Care for Mexican Fire Leg Tarantulas – September 2013

By Anthony Neubauer

Introduction

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

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

Selecting an Enclosure

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

Cage Décor and Substrate

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

Temperature and Humidity

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

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

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

Feeding

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

Sexing

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

Conclusion

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

 

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

By Jennifer Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is My Reptile Warm Enough? August 2013

By Jonathan Rheins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A happily basking Texas Map Turtle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Weekend in the Life of an LLLReptile Employee – September 2013

By Curtis Pieramico

Not a day in the life, but a weekend in the life of an LLLReptile employee! Particularly an employee at the Oceanside location, the largest of the LLLReptile retail stores. This location in particular separates the weekend from weekdays because we ship so many animal packages during the week.  Without these shipments, which can take close to a full day of work for half of our staff, it leaves more time for us to be a little more hands on both for our customers as well as our animals. The weekends also leave more time for some of the larger projects of the week such as making shipping boxes, different inventories, online shipments and cleaning, lots of cleaning.  In addition, we feed all the animals in the store at once, a task that is usually split up during the week.

When working at this particular location during the week, you encounter tons of animal shipments both incoming and outgoing.

Without these shipments all of the employees have the pleasure to do a ton of activities!

These are a lot of activities that many of the employees both love to do and are necessary to be done in order to keep our animals healthy.

We often hear from customers that they would love to do these tasks as well!

These two wonderfully busy weekend days have everything from day-to-day projects, to unique projects only done on weekends. One of the most exciting and fun projects of the weekend is the time we can dedicate to feeding everything!  That wouldn’t be too cool of us to only feed over the weekend, and we don’t, but the difference is we get to feed the majority of our animals on both Saturday and Sunday, while during the week we spread things out a bit more. We get to feed the monitors, insect eaters, vegetarians, and arachnids.  Some of these groups overlap, such as certain insect eaters that also eat veggies, and some monitors that also eat insects, which is one reason to keep the feedings spread out during the week.  On weekends, however, everything gets to feast!  This ties in to other projects that are more unique to the weekend days. Being a store that deals with a lot of shipments, our animal inventories have to be pretty spot on.  Feeding everything on the weekends gives us the opportunity to thoroughly check over animals, check quantities, and update our inventory. It is always a good time having an excuse to interact with the tons of little creatures we keep in a way that’s more up close and personal.

The next two undertakings that the weekend goes through both have to do with the shipping side of the company. With all of the animals that we ship throughout the week at the Oceanside location, we need a ton of boxes! When the week is over, the boxes are usually gone and it’s time to make more. The number of boxes is always increasing so we sometimes have little competitions with a couple of the employees on who can make the boxes faster. The other shipping part of the weekend is printing and reviewing all of the orders that are placed online. While the shipping warehouse is closed we still need to answer emails, calculate shipping costs and make sure the animals that you guys order are where they need to be to be shipped!

Now, what else could we do over the weekend? Clean of course! We clean all of the glass throughout the store between the two days including all of the vision glass (over 100 vision cages of all sizes) and glass cages (130 ten gallon tanks) to the reptariums, vision racks and more glass cages that we keep in the back of the store.

It definitely can get a little repetitive cleaning all of these cages, but if you forget about the cleaning part and remember that this is the time where you get close the all the animals it’s a great time! With all of the larger and smaller projects that need to be done throughout the weekend we sometimes forget about the biggest and best part of our jobs.

Customers! Without shipping animals out of the store and getting new shipments of animals and supplies on a day-to-day basis throughout the week, we get the chance to help and be a lot more hands on with all of the customers that come in. There is nothing better than to hand a person the first snake or lizard that they have ever held and see their reaction, or going over a setup with someone and seeing how happy they are to be getting a new pet. There are so many different types of people that come in that we can talk to or help out.  It could be specialized hobbyists where we can have a little more of an in depth conversation with them, or talking to a six year old about how cool the new gecko they are getting is. There’s always someone new coming in, as well as our treasured repeat customers, and it’s always fun.

Hopefully getting a little more on the “insider” track of the LLLReptile shop on weekends allows you to see how much hard work and persistence we have while working here.  It can seem like a ton of work, and we definitely put in long hours and lots of hard days working.  After you remember that you have the opportunity to work with different animals from all over the world, plus helping people choose and setup a habitat for a pet that will be with them for years to come, you always end up realizing the same thing. We just have one of the coolest jobs out there.

 

The Basking Spot: Powersun Lightbulbs – August 2013

Powersun Bulbs

by Jennifer Greene

I am often asked what bulb I recommend for various pet reptiles, especially for those that require both heat and full spectrum UVB lighting.  There are several options for providing the needed heat for your diurnal (daytime) pet reptile, as well as the UVB needed for proper vitamin D3 and calcium absorption.  My personal favorite method for providing heat, visible light, and UVB wavelengths of light is to use a mercury vapor bulb – in particular, the ZooMed Powersun Bulb.

The Powersun emits substantial amounts of both UVB and heat, making it ideal for desert dwelling reptiles or for species that prefer to bask at high temperatures.  It also allows yourreptiles to behave in a more natural fashion; the bright, white light that is making them warm is also what is emitting all the UV, similar to sunlight.  Artificial lighting is nowhere close to the range of light that the sun emits, but by providing intense heat and UVB in one place, you do allow your pet to seek out the conditions it would in the wild.  To metabolize D3 in the wild,reptiles need to be a certain temperature, while also receiving exposure to UVB.  This is true for most animals, including humans.  “Most vertebrates can either absorb vitamin D from the diet or synthesize it in the skin from 7-dehydrocholesterol using energy from ultraviolet (UV) light of certain wavelengths (290–315 nm) in a temperature-dependent reaction.” (merckmanuals.com)  The importance of properly heating your reptile, in addition to providing adequate UVB and supplementation, suddenly becomes much clearer!

For your pet reptile to properly utilize vitamin D3, then, it needs to be warm enough while it is digesting its meal and absorbing that all-important calcium (as well as other vital nutrients).  The reason the PowerSun is one of my favorite bulbs of all time becomes clear when you realize that in order to bask, your bearded dragon, blue tongue, lacerta, or other basking pet is not only getting the temperatures it needs under the light, but UVB as well, all at the time when it is actively seeking it out.

Blue Tongue Skink basking under a 100 watt Powersun Bulb

PowerSun bulbs come with a year-long warranty from ZooMed, and when used correctly, have a lifespan much longer than that.  I would suggest switching out your bulbs for optimal UVB output every 10 to 12 months.  I prefer to use a UVB meter to check UVB output on older bulbs, and often use older bulbs on cages where UVB is less important or where lower amounts of UVB are even preferred (my Frilled Dragons, for example, did much better under older bulbs that emitted lower amounts of UVB than new bulbs did).

To get the longest life from your bulb, make sure to read and follow the instructions that come with it.  These bulbs do best mounted vertically, straight up and down, and will last the longest if they are not jostled or moved frequently.  They are self-ballasted, and can be screwed into any regular light fixture.  However, it highly recommended to use a deep dome or 10” dome light fixture to allow for proper air flow around the bulb, both to prevent overheating and to keep the bulb from protruding out of the bottom of the fixture.  As a safety feature, these bulbs turn off automatically when they reach a certain temperature, or when heavily jostled or knocked over.  Once turned off, they require a cool down period before they can turn on again, so if your bulb does not immediately turn back on, give it 5 to 10 minutes and then try again.

We use PowerSun bulbs in our stores on our chameleon cages

Lastly, these bulbs are big, hot lightbulbs.  I only recommend them for larger enclosures; the smallest being an 18” x 18” x 24” front opening terrarium, or a 36” x 12” x 12” (or similar footprint) glass cage.  Keep in mind that in shorter enclosures, your pet cannot bask further away from the light if it wants, and in shorter cages the PowerSun may not always be the most suitable bulb.  Like all bulbs that produce heat, the PowerSun does naturally dry out enclosures it is used on, so for young animals or tropical species, extra attention should be paid to the humidity within the enclosure.  It is alright if it dry directly under the light if the rest of the enclosure is able to maintain humidity, or if a humid hide is provided.

Works Cited

Nutrition in Reptiles,  retrieved July 20th, 2013 from http://www.merckmanuals.com/vet/management_and_nutrition/nutrition_exotic_and_zoo_animals/nutrition_in_reptiles.html

Scorpion Fluorescence – August 2013

By Kevin Scott

Man’s highly developed color sense is a biological luxury- inestimably precious to him as an intellectual and spiritual being…. -Aldous Huxley inThe Doors of Perception

Aldous Huxley concisely described man’s fascination with things that shimmer and glow. The earliest admiration of the luminous was probably lightning at night, wildfires, the sun or a full moon.

To be sure, these things were revered and their causes unknown to the point that gods and goddesses were invoked, whose attributes described these phenomena.

Fast forward several millennia to the advent of artificial ultraviolet light and another curious phenomenon is observed: the fluorescence of scorpions under a black light. After the initial curiosity one comes to wonder what the purpose of this could be and how works.

Wild california scorpion while illumated with a blacklight

Light in the ultraviolet wavelengths is certainly not abundant at night (although the proportion of ultraviolet to white light is higher at night), so why the glow? The wavelengths in question abound during the day, but scorpions are decisively nocturnal animals that have well developed sensory mechanisms, allowing them to efficiently hunt and mate in low levels of light. The chart below describes some of these adaptations (Blass and Gaffin 2008).

Although all of these adaptations allow scorpions to capture prey, navigate and reproduce in low-light conditions, they do have several photosensory organs as well.

Emperor Scorpion, showing both fluorescing color and normal color

Scorpions have lateral and median eyes that are capable of detecting light magnitude changes and image formations, respectively (Gaffin, et al. 2011).   The median eyes are most sensitive to wavelengths around 500 nm (green) and secondarily sensitive to light in the 350-400 nm (ultraviolet) range (Machan 1968, Fleissner & Fleissner 2011).

In addition, scorpions have a metasomal element that is sensitive to light in the green area of the visible spectrum (Zwicky 1968, 1970; Rao & Rao 1973).

These technical details may at first seem superfluous until one thinks about the fact that when one views a scorpion under a black light, the black light and the green glow are in the same areas of the light spectrum as those to which the scorpion’s eyes are most sensitive; this is probably not a coincidence.

But this still does not explain the function of the fluorescence. Although the exact purpose is not known, there are a few hypotheses. There is the obvious possibility that no function is served at all.

Gary Polis suggested that fluorescence could act as a lure to draw prey in, but subsequent tests of this hypothesis show that insects will actually avoid scorpions that are fluorescing (Polis 1979; Kloock 2005).

One other theory suggests that fluorescence may play a role in courtship behavior, allowing one scorpion to tell whether a near by scorpion is of the same species and/or of the opposite sex (Kloock 2008). This would allow, from a distance, a scorpion to decide to approach (or be approached by) another that is either of the same sex or of a different species – either would be futile in a mating attempt. A negative photoresponse is observed in scorpions suggesting that the cuticle may serve as a photodetection device, however, it is not clear that fluorescence plays any role in this. One study showed that prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light caused a decrease in fluorescence (Kloock 2009).

Although the exact function has yet to be elucidated, mechanism by which fluorescence occurs in scorpions is relatively well understood. The scorpion’s exoskeleton is made from chitin, like other invertebrates. The compounds that fluoresce are found near the surface of the cuticle and relatively recently two molecules (4-methyl-7-hydroxycoumarin and beta carboline) have been isolated, both of which fluoresce in the presence of ultraviolet light (Stachel et al. 1999; Frost et al. 2001). Interestingly, Polis points out in his book The Biology of Scorpions that scorpions that have newly undergone ecdysis do not exhibit total fluorescence until 48 hours thereafter.

Fluorescence is observed in many life forms. Some of their functions are understood and some remain a mystery. Significant progress has been made with respect to that of scorpions, but more work is needed to fully understand the function thereof. For anyone who is interested in a deeper understanding of any of the topics discussed here, please explore some of the books and papers referenced below.

Blass, G. R. C & Gaffin, D. D. 2008. Light wavelength biases of scorpions. Animal Behaviour, 76, 365-73.

Gaffin, D. D., Bumm, L. A., Taylor, M. S., Popokina, N. V., & Mann, S. 2011. Scorpion fluorescence and reaction to light. Animal Behaviour, 83, 429-36.

Fleissner, G. & Fleissner, G. 2001. Night vision in desert scorpions. In: Scorpions 2001; In Memoriam Gary A Polis (Ed. by V. Fet & P. A. Selden), pp. 317-324. Burnham Beeches, Bucks: British Arachnological Society.

Frost, L. M., Butler, D. R., O’Dell, B. & Fet, V. 2001. A coumarin as a fluorescent compound in scorpion cuticle. In: Scorpions 2001; In Memoriam Gary A Polis (Ed. by V. Fet & P. A. Selden), pp. 363-368. Burnham Beeches, Bucks: British

Arachnological Society.

Kloock, C. T. 2005. Aerial insects avoid fluorescing scorpions. Euscorpius, 21, 1-7.

Kloock, C. T. 2009. Reducing scorpion fluorescence via prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light. Journal of Arachnology, 37, 368-370.

Machan, L. 1968. Spectral sensitivity of scorpion eyes and the possible role of shielding pigment effect. Journal of Experimental Biology, 49, 95-105.

Polis, G. A. 1979. Prey and feeding phenology of the desert sand scorpion Paruroctonus mesaensis (Scorpionida: Vaejovidae). Journal of Zoology, 188, 333-346.

Rao, G. & Rao, K. P. 1973. A metasomatic neuronal photoreceptor in the scorpion. Journal of Experimental Biology, 58, 189-196.

Stachel, S. J., Stockwell, S. A. & Van Vranken, D. L. 1999. The fluorescence of scorpions and cataractogenesis. Chemical Biology, 6, 531-539

Zwicky, K. T. 1968. A light response in the tail of Urodacus, a scorpion. Life Sciences, 7, 257-262.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Baby Bearded Dragon Care – August 2013

By Erin Lane
All Photos by Author

What to Expect

In the last few issues of the Retile Times we have looked at the various steps involved in breeding bearded dragon lizards. From mommy care to egg incubation, we have discussed tips of the trade that have hopefully helped you in your own current breeding endeavors.  In this last installment, we will cover the basics of baby care, from what to do when they first hatch, how to house them, and what, when, and how much they eat.

Breaking out

As you approach the end of incubation, it can be hard to know just when the eggs are going to hatch.  There are a few signs that can tell you when hatching is immanent, but there is often little way of knowing exactly when it will take place.  Bearded eggs incubated in the low to mid 80’s F will typically hatch between 60 and 75 days after being laid.  I usually start checking the incubator once a day or every other day as they approach the 2 month mark.

As the eggs get closer to hatching, you may notice that they begin to dimple.  This will also happen if there is not enough moisture in your egg substrate.  However, if you know that it is moist enough, and you notice dimples, then it may mean that your eggs are about to hatch.  The same is true for condensation on the eggs.  Although this often indicates too much moisture, this can be a sign that you will have some new hatchlings in the next day.

Newly hatched bearded dragon

Hatchlings will typically be worn out from the hatching process, and may not seem responsive at first.  While beardies are hardy, remember that these are neonates.  Leave them alone while they are hatching, and do not attempt to ‘help’ them out of the egg.  Even after they have emerged from the shell they will typically appear lethargic.  Leave them alone for 24-48 hours.  It is probably best to leave them in the warm humid egg box inside of the incubator for a while until they have recovered from hatching.  Anecdotally, the movement from the new hatchlings may help stimulate clutchmates to hatch as well.

New digs

Once your new hatchlings have had a chance to rest a while, you can move them to a more permanent enclosure.  While a baby dragon can more or less be set up as an adult, there are a few tricks that make the transition a little easier.  I have found that babies tend to become dehydrated more easily than adults.  It is important not only to soak or spray them daily, but I also like to provide them with a cage substrate that helps increase humidity.  Pulverized coconut products, such as Exo Terra Plantation Soil, or Zoo Med Eco Earth work well.  I prefer the bricks, as they are easy to store and you can buy them in a three pack.  When working with any moist substrate make sure that you don’t add too much water.  You don’t want the cage floor to be boggy, just slightly moist.  These substrates also seem to hold up better to frequent misting, and can be swallowed without a significant chance of impaction.  Babies can also be kept on sani-chips, though I usually wait until they are a few weeks old before I do.

New hatchlings will often be lethargic after first hatching.  Best practice is to leave them in the egg box in the incubator for a couple of days.

Just like adults, baby dragons appreciate something to climb on.  A sturdy piece of wood, diagonally placed piece of cork flat, or a basking platform are an important addition to the cage.

Keep in mind that crickets like to hide in nooks and crannies in pieces of wood, and even underneath flat cage furniture—the last thing you want is an army of crickets hiding in your baby cage. Look for pieces that don’t have cracks or gaps, or use a basking platform or rock that will make it harder for them to hide under.

The size of the enclosure should be dependent on the number of babies you have.  I have found that smaller clutches (10-15) can be kept all together in a 20 gallon long tank until they are 4-6 weeks old.  A larger clutch should be divided into 2 or more smaller groups to ensure that they all have access to food and a good basking spot.  Keep an eye out for babies that look smaller than the rest, seem weak or tired often, or have tail and toe nips.  These can be signs that there are too many dragons in the enclosure, and that some are not getting what they need.

Light the way

Good lighting is extremely important to new babies.  The lighting scheme should be similar to what you have for your adult dragons, keeping in mind that a smaller tank heats up faster than a larger one.  Be careful to not over-do it on the heat.  Before you set up your babies, make sure that your lighting is right, and that you have temped out the cage.  You still want nice hot basking spots like you do for adults (around 110 F), but you also need to keep a good temperature gradient.  The cool side should be no hotter than the low 80s F, preferably a little cooler.  To keep an eye on temperature, have a thermometer in the cage at all times.  I prefer one with a digital probe that I can move from one side to the other relatively easily.  A temp gunis also useful, and has the benefit of being fun to use.

A 10.0 UVB florescent bulb, such as the Zoo Med brand, is the best way to provide UVB to your hatchling bearded dragons.  If you decide to go for the newer and sleeker Zoo Med T5 high output bulbs, a 5.0 will be sufficient.  I have in the past avoided compact florescent bulbs for baby beardies as you need multiple bulbs to run the length of the cage.  However, if they are placed horizontally, and you use a few, these will also work.  Mercury vapor bulbs are another option that provide both heat and UVB.  The Zoo Med Powersun is an excellent product that I have used for both adult and baby dragons alike.  Regardless of which lighting option you choose, be sure to purchase a higher end brand—when it comes to UV, not all bulbs are created equal.

It is also important to remember that UV bulbs may still be putting out visible light as they age, but the amount of UVB will decrease over time.  A UV radiometer is a great tool to have when you keep reptiles, and it can allow you to monitor the UV output of your bulbs.  However, they are expensive, and may not make sense if you only have a few adults, and babies once a year.  In that case, it is best to replace your bulbs every 6-12 months.  Unless you have a set of bulbs you only use for baby dragons once a year, it is probably best to get a new set every season.  In the end, having healthier baby dragons will outweigh the expense of new bulbs.

Baby dragons should be kept on substrate that hold humidity.

When and how

Neonate reptiles will often take a few days to a week to ‘discover’ their appetite.  They have some nutrients left in their system from their yolk just prior to hatching, and will generally show little interest in food.  Don’t be alarmed if it takes a few days for them to start chasing crickets.  Offer a few small prey items a few days after hatching.  If they don’t go after it, try again the next day, being sure to remove the uneaten insects.  Keep this up until they begin to go after the prey item.  From then on, carefully add feeders, a small quantity at a time, until they have eaten their fill, or when they stop chasing them.  Babies are best fed small quantities of insects throughout the day.  If you can manage to feed them 2-3 times a day, they will be in better condition for it.

Dark leafy greens can be offered every other day, in addition to daily insects. This will help keep your babies better hydrated, and supply additional nutrients.  However, greens are not enough to keep a young dragon from drying out.  Make sure to mist the babies and enclosure a couple times a day.  An alternative is to soak the babies every day or every other day in shallow luke-warm water in addition to occasional misting.  This way they will be sure to get enough water without making the cage too wet.

As mentioned earlier, be careful that feeder insects are not hiding in the cage.  For this reason, I only keep one climbing apparatus, and nothing else, in the enclosure. There is nothing more heartbreaking than finding a baby dragon that has been mutilated, or even killed, by crickets.

On the menu

There are unfortunately few good feeder insects available for baby dragons in the US.  While adults can eat just about anything, babies are limited due to their size.  Crickets have their downside (e.g., low calcium to phosphorus ratio, predation on babies), but they are still the most widely available feeder insect on the market for baby beardies.  Unlike mealworms that can lead to impaction in small animals, crickets are more or less easily digestible and can be purchased in a number of sizes.  Just remember that a varied diet is best, and that gutloading and dusting with vitamins and calcium is key.

Put only as many crickets into the enclosure as can be consumed in a short period of time.  Feeder insects can wreak havoc on baby beardies if left in the cage unattended.

Many people erroneously believe that ‘pinhead’ crickets are the most appropriate feeder for neonate dragons, not realizing that 1) pinheads are as small as they sound, and 2) babies will have a hard time catching something that tiny.  Go for ‘small’ crickets, which will usually run between ¼” and ½” in size.  In most cases, babies will be ready for ‘medium’ crickets in 3-4 weeks.

Roaches have become increasingly popular feeders in the past year, and are more readily available now than ever.  B. dubia (a.k.a. dubia roaches) have been touted as the new big feeder.  They don’t jump, climb glass, prey on baby reptiles, or smell bad, making them ideal to keep and feed off.  They are also more nutritious than crickets, and induce as much excitement (if not more) as crickets in baby beardies.

Worms (wax, super, and meal) can be used as a significant part of an adult bearded dragon diet, but are not preferred for hatchlings.  Waxworms make a good treat as they are loaded in fat and soft bodied.  However, mealworms and even small superworms tend to cause issues with impaction.  I have experimented over the years with feeding mealworms and even cut up superworms to young dragons with mixed results.  While small amounts of either under ideal conditions (e.g. hot basking spot, good hydration) are usually okay, youngsters that over indulge will in the best case regurgitate, and in the worst die of impaction.  It is best not to chance it—steer clear of meal and superworms until your beardies are juveniles.

Hatchling next to eggs from the same clutch

Greens can include any that you would offer to an adult.  Small amounts of fruit are okay to mix in, but shouldn’t be a large part of the diet.  Although many greens contain oxalates, which can interfere with calcium absorption, providing a varied mix is more ideal than providing only one or none at all.  Stay clear of iceburg lettuce, as it can cause diarrhea when fed in large quantities.

Dietary supplements can also be given to babies as they would to adults, though you may increase the frequency.  While an adult dragon may only need to have every other meal dusted in calcium (calcium with D3 for animals housed indoors), babies should probably have every meal dusted.  Since they will often eat multiple times in one day, if you want to dust only the first meal, that is probably sufficient.  Too much of anything is, by definition, bad—and that includes calcium.  However, if you keep your babies well hydrated, it is probably fine to go a little heavy on the calcium when they are small.  Only use vitamin supplements once or twice a week.

In conclusion

Breeding bearded dragons can be a fun experience that will teach you more about your animal than you could have anticipated.  In the last few editions of The Reptile Times we have discussed how to prepare your female for breeding, care for her eggs, and successfully raise hatchlings.  Although it can take time and effort, it is hopefully worth it in the end when you find yourself with a healthy bunch of tiny dragons.  While baby care is similar to adult husbandry, it is important to keep in mind that they are still fragile, dehydrate easily, and have a much quicker metabolism.  Regular misting and feedings, good light and heat, and enough room are essential to raising up healthy babies.  Hopefully your breeding endeavors are well on their way for the season, and that you have lots of little mouths ready to be fed.