Thursday, February 26, 2004

Reptiles aren't things, dagnabit!

I have a pet lizard. She's, a leopard gecko, to be precise. This little cutie (because she is very cute) has been to the vet twice in the seven months I've had her. Why? She's my responsibility! Many people, especially young people or their parents, buy reptiles as throwaway pets. They're not, and they're more work than people think- I have two cats, and caring for my leopard gecko takes much more effort than looking after the two of them.

Why? Cats and dogs are domesticated, and lizards aren't. They've only been kept as pets and bred in captivity for the past 30-40 years; that breeding has focused on color and pattern, not docility. Some animals, liked plumed basilisks (http://www.sundialreptile.com/basilisk-brandeau-4th.htm), have been captive bred for even less time. Reptiles, even those sold as pets, are still essentially wild animals. Some species can be tamed, some species can't. Even within the "tameable" species, some individuals will never get used to the idea, and some will even grow to like it.

People underestimate the amount of money that has to be spent on a reptile if you want to keep it alive. Necessities are: some sort of cage (usually an aquarium-type glass cage for ease of view and especially of cleaning, must be big enough along reptile's preferred dimension to establish a thermal gradient), a lid for said cage to prevent escapes, lights (UV for daylight animals- these bulbs run $30-$40 and have to be replaced every six months or so), heat in addition to lights as needed (ceramic heat emitters, under-tank heat pads, NOT HOT ROCKS!!!!!), thermometers (at least two, one at each end of your thermal gradient), d├ęcor items, substrate (varies depending on what kind of animal you've got), food (live bugs, fresh veggies, stuff to feed the bugs), vitamins, vet care, reference books (so you can tell when the lizard needs to go to the vet, as in the wild a sick lizard is a dead lizard), hand sanitizer (they can carry salmonella), and a spray bottle. This can run well over $200, depending on the species you're keeping and the cost of your tank (many pet shops will sell chipped aquariums at a discount- they can't hold water, but they're fine for reptiles).

If people want an easy and inexpensive pet, get tropical fish. Reptiles take work, time, patience, and perseverance.

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