EXOTIC pets are proving an increasingly popular choice for Hampshire residents as sales of everything from bearded dragons to tarantulas soar.

Pets shops specialising in these more exotic animals say they have seen a significant rise in recent years with people either taking on a completely different pet or adding to their collection.

James Grant, manager at Grange Reptiles, said the most popular animals are currently bearded dragons, leopard geckos, corn snakes and royal pythons.

The shop, in Woodhouse Lane, Botley, sells a range of amphibians and reptiles, including frogs, salamanders, newts all the way up to a Chinese alligator, called Tallulah, who is more than a metre long.

The shop originally specialised in fish and ornaments, but decided to focus on exotic creatures six years ago.

Since then trade has increased, almost doubling in the past few years.

“It seems to get more and more popular every year,” said Mr Grant.

“It’s just because everyone wants something a bit different – people want to get away from cats and dogs.

He said with the tough economic climate forcing people to move and downsize, people did not have enough space for dogs and cats but lizards take up less space.

Shop worker Tom Semple added that another financial advantage is that exotic pets do not often need to go to |the vet and can often be treated for conditions by the owner.

Alex Westgarth, manager at Southampton Reptile, in Deacon Road, said the business had grown ten times the size it originally was when it opened six years ago.

Staff have gone from selling six creatures a week to around 15 and said often these pets, like dogs or cats, can become part of the family, with lizards allowed to roam around the house.

Residents are also investing in more accessories for their animals, such as hammocks and ladders for their lizards.

He said some people will build up a collection of a particular animal like spiders or snakes – he knows one customer who has 20 spiders.

He argues that typical domestic pets are capable of doing the same if not more damage than a snake and says as long as they are cared for responsibly there should be no issues.

“There’s certainly an increased amount of people buying set-ups and buying the animals themselves and people being interested in them.

“Ten years ago it may not have been something people thought of as a pet.”

He says that wildlife documentaries and media stories, whether good or bad experiences with such animals, have raised awareness and increased interest in the more exotic pets.

Another benefit for many people is that such animals do not have fur and therefore do not play havoc with owners’ allergies and they have had many people in looking for that reason.