Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Classroom Reptiles

©1997 Melissa Kaplan. Excerpt from Classroom Reptiles, Master's Thesis, School of Education, Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA


Chapter I: Introduction
Animals have been part of the classroom environment and curriculum for many years. Most often, the animals are mammalian vertebrates such as rabbits, hamsters, and guinea pigs; some classrooms may house small tanks of fish or amphibians.

Classroom reptiles are often cared for improperly due to a lack of information and unavailability of financial and other resources (Kaufmann, 1991, p. 6). Reptiles who are improperly cared for do not thrive in captivity and suffer higher mortality rates (Lance, 1992). Sick reptiles do not behave normally for the species, thus affecting their usefulness in nature and behavior studies (Chiszar, Tomlinson, Smith, Murphy, & Radcliffe, 1995; Warwick, 1995). These conditions create inappropriate models for students, many of whom have, or later obtain, reptiles of their own, and care for them as they have seen done in their classrooms.

Reptiles are frequently misunderstood from a physiological and psychological perspective (Pough, 1991, p. S5; Kreger, 1993). To many people, their "cold-bloodedness" means that they do not require heat. Because reptiles are masters in energy conservation, effected through reduced activity levels, an inactive reptile is thought to be acting normally despite its lethargy being caused by the hypothermia or hyperthermia itself. In fact, reptiles who are not maintained within their preferred optimum temperature zone are unable to thermoregulate themselves to maintain their preferred body temperature (Barten, 1993, p. 1216; Lillywhite & Gatten, 1995, p. 9). It is only by their ability to maintain their preferred body temperature that reptiles are able to keep their metabolic and immunological processes functioning at optimum levels for health, growth, and reproduction (Warwick, 1991, p. 375; Guillette, Cree & Rooney, 1995). Despite this need for heat, classroom reptiles are often kept unheated, or with heat sources turned off at night, or on weekends and school vacations (Kaufmann, 1991, p. 6).

The reptile's need for microhabitats is also often overlooked. In the wild, most reptiles make extensive use of rocky crevices or underground burrows, such that even desert lizards have access to resting areas of higher humidity than would otherwise be thought (Pough, 1992).

At the very least, then, the proper care of reptiles in captivity requires knowledge of their ecology and behavior as well as physiology.

Much of the literature available to the general public, at pet stores and in libraries, is out-of-date. Much of the newer literature is so brief as to be worthless in terms of detailing the care, equipment and dietary needs to ensure that animals are not merely kept alive, but grow, thrive, even reproduce, in captivity. Some of the literature is based on older, inaccurate information and does not reflect the biological and veterinary research and literature which documents the care necessary to ensure healthy reptiles.


Statement of Problem
Reptiles are a popular addition to the classroom environment. Poor information and lack of understanding of the reptiles' requirements can lead to sick, injured, malnourished, and dead classroom reptiles. This not only is abusive to the animals, it sets a poor example to the students in the classroom who are learning by their teacher's example how to respect and care for these animals. Are reptiles in Sonoma County classrooms being cared for properly? What information is available to teachers in Sonoma County? Will a comprehensive guide to reptiles, including the requirements for captive environments and care, formulated for teachers be useful to help teachers get the information they need to care for their reptiles properly?


Chapter IV: Conclusion
The site visits to an admittedly small sample of survey respondents showed that there are problems with the way in which reptiles are being housed in the classrooms. Some of the problems stem from the inaccurate or poor information available in the library, pet trade books, and from pet stores. Some of the problems, however, arise or continue due to the teachers' failure to make the necessary changes once they are apprised of problem and the corrective action needed. There is no reason to expect that, were site visits made to the other 25 classrooms, similar findings would not be made in most of them.

No teacher was under any obligation to respond to the survey. It may be assumed that those who did respond represent a cross-section of teachers who have reptiles but did not respond to the survey.

Of the teachers who responded to the later request for a site visit, one of two assumptions may be made: either the seven teachers who did not respond to the site visit request were too busy to respond and schedule a visit, or they did not want me to see their reptile environments. A further assumption is that teachers who did allow me to visit their classrooms did so with the belief that their environments and care were appropriate for the species they keep. Such a belief is consistent with the teachers statements that they believe the care information they obtained from the sources they used was correct.

Given that there were more problems observed with the environments and care given to the animals seen during the site visit than was consistent with the teachers' responses, my original hypothesis appears to be borne out. Poor information and lack of understanding of the reptiles' requirements is leading to sick, injured, malnourished, and dead classroom reptiles.

There exists no single source of information by which teachers can learn about the factors relating to the proper care of captive reptiles. The books in the public library and pet trade do not consistently address topics such as lighting, heating, humidity, feeding, and health in depth. Teachers reading these books are unable to determine what information in them is accurate and what, if any, is inaccurate. The books that detail the natural history of reptiles do not provide information on captive care. Conversely, the books on captive care provide only superficial information, if any, on the reptile's natural environment and behavior. Without full information, and without some basis of knowledge as to what is appropriate and what is not, teachers will not be able to extrapolate what their reptiles need.

The purpose of the Reptiles: A Teacher's Guide to their Care and Keeping in the Classroom is to provide teachers with information they can use both to help them select and care for their reptiles properly as well as to teach their students about reptiles. By compiling, into a single source, information they can use to solve health and behavior problems and to assess the validity of the care books they have read or may read in the future, teachers will be able to provide better care for their reptiles. By providing information on resources beyond the classroom, library, and pet store, the Guide will enable teachers and their students to more effectively research the natural history and captive care of reptiles.


Partial Bibliography

Barten, Stephen L. (1993). The medical care of iguanas and other common pet lizards. Exotic pet medicine, 23, (6), 1213-1249

Chiszar, David, Tomlinson, W. Thomas, Smith, Hobart M., Murphy, James B., & Radcliffe, Charles W. (1995). Behavioral consequences of husbandry manipulations: indicators of arousal, quiescence and environmental awareness. In Clifford Warwick, Fredric L. Frye, & James B. Murphy (Eds.), Health and welfare of captive reptiles (pp. 186-204). London, England: Chapman & Hall.

Guillette, Louis J., Cree, Allison, & Rooney, Andrew A. (1995). Biology of stress: interactions with reproduction, immunology and intermediary metabolism. In Clifford Warwick, Fredric L. Frye, & James B. Murphy (Eds.), Health and welfare of captive reptiles (pp. 32-81). London, England: Chapman & Hall.

Kaufmann, Michael. 1991. Classroom Pets: The Wrong Message? AHA Shoptalk, December 1991/January 1992, 6-7

Kreger, Michael D. (1993). Zoo-academic collaborations: Physiological and psychological needs of reptiles and amphibians. Herpetologica, 49, (9), 509-512.

Lance, Valentine A. (1992). Evaluating pain and stress in reptiles. In Dorcas O. Schaeffer, Kevin M. Kleinow, & Lee Krulisch (Eds.), The care and use of amphibians, reptiles and fish in research (pp. 101-106). Bethesda, MD: Scientists Center for Animal Welfare.

Lillywhite, Harvey B. & Gatten, Robert E., Jr. (1995). Physiology and functional anatomy. In Clifford Warwick, Fredric L. Frye, & James B. Murphy (Eds.), Health and welfare of captive reptiles (pp. 5-31). London, England: Chapman & Hall.

Pough, F. H. (1991). Recommendation for the care of amphibians and reptiles in academic institutions. Ilar News, 33(4), S1-S21.

Pough, F. Harvey. (1992). Setting guidelines for the care of reptiles, amphibians and fishes. In Dorcas O. Schaeffer, Kevin M. Kleinow, & Lee Krulisch (Eds.), The care and use of amphibians, reptiles and fish in research (pp. 7-13). Bethesda, MD: Scientists Center for Animal Welfare.

Warwick, Clifford. 1991. Observations on disease-associated preferred body temperatures in reptiles. Applied Animal Behavior Science, 28(4), 375-380.

Warwick, Clifford. (1995). Psychological and behavioral principles and problems. In Clifford Warwick, Fredric L. Frye, & James B. Murphy (Eds.), Health and welfare of captive reptiles (pp. 205-238). London, England: Chapman & Hall

If you would like a PDF copy of the complete thesis (including the complete biblography), please email me. The 313-page appendix, Reptiles: A Teacher's Guide to their Selection and Care, alas, is not available. Some of the material in the Guide is already available at my website in various forms.

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