Where Do You Buy Reptiles?

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Where Do You Buy Reptiles?

Stores, expos, online … they all have advantages when it comes to buying reptiles.

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Reptile expos are just one place to purchase reptiles.

At the risk of sounding like a geezer with my constant “I remember when” comments, I’m going to make another one: I remember when buying reptiles was so much more limited than it is today. Back in my day (another classic geezer line), you were lucky if you could find much more than common anoles and red-eared slider hatchlings in your local pet shop. Maybe this was just as well, because my earliest experiences at keeping even these two species could not be called spectacularly successful. I shudder to think what might have happened if, as a young boy without the reptile knowledge that is available today, I had acquired a green iguana or a sulcata hatchling. Truth be told, they probably would have died before they would have gotten a chance to outgrow the fish tank I probably would have put them in.

Today, the reptile-buying possibilities are perhaps not quite limitless (and depending on how efforts at curtailing exotic pet ownership fare in the future, they may become even more limited), but there are WAY more opportunities to obtain pet reptiles than there were when I was a kid.


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First up, there are still the pet stores. I’m not talking about reptile-specific stores; I’m talking about pet stores that stock all kinds of animals, including reptiles. Pet stores, including the big chains such as Petsmart and Petco, are often convenient because of their many locations. With reptiles’ gain in popularity, especially over the last 20 years or so, nearly every pet store now features a reptile department, and some of them are quite well stocked. Reptile supplies are also available at most pet stores, which makes it easier than ever to replace your UV bulbs or pick up a few dozen crickets and some frozen mice.

The biggest complaint I’ve heard regarding pet stores is the knowledge level of some pet store employees, and there have been accusations leveled against some, stating that they will tell a potential customer anything in order to make a sale. I would not go so far as to say these unfortunate scenarios have never happened, and that some ignorant employees have given out bad advice, whether they meant to or simply thought they knew something but didn’t. But I will say that I think many pet store employees are more enlightened and informed than in past years, and I have witnessed excellent customer service at many. While there may occasionally be bad apples — stores that don’t take care of their animals or employ irresponsible employees — we can only hope that most stores take their business seriously and truly care about the animals they sell, and the customers to whom they sell them. Simply put, if you come upon a store that keeps animals in deplorable conditions, don’t patronize that store. It’s as easy as that.

Stores that are only in business for a quick buck may not be around long, anyway. Let’s face it, going for a quick sale in the short term could end up canceling out a long-term customer commitment. Which do you think makes more sense: a) to sell an improper reptile to a customer who then takes it home, only to watch it die or outgrow the customer’s ability to care for it, thereby turning that customer off to reptiles, or b) to send a customer home with good advice and a manageable reptile so he or she can have a beneficial experience, quite likely returning to the store for supplies, and perhaps even additional reptiles? It seems like a no-brainer to me that the latter scenario is the way to go, and I think the vast majority of pet store owners subscribe to this theory.

I’ve written about reptile-only stores before, and I will say again how lucky today’s reptile hobbyists are that they exist. Even though “regular” pet stores stock larger varieties of reptiles than they used to in the past, reptile stores are usually tops when it comes to offering the largest variety of species. People who work in reptile stores often know quite a bit about reptiles, too, so you’ve got a good chance of getting worthwhile advice. Of course, the aforementioned bad apples may surface in reptile-only stores, too, but I do believe people open reptile stores because they love reptiles and want to do their best by them. This includes ensuring they wind up in homes with owners who know how to keep the reptiles alive.

Of course, there are nowhere near as many reptile stores as there are regular pet stores. There is a fair amount, though — enough that, a few years back, I began publishing the “Reptile Retailer Spotlight” column in REPTILES magazine. I’ve really enjoyed this column, and I think it’s been very useful, too, in helping to promote many reptile stores across the country. I hope we sent some business their way. All of the stores we’ve profiled are independents. There are no big chain reptile-only stores, so why doesn’t someone reading this set out to right this wrong? Do it!

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Speaking of fairly recent advances in the world of reptile retailing, we now come to online retailers. These are a great thing, in that many of the top reptile breeders in the world (maybe even all of them?), have their own websites through which they sell directly to hobbyists. These are great places to find not just more common species, but also hard-to-get mutations and other top-end reptiles that you may not find in a local store. I don’t have to tell you that it’s unlikely you’ll find a multi-thousand-dollar ball python morph at your local Petco, but there are several ball python breeders who would be happy to sell you one through their websites.

Variety and the convenience of having reptiles shipped to your home are both good reasons to shop online. Of course, you cannot personally inspect the animal you’re purchasing beforehand. There’s no getting around this, and you will have to find online retailers who you trust to accurately represent the animals they’re selling. You can get an idea for who is reputable by patrolling various online forums, and conducting research at reptile expos and elsewhere. Word can travel fast when people like a breeder, just as it does when someone does not.

The fourth most-common venue where people buy reptiles is the reptile expo. There are many from which to choose, including these. A reptile expo combines the best of all reptile-buying worlds. You’ve got experts in attendance, including many of the country’s top reptile breeders that you might patronize online. They’re there in person, with animals that you can visually inspect prior to buying them. And along with this you’ve got the instant gratification that comes with buying a reptile at a local pet store. Of course, one possible drawback with an expo is people might be encouraged to impulse buy. It can be very exciting seeing all the different animals at a reptile expo, and visitors may get carried away and buy animals that they may not be prepared to keep over the long term. Responsible hobbyists, though, should be able to keep their wits about them and make informed purchases. Many people show up at an expo knowing exactly what they’re after, and they may even have the enclosures for their new purchases all set up and ready to receive their new occupants before they buy them (always an advisable practice, no matter where you plan to buy your reptiles).

I suspect many people’s reptile-buying history follows this sequence:

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1. Budding hobbyists are often first exposed to reptiles in a pet store, often a chain store, and early purchases of beginner-type animals (bearded dragons, leopard geckos, corn snakes, etc.) may be made there.

2. If these early reptilekeeping efforts are rewarding, and if one is nearby, hobbyists will likely begin patronizing a reptile-only store. Here they may be willing to spend larger amounts of money on an increasing variety of species, including reptiles that are typically unavailable at standard pet stores.

3. The increasingly rabid hobbyist now wants nothing more than to attend a reptile expo, checking listings online and in REPTILES magazine, feverishly hoping that one will come to his or her town. At about this same time, investigations into reputable online breeders may begin taking place, either to order from directly or to help decide which tables at which expos would be worth visiting.

Does this sound familiar, or at least logical? Is this the path you took? Where do you prefer to buy your reptiles, and why? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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