Keeping Toads as Pets
Toads are popular exotic pets that can be housed in a terrarium. There are a number of different types, each with their own unique patterning and behaviors. If you’re considering buying a toad to keep as a pet, you should know that toads secrete a toxic substance from glands behind their ears, so must be handled with care. The Marine or Cane toad is notorious for this, whilst some species are less toxic, such as the Fire Bellied toad.
Marine or Cane Toads
These are large toads that can grow up to 25cm long. They come from South Central America originally, but are perhaps most well known for the damage they’ve done to indigenous wildlife in Australia, where they were introduced to the wild to control pests. They are intelligent creatures and can make good pets.
Habitat & Feeding
Because of their huge size, marine toads will need an equally large size terrarium, 60 x 45 x 45cm or bigger for one toad. It should be heated to approximately 26C in the day, 22C at night. Put bark chippings or sphagnum moss on the floor of the tank, along with logs for hiding places. You marine toad will also need a large shallow bowl of water that’s big enough for it to get in. Make sure the water is rainwater or has been de-chlorinated.
Marine toads should be fed a wide variety of live foods, such as crickets and slugs, as well as larger things such as locusts and pinkie mice.
The popular American or Western green toad (bufo debilis) and European green toad (bufo viridis) make good pets that are hardy and easy to keep. They can grow 5-7.5cm long.
Habitat & Feeding
These small toads are surprisingly active at night and need a large glass or plastic tank to live in. 60 x 30 x 30cm would be sufficient for two toads. They require the same sort of substrate, water and decor as cane toads, but don’t need a heating system if the tank is kept in a warm room.
Green toads can be fed a mixture of live prey, such as mealworms, crickets and insects and earthworms from the garden.
Fire Bellied Toads
These toads are so called because of the distinctive red or orange markings on their bellies. They can grow up to 5cm long and there are different types with slightly different requirements. They are easy to care for and good for beginners.
Habitat & Feeding
European fire bellied and yellow bellied toads need a tank with a lot of water in, such as an aqua-terrarium, offering a mix of water as well as the usual hiding places. Oriental fire bellied toads need less water, so you should provide them with a woodland habitat and a bowl of shallow water. These toads are very hardy and can cope with a range of temperatures, so you shouldn’t need heating in the tank if it’s kept in a warm room. Around 22C is best, but they can cope with temperatures from 15C up to 29C. They can be kept in groups and may even breed.
Fire bellied toads prefer smaller live prey, with soft bodies and will benefit from an occasional vitamin and mineral supplement. Fully grown adults should be fed two or three times a week, younger ones every day.
Horned toads are also known as horned frogs. They get their name because of the horn-like protrusions over their eyes. Different species have different size “horns”. The Asian and Surinam horned toads have large ones, whereas the Argentine and Cranwell’s horned toads have much less noticeable ones. Horned toads grow big and fat, 10-15cm long and almost as wide! They have huge mouths and bellies, with short legs. They can weigh up to 2kg.
Habitat & Feeding
Horned toads aren’t particularly active. They can be kept in a glass or plastic tank with a soil substrate for burrowing. Put moss over some of the floor and provide a shallow bowl of water. These toads like a warm temperature of 25-28C, so you will need to use a small lamp or heat mat on the side. Be careful if you use a heat mat beneath the tank as you will need to leave a cool area for your toad to burrow and hide. You will also need to spray regularly to prevent the substrate from drying out.
Horned toads are aggressive and need to be kept on their own. They are also very greedy, so take care not to overfeed your pet toad. They will eat all kinds of live prey from insects to pinkie mice.
Invertebrates are creatures without backbones and invertebrates with legs are known as arthropods. This group includes arachnids (spiders and scorpions), insects (praying mantis and stick insects), myriapods (centipedes and millipedes) and crustaceans (crabs and shrimps).
Invertebrates can make very unusual and interesting exotic pets. Whether you are thinking of buying a pet tarantula, scorpion or praying mantis, whatever type of invert you’re interested in you will need to carefully research how to care for them. You will need to provide them with a suitable tank and habitat, with correct levels of heat, light and humidity, and feed them the appropriate food. Some inverts can be handled, whereas others are best left to be observed, so bear this in mind when choosing your pet.
There are several good points about keeping invertebrates as pets. They are small, so their tank shouldn’t take up much space and they are easy to keep clean, with hardly any odour. However, some, particularly scorpions and tarantulas, have poisonous stings or painful bites and can be potentially dangerous, so these are best for experienced pet owners rather than beginners.
The type of enclosure you need depends on what type of creature your invertebrate is. Purpose built terrariums for terrestrial (land living) and arboreal (tree living) species can be purchased from exotic pet shops. Some owners adapt aquariums by adding a screen top for ventilation.
Heating & Lighting
A lot of invertebrates are nocturnal, so many owners fit a lamp with a blue or red light bulb so they can see their pets’ night time activities. For species that are active during the day, such as praying mantis, UV bulbs can be used for both light and heat. Heat lamps or pads can be used to create a hot area in an enclosure for a creature that would live in a hot, arid environment in the wild, but it’s important to also provide a cool place in the tank for them to shelter. Be aware that a glass tank or aquarium can get really hot if left in a sunny place, so be careful to keep it out of direct sunlight.
Check before you buy your pet how often you need to mist the tank to maintain the correct moisture and humidity levels. For creatures from tropical habitats, you may need to spray the tank with water once or twice a day, whereas a drip system where water slowly drips into a container is another option for creatures from less damp environments.
There are various materials you can use to cover the floor of your vivarium. Bedding made from coconut mixed with sand is commercially available and as well as looking natural, it helps to stop mould or fungus growing in humid enclosures. Peat moss and sand is another option, which is good for holding moisture. Some keepers simply use paper towels for small pets such as tarantulas, which have the advantage of being cheap and easy to change. Find out before you purchase your pet what substrate is recommended for them.
Rock piles, driftwood and commercially made hiding places and shelters are added to tanks to provide a stimulating environment for inverts in captivity. Be very careful that anything you place in your enclosure is stable so that doesn’t risk crushing your pet. Anything you add must be clean and sterilised to prevent infections.
Most inverts live on live prey such as crickets or mealworms. As a general rule, smaller creatures should be fed small prey, and given larger items as they grow. To maintain a balanced diet, it is best not to rely on just one or two types of prey that are readily available at your local pet shop. Instead, try to include a variety of different sorts of prey. Many experienced invertebrate owners raise their own prey, such as crickets or mealworms, so they can control what they are fed and thus provide the most nutrients for their pets.
Keeping Lizards as Pets
There are loads of different types of lizards to choose from if you fancy the idea of keeping one of these fascinating reptiles as a pet. Those kept as exotic pets include chameleons, dragons, geckos, skinks and monitor lizards. As with any exotic pet, it’s important to find out as much as you can about the species you’re interested in before you buy any kind of lizard, as some are harder to care for than others.
It’s advisable to handle your pet lizard with care. Firstly, lizards can lose their tails if they think they’re being attacked, which may cause you to drop your pet in surprise, plus the tail won’t look as impressive when it grow back. Secondly, your lizard could injure you with its sharp claws, teeth or tail.
In the wild, most lizards are very active, so in captivity they need a spacious tank to keep them as healthy and happy as possible. What you put on the floor depends on your animal’s natural habitat. For example, you’d use sand for a lizard from the desert, soil or bark chippings for a forest living one. You should furnish the tank with appropriate items depending on whether your lizard is naturally land or tree dwelling, and always provide a bowl of water.
Most lizards kept as pets come from warm places in the wild, so will require some form of heating, from a heat mat or ceramic heater. They also need a UV light to keep them healthy.
As most lizards are carnivores, they can be fed on a varied diet (depending on their size) consisting of live crickets, locusts and worms, as well as slugs and other bugs collected from the garden. Supplements can also be used to provide optimum nutrition. Find out what diet is recommended for a particular lizard as part of your research before you buy a new pet.
This group include several lizards that are popular to keep as exotic pets, such as bearded dragons and iguanas.
Bearded dragons originate from Australia. They get the name “bearded” from the spines on their throats that in the wild they can make stand up as a defensive measure when threatened. In captivity, they are inquisitive and friendly and enjoy being handled. They can live around 10 years and grow up to 60cm long.
Iguanas can be tricky to care for, having specific requirements. It’s essential to provide optimum living conditions and feed a varied, nutrient rich diet to avoid illness. They can also grow from small baby lizards up to 180cm long. Iguanas are better for experienced exotic pet keepers than novices.
Geckos are friendly, small lizards that can make good pets for those new to keeping reptiles, although it’s worth knowing they can live for over 20 years in captivity. They come in a range of colours and sizes. The leopard gecko is commonly kept as a pet as it’s easy to look after and has a docile nature. Some others available from exotic pet shops include crested, African clawed and flat-tailed house geckos.
Skinks can make good pets for those keeping a reptile for the first time. They are gentle natured and like to be handled. They are also active and fun to observe. The Berber skink is one of the most popular. It can live up to 20 years and grow up to 40cm long. The blue tongue skink is another lizard commonly kept as a pet and grows up to 50cm long.
There are several types of chameleons kept as exotic pets, including Jacksons, panther and veiled chameleons. As they have very specialised needs, they are best kept only by experienced exotic pet enthusiasts. They don’t like to be handled but can make interesting pets to watch. Chameleons have unusual features, such as very long, strong tongues used to catch prey and they are able to change colour. Some are more hardy than others. Since chameleons can be susceptible to stress, it’s important to know how to care for them properly.
Monitors can be kept as pets. However, they are high maintenance and have special requirements that must be met to keep them in good health. Monitors are best kept only by experienced exotic pet owners willing to put in the time and money to care for them properly. They grow very quickly from small hatchlings to over 120cm in just the first year, so they need custom made housing. They can also be aggressive and dangerous when fully grown.
Keeping Snakes as Pets
There is a lot to learn about how to look after a pet snake and you should make sure you do thorough research before buying one. The snakes sold in exotic pet shops and online are not poisonous, as the regulations are very strict and you need a license to own a poisonous snake in the UK. Boas and pythons can be dangerous as they are constrictors and in the wild wrap themselves round their prey to kill it, although a snake kept in captivity is unlikely to be large enough to do this to a fully grown person. However, it’s best to have some experience of keeping exotic pets before buying a boa and python. A variety of harmless smaller snakes are commonly kept as pets, such as king, milk, rat and corn snakes. Snakes are beautiful and fascinating reptiles, with unusual features. For example, they have no eyelids and use their tongues to smell! How to care for a pet snake depends on the type of snake, but there are some general principles for keeping most types that are commonly on sale in the UK.
You will need a tank or terrarium to house your pet snake. How big it should be depends on the size of the snake, but it’s essential that it has a secure lid to prevent the snake from escaping, and it must be kept clean to maintain good health.
Snakes that would burrow in their natural environment will need soil or sand on the floor. Newspaper or bark chippings can be used for others. Snakes will also need places to hide, rest and climb, so provide things such as logs, rocks, branches or ready made snake caves sold in exotic pet shops.
You will need to check before you buy your snake what sort of heating and temperature is best for it. It’s important to have a thermal gradient, which means having different temperatures in different parts of the tank, so your snake can regulate its body temperature. This is usually done by having a heater at one end of the tank, and having a cooler spot at the other end. Make sure you have a guard for any heat source so your snake doesn’t get too close and injure itself. It’s best to use a separate lamp for lighting, so it can be switched off at night and provide a natural daily rhythm. You will need a reliable thermostat to make sure the tank temperature is not too hot or cold.
Snakes in captivity can be fed pre-killed prey, usually dead baby mice known as pinkies, which can be kept in a freezer and defrosted as needed. Larger snakes such as boas and pythons will eat larger things such as dead rats or day old chicks.
These are good snakes for beginners. Corn snakes have calm, docile temperaments and like to be handled. They can grow up to 105-150cm long and come in a range of different morphs and colours. They can live 15 years or more.
There are many varieties of milk snake. Those that are commonly kept as exotic pets in captivity include Honduran, Mexican, Nelsons, Pueblan and Sinoloan milk snakes. These snakes are quite small in size, growing up to 90-120cm long. Although not quite so easy to look after as corn snakes, they make attractive pets, with colourful red bodies and black and yellow or white banded markings. Milk snakes have been known to eat others, so are best kept singly.
King snakes are fairly easy to care for and are a good choice for people new to keeping an exotic pet. The California king snake is one of the most popular to keep as a pet. It doesn’t grow too large, only about 100-150cm long. There are several colour morphs available, from those with black and white bands to albino, or chocolate and lavender. King snakes are cannibalistic so should be kept on their own.
Rat snakes are hardy and straightforward to look after, so are generally good as a first snake for a beginner. There are many varieties in this group. Those popular as pets include Bairds, Everglades, Great Plains or Emorys, Red Mountain and Texas rat snakes. The come in a huge range of colours and patterns.
Keeping Frogs as Pets
Poison Arrow Frogs
Poison arrow frogs – also known as poison dart frogs – get their name from the natural poison toxins secreted by their skin as a defensive mechanism. The poisonous toxins from certain species are traditionally used by local tribes on the ends of their arrows and darts that are used to kill prey. These frogs are popular as exotic pets not only for their striking bright colours, but because they are active during the day. Many amphibians are nocturnal, making it harder to observe their behaviour. They are very small frogs, generally measuring around an inch long when fully grown.
The skin secretions are actually made toxic by the poisonous insects the frogs eat in the wild. So in captivity, when fed on an adult diet, the skin secretions are safe. Be aware that frogs caught in the wild and sold as pets will remain toxic and dangerous for some time, so it is advisable to buy captive bred frogs for pets. They aren’t the easiest of amphibians to keep as pets and are better for experienced pet keepers rather than beginners. Among the easiest and most popular species to keep as pets are the Striped, Black Legged, Green and Black, Bumble Bee and Dyeing poison arrow frogs.
Habitat & Feeding
Poison arrow frogs need a humid and warm environment to thrive, as a substitute for their natural home in the forests of South and Central America. It depends on the species, but generally the temperature should be 25-28C during the day, 21C at night, with humidity of 70-100%. They need a spacious terrarium with a suitable substrate such as bark chippings and plenty of places to hide. Exotic pet shops sell a range of accessories for decorating your tank, such as model waterfalls. Several frogs can be kept together in the same tank, but they can get territorial when fully grown, so the tank needs to be large enough to give them all room.
Because they are such small frogs, they need small prey such as aphids, baby woodlice and small crickets.
The African clawed frog (xenopus laevis) is the most commonly kept species of this aquatic frog, which comes from South Africa. Its body and head appear flattened and it gets its name from the sharp claws on its hind feet.
Habitat & Feeding
You will need to keep your clawed frogs in an aquarium. The water temperature should be around 20C, so many pet owners don’t heat their tank, just keep it in a warm place. These frogs don’t like sudden changes in temperature, so be careful when doing partial water changes, which you should do often. Gravel can be used on the base of the aquarium, as long as it’s large enough not to be ingested by the frogs. You can add plants if you wish, but it’s not necessary and the frogs are likely to uproot them.
Clawed frogs aren’t generally fussy about what they eat. Fully grown ones can be fed earthworms, maggots and bits of raw fish. Younger frogs can eat tubifex, whiteworm and bloodworm.
As the name suggests, tree frogs naturally live in trees rather than on the ground or underwater. There are many varieties that can be kept as pets, such as the African Green, the African Big Eyed and the Red Eyed tree frog. Their size varies according to the species, with the large Cuban tree frog growing up to 15cm long, the White’s or “Dumpy” tree frog from Australia measuring around 10cm and the smaller European tree frog being around 5cm long.
Habitat & Feeding
Tree frogs in captivity need to be kept in a terrarium that is large enough for them to move and jump fairly long distances, with bark or sphagnum moss on the floor. Like any type of frog, tree frogs will need places to hide, so large pieces of cork back or shop bought accessories can be used.
Tree frogs will need a small bowl of water, which will help with the humidity as well. It’s important to keep the tank clean and free from mould, so you should clean it out every 3 weeks or so. Because tree frogs come from warm places in the wild, the terrarium should be heated to about 25C during the day and 20C at night, depending on the particular species you choose. If you use a lamp to heat your tank, make sure it has a guard to protect your pets from burns.
Tree frogs can be fed a variety of live food, depending on their size, such as crickets, earthworms and insects collected from a garden.