Glossary of Terms
This is a constantly updating list of terminology used in the exotics pet hobby. Some of thes are specific to snakes some others are specific to lizards while others are specific to entirely differnet animals. There are also terms here that are not as specific and could/do apply to muliple animals on this website.
Abscesses: These happen when bacteria work their way into an old injury and create an infection. They may appear as lumps that protrude up from underneath the skin.
Arboreal: Adapted for living and moving about in the trees.
Amebiasis: A very contagious disease in reptiles that is caused by a parasitic infection and very often results in the death of the reptile. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite leading to weight loss, lethargy, dehydration, and seizures that will migrate into the central nervous system. You’ll also notice your reptile drinks water excessively.
Armpit bubbles: Exactly what you would guess they are: “bubbles” in your reptile’s armpits. They are not dangerous themselves, but they are an indicator that your lizard is overweight. Being overweight is dangerous for your pet reptile. Armpit bubbles usually contain fat, protein, and vitamins and tend to go away when your lizard returns to a healthy weight.
Bacterial Dermatitis: A superficial or even deeper skin infection complete with bacterial organisms.
Basking area: A place at the hotter end of an enclosure for reptiles to lay or bask and raise their body temperature. Usually under a heating device such as a light bulb.
Brumation: A state or condition of sluggishness or inactivity exhibited by reptiles during winter or extended periods of low temperatures. It is similar to hibernation. Your reptile may not want to eat much or move around much at all. Make sure there is fresh, clean water available to your reptile during this time. It is critical to your reptile’s health.
Captive-bred: Raised in captivity with proper husbandry practices.
Carnivore: An animal that feeds primarily or exclusively on meat or animal matter.
Caudal Luring: An aggressive form of mimicry where the predator uses a body part, like its tail, to move around quickly and erratically to attract the attention of a prey item. Once the prey item has seen this display and goes in for what it thinks is a free meal, the predator waits for the prey to get within striking distance and then attacks the prey item.
Cedar and Pine: Along with any of the other aromatic woods are dangerous woods for reptiles and should never be used in their enclosures.
Chitin: A tough, semitransparent substance that is the main component of the exoskeleton, or outer covering, of insects.
Chitinase: An enzyme that breaksdown chitin for better diguestion.
Circadian rhythm: This is the natural cycle of different behavior, mental, and physical changes that all living creatures, plants, and some molds go through in a roughly 24-hour period. It is primarily affected by darkness and light.
Cloaca/cloacal slit: An animal’s rear opening for the digestive, reproductive, and urinary tracts.
Coco-based, Coco Coir, or Coconut fiber bedding: A soilless growing media made from the broken husk of coconuts.
Colubrid: A member of a large snake family, Colubridae, composed mostly of nonvenomous snakes.
Constrictor: A snake that coils tightly around its prey causing suffocation.
Crawlers: Very young rats.
Cultured feeder insects: Insects that are raised with the best possible husbandry skills for the sole purpose of being fed to another animal.
Cytotoxic venom: This type of venom destroys body cells, tissue, and organs through a process known as necrosis. There are instances where tissue goes through liquefactive necrosis, which is when some of the tissue is liquified. The reason for this is cytotoxins are designed to break down the prey item to help with digestion. Cytotoxins are also very specific about the types of cells they attack. For example, cardiotoxins are a specific type of cytotoxin that targets heart cells. Myotoxins are a specific type of cytotoxin that targets and dissolves muscle cells, which helps to bring the prey item to a stop before getting too far away from the snake after it has been bitten. A snake’s gotta eat too! Please don’t handle venomous animals. If you must handle them, get proper training first.
Defecate: To void excrement from the bowels through the anus; to have a bowel movement; to poop.
Dehydration: An abnormal loss of water from the body.
Dermal infection: Like Bacterial Dermatitis in reptiles; is described as a superficial or even deeper infection of the skin or shell with bacterial organisms.
Diapause: A period of suspended development in an insect, other invertebrate, or mammal embryo, especially during unfavorable environmental conditions. Very similar to brumation or hibernation.
Diurnal: Active during the daylight hours only.
Docile: Easy to handle; mild tempered.
Dysecdysis: This is the abnormal shedding of all of the dead outer skin on reptiles. It could be caused by an infectious disease; however, more often than not, it is because of poor hubandry skills.
Egg binding: This comes from poor husbandry, lack of egg laying sites, and stress, and usually is found to be the issue only after an animal autopsy. If you notice any swelling in your reptile’s cloacal region, contact your vet immediately. Egg binding could be the cause, and only surgery will save your animal.
Enclosure: Something that is enclosed, as a fence or wall or cage (see habitat).
Exoskeleton: A ridgid external covering for the bodies of insects and spiders that provides both support and protection.
Feces: Waste matter discharged from the intestines through the anus; excrement; poop.
Feeder mice: Small, baby mice that are usually just days old.
Fungal infections: These spread fast and cause skin damage. You’ll notice raised brown spotted scales along the reptile’s abdomen that will turn into open wounds in the skin.
Full-spectrum lighting: The lighting that covers the electromagnetic spectrum, from infrared to near-ultraviolet; all wavelengths that are beneficial to plant or animal life.
Fuzzies: Feeder mice that are fuzzy and usually 7 days to 2 weeks old.
Gut loading: The process by which an animal’s prey is raised and fed nutritious foods with the intention of passing those nutrients to the animal for which the prey is intended. Simply put, you feed your crickets good food so they are able to pass those nutrients on to your reptile when it eats them.
Habitat: A place or environment where a plant or animal naturally grows or lives (see enclosure).
Hatchling: A very young animal; an animal that has hatched from its egg.
Hemotoxic venom: This type of venom can work in one of two ways: (1) This venom attacks the blood system and prevents normal blood coagulation. It also comes with cytotoxic help that causes red blood cells to break open. Destruction of the red blood cells coupled with the inability of the blood to properly clot will lead to very serious internal bleeding. (2) Rather than keeping your blood from clotting, this way causes platelets and other blood cells to lump up together creating blood clots. These clots restrict blood flow through blood vessels and lead to heart failure. Please don’t handle venomous animals. If you must handle them, get proper training first.
Herbivore: An animal that feeds solely on plants and plant matter.
Herpesvirus: This is typically associated with stomatitis or mouth rot and can be so severe that it may cause the reptile to stop eating, which is so not good. This has been known to cause liver disease in lizards as well.
Hide: A covered place an animal can relax or sleep without disruptions.
Hopper mouse: A very young mouse that is still developing. When it moves around, it hops rather than crawls.
Husbandry: The care and breeding of animals. Reptiles in this particular case.
Hygrometer: Any instrument used for measuring the water vapor content of an atmosphere.
Hypervitaminosis (Vitamin Excess): This is caused by people who think that giving their pet lizard more vitamins is better for them than giving them the proper dosage. It’s not! Stop it now! First off, too many vitamins can absolutely be fatal to your reptile. Too much Vitamin A will cause uncontrollable internal bleeding, and too much Vitamin D can cause artery calcification. Always go by the manufacturer’s recommended dosage or call your ally, the vet, if you have questions.
Impaction/intestinal impaction: The act of becoming or the state of being impacted; something (such as feces or substrate) lodged in an animal’s body passage or cavity.
Insectivore: An animal who only eats insects.
Juvenile: An animal that is physiologically immature or undeveloped; young.
Keeled scales: Reptile scales that, rather than being smooth, have a ridge down the center. Keeled scales may extend to the tip of the tail, making the animal rough to the touch.
Kinking: This is when a snake’s back is kinked or bent in different angles. There could be a slight bend that’s not very noticeable up to having several kinks in its entire back one right after another, similar to the letter Z. If the kinking is serious enough, it can keep the reptile from digesting its food. Kinking in reptiles has no known cure.
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD): This occurs when a reptile is not getting enough vitamin D or calcium in its diet. It can cause painful spine and limb deformations.
Microclimate: A small area of temperature, humidity, light, and wind that are independent of the larger and different climate conditions that surround it. An example of this would be a reptile’s enclosure. The basking area inside can be as high, in some cases, as 110 degrees Fahrenheit, while the room temperature the enclosure is sitting in is only 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Molt/molting: The process of an insect or spider shedding off an older and smaller exoskeleton to make way for the new, larger one; similar to shedding in reptiles.
Morph: A genetic mutation that has happened to make the animal look different than what is normally or commonly seen in the wild. For example, a red tail boa that has an almost totally white body and just a red tail, rather than their normal reds, browns, and mahoganies across their body.
Mouth rot/Infectious stomatitis: A common disease that can affect snakes, turtles, and lizards. Symptoms include drainage from the nose and mouth, pus or dead tissue in the mouth, and a loss of appetite. If this condition is untreated, it can spread to the digestive tract or lungs.
Musk: A VERY, VERY, FOUL-SMELLING, liquidy substance that is released by the cloaca when the snake feels threatened. This substance is the byproduct of the digestive system. Some snakes will musk more than others.
Neurotoxic venom: This type of venom goes after the central nervous system and disrupts the chemical signals sent between neurons. Neurotoxins also bind themselves to nerve receptors and cause them to stop functioning properly or altogether. Some neurotoxic venom can cause muscle paralysis to the point of entire body paralysis, respiratory failure, uncontrollable muscle movement, and convulsions. Please don’t handle venomous animals. If you must handle them, get proper training first.
Nocturnal: Active during the nighttime hours only.
Omnivore: An animal that feeds on both plants and meat.
Photoperiod: The interval in a 24-hour period during which a plant or animal is exposed to light.
Pine and Cedar: Along with any of the other aromatic woods are dangerous to reptiles and should never be used in their enclosures.
Pinkies: Feeder mice that appear to be pink as they have no fur coat yet; generally 1 to 2 days old.
Prehensile tail: The tail of an animal that has adapted to be able to grasp or hold objects.
Red nighttime bulb: A red-colored light bulb that provides an economical heat source 24 hours a day and will not disturb the sleeping patterns of your animal. If you can, get the red glass kind, not the painted glass. The painted type isn’t as efficient and doesn’t last as long.
Regurgitate: To surge or rush back liquids, gasses, undigested food, etc.; to throw up, plain and simple.
Respiratory infections: Most respiratory infections in reptiles are bacterial. There are other causes such as fungal infections or even parasites. If your pet lizard is showing any of the following symptoms, call your vet: weight loss and loss of appetite, lethargy, breathing through their wide-open mouth (never normal), wheezing or odd crackling or clicking noises coming from the lizard while it’s breathing, and discharge from their eyes and nose.
Rostral abrasion: aka nose rub. This condition is solely caused by improper cage conditions. Your animal has become so uncomfortable in its environment, they are seeking a way out by rubbing their nose along the edges of the enclosure. This is one big reason why screen should never be used in reptile enclosures.
Salmonella: Most living reptiles carry these bacteria in their intestinal tract. When they defecate, there is a high chance the bacteria will be in their poop. Studies have shown that 85% of all turtles, 77% of all lizards, and 92% of all snakes do in fact carry at least 1 of the 100 serotypes of the salmonella bacteria that account for most human infections. For the bacteria to spread from a reptile to a human, it must be ingested. For example, if you handle your lizard’s water dish and it has poo water in it, and some of that poo water gets on your hands, if you don’t wash your hands properly and thoroughly, that bacteria-filled poo water that wasn’t washed away will get onto your food or drink and into your body. Always wash thoroughly after having your hands in a reptile enclosure or after handling a reptile. Your health depends on it.
Scale rot: A bacterial infection that is often found in reptiles. It happens because an area of the reptile’s scales is too moist or there has been a failure to properly clean the enclosure.
Scenting: The practice of putting the scent of one food item, such as tuna or salmon juice, on another intended food item to help the animal take it more readily.
Shed/slough: The skin of a reptile that has been cast off, or the act of casting off the skin.
Sling/Spiderling: A baby or very young spider.
Snake hook: A long piece of metal with a U-shaped bend at one end and a handle at the other end and used for safely handling, transporting, and capturing a snake. The snake hook allows for enough room, when used properly, to keep a safe distance between the snake and the person using it. These are great to use with venomous and nervous snakes.
Snout to vent: A common measurement in herpetology. This measurement is take from the tip of the animal’s snout and continues down to the opening of the cloacal slit.
Spiracles: Openings found on the surface of an insect through which the insect breathes.
Stomatitis: Commonly called mouth rot, it is a very nasty bacterial infection that has led to the death of many reptiles. It causes infections and swelling and a cheesy-looking discharge around the mouth area. If you suspect your lizard has this, call your vet immediately.
Substrate: The surface area or material on which organisms live. Newspaper, compost, and paper towels are examples.
Tail breaks: Quite a few lizards have the ability to self-amputate, which is to lose or drop part of their tail, when they feel threatened or when they need to escape a predator that grabs them by the tail. This can sometimes happen when an owner handles the lizard too roughly. Not all lizards have the ability to grow back the tail once they drop it. For those that can regrow their tail, the new tail may not look like the one that was dropped. For the most part, tail breaks are not fatal if the tail breaks off at the tip or up to about two-thirds of the way from the tip of the tail to the body. If the lizard drops its tail above that, closer to the body, it can be very dangerous because of the severe loss of blood. The lizard will need to be treated by your vet quickly.
Terrarium: The main purpose of this type os enclosure is to cultivate plants. Usually this is a glass enclosure for ease of viewing.
Terrestrial: Adapted for living and moving about on land.
Thermoregulate: The act of regulating one’s body temperature. This term is usually reserved for animals, such as reptiles, that maintain their body temperatures through external means.
Tongs, hemostats, or forceps: Long metal devices used, in this case, to hold prey items for aggressive or very hardy eaters. Animals may bite these tools once or twice, but at least your fingers will be saved. These devices also may be used to handle reptiles that should not necessarily be picked up with your hands, like emperor scorpions.
Tractable: Easy to control, influence, or handle.
Ulcerative stomatitis/mouth rot: A mouth infection that is caused by cuts and sometimes by food getting caught in between an animal’s teeth. If left unchecked and allowed to progress, it can kill your reptile.
UVA and UVB lighting: Proper lighting is very important for several reasons. UVA lighting helps regulate behaviors like feeding, diurnal activity, and mating. UVB lighting helps with the synthesis of vitamin D3, which helps absorb more of the calcium reptiles need.
Please understand, like people, too much exposure to this light can be very harmful, like a sunburn. Make sure you have hides available for your animal to retreat into for cooling down.
Urates: Salt or ester of uric acid. Shiny crystal-looking remains of urine; pee.
Urticating Hairs: Hairs located on the abdomin of a tarantula that can be used as a defense against predators. The hairs are barbed and work their way into the skin, eyes, or lungs and can cause quite a bit of discomfort.
Vivarium: The main purpose of this enclosure is to be inhabited by animal life. Any plants, decorations, lighting, etc., are there to help the animals living inside.