There’s a reason why I don’t include breeding instructions in my care packets. Every year, countless numbers of unwanted reptiles appear in classified ads. More sit in pet stores, enduring (often) inadequate care in crowded conditions. Many of these animals are the result of accidental, amateur, or plain irresponsible reptile breeding.
It is tempting to think that maybe your pet lizard, snake, turtle, or tortoise is lonely. You may think that your hormonal male needs a “girlfriend” to take the edge off. As a human with a strong need for companionship, these thoughts make sense to you. But they do not apply to reptiles.
- Reptiles don’t get lonely.
- Reptiles don’t do recreational sex.
- Your pet is a strong, independent reptile who don’t need no mate!
What’s the harm in reptile breeding?
Reptile breeding with little education and inadequate resources ends up doing more harm to the reptile community than it could do good for relieving one snake or lizard’s sex drive. Irresponsible reptile breeding worsens existing genetic disorders and market oversaturation.
Uric acid is a metabolic waste product removed from the blood by the kidneys. In healthy reptiles, that acid is excreted in the form of white, harmless urate. In reptiles with gout, the uric acid instead accumulates in the joints, resulting in severe, unrelenting pain. The only humane treatment for gout is euthanasia.
Gout used to be a disease of old age. But due to irresponsible breeders who breed for appearance rather than health, animals with weak kidneys and a genetic predisposition for gout are flooding the market. Lizards as young as a few months are now being euthanized for gout.
Atadenovirus a contagious disease that can cause severe illness and death in bearded dragons. Although it’s not genetic, some bearded dragons can carry the virus without showing symptoms, infecting any dragons they come in contact with. The only sure way to know whether a beardie has atadenovirus is with a DNA analysis of a cloacal swab.
If bearded dragon breeders are not careful to test each dragon they add to their stock, the entire facility can be contaminated, and all juveniles they sell will carry the disease through pet stores and hobbyist collections.
Enigma Syndrome is a genetic neurological disorder that occurs via gene mutation in leopard geckos. When a gecko with the bad gene is bred to a normal gecko, the resulting offspring are mentally handicapped. It is most commonly associated with the Enigma morph.
Enigma Syndrome kills the offspring if two affected geckos are bred. Living offspring with the syndrome suffer from disorientation, lack of coordination, inability to catch prey, seizures, circling, and death rolls. Enigma Syndrome is becoming more common due to selfish breeders who value a gecko’s appearance over its health.
Certain morphs of ball python are affected by a bad gene known as “The Wobble,” with varying degrees of severity. Affected individuals suffer from disorientation, loss of coordination, and sometimes seizures. Breeders who prioritize morphs over working to reduce the severity of The Wobble in their snakes are actively reducing the quality of all ball pythons in the market.
Although temperament in reptiles is most often attributed to taming efforts and being captive-bred vs. wild-caught, genetics also carry weight. Although this occurs across all species, blood pythons are a well known example. Blood pythons have a bad reputation for nasty temperaments, but any reputable breeder will tell you that well-tempered bloods come from well-tempered parents and grandparents.
When breeders value appearance over temperament in their stock, the results are unhandleable offspring which worse the already-poor reputation among exotic pets.
Why not just freeze the eggs?
If your reptiles mated by accident, go ahead and freeze the eggs, and make sure to do a better job of keeping them separated in the future. Egg freezing is considered a humane way to dispose of fertilized eggs without risking the young hatching in the wild and 1) dying a slow, painful death or 2) becoming an invasive species.
If egg freezing is how you justify cohabiting male and female reptiles, stop now. Enduring ceaseless sexual advances is very stressful for females, and the mating process itself can be violent enough to cause significant injuries to one or both participants. Furthermore, egg production drains a female of energy and nutrients—especially calcium. Without special care before, during, and after egg laying, she can die.
What if I want to become a reptile breeder?
First, educate yourself. Talk to several experienced breeders for the species you’re interested in. Study up on the genetics of that species.
Then, don’t start for money. Despite how it seems, it is difficult to do more than break even on reptile breeding. And if you breed a species with an already saturated market (ex: ball pythons, leopard geckos, bearded dragons, etc.), selling the offspring will be even more difficult.
Last, gather supplies before you need them, like high quality incubators and extra enclosures or breeder racks. The last thing you want is to be scrambling for supplies with time-sensitive eggs or babies.
To summarize, have a flow chart:
Not quite convinced yet?
Watch this video by TC Houston at Reptile Mountain:
Do you breed reptiles?
Tell us why you do/don’t in the comments!
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