Reptile segment of the pet industry has grown 22 percent in two years.
By: Darren Boyd
From the thousands of fervent reptile enthusiasts swarming the National Reptile Breeder’s Expo
in Daytona Beach in August, it was clear that the herp industry is continuing to grow at an astonishing rate. Manufacturers and retailers who have hopped on the reptile roller coaster in 2007 realize they made a lucrative move, and existing businesses have been rewarded with elevated sales.
The business of herpetoculture has always been competitive, but never so much as it is now. All aspects of the trade are at their sharpest in order to cash in on the rising popularity of keeping reptiles and amphibians as pets.
“The reptile market is a growing one,” says Kevin Wai, managing director of AquaTerra International in Los Angeles. “As the aquarium industry is becoming saturated with products, manufacturers are now turning toward the reptile industry. They see the growth potential and the rising popularity of reptiles as pets and now they want to get involved.”
“If there was pet herp of 2007, it would be the ball python,” says Josée Lavoie of The Reptile Rainforest in Ontario, Canada. “It has been closing the gap on established favorites, such as corn snakes and boa constrictors, for a while, but this year it left them all in the dust in terms of popularity.”
Other reptiles and amphibians that were at the top of the list for consumers in 2007 are chameleons, tree frogs, corn snakes, bearded dragons, Uromastyx lizards, and tortoises. Greater numbers of assorted invertebrates, such as tarantulas, scorpions, millipedes and centipedes, have also found their way into the hearts and homes of herp devotees.
“When it comes to lizards, bearded dragons have a large following, but I think geckos are still at the top,” Lavoie says. “With the industry’s attention already on leopard and African fat-tail geckos, when crested geckos started becoming readily available they were sure to be a huge it with hobbyists of all experience levels.”
Chris Ivins, owner of CJ-Reptiles in Palm Beach, Fla., agrees that gecko sales are still on the rise.
“For me, last year getting started with leopard geckos was pretty slow,” he says. “Now I can’t breed them fast enough to keep up with the demand.”
Exotic pets need appropriate places to live. Manufacturers have provided plenty of options to accommodate the need for reptile habitats. As more people are getting involved in the hobby, there is a greater need for variety in caging.
“Hobbyists are going for more of a naturalistic look nowadays,” Wai says. “The rising popularity of vivariums is a good indicator of this trend. Also, hobbyists are paying more attention to decorating their enclosures. In the past they would only provide the basics required to house the animals, but I think now they are starting to find out that if you create a natural habitat for them, the animals are not as shy and they start to exhibit more of their natural behavior.”
An extensive range of herp terrariums and custom-designed reptile cages are now commonly on retailer’s shelves, so hobbyists finally have affordable and accessible alternatives to the standard glass aquarium.
Tools and Equipment
Energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs that can be used in incandescent fixtures have been introduced, claiming to have a much longer life span than other similar reptile bulbs. They also provide heat and beneficial UVA light.
Artificial products that resemble real bamboo, plants and vines are becoming more popular than ever. “They give the keeper an opportunity to create a safe and easily sterilized environment for their animal, but still have a realistic natural appearance,” Lavoie says.
A trendy and useful item that has been flying off shelves this year is the hygrometer, a gauge used to measure humidity. It is not necessarily a new item, but more companies have been producing them and finding better ways to market them. They have even been packaged with and combined with thermometers.
Herp keepers are constantly searching for new and exciting ways to feed their pets. Pre-packaged food, live feeders and food delivery systems have each seen new and innovative items for retailers to stock in 2007.
Many companies now make packaged food specifically for tortoises, iguanas, bearded dragons and aquatic turtles. New this year are freeze-dried meals in a cup that are ready to eat; simply add water to re-hydrate them. They come in different varieties, including vegetarian, fruit, meat mix and dragon.
|In the American Pet Products Manufacturers Assn. 2007-2008 pet owners’ survey, the total number of reptiles owned in the United States increased 22 percent since the survey was taken two years ago, from 11 million to 13.4 million.
“The goal of manufacturers is to provide a product that is convenient for the keeper as well as nutritious for the animal,” Lavoie says. “All-natural products and diets targeted toward specific species seem to be the craze for 2007.”
Frozen raw meat sausages for carnivorous reptiles are now available in pinky mouse, fuzzy mouse, adult mouse and rat sizes for the convenience of hobbyists. It’s unlikely that these products will completely eliminate the feeder rodent industry, but it is nice to have an option, particularly for squeamish keepers who are uncomfortable feeding furry creatures (even pre-killed ones) to their beloved snake. Some companies are now selling frozen rodents in appealingly designed packages instead of in clear zip-lock bags, which makes picking them up at the pet store more pleasant for the customer.
Since live feeder insect sales are a huge part of the reptile industry, more new products to keep these bugs alive, healthy and nutritious have been hitting the market. An all-in-one source for feeding, watering and delivering vitamins to crickets with minimal mess is a hot item to watch for.
Convenience is also not overlooked when it comes to live bugs, and manufacturers have introduced cute little “take-out” cricket boxes that have everything needed to keep the insects alive and well until feeding time. They also offer different sizes so customers will get the suitable cricket for their pets.
Looking to the Future
The industry has seen some exciting changes in 2007, and with a growing trade such as this, you can be sure there are plenty of new ones on the horizon.
Regrettably, not all changes are good. Some legislative restrictions have affected businesses and the way they operate.
“The changes here in Florida have caused me to change my whole business,” Ivins says. “Now there are bans on large snakes here. I went from breeding large boas and pythons to specializing in various geckos.” Still, Lavoie is optimistic about where we are headed.
“This year may not have given us any one product that will revolutionize the way we keep reptiles or the trade itself, but it’s all part of an ongoing development,” Lavoie says. “We are definitely going in the right direction.” <HOME>
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