Far too many times I have been in a pet store and heard from a parent, “A hamster? Why don’t we get a turtle? Look how cute!” While it’s true – turtles are really cute – as a turtle owner, I think that people underestimate how complex taking care of a reptile or amphibian can be, and the simplest natural functions are foreign and when they happen seem catastrophic. I am here to tell you that research before getting any pet is a great step in getting to know your new animal, and that reptile and amphibian keeping can be a rewarding and engaging experience.
The first step to taking care of your scaly or slimy friend is to understand that both reptiles and amphibians shed their outer layers in order to grow and is a healthy sign – tortoises and turtles shed the top layer of their shell in segments known as “scutes” and their skin, toads and frogs shed their skin and eat it, and snakes leave behind their skin in dry pieces (a healthy shed will be in one piece and contains the shedded eyecaps). Unlike other reptiles and amphibians, snakes go into a phase called “blue” in which their eyes turn a cloudy blue color due to fluid building up between old and new skin. During the blue phase, extra humidity is beneficial to help the snake shed their skin easily. This can be done by making a moss box out of extra Tupperware or adding water to their water dish, which should be readily available.
So, how do they do it? Any reptile or amphibian has specific temperatures their terrariums or aquarium must stay at consistently – free-roaming animals, unless they live at sanctuaries, do not receive the proper lighting and temperature they need to shed, digest, and stay infection-free. The best way to control these factors is to keep your animal in a terrarium (no water) or aquarium, depending on the species. Some reptiles and amphibians are semi or fully aquatic and water and land area are needed. Both reptiles and amphibians need a heat source or lamp, and UVB light to grow. UVB lights seem to last a long time, but for animals, they need to be replaced every six months since indoor animals normally do not get natural UVB from the sun. UVB rays cannot penetrate glass, screen, or water, is an indoor UVB is important.
If your animal is fully or semi-aquatic, a filter is recommended depending on how much they are fed and how messy the individual animal is. For example, turtles can dirty stagnant water within minutes and usually need a filter to maintain water quality. The same goes for aquatic frogs. Reptile and amphibians can be sensitive to chlorine just like fish, and water de-chlorinator for reptiles and amphibians can be found in pet stores to make sure tap water is okay. Buying de-chlorinator can be avoided by using bottled or distilled water for pets, but this is often not feasible when filling a 40 to 100-gallon tank.