March 13, 2013

Even in specialty reptile shops, amphibians almost never get top billing. Instead, there might be a tank or two with salamanders and newts, and a small frog display with the most common (and usually cheapest) frogs, often in the back of the shop or in low-traffic areas. In big-box pet stores, finding any amphibians at all is rare.

According to amphibian experts, there’s a simple reason amphibians have lagged behind their scaly counterparts in the decade-long expansion of the reptile trade: They are more difficult to care for and most amphibians can’t be handled by the owners, which makes them even less accessible as pets than reptiles like ball pythons and bearded dragons.

When it comes to successfully selling amphibians, the best programs have a selection of animals ranging from beginner to more advanced and give the customer every chance of success. This means providing the right information about the animal, as well as the proper cages and equipment.

“Most shops carry the fire-bellied toads, horned frogs, White’s tree frog and red-eyed tree frogs,” Ray VanNostranz, manager of Strictly Reptiles, Inc., a large importer/exporter of reptiles and amphibians, said. “Most of the other animals, like dart frogs, are left for serious collectors.”

It’s also not uncommon to find caudates like Chinese fire-bellied newts or tiger salamanders, which are relatively easy to care for.

All of these popular animals tend to be less expensive and “more durable” and often constitute the entire amphibian department.

However, Patrick Nabors, owner of Saurian Enterprises and a dart frog breeder, believes there is an untapped market for more exotic amphibians.

It’s just a matter of approaching the customer correctly.

“I tell pet shops to build a nice display of frogs and don’t sell them from that tank,” Nabors said. “The frogs that are for sale should be kept in the back in individual containers.”

-Jon VanZile

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