Reptiles As Gifts – Do’s and Don’ts : December, 2013

By Jennifer Greene

The holidays are a fantastic, amazing time for families and friends to get together and exchange gifts.  Some people may be easy to buy gifts for, and others more difficult.  For manyreptile keepers, they have a wishlist of pets longer than they are tall!  While it may be tempting to buy a pet reptile for this person in your life, I have a word of advice for you.

Don’t.

It seems like it’d be a straightforward, easy gift – just wrap up the box the night before and give them the animal you know they’ve been wanting all year… It’s not at all that simple.  It’s a common piece of advice from animal shelters and rescues not to give puppies or kittens as presents during the holiday season, as it’s hard to be certain the recipient is really prepared for them.  That’s a mammal that can live in your home with you – imagine giving someone a pet that needs an entire habitat set up for them, that day, or else it runs the very great risk of getting sick and possibly even dying.

Resisting that smiling face can be hard when considering reptiles as pets for kids, but it’s incredibly important for the reptile‘s health that you are fully prepared for their arrival.

So, DON’T give a reptile as a gift unexpectedly.  No matter how much you think a family or friend may love a new pet gecko, ball python, or bearded dragon, that’s an entire life you’re giving to them without any warning.  Reptiles can become quite expensive over time, and it’s unfair to your friends and family to expect them to suddenly embrace a new expense without preparing for it.

That being said… That doesn’t mean you can’t help them prepare for possibly owning a new pet.  Books aren’t usually considered very exciting gifts, but they can be invaluable when it comes to learning about a new reptile pet.

So DO give books as gifts, especially to children.  Reading about reptiles not only helps them learn about caring for their new pet, but helps them practice their reading skills and learn how to find information on their own from valid sources.

Does the family or friend already have books, and you know for a fact they’re going to want thisreptile?  Consider buying a gift certificate for the amount of the animal instead, rather than risk shipping it during the hectic holiday shipping season, and let them pick out the exact animal they want.

If you know what species of reptile they’re getting, you can help by buying and wrapping needed supplies under the tree!  The most expensive part of any new reptile or amphibian is almost always setting them up, and this is where you can make the biggest impact on the gift recipient.  So DO remember to help out with needed supplies, which can be the most difficult part for a new reptile owner.

However, if you’re a member of the family, you know the recipient will be happy with their pet, and you absolutely must give them a live animal under the tree, there are a few tips for ensuring the reptile does well.

DO have the setup ready to go that day – if the animal arrived a few days or even weeks before Christmas, ensure that the correct setup is ready the day it arrives.  DO always order the setup before the animal.

DO make sure the animal stays warm while the presents are being unwrapped.  Packing them in their shipping container, nestled inside a larger box with a heat pack inside is a great way to ensure that your new pet stays war and safe until it’s unwrapped.

DO make sure no one shakes the box to see what’s inside!

DON’T wait until the last minute to order – shipping gets increasingly more hectic closer to Christmas, and winter weather is always unpredictable.  To have a setup shipped to you an dready for a new inhabitant in time before Christmas, the time to start shopping for it is now.  Average shipping for supplies is 7 to 10 business days, meaning that the latest you can wait to get just supplies is Tuesday, December 17th…and even then, with so many packages being shipped, there is always the risk of a delay.  Plan ahead and order early to ensure your gift arrives on time!

And of course, always, always, always DO your research before getting a new pet!  If you’re local, visit our stores for hands on interaction with potential new pets, as well as personal help from our staff.  If you’re not local, you can always visit us on Facebook, ask us questions on Twitter , and view our HUNDREDS of videos on YouTube!

Please DON’T make an impulse buy of a reptile pet this holiday season.

Reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates are entirely dependent on you, the human caretaker, for all of their needs.  Please make sure that any reptile you give is not only wanted, but properly set up.

Beautiful Bumblebees: Care and Maintenance of Bumblebee Arrow Frogs – November 2013

by Bruno Magana – all photos by author

 

Dendrobates Leucomelas, or commonly referred to as simply “Leucs” are one of the more robust species of arrow frogs. These frogs are one of the most prolific and brilliantly colored species, and make excellent occupants in tropical vivariums. Stout in appearance, bumble bee arrow frogs are also one of the larger species of the genus Dendrobates and are marked with brilliant yellow and orange bands on a shiny black body.  Although one of the most common species of arrow frogs kept in captivity, anyone who has had the opportunity to keep them knows without a doubt how this frog has kept and maintained its popularity in the hobby. It is an undeniably exciting arrow frog whether you’re new to the hobby or an experienced enthusiast. Like all poison arrow frogs, bumble bee arrow frogs live in the tropical rainforests of South America.

Different localities of this species range throughout Venezuela, southeastern Colombia, Northern Brazil, and Guyana. The common or ‘standard’ variety of the bumble bee arrow frog has a near equal balance of black and yellow coloration, with large blotches of black breaking the the lighter coloration. Through decades of selectively breeding bloodlines of the standard Leucomelas, there tends to be a peculiar (but non detrimental) color variation in which an orange color brings just a little more definition to the yellow, sometimes to the extremes of being almost orange and black in color. Unlike the standard variation of bumble bee, the ‘Fine spotted’ variety has bright yellow covering the majority of its black ground color. They are characterized by the many small black spots that are scattered across the frog’s back. Although this variety is not as commonly available in the pet trade when compared to the standard variety, they are certainly not impossible to find! There is also another very attractive ‘Banded” variety of bumble bee arrow frog. Thickness and color of the bands varies dramatically within the bloodline, but no black spots are present within the yellow bands going across the frogs torso.

A bumblebee with a very attractive pattern

These frogs inhabit lush tropical rainforests at high elevations in fallen logs, plants, leaf litter, and other debris. Bumble bee arrow frogs are known for being ground dwellers, but for their short and stout build they are surprisingly good climbers. They are active throughout the day during spikes of high humidity, at which time they engage in social behaviour and forage for food. In the wild bumble bee arrow frogs have a long wet season that lasts during the warmertimes of year, but is then followed by a very brief cool and dry season. The males of this species can be quite vocal, its soft spoken trill could easily be mistaken for an exotic bird. Because this behaviour is limited to what seems to be scheduled times of day, it is easy to enjoy the pleasant sound without being disturbed. In fact, to many enthusiasts the male’s singing is truly music to one’s ears. The frog’s main intention with his song is to attract females. This courting behaviour happens during the wet times of year, when food and water is plentiful. Water is key to the rudimentary stages of their life cycle. Eggs can only survive in moist conditions and larvae (or tadpoles) start life aquatically in small shallow pockets of water. For these reasons, it is easily understood why adult bumble bee arrow frogs time their courting behaviour with seasonal conditions. During the the dry season, bumble bee arrow frogs will reduce overall activity and will usually hide under debris to protect their permeable skin from the dry air. Following pockets of moisture, the frogs will continue to eat small prey items throughout the dry season. Luckily many small insects have to follow the same pockets of humidity in this season, so the occasional meal is never far.

Having a general idea of the seasonal habits and behaviour of these frogs is an important factor to keep this animal happy in captivity. Although the bumble bee arrow frog does thrive in social groups, one must not go overboard with housing this frog with too many tank mates.

They do best if kept in female heavy groups of five or less individuals depending on the size of the enclosure you provide for them. It is possible to keep a steady group of younger frogs in a heavily planted ten gallon tank, but it is recommended to go big if you intend to breed bumble bee arrow frogs as adults. Keeping in mind that although this frog spends lots of time on the ground, they will also climb so it is best to make a vertically oriented vivarium to allow these frogs to indulge in their natural activities.

A glass tank measuring 18 x 18 x 24” can provide a suitable habitat for a group of three adults. Make sure to add some foliage to the vivarium, live or plastic, as this will reduce stress and encourage natural behaviour.

Like all amphibians, water is a necessity that encourages regular activity so be sure to mist the cage with water two to three times a day and always provide a small and shallow water source for bathing (they will rehydrate by soaking their bodies). The goal is for the humidity to spike around 60% during the day, and somewhere around 90% at night.

It is important to remember that humidity is not supposed to stay consistent so go easy on yourself when misting your enclosure. This routine can be made simple by using an automatic misting system to help schedule humidity spikes. Using distilled water will keep hard water stains from distorting the visibility of the glass enclosure and is much safer than using dechlorinated tap.

Bumble bee arrow frogs usually feed after it rains, so it is best to mimic their natural routine and feed them a good meal once a day after a nice shower. Bumble bee arrow frogs will eat a variety of available foods like small or pinhead crickets, fruit flies, and springtails. It is also recommended to use a fine powdered multivitamin and calcium with D3 to sprinkle on feeder insects (best used on crickets), this supplementation should ensure the frog is getting the necessary  nutrients from its diet. Supplementing the diet can be done once a week, but only use one supplement at a time to ensure the frogs can metabolize the meal properly

Bumble Bee Arrow frogs will readily breed year round if the right conditions are provided, but it is recommended to have an off season to mimic the dry season the would experience in the wild. This dry season happens between the months of January and February, but remember, the word “dry” is only relative considering the tropical climate. You still want levels of humidity to spike at around 50 % during the day and 60% at night for at least three to 6 weeks. Maintain regular feeding routines, even though your frogs may be hiding, they will still need to eat duringtimes of slow activity. After this cycle or dry season, regular routines can start again. Bumping up humidity will increase the frogs behaviour, and your frogs should soon engage in courting rituals. Males will call after humidity spikes during the day. If more than one male is present, they will often call after the other to establish territory and compete for any nearby females. Calling sites are usually near suitable egg laying sites. Once a female decides to enter a male’s territory, he will take immediate interest in showing the female the chosen site, usually done by taking short jumps towards an interested female. Nesting sites are are usually smooth surfaces with heavy moisture present. In captivity, these frogs will nest in plants such as fallen leaf litter or bromeliads, black film containers, and in petri dishes under coconut hides. Once the frogs have entered a nest site, spawning will take place usually out of sight, and may stay in the nest for a few days after.

Many people have relative success in raising frogs by simply keeping up with regular routine for the vivarium. Letting the adults handle business, it’s possible to one day realize there are a couple of new additions to your arrow frog vivarium. Of course, letting this happen creates a big range of possibilities that you as a keeper have no control over. For example, two new froglets could have possibly have been six if the eggs were removed from the cage and incubated artificially in a moist petri dish. Having that control will increase the success rates of rearing arrow frog larvae. and raising young metamorphs.  Of course there is a lot of work involved in maintaining water quality, temperatures, and food for tadpoles on a daily basis – being involved with this amazing process is not only rewarding for the species, but also rewarding to you as the keeper. Whether your goal is to produce a number of frogs, or simply to have a little piece of paradise in your room, the bumble bee arrow frog is a wonderful species to work with for enthusiasts of all levels of experience.

Inside the Reptile Industry: Farming – April 2014

By Jennifer Greene and Loren Leigh

A controversial topic today in reptile keeping is the term “farmed”.  What does that really mean to the hobbyist today?  What does farmed even mean, and does farming really deserve the reputation it has garnered among reptile keepers?  Hopefully with some insight from Loren Leigh, the owner of LLLReptile and Supply Co, Inc, you can have a better understanding of what farming really means for reputable dealers.

A young Argus monitor

If you google “reptile farming”, or similar terms, you get many results for animal farms in the US that allow tours, or produce animals as pets, or for actual farms with cows, sheep, or similar livestock.  Getting someone to give you a straight answer on what exactly farming is in relation to reptiles is difficult as well; answers vary widely from person to person.  The reason for this is that there is no set definition for reptile farming.  Is it farming to have large numbers of ball pythons in enclosures, producing dozens or hundreds of babies a year?  Is it farming to have outdoor enclosures for a couple of sulcatas that produce dozens of babies each year?  Does your answer for the ball pythons change depending on the country they are being bred in?  What about the sulcatas?  Does it change based on numbers?  At what point are you no longer a hobbyist breeding an animal you love, and you are a farmer?  Does the country you’re in change your answer as to whether or not your animals are “truly” captive bred?

When I asked Loren to help me define Farming for this article, he explained the difficulty in defining a word so loosely used in our industry.  Generally speaking, though, it is considered farming when it is a particular species being produced in its country of origin in a controlled situation.  Furthermore, it is farming when the species is produced outdoors, relying on naturally occurring conditions to stimulate natural behaviors resulting in breeding.  Loren has had the fortune to actually visit reptile farms both in the US and outside of our borders, including a friend’s farm in Tanzania.  One of the biggest upsides to farming is that it allows for us here in the US to get species that are difficult to find in the wild, as well as difficult or not yet bred here in the states.

A baby Green Tree Python – a species commonly “farm bred”

 

Monitors, for example, are a group of animals not frequently bred here in the US.  For some species, we would not have any access to them whatsoever without the offspring produced at reptile farms in places like Indonesia.  One such farm is the one featured in this video (click link to view) that was visited by DM Exotics – you can see the large adult monitors being housed and cared for so that they can produce offspring each year.  Species such as melinus, doreanus, prasinus, dumerilii, and more are all farmed in Indonesia under conditions similar to their wild habitat.  Without reptile farms, US keepers would not have these species.  If you watch the video linked above, you can also see the conditions the animals are kept in.  Many reptiles cannot and will not breed if conditions are not exactly as they need; reptile farmers realize this and their breeding stock is housed spaciously, fed well, and clearly efforts are made to keep them healthy and happy.

Another example of farming would be red eared sliders here in the US, in particular, at farms located in the South in states like Louisiana.  The US is the biggest exporter of Red Eared Sliders in the world, along with map turtles, and soon box turtles as well.  However, none of the adult breeding stock being used to produce these numbers is wild caught – the red eared sliders, for example, that are used to produce these incredibly high numbers for export (both in the pet trade as well as food) come from established lines that have been in captivity for multiple generations.  There is no need for wild harvesting of red eared sliders or map turtles, thanks in large part to these reptile farms in the parts of the US they occur naturally.

A baby Mississippi Map Turtle 

The reality of farming is that an enterprising reptile keeper can set up outdoor enclosures for any species that occurs in a similar environment to where they live, add animals, feed them, and voila – you have a reptile farm.  One of the largest producers of sulcatas in the world, for example, lives in Honduras!   Florida also has an excellent environment for setting up many species outdoors, which is why it is such a mecca for reptile enthusiasts.  In the southern half of the state, you can set up an outdoor pen for nearly any tropical species and it will thrive.

While in the past, farming may not have been the most ideal situation for a reptile to originate from, a reputable, modern farming operation should be seen as the boon for the reptile industry that it is.  The emphasis for most farms has switched from simply holding animals to reproducing them, resulting in animals that are, essentially, captive bred in their country of origin.  Various locales of Green Tree Pythons are one example, as are blue tongue skinks, frilled dragons, Madagascar ground boas, emerald tree lizards, Colombian boas, and even many species of chameleons.  The majority of reptiles kept on farms such as these originate from adults in captivity that are kept with no intention of release, and instead are maintained until the next breeding season.

Baby Savannah Monitor

So before condemning all reptile farming as scummy and to be disdained, consider the species it has allowed us to keep.  Remember that by simply setting up an enclosure or a few outdoors, and letting the natural weather conditions handle the heating and lighting for your pets, you could be considered to be a reptile farmer.  Farming is not entirely cut and dry, and is not necessarily the worst way to produce pets for keepers here in the states or internationally.  Where do you draw the line between a large scale breeder and a farmer?  Can you?  Does it really matter? 

Food for thought.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Egg Care – July 2013

By Erin Lane

What to Expect

In the May issue of the Reptile Times we discussed maternal care of gravid bearded dragons, from conception to laying.  With any luck, your breeding endeavors have so far been fruitful, and you are preparing for a clutch of eggs.  While incubation requires the least amount of action on your part, it can in some ways be the most nail-biting aspect of breeding reptiles.  In this issue, we’ll try and relieve some of those worries by going over some tips and techniques that will help those of you first time dragon breeders.  Luckily, incubating beardie eggs is about as easy as using an Easy Bake Oven.  If you follow a few simple instructions, you should be on your way to whipping up a batch of dragons.

Egg Deposition

Cupping the clutch

A simple, yet important, aspect of incubation is what to put the eggs in.  A lot of it depends on the size of the clutch and the size of the incubator.  If you only have one dragon’s eggs to worry about, a smaller incubator and smaller containers are probably the easiest.  Deli cups—those with pre-punched holes—are readily available, and easy to use.  The 8 oz cups that come in the incubator specials (described later) are perfect for dragon eggs.  I have found that you can easily fit 5-6 into each deli cup.

Larger deli cups or other ventilated containers can also be used if you prefer to put all of your eggs in one container.  This is sometimes helpful if you have more than one female.  You can then put each clutch in its own container without having to worry about keeping track of multiple smaller cups.  Regardless of which type of receptacle you choose, remember that proper labeling is important.  It’s easy to forget the lay date even when you only have one dragon’s eggs to keep track of.  I always label the container (either with a makeshift sticky tag, or directly on the lid) as soon as I get done cupping the eggs. 

Happy medium

Last time we talked about preferred medium for egg laying.  If your female is getting ready to drop eggs, having the lay box set up ahead of time is a good idea.  Anything from vermiculite to organic potting soil can be used as a substrate for egg deposition.  However, what you put the eggs in after they are laid is a little more important.  Luckily, there are a few good and easy to use options.  If you are looking for a ‘no brainer’, Hatchrite is a great option.  This incubation bedding looks a lot like perlite, but has the advantage of being ready to go right out of the bag.  Unlike other egg incubation media, Hatchrite does not require you to add water, taking out a sometimes tricky step for a new breeder.  Simply add a couple of inches of Hatchrite to your egg container, place your eggs, and leave alone until they hatch.  I have had good results with this product, and would recommend it to anyone who is a little daunted by figuring out just how much water to add to a traditional egg substrate. 

 

Perlite will clump, but not drip, when water to media ratio is correct.  Make finger sized impressions in the medium.

Although Hatchrite is easy to use and reasonably priced, many breeders opt for more traditional media, such as vermiculite, perlite, or a mix of the two.  I have used both, and have found that they both work well.  Let’s start with vermiculite, as it is the established go to.  I have found that it works well when the water to vermiculite ratio is done right.  The usual advice is to combine 1 part water to 2 parts vermiculite.  However, I don’t think that this is always helpful, as a lot depends on the moisture content of your particular bag of vermiculite, as well as the size of the granules.  A good way to do it is to start by adding a small amount of water, mixing it in, and testing the result by seeing how well it sticks together.  Keep adding water in small quantities and mixing until you don’t have any dry sections that won’t clump.  You can then take a handful of the moist mix and squeeze it.  If more than a few drop come out, then it is probably too wet.  If you can’t squeeze any water out, you can probably add just a little bit more. 

The problem that I have run into with vermiculite is that the size of the granules can vary from batch to batch.  I have found that the more coarse, or larger, grains work better.  The finer grains tend to either get too wet or too dry.  A good egg substrate will hold onto moisture for a long period of time without being ‘wet.’  Too much water can ‘drown’ eggs and encourage mold growth, whereas too little water can lead to your eggs desiccating.  The larger grain vermiculite seems to absorb water better, and can then provide moisture for a longer period of time without being too wet. 

This year I went with perlite, and that has seemed to work well so far.  Yes, you still have to add water, but it seems to keep the humidity at a consistent level throughout incubation.  Mix it the same way you would vermiculite, keeping in mind that though it may not feel very wet or release much excess moisture when squeezed, it probably holds onto to more than the vermiculite does.  You can buy perlite at any plant nursery or garden center. 

 

Eggs can quickly go bad if kept too moist.

Regardless of the type of medium you use, remember that checking the substrate about once a week or every two weeks is probably a good idea, especially with your first clutch of the year.  Eggs can and do dry out, so too little moisture can be just as big of a problem as too much.  To avoid the too-wet-or-too-dry issue, I mix my substrate a little on the dry side, and then add small amounts of water to the substrate a few times throughout incubation.  I determine whether or not to add water by sticking my finger down into the corner of the substrate. 

If it feels bone dry, I gently add water with a pressure sprayer to the corners (if in a larger container) or around the edge and in between the eggs.  Avoid spraying the eggs directly, as you really don’t want them to be wet, but don’t stress if a little water does get on them.  You can always gently wipe it off with the corner of a rag or a paper towel.  Remember, it is easier to add water than it is to take it out.

Eggs that have gone bad can and will attract bugs quickly.

Placement parameters

The number of eggs you fit into your container is obviously dependent on the size of the cup or box.  As stated previously, you can decide what will work best for you.  However, how to actually go about placing the eggs in the medium can be a little confusing; different sources will tell you different things.  In my experience, whether you cover your eggs completely, or you rest them on top, they will probably all come out okay.  The easiest way, I have found, is to make an indentation of about ¾” with your index finger or thumb into the egg substrate, about ¾” apart from each other.  Place the eggs on their sides into each indentation, and leave them alone until they hatch.  Don’t worry about covering them up; just keep them about ½ way buried.  As the media dries and the eggs enlarge, they will often seem to unbury themselves.  You can go with this, or make new indentations when you add a little more water to the container. 

Many people will tell you that you need to be careful about how you place your eggs.  Many sources will say that you must place them in the same orientation that the mom laid them, and to not turn them over or you will kill the embryo—or it will drown, or die, or break it’s eventual yolk stalk.  From my experience with this species, this is relatively unimportant when moving newly laid eggs.  Eggs can be moved about and placed with little care as to up or down early on.  Because I now candle all of my eggs after being laid, I usually try and place each egg with the ‘pink spot’ up.  This pink or red spot is seen as a faint pink ring around a red dot, usually found on one of the long sides of the egg.  If you can’t see the pink circle through the shell, it can easily be seen when candled (as described below).  My advice would be to not worry so much about which side is up when they are first laid, but to be more gentle with them as they start to develop. 

After one week of incubation you can see veins beginning to develop.

Easy bake

There are a variety of incubators available, from the simple Hovabator to the advanced Exo Terra Reptile Incubator.  The incubator you choose should be dependent on a few things.  The first is size.  How many eggs are you expecting?  Do you have one lizard, or 5?  The smaller Hovabator incubator is fine for holding a few clutches at the same time, but if you are planning on more than that, it would be worth it to get a bigger incubator.  One advantage to the Hovabator is that you can order it as part of the incubator special, which gives you 5 deli cups and a bag of Hatchrite for a great price, meaning you don’t have to look around for what you need—it all comes together in one package. 

After three weeks, you can see the embryo and the network of veins in the egg.

The second consideration is the ambient temperature in your house.  Where you put your incubator becomes important here. Most incubators will only heat, not cool, meaning that your eggs can overheat more easily if kept in a room that gets hot.  If you put your incubator in the garage where the temperature can soar in the summer months, then you should probably go for the Exo Terra Reptile Incubator, which can both heat and cool to maintain the desired temp.

The third thing to think about when purchasing an incubator is ease of operation.  How much monitoring do you want to do to maintain the proper temperature?  If you plan on placing your incubator in a room where the temperature doesn’t fluctuate much, and it stays in the 70’s most of the time, then you won’t have much to worry about regardless of which one you choose.  However, if you don’t have that luxury, a higher end incubator is probably going to make the process a little easier.  While the Hovabators are effective and easy to use, you have to monitor the temperature and adjust the thermostat accordingly.  The Zoo Med ReptiBator Digital Incubator and the Exo Terra Reptile Incubator are both programmable, meaning that you set the temperature, and they will adjust to keep it stable, even when the room temperature drops or rises.  The Zoo Med ReptiBator is a good middle ground for ease of use.  While it doesn’t have a cooling mechanism to keep things from getting too warm, it otherwise gives more temperature control and also comes equipped with a humidity gauge. 

Egg in the final days before hatching

Tools of the trade

Even when using a higher end incubator, it never hurts to have a second thermometer on board.  I use the Zoo Med Digital Thermometer (with probe) in my incubator to watch the temperature.  This is especially useful if you have an Hovabator, so that you don’t have to open the lid to check the temp.  You just insert the probe into one of the ventilation holes, and keep the unit resting on top of the incubator.

Another consideration is to use an external thermostat in your incubator.  If you already have an Hovabator or equivalent, which lacks the more precise temperature control of the higher end models, you can always set up an external thermostat to control the temp.  This is really more of a safe guard as the Hovabators usually work well as is, assuming that you keep them in a room with a moderately stable temperature.  This isn’t necessarily more beneficial from a cost perspective, but simply another way to go about regulating the temperature for your eggs.

Egg just beginning to dimple before hatching

Temps and times

Dragon eggs are fairly easy to incubate in that they can withstand a fair amount of range when it comes to temperature.  I always shoot for 84 F throughout incubation, but slightly lower or higher temps have resulted in perfectly healthy hatchlings.  There is some anecdotal evidence that eggs incubated at room temperature and those incubated hot (let’s say around 90 F and above) result in lower hatch rates and, sometimes, weak babies.  I have always incubated mine in the low to mid 80s with success, so have not strayed from that recipe yet. 

Clutch of eggs hatchinh

Just like when you are baking a cake, the temperature of your oven will determine how long you need to keep it in.  If your incubator is set to 85 F, your eggs will likely hatch faster than those set at 81 F.  A few degrees can make a difference of a week or more in some cases.  If you are incubating in the mid 80s, you can probably expect your eggs to hatch between 60 and 70 days, plus or minus a week.  Last year, at a relatively steady 84 F, my clutches went an average of 72 days before hatching.  A good idea is to start checking for hatchlings every day starting at around day 50 or 55.  While babies can stay in the incubator (and is often a good practice) for a day or two, you will want to be on top of it, and keep track of when they hatch.

Proof in the pudding

All of this information is helpful only if you have a healthy clutch of fertilized eggs.  It is possible for unmated females to lay unfertilized eggs, just as it is possible for seemingly healthy mated females to lay bad ones.  You never know until they are laid, and even then, you might have to wait and see.  I have incubated fresh, seemingly good eggs only to have them go bad sometime during the incubation process.  It can be heartbreaking, but these things do unfortunately happen.  Even when you have done everything right, you can still wind up with eggs that don’t make it.  Remember, in the wild, hatch rates are likely significantly lower than in captivity—not all eggs (or hatchlings) are destined to make it.  That’s why females lay multiple eggs, and usually multiple clutches. 

There are a few things that you can do to determine if your eggs are good, and even worth incubating.  Let me start by saying that I am incredibly optimistic when it comes to bad eggs.  Even when I suspect an egg will not make it, I will give it a chance until it is extremely evident that it’s no good.  This is especially true for newly laid eggs.  You will often times have one or two that aren’t plump and seem to be lacking filling.  Bearded dragon eggs, like those of manyreptiles, have a soft shell, which is designed to swell as the egg absorbs moisture from its surroundings, and as the embryo grows.  A ‘squishy’ egg will sometimes plump up after a day or two in moist incubation bedding, so I would always give it a chance—you might be surprised.  

Egg that has just pipped

Shell texture can also tell you a lot about whether or not an egg is good.  A good egg will typically not only feel plump between your fingers, but will have a relatively smooth dry feel to it (a reasonable time after being laid, that is).  If the egg feels slimy or slick more than an hour after being laid, chances are it’s not good.  The exact reason for this is unclear to me, but it probably has to do with the calcification process.  Females often expel underdeveloped eggs when conditions aren’t right (e.g. they are not fertilized, the female has an underlying infection, or she is young).  It is sometimes unclear what causes this to happen, but when it does, it never hurts to give the eggs a chance. 

Egg color can also be a giveaway that something isn’t quite right.  Eggs that appear very yellow usually aren’t good.  This can also be a sign that they have dried out.  Mold can also  be a sign that the egg is bad, though not in all cases.  Although I am loathe to throw out an otherwise good looking egg just because of a little mildew spot, an egg that is covered in it probably has something wrong with it.  I would recommend not throwing the egg out unless it starts to collapse.  While eggs will start to dimple just prior to hatching, or collapse when too dry, a bad egg will often collapse when others around it look fine.  Mold is usually the first sign that there is a problem with the egg, but it may also be that you are keeping the substrate too wet.  If this happens, try drying things out a bit, and see if it clears up.  If it doesn’t, but it otherwise looks okay, leave it alone—it might come out just fine.  That being said, the shell of a healthy egg should be mostly white.  You can sometimes see a pink spot or circle where the egg is beginning to vascularize, and the embryo is developing.  Healthy eggs will also usually have a soft pink glow when a light is placed next to them. 

The same egg a few minutes later – you can see the slit where the baby will emerge! 

If you have given a bad egg a shot, or a good egg has gone bad, it is best to remove it from the incubator sooner rather than later.  They can go from a little ugly to really bad in a hurry, which will attract insects or provide an opportunity for mold to grow.  Although a bad egg will usually not impact the healthy eggs around it, it is better not to let it go.  If you have an egg that you suspect isn’t going to make it, check on it every couple of days, or move it to its own container.

Hold a candle up

I have found that candling the eggs is a fun and fascinating way to pass the time until they hatch.  While I don’t recommend doing this every day, candling an egg or two from the clutch once a week doesn’t seem to cause any harm.  Again, you will read that doing so can kill the embryo, and to not candle any egg that is within a few weeks of hatching.  I disagree with this, though I will say to be gentle and proceed with caution in the later stages of incubation. 

The baby beardie emerging.

When candling, any small flashlight should do.  LED lights might be a better option since they put out bright light without much heat.  Gently hold the egg by its ends, and hold over the flashlight.  Early in development you will see the egg begin to vascularize, and the tiny embryo begin to grow.  As the embryo develops it will be harder to see what is going on in there since its body will obscure much of the light.  A few weeks out from hatching, you can often see the shadow of a tail along the side if the egg, and notice small movements.  When handling eggs this far along, I would here say that placing it back in the same position may be more important.  Will it kill the embryo to place it upside down? Probably not, but sometimes it’s best to be a little cautious. 

Time’s up

When your eggs finally get ready to hatch, you may notice a few things start to change in their appearance and turgidity.  Eggs will often start to dimple when hatching is imminent, so don’t be too concerned if this happens.  However, they do not always dimple.  I have found that when kept a little more humid, dragon eggs will often not dimple at all.  You may also notice that the eggs start to ‘sweat.’  If this is happening before you are expecting your first hatchlings, then you may need to dry things out a little by keeping the lid off of the egg container for a day.  However, if you notice this on late-term eggs, you can probably expect them to pip within a day.

Eggs that are about to hatch will also get a little softer feeling, almost as if they are full of water.  Again, be gentle with eggs that are about to hatch.  While beardies are pretty sturdy, it is probably better to be careful.  Once the egg has pipped, the egg will look deflated.  If you wait a few minutes, you might even see a little snout poke out of the end!  Once they start to hatch, leave them alone, and let them do the work.  You aren’t doing the hatchling any favors by pulling it out of the egg the rest of the way.  It will come out when it’s ready.  Neonates can stay partially in the egg for up to 24 hours as they finish absorbing the last bit of yolk.  Leave them alone, and only take them out of the incubator when they are moving around on their own. 

The next phase

Breeding reptiles can be fun, though there are often unforeseeable challenges.  Bearded dragons are an extremely rewarding pet, and have the added advantage of being easy to breed in captivity.  Whether you planned on eggs, or had a surprise, incubation can be a simple process with the right tools and a little patience.  In many ways, it is like baking a cake.  When you start with healthy, fertilized eggs, and follow the basic recipe, you will usually end up with a rewarding end product.  In other words, when set up properly, there is every reason to look forward to a good hatch rate and lots of mouths to feed in the near future.  Next month we will go over tricks and tips to taking care of those little mouths, from feeding and watering to lighting and housing.