The most common pets in the United States are warm-blooded, with dogs and cats leading the list. But not everyone can have a furry pet. Those people might want to consider a reptile. "I have a lot of kids coming into the shop because they have allergies and they can't have a dog or a cat," said Bob Potts, reptile breeder and owner of Herp Hobby Shop in Oldsmar. "But they can have a gecko." Potts, 40, sells captive-bred reptiles and amphibians with prices ranging from $10 for a lizard to $10,000 for a boa. We asked Potts about the basics of owning a reptile.
Buying a reptile
First, do your research. "Try to find out as much information as you can," Potts says. When you're ready, find a reputable dealer or breeder who deals with captive-bred animals. If you can, go to the breeder's facility and see the setup to make sure the animals are treated properly.
If you're ordering on the Internet, beware. You could be defrauded. And check with the seller on the delivery cost, which can range from $75 to $100 for overnight shipping
"I recommend going into a place where you can hold, touch and feel the animal," Potts says. "It's kind of crazy to buy a living animal without actually interacting with it first." Look for a place where you have a selection to choose from, he adds.
As with any pet, you'll have to remember that this animal could be around for 15 years. It's a long-term commitment. You have to take care of it for the length of its life.
Where to start?
A leopard gecko might be a good choice for a first reptile for a child 5 to 7 years old. Its maximum length is 6 to 10 inches. You can keep a full-grown adult in a 10-gallon aquarium. If you want something more advanced, go for a chameleon or a bearded dragon. Basic set-up costs run about $100 to $150, not including the pet.
If you have other pets
"It's really up to the individual animal. Just like all other living things, they react differently," Potts says. "Be watchful when you introduce them. But be prepared to keep them separate if they don't get along."
Some people take their animals once every six months or yearly for checkups. Potts advises to take the wait and see approach. If the animal is doing well, eating healthy, looking good, he says, "don't worry about it."
Parasites and diseases
"You've got a better chance of getting salmonella from eating a hamburger or tomato than from holding one of my reptiles," Potts says. But always take precautions. Wash your hands after touching any animal. Or use some hand sanitizer.
Potts says you are less likely to see parasites and diseases with captive-bred reptiles.
What you shouldn't do
If the animal becomes too much to handle, do not release it into the wild. That's illegal. Most of the pet shops will take them as donations if the animal is in good shape, Potts says.
Most common pets don't need a license. For more exotic animals, check the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora at www.cites.org/.