Care and Reproduction of the Golfodulcean Arrow Frog – March 2014

By Anthony Neubauer

Introduction

The Golfodulcean Dart Frog is a classic to the dart frog hobby that comes from the dense rainforests of Costa Rica.  Adults grow to a decent size of 1”-1.5”, and are attractively colored. Their care is relatively easy provided a few essential steps are taken to ensure their survival. They tend to be more heard than seen, often fleeing when approached. However, their singing makes up for their lack of boldness. The call is a loud trill that can be heard from somewhat of a distance. It is by no means annoying, and adds to the “coolness” of this species. They also breed like rabbits, with my group producing clutches every 2 weeks. If you’re looking to getting into keeping and breeding dart frogs, you’ve found the ideal frog for you.

Poison

As the name suggests, wild Phyllobates are extremely toxic. Although vittatus are not as poisonous as their relatives such as P. terribilis, they still pack a deadly touch. Their toxin is a neurotoxic alkaloid that causes severe pain, mild to severe seizures, and sometimes even paralysis in extreme cases. In captivity, even wild caught specimens quickly lose their toxic nature. This is because their poisons are produced through their natural diet of poisonous ants, which is obviously not present in captive diets.

As with all dart frogs, poison is of no concern unless dealing with freshly wild caught specimens.

Choosing an enclosure

When it comes to choosing a tank for any dart frog, one must consider their need for a high humidity level. The terrariums manufactured by Exo Terra are a favorite among many dart frog enthusiasts, including myself. The front access doors making the daily spraying, checking for eggs or tadpoles, and other maintenance a breeze. I currently house my group of 5 in an Exo Terra that measures 36” x 18” x 24”. This is definitely larger than necessary, however they use every inch of floor space, and males can often be seen calling from the top of the cage. A good rule of thumb is to start with around 10 gallons or equivalent space for a pair, and add 5-10 gallons per additional frog. This species does fine in groups, although females will eat each others eggs if they cannot lay them apart from each other

The author’s vitattus enclosure.

Creating a “slice of rainforest”

I have been housing my group of 5, consisting of 3 males and 2 females, in a planted vivarium with great success.  The idea is to recreate a slice of the rainforest where these frogs come from. Bromeliads are a great way to brighten up the cage, as well as provide water and egg laying/ tadpole rearing sites. Ferns, philodendrons, and begonias are also great choices that will thrive in a dart frog tank. You want to provide a lot of places and vegetation for your frogs to hide in to feel secure. Oak and Magnolia tree leaf litter is also a good way to add attractive ground cover. Vittatus tend to live close to rivers and streams, so adding a water feature would not be a bad idea.  However, I have not found it necessary for my own tank, so it is up to you which route you’d like to take. You will want to spray the cage every day, or however often it takes to make the humidity level peak at 80%, and then dissipate to around 60% throughout the day. A fogger such as Zoo Med’s Reptifogger will also aid in upping humidity, especially during the winter when so many of us are drying the air with heaters.

Feeding

I feed my adult frogs small to medium crickets every other day to every three days when they are being put through a dry spell. When I start spraying more frequently again, they are fed every day, since they lay their eggs at this time and need the extra nutrients. Younger frogs are fed fruit flies daily until they can handle the small crickets. I supplement their diet by dusting insects twice a month with a Vitamin A supplement produced by Repashy. I have had highest fertility and healthy tadpoles with this schedule. One of my favorite attributes of these frogs is their ability to eat small to medium crickets with no problem.

Breeding

If you are caring for your frogs correctly and have males and females, you will get eggs without question. I have learned to control when my frogs lay eggs to an extent, by increasing feeding and spraying. I cycle my group with 1-2 weeks of heavy spraying, during which they are fed daily, followed by 2 weeks of light spraying and less frequent feeding. During the “wet spell”, males are heard calling all day, but more frequently when the lights go out around 9-10. They lay eggs at this time. Calling is at a minimal when going through a “drought”. Coconut hides on top of 4.5” deli cup lids are placed throughout the floor of the tank, and used as egg laying sites. I check these daily during the wet spell, and pull eggs a couple days after discovering them to allow time for males to fertilize them. This is where having a male heavy group comes into play, as the more males you have, the greater chance of one finding the eggs and fertilizing them.

Egg and Tadpole Care

After pulling the eggs, I clean any dirt and feces off the lid, and place it into a larger deli cup with moist paper towels.I store the eggs on a shelf in my open closet, with low ambient light. The temperature stays around 70-73 degrees Fahrenheit. I have noticed that at these lower temperatures, the eggs and tadpoles take longer to morph out, but result in larger and healthier babies. You can see the tadpoles develop through the clear eggs, and eventually break out of the egg. Once they emerge, I put them individually in a 32 ounce tall deli cup filled half way with half Reverse Osmosis water (which locals can purchase at any of our retail stores!), and half “tadpole tea” which I make by boiling magnolia leaves in water until the water turns brown from the tanins. I also add a magnolia leaf placed diagonally out of the water for a resting place, as well as extra food for the tadpoles. I feed my tadpoles every 3-4 days with HBH tadpole pellets. Once they have all of their legs and half adult colors, I move them into a 6.75” diameter delicupplaced at a 30 degree angle with moss at the top and a little of the tadpoles water and the leaf in the bottom. At this time, the tadpole looks like a baby frog with a tail. They stop eating, and begin gaining nutrients exclusively from absorbing their tail. Usually within a week, they fully absorb their tail, and will be hopping around the Sphagnum moss. I then remove them and place them into a 9.75” diameter deli cup with moss as a substrate, and a pothos plant clipping and leaf litter. They begin eating melanogaster fruit flies in 4-7 days, and then can be kept as an adult.

One of the author’s tadpoles growing!

In Conclusion

Phyllobates vittatus is a great introduction into dart frog keeping. Their impressive colors and calls makes them fun to keep. They are forgiving for a dart frog, so they’re perfect for someone who is wanting to dive into dart frogs, but is unsure where to start. They also produce clutches every few weeks, so if you fail at keeping the eggs or tadpoles alive, you will have many chances to learn and get it right.  Unfortunately these frogs are extremely underrated. Not a ton of people are breeding them because they are not as bold as other members in their genus. However, they can be found at affordable prices, especially when available on our website.  Pick up a group and give them a try! You won’t be disappointed.

Caring For The Vietnamese Centipede – January 2014

By Anthony Neubauer

The Vietnamese Centipede is a large invertebrate found throughout the jungles and tropics of Asia, especially southeast Asia where they are mostly imported from. There are also populations in Hawaii, and likely in other tropical climates throughout the world. Reaching lengths up to 12”,they are an active creature, scurrying through the jungle floor’s leaf litter as they search for their next meal. In captivity, they often burrow, but with a thought out setup,  they can be seen cruising around through vegetation and rearranging their enclosure. The Vietnamese Centipede is a great animal for the careful hobbyist.

Please Note: Centipedes in general are not for the inexperienced.  Not only do they possess powerful paralyzing venom, they are extremely prone to biting, and are one of the fastest, most unpredictable bugs you can deal with. I strongly recommend a long pair of hemostats, as they easily climb up tongs with astonishing speed. Although you can find pictures of it on the internet, handling should in no way be attempted. Centipedes tend to “test bite” everything they walk on, so an envenomation is almost inevitable. Please be responsible.

You don’t want to be on the receiving end of a bite from those chompers!

Selecting an Enclosure

Centipedes are escape artists, so if not housed in a 100% secure enclosure, they will get out at some point. I will only house them in glass tanks that have a sliding top lid with a pin to prevent it from opening. I prefer the sides to be taller than the centipede is long to create some space between my hand. It should also be tall enough to allow a few inches of substrate for burrowing, as well as a drainage layer if you plan to create a living vivarium, which is the best way to go. Anything from 5-10 gallons is enough space for even the largest specimen. I have heard of people keeping them in plastic enclosures such as those sold as “Kritter Keeper”, however, I would not trust all of the holes and gaps. The rule is: If the centipede can squeeze it’s head through, it can get it’s entire body through. Trust me from experience, you do not want one of these exploring the room you sleep in!

Water and Humidity

Perhaps the number one reason centipedes do not survive in captivity is hydration. Even so called “desert” centipedes do not live completely dry. In fact, when it is dry, they are no where to be found on the surface because they burrow down to the more humid layers of dirt. Vietnamese Centipedes come from dense, humid jungles, so they need to be kept as such. There are three steps to properly hydrating them. The first is always offering a water bowl full of water. Second, use a substrate that holds moisture well and will not mold. Third is regularly spraying down the enclosure. This is where a vivarium becomes most practical as you are watering the plants regularly anyway. Follow these three steps, and your centipede will thrive.

Temperature

Scolopendra subspinipes can be kept anywhere from room temp of 73*F, all the way up to 80*F. Keep in mind that at the higher end, they will act more natural, and be much quicker and aggressive. Many keepers will remove the heat source ahead of time if going into the enclosure is needed as this lets them cool down a bit and they tend to move a little slower. Still, do not let your guard down. Humidity is also harder to maintain at 80*F, so that should be accounted for.

Feeding

Feeding is an easy thing with these guys, as they are not picky. Any live vertebrate or invertebrate will be accepted. Crickets, Cockroaches, and mealworms and superworms are commonly available food items, and are the healthiest for the animal. Pinkies and feeder lizards can be offered occasionally, but they are not designed to digest vertebrates as much, so they tend to make them obese and have a  shorter life span. Large Cockroaches are what makes up a majority of their diet in the wild, so are probably the most beneficial and nutritious. Keep in mind that they are messy eaters, tearing their food up and often leaving a pile of bits and pieces of their meal. This should be removed as soon as possible due to the rapid growth of mold that is sure to happen due to the high humidity they are kept in.

Inside the Tank

When setting up a centipede enclosure, a few things should be taken into consideration. First, a thick layer of substrate should be provided to allow burrowing. Burrowing leads to a sense of security, which in turn leads to a comfortable centipede that will not be afraid to explore it’s enclosure. The enclosure should be made dense with either live or fake plants. Pothos plants make great live terrarium plants, as they have low light requirements, love a humid environment, and will vine out and climb all surfaces of the tank if allowed. They will also produce heavy ground cover if nothing is provided for them to climb up. This is perfect for your centipede. Live sheet moss is another great way to add humidity as well as a special aesthetic appeal to the tank. Stacks of broken cork bark also allows multiple hiding places, while looking good at the sametime. Cork bark will not mold, so is perfect for the centipede’s environment. For substrate, I recommend Cypress, Eco Earth, or my personal favorite, Tree Fern made by Exo Terra. The latter two will hold up better in a naturalistic vivarium a lot better, but if going for a simple and clean enclosure, Cypress will produced great results if changed once a month.

A Note on Venom:

Although there are no reliable reports of death by Scolopendra subspinipes, bite victims describe the experience as the most pain they have ever felt, with reactions ranging from severe pain with swelling, to slight necrosis of the tissue, accompanied with nausea, and unbearable pain. If bitten, a hospital trip should be arranged immediately to be on the safer side. Different subspecies have different levels of venom, but all should be treated with the same care and respect that a potentially dangerous animal demands. Think twice before purchasing a centipede if you share the house with children. Bottom line: Be responsible!

Differences among subspecies:

Scolopendra subspinipes subspinipes is the most commonly seen subspecies in the US. They are large, with 8-9” being average, and up to a foot not being unheard of. Colors range from the standard yellow leg, to cherry leg and tiger leg populations. Scolopendra subspinipes “de haani”is an extremely colorful subspecies, with varying degrees of deep red legs and body. S. subspinipes mutilans is a smaller subspecies,attaining sizes of around 5-6”. Their headplate, as well as their last body segment and terminal legs are a vivid red, with a black body and yellow legs. They are among the smallest of the species, and interestingly enough, are communal. I successfully kept 3 adults together for over a year. This is the only subspecies that is recommended to be housed together.

The Vietnamese centipede is a truly impressive invertebrate. When setup correctly, they can be a unique display animal that is sure to captivate its observers. As long as they are given their space, and measures are taken to prevent an escape, they make a very cool pet. Keep them hydrated and humid, and you’re sure to have your centipede for a very long time. The centipede is gaining popularity as more and more people realize the interesting behaviors and colors that come along with these prehistoric bugs.

The Incorrigible Snake Mite – January 2014

By Nicole Smith

What is a mite?

(Ophionyssus natricis) or “the snake mite” , are tiny arthropods that feed primarily  on the blood of living snakes but can also feed on certain lizard species as well. There are over 250 different species of mites that have been reported in reptiles, the most common being Ophionyssus natricis (karingavet.com.au).  The life cycle of the snake mite consists of five stages, egg, larva, protonymph, deutonymph, and adult. The complete lifecycle can be achieved in 13 to 19 days at temperatures between 77 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. A female mite can lay a couple dozen eggs at a time and lay up to 60 to 80 eggs during their lifespan. Eggs can hatch in one day in ideal conditions, once reaching adulthood they can live up to 40 days regardless of if they feed or not!

Where do they come from?

A female mite will travel far to look for the perfect place to lay her eggs. At a temperature of around 86 degrees Fahrenheit, a female mite can travel at speeds of up to eight to eleven inches per minute or fifty five feet per hour! Mites can be transferred on cage equipment, furnishings, and clothes, so taking the right precautions, like using Provent a Mite on new cage furnishings, helps if you don’t want to deal with these pesky little parasites. The severity of an infestation is very dependent on the environment in which your animal lives in.

The small black specks are snake mites – they can be very small! 

Snake mites thrive in high temperatures and humidity, making them awfully hard to get rid of without harming your reptile, as high temperatures and humidity are often what our pets need to thrive as well. Snake mites can drown easily in water but they will still flourish in tropical environments over any other. Reptile species like Green Tree Pythons and other tropical species are perfect contenders for an infestation, although any species of snake is susceptible. Snake mites prefer dark areas over bright ones and over-lapping scales like most boas and pythons have so they can easily hold on between the pieces of skin. 

How can you tell when your reptile has mites and how do you get rid of them?

Signs that your reptile may have mites would include things such as refusing to eat, depression, excessive soaking in their water bowls, or dull looking, raised scales. Mites are also visible and will look like little black moving pieces of pepper or poppy seeds as adults. Depending on your pet, there are numerous methods to use to rid them of mites. The size and health of the animal are both important to take into consideration when deciding on which method is right for you.

You can see mites in the chin scales of this ball python.

The most effective treatment for animals of an appropriate size, is using Reptile Relief by Natural Chemistry (to treat the animal), in combination with Provent A Mite (to treat the enclosure).  Start by placing your animal in a secure plastic container (with airholes of course). Lightly spray the animal from head to tail, covering the entire body in a small amount of the mite treatment. Allow your reptile to sit for 15-20 minutes while the mites die off (for smaller animals, spraying a q-tip with Reptile Relief, wiping the animal down, then rinsing off with lukewarm water will help get rid of the mites).

After the allotted time, soak your animal in clean water (just enough to go halfway up your pets’ sides – you don’t want them to drown on accident!)  for another 15-20 minutes. The soaking process will help prevent any dehydrating since the Reptile Relief works by drying out the mites to kill them off. Next you will need to treat the enclosure by completely replacing all substrate and soaking all cage décor in a 10% bleach and water solution. Make sure all décor is completely submerged as the mites can climb out of the container to avoid drowning.

A few snake mites can be seen around the eyes of this ball python.

Next, move the enclosure into an open area (usually outside is best), and clean the enclosure with an animal safe cleanser such as Healthy Habitat by Natural Chemistry, covering every inch of the cage from top to bottom. Then, you can replace the substrate (or use newspaper or paper towels if the infestation is really bad) and all cage decor EXCEPT for the water dish. Spray the entire contents of the cage with Provent A Mite at a rate of about one second per square foot. Cover up the cage so that the fog sinks into the substrate for about 10 to 15 minutes, which will kill any live mites remaining in the enclosure, and allow the Provent A Mite to soak into the cage, killing any more mites that hatch out. Allow the enclosure to air out for about 20 minutes before adding the animal and water dish. Make sure to check that the cage is fully aired out and no longer smells of Provent A Mite before adding the water bowl and animal back to the cage – putting your snake in too soon can poison your snake! The entire process should take a little over an hour and can save your animal from health issues. Re-treating your animal should be done once a week for at least 2 to 3 weeks to ensure that any mites hatching from eggs are killed off, preventing re-infestation.  To prevent future outbreaks, treating the substrate every time you replace can help ensure you never have an infestation again!

References:

http://www.karingalvet.com.au/Pet-Care/Reptiles-and-Amphibians/Reptile-Mites.asp

http://vpi.com/publications/the_life_history_of_snake_mites

http://lllreptile.com/info/library/care-and-husbandry-articles/-/dealing-with-snake-mites/

Reptiles As Gifts – Do’s and Don’ts : December, 2013

By Jennifer Greene

The holidays are a fantastic, amazing time for families and friends to get together and exchange gifts.  Some people may be easy to buy gifts for, and others more difficult.  For manyreptile keepers, they have a wishlist of pets longer than they are tall!  While it may be tempting to buy a pet reptile for this person in your life, I have a word of advice for you.

Don’t.

It seems like it’d be a straightforward, easy gift – just wrap up the box the night before and give them the animal you know they’ve been wanting all year… It’s not at all that simple.  It’s a common piece of advice from animal shelters and rescues not to give puppies or kittens as presents during the holiday season, as it’s hard to be certain the recipient is really prepared for them.  That’s a mammal that can live in your home with you – imagine giving someone a pet that needs an entire habitat set up for them, that day, or else it runs the very great risk of getting sick and possibly even dying.

Resisting that smiling face can be hard when considering reptiles as pets for kids, but it’s incredibly important for the reptile‘s health that you are fully prepared for their arrival. 

So, DON’T give a reptile as a gift unexpectedly.  No matter how much you think a family or friend may love a new pet gecko, ball python, or bearded dragon, that’s an entire life you’re giving to them without any warning.  Reptiles can become quite expensive over time, and it’s unfair to your friends and family to expect them to suddenly embrace a new expense without preparing for it. 

That being said… That doesn’t mean you can’t help them prepare for possibly owning a new pet.  Books aren’t usually considered very exciting gifts, but they can be invaluable when it comes to learning about a new reptile pet.

So DO give books as gifts, especially to children.  Reading about reptiles not only helps them learn about caring for their new pet, but helps them practice their reading skills and learn how to find information on their own from valid sources. 

Does the family or friend already have books, and you know for a fact they’re going to want thisreptile?  Consider buying a gift certificate for the amount of the animal instead, rather than risk shipping it during the hectic holiday shipping season, and let them pick out the exact animal they want. 

If you know what species of reptile they’re getting, you can help by buying and wrapping needed supplies under the tree!  The most expensive part of any new reptile or amphibian is almost always setting them up, and this is where you can make the biggest impact on the gift recipient.  So DO remember to help out with needed supplies, which can be the most difficult part for a new reptile owner. 

However, if you’re a member of the family, you know the recipient will be happy with their pet, and you absolutely must give them a live animal under the tree, there are a few tips for ensuring the reptile does well. 

DO have the setup ready to go that day – if the animal arrived a few days or even weeks before Christmas, ensure that the correct setup is ready the day it arrives.  DO always order the setup before the animal. 

DO make sure the animal stays warm while the presents are being unwrapped.  Packing them in their shipping container, nestled inside a larger box with a heat pack inside is a great way to ensure that your new pet stays war and safe until it’s unwrapped. 

DO make sure no one shakes the box to see what’s inside! 

DON’T wait until the last minute to order – shipping gets increasingly more hectic closer to Christmas, and winter weather is always unpredictable.  To have a setup shipped to you an dready for a new inhabitant in time before Christmas, the time to start shopping for it is now.  Average shipping for supplies is 7 to 10 business days, meaning that the latest you can wait to get just supplies is Tuesday, December 17th…and even then, with so many packages being shipped, there is always the risk of a delay.  Plan ahead and order early to ensure your gift arrives on time!

And of course, always, always, always DO your research before getting a new pet!  If you’re local, visit our stores for hands on interaction with potential new pets, as well as personal help from our staff.  If you’re not local, you can always visit us on Facebook, ask us questions on Twitter , and view our HUNDREDS of videos on YouTube!

Please DON’T make an impulse buy of areptile pet this holiday season. 

Reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates are entirely dependent on you, the human caretaker, for all of their needs.  Please make sure that any reptile you give is not only wanted, but properly set up. 

Beautiful Bumblebees: Care and Maintenance of Bumblebee Arrow Frogs – November 2013

by Bruno Magana – all photos by author

 

Dendrobates Leucomelas, or commonly referred to as simply “Leucs” are one of the more robust species of arrow frogs. These frogs are one of the most prolific and brilliantly colored species, and make excellent occupants in tropical vivariums. Stout in appearance, bumble bee arrow frogs are also one of the larger species of the genus Dendrobates and are marked with brilliant yellow and orange bands on a shiny black body.  Although one of the most common species of arrow frogs kept in captivity, anyone who has had the opportunity to keep them knows without a doubt how this frog has kept and maintained its popularity in the hobby. It is an undeniably exciting arrow frog whether you’re new to the hobby or an experienced enthusiast. Like all poison arrow frogs, bumble bee arrow frogs live in the tropical rainforests of South America.

Different localities of this species range throughout Venezuela, southeastern Colombia, Northern Brazil, and Guyana. The common or ‘standard’ variety of the bumble bee arrow frog has a near equal balance of black and yellow coloration, with large blotches of black breaking the the lighter coloration. Through decades of selectively breeding bloodlines of the standard Leucomelas, there tends to be a peculiar (but non detrimental) color variation in which an orange color brings just a little more definition to the yellow, sometimes to the extremes of being almost orange and black in color. Unlike the standard variation of bumble bee, the ‘Fine spotted’ variety has bright yellow covering the majority of its black ground color. They are characterized by the many small black spots that are scattered across the frog’s back. Although this variety is not as commonly available in the pet trade when compared to the standard variety, they are certainly not impossible to find! There is also another very attractive ‘Banded” variety of bumble bee arrow frog. Thickness and color of the bands varies dramatically within the bloodline, but no black spots are present within the yellow bands going across the frogs torso.

A bumblebee with a very attractive pattern

These frogs inhabit lush tropical rainforests at high elevations in fallen logs, plants, leaf litter, and other debris. Bumble bee arrow frogs are known for being ground dwellers, but for their short and stout build they are surprisingly good climbers. They are active throughout the day during spikes of high humidity, at which time they engage in social behaviour and forage for food. In the wild bumble bee arrow frogs have a long wet season that lasts during the warmertimes of year, but is then followed by a very brief cool and dry season. The males of this species can be quite vocal, its soft spoken trill could easily be mistaken for an exotic bird. Because this behaviour is limited to what seems to be scheduled times of day, it is easy to enjoy the pleasant sound without being disturbed. In fact, to many enthusiasts the male’s singing is truly music to one’s ears. The frog’s main intention with his song is to attract females. This courting behaviour happens during the wet times of year, when food and water is plentiful. Water is key to the rudimentary stages of their life cycle. Eggs can only survive in moist conditions and larvae (or tadpoles) start life aquatically in small shallow pockets of water. For these reasons, it is easily understood why adult bumble bee arrow frogs time their courting behaviour with seasonal conditions. During the the dry season, bumble bee arrow frogs will reduce overall activity and will usually hide under debris to protect their permeable skin from the dry air. Following pockets of moisture, the frogs will continue to eat small prey items throughout the dry season. Luckily many small insects have to follow the same pockets of humidity in this season, so the occasional meal is never far.

Having a general idea of the seasonal habits and behaviour of these frogs is an important factor to keep this animal happy in captivity. Although the bumble bee arrow frog does thrive in social groups, one must not go overboard with housing this frog with too many tank mates.

They do best if kept in female heavy groups of five or less individuals depending on the size of the enclosure you provide for them. It is possible to keep a steady group of younger frogs in a heavily planted ten gallon tank, but it is recommended to go big if you intend to breed bumble bee arrow frogs as adults. Keeping in mind that although this frog spends lots of time on the ground, they will also climb so it is best to make a vertically oriented vivarium to allow these frogs to indulge in their natural activities.

A glass tank measuring 18 x 18 x 24” can provide a suitable habitat for a group of three adults. Make sure to add some foliage to the vivarium, live or plastic, as this will reduce stress and encourage natural behaviour.

Like all amphibians, water is a necessity that encourages regular activity so be sure to mist the cage with water two to three times a day and always provide a small and shallow water source for bathing (they will rehydrate by soaking their bodies). The goal is for the humidity to spike around 60% during the day, and somewhere around 90% at night.

It is important to remember that humidity is not supposed to stay consistent so go easy on yourself when misting your enclosure. This routine can be made simple by using an automatic misting system to help schedule humidity spikes. Using distilled water will keep hard water stains from distorting the visibility of the glass enclosure and is much safer than using dechlorinated tap.

Bumble bee arrow frogs usually feed after it rains, so it is best to mimic their natural routine and feed them a good meal once a day after a nice shower. Bumble bee arrow frogs will eat a variety of available foods like small or pinhead crickets, fruit flies, and springtails. It is also recommended to use a fine powdered multivitamin and calcium with D3 to sprinkle on feeder insects (best used on crickets), this supplementation should ensure the frog is getting the necessary  nutrients from its diet. Supplementing the diet can be done once a week, but only use one supplement at a time to ensure the frogs can metabolize the meal properly

Bumble Bee Arrow frogs will readily breed year round if the right conditions are provided, but it is recommended to have an off season to mimic the dry season the would experience in the wild. This dry season happens between the months of January and February, but remember, the word “dry” is only relative considering the tropical climate. You still want levels of humidity to spike at around 50 % during the day and 60% at night for at least three to 6 weeks. Maintain regular feeding routines, even though your frogs may be hiding, they will still need to eat duringtimes of slow activity. After this cycle or dry season, regular routines can start again. Bumping up humidity will increase the frogs behaviour, and your frogs should soon engage in courting rituals. Males will call after humidity spikes during the day. If more than one male is present, they will often call after the other to establish territory and compete for any nearby females. Calling sites are usually near suitable egg laying sites. Once a female decides to enter a male’s territory, he will take immediate interest in showing the female the chosen site, usually done by taking short jumps towards an interested female. Nesting sites are are usually smooth surfaces with heavy moisture present. In captivity, these frogs will nest in plants such as fallen leaf litter or bromeliads, black film containers, and in petri dishes under coconut hides. Once the frogs have entered a nest site, spawning will take place usually out of sight, and may stay in the nest for a few days after.

Many people have relative success in raising frogs by simply keeping up with regular routine for the vivarium. Letting the adults handle business, it’s possible to one day realize there are a couple of new additions to your arrow frog vivarium. Of course, letting this happen creates a big range of possibilities that you as a keeper have no control over. For example, two new froglets could have possibly have been six if the eggs were removed from the cage and incubated artificially in a moist petri dish. Having that control will increase the success rates of rearing arrow frog larvae. and raising young metamorphs.  Of course there is a lot of work involved in maintaining water quality, temperatures, and food for tadpoles on a daily basis – being involved with this amazing process is not only rewarding for the species, but also rewarding to you as the keeper. Whether your goal is to produce a number of frogs, or simply to have a little piece of paradise in your room, the bumble bee arrow frog is a wonderful species to work with for enthusiasts of all levels of experience.

Inside the Reptile Industry: Farming – April 2014

By Jennifer Greene and Loren Leigh

A controversial topic today in reptile keeping is the term “farmed”.  What does that really mean to the hobbyist today?  What does farmed even mean, and does farming really deserve the reputation it has garnered among reptile keepers?  Hopefully with some insight from Loren Leigh, the owner of LLLReptile and Supply Co, Inc, you can have a better understanding of what farming really means for reputable dealers.

A young Argus monitor

If you google “reptile farming”, or similar terms, you get many results for animal farms in the US that allow tours, or produce animals as pets, or for actual farms with cows, sheep, or similar livestock.  Getting someone to give you a straight answer on what exactly farming is in relation to reptiles is difficult as well; answers vary widely from person to person.  The reason for this is that there is no set definition for reptile farming.  Is it farming to have large numbers of ball pythons in enclosures, producing dozens or hundreds of babies a year?  Is it farming to have outdoor enclosures for a couple of sulcatas that produce dozens of babies each year?  Does your answer for the ball pythons change depending on the country they are being bred in?  What about the sulcatas?  Does it change based on numbers?  At what point are you no longer a hobbyist breeding an animal you love, and you are a farmer?  Does the country you’re in change your answer as to whether or not your animals are “truly” captive bred?

When I asked Loren to help me define Farming for this article, he explained the difficulty in defining a word so loosely used in our industry.  Generally speaking, though, it is considered farming when it is a particular species being produced in its country of origin in a controlled situation.  Furthermore, it is farming when the species is produced outdoors, relying on naturally occurring conditions to stimulate natural behaviors resulting in breeding.  Loren has had the fortune to actually visit reptile farms both in the US and outside of our borders, including a friend’s farm in Tanzania.  One of the biggest upsides to farming is that it allows for us here in the US to get species that are difficult to find in the wild, as well as difficult or not yet bred here in the states.

A baby Green Tree Python – a species commonly “farm bred”

 

Monitors, for example, are a group of animals not frequently bred here in the US.  For some species, we would not have any access to them whatsoever without the offspring produced at reptile farms in places like Indonesia.  One such farm is the one featured in this video (click link to view) that was visited by DM Exotics – you can see the large adult monitors being housed and cared for so that they can produce offspring each year.  Species such as melinus, doreanus, prasinus, dumerilii, and more are all farmed in Indonesia under conditions similar to their wild habitat.  Without reptile farms, US keepers would not have these species.  If you watch the video linked above, you can also see the conditions the animals are kept in.  Many reptiles cannot and will not breed if conditions are not exactly as they need; reptile farmers realize this and their breeding stock is housed spaciously, fed well, and clearly efforts are made to keep them healthy and happy.

Another example of farming would be red eared sliders here in the US, in particular, at farms located in the South in states like Louisiana.  The US is the biggest exporter of Red Eared Sliders in the world, along with map turtles, and soon box turtles as well.  However, none of the adult breeding stock being used to produce these numbers is wild caught – the red eared sliders, for example, that are used to produce these incredibly high numbers for export (both in the pet trade as well as food) come from established lines that have been in captivity for multiple generations.  There is no need for wild harvesting of red eared sliders or map turtles, thanks in large part to these reptile farms in the parts of the US they occur naturally.

A baby Mississippi Map Turtle 

The reality of farming is that an enterprising reptile keeper can set up outdoor enclosures for any species that occurs in a similar environment to where they live, add animals, feed them, and voila – you have a reptile farm.  One of the largest producers of sulcatas in the world, for example, lives in Honduras!   Florida also has an excellent environment for setting up many species outdoors, which is why it is such a mecca for reptile enthusiasts.  In the southern half of the state, you can set up an outdoor pen for nearly any tropical species and it will thrive.

While in the past, farming may not have been the most ideal situation for a reptile to originate from, a reputable, modern farming operation should be seen as the boon for the reptile industry that it is.  The emphasis for most farms has switched from simply holding animals to reproducing them, resulting in animals that are, essentially, captive bred in their country of origin.  Various locales of Green Tree Pythons are one example, as are blue tongue skinks, frilled dragons, Madagascar ground boas, emerald tree lizards, Colombian boas, and even many species of chameleons.  The majority of reptiles kept on farms such as these originate from adults in captivity that are kept with no intention of release, and instead are maintained until the next breeding season.

Baby Savannah Monitor

So before condemning all reptile farming as scummy and to be disdained, consider the species it has allowed us to keep.  Remember that by simply setting up an enclosure or a few outdoors, and letting the natural weather conditions handle the heating and lighting for your pets, you could be considered to be a reptile farmer.  Farming is not entirely cut and dry, and is not necessarily the worst way to produce pets for keepers here in the states or internationally.  Where do you draw the line between a large scale breeder and a farmer?  Can you?  Does it really matter? 

Food for thought.

Caring for Collared Lizards – October 2013

By Anthony Neubauer

Introduction

The Eastern Collared Lizard, Crotaphytus collaris, is a hardy, medium sized lizard native to the deserts of the Southern United States. They are common in Arizona and Texas, but also range into neighboring states. They are a very active species that spend much of their day running, jumping, and digging throughout the terrarium. Captive bred specimens can be very tame and relaxed, and make much better captives than wild caught specimens. If you’re looking for something different to put in a desert setup that will tolerate occasional handling and make for an entertaining captive, look no further. Collared lizards are for you.

Housing

Collared Lizards are extremely active. Keep this in mind when selecting an enclosure. A tank measuring 12″ long x 12″ deep x 30″ wide can house up to 3 babies for the first 6-8 months of life, and could house a single baby for up to a year.

Once they reach adulthood at around a year to a year and a half, it’s time to upgrade to a minimum of a 16″ x 16″ x 36″ sized enclosure.

This allows for adequate space to run around, as well as some height for offering a deep layer of substrate to burrow in and sticks and rocks to climb on.

Collared Lizards will readily use any space given, so if more space can be provided, your lizards will appreciate it. Glass tanks manufactured by Creative Habitat and Exo Terra are preferable, as they provide adequate light and ventilation for this desert reptile.

Environment

When setting up an enclosure, the first decision you must make is to go naturalistic or simplistic. You could very easily throw in a dry bedding such as Sani-Chips, a couple rocks and or sticks, and a water bowl and your Collareds would survive just fine. However, many hobbyists take it a step further in creating a much more aesthetically pleasing setup, complete with sand, gravel, live or fake plants, and rocks and wood setup as natural as possible.

I highly recommend using a sand-like substrate that allows burrowing. When given the opportunity, Collared Lizards will create burrows and retreat to them at night for sleeping.

This keeps them occupied all day, and in the end leads to happier lizards. I prefer to use Excavator Clay by Zoo Med, topped with a thin layer of sand for added texture and looks.

When wet, Excavator Clay can be shaped and molded into any shape you can imagine. When dry, it becomes hardened enough to hold burrows, but still able to be dug into.

Succulents and some cacti can be used to add some color, as well as a few flat basking rocks and a piece of Manzanita or Grape Wood.

Water

These lizards hail from the harsh deserts of the United States, and so are adapted to a water preserving life style. I like to provide a shallow water bowl with clean water at all times, even though they rarely drink. I also very lightly spray the tank down once a week, mostly for the plants, although the lizards drink the droplets as well. Other than their weekly spray, they don’t need any added humidity.

Water

These lizards hail from the harsh deserts of the United States, and so are adapted to a water preserving life style. I like to provide a shallow water bowl with clean water at all times, even though they rarely drink. I also very lightly spray the tank down once a week, mostly for the plants, although the lizards drink the droplets as well. Other than their weekly spray, they don’t need any added humidity.

 

Heating and lighting

These guys like it HOT. The basking area should be 110-120 Degrees Fahrenheit during the day, with the ambient temperature ranging from room temp to 85 Degrees. I use and recommend a Halogen basking bulb, as they make it easy to achieve these hot temperatures, but in a small, concentrated area so the entire tank isn’t cooking. I position this light over a large flat rock, so the rock heats up providing belly heat similar to using a heat pad. They will move closer and further away from the hot spot to achieve their preferred temperature. At night time, your temperatures can drop pretty significantly, as long as it heats up during the day. Anything above 60 degrees is fine, although 65-70 Degrees is optimal. This is a truly diurnal species, so high intensity UVB lighting is absolutely necessary for them to thrive. The Zoo Med T5 High Output bulbs rated 10.0 is the way to go. I provide 12-14 hours of daylight, and 10-12 hours of darkness without the lights.

 

Feeding

Collared Lizards eat A LOT. This is especially true when growing, as they are using all nutrients towards their rapid growth. They should be fed daily for their first year, and then every other day once they’re close to adult size. They eat a variety of insects, and the more variety the better. I feed mine mainly appropriately sized crickets, with either Dubia roaches, wax worms and moths, and mealworms being offered with every other cricket feeding. Flying insects are cherished, and they can easily jump up and chase them down to get them. Adults can eat the occasional pinky mouse, and will even eat feeder lizards! It is to be noted that Collared Lizards have extremely large heads and throats in comparison to their size, so taking larger food items is no problem. They have a ravenous appetite, and the more you feed youngsters the better they’ll do. I have also witnessed mine eating the leaves of certain succulents, so it may be worth offering yours leafy greens or even fruit from time to time.  While some will readily consume plant matter, not all do, so don’t worry if yours do not eat vegetation.

Vitamins

On top of a varied diet, I still use a few dietary supplements. Once a week I dust their crickets with RepCal Calcium with D3 mixed 50/50 with Repashy SuperPig pigment enhancer. I also use RepCal multivitamin once a month, also mixed with SuperPig. This is essential in making your Collared Lizards as bright and healthy as possible.

Adult Size and Sexing

Collared Lizards are sexually dimorphic, meaning you can tell them apart just by looking at them. Males will have more blue and green on their body, and females will have more tan and red. Males also get a little larger, have bulkier heads, and an overall heftier build. Adult size on these guys is around 12-14 inches, with males being toward the larger end, and females being on the smaller end.

They can reach adult size in a year to a year and a half with proper feeding, food, and nutrition as well as heat.

Conclusion

The Eastern Collared Lizard is a fun one to keep. They are always doing something, and are very inquisitive. They are quick, but can be tamed down with frequent calm, confident handling. Care for them is pretty straight forward, and they have few to no health issues as long as their heat and feeding requirements are provided. Overall a fascinating desert captive that is sure to become a favorite in any hobbyist’s collection.

Care for Mexican Fire Leg Tarantulas – September 2013

By Anthony Neubauer

Introduction

The group of tarantulas that make up the genus Brachypelma are ideal spiders for any hobbyist. Their generally calm demeanor, decent yet manageable size(5-6 inches), and stunning colors make them perfect for a display animal. Some tolerate handling more than others, but as with any spider, care should be taken when handling. My personal favorite, the Mexican Fire leg, is better kept for display. They are one of the most colorful members of the genus, and tend to stay out in the open for viewing.

When selecting a first tarantula, most people are instructed to start with “New World” species, that is, species that come from North or South America. New World species possess specialized hairs on the abdomen, called uriticating hairs, that are rubbed off as the first defense. These hairs, once airborne, cause itchiness and irritation. Some people are more sensitive to them than others, but they generally are of little worry. Because they possess these hairs, they are less inclined to bite, and possess less potent venom if they do. They also tend to be calmer and slower moving. This makes them more manageable for the beginner and intermediate hobbyist. The Brachypelma genus hails from Mexico and Central America, so fall into the New World category.

Selecting an Enclosure

When selecting an enclosure for a Fire Leg, one must keep in mind that they are a terrestrial species, so will spend their time on the ground. This is important, as housing them in too tall of cage can result in a fatal fall. Spiderlings are available as small as half an inch, and up until around two inches should be housed in a small, simple setup as locating their food and water will be tough in larger enclosures. I recommend an eight ounce deli cup up until two inches such asthis. Once they start gaining size, appropriately sized glass tanks or plastic enclosure can be used. For an adult Fire Leg, something with similar floor space to a 10 gallon tank is sufficient. Exo Terra Breeder Boxes and Flat Den Homes are an excellent way to save space, allowing for you to have more spiders!

Cage Décor and Substrate

For any tarantula to thrive, a hiding spot should be provided to allow the spider to feel secure and keep stress levels down. Hides can be anything from a coconut hide, to a piece of cork bark, to a stone cave or skull. Basically anything they can get under or in, and be mostly unseen. Commonly used substrates include Coconut Husk, Orchid Bark, and Cypress Mulch. A water bowl should also be offered for spiders around three inches and up. It should be shallow enough that there is no risk of drowning, and should be changed every couple of days to keep it clean. Spiderlings up until three inches should be sprayed once a week, and not given a water bowl, as this can cause drowning. They will drink the water droplets when they are sprayed. It is not recommended to use a sponge as a water source, as these quickly promote bacterial growth. Some keepers, particularly those interested in keeping Fire Legs for a display animal, choose to take the habitat to the next level and create a natural living vivarium, complete with live plants. This can be easily done with a little extra thought and consideration.  Keep in mind your tarantula’s needs when molting (higher humidity in particular), and you can recreate a desert- style vivarium with moist hiding areas.

Temperature and Humidity

Fire Legs come from the deserts and sub deserts of Mexico. However, no tarantula should be kept constantly dry or too hot. They can be kept at room temperature in most households, provided it stays around 70-73*. Ideally you’d be shooting for 78-80 Degrees, in which case they will metabolize and grow quicker. If you need to pump the temperatures up a little bit, you can use a Clamp Lamppointed at one side of the cage to raise the ambient temperature.

Heat pads can also be used, but should only be mounted to the side of a glass enclosure, as tarantulas burrow to escape heat, so an undertank heater would result in a cooked spider.

As adults, their substrate can be kept bone dry as long as a water bowl is provided. They should also be given higher humidity before they molt. This is achieved by lightly spraying the enclosure, and by adding wet Sphagnum Moss.

Feeding

Tarantulas in general have a low metabolism. They aren’t running around the cage all day, or doing much of anything, to be honest. As a result, they don’t eat a whole lot. Most spiders will eat one appropriately sized insect a week. Spiderlings can be offered Flightless fruit flies if they are too small to tackle live crickets. They can also be given a freshly killed small cricket, as they can be scavengers for their few months of life. It is not uncommon for your tarantula to skip a meal, or even go for a prolonged period of fasting. As long as they maintain a plump abdomen, they are perfectly fine. The most frequent reason that a spider refuses a meal is that is going through premolt, that is, it is preparing to shed its skin. Signs of premolt would be the tarantula kicking all of its uriticating hairs off, leaving a light colored bald spot that eventually turns black. After the process is complete, you will find a shed skin that looks just like your spider! They will also begin to regenerate legs during this time if any are lost.  Leg regeneration can take several molts and can be a complicated process for your tarantula, so while they can regrow their legs, it’s best that they not lose them in the first place.

Sexing

Sexing tarantulas is usually difficult until they mature. Once mature, males will possess “hooks” on their pedipalps, which are used for breeding. Once males “hook out”, they will only live for another year or two. Females will not get these hooks, and will instead live for around 20 years after maturing. This obviously makes females more desirable to acquire, however it is near impossible to tell until they are mature.  You can also sex tarantulas by examining their molts closely, but as this can be difficult without the right tools to see the right parts in a tiny spiderling molt, to be truly accurate it is best left to the dedicated tarantula enthusiast.

Conclusion

Overall, the Mexican Fire Leg Tarantula makes a perfect pet for beginning and advanced hobbyists alike. They are very hardy and easy to care for, but attain decent size and amazing color. They are not very quick, nor are they very bitey, but they do kick hairs and become nervous when disturbed, so they are better left as a “look-but-don’t-touch” pet. They can be kept in a simplistic setup, or in an elaborate vivarium. Either way, they will thrive as long as a  few basic needs are met. If you are looking for a colorful tarantula that is easy to deal with and maintain, stop looking and purchase a Mexican Fire Leg Tarantula!

 

Understanding Reptile Vision, Part 1: Understanding Sight – October 2013

By Jennifer Greene

Hopefully, you have at least a basic understanding of how sight works.  In case you don’t, simply speaking the way humans perceive the world is through reflected light on objects around us.  For the majority of vertebrates, this is how sight works.  Light from the sun, a light bulb, moonlight, etc is reflected off of objects around us, and our eyes take in that light and send signals up to our brain indicating what it is we’ve seen. There’s different wavelengths of light – which most of you already know.  There’s visible light, which is the colors we see as humans, and then there’s wavelengths like UVA, UVB, UVC, and so on.  There’s also infrared light – which is, essentially, the same as heat.

Infrared, visible light, the UVB spectrum, these are a small portion of the BIG range of wavelengths that the sun and various light/energy sources can emit.  As far as we’re concerned, though, those are the relevant wavelengths for us to pay attention to.

The cells that send the signals up to our brain each fire when they encounter the type of light they’re designed to perceive, so your sight is only as good as the number of cells in your eyes.  And from there, your sight is only as good as the number of cells designed to pick up the various types of light out there.

The common way for vertebrates to see is through the use of two types of sight cells – rods and cones.  Rods simply pick up light, period, and fire when visible light hits them.  Cones pick up different colors of light, and there are various types of cones for the various colors or wavelengths of visible light out there.  In low light situations, rods work best, as they will just fire if there is light – so all of your rod cells are going to work to detect light when there isn’t much there.  Cone cells only fire when they are triggered by the specific type of light they’re designed to pick up – so they are not as effective as rod cells in low light, as there is often not enough reflected light of a specific color to make them fire.

This is extremely simplified; vision and lighting are complicated topics, and if you’d like to research it more, I highly recommend it.

As a result of the way the cells work, it is common and expected for most nocturnal species to have large numbers of rod cells in their eyes, allowing them to pick up even tiny amounts of reflected light at night and giving them excellent night vision.  Some owls, for example, have night vision up to 100 times better than what we can see – and this is due to the large number of rods in their eyes.

When it comes to daytime vision and cone cells, though, that’s where sight can get really interesting.  Different animal groups have different types of cones, and the way the cones work can vary immensely from animal type to animal type.

In mammals, it is common for them to only have 2 types of cones.  They are usually blind to the difference between the colors of red and green, a color range humans can detect because we have 3 types of cones.  Human color detection is better than most mammals, but it can only be called “better” in that range of comparison.  When you start to look at other vertebrates, the limits of our own sight become much more obvious.

Birds and many tropical fish can see into the Ultraviolet, or UV range, giving them the ability to perceive colors we can’t even comprehend.  Can you imagine a new color that has never existed before?  That’s a color that birds and many fish see all the time!

In that same group of exceptional sight, manyreptiles have at least 4 types of cone cells, with some having 5.  This means they can perceive color even better than we can in most cases, and for species with the best color perception, they can see a range of colors that even birds and fish can’t.

This is definitely a generalization, and is not meant to imply that reptiles can all see with clarity and distance that we can – but they can perceive a wider range of colors than our senses can, and this should be considered when maintaining captive collections.

Obviously, not all reptiles require full spectrum lighting, or even much in the way of specialized lighting.  Commercialized breeding of several species has shown that specialized lighting is not necessary for the maintenance of some species, and this video and article series is not intended to dispute that.  Rather, this is a look at how reptiles perceive their world, and how we as keepers can better modify our lighting and cage setup to reflect the natural conditions ourreptiles are likely to experience.  For the single pet reptile or for dedicated enthusiasts determined to closely replicate nature as best they’re able, information on reptile sight is just one aspect of husbandry to consider.

Is My Reptile Warm Enough? August 2013

By Jonathan Rheins

In the world of pets, reptiles are very different from your everyday cat or dog. Your furry pets have the ability, like us, to regulate our body temperature internally, and keep it a constant and healthy level. Reptiles of course don’t have this ability. They are often referred to as cold-blooded, a term that is both inaccurate and rather unacceptable. The aforementioned term tends to spark negative connotations regarding these animals, as “cold-blooded” is so often associated with cruelty or evil.

The trend now in scientific literature is to identify these animals as what they truly are, which is poikilothermic ectotherms. These words are often used to describe reptiles interchangeably, although their exact definitions do differ slightly. Poikilothermic literally translates from Greek to mean “variable temperature.” In other words, poikilotherms are any animals that have a variable body temperature. Although a healthy human may have a body temperature of 98.6 plus or minus a few tenths of a degree, we are not considered poikilotherms. Rather poikilotherms are animals that not only have an inconsistent body temperature, but also one capable of massive highs and lows without harming the organism.
A basking Blue Tongue Skink

Now that we understand that aspect of reptilian physiology it is somewhat easier to understand the vital importance of providing captive reptiles with an acceptable range of environmental temperatures. The key word in the above phrase is “range.” Maintaining any reptile or amphibian at a constant temperature is neither healthy or natural. Instead we should strive to provide a thermal range, or gradient, for our pets so that they may choose the correct temperature for their specific needs at any given time. In the wild, reptiles are constantly moving around searching for microclimates within their environment that meet their needs. Aquatic turtles are a good example. On a sunny day, a turtle may haul itself onto a warm rock or log, and when it reaches its preferred body temperature, slips back into the water to cool down. A given animal may go through this series of behaviors literally dozens of times a day. Although I used turtles in my example, the same holds true for snakes, lizards, and amphibians (although to a lesser degree).

For any given species, a little research should quickly yield a set of vital temperatures that you should learn and love. One of these is the ambient temperature required by your species. This is essentially the background temperature, and additionally functions as the cooler temperature that you will eventually use in creating your gradient. The other temperature typically given is that of the basking spot. This is the temperature you want to achieve in the warmest spot in the cage. The basking temperature is usually limited to one or two local areas within the enclosure where the reptile can bask as needed to raise its body temperature.

As an example lets look at a popular species, the bearded dragon, Pogona vitticeps. Individual sources will vary, and the age of your pet and size of enclosure ultimately come into play when developing a proper gradient. Nonetheless, lets assume that beardeds require an ambient temperature of 78-82 degrees with a basking spot of approximately 110 degrees. This can simply be interpreted as: make cage 80 degrees with a localized basking spot of 110. The concept is fairly simple when you break it down.

Understanding the physiology and mechanisms behind reptilian thermoregulatory behavior is a large part of the battle. We are fortunate to live in a time where reptile keeping has become mainstream enough to allow the average consumer access to a wide variety of reptile care supplies. Therefore, the educated hobbyist can easily find and purchase any number of heating devices designed specifically for reptile use with which to provide a proper thermal gradient for their pets.

Reptiles like this Panther Chameleon cannot thrive without the proper temperatures.

The first and perhaps most important tool you can have when keeping reptiles is a high quality thermometer. Standard adhesive strip thermometers are very reasonably priced, and can provide the keeper with ambient temperature information at a glance. Analog thermometers are another option. Though slightly more expensive, the cost is offset by increased accuracy and precision, as well as the ability to move the device throughout the cage.

I typically recommend at least two thermometers per cage, or one easily movable one. One thermometer should be placed in the warmest spot in the enclosure (the basking spot).

This thermometer should allow the keeper to ensure that the basking spot does not exceed the safe level for the species being kept. The second thermometer should be placed away from the basking zone, typically on the far end of the cage. Utilizing this arrangement of one thermometer at both the hottest and coolest parts of the cage makes monitoring the gradient simple, and adjustment easy.

When designing your reptiles enclosure, keep the concept of the thermal gradient in mind. Placing the basking spot in the center of your cage will likely result in the entire cage remaining too warm. Instead, aim to have one side of the cage warm, and the other cooler. If you set up your enclosure this way, and have a properly temped basking spot, you will automatically have a gradient. The further away from the heat source that the animal travels, the cooler it will become. In very large or elaborate set-ups it may become necessary to have multiple basking spots. This is perfectly acceptable so long as cooler zones within the enclosure are still provided.

Using heat lights can encourage perching reptiles, like this Green Tree Python, to bask where you can see them.

There is a huge variety of heating bulbs, elements, pads, panels, and rocks available for keeping your pets warm. Heat bulbs, ceramic heat emitters, and heating pads are by far the most popular, so they will each be discussed briefly in turn, as a working knowledge of these items will help you choose the appropriate equipment for your specific situation.

Bulbs are the most popular method, and different types exist to serve specific purposes. Somereptile bulbs emit heat in a wide wash of light, similar to a standard household bulb. Other so-called “spot” bulbs are designed to focus the heat and light onto a smaller more concentrated area. Additionally, both spot and flood-type bulbs are available in red, effectively creating an infra-red heating device. The light emitted by these bulbs looks red to us, while it is likely that your reptiles do not see any light at all. The main advantage to red bulbs is that they can remain on at night without disrupting the animals natural day/night cycle (assuming supplemental lighting is used during normal daylight hours).

Ceramic heat emitters are yet another option for heating reptiles from above. Similar in form and function to a light bulb, these devices are essentially a solid ceramic heat element available in a variety of wattages to fit any need, They screw into any standard porcelain light fixture and produce an intense amount of heat compared to bulbs of similar wattage. Among the advantages of ceramic heat emitters is the total absence of light that they produce and their longevity. Properly used elements should easily last 5 to 7 years without problems.

A happily basking Texas Map Turtle

Heat pads are a common tool for snake owners due to the terrestrial habits of many snake species. Heat pads are usually, but not always, self adhesive and attach to the outside bottom of any glass terrarium. Individual models will vary, but on average you can expect the substrate temperature above the pad to be about 10 degrees above room temperature. In some situations a heat pad alone provides adequate heat, however do not be discouraged if you end up using both a pad and a light or ceramic element to properly warm your enclosure.

There is one more vital piece of advice that I would like to share with you. Having kept a wide variety of reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates myself over the years, I have adopted a unique and reliable philosophy regarding reptile behavior. As I said earlier, having an accurate thermometer in your cage is very, very important as it is very difficult for us as humans to detect slight temperature variations. Yet in my opinion, the most accurate thermometer that you have at your disposal is the animal itself.

Just as no two humans are exactly alike, nor are any two reptiles. Due to the uniqueness of each animal, carefully observing your pets is the best way to see if they are happy. Yes, within a given species of animal the needs will be quite similar, and as such are generalized accurately in care books. Nonetheless, individual variances do occur, and you should be open to making changes accordingly.

If your reptile is always in its basking spot, day and night, and never budges, chances are that it is too cold in the enclosure, and your pet is trying desperately to warm up. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the hypothetical situation where your reptile spends all day trying to claw through the glass on the cooler end of the tank, almost as if it were being chased. This would be indicative of temperatures that are too hot.

Some reptiles, like this Pygmy Leaf Chameleon, don’t actually like high temperatures in their cage.

Keep in mind that these behaviors may be part of your pets normal activity if it happens only occasionally. You needn?t worry until the above mentioned scenarios become chronic, or are accompanied by anorexia or other signs of illness.

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to share with you my thoughts and opinions in regards to keeping your reptiles warm and happy this winter. Please keep in mind that animals are unpredictable, and when dealing with them nothing is written in stone. We are all still in a learning stage when it comes to perfecting reptile-keeping and we all need to work together to allow our hobby to progress. All of the above is based on my personal experience and opinions, and is in no way intended to be the last word on the subject. If you ever find yourself in doubt about your animals health or well being, feel free to contact us or your local expert.