I recently came across an article written back in 2002 by Dr. Stephen Barten of Vernon Hills AnimalHospital in Mundelein, IL discussing 10 commonly believed myths concerning captive reptiles that appeared in the proceedings of the North American Veterinary Conference. I’d like to share these with you.
Myth: snakes unhinge or dislocate their jaws to swallow large prey.
Fact: Snakes enjoy a high degree of head movement that allows an extraordinary gape, but no unhinging or dislocation of joints takes place.
Myth: Reptiles need to shed their skin to allow growth.
Fact: Crustaceans and insects must shed their armor-like inflexible exoskeleton to allow for growth. Reptiles, however, have skin that is elastic and flexible, and measurable growth occurs between shed cycles.
Myth: Reptiles only eat what is good for them; they instinctively see nutritious foods.
Fact: Reptiles eat what tastes good, and taste has no relationship to nutritional value.
Myth: Pet snakes require live food.
Fact: Snakes in captivity not only accept, but actually prefer dead prey.
Myth: You can stunt the growth of a large species of reptile by withholding its food or keeping it in a small container
Fact: Stunted growth caused by intentional starvation is a symptom of malnutrition and is a cruel and inhumane practice. Reptile growth is unaffected by cage size.
Myth: If a reptile becomes lethargic, and goes off feed, it might be trying to hibernate.
Fact: Hibernation is a specific physiological response to shorter days and lower temperatures in reptiles from temperate climates. It is not something a reptile can do because it “decides” to do so.
Myth: Pet reptiles get lonely and need a friend or cagemate.
Fact: This is an example of anthropomorphism. Reptiles are for the most part solitary and antisocial.
Myth: Reptile illnesses are usually some kind of “rot”. Among the best known are mouth rot, belly rot, and tail rot.
Fact: The use of the term “rot” is unprofessional and often represents an attempt to simplify a complex situation. More precise terms are preferred.
Myth: If someone keeps a reptile under certain conditions and it lives, all members of that species should be kept under identical conditions. This is a myth that is prevalent on the internet particularly posted on breeder/dealer websites.
Fact: Some captive reptiles enjoy accidental survival; data from small experimental sample sizes is statistically insignificant. Detailed studies including wild, biological information are usually needed to determine the optimal habitat and temperatures.
Myth: Commercial products manufactured for reptiles are always the best choice.
Fact: No government agency monitors safety or efficacy in products sold for pet reptiles. Most commercial reptile products are manufactured for marketing purposes with little consideration for their effect on pet reptiles.