Size Matters

Retailers should encourage sales of herptiles as more people downsize their homes.




Even a quarter century ago, when people asked me about the advantages of reptilian pets, one of the first things I would mention was the minimal amount of space required for even a fairly large animal. As our population continues to move from large sprawling homes into the tighter confines of condos and apartments, reptiles’ minimal space requirements become a bigger and bigger draw for those looking for a new pet.


Compare the housing needs of these animals to those of a dog, cat, rabbit or guinea pig—it’s easy to see the advantages of a pet herptile. Leopard geckos, for instance, can live a comfortable life in a 10-gal. tank. Crested geckos—arguably the front-runner in rising popularity—require a slightly larger cage, but since they are arboreal, they inhabit a taller, yet smaller, footprint compared to the leopards. Boids, such as the ball python and rosy boa, are perfectly happy in a cage only two to three times the space they fill when coiled up. Corn snakes and other colubrid snakes need a bit more space—say three to four times their coiled size. Tortoises want a larger space, but even an adult Greek tortoise is happy in a cage that is two by four feet, which is still far less than the space requirements of a dog or cat.


When we consider amphibians and arachnids, things can get even tighter. Newts and salamanders rarely need more than a 10-gal. tank, and some of the sedentary frogs—like Horned Frogs—act like little kings and queens in their luxurious 5-gal. tanks. Most bugs are happy in a 5-gal. tank or less.


Shrinking Habitats

The trend toward miniaturization is growing quickly. Recently we have seen a number of manufacturers of herptile products adapt the word nano for their lines, to describe products aimed at the market for miniatures.


One of the first products to embrace this trend was Exo Terra’s mini-UV bulbs, adaptable to larger fixtures if need-be, but capable of delivering a nice UV spectrum in a discreet space with a very small fixture. This is very useful in small arboreal cages, wherein the light needs to go down, but not wide. However, many people misuse these bulbs and fixtures in a broad cage to the detriment of the animal. This would be akin to making someone live in a large, dark room, with only one small shaft of sunlight in a corner.


Zoo Med has expanded on this concept with a line of nano fixtures and a variety of heat bulbs—including ceramic, infrared and white spot. Sales of these tiny accessories have doubled to tripled every month. This company is also ahead of the pack when it comes to T-5 UV bulbs/fixtures for more general applications, and last year they added a new 14-in. fixture—now the smallest fixture in their line. The current standard in primary fluorescent bulbs used in the United States is the T-8 bulb, but, just as you no longer see T-12 bulbs on the market, the T-8’s days are numbered as well. The added advantage is that the T-5s produce an outstanding quality of light from the vantage of human eyes!


There are also a number of mini heating pads on the market, including a new one from Zoo Med that is circular, and a couple of useful sizes from Fluker Farms—who may have been the first to recognize this need. Zoo Med also has a line of nano tanks, including a Bugarium Kit that contains many of the basic products necessary for setting up insects and arachnids. I have never been much of a fan of these sorts of pre-made kits—as I think they tend to ignore the sometimes very specific needs of various animals—but I cannot argue against their popularity or convenience. As most retailers are aware, one of the best ways you can engender sales of new products is to establish a special section of the store devoted to the line. You might consider developing a small—very small—area of your sales floor for these nano products and pets.



When Small Isn't Enough

Just as there is an inherent fascination with the very small when it comes to pets, so is there a draw to these often charming set-ups. However, I would caution my fellow retailers against falling into the trap of exploiting this tininess to the detriment of the animals. Just because you can keep a bug in a two-gallon enclosure…should you? A baby animal can fit into a temptingly tiny tank, but should you ignore how big it will naturally grow, or how quickly? Of course not! That would be cruel to the animal and unfair to the family that takes it home. Many people are still under the impression that—like tropical fish—a reptile will grow only to the size of its tank, or that you can “dwarf” a reptile by withholding food. Neither of those assumptions is true, and in each case the animal will suffer and die—and slowly at that.


While some animals are good candidates for the nano phenomenon, most of the time there are minimum requirements for herptiles. For instance, any of the truly tiny snakes are bad candidates for captivity as their food requirements—things like baby slugs, minute spiders, etc.—are nearly impossible to provide year round. Tree frogs may seem to be of a size that would work until you start noticing that they are bruising their little snouts by constantly jumping into the sides of the small tank. Vine snakes might seem to work, but their lifestyle requires daytime cruising in the tops of shrubs and trees, and nighttime sleeping in the grass below, which isn’t conducive to being kept captive. In every case, the caretaker for any animal must clearly think through the responsible care of a future pet. PB


Owen Maercks has enjoyed being immersed in the world of professional herpetoculture for nearly 40 years. His store, the East Bay Vivarium in Berkeley, Calif., is one of the oldest and largest herptile specialty stores in the U.S.


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