rec.pets.herp Frequently Asked Questions (1 of 3)

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Bill East

May 25, 2001, 11:49:12 AM5/25/01
Archive-name: pets/herp-faq/part1
Posting-frequency: monthly


An Introduction to rec.pets.herp
Part 1/3: About This Newsgroup
Bill East <>


This document is copyright 1995-1998 by Bill East, and may be redistributed
freely under many circumstances; the details are explained in Part 1 (section
3.1). Some sections were written by other authors, who are also identified in
Part 1.

This document is provided as-is, with no expressed or implied warranty of
any kind. Every effort has been made to make this FAQ an accurate and
comprehensive source of information; however, the maintainer offers no
guarantee that these efforts have been successful, and assumes no
responsibility for damages resulting from errors or omissions.

This document represents the understanding and opinion of the maintainer,
and, where possible, a consensus of posters to rec.pets.herp; it is not
endorsed by, and does not necessarily represent any position of, the
maintainer's employer or ISP.


Section 1: Introduction and Disclaimer

Welcome to rec.pets.herp! This is a monthly informational posting that
answers some common questions and provides pointers to other sources of
information. Aspiring posters to rec.pets.herp should read this document

You are not expected to know everything in this document cold before posting;
there won't be an exam. However, many of the most commonly asked questions,
especially by new posters, are at least partially answered here. Take some
time to look through it; your problem may already be solved!

This document is provided as-is, with no expressed or implied warranty of
any kind. Every effort has been made to make this FAQ an accurate and
comprehensive source of information; however, the maintainer offers no
guarantee that these efforts have been successful, and assumes no
responsibility for damages resulting from errors or omissions.

This document represents the understanding and opinion of the maintainer,
and, where possible, a consensus of posters to rec.pets.herp; it is not
endorsed by, and does not necessarily represent any position of, the
maintainer's employer or ISP.


Section 2: Table of Contents

Part 1: About This Newsgroup

1. Introduction and Disclaimer
2. Table of Contents
3. About this FAQ
<3.1> Author
<3.2> How to get the FAQ
<3.3> Formatting and usage
<3.4> Acknowledgements
4. Generalities
<4.1> What is rec.pets.herp?
<4.2> What is
<4.3> What is/isn't a herp?
<4.4> What about tarantulas, scorpions, and so on?
<4.5> What kind of questions are/aren't appropriate here?
<4.6> What does CB stand for?
<4.7> What does <some term> mean?
<4.8> What do these numbers like "1.2" mean?
<4.9> What are those funny things in brackets in the Subject
lines of posts?

Part 2: Other Resources

5. Other information resources
<5.1> What other online resources exist?
<5.2> What are some good offline resources?
<5.3> How do I find a nearby herp society?
<5.4> Where do I get information about iguanas?
<5.5> Is there a care sheet for <whatever species>?
<5.6> What zoos have good herp collections?

6. Obtaining and identifying herps
<6.1> Where can I get a <whatever species>?
<6.2> How do I identify this creature in my yard? Can I
keep it?
<6.3> I just bought a <whatever species>. How do I take
care of it?
<6.4> Is it OK to order herps through the mail? Over the net?

Part 3: Questions About Herps

7. General herp care
<7.1> My herp got away. How can I find it?
<7.2> Is there something wrong with using mealworms as food?
<7.3> Is there something wrong with using live feeder rodents?
<7.4> I can't keep my <whatever species>. What do I do?
Let it go?
<7.5> Can't you get salmonella from reptiles?

8. Choosing a herp
<8.1> What's a good first herp?
<8.1a> Snakes
<8.1b> Lizards
<8.1c> Turtles & Tortoises
<8.1d> Frogs & Toads
<8.1e> Salamanders & Newts
<8.1f> Caecilians
<8.2> My kid wants a reptile; what should we get?


Section 3: About This FAQ


Subject: <3.1> Author

Bill East. Copyright 1995-1998 by Bill East. This document may be
redistributed freely, but commercial publication requires the consent of
the author, and any modifications must be clearly indicated. Herpetological
society documents (even if they are "commercial" in the sense of being paid
for through membership dues) are specifically permitted to reprint any part
of this document, with proper attribution.

The section on first herps contains material contributed by many individuals.
In particular, the section on starter lizards is a summary of material written
by Melissa Kaplan; the paragraph on first turtles was written by David
Kirkpatrick; and the section on first salamanders and caecilians was written
by Stanton McCandlish.


Subject: <3.2> How to get the FAQ

You're reading it, right? Save it. :-)

The latest version of this FAQ will always be available at
(as three files called part1, part2, and part3), and at
(unless the maintainer changes, the present maintainer changes ISPs,
or the maintainer's ISP makes a significant change to its Web server).
The URL at MIT always contains the most recently posted version; the Concentric
copy may include changes made since the last posting.

The FAQ is auto-posted every 30 days to rec.pets.herp, rec.answers,
and news.answers. It can also be obtained through a polite email request
sent to Bill East <>. This is also the address to
send mail to if you have comments or suggestions about the FAQ.


Subject: <3.3> Formatting and usage

This FAQ is written in a "digest format", which is intended to facilitate
searching for particular pieces of information. Each question begins with
a line of hyphens ('-'), followed by its number and title as they appear
in the table of contents. Many newsreaders allow you to jump from one
question to the next by hitting ^G (control-G).

To find question 3.3, search for the string "Subject: <3.3>" (without the
quotation marks).


Subject: <3.4> Acknowledgements

Many people have contributed to this FAQ. Contributions have come directly
from Dave Beaty, Alta Brewer, Adam Britton, Liza Daly, Mark Ernst, Sirena
Glade, Steve Grenard, Paul Hollander, Phil Hughes, Melissa Kaplan, David
Kirkpatrick, Stanton McCandlish, Jean McGuire, Rod Mitchell, Jessica Mosher,
Harrison Page, Chas C. Peterson, Rebecca Sobol, Mel Turner, and Colin Wilson,
and indirectly from the innumerable people whose posts the author has read
and learned from.

Thanks are also due to the authors and maintainers of other FAQs and related
documents, including but not limited to Don Baldwin, Tom Buchanan, Peter
Donohue, Mike Pingleton, Michael Shannon, and Jennifer Swofford. A big hand
for everyone. If you know someone on this list, buy them lunch.


Section 4: Generalities


Subject: <4.1> What is rec.pets.herp?

rec.pets.herp is a newsgroup founded in October 1991 for discussion of
various vivarium-dwelling animals, primarily reptiles and amphibians.
News postings relating to its creation are available at
and make pretty interesting reading.

Here is the official charter of rec.pets.herp:

This newsgroup is a forum for the discussion of vivarium-living
animals as pets. The discussion will be limited to Reptiles,
Amphibians and miscellaneous exotic animals, such as tarantulas.

Mammals, Birds and Fish will not be discussed in this group.
The existing group rec.pets is useful but is often inundated
with postings concerned with the more usual types of pets. The
new group will be a dedicated forum, where only the specified
types of animal will be discussed.

In other words, rec.pets.herp is a group for discussion of reptiles and
amphibians as pets, along with assorted other vivarium-dwelling animals.
The last is generally understood to mean terrestrial invertebrates---insects,
tarantulas, scorpions, etc.

The "pet" connection is sometimes tenuous. There have been long (and
constructive) threads about the genetics of captive populations and their
implications for reintroduction programs, for example. Because many keepers
of pet herps are also breeders, or simply interested in the science of
herpetology, such discussions are generally welcome.

Discussions about raising animals as food items are common and condoned,
though they may be counter to the letter of the charter (since many common
food animals are mammals). This is partly because of the obvious relevance
to herp keeping, but also because such discussions can be difficult to carry
on in rec.pets; many rat keepers, for instance, are uncomfortable with the
idea of rats as feeders, and some very unpleasant flame wars have emerged
from obnoxious postings about feeders there. Keeping the feeder discussions
in rec.pets.herp is really a win-win situation.

In general, discussions of animal rights and other political matters are not
suitable for rec.pets.herp, unless they involve herps specifically in an
essential way. For instance, discussions of herp-related legislation are
appropriate, but a thread about the alleged practice of kidnapping household
pets for use as laboratory animals is not. This is doubly true since
political discussions are often both volatile and heavily crossposted, leading
to a large volume of posted material that is irrelevant to the group and
difficult for readers to wade through.

See also questions 4.3-4.5.


Subject: <4.2> What is

More to the point, what *isn't*

There are two herp newsgroups, this one and The latter is, as
its name suggests, about the science of herpetology. It typically features
discussions on field techniques, taxonomy, and other subjects of interest to
the (scientific) herpetological community.

Many rec.pets.herp readers find it interesting to follow as well,
and occasionally one of us will have a question that's better posted there.
For instance, if you're curious about the recent taxonomic revision of the
python family, is a good place to ask for information.

However, is *not* an appropriate place to ask about pet keeping.
Historically, has had problems with postings that really belong
in rec.pets.herp. "My ball python won't eat" is very much a rec.pets.herp
subject, for example, and the folks have gotten understandably
tired of it.


Subject: <4.3> What is/isn't a herp?

The charter says "reptiles, amphibians, and other exotic vivarium pets", but
the word "herp" usually means "reptile or amphibian". The world's living
reptiles are divided into six groups: Snakes, lizards, chelonians (turtles
and tortoises), crocodilians, the tuatara (a single lizardlike species from
New Zealand), and amphisbaenians ("worm lizards"). The amphibians consist of
anurans (frogs and toads), caudates (newts and salamanders), and caecilians
(wormlike aquatic and burrowing amphibians, much less known than their

Other exotic pets, like hedgehogs and sugar gliders, are not herps and are
not within the subjects covered by rec.pets.herp. However, the charter of
the group explicitly embraces discussions on some vivarium-dwelling creatures
that are not strictly herps (see question 4.4, below), as well as the care
and breeding of feeder animals.


Subject: <4.4> What about tarantulas, scorpions, and so on?

Spiders, scorpions, and similar terrestrial invertebrates are explicitly
included in the rec.pets.herp charter. The most common topics in this realm
are tarantulas and scorpions, but other spiders and millipedes have been
discussed on occasion.

Once in a while, a small flame war erupts because someone posts a question
about a tarantula, and someone else feels constrained to shout "Tarantulas
aren't herps!" The shouters in this scenario are referred to the charter.


Subject: <4.5> What kind of questions are/aren't appropriate here?

Most questions that seem appropriate are---i.e., pretty much any question
about keeping herps is OK. Certain technical questions may be better directed
to, or crossposted (but if you do crosspost, please set followups
to whichever group is more appropriate---if you don't know what this means,
you definitely shouldn't crosspost).

Posted images are *never* appropriate in rec.pets.herp, or, in general, in
any non-binary newsgroup. If you want to distribute a picture of your
favorite tree frog, or a great snapshot from the field, or whatever, that's
fine; but put the image on a WWW page, or post it to the newsgroup, and just put a brief pointer in rec.pets.herp
directing people to the image. (The WWW approach is better than the post to
a.b.p.a., as many more people have Web access than get the binaries
newsgroups, and no arcane decoding process is required to view a Web page.)

The consensus is that commercial postings are acceptable, as long as they are
not invasive (multiple posts with screaming subject lines are Not OK) and on-
topic (no phone sex ads). There is a well-established tradition of individuals
offering animals for sale through the newsgroup, and at least one commercial
herp supply dealer posts regularly. Out of politeness, many people offering
animals and items for sale state so clearly in the Subject line of their
posting: those who are not interested in purchasing can then save time
by not downloading / reading the posts. An example might be: "FS: Snow

However, large stocklists and other lengthy bodies of commercial information
should be deposited on a WWW page or made available for FTP, with only a
pointer posted to the group. If you run a newsletter or organization that
you think herpers should be made aware of on a regular basis, a brief
monthly posting is much more appropriate than a daily or even weekly one.


Subject: <4.6> What does CB stand for?

Either "captive-bred" or "captive-born"; the former meaning is probably more

The issue is this: Herps offered for sale may have been collected from the
wild, or they may have been hatched/born in captivity. (There are very strong
reasons to prefer to purchase the latter kind, but that's not the subject of
this question.) An animal that was conceived and born in captivity is said
to be captive-*bred*. If, however, a female herp is imported from the wild
and lays eggs shortly thereafter (having done her actual breeding before being
captured), the offspring are captive-*born*.

Animals that are "merely" captive-born are, in a sense, taken from the wild
population (though most of them probably would not have survived to adulthood
in the wild), but they enjoy most of the same health benefits that accrue to
captive-bred individuals.

When breeders offer "CB" animals for sale, they *usually* mean captive-bred.
This is by no means certain, however, especially with certain species that are
rarely bred in captivity. If you're buying a CB animal from a breeder, and
you have strong feelings against buying a captive-born animal, go ahead and
ask. Note that pet stores, especially corporate chain stores, sometimes have
no idea of their animals' origins, and once in a while they will just make up
an answer if you ask! (I figured this out when a guy told me that a Surinam
toad---a South American species---had been imported from Africa...)


Subject: <4.7> What does <some term> mean?

The following are some terms that have been known to confuse people. This
list is by no means complete or comprehensive.

Amelanistic: "Albino" in the conventional sense; lacking all black pigment.
This is a widespread mutation in several species. Amelanistic animals are
often red or yellowish, instead of white like albino mammals; this is because
amelanism does not affect the red and yellow pigments, or indeed any pigments
other than melanin.

Anerythristic: "Black albino"; lacking red pigment. Anerythristic animals
are typically black and white. This is a common mutation in corn snakes, and
has also emerged in several other snake species.

Anuran: A frog or toad. (There is no tightly defined distinction, though
members of the genus _Rana_ are sometimes called "true frogs" and members
of the genus _Bufo_ "true toads".)

Axanthic: Lacking yellow pigment. Axanthism produces a "black albino"
effect in certain species whose dominant pigments are yellow.

Axolotl: A species of salamander (_Ambystoma mexicanum_) which normally does
not metamorphose into a terrestrial form, instead remaining in an aquatic
larval stage throughout its life. Axolotls were formerly thought to be
unmetamorphosed tiger salamanders (_Ambystoma tigrinum_), and some older books
describe them as such.

Boid: A boa or python. (Two syllables, accent on the first, with a long 'o';
this word is derived from "boa".)

Brumation: A term intended to describe "hibernation" in reptiles and
other cold-blooded animals. The point of having two terms is simply that
hibernation is a complex process involving some regulation of body
temperature, whereas brumation is a simpler general slowing of all
metabolic processes. The word is a fairly recent coinage (1965, in a
paper by Mayhew), and it is reported to be falling out of usage among
academic herpetologists. It's probably fine to just say "hibernation".

Caecilian: A member of the order Gymnophiona (formerly Apoda), an order of
elongated, eellike or wormlike amphibians. The most familiar is the "rubber
eel", sometimes sold in aquarium stores.

Caudal: Pertaining to the tail.

Caudata: The order of amphibians comprising salamanders and newts.

Colubrid: A member of the "typical snake" family: king snakes, rat snakes,
corn snakes, garter snakes, and in general most of the snakes that readers
outside Australia encounter frequently.

Crepuscular: Active at dawn and dusk. This describes many herps, especially

Elapid: A member of a large family of venomous snakes with fangs set in the
rear of their mouths, including cobras, coral snakes, a majority of Australian
snakes, and many more.

Fossorial: Burrowing.

Gravid: The right word to use instead of "pregnant" when you're talking about
eggs. Note that all reptiles reproduce via eggs; if they give live birth,
it's because the eggs hatch internally. In consequence, there is no such
thing as a pregnant reptile; the word is always "gravid". (However, rumor
holds that some of the more evolutionarily advanced snakes have been found
to have primitive placentas, which would actually make the term "pregnant"
more appropriate.)

Herp/Herptile: Generic terms for reptiles and amphibians; see question 4.3.
The word "herptile" is a fairly recent coinage with no real etymology, and some
people object to it (the phrase "linguistic abomination" has been used).
Recently the use of "herpetofauna" has been suggested as a more
scientific term - but within the group "herptile" is a perfectly
understandable and acceptable term.

Heterozygous: A proper definition of this term requires a quick primer in
genetics, which is definitely beyond the scope of this FAQ. Briefly, saying
that an animal is "heterozygous for amelanism" means that it carries the
gene that causes amelanism, and can pass that gene on to its offspring, but
it is not itself amelanistic (having inherited a "normal" gene that suppresses
the amelanistic gene).

Pipping: The stage in the hatching process in which a hatching snake makes a
preliminary slit in the eggshell with its egg tooth. The term has also been
used to describe the process of making an artificial slit in the egg to help
the hatchling emerge (this practice is widely discouraged except in unusual

Ranid: One of the "true frogs" of the genus _Rana_. The genus includes
the majority of the hoppy, bank-dwelling animals that most of us think of as
typical frogs, but excludes tree frogs, toads, and many others.

Salienta: An obsolete name for the order Anura (frogs and toads).

STV: Snout-to-vent (length). This is the usual way to measure an amphibian or
lizard (the point is that it's inconvenient and somewhat misleading to include
the legs of a frog or the tail of a lizard or salamander in its length).

Urodela: An obsolete name for the order Caudata (salamanders and newts).

Vent: The cloacal opening (location of the urinary and genital organs),
especially on a snake's belly. In snakes and caecilians, the vent is the
official boundary between body and tail. (Actually, this is equally true of
lizards and limbed amphibians, which, however, usually have other indicators
as well---i.e., legs!)

Viperid: A member of the stereotypical family of venomous snakes, including
rattlesnakes and almost anything with "viper" in its name. Viperids have
large fangs mounted in the front of the mouth and have a tendency to be
stocky snakes with a certain stereotypical head shape (however, it's not
safe, of course, to decide that a snake isn't venomous because "it doesn't
have a viper head").


Subject: <4.8> What do these numbers like "1.2" mean?

In posts and price lists, it's not uncommon to see people say something about
"1.2 California kingsnakes" or "8.2.32 African clawed frogs". This is a way
of concisely specifying the sexes of the animals; the first example means one
male Cal king and two females, and the second means eight male frogs, two
females, and 32 whose sex is not known.


Subject: <4.9> What are those funny things in brackets in the Subject lines
of posts?

Some posts have subjects with letters in brackets, like

[A] Question on Flipplezorb's tree frogs
or [I] My iguana sleeps hanging by his tail! Is this normal?

The letters are "subject tags", intended to indicate the general topic of the
post. The generally recognized tags are as follows:

[I] - iguanas
[L] - other lizards
[S] - snakes
[T] - turtles/tortoises
[A] - amphibians
[V] - venomous herps
[M] - miscellaneous

You're encouraged to use them, as they help readers with specific
interests to organize the contents of the group and read only the posts on
subjects they're interested in.


Bill East

May 25, 2001, 11:49:12 AM5/25/01
Archive-name: pets/herp-faq/part3
Posting-frequency: monthly
Xref: news rec.answers:37600 news.answers:123245 rec.pets.herp:133875


An Introduction to rec.pets.herp
Part 3/3: Questions About Herps
Bill East <>


This document is copyright 1995-1998 by Bill East, and may be redistributed
freely under many circumstances; the details are explained in Part 1 (section
3.1). Some sections were written by other authors, who are also identified in
Part 1.

This document is provided as-is, with no expressed or implied warranty of
any kind. Every effort has been made to make this FAQ an accurate and
comprehensive source of information; however, the maintainer offers no
guarantee that these efforts have been successful, and assumes no
responsibility for damages resulting from errors or omissions.

This document represents the understanding and opinion of the maintainer,
and, where possible, a consensus of posters to rec.pets.herp; it is not
endorsed by, and does not necessarily represent any position of, the
maintainer's employer or ISP.


Section 7: General herp care


Subject: <7.1> My herp got away. How can I find it?

Guess which WWW page to look at?
contains the Finding Lost Herps FAQ. It is a collection of comments from
various individuals; no guarantees are made that these comments will be
consistent with one another.

Fortunately, most escapes can be stopped before they happen with some
attention to the enclosure of the animal in question. Use common sense:
Don't leave snake-sized openings in the lid of your snake's tank. Don't
leave the lid off while you wander away to get a food item (for the herp or
yourself). Don't take small, quick-moving animals out to play on the lawn.
As a general rule, assume that your herp can levitate, walk through walls,
cloud your mind so that you cannot see it, pass through the holes in pegboard,
and gravitate unerringly to the most inaccessible spot in your home. Design
enclosures and herp rooms accordingly.


Subject: <7.2> Is there something wrong with using mealworms as food?

Yes and no. Many people use mealworms as feeders with no ill effects at all,
especially with lizards. However, mealworms have hard chitinous shells and
may cause digestive problems in large quantities. Moreover, mealworms have
mandibles; at least one poster reports having seen mealworms literally eat
their way out of a garter snake (yuck), and this author has lost leopard
frogs to internal injuries caused by "king" mealworms.

The chitin problem can be almost entirely ameliorated by feeding mealworms
that have just shed their exoskeleta. Since they shed their mandibles as
well, this procedure should also help with the problem of internal injuries;
however, if you're feeding mealworms to an animal that can reasonably be
expected to swallow them whole, it is prudent to cut the worms' mouthparts
off first, or to crush their heads and mandibles with a pair of forceps.
It's not pleasant, but it beats risking your herp's health.


Subject: <7.3> Is there something wrong with using live feeder rodents?

(This question pertains, essentially, only to snakes, which are the main
consumers of feeder rodents. Although some lizards and amphibians will eat
rodents, amphibians typically will not take dead food, and most carnivorous
lizards eat rodents too small for the concerns of this section to be a
factor. Large monitors are an exception, and this question may apply to
them as well.)

Although a snake is a pretty formidable adversary for even the toughest
rodent, a feeder can occasionally get lucky and manage to bite its predator.
Such bites can be serious; in extreme cases, the rodent can land one
fortunate bite at the base of the skull and kill the snake outright.
Most feeding bites are much less serious and pose no real threat except from
infection, but such catastrophes really have occurred. This is one very
good reason to prefer to use dead feeders; a prekilled mouse will rarely bite
a snake. This goes double for gerbils, which are fast and scrappy, and at
least triple for adult rats.

Another convenient feature of prekilled rodents is their availability; it
is possible to mail-order hundreds of frozen rodents, fill a freezer with
them, and have a practically permanent food supply for your snakes. Many
of the rec.pets.herp regulars (the author included) do precisely this. It's
convenient, and also much cheaper than buying individual live rodents at
pet-store prices.

Most snakes of commonly-kept species can be conditioned to accept prekilled
prey, though the conditioning process is sometimes lengthy and frustrating.
The tricks used to encourage feeding are innnumerable and really beyond the
scope of this FAQ, but often simply wiggling a dead feeder (with a pair of
forceps---don't use your bare hand or you *will* get bitten) is enough to
interest a reluctant snake.

Some snakes simply refuse to eat anything other than live prey. It behooves
the responsible herp keeper, when faced with such a specimen, to take every
precaution to make sure the predator-prey relationship doesn't reverse itself
(and, yes, there *are* cases in which snake keepers have found an intended
feeder rodent making a meal of the snake)! Never leave a live feeder rodent
alone with a snake, especially in the case of tough scrappers like rats. If
possible, stun the feeder before offering it; many snakes that turn up their
rostral scales at prekilled prey will still eat live but unconscious animals.
In short, don't invite trouble.

Naturally, many of the caveats of this section do not apply to pinky or fuzzy
rodents, which are not yet developed enough to injure anything larger than a
small insect. However, conditioning a snake to take prekilled pinkies or
fuzzies while it is a juvenile may help encourage it to eat dead prey as an

In the first draft of this answer, I wrote "A prekilled mouse will never bite
a snake." I'm wrong; in March 1996, a poster actually reported seeing his
corn snake receive a "bite" from a dead mouse! The snake managed to knock
the mouse's mouth open and drag the teeth over its side while searching for
the head. (Fortunately, the injury was extremely minor.) This anecdote
should only strengthen your resolve to feed prekilled; if even a *dead* prey
item presents a slight hazard, just imagine what a *live* one could do!

Legislation affects the use of feeder animals in the UK (the Protection of
Animals Act) and perhaps other countries as well. The UK law is not
particularly restrictive---it requires that live feeder vertebrates be used
only as a last resort and that the feeding process be monitored. Local US
jurisdictions may also have relevant regulations. Apprise yourself of the
local legislative situation as it applies to your feeding practices.


Subject: <7.4> I can't keep my <whatever species>. What do I do? Let it go?

No! Never release a captive animal back into the wild, especially if it's
a species that's not native to your area. The animal will either die, in
which case you didn't do it any favors, or it won't, in which case you have
just introduced an exotic species into your local ecosystem. This Is Bad;
the most drastic example among herps is the giant toad (_Bufo marinus_),
which created ecological chaos when it was introduced into Australia for
pest control (and it didn't even work for that). Even if your herp is a
native species, it may be carrying pathogens that shouldn't be released into
the wild, and if it was captive-bred, its genetics may have drifted enough
that you're introducing destructive genetic material into the wild population.
The problem of pathogens is not just theoretical; some wild populations of
herps have nearly been destroyed by well-meant releases of captive animals.

If you have a native herp that was caught in the wild, and you know exactly
where it was caught, and you're very sure it hasn't been exposed to any
pathogens while in your care, and it hasn't been in captivity too long, you
*might* think about releasing it. Even then, it probably isn't a good idea.

If you really can't keep a herp (or other pet), try to find it a good home.
If nobody wants to take it, a local herp society might be willing to put it
up for adoption among its members. Zoos generally will not accept donations
of this sort (they have enough Burmese pythons already), but if you have
something really unusual, it couldn't hurt to call the zoo and ask if they
want one. Or you can sell the animal to a pet store, though it behooves
you to find a good, responsible store that keeps its animals in decent
conditions. Just don't let it go.


Subject: <7.5> Can't you get salmonella from reptiles?

You can, indeed. However, if you take the most elementary precautions, your
chances of getting salmonella from a herp are much less than from, say,
incompletely cooked chicken. Wash your hands after handling herps or herp
supplies. Don't put herps in your mouth (yes, this probably means you should
resist the urge to kiss that bearded dragon). Keep herps away from food
preparation surfaces. In sum, don't treat herps as if they were "clean" for
human consumption. With that caveat obeyed, the risk of catching anything
from a herp is negligible.

Children and immunocompromised individuals are particularly vulnerable to
salmonella and other zoonotic infections. Therefore, it's appropriate to
observe additional precautions. Foremost among these is not allowing small
children to interact with herps without supervision; they tend to put their
hands, if not the actual animals, in their mouths, which is a good way to
expose themselves to any pathogens the animals might be carrying.

Steve Grenard of Herpmed maintains a document about salmonella and reptiles on
the Web, at

It's a thorough and valuable document, with brief case histories of some recent
reptile-associated salmonella cases and detailed guidelines on how to avoid
becoming one of them.


Section 8: Choosing a herp

Subject: <8.1> What's a good first herp?

Any answer to this question is necessarily colored by opinion. This question
attempts to list species that will be generally suitable for beginners with
no prior herpetological experience. It also focuses on species of which
captive-bred specimens are readily available in North America. (Information
on the availability of these species in other parts of the world, and
suggestions for suitable species where the ones below are hard to obtain,
would be welcome.)

See question 8.2 for some generalities to keep in mind when purchasing a
first herp.

<8.1a> Snakes

Good first snakes include corn snakes, common king snakes (of which there
are many subspecies: California, desert, Florida, speckled...), and captive-
bred or captive-born baby ball pythons. Imported adult ball pythons are a
poor choice, because they tend to be heavily parasitized and unwilling to
feed. Many people's first snake is a garter snake collected from the back
yard, but garter snakes are actually quite a bit harder to take care of than
the above-mentioned species. Boa constrictors and Burmese pythons are popular
pet-store items and very attractive snakes, but they grow rather large---
especially the Burmese---and should only be attempted by people who really
are prepared to share their home with a *big* snake.

<8.1b> Lizards

There are many good starter lizards whose care requirements are not extreme,
but that can still provide much enjoyment and interest. The leopard gecko,
a desert-dwelling insectivorous species, is readily available captive-bred and
is easy to tame and maintain. Captive-bred bearded dragons are more
expensive but equally easy to keep and handle, though it is recommended that
the beginner start with a juvenile rather than a hatchling. Captive-bred
blue-tongue skinks are charming animals that can be easily set up in a
temperate enclosure with moderate supplemental heating. There are also many
suitable starter lizards that, however, are bred less frequently in captivity;
these include collared lizards, desert iguanas, chuckwallas, ameivas (also
called dwarf tegus), savannah monitors, and anoles.

<8.1c> Turtles & Tortoises

A number of turtles can be maintained in captivity by beginners, if they are
willing to devote the time necessary to keep them appropriately. Aquatic
turtles will require a large tank, basking areas, heat sources, filtration,
and frequent water changes. Hardy beginner turtles are sliders and cooters
(adopt a red-ear from your local herp society!), related species of sliders,
mud and musk turtles (including the African mud turtles), and some Asian water
turtles such as Reeves' turtles (_Chinemys reevesii_). Land turtles require a
large amount of land, heated quarters, hiding areas, and an appropriate

Good beginning turtles/tortoises are red-footed tortoises, leopard
tortoises, African spurred tortoises (which, however, grow rather large),
and captive-born box turtles. If at all possible, buy a captive-born turtle;
they generally do much better in captivity than wild-caught individuals, and
this may make the difference between success and a dead turtle.

David Kirkpatrick wrote an article for _Reptiles_ magazine on starting out
with aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles; it's available on the WWW at

<8.1d> Frogs & Toads

Any frog is more delicate than the "starter" reptiles listed above. This
doesn't mean they're off-limits to beginners, though. Popular first species
include White's tree frogs (sometimes called dumpy tree frogs) and "Pac-Man"
frogs (properly called horned frogs; there are several species). There are
good Advanced Vivarium Systems books on both, and plenty of keepers on the
net who will be helpful. Those who are willing to work with an aquarium have
the opportunity to keep aquatic frogs; the dwarf frog and African clawed frog
are very easy to keep and are excellent first frogs, while the related
Surinam toad is slightly more delicate but is included here in a shameless
display of favoritism by the author.

<8.1e> Salamanders & Newts

Several commonly available caudates make good first herptile pets. They are
just as interesting as frogs in most respects and don't vocalize (read: make
noise when you are trying to sleep).

Probably the easiest to keep are western US newts of genus _Taricha_ (the
California or golden newt and/or the rough-skinned newt, which will happily
eat tubifex worms or chopped earthworms, and can even be trained to eat dry
food pellets with time. They are friendly, robust, long-lived, and fairly
big for newts. (They are also *extremely* toxic if placed in the mouth;
wash hands after handling!) The eastern newt (eats tubifex or *small*
earthworm parts) isn't bad, and neither are the frequently seen Japanese
cynops species, fire-belly and paddle-tail (a.k.a. shovel-nose) newts,
which feed as do _Taricha_.

If you insist on a big salamader, stick with tiger salamanders (US), or
fire salamanders (Eur.), or a similar rugged and cheap species. In the US,
tigers can often be had, often erroneously labelled "waterdogs", "mudpuppies",
or even "axolotls", for a dollar or less from bait shops, in larval form.
Tiger larvae are very similar to the more fragile axolotl, and eat water bugs,
worm chunks, small fish and just about anything suitably sized for their
mouths, including small newts, or even smaller siblings! Don't mix-n-match.
Adults enjoy bugs of many sorts, meal worms, and earthworms.

European readers would do well to start with _Triturus cristatus_ (the crested
newt) or _Pleurodeles waltl_ (the ribbed newt); both are hardy, active,
aggressive feeders, and easily obtainable in Europe.

<8.1f> Caecilians

The only commonly available caecilian, the rubber "eel", can be found in
lots of aquarium shops (many of whom have no idea what it is - be sure
it is in good health, as it may not have been fed properly). They eat
small worm bits, tubifex, and small water-dwelling creatures including
tiny feeder fish, water insect larvae, etc. A parting word of caution
regarding caecilians: They love to escape. Get a tight-fitting screen top, and
make sure it stays closed at all times. Even a few seconds is long enough for
them to go wandering, so keep an eye out when feeding them with the lid open.


Subject: <8.2> My kid wants a reptile; what should we get?

There are some things to consider before buying any herp. Remember, first,
that buying the animal itself is likely to be the *cheapest* part of the
process; that $20 iguana will cost closer to $250 when equipped with housing,
a substrate, furnishings, lighting, heating, food, and initial veterinary
care. Second, many herps are sold as juveniles and will be many times larger
at adulthood than at purchase; consider whether you are prepared to provide
suitable enclosures as the animal grows, and just where you're going to put
those enclosures. Third, many lizards, and all frogs and snakes, are
carnivores; to keep one, you will need to provide other animals as food
items, possibly killing them yourself (see question 7.3). Fourth, even
vegetarian herps have specialized needs; lettuce is *not* a suitable diet for
an iguana or other vegetarian lizard, and you are likely to have some strange
conversations about turnip greens with your produce manager.

When a herp (or other pet) is being entrusted to a child, there's also the
issue of responsibility. Many herps require relatively little care to do
well, but this ease of maintenance actually makes neglect easier; after not
feeding the frogs for three or four days, it's easy to forget for another
week or two. In addition, certain large or flashy herps have a surface
appeal that may draw people (and especially young people) for the wrong
reasons: "If I had a *really* *big* snake, I could scare the heck outta my

Let's assume that the kid is responsible enough to take care of a pet, and
that its reasons for wanting a reptile are good reasons. In this case, the
species described in the answer to question 8.1 are good places to start
looking. The large snakes, however, are particularly contraindicated in
households with small children; incidents in which a snake injures a human
are *extremely* rare, but the effect on the public image of herpkeeping and
the potential for tragedy are great enough that it's better to play it safe.
For obvious reasons, venomous herps should never be kept in households with

Many, probably most, herpers started as children, and strongly encourage the
fostering of a child's interest in herps and other animals. This answer is
not intended to discourage children from keeping herps, but to suggest the
most responsible and rewarding routes to that end.

Bill East

May 25, 2001, 11:49:12 AM5/25/01
Archive-name: pets/herp-faq/part2
Posting-frequency: monthly
Xref: news rec.answers:37599 news.answers:123244 rec.pets.herp:133874


An Introduction to rec.pets.herp
Part 2/3: Other Resources
Bill East <>


This document is copyright 1995-1998 by Bill East, and may be
freely under many circumstances; the details are explained in Part 1
3.1). Some sections were written by other authors, who are also
identified in
Part 1.

This document is provided as-is, with no expressed or implied warranty
any kind. Every effort has been made to make this FAQ an accurate and
comprehensive source of information; however, the maintainer offers no
guarantee that these efforts have been successful, and assumes no
responsibility for damages resulting from errors or omissions.

This document represents the understanding and opinion of the
and, where possible, a consensus of posters to rec.pets.herp; it is not
endorsed by, and does not necessarily represent any position of, the
maintainer's employer or ISP.


Section 5: Other information resources


Subject: <5.1> What other online resources exist?

There are online resources scattered all over the net; herpers seem to
making WWW pages. This section is somewhat biased toward WWW resources,
part because of the ease of searching the Web, in part because other
of access to these resources are pretty spotty. Anyone with knowledge
FTP sites is invited to contribute to this section of the FAQ!

In due course, there will probably be a rec.pets.herp home page, where
of these resources will be gathered. Watch this space for updates.

Adam Britton keeps a Web page of crocodilian resources at

Liza Daly maintains the Herp Net Resources FAQ at

Melissa Kaplan maintains a *large* collection of care sheets and
articles on her herp page, at

Mike Greathouse maintains the The Manasota Herpetological Society at
This lists over a thousand links to other herping spots.

Mike Pingleton maintains the FAQs on mites, African clawed frogs, and
crocodilians, and has them all at

Jennifer Swofford has a herp page with its own domain name, with *lots*
links to other online resources and offline information:

All these sites, and many others, contain pointers to additional WWW
It's possible to cruise around the Web, restricting your attention to
and turn blue in the face before you run out of places to go. A good
nexus of pointers resides on the Colorado Herpetological Society's
page, at

The Herpetology section of the Virtual Library resides at
and contains a wide variety of links; most of them are of a more
bent than the typical hobbyist's page.

There is a mailing list devoted to snake keeping, called slither.
is available at the URL
and a subscription can be had by sending a piece of email saying
slither" to It is best in this and all cases to
the related information prior to subscribing!

A UK-specific Usenet newsgroup can be found at uk.rec.pets.misc. Other
specific newsgroups may be available as well; check your local


Subject: <5.2> What are some good offline resources?

This is a big question. There are quite a few books about herps of
sorts, and they range from stellar to awful. One particularly stellar
is _The Completely Illustrated Atlas of Reptiles and Amphibians for the
Terrarium_, by Obst, Richter, Jacob, et al. (TFH Publications Inc.,
1988), a
titanic red tome with brief entries on a huge variety of subjects, often
called "the Big Red Book". Also, Advanced Vivarium Systems publishes a
of books on herp care which are widely acknowledged to be thoroughly
excellent; most of them are slim white paperbacks that cost five to ten
dollars (US). They are sold in pet stores, especially those that
in herps, in both the US and Europe.

There are several periodicals devoted to herpetoculture (and many
journals dealing with herpetology); these include the _Vivarium_ (the
of the American Federation of Herpetoculturists), _Reptiles_, and
_Reptile &
Amphibian_. There has been an outstanding publication called _Captive
Breeding_, but there are rumors of its demise. This FAQ takes no
on the relative merits of these publications; all of them have printed
stuff and bad stuff, and it's a good idea to seek independent
of any information before entrusting the well-being of your animals to

All the above print resources are in English. Other languages have
own bodies of herpetocultural literature; the author's familiarity with
is extremely limited, and suggestions for important sources---especially
high points of the large body of German literature---are solicited.

Local herp societies are valuable sources of knowledgeable people; see
question 5.3, below. There are also some national herp societies, like
the American Federation of Herpetoculturists in the United States, and a
number of global organizations with more specific purposes (like the
International Gecko Society and the Tortoise Trust).

Your local university library can also be very useful. There's a
called the _Zoological Record_ that indexes zoological journals by
many of the articles it references will be unreadable by a lay audience,
others can be a very useful source of captive-care information. In
university libraries can order copies of articles in hard-to-find
for you; ask a reference librarian for sordid details.


Subject: <5.3> How do I find a nearby herp society?

The Herp Net Resources FAQ (see question 5.1) contains a list of herp
societies with WWW pages, and the pages of FAQs mentioned in question
include lists of herp societies. In addition, the omnipresent WWW page
Liza Daly contains Peter Donohue's herp organization FAQ:

Not satisfied? Melissa Kaplan ( maintains lists of U.S.
organizations by state, and will cheerfully send copies to people who
ask for
them. She also has a document on how to start your own herp society.

If these sources don't list a society near you, start asking around. If
there's a local university, ask someone in the biology or environmental
science department. Ask the zoo, aquarium, or museum. If there's a
pet store that pays a lot of attention to reptiles, ask there. If all
fails, you might have to start a society of your own. Or you could


Subject: <5.4> Where do I get information about iguanas?

In one form or another, this is probably the most asked question on the
newsgroup. There are at least three iguana care sheets readily
on the Web, and plenty of peripheral documents. A good central resource
for iguana information is Liza Daly's iguana page:
which includes pointers to lots of documents.

This page also includes some information on the iguana mailing list. To
subscribe, send a message to with the words
"subscribe iguanas-digest" in the body of the message.

It really is worth your while to read these care sheets before posting
iguana-related question. There are a *lot* of pet iguanas out in the
and much discussion of them on the net, and the chances that your
question has
already been asked and answered are pretty good.

There are many books on iguanas; most of them aren't very good, and
keepers on the net say that none of them are really good enough to
As of early 1996, there are more books in the works that show some
however, the online care sheets remain the iguana keeper's strongest
for the present.


Subject: <5.5> Is there a care sheet for <whatever species>?

The lists of online resources in question 5.1, above, contain many
to care sheets for specific species. If you can't find it from the
sources, ask; odds are that someone can give you at least basic care


Subject: <5.6> What zoos have good herp collections?

Perhaps surprisingly, lots of them. In the United States, leaders
the National Zoological Garden in Washington, D.C., the San Diego Zoo,
Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco, the Denver Zoo's Tropical Discovery
exhibit, Zoo Atlanta, and many more (contributions solicited). The
Zoo gets extra brownie points for having many snakes in the children's

A number of zoos in Europe have outstanding herp collections, often
with great naturalistic settings; the Rotterdam Zoo is a world leader,
the author wishes to take this opportunity to plug the zoo in Frankfurt

At least three zoos in the US have tuataras. The St. Louis Zoo has some
are said to be off-exhibit at this writing, and the Dallas and Toledo
have recently opened exhibits. The London Zoo is now reported to have a
of tuataras on display; the only other exhibit that I know of outside
New Zealand.

More information for this question is always welcome.


Section 6: Obtaining and identifying herps


Subject: <6.1> Where can I get a <whatever species>?

If you don't know where to get it, and you haven't been keeping herps
enough to find a source, are you sure you want one? Hard-to-find
are often hard to find precisely because they're very difficult to keep,
should only be essayed by very experienced keepers.

Assuming you really do want whatever-it-is, there are a number of large
commercial dealers who are good places to look. A good starting point
the breeder/mail-order FAQ, available on Liza Daly's WWW page, at the

Many large herp dealers and prominent breeders advertise in the pages of
herp magazines like the ones listed in question 5.2. Local herp
are also a good source of pointers, since many of them have members who
attend conventions regularly and stay abreast of others' breeding

For the record, this FAQ *strongly* discourages the keeping of venomous
reptiles by any amateurs but the most expert and cautious. Many
snakes are extremely attractive and have a powerful appeal; however, the
dangers of keeping "hot" animals are very substantial, to say nothing of
the public-relations disaster and potential tragedy that could result
an escaped animal. (And there is *always* a chance of escape; what if
were an earthquake and all your tanks were shattered?) The prudent
route is
to leave the venomous critters to the wild and the zoo, and go there
when you
feel the urge to admire them.


Subject: <6.2> How do I identify this creature in my yard? Can I keep

It's hard to describe an animal accurately enough for a positive ID in
Try a field guide first, since you can look back and forth from the book
the animal. (This author, based in North America, favors the Audubon
others prefer the Peterson guides for their range maps and
sections. Field guides for Britain and Europe are known to exist, but I
don't know enough about them to make recommendations.) If you can't
a conclusive ID, then post a detailed description of the animal, along
any useful information you gathered from the guide ("I thought it might
a Flipplezorb's tree frog, but it doesn't have a puce belly"). Someone
probably post either a tentative ID or a request for specific

In some cases, the answer to "Can I keep it?" is definitely *no*. Many
jurisdictions have some form of laws against keeping native wildlife in
captivity, and such laws are sometimes enforced with surprising vigor.
is one reason why a positive ID is very important; you don't want to
yourself inadvertently violating the law and setting both yourself and
animal up for trouble.

Legalities aside, it's often not a good idea to keep animals you find in
wild, and you should just release the critter where you found it;
all concerned will probably be happier if you satisfy your herp desires
a captive-bred animal. However, most of us caught garter snakes as kids
kept them, and are in no position to take a holier-than-thou stance
keeping such animals. If you want to keep something that crawled out
under your azaleas, make sure you've identified it correctly, and *then*
asking for care guidelines. A single posting saying "I don't know what
is, but how do I take care of it?" will not get many useful responses.


Subject: <6.3> I just bought a <whatever species>. How do I take care
of it?

Everyone would much rather see this question in the form "I'm going to
a <whatever>...", but it doesn't always happen that way.

Some species of herps are quite difficult to keep and suited only for
who really want a time sink, or who have lots of experience, or who have
ready source of some exotic food item; unfortunately, your average pet
doesn't know which species these are, and so, every so often, a new
asks something like "I just bought a Nile crocodile. The pet store said
would be pretty easy to take care of, but how do I do it?"

Regrettably, in the case of a Nile crocodile, the only realistic answer
to find someone who *really* knows about working with large
crocodilians, and
hope they want to take it off your hands. While this example is a
exaggerated, it's quite common for unsuspecting people to end up in over
heads with a difficult species, and the herp almost invariably suffers
for it.
For this reason, it's vitally important to learn about the needs of an
animal *before* you go out and buy one!

But let's suppose you already have your Nile crocodile, you really like
and are determined to do whatever it takes to keep it happy and healthy,
you think you might have the resources to do it. In this case, go ahead
post; you may take some heat, but the best response is probably "Yeah, I
realize I should have researched it first. I'll do better next time,
but now
I want to learn how to handle the situation I've got." People will


Subject: <6.4> Is it OK to order herps through the mail? Over the net?

Sure; in fact, it's widely done, mostly because mail-order dealers sell
animals much more cheaply than pet stores (there are fewer middlemen).
are some caveats about mail-order, though, as you might expect. You
see the animal before you buy it (though you may be able to get
especially of unusual or expensive animals); you have to trust the
to be honest; and you face the risks of shipping (though a reputable
should at least guarantee live arrival).

For these reasons, it's a good idea to stick to mail-order dealers about
which you know something. Glades Herp is probably the best-known
of this nature, but they, like most of their compatriots, have been the
subject of some strongly worded complaints on the net. Because no
seems to be able to satisfy everybody, this FAQ takes no position on the
recommendation of specific mail-order houses.

Note that, while many herps can be mailed, US law prohibits sending
by any means except air freight. The cost of air freight is rather
more than enough to offset the price savings on a small order;
it's fairly common for several people to combine small orders.

As always, exercise caution when buying anything over the net. On
people have been ripped off purchasing herps from net folks; in
there was a recent fiasco in which someone offered animals for sale at a
very low price, then sent random unpleasant objects (rotting vegetables,
etc.) instead of the herps people ordered. It was later reported on the
that the scam artist in question had been arrested on a variety of
mail-fraud-type charges, hopefully ending his herp-fraud career.
Because of
the occasional bad apples, it is a very good idea to check out the
of anyone you're considering buying from...*before* you trust them with


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