Tom Harford Columbia

The Pros and Cons of Owning a Bearded Dragon as a Pet, With Commentary from Animal Expert Tom Harford Columbia

If you’re an exotic animal lover, chances are you’ve considered owning a bearded dragon as a pet. Affectionate and intelligent, bearded dragons can make wonderful companions for the right owner. We spoke with exotic animal expert Tom Harford Columbia, who offered helpful insights on who should own a bearded dragon and how to set up your new pet for a happy, healthy life with you.

“Bearded dragons are a popular choice for reptile lovers because of their good-natured, friendly temperament,” explains Thomas Harford Columbia. “While some reptiles can be aggressive, bearded dragons tend to be docile and easy to train. After they get to know you, they can form a bond with you and allow themselves to be handled on a regular basis. They can live up to 10 years and eat a diet of plants and insects, which are easy to procure.”

However, there are many things to keep in mind if you’re thinking of getting a bearded dragon of your own. To begin, ensure that you take the proper steps to protect yourself from contracting salmonella. “Bearded dragons can carry salmonella-causing bacteria, so make sure you clean their habitats regularly and don’t handle their feces directly,” suggests Thomas Harford Columbia.

Secondly, make sure that you clean your bearded dragon’s habitat is large enough. “Bearded dragons need plenty of space to move around comfortably,” says Tom Harford Columbia. “While baby bearded dragons might only need 20-gallon tanks, the largest adults might need tanks that are 70-120 gallons. When it comes to bearded dragons’ habitats, the bigger, the better.” Also, keep one side of their habitat warm, for basking, and the other cooler. You’ll need a basking bulb for the basking side, a perch, reptile carpet, and full-spectrum lighting as well.

Finally, give your bearded dragon time to get used to you. “Bearded dragons might be anxious or nervous at first when you begin picking them up,” says Thomas Harford Columbia. “Get them accustomed to your touch by picking them up for only a few minutes at a time at first. Gradually, they will become more comfortable with hands-on time together, as long as you’re gentle.”

Thomas Harford Columbia hails from upstate New York and currently serves as a middle school science teacher in Albany, NY. Passionate about exotic animals and animal care since childhood, Tom Harford Columbia parlayed his early love of pets into a lifelong career in exotic animal training and education. Thomas Harford earned a Ph.D. in Zoology from Western State University, serves as an advisor to individuals, pet stores, and animal training centers, and Tom Harford works part-time at a local zoo as an animal trainer and educator for children and adults alike.

For more information about bearded dragons, contact Thomas Harford Columbia to discuss conducting an appearance or seminar, whether privately or at your business.

Top Tips For Caring for a Pet Chinchilla, With Advice From Expert Tom Harford Columbia

Thomas Harford Columbia

Exotic Animal Expert Thomas Harford Columbia Shares How to Care for the Softest Pet You’ll Ever Own

Is there a cuter pet than a chinchilla? Lovers of these soft, jumpy, big-eared, plump creatures say no, and Tom Harford Columbia, an exotic pet lover, said they are a popular pet among those who love exotic animals. Chinchillas only grow to be about one foot long at most and can live for 10 years with proper care, according to Thomas Harford Columbia.

“One of the best things about a pet chinchilla is how soft they are,” Tom Harford Columbia said. “Many people can’t believe how plush and silky their coats are.” However, because of this there are some special care requirements for chinchillas.

Tom Harford Columbia has devoted his life to studying and educating others about caring for exotic pets, from chinchillas to hedgehogs to chameleons. He teaches middle school students and volunteers at a local zoo to help people take the best care of these creatures as possible.

“One of the main things I tell people about chinchilla care is that they need a dust bath at least once a week,” Thomas Harford Columbia said. The fur of a chinchilla may be groomed with a brush, but it is important to avoid getting your chinchilla wet, Tom Harford Columbia cautioned.

Chinchilla pellets, available at most pet stores, provide an excellent source of sustenance for a pet chinchilla, Tom Harford Columbia said. However, treats should also be provided in moderation, including vegetables and fruits. Hay should be available for chinchillas at all times.

When it comes to chinchilla habitat, things do not need to be as particular as they do with some other exotic pets, Thomas Harford Columbia said. Chinchillas do not require a particular temperature, though direct sunlight and drafty areas should be avoided, Tom Harford Columbia advised. Chinchillas should have plenty of room in their cages to play, exercise and be stimulated, as they are active creatures. It is also important to note that chinchillas are nocturnal, sleeping during the day and being awake at night, Thomas Harford Columbia said.

In addition to toys and exercise equipment, keep wood sticks and chewing toys available for your chinchilla at all times so their teeth do not grow too long, as their teeth never stop growing, according to Tom Harford Columbia.

Chinchillas can be a suitable, educational and interesting pet for children, but not every child will be a good match for a chinchilla, Thomas Harford Columbia cautioned. Chinchillas are fragile and their bones can be broken easily, so children must exercise care when handling them and be supervised by an adult. In addition, not all chinchillas enjoy interacting with people. However, with the proper care, a chinchilla can be a wonderful addition to any family.

So You Want a Pet Sugar Glider? Here’s What You Need to Know, According to Animal Expert Thomas Harford Columbia

People have long been drawn to sugar gliders as pets- take one look at their small, fuzzy bodies, pointed noses and big eyes and you will see why, said Tom Harford Columbia, who has a Ph.D. in zoology and teaches science to middle school students.

Thomas Harford Columbia’s passion for the proper care and keeping of exotic pets like sugar gliders has caused him to dedicate his life to educating people on keeping exotic animals. The rewards of owning exotic animals are great, but proper care is important. Below, Tom Harford Columbia answers some of the most frequently asked questions about caring for a pet sugar glider.

What is a sugar glider?

Sugar gliders are small marsupials that are native to Australia. They have a membrane that allows them to “glide” (hence the name) and adult sugar gliders typically weigh around 5 ounces.

What do sugar gliders eat?

Sugar gliders love sweet things (again, hence the name), said Thomas Harford Columbia. Fresh fruit and vegetables are their favorites, as well as cooked meat, eggs and yogurt for protein. As a treat, sugar gliders enjoy insects like crickets and mealworms. Insects are high in fat, so they should only be used as treats. The majority of a sugar glider’s diet should consist of protein, fruit, and vegetables, Tom Harford Columbia said.

How long do sugar gliders live?

Sugar gliders can live for up to 15 years in captivity, Tom Harford Columbia said.

What habitat do sugar gliders require?

A sugar glider requires a larger cage than many other small animals. Because they enjoy climbing, the bigger the better when it comes to choosing a cage, Thomas Harford Columbia advised. A tall cage is the best option and it should be made of wire mesh or metal bars. Sugar gliders will also need a nesting box, climbing branches and toys.

Do sugar gliders like interacting with people?

Sugar gliders do enjoy playing with people, according to Tom Harford Columbia. Many sugar glider owners purchase a “snuggle sack” that they wear with their sugar glider in it, as a little pouch for their pet. Sugar gliders are social animals and it is recommended that two are housed together so they do not get lonely.

Is there anything else I should know about sugar gliders?

Sugar gliders are nocturnal and they do make noise, so plan for this when choosing where in your home they will live. They can be vocal and loud and bark, squeak, and chirp.

About Thomas Harford Columbia:

Tom Harford Columbia was born in Upstate NY. Thomas Harford has a wife and four children and currently resides in Albany, New York. Tom Harford has long had a passion for exotic animals, working in pet stores, breeding animals, earning a Ph.D. in zoology, working at a zoo and now teaching science to middle school students. With all this experience and knowledge of exotic animals, Tom Harford’s passion is exotic pets and educating people on the proper care and keeping of exotic animals. His children have owned and cared for many of their own exotic animals, including hedgehogs, sugar gliders, chameleons, pythons, chinchillas and more. Tom Harford Columbia volunteers part-time at a local zoo doing animal education with children. He also still owns many exotic pets of his own. Thomas Harford Columbia wants his articles to focus on specific exotic pets and teach people the basics of their proper care and keeping. Responsible, informed care of exotic pets is vitally important to him.

Tom Harford Columbia - Care and Keeping Of Your Pet Leopard Gecko

The Care and Keeping Of Your Pet Leopard Gecko, With Tips From Tom Harford Columbia

Exotic Pet Expert Thomas Harford Columbia Shares Advice to Keep Leopard Geckos Healthy 


Thomas Harford Leopard Gecko
Thomas Harford Leopard Gecko

If you are a reptile lover, chances are you have seen the cute, pet-friendly lizards leopard geckos. Leopard geckos have a distinctive yellow color with black spots. They are quite small with a relatively long lifespan, and are a popular choice as a pet, according to Tom Harford Columbia, an exotic pet expert who has owned several leopard geckos himself. 


If you think a lizard is a pet for you because they are quiet, inexpensive, clean and fairly low-maintenance, a leopard gecko may be an option to consider, Thomas Harford Columbia said. However, there are a few key things to know about the care and keeping of a leopard gecko. 


First, evaluate the cost of owning a leopard gecko. Leopard geckos are widely available in pet stores, at reptile shows, from breeders and online and are not expensive to acquire (unless you opt for a rare type of leopard gecko, Tom Harford Columbia pointed out). You will also need to purchase an aquarium (Thomas Harford Columbia recommends a 20-gallon tank), a heat lamp or heating pad, moist box for hiding and shedding and substrate. These items are relatively inexpensive and can often be found used. 


When it comes to feeding your leopard gecko, live insects are essential— there’s no getting around that, Tom Harford Columbia said. Leopard geckos typically enjoy a diet of crickets and mealworms who are first fed a nutritious powdered diet. Feeding the insects or dusting them with a nutritious powder is the best way to get essential vitamins and minerals to your pet leopard gecko, Thomas Harford Columbia advised. 


Since leopard geckos are cold-blooded (like all reptiles), they require warm temperatures to stay safe and happy. It is best to keep their cage at more than 73 degrees Fahrenheit, Thomas Harford Columbia advised, while their damp hide box should be closer to 90 degrees. Heat rocks, a heating pad or a heat lamp are all options to keep your pet toasty. Tom Harford Columbia recommended having a cooler area of the cage in case the leopard gecko gets too warm. 


If your leopard gecko is shy or seems stressed out when it is handled, give it some time. With a few minutes of regular handling each day, your lizard will get used to human contact quickly. Just make sure you do not grab the leopard gecko by the tail, as the lizard may drop the tail, said Tom Harford Columbia.  


With these tips of the trade, a leopard gecko can be a wonderful pet, living for around 10 years. Thomas Harford Columbia said he has found these pets to be rewarding and fascinating to observe and handle.

Precious and Poky: The Basics of Hedgehog Care From Exotic Animal Expert Thomas Harford Columbia

Thomas Harford Columbia

So you want a pet hedgehog? With their pointed faces and snuffly noses, it is no doubt African pygmy hedgehogs have grown in popularity as exotic pets. However, hedgehogs have some particular needs that must be considered. Thomas Harford Columbia, a science teacher with decades of experience caring for exotic animals, said it is critical to do research on owning a pet hedgehog before taking on the responsibility.

“Responsible, informed care is crucial when it comes to exotic pets,” Tom Harford Columbia said. He has owned several hedgehogs in the past and said they are some of the best pets he has had.

The first important factor in caring for a pet hedgehog is creating appropriate housing. Hedgehogs are active and need room to explore and entertain themselves. Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so provide them with a warm, dark place to hide and sleep during the day. Hedgehogs also need a running wheel to stay active and healthy. In addition, since hedgehogs are native to Africa, they can easily grow cold and hibernate, which can be fatal, so it is important to have a heat source like a heat lamp or heating pad, Thomas Harford Columbia advised.

Hedgehogs are relatively easy to feed unlike some other exotic pets, Tom Harford Columbia said. They can be fed low-fat cat food along with regular insects, fresh fruit, chicken and scrambled eggs as treats. Because of their diet and low maintenance care requirements, hedgehogs are relatively inexpensive to care for. However, purchasing your pet hedgehog can cost around $200, Thomas Harford Columbia said.

Thomas Harford Columbia recommends using wood shavings for the bottom of a hedgehog’s cage. This is relatively easy to clean (cleaning the cage should be done at least once a week). Some people are able to litter train their hedgehogs to use a small litter box in the corner of the cage.

Hedgehogs will need baths at least once a month, which can be done in shallow water in the bathtub or sink with a gentle baby shampoo, Tom Harford Columbia advised. Take this opportunity to check your hedgehog for fleas or signs of illness. If your hedgehog is losing many of its quills, has a runny nose, has diarrhea or is lethargic, they may need a trip to the vet to make sure they are healthy.

Finally, hedgehogs’ personalities vary widely, said Thomas Harford Columbia. Some love being held, playing with other people and even cuddling. Others prefer to roll into a ball when people are around so they cannot be disturbed. If your hedgehog has the latter temperament, you can work on this, Tom Harford Columbia said. By socializing your hedgehog and spending time with it each day, most hedgehogs will get used to human interaction and become more comfortable with it.

A hedgehog can be a rewarding, fun and adorable pet for those who do the research and make sure to provide them a warm, cozy and comfortable home with plenty of mealworm treats, Thomas Harford Columbia said.