The Basking Spot: Better than Basic – Betta Bowl Enrichment – June, 2013

by Jennifer Greene

Now, I know bettas aren’t really reptiles, but we carry them as well as tons of items for their care.  They’re a popular “desk pet”, and they are very low maintenance fish that many people find easy and rewarding to keep.  They come in a wide range of colors, and in recent years they also come with several color, pattern, and fin mutations for a kaleidoscope of beautiful iridescent colors you can keep in a little ½ gallon bowl on your desk.

Just because a betta fish can live in a small bowl does not mean they shouldn’t live a rewarding little fishy life, though.  I’ll be reviewing a few inexpensive items that you can add to your betta’s life to keep it entertained, exercised, and help extend its life for many years.  A well cared for betta can easily live over 10 years, and there’s no reason your betta shouldn’t live that long too!

Diet

Bettas very quickly learn the routine of begging for food, and can easily become overfed and even fat.  To maintain your betta on a diet to keep it slim and trim, try using a ZooMed BettaMatic  for the routine daily feedings.  This little automatic feeder distributes one pellet a day for your fish, which is enough food to maintain a creature that inhabits ½ gallon of water for its entire life.  You can add variety to the diet by offering treats in the form of Mysis, daphnia, or bloodworms, all of which are aquatic invertebrates that are small enough for your betta to eat.  ZooMed makes a serving size ideal for one betta with the Dial-A-Treat food container, and also comes with a neat little spoon feeding tool for you to offer your betta food with.  Keep that little tool, it comes in handy later!

Tank Décor

Give your little guy some privacy!  Add some betta-sized fake plants for them to hide behind, like bamboo leaves or papaya leaves.  Many keepers believe that bettas can live with live plants, and even eat bits of the roots or leaves, but this is not the case, and leaving your betta with just a live plant to eat will result in the fish going very, very hungry.  Use fake plants that you can easily clean, and keep live plants for your vivariums or larger aquariums – a betta bowl just isn’t enough tank space to adequately keep plants and bettas happy in one container.

In addition to decorating your bowl, there are also these cute little suction cup leaves  you can add to your tank.  Why give your betta one little leaf near the top of the bowl, you ask?

Because they like to sleep on them, of course!

In the wild, bettas will rest on foliage near the surface in order to easily take gulps of air, and when you give them a leaf to sleep on in their bowl, they’ll happily take advantage of it!

In addition, you can teach your betta to do amazing betta tricks using the leaf.  I personally have taught my bettas to jump onto their leaves to eat food (using that little red spoon that comes with the Dial-A-Treat mentioned earlier!), and so have other staff members.  With patience, you can teach your betta to be a miniature shamu too.  Start small by teaching your betta to go to the red spoon for food, and then you can easily teach the betta to follow the spoon to get a tasty treat reward.  Spend 5 minutes a day teaching your betta to tap its nose to the little red spoon to get fed, and you’d be amazed how quickly you can get your betta to follow that spoon anywhere in the bowl!

If you’re not that dedicated to training your betta, you can also provide exercise opportunities by placing a betta mirror in the bowl for no more than 5 minutes at a time.  When betta breeders were asked what products they’d like most for their bettas to live healthier, longer lives, they actually requested an item like the betta mirror to help provide them with exercise.  A fit betta is a happy betta!  Just be careful not to leave the mirror in the bowl for too long – your betta can get worn out and stressed from constantly attempting to fight the betta they see in the mirror.

Water Conditions

In order for your betta to maintain his best colors and thrive in your care, you’ll need to make sure he’s living in clean, warm water at all times.  I highly recommend changing out at least half the water in his bowl every few days if you do not have a filtration system, and you should always treat the water with a water conditioner to remove any chlorine or other chemicals.  In addition, as these are tropical fish, they thrive best in water temperatures between 78 and 82 degrees – much warmer than the average office, and most homes.  Heat up the water a few degrees with a tiny little betta-sized water heater to make sure your betta stays bright and active for you.

More Aesthetically Pleasing than a Plastic Bowl

Do you have a classy office or home, and a plastic betta bowl just isn’t your style?  Give your betta a miniature, betta sized aquarium – 2 gallon Fluval Spec aquariums filter the water, eliminating the need for constant water changes, and with the light, clean water, and extra swimming space, your betta will THRIVE!  Bettas in larger water areas, even up to 10 gallon aquariums, develop longer fins, brighter colors, and even grow larger.  Many keepers don’t realize bettas can live in slightly larger aquariums, and I successfully kept a betta and several neon tetra fish in the stylish Fluval Chi aquarium for several years.

As you can see, you can do so much more than just keep a betta in a sad, bare little plastic bowl on your desk.  Try enriching your fish’s life, and add just one or two of these neat and inexpensive items to your betta routine.  There is something extremely rewarding in seeing your betta go from a limp, listless fish in a cup to a robust, brightly colored little jewel in your aquarium.  Give it a shot!

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.

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

The Basking Spot: Excavator Clay – July 2013

Excavator Clay

by Jennifer Greene

If you’re like me, you enjoy setting up your animals in naturalistic, beautiful enclosures with plenty of options for them to run, climb, hide, and bask throughout their enclosure.  Creating a naturalistic display is fairly easy with tropical animals, and videos and set ups of tropical displays are common throughout online forums as well as groups on Facebook or google+.  However, it is much harder to find displays of desert vivariums, or cages that are more than just the basics for desert species.  There is a great deal of stigma with using sand and other small, dry, particle substrates, particularly with species considered desert dwellers, such as bearded dragons or leopard geckos. ‘

However, you can still set up a really neat, naturalistic vivarium with considerably reduced risk of substrate ingestion using a clay substrate made by ZooMed.  Excavator Clay is not an ideal substrate for every situation, but when used correctly, it can be used to create beautiful desert landscapes that allow your lizards the ability to burrow and dig without loose substrate everywhere.

Excavator Clay is a clay substrate that hardens once it’s been mixed with water.  You can put a simple base layer down throughout your cage and have a flat, plain, natural looking flooring, or create landscapes and burrows.  I highly recommend Excavator clay for burrow desert species that thrive in extremely low humidity, and/or come from extremely sandy areas. Steppe Runners, Frog Eyed Geckos, Dune Geckos, Berber Skinks, Uromastyx, Collared Lizards, and other similar desert species all work well in cages with Excavator as the base substrate.

You’ll want to prepare to set up the cage at least a week before putting the animal(s) inside – the clay needs a good amount of time to set and dry.  Have plenty of water on hand, and mix it little by little with the clay to create a sandy paste.  Build your landscape with it, having lots of fun as you make a huge mess putting it together. I suggest sloping the clay higher towards the back of the cage to add depth and make the cage look more visually appealing, but you can build whatever shapes you’d like.

Add the start of burrows by either using cardboard tubes or balloons to leave air pockets for your reptiles to find and dig out.

Enclosure for Tibetan Frog Eyed Geckos

Build up your cage and let the clay harden for at least 2 or 3 days.  If you used a lot of water, it may take over a week to fully dry, so plan accordingly if you are waiting to pick up the future inhabitant of the cage!  I like to add a layer of sand mixed with coconut bedding for digging purposes, as the two combined are a much lighter substrate that the animal can easily dig up and move around.  The loose substrate is also easy to clean, and leaves the excavator underneath fresh.  If you do find that your pet has defecated directly on the excavator, a little water will wash off any feces and make it easy for you to pick up the dirty part.

Just because your reptiles are desert dwellers, that doesn’t mean you should neglect to provide them with humid areas while using your clay substrate.  You can put damp moss in some of the burrows you’ve set up, and just keep a few areas moist.  When you provide at least one or two damp burrows/hiding areas, the species you can keep on excavator broadens.  I have successfully raised Leopard Geckos in an excavator/sand/coconut bedding mix, and if you want a nicer cage for your pets than just a glass box with carpet on the bottom – consider using clay!

Two leopard geckos lived in this exact cage as it is for over a year!

Mealworms were offered in a dish next to the water bowl, and there were multiple moist hides.

Again, it is not a substrate that is ideal for every pet and every situation, but when used correctly you can create beautiful, naturalistic desert set ups.  Your desert reptiles will benefit from the ability to burrow and hide in a more natural way, and the reduced amount of loose substrate (due to the clay being hardened) minimizes the risk of substrate ingestion to a negligable worry.

Want to see a video on setting up Excavator Clay?  We have one that you can see here:http://youtu.be/Nzu0P-aPPbw

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!

The Basking Spot: Magnetic Ledges – April 2013

by Jennifer Greene

Magnetic Ledges

One of my favorite products for just about any cage is a magnetic ledge.  We carry a range of sizes, shapes, and textures that should suit nearly any cage type and style, and the lightweight foam material is easy to clean and maintain.  The magnets within them are extremely strong, which can be a bit difficult to pry off the packaging and/or cage, but the strength of the magnets is perfect for holding up to the weight of the average pet reptile.

The cork ledges are brown, and textured to look like a piece of cork bark or wood sticking out of the side of the cage.  Even if not using the ledges as a perch for your reptile, they can make it easy to prop up wood or other cage décor, creating ramps for your reptiles to climb on.

The fake rock ledges are nice and thick, and can be an excellent addition to desert terrariums.  The largest size fits an adult bearded dragon perfectly, and with the foam material that makes up the ledge, you don’t have to worry about the ledge heating up too much and burning your dragon.

In addition to plain ledges, there are also feeding ledges that have convenient niches built in to allow you to put disposable mealworm dishes into the ledge.

These come in two sizes, and make it extremely easy to offer your reptilesmealworms without the worms escaping into the bedding.  Elevating the mealworm cups can also make it easy to offer more arboreal reptiles a more varied diet, such as with pet chameleons.  A ledge ¾ of the way up the cage makes it easy for your chameleon to see its worms and hunt them down!

Magnetic ledges are an excellent addition to any cage, with a variety of colors and sizes to suit any need.  Definitely consider them to add perching sites and visual interest to your cage for any of your reptiles!

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.

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.

The Basking Spot: Installing Under Tank Heaters – December 2012

The Basking Spot

By Jonathan Rheins

Practical Guide to Undertank Heat Pad Installation

Undertank heating pads (UTH) are one of the most efficient and reliable tools for providing heat to reptileand amphibian enclosures.  Some varieties are self-adhesive, and bond directly to the glass terrarium bottom.  Heating pads of this variety conduct heat directly to the enclosure floor and substrate. 
 
When properly installed and used, an undertank heating pad can last the life of the terrarium.  In this brief article, the steps for proper pad installation will be detailed.  The terrarium in the accompanying photos is aCreative Habitat 5RT Glass Cage and the pad being installed is a Zoo Med Mini Reptitherm Heat Pad.
 
tank
 
Once the size and type of pad have been selected, the terrarium can be prepared.  It is typically much easier to effectively install a heating pad on an empty terrarium.  Trying to orient the pad properly and ensure good contact is difficult without full access to the terrarium bottom.
 
The glass of the terrarium bottom should be thoroughly cleaned prior to installation.  A good all-purpose glass cleaner will do, and a quick wipe with isopropyl alcohol will remove any traces of dirt, grease, or oils that could affect the pad’s adhesive over time.
 
Determine before you begin where you will locate the pad and in what orientation it will sit.  Once the pad makes contact with the glass, it is quite difficult to remove, so be sure to have run a few “test fits” before going any further.
 
heat pad sticking
 
The adhesive on the pad itself is exposed by peeling off the back paper covering of the heating pad like a big sticker.  Rest one short edge of the pad along the glass and then, using a rolling motion, gently “roll” the pad onto the glass. Just enough pressure should be used, and care must be taken to not overly bend or crease the pad itself.
 
Once in place, the pad can be firmly pressed down onto the glass, paying close attention to the corners and around the power cord.  An added benefit of installing on an empty tank is the ability to peek through and see where the pad is or is not making good contact.
 
heat pad feet
 
The last step is to install the included plastic “feet” to the bottom corners of the terrarium.  These tiny bumpers attach permanently to the molding of the terrarium and effectively raise it up off the surface it is resting on by ¼” or so.  This gap allows for easy exit of the power cord from beneath the terrarium, and also allows excess heat to escape, preventing malfunction or overheating.
 

The Basking Spot: Thermometers and Thermostats – November 2012

The Reptile Times

The Basking Spot

By Jennifer Greene

Thermometers and Thermostats

One of the very first things we learn about reptiles and amphibians is that they are “cold blooded”, or ectothermic, and as such are deeply dependent on their environment for their temperature needs.  In captivity, we, the keepers are responsible for providing them with suitable caging that allows our pets to seek out the conditions they need.  While reptiles do need to maintain a body temperature within a specific range, they do best when offered a range of temperatures to select from and utilize to maintain their own preferred body temperature.  This means controlling the amount of heat added to the cage, as well as accurately measuring temperatures within the cage.

You can measure the temperatures in the cage using a thermometer, which comes in a variety of options. Stick-on thermometers are the most inexpensive, and are ideal for getting a general idea of the temperatures within the cage.  Stick on thermometers most accurately tell you the temperature of the surface they are stuck to, so keep in mind when using them that air temperatures can be much cooler or much warmer than what the stick on thermometer reads.  However, they can be useful when placed on the glass directly touching a heat pad (allows you to check that it is working properly), or just to see at a glance that the cage is an acceptable temperature.

stick on thermometer

The next step up that is commonly used is a dial thermometer, or analog thermometer.  Because these are attached to one section of the cage and usually immovable, they are most useful for determining ambient air temperatures rather than specifics about areas within the cage.  When it comes to monitoring ambient temps, analog thermometers are my preferred type, as you can see the ambient air temp at a glance.

Analog thermometer

For more precise temperature readings, a digital thermometer with a probe is ideal.  To leave in the cages at all times and see temperatures at a glance, digital thermometers are the best you can use.  There are several brands, with some having memory that enables you to see the highest temperatures recorded as well as the lowest.  These thermometers with memory are extremely useful for monitoring temperatures when you’re not around, as well as testing new cages you are setting up to ensure they are reaching the desired temperatures.  Using these thermometers is delightfully easy – simply place the probe in the location that you’d like to know the temperature of (so inside the warm side hide, on top of a basking spot, or along the cool side) and check the screen!

digital thermometer

When it comes to measuring surface temperatures instantly and easily, the use of a temp gun is ideal.  Many advanced keepers prefer to use a temp gun to measure their temperatures, as the instantaneous readout of the temperature of the surface in question is extremely useful and efficient when it comes to maintaining larger collections.  Temp guns only measure the surface temperature, however, and ideally should be used with a thermometer that will measure the air temperature as well.  Temp guns are quite accurate, though, and as I said, when it comes to maintaining larger collections they are indispensable.

temp gun

A fantastic tool for any herper is the thermostat.  Thermostats work by maintaining your heating element for you, turning your heat sources off and on as needed to maintain a specific temperature that you determine. Rheostats are similar, and work much like a dimmer.  When using a rheostat, you simply dial down the level on the light bulb or heat pad plugged into it until it reaches the level you desire.  The downside to a rheostat as compared to a thermostat is that it does not maintain a specific temperature – you have just dialed down the intensity of the heat.  If temperatures in your home drop or spike significantly, then the rheostat will not compensate for that.

helix

Thermostats work in two ways – proportional or analog.  A proportional thermostat, such as those manufactured by Helix, increases or decreases the amount of heat being put out by the devices plugged in to it.  This gradual increase and decrease is much gentler and less abrupt on the animal, as well as extends the life of the bulb.  An analog thermostat will turn your heating elements off and on to maintain the temperature you set – once the temperature goes above the temperature you’ve set, it will turn the heat off, and once it drops below the set temperature, it will turn the heat on.  Which you use is entirely up to you.

The combination of an effective thermometer to check temperatures throughout the cage, as well as a thermostat on your heat bulb or heat pads, will help ensure that your cage is maintained at the correct temperatures.