Fast Food

Packaged convenience foods can be a boon to herptile owners and the retailers who sell to them.


It is well established that a myriad of health conditions and the country’s reportedly rising obesity rate can be linked to the consumption of nutritionally deficient, processed, packaged foods and fast food. And so I have become more and more skeptical when presented with trendy new convenience foods for herps.

The herptile industry thrives on products, particularly these days as pet specialty stores trend away from selling live feed. Yet, prepackaged products aren’t appealing to a clientele that prefers live food and, typically,  feed their pets whole animals. I have seen a lot of attempts over the years to commodify live food and to replace fresh produce, some tragically ineffective and some downright silly–from “turtle food” commonly sold when I was a child that would virtually guarantee a baby turtle with a rubbery shell and a months-long life span to a more recent vibrating dish that was supposed to interest insectivores in dead, dried crickets.

However, we are starting to see real progress in the production of convenience foods that can act as a guilt-free supplement to your customers’ animals’ menu.

ZooMed has developed a line of canned fruits for tortoises, iguanas and especially leopard, day and crested geckos. For many years I have been recommending jarred fruit for babies as a supplementary diet, and finally a herp company has stepped in and provided a product that I, rather than my local market, can sell.  These cans come in three flavors: mango, papaya and red banana.

While I still believe that all prepared turtle diets are useful only as supplements to freshly killed, whole, vertebrate, non-oceanic prey, there are some pretty good pellet foods on the market. One of the best is ZooMed’s new line of “gourmet” aquatic turtle foods, which are a blend of pellets with, among other things, dried freshwater shrimp and cranberries, which water turtles seem to go for with extra gusto.

My friend Allen Repashy has been perfecting his line of  Superfoods powdered diets for several years now, and while the full line has near-religious adherents, I find that the greatest fervor is directed toward his Crested Gecko Diet. The diet is easy to prepare, has a lengthy shelf life and geckos love it. I’ve seen animals raised almost exclusively on this diet; they seem healthy, and they avidly reproduce, which to my thinking, is the greatest test of a diet.

San Francisco Bay Brand, a local longtime producer of fish diets, has been quietly researching a line of  freeze-dried and frozen reptile diets called Healthy Herp for several years now and has recently launched the results–and the results are dramatic. I have seen a wide variety of herps ranging from geckos to water turtles to horned frogs raised, in some cases over multiple generations, exclusively on these diets, and the animals are spectacular for their color, health and form. Diets include formulas for tortoises, aquatic turtles and bearded dragons to more generalized fruit, garden and carnivore regimens. The portions are nicely packaged for easy thawing.

Ever since a RepCal representative came to test a bearded-dragon kibble on a beardy that leapt upon it like a toddler on ice cream years ago, RepCal has been my preferred line of dry reptile foods.  Not all companies do the kind of of testing and tweaking on their products that this company does.

I advise retailers to never let a customer think that these foods are replacements for a natural diet–although many might claim this to be so, and they might even be right. On the other hand, just as we have a few frozen dinners in the larder for those nights when we just can’t get up the energy to cook, having a back-up plan for the pets is a boon to pet owners and can put some extra profits in retailers’ pockets. And who are we to argue with that?

Owen Maercks has enjoyed being immersed in the world of professional herpetoculture for nearly 30 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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