Herpetology.  Taken from the Ancient Greek………

It seems that two Greek linguists were having lunch down at Athen’s Pizza and Grinder Shoppe when a snake slithered by.  The first linguist said; “You know, we’re far behind on naming that creature and its low-life, creepy friends.”  At that moment his partner, just finishing her second spicy gyros, belches; “Herrrrrrrp!”  “Eureka, you’ve done it!” exclaims the first linguist.  They then shortened Herrrrrrrp to Herp, and cleaned it up for presentation to their fellow Greeks as “Herpeton”, their word for lowly and creeping creatures.

Today we’ve reverted back to using “herp” to mean a reptile or amphibian; “herpetology” to mean the study of these creatures.  “Herpetoculture” is for breeding and keeping them; and “herpers” is the name for those people who are interested in the lowly and creepy.

In this Kick-off article for a series that will discuss the reptile side of “herps”; snakes, gecko’s, iguana’s, turtles, and other types of “herps” used as pets.  The articles will talk about the world of reptiles to give a clearer understanding of these creatures, and to introduce selected species as possible pets.  It will attempt to stay out of the “technical mud”, yet present a useful base of knowledge in an enjoyable format.  Book references and/or website links will be provided so that you can delve deeper.

While the entire Class Reptilia has had to live with a predetermined lousy reputation (except for maybe the turtle), this poor image is, for the most part, undeserved.  It is really just a human prejudice against “creepy” things; bugs, especially spiders, elicit the same prejudices.  And, while that human reaction will probably not change, we should start to take a more “open” look.

These guys have been creepy for about 300 million years; yet, the best guess is that birds and mammals have them as ancestors — that’s really creepy!  While the birds and mammals developed in one direction, the reptiles continued down their own path and now show themselves as alligators, crocodiles, snakes, lizards, and the loveable, yet sometimes boring, turtle.

Just because they appear creepy and low-life, don’t think they have no backbone!  They do!  In fact most of their internal workings are comparable to birds and mammals.  However, and here’s one of the items that makes them creepy, they’re “cold-blooded“.  Yeeks!  Well, that really isn’t as bad as it sounds.  They simply have to keep moving to different temperatures to adjust their warming or cooling needs.  If they are unfortunate enough to live in a location that has winter, and they can’t fly south, they hibernate (maybe that’s why some of them decided to become birds).

They all have scales and, from the smallest 2” snake to the longest 40′ anaconda or crocodile, they all shed these scales.  Yes, even the turtle (probably one of its more fascinating traits–if you’ve got several years to watch).

Most non-snake reptiles get from one place to another by using their four legs — snakes slither (adding to their particular “creepiness”).  Aquidick reptiles usually have flippers or webbed feet.  Snakes don’t have ears, so they sense vibrations.  Snakes and lizards also &flick” out their tongues (another creepy habit) to sense chemicals in the air.  Some use heat sensors with which to detect (beam me up Scottie!).

All have adapted to meet the challenges of their individual environments and, if kept as pets, need to be maintained in that same environment.  So, what reptiles make good pets?  The articles in the “Herps” series will discuss two of the three classes of Reptilia:

  • Lepidosauria – Lizards and snakes
  • Anapsida – Turtles
  • Archosauria – Crocodiles and alligators

The next articles in this series will focus on snakes as pets, as well as separate articles devoted to particular species of snakes that can be kept as pets.  We’ll then move to lizards; then turtles.  We won’t cover crocodiles or alligators, as they should not be considered as “pet” material by the average person.

As with all pets, the prospective owner of reptiles must have valid and realistic expectations of their reptile of choice.  Fully understand their eating habits, habitat requirements, and ultimate size.  Don’t expect a baby Boa to stay happy in a 20 gallon aquarium tank, or that you can feed canned dog food to a reptile craving live mice.  They bring a whole new definition to “snuggle”.



Written by Ron Lueth, Pet Guardian Angels of America