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.

Frog and Toad Myths Debunked

At Backwater Reptiles, we love exotic critters of all types – arachnids, amphibians, and reptiles alike! However, some people are not so fond of our amphibious friends, frogs and toads. This could be because frogs and toads are not traditionally “cute” like most pets, or maybe it’s due to lack of education on the species.

No matter what reason someone might have for disliking frogs and toads, in this article, we’ll set out to explain some of the more popular frog and toad myths. Hopefully a little knowledge will help some people see frogs and toads in a new light.

Myth #1 – Frogs and toads cause warts

First off, let us say that through years of experience handling toads and frogs on pretty much a daily basis, this myth is just NOT true. Let us state that again – frogs and toads DO NOT cause warts! You can safely pick up any frog or toad no matter how wet, sticky, or dirty it appears to be and you can rest easy knowing that your hands and face will be free of warts.

frog and toad myths debunked
As you can see, this baby Pixie frog (Pyxicephalus adspersus) is not giving this handler warts of any kind. Another amphibian myth debunked.

Warts are actually caused by a virus. Frogs and toads are not capable of transmitting this virus. So, essentially, you could get warts by interacting with another human being, but interacting with an amphibian will not give them to you.

Myth #2 – Frogs and toads are slimy

This myth is only partially false. Toads tend to be “dryer” than frogs and this is because frogs live closer to bodies of water and are usually moister than toads. Toads have bumpier, rougher skin and tend to stay out of the water for the most part. So, the bottom line is that you might encounter a wet frog, but you’ll probably only encounter a moist toad.

We also want to mention that even though frogs are wetter than toads, that does not make them slimy. They are not sticky and don’t leave mucous behind on your hands if you hold them.

smooth sided toad
This Smooth Sided Toad (Bufo guttatus) is not slimy and not leaving residue on its handler. Frogs and toads might be moist or wet, but they are not mucous-y like a snail.

So, the takeaway from this myth debunking is: frogs and toads might be moist or wet due to the nature of their skin, but they won’t be slimy. No residue will be left on your skin.

Myth #3 – Toads and frogs are associated with witch craft

While frogs and toads might hold certain places of honor in the world of Harry Potter, in real life, toads and frogs are just like any other creature that has a bad reputation. Take for instance black cats. We all know that it’s just a superstition that a black cat crossing your path means bad luck. The same principle holds true for frogs and toads.

In fact, in some cultures frogs and toads are actually good omens or signs of good luck! Just goes to show you that it depends on your upbringing and belief system and not the animal itself.

Myth #4 – Licking a toad will cause you to hallucinate

This myth actually has a somewhat factual basis. Both frogs and toads can be deadly if handled improperly due to poisons secreted through their skins.

For example, the poison dart frog is very aptly named. This group of frog species secretes a poison through its skin that is toxic to all kinds of animals if ingested or allowed to get into the bloodstream.

However, it’s not a hallucinogen, so licking a poison dart frog will more than likely kill you or make you very ill instead of make you high.

strawberry dart frog
Although dart frogs are poisonous in the wild, in captivity they lose this trait. We definitely do not recommend licking a frog or toad regardless of whether or not the animal is poisonous.

On the other hand, many species of toads actually secrete a substance called bufotoxin through glands behind their eyes when they are stressed or threatened.

This toxin is deadly when “raw” and many family pets are actually killed each year from accidentally ingesting bufotoxins from Cane toads. What can happen is, the toad will actually try to eat the dry dog or cat food from their outside dishes (yes, these toads will eat dog food), and the dog or cat will then defend its food by biting the toad. Bad move.

However, bufotoxins can technically be processed scientifically and are then considered hallucinogens, so this myth is partially true. Colorado River toads are notorious for their bufotoxins and are actually banned in some states.

You can lick a toad or frog in an attempt to get high and hallucinate, but more than likely you’ll just end up in the hospital. Lesson: don’t lick toads.

Conclusion – Frog and Toad Myths

We think that frogs and toads make awesome pets, so we hope that this blog article has helped shed some light on common myths surrounding them.

Frogs and toads are just amphibians trying to survive like any other animal. We don’t think they deserve to be shunned or avoided just because someone once told you that touching them gives you warts!

 

 

 

Frogs vs. Toads

Ever wonder what the difference is between frogs and toads?

Frogs and toads are very similar animals after all and both are in fact amphibians. So what differentiates these two animals from one another? Read our Frogs vs. Toads blog post to find out!

Frogs vs Toads

Frogs vs. Toads – Proximity to Water

One difference between frogs and toads is that frogs live in or near a water source. Toads, on the other hand, can live on land in dryer environments, although they do still need a certain degree of moisture present to thrive.

Eastern Spadefoot Toad
This is an Eastern Spadefoot Toad. It has unusually large and bulbous eyes for a toad as well as unusually moist skin.

Frogs will actually spend most of their time in the water and are adept swimmers. Toads prefer to be on land and are not very graceful in the water.

Frogs vs. Toads – Physical Differences

There are a number of physical differences in the way frogs and toads are built that also help differentiate them from one another.

Frogs have smooth, moist skin, while toads have rough, bumpy skin that is often dry.

Glass Frog Underbelly
This is a glass frog. This species is known for its transparent skin that allows you to see its internal organs.

The hind legs of frogs are very long, graceful, and powerful because their main method of locomotion is jumping. Toads tend to have shorter, stumpier legs that enable them to walk or hop instead of jump long distances.

Frogs are generally lean, athletic-looking amphibians, whereas toads tend to have bodies that make them appear squat and out of shape.

A toad’s eyes are usually shaped like a football, but a frog has round, saucer-like eyes. A frog’s eyes will also bulge out a bit from its skull, while a toad’s eyes will not bulge.

Firebelly Toad
Don’t let is name fool you! The Firebelly Toad is not actually a toad at all, but rather a frog. It lives a mostly aquatic life.

Most frogs also possess some kind of teeth. Some frogs have vomerine teeth, which are located on the roof of the frog’s mouth. Other frogs might have maxillary teeth in addition to (or in place of) the vomerine teeth. This distinguishes them from toads, which have no teeth.

Frogs vs. Toads – Behavior

The main difference in behavior between toads and frogs is the amount of time each animal spends in the water. As mentioned earlier, most frogs prefer aqueous environments, whereas toads live on dry land.

South American Giant Marine Toad
The South American Giant Marine Toad is an enormous toad that exhibits the classic toad physical traits of bumpy skin and squatness.

Both toads and frogs are omnivores and eat everything from worms, crickets, and roaches to algae and pond sediment.

When it comes to reproduction, frogs lay their eggs in clusters very near to a water source as the tadpoles need to hatch into a watery environment. Toads will often lay their eggs in long chains. The young of both frogs and toads need to be born/hatched near water to survive.

Frogs vs. Toads – Toxicity

Both frogs and toads can be poisonous, however only toads possess poison glands behind their eyes.

Frogs, such as the Poison Dart Frog, can exude a poison through their skin. Scientists are currently unsure of what causes these frogs to be able to secrete such a poison, but they believe it to be something the frogs generate from plants or food in their wild habitats since the captive bred frogs are not toxic.

Tomato Frog
The Tomato Frog can exude a white substance from its skin when aggravated. This substance can be irritating if it comes into contact with human skin.

A toad’s toxicity comes from the poison glands behind its eyes. Whenever a toad feels threatened, it can secrete poison through its skin. This poison can then be ingested by a predator or come into contact with the skin of another animal (even a human handler) and cause irritation.

The same gland behind the toad’s eyes can also produce a separate compound that makes the toad taste awful when a predator tries to eat it. The predator will try to eat the toad and end up spitting it out due to the bad taste. Frogs do not possess these glands.

Frogs vs. Toads – Conclusion

These are not all the differences between frogs and toads, but they are the basic ones.

It should also be noted that the differences and similarities listed are discussed as generalities and that not all frogs or toads will fit neatly into one category or another. A good example of this is the Surinam Toad (Pipa pipa) which is technically a frog but looks very much like a toad and even has the word “toad” in its common name. We wrote a whole blog article discussing the unique nature of this frog that you can read here.

One thing that both frogs and toads have in common is that they make great pets. This is why Backwater Reptiles has a large selection of frogs for sale as well as a sizable collection of toads for sale.