Phase 1: Pet Owner
Most reptile keeper types start as a Pet Owners. Perhaps you visited a reptile expo out of curiosity and came home with a bearded dragon or leopard gecko. Or maybe, after begging your parents for a pet and finally getting to go to the pet store, a tortoise caught your eye. If you were already an adult when you got your start, most likely it was because of your kids.
Pet Owners tend to be casual to neglectful in the care of their reptile(s). This is due to lack of proper information rather than poor intentions, getting care advice from pet store care sheets. Most commonly, Pet Owner-level reptile keepers feed their herps poor quality foods like cardboard-fed crickets and lettuce. Pet Owners are also unlikely to use UVB bulbs or calcium supplements.
My first reptile was a green anole named Jumper. I had gone to Petco aiming to get a long-tailed grass lizard (their extraordinarily long tails fascinated me), but they were out. Being impatient, I settled for an anole. S/he didn’t last long in the care of an 8-year-old, as is the fate of many such first reptiles. 🙁
Phase 2: Herpetophile
Reptile keeper types who don’t start out as pet owners are Herpetophiles. Your first reptile may have been a garter snake caught in the garden. Or maybe your reptile-loving parents ordered a bearded dragon from a breeder. Whether it’s an innate fascination with reptiles or being part of a family of reptile keepers, you’ve loved reptiles for a long time.
Pet Owners who take the time to thoroughly research their reptile become Herpetophiles. They possess medium to advanced knowledge of reptile care, including
- temperature gradients
- lighting requirements
- appropriate substrates
- veterinary care
Reptiles under the care of Herpetophiles tend to live average to long, content lives.
Phase 2.2: Rescuer
Rescuers are the heroes of the reptile world. These reptile keeper types are Herpetophiles who accumulate a vast wealth of reptile-related knowledge and use it to benefit reptiles who have fallen victim to unevolved Pet Owners. These selfless individuals sacrifice everything to nurse near-death reptiles miraculously back from the grave. They also have the mettle to push through when a reptile dies in spite of everything. Rescuers give abused and neglected reptiles a second chance and a happily ever after.
Of course, not everyone who claims to be a Reptile Rescuer is trustworthy. I’ve come in contact with both the heroes and the fallen. Fortunately, Fallen Rescuers are easy enough to discern:
- reptiles in poor living conditions
- condescending attitude
That being said, let’s have a moment of silence for Rescuer Heroes and their incredible efforts.
Phase 3: Collector
After you’re a Herpetophile, becoming a Collector is a quick and natural transition. The reptile fascination only grows with time. Some people keep it under control by keeping only one or two exotic or time consuming reptiles like large monitors, iguanas, Burmese and reticulated pythons. Others succumb to it, expanding to keep incredible collections of reptiles.
Naturally, reptile expos are extremely dangerous for Collectors’ bank accounts.
Phase 3.1: Zookeeper
Guided only by personal interest and limited only by budget, a Zookeeper’s emphasis is diversity, making their collections the largest of any type of reptile keeper. Picture the reptile house at your favorite zoo, and that is a Zookeeper’s dream.
For example, I am a Zookeeper in embryo; I want 20 different species of reptile but have neither the space nor money to do so. But I have my wish list, and one day that dream will be realized. *staring off into space with a stupid smile*
Phase 3.1.1: Death Charmer
Death Charmers are an interesting group. They take the exoticness of being a Zookeeper and take it to the extreme, getting their thrills from venomous reptiles like rattlesnakes, cobras, and gila monsters. They also may have a crocodile somewhere. Not surprisingly, Death Charmers tend to keep tarantulas and scorpions in their collections.
Phase 3.2: Hoarder
Unlike the Zookeeper, whose object is diversity (and generally keeps one or two of each species), a Hoarder desires quantity. 10 bearded dragons? Plus crested geckos? And tortoises? Maybe some corn snakes? It doesn’t matter to a Hoarder what morph or species a reptile is — there’s plenty of love to go around!
Phase 3.3: Specialist
The specialist loves reptiles, but has a specific taste. Whether they simply don’t like one group or find one easier to care for than the others, Specialists generally settle into one of four categories.
- Phase 3.3.1: Lizard Lover — Collection contains at least 90% lizards.
- Phase 3.3.2: Snake Silly — Collection contains at least 90% snakes.
- Phase 3.3.3: Turtle Tickled — Collection contains at least 90% turtles and tortoises. These keepers are less common.
- Phase 3.3.4: Colony Keeper — Collection consists at least 90% of the same species. I find that Colony Keepers tend to favor bearded dragons and leopard geckos.
Phase 126.96.36.199.1: Morph Snob
There are two types of Morph Snob. First, as a subcategory for Colony Keepers. Second, as a fifth type of Specialist.
- Colony Keeper Morph Snob: Tends to have one species in tons of morphs.
- Specialist Morph Snob: Tends to have many species, but not a Normal in sight.
I’m placing special emphasis because there are many people in the reptile world who fit here.
Morph Snobs distinguish themselves from other Specialists by a penchant for variety. Instead of taking in every bearded dragon or leopard gecko that strikes their fancy, Morph Snobs select their reptiles according to taste (what one finds attractive) and rarity (value).
The reptiles sought after by Morph Snobs tends to be a trend-based thing. Not so long ago, bearded dragons were the reptile of choice. Reptile expos were chock full of them — sandfire, citrus, dunner, translucent, silkback…the list of morph possibilities only gets longer. Leopard geckos are a trend that hasn’t quite phased out yet. But the current craze is ball pythons — they’re everywhere! I’m interested to see what will be the next big thing.
It’s not uncommon to see high-end ball python morphs selling for thousands. So if you like to blow your money on unique-looking animals, being a Morph Snob is for you.
Ultimate Phase: Breeder
Reptile Breeders are among the most common types of reptile keepers because there are many roads to becoming one. It’s kind of an inevitability for about half of everyone who gets into reptile keeping.
Pet Owner Breeder — In other words, the pet store recommended buying a male and female together, as well as housing them together. Then eggs come “out of the blue” and Pet Owners are left with a dilemma: incubate the eggs, or dispose of them? Excited by the prospect of cute baby reptiles, many Pet Owners choose to incubate without knowing squat about how to raise them healthily. (Rarely does this decision end happily for the babies.)
Herpetophile Breeder — Not much different from the Pet Owner Breeder, except that the eggs are not an accident. Often this is an experiment that may turn into a permanent gig. Herpetophile Breeders breed what they have on hand, likely with mates from other Herpetophiles in their network, and sell the offspring to local pet stores, through the classifieds, or even online. Herpetophile Breeders have extensive knowledge through good research, which leads to healthy babies (most of the time).
Collector Breeder — The Collector Breeder mates one or two species from his/her collection for a side source of income, keeping the best looking specimens for future breeding. Collector Breeders’ reptiles live dual lives as pets and breeding stock. Additionally, Collector Breeders tend to be small but reputable operations working over the Internet, and may have an expo booth with their friends.
Specialist Breeder — The Specialist Breeder is like the Collector Breeder in many aspects, but with bigger ambitions. They tend to breed several species with an emphasis on profit and producing increasingly impressive morphs. Specialist Breeders are less likely to treat their reptiles like pets since the demands of such an operation creates a very large collection. Specialist Breeders frequently reserve booths at expos and have websites/social media accounts devoted to running the business.
Morph Snob Breeder — The Morph Snob Breeder has a singular focus, and that is creating the greatest diversity of high-end morphs in one species. It often starts as a side-job deal, but as the collection of breeding stock grows it eventually becomes a full-blown business. Morph Snob Breeders are found online, at expos, and on social media with a very impressive selection of morphs for the latest trendy reptile.
So, what kind of reptile keeper are you?
Where would you like to end up? Let me know in the comments!