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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department of Vertebrate Zoology

Division of Amphibians & Reptiles

Hyalinobatrachium pellucidum
Hyalinobatrachium pellucidum Ecuador, Napo Province. Photographed by Roy McDiarmid

Thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of people keep amphibians or reptiles as pets.  We understand this fascination with frogs, lizards, and other herps; however, because of it, we advocate observing them in nature and leaving them in their natural homes.  We discourage anyone from keeping an amphibian or a reptile as a pet.

Our no herp-as-pet stance includes local as well as foreign species.  We adopted this position in the early 1970s, largely because of the poor maintenance of herps observed in pet stores, in their commercial shipment and capture.  We wish the situation were now different.  It is not!  Yes, there is some improvement but in many cases, amphibians and reptiles are still shipped in over-crowded and unsanitary conditions (see examples in Franke & Telecky’s Reptiles As Pets, cited below) and poorly cared for in most pet stores.  Look closely on your next visit to a pet store; you will likely see malnourished, sick animals and, not uncommonly, dead animals in the cages.  We cannot support such commerce that removes animals from the wild and subjects them to torturous conditions and death.

Contrary to the common misconception, an amphibian or reptile is not a low maintenance pet as commonly proclaimed by the pet industry.  Herps require less attention than a dog or cat, but they are not properly maintained by occasionally throwing them a cricket or mouse.  Some kinds of amphibians and reptiles need to be kept alone; others do better if kept in groups; some eat a variety of foods, and others will eat only certain food types.  A few species can survive and even reproduce in small cages or aquaria, but you would not confine a dog to such restricted quarters, and we do not recommend it for an amphibian or a reptile.

If you must have a snake or frog for a pet, please seek the advice of a local herp club or society, or even an internet herp group.  Their members can advise you on the appropriate species for your situation, and they may even have animals for adoption.  If you decide to purchase a pet-herp, choose a captive-bred species; again, with the advice of a herp group.  Choose wisely because many pet reptiles grow large (more than 1 meter or yard in length) and live a long time (more than a decade).  Are you able and committed to the proper care of an amphibian or reptile for that long?  Venomous species should NEVER be kept in any household.  Keeping a venomous species in your home is equivalent to leaving a loaded gun on the kitchen table.

Fortunately, one aspect of the herp pet trade has greatly improved.  In the 1970s, when we adopted our no herp-as-pet position, it was difficult to find information on the proper diet, temperature, and other environmental aspects for keeping a herp-pet healthy.  The following bibliography lists a few of the better books and manuals for the care of herps as pets.  We have not listed all the good books on this topic and again recommend seeking the advice from an experienced keeper because there are also many inadequate books offering poor or inappropriate information on the proper care.  Do not buy a care book because of the attractive photographs, buy it to read and to help you decide which species is appropriate for you.

The conservation and health of wild populations of amphibians and reptiles remain a major concern of our staff.  These concerns are another reason for advising against wild-caught herps as pets.  We urge you to leave local species in the wild in their own natural home.  You are not rescuing a boxturtle when you pick it off the road and take it your home.  Even if you plan to release it later, you are unlikely to release it where you found it.  Usually a released animal begins to search for its original home site and often dies in this search because of its increased exposure to predation and automobile traffic.  Also, releasing an animal elsewhere has the potential of introducing a new disease into a nonresistant population.  The preceding dangers apply to any herp from salamander to snake.

Enjoy amphibians and reptiles by watching and photographing them in the wild.  Your yard or house is not a natural home if the herp is fenced in or caged.

 

Select Bibliography for Captive Care

Bartlett, Patricia P., & R. D. Bartlett. 1996. Frogs, Toads, and Treefrogs: Everything about Selection, Care, Nutrition, Breeding, and Behavior. Barrons Educational Series.

Bartlett, Richard D., P. P. Bartlett, & F. L. Frye (editors). 1999. Terrarium and Cage Construction and Care. Barrons Educational Series.

Broghammer, Stefan. 2001. Ball Pythons: Habitat, Care and Captive Breeding. M&S Reptilien Verlag.

Davis, Lynn. 1996. Eat This Bug: A Guide to Invertebrate Live Foods for Reptiles and Amphibians. Hillview Press.

de Vosjoli, Philippe, R. Klingenberg, and J. Ronne. 1998. The Boa Manual. Advanced Vivarium Systems, Inc.

de Vosjoli, Philippe, G. Warren (illustrator) & K. Aderson (illustrator). 1996. Lizard Keeper's Handbook. Advanced Vivarium Systems, Inc.

Franke, Joseph, & T. M. Telecky. 2001. Reptiles As Pets. An Examination of the Trade in Live Reptiles in the United States. The Humane Society of the United States.

Murphy, James B., K. Adler, J. T. Collins. 1994. Captive Management and Conservation of Amphibians and Reptiles. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles.

Warwick, Clifford, F. L. Frye, & J. B. Murphy (editors) 1994. Health and Welfare of Captive Reptiles. Chapman & Hall.

For information on the biology of amphibians and reptiles see our general bibliography on amphibians and reptiles.

Acknowledgements.  A thank you to J. Gold, J. Murphy, A. Salzberg, and the staff of the Division of Amphibians & Reptiles for comments and suggestions.  Errors and misinterpretations remain my responsibility. 

G. R. Zug, 15 June 2002.

 

Postscript-September 2007. The preceding comments and admonition against keeping amphibians and reptiles as pets remain valid. Trade in A&Rs has only grown, principally for food and pets, over the past five years and has severely depleted populations of many species. The interest in owning rare and novel species has caused the decimation of several newly described species within a year or two of their description. The continuing release of unwanted A&R pets expands the disturbance of our native ecosystems. Examples abound – the growing population of Burmese pythons in the Everglades, expanding populations of two monitor lizards in central Florida; these reptiles have become major predators of native wildlife. These and other facts only enforce our advocacy against amphibians and reptiles as pets. G.R.Zug

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