Handle With Care

The veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus), the most popular and best-selling chameleon across the nation, is native to the Middle East, specifically modern-day Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Within their natural habitats, veiled chameleons tend to prefer coastal mountainous regions, particularly those with significant rainfall. However, they have spread across the globe, even establishing populations as far away as Maui and as close as Florida.

Veiled chameleons are notable for their color-changing capabilities, with a variety of striped or spotted patterns. They are particularly easy to differentiate by gender, as males have a protrusion known as a tarsal spur on their hind legs. A healthy male veiled chameleon will grow to nearly two feet in length and live for approximately six to eight years. Females are slightly less vibrant, are typically a few inches shorter and have a shorter lifespan, typically living only four to six years. However, both sexes of chameleons can live longer when given a safe, clean environment.

Bad Reputation
Veiled chameleons—and chameleons in general—often have a poor reputation of being finicky or requiring a more advanced level of care. In the past, this may have been the case, but thanks to advances in captive breeding, veiled chameleons are better acclimated to life as a pet than their previously wild-caught cousins.
However, chameleons typically do not enjoy being handled. Some pet owners may be used to bearded dragons or other lizards that prefer handling, but chameleons can grow stressed or even become unhealthy from excessive handling. When handling a chameleon, retailers should encourage their staff and customers to simply allow the chameleon freedom of movement, letting it proceed across an arm or across hands as it feels comfortable. Chameleons do prefer heights, so don’t be surprised if a chameleon finds its way to the top of your head.

Another contributing factor to veiled chameleons’ poor reputation may stem from their preferred housing. Veiled chameleons prefer screened tanks, which allow for free and easy airflow across the enclosure. However, with many other reptiles thriving in glass-walled enclosures, even experienced reptile keepers fall into error, keeping their chameleons in enclosures that are better suited to snakes or other lizards. This sort of environment fosters respiratory infections in chameleons and poor health overall in the long term.

Stocking Enclosures
If you plan to stock veiled chameleons in your store, be sure that you also carry the proper enclosures necessary to house those chameleons. These chameleons require a hot, humid environment with ultraviolet B (UVB) lighting as well. The floor of a chameleon enclosure should be kept bare, however, to prevent the spread of bacteria and fungi. House adult veiled chameleons separately; keeping multiple adult chameleons in the same enclosure can stress out the chameleons and lead to fighting.

Be sure that any enclosure, whether in the store or in the customers’ home, has a good variety of vines and foliage on which the veiled chameleons can climb and bask.

Good choices for plants include ficus and hibiscus, as well as schefflera. These plants not only provide shade and climbing area for chameleons, but also help to maintain humidity within the enclosure. Some chameleon keepers have gone so far as to create drip systems for their enclosures, providing a slow, steady source of both humidity and drinking water. However, avoid water features in a chameleon enclosure; veiled chameleons often use such water sources to defecate, which can turn an attractive waterfall into a potentially toxic mess.

While veiled chameleons do not require a water dish—it’s better to mist them twice a day with a spray bottle of clean water—they do require both a heat bulb to maintain homeostatic body temperature as well as a UVB bulb to generate necessary vitamins and minerals. UVB exposure should be made in conjunction with any vitamin or calcium supplement added to your chameleon’s diet.

A veiled chameleon’s diet provides an advantage for a canny store owner. Chameleons are voracious eaters, requiring daily or every-other-day feedings. With each of these feedings requiring vitamin and calcium supplementation, the profits for a store owner who carries these items should be obvious. A store can thrive upon these necessities, becoming a one-stop-shop for any chameleon owner. Given this, retailers should ensure their stores have a regular, consistent stock of crickets, including gut-loaded or other vitamin-providing insects, as well as necessary supplements. Keeping these items, as well as those that a reptile owner will seek to include in their enclosures, will keep chameleon-owning patrons coming back for more.

And for those who might need another incentive to carry these amazing animals: a single veiled chameleon can easily consume over $600 per year in crickets. Thus, the sale of the pet should not be a retailer’s focus as much as stocking the food and supplies that will result in maximum profits.

A Nice Niche Pet

When customers think of reptiles, most people tend to think of snakes or lizards, chameleons or geckos. However, despite their continual popularity and their fixture-status among reptile owners, turtles are often an overlooked second-cousin to various other species and varieties of reptiles. However, a knowledgeable store owner can easily translate our proverbial “heroes on the half shell” into a bevy of happy customers and an even happier bottom line.

The term “turtles” naturally covers turtles, terrapins, box turtles and tortoises—the 327 reptile species of the order Testudines. Turtles can range in size and scale from tiny aquarium-dwellers to the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands. Within the span of our discussion here, however, we’ll focus primarily on freshwater turtles, which are the most prevalent within the pet trade.

Russ Gurley, author of “Turtles in Captivity,” director of the Turtle and Tortoise Preservation Group (TTPG) and a founding member of the American Federation of Herpetoculturists, had much to say about these creatures. He encourages stores to include turtles in their reptile sales, as “turtles make excellent pets, and in recent years, breeders across the United States are not only providing healthy pet turtles, but they are also helping in the worldwide fight to save turtles from extinction.”

He cites water pollution and habitat destruction, in addition to the use of turtles as food and as part of the folk medicine trade within Asia.

“The rewards of keeping a turtle in the home are diverse,” Gurley said. “Watching these ancient reptiles, from since around the days of the dinosaurs, swimming in a beautiful enclosure in your home, is certainly worth the time, work and expense.”

Turtle species within the pet trade cover a wide variety of creatures. The most common turtles found within the pet trade include sliders, African and Indonesian side-necks, and the various forms of American basking turtles such as map turtles, cooters, softshell turtles, and even captive-bred snapping turtles. While any of these species may make for good pets, a savvy store owner must be sure of several things before offering a given species.

Pet store owners must be aware of the laws governing turtle sales within their country and state. On a federal level, the USDA enforces the Public Health Service Act of 1975, which states clearly that turtles must have a carapace length of greater than four inches in order to be sold as pets.
The reasoning behind this law comes primarily from turtles’ propensity to carry the Salmonella bacterium, due to their aquatic nature. Individual states may also have additional statutes which apply to turtle and tortoise sales. Always be sure that your store is not only up to date, but also in compliance with all state and federal regulations.

Note that Gurley’s organization, the TTPG, has formally submitted a petition to amend the Public Health Service Act to better allow for the breeding and preservation of turtles within the pet hobby. The TTPG has taken great pains to lobby for reptile conservation and for the promotion of captive breeding as a conservation tool. Its work can serve as both a template and a great resource if a store owner is facing legislative difficulties.

Another major issue is that of animal growth potential for captive turtles. Certain species can grow to significant sizes. Softshells, for instance, can grow to be larger than a manhole cover. Keeping these turtles in a smaller tank to control their size can prove to be detrimental to their health, so retailers should consider this when stocking their stores.

Adult female red-eared sliders can grow to be up to 16 inches in length, but they are particularly popular due to their docile nature as well as the numbers being produced at turtle farms in the U.S.

In recent years, however, red-eared sliders have become an invasive species as pet owners unable to care for them turn them loose in local ponds or streams. As with all reptiles, be sure that you are able to properly educate your customers on their pet.

Turtles, on the whole, are amphibious creatures, as they live both on land and in water, though they breathe air and are incapable of breathing underwater. Pet turtle enclosures require a good balance of raised land for basking under a heat and UVB-emitting lamp and a deeper watery area for swimming; as such, pet store owners have a unique opportunity to market materials that are necessary for both portions of a turtle’s habitat.

While turtles are not necessarily the most profitable animals in terms of animal feed, they more than make up for this shortcoming in terms of their aquarium habitats.

“Turtles can be expensive to set up properly,” Gurley noted.

A turtle enclosure requires a suitable tank (typically five to six times the turtle’s shell length is ideal), lighting elements, a water filtration system, raised areas for basking, plus any number of decorations. This can provide for unique opportunities for a creative pet retailer, provided that you’re willing to put in a bit of extra effort for a turtle enclosure.

A beautiful aquatic turtle enclosure may take up a bit of floor space, but the excitement and inspiration for your customers will no doubt pay dividends. While many pet owners are content to relegate their turtles to blank, empty tanks, a bit of extra effort and creativity can really show off the plants, wood and rock hides, and other commercially available decorations that can make an enclosure into a thing of beauty.

While often overlooked in the face of bearded dragons and leopard geckos, turtles fill a phenomenal niche that can’t be overstated. Retailers should consider them when planning their next store attraction!

Staff Training Redux

There’s a fundamental truth in life that many have to come to accept over time: people can’t be everywhere, and they can’t do everything. Even the owner of a small, mom-and-pop-style store is going to want to take a day off at some point. For that, they have their staff.

The staff represents the machinery that keeps a store running, regardless of whether the owner is in the building, out in the city or even out of state. While owners must be personable and treat their staff with respect—they are people, after all—there is some merit to thinking of staff members as interchangeable parts. If one staff member calls out sick, another should be able to step in with the knowledge and ability to perform the sick staffer’s job with the same meticulousness and care.

This “drop-out, drop-in” concept stems directly from a manager’s ability to train the staff in a redundant manner. While a store may have a head cashier or a warehouse chief, every member of the staff should be able to perform the rudimentary duties of every other staff member. For example, a stock person should know how to run a cash register, should something happen to your cashier on staff. And should the regular reptile-care specialist need to call off, another staff member should be able to pick up the slack to keep those pets happy and healthy.

Educate The Staff

One of the best ways to reinforce the “drop-out, drop-in” concept is through staff meetings. Meetings with all staff members should occur at least bi-weekly, if not weekly, to keep staff members up to date on new promotions, new animals, new products and upcoming events.

At these meetings, the staff should receive any new care sheets in addition to the copies that are kept within the store. All staff members should have to handle new animals during this time so that they can get used to the presence of animals that they may not normally consider as pets.

A staff represents the store. Further, staff members represent the store owner. The message that those staff members provide to customers should remain consistent regardless of with which staff member a customer interacts. This is not to say that staff members cannot communicate their preferences to customers; rather, a personal approach often shows expertise on their part. However, it should be made clear that their opinions are exactly that: opinions. The final say on a store’s view on an animal or product is yours, and your staff members should communicate that information at all times.

While staff training can be time consuming, a store owner may be able to cut down on lesson planning by using mandatory video or online training methods, especially for new staff, for whom much of this information may be foreign. Animal Care Technologies has a wonderful series on YouTube, AnimalCareTV, which features basic veterinary techniques. While many of its videos are meant for veterinary students and vet technicians, they are just as applicable for pet store employees who must be on the alert for disease and must be vigilant in their care for animals. HowCast also has a large video series on YouTube which specifically covers reptiles. When training new staff, these may serve as a quality baseline for all staff to understand.

Make It Fun

One concept that any store owner could implement in staff training is the concept of a merit-based gamification. Gamification—the act of turning a task or process into a game—has been shown to have increased success when measuring student retention and progress through material. Consider offering employees tangible rewards based on how many independent training modules they complete. Any owner may consider tying this system to potential pay bumps, preference for promotions, staff discounts on store materials or even outside prizes like gift cards or the like.

Coupled with this, owners may consider implementing a “leveling” system within various specialties in the store. These levels of proficiency provide an easy-to-understand method for incentivized learning.

It’s easy for an employee to say, “OK, I need an additional eight hours of reptile training, plus this online quiz, to reach Level 4 Reptile Mastery. If I do, that increases my staff discount to 30 percent!”

Store owners who implement a gamified training procedure should consider posting progress in a visible area, like a staff break room, and openly praise staff members for taking the initiative to train on their own. This reinforces both the importance of cross-department training and provides a positive atmosphere for employees.

Stay Flexible

Unfortunately, as with all professions, one of the biggest threats to staff development and training is turnover. Regardless of how welcoming a store might be, how well an owner pays or how hospitable the work environment is, a store eventually loses employees. If or when an employee quits (or, heaven forbid, is fired), the onus falls upon the store owner to ensure that an adequate replacement is found quickly and trained up with all possible haste.

In these difficult times, flexibility remains key. Consider giving remaining employees a chance to move into other areas, demonstrating their proficiency in an area of need.

If a specific team member steps up, a good store owner should praise them and even consider some sort of bonus for them. Letting employees know that everyone is in this together often results in it becoming less likely that the store owners will have to deal with staff turnover on a regular basis.

Simply put, a well-trained, well-vetted staff makes a store better. The more knowledge that passes from owner to employees, the more knowledge that they can pass to the customers. And that means repeat business.

Captive or Wild?

We throw around the terms “captive bred” and “wild-caught” on a regular basis, though we’ve not defined what these terms and categories actually mean. It’s time to elaborate on these two terms and how they impact your store.

Captive-bred animals are those that are bred by a reptile wholesaler. These animals have never known a wild habitat; their entire lives, from hatching to sale date, has been in an enclosed environment. Captive breeders range in size from the local hobbyist up to internationally-noted companies. Many of the “staples” of reptile sales are captive-bred animals: lizards, pythons, colubrids and geckos are typically captive-bred.

Captive breeding has several advantages that should not be overlooked. The genetic make-up of captive-bred animals are often precisely tracked, resulting in unique morphs, colorations and tempered expectations, should that animal be bred in the future. Captive-bred animals also appeal to retailers due to their availability and pricing.

Captive-bred animals have a minimal impact on the local environment. Since they have never known any outside existence, these animals are effectively outside of the local ecosystem.

Meanwhile, wild-caught animals are precisely that: animals that are captured from their natural habitats and then sold within the pet trade. Certain animals, such as Russian tortoises or most iguanas, are difficult to breed in captivity, so catching these species in the wild becomes the viable option.

Several animal rights groups have raised concerns about wild-caught reptiles, stating that over-catching these animals provides a detrimental effect upon their local ecosystems. And when performed irresponsibly, this can be the case, just as with overfishing of certain ocean areas or excess hunting. However, done in a responsible manner, wild-catching reptiles can leave little to no environmental footprint upon the local ecosystem. In fact, in certain areas, wild-catching programs can give communities a reason to protect various species that would otherwise go unprotected, or even be thought of as vermin. Additionally, many wild caught species are carefully monitored by CITES, a worldwide association that governs how these species are removed from the wild.

One major difference to consider when deciding between wild-caught and captive-bred reptiles is the temperament of those animals. Captive-bred animals, as they have been raised with significant exposure to humans, are often more docile. Wild-caught reptiles, in contrast, can sometimes show more aggression or unfriendliness. However, this varies from species to species and even animal to animal. Russian tortoises, for instance, are known to be particularly friendly, even though they are almost exclusively wild-caught.

Also of note is the relative health of these animals. Because they grow up in the natural environment, wild-caught reptiles are often more likely to carry common parasites and have exposure-related diseases or other maladies. Reputable reptile importers have their own veterinarians examine their animals before shipping, but be diligent. Have your own staff perform health checks and thorough inspections on newly-purchased animals before the animals go on sale. The onus of an animal’s health lies upon you.

It is a fallacy to think that a store should choose either wild-caught or captive-bred reptiles. Rather, as an individual store owner, you need to consider which animals work best within your sales market. Likely, you’ll choose a combination of both, which is perfectly fine.

However, do the necessary research before stocking a given animal: find out what that species requires to support it, what food it eats and what elements are necessary to give the pet a proper home. If you’re unfamiliar with a given animal, talk to your suppliers. Maintaining a good relationship with reptile wholesalers can ensure that the animals you receive are the best possible pets for your store and your customers.

Winter Lizard Sales

Selling during the holidays is a relatively easy thing. However, maintaining that momentum into the coming year can really start your 2017 off with a bang.

The most critical element to taking advantage of the winter months is to go in having a plan. As the saying goes, “prior planning prevents poor performance,” and few can deny that this goes double in sales. Consider keeping an annual calendar of events, complete with times set aside to meet with your staff, your reptile supplier and even your local veterinarian. Following this sort of schedule can get your year off to a strong start.

One important thing to remember as the winter months deepen is that reptiles will often move toward hibernation. While many reptile owners are able to keep their pets on a regular feeding regimen and can expect typical active hours, both feeding and sleep cycles can change drastically in colder months, even for captive-bred animals who have never known life out in the wilderness. While hibernating reptiles may not eat during their hibernation cycle, water dishes should be kept filled and clean, as even hibernating reptiles may wake briefly to drink or soak.

After the holidays, people often have a little extra cash on hand, as well as gift certificates or gift cards. If you don’t already offer gift cards in your store, consider these as an additional way to foster relationships with your ongoing customers. Perhaps offer a discount for the purchaser if they buy a gift card or gift certificate for a friend. In this way, you keep your current customers pleased while bringing fresh faces into your store.

You may wish to consider coupling this focus on gift cards and the like with discounts on dry goods. Many wholesalers of enclosures, food, lighting and more offer significant price breaks after the holiday season, which can make offering such discounts increasingly feasible. Consider again offering bundled deals, which appeal greatly to new reptile owners.

An additional promotion to consider is to take advantage of the academic semester. With many schools ending their semesters in January, consider offering a “Pets for A’s” discount program, based on students’ academic progress. You can tier discounts based on a student’s success and stay close with your own community. With any luck, you’ll be able to advertise this promotion in local schools, giving you an inroad to a whole populace of potential customers.

As winter deepens, people tend to spend more time indoors, which means additional time spent building enclosures or considering additional indoor pets. Consider offering discounts on enclosures, substrates, heat lighting and creative elements reptile owners can add to their already-existing displays.

However, that same cold weather makes shipping reptiles from breeders and wholesalers particularly difficult. When the temperature dips below the freezing point, many breeders simply cannot ship out reptiles for fear of the animals’ health. Keep an open line of communication with your reptile supplier and ensure that you’re able to keep open reptile displays full and moving.

Weather can provide difficulties for pet store owners in transferring reptiles to their new owners. Be sure to transfer reptiles in travel boxes with adequate ventilation. However, our scaly friends should be kept away from direct sunlight during their trip as well as kept from heater vents. Direct sunlight, even in winter months, can turn a clear plastic tub into a mini greenhouse while a heater vent may make a reptile’s travel box intolerably warm. Ensure that both your staff and your customers know how to keep reptiles safe during the winter months and, in doing so, give these pets a long and happy life.

Winter poses logistical and strategic challenges. However, with careful seasonal planning, sales initiatives poised to take advantage of post-holiday gift certificates and proper education for both staff and customers, the long dark of post-holiday sales could become your personal winter wonderland.

Corn Snakes: A Brief History

While the bearded dragons from last month’s issue remain at the top of reptile sales, this month’s featured reptile may give those storied lizards a run for their money. Corn snakes can provide your customers with the perfect first herp and become your store’s steady seller.

Corn snakes belong to the colubrid family, alongside rat snakes and king snakes, as the best-selling pet snakes nationwide and worldwide. Their relative ease of care, docility and varied colors and patterns make them a phenomenal choice for any would-be reptile owner, whether novice or veteran.

Kathy Love, owner of CornUtopia and author of both “The Corn Snake Manual” and “Corn Snakes: The Comprehensive Owner’s Guide,” is a leading expert on corn snakes.

“I’ve been breeding them since the 80s, and I’m still not tired of it,” she said. “They’re just so variable. Most other king snakes, milk snakes, and even ball pythons have a great range of colors, but nowhere near the range of corn snakes.”

Corn snakes are often sold when they reach 8 to 12 inches in length, but can grow to approximately four or five feet long. In captivity, corn snakes live for nearly 20 years. However, corn snakes shouldn’t be kept in a single enclosure for any extended period of time; the stress of having a cage mate can cause health issues in your snakes or lead to them attacking one another. Be sure that each individual animal has its own clean, safe enclosure.

“Please, please, please, don’t keep babies in the same cage together!” Love noted. “It’s the responsibility of a good pet shop to set them up one to a cage, in the exact same manner that you’d like your customer to set them up. Treat them the way the customer should.”

According to Love, corn snake sales are often improved by careful consideration of displays. Fish tanks, she noted, are often decorated with products within the store itself. Reptile enclosures, however, are often left barren or with only token hides. She exhorted store owners to “decorate in such a way that your customer can see what’s possible. Show them what they can buy to keep their reptile happy.”

She recommended placing water dishes in a corner of a snake enclosure. Doing so makes the water easier for a young snake to find, particularly if substrate is mounded around the dish.

Of course, the biggest source of revenue for a pet retailer is not the sale of the reptile, but rather the subsidiary materials that accompany that pet. Corn snakes, like their fellow colubrids, subsist on fresh or frozen mice, a food source that local big box stores do not carry. Be sure to carry numerous sizes of mice suitable for all age ranges of corn snakes. Often separated into “pinkies,” “fuzzies” and “adult” mice, feeder mice should be well-stocked, easily accessible and labeled. Be sure to educate your staff on these sizes, so they can assist customers in choosing the correct mice for their reptile’s diet.

Love also stated that the number of morphs and colorations in corn snakes can make identification difficult, if a given snake’s genetics are in question. One of the most striking new morphs is that of the Palmetto corn snake. Originally bred by Don Soderbergh in the early 2000s, the Palmetto features a pale white body flecked with individual scales of brown and gold. A striking, visually appealing animal, the first Palmetto corn snakes sold for over $4,000. However, as this new morph becomes more available, the price will drop to a suitable price for a pet store.

“Palmettos will be the thing that people come in to see and say ‘Wow!’” said Love, adding that another attractive option for veteran snake owners is the tri-color hognose snake. While not directly related to corn snakes, they feature many of the same attractive features: ease of handling, a docile temperament, striking coloration and a small, stout body. Love noted that the tri-color hognose are “a bit slower, so they might be an even more novice-friendly option.”

A Lizard with Appeal

Stumbling upon an interesting article a few days ago revealed information that really bears discussing. According to a 2008 survey conducted by the British Survey of Herpetologists in the United Kingdom, reptiles have now outpaced dogs as pets within the UK.

Approximately 8 million reptiles call the British Isles home, compared to approximately 6.5 million dogs. Some statisticians have estimated that reptiles may soon match cats as the UK’s favorite pets!

Given this news, it’s high time that we take another look at the leader of reptile sales: the bearded dragon. Alongside the veiled chameleon and ball python, the bearded dragon joins a triumvirate of reptiles that any savvy pet store owner simply cannot ignore.

Native to Australia’s deserts, the bearded dragon (genus Pogona) is a typically docile, personable reptile that actively enjoys being touched, pet and handled by their owners. Furthermore, bearded dragons are diurnal, meaning they share active waking hours with their owners. Their natural curiosity, coupled with a mild temperament, can make bearded dragons ideal pets for a new customer.

The bearded dragon’s popularity has led to extensive work by breeders to establish new morphs and colorations. Variations like the German giant, leatherback and silkback bearded dragons provide a significant variety. While most bearded dragons show a mix of gray, green and tan as their primary colors, breeders have produced varieties in red, yellow and even white colorations. In terms of sheer variety, bearded dragons appeal to both veteran and novice reptile keepers.

Bearded dragons prefer an arid, desert environment with generally low humidity levels and a suitable basking spot, which may reach near 100° F. In the wild, some bearded dragons can go for years without being exposed to liquid water. However, consider misting your bearded dragons with a spray bottle.

While water can be offered in a shallow dish, excess humidity can be harmful to them. Bearded dragons also require UVB light, enabling them to synthesize vitamin D3, which helps them properly absorb calcium.

A juvenile bearded dragon can eat between 15 and 20 crickets a day, plus another 10 mealworms and greens. While most owners should shift their bearded dragon over to a primarily greens-based diet as it reaches adulthood, the potential profit on a single bearded dragon purchase should be apparent to a store owner.

If a customer purchases a tub of crickets every 7 days, that level of frequency becomes approximately 50 tubs of crickets in a year. Note that this does not count mealworms, greens, lighting, caging, substrate or any other subsidiary purchase necessary for the care of their bearded dragon. With even a standard profit margin on crickets, the net profit gained from a single bearded dragon sale can prove to be well worth the investment.

One potential hurdle to be aware of involves the risk of salmonella. While all reptiles—in fact, all pets—have the ability to harbor harmful bacteria, bearded dragons have gained some unfortunate press due to a series of contaminations in 2014. Considering that bearded dragons appreciate touch more than most other reptiles, the likelihood for contamination comparatively increases.

Educating your staff of the dangers of bacterial contamination should be one of your store’s basic goals. Staff members are not only the primary handlers of your animals, but also the connection between you and your customers. Staff should wear gloves and protective gear when cleaning enclosures. Also consider installing sanitizer dispensers near reptile displays, allowing those in contact with a reptile to sterilize their hands.

A worldwide leader in pet reptile sales, bearded dragons are worth the time and investment as they form the backbone of a store’s reptile sales.

A Rising Star

Often overshadowed by their turtle compatriots, tortoises are a rising star of the reptile world. Sociable, friendly and easy to care for, tortoises could be one of your staples as the variety of reptiles widens within your store.

The biggest difference between turtles and tortoises lies in their chosen habitat. While turtles prefer aquatic environments, tortoises are entirely land-based. Physically, this manifests in differences in their shells (tortoise shells are larger and dome-shaped), legs (tortoises have more defined feet) and weight (tortoises are often significantly heavier than turtles). Furthermore, while most turtles are omnivores, tortoises are almost exclusively herbivores.

The vast majority of tortoises are wild-caught rather than captive-bred. This is due primarily to “four-inch laws,” which regulate the size of turtles and tortoises being sold. Rather than breed tortoises and wait for them to grow to a salable size, tortoises are instead wild-caught and shipped to wholesalers. This ensures that the tortoises are not only salable, but also healthy. Of course, check your own state’s regulations regarding tortoise sizes before making any purchases!

The most common tortoise in the reptile trade is the Russian tortoise (Agrionemys horsfieldii), also known as the Central Asian tortoise or the Horsfield’s tortoise. Many retailers also sell Herman’s tortoises, leopard tortoises or Greek tortoises, the latter of which can make for an ideal pet for a more sophisticated reptile owner.

We encourage pet retailers to avoid selling the sulcata tortoise, which can grow to weigh over 100 pounds, making most households into untenable environments for them. Tortoise rescues often have an overabundance of sulcata tortoises whose owners simply did not have the space to accommodate such a massive reptile.

Tortoises, particularly Russian tortoises, can make for ideal pets primarily due to their personality. Tortoises tend to be inquisitive, friendly and quick-learning. Interaction with humans is high, and tortoises can easily become beloved members of the family. Further, Russian tortoises are not only well-priced—generally around $100 retail—but also tend to be stocked year-round, making availability an easy thing to accomplish.

Russian tortoises only grow to approximately 10 inches; not much larger than a common box turtle. Russian tortoises are herbivores, preferring broad leaf plants, such as those you might find at a local supermarket. Key, however, is to provide a variety for your Russian tortoise. Avoid beet or rhubarb greens, which can lead to a buildup of oxalic acid, leading to kidney issues.

Tortoises do require calcium supplementation, however, so include this with any greens you choose to feed your reptiles. A light dusting of calcium, coupled with lighting that provides UVB light, will ensure that your tortoises stay healthy and strong.

While many of the foods most associated with Russian tortoises are available from local supermarkets, there are foods that your store can offer as a potential subsidiary sale for your customers. Timberline, for instance, offers “Reptile Cactus” as an ideal tortoise food, as cactus is particularly high in calcium. Offering this sort of item for your customers can set you apart from the “big box” stores.

Aquariums, no matter the size, often prove to be poor enclosures for tortoises, as they do not allow for enough free-flowing air or space. Rather, wooden enclosures or tortoise tables prove to be a more reasonable option for tortoise owners, walking that balance between open space, free air and security. Tortoises love to dig, so any enclosure should include a section with sand or loam in which your tortoises can dig away.

While the tortoise may never quite replace the bearded dragon or ball python within the annals of reptile sales, their unique personalities and ease of care can make them into ideal pets for the right homes.

Seasonality and Trends

The appeal of reptiles as pets has been rising in the United States, but we often forget about the global appeal that reptiles have. Numerous countries have begun to indulge in the reptile trade, with China and other Far East countries leading the charge in reptiles as pets. Within an emerging economy, Chinese reptile lovers have come to the surface to acquire new species and morphs as pets.

This change in the global market has a drastic effect on a topic that we’ve touched on in our earlier articles: reptile seasonality. Because of additional demand in the reptile market from the Far East, certain reptiles may become somewhat more difficult to get depending on the season.

However, due to numerous advances in captive breeding science, we don’t believe this will have a broad effect on the sales of individual stores. Prices should remain fairly stable, though certain breeds or morphs may be more difficult to find due to demand overseas. The prices of ball pythons, for instance, have not fluctuated much despite this increase in market size.

An astute store owner can plan for these fluctuations by anticipating what each season brings in terms of sales, reptile supply, demand and more. By establishing a yearly seasonal plan, it becomes easier to anticipate what your store needs in any given season.

Summer, as we addressed in one of our earlier articles, tends to be a slower time for sales. Many people are on vacation, which leaves less time to care for a pet that spends most of its life behind glass. However, because many reptiles are hatching in the summer, this can provide a fantastic opportunity to promote animals that have a higher availability than at other times of the year via sales and promotions.

Late summer and early fall represent a fantastic target period for reptile store owners, as that time frame brings together an ideal recipe for sales: While store owners can reap the benefits of the end-of-breeding-season supply, many people look to the early fall to acquire new pets, as children are returning to a daily routine and life “stabilizes” before the holiday rush of winter. Consider providing aggressive promotions during this time, too, which will help bolster your sales numbers after any summer slump you may have experienced.

Another period to target specifically, of course, is the holiday season. While you’ll have to rely on the supplies of year-round reptile breeders, parents often will look for a package deal on aquariums and terrariums to provide a centerpiece present for a new reptile owner. With aggressive pricing, you should anticipate a sizable sales bump here. One way to achieve that pricing is to include an “everything you need” package for your most common animals, including lighting, substrate, housing, heating, food and the animal itself. Offer a discount (perhaps even offer the animal for free) and you’ll see your reptile supplies fly off the shelves.

The key theme throughout your seasonal plan, however, remains the central core of our arguments throughout this article series: Aggressive pricing leads to more sales. And it’s typically not a matter of making a profit from the reptile itself, but rather the subsidiary sales that come with that reptile from food, substrate and other necessities not available in local big-box stores.

The best advice we can give is to establish and maintain positive, open relationships with your reptile suppliers. A solid working relationship with your reptile breeders can keep you abreast of new trends in breeding, and overstocked or over bred reptiles that may be available at discount, or offer advice on animal care and keeping. The relationship between your store and your suppliers should be second only to the relationships your store builds with your customers.
With a worthy seasonal plan and a good deal of flexibility, any quality store can take advantage of the seasonality in the reptile trade. Just be ready to roll with the punches as you go, and increased profits will be in sight.

Love at First Leopard

While it’s always wise to cater to your repeat customers, one of the best ways to ‘convert’ a potential reptile owner to a lifelong reptile lover is through an animal best fitted to a reptile newbie. One of the best reptiles for just this function—and one of the bestselling reptiles across the board—is the leopard gecko. Since their inclusion in captive breeding programs, leopard geckos have skyrocketed to become one of the fastest selling reptiles in recent memory. Keeping these guys in stock should absolutely be a priority for any reptile retailer looking to expand their customer base.

While wild leopard geckos may tend towards drab patterns and colorations, captive-bred leopard geckos have been bred to have a marvelous array of morphs and colors, making them particularly attractive as pets.

Among these morphs are the Mack Snow and Mack Super Snow, which we first bred over 15 years ago. The Mack Super Snow, when reaching adulthood, features a solid white body with purple to black demarcations and black eyes with no visible pupils. These morphs have been interbred with those of other breeders, leading to such varied geckos as the Mack Snow Enigma, the Super Snow Blizzards and the Mack Snow Patternless.

There are numerous reasons why leopard geckos make ideal beginner reptile pets, starting with their
ease of care and ease of entry. Leopard geckos typically do not take much room—a 10- or 15-gallon terrarium can easily support a leopard gecko for much of its life—making this reptile ideal for small bedrooms, dorm rooms or small apartments. Further, while leopard geckos do require an under-tank heating element, they do not require a heat lamp or an ultraviolet light.

Leopard geckos are typically docile animals and, while they do not typically enjoy being handled, gentle handling is rarely stressful to them. One thing to note is that leopard geckos are nocturnal and are much more active at night. While this might seem to be a negative to some, this means that evenings can become prime gecko-watching or feeding time. Further, this provides unique opportunities in cage decoration and lighting. Many companies have begun offering LED lights to decorate leopard gecko cages, making for unique, interesting enclosures. ExoTerra, for instance, sells an LED light bar that automatically switches along a day/night cycle. Be aware, however, that lights that are too bright can cause a gecko stress or even pain, so inform your customers appropriately about their lighting choices.

Leopard geckos should be particularly appealing to retailers for one simple reason: their feeding habits. Like most lizards, leopard geckos have voracious appetites. While many debate the pros and cons of feeding geckos mealworms or crickets, both have their advantages for gecko nutrition and both can become more than adequate staples for a new leopard gecko pet. As a retailer, definitely consider stocking both crickets and mealworms, such that your customers can decide which is best for themselves. Leopard geckos can feed on waxworms and even pinkie-sized mice, though these should be considered as occasional treats, rather than a staple food.

We’ve noted this a number of times in past articles, but it bears repeating: providing a quality, knowledgeable customer-service experience and ensuring that you have necessary food items in stock on a regular basis ensures that a one-time customer becomes a repeat customer. That repeat customer may spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in your store after that initial animal sale.

Leopard geckos provide a great entry for both newbie reptile owners and for retailers seeking to break into the reptile sales arena. Start preparing your store and dive right in!

Beat the Heat

While many people can’t wait for summer to arrive, summer can prove to be a difficult time for reptile retailers. While kids are out of school, the lure of vacations, poolside lounging and amusement parks often supersedes interest in a new pet. However, that’s not to say that pet retailers are at the mercy of the seasons. In fact, there are many ways to bolster sales during summer slumps.

The largest inhibitor to reptile sales during summer is vacation planning. Simply put, many families simply don’t want to take on the additional responsibility of a new pet immediately before going out of town. As such, animal sales tend to slump across the board. However, as kids head back to school in August and early September, consider targeting these same families for promotions. As routine sets back in and children settle into a predictable schedule, families become more willing to take on a new member of their household.

Seasonally Abundant
Snakes, particularly, provide a viable point of opportunity for astute reptile retailers during the summer. Summer provides many snakes natural breeding time, which makes them more abundant and drives prices down. Further, snakes typically require fewer feedings than other herps. As such, consider bundling a snake with the necessary materials to care for it, offering the snake for free with the purchase of an appropriate enclosure. Doing so can motivate a would-be customer’s new reptile purchase.

However, snakes are not the only reptiles that are summer breeders. Baby monitor lizards and iguanas breed during the summer, leading to an increased stock from wholesalers. These lower prices can allow you to offer deep discounts to customers, ideally convincing on-the-fence customers to get a new pet. As with snakes, consider offering one of these animals as part of a package deal, with a complete setup.

A Hot Topic
One major thing to keep in mind as the summer months blaze on is the health and safety of your reptiles.
Josh Panos, a national sales manager with ZooMed, advocates using the summer months to provide specials on thermometers and humidity gauges, to better keep tabs on the conditions in a reptile’s tank.

“We always recommend having a couple in each enclosure, which will allow hobbyists to get the most accurate readings to reach the most ideal thermal gradient,” Panos said. “In the event that they need to make adjustments to reduce the temperature, lower watt lamps are always good to stock up on.”

Panos also suggests carrying humidifying devices such as ZooMed’s own ReptiRain, Little/Big Dripper, or ReptiFogger, as the drier months of summer and early fall roll on.

“Summer can actually be one of the busier times of year for retailers if they want it to be,” Panos said. “There are so many ways to make consumers feel like they are getting a value with little sacrifice being made.”

One of the absolute worst things a reptile owner can do is place their reptile’s tank in direct sunlight, even through a window. The direct sunlight can amplify the temperature within the tank to lethal levels within minutes via the greenhouse effect. While most reptiles can handle certain degrees of cold, extreme heat can kill an otherwise-healthy snake or lizard in minutes. Even a short time in such heat could be lethal for a reptile.

Similarly, while much has been made of keeping dogs and children in locked cars during the summer months, this advice goes double when dealing with reptiles, especially when transporting a newly purchased reptile from store to home. The small plastic containers so often used to transport reptiles between locations can often contribute to that greenhouse effect, leading to heat-sick or even deceased animals before even returning home. Be sure to tell customers to take their new pet directly home, keep it in the shade and keep the air conditioning on all the while.

Bringing in Customers
Summer can be a good time to hold events that draw in customers.

Panos offers up the idea of holding outdoor, family-style events, such as a terrarium building class. Students would have the opportunity to learn how to build a terrarium, which they could then take home at the end of the day. Not only would such an event allow your customers to learn about the needs and housing for a specific reptile, but it nearly guarantees repeat business.

Above all else, it becomes paramount that the lines of communication between your staff and your customers stay open and honest throughout the duration of these summer months. Ensure that your staff helps your customers make educated, sensible decisions.

A satisfied customer with a healthy, happy pet becomes a repeat customer. A customer that makes an impulse purchase and becomes unable to care for their reptile will never again visit your store. However, with a little care and great communication techniques, this summer can be one to remember.

Beat the Heat

While many people can’t wait for summer to arrive, summer can prove to be a difficult time for reptile retailers. While kids are out of school, the lure of vacations, poolside lounging and amusement parks often supersedes interest in a new pet. However, that’s not to say that pet retailers are at the mercy of the seasons. In fact, there are many ways to bolster sales during summer slumps.

The largest inhibitor to reptile sales during summer is vacation planning. Simply put, many families simply don’t want to take on the additional responsibility of a new pet immediately before going out of town. As such, animal sales tend to slump across the board. However, as kids head back to school in August and early September, consider targeting these same families for promotions. As routine sets back in and children settle into a predictable schedule, families become more willing to take on a new member of their household.

Seasonally Abundant
Snakes, particularly, provide a viable point of opportunity for astute reptile retailers during the summer. Summer provides many snakes natural breeding time, which makes them more abundant and drives prices down. Further, snakes typically require fewer feedings than other herps. As such, consider bundling a snake with the necessary materials to care for it, offering the snake for free with the purchase of an appropriate enclosure. Doing so can motivate a would-be customer’s new reptile purchase.

However, snakes are not the only reptiles that are summer breeders. Baby monitor lizards and iguanas breed during the summer, leading to an increased stock from wholesalers. These lower prices can allow you to offer deep discounts to customers, ideally convincing on-the-fence customers to get a new pet. As with snakes, consider offering one of these animals as part of a package deal, with a complete setup.

A Hot Topic
One major thing to keep in mind as the summer months blaze on is the health and safety of your reptiles.
Josh Panos, a national sales manager with ZooMed, advocates using the summer months to provide specials on thermometers and humidity gauges, to better keep tabs on the conditions in a reptile’s tank.

“We always recommend having a couple in each enclosure, which will allow hobbyists to get the most accurate readings to reach the most ideal thermal gradient,” Panos said. “In the event that they need to make adjustments to reduce the temperature, lower watt lamps are always good to stock up on.”

Panos also suggests carrying humidifying devices such as ZooMed’s own ReptiRain, Little/Big Dripper, or ReptiFogger, as the drier months of summer and early fall roll on.

“Summer can actually be one of the busier times of year for retailers if they want it to be,” Panos said. “There are so many ways to make consumers feel like they are getting a value with little sacrifice being made.”

One of the absolute worst things a reptile owner can do is place their reptile’s tank in direct sunlight, even through a window. The direct sunlight can amplify the temperature within the tank to lethal levels within minutes via the greenhouse effect. While most reptiles can handle certain degrees of cold, extreme heat can kill an otherwise-healthy snake or lizard in minutes. Even a short time in such heat could be lethal for a reptile.

Similarly, while much has been made of keeping dogs and children in locked cars during the summer months, this advice goes double when dealing with reptiles, especially when transporting a newly purchased reptile from store to home. The small plastic containers so often used to transport reptiles between locations can often contribute to that greenhouse effect, leading to heat-sick or even deceased animals before even returning home. Be sure to tell customers to take their new pet directly home, keep it in the shade and keep the air conditioning on all the while.

Bringing in Customers
Summer can be a good time to hold events that draw in customers.

Panos offers up the idea of holding outdoor, family-style events, such as a terrarium building class. Students would have the opportunity to learn how to build a terrarium, which they could then take home at the end of the day. Not only would such an event allow your customers to learn about the needs and housing for a specific reptile, but it nearly guarantees repeat business.

Above all else, it becomes paramount that the lines of communication between your staff and your customers stay open and honest throughout the duration of these summer months. Ensure that your staff helps your customers make educated, sensible decisions.

A satisfied customer with a healthy, happy pet becomes a repeat customer. A customer that makes an impulse purchase and becomes unable to care for their reptile will never again visit your store. However, with a little care and great communication techniques, this summer can be one to remember.

Chameleons: Colorful, Misunderstood and in Demand

While much of the attention within the reptile trade focuses on bearded dragons, crested geckos or any number of snakes, some of the biggest up-and-comers within the reptile family are chameleons. However, even as they grow in both popularity and availability, many consumers still hold misconceptions about these lovely lizards. Overcoming these misconceptions may provide new inroads for profitability and great pet-relationships.

Chameleons are members of the family Chameleonidae, which includes approximately 200 species across numerous continents in the eastern hemisphere. Chameleons are most often identified by their zygodactylous feet, prehensile tails, independently-moving eyes and long sticky tongues. The most common types of chameleons found within the pet trade are veiled and panther chameleons, with other species, including carpet, Jackson’s, and Fischer’s chameleons, being available.

Individual chameleon care varies from species to species, but most chameleons thrive in a relatively humid environment with a good deal of airflow. Most cages built specifically for chameleons feature mesh sides, rather than glass ones, to allow for better airflow and circulation for the animal itself.

Most chameleons are arboreal creatures, which provides unique opportunities for both displaying these reptiles and for sales of plants meant for their habitations. A well-decorated cage catches the eyes of customers, making them more likely to pursue decorations for their own reptiles. However, do ensure that you stock the correct plants. Veiled chameleons, especially, will tend to nibble or eat leaves from plants kept within their enclosure, so ensure that these plants are not poisonous or artificial.

But why are chameleons experiencing such a meteoric rise in sales? Much of this increase comes down to simple availability. As veiled and panther chameleons have been becoming increasingly available throughout the year, prices have dropped significantly thanks to captive-breeding programs. National retail average for veiled chameleons has dropped by about $25-30, providing additional opportunities for customers to enter the world of reptiles.

However, this rise has occurred in the face of numerous misconceptions. One of the most prevalent of these misconceptions is that chameleons tend to be advanced animals, suitable only for experienced reptile owners who are already familiar with various procedures and protocols. Chameleons tend to be viewed as fragile, becoming easily diseased or injured, even under proper care. However, the exact opposite is true: veiled chameleons, particularly those that have been captive-bred, are among the hardier species of reptile out there.

Much of this perception tends to stem from another misconception that chameleons tend to be temperamental or aggressive. One of the basic defense mechanisms chameleons use against predators is to hiss, showing a widely-opened mouth and occasionally biting or snapping at any intruder. Captive breeding programs initially show this to be a genetic trait, which could slowly be bred out over time.

There is the fact that chameleons overall tend to dislike handling or petting. Doing so may lead to aggressive reactions, which would contribute to the perception of aggression or poor temperament. When suggesting a chameleon as a pet, especially for a first-time reptile owner, ensure that the customer understands the disposition and emotional responses natural to that chameleon species. A well-educated customer makes for a happy customer, and happy customers become repeat customers.

Those repeat customers, naturally, become key to establishing a continual cycle of food purchases. Chameleons typically thrive on a diet of crickets, mealworms or waxworms and require food every day. As we have emphasized in the past, this can ensure that a well-satisfied customer returns to your store on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, simply to purchase food for their reptile, which simply cannot be purchased at the local big-box store.

Ensure also that the food that you stock for your chameleons comes with all necessary supplements. Calcium dust and other supplements ensure chameleons’ continual health, providing the animals with necessary vitamins and minerals not available from crickets alone.

If you intend to stock chameleons in the coming days, one strategy you may wish to employ is to bundle the animal itself together with necessary caging and other elements. Consider even offering a reptile for free, with the purchase of an enclosure and other necessary caging elements. Not only does this foster both additional sales and good-will towards your new customers, but doing so also provides the opportunity to move stock and ensure that your customers have exactly the appropriate materials to care for those animals.

As you look at expanding your reptile repertoire, consider the chameleon as an alternative to the more typical snakes, frogs and lizards. Your bottom line just may thank you!

Amphibian Answers

While we often use the term “reptiles” as a catch-all category that includes amphibians—and even arachnids at times—amphibians by themselves are a large and popular category that provides unique opportunities for a canny pet store owner.

“Amphibian” refers to frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and caecilians. Within the pet trade, however, our discussion narrows to primarily frogs, toads and salamanders. Amphibians differ from reptiles primarily through their early life cycle—amphibians undergo metamorphosis, while reptiles do not—and through their general habitats. Typically, though not always, amphibians prefer moist environments, while most reptiles range more broadly.

While there is a plethora of amphibious options for an up-and-coming reptile retailer, certain species of amphibian are a better option as you start to stock these animals. We recommend the White’s tree frog, the Pac-Man frog and the fire-bellied toad as great starter amphibians.

Other good choices include barking tree frogs, Cuban tree frogs and green tree frogs. While many stores offer poison dart frogs and the easily recognizable red-eyed tree frog, we find that these amphibians require more care and may not be suitable for a store making early forays into amphibian sales.

The White’s tree frog (Litoria caerulea) is also known as the dumpy frog or the Australian green tree frog. White’s tree frogs grow to approximately four to five inches and can live over 10 years in captivity. They tend to do well as starter amphibians because they generally tolerate handling well, even becoming accustomed to being picked up. One of our former breeding managers, in fact, used to type at her desk with her White’s tree frog curled up at the nape of her neck!

Pac-Man frogs (Ceratophrys) are also a solid starter option. They take their name from the video game character due to their large mouths and round appearance. Again, their relative ease of care and hardiness make them ideal starter amphibians. Pac-Man frogs often bury themselves in substrate up to their eyes, waiting patiently for meals to come by. However, be careful when handling them—they have teeth.

Why stock amphibians in the first place? They appeal to a different segment of the reptile-loving demographic. While some might balk at the idea of keeping a snake or bearded dragon, the idea of housing a frog may be appealing. Further, the variety of housing and caging options for an amphibian provide opportunities for customers who enjoy decorating cages. Since most amphibians are semi-aquatic, an amphibian owner effectively designs two full ecosystems in each enclosure. Particularly creative amphibian owners make the most of this feature, creating eye-catching enclosures.

Amphibians nearly always require live food, whether that food manifests as fruit flies, crickets, mealworms or another insect. As such, a satisfied amphibian-owning customer will likely make weekly or bi-weekly visits to your store, providing you with residual income that greatly surpasses the profit made from an initial amphibian sale. By providing that pet owner with an exemplary experience during pet purchasing, you ensure continual sales for your business and word of mouth advertising for your store.

When stocking amphibians, take advantage of their unique characteristics while creating enclosures. Amphibians can be sensitive to climate and temperature, so a proper enclosure should include areas of shade, heat and water. They should also have both a thermometer and a humidity gauge, as amphibians require significant moisture due to their semipermeable skin. While most amphibians require at least a temperature of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit with at least 75 percent humidity, be sure that your staff knows the requirements of each species and follows care sheets with precision.

And, of course, take the time to set up quality enclosures. Each should show off both the terrestrial and aquatic hides, plants and decorations available to amphibian owners. Attractive displays not only show your customers what is possible with their new pet, but also advertise the products you offer on your shelves. The best possible advertisement comes from your products in action. With every passing visit from an amphibian owner as they purchase crickets or substrate, the opportunity for new sales emerges.

Amphibians can truly provide unique opportunities for your store once you’ve gotten a handle on selling reptiles. Simply keep up the high standards you’ve established already and the world of amphibians is yours to conquer!

On a Roll

Growth in the retailer and breeder sales of ball pythons has been among the fastest of all reptiles. Once an expensive reptile found only amongst serious collectors, advances in breeding processes coupled with a massive variety in morphs and colorations have made the ball python a species that every serious reptile retailer should consider moving forward.

The ball python has been a massive beneficiary of captive breeding practices, which have produced upwards of 2,500 distinct morphs and colorations, ranging from the exorbitantly expensive black-eyed leucistic and albino piebald to the much more common and affordable spider and pinstripe morphs. Whether new to reptiles or a seasoned veteran, ball pythons have a wide appeal that can bring sales to your store and happiness to your customers.

Like all reptiles, ball pythons have specific care requirements that go into their daily keeping. While ball pythons do not require overly large tanks, they do tend to do best with a deep substrate that can hold moisture well. Ball pythons tend to prefer relative humidity between 60 and 80 percent, with warm temperatures provided by both an under-cage heating pad and basking spots.

Ball pythons also appreciate having hides and foliage, as they tend toward shyness. Because of this, consider housing your ball pythons in a place in the store that is not in a particularly high traffic area. As always, your customers should be made aware of ball pythons’ idiosyncrasies; responsible handling and customer education will ensure repeat business and turn occasional customers into lifelong patrons.

One of the ball python’s greatest evangelists has been Kevin McCurley, the owner of New England Reptile Distribution, one of the nation’s leading breeders of ball pythons. McCurley’s continued work is compiled in his recent book, “The Ultimate Ball Python: Morph Maker Guide.” His fourth book, it is a 700-page behemoth detailing the intricate genetics leading to unique ball python morphs.

McCurley spoke with us regarding the ball pythons’ ever-increasing popularity and his thoughts echoed our own. McCurley calls these snakes “an ideal species, due to their tractable nature, limited adult size and ease of care.” One of our own employees tends to refer to these snakes as “the golden retrievers of the reptile world,” citing their docility and gentle nature.

McCurley especially notes the python’s ease of care, particularly in feeding.

“As young snakes, they are easier to feed than smaller species,” McCurley said. “As babies, they can be fed a recently weaned mouse…as adults, they can be maintained on mid-sized rats.”
In a past article, we noted the use of ball pythons as an ideal classroom animal, as their docility and ease of handling can provide a perfect opportunity for students to experience their first reptile.

We asked Kevin about what he might foresee in the future for ball pythons. He noted that breeders “have an incredible selection available at this point, far beyond our expectations and what we can actually count. To continue the excitement, breeders must refine their combinations and choose combos that are the most extreme.”

As breeders continue to find base genes to mix with already existing breeding stock, the permutations of possible ball pythons are staggering.

However, the greatest benefit gained by a reptile retailer is not the sale of the original reptile, but rather the subsidiary sales that stem from that initial sale. By providing a quality customer experience and a unique variety of reptiles, you ensure repeat business when that customer comes back to purchase heat lamp bulbs, substrate and reptile food, none of which is typically available at a local big box store.

Ball pythons are constrictor snakes, meaning that their choice of food, rodents, will not be found at the corner grocery. And, with most ball pythons living for 20 or more years, your customer service and stock of reptile accessories will make all the difference in turning a ball python owner into a decades-long customer.

Kevin was quick to echo many of our sentiments in regards to repeat business. He encouraged reptile retailers to “price their reptiles to sell and get [the customer] coming back,” even encouraging more experienced reptile owners to consider breeding their pets.

“When you can learn about basic combination morphs, you can share in your customer’s excitement for ball pythons,” McCurley said.

Thanks again to Kevin McCurley for all of his insight and wisdom on these phenomenal snakes. If you’re interested in more information about ball pythons, we encourage you to check out his website at www.newenglandreptile.com or to take a look at his book, “The Ultimate Ball Python: Morph Maker Guide.”

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