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  • Writer's pictureKarina Schulz

Reptiles are Bad Roommates: The Dangers of Cohabitation

While watching your reptile bask in their enclosure, you may think to yourself, “I wonder if he’s lonely. Should I get him a friend?”. The short answer is no. Unlike dogs and other mammals, most reptiles do not crave companionship or benefit from the addition of another reptile to their enclosure. Keeping two or more reptiles together is known as cohabitation and it is dangerous in most situations.


            In the wild, most reptile species live solitary lives and only interact with each other for the purpose of mating. Given the limitless space of their natural habitats, reptiles have plenty of opportunities to locate resources or avoid other reptiles if a fight is imminent. In an enclosed space, such as a terrarium, cohabitated reptiles are not able to remove themselves from the area if they feel threatened or stressed, nor do they have access to adequate resources (e.g., one overhead heat source would not create multiple basking areas, limited access to UVB, hides, water, etc.). When reptiles are cohabitated in captivity, the limited resources will result in one animal surviving while the other suffers from malnutrition, metabolic bone disease, and other health difficulties. In the worst-case scenarios, fights between the reptiles can result in severe injuries or death.

            If you go into a pet store, a common example of cohabitation is juvenile bearded dragons. They are often kept in large groups in small enclosures, and they will lay on top of one another under the basking area. This is NOT cuddling or a sign of affection – they are competing for the heat and UVB and it will result in the less dominate animals receiving inadequate care. All too often we see leopard geckos cohabitated and all but one will be underweight as they are not able to get enough food and the most dominant animal in the group eats the most while the others cannot compete. Additionally, accidental injuries can also occur in captivity. Limb loss is a common accident in cohabitation as one animal will attempt to eat while another animal’s limb is in the way.

What if both reptiles are female? Don’t males only fight?

            Although female reptiles can be less likely to fight in some species, there is still a high chance that one reptile will be more dominant and prevent the cohabitant from gaining access to proper resources. A smaller likelihood of fighting does not mean the complete absence of fighting either, there is still the risk for fights to occur. For example, female bearded dragons can live together seemingly well for an extended period and have a sudden aggressive fight.




Can I cohabitate a male and female reptile?

            Keeping a male and female reptile together will result in breeding, which can have sad consequences if the keeper does not know how to properly incubate the eggs and care for young hatchlings or does not have homes for the hatchlings to go to. If a keeper intends to breed reptiles, the breeding pair should not be permanently housed together, as the male will continuously mate with the female reptile. The female reptile can suffer from calcium depletion or malnutrition as a result of laying repeated clutches of eggs, and experience prolonged stress as a result of repeated mating attempts.


Can different species of reptiles be kept together?

            Reptiles of different species are likely to have contrasting care needs, making it impossible to offer both species the proper husbandry. For reptiles that may have similar care needs or naturally be from the same area or have overlapping habitats, the potential for fighting still exists. Just like reptiles of the same species, different kinds of reptiles who naturally live in the same environment can flee the area if they feel threatened, unlike in captivity where they are unable to leave.

            Size differences between different species can make the larger reptile more likely to attack the smaller animal. For example, some types of large lizards or snakes may eat smaller reptiles as part of their natural diet and see a smaller cohabitant as prey. This can also occur between an adult and hatchling of the same species. For instance, tree frogs are usually kept in small groups in captivity; however, if there is a size difference where one is smaller, the larger one can, and will, eat the smaller as they will eat any prey that can fit in their mouth.


Are there any species that can cohabitate?

            There are few reptiles that can be successfully and safely cohabited, such as garter snakes, mourning geckos, and dart frogs. Proper research is needed to ensure the terrarium has enough space to house the desired number of reptiles, and that all inhabitants will have adequate access to resources.


But Zoos Do It!

Zoos have highly trained keepers with lifelong experience of cohabitation. They are accepting the risks that come along with cohabitation.


Conclusion

            Cohabitation, even with reptiles who may live in colonies naturally, is not a beginner practice. For most reptiles kept as pets, cohabitation should be avoided entirely for the well-being of the animals. Keeping multiple reptiles can be tempting due to their fascinating behaviours and wide variety of colours, personalities, and appearances, but for the safety of the animal, multiple reptiles are best kept separately. All too often we anthropomorphize reptiles and assume that they are lonely on their own – but this is not at all true. There is no benefit to the animal, only convenience for the keeper.

           

 

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