Selling Reptiles and Amphibians: A Guide for Pet Stores (Part 1)

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    Selling Reptiles and Amphibians: A Guide For Pet Stores

    Many care sheets for various species, and information on selecting herp pets in general, are available for prospective reptile and amphibian owners. However, the number of resources available for pet stores is far more limited, and general sentiment against pet stores is negative, due to the fact that many of them do not care for reptiles and amphibians in their stores properly.

    This is a “care sheet” to explain how a store can do this without breaking their bank. It’s recognized that stores obviously cannot afford to have a veterinarian see every animal that passes through their hands. Few stores can stay in business when they engage in that practice, and those which do generally sell extremely expensive and rare species to offset the costs, or are a large chain that keeps a veterinarian on staff. You may still need to take an animal to a vet, if it becomes sick you care. However, there are other inexpensive ways to maintain the health of the animals that pass through a store, and reduce the risk of shouldering that expense.

    Why bother? It’s simple. If you sell reptile and amphibian care products and feeder insects and animals, you want your customers to buy healthy animals that will live out their full lifespans. Animals which die in the first month after they are purchased discourage people from buying those animals again, and certainly discourage them from buying them from your store. Doing your best to make sure that they take home a healthy animal with correct information on its care is in everyone’s best interests. By stocking the proper care equipment for the animals you carry, your customers will keep coming back, for food, supplements, and other supplies. If their experience is great, they may even come back for a second herp pet.

    In this sheet, we will explain how to go about ensuring that animals which arrive in your store healthy remain that way, how to buy healthy animals, which species make the best choices for pet store sales, and some husbandry equipment that will always be in demand by knowledgeable customers–or customers who will become knowledgeable. We’ll also include tips on offering complete herp setups that really are complete, support for customers who call in with questions about the animals they’ve purchased, and placement of displays.

    The first crucial key to creating successful reptile displays with healthy animals will be your suppliers. The cheapest wholesaler is not necessarily (in fact, is seldom) the best. Losses of animals that you are expected to absorb, or which are unreasonably high, are a good reason to switch to a different wholesaler. A key word to look for when buying reptiles for sale is captive bred (cb, or cbb). This means that rather than being captured in the wild and subjected to the stresses of importation and disease and parasites, the animal was born in a captive environment, and is most likely free of parasites or disease, and in good health. This makes a tremendous difference in how much stress an animal can tolerate–how well it holds up under shipping and display, and thus how well it will do for a customer when they bring it home. Whenever possible, buy animals from local breeders–these animals will not have undergone the stress of shipping, and should arrive in your store in pristine condition and health. You can inspect them directly before purchase! It’s not unreasonable to expect 0 losses from locally captive bred animals of hardy species. With that in mind, take your opportunity to ask questions–when was the animal born (never accept an animal that is less than 3 weeks old), when did it last eat, and what has it been eating? Ask if it is eating on its own, or if it needed to be assisted.

    A few warning signs:
    The breeder does not know when the animal was born/hatched.
    The breeder does not know when the animal last ate (particularly suspicious with snakes).
    The breeder tells you that the animal is eating a food item your store does not stock. With the exception of feeder roaches or superworms (aka zophobas or kingworms) (which can easily be replaced by crickets and mealworms), you want to avoid taking in an animal which may refuse to eat the foods you can offer it. In particular, avoid king or milk snake hatchlings which have been feeding only on lizards. It’s the breeder’s responsibility to see to it that hatchling snakes of these varieties are feeding unassisted on mice before selling them.
    The breeder tells you that the animal is eating, but when questioned deeper, admits that it required assistance to feed. This means it is not eating on its own, and you should avoid purchasing that animal for sale.

    A GOOD wholesaler should also be able to tell you when an animal last ate unassisted, and what it ate. Any wholesaler or breeder who sends you an animal which is clearly emaciated and not feeding should be avoided forever after. An animal in this condition is close to death from parasites or disease, or failure to adapt to captive conditions, and most likely even immediate veterinary care cannot save it. They’ve sent you a “living dead” animal, and they do not deserve your further business. It takes a fairly long time for a herp to reach this stage of deterioration, so it did not simply happen in transit–the animal was already in ill health when it was shipped to you. You would not accept a rabbit, cat, or dog that arrived in this condition–do not accept a reptile or amphibian in this condition, either.

    The next thing to address is what species of animals your store should carry. Many stores experiment with various types of herps, appealing to the public’s desire for the unusual, and trying to see which of the vast array of species available will sell best. But some species are too delicate to hold up under store display, and require extremely specialized care to survive in captivity at all. Wholesalers often do not admit to, and will even downplay, the difficulty of the care for many species. So how do you pick out what to stock from those huge lists? Here are some mainstays which SHOULD do well in your store, and for your customers:


    Leopard geckos
    Fat-tail geckos
    Crested geckos
    Bearded Dragons
    Blue-tongued skinks
    Tokay geckos
    House geckos
    Green anoles
    Brown or Bark anoles
    Grandis (giant) Day Geckos, or the smaller gold dust day geckos.
    Green water dragons

    A few notes about the above animals: Tokay geckos can and will deliver a painful bite. Grandis day geckos have fragile skin, and should be handled carefully. Green water dragons are prone to rubbing their faces on the glass, so a band of paper should be placed around the lower part of the tank to make the glass visible for them–placing the tank lower will allow customers to see the animals. Tokay geckos, house geckos, and anoles will most likely be difficult to find captive bred. House geckos and anoles have very similar requirements and may be housed together, but with that exception, none of these species should ever be housed with any others, to prevent transmission of parasites or disease from wild caught animals to captive bred ones. Iguanas are a common mainstay in many pet stores, but in truth these are not easy to care for animals. If you must stock them, stock only a few at a time, and provide complete information on their adult size and care–your customers will thank you for it. The ones who already know the facts on this animal will still buy an iguana, while those who simply wanted a pet lizard will make a different choice (and likely choose a more expensive, but smaller, animal).

    Chameleons are fascinating and charismatic lizards…but they are also VERY delicate animals. If you must have chameleons in your store, stick to Veiled chameleons of no less than 3 inches snout to vent length (well established youngsters, not newborn hatchlings), panther chameleons, or Jackson’s chameleons of similar size. Never purchase wild-caught chameleons. House your chameleons in a mesh cage and keep temperatures and humidity levels appropriate for that species diligently. Jackson’s chameleons require surprisingly LOW temperatures. Keep their cage well out of the way of store traffic, in a back corner or other area where they will be more secure and less exposed and disturbed. It cannot be stressed enough how delicate these animals are. They do not appreciate handling, noise, commotion, or environmental changes, and can very quickly decline and die in high stress situations. Being housed with others of their kind is a major source of stress for these extremely territorial, aggressive, and solitary animals. I do not recommend chameleons for the majority of pet stores, as these are simply not animals that do well in display situations. If customers wish to individually order them, house them properly in the back of the store away from public traffic until they are picked up.


    Corn snakes
    King snakes
    Milk snakes
    Ball pythons
    Dwarf Boa constrictor (such as Hogg Island boas)
    Sand boas

    If you desire to stock larger species, boa constrictors are popular, and also consider the pricey but truly beautiful rainbow boas. Avoid burmese or reticulated pythons unless requested, these animals become awesomely gigantic as adults, which is a similar problem to that of the iguanas. An adult retic or burm should not be handled by any person alone for safety reasons, so this is truly a potentially dangerous animal which is capable of killing an adult human accidently. Ball pythons should be captive bred, not captive farmed (cf). It is extremely important to be sure they are feeding well, as this species, while making a hardy and docile pet, has individuals prone to feeding problems. Listen to feedback from your customers to ensure that your supplier is being honest with you about the animals you purchase for sale.


    Red-Eared sliders
    Painted Turtles
    Box turtles

    Be certain that box turtles are captive bred. Wild caught animals can be difficult to acclimate in the long term. While they appear to be hardy, and can live for a long time under adverse conditions, in reality many turtles are difficult to keep in a captive environment, and will eventually decline. Many also become much larger than people realize. Smaller tortoises tend to have more exacting captive requirements, while larger tortoises are unsuitable due to their size and weight as adults. Snapping turtles are an example of an aquatic species which becomes unreasonably large. Several of the smaller turtle species, such as map turtles, are difficult to care for as they have exacting environmental requirements. Consider coordinating with a local shelter or reptile rescue to offer aquatic turtles for adoption, as there are many of these animals surrendered each year, and their setups are very expensive. You’ll be doing a good thing, and you’ll be selling plenty of equipment to folks who want to adopt.

    Frogs and Toads:

    White’s Tree Frogs
    Fire-Bellied toads
    Green or gray tree frogs
    Pac-Man frogs
    Dwarf or African clawed frogs (strictly aquatic)

    A few of the above species are difficult to find captive bred, and as with the lizards, these species should always be housed seperately. Be sure that customers are aware of the adult size of pac-man or African clawed frogs, both of which become much larger than most people realize. Be certain customers are aware that some species of frogs and toads secrete a toxin through their skin, and all amphibians should only be handled with wet hands, after very thoroughly rinsing the hands with hot water to remove any soap residue. Hands should be washed with soap and water afterward.

    Salamanders and newts:

    Red-bellied newts (primarily aquatic)
    Tiger salamanders
    Axolotls or mudpuppies (strictly aquatic)

    As with frogs, newts and salamanders may secrete toxins through their skins, and should be protected from chemicals or skin damage by thoroughly rinsing the hands before handling, and handling with wet hands. Use RO water when possible, and use dechlorinators when RO water is not available. Wash hands with soap and water after handling these animals.

    The next logical step is to be sure that your store stocks the proper food for the animals you’ve decided to carry. If you have green anoles or house geckos, or baby herps of any type, you will need appropriately small food items for them. Insectivorous lizards and amphibians which are below a certain size will need 1/4 inch crickets. Do not assume that they’ll be able to handle the typical medium-sized crickets most stores stock. In general, food insects should be easily eaten, not require a struggle for the animal to swallow them. If you are unwilling to stock 1/4 inch crickets, then avoid selling hatchling insectivorous lizards, fire-bellied toads, or adult green or brown anoles or house geckos. Carry a commercial crested gecko diet for crested geckos (it can also be fed to day geckos and anoles as a supplement).

    Small snakes require small mice. Some wholesalers will try to sell more animals by providing improper care instructions for them, and among the worst are the instructions on feeding insects to hatchling snakes. It sounds convenient that you may be able to feed crickets to hatchling snakes if you don’t have mice, but it is not true. The vast, vast majority of snakes will never touch the insects, which may then turn tables and nibble on them at night. The few that do will still not be receiving proper nutrition. The only snakes known to consume insects that appear regularly in the pet market are green grass snakes–and these are difficult to keep healthy in captivity. Hatchling corn, king, and milk snakes require pink (newborn or day-old) mice to eat. These can be fed live, pre-killed, or frozen/thawed. If you don’t care to stock live baby mice, set up a small freezer, and stock a variety of frozen mice for sale. This way your patrons will be able to continue feeding their snakes properly after they purchase them. Make sure that frozen mice are warmed completely through before feeding them–thawing by placing them in a plastic bag in a cup of hot water works well. Never microwave them. As with the lizards, if you are unable or unwilling to stock baby mice, either live or frozen, do not sell hatchling snakes–sell only adults or larger snakes that can eat adult mice. Be aware that some hatchling snakes you receive may not take frozen/thawed mice, and may need to be taught to eat them. If this occurs, you will need live mice for them in the meantime.

    Green iguanas, blue-tongued skinks, and older bearded dragons all require fresh veggie salads. Many recipes for these can be found online. Feed primarily dark green leafy vegetables (with the exception of spinich and cabbage), such as dandelion greens, turnip tops, collard greens, beet tops, chicory, mustard greens, arugula, or escarole. Mix at least 3 or 4 of the above greens. Chop these all up into pieces no bigger than the animals’ heads. You can also add a bit of grated sweet potato or yam, or winter squash, or a bit of carrot. Do not feed any sort of lettuce or broccoli, and offer fruit sparingly if you choose. Be sure to wash everything carefully to eliminate pesticide residues. The above mix should sustain your herbivores and ominivores well while they are in your store, and can last in the fridge for several days. Throw it out and replace it when it begins to wilt. Baby green iguanas should be fed this mix 2 or 3 times per day–practice will tell you how much to offer them at a time to prevent excessive leftovers. You can sprinkle lightly with a calcium supplement, but otherwise they will require nothing else, and should not be given insects. Blue tongued skinks and bearded dragons should be offered this an hour or so before they are fed insects, every day. This is a good diet for any herbivore or omnivore you may stock, it’s not terribly expensive, and will prevent potential health problems. It should be well accepted by the animals. Commercial herbivore or omnivore diets for reptiles could be used IF all of the animals are observed eating the formula, and if the reptiles won’t be in the store for longer than a week or two (if they are, switch to salads). These commercial diets have led to health problems if given as a sole food source over a long period of time. Note that this is NOT TRUE of the newer Repashy Crested Gecko diet–this diet has been thoroughly tested and can maintain healthy Rhacodactylus geckos from hatching through adulthood and breeding

    (Go to Part 2)

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