Creature Feature: Green Iguana

Green Iguana

Iguana iguana

Reptiles Alive Name: Fritz & Juan Amigo

Hisstory: Fritz is leasing a room with us as his owner, our curator Jennifer, likes having him at work better than having him at home.  Juan Amigo was left at the Alexandria Animal Shelter and we adopted him in April 2010.

Reptiles Alive Diet: Greens, vegetables, some fruit and a special zoo food made for iguanas.fritzheadspines

Natural Diet: Leaves, flowers, and fruit.

Range: Mexico, Central and South America. Introduced into Florida and Hawaii.

Habitat: The canopy of tropical rain forests is the normal habitat of iguanas, but they can also be found in urban areas around homes and hotels.

Size: These huge lizards grow 5-7 feet long from nose to tail and can weigh up to 18 pounds.

Lifespan: Iguanas often live over 20 years.

Reproduction: A female iguana will lay 12-40 eggs buried in the forest floor.  The eggs take 90-120 days to incubate. Babies spend the first part of their life in the under story. They will climb up to the canopy as they grow bigger.

Conservation: Iguanas face threats from the loss of habitat, the pet trade, and they are sometimes hunted for food.

You should know: Iguanas are commonly kept as pets, but most pet iguanas either die from improper care or are abandoned when they get large. Many pet stores buy iguanas bred in “puppy mill” conditions, and sell them for low prices to unsuspecting buyers and without the proper equipment. (Proper iguana housing costs over 500 dollars.) Iguanas have sharp teeth, a strong bite, sharp claws, and do NOT make good pets, especially for children. Thousands are euthanized annualy because proper homes cannot be found for them.

Cool Facts: Iguanas have a big flap of skin under their chin called a dewlap. They communicate to each other by lowering their dewlap and bobbing their head up and down. When threatened, iguanas can whip their spiky tail like a dinosaur. If that doesn’t work, they will leap out of the tall trees and dive into a river below.  They tuck their legs against their bodies and swim like crocodiles.

Creature Feature: Schneider’s Skink

Schneider’s Skink

Novoeumeces schneideri

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Reptiles Alive Name: “Schneider”

Hissstory: Schneider came to live at Reptiles Alive on June 23, 2003 as an unwanted pet.

Zoo Diet: Schneider LOVES to eat super worms, but we also feed him: meal worms, earthworms, roaches, greens, vegetables, and fruit.

Natural Diet: Schneider’s skinks are omnivores, so they eat both meat and plants.  Insects, vegetation, grasses, fruit, berries can all be a part of their diet.

Range: Northwestern Africa to western Asia.

Habitat: Dry grasslands, rocky steppes, semi-desert, and oasis.

Size: Grows 13 – 18 inches.

Lifespan: Lives over 20 years.

Reproduction: Females lay 3-20 eggs under moist sand and coil around them for the 6 weeks of incubation

Conservation: Most Schneider’s skinks found in the pet trade are still wild caught. This means they have been kidnapped out of the wild and sold to pet stores. Many are shipped to the United States in horrible conditions.

Cool Facts: Like many lizards, they can break off their tail when danger threatens. Nerves in the tail will cause it to wiggle on the ground for several minutes after detaching, giving the lizard time to escape. With enough food and time, the lizard can usually grow the tail back. The tail however, does not grow back as long or as flexible as it once was. This makes it more difficult for the lizard to escape in the future.

Pet Reptiles for Christmas

Are reptile pets for Christmas a good or bad idea?  For most people, a pet reptile is probably not the greatest idea for a variety of reasons.

Two reasons not to get a pet reptile are:

1.  Reptiles require specialized care that changes with the species being kept.  For instance, green iguanas require huge (4′X4′X6′) enclosures that can be heated to 80-100 degrees F with high humidity, good ventilation, and full spectrum lighting.  Iguanas also need a specialized diet of calcium rich leafy greens and other vegetables fed to them every day.  A red-eared slider turtle will need a 75-150 gallon aquarium with clean water, a dry basking area, and full spectrum lighting.  Many people don’t think of the space and cost of housing a pet reptile until it is too late.

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2.  Reptiles will never become a companion like a dog or cat will.  Dogs and cats are part of the family.  They liked to be petted, played  with, and cuddled.  Even the friendliest reptile pet will not ever play with you, go for a walk with you, or want to cuddle with you.  Some reptiles will even become ill with stress if they are interacted with too frequently.  So many reptiles become unwanted simply because they are seen as objects that require time and money as opposed to loved members of the family.

More great information to consider before getting ANY pet at Christmas, or any other time, can be found atOrlando Sentinel – Pets as presents: Think long-term

So what to do if your child loves reptiles?

You have many options for budding herpetologists on your Christmas list.  There are some very cool reptile toys out there that I would have LOVED to get at Christmas.  Remote control cobras, anatomically correct rubber reptiles, plush and wooden reptiles and more can be found at many zoo gift stores, nature specialty stores, and science related stores.   Books featuring cold blooded critters are also a huge hit with reptile loving children.

Other exciting gift ideas include:

  • Zoo “adopt and animal” programs.  These programs offer people the chance to sponsor a zoo animal.  Most programs will send you pictures, updates, and natural history information about the animal you “adopted.”  You can also take your child to the zoo (always fun!) to visit his or her animal.
  • Give you child “coupons” for reptile-related family field trips.   Trips to the zoo, nature center, museum, aquarium or park where you can search for reptiles and amphibians in the wild can all be part of the coupon book.  Remember to take pictures of animals you see, but not to touch or bother wild animals. You can then add these experiences and pictures into your nature journal.
  • Subscriptions to reptile magazines and journals or a membership in a nature or reptile related club or society is a great gift for young herpetologists.  Most states and some local jurisdictions have herpetological societies that anyone can join.
  • A gift of a live reptile show performed for your child at a holiday party is a great way to give your child the opportunity to safely interact with live reptiles.  Most areas have at least one professional traveling animal show company, and if you are in the DC area, you should, of course, hire Reptiles Alive!

Merry Christmasssssssss and have a sssssssuper New Year!

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