Summary: Introducing the love of your life to your reptile passion is not always an easy process. Not everyone warms up to the idea of living with reptiles in the house quickly! But there are ways that you can ease a partner, who is new to this, into the idea. And maybe they can even find the same passion you have! But it may take some patience and understanding on your part to make this fly. In this episode we talk about the ten steps to introducing your partner to the world of keeping reptiles.
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Ah, love. With Valentine’s Day around the corner our thoughts turn to crazy ultra-expensive ways that we can woo that wonderful person in our life. Well, I say have at it and enjoy. Now, there will be some of you out there who are, right now, trying to find a way to introduce your partner to the world of reptiles. And by “introduce” I mean get them to accept reptiles into their living space so you can be curator of your own Jurassic Park. Adding a pet to the family is a big thing. Adding a reptile or amphibian can be a bigger thing because of traditional fears. But now you have fallen in love with these incredibly fascinating beasts and want to include them in your life. There is just one hurdle here –that wonderful Valentine of yours! Finding a partner that embraces or even just tolerates living with modern day dragons in their home isn’t as straight forward as we would like. If you are single then it is easy to ensure that whomever you commit to will be part of your reptile interest. But if you have found your partner before you started your interest in keeping a mini-dinosaur you may have to incorporate some strategy to reconcile the two! Although this is a chameleon podcast, today I am going to talk about reptiles and amphibians in general.
Now, when two reptile hobbyists find each other, watch out! The mutual passion can create a wonderful relationship and turn the living room into a slice of Madagascar. You’ll find the Amazon in the spare bedroom and New Caledonia in the dining room! They can’t go on vacation because of all their care responsibilities, but they kind of consider coming home their vacation so where else would they want to go anyways? They have moved their celebration of Christmas to coincide with the annual reptile show and a cup of green cockroaches is considered a cool birthday present.
But, our hearts do not always find someone with the same love for reptiles, amphibians, and the invertebrates that find their way in there. This can be somewhat negotiated before a committed relationship is entered into so each party has time to adjust or decide to find a more suitable match. But what happens when you discover an interest or passion for reptiles after you are in a committed relationship? You are one of the lucky ones if your partner shares your new found interest. For many new reptile enthusiasts an established relationship is a minefield for your exploration of this fascinating world. Your loving partner is suddenly wondering what happened to the you they used to know as you are slowly (or not so slowly) consumed with a new obsession. Your sudden interest in Bavarian cuckoo clocks was an amusing phase, but thisnew world of yours has living, slithering dinosaur-like things that bite and most of them eat other living things that are even more icky and skitterish.
How you approach this new found interest of yours can make all the difference in the world for how your partner will accept your reptilian friends. So, in honor of Valentine’s Day I am going to go over 10 steps to easing your partner into living in harmony with reptiles and amphibians.
And just a note, you may catch me referring to the non-reptile partner as “she”. This is because my partner prospects have been female. There are just as many males being exposed to reptiles through their partners so when I say “she” just know that that is my reality and that your situation may have a “he” on the other end! The steps are the same either way.
I’ll start this off with a story taken from the pages of my own life. My first real introduction to the fear of reptiles being a real thing was in college. I had adopted a leopard gecko which I named Flavia. Flavia was a mild mannered gecko and a wonderful pet. I also had a huge crush on this girl and was understandably excited when she was going to come over to the apartment before going out to see a show. My supportive roommates and I spent the day cleaning the apartment for this great event in my life. I had told her about meeting Flavia and there was no indication this would be more than just a “oh how cool!” type moment. When she got to the apartment I showed her around and told her I’d get Flavia while she talked to my roommates. I picked the cute little guy up, returned, and patiently held him in my hand waiting for a break in the discussion. Well, that break in discussion happened when she happened to look down in my hand and, in mid-sentence, screeched and literally plastered herself against the far wall wide-eyed and face pale. There was a shocked moment of silence as my roommates and I wondered what horrible thing was behind us.
Ummm, Flavia? It’s a leopard gecko. How can anyone be scared of a leopard gecko….named Flavia?!? Yes, I had a lot to learn.
So let’s get on with it. The ten steps to easing reptiles into a relationship with a reptile-unsure partner.
1) Understand your partner’s background and feelings.
Some people have had a bad experience in their past that gets in the way of rational thought. Even if there is no specific event, how many of us grew up in an environment where snakes generated panic? I remember walking along my cul-de-sac with my 2 foot long red-tailed boa and a neighbor lady screeched from the top of her driveway to keep that snake away from her. There is a general fear of snakes. If you are not going to take the time to learn all about which snakes are dangerous and which ones aren’t then it is safest to just be scared of all of them. And when venom is involved, studying head shape or running rhymes through your head may not give you the right answer. It is easiest to broad brush and be done with it. While lizards and amphibians don’t generally have a deadly venom to deal with they are just snakes with legs, right? At the very least, they are fierce looking and have teeth. The point of all this is to respect that your partner may have spent their life around people who shunned reptiles. Respecting your partner’s background means not belittling them for their fears, cautions, or just plain non-interest. It means not forcing an interaction with a reptile before they are willing. Sticking a reptile in the face of someone scared of reptiles or chasing them around the room is not acceptable. This immature action not only damages your partner’s trust in you, but is abusing the reptile who, by the way, often has an innate fear of humans and is adjusting to life with humans just as much as your partner is to reptiles.
Now, you may be justifying that a boa is not venomous and a lizard isn’t even a snake so why should they care. That comes down to motivation to be educated. If this is an interest of yours, you are motivated to learn the difference in danger levels between the various members of Class Reptilia. You have reduced your Danger ID chart to just the venomous members. The key is that you were motivated to do so. Your partner has a Danger ID chart in their head of anything remotely close to a snake or biting animal. It will take a bit of effort for them to take creatures off that list. How do you do that? You need to provide that motivation. You can’t just remove something from someone’s life. You have to replace it with something first. Although you may be lucky to get just tolerance from your partner, let’s go for the gusto and see if we can get them as excited as you are. Give them the same excitement you have. To do this we go to the second step to Successfully introducing your reptile keeping interest to your partner …
2) Replace Fear with Wonder
You cannot tell someone to feel something or not feel something. This is a general life truth. It is your job to show your partner the beauty of reptiles. It is an incredible world. Replace their fear, or indifference, with wonder. When people think of reptiles a common first thought is of a huge constrictor, a venomous snake, an alligator, or any other large, perhaps dangerous herp. But those walls have a good chance of melting down when your partner comes face to face with dart frogs hopping through a naturalistic vivarium. Even if they are scared, it takes effort not to be enthralled when seeing an adult male panther chameleon flashing that rainbow of colors. And who can resist letting out an “awww” when seeing a baby tortoise bite into a strawberry? They’ll giggle despite themselves seeing a huge leichianus gecko sprawled out on its owners forearm while drinking fruit mix from a squirt bottle.
The best way to do this is to expose your partner to the reptile world before you bring a reptile home. Let them warm up to the idea. If you are not incessantly begging, you are giving them a chance to develop their own comfort level. This is where a reptile show is perfect. At a show you both will be able to see not only reptiles, but how humans interact with the reptiles. Seeing the reptile in another non-panicking person’s hands goes a long way to replacing the belief that reptiles are to be avoided. It is kind of hard to maintain a fear when you see a little five year old girl walking around a show with a dog tame tegu half her size draped over her shoulder. Just remember, find ways of replacing fear or indifference with wonder.
To replace fear with wonder, introduce your partner to this world slowly, outside of their living space, and preferably, with herps that can show them a different side of reptiles than they have been raised with.
3) Don’t talk about reptiles all the time.
This is true just as much before you get your first reptile as after you get your tenth.
You have entered into a new and exciting world. Whenever we do that we have the possibility of getting obsessed to where we continually think about new ways to set up the cage, new reptiles that we can collect, and the wonderful things we will do with a breeding colony of chameleons on a free range in what used to be the spare bedroom. It is all so exciting isn’t it? It is exciting to the point where we talk about it all the time when we are not actually working on the set-ups or the maintenance or online sharing on the forums about it.
If your partner does not enjoy talking about reptiles, then any time spent talking about reptiles is selfish time for you. In your partner’s eyes, you could better spend that time expounding on how gorgeous they are. But seriously, there is now something new in your life which is competing with them for your attention. And it is winning. This is just natural when we get excited about a new interest and we reptile people tend to jump in with both feet. And yes, it goes both ways. Just remember the last time they got interested in something. But we are dealing with you now. Your new softball team or boats or new dietary regimen are things which your spouse has at least a conceptual cultural familiarity with. Keeping scaley things, intentionally breeding cockroaches, and using cute, fuzzy things as food are very, very new concepts for many people and it is easy to go too fast with this. You talking incessantly about this bizarre lifestyle has not only replaced them as the attention point in your life, but has replaced it with a topic just slightly more palatable than moving the family to Greenland. Not that there is anything wrong with Greenland. But I hear WiFi is iffy there and life without WiFi may be the only thing worse than finding out that their spouse now keeps frozen rodents next to the ice cream.
We all like the new shiny thing. And you can probably have this new shiny reptile-interest thing. Just go slow. Make sure you spend quality time with your partner that does not include mentioning reptiles unless they start it! And if they do start it make sure they are the ones continuing the conversation if you keep talking about reptiles. In this you are letting them know they still have the main place in your heart and mind. And, once again, you can apply this to anything. The work you talk about, the politics you talk about, and anything else. Make sure you are listening to them and what they want to talk about. It will go a long ways towards happiness in your relationship whether reptiles are involved or not.
4) Pick a good intro animal
Presumably, you are discussing this with your partner before going out and getting said animal. If you have surprised your partner by bringing a reptile home then you have taken the accelerated class schedule. (You like a challenge, don’t you) But let’s assume you are communicating before hand at this point. If you have a number of possible reptiles you’d like to start with then there are number of selection items you can consider that will make the whole reptile-at-home experience much smoother.
The first is, What does it eat? Most reptiles either eat insects, rodents, or vegetable matter. Which is most acceptable to your partner? My wife is just fine with anything that eats insects, but, having worked a rat race booth where there rats were highly affectionate and intelligent, has a real problem with rodents being used for food.
Insects may be more palatable to your partner, but this could mean chirping noise at night. You will need a variety of feeders to provide good nutrition so you will be tempted by cockroaches. And arboreals always love flies. If there are difficulties with these main food items there are alternative reptiles that may be a good start for you. Tortoises eat vegetable matter and dart frogs eat flightless fruit flies. The Day geckos and New Caledonia geckos (crested, gargoyle, chewies, and leachies) will have a diet that can include yogurt or a powdered mix – so less on the insect side than a bearded dragon.
The second is, Does it stink? Try to avoid individuals whose husbandry conditions will be prone to stinking. A pretty accurate rule is that if the reptile eats birds, mammals, or reptiles it’s poop will stink. Insect eaters have much less odor.
The third is visual appeal. A pet that is visually attractive is much more likely to be the source of showing off. A Bumble Bee dart frog (dendrobates leucamelas) jumping around a mossy bank flashing its yellow and black bands can actually be a source of peace.
The fourth is personality. There are some reptiles that are just not fun to interact with. They can be fascinating, but if they have sour dispositions, you are going to have an uphill battle with your partner. You’ll have an easier road if you save the nile monitor or anaconda for later. A sweet leopard gecko or mild-mannered bearded dragon would be a great first experience. If your mind is set on a certain species that is known for having a miserable personality then that is the one you should look at, but if you are selecting from a wide range of choices that interest you consider one with a good personality.
I’ll give you a non-exhaustive list of good first reptiles.
Dart Frogs. These little guys are the epitome of cute. You’ll have bright colors jumping around a naturalistic setting with periodic jungle noises if you get the ones with the louder calls. They eat flightless fruitflies so escapees are not that big of a deal on the annoyance scale. I remember a phyllobates terriblis (or Golden poison dart frog) we had which would call during different times of the day. Whenever the family would hear him across the house we would all stop to listen. That was a wonderful family experience!
Tortoises. Tortoises have their own appeal. They are considered cute and move slow. They eat vegetable matter so, of all these choices, their food is the least likely to escape.
Chameleons. They have bright colors and awesome ornamentation whether horns or awesome casques. Most intriguing about the chameleons is their ability to change color. They do not change color for camouflage, but instead it is based on temperature and mood. This means you have a reptile that can communicate its feelings. It literally wears its heart on its sleeve! This appeals to us humans that need these communication cues and we build relationships with things we can communicate with. Unfortunately, they are a challenge for the first time keeper because of their arboreal lifestyle, need to drink water rained down on them, and daily husbandry requirements. There are many good resources on their care and kits available to make set-up easy. Chameleons are definitely an investment of money and time. I include them on this list only because of all the reptiles, chameleons are the most communicative of their emotions in a way that we humans can understand. So they rank high in being a gateway to the reptile world.
Bearded Dragons, Leopard Geckos, Crested Geckos, Ball Pythons…these all have tame personalities and qualify as good first reptiles. Choose one depending on what you have determined your partner will be most open to. Rate your choices by what they eat, do they stink, personality, and visual appeal. It doesn’t hurt to stack the odds in your favor.
5) Be realistic with budget and stick with it
If you have a shared financial account with your partner then the one thing that will sink their acceptance of this new interest of yours is to see their account dwindle unexpectedly. Honestly, this applies to everything in life when you live with someone else! But especially something where you are trying to get them to focus on the excitement and wonder that you already have. Don’t add the complication of “wait, we can’t pay the electricity bill why?” to the mix. Just make sure you can afford to get the equipment necessary to start off the right way for your animal of choice.
6) Make the cage a thing of beauty
Utilitarian may be the minimum necessary for the animal and may have saved the budget, but it does not give any points as far as appeal. Can you set up a naturalistic vivarium that is just as much a joy to look at as is the animal? The dartfrog community leads in how to pull this off effectively. You could look at one of their cages and feel immediate peace, serenity, and wonder. And that is all before you notice the frogs. Take a page out of their book and make a cage or vivarium that makes non-reptile people stop and appreciate. Your guide? Make this cage something that your partner would be proud to show their friends. Your enjoyment aside, if your partner is showing off your reptile and their friends are impressed, you have achieved your goal. It is amazing how achieving this level of presentation will give you breathing room in almost all other areas that you may not have earned full points! In fact, presentation is so important for your new herp to be accepted into the household that it is worth allocating budget specifically for presentation. This really is not the area to be saving money because the satisfaction from a professional and visually pleasing cage presentation will last years where the satisfaction of having saved $20 or even $100 will fade quickly.
7) Start slow with NO surprises
If you get the go ahead for a nice panther chameleon then don’t come home with a pair. If you have agreed upon using the space on the dresser, don’t take the nightstand too.
The guy at the show may be offering a deal you can’t refuse on a pair, but if you have only discussed a single animal with your partner then come home with a single animal!
When given an inch take an inch at most and a three quarters inch if possible! You are building a trust here. That trust will carry you far in the months and years ahead. Don’t treat it lightly! Consider that you may wish to add another reptile in the future. The way that discussion goes is highly dependent on how you treat this initial “agreement”.
If we have gotten to this point and you are bringing a reptile home then you are doing pretty good. Our steps now are focused on building the good feelings associated with your reptile. Bringing home your new friend is just the first step. Now it is time to show your partner that this will be a positive experience for you both! You have made a beautiful cage environment and the first impression was hopefully good.
So let’s keep it going with…
8) Keep the cage spotless
Never make your partner feel sorry for the creature in the cage!
This is the brother to making the cage beautiful. If the cage is not maintained to the highest standards of cleanliness or the animal is not in the top health there is no way to impress anyone. Your partner will be looking to the opinions of friends (regardless of what they know) and other experts as to how well your care stacks up. Make sure you are at the top of your game. This especially means two months after you have set everything up and things are not as “fun” any more! Keeping any sort of pet is a long term commitment and you need to maintain a top level for the entire time. Realize that a non-herp spouse will be challenged if their friends are not impressed with your set-up. It will just be your stupid hobby. A basic fact of human social interaction is that your spouse will be judged by your actions. If one of their non-herp friends comes over and is amazed by the little slice of nature you created and asks all kinds of questions then your spouse will be able to take pride in this hobby of yours. Think of impressing your spouse as only the first step. Your ultimate goal is to impress their friends. See how that works. You’ll be surprised how quickly your partner comes around when they unexpectedly find themselves bragging about your hobby to their friends instead of explaining it away.
9) Contain your feeders
If you have an animal that eats live food whether insects, rodents, or lizards, make sure those feeders stay where they are supposed to be. That means no escapees. Nothing ruins a day more than finding mice running around the house, cockroaches in the corners, flies buzzing the dinner table, or that male cricket singing the song of his people….. behind the clothes dresser…..at 2AM in the morning. Although you can just assume that there will always be an escapee every now and then, do your best to make sure this is few and very far between. Laxness in this area will raise stress levels sky high.
Anything that needs to be in the refrigerator or freezer like bloodworms or rodents. Have an agreed upon plainly marked container that is to be opened by you alone. Avoid any emotional scarring that comes from a person just barely accepting of this new hobby opening up the wrong bag.
Eventually, your spouse will run into members of the reptile community. Either directly at shows or indirectly through what you say about your experiences online. I would caution you to stick with sharing the positive things about the community. Surround yourself with positive elements and avoid the negative. Unfortunately, you can’t totally get away from conflict because human nature is to fight and whatever you post there is always someone who has to show how knowledgeable they are by annoyingly inserting themselves in to get attention…under the guise of “just being helpful”, of course. Now don’t write off anyone giving you help as causing trouble for self-glorification. You might be “that guy” that is doing things so wrong that it is painful to watch and the community cannot responsibly stay silent. But when you inevitably run into friction online, your fault or not, be careful how you paint the community to your partner who knows it only from what you say. Make friends of good people. You can start by getting to know the breeder of your chosen animal in person at a show and develop a friendship. Having show vendors know you by name (and not avoid you) is a good way for your spouse to feel like there is a safe, respectable group that they are joining vicariously through you.
And that is ten things to try. You know your situation best. In my case, I am incredibly lucky to be married to a lady that has been a real trooper. And I am bringing her on to meet you all. Welcome, Yvette Strand to the Chameleon Breeder Podcast!
And it is time we bring this episode to a close. I wish you the best as you introduce your partner to your love for reptiles! Respect for your partner’s background is the first step in a long, but doable list of things to keep in mind.
You can find this episode and its show notes online at the website Chameleon Academy. Here you will find appropriate links and a transcript. Just look for Episode 12: Reptiles & Your Relationships and you’ll get what you need.
This episode is sponsored by the Dragon Strand caging company. Check out the new Large Atrium Enclosure. At 44” tall and 45” wide it is the best commercially available enclosure for panther or veiled chameleons. It comes standard with eight dragon ledges and is available in both screen and clearside versions. Check this cage out at dragonstrand.com or just find the link in the episode show notes.
Thank you for joining me, and my special cameo appearance guest, Yvette, my wife and chameleon wrangling partner, for this special Valentine’s Day relationship episode! Go and get your roses and/or cards for your special someone. Of if your special someone is that reptile enthusiast well then you may still may be able to get that cup of green banana roaches overnighted just in time. So, until next episode – that’s a wrap.