Inside the Reptile Industry: Farming – April 2014

By Jennifer Greene and Loren Leigh

A controversial topic today in reptile keeping is the term “farmed”.  What does that really mean to the hobbyist today?  What does farmed even mean, and does farming really deserve the reputation it has garnered among reptile keepers?  Hopefully with some insight from Loren Leigh, the owner of LLLReptile and Supply Co, Inc, you can have a better understanding of what farming really means for reputable dealers.

A young Argus monitor

If you google “reptile farming”, or similar terms, you get many results for animal farms in the US that allow tours, or produce animals as pets, or for actual farms with cows, sheep, or similar livestock.  Getting someone to give you a straight answer on what exactly farming is in relation to reptiles is difficult as well; answers vary widely from person to person.  The reason for this is that there is no set definition for reptile farming.  Is it farming to have large numbers of ball pythons in enclosures, producing dozens or hundreds of babies a year?  Is it farming to have outdoor enclosures for a couple of sulcatas that produce dozens of babies each year?  Does your answer for the ball pythons change depending on the country they are being bred in?  What about the sulcatas?  Does it change based on numbers?  At what point are you no longer a hobbyist breeding an animal you love, and you are a farmer?  Does the country you’re in change your answer as to whether or not your animals are “truly” captive bred?

When I asked Loren to help me define Farming for this article, he explained the difficulty in defining a word so loosely used in our industry.  Generally speaking, though, it is considered farming when it is a particular species being produced in its country of origin in a controlled situation.  Furthermore, it is farming when the species is produced outdoors, relying on naturally occurring conditions to stimulate natural behaviors resulting in breeding.  Loren has had the fortune to actually visit reptile farms both in the US and outside of our borders, including a friend’s farm in Tanzania.  One of the biggest upsides to farming is that it allows for us here in the US to get species that are difficult to find in the wild, as well as difficult or not yet bred here in the states.

A baby Green Tree Python – a species commonly “farm bred”


Monitors, for example, are a group of animals not frequently bred here in the US.  For some species, we would not have any access to them whatsoever without the offspring produced at reptile farms in places like Indonesia.  One such farm is the one featured in this video (click link to view) that was visited by DM Exotics – you can see the large adult monitors being housed and cared for so that they can produce offspring each year.  Species such as melinus, doreanus, prasinus, dumerilii, and more are all farmed in Indonesia under conditions similar to their wild habitat.  Without reptile farms, US keepers would not have these species.  If you watch the video linked above, you can also see the conditions the animals are kept in.  Many reptiles cannot and will not breed if conditions are not exactly as they need; reptile farmers realize this and their breeding stock is housed spaciously, fed well, and clearly efforts are made to keep them healthy and happy.

Another example of farming would be red eared sliders here in the US, in particular, at farms located in the South in states like Louisiana.  The US is the biggest exporter of Red Eared Sliders in the world, along with map turtles, and soon box turtles as well.  However, none of the adult breeding stock being used to produce these numbers is wild caught – the red eared sliders, for example, that are used to produce these incredibly high numbers for export (both in the pet trade as well as food) come from established lines that have been in captivity for multiple generations.  There is no need for wild harvesting of red eared sliders or map turtles, thanks in large part to these reptile farms in the parts of the US they occur naturally.

A baby Mississippi Map Turtle 

The reality of farming is that an enterprising reptile keeper can set up outdoor enclosures for any species that occurs in a similar environment to where they live, add animals, feed them, and voila – you have a reptile farm.  One of the largest producers of sulcatas in the world, for example, lives in Honduras!   Florida also has an excellent environment for setting up many species outdoors, which is why it is such a mecca for reptile enthusiasts.  In the southern half of the state, you can set up an outdoor pen for nearly any tropical species and it will thrive.

While in the past, farming may not have been the most ideal situation for a reptile to originate from, a reputable, modern farming operation should be seen as the boon for the reptile industry that it is.  The emphasis for most farms has switched from simply holding animals to reproducing them, resulting in animals that are, essentially, captive bred in their country of origin.  Various locales of Green Tree Pythons are one example, as are blue tongue skinks, frilled dragons, Madagascar ground boas, emerald tree lizards, Colombian boas, and even many species of chameleons.  The majority of reptiles kept on farms such as these originate from adults in captivity that are kept with no intention of release, and instead are maintained until the next breeding season.

Baby Savannah Monitor

So before condemning all reptile farming as scummy and to be disdained, consider the species it has allowed us to keep.  Remember that by simply setting up an enclosure or a few outdoors, and letting the natural weather conditions handle the heating and lighting for your pets, you could be considered to be a reptile farmer.  Farming is not entirely cut and dry, and is not necessarily the worst way to produce pets for keepers here in the states or internationally.  Where do you draw the line between a large scale breeder and a farmer?  Can you?  Does it really matter? 

Food for thought.

The Humble House Snake – April 2013

By Jennifer Greene

An extremely underrated but fantastic pet snake to keep is the African House Snake.  There are several different species referred to as House Snakes that originate from Africa, with the most common in the US pet trade being Lamprophis fuliginosus..  As I said, there are numerous species which all can be called House Snakes, but my article will focus on the care for the most commonly available species, also referred to as the Brown House Snake.

This House Snake is comfortable in her owner’s hands

The Brown House Snake is a bit of a misnomer in that this highly variable snake can range in coloration from a dark brown, almost black color, to a golden brown and a wide selection of colors in-between.  Some of the more attractively colored varieties have red tones to them, and selective breeding has resulted in some extremely high red individuals.  All house snakes have a gorgeous iridescence to their scales, comparable to that of rainbow boas and sunbeam snakes.

Most also have a pale tan or gold stripe running along their eyes, which may or may not extend down the length of the body.  Due to the range of colors, it is extremely easy to selectively breed animals to create your own lines of attractive, captive bred house snakes.  In addition, albino snakes are available from time to time, and this one simple mutation combined with the multitude of naturally occurring variance in the species holds great promise for morphs in the future.

If you couldn’t guess from the name, African House Snakes originate from the continent of Africa.  They are one of the most widespread species of snakes found there, and range across the entire continent below the Saharan Desert.  Their common name comes from their habit of hanging around human dwellings, where they aid in rodent control.  Extremely adaptable, they are found in nearly every type of habitat in Africa, only eschewing outright desert areas.

This natural sturdiness is part of what makes them excellent beginner snakes, as they thrive in a wide range of conditions and will withstand nearly any mistake a beginner is likely to make.

House snakes do not get very large; while some females can reach lengths as great as 5 feet, it is much more common for them to remain under 4 feet as adults.  Males mature much smaller than females, often 2 – 2.5 feet in length, meaning that when you have mature, breeding adults they are clearly sexually dimorphic in size.

Fortunately, even large females remain slender, never needing feeders larger than an adult mouse.  House snakes are voracious feeders, and care must be taken to ensure your snake does not become too fat.

I have never seen a house snake turn down a meal, not even babies!  They will eat daily if you offer them food, but they do not need to eat any more often than every 5 to 7 days.  Don’t let those eager little faces fool you – these little piglets of snakes don’t need more food!

Due to their extreme sturdiness, they are among the easiest of species to keep.  Adults rarely need a cage larger than a Vision cage model V211, although a 20 gallon long (30” x 12” x 12”) is also a suitable size enclosure for most adults.

Babies can be kept in smaller enclosures, such as a 10 gallon tank or 12” x 12” x 12” front-opening terrarium. Setting up the enclosure is simple, and can be as plain or elaborate as you desire.  I prefer to use orchid bark as the substrate, as with occasional misting it holds enough water to allow for perfect, full sheds.  While House Snakes do not necessarily require excessive care taken with humidity, when they are entering a shed cycle it can be beneficial to provide them with a humid hide or to mist the enclosure daily until they have shed.  While they are not prone to respiratory infections at extremely low humidity levels (like some tropical species) they do seem to require an extra bump of humidity while preparing to shed.  Other acceptable substrates include shredded aspencypress mulch, and sani chips – all of which we have used here at LLL with success.  House Snakes are extremely adaptable, so as long as you can provide that humid hiding spot during shed cycles, use whichever bedding you like best!

Temperature requirements for the African House Snake are nothing extraordinary; simply provide them with a warm side or basking area of about 90 degrees, and a cool side of 80 degrees or lower.  Depending on your setup, you can utilize either a heat pad or a basking light to provide your snake with its preferred warm side temperature.  When using a basking light, I recommend either using a red bulb (which can be left on all the time) or a red bulb at night in combination with a daylight blue or basking bulb during the day.  For the best looking display, I highly recommend using a bulb during the day that produces a white light (such as the daylight or basking bulbs) to best view your snake.  Adding a 5.0 compact fluorescent is not necessary for your snake to grow and thrive, but it does highlight the beautiful rainbow iridescence of their scales when you display them in a nicely set up cage.  Make sure that at night, your snake has an alternate source of heat beyond the white light producing bulbs; they do best when provided with a dark period of time to sleep in.

Setting up the décor in the cage is a matter of personal preference.  Your House Snake needs at least 2 hiding places: one at the warm side and one at the cool side.  Brancheslogscork flatscork rounds, and bamboo hollows all make excellent climbing and hiding options for your snake.  You can also add fake caves or natural looking rock outcrops for a naturalistic appearance, but the plain and simple Black Hide Boxes work just as well.  I prefer to include foliage in the form of fake plants as well as a variety of branches and wood for the snakes to climb on for exercise.  Having a terrarium full of branches and decorations is not only aesthetically pleasing to us as keepers, but highly beneficial for the snake as well, providing cover and hiding places as well as exercise as they cruise through their cage.

Now that you have your snake all set up and a feeding schedule prepared, you get to enjoy the pleasure of handling and interacting with your pet!  While their feeding response can be quite strong (so make sure to wash your hands before picking yours up!), once they realize there isn’t anything edible to be had they are extremely mellow and laid back snakes.  They will leisurely cruise around when being handled, and often curl up around a wrist or neck to hang out and relax.  In my experience, they almost seem to enjoy regular interaction, thriving even when handled daily.

Not only are they a pleasure to handle, but they are extremely inquisitive and nosy, coming out to see what is happening around them when there are people in the room their cage is in.

With their extreme ease of care, solid and easy to engage feeding response, and entertaining personalities, I highly recommend African House Snakes as a great first pet snake.

They’re off the beaten path, and not nearly as common as Kingsnakes or Cornsnakes as pets, but that’s no reason for you to avoid keeping them yourself!

It is worth waiting for them to become available to get your hands on these cute little snakes, as they are not as consistently available as the other commonly kept pet snake species.  I hope reading this article has helped you to decide to try something other than the average pet snake, and to go out and find yourself an awesome little House Snake to keep as a pet!

Can Snakes Hear? Sound Detection in Serpents – August 2013

by Jennifer Greene 
All photos by author unless otherwise noted

Can Snakes Hear?

If you keep one snake or one hundred snakes, chances are you have some opinion on whether or not your scaly friends can hear you.  Some keepers are aware that studies have shown that snakes can most certainly detect vibrations in the ground, helping them determine if there is prey or a potential predator nearby.  Snakes lack an outer ear, leading some to believe that snakes are completely deaf to airborne sounds.   While the lack of a visible external ear likely limits the snake’s ability to hear airborne sounds, they do have a system of hearing that includes an inner ear.  Their hearing system is, in its own way, both simpler and more complex than our own, and by no means is it out of the question that a snake can hear airborne sounds.   Mostreptile keepers have their own opinions and knowledge of the seeming simplicity of a snake’s hearing abilities, but the reality of their sense of hearing is that it involves a wider range of the sense than our own.  They may not be able to hear the range of audible frequencies that we can, but they can sense sound in a way that is alien to us.

Anecdotally, it is not difficult to find keepers that swear their snakes can hear them.  Walking through a reptile show and asking various reptile enthusiasts if their snakes can hear them will give you the full gamut of stories about the phenomenon.  You will hear everything from someone assuring you their snake knows its name and comes when it’s called to others, assuredly too professional and experienced for such nonsense, confidently assuring you that snakes are deaf and cannot hear a word you’re saying.

Studying snake hearing and being able to provide definitive proof one way or the other ultimately requires more than the average keeper’s call for supper or similar, haphazard and informal tests.  Older experimental methods tracked electrical activity in the brains of snakes in several families when sounds at various frequencies were played; a more recent (and less invasive) study looked at the reactions of one rattlesnake species to sounds played at various levels.  Interestingly, the older experiments show that snakes have two sensory systems that detect both sound and vibration, and note that while each system detects primarily one or the other, the range for each overlaps (Hartline 1970).

Before moving forward, a quick overview of sound and hearing may help you, the reader, to better understand how snakes are capable of hearing even without an external ear, and why it is relevant that a snake’s hearing includes both airborne sound and vibrations.  First, let’s look at sound:  sound is a pressure wave through a medium, caused by vibrations.  Everything vibrates slightly at a molecular level, however, those tiny vibrations are usually too quiet for us to hear.  What we usually perceive as sound to our ears is a sound wave within a certain frequency – a vibration happening at a certain speed through the air.

Human ears perceive sound within a specific range based on what the bones in our ears can pick up and then translate to vibrations within the deepest part of our inner ear.  The cochlea is the spiral tube within our ear, and the microscopic hairs within the cochlea pick up specific frequencies of sound – each hair correlating to a different frequency.  All of that translates to our ability to hear a wide range of audible sound, typically 20 to 20,000 hertz (the measurement of the specific frequency of a sound wave).  Snakes hear not just what we consider audible sound; their entire body acts as an organ to pick up vibrations – and their brain processes these vibrations in a similar part as audible sound, creating a sense of hearing considerably different than what we experience as mammals. (Hartline, 1970) It is not as wide as our own, but it is experienced in a much, much different way.

Continuing, if airborne sound such as speech is nothing more than vibrations in the air, it stands to reason that snakes may actually be able to hear it.  In fact, experiments show that snakes are capable of hearing airborne sound within the mid to lower ranges of normal human speech.  (Hartline 1970) While snakes are much more limited than humans and other mammals in their range of perceivable sound, they are capable of hearing sounds in the ranges of 150 Hz to 600 Hz. (Hartline 1970)

Human speech falls almost exactly within that range, even with wide variance in frequency due to age and/or gender.   Baby cries can be up to 500 Hz, while children’s voices are anywhere from 250 to 400 Hz, and men and women ranging from 125 to 200 Hz on average, respectively.  (

With snakes having this almost alien method of picking up sound, and both of their sound detection systems overlapping in terms of detecting both airborne and physical vibrations, it makes it hard to conduct experiments to determine if snakes are not just perceiving airborne sounds but also capable of understanding and reacting to them.  A recent study has found that snakes can perceive and react to airborne sound by using a soundproof enclosure and a specially designed hanging basket to minimize vibrations from the surface.  Using the notoriously cranky Western Diamondback Rattlesnake as the test subjects, the experimenters found that 92% of the time, the snakes reacted in one or more ways to airborne sounds.  (Young and Aguiar, 2002)  Their testing methods were not able to determine if the snakes could identify the direction of the sound, but did conclusively show a reaction to purely airborne sounds.  Another study compliments this information with the observation that another crotalid species, the Saharan Sand Viper, utilizes its sense of vibration to determine the direction of an object that is causing sound, providing “evidence that snakes are capable of hearing, albeit, perhaps, in a unique sense of that term.” (Young and Morain, 2001)

All of this information culminates in the conclusive statement that YES, snakes can in fact hear airborne sounds in addition to sensing vibrations in solid objects.  Their sense of hearing, while limited in frequency, does encompass a wider range of potential stimuli to help a snake understand what is going on in its environment.  While they are not quite adapted to understand speech, the ringing of a dinnerbell, or similar acoustic triggers, they are capable of hearing that these things are taking place.  When considering if a snake’s lack of understanding that you are speaking to it makes it lacking in intelligence, do also consider that there is no reason for a snake to understand human speech.  Everything in its sensory arsenal is to identify what is happening around it, and help it to determine if there is prey, predator, or something to ignore happening around it.  A snake lives a much simpler life than the average mammal, and what they do with their complex array of senses reflects this.  Just because a snake doesn’t react to you talking doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t hear you; chances are, it just wasn’t something the snake considered worth reacting to.

Sources/Works Cited

Young, B.A. , Aguiar, A. (June 27th, 2002) Response of western diamond back rattlesnakesCrotalus atrox to airborne sounds
The Journal of Experimental Biology, 205, 3087 – 3092

Young, B.A., Morain, M. (December 10th, 2001) The use of ground-borne vibrations for prey localization in the Saharan sand viper (Cerastes)
The Journal of Experimental Biology, 205, 661-665

Hartline, P.H. (August 18th, 1970) Physiological Basis for Detection of Sound and Vibration in Snakes
The Journal of Experimental Biology, 54, 349-371

Factors Influencing Fundamental Frequency, retrieved July 18th, 2013 from

Inside the Reptile Industry with Loren Leigh

Inside the reptile industry

This past month I was lucky enough to attend the inaugural Top-To-Top conference in La Jolla, CA. This was the first joint meeting to bring together stakeholders in all parts of the pet industry. The purpose of this meeting was to bring awareness to an important organization called PIJAC (Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council) along with many current issues pressing against the pet industry today. Several issues were discussed, but the topic I want to touch on this month is animal activism in America.

Many discussions took place on this topic to help better understand and combat the estimated 38,000 introduced animal laws and regulations coming this year alone on the city, state and federal levels. One big question discussed was “Can animal rights groups and the pet industry live in the same dog house together?”. We are both in the business of animal welfare, right? We both want what’s best for animals in the end, right? So – you would think this would be easy. Sadly – this is far from the case.

I realized at this conference how strong of a group the pet industry really is. Even more so is how strong our segment (reptiles) are by the great turnout by many of my fellow colleagues that work extremely hard for our reptile industry each and every day. Hagen/Exo-Terra, Zoo Med, Gourmet Rodent, Reptiles By Mack, Timberline and NARBC to name a few. The response to this meeting exhibited by the leaders and stakeholders of our industry to offer their time, donate their money and resources, and completely understanding that the future of owning pets in this country is in real jeopardy was awesome to see.

I think for the first time I saw our industry realize that we need to bond together now and fight for all pets (not just dogs, cats or snakes, but ALL pets) because in the end, if you own a dog, cat, snake, lizard, hamster or even a fish, there are people out there that feel this is just wrong.

I think for the first time I saw our industry realize that we need to bond together now and fight for all pets (not just dogs, cats or snakes, but ALL pets) because in the end, if you own a dog, cat, snake, lizard, hamster or even a fish, there are people out there that feel this is just wrong.

I personally feel very fortunate each and every day to work with animals and surround myself with people that love animals and bring people and animals together. You might ask “how can I help in this fight to keep our reptiles and pets?”. You have the most important and most beneficial role in this fight; good public relations! Get out there and teach people about how just plain cool our pets really are. Show them the bond you have and help warn off any, and all negativity. This could be as simple as getting a friendly snake into a child’s hand or bring it to share with a local school group (we at LLLReptile do this with schools and libraries all the time). When the local news does a damaging story on a reptile (or any pet) – be proactive! Reach out and educate them. Show them the truth of how great our pets really are. These are OUR pets they are talking about. It’s time for us to get out there and defend them and fight for our rights to have them in our lives.

Loren Leigh
President LLLReptile
USARK Board member

10 Questions with Jeff Barringer

10 Questions with Jeff Barringer

By Scott Wesley

Jeff Barringer is the owner and founder of / and has single handedly changed the way the reptile industry does business since starting out in 1997. is the #1 reptilerelated website in the US – by far.

1.    If you had a choice, what would you be doing full time instead of ?

I would be working with the Department of Defense new “Cyber-command” to help stop online attacks on the nations infrastructure.  Or I would be the water ski stunt coordinator for the Wonder Lake Show Ski Team. Both have their upsides and my unique skill set would allow for either.

2.    You are very involved in the music industry in Austin. Is there anyone or any specific band you have met that made you “star struck” or left a lasting impression on you seeing them live or meeting them in person?

Well my friendship with Kerry King of Slayer came about because of our reptile interests, and that’s probably been the one that has impacted me most, recently, but I have been going to shows since I was 15 and even then I found a way. I would say The Ramones left me star struck first as I conned my way back stage when I was 17 and got to spend the night hanging out in their dressing room interviewing the band before their show in 1979. It pretty much set my path.

3.    What is your favorite reptile show to attend in the country and why?

Wooo. That’s a tough one. And for tough ones I always run home to family. And that means the annual East Texas Herp Society Symposium in Houston, September 29-30 .  Its where the Alterna Page, and NRAAC all got their start. And it’s also where NRAAC will be hosting the Reptile& Amphibian Law Symposium & Workshop this year.

4.    If you could pick somewhere else to live besides Austin – where would it be and why?

Sanderson Texas, because it is the gateway to the Tran-Pecos and the Big Bend and I could find reptiles, arrowheads, gemstones, and dinosaur bone all in my front yard. And every once in a while really cool Air Force jets come rat racing through the hills and mountains.

5.    What kind of reptile got you hooked – grey banded kingsnakes or something else?

When I was 9 it was Texas Horned Toads
When I was an adult a Texas Alligator Lizard got me hooked
The Mexican Milk Snake is my favorite snake and what got me hooked on field work.

6. The reptile industry has changed so much since the late 90’s – what do you see as the biggest change overall since you started besides the internet?

The biggest change is the one that I see now, with the industry that started out somewhat localized, that expanded in the 90’s and 2000’s to national markets due to the ready availability of overnight shipping and marketing channels such as the internet, now retracting back to a more localized, and smaller, marketplace, similar to the way it was in the early 90s. I think this is due primarily both to the perception of and the actuality of more government regulation at the state and federal levels.

7. What is your favorite current band or singer right now?

Right now it’s the Silversun Pickups – sounds like being attacked by a swarm of bees with guitars. Plus their drummer’s style reminds me of Animal on Sesame Street

8. Why, in your opinion, have so many reptile businesses taken advantage of online advertising, and yet so many still chose to ignore its massive benefits (especially major manufacturers) ?

I think that a lot of businesses are still under the impression that to effectively advertise on the internet, you actually have to sell your products, and ship your products online. You don’t.

The internet allows all businesses to participate. Whether it’s building a brand, introducing a product or launching a new pet store down the street the internet is still the cheapest, and quickest way to get any message out, commercial or otherwise.

9.    A bit morbid, but if you could choose – how would you like to die?

Unexplained tuba accident

10.  What is the one thing you would like to see change in the reptile community?

I would like to see more people get directly involved with working with regulators and legislators. We can’t depend on any one person or one organization to resolve the issues our community is facing. Emails, phone calls, faxes, letters, all those are great tools but we should be using them to open doors, rather than shut them. Get to know who is responsible for the laws in your community and actually engage them in person.  That is what is going to make the difference in the end.

Inside the Reptile Industry with Loren Leigh

Inside the reptile industry

As we embark on the first edition of The Reptile Times, I am eager to introduce you to an exciting change that is occurring in our reptile hobby.  Reptiles have gained popularity at an unprecedented pace over the last 20 years, and are now making their way into the lives of mainstream America.  Reptiles and amphibians of all shapes and sizes have moved from the back room of the house to the prominent area of the living room, where they have become a major part of our everyday lives.

This rapid increase in reptile ownership has unfortunately not come without its bad points.  Issues such as the widely publicized Burmese python situation in Florida have drawn great attention to our hobby, and to the need for reptilekeepers of all levels to unite and work together to keep our rights intact.  State and city laws nationwide are being proposed and enacted as a means of placing restrictions on reptile ownership, as well as many other regulations that threaten our hobby and industry greatly.

In each issue of The Reptile Times I hope to provide a sneak peak inside our hobby and give our readers timely  updates on the state of our reptile industry, what is happening within it, and the many directions we are going.  Doing so will hopefully keep us all up to speed on current events industry-wide. Additionally I hope to provide insight into how we can all work together in the molding of realistic solutions while at same time helping the fight against those who do not want us to have our beloved pets at all.

A close friend of mine once told me that laws are won and changed by people just showing up.  My hope is that through this column I can help to better your understanding of the facts, encourage involvement, and enlist your help as part of the active reptile nation.

So, for this month, I encourage you to learn about The United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) by visiting their website ( Even better yet, become a member, get involved, and help us in the fight!

Loren Leigh
President LLLReptile
USARK Board member