The Basking Spot: Snake Hooks – May 2013

by Jennifer Greene

Snake Hooks

When it comes to hunting for reptiles out in the wild, or maintaining a captive snake with an attitude, any herper knows what the best tool is for keeping them away from the bitey end of the snake.   Snake hooks are an essential tool for any serious snake keeper, with different sizes suitable for different sized snakes and different needs.

Small hooks are ideal for baby snakes or for easily maneuvering in tubs and small spaces.  Pocket hooks are best for tiny hatchlings, while the thicker, 15” standard hooks are my preferred size for working with strange snakes under 5 or 6’.  The short hook enables me to maneuver the snake’s head as needed, but isn’t so long that it’s unmanageable.

For larger or more aggressive snakes, a longer hook is a good idea.  I prefer 24” for larger or more aggressive species, as it’s just long enough to keep them out of striking range but not so long that I can’t easily manage it.  For taller people or those more concerned about the snake being at all close to them, you can utilize the 38” hook.

There’s an even larger and broader type of hook called a boa/python hook, which is best suited for moving extremely large and potentially aggressive snakes.  Due to the sheer size of the hook, it can be unwieldy for smaller species, so unless you have a truly large snake you are unlikely to need a hook quite this big.

I personally have one of each size hook; I use the two smaller sizes for working with captive animals, and use the longest hook for outdoor herping.

With the long reach of the 38” hook, it’s ideal for flipping boards and looking around under bushes, as here in Southern California, we have a substantial population of rattlesnakes.

To prevent bites, I often use my hook to check under boards and other flat items before putting my hands in places I can’t see.

Check back next month for an article discussing Southern California’s native rattlesnake species!

Meet the Staff: Jon Blakemore – May 2013

by Jennifer Greene

1. So what is your current job position?  How long have you worked at LLLReptile?  What were you hired as?

Currently: Breeding facility manager.  Worked here? Over 10 years, a long time!  Starting position was reptile specialist and clerk and cage cleaner!

2. Which store did you first start shopping at?  Was that the same store you began working at?

At the time I began, we only had the Oceanside store – so that’s where I shopped at, which was in its old location, over at 609 mission avenue.  Because it was the only one, that’s where I started working at.

3. What was your first reptile?  Do you still have it?

Kingsnake, wildcaught California kingsnake, I was in my early teens and caught it.  No, I don’t have it anymore, had to let it go because my mom wouldn’t let me keep it.

4. What do you keep at home now?
Phelsuma klemmeri are currently the only reptiles I have at home.

5. Do you have a favorite reptile?  Why that one?  Has it changed over the years?
I would have to say that I’m very partial to leachianus geckos.  The overall size of them, and the fact that they were so rare to see when we first started got me very interested in them. And they were probably one of the first animals I really started breeding, so they will always have a special place in my heart.

6. What do you do for fun outside of work/reptiles?

I’m a father, constantly in an adventure with my children.  I am also a musician, currently in the band Oceanside Sound System, and I’ve been playing music and touring for the entire time I’ve been a part of LLLReptile!  I also love to surf and skate here in Southern California, and I am a practitioner of the martial art of Muay Thai.

7. What are your favorite bands?  One CD everyone should absolutely listen to at least once?

Open to many genres of music, but I’m a punk rocker at heart.  For me, I think bands like Black Flag are essential if you’re going to be a youth, especially in Southern California.
At least one time in their life, everyone should listen to Bad Brains, Banned in DC.

8. Craziest/funniest work story:

Probably one of the worst ones was cleaning our massive amount of rodents, an employee that was working at the time opened one of the drawers above me and it was full of water that had gotten clogged in the line.  The drawer opened and I was covered head to toe in a liquid mixture of water, feces, and rodent bedding.  I actually had to drive home half naked to change.

9. Are you scared of anything? Any (ANY!) animal you absolutely won’t touch/work with?

I fear nothing.

10. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone new in the hobby? 
Remember why you got into the hobby in the first place – because you have a love for reptiles. Don’t let it just become a job.

Amazon Tree Boas: Keeping Rainforest Jewels In Your Home – May 2013

By Jennifer Greene

Every reptile keeper has a different animal that first attracted them not just to reptile keeping, but to going above and beyond that first snake, lizard, or pet that they kept in the beginning.  For some, it’s breeding fancy colored morphs.  For others, it’s keeping a species they initially thought too difficult for their experience level, or a type of animal that is completely different than the one they started out keeping.  For me, I spent nearly a decade admiring the beauty of arboreal snake species such as Green Tree Pythons and Amazon Tree Boas, but never felt that I had enough experience to maintain them successfully in captivity.  After working here at LLLReptile for several years, I finally took the big step and acquired a couple exceptional animals from my good friend, Danny Mendez.  Very quickly, I felt very silly for not trying to keep them sooner, because they’re not nearly as difficult as I’d always believed.  It’s my hope that more keepers will branch out from the easy ground dwelling species and try their hand, as I did, at keeping a fascinating, beautiful snake species.

One of the first issues to tackle that always made me hesitate when it came to keeping Amazons was my belief that they needed constant high humidity, in a range of 80% or more.  This is not quite the truth.  They do require humidity, yes, but they do not require constant sky high levels nor do they require constant hovering and attention to moisture within their cage.  Personally, I have found it to be almost deceptively easy to keep and maintain my Amazons by housing them in a living vivarium, full of live plants.  I raised my amazons from young ages in planted vivariums, and experienced little to no difficulty in maintaining acceptable levels of humidity for my boas.  I highly recommend creating a suitably sized vivarium for your boas before you bring them home.  Many keepers do not house their Amazons in planted cages, but as I have experienced such easy success with mine (and those at the stores) by utilizing vivariums, this article will describe the care for amazons utilizing those conditions.

Babies can be housed individually in 12 x 12 x 18 front opening terrariums.  When I built my vivariums, I used small ficus trees as the live plants, and included a couple smaller plants such as earth stars and tillandsias.  For babies, usingsmall pieces of manzanita branches crossed throughout the cage will provide them with suitable perches.

For best viewing of your boa(s), set up perches in such a way that they can rest several parts of their body on their branches, and simply have that arrangement right in the front of the cage! I highly recommend including a layer of moss, eithergreen sphagnum or New Zealand Sphagnum moss working well in this situation.

Keep that layer of moss nice and damp, and if your boas feel the need for higher humidity than the cage currently offers, they will readily rest on the bottom of the cage.  It is not a cause for alarm if your boa routinely spends time at the bottom of the cage; this species in particular will readily hang out at the bottom of the cage, seemingly for no reason at all.

A single small adult can be housed in an 18 x 18 x 24” front opening terrarium, although large (over 5’) individuals should be provided with a larger enclosure.  As most adult Amazon Tree Boas will reach at least that length, be prepared to purchase or make a larger cage than the bare minimum.  A pair should be housed in a cage no smaller than 36” wide by 18” deep by 24” tall.  Once the lights turn off, these snakes become much, much more active than they seem by day, and providing them with room to explore and hunt helps to maintain your snakes with good body condition.

Amazons are meant to be slender bodied, muscular snakes, and providing them with space to exercise and perch within their cages affords them the ability to exercise on their own terms.

So by now, you’ve set up your beautiful, lush vivarium with various live plants, branches for your snake to climb on, and a layer of moss covering the bottom.  There’s more to it than that! You’ll also need to light and heat your enclosure.   I prefer to use a 2.0 UVB compact fluorescent for basic lighting in my cages, as these bulbs are nice and bright and display both the animals and the plants beautifully.  I set my lights on timers, and depending on the time of year my lights are on for 12 to 14 hours a day.  In addition to a fluorescent bulb for lighting the cage and providing light for plant growth, I also use a basking bulb for my snakes to bask as needed.  In the smaller 12 x 12 x 18 size terrarium, you should not need a bulb any hotter than 50 watts in winter, and 25 watts in summer.  Basking temperatures 3 to 6 inches below the bulb should be about 85 degrees at most; spikes close to 90 degrees can be tolerated, but temperatures that high often dry out your cage(s) unnecessarily.  In the larger cages, 50 to 75 watt bulbs should be adequate depending on time of year and ambient temperatures in your home.

At night, temperatures can dip into the mid to upper 70’s, with the coolest parts of the cage ranging down into the high 60s during winter (Danny Mendez, pers comm).  Personally, I would recommend the use of a heat pad for keeping temperatures at acceptable levels during nighttime, as continual use of a heat bulb can dry out the air and make it difficult for you to maintain humidity at acceptable levels for your snake.  A heat pad for night time should provide enough heat for your boas to stay healthy, and help keep your electricity bill down!  If you’d like to be able to see your snakes at night, I highly recommend using a black light bulb for viewing – it emits only low amounts of heat and a purple light that will not affect your snake’s nocturnal behavior.

The vivarium for Jen’s Amazon Tree Boas

In addition, a popular method of heating humidity loving species such as Amazon Tree Boas is to utilize radiant heat panels.  These do not heat up the air, nor does the heat panel’s surface actually become warm; they just heat up surfaces underneath them utilizing infrared radiation.

Feeding your Amazons should not be too difficult, at least not if they’ve settled in and acclimated to your cage.  When you first get your new boa, give it at least 5 days to settle in before attempting to feed it for the first time.  Amazon Tree Boas are slender bodied, arboreal snakes, and should not be fed anything much larger than their body width.  You should see only a very slight bulge in your snake’s stomach after it eats; too large of a prey item and you risk regurgitation and the problems that go along with it.  Babies and juveniles up to 2 years of age can be fed every 7 days, while older animals can go 10 to 14 days between feedings.  Again, keep in mind that these are an arboreal species – they are meant to be slender bodied, not chubby little sausages like other pet snake species!  I highly recommend purchasing a pair oftweezers or hemostats for offering food to your snake.  Babies often begin feeding easiest when offered live prey, but once they are feeding consistently in your care you should experience little to no difficulty switching them to frozen/thawed feeders.  Tweezers are a must for offering frozen/thawed prey items, and they make offering live prey significantly easier as well.

Handling an Amazon Tree Boa is the type of endeavor that usually makes experienced keepers chuckle and wince at the same time.  They are notorious for poor attitudes and a penchant for biting anything and everything even slightly warm in their vicinity once they’ve been disturbed.  For many amazon tree boas, this is certainly the case, and whenever you encounter a strange boa, it is best to assume it’s going to try and bite you.  Even with your own boas that you know well, it’s typically safe to assume they’re going to try and bite you.  For this reason, Amazon Tree Boas do best as display-only pets, because even if you don’t mind being bitten, the act of biting you can have problems for your boa.  Biting you can dislodge their teeth, leading to potential mouth infections, and it’s stressful for your boa to be in a situation where it feels threatened enough to try biting you.  For these reasons it’s best to avoid handling your amazon tree boas unless you absolutely have to.

This is why.

In addition to the grey coloration most commonly available, Amazon Tree Boas come in a range of colors that rival a rainbow.  They also have a handful of genetically inherited pattern mutations, which in combination with the beautiful colors they naturally come with, can create some truly spectacular “designer” morphs.  Selective breeding has also taken many of the colors found in wild specimens and intensified them, resulting in snakes so brightly colored they look unreal.

Depending on what you want out of your display, you can go with a grey or a colored amazon, and for the most eye catching animals, it is often worth it to go to a private breeder and purchase a line bred animal.  Amazon Tree Boas change color as they mature, with patternless or uniquely patterned juveniles often developing different colors as they grow.

If you are looking for a beautiful reptile to keep and display in your home or office, I highly recommend Amazon Tree Boas.  Their lower price tag keeps them in reach for keepers not quite ready to spend several hundred dollars on a pricey green tree python or emerald tree boa, and they come in a much wider range of colors than a simple green snake.  Amazon Tree Boas have tons of attitude and spunk, coupled with a beautiful range of colors and patterns that make no two snakes alike.  This individuality and uniqueness makes them extremely enjoyable captives, and I highly recommend them to the snake keeper looking to make the next step into keeping something more interesting and involved than your average ball python or cornsnake!

Jen’s Amazon Tree Boas

Caring for the Israeli Dune Gecko – May 2013

By Tim Novoa

Latin name – Stenodactylus stenodactylus

These interesting little geckos are primarily native to Israel. They are easy to care for in captivity, as long as their needs are met.  Cage requirements revolve around their desert habitat,and I have used Zoo Med ReptiSand with the best success.  I have also tried usingZooMed Excavator Clay, but unfortunately this led to poor breeding success for my geckos.  In my experience, an under tank heating pad is the most suitable method of heating your cage because these are a ground dwelling and burrowing species.  Multiple fake or live succulentswork best for cage decoration.  You can also use cork flats or both fake and real stone slate to provide extra hiding places for your gecko, as well as surfaces for them to burrow under.  Depending on how many geckos you choose to have, a 10 gallon breeder tank will work best.  Or, for more geckos, you may want to consider a slightly larger sized tank.  Breeder tanks are shorter than usual tanks and are primarily used for reptiles that do not require climbing space. I would not recommend housing more than one male  per cage, for they will fight.  One male to two or three females will be the best ratio for maintaining your geckos at home.

Example of a set up for Israeli Dune Geckos

These geckos are completely nocturnal, meaning that they only come out during the night to hunt for food. Because they are desert dwellers, during the day they spend most of their time underground or under rocks avoiding the blistering hot sun.  In your tank at home, you can allow temperatures on the hot side to reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit, as long as the cool side remains below 80.  Night time lows can go down to the mid 60’s-70’s, although remember to leave your heat pad on to keep the sand warm.

Feeding these small geckos is very easy!  In captivity, dune geckos eat primarily small crickets and waxworms.  When feeding crickets or waxworms, make sure you use a high quality reptile calcium and/or multivitamin WITH D3.  If you are feeding every other day, supplements should be used at most twice a week. Very simple. A great treat for the adults are small dubia roaches.

I would not recommend feeding any type of mealworm, as they can be difficult for the geckos to digest.  Baby Stenodactylus will only eat fruit flies, either species that is commonly available – the melanogaster or hydei.  Even the smallest crickets tend to be intimidating for them as hatchlings. To give you a better idea of how big a baby dune gecko is, it’s about half the size of a dime. Very small!!

One awesome fact about Stenodactylus Stenodactylus is that these geckos are one of the only species that can actually lay their eggs in bone dry sand, and have the babies hatch successfully!

An ideal temperature to keep the cage substrate while there are eggs waiting to hatch is between 83-85 degrees.  The ambient air temperature can drop at night, just make sure you keep your heat pad on to ensure the eggs’ survival.

When breeding these geckos, you can go about hatching the eggs in a couple different ways.  You can leave the eggs buried in the sand where the female originally deposited them, and they should hatch. Or, if you choose to remove your eggs from the cage, be very careful not to damage the eggs. The shell is very thin and will crack very easily if squeezed or moved in the wrong way.  The preferred method is to just leave the eggs where the female laid them and instead remove the adult geckos to a separate cage to ensure the newly hatched babies don’t get eaten by the adults. I know from personal experience that the adults will eat their own offspring, so don’t take that risk!

Although cute and small, these geckos are not the best for handling. Because they are so small and shy, if you do handle them, it can cause them significant stress, which could cause serious health issues for your geckos.  I would definitely consider these to be more of a viewing only animal only.

All in all these geckos are a great reptile to add to your collection of herps at home, and I highly recommend picking some up for yourself!

What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Care of Gravid Bearded Dragons – May 2013

By Erin Lane

What to expect

While there are a plethora of guide books for expecting parents, there are a scant few that give detailed information on how to care for your gravid reptile pet.  Although many are quite happy never delving into the world of breeding, others find themselves, sometimes unexpectedly, prepping for eggs and babies.  Many care books have a short chapter on breeding, but few give up many secrets that can help you to figure things out when they don’t go according to plan.  Over the next few issues we will be discussing the ins and outs of breeding bearded dragons, from conception to hatchling care. My hope is to provide some tips and information that I have picked up over the years, and would have found helpful my first time out with my own breeding endeavors.  In this issue we will start with the basics: how to prepare your female for breeding season, and how to care for her once she becomes gravid.

Female Translucent Bearded Dragon Basking

Being responsible

Any discussion on breeding should at some point address the importance of being a responsible pet owner.   My assumption is that anyone reading this article is not in need of this section, but it never hurts to review the basics.  So, let’s quickly cover the bases!  An obvious point to make here is that the health of the female is the most important aspect in the breeding equation.  If your female beardie is underweight, lacks proper lighting, nutrition, or supplementation, breeding should be out of the question.  Make sure that you are providing optimal care for your animal before you consider breeding.

Dragons are hardy animals, and will often trudge along for years with suboptimal care.  Just because your animal eats when offered food, basks under its heat lamp, or sits calmly on your shoulder doesn’t mean that it is in good breeding condition.  Before introducing a male, make sure that your enclosure is an adequate size, you have ample visual barriers and basking space, and that your female has good body weight.  We sometimes have the tendency to overfeed our animals, often creating numerous health issues in the process that can greatly shorten the life of our pets.  A little thin isn’t always a bad thing when it comes to beardies.  However, I think it better in some cases to have a little extra body weight than not quite enough.  The best way to check is by looking at the base of the tail.  If the pelvic girdle, or hips, are showing, your animal is probably underweight for breeding.

Female Bearded Dragons enjoying some calcium dusted mealworms!

Counting the calories

Preparing your healthy female bearded dragon for breeding season can mean little more than a few extra feedings a week and more attention to calcium.  While some species require a realbrumation, beardies do not seem to need a cooling off period in order to breed.  From personal experience, females can be kept awake all winter and go on to produce multiple fertile clutches the next season.  In this case, preparing her for gravidity (reptile version of pregnancy) can start as early as late winter.

When it comes to nutrition, the more varied the diet, the better.  A beardie can do just fine on a diet of gut loaded crickets and greens, but I have found that my animals do best when supplied with one that includes a wide variety of protein and vegetable sources.  Some authors will warn against feeding rodents to dragons, as those that get a diet high in fatty pinky mice tend to become obese.  In moderation, mouse pups can be an extremely nutritious addition to your lizard’s menu.  As my females gear up for breeding, I generally increase the number of rodents in the diet to between 2 and 3 fuzzy mice a week.  Though this may be too much protein and fat for a bearded dragon during most of the year, a breeding female will need all the calories she can get before long.  A heavier feeding routine should start as early as 4-6 weeks prior to pairing her with a male.  I continue to provide a relatively heavy offering of mouse pups until the end of breeding season, especially right after the female lays.

Adding rodents to the diet is a good way to add a lot of calories to a meal, but don’t neglect insects.  Dubia roaches are becoming increasingly popular these days as they are easy to breed and offer a great ‘flesh’ to exoskeleton ration in comparison to crickets.  If you can get over any lingering fears of cockroaches, I highly recommend them as a staple.  Superwormsand mealworms are also great sources of protein, with the former being a real favorite among my pets.  Superworms also offer a lot of meat, and I have found that, unlike mealworms, you can generally feed them in small quantities to young dragons.  But remember—regardless of the type of feeder, you MUST gutload.  Neglecting the feeders is a rookie mistake that can have a big impact on your animal, and subsequently, your breeding success.

Greens are also important as they offer moisture, vitamins, and minerals into the diet. Supplementing is always stressed, and you should do so for a number of reasons.  However, a nutrient found in a whole food is better than a nutrient you get in a jar in almost all circumstances.  A diet that includes a wide variety of veggies (mostly dark leafy greens) is best.  I try and provide a wide range of greens for my dragons, but I am careful to also include a good general supplement, such as Repashy Calcium Plus.  This has worked great for my dragons, which are housed indoors during the winter.

Bearded Dragon getting a drink in the shower

A quick note on hydration

When your dragon is gravid, don’t neglect hydration.  Bearded dragons can go a long time without drinking, but usually take advantage of a good soak when offered.  I try and water my dragons once a week as a rule, but this is especially important for expecting moms.  Make sure to provide water once a week, and perhaps even every other day when she is getting ready to lay.

Although she may not need it, it won’t hurt to offer.  I have seen gravid beardies go from looking a little heavy in the belly to looking full of marbles in less than a day after getting a much needed soak.  This is especially important once she is finished laying.  As soon as one of my females is done in the lay box, I put her in the shower, and leave the water on until she stops drinking.  She will be surprisingly thirsty—and no wonder!

You may be wondering about a water bowl… Though I have seen some dragons drink from a water bowl, many beardies will simply ignore it.   A great way to hydrate your pet is to set them in the tub in shallow luke warm water, or to turn the shower on.  Try to avoid water levels that force your animal to float or swim.  While they can do it, they don’t seem to enjoy it.  Either a shower or shallow water is best.

The lay box

There are some really easy ways to set up a lay box for your beardie.  As long as you have (only) slightly moist substrate, deep enough for her to dig in, placed in a warm private spot, you should be good to go.  There are some that will insist that you set up a lay box outside of her enclosure.  While that works for the majority of dragons, don’t be afraid to set up one inside of the tank if she seems reluctant to lay in a new environment.  Though I typically use a separate lay box, I have had no issues arise from making up an area inside of the cage.  Just keep in mind that you will want to collect the eggs pretty quickly to avoid desiccation or disturbance.  Either way, the principles are the same.

Laying Box with organic potting soil

I like to use organic potting soil as a laying substrate, though a coconut husk product, such asExo Terra Plantation Soil or Zoo Med Eco Earth work well.  Vermiculite can also be used, and is very easy to wipe off of the eggs once you retrieve them.  While any of these substrates works well, it’s important to make sure that it is not bone dry or too wet.  If too dry, it’s harder for her to dig a tunnel.  If too wet, the eggs will be ruined by sitting in water at the bottom of the box.  Add water in small quantities, mixing it into the substrate, until you can make a hole about the size of your hand without it falling in on itself. Make sure to check the temp in the box.  Too hot or too cold can cause problems.  You don’t need to provide a hot basking spot, but upper 70’s or mid 80’s ambient is probably good.

As stated above, you can really set this up anywhere.  I use a large plastic tub, filled with about 16-18” of substrate.  Although they can work with less, I would recommend at least a foot of substrate.  She will probably scratch at the bottom of the tub for a while, trying to dig deeper.  Eventually, she will leave off, turn around, and deposit her eggs.

Bearded Dragon in the middle of laying eggs.

Knowing when

It is sometimes hard to time things out, as you rarely see the actual copulation.  A good guideline is to start looking for signs that your female is gravid between 5 and 6 weeks after pairing her with the male.  A month and a half is generally what I have found to be the time between mating and laying in this species.  Best practices would be to observe her behavior and body condition on a daily basis, and be prepared with a lay box ahead of time.

With some females, it is easy to tell when they are going to lay.  They spend a few days digging or scratching in the substrate, they seem antsy, undeterrable.  They are also chocked full of eggs, which make it look like they’ve swallowed a bag of marbles.  At this point, you can start introducing her to the lay box.  Leave her alone, and check on her after an hour or so.  If she hasn’t started to dig, place her back in her home cage—she probably isn’t ready yet.probably isn’t ready yet. An important note: not all females are visibly
gravid!  Although uncommon, some females will have no palpable eggs, and go on the next day to lay a normal clutch. If your female has been with a male, and she is showing other signs, treat her as if she is gravid.

Once she has deposited her eggs, she will begin to bury them.  I have found, through trial and error, that it is probably best to let her finish burying the eggs before you take her out of the box.  At that point, they are running on a program that won’t let them stop until they have dug, laid, and buried.  If you remove a female too soon, she will often continue to pace and scratch.  Leave her in the box until she seems to have stopped—which usually means there is no sign of where she made her burrow.  After, throw her right into the shower for a good soak, and then back to her quiet home cage. If at all possible, house her by herself for at least a week to give her a chance to rest and recover.  If she must go back to group housing, make sure to check on her daily, and provide extra food just for her.

After she has laid, don’t be surprised if another clutch is on its heels in 4-6 weeks.  Even if you have separated the male at this point, a female can, and usually does, continue to lay throughout the season.  Like many other animals, bearded dragons can store sperm in their reproductive tract that can be used to fertilize multiple clutches throughout a season.  My first female laid three consecutive clutches one summer after being bred one time by my male.  So, if you have one clutch, be prepared for more.

Bearded Dragon depositing a healthy clutch of eggs!