Keeping reptiles can feel very confusing sometimes! Each one is an incredibly unique species, each with their own requirements, and it can feel like you need a degree in herpetology to manage them!
Using a care sheet to understand the basics of keeping your pet is an essential. It is also recommended that you understand your pet’s individual quirks.
Here are five of the most unique traits of reptiles – and what to do to promote the positive welfare of your reptile!
1 – Geckos tails can fall off!
No, you read that correctly! Some species of Gecko, such as the Leopard Gecko, will “drop” their tails when feeling extreme stress.
This defense mechanism developed in response to predators, the gecko will first wag their tail to get the predators attention. When the predator has latched on, they will then “drop” their tail to escape. The mechanism of the drop is included in their anatomy. Gecko’s tails have a point of attachment with very little connective tissue and limited blood flow. This process is known as autonomy.
Interestingly, the detached tail can continue to move for as long as 30 minutes after being dropped.
Once the tail has dropped, geckos can grow another one! It will often grow back slightly wonky, but they can grow as many tails as necessary during their lifetime.
This interesting quirk can be used to look for levels of stress in your pet gecko. If handled incorrectly, geckos can begin to feel stressed and eventually their tails will drop off. Looking out for their tail wag will help you to manage their environment in a way their stress levels remain low.
2 – Not all snakes reproduce via eggs!
Though most snakes will reproduce via eggs (oviparus), there are a select few species that give birth to live young (viviparus). These species include anacondas, vipers and rattlesnakes.
There are several distinct evolutionary advantages to giving birth to live young, the first being the ability to move. Unlike eggs, female snakes that give birth to live young are able to move to do so in safe areas as opposed to laying eggs which can be left exposed. Equally, an embryo is kept safe in the mothers body whereas eggs can be found and eaten.
Though they are not commonly kept as pets, it is important to keep males and females separate unless you are planning on breeding them. Consequently, these species are best housed individually unless they have been introduced to each other at a young age. Equally, if you wish to have them living in groups, they should be sex checked from a young age to ensure they are kept in same sex groups.
3 – Reptiles cannot sweat!
Reptiles cannot sweat! As a result their skin is often smooth, cool and dry, as opposed to the myth that their skin is slimy and wet.
As they cannot sweat in the same way that mammals do, reptiles have very unique and quirky ways of cooling off! For example, bearded dragons can often be found sat with their mouths open, taking in cool air to cool themselves down. The same system can be observed in crocodiles!
Reptiles are also known to hibernate through the summer months when it is too warm and the winter months when it is too cold.
This is why it is important in captivity to offer a range of temperatures in the enclosure to allow our animals to pick what temperature they wish to be. This can be achieved by offering a temperature gradient within the enclosure, and is most often done by having a “warm end” and a “cool end” of the enclosure.
If appropriate, the animal should also have access to a water source in which to cool off, as well as a heat lamp under which to bask and warm up!
4 – Cuddling isn’t always cute!
Owners and fans of bearded dragon will notice that when housed in pairs or groups, they tend to snuggle up under the heat-lamps. However, this adorable pastime is not all that it appears…
In the wild, it’s survival of the fittest! Consequently, Bearded Dragons are more than happy to climb over one another to access resources, including heat and UV lamps.
What might look like they’re getting cute and cuddly is actually one Dragon depriving another of a resource in order to access it themselves!
This is more likely to occur if there is a lack of resources in the vivarium. To combat this, you should make sure that you either provide multiple heat-lamps across space or provide a heat-lamp with a large enough output that your animals do not feel like they have to compete.
Alternatively, you may benefit from housing your Bearded Dragons separately, to avoid this competition for resources.
5 – Chameleons do not actually change color to camouflage themselves
Contrary to popular belief, chameleons do not change color to camouflage themselves in their environment. Surprisingly, this is a misnomer!
In fact, chameleons can change color for a whole host of reasons. Stressed chameleons will turn red or yellow, to signal that they feel under threat. It is likely that this evolved as a social signal, to warn other chameleons when they feel threatened by a predator. Chameleons that are trying to attract a mate favor lighter colors, as it appears more attractive to potential mates.
In warmer temperatures, chameleons will turn a lighter shade, in order to reflect more light. Equally, in colder climates the chameleon may make itself lighter in order to absorb more light and warm up.
This can be something to monitor in your chameleon. If you notice your chameleon is red or yellow, you may wish to evaluate the stressors in your pets environment!
As we have seen, reptiles are fascinatingly unique animals. Each one has a different set of needs and requirements, and it is important to ensure you are catering to that with your pets.
Even within species, you may see differences in preferences. It is all about getting to know your individual pet’s preferences.
Do you have a rad reptile at home? Leave us your hints, tips and tricks for reptile care in the comments below!
Guest Author Bio
Johnathan David has been a reptile hobbyist since childhood. He has years of experience in herpetoculture and has cared for geckos (2 gargoyles), skinks (blue tongue) and a frog (poison dart).