If there’s one thing (other than reptiles) that we know at the Reptiles by Mack headquarters in Xenia, Ohio, it’s severe weather. Xenia has been the site of several massive tornadoes in the past 50 years. Our headquarters on Detroit Street, luckily, has not seen much in the way of damage, though we’re more than acquainted with severe weather.
Ohio is subject to hot, humid summers and winters that bring knee-deep snow and sub-zero temperatures. Especially in recent years, we’ve dealt with weeks of frigid temperatures, which can make the act of transporting reptiles particularly difficult!
Reptiles are exothermic (or, cold-blooded) creatures; in order to maintain body temperature, they need an external heat source, typically a heating pad or a heat lamp. If a reptile gets too hot or too cold, they are incapable of regulating their temperature and can suffer ill health effects or even die. As such, maintaining reptiles’ appropriate body temperature becomes paramount, especially during months in which the elements themselves provide a hazard.
Without our own practice, this means that if a nighttime low temperature would dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit at either our location or your own, we include heat packs in the shipping material so that the reptiles within stay warm enough to survive the journey. However, these heat packs are meant to operate in cold weather; in a room temperature environment, the additional heat provided by the packs can easily overwhelm the reptiles and even kill them.
We cannot stress this enough: when receiving your reptiles from a wholesaler, remove them from their packing material immediately, and allow those reptiles to slowly acclimatize to the room’s temperature. It may take a few hours for a reptile to fully acclimatize, but give them the time they need; resist the urge to “warm one up,” as doing so can harm the creature.
From the logistical viewpoint, you must further make sure that when inclement weather seems to be on the horizon, you have the inventory of reptiles, reptile food and subsidiary materials to keep your store shelves full and your reptiles happy and healthy. This means that you may need to look at keeping additional stock in your store, making largerthan-normal orders, if you know that a snowstorm or a plunge in temperature is on the horizon. Even when in the depths of a snowstorm, both your store’s creatures and those of your customers still have to eat! Be sure to order enough material to keep your store and your customers sustained, regardless of the weather. During particularly difficult weather, you may have to make additional concessions when procuring reptiles; more specifically, you may have to travel to a dispatch location to pick up your reptile shipment.
During inclement weather, it may be simply too hazardous for a semitruck to take to the road, though shipping containers for reptiles are not meant to be long-term solutions by any stretch. If requested to meet at a dispatch location, do so with all haste that safety will allow.
If you do not, your reptiles’ lives are at significant risk. Leaving your reptiles in a cold box truck all day may prove hazardous.
While you can be particularly careful while receiving your reptiles, do not overlook the inverse: during inclement weather, your customers must be well-informed and educated in these very same processes, even if they live nearby.
One issue we often see is a new reptile customer keeping their new-found pet covered and warm while out in the weather, only to rest that same reptile near a car vent, with hot air blowing on or near the poor creature. Though it may not seem that way, keeping a reptile so close to a hot vent can actually cause more damage than brief exposure to cold. While a reptile exposed to cold can often recover, provided that the temperature does not dip too low, overheating a reptile can be deadly.
One potential workaround is to invest in materials within your own store to keep reptile storage and transport supplies on hand for your sales. Sealable deli cups are ideal for transporting reptiles and are staples of any reptile show; avoid using cardboard boxes, however, as snakes can easily slither between the folds in the cardboard, making a quick escape.
An inexpensive investment in small plastic cups and foam containers can not only keep your reptiles safe as your customers transport them home, but also serve as a point of education for your customers. Boxing up a reptile can serve as an important point of communication with your customer, instilling them with the knowledge that you truly care for your reptiles and want to see them thrive, even when out of your store.
As a final point, be sure that your staff is up to date and educated on how to take care of reptiles during inclement weather. Your staff are your direct representatives to the customer; be sure that your staff speaks with the voice you want representing you.
While Mother Nature is truly outside of our control, the best reptile retailers build contingency upon contingency to ensure that their store can operate even in the most adverse of conditions. And, of course, those same retailers are the ones with happy repeat customers, even as the snowflakes fall. Prior preparation will win the day.