Inside the Reptile Industry with Loren Leigh

Inside the reptile industry

This past month I was lucky enough to attend the inaugural Top-To-Top conference in La Jolla, CA. This was the first joint meeting to bring together stakeholders in all parts of the pet industry. The purpose of this meeting was to bring awareness to an important organization called PIJAC (Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council) along with many current issues pressing against the pet industry today. Several issues were discussed, but the topic I want to touch on this month is animal activism in America.

Many discussions took place on this topic to help better understand and combat the estimated 38,000 introduced animal laws and regulations coming this year alone on the city, state and federal levels. One big question discussed was “Can animal rights groups and the pet industry live in the same dog house together?”. We are both in the business of animal welfare, right? We both want what’s best for animals in the end, right? So – you would think this would be easy. Sadly – this is far from the case.

I realized at this conference how strong of a group the pet industry really is. Even more so is how strong our segment (reptiles) are by the great turnout by many of my fellow colleagues that work extremely hard for our reptile industry each and every day. Hagen/Exo-Terra, Zoo Med, Gourmet Rodent, Reptiles By Mack, Timberline and NARBC to name a few. The response to this meeting exhibited by the leaders and stakeholders of our industry to offer their time, donate their money and resources, and completely understanding that the future of owning pets in this country is in real jeopardy was awesome to see.

I think for the first time I saw our industry realize that we need to bond together now and fight for all pets (not just dogs, cats or snakes, but ALL pets) because in the end, if you own a dog, cat, snake, lizard, hamster or even a fish, there are people out there that feel this is just wrong.

I think for the first time I saw our industry realize that we need to bond together now and fight for all pets (not just dogs, cats or snakes, but ALL pets) because in the end, if you own a dog, cat, snake, lizard, hamster or even a fish, there are people out there that feel this is just wrong.

I personally feel very fortunate each and every day to work with animals and surround myself with people that love animals and bring people and animals together. You might ask “how can I help in this fight to keep our reptiles and pets?”. You have the most important and most beneficial role in this fight; good public relations! Get out there and teach people about how just plain cool our pets really are. Show them the bond you have and help warn off any, and all negativity. This could be as simple as getting a friendly snake into a child’s hand or bring it to share with a local school group (we at LLLReptile do this with schools and libraries all the time). When the local news does a damaging story on a reptile (or any pet) – be proactive! Reach out and educate them. Show them the truth of how great our pets really are. These are OUR pets they are talking about. It’s time for us to get out there and defend them and fight for our rights to have them in our lives.

Loren Leigh
President LLLReptile
USARK Board member

The Basking Spot: The Monsoon Misting System

The Basking Spot

By Jonathan Rheins

This month’s featured product is the RS400 Monsoon high-pressure misting system from Exo Terra.  The Monsoon is an easy-to-use, self-contained unit designed to automatically spray your enclosures so you don’t have to!  The Monsoon is designed to be simple to use, reliable, and easy to expanded upon and customize to meet individual needs.

monsoon

WHAT IT DOES
The Exo Terra Monsoon is a completely self-contained system designed to automatically mist reptile and amphibian habitats at pre-set intervals and durations.  It comes with everything you need to set up two separate spray nozzles, but the system can be expanded to feed up to six nozzles!
Dials on the unit’s electrical interface allow users to choose spray duration (how long the unit sprays) as well as interval (time between spray cycles). The wide range of settings available make the Monsoon one of the most economical and versatile products of its type available.
monsoon nozzle
WHAT’S IN THE BOX

Everything you will need to get the Monsoon up and running comes in the box ready to go–all you have to add is the water!  The kit is ready to go, and includes: 1 gallon water reservoir, programmable electronic control panel, AC adapter, feed hose (with replaceable filter), 2 high-pressure nozzle assemblies, 2 suction cups (for securing tubing), and complete instructions.

HOW IT WORKS

The Exo Terra Monsoon misting system will automatically spray water into as many as 6 separate habitats, or multiple nozzles within a single enclosure, and is easily programmable.  One dial controls “cycle,” which designates how often the unit will turn on, while a separate dial controls “duration,” or how long the unit remains on for.  Additionally, the unit may be turned on manually at the touch of a button for immediate use.

 You can set the Monsoon to cycle every 1, 2, 4 , 8, 12, 18, or 24 hours.
 Actual duration of spray can be set at 2, 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 30, 60, and 120 seconds.
 Included with the kit is all of the tubing and nozzles you will need to hook up 2 separate nozzles.  In some cases, these may both be placed within a single, large enclosure.  Or, if in the case of two side-by-side enclosures, each can have it’s own designated nozzle.
The nozzles themselves are of the highest quality, and the high pressure system provides a very fine, even mist of water.  They can be articulated in various angles to provide complete control over which areas of a habitat are sprayed most heavily.  Each individual nozzle assembly is equipped with a suction cup to allow for versatile mounting.  Additional (2) suction cups with hose clips are included in the kit as well, and allow for easy routing of the water tubing into the enclosure.
monsoon parts
WHY IT’S GREAT
 
Tropical herps inherently require higher levels of humidity than those found in most home settings.  Furthermore, many arboreal animals rely on rain water and dew for drinking.  For many years the method of choice was hand-misting individual animals and enclosures to ensure proper hydration.  With the Exo Terra Monsoon kit, the machine does all of the work so you don’t have to!
The ability to run up to six separate nozzles from a single unit means that multiple terrariums or vivariums can be automatically watered at once, cutting maintenance time considerably, and gives sensitive animals like chameleons ample time to get a good drink of water, without being in the prying eyes of the keeper.

In addition to vivarium applications, this unit will function well in greenhouses as a source of relative humidity and even for watering individual plants.  This unit has also been creatively implemented into “rain chamber” systems, in some cases eliciting breeding behavior of many frog species.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
 
The Monsoon kit was designed to meet the needs of hobbyists of all levels of experience and a variety of applications.  In addition to the kit, Exo Terra offers a wide variety or accessories and parts for the RS400.

Complete expansion kits, which include a “Y” splitter, additional tubing, a nozzle, and a suction cup, provide a simple means to expand the Monsoon.  Up to 4 of these kits can be added to the base unit, allowing for the use of up to 6 nozzles.

Additional suction cups, tubing, “Y” splitters, and nozzles can all be purchased separately to allow for expansion and customization.  Replacement filters (designed to keep particulate debris from clogging the ultra-fine nozzles) are available as well.
Perhaps the coolest accessory of all should be saved for last; the RS400 remote control.  That’s right–you can control the Monsoon kit from across the room with this simple, handy remote!  This is a great way to provide drinking water to shy animals that may otherwise hide or feel uncomfortable in the presence of a person.
LONG STORY SHORT
 
Overall, the Exo Terra RS400 Monsoon system is one of the most innovative and easy to use misting systems ever.  It allows entry-level herpers to keep their pets like the pros do, and it gives professionals a simple, no-nonsense means of misting multiple habitats.
If you keep chameleons, amphibians, or maintain planted vivaria, then the Monsoon kit is for you!  Make it rain when you want, as often as you want. Your herps will reap the benefits.

Poecilotheria in the Vivarium

Poecilotheria in the vivarium

By Kevin Scott

WARNING: The species of Poecilotheria described here are spiders that can be fast, aggressive and extremely dangerous to humans. They should NOT be handled.

VIVARIUM ORNAMENTS

Over the last decade or so there has been an explosion in vivarium popularity. Animals like arrow frogs, mantellas, day geckos and other small diurnal herps are a natural choice for such display cages because of their distinctive coloration and visibility during the day. Tarantulas and bird spiders have been largely neglected in this department, and not without reason. Most spiders are secretive, and will either bury themselves or spin thick, opaque webs, making it difficult to observe them. Either way this makes them difficult to be seen. In addition, most tarantulas will eat almost anything else that they are housed with.

fringed ornamental

The Fringed Ornamental Baboon Spider (Poecilotheria ornata)

Species of the genus Poecilotheria (Ornamental Baboon Spiders), however, can often be seen sprawled on pieces of wood or cork bark. While they cannot be housed with other animals (although they have been successfully kept communally), Poecilotheria species can make an unusual and decorative addition to the tropical vivarium.

CARE

Ornamental Baboon Spiders are from tropical South East Asia (India, Sri Lanka) and benefit from moderate to high humidity (50-75%), although they can go for extended dry periods if needed. Light daily misting is recommended if your vivarium is not humid enough from moss and/or plants that are established within it. As with humidity, heating situations can vary widely depending on the style and orientation of your vivarium, but a thermogradient with the warm side reaching temperatures of 78-80 degrees is recommended. Compact fluorescent lighting commonly used for vivaria usually emit sufficient heat for Ornamentals (although they normally shy away from bright light) but if this is not enough, an under-tank heater can be used as asecondary heat source.

vivarium

A simplistic arboreal vivarium with a hollow piece of grapewood is ideal for any of these species.

Again, each vivarium is different and care should be taken with tropical plants when selecting a spot for a heat source.

Being arboreal (tree-dwelling) animals, Poecilotheria species prefer vertically oriented vivaria. Adequate ventilation should be provided. Although they are often seen ‘out and about,’ hide spots are necessary. Cork hollows are ideal for this, and will allow your spider to build a web to retreat to, should it want to. Live plants with broad leaves, like pothos ivy, smaller philodendron and bromeliads, also provide excellent cover in this type of environment. A small water dish with a sponge or cotton balls should be offered, for your spider to stay hydrated.

indian ornamental

The Indian Ornamental (Poecilotheria regalis)

FEEDING

All Poecilotheria species can feed solely upon crickets. Spiderlings and adults alike can feed weekly, with the size of the food item ranging from small to large crickets, as is appropriate. Care should be taken to provide enough food if a communal vivarium is what you have in mind. Although Ornamentals have been successfully kept together (same species, same size only), they have also been known to cannibalize. If you set up a communal vivarium, it is essential that you provide enough food for your spiders. Several appropriately sized crickets should be fed to each spider weekly, with uneaten food items being removed from the cage with tweezers. Other food items including cockroaches, locusts, meal-, super-, and wax-worms can be fed as well, but in the vivarium these have a tendency to hide or dig if not captured immediately.

CLOSING COMMENTS

In closing, I would like to note that species of Poecilotheria are not the only spiders that do well in vivaria.Brachypelma species are another excellent addition to the tropical vivarium. These terrestrial counterparts are very hardy and less aggressive than the Ornamentals, and are readily available in the pet trade. Brightly colored and not as reclusive as some other tarantulas, these fascinating animals are a subtler main feature than brightly colored frogs or geckos, but if you take the time to set up and care for these eight-legged wonders I think that you will be pleasantly surprised.

10 Questions with Jeff Barringer

10 Questions with Jeff Barringer

By Scott Wesley

Jeff Barringer is the owner and founder of Kingsnake.com / OnlineHobbyist.com and has single handedly changed the way the reptile industry does business since starting out in 1997. Kingsnake.com is the #1 reptilerelated website in the US – by far.

1.    If you had a choice, what would you be doing full time instead of Kingsnake.com ?

I would be working with the Department of Defense new “Cyber-command” to help stop online attacks on the nations infrastructure.  Or I would be the water ski stunt coordinator for the Wonder Lake Show Ski Team. Both have their upsides and my unique skill set would allow for either.

2.    You are very involved in the music industry in Austin. Is there anyone or any specific band you have met that made you “star struck” or left a lasting impression on you seeing them live or meeting them in person?

Well my friendship with Kerry King of Slayer came about because of our reptile interests, and that’s probably been the one that has impacted me most, recently, but I have been going to shows since I was 15 and even then I found a way. I would say The Ramones left me star struck first as I conned my way back stage when I was 17 and got to spend the night hanging out in their dressing room interviewing the band before their show in 1979. It pretty much set my path.

3.    What is your favorite reptile show to attend in the country and why?

Wooo. That’s a tough one. And for tough ones I always run home to family. And that means the annual East Texas Herp Society Symposium in Houston, September 29-30 .  Its where the Alterna Page, kingsnake.com and NRAAC all got their start. And it’s also where NRAAC will be hosting the Reptile& Amphibian Law Symposium & Workshop this year.

4.    If you could pick somewhere else to live besides Austin – where would it be and why?

Sanderson Texas, because it is the gateway to the Tran-Pecos and the Big Bend and I could find reptiles, arrowheads, gemstones, and dinosaur bone all in my front yard. And every once in a while really cool Air Force jets come rat racing through the hills and mountains.

5.    What kind of reptile got you hooked – grey banded kingsnakes or something else?

When I was 9 it was Texas Horned Toads
When I was an adult a Texas Alligator Lizard got me hooked
The Mexican Milk Snake is my favorite snake and what got me hooked on field work.

6. The reptile industry has changed so much since the late 90’s – what do you see as the biggest change overall since you started besides the internet?

The biggest change is the one that I see now, with the industry that started out somewhat localized, that expanded in the 90’s and 2000’s to national markets due to the ready availability of overnight shipping and marketing channels such as the internet, now retracting back to a more localized, and smaller, marketplace, similar to the way it was in the early 90s. I think this is due primarily both to the perception of and the actuality of more government regulation at the state and federal levels.

7. What is your favorite current band or singer right now?

Right now it’s the Silversun Pickups – sounds like being attacked by a swarm of bees with guitars. Plus their drummer’s style reminds me of Animal on Sesame Street

8. Why, in your opinion, have so many reptile businesses taken advantage of online advertising, and yet so many still chose to ignore its massive benefits (especially major manufacturers) ?

I think that a lot of businesses are still under the impression that to effectively advertise on the internet, you actually have to sell your products, and ship your products online. You don’t.

The internet allows all businesses to participate. Whether it’s building a brand, introducing a product or launching a new pet store down the street the internet is still the cheapest, and quickest way to get any message out, commercial or otherwise.

9.    A bit morbid, but if you could choose – how would you like to die?

Unexplained tuba accident

10.  What is the one thing you would like to see change in the reptile community?

I would like to see more people get directly involved with working with regulators and legislators. We can’t depend on any one person or one organization to resolve the issues our community is facing. Emails, phone calls, faxes, letters, all those are great tools but we should be using them to open doors, rather than shut them. Get to know who is responsible for the laws in your community and actually engage them in person.  That is what is going to make the difference in the end.

Easier Than You Think: Maternal Incubation in Ball Pythons

Ball Python Maternal Incubation

by Jennifer Greene

Are you a beginner to ball python breeding?  Have you had trouble with successful hatch rates incubating your eggs artificially?  Are you curious about maternal incubation, and what’s involved to allow your female to successfully incubate her own eggs?   Then read on, and hopefully this article will help you on the path to successfully allowing your female to incubate her own eggs!

Before letting your ball python (or any snake species, for that matter) incubate her own eggs, you should prepare for this long before breeding even takes place.  I would not recommend allowing small or young females to maternally incubate, as they may not feed during this time and the extended period of non-feeding may be too much for them.  I generally only allow my females that are over 4 years old, and over 1800 grams (preferably in the 2,000 gram range) to maternally incubate their eggs.   Prep your girls by simply feeding them well and getting them into the best condition possible, with nice complete sheds and solid, good weight to them.  You want your girls as chunky as possible going into the breeding season, because again, they may or may not eat once they start incubating their eggs, and you don’t want the incubation process to drain them too severely.

female ball python

One of the author’s fat, healthy female ball pythons in the process of “building” prior to ovulating

Once you’ve selected the females that will be maternally incubating, proceed through the breeding process like usual.  For more information on this part, please refer to the numerous online caresheets, forums, and books currently available on the subject.  The only additional thing to consider is that if your female loses too much weight during the breeding season prior to ovulating, do not allow her to maternally incubate.  It is important that the female is in good condition throughout the entire process.

After your girl(s) have gone through the post-ovulation shed, begin readying their egg laying area.   If they are in a display cage, this can be an enclosed box slightly larger than the female with damp moss packed into it, or in a tub setup you can simply place damp moss throughout the warm side of the tub.  Watch your snake and tweak the cage conditions as needed – if she is laying directly on the heat, increase it by a few degrees until she is coiling just off to the side of the heat.  This way the eggs will be a consistent temperature, as often when they are laid directly on the heat source the bottom eggs can become over heated and go bad.  Be sure not to over-saturate the substrate or moss in the cage either, as this will also cause issues with the eggs.  It is easier to add a little more water, bit by bit, to the moss surrounding the female (and thus increase humidity that way) than it is to try and remove moisture if you have put too much in.  Too much moisture will kill the eggs much faster than not enough, so err on the side of dryness!

incubation tub

A tub set up and ready for maternal incubation

When your female begins to coil just off to the side of the heat, DON’T DECREASE THE HOT SPOT!  Most of the time the required high temperature is about 95 to 100 degrees; this needs to stay the same.  The female will select the spot that she will be able to maintain the correct 88 – 90 degree range of temperatures based on the conditions in the cage.  If you change the conditions in the cage, she cannot move the eggs, nor do much to increase her own temperature, and this can ultimately impact the temperature the eggs are incubated at.  Decreasing the hot spot by too much can result in longer incubation times, or if the temperatures get too cool, can even kill the entire clutch.

Once the eggs are laid, check the moss around the female, and ensure it stays damp.  Use of New Zealand Sphagnum moss is recommended, as it tends to last longer without molding or disintegrating than other types of moss.  To monitor temperatures, you can carefully slip the probe of a digital thermometer into the middle of the egg mass.  This will allow you to check on the temperatures of the eggs without disturbing the female too much, which is ideal.  Aside from providing fresh water daily, keep interaction with the female to a minimum at this point to keep stress as low as possible for her.  Once a week, check that the sphagnum moss is still damp (but not soaking wet).  Never, ever get the eggs themselves wet.  Only ever get moss or bedding around the female wet, and try to avoid saturating the bedding or moss.  Remember, it is easy to add a little water at a time until the ideal humidity is reached; it is significantly harder to remove it if you add too much.  Some noticeable dimpling, especially of the top eggs, is normal and should not be a cause for concern unless the eggs appear to be losing more than ¼ of their usual mass.

ball python with eggs

One of the author’s females incubating her eggs!

Average incubation time for maternally incubated clutches is not usually much shorter or longer than artificial clutches, so yours should hatch between 55 and 65 days.  I often start offering small rats to my incubating females during the last half of the incubation period.  Some females accept meals, some don’t.  Either is fine, but you just need to be cautious not to offer a prey item that is too large.   In the process of catching and constricting a large meal, there is the chance your female could disrupt her eggs, which naturally you want to avoid.  A female that refuses to eat the entire duration of incubation can be somewhat concerning to you as a keeper, but this is the exact reason you should always start with a female in the best possible condition.  Once the eggs hatch and the smell has been washed off of her, she should start feeding right away.

Once the babies start to pip, you can leave them alone in the cage until they have all hatched.  The female will not squish them, and will even adjust her coils so that they can poke their noses out to breathe.  It will take anywhere from a few hours up to 3 days for all the babies to emerge from their eggs, so be patient!  Once all the babies have emerged, remove them, and then completely clean the cage and soak the female.  It is necessary to thoroughly clean the cage as well as soak the female to remove all smell of the eggs and babies, as well as clean up the goop from hatching.  Any remaining smell of eggs/babies will result in the female continuing to coil and attempt to incubate whatever has the smell of the eggs.

ball python babies hatching

Hatchlings!

And that’s it!  Once you’ve set up one female to maternally incubate successfully, you will find each following maternal incubation to be easier and easier to set up and maintain.   I personally let most of my females incubate their own eggs, resorting to artificial incubation only for small or young females who are not as large or as heavy as I would prefer.  While you do not have the same degree of control over a maternally incubated clutch, the female does instinctually know exactly what to do.  The eggs may not look as pretty as they do when incubated artificially, but the babies come out in the exact same excellent shape!

Inside the Reptile Industry with Loren Leigh

Inside the reptile industry

As we embark on the first edition of The Reptile Times, I am eager to introduce you to an exciting change that is occurring in our reptile hobby.  Reptiles have gained popularity at an unprecedented pace over the last 20 years, and are now making their way into the lives of mainstream America.  Reptiles and amphibians of all shapes and sizes have moved from the back room of the house to the prominent area of the living room, where they have become a major part of our everyday lives.

This rapid increase in reptile ownership has unfortunately not come without its bad points.  Issues such as the widely publicized Burmese python situation in Florida have drawn great attention to our hobby, and to the need for reptilekeepers of all levels to unite and work together to keep our rights intact.  State and city laws nationwide are being proposed and enacted as a means of placing restrictions on reptile ownership, as well as many other regulations that threaten our hobby and industry greatly.

In each issue of The Reptile Times I hope to provide a sneak peak inside our hobby and give our readers timely  updates on the state of our reptile industry, what is happening within it, and the many directions we are going.  Doing so will hopefully keep us all up to speed on current events industry-wide. Additionally I hope to provide insight into how we can all work together in the molding of realistic solutions while at same time helping the fight against those who do not want us to have our beloved pets at all.

A close friend of mine once told me that laws are won and changed by people just showing up.  My hope is that through this column I can help to better your understanding of the facts, encourage involvement, and enlist your help as part of the active reptile nation.

So, for this month, I encourage you to learn about The United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) by visiting their website (www.USARK.com). Even better yet, become a member, get involved, and help us in the fight!

Loren Leigh
President LLLReptile
USARK Board member

The Basking Spot: Reptariums

The Basking Spot

This month, the Basking Spot is on…Reptariums!  These lightweight, easy to clean, easy to move mesh cages are a fantastic product with a range of uses.  They have an easy to put together frame that requires no extra tools for assembly, and the mesh screen is durable and stands up to regular cleaning and use.  Even if your screen does become worn or frayed, replacement screens are inexpensive and super simple to order.

reptarium cage

A fully assembled Reptarium cage

Uses for reptariums range from setting up temporary housing for arboreal animals such as chameleons, climbing geckos, or small lizards, to actual large cages ideal for larger chameleon species.  They also make it exceptionally easy to set up an outdoor enclosure for your diurnal pets (such as the Bearded Dragons in this month’s Reptile Times), giving them the option to enjoy some natural sunlight in a secure manner.  The mesh and plastic framework are completely rust proof, so when it comes time to clean your reptarium – you can simply hose it down!  Removing the animal first is recommended, of course.  😉

Reptarium Parts

Reptariums are an easy to put together plastic tube frame, with a simple arrangement of parts that are easy to figure out even without a set of instructions.  The mesh slides over the plastic tube framework, and is quickly oriented around the frame.  Lastly, included with the reptarium are cord holders, small plastic clips that hold cords in place when light fixtures are resting on top of the reptarium.  As long as the light bulb does not directly touch the mesh, it is safe to rest the fixture on top of your reptarium.

Reptarium Soft Tray

You can also add a soft tray to your reptarium for the option to add substrate to your cage, or to catch water if using the cage indoors.  For increased humidity in your reptarium, use multiple soft trays on the different sides.  Each reptarium size has 2 soft tray size options to allow you to orient your cage whichever way you’d like.  Yet another perk to the reptariums – you can orient them any direction you’d like.  There’s no top or bottom to them, it’s just whichever way works best for you!

Reptariums also disassemble quickly for easy storage when not in use, so they can be used seasonally as needed.  Live in an area with wild fires, tornados, or hurricanes?  Keep a few reptariums on hand as emergency evacuation cages!    There are only minor limitations in the use of your reptarium.  One minor limitation is that the mesh cannot withstand strong claws attached to a heavy animal, and larger lizard species may be able to rip the mesh.  Reptariums also are not ideal long term housing options for snakes, but if used short term (in the case of evacuation or moving), use of a soft tray and substrate is recommended.

Harness the Sun: Outdoor Housing of Bearded Dragons

Harness The Sun

By Jonathan Rheins

INTRODUCTION

The awesome power of the sun plays a tremendous role in the lifecycle of nearly all reptiles and amphibians.  While some species bask in its glory, even those that avoid its brilliance rely on day length as a seasonal clock. Whether in nature or in the terrarium, solar wavelengths and intensity play an integral role in basking behavior, brumation schedules, and reproduction among herps.

Indoors, we must make every possible effort to mimic outdoor conditions for our charges, doing our best to ensure that appropriate photoperiods and lighting type and intensity are provided.  However, in certain climactic zones, select species have proven quite content to enjoy the region’s outdoor weather.

Case in point is the Inland Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps).  Perhaps the most popular and beloved pet herp across the globe, Bearded Dragons are personable, attractive, and love getting some sun!

Bearded outside

Pugsley soaking up some rays.

HABITAT TYPES

During much of the year throughout most of the United States, Bearded Dragons will be maintained indoors, with outdoor housing reserved for impeccable weather.  However, in Mediterranean and desert climates, such as Southern California, ‘beardies’ will thrive outdoors from late spring into late summer if certain preparations are made.

Outdoor habitats for any species should first and foremost be secure.  It is our responsibility as the keeper to do everything in our power to ensure the well being of the animals under our care.  Protection against escape and rural predators should be high on the priority list.  Thoughtful habitat construction and careful husbandry routines will reduce the risk of either worst-case scenario.

Glass-walled enclosures or aquariums should never be placed in direct sunlight for any reason.  Animal overheating is likely to occur.  Even when outdoor ambient temperatures are relatively cool, the light of the sun can be magnified through the tank walls, creating a see-through oven!  Herps housed outdoors for anytime period should be in screen or mesh type enclosures.

Custom-built enclosures are an option, but one must consider the time, efficiency, and cost of such endeavors on a small scale.  Zoo Med Laboratories manufactures two fantastic products that are both equally well-suited for the occasional sunning or seasonal housing of one or two mature dragons.  Granted, they are geared towards keepers of tortoises, but Bearded Dragons are equally happy to make a summer home of either enclosure type.

The Zoo Med Tortoise Pen is a medium sized outdoor sunning enclosure that is ideal for getting one or two adult dragons outside when temperatures are acceptable.  A built-in shelter is provided to allow for thermoregulation so as to help prevent overheating.  The floor is open, which allows for placement over organically grown grasses and dark, leafy greens such as kale, dandelion, and romaine–all dragon favorites!

Also from Zoo Med is the Tortoise House, a slightly larger and expandable take on the Tortoise Pen.  With the Zoo Med Tortoise House, more Bearded Dragons can be kept per enclosure, and a solid floor is incorporated should escape by digging be of concern.  Additionally, these units can be combined in a linear fashion, and the built in shelter is larger, allowing for lay boxes or heating devices.

Beardeds in Reptariums

Some of the author’s Bearded Dragons basking in Reptarium Screen Cages

I have found that for small to moderately sized dragon collections, Reptarium brand mesh enclosures are quite acceptable, and perhaps preferable, when a larger number of animals are being maintained.   They are modular, easy to clean, and allow for a maximum amount of “leg room” for each dragon.  Furthermore, acceptable amounts of heat and UVB easily transfer through the heavy duty replaceable mesh cover.

HABITAT PLACEMENT

Once the overall design and attributes of the outdoor habitat have been determined, physical orientation to the sun must be taken into consideration.  A fair amount of observation, measures, and experimentation may be necessary before an acceptable configuration is adopted.

Obviously, it is important that the area selected for your outdoor enclosure receive a good amount of sunlight, but also offers the animal(s) some refuge from the heat of the sun.  I try to locate outdoor habitats in areas that receive nearly direct sunlight for a few hours in the morning and afternoon.  This correlates to the general activity patterns for most dragons.  And, during these hours, the sun is lower in the sky, providing a constant but not overly intense amount of exposure.

Natural features around your property can also be utilized as a natural shade cloth.  I have found that the citrus trees in my yard provide partial shade to my Reptariums during the hottest parts of the day, allowing dappled light to reach the enclosures.

bearded in cage

No reptile of any species should ever be housed outdoors for any period of time without access to water and a shaded area.  Even though most reptiles like it hot, it is still vitally important that they have the ability to cool down if needed.

By ensuring that no outdoor habitat is placed in direct constant sunlight, both shaded and illuminated sections within the enclosure can be established at the same time.  This allows for easy thermoregulation of the dragons as they move in and out of shaded or sunny areas.

TEMPERATURE CONSIDERATIONS

While the primary reason for housing Bearded Dragons in the backyard is to allow access to natural sunlight and high levels of UV light, air temperature must be considered before animals are placed outdoors.  If Bearded Dragons are placed outside when the temperature is too cool, they may become stressed or ill.  Furthermore, reptiles can only effectively utilize the beneficial UV rays of the sun when they are within their preferred temperature range.

It should be noted that air temperatures and surface temperatures within the enclosure can vary greatly.  A high quality digital thermometer with a minimum/maximum feature should be included in every enclosure.  I also highly recommend the use of an infrared temperature gun that can be used to easily measure surface temps of basking surfaces and the animals themselves.  Temp guns are perhaps the most useful tool in herpeteculture today, and will prove truly invaluable when establishing outdoor housing for any herp.

When given a variety of basking and hiding areas, Bearded Dragons are incredibly adept at maintaining a body temperature between 90 and 100 degrees F, almost regardless of air temperature.  As long as ambient temperatures are above 75 F, dragons with access to full sun will quickly and efficiently achieve their preferred thermal range.

Only when conditions are optimal should animals be left outside overnight. Keep in mind that while wild dragons can and do thrive when nighttime temperatures drop into the 50’s F, pet dragons are usually not acclimated to such changes in temperature. It is good practice to bring your pet indoors after dark, unless lows hover around 70 degrees. In most cases, the threat of predators (such as cats and raccoons) and the risk of chill greatly outweigh the advantages to keeping Bearded Dragons outside over night.

Beardeds basking

Beardeds basking on wood inside a reptarium.

FURNISHINGS AND SUBSTRATE

Just as with any indoor habitat, some attention must be given to the choice of enclosure floor covering, as well as decorative and functional decor.  Outdoor habitats are subjected to different extremes in temperature and humidity, so what may work wonderfully indoors may or may not be an acceptable outdoors.

Products that are conducive to easy cleaning and replacement are ideal for use in backyard herp enclosures.  I have had much success keeping larger dragons on a substrate mix of cypress mulch and large grade redwood chips (Repti Bark).  These products combined are aesthetically pleasing, easy to spot clean, and hold up well when exposed to weather.

When housing small groups of hatchlings or juveniles outdoors, coconut husk type beddings are ideal.  The small particle size makes accidental ingestion practically a non-issue, and it has the same weather-resistant properties of other substrates.

All bearded dragons housed in outdoor enclosures must have multiple basking areas, either of wood, rock, or both, to ensure that each animal being housed has access to its own basking area.  Large pieces of driftwood,African mopani wood, and slate slabs work well.  One of the newer products to hit the market (and a personal favorite of mine) is bamboo root.  This all-natural product is very funky in appearance, having all sorts of angles and branches.  One main advantage of bamboo root is that unlike grapewood, it has no cracks or crevices in which crickets and other feeder insects might hide.  Additionally, when it comes to cleaning large numbers of enclosures, anything with a smooth surface is easier to clean and disinfect.

Whatever cage furniture tickles your fancy, make sure that you give your pet a couple of basking and shade options. A few pieces of strategically placed wood perches and a nice warm basking rock can turn a ho-hum screen cage into a comfy outdoor vacation spot for your scaly friend.

Bearded

Ferrari, a translucent Italian leatherback.

IN CLOSING

Harnessing the power of the sun for herpeteculture is not only natural, but self-sustaining. While special UV and heating bulbs will likely constitute the majority of your pet’s basking media, take advantage of the terrific weather that we usually enjoy in southern California. Bearded Dragons are especially well suited for outdoor housing in the summer as they love to soak up the rays in what we would consider unusually hot weather.

When considering outdoor housing options, remember that your pet’s safety and comfort come first. Make sure that your pet is secure from escape as well as from your inquisitive pet tabby.

Placement of your enclosure is also equally important. Too much sun is as bad as too little. Make sure that it receives some direct sunlight, but also has a naturally shaded area, like that of a nearby tree, to give your pet a temperature gradient. Just like indoors, you want to give your pet the option to get away from the heat.

Appropriate furniture and substrate can help by providing lots of heating and cooling spots, which can also be aesthetically pleasing.

In the end, it is our responsibility to keep our herps happy, whether indoors, or out. With a little thought and creative use of resources, your Bearded Dragon can enjoy its own summer getaway spot right in your own backyard.

10 Questions with Chad Brown

10 Questions with Chad Brown

By Scott Wesley

Chad Brown is a former all-pro linebacker in the NFL and is the owner of Pro ExoticsShip Your Reptilesand The Reptile Report. Chad and Robyn have done some amazing things for the reptile industry through the years, and continue to this day with their newest venture – The Reptile Report. Check it out and bookmark it!

1. What was the very first reptile you owned?

The first reptile I owned was a beautiful boa that I named Fear. I named her that because everyone in my dorm was afraid of her. I got her my freshman year at the U. of Colorado. By that time in my life, I had caught 100’s of snakes and lizards around my home in southern California, but that boa was the first snake I bought and owned.

2. Is Robyn your “Brofriend”, “Man Crush” or “BFF” and how long have you known each other?

I met Robyn when I was a junior at U of Colorado. I guess that was 1991? He got his first snakes from me, a baby boa I produced and a ball python I took in as a rescue and nursed back to health. We have worked together at PE for almost 20 years. We have a great business relationship, and a great out of the office friendship as well. But none of that “Man Crush” stuff. ok :)?

3. What is your greatest accomplishment – on or off the field besides your family?

Playing in the NFL for 15 years was pretty special. Being married almost 20 years is pretty special too. But to answer the question, I’m hoping I haven’t had my greatest accomplishment yet. I’m only 41, too much life to live to have already to the high point.

4. Where did you go on your last vacation?

I just got back from Marco Island, FL. The NFL retired players union have their annual meetings there. I’m a beach kind of guy, so hanging out with great football players, my family and getting in some body surfing is always a great time! I’m hoping to go to west Africa soon with a film crew to do a special on ball pythons! Be on the look out of this sometime next year

5. What was the first reptile company / big breeder you can recall back when PE started?

Before I started PE I was friends with Kamuran Tepedelen of Bushmaster Reptiles. He was and still is a great inspiration to me as far as reptiles go. To have the chance to go to his house and see and hold reptilesthat I had read about in books was truly awesome.

6. What was the last movie you saw in the theater?

The last Twilight movie. I’m not a fan but I try my best to be a good Dad, so I took the kids when it came out. I’m much more of a watch a movie at home kind of guy. Comedies seem to be my first choice.

7. Who hit harder – you, Hines Ward or Bill Cowher? 

I’ve tackled Hines a few times but I’ve never been hit by him. I guess lucky me, right? I have been spit on a number of times by Bill Cowher. He is a very close talker, and like the saying goes, “say it, don’t spray it”!

8. One thing you could change about the reptile world / community?

Each time I go to a show or a reptile event, I’m saddened by the bad feelings some folks in the community have towards each other. Our reptile world is pretty small and it’s too bad we all can’t get along. It makes dinner plans at the shows tricky! Can’t have these guys together, or that guy doesn’t want to go because this guy is going. So my one change to the reptile world would be somehow get all my reptile friends to be friends.

9. What is the coolest reptile you have hatched at PE in your opinion?

Wow, tough question. I still get a thrill from hatching Leopard Geckos! Over the years at PE we have hatched everything from super high end ball pythons, to our own line of striped blood python, to Gilas, to Arizona banded geckos. But the coolest reptile we have hatched are Green Tree monitors. It took us a longtime to get babies hatching, but man, the wait has been well worth it!

10. If you could live somewhere else besides Colorado – where would it be and why?

San Diego has always been a place I’ve talked about moving when my kids are older. I love the ocean, and LLLReptile is there!