Pet ownership is an important part of a child’s life. They teach children about responsibility and caring for another living creature, no matter if the pet is a cat, dog, hamster or turtle.
A lot of children are enamoured by the exotics. However, when it comes to exotic pet ownership, a lot of issues must be first considered. Most importantly, which ones are legal to own in your area, and which exotics are best suited to be cared for by your child. Other concerns include: temperament – some exotics don’t like to be handled as much or as roughly as some children have a tendency of doing; is there a veterinarian available in your area; are there any health concerns specific to the exotic; can its dietary needs be easily met; what are its space requirements and does it require any special equipment (UV light for example)?
So, what makes a reptile suitable for children? Ease of upkeep, size (between 8″ and 4′ at its full size), and taming ability. Please note: Parents must do the taming – not the child. Parents must also oversee all interactions between the child and reptiles. Reptiles are skittish when you first get them, even species recommended as good starter reptiles, so make sure you handle them carefully. Kids usually drop the reptile if it starts thrashing or entwining around their fingers or arm therefore adults must always handle a new reptile and oversee any child who handles the reptile. Many reptiles are Salmonella carriers. If you follow common sense hygiene practices when handling them (wash hands in hot soapy water immediately after handling, for example), this should prevent problems. However, as children are not always the best at remembering to wash up, extra care will have to be taken to prevent Salmonella infections.
In general, snakes are, believe it or not, one of the easier exotics to care for, especially for children. They take up less room than lizards and other reptiles; their feeding schedule is very simple – fresh water several times a week, and a feeding and bedding change once a week. However, the temperature and humidity levels of their enclosure must always be monitored.
The most popular, and ironically easiest for beginners/children, include: Corn and King snakes, as well as Ball Pythons, according to the Green Iguana Society. Corn and King snakes are slender and don’t grow much beyond 5′ in length. If you want a heftier snake, consider a Ball Python, which is thicker, however, they are a bit shorter – about 4′ long. All three species eat mice, which are readily available, pre-killed, at pet stores.
The most prohibitive obstacle to their ownership is the tank set-up cost, in particular the special UVB lamps. Their habitat temperature must also be between the mid-70s and 80s.
The Leopard Gecko is among the most popular of the exotic reptiles. They’re docile, can be handled with a gentle touch and a couple of Geckos can live in a rather small space.
Collared Lizards grow between 10″ and 12″ long. Their tanks need to be at least 55-60 gallons. They also require a lot of heat during the day. Primarily carnivorous, adult Collareds will eat some plant matter.
Bearded Dragon babies are cheap but that’s because they have a lower survival rate. Therefore, buy one that is at least 6″ long – big enough to eat mouse pinks. The Bearded will max out at about 20″. These lizards require the least amount of work in terms of taming – they are pretty lazy. Believe it or not, they slow down even further in the winter – it’s a season of long inactivity (sleeping for days or weeks) interspersed with a bit of wakefulness, eat a bit, drink a bit, then down again for several weeks.
Blue-tongue Skinks are low-slung, wide-bodied lizards that look like giant alligators with skin like a kitchen floor. They are omnivores, and grow to about 24″ long, however, they do like to move around a lot so a bigger enclosure is better.
Savanna Monitors are carnivorous and one of the most common of the small Monitors. They grow to 4′ long, and have one of the nicest temperaments, once tamed. Care must be taken when feeding them mice as they become very excited and may take your fingers along with the mouse. Once tamed by an adult, they are usually suitable for handling by middle childhood age kids.
Turtles and Tortoises
There are water and land turtles and tortoises. Red-eared Sliders or Cooter water turtles need to live in a pond that is protected from predators like raccoons and dogs.
Some water turtles are carnivores and require live food like feeder goldfish as well as a prepared turtle food, according to Susan Tellem of the American Tortoise Rescue. They don’t, however, need to be fed often – once or twice a week. Small tortoises, such as Russian or Box turtles are good for people with small backyards. Both species hibernate and like cooler weather. Box turtles are carnivores so you will have to feed them snails or worms along with some greenery.
If you have the room, a Desert, Leopard or Sulcata Tortoise is a good choice. Be warned, the Leopards and Sulcatas can become very large – 200 lbs. These land lovers are vegetarians. While the Desert species hibernates, the other two don’t. In fact, Deserts, Leopards and Sulcatas are from hot climates and don’t do well in cold climates, unlike the Russians and Box turtles.