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?

Sacramento Reptile Rescue Drop-Off Site

Do you have a reptile or amphibian you can’t care for any longer? Maybe you’re moving and can’t take your snake with you? Well you’re in luck, because we’re an established Sacramento reptile rescue drop-off site.

You don’t need to give us reasons why you’re getting rid of your reptile, we simply accept reptiles that need a new home, or perhaps a little rehabilitation. We don’t pay for them, but we’ll care for and re-home them for free.

Sacramento reptile rescue
We’re a reptile rescue in Northern California, and accept all varieties and sizes of non-venomous reptiles.

Our Sacramento reptile rescue can accept snakes, lizards, turtles, tortoises, scorpions, and tarantulas for re-homing.

You can simply bring your reptile to our facility and drop it off. We’ll give it expert care and will find a new home for it using our extensive network of experienced hobbyists.

There’s no size limit.

There’s no quantity limit.

Imperfections are ok.

Aggressive animals are just fine.

Only non-venomous reptiles please.

Available reptile/amphibian rescue drop-off times:

You can drop-off your reptile(s) or amphibian(s) each Thursday between 1pm and 4pm (PST) at our address:

4970 Rocklin Road
Suite 300
Rocklin, CA 95677

The drop-off is quick, easy, and there are no documents to sign. You can just drop-it off and leave.

Please help protect our hobby–don’t ever release reptiles into the wild. We have plenty of people waiting for a new pet.

Most Common Reptile and Amphibian Care Mistakes

Because we pride ourselves on our knowledge and ability to care for the animals we sell, we answer a lot of questions at Backwater Reptiles ranging from how to care for species X to what to feed animal Y.

One thing we’ve discovered throughout the years is that many people receive false information on their new pet and therefore come to us for help. Often times, this erroneous information is easily corrected and the problem is solved simply.

This leads us to the subject matter of this particular blog article. In the paragraphs to come, we’ll discuss many of the common mistakes people make when caring for reptiles and amphibians as well as how to avoid making them yourself.

Feeding Incorrectly

Probably the most common mistake made by many new or inexperienced reptile and amphibian owners centers on feeding the animal in question.

Clearly not all reptiles and amphibians eat the same thing, so the first thing to take into consideration if you have a picky eater is if you are feeding it the right type of food.

Although it’s true that the majority of pet lizards are carnivores, not all lizards eat insects. Some are actually herbivores and will get sick if you feed them too much protein.

Examples of common herbivores that are frequently mis-fed protein-based diets include: iguanas, Uromastyx lizards, blue tongue skinks, and tortoises. While it is true that many of these species will consume meat if given the opportunity, that doesn’t mean it’s good for them. In fact, herbivorous species can go into liver failure and will also have diarrhea to the point of dehydration if you feed them high protein diets.

juvenile green iguana
Green iguanas are herbivores and should not be fed a protein-based diet. Make sure you are feeding your reptile or amphibian the proper diet by doing your research before adopting.

So, do your research and be sure your reptile is a carnivore before giving it a cricket-based diet.

Another food-related issue we hear about from customers is offering food of the wrong size. While snakes can stretch their jaws and consume prey that is larger than their own head, the same is definitely not true for lizards, tortoises, frogs, toads, and turtles.

Would you give a toddler an entire piece of steak to eat? No, you would most certainly cut it up into manageable pieces that the child can easily chew, swallow and digest. The same should be true of your pet reptiles and amphibians. Baby chameleons should not be given full-sized crickets to consume and large monitor lizards shouldn’t be given tiny fruit flies. It’s basic common sense.

Well, if your pet is mid-sized, you still might be wondering what size food to give it, right? There’s actually a very simply rule to follow when feeding your reptile or amphibian. The size of the insect being offered should be no larger than the width between the eyes of the animal being fed.

So what about if you feed your pet pre-made reptile chow? For instance, commercially made crested gecko, tortoise and turtle pellets, and even vitamin powders for all sorts of reptiles are commonly sold at pet stores. So, are these good for your pet?

The short answer is that, yes, commercially prepared reptile food is perfectly acceptable. However, sometimes pet reptiles, particularly those that were wild-caught and not captive bred, will not eat pet store food. We want our readers and customers to be aware that just because these types of foods exist, they are most certainly not the only option.

Even if your pet does readily consume prepackaged food, we do still recommend alternating and supplementing with freshly prepared food. Variety is key to keeping your reptile happily fed and healthy and anytime your pet refuses food, we always recommend offering a new type of food before taking drastic measures.

Hydrating Improperly

Now that we’ve discussed common feeding mistakes, let’s touch on common hydrating mistakes.

You might not think over-watering your reptile or amphibian would be a problem, but it actually can be!

Did you know that too much moisture in your pet’s cage creates the perfect environment for mold, mildew, and other bacteria to grow? Not only are these pathogens not good for the health of your pet, they’re not good for your health either.

So, if you notice that some mold is growing within the enclosure, clean it right away! More than likely, you’ll also then need to replace your substrate. Odds are it was too wet. An ideal substrate moisture level for most species of amphibians is wet but not dripping. You’ll want to be able to pick up the substrate and feel moisture in your hands but there should never be dripping water.

Too little moisture is also bad for herps of all species. Even desert-dwelling species require some sort of humidity level, albeit it’s usually less than that of a tropical species.

Because different species have different moisture requirements, the best way to know if your pet is getting enough humidity and moisture in its environment is to do your research.

One very specific instance that inexperienced herp owners can encounter is how to hydrate a pet chameleon. Because chameleons are so temperamental, maintaining the proper moisture level is tantamount to keeping them healthy.

male jacksons chameleon
Many people make the mistake of giving their chameleon a water dish to drink from. Unfortunately, this can result in dehydration as chameleons won’t drink from a dish.

You will need to mist the chameleon’s enclosure regularly to provide the lizard with water to drink and to cultivate proper humidity levels.

Giving a chameleon a water bowl is pointless as it won’t recognize it as a source of water. Instead, there has to be enough moisture present in the cage to collect on the leaves so that the chameleon can lap it up.

Providing an Improper Enclosure

Housing and where we live is important to us as humans, right? Well, the same is true of our pet reptiles and amphibians.

First of all, size of the enclosure is a very important factor to consider when keeping a pet reptile or amphibian. Although you’re usually safe if your cage is too big, the opposite rule does not hold true. A vivarium that is too small can be detrimental to the well-being of your pet.

A common mistake many people make is purchasing a juvenile or hatchling monitor, green iguana, or tegu. While these lizards do make excellent pets, they grow extremely fast and when they reach full-capacity, they essentially need an entire room or a custom built enclosure to stay happy and healthy.

young savannah monitor
Many animals like this juvenile Savannah monitor start out small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, but will grow at a rapid rate. This means that they will require a large, custom-built enclosure when fully mature.

Please do your research and be prepared to house and care for your pet reptile for the duration of its life regardless of its size. Know how big your pet will grow and make sure you can accommodate it once it reaches maturity.

It might seem almost humorous if it weren’t true, but we also get a fair amount of emails from customers stating that their pet has escaped. More often than not, it’s a pet snake or lizard as these tend to be escape artists.

So, how would a good reptile parent prevent escape from occurring? You’ll just need to make sure your cage has a tight-fitting and secure lid. Any type of cage that latches should also always be latched and “locked” because reptiles are stronger and more resourceful than they appear.

Here’s another very specific housing mistake that reptile novices can make – many newbies to the reptile husbandry world aren’t aware that chameleons require a special type of mesh cage. They need plenty of air circulation and a glass cage will promote stagnant air rather than fresh air. In the long run, this can lead to respiratory issues. So be sure that if you have a pet chameleon, its cage is constructed of mesh and not glass.

Improper Handling

It might seem silly to have to say this, but not all reptiles and amphibians enjoy being picked up and handled by people. There are a multitude of species commonly kept as pets that we’d consider “look not touch” animals.

There are many species that just do better in captivity when left to their own devices. Being poked and held by human beings just stresses them out and can actually be harmful to the animal’s health.

Some good examples of reptiles and amphibians that we recommend handling minimally include: anole lizards, all species of newts, aquatic frogs, basilisk lizards, and small, skittish species of lizards.

If you do happen to have a reptile that interacts well with people such as a bearded dragon, leopard gecko, boa, python, or tortoise, there is in fact a wrong way to handle these creatures.

The number one rule to follow that many people fail to adhere to is to support the animal fully, no matter the species. For instance, although their body shape might suggest otherwise, snakes don’t like to dangle. When you hold your pet snake, its entire body should be coiled around your wrist, hand, or arm so that it feels secure.

zebra tailed lizard
If you are going to hold a species such as this zebra-tailed lizard that is not well-known for being an interactive and responsive pet, we highly recommend holding it against a flat surface as pictured. This way the lizard doesn’t dangle in any way and can feel fully supported and safe and will be less likely to behave skittishly.

You’ll also want to support lizards, tortoises, and turtles too. If your turtle or tortoise is too large to sit comfortably within your palm, it’s probably best to leave it be as you don’t want the animal to feel like it’s treading air due to having no foothold.

Sometimes reptiles can be nippy or seemingly aggressive when first being removed from their cage. Keep in mind that this behavior is a natural defense mechanism for these animals and if you are determined to hold your pet, exercise patience when working with them.

Through experience we’ve found that moving slowly and making deliberate attempts not to startle your reptile as you enter its cage is the best way to pick up an animal that spooks easily. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that grabbing it quickly will eliminate nipping, clawing, or struggling.

Keeping Multiple Animals Together

Because it can be tough to determine the gender of young reptiles and amphibians if they are not a sexually dimorphic species, it’s always a gamble to keep multiple animals together in the same enclosure.

Do you intend to breed your animals? If so, don’t make the mistake of assuming you automatically have a male and female. Take your pet to the vet to have its gender checked if you are unsure. Many species of reptiles and amphibians are territorial and accidentally placing two males together could actually incite aggression between the two animals to the point that they harm one another.

We’ve also heard customers tell us tales of surprise babies or eggs! They just thought their lizard, snake, or amphibian was chubby, but then they discover that the reason their pet was a little portly was due to being pregnant,  or as we refer to it in reptile terms, gravid. Generally, this is a pleasant surprise and then we get amusement and gratification out of informing them that sometimes the animals are shipped out gravid or that they must have been keeping a male and female together in the same cage unintentionally.

It’s also important to know if the species you are keeping is gregarious or not. Some reptiles and amphibians are more social than others and will thrive in environments where there are multiple animals around, but others will become territorial, stressed out, and even cannibalistic.

We recommend that if you plan to keep several animals of the same species in a single enclosure that it is not only big enough to accommodate them, but that the animals themselves are OK with it.

Conclusion

The goal with many of the blog articles we write is to educate the public and potential reptile and amphibian owners before they make mistakes that harm or injure any animals.

We sincerely hope that this article has taught you a thing or two to avoid and watch out for if you do plan on adopting a reptile or amphibian in the near future.

And as always, we highly recommend doing the research on the species you plan to adopt before you purchase.

How To Gift Wrap a Reptile

If you’re wondering how to safely and humanely gift wrap a reptile, you’ve come to the right place!

We’d like to preface this tutorial article by saying that although we think reptiles and other exotic animals can make excellent gifts, we’d very much like to make it clear that you want to be one hundred percent sure that the recipient of any live animal as a gift is fully prepared to handle the responsibility of caring for a living creature.

We love all the animals we sell at Backwater Reptiles and while any one of the Backwater team would definitely love and appreciate receiving an invertebrate, reptile, or amphibian as a gift, we also know how these exotic animals need to be cared for properly.

Although many of the animals sold by Backwater Reptiles are relatively low maintenance in comparison to a pet dog or cat, they are still life long commitments and we want to include a disclaimer in this article making it known that we wish all gift givers to do their research before giving a friend, family member, or significant other a pet as a gift.

Many of the animals we sell can actually have very long life spans and taking on a new pet is not something that should be taken lightly. Again, do your research on the animal and please be sure that the recipient is fully qualified and capable of caring for it.

That being said, this article will focus on the methods we recommend for safely gift wrapping a reptile, invertebrate or amphibian.

gift wrapping a reptile
Unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as placing a reptile with a bow under the Christmas tree! Read this article to find out how to safely wrap a reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate for any occasion.

How To Gift Wrap a Reptile

What supplies will I need to wrap a reptile, invertebrate, or amphibian?

Fortunately, wrapping up a reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate is not all that complicated. It’s actually very similar to wrapping any other gift, with a few exceptions. What this means is that you probably won’t need many special supplies.  Most of the items needed you should already have around the house.

Supplies needed to gift wrap a reptile, amphibian or invertebrate:

-Scissors. This is a pretty self-explanatory tool. You’ll need to cut your wrapping paper and/or tissue paper. Regardless of whether you wrap your pet in a box or a gift bag, we pretty much guarantee you’ll need scissors at some point.

-Pen, screwdriver, or other strong, slender and pointy utensil. You’ll only need this tool if you are choosing to wrap your animal using the box method.

There are many objects you could use that you’re likely to already have handy around the house – a sturdy pen, a screw driver, or even a letter opener – but the reason you need this kind of tool is to poke air holes in the bottom or sides of the gift box. We prefer a screwdriver or pen as both are sturdy enough to poke through card board and they produce nice, solid, round holes that are appropriately sized.

-Gift bag and tissue paper OR gift box and sheer, breathable wrapping fabric or paper. Again, this is another supply that is pretty straight forward. Your wrapper of choice will largely depend on whether you wrap using a gift bag or a box.

If you use a gift bag, you will essentially only need to place the animal inside the bag with its heat pack and artfully place tissue paper to stick out of the bag to hide what’s inside.

If you prefer to wrap using a box, obviously you’ll need an appropriately sized box. We recommend using a different box than the one your critter is shipped in as the shipping box will be labelled “LIVE HARMLESS REPTILE” and sheer, breathable wrapping fabric will not hide this text.

You will likely need to purchase a special type of wrapping paper or fabric in order to successfully wrap a reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate. This is because you need to use a material that allows air to pass freely through the wrapping material. Traditional wrapping paper will block the air holes you poke in the box.

If you’re unsure what types of materials are appropriately breathable, we recommend a mesh or tulle style fabric. In fact, it might be easier to go to a fabric store and purchase the material rather than a box retail store with regular, solid wrapping paper.

-Bows, ribbons, or other decorative accessories. Once more, this item on the list of supplies needed comes down to personal preference. If you wish to add a bow to your box, you certainly can. Ribbons are also nice touches. Be as creative as you’d like!

-Packing tape or clear scotch tape. Just like wrapping any other type of gift, you’ll need clear tape to hold your box shut. You’ll also need it when adhering your wrapping material to your box. Pretty cut and dry.

When should I gift wrap my reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate?

Most people’s first question or concern when gift packaging a living creature is is it safe? In short, YES, it is indeed safe for exotic animals to be gift wrapped, so long as you don’t leave them unattended in a box for an extended period of time.

how reptiles are shipped
Once you’ve opened up your reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate, we recommend giving it some time to “air out” and “breathe” before you wrap it.

The appropriate time to wrap your pet for the recipient is the night before. For instance, if you are gifting a snake as a Christmas present, we recommend wrapping it and placing it under the tree on Christmas eve. Just make sure that no sneaky gift sleuths shake the box or bag trying to figure out what’s inside!

As long as you follow the instructions below to safely and humanely prep a reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate for gifting, you can leave the animal wrapped for an overnight time frame safely.

How to gift wrap a reptile or invertebrate

The nice thing about packaging a reptile or amphibian up into a neatly decorated little package is that they don’t require as much moisture as amphibians do. This ultimately means less hassle and far less to take into consideration when prepping your pet for the recipient.

Step One – take the reptile or amphibian out of its shipping packaging.

Your critter will arrive in a plastic cup with a lid on it with air holes. It should also contain a heat pack and the proper amount of moisture or substrate within the cup for the animal to live comfortably for a day or two.

We highly recommend taking the animal out of its shipping box and letting it “breathe” or air out in a temperature controlled environment for a few hours before wrapping it.

shipping a live animal
Your reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate will arrive in a box that looks much like this one. The first step in gift wrapping it is to open up the box!

If you are so inclined, the animal would probably appreciate a little bit of time outside of the plastic cup as well. However, if you’re not comfortable handling the animal, it will be just fine in the cup for another day.

Step Two – poke air holes in your gift box. You can skip this step altogether if you are wrapping the animal using a gift bag.

poking air holes
Use a pen, screw driver, or similar implement to poke air holes in the bottom and sides of the gift box.

Remember that pen, screw driver, or other sturdy tool from the supplies list? You’ll need it to poke a fair amount of air holes in your gift box. We definitely recommend poking holes in the bottom of the box, however, if you are not concerned with the aesthetic appearance of the box, you can also poke extra holes on the sides.

gift box with air holes
Your gift box should have at least this many air holes poked into the bottom.

Step Three – wrap, wrap, wrap! Now that you’ve poked air holes, it’s time to proceed as usual. Secure your critter inside the box so that the plastic cup it arrived in doesn’t shift around, make sure the heat pack your animal was shipped with is secured inside the box, wrap your critter’s box with your sheer, breathable fabric, top with a bow, and you’re all set!

Once you’ve finished the wrapping process, we’d like to mention that unless you’ve poked holes in the sides of your box, you should prop it up at a slight angle so that the air holes aren’t directly against a flat surface. This is usually easiest when you are placing the animal under a Christmas tree. Other gifts around the oddly angled box will usually make it appear less strange.

prop up wrapped gift
Although this box has not been properly wrapped, you can see that it is propped up at an angle. The angle allows the air holes in the bottom to be exposed. You can use virtually anything to prop your wrapped reptile at an angle.

You can use virtually anything to prop up the gift. We think other, smaller presents work great! But tissue paper, a door stop, or any other wedge-shaped object will be fine.

How to gift wrap an amphibian

You can wrap an amphibian using the same methods described above, but there is one additional aspect to take into account. Reptiles and invertebrates don’t require as much moisture as amphibians do. Amphibians need to have moisture present in their environment in order to survive, so you’ll want to be sure that there is plenty of moisture present in your amphibian’s temporary plastic carrying cup home before wrapping.

When we ship an amphibian, we will include some type of moist substrate in the shipping cup, usually wet paper towels. Paper towels tend to hold the proper amount of water and are easy to wring out if you accidentally over saturate them.

sheer wrapping paper
This is the type of wrapping paper needed to wrap a living animal. It is sheer, porous, and breathable and allows air to enter and exit the breathing holes poked in your pet’s gift box.

The paper towels in your amphibian’s overnight plastic cup home should be wet but not dripping. You want them to be wet to the touch but if you were to pick up the paper towel from the cup, you don’t want it to be dripping any water. If you include the proper amount of moisture, you shouldn’t have any leakage onto the pretty packaging of the wrapping material.

What species are best or easiest to gift wrap?

Overall, we think it’s easier and safer to wrap a reptile or invertebrate over an amphibian. Amphibians tend to be more delicate – they’re more sensitive to moisture changes, temperature changes, and other external stimuli.

Our top pick for the easiest reptile to gift wrap is the bearded dragon. Not only do they make fantastic pets who enjoy being handled, but they are extremely hardy and won’t mind being in a box overnight.

Most species of snakes that are commonly gifted such as corn snakes, milk snakes, boas, and pythons are also pretty tough little critters. Most snakes are content to sit calmly coiled up in their plastic shipping cup for another night and will experience no additional stress.

Scorpions and spiders are also great animals to gift wrap. Unless you specifically order a mature spider, most will arrive as tiny spiderlings and will fit nicely in cute little boxes or bags with no issues.

What if I’m not comfortable gifting a live animal?

If this article still hasn’t convinced you that gift wrapping a reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate is really not too tough of a task, then there is another option available to you if you really want to give someone a pet as a present.

Backwater Reptiles currently offers gift cards in $25 increments!

Let your gift recipient choose the exact animal they want and avoid having to wrap a critter all at the same time!

Conclusion

Again, we want to stress that gifting a living animal is not to be taken lightly. We want all the animals we ship out to go to loving homes with owners who are fully devoted to caring for the critter for the duration of its life.

gift bag wrapping method
Gift bag wrapping is also an option when gifting a live animal. The tissue paper and open nature of the bag allows the animal to get plenty of fresh air circulating. Just be sure to include the heat pack your animal was shipped with.

Research is essential! Make sure that you are not giving someone something that they are not prepared to handle. Investigate the life span of the animal, what it eats, how large of an enclosure it will require, and any other special care requirements.

Happy reptile wrapping!

Top Ten Most Famous Fictional Reptiles and Amphibians

Reptiles and amphibians have become a part of pop culture appearing in everything from music videos to television commercials. The funny thing is that until you really sit down and think about it, you probably wouldn’t even notice.

Because we’re obsessed with all things herpetology-insired at Backwater Reptiles, we’re devoting this blog article to the topic of the top ten most famous fictional reptiles and amphibians in pop culture.

So, in no particular order, here are our picks for the top ten most famous fictional herps in recent memory.

Top Ten Most Famous Fictional Reptiles and Amphibians

Kermit the Frog

Young children to grown adults are probably familiar with the very famous muppet frog named Kermit created by the late Jim Henson.

First appearing in the year 1955, Kermit rose to fame as the leader of the Muppets and became famous for his love affair with an equally famous muppet by the name of Miss Piggy.

Top Ten Most famous reptiles and amphibians
Kermit the Frog is a lovable, green, muppet frog. He is often the sensible leader of the muppets and is in love with Miss Piggy. Definitely one of the most famous fictional amphibians.

Kermit has appeared in many TV shows including The Muppet Show, Muppet Babies, and Sesame Street. He also stars in The Muppet Movie and each subsequent movie incarnation featuring muppets.

Kermit is perhaps most famous and well-known (at least by the older generation) for his chart-topping singles “The Rainbow Connection” and “Bein’ Green.”

Originally performed by the legendary Jim Henson himself, Kermit is now performed by Steve Whitmire since Henson’s passing in 1990.

In addition to appearances on all of his own shows and films, Kermit has been a guest star and made cameos in countless other productions. He has been interviewed on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and also played on Hollywood Squares.

And if fifty plus years of pop culture involvement doesn’t make Kermit famous enough for you, he’s even met Michelle Obama in 2014! Not too many frogs can say they’ve had the opportunity to shake the hand of the First Lady!

Kermit the frog also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and had his own set of collector postage stamps issued on his 50th birthday in 2005.

The Geico Gecko

Although we might not know his name, it’s fair to say that anyone who has a TV or watched an online video has likely seen the Geico Gecko in a commercial. You know him – he’s that little green day gecko who tries to persuade you to purchase car insurance in a very sensible manner.

geico gecko
The Geico Gecko is at heart a salesman, so don’t be surprised when his tagline of “Fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent on car insurance” gets stuck in your head.

Making his first appearance in 1999, the Geico Gecko has evolved and changed into an anthropomorphic, computer animated cartoon with a cute British accent.

Although Geico has featured other personalities and characters in its ad campaigns, we think it’s safe to say that the Geico Gecko is not only the cutest and most memorable, but the one with the most staying power as well.

Rango

Rango is the lead character from the animated feature film of the same name. Rango is voiced by Johnny Depp and his tale is that of a misplaced pet chameleon who ends up in the wild west trying to help the locals recover their water supply. Along the way, he encounters many other animated animals including a female desert iguana named Beans and a gunslinging rattlesnake named Rattlesnake Jake.

rango
Johnny Depp voices the chameleon Rango. The film is a western in which the title character, Rango, gets stranded in the desert and comes into contact with some interesting animals.

While Rango might not be as popular a character as other animated animals such as Mickey Mouse or Dory from Finding Nemo, Rango certainly holds his own in the world of animated, anthropomorphic animals.

Rango is such a quirky character with a unique story that the film even won best animated feature in 2011. And we’re all for any movie starring a chameleon – animated or not!

Godzilla

Okay, we’ll admit Godzilla might better be classified as a monster instead of a reptile, but we think he bears enough resemblance to our herp friends that he qualifies for this list.

Godzilla originated in a Japanese film of the same name in the year 1954 and has since become a cultural icon. He has made appearances in many movies (American and Japanese), comics, and even TV shows.

2014 godzilla
This is the modern iteration of Godzilla from the American 2014 film. We think he’s much more menacing here than when he’s portrayed by an actor in a costume.

When Godzilla was first conceived, he was mainly meant to serve as a metaphor and commentary on the threat of nuclear weapons. However, with time, the reptilian monster took on many more nuanced aspects including playing an antihero, a purely destructive villain, and even a defender of humanity.

Godzilla has evolved over time from being played by a man in a suit to his latest American incarnation where he is an elaborate computer simulated masterpiece. No matter how technologically advanced Godzilla might become, he’s still one very famous reptile and we are excited to see the next movie he stars in.

Tick Tock, the Crocodile 

There are many iterations of the classic story of Peter Pan in the film and TV world. And many of the stories have some version of a crocodile that ate Captain Hook’s hand leaving him with his famous hook.

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to discuss the 1953 Disney animated version of Peter Pan and the crocodile Tick Tock.

tick tock the croc
Here we see Tick Tock the Croc eagerly awaiting a chance to take another bite out of Captain Hook.

At some point, Tick Tock the croc managed to eat an alarm clock. This has left him with a permanent “tick” and a delightfully catchy tune that accompanies him whenever he appears on screen.

Tick Tock might not get much screen time in the movie, but when he does appear, he definitely steals the scene!

Wally Gator

Wally Gator is an old school Hanna-Barbera cartoon that first appeared on TV in the 1960s. Wally lives in the city zoo and is watched over by the zookeeper Mr. Twiddle who has to make sure Wally doesn’t get into too much trouble when he leaves the zoo.

wally gator
Wally Gator is a famous Hanna-Barbera cartoon that aired in the 1960s.

Nowadays, Wally isn’t really seen too much on TV, mainly due to issues with remastering the series. Fans of this anthropomorphic Cajun alligator still hope that a complete DVD set of the series featuring all fifty two episodes will be released at a future date.

Mr. Toad

The character of Mr. Toad actually originates in literature. He is one of the main characters in the book The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and he is also the title character in the A.A. Milne play Toad of Toad Hall which is based upon the book.

Although he is a famous literary character, Mr. Toad has also made his way into many hearts by being animated into a Disney film entitled The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The film depicts Mr. Toad as an egocentric chaser of fads who is accused of car theft and ultimately winds up being acquitted. If you’ve ever been to Disneyland, there is an entire ride in Fantasyland based around the crazy antics that Mr. Toad gets himself into.

mr. toad
This is Disney’s version of Mr. Toad. As his eyes clearly indicate, Mr. Toad is about to get himself into some trouble.

Ultimately, Mr. Toad is portrayed as a lovable but selfish rogue. He gets himself into trouble, but not too much trouble. The people who live with him put up with him and have come to accept his behavior as normal although he is constantly obsessed with something or other.

Kaa the Snake

Kaa is another famous fictional reptile born out of literature. He makes his debut in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, a tale many of us have come to know through countless adaptations on the big screen.

Probably the most famous incarnation of Kipling’s Kaa is in the 1967 Disney animated feature film The Jungle Book. Not only is this movie filled with memorable songs, but Kaa is portrayed as less of a menacing character and more of a bumbling failure. Each time he tries to eat Mowgli, he is unsuccessful and flounders comically when his attempts are thwarted by Bagheera the panther.

kaa
In Disney’s version, Kaa the snake is not as menacing as he is in Kipling’s depiction.

The Disney animated version of Kaa even gets his very own song in the movie titled, “Trust in Me.”

Kaa’s lisping voice coupled with his hypnotic powers make him quite a memorable reptile, even if he is only a cartoon.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The popular eighties cartoon featuring the four teenage mutant ninja turtles – Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo, and Raphael – has since been adapted to big budget feature films directed by established action-flick director Michael Bay.

The older generation will fondly remember the popular Ninja Turtles animated cartoon TV series that aired in the 1980s until 1996 and lasted a full ten seasons! This was a fairly light-hearted cartoon where the turtles ate pizza and fought crime. The cartoon was accompanied by a series of toys that became extremely popular. While the cartoon was on the air, the Ninja Turtles could be seen on everything from lunch boxes to T-shirts.

Aside from being television stars, the four Ninja Turtles have also starred in several movies. In the early nineties, they starred in three live-action films with partially animatronic likenesses portraying the iconic turtles. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop developed animatronic heads that were placed atop real actors and the result, while considered somewhat “cheesy” by today’s special effects standards, was quite cutting edge at the time.

teenage mutant ninja turtles
The Ninja Turtles got a reboot in 2014. This is how they appear in Michael Bay’s movie.

Since the three films in the nineties, director Michael Bay has resurrected the legacy of the Ninja Turtles within the last few years, giving Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo, and Raphael new life thanks to the magic of computer special effects and digital animation. The Ninja Turtles have become super heroes and action heroes in their own right.

Not only do the Ninja Turtles have quite a presence in TV and movies, they even starred in a series of video games. The Ninja Turtles were first seen in game form on the NES system and have since been found in arcade systems as well as more modern consoles like the Playstation and XBOX systems.

Yoshi

We’re pretty sure Yoshi isn’t a typical reptile. In fact, to be fair, he’s essentially a dinosaur, but we’re still including him on this list because he very closely resembles some of our lizard friends and we think he deserves recognition.

Yoshi is a creation of Nintendo. He’s a cute little green dinosaur who originally started out as Mario and Luigi’s side kick. He has since grown into a character with his own game series and personality to match.

yoshi
One of Yoshi’s talents within the video game world is grabbing enemies with his long tongue.

Yoshi is known in the gaming world for his ability to eat virtually any enemy and produce a spotted egg which can then be used as a weapon. Like a chameleon, he has a sticky tongue that extends very far out of his mouth and allows him to grab food and enemies from very far away. He is also capable of behaving like a horse and Mario and Luigi can ride on his back if both characters are appearing in the same game.

Aside from appearing in the various Super Mario Brothers games, Yoshi has starred in his own Nintendo games such as “Yoshi’s Story” and “Yoshi’s Island.” He is also always a playable character in the Super Smash Brothers games as well as the Mario Kart series, both of which are games that feature a collection of Nintendo characters pitted against one another.

Conclusion

Even though all of the fictional reptiles on this list might not technically be considered true reptiles and/or amphibians, we think it’s great that herps have gotten recognition throughout the years and carved out such notable niches for themselves in pop culture.

So, whether your favorite herp appears on TV, in movies, in a video game, or even in a classic work of literature, be sure to note what a feat it is that they became so recognizable in the first place. The more reptiles and amphibians we see on a daily basis, whether fictional or real, the happier we are!

So, what did you think of our list of the top ten most famous reptiles and amphibians in pop culture? Was your favorite included? Any noteworthy or honorable mentions you think we should have included? Let us know in the comments section!

How Do Snakes Eat?

Even if you’ve never owned a pet snake or seen one up close in real life, we bet you’re aware that snakes can swallow food that is much larger than their head in a single bite. How cool is that? But, how do snakes eat other animals?

As humans, we not only cut up our food into manageable portions, we also chew it until it is the proper consistency to be swallowed. It’s hard to imagine trying to swallow an entire cow or even an entire carrot whole, but that’s what snakes do.

How do snakes eat?

So, how are snakes able to eat this way without choking? What unique adaptations do they possess that allow them to eat so efficiently? Well, if you’re curious about this topic at all, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’ll cover topics from how a snake’s jaw is built to other special traits they have in order to be such powerhouse eating machines.

how do snakes eat
Snakes are able to eat food that is literally larger than their own head. They have special jaws that give them an enhanced range of movement. This photo shows a Hog Island Boa (Boa c. imperator) consuming a mouse. This particular snake is a picky eater and therefore had to be fed a live mouse rather than one that had been frozen.

What do wild snakes eat?

As is the case with many wild animals, snakes are opportunistic eaters and usually will eat a variety of food based on what types of prey can be found in their vicinity. Keep in mind that all snakes are carnivores though, so there are no species that eat plants or vegetable matter.

Most mid-size snakes will eat small vertebrates, usually mammals. Ground-dwelling rodents such as mice, shrews, voles, rats, and even moles are all excellent meals for snakes in the wild. However, mid-size snakes are also not afraid to indulge in appropriately-sized vertebrates such as frogs, toads, small birds, and even other snakes!

Larger snakes can obviously eat larger food. North American species that don’t grow to extremely large sizes will eat chickens, lizards, rabbits, and other large rodents.

Some of the larger snake species (i.e. boas, pythons, and anacondas) can eat large game animals such as deer, boar, and even goats. However, this is usually reserved for jungle-dwelling species that eat wild game animals.

green anaconda
Snake species such as this green anaconda (Eunectes murinus) will grow so large that in time they will eat small game animals!

We’ve covered what large snakes eat in the wild. But, what do tiny snakes such as ringneck snakes and blind snakes eat in the wild? What prey items are small enough for these nearly earthworm-sized reptiles to consume?

Well, many will eat small invertebrates in place of vertebrates. Small insects like cockroaches, crickets, and even worms are all on the menu for these itty bitty snake species.

Notice anything in particular about this list of prey items? All of them are listed as “prey” and not “food.” This is because snakes actually won’t eat dead matter. They will only eat living food, or in the case of snakes we keep as pets, food that they perceive to be living prey.

How does a snake’s jaw work?

The jaw of a snake is very different from the jaw on mammals and other reptiles such as lizards and tortoises. Most mammals and reptiles that are not snakes have a skull and a lower jaw bone called a mandible.

These two main bones are generally fused together and unable to perform too broad of a range of movement other than opening and closing and perhaps a little shifting from side to side.

Snakes have jaws that are much more flexible and capable of a broad range of movement. This is because instead of two pieces that are fused together, the jaws of a snake are comprised of three pieces that are held together by much more flexible tendons, muscles, and ligaments.

Snakes have a top skull bone and two bottom jaw pieces that are actually not fused together at the chin. Instead, these two bottom jaw pieces are held together by muscle allowing each side of the jaw to move independently of each other.

Getting into the nitty gritty anatomy of a snake’s jaw, the upper bone and lower bones are connected via the quadrate bone. This special bone behaves like a hinge and allows for the snake’s jaw to open 150 degrees!

This means that any snake can open its mouth to swallow food that for all intents and purposes appears too large for it to eat.

snake jaw
This diagram shows the inner workings of a snake’s jaw. Notice the quadrate bone and how it behaves like a hinge allowing the snake to open its jaws to such a wide angle.

One myth that we’d like to clear up regarding a snake’s jaw bones is that a snake’s jaw can actually come unhinged or detached. This is not true. Snakes don’t detach their jaw bones on command.

As we’ve already discussed, they simply have special adaptations that make their jaws extremely flexible and this makes it appear that the jaw detaches.

If you’ve ever witnessed a snake eating, you’ll know that although you’d think it would be a very slow and tedious process, most snakes eat very quickly and will consume their prey in under five minutes.

This is because once the jaws have opened over the prey, the snake’s curved teeth grab the prey and make sure it doesn’t slip forward and out of the snake’s wide open mouth.

The snake then secretes a lot of saliva and lubricates the food while “walking” its jaws forward over the prey one side at a time. The digestive muscles then take over the remainder of the process and push the food further down the digestive tract and proper digestion begins.

How do snakes catch their prey?

If snakes have no arms, legs, or even claws of any sort to catch prey, how then do they capture food to eat? What special abilities do they have to make up for their lack of arms and legs?

As we’re sure you’re aware, some species of snakes are venomous. They have long, hollow, front fangs that grab prey and inject them with venom that allows the snake to eat the prey item at its leisure.

Examples of venomous snakes that most Americans are familiar with are vipers, coral snakes, and rattle snakes.

Did you know that each species of snake actually possesses its own special venom type? The effects of the venom can vary by species, but there are three main types – neurotoxins, cardiotoxins, and hemotoxins.

Neurotoxins affect the nervous system and generally cause respiratory function to cease. Cardiotoxins affect the prey’s heart, causing the muscles to deteriorate and eventually make the heart stop beating.

Hemotoxins cause blood vessels to rupture which results in widespread internal bleeding.

Boa dumerili
This Dumerils Boa (Boa dumerili) is a typical constrictor. It will suffocate its prey before eating it and does not possess fangs like venomous snakes.

When a venomous snake is not biting something, its hollow fangs fold back into the snake’s mouth. This is because if the fangs didn’t lie flat, the snake would either be incapable of closing its mouth or its teeth would puncture through the bottom of its own face.

Most other non-venomous snakes are constrictors, meaning that once they lunge and grab their prey, they begin to squeeze the animal until it has suffocated to death allowing the snake to eat freely. Each time the prey inhales, the snake’s coils tighten and the prey is unable to take another breath.

So, whether the snake injects venom or squeezes its food to death, it’s clear that lacking limbs poses no problems for these reptiles when it comes to grabbing a meal.

How should I feed my snake in captivity?

Snakes are usually not hard to feed in captivity. Most smaller species will happily eat mice their entire life, while the larger constrictor species will eventually move onto rats.

If you’re squeamish about feeding a living rodent to your pet snake, luckily most snakes will eat pre-killed frozen rodents. All you need to do is keep the frozen rodent in your freezer until it’s meal time for your snake and then you de-thaw it.

We usually allow our frozen mice to thaw in warm water, but you can also just allow them to sit out until they’ve completely thawed. Just be sure to NEVER put a frozen rodent in the microwave!

You will have disastrous and rather messy results and end up with a snake that goes hungry.

Sometimes, snakes can be picky eaters. This is usually only true of the ones that are wild-caught. Captive bred snakes will generally accept frozen/thawed rodents with no issue.

If you do end up with a picky eater, you can certainly feed it living rodents. Pet stores sell feeder mice specifically for this very reason. There will be a few extra steps to the feeding process though.

First of all, we don’t recommend throwing a live mouse in with your snake in its normal enclosure. No matter if you’re feeding a live rodent or a frozen one to your snake, we highly recommend transferring your snake to a new enclosure for the feeding process.

This helps your snake to associate being moved to a specific area with feeding time and helps develop a schedule. It also trains your snake to recognize that not every time the cage opens means feeding time and will help minimize accidental striking and biting.

So, the first step when feeding a live rodent is to transfer your snake to a separate feeding container. Once you’ve done this, we recommend stunning your live rodent. This process is certainly not for the faint hearted.

There are many ways to stun a rodent, but many snake owners will strike the mouse against a hard surface to knock it unconscious. The rodent should be stunned because like any animal, it will fight for its life and this means that if your snake doesn’t consume the rodent immediately, the rodent could actually gnaw on your snake and inflict wounds that will get infected.

If you are simply unable to stun your snake’s dinner, then always stick around for the entire feeding process and make sure that the mouse or rat is not injuring the snake in any way.

If your snake turns out to not have an appetite, which can happen often if the snake is preparing to shed, then always remove the rodent from the enclosure and return your snake to its normal enclosure. Never leave the rodent around assuming the snake will eventually eat it.

There are also specific species of snakes such as egg eating snakes, water snakes, and tiny snakes like ringneck snakes that don’t eat mice. Obviously, egg eating snakes eat eggs.

They’re specialized eaters and won’t eat rodents no matter how hungry they are. Water snakes might eat rodents, but usually they eat small reptiles and amphibians in the wild, so we recommend offering feeder frogs and even feeder fish.

green water snake
Specialized snake species such as this green water snake probably won’t eat rodents like a “traditional” pet snake. We recommend doing your research before you purchase any species of snake to be sure that you can properly address its food requirements.

If you ever happen to end up with a snake that proves to be a troublesome eater, we actually wrote an entire blog article dedicated to offering tips and tricks to get them to eat. You can find that particular article here.

Conclusion – How do snakes eat?

Snakes are fascinating reptiles and watching your pet snake eat is usually quite a spectacle. Most snake owners genuinely enjoy observing the feeding process and it’s a huge reason many reptile hobbyists choose to care for snakes.

We hope that this “How do snakes eat?” article has taught you some things about how snakes have evolved to be able to eat food that is much larger than their own head. We think it’s a really cool adaptation and we never grow tired of feeding the snakes we keep at Backwater Reptiles.

 

 

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.

How to Set Up a Chameleon Cage Habitat

We love chameleons at Backwater Reptiles. In fact, we specialize in these quirky, colorful, and always fascinating lizards. If you’re wondering how to setup a chameleon cage habitat or enclosure, you’ve come to the right place.

We’ve bred and hatched thousands of chameleons over the years, everything from common species to extremely rare. We’re experts on everything from breeding, feeding, and even hydrating these reptiles and we’re going to pass our knowledge on to you!

Many people are drawn to the bright complexions of chameleons and their ability to alter their color, but they don’t always take the time to research and find out the specific needs of their new pet lizard.

What might seem like common sense to experienced herpers is often like learning a foreign language to new reptile enthusiasts. They often need help getting started. That’s where this blog article comes in!

Not only will we provide written instructions on how to set up your pet chameleon’s enclosure, we’ll explain to you why things need to be done this way. And we’ve even thrown in a video tutorial for good measure!

So read on to find out how we set up our chameleon cages at Backwater Reptiles as well as learn some tips and tricks even if you are an experienced chameleon owner.

Overview of setting up your chameleon’s cage

Before you get into the nitty gritty specifics as detailed in writing below, we wanted to give you the chance to watch a video we made detailing how to set up the perfect enclosure for your pet chameleon. Watch the tutorial video and then read our FAQs for even more details!

What type of cage should I get for my chameleon?

Unlike many species of reptiles which will thrive in glass tanks, all chameleons (with the exception of the pygmy chameleon) should have a mesh or screen cage.

Although there are cages that have mixed glass and mesh walls, we recommend an enclosure that is completely screens with no glass walls to ensure your pet chameleon’s optimum health.

Are you wondering why your chameleon should have a mesh cage? The answer is simple really – ventilation. A glass cage prevents air from circulating properly and creates a stagnant environment within the chameleon’s home.

If the air doesn’t circulate properly, your chameleon can develop a respiratory infection due to stagnant, humid air. Once an infection takes hold, they’re not easy to eliminate.

If you’re wondering where to find a specialty chameleon cage, you can purchase them right on our website–the same ones we use so successfully. Each chameleon page has a supplies section if you scroll-down just a bit.

Many types and brands of chameleon cages exist, but we usually go for ones that give easy access to the animal with secure latches and swinging doors on the front. Some will also have sliding screen tops, although we prefer the front access kind.

simple chameleon cage setup
This is a classic chameleon cage. Notice how it has an aluminum (no corrosion) frame and all screen walls. Chameleon cages shouldn’t have glass walls to encourage air circulation.

Usually we also prefer mesh cages that have two separate swinging front doors – a larger top door for gaining access to your chameleon itself and a smaller, lower door. The lower door is opened to slide out your cage liner so you can wipe up dead insects and any feces that might collect.

Backwater Reptiles has a simple selection of cages and cage requirements that you can purchase at the same time you buy your pet chameleon. As mentioned, just scroll down a bit on any of our chameleon pages.

What size enclosure should my chameleon have?

Most chameleons are relatively small lizards with the exception of a few species such as Oustalets chameleons (Furcifer oustaleti), Parson’s chameleons (Calumma parsonii), and Mellers chameleons (Chamaeleo melleri). This means that you can house most species in small to medium-sized cages.

Babies and juveniles obviously don’t need as much space as their adult counterparts. In fact, we recommend smaller cages for babies because it can be hard for them to find their food source (i.e. catch the tiny crickets and fruit flies that they eat) in such a large cage.

However, there are certain instances where you can get one size cage and keep it for the entirety of your chameleon’s life.

Most common species of adult chameleons that are kept as pets such as Jackson’s chameleons (Chamaeleo jacksonii), Panther chameleons (Furcifer pardalis), and Veiled chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus) do just fine with a mid-size cage.

We recommend an enclosure that is eighteen inches deep by eighteen inches wide and thirty-six inches tall for sub-adults and adults. However, smaller cages can be used successfully.

Panther chameleon cage
Here’s one of our more prolific Ambilobe Panther chameleon breeders (a male). Females are much less colorful–you can see one on the left side of the picture.

Notice that the cage we recommended is more tall than it is wide? That’s because chameleons are arboreal species and they will spend most (if not all) of their time up in the branches and foliage you provide for them. You’ll very rarely, if ever, see your chameleon on the floor of the cage.

This means that height is far more important than floor space when keeping a chameleon’s life style in mind. More height means that the chameleon has more room to thermoregulate.

It can choose to be up high close to the heat source and UV lights to bask or it can descend further down into the enclosure to cool off.

What kind of accessories are safe to put inside my chameleon’s enclosure?

When it comes to decor and accessorizing your chameleon’s cage, we’re of the mindset that natural is beautiful. In other words, although it might not harm your chameleon to add cute little cage decorations, there certainly is no benefit to doing so.

We prefer our set ups to mimic the conditions of the chameleon’s natural habitat as closely as possible, which means plants and vines are our go-to accessories.

We recommend either artificial or living plants as your main cage decor. This is both practical and aesthetically pleasing. Chameleons needs lots of foliage to climb on as they are arboreal lizards and having plants inside the cage will satisfy this need.

Many cage set ups actually come with some artificial vines and foliage and these are perfectly acceptable options.

If you do choose to go with living plants, please make sure that you are not buying a toxic plant. Below is a list of a few species that we have used successfully in our set ups at Backwater Reptiles:

Hibiscus – This tropical plant has fairly large, green leaves and very gorgeous flowers when it blooms.

hibiscus
This is a mature hibiscus plant growing in the wild, but you can purchase much smaller, potted hibiscus plants from your local hardware store.

Ficus benjamina –  This species of fig is commonly known as the weeping fig, Benjamin fig, or even simpler yet, the Ficus tree. Although this “plant” will eventually grow into a tree, if you purchase a young one at a hardware store, it will last you many years inside your chameleon’s enclosure.

Pothos Plant – Considered by many to be a classic house plant, the pothos plant is very easy to care for. It will grow quickly and “outward” unless you give it something to grab on to though, so we recommend a sturdy stick or branch to make it grow upwards within your chameleon’s cage.

Schefflera arboricola – We highly recommend this species if you want living plants in your chameleon cage. This species does very well under stress and doesn’t require much care to thrive.

The verdict – although we think living plants are more aesthetically pleasing, they can also add another layer of care to your chameleon set up. Not only will you have to care for a chameleon, but you’ll also have a plant to water and provide sunshine for.

Plastic foliage requires no additional care and is also easier to spot clean for feces and dead bugs.

What type of lighting and temperatures will my chameleon need?

Make sure that you provide a UVB light for your chameleon. It should sit atop the cage. You will also need to make sure that the foliage and climbing areas within the enclosure allow the chameleon to be within six inches of the UV light.

This distance is important because you don’t want to allow the chameleon to get too close to the light because it could unintentionally burn itself. But on the opposite side of the spectrum, if your chameleon can’t get close enough to the light, it won’t be able to properly absorb the rays and synthesize the vitamins that help it to develop strong bones.

At Backwater Reptiles, we prefer to use Zoo Med Reptisun 5.0 bulbs. We’ve had great success with these bulbs and we highly recommend them whenever people ask us. You can purchase the ones we use right on our website.

One quick note regarding all UV lights, whether they are used for a chameleon cage set up or for some other reptile – they need to be replaced every nine to twelve months. They lose their efficacy if you don’t replace them. We recommend changing sooner rather than later if you ever have doubts.

As far as temperature is concerned, we’ve found that room temperature tends to be just fine for most species of chameleons unless your ambient room temperature drops below seventy or above eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit.

You can provide a basking heat lamp in addition to a UV light. The ambient temperature around the basking area should be between one hundred and one hundred ten degrees Fahrenheit. You should invest in a reptile heat gun in order to monitor both your ambient cage temperature as well as your basking spot temperature.

Does my chameleon need a water dish?

The shortest answer to this question is no, your chameleon does not need a water dish.

Chameleons actually don’t drink water from a bowl. In fact, they will die of dehydration before drinking water from a dish. They simply won’t recognize it as a source of hydration.

How then do you get a chameleon to drink water and stay healthy and hydrated? The answer is simpler than you might think. All you need to do is regularly mist inside the cage or provide some sort of drip system on top of the cage.

Because we have many cages and many chameleons to care for, at Backwater Reptiles we have automatic misters called monsoons on top of all our chameleon enclosures. However, these are rather pricey misting systems and we only really recommend them if you have multiple animals and a very busy schedule.

If you just have a single chameleon or even a breeding pair living in a single enclosure, there are many ways to make sure your chameleon gets water. The first way is to simply manually use a spray bottle and mist the cage several times per day.

You’ll want to make sure that in addition to creating humidity, you are spritzing in areas to collect water droplets on the leaves.

chameleon drinking water
This Parson’s chameleon is lapping up water that has collected on the foliage in its enclosure.

You can also buy an inexpensive drip system from just about any pet store. These drip systems are usually tubs with a spout that allows you to control the intensity of the drip.

And if you’re real thrifty, you can even hydrate your chameleon using a small, plastic, disposable cup! All you have to do is poke a small hole in the bottom of the cup, fill it with water and set it in a place atop the mesh cage where it will drip onto leaves and create small pools of water for your chameleon to lap up.

So, we’ve learned that you can choose to hydrate your pet chameleon using several methods – manually misting, setting up an automatic mist system, or creating some sort of dripping apparatus.

However, one thing is definitely clear – a water dish is not necessary and your chameleon will not drink from it.

Conclusion – Setting up a chameleon cage

Chameleons make fantastic and rewarding pets. They are so fun to show off to friends and family and many can even be trained to eat from your hand!

Setting up a proper environment where they can thrive is paramount. We hope that this blog article has helped you out with your own chameleon’s set up, whether you’re brand new to keeping chameleons or an experienced herp enthusiast.