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On Reptile Adoption — a.k.a. “Used” Reptiles

“Used” reptiles are the reptiles you see on Craiglist, Facebook, and your local classifieds. They’re available for all kinds of reasons—moving, financial trouble, marriage/divorce, babies, health problems, busy schedules, or my personal favorite: “kids lost interest.” Whatever the reason, there are reptiles out there looking for new homes, and reptile adoption is one way you can make a difference.

But what if it’s sick? What if it’s aggressive? Concerns like these are the biggest deterrents to reptile adoption, and they’re very real. In fact, there are massive advantages to reptile adoption, like low prices and sustainability. So let’s talk about this, yeah? And if you scroll down a bit further, I have a list of reptile adoption tips that you don’t want to miss.

reptile adoption blog graphic

Pros and Cons of Reptile Adoption

PRO: Low Prices

“Bearded Dragon Everything He Needs Included” – $150

“Juvenile Red Iguana (All Accessories Included)” – $50

“Plated Lizard with Huge Tank” – $100

What do these ads have in common? If you’re a penny-pinching reptile keeper like me, you’ll see it immediately. Bargains. This is a sampling of 3 ads that were posted within the last 12 hours on KSL, Utah’s online classifieds, and they are all incredible deals for anyone looking to get into the hobby or to add to their collection. Let’s take a closer look at the plated lizard, shall we? Individual prices are approximate.

  • Plated lizard ($40)
  • 41″ x 21″ x 26″ tank ($200)
  • 2 heat lamps ($20)
  • Heat bulbs ($20)
  • Decor ($40)
  • Ground walnut shell substrate ($30)

This deal is worth around $350. UVB might be needed and the walnut shell should be replaced with something safer, but with the extra $250, you could buy some organic topsoil, play sand, and a Zoo Med PowerSun bulb—and still have $150 to play with. Not bad!

(If we hadn’t just bought a crested gecko, that plated lizard would be SO mine. Still considering it, actually…)

CON: Vet Bills

It is an unfortunate truth that most used reptiles come with a health problem or two.

Blue tongue skink with severe spine deformity

Our malnourished blue tongue skink before we rescued him.

  • internal parasites
  • mites
  • neurological problems
  • genetic disorders
  • starvation/obesity
  • impaction

Some of these are easier to resolve than others, and initial vet bills should always be considered before purchasing a new reptile. But the good news is that most major issues can be discerned from pictures, habitat evaluation, and handling, so a well-informed reptile keeper is rarely blindsided when adopting.

PRO: A Second Chance

Reptiles are exotic animals, which means they probably can’t survive your local climate. Anacondas, reticulated pythons, and burmese pythons need year-round temperatures between 75-95 degrees, and humidity between 60%-100%. Bearded dragons can’t live in humidity above 50%, or places where the temperature dips below 50 degrees for long periods of time.

There’s this ridiculous belief out there that if you can’t take care of your pet anymore, you should just abandon it out in the wild. After all, “they’re just animals.” This is not only cruel, but also dangerous to the local environment. On the off chance that that species can survive in that climate, they start breeding and competing with/eating local wildlife. Because of irresponsible reptile keepers releasing their large snakes, Florida has a massive invasive snake problem and legislators are considering making pet snakes illegal.

When you adopt a reptile, you could be saving its life. You’re giving it a home that will allow it to live out its life in security and comfort. As a dominant species, it is our responsibility to take care of the others.

CON: Temperament

When you buy a reptile from a breeder, or even from the pet store, you’re likely buying a juvenile individual with a relatively clean slate. They haven’t established opinions on people beyond their instincts quite yet. If you buy from a good pet store, humans get labeled as the “nice creatures with the food.” If you buy from a good breeder, humans get labeled as the “weirdos who like to pick me up and touch me everywhere but it’s okay because they’re not dangerous and bring food.”

With reptile adoption, the story is a bit different. These reptiles come from a variety of backgrounds. And even if you take the time to chat with the previous owners, there’s no way you can perfectly gauge the animal’s temperament. You don’t know its personality—you didn’t raise it. You just have to go off an amateur sales pitch from the owner. So unfortunately you don’t get to know that reptile until long after you’ve brought it home.

Though personalities rarely change, most reptiles can be tamed and/or re-trained with time, patience, and love.


 Tips for Success

In no way am I saying that you shouldn’t adopt reptiles. In fact, I strongly recommend it! And if you want a bearded dragon, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY PLEASE adopt one. Bearded dragons are the cats of the reptile world and amateur breeders need to stop. Same goes for red eared slider turtles, and more often than not, you can get these for free. So when you choose reptile adoption, here’s how to create a Happily Ever After for both you and your new pet.

Research the species. What do they need? What are they like? Is it a good deal? Is this an animal you are likely to be able to keep long-term? A quick Google search (or a visit to this website in 5 years or so—haha) will pull up care sheets, pictures, YouTube videos, and everything you never wanted to know about that animal. Be sure to check out ReptiFiles’ library of care guides, too, for information you can trust.

Try before you buy. Make time for 2 trips. The purpose of Trip #1 is to handle the animal and inspect it for illness or disease. Trip #2 is for buying it, if you decide to do so. Do not bring money on the first trip. You want to have at least 24 hours to think about your impressions, gather supplies, and make an objective decision. Don’t let the seller rush you!

Supplies come first. If the reptile does not come with an enclosure, have a room ready for it when you take it home. How would you feel if you went on vacation and your hotel room was nothing but a bare floor? Gypped, right? You’d probably be ready to bite the hotel manager in the morning.

Say no. Say what now? Hold on, I have a point. If you don’t like the animal for any reason, don’t feel obligated to buy it.

Go to the vet. Once you’ve bought the reptile, schedule a check up with your vet, and don’t forget to bring some poo for a parasite test. Vet techs love fecal samples!

Reptile vet Dr. Henry-Guyot with blue tongue skink


Bottom line? If you choose reptile adoption, you’ll make some unwanted little reptile out there very happy (or at least as “happy” as their physiology allows). And if you decide to buy from a breeder or independently-owned pet shop, that’s okay too!

Unless you buy a bearded dragon. Always adopt bearded dragons.

Have you adopted a reptile? Tell us all about your scaly new addition in the comments!

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