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.

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!

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?

Why Pet Reptiles Aren’t Considered Domestic Animals

Are reptiles domestic animals?

Anyone who reads the Backwater Reptiles blog is more than likely a reptile owner or at least curious about getting a pet reptile. But did you know that even though there are tons of species of reptiles sold to hobbyists that these animals are not domesticated?

Many are not even technically tame. They are still exotic pets even if certain species are commonly sold at large, chain pet stores.

Time and time again we get emails from Backwater Reptiles customers or even just reptile owners who ask us how to make their snake, lizard, or turtle calmer or more accepting of human interaction.

But in truth, pet reptiles have not been around long enough to be tame and domesticated in the same manner that cats, dogs, and even rodents are.

In this blog article, we’ll touch upon topics ranging from why some reptiles just don’t like being held to how to work on taming your own pet.

domesticated blue tongue skink? Perhaps not.
Blue tongue skinks, like the one pictured, are generally fairly docile. But just like human beings, reptiles have various temperaments and moods. As you can see, this skink certainly was not in the mood to be removed from its enclosure.

What constitutes a domestic animal?

Through monitored reproduction and selection for specific traits, humans have created animals that are so different from their wild ancestors that they are not usually suited to live without the assistance and help of humans. Domestic animals usually have specific purposes such as being cultivated for food, raised for companionship, or even to work alongside of people as helping hands.

We’re all familiar with dogs and cats. Clearly, these animals are intended to be companion animals or pets to people. Everything from their size to their personalities indicates that they are meant to live side by side with humans, usually in such a personal manner that they even share our beds.

Dogs and cats are just one example of a species that has been bred through generations in order to coexist with people symbiotically. Both humans and the domestic animal benefit from this relationship. In the case of dogs and cats, the benefit to people is usually just camaraderie and company, however sometimes specific dog species are bred to work on farms, to serve as service animals, or even to protect people. While the benefit we get from pets is pretty  clear cut, the animal also benefits by being given food, a home, and protection from the elements.

french bulldog
Believe it or not, this French bulldog puppy’s ancestor was the wolf. Through human selection, this breed has become domesticated and drastically altered from its ancestral form in order to suit the needs of humans. Reptiles have not undergone this process yet and are thus not considered domestic animals.

So, because reptiles haven’t been kept by people long enough to be bred for generations to retain specific traits that make them anything other than more colorful than usual, we can’t truly classify them as domestic.

However, that doesn’t mean that individual pet reptiles don’t get along well with their human owners. Many become tame and can behave like a dog or cat. If you continue reading, you can find out the difference between what makes an animal tame and what makes it domestic.

“Tame” versus “domestic”

We’ve already covered the definition of a domestic animal and explained why reptiles simply don’t fall into this category at this point in time. But you might be wondering about the tegus, iguanas, and bearded dragons who come running up to greet their family members just like your average dog. Why aren’t these pet reptiles considered domesticated?

The answer is simple really. Although individual pet reptiles can certainly grow fond of and acclimated to people, they have not been bred in captivity for many generations and altered from their wild state in order to suit the needs of people. A lizard, snake, turtle, or tortoise that enjoys human companionship has become tame and docile rather than domesticated.

A good way to look at the difference between tame and domestic is to again draw from a source that we are familiar with – the pet dog. The wild ancestor of the dog is the wolf. Dogs are descendants of wolves that have been selectively bred through many generations by people to express very specific traits that we desire. With the exception of a few species, dogs no longer resemble the wolf in either disposition or appearance. On the other hand, if you capture a wild chameleon, iguana, or alligator lizard, it will look much the same as a captive bred specimen. There will be little to no physical difference other than specific examples where certain species have been bred a few generations to exhibit definitive color morphs.

Captive breeding of reptiles

We’ve already mentioned that certain species of reptiles are captive bred in order to display different morphs. A few common examples are corn snakes, leopard geckos, and bearded dragons. All of these reptiles are available through breeders in a multitude of unique and special morphs that change their color but no other physical attributes.

This is different from the selective breeding of a domesticated animal because usually these morphs only have to go through two or three generations in order to achieve the genetic makeup that causes their coloration to be different from their “normal” brethren. Furthermore, other traits such as docility, work ethic, companionability, etcetera are generally unchanged. We selectively breed these reptiles just to aesthetically please us.

Which species of reptile are the closest to tame and domesticated?

We would like to point out that there are many species of reptiles that tend to be more docile. This can be because the species is more laid back in general or it can be because the parents were captive bred.

If you wish to have a pet reptile that you can hold, pick up, and train to eat from your hand, we do have a few recommendations.

Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularius) – Leopard geckos are very commonly sold at pet stores as well as specialty breeders. They are available in a seemingly endless number of morphs including a “jumbo” size. They are very docile as a species and are overall pretty healthy because nearly all of them are captive bred.

Corn Snake (Elaphe g. guttata– Like leopard geckos, corn snakes are commonly available at large pet stores. You can get many morphs that result in colors ranging from lavender to bright red.

albino cornsnake
Corn snakes, like this little albino beauty, are usually captive bred. This means they are accustomed to humans and are actually healthier overall. As you can see, holding a baby corn snake can be quite fun!

Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) – Beardies love being held! They love to sit on your shoulder, lap, or near your warm laptop computer. They are very hardy lizards and feeding time is always fun.

Argentine Black and White Tegu (Tupinambis merianae) – Although they can be a tiny bit skittish as hatchlings, tegus will generally warm up to their owner and become very tame. When mature, they reach large sizes and can be trained to behave much like a pet dog.

Savannah Monitor (Varanus exanthematicus– Keep in mind that although Savannahs are very cute when young, they eat voraciously and grow to large sizes very quickly. Be prepared to provide a very large enclosure and lots of attention as these lizards truly enjoy going for walks outside with their owner and being given plenty of attention in the form of baths, petting, and other interactions.

My reptile doesn’t like being held. How can I train or teach it to be more docile?

First off, we’d like to say that not all reptiles can be tamed. This is particularly true of the species that already have ornery dispositions and double true of species that have been captured from the wild and not bred in captivity. Again, reptiles are not tame or domestic animals so there is never a guarantee that your pet will like being held or handled.

Patience is key when it comes to teaching your reptile good manners. You will need to devote time to taking him or her out of the enclosure and socializing with people. Be warned – you’ll likely experience some aggression if you’re working with an animal with a poor disposition and snakes tend to be particularly prone to nipping their owners when first being removed from the cage. Our best advice is to wear gloves if your reptile has sharp teeth or you are afraid of being injured.

pictus gecko
One way to help tame your reptile is to adopt it as a baby. Start handling him or her from a young age and it will be easier to get it accustomed to you.

Don’t be deterred if it takes time for your reptile to become accustomed to you. In addition to patience, you’ll need to be calm, collected and ready to confront your pet’s mood swings with compassion and understanding.

A very useful trick to use when acclimating your reptile to people is to associate the cage opening with feeding time. Most reptiles love to eat and if you teach your pet that treats come when the cage opens, they will receive positive reinforcement and become used to being picked up. Just be sure that you avoid getting your fingers in the pathway of your reptile’s mouth!

If you want more specific tips and tricks on picking up your pet lizard or picking up your pet snake, we wrote blog articles about both topics.

Which species should I avoid if I want a pet reptile that behaves like a cat or dog?

Snakes can be somewhat jumpy or nervous when you remove them from their cage. Sometimes it’s because they’re being woken up from sleeping and sometimes it’s just because you accidentally took them by surprise. However, there are certain species that are actually known for their aggressive nature such as anacondas and a few species of pythons.

Many small lizard species also don’t like interacting with people on a regular basis. Smaller lizards tend to be flightier because they have more natural predators in the wild. They will view you as a predator and most likely try to hide or become aggressive. Many of them are too small to inflict pain or draw blood if they attempt to bite, but it’s best to avoid causing any unnecessary stress to your pet if it’s not necessary.

Here’s a short list of lizards that make rewarding “look not touch” pets:

Anoles – These little lizards are known for being great beginner lizards. They are inexpensive, pretty, and overall healthy little critters. However, they usually don’t like being held and would much rather hide from you than play with you.

Tokay Gecko (Gekko gecko– While very colorful and striking at maturity, Tokays are actually known for being particularly grumpy. They can pack a pretty mean bite when they feel threatened and they don’t particularly enjoy the company of people either as babies or adults.

Ameivas – Although ameivas are bright and colorful lizards, they are extremely fast and pretty agile. Most of the time, they will bolt and try to hide if you attempt to pick one up. They thrive in captivity but we do recommend that you give them space and don’t try to interact with them on a frequent basis.

Conclusion

Ultimately, reptiles of all species are NOT domestic animals. Many are not even tame. When you adopt a pet reptile, you should understand that these creatures still have their wild survival instincts in tact. They will do anything to survive ranging from dropping their tail, biting, snapping, and hissing at you, and even defecating and/or urinating on you!

baby bearded dragon
Bearded dragons are one species that nearly always has a friendly disposition towards people. We recommend them if you want a mid-size lizard that enjoys being held.

Not all reptiles have bad manners though and many can be worked with to develop good habits. If you are willing to put forth the effort to tame your reptile, you’ll find that they can make quite entertaining and rewarding pets.

Aldabra Tortoise Care (Geochelone gigantea)

If you’re reading this, you want to know all about Aldabra tortoise care (Geochelone gigantea), and rest assured, you’ve come to the right place! These tortoises are very intelligent, responsive, and interactive pet reptiles. Many people are attracted to the larger species of tortoise because they can let them roam their yard much like a dog. Many are even trained to come when you call them!

No matter what your reason for keeping an Aldabra tortoise, clearly you’ll need to know how to care for such a long-lived animal. In this blog article, we’ll set out to detail how to best care for an Aldabra and hopefully prepare you for a tortoise of your own.

Aldabra Tortoise Care Explained

Aldabra Tortoise Description

Did you know that the Aldabra tortoise is the second largest species of tortoise in the world? The only other tortoise that grows larger is the Galapagos tortoise. On average, a mature adult Aldabra can weigh around 500 pounds, although the Aldabra at the Fort Worth Zoo weighs in at around 800 pounds!

Aldabras are very long-lived. Some have been reported to live 200 years and there is currently one in captivity that is 170 years old. So be prepared to pass your Aldabra down to your children and possibly even grand children!

aldabra tortoise care
Aldabra tortoises grow very large and for proper care will need a large amount of space in which to roam around. We highly recommend setting up a backyard enclosure if you plan to keep one as a pet. Pictured is one of our 5-inch beauties.

Aldabra tortoises get their name from the location from which they hail – the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles islands in the Indian ocean. They can be found in a variety of habitats ranging from mangrove swamps to coastal dunes.

Overall, Aldabras are quite remarkable as far as physical appearance is concerned. They have domed carapaces with super long necks and pointed heads. They range in color from dark grey to black and sometimes even dark brown.

Creating an Aldabra Tortoise Enclosure

Like many of the larger tortoise species, the best way to keep an Aldabra is outdoors if possible. Tortoises older than two years old do best with a large space to roam, backyard vegetation to nibble on, and natural sunlight and weather conditions to absorb.

If your backyard doesn’t have a fence, you can create boundaries for your tortoise using cinder blocks or even wooden planks. Your wall should be just over two feet tall and contain as much square footage as you are able to provide.

Using see-through fencing is risky because a tortoise will almost always try to get somewhere it can see. Aldabras aren’t big on digging, like the Sulcata tortoises, so that’s not too much of a risk. We recommend solid wood or cinder block walls.

Your Aldabra will also require a little tortoise home or hide to escape from cold or too hot weather. You will also need to provide a heat source if you live somewhere where the weather drops below seventy five degrees Fahrenheit.

Large heating pads will suffice–we use pig blankets, which automatically heat 20-degrees (F) warmer than the surrounding temperatures, unless it’s already warm out, in which case they don’t activate. You can also simply bring your tortoise indoors during bad weather.

Keep in mind, cooler temperatures generally aren’t overly dangerous to tortoises, it’s cold and wet that’s dangerous. If your nighttime temperatures are dipping below 60F, we recommend bringing your tortoise into a warmer area such as a garage for the evening, unless you’ve got a tortoise house with a heat pad already set up.

If temperatures go below 50F, regardless if you have a tortoise house and heating pad, just take the tortoise indoors.

aldabra tortoise
Pictured is a young Aldabra tortoise, but they can live up to 200 years and weigh up to 500 pounds! Make sure you are prepared for such a long-term pet before purchasing.

It’s not necessary, but if you can provide a mudhole for your Aldabra, that is ideal. Surprisingly, Aldabras enjoy wallowing and soaking in a mudhole if one is provided.

Feeding Your Aldabra Tortoise

Many people enjoy keeping pet tortoises because they are vegetarians, which means no insects or mice to feed them.

Aldabra tortoises nibble as they roam on everything from backyard grasses and weeds, but they will also thoroughly enjoy prepared foods. Leafy greens high in nutrition such as collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, and spinach are all excellent options.

Some fruit is also a treat for them, but avoid acidic fruits as they can harm intestinal biotic balance. They are particularly fond of melons. Hay is a great food for them as well. Remember, they are grazers and aren’t used to highly nutritious foods. Mazuri tortoise pellets are also great for supplemental feeding.

Fun fact: If your Aldabra tortoise knows you have food or a treat ready for it, it will come running to greet you. Be prepared – Aldabras are not slow movers, despite what you might believe!

aldabra tortoise
Aldabra tortoises are vegetarians that will eat as they roam your yard. However, they always enjoy it when you prepare them meals of leafy greens mixed with the occasional fruit treat.

Conclusion – Aldabra tortoise care

Aldabra tortoises are known for their large size and unique personalities. They are fascinating and rewarding animals to keep as pets. They make excellent backyard companions who will absolutely learn to recognize you.

If you are up to the task of caring for such a long-term pet that you can literally pass down to your grand children, then an Aldabra tortoise just might be the reptile for you!

How to Care for Your Sunbeam Snake (Xenopeltis unicolor)

If you are unfamiliar with the sunbeam snake (Xenopeltis unicolor), you’re not alone. Because these prismatic snakes have pretty specific care requirements, they’re actually not very popular in the reptile world.

Truth be told, there’s also not a lot of information online explaining how to best care for the sunbeam snake. Therefore, in this blog article, we’ll detail how we care for our sunbeams and hopefully help out anyone thinking about investing in one of these gorgeous animals.

Sunbeam Snake Description

The most striking feature of the sunbeam snake is its unmistakable iridescence. In fact, this brilliant rainbow hue is how this snake got its common name. Other snakes such as the rainbow boa might also be iridescent, but when the sunbeam snake’s scales interact with the sun’s rays, the result is unbelievable. Other snakes just can’t compete!

sunbeam snake care
Sunbeams snakes are known for their iridescent scales.

Aside from shimmering scales, sunbeam snakes are fairly monochromatic. Their dorsal sides are dark, deep brown or even black. Their under bellies are cream-colored or whitish. They have small eyes and pointy heads with little neck demarcation.

Sunbeam Snake Habitat & Housing

The first thing that is important to know when keeping a sunbeam snake is that these reptiles are burrowers. They live in Asian rice paddies in the wild where there is lots of moisture, humidity, and plenty of places to hide. Therefore, sunbeam snakes spend lots of time underground.

Because sunbeams are burrowers, it is of utmost importance that you provide your snake with a substrate that accommodates this behavior as well as retains moisture. Cypress mulch, moss, and loose reptile bark all work well. Be sure that the substrate is damp, but not dripping wet.

sunbeam snake
Sunbeam snakes have specific care requirements. We recommend doing your research and making sure this species is suitable for you before you purchase.

Humidity levels need to stay between 80 to 100% at all times. This might seem a bit high, but keep in mind that rice paddies are nearly always flood lands and sunbeams are used to this type of environment. One of the worst things an owner can do for a sunbeam snake is to allow its home to dry out.

The hot end of your sunbeam snake’s enclosure should stay between 85 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit, while the cooler side should be in between 75 to 80 degrees. We recommend a heating pad to regulate temperature, but you can also use a lamp that doesn’t give off light. Sunbeams aren’t nocturnal or afraid of light, but they do spend most of their time underground, so there is no real need for UV lighting.

Sunbeam Snake Disposition

As we’ve already mentioned, sunbeam snakes are burrowers. They spend most of their time underground and usually only emerge to catch prey and eat. This means they are solitary, secretive animals that appreciate privacy.

Sunbeam snakes are not aggressive, but they don’t really enjoy being handled too frequently. In fact, it rather stresses them out. If you want a hands on pet snake, we don’t recommend that you get a sunbeam. Sunbeam snakes should be handled minimally and left to their own devices when possible.

handling your sunbeam snake
Sunbeams are shy snakes that definitely prefer to be left alone. However, when you have to clean their cage or remove them for any other reason, they are not aggressive and can be handled like any other species of snake.

One thing that you should also be aware of is that sunbeam snakes can excrete a very nasty musk when stressed. So, unless you want to shower, we highly recommend not poking, prodding, holding, or otherwise making your sunbeam feel threatened.

Feeding Your Sunbeam Snake

Many people are surprised at how quickly sunbeam snakes eat. They lunge for prey very speedily, constrict, and swallow it nearly as rapidly.

In the wild, sunbeams are known to consume frogs, shrews, moles, lizards, and other small vertebrates. In captivity, they will strike at anything that disturbs their substrate, so we recommend using tongs and offering them appropriately sized frozen/thawed mice.

Conclusion

Although sunbeam snakes are absolutely stunning animals with brilliantly shiny rainbow scales, we don’t recommend them to everyone. These snakes are best suited to owners who understand that sunbeams enjoy solitude and like being left alone.

Keep in mind that sunbeam snakes have four basic requirements in captivity to stay happy and healthy: solitude, humidity, a place to burrow, and warmth. If you are ready to provide these things to a pet sunbeam snake of your very own, Backwater Reptiles does sell them.

Leopard Lizard Care (Gambelia wislizenii)

Although they might have similar names, leopard lizards are very different from their popular cousin, the leopard gecko. Leopard geckos are very well-known and have very good reputations within the reptile hobbyist world, but we think leopard lizards deserve love too.

In this blog article, we will describe how we care for our leopard lizards and why we think they make good pets.

Leopard Lizard Care

Leopard Lizard Description

Although their coloration varies by location, leopard lizards get their name from the detailed spotted pattern on their backs and tails which resembles that of a leopard. Their dorsal side will be a shade or brown, grey, or tan and the spots will be a dark brown and can also be paired with bar patterns as well. A leopard lizard’s belly will be cream-colored or light beige/tan.

Leopard lizards are somewhat flat animals with long, powerful limbs and long fingers and toes to match. Even their tails are long. In fact, it’s usually true that the tail of a leopard lizard is longer than the length of its head and body combined.

leopard lizard care
Leopard lizards have very long tails, long limbs, and pronounced spots on their backs.

Not taking into consideration the length of the tail, leopard lizards are moderately-sized. Males will be around five inches long from snout to vent. Females will be slightly larger and usually be around seven inches long snout to vent when fully grown

Leopard Lizard Habitat

Leopard lizards are desert-dwelling creatures native to North America and some areas of Mexico. They prefer landscapes that are flat, sandy, and filled with shrubby plant cover. This means that to keep a leopard lizard happy in captivity, you will need to replicate a desert environment.

Even though leopard lizards are not considered large lizards, they are active foragers, rather than ambush predators, which means that they will require a relatively large enclosure. A single, full grown lizard should have a cage that is a minimum of three feet  long, two feet wide, and 28 inches tall.

Because they are energetic, diurnal lizards capable of jumping quite high, we do recommend that your enclosure have a secure screen lid. They are strong and if they have the will to escape and your cage top is not firmly in place, your leopard lizard will get out.

Fun fact: male leopard lizards are not territorial or cannibalistic, so provided all the lizards are of a comparable size, you can actually keep several animals together in the same enclosure. Males shouldn’t fight over females provided there is ample room for them all to exist comfortably.

As far as lighting is concerned, because leopard lizards are diurnal, they need to be provided with a day/night cycle. You should have a full-spectrum UV light on during the day and turn it off at night.

leopard lizard
Leopard lizards are active animals and will require a fairly large cage.

A heat lamp will also be required in order to maintain desert basking temperatures. Ambient temperature should be at least 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The hotter basking area should be around 100 degrees.

Because your leopard lizard’s cage will be on the warm side, be sure to provide some hiding and crawl spaces. In the wild, leopard lizards will hide out when the weather is too extreme and they also use these hiding areas for security purposes to stay away from predators.

Leopard Lizard Feeding

Leopard lizards are powerful and adept hunters. A fair portion of their diet in the wild consists of smaller vertebrates including small lizards. This is why we mentioned that all lizards kept together in captivity must be of comparable size.

Although they mainly subsist on small vertebrates in the wild, in captivity, leopard lizards should be fed mostly insects. Too many feeder lizards, feeder mice, or other types of vertebrate food items will cause health issues. Be sure that you provide a variety of gut-loaded insects such as crickets, meal worms, wax worms, and reptiworms. When it comes to captive diets, variety is key to keeping your leopard lizard healthy.

Leopard Lizard Temperament

Because they have powerful jaws for such a small lizard, we recommend keeping the handling of your leopard lizard to a minimum. Leopard lizards are not overtly aggressive, but they are certainly not afraid to bite if they feel threatened.

Gambelia wislizenii
Leopard lizards are carnivores that seek out prey actively.

Without proper handling on a consistent basis from a young age, leopard lizards are skittish, shy animals. Therefore, we recommend that unless you are willing to work with the animal from the time it is a hatchling, that you leave it to its own devices for the most part.

Conclusion

Leopard lizards don’t have particularly stringent or difficult care requirements, but they are avid carnivores with active temperaments. We recommend them for herp enthusiasts with the room to house them and the time to devote to working with them.

If you are ready to take on a pet leopard lizard of your own. Backwater Reptiles can definitely help you out!

Western Hognose Snake Care (Heterodon nasicus)

If you’re looking for more information on Western Hognose snake care, you’ve come to the right place. A snake that is quickly growing in popularity among reptile enthusiasts is the Western Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus).

These small colubrids are not only cute, but they are well-suited to captivity and make great pets for families and classrooms. In this article, we’ll go over the care requirements for this quirky little snake.

western hognose snake care
Pictured is a juvenile Western hognose snake. They are known for their distinctive upturned noses.

Western Hognose Snake Description

The first thing most people notice about the hognose snake is its trademark pointy nose. This little upturned nose is used to assist the hognose when it burrows and digs in lose, sandy soil.

Hognose snakes are stout in build with keeled scales. They can be a variety of colors, but they tend to be a light brown or cream color with darker brown, beige, black, orange or olive patterns.

Hognose snakes are also known for their peculiar defense mechanisms. First of all, these snakes will sometimes roll over and play dead when they feel threatened. They even open their mouth and allow their tongue to loll out! However, we would like to mention that if they feel too threatened, they will also release a foul-smelling musk to accompany this playing dead behavior, which is less amusing than the act of playing dead.

western hognose snake
Western hognose snakes are adept burrowers.

Another harmless hognose defense is to puff up and push air through its skull and rostral bone creating a unique hissing noise. They will also flatten out and attempt to appear much larger than they are in reality. This might be accompanied by some feigned aggression. Hognoses might strike out, but they won’t bite. Instead, they’ll essentially headbutt any enemy with their nose! When it comes down to it, hognose snakes are all bark and no bite.

As we’ve already established, Western hognose snakes stay relatively small. Males tend to max out around twenty-four inches long (two feet), while females can grow to be just shy of three feet long. They have been known to live between ten and eighteen years in captivity.

Western Hognose Snake Care

Due to its small size, you will not need a large home for your hognose snake. Hatchlings will thrive in a five-gallon size enclosure and an adult will do great in a twenty gallon tank. Because they are a ground-dwelling species with burrowing and digging habits, vertical space is not as important as floor space. We also recommend that whatever type of cage/enclosure you opt for have a secure lid since all snakes tend to be escape artists, no matter what species they are.

You need not supply many cage furnishings for a hognose. They prefer to burrow and hide, so vegetation is not needed unless you want to decorate the enclosure. All a hognose really needs in its enclosure as far as “furniture” is concerned is a sturdy water dish and a few hiding spaces.

There are a lot of choices when it comes to substrate for a hognose. Hatchlings do best in newspaper since it is inexpensive, easy to clean, and also helps prevent bacterial growth. For an adult, you can provide aspen snake bedding, newspaper, paper towels, or sand. But please keep in mind that housing any snake in sand can cause impaction. If you do use sand as a substrate, we highly  recommend feeding your snake in a separate, clean container so that no accidental ingestion of the sand occurs.

Hognoses are diurnal snakes and will require a full-spectrum UV lighting set up in order to stay healthy. You can manually turn your snake’s lights on and off each day, or you can buy lights that are on timers at nearly every pet store.

Your hognose’s basking spot needs to stay around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The cooler end of the tank is usually fine at room temperature. This means anywhere from 72 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Just be sure it doesn’t get too cold at night or too warm during the day and that the enclosure has a hot side and a cooler side (i.e. that there is a temperature gradient).

handling your western hognose snake
Western hognose snakes are friendly little snakes that interact well with humans.

Western Hognose Snake Care: Feeding

Hognose snakes are little piggies when it comes to meal time. They’re also not too concerned with accuracy when it comes to striking at their food. This means that even though they aren’t trying to intentionally hurt you, they might accidentally bite you when you attempt to feed them. All you need to do to avoid this is feed your snake using tongs or tweezers.

At Backwater Reptiles, we feed our hognose snakes appropriately sized frozen/thawed mice. Adults can be fed once per week, but growing hatchlings should be offered food at least twice per week.

Conclusion – Western Hognose Snake Care

We recommend Western hognose snakes for reptile lovers of all experience levels. These compact and humorous little snakes are not only easy to care for, they’re easy to fall in love with!

Ready for a Western hognose snake of your own? Backwater Reptiles has several morphs available for sale.

Western Painted Turtle Care (Chrysemys p. belli)

Aquatic turtles make great pets for all types of people and we’d say that the Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys p. belli) is one of our top selling animals for this reason. In this blog article, we’ll lay out how to best care for your pet Western painted turtle.

Western Painted Turtle Care Sheet

Western Painted Turtle Description

Western painted turtles are certainly a very attractive species of aquatic turtle. They are dark olive, brown, or green with very colorful markings that range from bright orange to striking yellow. The underside of their shell is an explosion of orange or red, while the top of their carapace is bordered with yellow or red seams. They also have red, yellow, or orange stripes on their heads and necks.

There are several varieties of painted turtles that are widespread throughout the U.S, but they all have virtually the same care requirements in captivity. The Western painted turtle is native to the Western side of the U.S. as its name suggests.

Another reason Western painted turtles are such popular pets is that they will reach a moderate size which makes them manageable as indoor pets. An average painted turtle will be anywhere from six to eight inches with females being relatively smaller in comparison to males.

Western painted turtles are also very long-lived pets. Captive animals have been reported to live as long as fifty years! However, most painted turtles will live between ten and twenty five years realistically.

western painted turtle care
Painted turtles make great aquatic pets and they are very attractive to look at.

Western Painted Turtle Care Requirements

Many people are inclined to create elaborate homes for their painted turtles, however this is not a requirement for the turtle to be healthy. In fact, you can create a simple enclosure or a very decorated one depending on your preference so long as the turtle’s basic needs are met.

Although Western painted turtles are aquatic by nature, you should never be filling an entire tank with water. A good rule to follow is to never make the water level higher than twice the width of the turtle’s shell. It is also imperative that you have a platform of some type that allows your turtle to get out of the water completely and bask.

The water temperature should stay between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Ambient air temperature should be between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit and the basking area underneath the lights should be kept between 85 and 95 degrees. In order to keep the basking area warm, we recommend providing a full spectrum UV light. You can regulate temperature using a thermometer placed at a convenient place inside the tank.

Even though they are mid-sized turtles, painted turtles are relatively active reptiles, so they do need a moderately sized tank. A hatchling can be accommodated in a ten gallon tank for a short period of time, but as it grows, you will of course need to upgrade your tank size. Housing a bigger animal means a bigger tank will be required.

Adult painted turtles will do equally well indoors or outdoors. If you live in a climate that does not have temperature extremes, painted turtles will thrive in a backyard pond. You might even end up with baby turtles if you have more than one per pond. They will naturally reproduce according to the seasons.

western painted turtle
Western painted turtles are omnivores and will eat both plant and vegetable matter.

Western Painted Turtle Diet

All painted turtles are opportunistic omnivores. They will gladly consume meat or vegetation with  no hesitation as they are not picky feeders.

There are many commercial turtle foods on the market, but we like to supplement our painted turtles’ diets with fresh food. Hatchlings are growing and need lots of protein, so we give them small invertebrates like crickets and mealworms in addition to leafy green veggies. Kale, spinach, and even aquatic plants are all good choices.

Conclusion

Western painted turtles might not be the most hands-on pet, but really, most turtles prefer to be left to their own devices anyways. Painted turtles are most certainly beautiful to look at and they make excellent additions to backyard ponds.

If you are ready to purchase a Western painted turtle of your own, Backwater Reptiles has got you covered!