Industry Roundtable: Herp Industry Innovations Abound


Ryan McVeigh, brand manager for

Zilla, a Central Garden & Pet brand, based in Franklin, Wis.

Suzette Stidom, owner of S & S

Exotic Animals in Houston

Jayzun Boget, assistant manager of the reptiles and small animals for Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich.

Pet Product News: What product and consumer trends are you seeing in the herp industry? What are you hearing from retailers?

Ryan McVeigh: There is definitely a trend in sales picking up over the past few years. Customers are spending more money on naturalistic display terrariums as well as the entry-level kits. People are spending more on their pets, and the reptile hobby continues to grow.

Suzette Stidom: Lately, there have been a lot more reptile shows where [vendors] go, set up, and buy and sell herps and related products. That’s become a big thing nowadays. There are a lot more places you can go to get reptiles now, beyond just going into a pet store.

In some ways this is good, because it gets more people out looking at reptiles. But in some ways, it’s bad because people are buying herps without being properly educated. They don’t do any kind of research before buying. It’s ultimately an impulse purchase—not that we mind spending time helping these customers, because that’s what we’re here for. We want to educate them. But sometimes we have to [be the ones to say] maybe this isn’t the animal you should have bought.

Jayzun Boget: We’re seeing a surge from Zilla. Ryan McVeigh is the product designer for the company, and Zilla has put out some new and exciting products. Its compact fluorescent [fixture] is putting out 200 to 250 nanometers per square foot of UVB radiation. [Other manufacturers’ lights] were putting out like 9 nanometers per square foot. I’m pretty excited about that.

Zilla also just came out with a line of decorations that are multifunctional. It introduced a gecko cave for crested geckos—which are very, very popular in the last few years—that allows the geckos to hide, but provides hobbyists with a little window decal they can peel back to peek in on them. Some animals don’t like to drink from standing water, so the enclosure includes a spring cave where it has a little pump that runs water down the artificial vines inside.

PPN: What else is new in terms of technology and product design within the herp industry? What’s in development, or on the horizon, in terms of tech and design?

McVeigh: Interest in Wi-Fi connectivity is definitely growing within the aquatic hobby and in other areas of the pet industry. It’s only reasonable to think it will make its way into reptile products as well.

How that happens is yet to be seen, but it’s likely not far away. When it comes to Zilla, we’re focusing on high-output, low-energy-usage products that are energy efficient and low profile. We continue to try to advance husbandry in a way that makes it more enjoyable for the consumer as well.

Stidom: I see two different things developing. A lot of people like to use under-tank heaters. Zoo Med came out with a thermostat that you can plug the heat mat into, and it will actually regulate time and temperature. It’s good that’s being developed.

The other big development is the bioactive tank. Different species, such as isopods, actually [help to create] a self-sustaining, self-cleaning tank. A lot of people like this type of setup for their frogs or lizards. That’s become a big thing in the last couple of years.

Because so many people are starting these bioactive tanks, now they’re looking for more controllability. The tank from BioPod that recently came out allows users to program everything on their phone. You can be at home or in your office, and you can actually monitor and [change settings] on your phone. That’s another good thing too.

Boget: One thing that I’ve been seeing popping up almost virally over the last year—and that I expect my industry to catch up on and start making use of—has to do with the concept of bioactive substrates.

These incorporate beneficial bacteria and arthropods such as springtails or isopods in the substrate of our environment, keeping things clean as Mother Nature would. That’s really hit viral levels. I’ve heard that term more in this last year than I have in the previous decade. It’s just a matter of time before someone clever starts putting out already cultured, ready-to-go bioactive substrate.

We’re also seeing a push for more reliable sources of UVB radiation. Unfortunately, much of the hobby doesn’t understand how to create UVB, how it penetrates and how to apply it to animals well.

We’re also seeing better and more affordable controls as far as thermostats and humidistats are concerned. In general, new tech is more efficient.

PPN: What’s the current trajectory of the herp industry within the larger context of the pet industry? Is it strong, growing, stable, etc.?

McVeigh: Keeping of reptiles and amphibians is growing consistently every year. It’s exciting to see in a hobby we all love so much.

Stidom: The herp industry is strong. For a while, nobody was spending any money, and now everybody’s getting back into it. The economy is good, the housing market is strong, and everything’s going good, so people are out there spending money again.

Some of these people are probably first-time reptile owners. So, of course, that’s always good because when they come in, we can set them up with everything they need. This means they’re more likely to succeed.

Boget: The herp industry is becoming mainstream. When I first got into it as a child, it was an unusual thing. It was kind of weird, but now I think it’s part of the average high schooler’s experience that either they or somebody they know keeps a reptile or similar exotic pet.

The average person is now becoming interested in the hobby, and the upside of that is, it brings more interest and money that fuels more innovation. The stuff that we had just keeps getting better and better. What we have now would shock anybody 10 years ago, and 20 years ago, they couldn’t even imagine it.

PPN: How is the legislative landscape, both within the U.S. and internationally, affecting the herp industry?

McVeigh: Legislation will always affect the pet industry. When it comes to herps, we are fighting similar battles. The moratorium on the importation of more than 200 salamander species has affected amphibian sales and even negatively affected conservation initiatives for those species affected by Bsal chytrid outside of their native habitat.

Stidom: I don’t think this is having too much of a negative impact. A lot of the [problematic] laws have changed, such as the issues we’d seen for those transporting certain species such as Burmese pythons across state lines. That’s been fixed now.

For a couple of years everybody was freaking out. Now that they’re allowed to go state to state again, a lot of people are getting back into collecting things again.

Boget: There isn’t anything specific right now. The average retailer should be aware of USARK, the United States Association of Reptile Keepers. It’s an organization very similar to PIJAC [Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council], and as PIJAC advises the government, USARK challenges new legislation that maybe isn’t well thought out, and offers to help form legislation so that it actually achieves what they want without harming the industry.

There’s always something out there. Unfortunately, though legislators often mean well, the legislation they create usually isn’t informed by people who are in the hobby.

PPN: What challenges do you see for the herp industry right now? What bright spots do you see? Where do you think the herp industry will be in the next few years?

McVeigh: It’s exciting to see increasing interest in herps and their care. More keepers are interested in learning, and the knowledge that’s available is changing daily for the better. Challenges are similar to what they’ve always been. Getting beginners the best information to be successful and keeping people in the hobby are always struggles we deal with.

The reptile hobby is on an upward trend, and with the economy strong, I believe we will continue to see it grow.

Stidom: In terms of challenges, we need more people, from breeders to store owners and sales reps, who are focused on education. We can’t just be focused on selling animals. Let’s educate people. Let’s give them the information they need for long-term success.

On the bright side, manufacturers are always coming out with new products. What’s more, though, they come around, they talk to us and they’re asking what they can do to make their products better.

I believe the herp hobby is going to get stronger and stronger in the next few years. If we start educating people and we all do our jobs, the herp industry could go out of this world.

Boget: As more interest and money comes into the hobby, we’re not only getting better gear, we’re getting better animals. More people are taking these animals home, loving them and breeding them. They are driving access to captive-bred animals, which are not impacting the animals that are in the wild.

I definitely love to see that trend. As more mainstream people are interested, it’s advancing the hobby in every direction.

The biggest challenges I see are fighting legislation and keeping healthy stock. Also, we need to focus on informing and educating the public so that they’re successful in the hobby long-term.