December 1, 2014

According to Frank Indiviglio, herpetologist and consultant for retailer That Fish Place – That Pet Place in Lancaster, Pa., there’s been an explosion of interest in amphibians of all kinds in recent years that pet retailers should be more mindful of.

“A huge array of species, some rarely seen even in zoos not long ago, are now being bred in captivity, including popular breeds like dart frogs, horned frogs, pac-man frogs and axolotls,” said Indiviglio. “This interest has given rise to a number of new products designed specifically for amphibians, the needs of which differ radically from those of popularly kept reptiles.”

While reptile species are prevalent and popular among many pet owners and retailers alike, they have much different husbandry requirements than amphibians, which are often lumped together into the same livestock and product segment categories as reptiles. The challenge for retailers who want to sell amphibians and related supplies is that historically, manufacturers have not offered as many new, creative and specialized products tailored to amphibians.

“There needs to be more innovation and product rollouts in this segment,” said Bob Smith, owner of Jungle Bob’s Reptile World in Centereach, N.Y. “Unfortunately, many manufacturers may not identify a strong enough market to create specialized amphibian products.”

Consequently, amphibian enthusiasts often have to modify products designed for use with reptiles or create their own. Smith, for example, displays an Aqueon Beta Falls Aquarium Kit with three adjacent chambers that can house three different pets on a countertop at his store. He houses a different amphibian in each chamber, which generates excitement among customers.

Expanding a Niche Category

However, a wider array of merchandise geared toward amphibians has hit the market in recent years including:
•    Front-opening terrariums, like Zoo Med’s Naturalistic Terrarium, that provide healthful levels of ventilation and retain water at the base as well as innovatively shaped plastic enclosures for small species, such as BioBubble Terra curved modular habitats.
•    Natural and artificial substrates, for instance, Zilla’s Jungle Mix, that retain moisture and allow for burrowing including sphagnum moss, coconut husk and artificial moss mats.
•    Platforms and resting areas built into decorative filters and other products, like TetraFauna’s Viquarium that converts an aquarium into an aquaterrarium.
•    Low-output UVB bulbs like the Exo-Terra‘s Repti-Glo Natural Light 2.0 Compact UVB, which are ideal for some frogs that benefit from UVB exposure but may suffer eye damage and other problems when exposed to the levels required by diurnal reptiles.
•    Pelleted and specialized foods for newts, including TetraFauna’s ReptoMin Floating Food Sticks and cultures of small live invertebrates such as fruit flies, springtails and flour beetles, which are necessary diets for dart frogs and other small species.
•    Misters and foggers to provide high humidity levels needed by most amphibians.
•    Artificial plants that retain water in a small cup, like area at their bases, such as Exo Terra’s Bromeliad Smart Plant, used as egg deposition sites by dart frogs.
•    Chemicals that remove chlorine and chloramines from water and help to protect the slime coat on amphibian skin.
•    Hygrometers that allow for instant checks on humidity.
•    A greater variety of submersible pumps and waterfall systems that allow for the establishment of the shallow water areas needed by many species.

It’s Not Easy Being Green (and Water Based)

According to Indiviglio, amphibian-focused products are easier to sell today because owners are more sophisticated and recognize that amphibians have particular needs related to climate, diet and habitat that are quite distinct from reptiles.

“Many are now aware that they are very delicate and far more sensitive to high temperatures, desiccation, ammonia poisoning and unhygienic conditions,” said Indiviglio. “(Amphibians) will not ‘hang on’ for years, as might the hardier reptile species like sliders and ball pythons, when not kept properly. Most die very quickly without good care.”

Therefore, retailers have a responsibility to educate staff and patrons alike about these vulnerabilities. It’s also a good idea to stock one or more books on amphibian care and recommend them to shoppers.

Closing the Sale

To merchandise amphibian wares properly, Indiviglio said it may be useful to create a separate amphibian area rather than mixing the animals in among snakes, lizards and other reptiles.

“Amphibian-specific products can then be featured near your livestock of amphibians,” said Indiviglio. “Also, many amphibians are ideally suited for life in naturalistic terrariums stocked with plants, waterfalls and other items. Well-provisioned terrariums housing colorful, active species, such as fire-bellied newts, are always a great draw in pet stores.”

According to Richard Allen, owner of Reptile Rapture, a pet store in Madison, Wis., it’s smart to grow and sell live plants, as well, which amphibians prefer to the fake ones and which add a fresh, colorful look to any terrarium.

“I also recommend bundling together different products from various manufacturers and offering customized amphibian starter kits and setups to make it easy and convenient for beginners to have everything they need,” said Allen, whose custom kits include an Exo Terra habitat, Zoo Med’s Hydroballs (expanded clay terrarium substrate), moss, plastic plants and a lighting fixture.

Lastly, Smith suggested targeting more female buyers, especially moms who shop for their children’s pet supplies, as women typically find amphibians like frogs and toads cuter and more colorful than snakes and lizards.

“Our dumpy frogs are our best sellers because they’re hardy, easy to keep, inexpensive and popular with the ladies,” said Smith.

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