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Monday, September 5, 2011

Reptile in the House

Up until two years ago, I had no interest in keeping a reptile. My pet store and veterinary hospital experience taught me how much was involved in caring for a cold-blooded animal. I would need a heat lamp or heat pad or both. I would have to make a salad for the pet every day or provide live or killed food like crickets, mice goldfish or rats. Although I have no problem with snakes and I like watching them, I wasn't interested in having one and I really didn't like watching them eat. I liked the idea of keeping a box turtle or tortoise, but again, wasn't sure if I could provide the best environment. So I stayed away from reptiles even though they were offered to me free numerous times. In fact, most of my animals were acquired free of charge from customers or clients who had to give them up for one reason or another.

In 2007, I was writing a story about the Midwest Museum of Natural History in Sycamore, Illinois. Jack Hanna was to appear and I was given the awesome opportunity of covering the event. At that time, the museum had a special exhibit of live reptiles and I notice a cool looking lizard which I learned was a crested gecko (Rhacodactylus ciliatus). I'd never seen anything like it before and, as far as care and such, was only familiar with leopard geckos. The young man who owned the display said these lizards were fairly new to the pet scene, but were easy to care for because they do fine at room temperature. I made a mental note of this little lizard and decided someday I just might like to have one. I started looking for them in pet stores when I would go in for supplies, but didn't find any until 2010.

Under the guise of a birthday gift for our then 9 year-old son, I made arrangements to purchase one from a breeder. I had seen a crested at Petco, but it had already lost its tail and in this species the tail does not grow back. However, the price was right because it was marked down to $35 from $75.

In my search to find a breeder, I stumbled upon a link for Scott Smith’s All Animal Expo, held twice a month just about a one hour drive from my home. The website had a list of vendors that would take part in the event. I started talking to a breeder on the list by e-mail and made arrangements to buy a young “crestie” from her for $50. She was very knowledgeable and helpful. She raises her geckos on Repashy crested gecko diet which is just a powder that mixes with water and gets set out in a dish. No salad making or cricket feeding necessary. All the nutrition the crested needs, aside from that provided from natural sunlight, is in this diet. That little lizard was handed to us in a small, round, plastic container that measured about 4 inches wide and a little over an inch high. He barely filled the middle of it and a year and a half later he would never fit since he’s more than doubled in length and height.

We started housing him in the largest plastic Kritter Keeper we could buy. There were several nice reptile enclosures for sale at the expo, but I liked the lightweight plastic and secure lid (and the $20 price) of the one we chose. We put some nice driftwood logs in and a bunch of fake foliage. The breeder recommended only paper towels for the bottom of the enclosure so we complied. For one, it makes it easy to see if your lizard is giving off wastes, but it also prevents the gecko from ingesting other types of substrates like sand, soil, bark or litter.

We fed our cute baby gecko the Repashy mix in a tiny food dish from my daughter’s Littlest Pet Shop playset. This worked for a while, but I felt like he preferred to be up high so I looked for something better. I liked the fake rock feeding shelf I found at Pangea Reptile Supplies. It has two spaces for water and food cups and it sticks to the side of any cage with strong magnets. While we’ve observed our lizard on the feeding shelf and have noticed the food level go down in his dish, oddly enough, the whole time we’ve had him, we’ve never once seen him eat the Repashy. We buy him crickets once every 4 to 6 weeks, but he’s so fast, sometimes we can’t see him eat these either. That’s okay because I’m just so proud that he’s doing well and seems to be thriving. I took him to the veterinarian around his one year birthday and he weighed 13 grams. That was an interesting vet visit, but I’d like to talk more about that later, along with the one mistake I made that cost him his tail. Thanks for listening and feel free to ask questions. Here are a few pictures.

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