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Auto Nature

Remotely controlled vivariums and programmable thermostats offer convenience to herp owners.
By Karen Shugart

Busy herp hobbyists often don’t have the time to monitor equipment, such as heat lamps, misters and foggers. Other enthusiasts simply want added convenience and reduced hassle in taking care of their herps.

Automatic misting machines provide moisture for herps that require high levels of humidity in their habitats, such as species of tree frogs and chameleons. Credit: Courtesy of Zoo Med Laboratories Inc.
Now, new products allow retailers to help their customers achieve these goals. Recent innovations in automatic devices offer serious and busy hobbyists alike easier and more scientifically advanced ways to care for their herps.

Not only do the new products offer hobbyists more freedom, they also allow herp owners to construct habitats that more closely resemble herps’ native environments.

“For so long, reptiles and herps were kept in very stagnant environments, both in their setup as well as in the temperature parameters that the animal[s] would be exposed to,” said Tony Escobar, owner of EcoZone Vivarium in San Jose, Calif. “The goal is to provide a natural environment with lighting and temperature and things that will simulate nature.”

Technological advances help achieve this simulated natural environment, as new products give consumers and retailers mass-market options that would have been unthinkable just years ago.

The newly launched EZ-400 Vivarium Controller by EcoZone, for example, allows hobbyists to program daily and seasonal variations.

Targeted to serious herpkeepers and breeders, the vivarium controller allows users to program—over a 12-month calendar—lighting intensities, temperatures, mist intervals and on-off times. With network connectivity capability, the vivarium controller can be operated remotely by computer or even an iPhone.

“You can set up the whole year,” Escobar said. “The idea is that your animals are healthier, happy or more vibrant if they’re experiencing the natural cycle that they would get in nature.”

Marketing Automatic Products

The tighter customers hold on to their wallets, the harder it can be to interest them in innovative products that make habitat management easier. As retailers can attest, cost concerns can override interest in even the best-working products.

“Right now, nobody wants to buy anything but the basic stuff,” said Jason Subick, owner of Suburban Reptile, a retailer in Plainfield, Ill.

That doesn’t mean retailers should give up, however.

Advanced hobbyists and breeders are a great market for higher-end, automatic products; they understand the worth and the utility of the devices. 

Furthermore, the newer automatic products can be strong customer draws. Consumers may not be in the market for one of these items, but they might come in to look at them—and buy other products in the store in the meantime.

Other recently released automatic-product offerings come from herp-product manufacturer Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. Several retailers said they have enjoyed the San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based manufacturer’s Repti Fogger and HygroTherm.

The Repti Fogger, a compact, ultrasonic humidifying fogger with adjustable fog-output control, automatically shuts off when water runs out. It includes a 1-liter bottle, which screws onto a “no-spill” valve for easy removal and refilling.

The HygroTherm functions as both a thermostat and humidistat by automatically controlling up to 1,000 watts of temperature- and humidity-control devices. It has a nighttime-temperature-drop feature, built-in memory that stores settings in case of power failure, and an alarm that can be set to flash when either temperature or humidity reaches extreme levels.

The HygroTherm can be used well with Zoo Med’s Repti Fogger or the Habba Mist Automatic Misting Machine, said Rita Zarate, the company’s director of customer service.

“These products are great for retailers that sell the more sensitive and higher-end reptiles and amphibians because they allow customers to better control and create a natural environment for species [that] are sensitive to temperature and humidity changes,” Zarate said.

Owen Maercks, owner of East Bay Vivarium in Berkeley, Calif., had high praise for the products.

“They’re really good,” Maercks said. “You have all your controls in one unit.”

Dave Karnowski, owner of Scaly Dave’s Herp Shack in Manhattan, Kan., said the Repti Fogger works well for high-humidity snakes, such as green tree pythons.

When programmed correctly, automatic herp products can perform functions such as dimming up light intensity over basking spots on a variable schedule. Credit: Courtesy of EcoZone Vivarium
“It seems kind of a foolproof method,” Karnowski said.

Not all of the automatic products appeal to every customer, though. They may be out of reach of some price-conscious customers, particularly those with just one herp or who are new to the hobby.

Jason Subick, owner of Suburban Reptile, a retailer in Plainfield, Ill., said he loves the new Repti Fogger and HygroTherm but hasn’t had as much luck as he would like selling them to cash-strapped customers, many of whom for now seem to be sticking to the basics. He hopes sales pick up as the economy improves.

“Lately, it seems like no one seems to want to spend money on anything pricey,” Subick said. “Everybody’s looking for lower cost.”

He has sold, however, quite a few of the Habba Mist Automatic Misting Machines, which he said work really well.

Jeremy Humphrey, an employee at House of Reptiles, a retailer in Jacksonville, Fla., uses the Habba Mist at home.

“I like the way you can adjust the spray length every hour to two,” he said. “I’d say probably 50 percent of people who come in that get tree frogs or chameleons are looking for some kind of automatic mister or automatic temperature controller or stuff like that, but the prices on them are high compared to a regular heat lamp that you just turn on and off yourself.”


Click to enlarge

Automatic devices help herp owners construct habitats that more closely resemble their animals’ native environments. Credit: Courtesy of EcoZone Vivarium
While buyers of automatic herp products are predominantly experienced hobbyists, the automatic products do attract attention from entry-level hobbyists and experienced customers, retailers reported.

“I get a lot of interest in them,” Subick said.

Breeders especially, he said, buy the products from him because they recognize their utility.

“They’re willing to pay the money because they know it keeps the correct humidity, the correct water content,” he said. “They know they don’t have to sit there all day. They know that if they’re gone, it’ll work.”

Not all recent automatic products are as complex or specialized. Exo Terra, a division of Mansfield, Mass.-based Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp., recently released the Turtle Heater, which is designed to automatically maintain an ideal water temperature of about 78 degrees Fahrenheit for aquatic turtles and most other aquatic reptiles and amphibians. The product has plastic casing and a stainless-steel power-cord protector to keep herps safe.

“Turtles especially have a habit of biting into the electrical power cord,” noted Lucas De Boeck, the Belgium-based spokesperson for Exo Terra.

Whether for turtles or chameleons, pythons or frogs, these new automated products signal a new era of potential in herp care. While they offer exciting new options and convenience for hobbyists, they give herps a chance to live in more naturalistic, varied environments.

And for retailers, they offer just a few more ways to meet customers’ needs. <HOME>

Karen Shugart has written about the pet industry, as well as for daily and weekly newspapers.


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