Reptiles and Amphibians

Reptiles and amphibians are some of the most invasive and expensive pets to own. When searching for a new pet, most people think of reptiles and amphibians as being low-maintenance animals that live in a terrarium and occasionally need to be fed. This perception, though common, is entirely false; reptiles and amphibians are demanding pets that require expensive equipment and plenty of space. They are not animals that are meant to be handled frequently, and they carry Salmonella, a bacterium that is harmful to humans. Also, some local governments place restrictions on which reptiles and amphibians are legally allowed to be owned as pets. Prior to purchasing a new reptile, check with your local government agencies to learn their limitations.

What pets are reptiles or amphibians?

  • Snakes – Corn Snake, King Snake, Ball Python 
  • Turtles/Tortoises – African Desert Tortoise, Red-Eared Slider, Box Turtle 
  • Lizards – Green Iguana, Chameleon, Leopard Gecko, Bearded Dragon 
  • Frogs/Toads – African Dwarf Frog, Firebellied Toad, White’s Tree Frog

Children are not suitable pet owners for reptiles or amphibians and require adult supervision whenever they handle one. Kids should also be advised of the health risks associated with handling a reptile and should be compelled to wash their hands thoroughly after holding one. In addition to children, reptiles or amphibians are not suitable pets for: anyone with HIV, AIDS, or another immunodeficiency disorder; pregnant women; elderly people; or anyone in poor health, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy patients.

What do reptiles and amphibians eat?

Depending on the reptile or amphibian you choose to purchase, dietary needs will vary. Keep in mind the following information when purchasing your pet.

Carnivores eat fresh, whole prey including: 

  • Beetle larvae 
  • Crickets 
  • Mice
  • Rabbits
  • Rats
  • Worms

Frozen rodents are better to feed your larger snakes. Injuries can happen when feeding live. Just take their food out and thaw it for better feeding results. Not all snakes will eat frozen.

Herbivores eat foods such as: 

  • Green, leafy vegetables 
  • Carrots 
  • Sweet potato 
  • Corn 
  • Carnations 
  • Chives 
  • Hibiscus 
  • Mango 
  • Apple
  • Grapes 
  • Banana
*Avoid rhubarb, is toxic due to a high oxalic acid content.
For tortoises avoid offering fruit, instead offer a wide variety of veggies such as tomatoes, dandelion leaves, alfalfa sprouts, bell peppers, lettuce,  and spinach. There are also pelleted diets/supplements to complement the vegetables to for a complete and balanced diet.

Their food should be placed in a bowl that cannot be tipped and for larger lizards cut up food so it can be swallowed without difficulty. 


Herbivores clearly have a more versatile diet and are an easier reptile to feed; however, there are not herbivorous snakes, and there are very few herbivorous lizards, which limits the types of herbivorous reptiles to choose from.

Most reptiles and amphibians need supplements in addition to their diet, including calcium. Always read the label of whatever supplement you are using. Measure correctly as overdosing can be hazardous. Such considerations should be investigated and known prior to purchasing a new pet.

Reptile housing

Housing a reptile is one of the biggest complications pet owners run into. Many unsuspecting owners will purchase a terrarium for their new reptile, unknowing that within one year, they could be ten times their current size. In fact, very few reptiles are meant for vivarium enclosures (indoor, enclosed living space). Before purchasing a reptile, consider the standard adult size for your particular animal of interest.

Whether housing your pet indoors or outdoors, their enclosure needs to be escape-proof. Similar to all other animals and pets, reptiles can escape their enclosure and flee. An enclosure also needs to be considerate of your reptile’s optimal body temperature. Often a heat lamp will need to be set up on one side of the enclosure so a reptile can obtain heat when necessary but still has part of their enclosure to escape the heat if it becomes too warm. Heat lamps along with UV lights allow a reptile’s enclosure to simulate being outdoors. A day lamp, or UV light, enables pets to maintain regularity. Occasionally, a reptile can obtain the heat it requires from their UV light, so only one lamp is necessary, but read species-specific information prior to purchasing. Reptiles also need humidity. Depending on an animal’s size and needs, a simple water dish may suffice, while other reptiles need aquatic filtration built into their tank. Habitat care depends on the type of reptile/amphibian you have. Some species require special enrichment such as heat lamps, foliage, or water (enough to swim in).