because life's an adventure

JoJaffa starts keeping exotic pets

...that's snakes, spiders and lizards

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Ask a question get advice
Why....keep exotic pets?
Getting started
How do I get started?
Kit and caboodle
Recommended reading
Spoil yourself
Holidays and Vacations
Getting more out of....keeping exotic pets
I've got the basics, what next?

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Why....keep exotic pets?

When visitors come into my house their eyes are always drawn to the large glass tank standing in the corner of the room. There's usually a soft green glow coming from inside which illuminates the contents, enabling the viewer to see the overturned pieces of bark, the dark green foliage and the carpet of wood chippings, if they're unlucky, that is all that will be visible...The more fortunate ones however, who obviously time their entrance better, may get to see the occupant in full glory.

When she decides to emerge from one of her favourite hiding holes, Shane is a gorgeous sight.

A mix of deep orange and rich red, the saddle shaped markings run the full length of her body, becoming denser towards her head until the foremost one extends forward onto her head in an arrowhead shape.

Shane's a corn snake. She's nocturnal so hides herself away most of the time, but when she's feeling active she glides effortlessly around her tank exploring all the little corners, climbing up into the roof, and disappearing into seemingly impossibly small crevices. At these moments she's fascinating to watch, it's something you never tire of, and keeps guests rapt for hours. Sometimes it makes you wonder who they have come to see!

People often question why I choose to keep a snake as a pet. After all, they say, you can't cuddle it, it's not cute and furry, you can't take for walks, it won't fetch sticks, it will never come when you call it etc. etc. etc.

Well they might be right in some respects:-

no she's not furry, although I'd argue she is cute;

you can't cuddle her, but she used to sleep happily in a baggy pocket when she was smaller;

she'll never answer to her name, but over time and with proper handling, she has come to recognise me;

she won't fetch sticks, but she will take food from my hand

But it doesn't matter what other people think, I like snakes, I like Shane and I enjoy having her as a pet.

Read more about corn snakes.

Tell us what got you interested in keeping exotic pets.

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Getting started

There is a huge variety of exotic pets for a prospective owner to choose from, and your first decision is what exotic creature you most want to keep.

For many people this is relatively easy, they will be naturally fascinated by a particular species or breed and nothing else will do.

Others are less focussed and so long as they have a snake/spider/lizard of some description they will be happy.

Click to read more about snakes

There are a number of important considerations to take into account at this stage, all of which can influence your final choice.

Where to buy your petCheck out your local pet store before buying anything, it's important to satisfy yourself that the animals they sell are well looked after, healthy, and feeding normally so that you know you are getting a good quality specimen. Also check that the staff are knowledgeble about their animals, this shop is likely to be your first port of call should you need any help and advice about your pet.
Your pet's homeAll exotic pets need specialised accomodation, particularly reptiles who rely on the ambient temperature to provide body warmth, and who can be outstanding escapologists.

The container itself typically consists of a glass tank furnished inside with appropriate water supply, climbing logs, hiding holes, whatever suits the occupant most. Heating is very important, including acheiving the correct temperature and temperature gradients.

Read more about environment

Feeding your pet

Many of these pets have specialised diets. Some, like iguanas, are simple, requiring everyday salad type meals lettuce etc, but many are much more difficult, and how sqeamish you or anyone in your family can make a difference.

Snakes require whole prey, from which they get all the nutrition they need, you therefore normally need to keep a small supply of frozen feed in your freezer. It is possible to get 'snake sausages' which replace the more usual dead mice, but not every snake will be happy with these, and if the snake doesn't want to eat something, it will wait until you supply a meal it does fancy.

Lizards will often take salad food, but may also require meal worms or crickets which are a little more difficult to obtain.

You should be aware that if your pet eats food not available in your local supermarket, then regular trips to the pet shop will be necessary, so make sure they keep a good supply, and that it isn't too far away. Give some thought to how you will be storing food until it's time for consumption, will the rest of your household mind having a pot of frozen rats in the freezer, are you comfortable with a tub of live crickets in the corner of your room, and can you guarantee that none of them are going to escape?

Read more about feeding

Looking after your petOthers facts to check before buying are;
  • How big is it going to get? Some animals that look small and cute now, could grow large enough to take over your house.
  • How strong is it going to get, constricting snakes whose bodies are predominantly muscle become very heavy and extremely strong at surprisingly small sizes.
  • How long is it going to live?
  • How big a tank does it need now, and how big will it need to be in a few years?
  • What needs to be in the tank?
  • Should it be kept alone / in pairs / in same sex groups etc?
Handling your petSome pets should be handled as little as possible, they may not response well to it or they may become distressed and suffer because of it, and some should be handled often they will respond well to it and will come to recognise you over time. Either way you should be aware of the correct way to do it to avoid hurting you pet. Your pet shop will give you advice specific to your pet, but in general you should support it along most of the length of it's body and remember that some lizards can lose their tails if picked up by them.

In essence, find out about your pet before it's too late, make sure you can look after it and give the life it deserves, and avoid any unwanted surprises in the future.

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Getting more out of....keeping exotic pets

With exotic pets there is a lot you can do to improve their environment. Although a tarantula will not appear very conscious of its immediate surroundings you can show it off to better effect if you invest in a larger terrarium.

Iguanas, for example, appreciate running water and will respond well to a large tank with an artificial stream running through the bottom.

Skinks will be perfectly happy in a small terrarium at the right temperature with a constant supply of food. However you can build in interesting plants and 'natural' features to mimic their environment.

See more lizards

Read more about the natural lifestyle of your pet and think what you can do to recreate it. Chat with other exotic pet owners on our discussion board about what works best. Above all, have fun and don't lose your sense of wonder at the beautiful and unusual creatures you look after.

Wonder more at these pictures of spiders and amphibians

JoJaffa would like to thank Living Jungle for supplying the exotic pets pictured here.

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Kit and caboodle

Need a good book, video or more advice? JoJaffa has picked out the best for you. For each book/ video just click on the amazon link find out the price and get more information.

If you can suggest any good books about keeping exotic pets, let us know.

Recommended Reading

Book : The Snakebite Survivors' Club
by Jeremy Seal
Seal's fascination of serpents drives him to travel the world and face his fears in the guise of the people who have been bitten and lived to tell the tale. Well written and deeply absorbing.

Amazon UKin association with...Amazon US

Book : Corn and Red Rat Snakes
by Jerry G. Walls
One in a series of reptile books, this book contains plenty of great pictures and lots of information presented in an easily digestable style.

Amazon UKin association with...

Book : Exotic Pet Handbook
by David Manning
All the information a prospective and current exotic pet keeper requires. Feeding, housing, habitat, warnings, facts and all round information.

Amazon UKin association with...

Book : The Care of Reptiles and Amphibians in Captivity
by Chris Mattison
How to look after your pet lizard, snake, frog or toad.

Amazon UKin association with...Amazon US

Book : A Practical Guide for Feeding Captive Reptiles
by Fredric L. Frye
Very useful information on reptile diet and the needs of individual species, both scientific and common names are referenced.

Amazon UKin association with...Amazon US

Book : Frogs and Toads as a New Pet
by John Coborn
As the title suggests!

Amazon UKin association with...Amazon US

Book : Keeping and Breeding Lizards
by Chris Mattison
Loads of pictures, and even more information. Discover the variety of lizards out there and find out how to look after them at home.

Amazon UKin association with...

Book : Terrarium and Cage Construction and Care
by R. D. Bartlett
By a well published author, this book covers how the interior of your terrarium should be furnished best for your pet. Worthwhile for all exotic pet owners.

Amazon UKin association with...Amazon US

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Spoil yourself

There are many ways to spoil yourself as a lover of unusual animals, by going on safari or somewhere else exotic to see the animals they love in their natural habitats, or by particpating in the welfare and conservation of animals.$PIC5

Check out these pictures from the AZA to see what you might be missing. There are many tour operators who offer these kind of holidays. Perhaps if enough of you are interested then JoJaffa could negotiate a group discount for you. Let us know if this might interest you.

It can be very satisfying knowing that you personally are helping exotic creatures of all kinds;
why not join the World Wildlife Fund and do your bit.
Alternatively you might like to be involved a little more directly, why not sponsor an animal in your local zoo or wildlife park. Here are some institutions in the UK that will help you -

In the US, check out The American Zoo and Aquarium Association for a list of recommended zoo and animal parks.

For fun check out the pictures on Steve's great Corn Snake site at Snake Pictures

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Open Outcry

Got a question? Get an answer!

Post a message to the exotic_pets discussion board.

You might just

  • have a general question about keeping exotic pets?
  • want to make a comment
  • want to share tips and advice with fellow JoJaffa-ers?

... Then why not use our keeping exotic pets chat board

Maybe someone has already asked that burning question you're longing to find the answer to ...

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If you are interested in keeping exotic pets, you'll probably also enjoy some or all of the following

Why not visit some exotic creatures in their natural surroundings, try JoJaffa's Trekking page.

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