Reptiles becoming more popular

SNAKES and lizards may not be everybody's cup of tea, but figures suggest they are now more popular than dogs in British homes.

SNAKES and lizards may not be everybody's cup of tea, but figures suggest they are now more popular than dogs in British homes.

For many people, the idea of coming into contact with reptiles is the stuff of nightmares - just ask the contestants on “I'm a Celebrity” after one of their infamous bushtucker trials.

But research carried out by the Federation of British Herpetologists (FBH), keepers of reptiles and amphibians, indicates they are overtaking man's best friend in terms of popularity.

Chris Newman, chairman of the FBH, said: “People are much busier than they used to be and things like cats and dogs are quite a commitment.

“Reptiles are so much easier to look after, they do not require the time to look after that perhaps a mammal does.”

The FBH obtained figures from producers of reptile food that showed their production has doubled between 2004 and 2008 to 20 million crickets per year and about 8 tonnes of frozen rodents per month.

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The production of locusts, another common reptile food, had quadrupled during that time.

In 2004, it was estimated that more than five million reptiles were being kept as pets in the UK, so the FBH believes there must now be at least eight or nine million.

This would eclipse the estimated 6.5 million dogs in the UK, as calculated by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association.

Viking Aquatics, an exotic pet store in St Margaret's Street, certainly backs up the FBH's claims, saying their sales have at least doubled in the last five years.

Ricky Clarke, manager, said: “There is a much bigger market than there was five years ago, it has really picked up. The interest is that it's a bit different.”

Jerry Soames, from Playford, who has two green tree monitors and several snakes as well as keeping spiders, said: “A lot of them do not eat for weeks on end, so this means you can go away and not worry about them.

“But some need daily maintenance, and that can't always be from the neighbours because they have got to get a rat out of the freezer!

“What I would always suggest to someone is to do their research and decide what will be suitable, it is about how much time you want to devote to them.”

The top three reptiles being kept as pets in the UK:

1. Name: Leopard Gecko

Age: 10-15 years

Size: 20-25 cm

From: Northern India, Pakistan, Afghanistan

Benefits: Easy to keep, colourful

Disadvantages: Eats live crickets

2. Name: Bearded Dragon

Age: 8-15 years

Size: 45-60 cm

From: Australia

Benefits: Enjoys human contact

Disadvantages: Needs large living space and UV lighting

3. Name: Royal Python

Age: 20-40 years

Size: 3-4 feet

From: Africa

Benefits: Non-venomous, beautiful

Disadvantages: Eats rats and mice, spends 95% of the time asleep