Small Exotic Pets

Kelly Roper
Sugar glider perched on owner's shoulder
An adorable sugar glider

The trade in small exotic pets is thriving despite the restrictions often involved in owning one. If you're looking for an unusual pet to share your life with, the following small exotic creatures are some of the most popular.

Sugar Gliders

Sugar gliders are adorable little tree-dwelling marsupials. Like a flying squirrel, they have thin membranes of skin on both sides of their bodies that allow them to take off from a higher point, and glide to another location.

Diet

According to Gliderpedia, gliders eat fruits and fruit juice, vegetables and various sources of protein, including scrambled eggs and live insects. There is currently no single, prepackaged commercial diet for these creatures that completely meets their nutritional needs.

Housing

In captivity, gliders are usually housed in large bird cages, such as those used for large parrots. They require a sleep pouch, which you can hang from one of the bars, or they will also use a typical parrot nesting box.

Pros

  1. A gliders wants to be close to his keeper, which usually means climbing around on said keeper and riding on the keeper's shoulder or back. These animals are very social, and they really do get lonely and need that close companionship to thrive. If you're sure you would enjoy a clingy pet, this might be a great choice for you.
  2. Gliders are nocturnal, so they are often content to ride around sleeping in your shirt pocket during the day. This provides another nice way to bond with your pet while you go about your day.
  3. The cute factor never fades. They only grow to be about 10-inches long, and about half of that length is their tails. Those big, baby doll eyes will always look the same.

Cons

  1. Gliders are messy, so you'll spend a lot of time cleaning their habitat.
  2. These animals cannot be house trained, and they will relieve themselves wherever they are, even if they're on you.
  3. Gliders will bite if they feel threatened or constrained by your hands.
  4. Gliders should be kept in pairs, at the very least, since they live in colonies in the wild, and purchasing two may be more than many people can afford.
  5. There are many laws that make it difficult, if not impossible, for some people to own these pets.

Obtaining a Sugar Glider

A young glider should be at least 12 to 16 weeks old before it leaves its mother and goes to a new home.

Bearded Dragons

Bearded dragon perched on a rock

Bearded dragons are one of the easiest lizards to keep. They offer a great introduction to the world of exotic reptiles.

Diet

According to Bearded Dragon Guide, these lizards are omnivores, but adults mainly need chopped greens (avoid low nutrition lettuces), carrots, peas and beans. They will also eat insects and pinky mice.

Housing

Bearded dragons need as much space as you can give them. Their habitat should ideally be tall enough to accommodate some climbing branches.

Other specialized equipment includes:

  • Reptile fluorescent light that provides UVA/UVB ultraviolet rays for vitamin D synthesis and calcium metabolism.
  • A heat emitter
  • Larger substrate or paper towels for baby dragons, sand substrate for adult dragons
  • A hiding log

Pros

  1. Bearded dragons are fairly docile and friendly toward people, so children can learn how to handle them easily.
  2. They're quiet, and they don't mind spending time on their own when you're busy.
  3. They usually wind up under 20 inches long as adults, a very manageable size.

Cons

  1. Baby dragons are somewhat fragile and easily stressed, which puts them at greater risk of getting sick.
  2. They tend to fight if you house two or more together.
  3. Preparing their food takes a more time than dropping kibble in a bowl.
  4. Cleaning out their habitat can be a lot of work.
  5. They can carry salmonella.
  6. It's illegal to keep them in some states, including Hawaii.

Obtaining a Bearded Dragon

Bearded dragons are readily available at many pet supply stores. You can also obtain them from breeders and rescues.

African Pygmy Hedgehogs

Hedgies, as they are affectionately known, are cute little animals that are covered in quills on top and have fur on their underside. They roll up into a spiny ball when they feel threatened, but with gentle persistence, you can teach them to accept handling. An adult hedgie only reaches about eight inches long on average.

African pygmy hedgehog; copyright Susannahietanen at Dreamstime.com

Diet

According to Hedgehog Central, hedgies are naturally insectivores that appreciate having some gut-loaded crickets and meal worms occasionally. However, many breeders recommend feeding them a low-fat, dry cat food that uses a named meat or meat meal as the main protein source.

There are a few hedgehog commercial diets on the market, but there's debate about whether they truly meet this animal's nutritional needs. The problem is that they often contain some of the same inferior proteins and fillers that are used in low-quality dog food.

Housing

Hedgehogs are very good climbers, so they need a deep habitat with a closed top, and about two square feet of floor space lined the with Aspen bedding.

You'll also need to provide:

  • A food dish and a water bottle, since the cage bedding winds up in a water bowl
  • A litter box filled with dust-free, non-clumping cat litter (Encourages hedgie to eliminate in one main area)
  • A hiding place to make him feel secure
  • Some sort of exercise toy to help prevent obesity

Pros

  1. Hedgies do not demand attention. If you work during the day and are just looking for a pet you can enjoy in the evening, hedgies might be a good choice.
  2. They are very active once they're awake, and it's very entertaining to watch them go about their business.
  3. As far as grooming, they only require the occasional bath and nail trimming.

Cons

  1. Hedgies are nocturnal, so you won't usually see much activity during the day, and your pet will be fairly active at night.
  2. They prefer to live alone, so you really should provide separate habitats if you want more than one. This takes up more space and doubles your cleaning time.
  3. They can carry salmonella and ringworm, so they're not recommended for children or pregnant women.
  4. These animals are governed by restrictions in many states.

Obtaining a Hedgehog

Hedgehog Central maintains a list of breeders across the USA and Canada who pledge to follow the group's code of ethics. The International Hedgehog Association maintains a list of rescues/foster homes.

Mexican Red Knee Tarantulas

Tarantulas aren't every pet keeper's cup of tea, but some people find them fascinating. If you're not squeamish about spiders, you might like them, too.

Mexican redknee tarantula

Diet

According to Tarantula Guide, these creatures will accept feeder insects such as gut-loaded crickets and meal worms. As a rule of thumb, the insect should be smaller than the spider's body.

Housing

Tarantula Cages.com recommends that spiderlings can live in clear plastic deli containers with ventilated lids, while 10-gallon aquariums with secure, ventilated lids make good homes for adults. Red knees like to burrow, so you should lay about three inches of coco fiber or peat moss in the bottom.

Additionally, this spider needs:

  • A shallow water dish, the wider the better
  • Average temperature of 75 to 80 F
  • Average humidity of 50 to 60 percent to aid shedding
  • Low light conditions and no direct sunlight

Pros

  1. This is a low-maintenance pet that prefers to be left alone. If you like to look rather than touch, the tarantula might be a good choice for you.
  2. The Mexican red-legged varieties are typically calmer and make good introductory tarantulas for beginners.
  3. Females can live for at least 15 years when well cared for.

Cons

  1. Tarantulas are delicate and easily injured, so it's best not to handle them.
  2. They will bite if they feel threatened, and those big fangs really hurt.
  3. The tarantula's hair can be irritating to some people's skin and lungs.
  4. Obtaining live food requires a little more work than being able to feed a commercially-prepared diet.
  5. Males only live four to five years on average.

Obtaining This Tarantula

Hermit Crabs

These cute crustaceans have been popular for decades. They actually live on dry land, so recreating a habitat for them isn't very difficult.

Hermit crab

Diet

You can purchase commercial hermit crab diet at most pet supply stores. Additionally, you can offer you pets small pinches of fruits and veggies. These crabs will also eat the sea sponge kept in their tanks.

Housing

According to Doctors Foster and Smith, one 10-gallon aquarium is sufficient for two hermit crabs. You'll also need a secure lid to prevent escapes, and lighting is optional, but it can help keep the tank warm.

You'll also need:

  • Sand or coco fiber substrate
  • Driftwood and/or rocks for climbing
  • Two water dishes; one for freshwater, one for saltwater baths
  • Sea sponge for the freshwater dish
  • A hygrometer to make sure the humidity remains at a minimum of 70 percent
  • Extra shells in gradually larger sizes so your pet can trade up as he grows

Pros

  1. Hermit crabs are docile and will rarely pinch unless encouraged to do so.
  2. They aren't known to carry any diseases.
  3. They don't take up a lot of space.
  4. They're very social, so you can keep more than one.

Cons

  • They're nocturnal, so there might not be much activity to watch during the day.
  • They're not trainable, and they don't bond with people.
  • They go through molts and stop moving when this happens. They may appear dead, but don't worry unless you smell an odor.
  • They'll eat their sea sponges, so you need to replace them periodically.

Obtaining Hermit Crabs

Hermit crabs are readily available at most major pet supply stores. If you can't find them locally, you can purchase them online.

Don't Rush into a Commitment

There's a certain allure to owning an exotic pet, something unusual that most other people don't have. However, there's a bit of risk involved if you don't take the time to really research the animal you're thinking of bringing into your home. Today's impulse purchase can all too easily become tomorrow's pet in need of a new home. Before you commit to an exotic pet, make sure it's legal to keep it where you live, and be sure you can provide everything that animal needs for as long as it lives.

Small Exotic Pets