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The reptile whisperer

Reptile lover Sammi Peterson holds her blue-tongued skink. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 4
Sammi Peterson holds her family of crested geckos. Sammi didn't realize when she acquired the geckos that the female was pregnant and laid two eggs. Contributed photo2 / 4
Berta, a bearded dragon, is Sammi Peterson's newest reptilian acquisition. The bearded dragon gets its name from the little spikes under its chin, which resemble a man's beard. When they feel threatened they puff out their beards to make themselves appear bigger. Berta loves to snuggle and moves slower than the other reptiles in the house. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal3 / 4
Bindi, a 1-year-old blue-tongued skink, eats her lunch of escargot and fresh vegetables. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal4 / 4

Some teen girls may prefer cute fuzzy puppies and kitties, but not Sammi Peterson of Esko.

Sammi, 14, is an equal opportunity animal lover, but her favorite pets are her geckos, bearded dragon and blue-tongued skink.

It began with a male and female crested gecko. When Sammi acquired the geckos, she didn't realize the female was pregnant and put Cujo, the male, and Stub Tail, the female, in the same upright aquarium. The next thing Sammi knew, she was helping hatch two eggs.

She explained that geckos lay eggs every month, similar to chickens.

Zeus and Penny were born last fall. Geckos become full-grown in two to three years and can live up to 15 years in ideal surroundings.

Sammi's mother, Cindy, enjoys the unusual pets. She noted the females are easier to hold.

The geckos are nocturnal, so Sammi usually brings them out at night for exercise. The parents were not fed live mealworms by the previous owner and are afraid of them, but the babies love them, according to Sammi.

"The babies love when they (mealworms) wiggle," Cindy said.

Crested geckos do not have eyelids.

"They don't blink, they lick their eyeballs because they don't have eyelids," Sammi said. They also shed about every two months and eat the skin.

Sammi researched all of the reptiles before bringing them home. She discovered they like to climb higher than the typical fish aquariums allows and like to have plants to hide in, so Sammi purchased special tall aquariums for the geckos.

The cages for all of her reptiles are larger than the minimum recommended for each.

"I feel better because the cages are escape proof," Cindy said.

Sammi provides all of the necessities for her reptiles. She babysits to earn money to purchase the reptiles as well as their homes, food and anything else they need.

I don't buy from chain pet stores or support them because I think they're cruel," Sammi said. "I buy online from breeders or from local pet stores."

Next a blue-tongued skink joined the family. The skink looks like a snake with legs and really does have a blue tongue.

Berta the bearded dragon is the latest additions to the scaley household and loves to hang out in her special little hammock. Sammi explained that if bearded dragons become too stressed they can lose their tails and they do not grow back.

Sammi makes sure all of the reptiles receive plenty of exercise.

"I put Berta on a leash and bring her outside when it's warm out," Sammi said. Berta enjoys being held and likes to snuggle into a shoulder as well as lay in front of a window in the sunshine.

She's very friendly, very cuddly," Cindy said.

Sammi is trying to convince her parents to allow a ball python into the house. So far, she has not been successful.