get your needles far enough into the body cavities so that the preservative is reaching those organs.

4. Inject your reptile or amphibian’s body cavities until you feel that it is full enough of preservative. This means getting inside the cranium, the abdomen, and even inside the cloaca if necessary.

injecting a wet specimen
This snake is being injected with ethyl alcohol in its cranial cavity. For the best results, your entire specimen should be filled with fixative.

There’s not really a way to be one hundred percent sure that your specimen is done being filled. It’s sort of something you gauge by examining and feeling the animal itself. It should begin to “fill out” and sometimes you can even feel the preservative inside to know where you need more.

5. Position your reptile of amphibian inside the container in a position you desire it to remain. Many animals will gently float within the preservative liquid, while others, like snakes, can be coiled up within the jar.

6. Fill the holding container up with enough preservative to cover the reptile or amphibian. If your animal is floating, we recommend filling the entire container up to the lid, otherwise you can just fill it enough to cover your specimen.

7. Put the lid on your container and your wet specimen is ready to display! We would like to mention that often times, the first liquid you fill your jar with will need to be drained and replaced after a few weeks. It’s not uncommon for the liquid to be discolored when the animal is “settling in” so to speak, but you can always drain and replace if you want pristine, clear preservative liquid.

How to create a “dry” specimen from a deceased reptile or amphibian

Transforming your pet or other humanely sourced reptile or amphibian into a dry specimen through methods such as articulation, taxidermy, mummification, or another similar practice is far more complicated than producing a wet specimen. And quite honestly, it takes a far more practiced and knowledgeable individual to perform such tricky jobs. Therefore, for the purposes of this blog article, we’ll simply touch upon how to convert your animal into a clean set of bones.

ethically sourced roadkill
Not all preserved animals are deceased pets. This rattlesnake was ethically sourced roadkill and was transformed into a dry specimen.

There is always the old fashioned method of burying the animal and allowing nature to run its course. You can always put your deceased animal into a shoebox or other type of container, bury it for a few months, let the creepy crawlies do their job, and unearth the container later.

Personally, although a simple burial is the most hassle free approach, we prefer faster methods. Not only can it take some time for your specimen to decompose depending on the size of the animal, but there is always the chance that something could go wrong. For instance, if your burial ground is not confined to say, your backyard, hungry wild animals can and will come along and dig up your animal. Then you’ve likely lost your specimen altogether.

We prefer to clean the deceased animal ourself and feed the remains to dermestid beetles. These are a special type of insect that feed upon decaying flesh. They will essentially clean your animal of its skin and other material in a matter of days, leaving you with clean bones.

There are many sources where you can purchase dermestid beetles, but pretty much all of them will be online. We recommend purchasing from a seller who has a track record and instructions on how to feed the beetles because this means they have experience and likely won’t sell you beetles with parasites.

Once you’ve acquired your beetles and created a habitat for them, you will need to skin your animal, especially if it is a snake. Amphibians are a bit easier to work with and won’t require as much work.

The beetles prefer drier meals, so if you are able to safely allow your specimen to dry out for a day or two prior to placing it in the beetle’s enclosure, they will make quicker work of the carcass.

Please be aware that with small animals like frogs, delicate lizards, and other tiny reptiles or amphibians, you might only end up with a skull left over. Sometimes the bones of the body are too delicate or cartilaginous to survive this process.

You can certainly clean your animal to the best of your ability of its internal organs and skin and boil it as well. However, we really don’t recommend this method for reptiles as the bones tend to be so small and delicate that it can be quite a tricky process and might ruin your bones.

Reptile and amphibian skeletons

If you’re just looking for the skeleton to be preserved, there are cleaner insects called dermestid beetles that clean dead animal carcasses to the bone. It’s a fairly clean process, and the beetles can be purchased online.

Conclusion 

There are many ways to preserve and memorialize your pet reptile or amphibian. Whether you choose to try to transform them into a wet specimen or just save their bones, please keep in mind that this article is a beginner’s guide and not an expert tutorial.

chameleon wet specimen
This is a completed wet specimen of an elephant ear chameleon that died of natural causes. Rigor mortis set in before the animal was able to be effectively preserved, so the specimen is a bit more sunken in appearance.

Conclusion: How To Preserve A Reptile Or Amphibian

If you truly want your animal’s likeness preserved in the most effective manner possible, we recommend finding a specialist in your area that has experience in such matters.

How To Clean A Reptile’s Cage

We all love our pets, but it’s true no matter if you own a puppy or a python that part of the responsibility of pet ownership is cleaning up after it, no matter how unglamorous it may be. The question of how to clean a reptile’s cage is common, and easily answered.

Because reptiles and amphibians live in cages unlike our other furry companions, cleaning up after them is a bit different than scooping the dog poop in the backyard or sifting through the litterbox. However, it’s not a hard task once you’ve done it once or twice.

Many people aren’t experienced with the proper and safe methods to cleaning a reptile or amphibian’s enclosure. That’s why we’ve written this blog article dedicated to explaining how we clean our animals’ cages and passing along this valuable information to you.

How to clean a reptile's cage
Keeping your pet reptile or amphibian’s cage clean is tantamount to keeping the animal healthy.

How To Clean A Reptile’s Cage

What Cleaning Solution Should I Use to Clean My Reptile’s Cage?

Aside from unscented antibacterial soap and water, we highly recommend using a veterinary disinfectant solution called Nolvasan for all your reptiles, amphibians, and exotics.

Nolvasan is a solution that is commonly used at veterinary facilities because it safely kills many types of viruses, bacteria, and species of fungus that commonly afflict animals and people. What’s more, it’s safe to use around animals, although we do always remove our animals from the tank when using Nolvasan.

You can purchase Nolvasan online through retailers such as Amazon in a variety of different sizes and concentrations. As long as the solution is blue and the active ingredient is chlorhexidine diacetate, you can buy whatever quantity works for your purposes.

nolvasan solution
This is the gallon size Nolvasan solution used at Backwater Reptiles. We place approximately a capful of Nolvasan into a spray bottle and dilute with water. One of these gallon containers will last nearly an entire year!

Because we have such a large volume of cages to keep clean at Backwater Reptiles, we usually purchase a gallon at a time and dilute it with water according to the instructions on the bottle. Then we use the diluted solution in a spray bottle to wipe down cages and flat surfaces.

We’d like to say that although we’re not endorsing Nolvasan, it is the safest product we have found for both human beings and the animals. It leaves no strong ammonia after-smell and is a far safer alternative to water and bleach solutions, which we definitely don’t recommend using.

What Supplies Will I Need to Properly Clean My Reptile’s Cage?

Different supplies will be needed for different scenarios, but it’s always a good idea to have these items handy whether you’ll be spot-cleaning or wiping down the entire interior of your pet’s cage.

Nolvasan solution – As we’ve already discussed, Nolvasan is our go-to cleaning agent at Backwater Reptiles. It is non-toxic and safe for use around people and animals. It leaves no strong, lingering scent and most importantly of all, it kills bacteria, viruses, and fungi. We highly recommend keeping a spritzer bottle of Nolvasan on hand at all times.

Paper towels – It might seem self-explanatory, but paper towels are used during all types of cage cleaning. We use them when cleaning cage accessories, wiping down cage surfaces, and also to pick up fecal matter during spot cleaning. Paper towels are an absolute necessity, but the good news is that most people have them handy around the house anyways.

Rubber or latex gloves – Gloves aren’t an absolute necessity when it comes to cleaning cages, but we recommend using them, especially if touching dirty things isn’t your cup of tea. We buy the single use disposable latex kind so that the gloves themselves don’t become bacteria-ridden.

Back up cage – Unless you have a friend or family member who can hold your pet the entire time you are cleaning its cage, a back up cage is necessary. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or large – a holding area will do just fine, so long as you don’t take hours to clean your pet’s cage. The bottom line is that unless you are just spot cleaning and picking up substrate that has become dirty, you will need to remove your pet from its cage in order to wipe down surfaces and cage accessories.

Non-scented antibacterial soap – This kind of soap is best to use when you have cage accessories that have gotten dirty. We use it when rinsing washing water dishes as well as fake plants and hiding spaces. Nolvasan is also an acceptable way to clean these items, but we prefer soap and water in these particular instances.

How Do I Know When I Should Clean My Reptile’s Cage?

There isn’t a schedule you need to adhere to as far as cleaning goes, although you certainly can if that’s your preference. We clean cages as needed, which means if we can tell an animal has defecated, notice a water dish is getting dirty, or see anything amiss in the animal’s cage, we go ahead and tidy up as necessary.

It’s natural for a reptile or amphibian’s cage to have a semi-musky smell, particularly when the animal in question requires high humidity levels. However, if you ever notice too much moisture, fungus growing anywhere within the cage, or smell ammonia, the entire cage should be cleaned.

cage with too much moisture
Pictured is a reptile enclosure that is far too moist and requires cleaning. If you ever notice this much condensation on your animal’s cage walls, you should clean the entire cage to avoid bacteria, viruses, and fungi forming colonies.

How to Clean a Desert Reptile’s Cage

The most important thing you’ll need to keep clean inside your reptile’s cage is its substrate. The most popular substrate option when creating a desert-dwelling reptilian habitat is sand, although you can also use paper towels and reptile carpet.

Usually, if you check your pet’s cage daily, you can easily scoop up any sand clumps that contain feces, urine, and dead insects or plant matter. You can use gloved hands, paper towels, or a tool as specific as a sand sifter. Personally, we prefer the sifters just because it’s the simplest method and grabs all the waste in one easy scoop.

If you line your cage with paper towels or newspaper, odds are you’ll have to replace the lining more frequently. This is because it absorbs odors, bacteria, and fecal waste and can’t be spot-cleaned. The good news is that these substrates are both low maintenance and low cost, plus most people always have some lying around the house.

You can use your handy dandy Nolvasan solution  (or nonscented soap and water) to clean any cage accessories that get dirty including plastic leaves, water dishes, and even glass terrarium walls.

How to Clean a Tropical Reptile’s Cage

Tropical reptiles can live in either mesh screened cages (i.e. chameleons) or glass terrariums (i.e. certain gecko species and certain iguana species). Each type of cage will require slightly different cleaning methods.

The easiest way to clean a chameleon’s cage is to have a hard, flat, plastic liner of some sort on the bottom. Many chameleon cages will have a separate access point to insert and remove this liner. We highly recommend investing in one of these style cages if you don’t already own one as it makes spot cleaning a breeze. All you need to do is open the bottom hatch, slide out the liner, and wipe it using Nolvasan. You can also run it under water in the sink using your non-scented antibacterial soap.

spot cleaning a reptile cage
Many enclosures, whether they house a tropical reptile or a terrestrial amphibian, can be spot cleaned very simply. Just scoop up the dirty substrate with a paper towel or a sifter scooper.

Most chameleon feces and dead insects will collect along the bottom of the cage, so this is the area that will get dirtiest and require the most cleaning. However, if you have plastic plants and vines within the cage, you will also need to clean these items from time to time. Again, we use Nolvasan solution or non-scented antibacterial soap depending on the degree of dirtiness.

Glass tropical enclosures can be cleaned much the same as a desert enclosure. Spot cleaning is perfectly acceptable, but every now and then the entire cage should be cleaned out. New substrate should be put inside the cage, accessories and cage “furniture” should be washed down, and your reptile will need to be transferred to a separate holding cage for this process.

How to Clean an Aquatic Reptile’s Tank

What do we mean by aquatic reptile? Well, turtles are the most common, although crocodilians are also aquatic by nature.

Keep in mind that aquatic reptiles eat, sleep, drink, and defecate in their water source, so keeping it clean means your pet will be much healthier.

You should remove any uneaten food from the tank on a daily basis. Whether you feed your pet pellets, worms, or fresh vegetation, be aware that leaving any of these food items in the tank can allow harmful bacteria to thrive.

We also highly recommend purchasing a quality tank filter as it will save you a lot of hassle. A good filter will allow you to clean the entire tank and cycle out the water far less frequently.

When it does come time to clean your aquatic reptile’s tank, we don’t recommend changing out all the water at once. While turtles are tougher than amphibians when it comes to sensitivity to ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites, you still don’t want to risk upsetting the tank’s natural balance unless you absolutely have to.

If your tank has a substrate such as rocks or gravel on the bottom, you can even buy a fancy vacuum that sucks up unwanted detritus that collects along the bottom.

How to Clean an Amphibian’s Enclosure

There are two types of amphibian enclosures you can potentially have to clean – aquatic and terrestrial. Aquatic amphibians include newts and certain species of frog, whereas terrestrial amphibians are tree frogs, toads, and salamanders.

You will need to be very careful when cleaning the water in an aquatic amphibian’s home. If you empty out all the water and start fresh, you could potentially kill your pet by unintentionally causing a spike in ammonia, nitrates, and/or nitrites. Aquatic amphibian tanks behave much the same way fish tanks do – you will need to cycle the water carefully to maintain the eco balance.

Just like when you own an aquatic reptile, we recommend investing in a good water filtration system for your aquatic amphibian. The filter will help maintain the tank’s  equilibrium on its own, at least for the most part. That isn’t to say that just because you have a filter, you won’t need to clean the cage. Rather, you can go longer between cycling the water out, which is better for the health of your pet and also means less labor on your part.

Cleaning a terrestrial amphibian’s cage is far less complicated. Generally, terrestrial amphibians will live in glass terrariums so you can clean them much the same way as any other reptile’s enclosure.

nolvosan solution spritzer
We dilute our Nolvasan solution and use it in a spritzer bottle.

The main difference between cleaning a desert-dwelling reptile’s tank and a terrestrial amphibian’s tank is the type of substrate you will be dealing with. Many amphibian tanks will be lined with sphagnum moss or eco-earth, both of which can be scooped up if needed. Keep in mind that both of these substrates are chosen for these types of habitats for their ability to hold moisture, so they will be wetter than sand, paper towels, or other desert substrates.

One thing you will probably notice more with terrestrial amphibian cages is water spots. These can develop from misting or, in the case of many “sticky” species of frog, from the animal itself adhering to the walls of the cage. While water spots can be unsightly, they won’t harm the animal and aren’t necessarily an indicator of cage cleanliness.

BONUS: How to Keep Your Feeder Insect Container Clean

Did you know that you can also use Nolvasan solution to clean out feeder insect containers? It really is a wonderful cleaning agent to have on hand when you own reptiles.

We wipe down our cricket tubs with Nolvasan when we clean them out. We usually do this when we notice the tubs starts to smell or when we see a lot of insect feces collecting in the egg crates and other surfaces within the tub. This tends to happen approximately once per week.

feeder crickets
Nolvasan solution can be used to clean out feeder insect cages too!

Another thing to watch out for when keeping crickets as feeder insects is moisture. Crickets won’t last very long if your tub and accessories are too wet.

Conclusion

No  matter whether you own a desert-dwelling reptile, tropical reptile, aquatic reptile, or pet amphibian, it goes without saying that you will be required to clean the enclosure at some point. Sometimes only spot cleaning is necessary, but at other times, you’ll definitely need to do a deep clean.

We hope that this article has given you some helpful tips and tricks on how to clean all sorts of herp enclosures, but feel free to ask any questions in the comments!

 

Reptiles Endemic to Madagascar

It’s safe to say that any one of the Backwater Reptiles employees would love to take a trip to the island of Madagascar. So many unique animals call the island home, including an abundance of rare and beautiful reptiles. It’s an understatement to say that we would be in heaven trekking through the jungle in search of them.

Many of the reptiles endemic to Madagascar are in fact so rare and treasured that it is illegal to import them, let alone keep them as pets. So, until we can book ourselves passage to the island, the closest thing we’ve got to seeing these cool critters in person is this blog article!

Read on if you want to learn more about our favorite species that are endemic to Madagascar. Some of them are actually available for sale on our website, although we do only recommend these species for experienced reptile hobbyists since they are mostly rarer species.

Reptiles Endemic to Madagascar

What does it mean if an animal is endemic to a specific place?

First of all, we should probably explain what it means if an animal is endemic to an area since that is the concept this blog centers around.

In simple terms, it means that any particular animal is only found in a specific region of the world. An animal can be endemic to a continent, a country, a state, or even a city.

However, it can also mean that a particular species is native to a specific area of the world, even if it has spread to other regions accidentally or intentionally.

So, for this particular blog article, we are discussing reptiles that are either only found on the island of Madagascar or that are native to the island of Madagascar.

Reptile Species Endemic to the Island of Madagascar

Parson’s Chameleon (Calumma parsonii)

Parson’s chameleons are probably best known for their massive size. These chameleons are the heftiest of body and one of the largest species of chameleon on the planet. It’s been claimed they grow as large as a small house cat!

Although it is not currently legal to import this giant of a chameleon, Backwater Reptiles is lucky enough to have had a captive bred clutch of babies born in our facility! After a very long incubation period of 582 days, we had thirty-nine healthy babies hatch and have been patiently and carefully working to fulfill these delicate babies’ needs.

Reptiles Endemic to Madagascar
Pictured is one of our captive bred baby Yellow-lipped Parsons chameleons. This baby is roughly five weeks old, and a species that’s endemic only to Madagascar.

Did you know the Parson’s chameleon has a life span of about twenty years? This means that they are quite the commitment and should not be kept as pets by anyone but the most experienced herpers.

We’d also like to make it clear that due to the rarity and degree of specialized care required to keep a Parson’s chameleon healthy, these are not budget animals. They are pricey and for good reason. Odds are that if you are willing to pay the price for one of these beautiful animals, you have done your research and are prepared to accommodate and work with such a tricky species.

Malagasy Ground Boa (Acrantophis madagascariensis)

This species of boa, which is a reptile endemic to Madagascar, averages approximately eight feet in length. Adult females are slightly larger than males and can reach ten feet long. Believe it or not, but this is actually the largest species of snake found on the island!

malagasy ground boa
The Malagasy ground boa is the largest species of snake found on the island of Madagascar.

In the wild, the Malagasy ground boa eats mostly small mammals such as lemurs, bats, tenrecs, and other small rodents.

The IUCN lists this species as stable and of “least concern,” but they are commonly killed by locals for meat and snake skin products. They are also widely considered to be bad luck and are killed for their bad habit of preying upon domestic live stock chickens.

Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata

Occurring naturally in the southern portion of Madagascar, the radiated tortoise has spread to the rest of the island. It has also been reintroduced to the islands of Réunion and Mauritius.

Although it can be found throughout the entire island of Madagascar, the radiated tortoise is listed by the IUCN as critically endangered. As is the case with many endangered species, this is mainly due to loss of habitat, but poaching and harvesting for the pet trade has also played a large role in this species population decline.

radiated tortoise
This is a mature radiated tortoise. Notice its yellow and black coloration.

The radiated tortoise is so-named for its boldly colored carapace. Each shell plate is marked with striking yellow lines radiating from the black center.

Like many larger tortoise species, the radiated tortoise has a long life span. One particular tortoise named Tu’i Malila lived to be 188!

Madagascar Big-Headed Turtle (Erymnochelys madagascariensis)

The Madagascar big-headed turtle is listed on the IUCN as critically endangered and it has been said that this species is the thirteenth most endangered turtle species in the world.

Found in permanent, slow-moving bodies of water in the western region of the island, this species is named for – wait for it – its big head! Other than that, it has a fairly ordinary dark brown shell and “turtle-ish” appearance.

Although this species is critically endangered, it is still exported to Asia illegally for the medicine market. Other threats to this species’ population include getting trapped in fishing nets, being eaten for meat, and getting caught on fishing hooks.

malagasy big-head turtle
Pictured is a shy juvenile Madagascar big-head turtle that was captive bred within the U.S.

Even though it is illegal to import the Madagascar big-headed turtle to the U.S., there are some breeders that have captive bred animals for sale.

Want to learn more about the Madagascar big-headed turtle? We actually wrote an entire blog article about this unique species since we are fortunate to have purchased a captive bred baby from a U.S. breeder.

Satanic Leaf-Tailed Gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus)

This fancy-looking lizard is known by several common names – the Baweng satanic leaf-tailed gecko, the eyelash leaf-tailed gecko, and the fantastic leaf-tailed gecko. All of these monikers suit this gecko well as its tail and flat body shape very closely resemble a dead leaf.

The Satanic leaf-tailed gecko is another reptile endemic to Madagascar, and nowhere else, so it is a truly endemic species. Its habitat of choice is the trees in the central and northern tropical forests of the island.

satanic leaf tailed gecko
As you can see, the Satanic leaf tailed gecko has a tail that appears very leaf-like!

While this species is listed as being of “least concern” according to the IUCN, it is probably the least common species of gecko available for sale as a pet within the Uroplatus family.

Satanic leaf-tailed geckos are nocturnal insectivores. If you are lucky enough to keep one as a pet, it should be fed crickets, moths, roaches, and other appropriately sized insects at meal time.

Antsingy Leaf Chameleon (Brookesia perarmata)

Unlike most of its chameleon cousins, the Antsingy leaf chameleon is a ground-dwelling species of dwarf chameleon with a limited ability to change color. It does not have a prehensile, gripping tail, but rather, a truncated stumpy tail with short spines running down it. It is also covered in scales that make it appear like it is wearing armor, hence its common name.

antsingy-leaf-chameleon
This species of dwarf chameleon looks like a miniature armored dragon!

The Antsingy leaf chameleon is listed as endangered by the IUCN largely due to its very specific habitat requirements. It is only found in the northern part of the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park in the Melaky Region and makes its home in leaf litter of relatively untouched tropical deciduous forests.

Oustalet’s Chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti

Listed as being of least concern on the IUCN list of endangered species, the Oustalet’s chameleon is not uncommon in the reptile pet world, although admittedly, wild caught specimens are far more common than captive bred ones.

Oustalet’s chameleons are another very large species of chameleon. In fact, they are also commonly referred to as the “Malagasy Giant Chameleon.” They can reach lengths of twenty-seven inches. It’s said that they even surpass the Parson’s chameleon in size, but in our personal experience with both species of chameleon, Oustalet’s are longer while Parson’s are stockier and weigh more.

oustalets chameleon
Pictured is a good-sized Oustalet’s chameleon.

Oustalet’s chameleons require lots of space when kept in captivity, so we tend to only recommend them to experienced herp lovers. In addition to having large appetites to suit their large stature, these chameleons will require a large, often custom built, mesh screen enclosure, which means they are not appropriate for first time chameleon owners.

If you are ready to tackle such a large species of chameleon as a pet, Backwater Reptiles does sell medium to large Oustalet’s chameleons at competitive pricing.

Mossy Leaf Tail Gecko (Uroplatus sikorae)

Listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN endangered species list, the mossy leaf tailed gecko is not uncommon in the reptile hobbyist world. Not only is this an odd-looking gecko, it is also a fairly docile species and popular with gecko specialists.

The mossy leaf tail gecko is an arboreal lizard with an appearance to help it camouflage into its environment. Because it is a nocturnal animal, it has large round eyes with vertical pupils and it can even alter its color to match its surroundings!

This neat gecko gets its common name because it has a special fringe of skin known as a dermal flap that runs the length of its body that helps make it appear flush with moss, lichen, and other plants that grow on the trees it calls home. What a great way to conceal itself!

mossy leaftail gecko
Mossy leaf tail geckos have a special fringe of skin that allows them to camouflage seamlessly against trees.

When keeping a mossy leaf tail gecko in captivity, you should provide a cage that has more vertical space over horizontal space. These geckos are arboreal climbers and they need lots of hanging plants and branches to hide in during the day.

Because mossy leaf tail geckos are insectivores, you should feed them a varied diet of crickets, roaches, reptiworms, and other appropriately sized invertebrates.

They should have their enclosure misted regularly. We recommend once or twice a day along with providing a water bowl or small fountain.

If you want a gecko that can disappear before your eyes (their camouflage is that good!), then we recommend a mossy leaf tail.

Panther Chameleon (Furcifer pardalis)

Panther chameleons are very popular with reptile enthusiasts and reptile amateurs alike due to their dazzling and eye-catching color spectrum. It’s very common for Panthers to be various shades of red, pink, blue, green, with white accents depending on the animal.

Did you know that the color of a Panther chameleon can change with environment, but that species from specific regions of Madagascar tend to have certain color schemes? Panthers from Nosy Be and Ambanja tend to be blue while those from the Ambilobe and Sambava regions are usually red, green, or orange.

red panther chameleon
While Panther chameleons can be a variety of colors, this one exhibits tones of red.

Panther chameleons are very commonly bred in captivity and are one of the hardier species of chameleon that you can keep as a pet. They do still require a mesh cage, specific humidity levels, and UV lighting though.

If you are interested in owning a pet panther chameleon of your own, Backwater Reptiles sells Ambanja, Ambilobe, Nosy Be, and Sambava “varieties.”

Conclusion – Reptiles Endemic to Madagascar

Madagascar is a very unique island filled with reptiles that can only be found on that specific island within an even more specific type of habitat. We will never cease to be fascinated by these creatures and we hope to see some of them in their natural habitat some day!

While some of the species endemic to Madagascar that are found on this list can be purchased as pets, not all of them can and that’s largely due to habitat destruction. That’s why Backwater Reptiles plants a tree in Madagascar for every order placed on our website.

This list of reptiles endemic to Madagascar is by no means all inclusive. It’s just a representation of our favorites. What are your favorites? What species would you add to our list?