Dogs and cats are great, and many people are fond of talking birds. If you really want to cut a figure with a pet, however, you may want to look outside of the usual avenues.
Exotic pets are more than good conversation-starters; they're living beings with unique personalities and sometimes unexpected benefits. While you'd be right to wonder whether you can properly care for an exotic pet in your own home, some of the less-common options make great pets and take surprisingly little maintenance to stay happy and healthy in an average pet owner's home.
The axolotl is one of nature's weirdest little celebrities. This primitive amphibian lives in caves in Mexico, where the adult stage of its life is entirely cut off. Unlike other salamanders, which eventually leave the water, axolotls basically stay giant tadpoles for life. They need a tank with clean water, regular feedings, and good climate control. After that, they're quite a conversation starter with visiting friends.
Degus are small fuzzy rodents that seem to play all day long. They're 100% vegetarians, and they like tender, young grass. Degus are highly social, and it's really important to keep several of them together in a large enclosure where they can run around and play. Other than that, their care is basically the same as for gerbils, and you can even use a lot of the same equipment for your new degu ranch.
"We have cockroaches" doesn't sound like the boast of a proud pet owner, but you can keep them in decent-sized colonies all the same. The real upshot of keeping roaches for friends is how zero-maintenance they can be. Just spray their cardboard with a mist of water every once in a while, and they're mostly good. Even exotic tropical roaches take very little food, and they're absolutely not aggressive. Don't let them out, though.
Sugar gliders look like flying squirrels, but they're more closely related to kangaroos. These arboreal marsupials are small and light, with a long stretchy membrane spread out between their wrists and ankles that helps them glide between trees; if you keep them in your home, set up a perch near the ceiling since they're only really happy when they have something like a tree to climb.
Hedgehogs are one of those small super-mammals that always seem to be hungry and on the move. In the wild, hedgehogs snuffle around in the soil and eat around 8% of their body weight every night. They'll eat twice if they get the chance, so be careful with the treats. Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so during the day, they like to curl up in your hand or your pocket and have a snooze until dinnertime.
Ball pythons are a medium-sized African constrictor species that are widely regarded as the best beginner snake to keep. They're docile, social, and generally even-tempered. Their slow metabolism means they don't have to eat too often, and they mostly like warm rocks and shady hiding places where they can lurk. Ball pythons tolerate being handled well, and they're about as safe as it gets for handing over to a visitor who's never held a snake before.
Tarantulas are big hairy spiders that can really freak some people out to look at. They're surprisingly good-natured, however. While you may never get a puppy-style cuddle out of a tarry, they are reluctant to bite and mostly like warm, quiet spots where they can relax. If you don't have other pets, you can let the tarantula out for a walk, though you'll be cleaning up webs for a week.
Hermit crabs have a lot of personality, and they're professional survivalists. In nature, these crabs will pick up random junk and carry it around as a makeshift shell. In your aquarium, they'll happily wear whatever clean shell-like objects you drop in for them. Watch out, though. Hermit crabs are escape artists, and you don't want them muscling out of their tank and onto the floor. They'll also eat your guppies if you let them.
Scorpions are not cuddly, but they can be fun to watch. Like many arthropods, the various species of scorpions you can have as a pet are all covered with tough plates of armor that protect them from enemies and extremes of hot and cold. They have hefty pincers up front and a wicked stinger on the tail. They usually don't want to fight though and will spend most of their time sunbathing on a rock.
Chinchillas are high-energy little bundles that always seem to be in motion. Even when they're sleeping, their little hearts and lungs are still moving so fast they seem to be vibrating. Chinchillas are peaceful little dudes from South America with a super-dense coat of very soft fur, perfect for petting with a finger. They like to be tickled, and it's a good idea to have a little dirt bowl for their baths.
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