Back to School: A Reptile Care Course for Beginners
The ABCs of Housing, Feeding, and Caring for Your Pet
Congratulations! You are the soon-to-be new owner of a pet bearded dragon, skink, crested gecko, lizard, or other reptile. Will you pass the test on how to properly care for your pet? There are any number of resources available to you, from fellow reptile owners to knowledgeable breeders, but we thought it’d be helpful to compile some central lessons. Make sure you study these and fully prepare to provide the best possible care and environment for your new pet reptile!
Lesson 1: Know Your Numbers
Before you bring home your pet, make sure you know your numbers. No, we are not talking about complicated math equations. We’re talking about some important numbers regarding your pet, its characteristics, and its needs.
- Anticipated size of your pet when it’s fully grown. As an example, a baby bearded dragon is approximately 4 inches in length, but a fully grown dragon can be up to 2 feet long. Make sure you know what you’re getting into!
- Ideal size for your pet’s enclosure. You not only need to house your pet as a hatchling, but you will need to house him when he is fully grown. Keep in mind the ideal size for your specific reptile when you are shopping for an enclosure or terrarium.
- Ideal enclosure temperature. Some reptiles are natives of hot, tropical climates and require heat sources to be comfortable. Other reptiles prefer their enclosure to be a little cooler at different times of the day. Have a good idea of the ideal temperature for your pet, so you can set up necessary heat sources or basking lights.
- Expected daily insect consumption. Some larger reptiles can eat a dozen or more roaches per day, while other smaller reptiles, like geckos, will only eat one or two feeder insects at a time. Understand your pet’s feeding needs, so you can plan accordingly.
Lesson 2: Make a House a Home
We usually advise customers to “go big” when it comes to selecting an enclosure. Start with an enclosure that can be a permanent home for your pet, even when it is fully grown. The most commonly recommended enclosure size for smaller reptiles like geckos and skinks is 20 gallons minimum for one adult, but we suggest going larger (20–40 gallons) so long as you can keep the habitat adequately heated and maintained. Bearded dragon habitats are typically 75–125 gallons. Keep in mind that some reptiles that grow significantly larger as adults, such as iguanas and water monitors, will need much bigger and higher enclosures so that they can climb.
Lesson 3: Plan a Healthy and Delicious Diet
Feeding a reptile is not as easy as just tossing a few insects into a cage. Different reptiles will require different types of food preparation as well as presentation. For example, geckos need to be fed one or two insects at a time so that none remain in the habitat after feeding time. Bearded dragons prefer gut-loaded live insects as well as various fruits and vegetables. We recommend doing some research about the best well-rounded diet for your pet, along with appropriate feeding times and methods.
Lesson 4: Understand the Signs of an Unhappy Reptile
Moving is stressful for everyone, including your reptile. It can take some time to adjust to a new habitat. Be mindful of the behaviors your pet is exhibiting as he may be stressed. Some common signs of an unhappy reptile include:
- Inactivity or sudden change in activity level
- Change in pigment (darker or lighter coloration)
- Loss of appetite
- Hissing or panting
- Hiding its head
If you suspect your pet is stressed, he may not be comfortable in his environment. Make sure that he has a water source, heat source, and that temperature levels are well managed in his habitat. If the heating and cooling in the enclosure are irregular, your reptile will not be able to regulate his temperature, which will cause stress. As always, remember that the team at ABDragons is here to help address any concerns, offer advice, and provide top-quality feeder insects and supplies for your pet. Let us know if you need us!