National Reptile Awareness Day – by Dr. Dan Loper

Did you know that October 21 is National Reptile Awareness Day? Out of all the exotics that I get to work with at Animal Medical Clinic they are definitely my favorite. In fact, I enjoy them so much I have an entire room in my home dedicated to these interesting creatures. In my “Reptile Room” I have an array of different “herps” (slang for reptiles-based on the root ‘herp’ in herpetology which is the study of reptiles). One of my favorite aspects of reptiles is the astounding diversity of the group. In my Reptile Room I have vegetarians, carnivores, and omnivores; in one corner of the room I have an ant eating Brahminy Blind Snake that could fit comfortably within a matchbox, while in another corner I have a 13 foot Burmese Python that weighs over 75 pounds.

There are over 15,000 different species of reptiles, each with unique adaptations that help them survive in their native habitats. Some of the these adaptations are very obvious like the protective shell on a slow moving, otherwise defenseless tortoise, or the super elastic tongue and color changing ability of a stealthy chameleon. While other adaptations are much more subtle like the orientation and shape of scales on certain dessert lizards that act to wick moisture from the ground all the way up to their mouths or the specialized “pits” certain snakes have developed to allow them to detect the body heat of their prey. If you can dream it, nature may have already found a way to incorporate it into a strange reptile somewhere.

As you can imagine, the care for these amazing creatures can vary greatly which is why it is crucial to do your research before buying or adopting a reptile. As new species of reptiles are introduced into the pet trade we try to provide the appropriate housing, lighting, temperature, and food items that best approximate what they would encounter in the wild.  While most reptiles need supplemental heat on a daily basis, there are certain reptile species that need specialized lighting that is provided with by UVB bulbs that allow for proper utilization of calcium. Other reptiles have very strict humidity and diet requirements that can often be difficult to reproduce in a captive setting. When selecting a scaly pet that will be with you for many years to come, it is important to understand that issues with husbandry are the number one reason for a sick reptile. Research is paramount!

Veterinary medicine is continually improving and evolving as research provides a greater understanding of the needs of reptiles. We have made great strides in the care of captive reptiles over the years both from a husbandry standpoint and a medical standpoint. Your local reptile vet (like me!) is a great resource when it comes to husbandry tips and tricks if you are new to the reptile world. Also, yearly checkups are important to make sure your scaly family member is free from any obvious disease processes and parasites. They truly are my favorites, so if you have any reptile related concerns or questions, please know that we are always happy to help at AMC.