The Basking Spot: Excavator Clay – July 2013

Excavator Clay

by Jennifer Greene

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

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

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

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

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

Enclosure for Tibetan Frog Eyed Geckos

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blaptica dubia: Equal Opportunity Feeder – July 2013

By Jonathan Rheins

Meet the Roach

As a whole, herpetoculturists are a resourceful bunch. For decades and decades we have studied, maintained, and bred a large number of diverse species in an artificial environment.  Over the years, fore-thinking herpers of all backgrounds have scratched their collective head and struggled with all of the “what-ifs” and “maybes” of our hobby.
In addition to creative solutions regarding lighting, heating, and housing needs, we have also made great strides in the realm of nutrition. Perhaps the most important being those of the constantly evolving list of tried and tested live feeder options.
Be they crickets, mealworms, mice, or rats, there are a growing number of feeders that have become mainstream staples for those wishing to keep reptiles and amphibians as pets.
However, other options exist for even the pickiest insectivore palate. Roaches.  Yes, the scurrying, invincible, invertebrate denizens of our nightmares can actually provide an incredibly healthy and balanced diet for cold-blooded creatures of all shapes and sizes.

 It should come as no surprise to many readers, but not all roach species are our friends.  Pest species can certainly wreck havoc on the pantry and nerves of even the most liberal naturalist.  That said, even the venerable commercial cricket can just as easily outwit our human coordination and “make a run for it.”

Fortunately for us, most of the commercially available roach species are of tropical origin and simply cannot thrive in the relatively cool and dry conditions of many regions of the United States.  In the case of accidental escape, these roaches will most likely die off rather than initiate a plague of any sort.
The commercial breeding of roaches for herpeteculture use is quite new to many American keepers.  However, these misunderstood arthropods have long been commonplace feeders in European collections and in those of zoological institutions and professional breeders throughout the world.
The consensus among many reptile keepers and breeders who are in the know is that of all the roaches out there, Blaptica dubia are as close to perfect as a roach species can be.  They are easy to deal with, nutritionally sound, and absolutely irresistible to every herp they meet.

Dubia Details

Blaptica dubia is a medium sized, South American roach species belonging to the family Blaberidae.  All genera within this family are ovoviviparous.  In cases of ovoviviparity, fertilized eggsacs known as oothicas are carried internally by the female roach until the eggs are fully developed.  Hatching takes place within the abdomen of the female, and at that time baby roaches (nymphs) emerge as fully developed miniature versions of the adults.
Within the United States, common names for B. dubia include Orange-spotted roach, Guyana-spotted roach, and most commonly, theDubia roach.  Latinized scientific names are always the most reliable system for describing any animal species. Furthermore, the use of Latin names ensures that the roaches being purchased, bred, or sold are identified in a consistent and accurate manner.
Dubia roaches are approximately 1/8 inch long at birth and measure just shy of 2 inches in length at maturity.  Adult dubia are sexually dimorphic, with males and females being easy to pick apart at a glance.  Males posses large wings that extend the length of the abdomen, while females have only small wing stubs, barely covering the “shoulder” region.
Flight among dubia roaches is very rare.  Despite being capable of hovering for short periods, this is a behavior that most keepers will never witness nor need to be overly concerned about.  Furthermore, B. dubia are poor climbers, and are nearly incapable of climbing smooth surfaces such as glass, acrylic, and plastic.
Breeding roaches for use as feeders is not a difficult endeavor, and maintaining multiple colonies is a worthwhile consideration if many herps are being maintained, or if feeder availability is locally seasonal or absent.  The details of breeding dubia roaches are beyond the scope of this article, but can be easily researched and implemented by the interested hobbyist.

Roach Motels

As with any live feeder, having a secure container to house them in until needed is highly recommended for keeping dubia roaches.  The use of a holding container allows for more roaches to be purchased at once, saving on feeder runs and shipping.  Furthermore, small roaches or nymphs can be purchased and raised up until they are the perfect size for being fed off.
While not strictly necessary, the use of a tight-fitting and well-ventilated lid is highly recommended.  There are many acceptable containers for temporarily housing dubia roaches including small glass terrariumsplastic faunarium critter keepers, and deli cups.

Substrates are not needed in dubia habitats, and using them may actually make cleaning and collection of tiny roaches more difficult. Dubia roaches have very little odor, and if attention is paid to cleanliness, ventilation, and removal of uneaten foods, there should be minimal smell associated with the roach container.
Hiding and climbing structures should be added such as cardboard toilet paper tubes, egg crates, or even vertically stacked cardboard pieces.   These will provide increased standing room for larger groups of roaches by allowing them to spread out and not smother each other.  Roaches that feel hidden and secure will thrive and grow faster than those under constant stress.
B. dubia is capable of surviving at temperatures between 70 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit, making them quite tough and adaptable.  Roaches kept at room temperature will survive and fare well, but as temperatures increase, more rapid growth will become evident.
The dubia holding container should be kept in a warm room in the home, or heated artificially if this can be done safely.  If external heat sources such as heat pads or heat cable are used, a high quality thermometer and appropriate temperature control device are recommended.
Blaptica Buffet

Feeder insects are only as healthy and wholesome as the foods they eat themselves.  Offering hungry, malnourished feeders to herps is akin to a human eating a hamburger that is nothing but an empty bun!  What’s on the inside is quite important in ensuring that a meal (roach, hamburger, or otherwise) is nutritionally well rounded.
The process of providing water and nutritious foods to future prey items is known as gutloading.  Feeders that have been gutloaded are many times more nutritious than “empty” feeders, and careful planning can allow for specific nutrients to be added or removed from the diet as needed.

There is more to gutloading roaches than just keeping them alive.

Just as with any other living creatures, they should never be deprived of food and water for any period of time.

B. dubia are opportunistic scavengers and in the wild they feed constantly on nearly any plant or animal matter they come across.

Fortunately, replicating such a diet for our feeder roaches is exceptionally simple.

After all, roaches are one of nature’s most devoted recyclers, and not very picky about their menu.  A staple diet of commercial insect gutloads such as Repashy Bug BurgerNature Zone Total Bites, or Fluker’s Orange Cubes work very well.  Supplement the diet with fresh fruits and vegetables as well as unsweetened cereals and grains.

Being the poor climbers that they are, food for dubia roaches should not be offered in feed dishes that are more than a few centimeters in height.  Rather, use a piece of paper, deli lid, or shallow dish to offer food.  Avoid placing food directly on the floor of the container in the interest of cleanliness and mold prevention.
Moisture should be provided at all times in the form of fresh produce and the use of a water replacement crystal/gel such as Nature Zone Water Bites.  These gels provide water and increase container humidity without the risk of roach drowning.
Feeding Time

Handling dubia roaches and offering them as feeders is not as complicated as one may expect.   While dubia roaches can run, they cannot jump or fly, and like mealworms, they cannot escape from smooth-sided feeding dishes.
Appropriately sized roaches can be easily shaken off of their egg crate and directly into a wide mouthed jar or even through a funnel. Appropriate powdered supplements can be added as per the traditional “shake-and-bake” method.
Feeding dishes with smooth, steep sides work very well for offering dubia roaches to mostreptile species.   Worm dishes designed specifically for use with live mealworms can also work quite well depending on the size and quantity of roaches being presented.  Some creativity and experimentation may be needed to get it just right for any given situation.
In glass enclosures, rack systems, or other roach proof reptile terrariums, dubia roaches may be dumped directly into the enclosure and allowed to picked off over time by the hungry resident.  Many reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and even fish will learn to eagerly snatch dubia roaches straight from the end of a pair of tongs!
Roaches may be slowed down before offering to herps that are less enthusiastic about hunting.  This can be accomplished by placing the roaches in the freezer 1 for-minute increments until the desired level of sluggishness has been achieved.  Responsibility and good judgment are musts for anyone wishing to chill their roaches.
Dubia roaches are less likely to cause unexpected harm to terrarium residents than some other feeder insects.  This is not to say that dozens of excess roaches will not cause stress or possible injury to an innocent leopard gecko.  It is however worth mentioning that a few uneaten roaches are not likely to bother most reptile pets.  Care should be taken however to avoid creating roach breeding conditions within a large, complicated terrarium.
Hit or Miss

There are many advantages to incorporating dubia roaches into the diet of captive reptiles and amphibians.  Dubia are a hardy roach species, they are unable to climb smooth surfaces, are nearly odorless, and are highly nutritious.  Furthermore, they are nearly irresistible to herps of all types.
However, despite this laundry list of qualifications, dubia are still a species of cockroach, and thus carry the heavy burden of a biased public.  After all, roaches can become household pests in many parts of the world.   It is understandable then for newcomers to question bringing roaches of any type into their homes.
Overall, and with basic attention to detail, dubia roaches really do make excellent feeders.  They are readily available, reasonably priced, and perhaps best of all, no one will be kept awake all night by their insistent chirps!
Dubia roaches pose little threat of escape or domestic infestation.  They are just as easy to handle and manage as any other invertebrate feeder, and properly kept dubia roaches will have no objectionable odor.
In Closing
Dubia roaches are rapidly encroaching on the fringe of what dictates a “normal feeder.”  While they are new to the scene, and unfamiliar to many, they hold a tremendous amount of promise as an easy, readily available food source for animals of all sorts.
Herps love them, as do tarantulas, scorpions, and fish.  Even picky eaters will jump upon the opportunity to have their dubia fill.  Feeder roaches may not be for every keeper or every herp.  But given the proper circumstances, dubia roaches could easily prove to be among the most perfect feeders.

Keeping Androctonus sp. in Captivity – July 2013

By Anthony Neubauer

Androctonus is the genus that contains the commonly called Fat Tail Scorpions. As the name suggests, these scorpions have an enlarged tail that allows them to possess more of their already toxic venom. They are recognized as some of the world’s most dangerous scorpions, and this should be kept in mind when choosing housing and while performing cage maintenance. The two most commonly available species in the U.S. hobby are the Yellow Fat Tail, Androctonus australis, and the Black Fat Tail, Androctonus bicolor. The care for each one is nearly identical as they are both naturally found throughout Africa and the Middle East.

Scorpions naturally have a slow metabolism, as they spend much of their time in burrows and under rocks. Because of this, they don’t require too large of an enclosure. However, they love to burrow and rearrange their cage, so one that allows burrowing is preferred. A cage size similar to a 5-10 gallon tank will be plenty large enough. The 12x12x12 glass reptile tanks offered by Exo Terra and Zoo Med make perfect and secure environments for these scorpions, as a lock can be purchased for added security. Since they are a desert dwelling species, a substrate that is dry and does not retain humidity is a must. I personally use a half-and-half mix of Zoo Med ReptiSand and Excavator clay. This allows your scorpions to dig and burrow as they would in the wild. Sand can also be used by itself, though you will want to offer more places to hide, such as flat rocks and wood. As for temperature, 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. This can be achieved by placing a low wattage heat lamp on top, or a heat pad stuck to the side.  No special lighting is required as scorpions are nocturnal. They should be offered one or two appropriately sized crickets or roaches per week. A small water bowl can be offered, or the cage can be sprayed very lightly once or twice a month. They don’t require a lot of water because they get most of it from their food.

All in all, they are an easy-to-keep pet that doesn’t require daily care. If provided with a red nightlight, they can be seen throughout the night digging and rearranging their decor. However, they are a highly venomous animal that should be treated with respect. Their toxicity matched with their defensive personalities makes them a species that should only be kept by the more advanced and responsible hobbyist. Long tongs or hemostats should be purchased for performing maintenance, and under no circumstance should they be handled. If you’ve owned a lot of other scorpions and are ready to take it to the next level, then the Androctonus genus may be a good addition to your collection.

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. 

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

Choosing the Right Bromeliad for the Tropical Vivarium – June 2013

By Bruno Magana

Among the wide variety of tropical plants suitable for the vivarium, there is arguably no other plant family more coveted than the bromeliads. As extensive as this family is, it can be quite difficult to figure out which ones will thrive in your set up. It is important to be able to distinguish between the types of bromeliads to know where the most suitable place in the vivarium is to plant them. Don’t worry, there are some interesting genera in this family that may narrow down your search.

Bromeliads are new world plants, which means they naturally come from the americas. Ranging from the east coast of the United States down into South America, you can imagine that these plants must have developed some interesting characteristics to overcome different habitats and climates. So it’s a relief to know there’s a suitable plant for almost any part of your vivarium.

The largest genus of bromeliads, Tillandsia, offers many suitable species for decorating pieces of wood and vivarium backgrounds.  More commonly referred to as “air plants”, tillandsia are probably one of the most recognizable bromeliads aside from pineapples (That’s right – pineapples are bromeliads!   Learn something new everyday huh?).  Tillandsias are mostly xerophytic epiphytes, which means they hold no water, but rather use specialized plant scales (trichomes) to collect water from the ambient air humidity. These are best suited for the top area of the tank were they get direct lighting – many of these plants will also appreciate the heat in such a placement. When you first acquire these plants, chances are they have not grown roots that would normally be used to anchor themselves to a surface. Using a small dab of non toxic adhesive, you can mount many of these species to decorate a piece of driftwood. Flexible wire can also be used to anchor tillandsia to a desired location. Many species of day geckos will even lay their eggs in mid sized tillandsia like T. Cyanea. Small species of chameleons may also appreciate T. Usneoides (commonly referred to as “Spanish moss”), as it can assist in their climb to that hard to reach basking spot.

Tillandsias in the Terrarium!

Some of the more exciting types of bromeliads are the tank epiphytes. These plants grow in such a way as to allow water to pool at the base of each leaf. To many species of frogs, this is the ideal nursery! Such a characteristic is also appealing for high strung tropical geckos in search for a water source.  Among these tank types, one of the most beautiful (in terms of color and pattern variation) genus is Neoregelia. While this genus ranges in size from small to mid sized plants, very few actually get very big. This is good news for that empty middle area of your vivarium! Many of these plants will attach themselves to wood in a similar way to members of the tillandsia genus, but they will also do fine in soil so long as it drains quickly. If you find yourself limited on space in your vivarium, these are a good choice because most Neoregelia grow flat rosettes. Not to mention many Neoregelia hybrids won’t exceed 5 inches or so! Small hybrids like “tiger pups”, “fireballs”, and “pepper” are suitable  to mount on cork branches or backgrounds going up the tank. Many species of dart frogs will readily rear tadpoles in these plants. Great news for anyone who fancies dart frogs!

Once you have your desired layout and the plants you have selected are in place, you may find yourself with a dull and rather boring patch of soil. It may take a long while before mosses thrive in this area and another plant may disturb the order of the set up. Fear not, there is a bromeliad for that! The genus Cryptanthus is a small group of bromeliads that really set themselves apart from most of the family. They are terrestrial plants that have a succulent appearance and often have wavy leaves. Cryptanthus need to be grown in soil. It is one of the few bromeliads that rely on the nutrients in the ground that can be collected with it roots (much like any other plant outside of the bromeliad family). You don’t need to dig deep for these plants, the roots grow out rather than down. This characteristic makes them good candidates for ground cover. Many smaller shy species of reptiles and amphibians will appreciate the shelters Cryptanthus will create.

Now that we have covered three genera of the bromeliad family, you should have a pretty good idea of their uses in the esthetic vivarium.

So go out and have fun with your next project. Remember that a happy plant will often result in a happy animal.

Dangerous Beauties: Rattlesnake Season in Southern California – June 2013

by Kyle Morales

It’s Spring in Southern California! This means allergy season, tax season, and generally warmer weather. With this increase in temperature comes an increase in activity from SoCals native wildlife. One type of animal that Socal residents need to keep an eye out for is the varied species of rattlesnake that will start to reappear as temperatures begin to rise. The most common rattlesnake species that Southern California residents may come in contact with include the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox), the Red Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus ruber), and especially the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri).

A mid sized Southern Pacific rattlesnake

Rattlesnakes are most commonly found in deserts and around rocky areas. They are crepuscular, meaning they are mostly active around the early morning hours and during the night. Identifying rattlesnakes is easy enough due to their tell-tale rattle. However, babies may be too young to have developed a rattle and adults have often broken them off, so keep this in mind. The most reliable way to identify rattlesnake is to look at their body structure. Rattlers will have a triangular head that is bigger than their necks. They have thick bodies that are dull in color and not glossy like that of its nonvenomous, and similar looking neighbor, the gopher snake.

A baby Southern Pacific in a staff member’s yard.

If you come into contact with a rattler the best thing to remember is to stay calm. Any species of snake will be more afraid of you than you are of it, and will not willingly try to bite you unless it feels threatened. Rattlesnakes will also warn you through their rattle. The only time where a bite may occur is if you startle a snake suddenly and it is within a close enough distance to bite you. Generally, rattlesnakes can be easy going animals that do not want to bite, instead preferring to stay hidden or get away from you. If you come into contact with a rattlesnake while hiking or doing any outdoor activity simply leave it alone. If you come across one in your backyard or home, again leave it alone. No matter how quick you think you are and how slow you think the snake is you do not want to risk getting bitten. Rattlesnakes can strike in the blink of an eye, much faster than you can move out of the way. There are many organizations that will be glad to assist you should you come across any type of wildlife. One such organization that removes animals free of charge is Project Wildlife ((619) 225-9453). They will come to your location and safely remove animals and relocate them. Often, people will call local police and fire stations. While you may get a quick response from these organizations you will also get individuals who are not trained to deal with a quick, venomous rattler – it is best to leave their removal to professionals.

Overall, rattlesnakes are beautiful animals that are an important part of the local ecosystem. These shy reptiles deserve much respect and space and are best left alone.

Again, do not try to move an animal yourself. Contact a trained specialist who will be more than happy to remove the animal. Again, these animals deserve lots of space and respect, give it to them.

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.

The Basking Spot: Snake Hooks – May 2013

by Jennifer Greene

Snake Hooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the Staff: Jon Blakemore – May 2013

by Jennifer Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Craziest/funniest work story:

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

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

I fear nothing.

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