You've just received your shipment, opened the box and there's your new friend staring up at you from the inside of a deli cup. Now what?
Glad you asked, because what happened to your pet during transit was pretty frightening. What happens next can be even more traumatic, depending on how you acclimate your new pet. Please take a few moments to read the following paragraphs, hopefully before you receive your shipment, so that you know what to do to minimize further stress on your new reptile.
There's a few simple rules to follow which can really ease the transition from their old home here at VMS (the only home they ever knew) to the new home somewhere else in the United States.
First, resist the temptation to tear into the box and dig out your new pet. I know this is hard, but please take just a moment to collect one critical piece of information - the temperature inside the box upon arrival. Just quietly crack the lid and slip a thermometer inside. This information can be very helpful if you should need to contact us later regarding difficulties in getting your pet to settle in.
Second, resist the urge to handle your new pet for a few days. VMS is a commercial breeding facility, housing many hundreds of baby reptiles at any given time. As a result, they rarely get handled other than for routine maintenance and cage cleaning. Your new pet may view being handled as yet another stressful event following the trauma of being packaged up and shipped across the US, ending up in some strange new place. Give them time to settle in and start feeding before attempting to handle them. When you do decide handle them, do it inside the cage if possible or at least on the floor. Odds are high they will be nervous and easily startled - jumping out of your hand for a five foot plunge to the floor can be fatal! Handle only for a few minutes at first, increasing the time spent handling each day until your new pet no longer minds at all.
Third, resist the urge to unceremoniously dump your new pet into his new spacious cage. This can be another real shocker to them. Instead, set the deli cup inside the cage and gently pry off the lid. Turn out the lights on the cage (or even the room if very bright) and quietly withdraw, allowing the reptile to venture out and explore the new surroundings at will. This increases the chances of successfully locating the hide area and water dish, etc. without panicking.
Special Notes About Feeding
Please, don't even think about feeding your new pet immediately. Sadly, this is the first thing most newcomers to reptile keeping try to do. Odds are very high that your new lizard or snakes will be too frightened to feed. Attempting to feed under these conditions can have several negative consequences. Here's a list of points to consider:
Uneaten live rodents and crickets may actually turn to your new pet as a food source, gnawing on exposed areas of your new pet! Too frightened to come out of hiding, your new reptile may receive some serious damage.
Most of the reptiles we sell are nocturnal and feed best in low light conditions. It's best to offer food in the evening or early morning hours, before bright lights and a lot of household activity disturb your pet.
Feed very sparingly the first few weeks after arrival. Feed snakes smaller meals than normal and give lizards fewer crickets than normal. The stresses of shipping can often upset their digestive systems, and large meals may be regurgitated, causing additional problems.
Also, avoid handling your new reptile before attempting to feed. It's more important that it resume a regular feeding schedule than anything else. Many keepers have the idea that snakes should always be moved to a separate container for feeding. While that may be fine for a very well-established feeder, a recently transported and scared individual is best left alone before attempting to feed.
Snakes frequently seem to associate the presence of the food item with the recent trauma of shipping, and will remember it! This is likely the reason for a juvenile snake refusing to feed after shipping. It simply associates the food item with the traumatic event. We recommend waiting about a week before attempting to feed snakes.
Lizards seem to get over it all a little quicker than snakes, especially very young geckos. Waiting two days is usually sufficient. Even then, feed sparingly! A couple crickets is plenty to tempt your new pet, and you can always add a few more if you see them get eaten. But two dozen crickets running about can be a bit frightening to an already nervous little lizard! Remember, less is better.
Larger geckos may require longer periods to adjust, with some adults refusing to feed well for several weeks! Some keepers report success tempting stubborn large specimens with wax worms, which seem to have an irresistible wiggle when they crawl. But most will simply resume feeding one day as if nothing had ever happened.
A Final Thought:
It is of prime importance that your new pet be allowed to settle in and acclimate fully. Constant stress during the acclimation period should be avoided. With proper care and conditions, you should have your new pet for years to come. There will be lots of time to mess with them later - for now, give them a rest!