Ferrets and parrots have many traits in common. They are both highly intelligent, social animals and are great pets for people who are not able to have cats and dogs (whether by allergies or living situations). It is understandable that many people who would be interested in owning a ferret might also have an interest in parrots or vice versa.
A preliminary search on the internet may tell you that letting both of these species in your household could be ill-advised. Ferrets are well documented to have injured or killed pet parrots to the horror of their owners. Ferrets are members of the weasel family and, like their wild relatives, they are incredibly skilled predators. With only 2,500 years of domestication, their predatory drive and instincts have not been dulled to the same degree as dogs and cats. Although they make sweet and loving pets to their human companions, there are many considerations and precautions necessary for those who would like to own ferrets and other "prey" type animal companions.
Our Feathered Friends
Many people may focus on the issues surrounding the mammalian part of this multi-species household equation, but it is also important to consider the parrot's health and behavior. Smaller parrots may recognize ferrets as potential predators which could cause them to become stressed at the sight of them. Other parrots may interpret ferrets as a curiosity or a nuisance. Parrots will become stressed if they feel trapped and unable to escape the view of potential predators. Parrots also tend to defend their territory, food, and favorite people which may cause them to try to attack the ferret instead of retreating from it (which would arguably be the safer option for the bird). Parrots with clipped wings not only lack the ability to fly away from a threat, but will be more likely to act aggressively towards an animal that causes them fear. Parrots that act in a fearful manner (screaming, fluttering the wings, flying, or trying to bite) will appear more interesting a ferret and are more likely to trigger the ferret's predatory reflexes. This does not mean that a calm parrot is safe around ferrets.
Parrots have fragile bodies when compared to ferrets. Even if it appears that your ferret and parrot want to play together, this should not be allowed under any circumstances. Even strong parrot beaks can be punctured by ferret teeth. There is also concern about gram negative bacteria (which ferrets, cats, and people carry) that can be harmful for parrots. Many owners show caution about sharing drinks with their parrot as some of this bacteria can be found in saliva. Parrots should not be allowed to sample ferret food as ferret food will be very high in protein and this can cause health problems for your parrot. While birds do not tend to have strong olfactory systems, parrots are one group that are found to have some sense of smell. While this plays a role in helping them locate food, it is unknown to what it extent they might use it to avoid predators. It is possible that ferrets' infamous odor may bother your feathered friend, but using certain types of air fresheners could be hazardous to your parrot's health. For ferret owners considering adding a parrot to their home, they should consider what methods they use for odor control as these may need to changed with the addition of a feathered friend.
Our Ferret Friends
While the risk of injury or death may be lower for your ferret, there are other ways that parrot ownership may impact your ferret's life. As obligate carnivores, most of what your parrot eats will be incompatible with your ferret's diet. Parrots have a tendency to share their food by flinging it everywhere. Especially harmful are fruits that are high in sugar. Food that falls to the floor and is consumed by ferrets may cause diarrhea. If it is routinely consumed, it may contribute to the develop of other illnesses.
Parrots also tend to be quite vocal and most of their vocalizations are within a ferret's hearing range (even some sounds that we can't hear!). Some of these vocalizations can be distressing to your ferret in the same way that they become distressed upon hearing a squeaky toy. There is debate whether this is due to a trigger of their predatory drive or if the sound mimics the cries of baby kits or injured ferrets. Neither of these interpretations are good in a home with parrots. For our ferrets, we keep a white noise machine running in their room so that they are not distressed by our flocks' communication throughout the day.
Finally, ferrets have an exceptional sense of smell. Some individuals may have a high predatory drive and could become frustrated if they frequently smell the presence of a prey animal and are unable to access it. However, most ferrets can become accustomed to the smell and largely ignore the presence of parrots in the home.
Ramona (ferret) was able to climb to the top of Missy's cage when a cat scratching post was left within ferret-jumping distance from the lower portion of the cage. Thankfully she made it with all her toes intact! Ramona was only discovered when Missy continued to show agitation about her unwelcome visitor.
If you decide to share your home with both of these animals, we recommend that you plan for at least three barriers between them when they are not supervised. For example, the ferrets might be kept in a cage in a room with the door closed, while the parrot resides in its cage in another part of your living space. A parrot's cage is not ferret-proof. These cages were designed to contain your bird, not to keep ferrets out. Many bird cages do not have locking mechanisms for the small doors that allow access to food and water bowls. Trays that slide out at the bottom of the cage often have very little to keep a determined ferret from wiggling their way in. Bar spacing that is larger then three quarters of inch is more than enough space for a some ferrets to squeeze through. Anywhere a ferret's skull can fit, they can fit. Even some doors designed for people have enough room for a ferret to slide under!
If your parrot's cage has bar spacing of one inch or greater, we would advise having at least four barriers since the parrot's cage cannot be considered an effective barrier. Add extra locks to cage doors and trays. We find that using a pellet type cage lining at the bottom of our parrot cages makes the trays too heavy for the ferrets to push. Alligator clips work well to secure the smaller doors for our smaller parrots. Cages for larger parrots tend to have locking mechanisms on all the doors as larger species of parrots are often smart enough and strong enough to figure out how to open their own doors. If these precautions seem extreme, keep in mind that the only thing keeping your ferret from hurting your feathered friend is time and access.
Once you have done everything to make sure there are sufficient barriers in place, it is time to figure out a schedule for your pets. If your parrot's cage is in any area that your ferret can access during their play time, you may want to temporarily find another play area for your ferrets while your parrot adjusts to its new home. If your parrot is the established family member, you may want to slowly expose your ferret to its presence as it will likely be excited and overstimulated by the new environment. You will want to figure out a schedule in which there is adequate supervision whenever the number of barriers are reduced. If your household has other adults or children, it is extra important to communicate about when each animal will have its social time.
After some time, you might gradually reduce number of barriers during supervised out-of-cage time. If your ferret has access to your parrot's cage and seems to ignore your parrot, please do not assume that your ferret is not interested in your bird. Your ferret may have been desensitized to the smell and sounds of the parrot, but it does not mean that your ferret is not interested in your bird. Ferrets are extremely near sighted and so it's unlikely that they can see and recognize your parrot while it's in its cage. Being able to see the parrot is guaranteed to renew interest in your bird and can trigger their predatory response. Ferrets can move very quickly and it only takes a second for your ferret to potentially injure your bird.
Introductions between these species should only be attempted by professionals or those who are highly experienced with both animals. Please do not attempt this "just to see what will happen" as it has very high risk for both your ferret and your bird. Videos in which ferrets and parrots are seen calmly interacting or co-existing are likely created after a long process of behavior modification and training. Even with this training, the predatory instinct of a ferret can never be completely extinguished.
If you would like to see cute interactions between these species, please enjoy the work of professionals and prioritize the safety of the animals in your own home!
South American Horned Frog generally refers to one of two species of frog, the Ornate Horned Frog and Cranwell’s Horned Frog. Ornate Horned Frog tends to be the slightly larger species. Females are generally larger than males. Once they are full grown, males have nuptial pads on the inside of their hands and males will tend to be more vocal. In their native environment, the local people refer to them as “ezcuerzos” which means “toad” in Spanish. These burrowing amphibians are actually frogs, not toads, as they have teeth that are connected to their jaw. True toads do not have teeth. It is not uncommon for these frogs to break skin if they bite a person.
When the ground is dry and/or food is scarce, South American Horned frogs will develop a tough outer skin, like a cocoon to keep themselves from drying out. Once they are rehydrated, they will shed and eat this protective layer. This process is known as estivation.
South American Horned Frogs are popular as pets due to their simple care requirements. A 10 gallon tank is large enough to keep one individual. Multiple frogs should not be housed together as they may cause injury to each other. Some frogs may appreciate a shallow water dish, but they do not require one as they absorb moisture through their skin from the substrate. They do require areas to hide such as a log or a fake plant. Live plants that are not toxic can also be used in the enclosure with the understanding that the frog may occasionally dig up the plant as they love to burrow in the substrate.
Frogs do not require additional heating or UVB lighting as long as the enclosure is in an area that is room temperature. UVB lighting should not be used with albino frogs as this may cause blindness. Most frogs have a voracious appetite so feeding should be scaled back if they begin appearing too plump. Smaller frogs will require smaller prey items.
At Ferrets and Friends, LLC our South American Horned Frogs are fed two to three times per week. Our larger frog eats about five large sized crickets each week while our younger frog eats about three medium sized crickets. These crickets are dusted with a calcium with D3 supplement.
Animal Care Cost Example (2017 prices): Set up
Animal Care Cost Example (2017 prices): Annual Cost
It has been a busy year for Ferrets and Friends, LLC! We have had significant growth, performing twice as many shows in 2017 as 2016. We have also seen some growth in the diversity and number of animal friends! This year, we debuted two new species (the chinchilla and the Sonoran Desert Millipede) and we added three new species that we are hoping to debut next year (the African pygmy hedgehog, the Mexican red knee tarantula, and the African bullfrog). It has been an exciting time for our animal educators to learn and work with these new animal friends.
Unfortunately, this year we also had some significant losses. In 2017, we said goodbye to Gambit (ferret), Sophie (ferret), Honey (Palomino Blonde Tarantula), Capheus (Jackson Chameleon), and Paisley (South American Horned Frog). Our ferrets, Gambit and Sophie, have been with Ferrets and Friends since the beginning. We lost Sophie in early 2017 due to Ferret-FIP and we lost Gambit in the fall of 2017 after medications for his insulinoma were no longer effective. Both were about six years old at their time of death. Ages are unknown for Honey (tarantula), Capheus (chameleon), and Paisley (frog), but it is believed that Honey and Capheus passed away from old age. Paisley (frog) passed away due to unknown causes and was less than one year old at her time of death.
Our Friends' Health in 2017
At Ferrets and Friends, we value taking care of our animals in both illness and health. We are grateful for their hard work and cooperation. This year, we had some significant surgeries. Samson (ferret, five years old) had a surgery to amputate one of his toes and Ramona (ferret, four years old) had a surgery to remove bladder stones. Due to the increasing health problems that ferrets experience as they age, we have decided to start a retirement process for our ferrets beginning at age five. Currently, Samson will be semi-retired, but he is still showing interest in going to events. After all, snuggling is Samson's favorite activity!
Other health updates include egg laying by our Leopard Gecko (Cici), Chinese Water Dragon (Jasmine), and Green Cheek Conure (Domino). It is important to make sure that any egg-laying animals have lots of exercise for strong muscles and calcium to replace what is lost when they are laying eggs. None of our animal friends showed any signs of egg binding and they continue to be active and healthy.
So how much does it cost to keep our animals healthy and happy? In 2017, our animals cost over $9,000 in veterinary bills alone! Other animal care costs (including food, substrate, toys, heat and lighting equipment, and enclosures) totaled over $10,000. This does not include the human labor that goes into maintaining enclosures, socializing, and training our animal friends.
New to the Zoo in 2017
This year, we added a whopping 23 new animal friends to our care! Of those twenty-three animals, nine of them were rehomed animals or rescues. Sixteen animals were acquired as potential animal ambassadors. Some of these animals have already started doing shows in 2017: Tarzan & Jane (Leopard Tortoises), Riley, Pabu, & Abu (ferrets), Bumi (chinchilla), Tucker (Kenyan Sand Boa), and the Sonoran Desert Millipedes.
Currently, Ferrets and Friends has 58 animals in our care. Not all of these animals are used for shows (currently about 35 are show ready at the time of writing). It's not uncommon for people to inquire whether we are accepting exotic pets that are being re-homed. In fact, over a quarter of our animals have previously had other homes before they arrived in our care. This is why we encourage people to thoroughly research any exotic pet that they may want. These animals are dependent on us to provide for their care and many can have demanding care requirements.
Most of our animals that are used in shows, we have raised from a young age. Shows can be stressful environments for these animals so we want to be sure that they are well socialized and they have temperaments that are appropriate for working around children. Rehomed and rescued animals can make great animal ambassadors, too! Each animal friends is unique.
Here's to an even better 2018! Happy New Year from your favorite animal friends!
Florida has more nonnative reptiles and amphibians than anywhere else in the world with more than 60 that are established and breeding. South Florida has a subtropical climate, island-like geography (water on three sides, frost to the north), major ports of trade which provide plants and animals entry into the United States, thriving trade in exotic pets, and occasional destructive hurricanes which increases risk of escapes.
Africa’s largest snake, the African rock python, are breeding in a small area of south Florida (estimated 6 square miles of land). The African rock python has a thick, long body, which is patterned in blotches that range from brown, olive, and yellow-toned tan, which form irregular stripes and chunky-block pattern. It has a triangular head and many sharp, backwardly curved teeth, and is covered in small smooth scales. Around the mouth are heat-sensitive pits, which are used to detect warm-blooded prey, even in the dark. African rock pythons are found throughout almost the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal east to Ethiopia and Somalia and south to Namibia and South and western Africa.
Image: Edward Mercer, a non-native wildlife technician for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, holds a North African Python during a press conference in the Florida Everglades about the non-native species on January 29, 2015 in Miami, Florida (Image source: Jan. 28, 2015 - Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America)
FWC In Florida, these snakes are a high priority species for management due to their large size and because of the extensive invasion of a similar species, the Burmese Python. They are very difficult to find, so determining how many north African rock pythons are present within the area is challenging.
Detection for the Burmese Python is between 0.005 and 0.01, and if we assume north African pythons are similar, then we would need over 300 visits to the area with no observations of pythons before it could be concluded with 95% confidence that the north African rock python population is not expanding.
There are efforts being carried out by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the University of Florida (UF) to research and remove the north African rock pythons from the wild in Florida. Biologists from FWC and UF, along with South Florida Water Management, and a handful of other organizations conduct surveys each week to locate these snakes. This year alone there have been two live captures of the African pythons, and one dead-on-arrival python which was run over with a commercial grade lawn mower. Recently, this species has been completely banned in the state of Florida, which means no new animals can be imported or exported from the state. Removal efforts have been in place since the first python sightings occurred in 2001, and banning this species will help keep these pythons from becoming as big a nuisance as the Burmese python.
More information on the Northern African rock python can be found by following the links below:
FWC Pest Brochure
Sun Sentinel News Article
What is EIRAMP?
This Everglades Invasive Reptile and Amphibian Monitoring Program (EIRAMP) was developed as a method for monitoring the spread of exotic species in southern Florida. South Florida is prone to invasion by nonnative species due to its sub-tropical climate; mosaic of agricultural, natural, and urban habitats; and island-like geography being surrounded by water on three sides and freezing temperatures to the north. The state of Florida alone currently hosts more established alien reptiles than any other state or nation (Meshaka et al. 2004). The natural portions of land are under increasing pressure from invasion by nonnative species, and current methods of interception and eradication of invaders has not been able to match the increasing threats.
Prevention of the introduction of invasive species is the best defense against invasions. Followed by the early detection of invaders and rapid response efforts towards their removal. Once populations are established and wide=spread the option for management becomes limited and expensive. Surveying current habitat for native amphibians, reptiles, and mammals alongside invasive species aids in determining the impact exotic species have in southern Florida. This monitoring program was developed to establish the status and spread of existing populations of invasive reptiles and amphibians, provides early detection and rapid response for removal of invasive species, and to provide information on the invasive animals collected while surveying.
The areas being surveyed have potential for detection of nonnative amphibians, reptiles, and mammals; there are currently 22 areas, with potential for additions if there are particular areas of concern. The surveys conducted once a month, within 30 minutes of sunset. While driving or walking, animal species that are observed are identified and recorded on a data sheet. This information, along with the GPS location, habitat type (parking lot, tree, road, etc.), and the number of individuals observed. Invasive animals (primarily Burmese Pythons) are removed when encountered.
Environmental information including time of night, temperature, humidity, and general weather (rainy, clear, cloudy) are also recorded. At the end of each survey the data recorded is entered into a computer database. Once in the database, all of the surveys can be sorted through. For example, I could ‘search’ for every animal seen under “cloudy” conditions; or for every “Burmese Python” that was encountered.
What Do We Learn?
All of the information recorded during these surveys is put towards management plans and other scientific studies. All of the categories of information can be analyzed for patterns. For example: Looking at temperature and species, we may see a pattern in what animals are seen at certain temperatures; or time of night; or weather...see what I'm saying? This information can then be used to supplement management plans for the removal or control of invasive animals; it can also be used to monitor the populations of native animals. If we see an increase in Burmese Python sightings over the years, and a decrease in the sighting of native snakes, it may imply that Burmese Python presence is influencing the presence of native snakes. This is very important information, especially when threatened species are involved.
The most important part of these surveys are the number of surveys carried out. The more surveys conducted over several years, the more information and patterns may emerge. Data from 2012 compared to data from 2017 may reveal shocking differences in the the number of invasive species encounters, or in the type of native species encountered (more mammals than reptiles?); it even can show a change in the weather or temperature over time (very wet or dry year; hot or colder?). All of this data is ever growing, and it is never going to become irrelevant. The more we know, the more we can do to help stop invasive animals from spreading.
Some of the most charismatic reptiles come packaged in shells. Turtles of all shapes and sizes capture the hearts of people all over the world. Turtle (and tortoise!) species all over the world hold many traits in common:
This is a grim outlook fr turtles, but all hope is not lost. Citizens and biologists have been teaming up all over the world to protect turtles and their nests. Turtles all over the world are being surveyed for science - citizens and biologists are walking the beaches and waterways to monitor the nesting activities of all kinds of turtles. Sea turtles, river turtles, tortoises are all having their nesting behavior documented, their nests protected, and their hatchlings escorted to the water.
Image above: Leatherback Sea Turtles being gathered by volunteers before being released into the water. http://www.sunglassesrequired.com/blog/2015/3/25/sea-turtles
These simple beach walks can be supplemented by nest protection, usually in the form of caging. Structures such as milk crates of wire metal cages can be carefully placed around the eggs to keep predators from digging up the eggs. It is very important that this light caging does not block the sun, which could cause the eggs in the nests to respond unnaturally - temperature determines the sex ratio or males to females in most turtle eggs, so it is important to not disturb this. Even without cages to protect the nests directly, beach walks can be used to assist hatchlings on their way to the water. The video below shows baby Leatherback Sea turtles (those pictured in the image above!) who were assisted down the beach to the water edge.
This simple conservation method is used all over the world. Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Sri Lanka, Cuba, Australia, and all along the coasts of the United States sea turtle nests are being protected. Beyond sea turtles, there are turtles like Maryland's own Diamondback Terrapin, who are subjected to nest surveys and hatchling assistance. One such event I participated in for three years were the nest surveys of Diamondback Terrapins. I was a volunteer for Maryland Department of Natural Resources who walked a two mile stretch of beach. I would look for turtle crawls along the beach, cage the nests using milk crates, and after 60 days the nests would hatch and I would measure and then release the turtles.
The purpose of this was to increase nest hatching for the terrapins, and hopefully increase population numbers. This return investment - having turtle population increase - is something I likely won't be able to see for many years. The long lives of turtles mean that often times no changes are noticed in the population util many years later, when hatchlings grow to be adults. Although the result are not immediate, in areas where depredation of nests are 100% simply having nests hatch is a huge success. The Northern Map turtles that I worked with went from 100% nest depredation to 80% nest success with caging. The reward of simply having nests hatch was amazing.
This simple concept of a walk on the beach emphasizes the idea that conservation of wildlife can be so simple. Above is a video of a conservationist I have had the opportunity to work with explaining why conservation is so simple.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead.
Turtle walks are organized all over - the links below can be used to learn more about turtle walks!
We Are Bamboo
Below are photos from my experience volunteering with Diamondback Terrapin nesting surveys!
American Crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) live in coastal areas from the Caribbean to south Florida. They live in salt and brackish water throughout ponds, creeks, mangrove swamps, and can occasionally be found in freshwater canals in South East Florida. These reptiles are ectothermic, which means they rely on the external environment for heat to regulate their body temperature. In cool air temperatures you can see them laying out in the sun to warm up, and once warm enough they will move to cooler areas. This cyclic movement between warm and cool locations is a 'shuttling' behavior that helps them to maintain their temperature for ideal body functioning.
These large animals are threatened by predation, low hydrologic conditions, and habitat loss. There are no natural predator s of adult crocodiles besides humans, but hatchling crocodiles have a very high death rate and are preyed upon by wildlife including birds, raccoons, and crabs. Hydrologic conditions of the water are damaging to crocodile nests. There are extensive drainage programs in south Florida that cause nests to become too wet or too dry, which results in egg-death. The final factor, habitat loss, was heavily impacted by the development of the Florida Keys. The Keys provided a large area of suitable habitat for crocodiles, but development for tourism has caused that area to become polluted and too disturbed to be useful to the crocodiles.
World wide the crocodiles are listed as being endangered, however, the crocodile population in Florida has been doing well and was moved from being federally endangered to threatened. This decision was made due to some data that has been collected on the crocodile population over the past several years which showed an increase in nesting females as well as overall population size. The crocodiles are not in the clear yet, and are still being monitored for progress or setbacks.
I personally have been able to take part in the collection the data that is being used to monitor the crocodile populations in south Florida. The populations are monitored throughout the year to make sure that they are doing well. There is much data collected on these animals, and I will share the main data types with you to show how we are keeping track of the population's health.
There are surveys for population counts that occur. Boat go out into the salt water and brackish areas of south Florida and the coast where crocodiles are surveyed using spot lights. The spotlights cause the eyes of the crocodiles to light up, and then that crocodile is recorded as an individual, an its size is estimated and recorded. This is done four times a year and give us estimated population counts for each area surveyed.
After theses spotlights surveys occur, captures are performed to record weight, length, and sex of individual crocodiles. this gives us information on the health of the population and accurate sizes to compare to the estimated sizes from the spotlight surveys.
A final collection of data occurs during the nesting season. Nests are found by surveying beaches for crocodile activity via helicopter. From the air you can see where crocodiles have crawled in and out of the water to nest. Once beaches are identified, ground surveys to find and flag nests are conducted. Nests are marked by GPS point, and in some cases they will have a datalogger placed near the nest to record data on nest temperatures as the eggs incubate.
Surveys are conducted to monitor the status of the nests while they incubate, and once hatching is deteced then survesy for hatchlings occur. The hatchling surveys consisted of spotlighting for baby crocodiles, catching them, counting them, measuring and weighing them, and giving the unique number so we can keep track of them if we catch them again. Recapture data is important for long-term studies and monitoring of populations so that you can tell which animals survive and which ones do not.
This data is very important to make sure these crocodiles do not need to be placed back on the list of federally endangered species. Monitoring them is the best way to ensure their population is on the fast track to recovery, and not temporarily recovering only to begin declining again.
Please remember to leave crocodiles alone if you encounter them in the wild. The photo above was taken with permission to handle the crocodiles for research, but touching them in the wild is illegal. Any person who touches or harasses crocodiles in the wild can be lawfully prosecuted, but it is also important to remember that they are dangerous and can hurt you - so you don't want to touch them anyways!
More information on the American Crocodile can be found below:
American Crocodile: Species Profile
Status and Conservation of the American Crocodile in Florida: Recovering an Endangered Species While Restoring an Endangered Ecosystem
Frank J. Mazzotti and Michael S. Cherkiss, 2003
(PDF, 1.9 MB)
The Nest Environment of the American Crocodile
Peter L. Lutz and Ann Dunbar-Cooper, 1982
(PDF, 5.63 MB)
Osmoregulation of Crocodiles in Everglades National Park
William A. Dunson, 1980
(PDF, 5.43 MB)
Feasibility of the Establishment of a Captive-Breeding Population of the
John L. Behler, 1978
(PDF, 29 MB)
Wildlife Trade is an industry that revolves around transport of animals to be utilized for multiple goods and services. The demand for live animals varies in different areas of the world, but the bottom line is that animals are traded A LOT. The figure below shows the number of animals imported into JUST the USA from 1999-2010. Pretty crazy, right?
With all of this trade going on there is bound to be consequences - animals are lost or escape from shipments. The release of these traded animals results in the spread of diseases. Chytrid fungus and rainavirus are decimating native amphibian populations, and both were spread due to the trade of wildlife. Not only can these diseases impact other animals, but the SARS virus and Avian flu are both diseases spread by animals to humans.
Trade of animals occurs legally and illegally, and can result in over exploitation of wild populations. The trade industry is unsustainable, and it is one of the biggest threats to biodiversity. An even bigger threat to biodiversity is the invasion of nonnative species - a threat that is directly linked to the trade of wildlife. The trade of wildlife has increased gradually over many years, as illustrated in the figure below, which means nonnative introductions has increased as well.
I have hammered the threats posed by nonnative species in previous posts, especially when the nonnative species becomes an invasive one. Invasive species are any species (plants, animals, any organism) that cause economical damage, ecological damage, or threaten human health. The USA spends over $137 billion every year to manage these introduced animals even with all the regulations in place to monitor trade.
There are several policies that exist to protect wildlife from trade including:
- The Endangered SPecies Act
-Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITIES)
-Migratory Bird Act
-Wild Bird Conservation Act
These, along with various regulations at the state level, are put in place to prevent introduction, but it is not so simple. There is much man power, money, and time that is needed to dedicate for preventing introduction of species - and there is a lack of money to pay for the man power to monitor ALL of the shipments and trade involving flora and fauna; not to mention any escaped or released pets.
The demand for live animal trade is desired all over the world - from food to boots to ancient medicinal cures, live animals are wanted everywhere. This wildlife trade has introduced many species all over the world, not just in the USA. Australia, England, Guam, Japan, China, Puerto Rico, and many other countries are experiencing the impacts of nonnative specie introductions. The wildlife trade will never be shut down, but the depletion of wild animals will surly cause the market to crash.
I encourage the purchase of captive-bred (CB) animals. Although hard to find for some unique species, captive bred pets do not support the wildlife trade or depletion of wild populations. Every little bit of effort counts, support your local breeders!
*****This post has adapted a powerpoint presentation given by Dr. Christina Romagosa on wildlife trade. The information provided is my summary of her presentation that was given to a college Conservation Biology course earlier this year.*****
The rat is an oft-misunderstood animal. The Domestic Rat, also known as the Fancy Rat, was originally bred from the wild European species of the same scientific name, also known as the Norway Rat or Brown Rat. Domestic rats are today bred for many different traits just as domestic dogs and cats are, and make great companion animals. Rats are extremely intelligent and easily trainable- they can even be litter trained with patience, and easily trained to walk harnessed on a leash as well. They love spending time with each other as well as their humans, and so are best kept in an area of the house that is highly trafficked.
Domestic Rat Varieties
Unlike dogs and cats, domestic rats are categorized by variety rather than breed. There are several organizations across the globe that describe these varieties, and each has its own distinction of varieties recognized for show in exhibitions. Organizations include The Rat and Mouse Club of America (RMCA), American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association (AFRMA), and The National Fancy Rat Society (NFRS) in the United Kingdom.
Below are the main varieties- these are also categorized by markings and colors. Pet store rats are often interbred and so will have imperfect markings similar to but not accurate to the requirements for show.
Rats are social animals that can become stressed or even depressed if left alone, so it is always recommended to have at least two. A group of rats is called a mischief, though some rat owners refer to their groups as ratteries. They can be housed in single sex groupings, or together if they are spayed or neutered. It is easier and safer to neuter a male than spay a female, as in other mammalian species, and especially recommended for males if their testosterone is too high, as just like other species this can cause aggression. It is beneficial in either sex because one of the most common causes of early death in rats is cancer, so removal of the sex organs reduces the places metastasis can occur.
When adopting a rat, it is important to consider where it is being acquired from. Due to the prevalence of mills, pet store rats have a higher chance of behavioral issues or shortened lifespans due to medical conditions such as cancer from interbreeding. In retired lab rats, cancer can also be common depending on what type of lab they came from as their cancers form and progress almost identical to humans, but much faster. Rats from breeders typically have better dispositions and the longest lifespans, though illness is still the number one cause of a rat’s death due to the long period in which rats were interbred before regulations and recommendations were put in place by rat enthusiasts. The most common illness is caused by the bacteria Mycoplasma pulmonis results in pneumonia in rodents but is not zoonotic (contagious) to humans. It is for this reason that it is most vital to keep a rat’s home clean, warm, and free of aerosols or dust such as from pine or cedar bedding. If a rat exhibits mucus bubbles around their nose or it can be heard in their breathing, antibiotics from the vet and spending time in a steamy room are the best treatment (I have put mine with me in the bathroom while I shower).
When building your first rat enclosure, metal is recommended as it cannot be chewed on and is easy to clean. Bars on the side are vital for ventilation, but platforms should be solid or covered with cloth to prevent feet or tails from getting stuck. Rats are great climbers and most prefer to sleep in hammocks, so one can build up rather than out to conserve space. Some rats love wheels; be sure to only purchase sturdy ones with solid surfaces such as Silent Spinners or Wodent Wheels. Few rat specific toys are available in pet stores so most ratters also collect enrichment and furniture sold for birds, reptiles, fish, or even make their own to save money. Anything you give a rat runs the risk of being chewed on and eventually needing to be replaced-- inorganic materials especially if you have heavy chewers that may ingest indigestible material. Wood can be reused but may eventually need to get thrown out due to urinating if they are not fully litter trained (especially with un-neutered males). Plastic can be cleaned with simple green or bleach and rinsed well, and fabric can be shaken out then washed.
Rats are omnivores and prefer to eat a variety of foods. They’ll love to share pieces of the salad you’re cutting for dinner, or clean out that yogurt container once you’re done with it. Be sure to check that a new food is safe- some fruits and vegetables eaten by humans are only safe for rats cooked, in small amounts, or not at all. If you have picky eaters and are worried about them getting enough nutrients VitaKraft makes a supplement you can add daily to their water.
As rodents, they have continually growing teeth and must also be provided chews, preferably in a variety. My go-tos are wood chews, seashells or cuttlebone for added calcium, and mineral/salt licks for micronutrients.
Sometimes, your rats get messy and will need a bath. Try to stick to no more than once a month, max every three weeks, except in emergencies. Fill in with wipe downs in between using a damp cloth. This wil ensure your rats stay clean but also don’t loose the natural oils on their skin from overwashing.
Bathing provides enrichment for them, and if you start early you can ensure that baths are not stressful for them down the line. This ensures that if you need to bathe one for an emergency such as fleas or if they get into something they shouldn’t, you’ll be able to do it quickly with little fuss in what will already be an uncomfortable experience for them.
Bath water should not be too hot for us to touch, but on the warmer side as their normal body temperature is 100.4-102.2 degrees fahrenheit. I prefer using the bathtub so that they have lots of room and you can have a deep area for them to swim as well as a shallow one for them to stand. A large container or even a kiddie pool will work as well- just be sure to include rocks or other “islands” for them to rest on. The sound of the waterfall can scare them, so don’t put them in until the water is filled and still, especially if this is their first time or they’re still nervous about baths.
For soap, you will want to purchase non-toxic, extra gentle, tear free shampoo. Few stores carry this for small mammals (and when they do it is usually marked up) so I usually use dog shampoo or baby shampoo. Do this after giving them some free time in the water as once it is soapy you’ll not want to leave them in it for long in case of ingestion. Either run the water slowly so as not to scare them with the noise, or have a pitcher of clean water for a final rinse. For drying, rub them down real well with a towel and swaddle them tight in a warm area so they don’t get too cold. This is a great chance for bonding and snuggling with their humans. Some of my rats have even enjoyed a gentle blow with the hair dryer!
Animal Care Cost Example (2017 Prices): Set Up
Sarah is a conservation educator and trained zookeeper currently working at an AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited zoo in New Jersey while also starting a freelance nature program in Jersey City. Her education specialties include urban environmental programming and access, while her keeping specialties are focused on small mammals, arthropods, and birds of prey.
To keep with the theme of "animals that don't belong in Florida" I would like to introduce the Nile Monitor. Nile Monitors (Varanus niloticus) are large African lizards, which have been introduced in Florida via the pet trade - just like everything else, what a surprise. These carnivorous lizards can grow up to 8 feet in length, and weigh a whopping 30 pounds! They are diet generalists - meaning they will eat pretty much ANYTHING. I personally have been looking at some of their diet items, and they range from reptile eggs, to turtle, insects, small mammals, frogs, toads, and snakes!
These lizards were first noticed in Florida in the 1990s, and there is a heavy threat these lizards pose to a protected native species. In Africa, Nile Monitor are known to raid crocodile nests and feed on crocodile hatchlings - this feeding habit directly implicated Nile Monitors as threats to Florida's native American Crocodile. The American Crocodile is a protected species, and are recovering from a steep population decline that hit its lowest in the 1970s. Established populations of Nile Monitors could make it even harder for these crocodiles to recover.
These lizards are sold in the pet trade despite their rather aggressive demeanor. They are certainly not for beginners. To quote a book:
"There are few of these lizards less suited to life in captivity than the Nile monitor. Buffrenil (1992) considered that, when fighting for its life, a Nile Monitor was a more dangerous adversary than a crocodile of a similar size. Their care presents particular problems on account of the lizards' enormous size and lively dispositions. Very few of the people who buy brightly-coloured baby Nile Monitors can be aware that, within a couple of years, their purchase will have turned into an enormous, ferocious carnivore, quite capable of breaking the family cat's neck with a single snap and swallowing it whole."
-Bennett, D. 1995. Little Book of Monitor Lizards, Viper Press, Aberdeen, UK
As if their attitude wasn't enough, these lizards have huge appetites, require large space for housing (hello- they can grow to be 8 feet long...a tank over 16 feet in length would be required to comfortably house a lizard of that size!), and a very secure space at that. These animals also really enjoy swimming, climb, and dig - so pet owners should be ready to build an outdoor enclosure or dedicate a whole bedroom to their animal. This, of course, is why monitors are now a problem in Florida. The requirements the need to be kept, as well as the rude personalities, lead to owners becoming fed up, tired of, or just plain scared of their pet Nile Monitor. That is how they became to live in Florida - released pets.
To learn more about Nile Monitors as pets:
To learn more about Nile Monitors as threats:
All photos belong to Nick Scobel: https://www.flickr.com/photos/michiganherper/
About the blog
Ferrets and Friends, LLC has four writers bringing you information on a variety of topics from pets to wildlife, education to conservation, and from new developments in our business to information about our industry. Learn something new each week!