Meet Kam's "Ring of Reptiles": Freya, Grima, Kili, Smaug, Smeagol, and Tauriel
It's no secret: Kamryn Hart is smitten with Smaug, a bearded dragon that won her heart in 2019. The Chicago woman documents her love of her cold-blooded bestie and her five other reptile babies on her Instagram feed, Kam's Reptiles. There, she shares her journey with reptile keeping, including enclosure builds, pet trends, and proper care techniques as she works her way through her studies at Oregon State University as a Zoology major.
All it took was a trip to the Nashville Zoo and a peek behind the scenes at an animal rehabilitation center inside the zoo to make Kam question her previous major in college.
"I sort of realized I was making a very bad degree choice with finance. I had been keeping reptiles for about two years, and I discovered taking care of exotic species was my passion, and I'd like to continue doing it in my career," Hart explained. "So, I switched my degree, and here I am! Ideally, after graduation, I would love to go into wildlife rehabilitation and rescue. I interned at an amazing wildlife rehab and rescue facility, and it was the most rewarding experience in the world."
Meet Kam's Little Herpy Hobbits
If you haven't guessed by now, all of Kam's reptile pets are named after characters from The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings series. Let's meet each of them and learn what she finds endearing about them.
Freya & Tauriel
These two are leopard geckos, and Kam says they both love to snuggle. But don't mistake them for twins. They each have their own personalities and subtle color differences. Tauriel is brighter, like the sunshine, while Freya is more muted in tone.
When they're in their habitat, Freya and Tauriel enjoy soaking up some heat.
Tauriel basking under a Zilla Heat Projector Lamp.
"I tested out the Zilla Heat Projector Lamp for my leopard geckos, and it created the heat gradient I needed in my 36x24x24 enclosures. It's similar heat to a ceramic heat emitter or 50w warmer, so it may even be able to save you some money in that regard," she explained. "I think my fellow reptile keepers would for sure appreciate that. I'll continue to use these bulbs, and I am excited to see how my leopard geckos like their new and improved basking spot."
Note: Since writing this article, we've learned dear Freya became ill and crossed the rainbow bridge. Our hearts go out to Kam, her family, and Freya's best buddy, Tauriel. Our pets may only share a few years with us, but they live on in our hearts forever.
Kili is a blue tongue skink. Kam purchased this pet from a breeder who didn't properly care for the pet, so she's been working on building trust and getting his grooming (nail trims and shedding habits) back in order.
Kili showing off his colorfully ombréd tongue.
Kili is a quiet dude that likes to hide and chill solo, but that's just fine with Kam. She's patient and loves him just the same. You can sneak a rare peek at Kili getting a bite to eat in this Insta post.
"Bonding with him and getting him to not be defensive toward me has been the most rewarding thing," Hart shared in an Instagram post.
Grima is a rhino rat snake and the most recent addition to Kam's reptile collection. She refers to him as her dream reptile and, in a recent Instagram post, lovingly calls Grima her cutest, friendliest noodle you will ever lay your eyes on.
Grima, the "noodle," hanging out with Kamryn.
"He is the most amazing snake I have ever had experience with, never striking at me and has never missed a meal. Plus, his color change from silver to green is so gorgeous to see over time," she elaborated.
She's been working on upgrades and changes to his planted enclosure for years, documenting the process online for her viewers to follow — and get inspired by.
Smaug, a bearded dragon, was Kam's first reptile purchase from 2019. She says he's the most personable of the pets and the one she has bonded with the most. "Whenever we go away for a couple of days, and I come back, he is the one I grab and say hello to first. Sorry, everyone else!" she laughs.
Kam tested out the Zilla® Desert Blend Bedding with Smaug to see if he'd give it a dragon's approval, and we'd say it's a winner. She mixed the 100% ground English walnut shell-based bedding with his existing bedding, and he happily dug around, you know, doing dragon things.
She says, "This substrate is a great choice for people who want to either mix it in with some topsoil or use it on its own to create that Australian-type environment. It is lightweight; so with proper husbandry in your reptile enclosure, this can be a great option. This substrate would work well if you have a monitor, bearded dragon, or a uromastyx."
Smaug checking out his new Zilla® Rapid Sense Decor Crocodile Skull.
Smaug also got to get up close and personal with a Zilla® Rapid Sense Decor Crocodile Skull. Kam says she loves the idea of a functional piece of decor that offers a hiding place for a reptile pet and makes sure your UVB light is working as it should.
"It is unfortunately not common knowledge that those lights do not work forever — even if they are still bright and light up the enclosure. I think that when products like this are used, we will see fewer occurrences of diseases common in reptiles," she explained. "The Zilla Rapid Sense Crocodile Skull is something that will add a little life into an enclosure and ensure your reptile is getting the UV they need. Replace your UVB lights every six months to a year and test them frequently."
How Reptiles Let Kam #RepYourself
While living at home with her parents, Kam wanted to get a pet she could call her own. And, it needed to be more low maintenance than a cat or dog. So, she discovered reptile keeping with her first scaly sidekick, Smaug. After all, a bearded dragon doesn't need to be let outside for potty breaks!
"Reptiles allow me to express myself and my personality. There are so many types of reptiles for so many different keepers, and some are better suited to your lifestyle versus mine," she shared.
She says she loves the freedom and creativity to build out their enclosures to mimic their real-world environments. "The individuality to design these enclosures for them is one of my favorite parts of reptile keeping," she added.
She also focuses on bonding with her reptile pets by spending time around their enclosures, hand-feeding their diets, and handling them. And Kam's a pet parent who encourages her babies to play with their food. When it's time to feed Smaug, she sometimes takes a unique approach.
"I love to provide enrichment activities as well, one being a clear ball with a hole in it that you can throw a roach in and have him figure out how to get it out. Quite entertaining to watch, really," she shared.
Never Stop Learning About Your Pets
Kam spends her days immersed in the latest education and information on animal care. After all, she is a zoology major preparing to accept her diploma in December 2023. So, she knows a thing or two about animals.
When it comes to reptile pets specifically, she wishes people understood our knowledge of their care is constantly improving and expanding. What we knew about animal needs ten years ago is outdated.
"They (reptiles) are relatively new animals to have as pets, and we are still learning so much on how to keep them better. We have to improve for them because they are in our care," she noted. "I feel it is also important to note that in captivity, we are striving to give them a better and longer life with us in comparison to their lives in the wild. We can make them feel at home and enriched in their naturalistic enclosures without the worry of brutal death, disease, or lack of food. They deserve so much, so we should continue to learn and grow for them."
If you're thinking about becoming a reptile pet owner, congrats! Learn all you can before you bring your new scaly friend home. Discover more about reptile keeping in the following articles: