January 18, 2005 > Reptilian Rhapsody
by Mekala Raman
Lizards, snakes, spiders, cockroaches... the first thing that comes to mind is probably critters scuttling across a barren desert landscape, deciding what their next prey should be, but can you imagine these as loveable household pets? In fact, it is very possible that one of your neighbors proudly displays one of these pets in their home.
I met with one such family to learn about their rather unconventional pets. The Ellebrachts have a variety of lizards, snakes, geckos, fish, cats and rabbits. Ed Ellebracht has had a long term interest in pets, having had reptiles and fish when he was growing up in St. Louis, Missouri. "He got the boys interested in getting snakes and the smaller lizards which are easier for kids to care for. We lived by the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park for a number of years, so the kids learned about all kinds of animals from toddler ages," said his wife April.
The Ellebrachts own lizards that come from various parts around the world. Bob, an Uromastix Ornata, is an aqua-blue lizard who really enjoys his sleep and warm environment. He comes from the North African desert and must be kept in a specially designed case that uses an ultraviolet bulb to produce temperatures of 110¡F. As if to reinforce this, he becomes brighter when he is under light. The Uromastix can live for about 20 years and is a strict vegetarian. It eats nasturtium, mustard greens, and dandelion flowers to name a few.
"This is a very difficult pet to keep and most wouldn't consider it a good pet," said Ellebracht. It needs good ventilation, the correct temperature, and a constant supply of fresh food. Many, however, are fascinated by its rarity as a household pet and its beautiful complexion.
The Ellebrachts also have an Alligator Lizard named Slim. Slim's face resembles an alligator's snout and has a similar long, thin body, hence the name Alligator Lizard. The vegetarian lizards have to be fed everyday and the insectivores have to be fed every couple of days. They do not need any water because they get their water from their food. Their habitats are cleaned quickly everyday, but get a thorough cleaning every two to three months.
In addition to these lizards, the Ellebrachts own leopard geckos, or Eublepharis macularius. "We named him Bandit because when they're little they have a dark mask-like mark across their eyes so they look like little bandits," said Mrs. Ellebracht. One thing that is really remarkable about these animals is that one can see straight through their heads; it is possible to see light through the ear openings.
They also keep two pet snakes. Pappy is a Chihuahua Mountain Kingsnake; its scientific name is Lampropeltis pyromelana knoblochi and is found in Northern Mexico. "She's Mexican so we decided to give her a Mexican name," said Ellebracht Pappy has beautiful, vibrant red and black scales on her body with wider, paler scales underneath to help her slither.
The Ellebrachts also own an Elaphe guttata, generally known as the corn snake. "We named her Maizy because she is a corn snake," said Mrs. Ellebracht. Maize is the Spanish word for corn. The snakes are fed every one to two weeks and given water every day. Their habitats are cleaned about every two weeks. Both types of snakes can be bought at local pet stores. The corn snakes are especially low maintenance. "You just need to supply it with fresh water and the right temperature," said Ellebracht. To provide that correct temperature, one can simply purchase a heat mat.
In addition to reptiles there are many other unusual animals that can be kept as pets. Hermit crabs for example are very unusual yet interesting and easily manageable pets. Hermit crabs aren't really crabs at all. They have a smaller and softer abdomen which they protect by living in a shell. As they grow they need to be supplied with larger and larger shells. Some of the main types of hermit crab are the Caribbean Crab or land hermit crab (Coenobita clypeatus), the Ecuadorian Crab (Coenobita compressus), the Australian land hermit crab (Coenobita variabilis), and the strawberry land hermit crab (Coenobita perlatus). If you already own a hermit crab and are trying to get another one, it is important to try to match the sizes or else the two animals may fight. It is important that humidity is kept between 70 and 80 percent.
Choosing to have an exotic pet is a serious consideration. It is imperative to learn as much as possible about the prospective pet before actually purchasing it. One of the most important thing to check is whether or not the pet is legal. In Union City, for example, 8.20.010 of the Union City Municipal Code states that "No person may own or keep any exotic animal, e.g. venomous snakes, alligators, hawks, tigers, etc., without a permit issued by the city of Union City." It is also important to consider whether you want a highly interactive pet, or one that can pretty much take care of itself, but is still fun to watch.
"All of our pets are easier to maintain than a dog. No daily walks and playtimes. Most are not too cuddly, but they are still fun and interesting to watch and enjoy," said Mrs. Ellebracht. It is also important to consider the feeding requirements as some pets require a constant supply of fresh vegetables, not just animal feed that can be bought in the store, so the owner needs to be prepared to provide and chop the fresh produce for the animal to eat. If there are children in the household, it is important to find out if the pet responds well to young people. If you already own pets, the two pets would have to be compatible with each other or else their territorial instincts or their antagonizing attitudes may possibly wreak havoc. Some pets can also be aggressive in nature or poisonous, which puts the owner in great danger. They could also contain diseases (like Salmonella) that can prove fatal to humans, especially those with weaker immune systems (i.e. children and seniors). Before actually obtaining the pet, you should find a veterinarian who knows how to care for exotic pets. It is unwise to wait until an emergency to look for a veterinarian. Also, you should find a pet sitter who is willing to take care of the unusual creatures when you are going on vacation. "When we go on a big vacation, we hire a professional pet sitter who isn't afraid or nervous around weirder pets. If it's just for a few days, the neighborhood kids can do it," said Mrs. Ellebracht. It is also imperative to include the pet in your disaster escape/safety plans; they are a part of the family, too.
Once you are certain you would like an exotic pet, you can look to local pet stores, rescues or shelters or breeders to find them.
Examples of the most popular, exotic pets that are not very dangerous and should be safe for children:
Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches
Local pet stores where you can find pets and supplies:
Family Pets - 40645 Fremont Blvd #20, Fremont (near Clover Leaf Bowl) (510) 979-1468
Bogie's Discount Pet Food & Supply - 37030 Post St. at Thornton Ave., Fremont (in front of Dale Hardware) (510) 795-6000
Primitive Pets - 166 S, Main St Milpitas, Ca 95035 (408) 956-2617
PETCO - 3780 Mowry Ave. Fremont (510) 742-0573
PETsMART - 5737 Mowry Ave, Newark (510) 494-0140