It’s often said, somewhat jokingly, that you can’t just have just one snake or lizard. Once you buy one, you almost always end up buying more. Sometimes, a lot more.
Unlike many other pets, it seems that collectivism is almost promoted in the reptile hobby. There seems to be sentiments that you’re not a real reptile enthusiast until you’ve got a whole room crammed full of more reptiles than you can reasonably enjoy.
What Collecting Reptiles, Instead of Caring for Reptiles, Looks like.
I’m not trying to diss on anyone, I fell into the same trap once. When my college boyfriend and I started buying reptiles back in college, we started with one normal ball python. We were very happy with him. He was an amazing snake and I still have the old fellow to this day. Then we discovered ball python morphs and our plain ball pythons didn’t seem as cool anymore. We ended up buying several more morphs.
My boyfriend started to wonder about breeding ball pythons like the breeders we followed online. So he started gather more ball pythons that would be good for breeding. (Luckily, he never did get into breeding as I feel like ball pythons are one of the most over-bred reptiles in the industry and there’s not enough good homes for them.)
Next we started learning about other snake species and we wanted all of those as well. They’re all so unique and gorgeous, who wouldn’t want each of them?
Then we started getting into lizards and bought a few geckos, tegus, skinks, and chameleons. Within a couple years we had over twenty animals, almost thirty.
We collected reptiles more quickly than we could adequately research their needs and build and set up proper cages. We weren’t able to spend quality time with any of our reptiles, as all of our time was sucked up making sure they each had their most basic needs met, like food or water. While feeding reptiles individually is usually quite cost friendly, feeding nearly thirty really adds up.
It really sucked the enjoyment out of reptile keeping for us, and we quickly realized we were in over our heads.
So something had to change.
Did this woman’s snake really lay next to her in order to size her up for eating? Read here to find out.
Making the Change From Collecting to Keeping Reptiles Well.
I’ve come to find that I don’t like when people refer to reptile keeping as a hobby. I feel like hobbies are things that people collect and do casually when they have time. Caring for reptiles is animal keeping. We are always responsible for their well-being and care. It is not a hobby that you can do or stop doing whenever you feel like it. Once you own an animal, you are responsible for them for the next several years. Most reptiles have very long lifespans when cared for correctly. Are you prepare to take on this “hobby” for the next 20 or 30 years?
When I realized I had gotten in way over my head, I knew I had to change. I really had to step back and take a look at myself and think, is this really right? Is what I’m doing actually bringing me joy?
We sold several animals that we discovered we weren’t really as interested in. It was actually pretty easy to decide which ones to sell. We just thought about the ones that were never our first choice to take out when we had the time regardless of how pretty or cool they were.
Next, I worked on switching my mindset from feeling like I needed to own every cool reptile in the world, to being happy with appreciating several of them from a distance. Let’s face it, all reptiles are pretty amazing. It’s hard not to initially want each cool new reptile you hear about. However, it is not feasible possible. Sometimes it’s better to just appreciate another person’s reptile occasionally than have one yourself. For animals that I’m not truly passionate about, sometimes a day with them is all I need to fill fulfilled.
I started being a lot more thorough with my research before adding reptiles to my “want to own” list.
I started asking myself questions like, does this reptile actually make a good pet? Is it easy to handle? Does it enjoy handling? Will it be fun to observe even in its cage? Or will I end up having empty cage syndrome? Some people are okay with reptiles that don’t love handling or hide a majority of the time, but for me, I want to be able to enjoy and interact with my pets.
I also started being honest with myself about what type of care the animal needed and if the proper care was worth having the animal. For example, while I love lizards, they require much more regular feedings, there’s more poop to clean up, their food ends up costing more, and they just overall seem more time intensive than snakes. Now I only have one lizard, my tegu, and I absolutely adore him. There are a couple other lizards that I might consider owning in the future, but that’s not something that’ll happen for at least another five years.
Aquatic or semi-aquatic species need pretty large water features. Filling up these features with buckets and hauling the old water out in buckets, is about my least favorite of all the reptile chores. So if I’m going to purchase an animal that needs a lot of water, I need to really, really, really love the animal. I have to ask myself if maintaining the water myself is something I really want to do? Or would I be happier just occasionally seeing these animals at places like zoos or reptile rooms? I definitely don’t think there’s any fully aquatic species that is worth it for me, but I do have a couple semi-aquatic ones that I’m still trying to figure out easier and more efficient ways to maintain great water features for them.
I had to stop comparing myself to many of the reptile influencers that I followed who seemed to have never-ending supplies of amazing animals. They are usually breeders, or own some kind of reptile based building and therefore have a lot more time and money for reptiles than I do. I can enjoy their channels without feeling like I need to become them. I’ve also started following a lot more smaller reptile accounts that focus more on their cage builds and other aspects of reptile keeping.
Since doing all of this and changing my mindset, I’ve become a lot happier with the reptiles I keep now. I now do years of research before acquiring a new animal, and make sure to have the cage set up before I buy the animal. I’ve stopped making impulse decisions at expos or pet stores and take time to research good breeders before I make a purchase.
I currently have 11 reptiles. It still sounds like a lot, but it’s the amount that I feel like my husband and I are able to comfortably take care of and interact with. We don’t plan on adding anymore reptiles until we are at least out of the human baby phase of our lives and have more time to spend on our animals. I do think, however, that our capacity will never be much more than what we have now.
Instead of entertaining myself by buying more reptiles, I’ve made a new hobby out of creating amazing cages for our current reptiles to enjoy. I still have a long way to go, and I learn new thing from the reptile husbandry groups I’m in everyday. I’ve found that planning and decorating cages really appeals to my crafty side. In fact, I’m planning an amazing reptile room set up for the house we’re hoping to start building soon.
Most importantly, having less reptiles means I actually have the time to love and interact with all of them, which is the most rewarding part of owning reptiles; earning their trust and respect so that you can have amazing interactions with them.
So I guess what I’m saying is maybe try to be a little bit more precise with your own animals. Find the joy in keeping them well, amazingly well, even better than zoos and other keepers. Show the world how well you keep your reptiles instead of how many you have. If we’re going to make reptile keeping a competition, then let’s try to outdo each other by how amazing our care is. There are, and will always be, tons of reptile owners with more animals than you, but there are very few with amazing, awe-inspiring cages.
Be the person that people envy because of their amazing cages. Be the person that people are inspired by because of how happy, healthy, and handible your reptiles are. Only you can decide how many animals you’re capable of keeping well, but be honest with yourself about your own capacity and capabilities.
Together, I think we can all improve reptile keeping for the better.