Tips for the Naturalistic Look – March 2014

By Jennifer Greene

Often, we get requests on YouTube, Facebook, as well as in our stores and at shows for tips on how to make a nice looking vivarium, terrarium, or even just a simple cage.  When training new staff members, it is often one of the things most asked of more experienced staff – “Why do your cages always look so good?”

Vivarium designed by one of our most experienced cage builders, Jon Blakemore!

Designing a beautiful cage just isn’t something that comes easily to some people.  In fact, for most of us, it wasn’t something we were just born able to do.  Much like any other type of artistic ability, designing nice looking cages is something that you can get better at through lots of practice.

However, if you don’t have the opportunity like we do to build and take down cages every day, I’ll share with you a few tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years here at LLLReptile.

Tip 1: Put Tall Stuff in Back!

This might seem really, painfully obvious to you at first, but there’s more to this than simply “don’t block your own view”.  Not blocking your view is, of course, the biggest reason not to put tall stuff in the front of the cage, but hopefully you don’t need me to explain that in detail.

However, there is more to it than giving yourself an open view.  Notice it says “Put tall stuff in back!” not “IF you have tall stuff, put it in back”.  You actually WANT taller things in your cage, and especially in the back.  When building cages for climbing species, they’ll need the taller items to climb on and feel at ease, and even when building cages for terrestrial species – give them things to climb on!  That measly little 18″ of cage height is nothing compared to the bushes, rocks, and other terrain irregularities found in the natural habitat of pretty much everyreptile.

More to the point of simply making something look pretty, putting tall things in the back of the cage provides visual interest.  It gives your eyes a direction to follow, and makes the cage look deeper and fuller to have things of differing height.

Note the use of cork hollows and grapewood to use all of the vertical space in this cage.

Tip 2: Slope the bedding so that it is deeper in the back than the front.

This ties in with Tip 1, as it makes it much easier to add taller plants and items in the back snce there is already a bump in the substrate.

Tip 3: Use flat pieces of wood or corkbark to create “corner planters”

This is where you wedge a large, flat piece of wood in the back corner of a cage, fill up the space with your planting material (I prefer coconut fiber), and stick a nice plant back there.  In shorter cages (18″ or less), I’ll use a pothos or similar vine type of plant, as it’ll spill over the wood and grow out in a sort of plant waterfall.

Some types of vines will climb up a textured background, making a great natural curtain that many frog and small lizard species love to hide in.  The cage to the left uses both live plants and coconut hides to provide a pretty and functional environment for dart frogs at the LLLReptile breeding center.

The rocks and coconut hut hide the root base for both plants in the back of the cage.

Tip 4: Don’t be afraid to move things around!

Whenever staff here at LLL build a cage, we move things around pretty constantly.  Any YouTube video we’ve put up on our channel has on average, at least 10 minutes of “I hate this!  It looks awful!  Maybe if I put this here… No, how about here… No, wait, here… No, no, I’m going to put it… Nope, that looks bad too.”

It’s okay to rearrange everything you want to put in the cage at least 5 times.  You might want to rearrange it all a few more times, just in case.  For example, check out this video of me building a Crested Gecko vivarium.  It’s one of the first we ever put up on YouTube of building a vivarium, and I move everything I put in the cage at least twice before settling on where it’s going to go.  And that’s totally fine!  How else will you decide what looks good and what doesn’t?

Tip 5:  Use a nice water bowl

Nothing makes a cage look like junk quite as fast as seeing a flimsy tupperware as the water dish, or a dirty dog bowl.  Pick up a nice corner dish that you can easily clean, or for added coolness, try using a waterfall or bubbling fountain.

Tip 6: MOSS.  Moss EVERYWHERE. 

I am a firm believer in that there is no such thing as too much moss in a cage.  Not only does it help with humidity, but somehow a cage just doesn’t look finished until moss has been added.  Here at LLL, we’ll often keep a big orange bucket full of water and New Zealand Sphagnum Moss so that we can easily add moss to any cage we build.

You can also use green sphagnum moss to create a more natural feel to a cage.

Tip 7: Keep Practicing!

Pretty much the simplest, easiest way to get better at cage building is to keep practicing.  Try new items, move things around, add new plants if you decide you don’t like what you put in there anymore.  Your cage is not set in stone, and it doesn’t have to stay exactly the way you first set it up forever.

http://tyrannosaurusmarketing.com/

You’d be surprised at what items end up being preferred by your animals.  Try these neat false Mushrooms on Rocks – they’ve got perfect little depressions in them that get small puddles of water.  Dart frogs love sitting in them!

 

Caring for Collared Lizards – October 2013

By Anthony Neubauer

Introduction

The Eastern Collared Lizard, Crotaphytus collaris, is a hardy, medium sized lizard native to the deserts of the Southern United States. They are common in Arizona and Texas, but also range into neighboring states. They are a very active species that spend much of their day running, jumping, and digging throughout the terrarium. Captive bred specimens can be very tame and relaxed, and make much better captives than wild caught specimens. If you’re looking for something different to put in a desert setup that will tolerate occasional handling and make for an entertaining captive, look no further. Collared lizards are for you.

Housing

Collared Lizards are extremely active. Keep this in mind when selecting an enclosure. A tank measuring 12″ long x 12″ deep x 30″ wide can house up to 3 babies for the first 6-8 months of life, and could house a single baby for up to a year.

Once they reach adulthood at around a year to a year and a half, it’s time to upgrade to a minimum of a 16″ x 16″ x 36″ sized enclosure.

This allows for adequate space to run around, as well as some height for offering a deep layer of substrate to burrow in and sticks and rocks to climb on.

Collared Lizards will readily use any space given, so if more space can be provided, your lizards will appreciate it. Glass tanks manufactured by Creative Habitat and Exo Terra are preferable, as they provide adequate light and ventilation for this desert reptile.

Environment

When setting up an enclosure, the first decision you must make is to go naturalistic or simplistic. You could very easily throw in a dry bedding such as Sani-Chips, a couple rocks and or sticks, and a water bowl and your Collareds would survive just fine. However, many hobbyists take it a step further in creating a much more aesthetically pleasing setup, complete with sand, gravel, live or fake plants, and rocks and wood setup as natural as possible.

I highly recommend using a sand-like substrate that allows burrowing. When given the opportunity, Collared Lizards will create burrows and retreat to them at night for sleeping.

This keeps them occupied all day, and in the end leads to happier lizards. I prefer to use Excavator Clay by Zoo Med, topped with a thin layer of sand for added texture and looks.

When wet, Excavator Clay can be shaped and molded into any shape you can imagine. When dry, it becomes hardened enough to hold burrows, but still able to be dug into.

Succulents and some cacti can be used to add some color, as well as a few flat basking rocks and a piece of Manzanita or Grape Wood.

Water

These lizards hail from the harsh deserts of the United States, and so are adapted to a water preserving life style. I like to provide a shallow water bowl with clean water at all times, even though they rarely drink. I also very lightly spray the tank down once a week, mostly for the plants, although the lizards drink the droplets as well. Other than their weekly spray, they don’t need any added humidity.

Water

These lizards hail from the harsh deserts of the United States, and so are adapted to a water preserving life style. I like to provide a shallow water bowl with clean water at all times, even though they rarely drink. I also very lightly spray the tank down once a week, mostly for the plants, although the lizards drink the droplets as well. Other than their weekly spray, they don’t need any added humidity.

 

Heating and lighting

These guys like it HOT. The basking area should be 110-120 Degrees Fahrenheit during the day, with the ambient temperature ranging from room temp to 85 Degrees. I use and recommend a Halogen basking bulb, as they make it easy to achieve these hot temperatures, but in a small, concentrated area so the entire tank isn’t cooking. I position this light over a large flat rock, so the rock heats up providing belly heat similar to using a heat pad. They will move closer and further away from the hot spot to achieve their preferred temperature. At night time, your temperatures can drop pretty significantly, as long as it heats up during the day. Anything above 60 degrees is fine, although 65-70 Degrees is optimal. This is a truly diurnal species, so high intensity UVB lighting is absolutely necessary for them to thrive. The Zoo Med T5 High Output bulbs rated 10.0 is the way to go. I provide 12-14 hours of daylight, and 10-12 hours of darkness without the lights.

 

Feeding

Collared Lizards eat A LOT. This is especially true when growing, as they are using all nutrients towards their rapid growth. They should be fed daily for their first year, and then every other day once they’re close to adult size. They eat a variety of insects, and the more variety the better. I feed mine mainly appropriately sized crickets, with either Dubia roaches, wax worms and moths, and mealworms being offered with every other cricket feeding. Flying insects are cherished, and they can easily jump up and chase them down to get them. Adults can eat the occasional pinky mouse, and will even eat feeder lizards! It is to be noted that Collared Lizards have extremely large heads and throats in comparison to their size, so taking larger food items is no problem. They have a ravenous appetite, and the more you feed youngsters the better they’ll do. I have also witnessed mine eating the leaves of certain succulents, so it may be worth offering yours leafy greens or even fruit from time to time.  While some will readily consume plant matter, not all do, so don’t worry if yours do not eat vegetation.

Vitamins

On top of a varied diet, I still use a few dietary supplements. Once a week I dust their crickets with RepCal Calcium with D3 mixed 50/50 with Repashy SuperPig pigment enhancer. I also use RepCal multivitamin once a month, also mixed with SuperPig. This is essential in making your Collared Lizards as bright and healthy as possible.

Adult Size and Sexing

Collared Lizards are sexually dimorphic, meaning you can tell them apart just by looking at them. Males will have more blue and green on their body, and females will have more tan and red. Males also get a little larger, have bulkier heads, and an overall heftier build. Adult size on these guys is around 12-14 inches, with males being toward the larger end, and females being on the smaller end.

They can reach adult size in a year to a year and a half with proper feeding, food, and nutrition as well as heat.

Conclusion

The Eastern Collared Lizard is a fun one to keep. They are always doing something, and are very inquisitive. They are quick, but can be tamed down with frequent calm, confident handling. Care for them is pretty straight forward, and they have few to no health issues as long as their heat and feeding requirements are provided. Overall a fascinating desert captive that is sure to become a favorite in any hobbyist’s collection.

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.

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

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.

Understanding Reptile Vision: Parietal Eyes – January 2014

By Jennifer Greene

In this third installment of understanding reptile vision, we’ll be discussing the parietal eye that is present in many species of lizards, and its impact on how your lizard perceives the world.  The parietal eye is often referred to as a “third eye”, and in some species of lizards you can even see the scale or spot on the top of the head where the “eye” is present.  The parietal eye in lizards is tied to their pineal gland; a gland that produces, among other hormones, melatonin – the hormone that helps you sleep at night.  The pineal gland is a fascinating organ, and one that we don’t know nearly as much about as we’d like to.  Even in humans, the functions of the pineal gland are still somewhat of a mystery, so it’s understandable that in reptiles, we struggle to understand fully what impact it has on their day to day lives.

If you have never seen a parietal eye, or are unsure of what exactly one is if you wanted to look for it, in our pet lizards it is usually a small, circular scale in the center of the top of the head.  It can be grey in color, or just a slightly different shade than the rest of the lizard.  The third eye is most pronounced in the prehistoric tuatara lizard – their third eyes have similar parts as their two main eyes, including a lens similar to a cornea.  The third eye is quite primitive, “ much more like the retina of an octopus rather than that of a vertebrate” (Schwab and O’Connor, 2005).  This eye cannot see in quite the same way as the main eyes, instead likely only detecting shapes and shadows rather than full pictures.  They are also highly sensitive to light – producing markedly different hormones based on time of day, with one study showing a system of neurons reversing their reactions based entirely on the daily photoperiod of the lizard. (Engbretson and Lent, 1976)

Older studies done on lizards to examine the purpose of their parietal eye experimented with removing the eye as well as simply covering it up.  In humans, the pineal gland is what helps control our circadian rhythm, and in lizards the combination of the third eye and pineal gland serve a similar function.  Experiments that removed the third eye from common North American fence lizards found that lizards missing their parietal eyes were more active for a longer period of time than their counterparts with intact eyes.  On the surface, this doesn’t seem like such a bad thing – why wouldn’t a reptile want to be out and active for the most amount of time?  Turns out, that’s only a good thing if you’re a mammal.  We are active as much as possible to get as much food and energy as possible.  For us, just sitting costs energy, while for reptiles, the less they move, the less energy they expend.

So, when a lizard is active for a longer period of time, but is not necessarily consuming more food, being that active becomes a hindrance, not a help.  Parietal eyes helped limit the amount of time that fence lizards were spending out basking or moving around.  In addition to the differences in activity between lizards that had parietal eyes and those that didn’t, lizards with their third eyes removed were harder to startle and scare away, with speculation in one study that “the pronounced heliothermism perhaps works antagonistically to the normal retreat reaction.”  (Stebbins, pg 35)

Not only do the parietal eyes help set a lizard’s internal clock, control hormone production, and help them determine needed activity levels – they also use their parietal eyes to navigate.  A study done with Italian wall lizards found that they used the sun to navigate through a “Morris water-maze” (click link for the wikipedia article), and by tricking their biological clock to be 6 hours faster or slower, the lizards were no longer able to reach their goal at the end of the maze.  Painting over or removing the parietal eye entirely caused the lizards to no longer be able to navigate the maze at all.  (Carnacina, 2009)

All of this just scratches the surface of what the parietal eye and, through extension, the pineal gland, are responsible for and control in a lizard’s life.  This sensitivity to light is one reason for the common recommendation to provide basking lizards with bright, white lights to bask under – you are helping your lizard to keep its biological clock ticking at the right speed.  Any diurnal lizard is particularly sensitive to light, and understanding how heavily they rely on external sources to help guide their lives will help you as a keeper provide them with a rich captive life.   This is, of course, most relevant to true lizards, such as iguanas, skinks, lacertas, bearded dragons, and other similar reptiles.  There are few, if any, lizards that are nocturnal, and in fact searching online for “nocturnal lizard species” will instead bring up the gecko family.  Geckos do not appear to have the same parietal eye as diurnal lizard species, but as we saw in the last article, that does not at all mean that their sight is less attuned to light!

For your diurnal lizards at home, please be sure to provide them with a regular day/night cycle, including a nice bright, white basking light for them to heat up under.  As studies have shown, diurnal lizards rely heavily on lighting as well as heat to determine activity levels as well as hormone levels.  Good lighting not only encourages natural behaviors, but enables your pets to thrive all the way down to a cellular level.  Lighting is vital to proper husbandry, and an integral part of any set up for diurnal lizards.  Asking for help from any experienced lizard keeper in a sick, non-feeding, constantly sleeping lizard will immediately earn you questions about your lighting set up – and is it any wonder?

References:

Augusto Foa, Francesca Basaglia, Giulia Beltrami, Margherita Carnacina, Elisa Moretto, and Cristiano Bertolucci (June, 2009) “Orientation of lizards in a Morris water-maze: roles of the sun compass and the parietal eye”, Journal of Experimental Biology, 212 Retrived from:http://jeb.biologists.org/content/212/18/2918.short

Gustav A. Engbretson, Charles M. Lent (February 1976) “Parietal eye of the lizard: Neuronal photoresponses and feedback from the pineal gland”, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci USA Vol 73, No 2, pp 654-657 Retrieved From: http://www.pnas.org/content/73/2/654.full.pdf

I.R. Schwab and G.R.O’Connor (March 2005) “The lonely eye”, British Journal of Opthalmology, V. 89(3), 256 Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1772576/

Robert C. Stebbins and Richard M. Eakin (February 1958), “The Role of the “Third Eye” in Reptilian Behavior, American Museum Novitates, Number 1870 Retrieved fromhttp://digitallibrary.amnh.org/dspace/bitstream/handle/2246/4659//v2/dspace/ingest/pdfSource/nov/N1870.pdf?sequence=1

Reptile Vision: Nocturnal Geckos – November 2013

By Jennifer Greene

Geckos make up an extremely large group of species, the majority of which are nocturnal or at least crepuscular – that is, active at dawn and dusk.  It is worth noting that geckos evolved from diurnal lizards, and initially had the full set of rods and cones that we discussed in last month’s issue of the Times.  However, as time went on and these diurnal lizards were active only during bright daylight hours, their rod cells began to disappear, and eventually the ancestors of geckos lost their rod cells completely.  When these lizards evolved into geckos, they began moving back into nocturnal niches in the environment, and needed to develop better nighttime vision once again.  “In response to the demands of nocturnal vision without rods, the cones of nocturnal geckos have become much larger and more light-sensitive than those of their diurnal relatives” (Roth 2009).

Refresh your memory on the color spectrum and what wavelengths match which colors.

What does that mean?  That means that geckos see at night, but they see in color.  When we see at night, we are seeing in shades of grey, as rod cells simply pick up whether or not light is present, regardless of the color of that light.  Geckos can see color at light levels that equate to dim moonlight – where we would hardly be able to see at all, much less determine color!  There are studies, for example, that show that helmeted geckos can differentiate between the color blue and the color grey at extremely low light levels.  Scientists were able to test this by dusting crickets in powder dyed either blue or grey.  Crickets dyed blue were “tasty”, or had nothing extra added, while crickets dusted in grey powder were “distasteful”, and extra salt was added to the dust.  Very, very quickly, the geckos learned the difference, and chose the blue crickets over grey crickets nearly every time.  (Roth and Kelber, 2004)

In the diagram above, you can see the test used in the study.The crickets were offered to the geckos on forceps, and the ones coated in grey were always salted.  The geckos almost always refused these crickets in favor of the tastier, non-salted blue crickets.

They made the choice of blue crickets independent of the intensity of the grey coloration on the crickets.  These tests were performed at extremely low light levels, comparable to that of a night with no moonlight, and demonstrate that the geckos were capable of color vision.

An interesting point made in the study was that the scientists varied the shades of blue and grey to match in a black and white view (so if the geckos were not using color vision, the crickets would look identical), as well as grey colors that were brighter and darker to cover UV reflection.  Why would they be concerned about UV reflection, you ask?  Another study looking at crepuscular and nocturnal illumination in regards to a particular moth found that there is enough UV reflection at night for nocturnal animals to have UV sensitive vision.  (Johnson, Kelber, et al 2005)   Geckos in particular have eyes sensitive to blue and green, which makes sense when you consider that in most habitats, the wavelengths of light being reflected most fall into that color range.  Most geckos have minimal red light sensing cones, which is what leads to the use of red light bulbs for heating nocturnal reptiles – they can, at best, see minimally when red light is used to illuminate their cage.

Instead of red, the cone cells in gecko eyes see into the UV range – UVA at least, if not into the UVB range.  When testing spectral irradiance, or the radiation of various wavelengths of light off of surfaces, UV was found to be a substantial portion of light being reflected at night.   This is due to the lower amount of visible light making it through our atmosphere, allowing for more UV radiation and non-visible light to make it through, relatively speaking.  While UV is still being reflected, it is in much lower quantities (relative to overall light being reflected) during the day.  I know, I know, it sounds confusing!  During the day, because there is so much light coming through our atmosphere, it filters out most wavelengths, and what ends up making it through is mostly the visible spectrum, with smaller quantities of other wavelengths.  At night, the light being reflected from the moon, as well as starlight, is less intense in visible light.  This allows for a wider range of other wavelengths which may reflect better to make it through our atmosphere, so while there is a smaller amount of light being reflected, a larger portion of that is not visible light, but instead ranging into the infrared and ultraviolet (UV) range.

Comparing Honey Bees (Apis mellifera), Hawkmoths (M. sctellatarum, D. elpenor, H. lineata, H. gallii) and nocturnal geckos (Tarentola chazaliae).

So, back to our friends, the nocturnal geckos.  Aside from the study on helmeted geckos and their ability to differentiate between grey and blue colored crickets, there really isn’t much in the way of studies on their sight.  They are capable of multifocality, or the ability to have multiple focal zones, while interestingly, the day gecko (top row) had only one focal zone.  The varying colors in the diagram below show how much light was passing through different parts of the pupil.  The study noted large variation between individual animals in sight, which raises an interesting question for keepers – do different geckos have varying ability to see?  Do some geckos need glasses?  That’s rhetorical, of course, but it’s an interesting thought that not all geckos see as well as others. See the study in works cited for more details on this particular study on gecko vision. (Roth, Lundstrom, et al 2009)

The limited other studies on nocturnal vision and non-mammalian animals active at night show that with a full moon, the available light spectrum is nearly identical to that of daytime colors.  Naturally, it is not as bright or as intense as midday light levels, but the range of light is similar.  However, on moonless nights, the color range shifts towards the red or infrared end of the spectrum, meaning that things visible during moonless nights would seem to be redder in tone than they would during daylight or a full moon.  But geckos can’t see red, right?  So are they blind on moonless nights?  Not quite – there are other sources of light, such as star light, as well as other reflective surfaces bouncing light off of each other, leaving enough light for the blue and green seeing geckos to still be active.

The diagram above illustrates the relative levels of different wavelengths of light at different times of day – showing that while there are lower amounts of light, the wavelengths available are still similar to that of daytime illumination.  Note the impact that light pollution has on the colors of available light – interesting to consider what our captive geckos may be experiencing with the ranges of light available to them indoors, entirely surrounded by artificial light sources.

In addition, geckos seek out light to thermoregulate, which seems counter-intuitive to what many keepers have observed with their own animals.  Yes, we can keep geckos without visible light – but one study performed on Tokay Geckos demonstrated that using visible light in addition to heat enabled them to more precisely control their body temperatures both during the day as well as night.  (Sievert and Hutchinson, 1988)  The conclusion the researchers came to was that “it appears that G. gecko is using the position of the light source as well as time of day in establishing diel  (24 hour period of time) cycles of temperature selection.”  So while geckos may not actively bask out in the open under bright, white lights, they do utilize the light source as a reference point for seeking out basking areas to reach their preferred body temperature.

Nothing here is intended to drastically change established husbandry practices of reptiles we have been keeping in captivity and breeding successfully for many years.  I do, however, hope that it encourages some thought for naturalistic enclosures, or helps those with difficult species try new things to help their geckos become established.  I feel it also highlights how little we still know about these incredible animals and their natural habitat, especially when compared to other species commonly kept in captivity. When setting up naturalistic displays, I hope you find the information here helpful in setting up basking areas, full spectrum lighting, or even whether you feel those things are needed.  There is still a lot to learn, and next month, we will be examining diurnal basking lizards.

Watch the video here! 

Works Cited/ References

Lina S.V. Roth, Linda Lunstrom, Almut Kelber, Ronald H.H. Kroger, Peter Unsbo (March 30th, 2009).  The pupils and optical systems of gecko eyes.  Journal of VisionVol. 9 no. 3, article 27 .
Retrieved from: http://www-mtl.journalofvision.org/content/9/3/27.full

Almut Kelber and Lina S.V. Roth (March 1st, 2006).  Nocturnal colour vision – not as rare as we might think, The Journal of Experimental Biology, Vol. 209 
Retrieved from: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/209/5/781.full

Beate Roll (July 2001), Gecko vision – retinal organization, foveae, and implications for binocular vision, Vision Research, Volume 41 Issue 16
Retrieved from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0042698901000931

Lynnette M. Sievert, Victor H. Hutchinson (Sept. 1988.  Light versus Heat: Thermoregulatory Behavior in a Nocturnal Gecko Lizard (Gekko gecko), Herpetologica, Vol 44 No. 3
Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3892340

Lina S.V. Roth, Almut Kelber (December 2004). Nocturnal color vision in geckos, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, Volume 271
Retrieved from: http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/271/Suppl_6/S485.full.pdf+html

Carrie C. Veilleux, Molly E. Cummings (July 30th, 2012).  Nocturnal light environments and species ecology: implications for nocturnal color vision in forests, The Journal of Experimental Biology, Volume 215 
Retrieved from: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/215/23/4085.full

Sonke Johnsen, Almut Kelber, Eric Warrant, Alison M. Sweeney, Edith A. Widder, Raymond L. Lee Jr., Javier Hernandez-Andres (December 20th, 2005).  Crepuscular and nocturnal illumination and its effects on color perception by the nocturnal hawkmoth Deilephila elpenorThe Journal of Experimental Biology, Volume 209
Retrieved from: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/209/5/789.full

Caring for Varanus acanthurus, the Ackies Monitor – June 2013

By Max Weissman

Varanus acanthurus is a species of monitor lizard found widely throughout most of Australia. Commonly referred to as Ackie Monitors or Spiny Tailed Monitors, they are found in arid regions or scrubland environments throughout Western Australia, Northern Territory, and parts of Queensland. They live near rocky outcroppings, and when frightened they retreat into small crevices of the rock. They will fill their bodies with air to wedge into the rocks and fold their hard, spiny tails in front of the rock face to discourage predators from trying to pull them out. They live in humid burrows that they dig deep into the ground to escape the midday heat and also to control their hydration and temperature levels. Ackie Monitors are a popular pet monitor species to own because they are inquisitive, active, and have great colors and patterns, and relatively small adult size.

Ackie Monitors grow to reach an average length of 24 – 28 inches, with males usually having a thicker, heavier set head and neck than the females.  Ackie Monitors, like most monitors, can live a long time with an average life span of 15 to 20 years if properly housed and maintained.

When housing any Ackie Monitor keep in mind they actively hunt, explore, bask, and burrow. With this in mind I would recommend a 48” x 24” x 24” or larger glass terrarium from Creative Habitat, which we sell online and in our stores, or you can make a custom enclosure. It is best to give them a tall cage to give them a deep substrate to burrow into. Remember, if you ever question the size of your cage, bigger is always better with monitor species. Also, with cages that have screen lids you can add a cover made of acrylic, foil or a towel to help maintain humidity levels in the cage. However,  if you keep at least 10 to 12 inches of moist substrate in the cage, and an appropriate size water bowl, humidity levels on the top level can dip very low as Ackie Monitors will retreat into their burrows to control hydration and shedding.

Happily peeking out of a burrow! 

Since Ackie Monitors come from Australia, they should be provided with a basking zone surface temperature (which is best measured with a temp gun) of around 130 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter, while the air temperature measured by a probe thermometer is around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. You must maintain the cooler side’s air temperature at no lower than 70 degrees Fahrenheit and no warmer than 80 degrees Fahrenheit for your ackies to have optimal temperatures for thermoregulation.

This is critical since all reptiles are ectothermic and need to regulate their body temperatures by the temperatures of their environment. The best way to do this is by giving them as many areas of different temperatures as possible. Also, while some breeders have successfully kept and breed Ackie Monitors without UVB lighting, I highly recommend you use UVB lighting with your own monitors, since Ackie Monitors are basking lizards and in the wild they are exposed to UVB. Using a Mercury Vapor Bulb provides the animal with both UVB and heat all in one bulb. Deep Dome light fixtures are the best way to house your bulbs because they do not protrude out of the bottom of your fixture. Do not leave any visible light on at night as this can stress your animal; I recommend that you keep them on a 12-hour cycle (12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness). This can be accomplished simply by turning the light on in the morning and turning it of at night, or by a use of a timer. With this being said, if you are an experienced monitor owner or feel comfortable in doing such you can try a more natural approach with cycling the lights. This means going down to as little as 8 hours a day through the winter months, as long as you maintain the proper temperatures, and as much as 14 hours a day in the summer months, again making sure you are constantly reading and maintaining the temperatures within an acceptable range. If the daylight heat bulb you are using does not reaching the optimal temperatures you can add ceramic heat emitters. The ceramic heat emitters do not produce any light but put off a good deal of heat. Lamp stands can also be a good way to help keep temperatures at a constant by keeping the light at just the right height.

Ackie Monitors love to burrow and need a substrate to hold humidity and the shape of the burrows.  Compressed coconut substrate, when lightly packed in the cage, holds its shape and humidity nicely. And, if mixed with clay based substrates such as Zoo Med’s Excavator substrate makes a great combo at a ratio of 1 part excavator to 3 parts coconut substrate. Most coconut, cypress, and sterile plantation soils are all highly recommended.  They make a great mix when added in with vermiculite and play sand in a ratio of 1 part vermiculite : 1 part play sand : 3 parts soil. Making the substrate layer thick and moist will aid in keeping your monitor hydrated and shedding properly. There are a variety of ways to provide hiding spots, which include cork bark stacks, half logsflat pieces of wood, thick layers of bedding and moss,caves, and lots of cover in the form of fake plants. A monitor’s need to hide and stay warm can be duly accomplished in the form of providing a stack of cork bark or wood underneath the basking light, with the highest level being a few inches away and forming the hottest spot in the cage, with the lower levels being significantly cooler. This will allow your Ackie Monitor to thermoregulate its temperature and still feel secure. The key to success in a monitor’s cage is to offer the lizard as many choices as possible. The more options the monitor has to utilize for thermoregulating, the better it will do.

One of the author’s ackies enjoying some natural sunlight! 

An effective way to keep an Ackie Monitor hydrated is to keep a water bowl large enough for the monitor to soak in within the cage, so that if it wants to climb in, it can. They tend to like the surface and air to be dry and their burrows to be moist. A good way to keep burrows moist is to add water into them when the animal is out and about and not in the burrow. Also misting the cage once or twice a day will help keep the humidity levels up and aid in proper shedding and hydration.

Ackie Monitors in captivity have been known to take a wide range of prey items, including but not limited to: micecrickets, hissing cockroaches, dubia roaches,mealworms, Zoo Med’s canned food diets, snails, eggs (chicken and quail), and shrimp. It should be noted that just because a monitor can eat something, that does not mean that it is a suitable food. While a wide variety of food will be accepted, some foods are more readily eaten than others and some are far more appropriate as food items than others. While these monitors will eat dog and cat food, I do not recommend it as a part of the diet. Ideally, a diet consisting almost entirely of whole prey items with a small portion consisting of the raw turkey and egg diet, which was pioneered by the San Diego Zoo, is best.

Suitable whole prey items include hissing cockroaches, dubia roaches, lobster roaches; mice (avoid unweaned rodents as they are high in fat and low in calcium and other nutrients). All food items, with the exception of rodents, should be dusted with a high quality calcium and/or vitamin powder, such as Sticky Tongue Farms MinerAll Indoor Formula or Repashy’s Calcium Plus.Young monitors can be kept mainly on crickets, mealworms, and small roaches, while adult monitors can be fed the entire range of possible food items. Rodents should be fed in moderation, leaning on the side of fewer rodents than insects. Captive monitors rarely, if ever, get the same kind of exercise wild monitors do, and care should be taken to ensure that an adult monitor does not become obese.

Some of the author’s baby Ackies basking

In addition to being fascinating and hardy captives, Ackie Monitors are relatively easy to handle. With calm, confident handling on a regular (but not necessarily frequent) basis, these monitors can learn to tolerate and even enjoy human interaction. Care must be given to allow the monitor plenty of time to acclimate before any attempts at developing an owner-monitor bond are made. Once the monitor shows a healthy appetite and eats readily, and does so regularly, start handling it for just a few minutes at a time daily. If the monitor continues to eat and does not spend the time immediately after handling buried beneath the substrate, avoiding you at all costs, increase the handling time slowly but surely, until the monitor does not mind being out for extended periods of time. Always be sure to read your monitor’s behavior: If it hides and does not move for days on end after being handled, decrease handling time and frequency. With patience, eventually these monitors can and will become tame.

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

By Erin Lane

What to expect

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

Female Translucent Bearded Dragon Basking

Being responsible

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

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

Female Bearded Dragons enjoying some calcium dusted mealworms!

Counting the calories

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

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

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

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

Bearded Dragon getting a drink in the shower

A quick note on hydration

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

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

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

The lay box

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

Laying Box with organic potting soil

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

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

Bearded Dragon in the middle of laying eggs.

Knowing when

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

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

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

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

Bearded Dragon depositing a healthy clutch of eggs!