The following advice is mainly aimed at non-snake reptile species. Snakes typically cohabit fairly well, though following the advice below will help – especially with regard to size differences. Certain species will show aggression to each other e.g. Male Woma pythons. It is also important to point out that Kingsnakes (and more rarely other lizard/snake eating species) have been shown to exhibit cannibalism and therefore should be kept separate.
As you will probably know, reptiles are a very low maintenance pet and it can therefore be very tempting to consider buying multiple animals and housing them together. However, even in optimal conditions, two animals may simply not “get along” in which case you must be prepared to separate the animals.
Unlike most mammalian species, nearly all reptiles are non-gregarious (don’t require company). With the exception of two known species (Monkey Tail Skink, Shinglebacks), reptiles see other animals, even their own species, as competition; competition for food, space, heat, UVB, and hiding places. However, some species will tolerate each other’s company pretty well.
In the wild, animals will only share resources with one another if the relationship is mutually beneficial, or if the environment will allow. For example, Meerkats live together in large groups but each individual will play a role in ensuring the safety and survival of the group as a whole. Reptiles do not exhibit this sort of behaviour as they are typically very self-oriented. You may see a number of reptiles together in the wild but this will only happen if there is enough space and resources for all of them. The strongest animals will survive and the weakest will die, or move on to a new area where they can thrive. If two reptiles are forced together, the larger-fitter animal of the two will usually become dominant. Establishing this hierarchy may be problem free but can take the form of psychological “bullying” or may end in physical bullying, resulting in injury or in extreme circumstances, even death for the subordinate animal. Due to this it is obviously essential that when considering housing multiple animals together, you reduce the risk, by limiting the causal factors of this bullying.
Now, we don’t want to put you off the idea completely as, if done right, certain species can be housed together with a high degree of success and it can make for an impressive display. If you follow the advice below, you give yourself the best possible chance for successfully housing multiple animals in the same enclosure.
First and foremost, if you intend on housing two animals or more, together, you will need to be able to provide an enclosure big enough. This may mean a relatively small increase on recommended minimum tank size, such as for leopard geckos (min 24”x 15” for single adult, to 36”x15” for two) or quite a jump e.g. Hermann’s tortoises (48”x 24” for one, 72”x 24” for two). Typically, if you allow for an additional 50% floor space for a new animal, this should be sufficient in most cases. Please speak to us in store or over the phone (01202 421117) for specific advice for your animals.
As well as having an appropriate sized tank, you need to be able to provide the same opportunities for each animal to receive the environmental conditions and nutritional requirements that it needs. To achieve this, you must ensure that you have enough hiding places at both the hot and cool end of the tank so that each animal can be down the same end and hidden separately. The more hiding places you provide in general will go a long way to maximising the chances of your animals getting along – you can never have too many. And contrary to what you might think, the more hiding places there are, the more likely you are to see your animal(s) out and about.
Secondly, you need to ensure that there is ample food available for all animals. Typically, we advise feeding reptiles (excluding snakes) every other day, but initially it can be beneficial to provide food every day to ensure that all the animals have an opportunity to get as much food as they need. This in theory should reassure dominant animals that there is enough food in the environment to satisfy themselves and allow for the others.
Probably the most important factor in determining the success of housing animals together. Physical size is important and it does not matter about actual age, as long as the animals are of a similar size, whether one is months or years older is virtually irrelevant. If a smaller animal is placed in an enclosure with a larger individual, the smaller one will almost certainly be bullied either physically or psychologically and will rarely survive long.
In virtually every circumstance, multiple males is a definite no-no. Two males will rarely tolerate each other’s company and one male will ultimately suffer through bullying.
The safest option is to house females together. Two or more females (space permitting) will generally cohabit fairly well, and although there will always be a dominant female, the pressure on subordinate females tends to be manageable and will have little impact on the health of these females. Following the advice for all other factors in this caresheet will also help to minimise the impact of dominance and reduce the associated risks. This rule is not absolute however, as two female Lygodactylus williamsii will not safely cohabit.
Keeping a single male with one or more females is generally OK. Obviously keeping a mature male with females means there is a chance for breeding, so you must be prepared to care for any offspring, which can be difficult to sell on or even give away! Breeding is a stressful process for the female physically and in some cases, where a male will not give the female time to recover between breeding, this can result in serious health issues and the two animals must be separated. A male with a single female increases the risk of overbreeding and it can be safer to house a single male with two or more females but this is obviously dependant on space. Most chameleons species (e.g. Yemens (Veiled), Panthers etc.) will not tolerate each other as they are very susceptible to stress, though African Pygmy Chameleons are an exception.
We never recommend housing two different species together, but if you are particularly keen on the idea there are certain species that have been mixed successfully (e.g. USA Green and Grey Tree frogs, Golden Geckos and Marbled Geckos) among others – for more info on this see us in store or call us on 01202 421117.
Ignoring social compatibility for the moment, if you plan to mix species, they must have the same husbandry requirements. So desert species obviously can’t be mixed with tropical species and herbivorous species can’t be mixed with insectivorous species etc. You should also only mix species found from the same geographic location as some animals may be carriers of certain diseases that they are immune to but which other species may be particularly susceptible. You should also bear in mind the growth potential of each animal and only house animals that grow a very similar size. Reptiles are often not picky feeders and will eat anything small enough to fit in their mouths!
In addition, when mixing species you need to be aware of how territorial the species are as some species can be much more difficult to successfully keep together than others and the space required is not solely dependent on the physical size of the animal. For example, certain species of dart frog such as D. tinctorious tend to require much more room if housed together than do D. auratus or D. leucamelas. If you’re unsure then its best to err on the side of caution and keep them separate.
Introducing a new animal into an existing enclosure requires a few extra measures to make it as safe as possible in addition to all the above. Firstly, we strongly recommend quarantining any new animals before introducing them to others. You want to be sure that your new animal does not carry anything (illness or parasites etc.) that may transfer to other animals and affect their health.
Before introducing a new animal you should give the tank a thorough cleaning, removing old substrate and rinsing any décor and the inside of the tank. This helps to produce a new environment, one that your existing animal does not consider his/her territory. Therefore a new animal being introduced should not be seen as invading territory. During cleaning it can also help to rearrange the layout of the tank and/or reposition the tank in the room that it’s kept in. This helps add to the “effect” of a new environment and helps reduce the possibility of a territorial dispute between the animals.
Once the animals have been introduced to each other, keep a close eye on them over the next few hours to days – as much as possible. Usually, if serious physical aggression is to appear, it will present itself early on, and if it does happen, you want to be able to stop it as soon as possible.
As mentioned previously, bullying can take the form of physical aggression or psychological bullying through dominancy. The former is easy to spot as you will see injuries particularly to the legs, tail and back of the neck. The sooner you spot evidence of injuries the better.
Issues with over-dominancy can present itself in many ways such as, but not limited to:
*Dominancy displays themselves are not an issue, unless they are constant and begin to affect the wellbeing of the other animals in the tank.
If you follow all the advice above then with a bit of luck you will have no problems housing two or more animals together successfully. An enclosure, housing multiple animals successfully can be a rewarding experience and will produce a fascinating display. However please remember that even following all the advice perfectly cannot guarantee that two animals will get along and you should be prepared to separate animals if necessary.
As always If you have issues, need advice or further information, don’t hesitate to visit us in store, give us a call (01202 421117) or contact us through our Facebook Page (http://facebook.com/ReptilesPlus).