The Carpet Chameleon isolated on white background

In the years since Gary Oeschsle opened his first pet store in Rochester, New York, in 1962, he has learned a lot about reptiles. In fact, about 25 years ago, Gary and his son Scott Oechsle opened The Reptile Guys, a pet shop specializing in reptile pet sales and supplies.

“There isn’t a lot of good information out there (about reptile pet ownership),” Gary says. “There are a lot of well-meaning people out there giving out the wrong information.”

Gary says that when handled properly, reptiles make very good house pets. However, there are a few things people need to know before purchasing snakes, bearded dragons, turtles and other popular reptile species.

First, it’s important to purchase animals that have been born in captivity.

“Anything wild-caught is off limits,” Gary says. “They have a low rate of survival.”

Wild-caught reptiles sometimes carry parasites that are difficult to treat and often give credit to the negative reputation that certain reptiles have earned, such as chameleons and Russian tortoises.

Another caution is issued to consumers looking to purchase reptiles through various reptile shows. Reptile shows offer reptile collectors and potential pet owners a variety of interesting choices, however, Gary advises consumers to thoroughly research the vendors and be sure that they are knowledgeable and reputable individuals.

“Once the show is over, the vendor is gone,” Gary says. “Find quality sources before you buy the animal and be sure the vendor will warranty (the reptile).”

In addition to researching the store or vendor where reptiles may be purchased, it’s also important that reptile owners invest in the proper lighting and food for their pets. According to Gary, each reptile has its own requirements in regard to appropriate food, temperature and lighting in their habitats.

One reptile that has gained popularity in recent years is the bearded dragon, beloved for its calm, “dog-like” personality. With proper lighting and when fed adequately, the bearded dragon is a very docile animal, making it a family-friendly option in most scenarios.

Those looking for a pet requiring minimal upkeep may prefer captive-born snakes.

“Most snakes don’t require exotic lightbulbs and tend to be very low maintenance,” Gary says.

Reptile owner LaShaunda Moore can attest to the friendliness of both species. She and her family have a ball python and a bearded dragon.

“The main thing is to interact with them regularly — don’t ignore them,” Moore advises. “We get them out about once a week and let them roam a bit. This helps keep them from ever becoming aggressive. We’ve never had any problems.”

Moore says that while the initial investment in a pet reptile may be a couple hundred dollars, the monthly expense to feed and care for her two animals is relatively low.

“Because reptiles have specific needs for UV rays, you have to make sure that they have proper lighting, heat and are being fed properly,” Moore says. “Otherwise, reptiles are very low maintenance.”

No matter what animal you might consider purchasing as a pet, it’s always a good idea to understand the level of care that goes into keeping one.

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