If you run a reptile store or a reptile department in your shop, you have no doubt heard some common myths and misperceptions about reptiles and amphibians.
Unfortunately, they are common even among more experienced reptile owners, and it’s often up to shop employees to help dispel these myths, both for the sake of the animals and your customers.
By far the most common myth, the first one that springs to mind for every reptile specialist interviewed for this article, is that reptiles will only grow to their cage size. In reality, reptiles will continue to grow even in enclosures that are too small, and over time, the small enclosure will kill the animal or cause serious health concerns.
“If a customer comes in and gets a 10-gallon tank for a Burmese python, I tell them it’ll only be good three months,” Eric Haug, owner of The Ultimate Reptile Shop in Texas, said.
Many reptiles and amphibians, even smaller animals like tree frogs, need relatively large enclosures, and some need very large enclosures.
Another common myth, especially among snake owners, is that their animals will only eat live mice and rats, instead of the frozen prey that some snake experts recommend.
“I think that snakes are the most misunderstood reptiles,” Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator with Zoo Med Labs, Inc., said. “To much of the general public, snakes are thought to be venomous or otherwise dangerous and to be feared. What is not understood is that most of the snakes kept as pets are not only non-venomous, but have very little potential for danger at all.”
Some of the myths surrounding reptiles and amphibians are more unusual.
“People think that if they lick a pixie frog, they’ll have hallucinations,” Ken “The Bug Guy” MacNeil, owner of An Exotic Pet Shop in Tucson, Ariz., said. “I have to tell people they won’t get high if they lick my frogs, and if they do feel anything, it’s because the frog is poisonous. But I still get this once or twice a week.”
Unfortunately, like the persistent myth about enclosure size, many of the myths out there endanger the reptile’s health.
Many people, for example, think they can take their reptile or amphibian to any vet, when in fact these animals really need treatment from a specialized vet who understands the unique issues reptiles face.
Too many people also misunderstand light and think that products like plant “grow lights” will satisfy their reptiles’ demand for UVA and UVB radiation, as well as a heat source.
While lighting can be a complex topic, it’s essential that reptile owners understand what their particular animal requires and then get the proper set-up.
In fact, education is the best weapon against persistent myths about reptiles, and it begins with store help.
Employees selling reptiles should know how to correctly advise customers on all the reptiles in the department.
Ultimately, said Rademacher, this will help your bottom line.
“Education needs to be a big part of the reptile industry,” she said. “Educational materials should be simple and spark the interest of the receiver and inspire them to want to learn more. Education is one of the best ways to drive sales, so a lack of education can hurt sales. If customers are well-informed or educated, this will usually lead to sales of larger enclosures, updated lighting, dietary supplements, behavioral enrichment items, etcetera.”
- Jon VanZile is a freelance writer based in Pompano Beach Fla.