Then and Now: A Look Back at Reptiles on the Internet – April 2013

By Scott Wesley

In the winter of 1996, I was sitting in my college apartment at Chico State University playing “fantasy hockey” on America Online. While in this league one of the really nerdy things we decided to do was set up a website for our own teams. So – I started to research HTML and how things worked. I wanted a “counter” for traffic stats, a link for email with a cool animated graphic, pictures, team logo, etc.  I quickly figured out how to lay out a basic website, and upload it via Netscape.

Meanwhile down in LA – my brother had started a reptile business out of his garage (literally). He was breeding leopard geckos and selling supplies via a printed mail catalog. He called his business “LLLReptile & Supply“.  I had been selling reptiles at my school previously through my brother who was at that time working for a reptile wholesaler – so I was sort of familiar with what he was doing. One night, I took that knowledge and his product catalog and sat down at my computer to create a website for his business. The website address washttp://members.aol.com/L3Reptile/pricelist.html .  I emailed him a link, and asked him what he thought of doing a website?  With our hard work and dedication – the website took off and the rest is history for us.

This was how the LLLReptile website looked 1 year after creation.

When I created the LLLReptile website – there was very little in the way of competition. There were a few places to run classifieds online (ReptilesOnline.com and The Herp Mall were a few that come to mind). These pre-dated Kingsnake.com – which soon followed. Other companies online at that time were Hartford Reptile Breeding Center (pythons.com) and Big Apple Herp.

There were lots of “breeders” online – most of the names I forget (some are still around like Ron Tremper at LeopardGecko.com and BHB). Google didn’t even exist yet!  16 years ago doesn’t seem that long – but in the world of the internet – it is a lifetime.

At the end of 1997 – we decided to really upgrade and buy the domain name LLLReptile.com.  This was a BIG step for us and expensive at the time as well (no .99 cent godaddy names back then).

The late 90’s were really the explosion for reptile websites. Our business grew rapidly – as we had created something that had not existed prior; an all-in-one reptile website for supplies, live reptilesand feeders. Your “one stop herp shop”!

In the late 90’s, Jeff Barringer had taken Kingsnake.com to a new level as well. This was now the premier place to advertise anywhere on the net for the reptile world. His website was the “one stop” for classifieds, discussion forums, law updates via NRAAC and much more.

At one time – Kingsnake.com was the world’s LARGEST “pet” website that existed (and still is the largest reptile website by far today). The big “pet” companies really took a LONG time to find their place on the internet (set aside Pets.com and their 2 million dollar superbowl commercial. #miserablefail).

The reptile world was way ahead of the curve here.  Kingsnake.com literally allowed almost anyone working from home to start up a reptile business and immediately reach a vast customer base. I know for a fact that this website is why MANY reptile companies exist today!

Around the turn of the century we started to see a negative turn for the internet world.  Keyboard warriors found outlets for their disdain of individuals, breeders and companies on several websites that allowed anyone to say anything with literally no facts to back them up. It was also filled with rubberneckers there to watch the gossip and hate. While there is certainly a “need” for this in certain aspects (as there are certainly “bad” people out there) – the lack of monitoring the child-like posts filled with hate and personal attacks was sad and disturbing. Fortunately we have seen the evolution through the last decade through places like Yelp, the BBB and other legitimate feedback websites run in a much more professional manner. While the negativity still goes on to this day – it has certainly seen a draw down from it’s original form. People seem to have realized that these forums are typically filled up with false or unfounded statements posted mostly by children (or adults acting like children).

Around 2005 – We saw the biggest change online for the reptile world since its inception. Social media had turned from a place where kids talked about their music and interests on MySpace to something entirely different. Facebook took over the internet like a wildfire.  It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like to be a 13 year old kid who was totally intoreptiles, who could then make “friends” with others who held the same interests online.  Being able to talk about your interests together, share pictures, and learn so many new things all in one location is pretty cool.  There is a good reason why facebook has and will remain untouchable in this aspect (see google + about that). Even through the endless ads that are now in your newsfeed – it is still the place hundreds of millions go to daily. Now – you can follow the breeders and companies you like, and get direct feedback and answers from most of them (we answer questions on our facebook page every single day at LLL). Facebook allows a much more intimate relationship between a business or breeder and the consumer along with allowing like-minded reptile people to become “friends” as well. Pretty awesome stuff!

Over the last few years – we have seen some really cool new websites in the reptile world.USARK.org comes to mind. The internet (and facebook) makes it so much easier to organize nowadays and USARK is a perfect example this. We can now all see reptile news, upcoming votes on laws in our area or federal, and organize to help protect the reptile community. If you have not checked it out – I highly recommend you do asap!

Another cool new website is The Reptile Report.  The idea behind this website is pretty neat (kind of like reddit). It takes almost all of the really cool reptile discussion forums online, and organizes the most popular discussions all on one website. So if you are a ChameleonForums.com or Ball-Pythons.net fan but don’t have the time that day to look through all the new topics – you can quickly browse some highlighted discussions right here!

Nowadays you can get everything you need for your reptile right on the web. Any supply you can think of, all sorts of feeders, live reptiles shipped right to your door, find out when the next reptile show in your area will be, watch videos instantly of any reptile you can think of, and even start your own business easily with the help of websites like Kingsnake.com and ShipYourReptiles.com to name a few. The evolution of the internet has just begun. We have gone through such huge changes over the last 15+ years online – I can’t imagine what the next 15 will bring!

Book Review: The Health Care and Rehabilitation of Tortoises – April 2013

Book Review:

Health Care and Rehabilitation of Turtles and Tortoises, By Amanda Ebenhack

by Jennifer Greene

I picked up this book to better familiarize myself with the necessary care of turtles and tortoises, and to see what the currently accepted practices are when it comes to their husbandry if they’ve become injured or sick.  It is a thicker book at 393 pages, but each page is packed full of excellent and relevant information for a turtle or tortoise keeper.

The book begins with generalized care information, discussing what basics you must know to properly care for your turtle or tortoise throughout its life.  I was pleased to see a section on stress and causes of stress, as well as a section discussing the importance of variety in the diet and other sometimes overlooked aspects of chelonian (or turtle/tortoise) care.  The first part of the book alone makes it worth purchasing for any serious turtle or tortoise keeper – it lists a range of edible plants, how to properly maintain your chelonian’s weight, and has an entire chapter solely dedicated to hydration and dehydration.  That chapter is where the book begins to heavily incorporate aspects of rehabilitation and injured/sick tortoise care, and while the average keeper is extremely unlikely to encounter these situations or issues, it can be helpful to be familiar with what may need to happen if there is ever a problem.

As the book continues, it also discusses in length the various aspects of husbandry integral to housing turtles and tortoises both indoors and outdoors.  I love that the book does not just lump them both into one section, and instead dedicated entire detailed chapters to each method of housing.  Housing chelonians indoors and outdoors does often require very different techniques and methods, so it is important to be aware of what your animals are going to need if you are housing them one way or the other.

The latter half of the book discusses in great detail the numerous potential issues you can run into when caring for your turtle or tortoise.  It begins with common skin and shell infections, and progresses to actual injuries and treatments.  There are also several case studies illustrating treatments and progression of injuries that exemplify the methods being suggested, which can be helpful to the just-starting rehabilitator unsure of the route to take with injured animals.  It then goes on to detail tube feeding, how to create a nutritious and helpful diet for sickly chelonians, abscesses and their removal, and continued on to infectious diseases and more.

Health Care and Rehabilitation of Turtles and Tortoises was an extremely thorough book that I found very informative.  I wouldn’t necessarily call the reading about the diseases and illnesses pleasant, however, I was extremely pleased with the amount of information in the book that was easy to find and easy to understand.  If you are just getting started with turtles and tortoises, or even if you are an experienced keeper, I highly recommend adding this book to your library.  Not only is the basic husbandry information excellent, but you never know when you might have to reference the sections on potential issues!

The Language of Love: Breeding Behavior in Reptiles and Amphibians – April 2013

By Erin Lane

Part III: Visual Virtuosos

It is finally that time of year—the days are getting longer, the weather is milder, and your herps are just starting to wake up from brumation.  Spring is in the air, and reptiles and amphibians are responding accordingly.  This is perhaps the most exciting time for reptile and amphibian keepers as it is when many of our pets begin to show the most interesting and diverse behaviors.  For some species, breeding season is well underway.  Over the past couple of months we have discussed how herps use auditory and chemical communication to find and attract mates.  This month we will be wrapping up our talks with perhaps the most evident form of reptile behavior—visual communication.

Visual communication is perhaps one of the most interesting forms as it takes advantage of our own primary sensory system. What makes it particularly enjoyable to watch is that it is an extremely diverse mode, which can range from push ups and head bobs to flashes of intense color.  Previously we discussed how many frogs and toads use auditory communication to attract mates, and that others take advantage of chemical cues to sniff out a good mate.  When it comes to visual communication, lizards reign supreme.

The unique eyes of a young male Jackson’s Chameleon!

The right kind of attention

The way to get attention for most lizards is to be visible to conspecifics (animals of the same species).  Unlike anurans (frogs and toads), very few lizards vocalize, and most that do typically reserve it for when they are threatened.  And, while some lizards also use chemical signals to communicate, these appear to be secondary to visual signals.  For a lizard, it’s all about the show!

Almost every reptile enthusiast can conjure a picture of a lizard doing pushups on a rock, or a bearded dragon head bobbing.  Lizard visual displays are often eye catching and rhythmic in nature.  One problem that lizards run into is one that most small animals have to worry about—when you make yourself visible, you run the risk of predation.  There is often a fine line between being visible enough to attract attention from conspecifics without drawing attention from predators.  In many cases, caution is thrown to the wind in favor of attracting a mate.

An agama in the wild displaying brilliant colors intending to attract a mate!

Peacocks are a perfect example of this phenomenon.  While these birds have been bred in captivity for centuries, their true wild form is not much different from those you might see at a park.  With their overly long tail feathers, bright colors, and larger than life display, they stand out in almost any environment.  In addition, those beautiful tails also make quick movement and flying more cumbersome.  While peafowl may be good enough at escaping a human, they are a much easier target for their wild predators.  However, it is exactly these traits that make males so attractive to females.  A number of studies have shown that females (peahens) are more likely to breed with makes whose trains have certain qualities, such as those that are longer or have more eye spots1.  Sometimes safety is sacrificed in order to gain access to reproductive partners, and in many cases it pays off.  After all, the success of an animal is not measured in its longevity, health, or looks, except how these relate to the number of offspring they produce, that in turn live long enough to reproduce themselves.

Capitalizing on calisthenics

Reptiles are no exception to the rule.  Attracting a mate is of upmost importance, but you still have to be careful about not attracting predators.  One way around this dilemma is to produce signals that are only visible to conspecifics.  For lizards, this usually means signals that are highly visible to other animals on the same horizontal plane, but less visible to aerial predators a primary concern for most small lizards).  The push up is a great example of this.

Many lizards, such as sceloporus species (e.g. fence lizards and spiny lizards), common out here in Southern California, can be seen doing pushup displays on any high point in the terrain (usually a rock or boulder).  The movement is easily seen by us human onlookers, and is also visible to other nearby lizards that are likely keeping an eye on their neighbors.  However, if seen from above, this is not a display that creates a lot of visual commotion.  While movement of any kind is a risk, the type of movement can make all the difference.  A display that is highly visible to conspecifics, but not particularly visible to predators is a great form of communication.

But back to the point—how do visual signals, such as a push up, relate to breeding behavior?  Like the peacock, it’s all about getting attention.  Many signals can communicate the same thing to both sexes, but with very different outcomes.  For example, a male bearded dragon that performs a lot of head bobs may be communicating his dominance, ownership of a territory, his energy reserves, or a combination of all three.  To other males, this may be sign that they should stay away.  After all, if the displaying male is confident enough to display himself prominently, he has likely had to fight for that position, and may be a formidable opponent.  He must also have lots of energy reserves to continually display, meaning that he may also have lots of energy for fighting as well.

Lateral Compression in a Fence Lizard

While a push up might signal health and dominance to an onlooker, this may have a very different effect on females.  To a female, these traits communicate that a particular male has good genes to pass on to his offspring.  And remember—at its most basic level, life is about reproduction.  Signals that show off a male’s ability to survive, thrive, and produce hardy offspring may have the dual purpose of reinforcing a male’s status while also attracting females.

Color me pretty

While displays of physical ability are common forms of communication among lizards, it is perhaps overshadowed by the incredible array of color exhibited by these squamates.

Unlike most mammals, many lizards see in wide range of colors.  As humans, we have three different color receptors in our eyes that through combination (and your brain’s interpretation) give us the standard rainbow colors, and all those in between.  Most other mammals see the world with comparably limited color.  Your dog and cat, for example, can see blue, but lack the receptors to see red and green.  Some animals see in shades of black, white, and gray.  While it is impossible to make a blanket statement about reptile color vision, we can say that some species possess a highly evolved visual system that allows them to see color the same way, and in some cases even better than, the way we humans do.

From the black beard of a bearded dragon to the myriad colors exhibited by chameleons, color display is perhaps visual communication at its most interesting.  Like physical displays, color is usually an excellent communicator of health and good genetics.  More or more vibrant color has been linked to a number of other fitness indicators across different species, including an animal’s size2, fighting ability3, the amount of courtship a male performs4, body condition5, and even parasite load6, 7.  All of these qualities can contribute to a healthy individual that is bothnot worth fighting, and probably worth mating with.  Color is a way to communicate fitness without putting much physical effort into it.

Male Beardie with dark beard

Color is also used to enhance other displays, making them more visible to conspecifics.  Think of a male bearded dragon head bobbing on his perch.  The dark black beard makes that head and the motion more visible, further emphasizing the overall display.  A fence lizard’s defensive and aggressive displays also utilize color and position.  When the body is laterally compressed (sides pressed flat), it emphasizes the blue ventral (tummy) color that gives them the colloquial name of “blue belly” lizard.  Flashing some color when you need to may help dissuade an aggressor.

Although many males exploit color for communication, they are not the only ones.  Females of many species also use color to communicate.  One example is the color changes that some female lizards undergo when gravid.  What is the first sign that a female chameleon is gravid?  Her color changes—and it is not limited to chameleons.  Many female lizards change color to indicate that they are no longer receptive to a male’s advances.  This saves the male wastedtime courting a female he cannot impregnate, and the female is saved the hassle of prolonged male harassment.

In conclusion

Animals have a number of ways that they communicate with one another.  For some, auditory communication is preferred, for others, chemical cues are of upmost importance.  For many lizards, visual communication is perhaps the most widely used.  From pushups to head bobs, flashy agamas to gravid chameleons, visual signals are some of the most interesting.  They can often communicate incredibly important information to conspecifics, sometimes with no immediate effort at all.  So next time your anole flashes his dewlap, your bearded dragon head bobs, or your chameleon changes color, give ‘em a nod back.

REFERENCES
1) Loyau et al. (2005)
2) Vásquez & Pfennig (2007)
3) McElroy et al. (2007)
4) Sorenson & Derrickson (1994)
5) Elder & Friedl (2010)
6) Mougeot et al. (2009)
7) Václav et al. (2007)

Inside the Reptile Industry with Loren Leigh – March 2013

Inca Trail and Machu Picchu 

For Thanksgiving last year I decided what better way to spend the holiday than hiking one of the most challenging treks in South America, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. After a 12 hour flight to Lima Peru, another flight to Cusco, followed by a 3 hour mini bus ride to the start, our group finally made it.  And it was so worth it, this was one of the most amazing and scenic places I have ever seen.

History and Location

Machu Picchu is 15th century Inca site located in the Cusco Region of Peru, South America (7,970 feet above sea level). Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built around 1450 for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472).  It was abandoned as an official site for the Inca rulers about a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest.  From this time till up until 1911 very little was known outside Peru of this site until it was discovered by Hiram Bingham.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu consists of three overlapping trails: Mollepata, Classic, and One Day.  Our group took the Classic route which is 28 Miles long, 4 days and crossed over the brutal Warmiwañusca (“Dead Woman’s Pass”) at a height of 13,773 feet.

Located in the Andes mountain range, the trail passes through several types of environments including cloud forest, alpine tundra, Inca settlements, and many Incan ruins.  The trail ultimately ends at the Sun Gate on Machu Picchu mountain with amazing views into the Urubamba Valley in Peru and Machu Picchu.

Preparing for Trek, Ollantaytambo

Bridge crossing, Wayllabamba

Our Trek Itinerary

Day 1 – Ollantaytambo – Piskacucho – Wayllambamba

Our trek started 55 miles from the city of Cuzco on the Urubamba River at 9,200 ft.  By Mini Bus we travel from the city of Cuzco to Kilometre 82 road marker and the start of the Inca Trail. After a short stop in the city Ollantaytambo we meet our guides, porters, inspect camping gear, pack up and head out.  For our first day we start with a 7 1/2 mile walk to Wayllabamba (9,850 feet).

Warmiwañusca, Dead Womans Pass (background)

Day 2 Warmiwañusca – Pacamayo

Rising early (around 5am), today begins with a ascent of 6 miles all uphill on stone steps to reach the highest pass at Warmiwañusca or ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’.  The views of the mountains and valleys are spectacular as you make your way slowly towards the pass.

This section is the most demanding and the pass offers fantastic views of the surrounding snow capped peaks. After the high pass it is 2 miles downhill, winding along old Inca stairs to the campsite (11,800 feet).

Top of Dead Womans Pass (13,773 feet)

Day 3 Runkurakay – Winay Wayna

This day begins with another early start (6am) and a gradual 1 1/2 mile hike uphill to the second high pass, Runkurakay (12,950 feet). This pass has amazing views of the Andes.

Most of the next 4 miles is downhill on our way to the ruins of Sayacmarca.

The scenery becomes more lush as we continue towards the third high pass at Phuyupatamarca (11,750 feet).

From here we have a further 5 miles downhill to reach the final campsite at Winay Wayna (8,700 feet).

Phuyupatamarca

Day 4 Intipunku – Machu Picchu

On the last morning we rise before dawn (4am) to begin the final section of the trail to the famous ‘Sun Gate’ (Intipunku) and on to Machu Picchu.

It is 2 1/2 miles from Winay Wayna to the Sun Gate and the final segment includes a set of steep Inca stairs.

Arriving at the Sun Gate which is 1130 feet higher than Machu Picchu it has  majestic views down over Machu Picchu and the surrounding valleys. From the Sun Gate, there is our final 1 1/2 miles downhill walk to the entrance of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu (early morning)

Reptiles Seen in Machu Picchu

And what trip would be complete without doing some herping along the way?  The Andes Mountains are an amazing place and home to many types of reptiles, amphibians, insects and much more.  Peru has around 300 species of reptiles, of which around 100 are endemic. Peru’s reptile fauna includes spectacular species like giant anacondas and caimans, as well as many other snakes, lizards and turtles.

Machu Picchu

The dry season on the Inca Trail and in Machu Picchu, is the best time of year to go, lasts from May to November and the rainy season is from December to April.  The Inca trail is closed in February due to heavy rains.  Day time temperatures can range anywhere from 50-82ºF, with night time temperatures around 32ºF.  With such low temperatures there were not many herps to find but we did find a few along the trail.

Scorpion, Machu Picchu, Peru –  Tityus sp.

Millipede, Machu Picchu, Peru

Fer-de-Lance, Winay Wayna, Peru

The Inca Trail as one of the most hyped treks in the world, I would recommend it to anyone as a trail worth doing. It’s tough but extremely rewarding.

It is breathtaking.

The Chaco Golden Knee Tarantula – March 2013

By Shawn Bowman

Grammostola Pulchripes

Have you ever been curious about owning a tarantula for yourself? The Chaco Golden Knee Tarantula is an excellent choice for a first time arachnid due to its mild temper, low maintenance, and large size!

There is no doubt about it; tarantulas are one of the lowest maintenance pets you can have!

Gold knee tarantulas are a burrowing species so deep bedding is suggested.

A five gallon enclosure with 3 to 4 inches of bedding will be used if provided.

Any of the coconut beddings such as Eco Earth or Plantation soil will work well. Some keepers choose to mix in bark or vermiculite.

Keep the bedding fairly dry with a weekly misting. A small water bowl can be provided however most spiders are okay with occasional misting and food items as their water source.

The spiders should be fed an appropriate sized prey item once or twice a week. Depending on the size of the tarantula, this can range from a fruit fly to large crickets. It is important not to feed more crickets than the tarantula will be eating.  If crickets die in the tank the natural mites a cricket carries will multiply, and the large number of mites can eat your tarantula while molting. That being said, one large, easy to catch prey item is usually better than multiple small prey items.

Why a Chaco over another species of tarantula?  The size is what’s cool about these arachnids.  They are generally as docile as their relative, the Rose Hair Tarantula. It gets a leg span that reaches up to 8 inches making them one of the more impressive large tarantulas that could be considered a beginner species. The female spider can live as many as 20 years with male spiders averaging a lifespan of about 3 years.

When looking to handle your tarantula, keep in mind each animal is going to act a little different. I suggest getting your tarantula at a small size because this species is usually not aggressive as a spiderling and is typically very easily handled. This will help build your confidence and understanding of the tarantula before it attains its full size. Keep in mind that they can bite if they feel threatened.  Slowing  down and reading the signs of your spider is the best way to keep yourself out of danger and keep your tarantula happy!

The Basking Spot: Hovabators – March 2013

By Jennifer Greene

With Spring on the way, many reptiles are beginning to emerge from brumation or their winter cool down period, and breeding is starting.  Your reptiles will be courting each other and breeding, and love is most certainly in the air.  Now is the time to start considering how you are going to incubate your eggs when they come, not in two months when the eggs have already arrived!  With this in mind, this month’s basking spot will discuss the ubiquitous and easy to use Hovabator incubator, of which there are 4 commonly available models.

The Basic Model – The 1602

The basic model is the 1602, which is coincidentally the least expensive.  It has no frills, no fancy extras, but it is reliable and extremely simple to set up.  It arrives with the top nestled inside the bottom, with the heating element and all the equipment inside already set up.  The only thing you need to do is flip the top over and put the wafer thermostat in.

Now, if you are naturally blonde like I am, putting in the wafer thermostat can be deceptively difficult.  The first time I put the thermostat in, I put it in backwards, which resulted in my incubator running at full heat for the 6 hours I had it plugged in that way.  As you can imagine, that is not what you want the incubator to do.

This is what the wafer looks like when it is the correct side up.

The correct way to install the thermostat wafer is to have the “innie” part screw in to the control rod that goes all the way through the lid of the incubator – for more details, please view the video linked here.

The bottom of the wafer has a button on it that rests on the little needle that determines temperature.   Screw the thermostat into the control rod, and then gently start turning it until you hear the wafer click into place.

Alright, with everything in place, now all you have to do is plug it in and get your temperature dialed in!  I highly recommend getting your incubator ready to go at least several days, if not weeks, before you have eggs to place inside, as the incubator does take 6 to 12 hours to heat up and then be calibrated.  You’ll have to turn the control rod to increase or decrease temperatures as needed.  You may want to consider adding a thermostat to your incubator, and leaving the control rod turned up high so that the thermostat controls the on/off of the heat element.

The Next Step Up – the Model 1582

The basic model 1602 incubator comes with only small picture windows and no frills.  If you are setting up your incubator in a classroom or on display, or if you just plain want to be able to see your eggs easily, the 1582 model comes with a large picture window over the entire top of the incubator.  Set up and use of the incubator is the exact same, but for a small increase in cost you can see the entire insides of the incubator without having to remove the lid.  This will help keep temperatures consistent within the incubator, and prevent the loss of humidity that happens each time you open the lid.

The Turbofan Incubator – the 2362

Don’t need a big picture window, but you do want to prevent air from settling within the incubator and creating discrepancies in temperature between the top and bottom of the incubator?  Then you want the model 2362, the Turbofan Incubator.  It comes with a small fan in the top of the incubator that keeps the air moving, ensuring that your entire incubator is one consistent temperature from top to bottom.  You will have to monitor your humidity a little more closely when using a Turbofan incubator, as the air movement can cause moisture to evaporate a little more quickly than when the air is stationary within the incubator.

The Best of Everything – the 1583

Lastly, if you just want the best of everything, we also carry the 1583 model incubator.  This incubator comes with the big picture window so that you can see everything happening inside the incubator, as well as a fan in the top to keep temperatures consistent!  This is the top of the line incubator, and ideal if you want to be absolutely certain nothing goes wrong and you can easily see and monitor the inside of your incubator.

Any and all of these incubators can be hooked up to a thermostat for maximum control over conditions in the cage, and I highly recommend the use of a digital thermometer to easily see temperatures in your incubator without having to lift the lid and check the mercury thermometer included with the incubator.  Hovabators are a consistent, easy to use incubator that are perfect for nearly all egg incubation needs, making them perfect for the beginner or even the experienced herper needing a simple incubator for a side project.

10 Questions with Phil Goss of USARK – March 2013

by Scott Wesley

10 Questions with Phil Goss – New President of USARK

Phil has taken on the difficult task as the new president of USARK (United States Association of Reptile Keepers). He has been in and around the hobby for years and has a passion forreptiles as we will find out in this interview!

1. Let’s start with an easy and obvious question. What first got you into reptiles, and what was your first pet reptile?

Thank you, Reptile Times and LLLReptile, for the opportunity to answer some questions. I have always been intrigued by all animals, especially herps. I grew up in a very rural area filled with herps. Nature surrounded me and I was more than happy to enjoy it. I constantly found American toads, Northern cricket frogs, painted turtles, musk turtles, banded water snakes and other herps found in southern Indiana. I would investigate them and let them be on their way. These field herping experiences sparked much reading and research concerning reptiles and amphibians. My first purchased snakes were a normal corn snake and a black and white banded kingsnake.

2. What was your first job in the reptile industry, and how did you make that transition into your job at Zoo Med?

My first pet industry job was working at a retail pet shop in Bloomington, IN. The owner of the shop provided me with an amazing amount of knowledge concerning the industry and she was a very positive influence. After graduating college, I stumbled upon a job as a sales representative for a small dry goods distributor. We sold all pet-related products except dog/cat foods and carried all major reptile brands. I spent the first few weeks in the warehouse pulling orders and learning about the products. Even though I was out of school, I still had plenty of homework. This greatly helped when I hit the road as a sales rep and visited pet shops in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.

In 2005, I heard Zoo Med had a sales position available. I delayed sending a resume as the Backer trade show was coming to Chicago soon and I knew I could personally introduce myself to Zoo Med there.

I certainly should not have delayed as the position was almost filled before Backer. A very important lesson was learned not to delay when opportunities arise but I was thrilled to have a job with Zoo Med.

3. A more serious question…  It seemed to me that a larger focus of USARK was on big snakes in the past.  Understandable, as they have made the headlines over the last few years. However, the reptile industry is so much more than just snakes. How are you planning to incorporate all herps into the conversation and unite breeders, stores and hobbyists alike so we can all get on the same page?

Breeders, stores, hobbyists and keepers need to unite and unite now. Recently, big constrictors were an easy target due to their perception by the general public. History is forgotten quickly and laws such as the 4” turtle ban from 1975 are not discussed often. Everyone in the reptileindustry should be proactive and act now rather than waiting for their species of choice to be attacked. Large boid and venomous keepers are not the only potential victims. Thinking, “I will not be affected because I breed leopard geckos.” is simply not acceptable. Wilson County, Texas just fought a ball python ban and proposed legislation using blanket terminology such as “reptiles” isbeing introduced. If little, cute, baby turtles can be banned, any herp can be banned.
As mentioned, large constrictors have been the focus of national legislation recently. USARK fought these battles as those were the rights being threatened. However, it has been USARK’s mission statement from the beginning that we protect the right to keep any reptile, amphibian and invertebrate.
It is crucial that everyone in the herp community follows legislation, owns reptiles responsibly and educates the general public concerning reptiles. If we lose our right to keep large snakes, we will continue to lose rights to keep smaller snakes. If we lose the right to keep large lizards, small lizards will come next. Large constrictors have been the focus due to being sensationalized by the media. They were an easy target but any reptile could be the next target.
Breeders, hobbyists, store owners and everyone in the reptile industry must join forces. Our community is too small to be divided and expect to win battles over much larger and well-funded anti-herp groups. Though we battle larger anti-pet groups, if united we are stronger and more devoted than anyone else and we will not back down.

4. At LLLReptile – we firmly believe that education is key (which is a big part of why we put out this magazine). Do you have any thoughts or suggestions as to how our industry can educate the “masses” versus just the reptile keepers themselves?

Education is certainly a key component. It is very easy to change the attitudes of people who have never interacted with reptiles but they must be presented with the opportunity to learn. People who are afraid of snakes due to lack of education or interactions with reptiles will not go seeking knowledge to learn about snakes. We must present our industry in a positive light and spread proper education.

It is much easier to spread knowledge today than many years ago. More people are attendingreptile shows and more educational reptile shows are popping up. When you attend a reptileshow, take your friends, even if they are not herpers. Everyone attending a reptile show may not buy a reptile but if he has a good experience and learns about reptiles then we have a future hobbyist.

The internet makes it easy to post educational videos and articles. There are education-oriented herp groups arising and I hope to see great happenings from these organizations. Herp societies are still educating and if you are not a member of a herp society, you should join one. If there is not one in your area, get some herper friends together and start one.

The key is to show positive aspects of reptiles and share constructive information. I am amazed at how many local television and radio stations are allowing herpers to speak. Do not sit around and wait for opportunities. Pick up the phone and send emails to local affiliates and offer to present a show concerning reptiles. Remember to be prepared and professional. Highlight responsible pet ownership, why reptiles are good pets and educate the audience. If we make enough ripples, a wave will follow.

5. I have heard you currently work with Prehensile Tailed Skinks (aka Monkey Tailed Skinks).  Have you had any luck breeding them, and do you have any husbandry suggestions for our readers?

Proper caging is a big concern. I utilize custom plastic cages measuring 4’Wx4’Hx2’D, though even larger is better. This could house a pair or even 1.2 or 1.3 skinks and should be filled with large cork rounds, suitable branches and plenty of hiding areas. However, be sure to watch closely for aggression as these skinks must be compatible to be housed together. My caging has a partial heavy gauge screen top, shelves, removable median divider and automatic misting system. A proper basking area and UVB should be provided. I have had success breeding monkey tails in this style cage. I do separate males and females for a few weeks before introduction. Again, be sure to watch for aggression. It is normal for the male to bite the female but if the female squares off for battle, separate them and introduce again a day or two later.

Prehensile-tailed skinks are very interesting reptiles. If you are prepared, they are great lizards to keep. I have seen many cage aggressive animals that are perfectly fine when removed from the cage. Gloves may be used by some keepers as they do have sharp toenails and strong legs but toenails can be trimmed. They are certainly one of the most interesting reptiles in the herp world.

6. Boas are also a passion of yours. Can you tell us some morphs you are working with, anything really different on the horizon, and why boas specifically got your attention?

Boas always fascinated me more than other snakes. Their colors, body shape and demeanor just amazed me from the beginning. I have several Boa constrictor longicauda and these are a very interesting Boa constrictor subspecies. I had some very aberrant babies in a 2011 litter and also have anerythristic babies occasionally. Longicauda are highly variable, even among wild-type animals. The strong head markings and bold body pattern contrast sets them apart from other boa constrictors. They are born looking very similarly to common boa constrictors, but their markings darken with every shed to make them easily distinguishable from others boas as adults. The various localities and subspecies appeal to me most, especially as many of these have nearly disappeared from the hobby. True red-tailed boas, Boa constrictor constrictor, are rarely seen today and are the snakes that first made me a boaphile (enthusiast or lover of boas).

Concerning Colombian morphs, I do not have any crazy, high-end animals. I keep a few morphs but my collection is heavier with various subspecies and Boa constrictor imperator localities. A female albino arabesque is the favorite morph in my menagerie.

7. Can you give us a short argument as to why the average hobbyist should be allowed to own such snakes as Reticulated Pythons and Green Anacondas?

Every person should have the right to own any reptile. If someone researches and prepares for a reticulated python, understanding lifespan, adult size, cage requirements, etc., then he should be able to own a reticulated python. This applies to all reptiles and not just the large species. Be prepared and willing to accept the responsibilities of any reptile you buy for his entire life.

Simply stated, every person should have the right to own a reticulated python or green anaconda but not every person should own one. America is about having rights, not losing them.

8. We got our start at LLLReptile breeding Leopard and African Fat Tailed Geckos. I have heard you started in a similar fashion breeding those along with some day geckos. Do you still work with any geckos today?  Ever produce any unique Leopard Gecko morphs back in the day?

Due to heavy travel schedule, I no longer keep any geckos. I do miss keeping them but know I cannot care for them properly. As far as unique, I did have a small group of leopard geckos that stayed small, had blocky heads and produced extremely orange babies with occasional melanistic spots. These “blockheads” were very hard for me to rehome as I was amazed everytime I looked at them and they had great personalities.

Someday I will again have a large vivarium with live plants and day geckos. I definitely miss keeping geckos but I know they will be available when I can again care for them properly as long as the entire herp community stands up, unites and supports our fight.

9. Working for a company like Zoo Med in sales has to have given you some quality experience interacting with people face-to-face. Do you think this experience will help you in conveying the herp industry’s message to people outside of our circle?

That sales job certainly provided much experience working with people and dealing with difficult situations. Dealing with so many people means different approaches are needed to suit different personalities and you must always be quick on your feet. The job as Central U.S. Sales Manager for Zoo Med was not a “used car salesman” role, which will greatly aid me. The job was about building relationships and keeping lines of communication open. Professionalism at all times is a must if you do not want to tarnish earned respect.

The herp industry is comprised of amazing people and they need to be seen in a better light. USARK will always act in the best interests of the entire herp community and will certainly not hinder our progress with those outside the industry. A suitable spokesperson will certainly advance our efforts in an efficient manner. When I was employed by Zoo Med, I knew my role was just a small part of a larger, successful company. I was representing Zoo Med but I alone did not make Zoo Med successful. That applies much more now. USARK and the herp community are much more than just me.

10. Why do you think USARK chose you to be the face of this industry?  Why did YOU accept this rather daunting task? And what are you looking forward to most in 2013?

Perhaps most importantly, this role requires someone who is approachable, professional and unabrasive. The herp community cannot be united by a dictator. Having a standoffish public figure will continue to alienate us and make it harder to be understood by the general public and to gain allies for our cause. Also, understanding that USARK is larger than any one person is critical. Level-headiness and ability to accept criticism are other characteristics needed. Rising above and not participating in petty drama is also key. Having backgrounds in education and sales prepared me for many aspects of this position, including those discussed above. You will see a much more appreciative USARK and anyone supporting the community will receive proper accolade.

Seeing a divided community was not acceptable to me and being uncertain of who would represent us gave me doubts concerning our future. It is very daunting, especially in the beginning, but the USARK Board is taking an active role. The USARK Board of Directors is comprised of experienced industry leaders with only the best interests of the entire community in mind. They have no hidden agendas to harm our hobby or benefit themselves as individuals.

For 2013, seeing a united herp community would be at the top of the list. USARK’s paramount legal team in Washington will support our legislative concerns but our community needs to be active and strong. The entire reptile world needs to realize that anyone may be affected by outside legislation. If anyone has concerns with USARK, please discuss them with me at shows and hopefully keep negative energy off the internet and forums.

Having attended reptile shows for well over 15 years, I recall actually talking about reptiles and building friendships at shows. I enjoy few things more than listening to respected industry leaders tell stories about “the good old days.” Herps are what bring us together and we need to remember this.

Final thought for 2013… I want to see what we can do as a whole and not just what I can do as an individual.

Thanks again, Reptile Times, for doing your part to educate and support the herp community!

The Language of Love: Breeding Behavior in Reptiles and Amphibians – March 2013

By Erin Lane

Part II: Scintillating Scents

When it comes to the senses, we humans are dominated by our eyesight.  Sound, touch, smell, and taste all fall into place as well to create a dynamic set of tools to experience the surrounding world.  What we sometimes forget is that not all animals experience the world the same way that we do.  For some, like many frogs and toads, sound is key when it comes to communication.  For others, touch, or tactile communication, is by far the most important sense, while still others depend on taste and smell to figure out the world.

Last month we left off talking about how animals use sound to attract mates.  This month, we will be discussing how your pets use chemical cues to communicate.

Smelling and tasting

You have no doubt seen a snake flick its tongue in and out in rapid succession.  Sometimes it is in response to food, being handled, or being placed in a new environment.  What the snake is doing is grabbing up chemicals floating in the air to be examined.  Sometimes people refer to this as ‘tasting’ the air, and they aren’t that far off.  Smell and taste rely on the same mechanisms to analyze chemicals in the environment.  In both instances, chemicals from the environment (e.g., from food, scents, pheromones) bind with specialized receptors that are interpreted as a particular smell or taste.  So, when a snake is ‘tasting’ the air, they are more or less smelling andtasting.

This False Water Cobra is checking out the camera!

You have probably also seen this behavior in lizards as well.  This is especially noticeable in tegus and monitors, whose long forked tongues flick in and out much like that of a snake.  However, it is also prevalent in other lizards, such as bearded dragons.  When you put two dragons together for the first time, you will likely see one or both of them tasting the other with the tip of their tongue.  This is likely a way to determine who the other dragon is—male or female, healthy or not, a good mate or a bad one.

The benefit of chemicals is that they can continue to be an effective form of communication, even after the animal that produced them has left the vicinity.  Chemicals can linger in an environment, laid down in excrement, body oils, musk, or other specialized exudates.  While we see scent marking all the time in mammals (think of your cat rubbing its chin on you, or your dog urinating while on a walk), we don’t usually think of reptiles as doing much scent marking.  However, much research would suggest otherwise.  There is evidence in some reptile species that individuals can even differentiate between a desirable and an undesirable mate just by using chemical cues.

Sniffing out a winner

In the animal world, males are typically the ones doing the chasing.  Females in most species have evolutionary incentive to choose the best mate available, or to accept the male that has outcompeted others for access to her.  In other words, in most mating systems, males have more impressing to do, and females have more choosing.  Females and males alike use chemical cues, among others, to detect and distinguish between good mates.  For females, this usually means finding the best male available.

For example, female Iberian rock lizards (Lacerta monticola) can distinguish between males with symmetrical and asymmetrical femoral pores using just the scent of a male on a cotton swab1, 2.  Now what do femoral pores have to do with love?  Good question.  Femoral pores are the large tubular scale-like bumps found along the under side of the upper thigh on many lizard species. They exude a waxy substance, and seem to be primarily used by males to lay down scent.  This scent likely says a lot about the quality of the male, like whether he eats well, or is sexually mature.  Symmetry is often a sign of overall health and good development.  Female Iberian rock lizards can therefore differentiate between males that are objectively higher and lower quality, possibly helping them to choose a good mate.

Here you can clearly see the femoral pores present on this male Bearded Dragon.

The scent of a female

Males also use chemical cues to find receptive females.  Male southern water skinks (Eulamprus heatwolei) have been shown to differentiate between the scents of females that are more and less receptive to mating3.  When given a choice between three hides scented with a large receptive female, a smaller unreceptive female, or no scent, males tended to choose the hide that   smelled like a large sexually receptive female.  While males are usually not as picky as females when it comes to finding a mate, they still need to determine where they will be most wanted.  It takes energy to court a female, and would be wasted on one that has no interest in mating.

Playing the pond

Such discrimination of scents has also been found in turtles.  Both male and female Spanish terrapins (Mauremys leprosa) show a preference for pools of water that formerly contained different sizes of other Spanish terrapins4.  Females showed a preference for water scented by large males, and males preferred water scented by females that had better immune response (i.e., healthier).’

Males also had preferred water that had chemicals from relatively smaller males than water that had contained relatively larger ones.  It is not surprising that females preferred chemicals left by males that were larger, as large body size has been found to be a good fitness indicator and a trait preferred by females across many taxa.

This male Bearded Dragon is interested in mating, but the female just wants to eat grass!

It is also interesting that males were attracted to the chemicals left by females that were likely healthier, or at least had a better immune system.  As stated earlier, while males aren’t usually as picky, they often do show some preference for females that are more likely to want to copulate, or are able to produce offspring.  Males also showed a tendency to avoid water formerly occupied by bigger males, and to prefer water formerly occupied by smaller males.  This makes sense when we remember that females like bigger males.  If you are the biggest male terrapin around, you probably won’t have a hard time attracting all the females in the pond.

In conclusion

Chemical communication is found throughout the animal world.  Many reptiles use their sense of smell and taste to find food or mates, or even to avoid competition.  It can be an effective means of leaving a message for others to smell or taste, or a way to advertise your own attractiveness.  However, chemicals are not the only means by which reptiles find love.  Next month we will be discussing how our ectothermic pets attract each other via visual signals.

Works Cited:

1 López, Muñoz, & Martín (2002)

Martín & López (2000)

Head, Keogh, & Doughty (2005)

Ibanez, Lopez, and Martin (2012)

Breeder’s Spotlight: Breeding Fire Skinks – March 2013

 

By Jennifer Greene

Breeding the Fire Skink

Step one:  Breeding

In writing this article, I will be making the basic assumption that you, the fire skink keeper, are already familiar with the care and husbandry of successfully maintaining your fire skinks.  Breeding is the natural next step in husbandry once you have successfully established your pair or group of skinks.  Sexing Fire Skinks is at best an exercise in educated guesswork, especially if you have young or lean skinks.  Most skinks available at pet stores are not old enough or established enough to develop the very subtle characteristics that allow for an attempt to be made at sexing them.  For this reason, I highly recommend feeding your skinks well for at least a month before attempting to guess at the gender of your pets, as all fire skinks generally look like females when they are first acquired.  Females are slightly more slender in the head and body than males, and lack in anything resembling hemipenal bulges.   Males have a slightly broader head and are built a little more “beefy” than females of a similar size and age, and develop very slight jowls with age.  When mature, breeding adults are compared side by side, a careful eye can distinguish the genders, but even an experienced keeper can find it difficult to accurately sex fire skinks.

On the left, you can see the female, while on the right is the male skink.

Feeding your skinks well will result in a healthy, robust pair that breed easily and often.  My adults feed on large crickets, superworms, giant mealworms, dubia roaches, hissing cockroaches, and pinky mice once the female has laid eggs.  They also eat canned insects with gusto, with canned caterpillars being a particular favorite of my pair.  I emphasize again that a good diet is a major part of successfully breeding your skinks and getting multiple, fertile clutches.  Healthy, well fed skinks can and will lay between 3 and 5 clutches of eggs a year without any problems whatsoever.  However, a malnourished or underfed skink may experience egg binding, parasite blooms, or crash from lack of calcium or other nutrients used to make her eggs.

This male Fire Skink does not look markedly different from the female – but he does exhibit great body condition!

Alright, so your skinks are eating a varied diet and are as fat and chunky as the ones you see pictured here.  Great!  They will take care of the rest.  You may not see actual copulation, but it will take place without any encouragement from you as long as temperatures are warm enough.  Fire skinks tend to breed whenever ambient temperatures stay above 75, and daylight hours last longer than 12 hours.  This means their breeding season starts in the early spring, and can last until mid-autumn.   Females are capable of retaining sperm, although they do not seem to lay more than one clutch when they do so.

Step Two: The Gravid Female

Once your skinks are breeding, and your female is starting to look even plumper than before, it’s time to make sure you are diligent about keeping up on a nice, varied diet and providing her with adequate supplementation.  Your female skink may appreciate a slightly warmer basking area if yours is typically only about 85 to 90 degrees.  When my skinks are breeding, I offer them a basking zone with the warmest area reaching temperatures of about 95 degrees.  The female will seek out the warmer temperatures to grow and develop the eggs within her, and this also helps to ensure her appetite stays up – she’ll need lots of food to grow all the eggs she’ll be laying!

Fortunately for the fire skink keeper, care for gravid females is not much more difficult or different than for non-gravid females.  More care needs to be given to ensuring that she is eating a rich diet that is well supplemented, but for the most part she will take care of her needs on her own.

This female is most likely gravid, but it can be hard to tell!

Part Three: Egg Deposition and Incubation

After about 30 days, the female will look fat enough to burst, and at this point her appetite is likely to be next to nothing.  She’ll start digging and exploring throughout her cage for a suitable place to lay her eggs, and it’s at this time that you need to pay close attention to the cage to make sure you catch when she lays her eggs.  You’re extremely unlikely to actually see her laying the eggs, as they are very secretive about it, but you should be able to notice when she has suddenly lost a significant amount of weight.

Once you notice that the female seems to have abruptly lost half her body weight, carefully dig through the cage to find the eggs.  They have excellent taste in nesting sites, and will select a nice moist (but not wet) area to lay their eggs in.  Most often, mine laid their eggs under their water bowl or under cork rounds on the humid side of the cage.

Clutches range in size from 3 to 6 eggs on average, with clutches of up to 9 eggs not being uncommon.  If you maintain your cage well with bioactive substrate (see The Art of Snake Keeping for information about bioactive substrates), you can actually leave the eggs in the cage until they hatch.  I did this the first time entirely by accident, not realizing my skinks had already begun laying eggs – the first set of babies were a very pleasant surprise!  Adults can and will cannibalize the offspring, so do not leave them in the cage once they hatch.

To incubate your eggs in a somewhat more professional manner, remove them carefully from the substrate once you have found them.  Marking a dot on them with a permanent marker can help you ensure you keep them oriented upright in the position they were laid.  From there, place them in your preferred incubation medium.  I use Hatchrite, as it’s a nice, clean looking material that holds moisture well, comes pre-mixed, and I’ve had good success with it.  I keep my clutches in the incubator in 4.5” deli cups with lids, and write the date I found the clutch on the lid.  Bury them about halfway into the incubation material, and then leave them for as long as it takes to hatch!

When incubated at 84 degrees, most clutches hatch at 55 to 65 days after being laid.  I leave the babies in the cup until they’ve all hatched.  While I have not seen a study on fire skinks in particular, I know for other species of lizards it has been shown that the activity of the first babies to hatch climbing over the eggs of their unhatched siblings encourages the babies still within their eggs to hatch.  It does not hurt them to remain in the incubation cup for a day or two while their siblings hatch, so leave them in the cup and let them do their thing!

Part Four: Caring for Neonates

Set up the new hatchlings in a cage similar to the adults, just on a smaller scale.  My adults are in a 36” x 18” x 24” terrarium, and I raise babies in a 36” x 12” x 12” terrarium.  I provide my babies with a 100 watt powersun to bask under, which results in healthy, fast growing and chunky little babies.  Humidity is important for babies, and I highly recommend providing them with a thick layer of substrate you can easily add moisture to.  I often pour water directly into the substrate, especially directly under the heat light, to ensure that the babies are able to burrow at the moisture level they prefer.

Diet for babies is simple to start with, as there are not many prey items small enough for hatchling fire skinks.  Small crickets 1/8” of an inch to ¼” of an inch are small enough for them, and once they are a couple weeks old they are usually big enough to start eating regular sized mealworms as well.  Waxworms can also be added to their diet, which can help keep them full if you notice your babies are nipping at each other’s tails.  Hungry babies will consume the tails of their clutchmates, and the easiest way to prevent tail nipping is to simply keep them fed!  I always leave a dish of regular mealworms out for my hatchlings, and offer 5 to 10 small crickets per baby every other day.  On this regime, your hatchlings will be large enough to go to a new home within the first month!

 

The Basking Spot – January 2013

The Basking Spot

Fluker’s Clamp Lamps with Dimmer

By Jennifer Greene

The more familiar you get with reptiles and reptile husbandry, the more you realize the importance of controlling temperature and light for your animals.  Many caresheets and online forums highly recommend the use of a dimmer or thermostat with all products that provide heat, which helps you as a keeper more accurately control exactly what temperature your animals are living at.  Most of the time, you have to purchase a dimmer or thermostat separately from your fixture, increasing your overall cost for set up and adding yet another item to the clutter around your cage.

flukers dimmable clamp lamp

Fluker’s has seen this, and produced a couple sizes of a fantastic fixture that comes with a dimmer switch already attached.  This is great for a number of reasons, the primary one being that now it is super easy to dim down your heat lights as needed.  While right now it is winter, and you likely need all the heat you can get in your tanks, come summertime you don’t need nearly so much.  Before this, you often had to buy a set of bulbs for winter, and a set for summer – two different wattages for the different temperature needs.  With the Fluker’s Clamp Lamp with dimmer, all you’ll have to do is dial down the light in the fixture!  You’ll save money not only in how much you spend on lightbulbs, but also on electricity due to your ability to dial down the lights any time there’s a warm day.

The only downside is that the fixtures do not work for mercury vapor bulbs or fluorescent lights, as the way those bulbs are designed they can only turn off and on.  They do not work when dimmed, and attempting to use a dimmer with them can burn them out.  The 8.5” fixture can take bulbs up to 150 watts, while the 5.5” fixture can take bulbs up to 75 watts.  They both are the standard black color of most fixtures, and screwing a bulb into the fixture is easy enough.

They both come with clamps in addition to the dimmer function, and are about the same price as regular clamp lamps without the dimmer function, making them a very economically priced fixture.

Since most dimmers cost almost as much as just these fixtures, and thermostats are at least double the price or more, there’s no reason not to just upgrade your light fixtures to something that allows you to easily control the light and heat output of your bulbs.