5 Things You Didn’t Know About Reptiles and Amphibians

Who didn’t love the zoo as a child, or even as an adult? I am a sucker for anything animal related, so when I heard that there were going to be snakes, lizards, frogs and turtles on campus, I was overly excited.

snakes, veterinary technology

Vet tech student, Trudy Stanton, enjoyed holding the snakes.

Ryan McVeigh, president and founder of the Madison Area Herpetological Society, visited campus recently to share his knowledge of reptiles and amphibians with vet tech students in the Lab Animals, Exotics, and Pocket Pets class.

Ryan discussed the various types of reptiles: crocs, alligators, caimans, tuatara, turtles, tortoises, lizards, geckos, boas, pythons, colubrid, vipers and elapids. I felt like a kid in a zoo as Ryan gave us all an intro to reptiles and amphibians. Below are some of the things that stuck out most to me.

1. Reptiles are growing in popularity. Many people are turning to reptiles as pets because they are lower maintenance compared to a dog or a cat. However, as with any pet, it is important to do your homework prior to obtaining a new pet. You need to educate yourself and talk to a specialist, not just the person at the pet store. Reptiles have very specific housing, diet, temperature and lighting needs. If those needs are compromised, the reptile could be in danger.


Ryan brought along Herbert, a Burmese Mountain Tortoise.

2. Good animal husbandry is crucial to survival. Ryan explained that the main cause of reptile or amphibian illness was poor husbandry. Husbandry is the management and care for animals by a human. As mentioned earlier, if an owner isn’t educated by a specialist on proper housing, diet, temperature and lighting, they can compromise the health of the animal.

3. Each scale serves a purpose. Reptile skin is covered in scales. These scales serve purposes based on where they are located, many times working as protective covers.

4. Turtle or Tortoise? If you’ve ever been confused between a turtle and tortoise, you are not alone. I, too, had no idea which was which. Ryan explained that turtles live most of their lives in water and tortoises live their lives on land.

5. Many reptiles smell with their tongues. This was something I found fascinating. Ryan brought Tank, a tegu lizard, to class to meet the students. Tank had a forked tongue and it was interesting to watch him walk around the room sticking his tongue out as he went smelling everything around him.

I wasn’t the only one who learned something during Ryan’s visit—vet tech students enjoyed Ryan’s visit.


Ryan holds Tank, the tegu lizard. You can see his forked tongue in this photo.

“I learned a ton,” said vet tech student, Stephanie Gerber. “I didn’t really know anything about reptiles and didn’t really feel confident in handling them in a practice, but now I have more knowledge and confidence in handling them. I even held the snakes, which a couple years ago, I never would have done. I think Ryan is a great resource, and if I have clients ask about reptiles, I will direct them to his site to get the right information.”

“My class learned so much from Ryan,” said vet tech instructor, Brandie Moker. “He brought several animals for the students to handle and to demonstrate certain conditions or physical characteristics. Reptiles and amphibians are great pets, but they have rather specific needs. As veterinary technicians, we need to understand these needs so that we are better equipped to educate our clients.”