Husbandry of Montane Species of Chameleons – November 2012

The Reptile Times

Montane Chameleons

By Jennifer Greene

Within the last few decades, significant advances in the captive husbandry of chameleons has made it possible for a handful of species to be kept with moderate to significant success, with breeding taking place regularly for the most popular species.  Veiled Chameleons and Panther Chameleons are two of the most popular species, being the most commonly kept and bred of the numerous chameleon species out there.  As two of the larger species available, and the hardiest, their popularity is well deserved as excellent beginner species of chameleons.  However, for the keeper looking for a more unusual jewel to add to their collection, there are a few species of montane chameleons that are not too much more difficult to keep.  My focus in this article is the easier to keep montane species hailing from East Africa, namely those around Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, as these species are often seasonally available in the reptile hobby.

My personal favorites are the Rudis Chameleons, which are small little jewels from the mountains around western Tanzania, southern Uganda, and the eastern edge of the Deomcratic Republic of the Congo.  The chameleon usually available under the common name “Rudis Chameleon” is in most cases actually Trioceros sternfeldi, rather than Trioceros rudis, but fortunately care is essentially identical for both species.  There is some variation among populations resulting in differences in appearance of both species, with some T. sternfeldi having brilliant and exotic blue and yellow coloration while others are a more emerald green depending on which locale they are from.  T. rudis range in color from a yellowish green to pea green to a brilliant grass green, with most having a yellowish stripe down their sides.  They mature at 3” to 4” snout-to-vent length, making them small but not so tiny they are exceptionally delicate, like the pygmy leaf chameleons of Madagascar.

adult female rudis chameleon

Another montane species worth considering is the Jackson’s Chameleon, of which there are 3 subspecies.  The most readily available is Trioceros jacksonii xantholophus, which will be the subspecies referred to within this article (being the hardiest in my experience, and the most suited for the beginning to intermediate chameleon keeper).   Naturally occurring in Tanzania and Kenya, there are also populations in Hawaii as well as Florida, and rumors of a small population located in a coastal region of San Diego County.  Males have 3 horns, one on their orbital (eye) crests, as well as a rostral (nose) horn.  Females are typically lacking the distinctly large horns of the males, but some may have poorly developed rostral horns.  Coloration of males is usually a light green, with some having yellowish tinted heads and backs and bluish flanks.  Females are typically a jewel green, with some individuals having a reddish pattern while at rest.  Adults range in size from 5” to 7” snout-to-vent length, with females often being slightly smaller than males.

Two other species can be kept using the methods I will be describing, and they are the Kenyan High Casqued Chameleon, or Trioceros hoehnelii, and the Werner’s Three Horned Chameleon, or Trioceros werneri.  Both of these species are similar in size to the Rudis, but they do look distinctly different.  T. hoehnelii can be exceptionally brightly colored, with lime green highlights, teals, and silvery blue colors throughout their body for males, with females being a more subdued silvery grey or rusty brown.  Werner’s look like smaller, stouter Jackson’s, with the brilliant green coloration of the Rudis, with some individuals having reddish or teal tones to them.

Helmeted Chameleon

Werners

For all species, while smaller individuals (4” or smaller SVL) can be housed in cages as small as 16” x 16” x 30”, I highly recommend at least a cage that is 18” x 18” x 36”, if not one of the largest cages commonly available at 24” x 24” x 48”.  While they can be housed in a smaller cage, this limits the range of temperatures you can offer them, as well as limits their available space.  I have had success with all of the species I described above being housed in the largest size of screen cage, as well as in the larger sizes of ExoTerra glass terrariums.  For neonate to mid-sized juvenile chameleons up to 4” SVL, a terrarium that is36” wide by 24” tall and 18” deep is suitable, but for adult chameleons I highly recommend the largest size, which is 36” x 18” x 36”.  For the montane species, glass terrariums (not glass cages, but front-opening terrariums) can work exceptionally well, as they can be kept at a more consistent level of humidity than fully screen cages.  The larger glass cages also allow for space for the chameleons to move around the cage, which they will do throughout the day, especially when provided with an appropriate temperature gradient.

Baby Rudis Chameleon

Babies can be housed in smaller cages than adults, but as they grow make sure to offer them more space!

Temperatures for these chameleons can be much cooler in range than for the more common panther and veiled chameleons.  The cooler ends of the cage should drop down to the mid to low 70’s, while the warmest areas within the cage can range upwards to 85, with the extreme high being 90.  In smaller cages, the high temperature should not rise above 85, but in larger cages a slightly higher high temperature is acceptable.  As all of these chameleons are from the mountain areas, they do not require exceptionally warm basking areas, but they can benefit from the option to seek it out if they are in a large enough cage.  Jackson’s Chameleons in particular can tolerate warmer temperatures, as evidenced from their thriving populations in Florida and Hawaii, both of which are much warmer areas than their natural habitat, but captive chameleons should always have a significantly cooler area of the cage to retreat to.  Night timetemperatures can and should drop down to the mid to low 70s, with drops down the 60s being perfectly acceptable as long as during the day a basking area is offered.

Jacksons Male Beautiful

When provided with suitable basking temperatures, your chameleons will color up and look their best like this Jackson’s!

Achieving these temperatures can be accomplished two ways.  Not only do chameleons require warmth to bask under, but they require UVB as well.  UVB is the wavelength of light required for your chameleon to properly metabolize vitamin D3, which is essential for absorbing calcium.  Captive chameleons need artificial sources of all three to thrive properly, and the first part of caring for your chameleon is providing them with suitable lighting.  A specialized reptile fluorescent tube is the most common method of offering your chameleon UVB, with different brands offering varying intensities of UVB.  A 5.0 fluorescent tube should be ideal for most applications with montane chameleons, and the tube itself should be long enough to stretch across the entire top of the cage.  Since relatively cool basking temperatures are all that is needed, a 50 watt basking bulb should be sufficient for providing a small, warm basking area without overly heating the rest of the cage.  Daylight style reptile bulbs can be used as well, but a slightly higher wattage may be needed for larger cages.

Baby Jacksons Chameleon

If you have the larger cages as I recommended earlier, and your home remains fairly cool (between 72 and 75 degrees), it is also possible to consider using a mercury vapor bulb.  These bulbs are quite warm, and provide significantly higher amounts of UVB, but in a larger cage offering your chameleons the options to escape the heat, they are worth considering.  If the basking areas below the light are too warm, the bulb may be lifted up and off the top of the cage several inches to ensure that the basking areas are not too hot.  It is vitally important to check that at least the bottom half of the cage returns to temperatures below 80 degrees when using a mercury vapor bulb, and if you cannot keep the cage cool then switch to a fluorescent light and traditional, lower wattage basking light.

In combination with the UVB light, it is essential to provide your chameleons with supplementation to meet their dietary needs for calcium and vitamin D3.  Chameleons housed outdoors do not need D3 added to their diet, as the intensity of UVB from natural sunlight enables them to metabolize D3 on their own – however, this is only valid if your chameleon is outdoors for more than 8 hours a day several days a week.  If your chameleon is indoors primarily, at least some vitamin D3 should be incorporated into their diet.  Due to their smaller size, these chameleons do not necessarily require supplementation with every meal.  For adults, a light coating of a balanced reptile calcium and multivitamin can be dusted on to their feeder insects every second or third feeding.  Neonates to juveniles, due to their extremely small size, typically only need a light coating of vitamins on their insects once every 7 to 10 days.  Rearing of neonate chameleons of the species discussed here (Hoehneli, Jackson’s, Rudis, and Werner’s) can be exceptionally difficult, and is typically best left to the more advanced keeper – if you have recently purchased a juvenile of these species, talk to the breeder regarding their current routine for the babies.

Baby Rudis Chameleon 2

When you see how tiny these little guys are, it is not hard to see how easy it could be to over-do their supplementation!

Now that you have the essentials, the fun part of acquiring a new chameleon is often the décor.  Manzanita branches work well, especially when combined with live plants such as ficus trees.  These smaller species of chameleons will be able to utilize the finer, thinner branches of the ficus trees, and within the trees themselves the humidity will be somewhat higher than just out in the sides of the cages.  Foliage is vital to the health and happiness of your chameleons, providing them with perches as well as visual barriers.  Having plentiful amounts of foliage in the cage ensures that your chameleon feels safe and secure, which in turn keeps their stress levels low.   Incorporating live plants into your cage is highly recommended, as live plants are not only aesthetically pleasing but they increase humidity for your chameleons.  I highly recommend the use ofmagnetic ledges and planters to add perches and levels to your cage, which your chameleons will use to bask and hunt from.  Using magnets to attach them means that they are fantastically flexible décor items, allowing you to adjust basking perches and locations as needed.  Get creative!

When it comes to feeding, don’t be afraid to seek out and offer as wide a variety of prey items as possible.  Keep in mind that in the wild, these chameleons would be eating at least several dozen different types of insects, if not more, and by comparison their diet in captivity seems paltry. Appropriate sized roaches of different species are often readily accepted, with Dubia roaches being a popular staple due to their rapid growth rate and ease of breeding.  In addition, offering appropriate sized cricketsmealworms,superworms, and waxworms is highly encouraged.  Most chameleons will also cheerfully consume hornworms and silkworms, which are soft bodied and easy for them to digest.  While you do not need to offer every single prey item at each feeding, try to make an effort to cycle through several different types throughout the month.

In conclusion, keeping a montane species of chameleon is not significantly more difficult, but they do have special considerations regarding temperatures.  Once set up and established, they can be rewarding little jewels within your home, without the need for excessively large cages or intense heat.  If you are looking for a new chameleon to add to your collection, and desire something a little off the beaten path, definitely check out the chameleons mentioned within this article!

Phelsuma standingi: The Standing’s Day Gecko – October 2012

The Reptile Times

Standings Day Geckos

By Jennifer Greene

Phelsuma standingi, or Standing’s Day Geckos, are an often under appreciated member of the Day Gecko family.  Babies have significantly higher contrasting colors than adults, and they generally lack the intense, jewel-like colors of their cousins the Giant Day Geckos or many of the other commonly kept day gecko species.  However, their subtle coloration hides a behaviorally fascinating gecko.

One of the larger Phelsuma species, Standing’s Day Geckos can reach up to 10” in length for large individuals (much of this is due to tail length).  Adult coloration is generally green around the head, fading to blue by the tail, with thin grey banding throughout their body.   They originate from a drier region of Madagascar, and as such can tolerate a wide range of conditions, particularly lower humidity conditions than their brilliantly colored cousins will accept.  They thrive with high basking temperatures, and to see them at their most colorful it is recommended to offer them UVB as well as a bright, white light to bask under.

Standings Day Geckos

The coolest, in my opinion, part about Phelsuma standingi is their social and reproductive behavior.  While they pair off like the rest of the Phelsuma group, the adults often maintain prolonged monogamous pairs, sometimes for life!  While it is not impossible to convince a female to change partners once her original mate is removed, it is extremely difficult, and many females will not accept new mates once they have bonded with a particular male.

Once established, eggs can be left in the cage with the pair of geckos, and they will not harm any of their offspring that hatch within the cage.  Once the juveniles begin to reach sexual maturity, the adults will become aggressive towards them, presumably to drive them off to find their own territories.  That the parents actively avoid trying to injure their offspring is noticeable, for example “If one baby happens to be accidentally seized (e.g. during feeding), it emits a squeaking sound that makes the parent let go instantly!”  (Bruse, Meyer, Schmidt, 2005, p. 95)

As juveniles get older and remain in the same area with their parents, minor squabbles often break out between them as they vie for resources.  Unlike the majority of day gecko species, they have thicker skin than most, and it is resistant to tearing.  Because of this, the scratches and bites that they receive during the minor fighting that breaks out among siblings is not overly detrimental to their health.  They should still be monitored for serious injury, but due to their thicker skin they can withstand the tussling with few problems.

With patience, Standing’s Day Geckos can be taught to accept human interaction, and even tolerate moderate handling.  Their thicker skin means that even an inexperienced keeper is unlikely to harm them as long as they’re gentle; it is still possible to tear their skin, but it takes considerably more force than with other Phelsuma species.

Sexing the Painted Agama – October 2012

The Reptile Times

Painted Agamas

By Jennifer Greene

Sexing Painted Agamas

Painted Agamas, or Laudakia stellio, are a species of agamid lizard that are beginning to gain popularity among reptile keepers.  With flashy colors being the norm for this species, and a smaller adult size than the average bearded dragon, they are an excellent choice to consider as a pet lizard species.  They are especially well suited for keepers who would like a smaller, easier to feed option to keep as a pet lizard – Painted Agamas require only insects in their diet, none of the vegetable matter than Bearded Dragons require.

Painted Agamas

For the keepers looking to try their hand at captive breeding them, an important aspect of selecting your agamas is knowing how to sex them.  At first glance, it can sometimes be a little difficult to sex them.  Adult males can develop bright, neon colored patches on their heads above their eyes, and mature, breeding adult males are often somewhat brighter than females or younger males.  However, when selecting from a younger group of animals, it is hard to be sure if the brightly colored animal in your hand is a young male or female.

Fortunately, sexing subadult to adult sized Painted Agamas is actually very easy when you know what to look for.  As with most other species of agamid lizards, males develop noticeable pores once they begin to approach adult size.  The pores are not in the common location of the bottom of the hind legs; rather, they are along the belly of the animal.  Simply put, in order to accurately sex your Painted Agama, simply flip it over (gently!) and peek at its stomach.  A male will have a line of pores that resembles the way a closed zipper appears, while a female will have a smooth, unmarked stomach.

That’s all there is to it!  With this knowledge, you should be able to accurately sex any Painted Agamas you come across, and establish a breeding pair or group with little difficulty.

Check out one of our YouTube Painted Agama Videos too. Click Here for the video!

Frilled Dragons in the Captive Environment

Frilled Header

By Jennifer Greene

Frilled Dragons in the Captive Environment

Few reptiles are as prehistoric looking and exotic as Frilled Dragons.  These fascinating reptiles have captured the interest of many a reptile keeper, and are typically associated with their main country of origin, Australia.  They are found in New Guinea as well, although the dragons that come from New Guinea are often significantly smaller than their Australian counterparts.  Frilled Dragons, while not overly difficult to care for, are still fairly uncommon in US collections.  It is my hope that by putting more information out there about their care and behavior, it can help the curious keeper make that step into keeping one of these fantastic creatures.  One of the key aspects of caring for a Frilled Dragon is also understanding their natural history to a certain extent.  It is important to consider whether you have an Australian Frilled Dragon or a New Guinea Frilled Dragon.  Australian Frilled Dragons are always captive bred, as Australia does not export, and they can reach up to 3 feet in length, making them quite large!  They prefer, and should be offered, somewhat hotter and brighter conditions than I will be recommending for their cousins, the New Guinea Frilled Dragon.  While both are considered the same species, Frilleds from New Guinea are going to mature much smaller (between 18 and 24”), and have slightly different needs than their cousins from the hotter and dryer Australian mainland.

The Natural History of the New Guinea Frilled Dragon

The island of New Guinea is divided in half between two countries – the eastern half of the island, closest to Australia, is the country of Papua New Guinea, while the western half (informally referred to as West Papua) belongs to Indonesia.

West Papua is split into two provinces, Papua and the province of West Papua.  In the past, the region has gone by several names, including (but not limited to) Papua, New Guinea, Irian Jaya, and these names combined with modern names as well as regional names have served to make it exceptionally confusing to understand where exactly some reptiles come from.  In the case of the Frilled Dragon, they are commonly farmed on the Indonesian half of the island (West Papua), where they are fairly common and easy to breed due to their high prevalence in the area.  This means if you did not purchase your baby frilled directly from a breeder in the US, they were likely hatched in their country of origin and sent over to the US.

New Guinea Map

With the knowledge of where your baby frilled comes from comes the ability to determine what your frilled truly needs.  A Frilled Dragon from the island of New Guinea is accustomed to a tropical rainforest, heavy rainfall, and dense foliage blocking a majority of sunlight.  Frilleds spend a majority of their time up in trees, seeking out food, shelter, and thermoregulating.   The island of New Guinea is one of the most biodiverse in the world, with hundreds of species found in the island, and new ones discovered regularly.  As one could imagine, this implies that in the wild, Frilled Dragons have access to an extremely wide variety of prey items, which in addition to insects also includes small mammals and other reptiles that they can overpower.

Applying Natural History to Captive Husbandry

With our knowledge of the habitat Frilled Dragons originate from, we can draw some conclusions on how best to set them up.  With their access to large expanses of forest and jungle, they will require a large cage.  At the minimum, I recommend raising babies in either V222 Vision Cages (ideal for holding humidity) or in large front opening terrariums, like the ones manufactured by ExoTerra.  These cages will provide your babies with enough space to move around in for the first few months to the first year of their life, after which they will require an even larger cage.  A small adult could be housed in the largest size ExoTerra glass enclosure, which is 36” tall by 36” wide, and only 18” deep.  Of the commercially manufactured cages available, Penn Plax offers a large size at 47” x 20” x 35” that would be ideal for up to two small adult Frilled Dragons.   If you wish to truly spoil your dragons, consider having a custom cage built that is even larger, which will be a must if you plan on housing more than one or two together.  Space for your Frilled Dragons is vital for their well-being.  Once they have become established in your care, they are extremely active animals that leap from perch to perch, and will readily dive into available water sources.  Providing them with adequate space allows them the room to exercise as well – another aspect of care that can be extremely beneficial to their overall health.

Baby Frilled

When it comes to furnishing your large cage, look for large branches that will fill the cage.  Consider using silicone or magnetic ledges to attach perches and branches higher up in the cage.   In my experience with Frilleds, they greatly prefer very large cork rounds throughout their cage to climb on and hide behind.  Your frilled will climb up the rounds, often hiding behind them to escape prying eyes and (they think) avoid detection.  Large pieces of grapewood are also excellent additions to cage décor, allowing your dragons to climb up them and access higher points within the cage.  Large and broad pieces of wood work best for adult dragons, as they prefer to climb and hide on perches and branches that are about as wide as their body.  Sitting on wider perches means that they can more comfortably bask as needed, and flatten out to hide when they feel it is necessary.  In many instances, you do not need to clutter the cage with dozens of wood pieces – one or two large cork rounds and an extra large piece of wood that takes up space between them can be all they really need for basic furniture.  To avoid the concern of feeder insects, dirt, and debri getting lodged in the gaps of common wood products, consider using bamboo roots instead.

Once you have your basic large pieces of wood placed in the cage, add two or three (depending on cage size) additional, smaller perches and hiding places for them.  I prefer to use silicone to attach cork flats to the larger wood pieces in larger, permanent cages, or in cages you want to adjust more frequently, magnetic ledges are extremely useful.  You can also utilize magnetic vines to create “bridges” between wood pieces, by wrapping smaller branches in vines and using the magnetic bases to attach them.  Hatchling to small juvenile sized Frilled Dragons can use just the magnetic vines to climb on, but larger frilleds will not be supported by the vines alone.  I highly recommend using artificial vines and plants to add foliage to the cage, which will help your Frilled Dragon feel more secure and safe within the cage.  There is a wide variety of available foliage options out there, and you should not be afraid to try numerous types of décor to see what you and your frilleds like best.   Remember that your frilled comes from a dense jungle, and decorate accordingly!  Not only with the foliage help your dragon feel secure, but when you mist the cage, water will settle on all the leaves and branches within the cage, doubling the available surface area for water to evaporate from.  With all the water on all those surfaces within the cage, the evaporated moisture will go into the air and greatly increase humidity – making maintenance much easier!

When it comes to lighting your Frilled Dragons enclosure, this is one of the more interesting aspects of their care, and can be more complicated than other diurnal species.  Because in the wild, the New Guinea variety typically inhabit densely forested areas with much of the sunlight filtered out by tree leaves and branches.  In extremely large (as in custom built enclosures), the use of a mercury vapor bulb could be considered, as the frilleds will have the option to escape the intense UVB and heat emitted by the bulbs.  For these large enclosures, I would suggest offering a second area for basking and UVB absorption, with a lower wattage plain basking bulb and a traditional tube fluorescent bulb nearby.  For the majority of keepers, simply using an incandescent basking bulb and a fluorescent tube for UVB will be enough for their frilleds to thrive.  A 5.0 fluorescent bulb should be enough UVB for your dragons, even in extremely tall cages.  As needed, Frilled Dragons will climb up to the top of the enclosure and bask not just under the heat lights, but under their UVB bulbs as well.

Zoo Med Products

Frilled Dragons are one of the most interesting reptiles I have had the fortune to work with in that they are a diurnal species that seeks out increased temperatures to bask in, but will actively avoid intense UVB exposure.  When housed outdoors in climates with more intense periods of heat and sunlight, they often fail to thrive, and spend a majority of their time hiding and refusing to eat.  Indoors, when basking options are limited to bulbs with intense UVB output, a similar result can occur.  While frilled dragons housed under mercury vapor bulbs often do just fine, when compared to frilleds housed under fluorescent tubes and basking bulbs, they are often not quite as fat or as large at the same age.  Unfortunately, very little scientific data is available regarding this phenomenon, as New Guinea Frilled Dragons are not as extensively studied as their Australian counterparts, and any further information on this topic would be welcomed.

From personal communication with other Frilled Dragon keepers, their need for UVB is so relatively low that one keeper houses his primarily indoors with no UVB at all, just a simple 150 watt incandescent basking bulb on a 4 foot tall cage.  However, this keeper does take his Frilleds outdoors during spring and winter months for natural sunlight – it could be theorized they get enough naturally occurring D3 during these times that combined with vitamin supplements in the diet, they do not need UVB provided full time.   Please note that I do NOT recommend that the keeper just beginning to keep Frilled Dragons tries this – at the very least, provide your frilled dragons with compact fluorescent bulbs over at least one portion of the cage.   More experienced keepers with older Frilled Dragons may consider the implications of seasonal outdoor housing during certain times of the year combined with no indoor UVB, but again, the beginner or intermediate keeper should continue to use some sort of indoor UVB option.

Frilled Dragon

I provide my Frilleds with a wide range of temperatures to choose from, which is an option afforded by having an extremely large cage to house them in.  Their warmest basking zone is about 100 degrees, and the warm top side of the cage is typically 90 degrees.  They will spend a few hours each morning basking directly under their heat lights, and then often spend the rest of the day alternating between the cooler areas under their UVB bulbs (about 75 to 80 degrees) and the various warm areas within the cage.  At night, they can take temperature drops down to the low 70s, and can tolerate very occasional drops down to the high 60s.  I would not recommend letting your Frilled Dragons routinely experience night time drops to the 60s, but if a bulb blows out or you experience an unexpectedly cold night, they can tolerate it briefly.  They come from a part of the world that does not experience significant differences in seasons, and this should be considered when setting up their captive conditions.

For example, here in Southern California my ambient household temperatures range about 10 degrees between summer (80 degrees) and winter (70 degrees).  Due to this, I utilize two sets of lights, one with low wattages for summer, and one with higher wattages for winter.  In addition to winter lights, the use of ceramic heat emittersradiant heat panels, and heat pads are all acceptable methods of increasing ambient temperatures within your frilled’s cage to suitable levels.  New Guinea Frilled Dragons do not experience the same seasonal hardships that the Australian kinds do, and as such should not be exposed to extreme high or low temperatures.

In addition, while humidity is important for your Frilled Dragon, excessive attention should not be given to a precise number on a dial.  Instead, watch your animals.  Again, for my animals at home, I do not monitor a precise or specific humidity percent.  Instead, I mist them heavily in the morning using a pressure spray bottle, mist them again a bit at night, and utilize damp sphagnum moss spread throughout the cage so that they can seek out higher humidity microclimates within their cage if they so desire.  A misting routine of twice daily, once in the morning and once at night, mimics the natural spikes in humidity that occur in the wild around dawn and dusk, and helps keep the sphagnum moss within the cage damp.  Once or twice a week, if your Frilled Dragons are accustomed to handling and are comfortable with you, consider taking them out and giving them a lukewarm shower in the tub for 15 minutes or so.   These occasional soaks will help ensure that they stay hydrated if you are concerned about humidity levels, and also mimic to a small extent the periods of rainfall they would be exposed to in the wild.  Pay attention to your animals – if their skin is smooth, they shed easily, they are bright eyed, active, and healthy, then what you are doing for humidity is working.  If they start to get a wrinkled appearance, or become listless and develop crusty eyes, increase how often you mist them or consider getting a timed misting system.

Feeding Your Frillie

Feeding Frilled Dragons is fortunately rather straight forward.  When their cage conditions are ideal, they are voracious little beasts, readily consuming anything small enough to fit in their mouth.  Large crickets,mealwormssuperwormswaxworms, silkworms, hornworms, reptiworms , any of these can be used to feed your dragon.  As mentioned earlier, in the wild Frilled Dragons have access to an extremely wide range of food options, and in captivity the effort should be made to offer them as wide a variety as you are able to get ahold of.

I highly recommend establishing a captive roach colony, with my preferred species being dubia roaches due to the fact that they do not climb smooth surfaces or fly.  Any species of roach is relished, so order and maintain those that you are comfortable with.  In addition to insects, the occasional offering of rat and mice pinkies make for excellent nutritional boosts for your frilleds.  Large adults will eat mice as large as small hoppers (3 to 4 week olds), and my largest adult male has even managed to catch and consume loose house geckos within his cage.  If you (inadvertently, in my case) find that your frilleds have consumed other lizards, I recommend having a vet perform a fecal on them every few months to ensure they are not picking up parasites from their lizard prey items.

Frilled eating

The only hitch that you may experience with the feeding of your Frilled Dragons is that if they are overfed, or stressed, they will often stop eating.  This bout of non-feeding can go on for several weeks, and is not in and of itself a cause for concern.  Check your cage, make sure that they are within acceptable temperatures

The Frilled Dragon as a Pet

In my experience maintaining Frilled Dragons, I have found them to be extremely rewarding, fascinating lizards.  Once established, they seem to recognize their keepers, and can be downright comical at times.  They are extremely alert to their surroundings, and when set up appropriately, do well in areas with high foot traffic that provide them with activity to watch and survey.  New Guinea Frilled Dragons are personable, smaller Frilled Dragons that accept handling well and make fantastic pets.  Farmed babies that have been raised in captivity are often indistinguishable from captive bred babies, and often will sit calmly on their keeper’s shoulder, watching the world from their human perch.  Frilled Dragons are arguably one of the most dinosaur-like of the midsized lizards that make great pets, and I highly recommend them for the keeper looking for something new and awesome to keep as an interactive pet.

Raising Grassland Species of Tortoises

Grassland Tortoises

By Jennifer Greene

With the advances in tortoise husbandry over the last few decades, more and more captive bred baby tortoises of numerous species are becoming more readily available.  Having captive bred baby tortoises to start with as pets is typically much easier than trying to acclimate wild caught specimens; however, a new problem arises with the care of baby tortoises as compared to their sub adult/ adult wild-caught counterparts.  This problem is the raising of baby tortoises in a way that results in adult animals that exhibit the same level of health in terms of weight, shell condition, and longevity that their wild counterparts experience.  Initially, many keepers could not keep baby tortoises alive, with many babies dying while being kept in the same conditions that adults were thriving in.  Some keepers were able to raise babies, but they developed minor to severe shell deformities, known as “pyramiding”, or the babies they raised experienced significantly shortened lifespans, living only 10 to 20 years compared to the often 100 year life span of wild tortoises.   This article aims to cover some of the more recent advances in neonate and young tortoise husbandry, with the goal of helping keepers better raise their tortoises to healthy and long lasting adulthood.

Baby Sulcata Tortoise

One aspect of raising baby tortoises that is often overlooked initially is the natural history of where the particular species is from, and the conditions in that climate at the time the eggs usually hatch.  This is important to note, as certain species inhabit extremely different microclimates as hatchlings compared to their adult counterparts.  One such example is the Sulcata Tortoise, or African Spur Thigh Tortoise.  Adults graze the grasslands of the savannah, often going for prolonged periods without water and tolerating extreme heat.  Neonates kept in similar conditions with little access to water and extreme heat end up with high mortality rates and stunted or deformed animals.  Similarly, neonate Greek Tortoises from the extreme north of their range typically hatch later in the season, and often spend a significant amount of time (up to several months) hidden in their incubation burrows, absorbing their yolk before going straight into their first hibernation season. (Kuzmin, 98)

With this in mind, be sure to thoroughly do your research before bringing home a baby tortoise.  There are some general guidelines that can apply to many species within an ecological niche, but beginners are advised to look for a reputable specialist in their preferred species, or to purchase appropriate books geared towards the species they aim to keep.   For species adapted to the grassland climate, including but not limited to Greek Tortoises (Testudo graeca), Russian Tortoises (Testudo horsfieldii, or Agrionemys horsfieldii in Russian literature), Sulcata Tortoises (Geochelone sulcata), and Marginated Tortoises (Testudo marginata), there are some general guidelines that can be used when raising hatchling tortoises.  A cage large enough to allow the babies to explore and forage is highly recommended; I typically prefer cages with a 24” x 24” footprint as a good starter size for young tortoises.

A cage this size allows enough floor space to provide the various microclimates within the enclosure that will ensure your baby tortoise thrives.  This size cage also allows for a wide range of temperatures, ideal for your baby tortoise to select the exact conditions within the cage it needs.  It is possible to use a smaller cage, or one that is narrower, but it will require more work to adjust the lighting and heating elements on behalf of the tortoise.  This size cage can be achieved with a glass terrarium (covering one or more sides is recommended, so as to prevent your tortoise from constantly attempting to go through the glass), tortoise table, or custom enclosure.  Similar floor space in the form of a 36” x 12” cage is also an option, but do keep in mind as an entirely terrestrial animal your tortoise will appreciate having as much floor space as possible.  In addition to traditional glass tanks, there are also various custom cages andtubs available that are specially designed for tortoises.  Choose what works best for you!

When it comes to lighting your baby tortoise, which bulbs you use and what wattages are used depends on your cage size and setup.  Tortoises, being diurnal reptiles, require not only heat but UVB as well.  There are two methods for providing this for your tortoise, either through a combination of basking lights andfluorescent bulbs, or with the use of a mercury vapor bulb.   Which you use depends on your tortoises, and size of cage.  In a larger cage, either 24” x 24” or 36” x 12” or bigger, you can use a mercury vapor bulb.  Mercury vapor bulbs, commonly abbreviated as MVBs, greatly simplify your lighting situation in addition to providing large amounts of visible light, UVB, and heat.  These types of bulbs are ideal for desert and grassland species of tortoises, but because they do emit so much heat, keep in mind you will need to monitor humidity more closely.  In smaller cages, or if you want to use a lower wattage bulb (mercury vapor bulbs do not come in wattages below 100), you will need to use a basking bulb in conjunction with a fluorescent tube light to provide heat, light, and UVB.  A benefit of using this method of lighting is that you can plug your basking light into a thermostat or rheostat, and more accurately control temperature that way.

Russian Tortoise

One aspect of keeping that has changed significantly over the last few years as compared to early attempts at raising tortoises is the level of humidity recommended for maintaining hatchlings.  Some breeders maintain babies of all grassland species with higher humidity continuously while they are young, while others prefer a regimen of regular soaking.  Alternatively, you can maintain a humid hide within the cage, which allows your baby tortoise to seek out an area of significantly higher humidity when it desires.  This area of increased humidity can be provided by the addition of damp New Zealand Sphagnum moss, or adding moistenedcoconut fiber to a section of the cage.  The addition of compressed coconut to the usual bedding (typicallybark or chipped aspen in most cases) also offers your baby tortoise the option to dig, and excavate its own hiding place.  It has been noted among some keepers that babies raised with the option of seeking out increased humidity often have smoother shells in better condition, which is something to consider when creating your tortoise setup.

Depending on which publication you consult, soaking regimens should consist of soaking your tortoise as often as twice a week (Leopard-, Vetter, 104) to only two to six times per month (Hermann’s, Vetter, 159).  Careful observation of your own tortoise(s) and their growth rates and overall health will help you determine just how often to soak your own tortoise.  Regularly misting the cage in the morning to create a morning spike in humidity should also be considered beneficial for young tortoises; a similar spike in humidity occurs in the wild during the morning, and this will help the cage from becoming completely bone dry from the use of heat lights.  Moisture is important for Mediterranean species of tortoises, such as the Hermann’s tortoises.  “Keeping the juveniles in conditions that are too dry results in a malformed growth of the shell even if they are properly supplied with vitamins and minerals.” (Hermann’s, Vetter, 157)  This observation applies to the African species as well, “keeping juveniles in an inappropriately dry environment causes an increasingly humped appearance of the carapace.” (Leopard-, Vetter, 109)  With this in mind, while your grassland tortoise does not need to be kept at tropical levels of humidity, do pay some attention to maintaining a level of humidity between 60 and 75% a majority of the time.

Sulcata on tortoise ramp bowl

Tortoise Ramp Bowls are a great way to provide an “easy access” water source

The feeding and supplementation of tortoises is often a controversial topic among keepers, with each breeder and keeper having their own ideas and methods about nearly every aspect of the topic.  Diet and supplementation of tortoises is such a large, diverse topic that a book should be dedicated to fully cover it, so I will only touch on key points here.  The first and foremost point is that supplementation should be included in your tortoise’s diet in some way, period.  The method of supplementation differs based on tortoise size and species.  One recommended method of providing calcium and added vitamins is not to dust the food directly, but instead offer calcium in the form of calcium blockscuttlebones, mussel grit, whetstones (for birds), or crushed eggshells.  The thought behind this is that dusting the food itself “forces” calcium on the tortoises in quantities they may not experience in the wild, and as yet it is still unknown what the correct dosage of calcium really is. (Leopard-, Vetter, 95)

If you do dust the food, be sure to dust lightly with a mix of calcium and vitamins recommended for vegetarian reptiles.  A light sprinkle, such as a fraction of a teaspoon, is more than enough for hatchling tortoises.  It is important not to skip supplementation entirely – while yes, over supplementation can adversely affect your tortoise’s health, not supplementing at all is equally as risky.

It is important to keep in mind when feeding grassland species of tortoises that in the wild, they roam vast distances eating plant matter that is rather low in nutrition content.  This means they eat lots of food, but get little from it – when raised in captivity with the rich diet most keepers provide for their tortoises, babies often grow unnaturally fast.  With this rapid growth comes “an increased susceptibility to diseases” (Hermann’s, Vetter, 159), and as a result excessively rapid growth should be avoided.  This can be done by reducing the amount of fresh, leafy green produce provided and instead offer hay and grasses.   For the larger species of grassland tortoises, such as Sulcatas and Leopard Tortoises, it is recommended that “Green feed should never be offered fresh or even wet.  It is always best to leave it to wilt slightly.” (Leopard-, Vetter 105)  This is the condition that baby tortoises would find their food most often in the wild, and should be replicated to a certain extent with captive babies.  The addition of pelleted food to the diets is also an option, withZooMed and Mazuri both offering excellent diets designed specifically for grassland species of tortoises. If your babies are stubborn, and refuse to eat their dried food or hay, a little tough love will often fix the problem.  You can also mix dried food and hay in with fresh and wet food, which will help make it more appealing.  Once your baby is accustomed to eating hay, offering it becomes much easier.   In addition to offering hay as a food item, consider liberally covering up to half of the cage with loose grass hay.  For smaller species of grassland tortoises, such as the Hermann’s, Greek, or Russian tortoises, this mimics the kind of leaf litter and dead grass they would normally be hiding under and foraging through in the wild.  The added security of being able to burrow under hay will help ensure your baby tortoise thrives in your care.

tortoises eating

Lastly, consider housing your baby tortoises at least part of the time outdoors.  On warm, sunny days between 75 and 90 degrees, keeping your babies outdoors to experience some natural sunlight can be extremely beneficial.  It is mandatory that they have the option to escape from the sun, and any good commercially madeTortoise PlayPen or similar item will provide a hiding spot with its design.  Due to their delicate nature, baby tortoises should not be left outdoors completely unsupervised.  Make sure someone is always home to keep an eye on the tortoise(s) when they are outdoors, not only to make sure they do not get too hot or too cold, but to prevent predation and theft.

Being familiar with your particular species of tortoise will help you determine appropriate weather conditions; wild Sulcatas for example never hibernate or experience the same level of cool weather that Russian tortoises do.  As such, they cannot tolerate the same cooler temperatures that Russian tortoises do.  Always carefully monitor your tortoises when they are outdoors.

In closing, there have been huge advances in the captive husbandry of neonate tortoises, making it considerably easier for even the novice keeper to raise a pet tortoise up from a hatchling.  As long as research is done to prepare for your preferred species, and the correct conditions are provided, a baby tortoise is no more or less difficult to care for than any other reptile species.  Buy a book, join a tortoise club, participate with specialized online forums, educate yourself on your tortoise before bringing it home.  And of course – when you do get it home, enjoy it!

Works Cited

Sergius L. Kuzmin The Turtles of Russia and Other Ex-SovietRepublics.  Frankfurt am Main: Chimaira 2002

Holger Vetter Hermann’s Tortoise, Boettger’s and Dalmation Tortoises Frankfurt am Main: Chimaira 2006

Holger Vetter Leopard – and African Spurred Tortoise Frankfurt am Main: Chimaira 2005

The Basking Spot: Repashy Diets

The Basking Spot

By Jennifer Greene

This month, the Basking Spot is on Repashy Diets!

The Repashy Diets are a line of meal replacement powders as well as vitamin supplements.  Since the subject of supplementation is such a complicated topic in and of itself, this article will not be covering the various vitamin and calcium supplements manufactured by Repashy.  For details on what is in the various supplements, as well as their benefits, feel free to visit the Repashy website and read his various articles detailing them.   Instead, this article will cover the Crested Gecko Meal Replacement Powder, the Day Gecko Meal Replacement Powder, the various gel foods, and the SuperPig color enhancer.

First and foremost, any one that keeps Crested Geckos should already be familiar with the Crested Gecko Meal Replacement Powder, often shortened as simply “MRP”.  This food is the most commonly recommended diet for any captive Rhacodactylus species, simply due to how complete it is as a diet.  When Rhacodactylus species such as Crested Geckos were originally kept in captivity, the diets offered to them were traditionally centered around various combinations of supplements and baby food.  The Repashy MRP diet eliminates the need to mix up your own food, and instead rely on the expertise of someone who has maintained and bred and extensive colony of geckos.  The Day Gecko specific MRP is a diet designed along similar lines, but with the specific needs of Phelsuma species in mind.  The use of these diets makes care of the geckos much simpler – very much along the lines of maintaining a dog or cat, in that you simply prepare the commercial diet rather than seeking out various live food items.  It is recommended to include live prey items in your geckos’ diet, but it is possible to maintain Crested Geckos entirely on the Repashy MRP diet alone.

Repashy SuperPig

For those keepers looking to enhance their prize geckos (and other reptiles) in any way possible, I suggest considering the addition of the SuperPig supplement to their diet.  SuperPig is a carotenoid supplement that enhances the red and orange coloration of your reptiles.  The combination of a broad range of carotenoids is in a powdered form, making it a piece of cake to simply add to your calcium mix or to simply mix into your MRP or other diet.  While the effects of the SuperPig may not be immediately apparent (one feeding won’t turn your gecko bright red), over time you will notice your animals exhibiting more red than they did before.  SuperPig is not a magical pigment creator, so if your animal is not slightly red to begin with, it will not put red pigment in.  However, it can enhance the red coloration in Bearded Dragons, Blue Tongue Skinks, Red Tegus, Red Iguanas, Gargoyle Geckos, Crested Geckos, and to a lesser extent, even Leopard Geckos.  Why do I list these specific animals, you ask? Because all of those are species I personally have used (or coworkers have used) the SuperPig with to enhance red coloration, and personally seen the effects of SuperPig before and after.

Red Tegu

This employee’s tegu gets superpig mixed into his diet –

all his white spots have been washed out with red!

A note with SuperPig – it is not going to affect the coloration of the offspring of animals fed SuperPig.  This means that if your Crested Geckos are extra red as a result of SuperPig, their babies are unlikely to retain that same intense red coloration, and will instead look more like your geckos did before they received the supplement.  In addition, once the SuperPig is no longer added to the diet, the effects wear off.  Simply feeding SuperPig to your animals for a few months, and then quitting, will not maintain the red coloration for the duration of your animal’s life.

In addition to Meal Replacement Powders, which create a thick, mushy type of food, there is a new line of gel-diets that can be mixed up.  Bug Burger is the specific diet designed as a gutload for feeder insects, and due to the quantity of gutload that can be made for the cost of a 5.3 oz container, it is one of the most cost effective gutloads out there.  Bug Burger is readily consumed by all kinds of feeder insects, and I personally have used it to feed Superworms, Mealworms, Crickets, Hissing Cockroaches, Dubia Roaches, and once even mice!  It is easy to mix, simply combining it in a 1 to 3 ratio with water, and then heating up to boiling.  Let it cool, and viola!  Instant bug food.

Mixing Repashy Diets

Along the same lines as the Bug Burger are several fish and reptile diets.  The reptile specific diets seem well designed to appeal to their group – they are still extremely new to the market, but every animal I have tried the food with has loved it.  The Meat Pie designed for carnivorous reptiles is not always immediately accepted by reptiles accustomed to eating live prey items, however if your reptiles already eat food from tongs or out of a bowl, the transition is easy.   Savory Stew is the name of the food designed for omnivorous reptiles, and so far I have not been able to find a single omnivorous species that did not readily accept the food just when offered simply on a plate.  I’ve seen Berber’s Skinks, Blue Tongue Skinks, Argentine Black and White Tegus, Red Tegus, Russian Legless Lizards, and even Bearded Dragons cheerfully consuming the Savory Stew!

stew cooling

When placed in the fridge, the Savory Stew turns from liquid to a nice solid gel in a matter of minutes.

With the range of vitamins and other nutrients found in the Repashy diets, they are an excellent choice to consider incorporating into your feeding routine.  As a big fan of variety in the captive diet of reptiles, I would not personally recommend feeding nothing but a commercial diet to your reptiles, but the Repashy line of diets is a high quality food that you can feel comfortable adding to your pets’ diets.  The only draw back?  The gel diets (Bug Burger, Savory Stew, and Meat Pie) all have a distinct odor to them when being prepared.

Keep in mind that the food is not designed to appeal to YOU, it is designed to appeal to your reptiles, many of which cheerfully consume food items such as live insects, dead insects, raw liver and eggs, and other such unsavory food items.  What they find appetizing and what we find appetizing are not nearly the same things – so don’t let the smell put you off, go ahead and offer it to your animals anyway.  They’ll probably LOVE it!

Crested Geckos: Enriching the Captive Environment

Crested Geckos

By Jennifer Greene

There are a myriad of care sheets out there today on exactly how to raise, breed, and maintain Crested Geckos.   The majority of these care sheets are quite basic, and focus on the simplest method possible of maintaining your geckos and simply keeping them alive.  While these care sheets are the best way to get started in caring for your new gecko pet, they do sadly lack in options for those who want to go above and beyond simply keeping their gecko alive.  What about the person who wants to set up their geckos in a more naturalistic way, or wants to offer their gecko more than just a powdered diet?  Many folks get trapped in a simplistic set up and maintaining their geckos with the bare minimum, which works if you have large numbers of them or want their care to be as simple and streamlined as possible.  But what about the person with a pet or two, who wants to do more than just have a gecko in a box? This article should help you find ways to enrich the captive environment for your Crested Gecko, in addition to any of your other Rhacodactylus species – Leachies, Gargoyle geckos, any of those types of geckos.

crested gecko in setup

The first place to start with cage enrichment is to simply increase the size of your gecko’s cage.  Many keepers start off in a fairly small cage, especially for baby geckos, which is adequate.  It is often much simpler to maintain babies in a small cage, but this same attitude does not necessarily apply to adults.  A couple of adult crested geckos can live in a 20 gallon tall tank, which is 24” wide by 20” tall, and 12” deep.  However, to really get the most out of them, try keeping them in some of the larger naturdal terrariums – the 36”x18”x18” for example, up to the 36” x 18” x 36” cage.  These larger sizes allow you many more options in cage décor, lighting, and microclimates within the cage.

crested gecko terrarium

A larger cage offers the space Crested Geckos will use to leap from perch to perch, such as from the branches of a small ficus tree or from cork pieces.  In a truly large enclosure, you can plant a couple of small ficus trees and then along the back of the cage, prop up some cork flats and/or cork hollows.  Crested Geckos love to sleep in cork hollows, and you will likely find that yours pick the same cork hollow or flat piece to sleep in day after day.  Try not to add too much décor to your cage, though.  It’s important to keep large gaps between branches and vines so that your geckos have space to jump.  To see for yourself how much your geckos love jumping, flip the lights back on after you’ve had them off for half an hour or so.  Your geckos will be out and active, and you’ll likely even hear the distinct “Thonk!  Thonk!” of them landing on the sides of the cage.

If you have a hard time affording the large glass aquaria that are ideal for setting up a more naturalistic looking cage, consider using a large mesh cage a few days a week.  You can get a fairly large mesh Reptarium for a fraction of the cost of a similar sized glass aquarium, but Reptariums are lightweight, easy to set up, and easy to dissemble if need be.  The perk of a Reptarium over/in addition to a glass cage is that during suitable weather, you can put your Crested Geckos outside.  Do not put them outdoors in direct sunlight, or in temperatures below 65 or above 85.  However, within that range, some exposure to natural sunlight is an excellent way to bolster your usual care regimen for your gecko.  It is true that as nocturnal animals, Crested Geckos do not get much exposure to direct sunlight and high levels of UVB the way a desert animal such as a Bearded Dragon would.  However, mild amounts of UVB still penetrate into shaded areas, so wild geckos would still receive small amounts of UVB, making it something to consider including in the captive environment (although geckos can and will survive without UVB if supplemented correctly).  Keep in mind that UVB does not penetrate easily through glass or window screens, so while keeping your gecko’s cage next to a window may brighten the cage up, it will not receive the same beneficial UVB as it would if it were outdoors.

crested on reptarium

If keeping your gecko outdoors is not an option (your climate is too cold or too hot for too much of the year), consider lighting as another way to enrich your gecko’s captive life.  Use of a 5.0 UVB bulb on cages 12” or taller is an excellent way to provide the kind of moderate UVB that is all your gecko needs.  If your home’s ambient temperature is 75 degrees or cooler, you can also use a small basking or daylight bulb to create a small heat gradient within the cage.   In a large cage, you can place several cork hollows under the heat light, and offer your geckos the option to sleep in the warmer end of the cage or the cooler end.  You’d be surprised at how often your gecko will seek out warmer temperatures, perhaps not basking outright like a diurnal lizard would, but sleeping directly under or behind the exposed basking spot.  The option to seek out warmer temperatures also makes it easier for your gecko to digest meals, making it an option to feed a wider range of prey items.

crested baskingWhile they don’t often bask, every so often your geckos will actively seek out the warmer temps you provide for them!

Many caresheets recommend feeding exclusively the Repashy Crested Gecko Meal Replacement Powder, or MRP for short.  While the MRP has been designed as an exclusive diet, it can be beneficial for your gecko to have food items other than that.  Live insects such as crickets are relished, especially by younger geckos.  Insect prey items should be lightly coated in a calcium powder containing D3 (for geckos housed exclusively indoors), or in a plain calcium powder for those that get regular and prolonged exposure to natural sunlight.  If you have large adult Crested Geckos, consider offering regular sized to giant sized mealworms once a month.  Not all geckos will consume mealworms, but offering them once in a while to add variety to your gecko’s diet is not a bad thing.

In addition to live insects, you can also mix canned insects into your gecko MRP.  ZooMed Canned Caterpillars are often relished, especially by Gargoyle Geckos, and if you don’t want to try live crickets then canned ones are an option instead!  Just mix in a few with your MRP and wait to see them eat them.  Your geckos may not immediately eat the canned insects, and if that’s the case, try skipping a meal or two before offering the canned insects again.  If your gecko is healthy, just skipping a meal won’t hurt it at all – but it will sharpen its appetite, making it much more willing to try new foods.  One more thing to add to the MRP for variety is fruit.  You can use the ZooMed canned fruit Mixins, especially if it is hard to find nice, mushy tropical fruit in your area, or you can use overripe fresh fruit.  You don’t need a ton of fruit, just a little bit, but the extra sweetness is relished by the geckos.  Try different fruits until you find what your gecko enjoys the most!

gecko food mix

A word of caution on adding fresh fruit to your gecko’s diet: don’t put in too much!  For example, when adding it to the mix I prepare for my geckos, I use only roughly one teaspoon per 2 or 3 spoonfuls of MRP.  In addition, this is only done every other time I offer the MRP – this is to ensure that my geckos get the nutrients in their MRP without getting picky and eating only the fresh fruit.   Variety is great, and it is good to spoil your geckos with fresh food, just keep in mind that the MRP does contain all the vitamins and minerals your gecko needs.  Make sure that your gecko gets MRP at least every other feeding to ensure a balance of appropriate vitamins.

In closing, keep in mind that it’s important to match your enrichment options to your situation, and to use a bit of common sense when deciding what to try.  A large cage with nothing in it is not any better than a smaller cage that’s adequately furnished, and if it’s too cold or too hot outside you will not be benefiting your gecko by putting them outside.  Experiment with changes to the diet gradually, and don’t be discouraged if it takes a couple of tries before your geckos start to regularly eat canned insects.  Crested Geckos operate at cooler temperatures than many other species of pet reptiles, so their appetites and activity levels are lower than what you may expect.  Give them time, and try one thing at a time!  With the addition of a few enrichment options, your gecko will likely become more robust, colorful, and active.  Female geckos that are laying eggs should maintain a better weight and bounce back more quickly after each clutch, improving their overall and long term health.   There’s nothing to lose by enriching your gecko’s captive environment, and only health to gain!

Easier Than You Think: Maternal Incubation in Ball Pythons

Ball Python Maternal Incubation

by Jennifer Greene

Are you a beginner to ball python breeding?  Have you had trouble with successful hatch rates incubating your eggs artificially?  Are you curious about maternal incubation, and what’s involved to allow your female to successfully incubate her own eggs?   Then read on, and hopefully this article will help you on the path to successfully allowing your female to incubate her own eggs!

Before letting your ball python (or any snake species, for that matter) incubate her own eggs, you should prepare for this long before breeding even takes place.  I would not recommend allowing small or young females to maternally incubate, as they may not feed during this time and the extended period of non-feeding may be too much for them.  I generally only allow my females that are over 4 years old, and over 1800 grams (preferably in the 2,000 gram range) to maternally incubate their eggs.   Prep your girls by simply feeding them well and getting them into the best condition possible, with nice complete sheds and solid, good weight to them.  You want your girls as chunky as possible going into the breeding season, because again, they may or may not eat once they start incubating their eggs, and you don’t want the incubation process to drain them too severely.

female ball python

One of the author’s fat, healthy female ball pythons in the process of “building” prior to ovulating

Once you’ve selected the females that will be maternally incubating, proceed through the breeding process like usual.  For more information on this part, please refer to the numerous online caresheets, forums, and books currently available on the subject.  The only additional thing to consider is that if your female loses too much weight during the breeding season prior to ovulating, do not allow her to maternally incubate.  It is important that the female is in good condition throughout the entire process.

After your girl(s) have gone through the post-ovulation shed, begin readying their egg laying area.   If they are in a display cage, this can be an enclosed box slightly larger than the female with damp moss packed into it, or in a tub setup you can simply place damp moss throughout the warm side of the tub.  Watch your snake and tweak the cage conditions as needed – if she is laying directly on the heat, increase it by a few degrees until she is coiling just off to the side of the heat.  This way the eggs will be a consistent temperature, as often when they are laid directly on the heat source the bottom eggs can become over heated and go bad.  Be sure not to over-saturate the substrate or moss in the cage either, as this will also cause issues with the eggs.  It is easier to add a little more water, bit by bit, to the moss surrounding the female (and thus increase humidity that way) than it is to try and remove moisture if you have put too much in.  Too much moisture will kill the eggs much faster than not enough, so err on the side of dryness!

incubation tub

A tub set up and ready for maternal incubation

When your female begins to coil just off to the side of the heat, DON’T DECREASE THE HOT SPOT!  Most of the time the required high temperature is about 95 to 100 degrees; this needs to stay the same.  The female will select the spot that she will be able to maintain the correct 88 – 90 degree range of temperatures based on the conditions in the cage.  If you change the conditions in the cage, she cannot move the eggs, nor do much to increase her own temperature, and this can ultimately impact the temperature the eggs are incubated at.  Decreasing the hot spot by too much can result in longer incubation times, or if the temperatures get too cool, can even kill the entire clutch.

Once the eggs are laid, check the moss around the female, and ensure it stays damp.  Use of New Zealand Sphagnum moss is recommended, as it tends to last longer without molding or disintegrating than other types of moss.  To monitor temperatures, you can carefully slip the probe of a digital thermometer into the middle of the egg mass.  This will allow you to check on the temperatures of the eggs without disturbing the female too much, which is ideal.  Aside from providing fresh water daily, keep interaction with the female to a minimum at this point to keep stress as low as possible for her.  Once a week, check that the sphagnum moss is still damp (but not soaking wet).  Never, ever get the eggs themselves wet.  Only ever get moss or bedding around the female wet, and try to avoid saturating the bedding or moss.  Remember, it is easy to add a little water at a time until the ideal humidity is reached; it is significantly harder to remove it if you add too much.  Some noticeable dimpling, especially of the top eggs, is normal and should not be a cause for concern unless the eggs appear to be losing more than ¼ of their usual mass.

ball python with eggs

One of the author’s females incubating her eggs!

Average incubation time for maternally incubated clutches is not usually much shorter or longer than artificial clutches, so yours should hatch between 55 and 65 days.  I often start offering small rats to my incubating females during the last half of the incubation period.  Some females accept meals, some don’t.  Either is fine, but you just need to be cautious not to offer a prey item that is too large.   In the process of catching and constricting a large meal, there is the chance your female could disrupt her eggs, which naturally you want to avoid.  A female that refuses to eat the entire duration of incubation can be somewhat concerning to you as a keeper, but this is the exact reason you should always start with a female in the best possible condition.  Once the eggs hatch and the smell has been washed off of her, she should start feeding right away.

Once the babies start to pip, you can leave them alone in the cage until they have all hatched.  The female will not squish them, and will even adjust her coils so that they can poke their noses out to breathe.  It will take anywhere from a few hours up to 3 days for all the babies to emerge from their eggs, so be patient!  Once all the babies have emerged, remove them, and then completely clean the cage and soak the female.  It is necessary to thoroughly clean the cage as well as soak the female to remove all smell of the eggs and babies, as well as clean up the goop from hatching.  Any remaining smell of eggs/babies will result in the female continuing to coil and attempt to incubate whatever has the smell of the eggs.

ball python babies hatching

Hatchlings!

And that’s it!  Once you’ve set up one female to maternally incubate successfully, you will find each following maternal incubation to be easier and easier to set up and maintain.   I personally let most of my females incubate their own eggs, resorting to artificial incubation only for small or young females who are not as large or as heavy as I would prefer.  While you do not have the same degree of control over a maternally incubated clutch, the female does instinctually know exactly what to do.  The eggs may not look as pretty as they do when incubated artificially, but the babies come out in the exact same excellent shape!

Captive Breeding of Dwarf Day Geckos – From Issue 1, May 2012

The Reptile Times

day gecko header

By Jennifer Greene

Some of the most stunning geckos available today are the geckos of the Phelsuma genus, in addition to select species of the Lygodactylus genus.  Fortunately for keepers, many of the smaller Phelsuma species such as Lined Day Geckos, Peacock Day Geckos, or even the exotic looking Klemmeri Day Geckos are readily available in the reptile hobby, making it easy to keep your very own rainforest jewels at home!  If breeding these geckos is your ultimate goal, I recommend using a cage larger than the bare minimum – for example, for my Electric Blue Geckos I use and recommend an 18 x 18 x 24” terrarium.  This can be suitable for a small group of dwarf geckos, with one male and up to 3 females, or for a single pair of Klemmeri geckos.  For the slightly larger Peacock Day Geckos or Green Day Geckos, the new larger terrariums manufactured by Exoterra are recommended whenever possible, especially if you plan on housing more than just one pair of geckos in the cage!  The large sizes of these cages allow for the use of bulbs such as the Powersun bulb, which is what I use at home.  The intense light and UVB keeps your geckos’ colors bright and vivid, and the nice, hot basking area will create zones within your cage that the females will utilize to select egg laying sites.

Day Gecko Setup

Above is a perfect example of a small day gecko setup!

Large cage sizes also allow for the female(s) to escape the attention of the amorous male.  Male geckos in nearly every species are quite determined, and will attempt to mate constantly, making it important for the health of the female to provide her with numerous places to hide and get away from him.  The male’s courtship display is distinct and somewhat comical.  When the female comes into sight, he will lift up his entire body, bobbing his head and wiggling his tail at her.  With each fit of bobbing, he will edge closer and closer to the female, until he is close enough to touch her, and then breed with her. She will either indicate readiness to mate with reciprocal head bobbing, tail wiggling, and general in-place squirming, or she will reject the male by biting him on the head or simply running away.   Mating will take place year round if the cage is kept warm enough, although this can be quite draining on the female.  A winter cool down, with nighttime temperatures dropping below 75 degrees, is usually enough to stop egg laying for a few months, which allows the female to recuperate.  I provide a heat pad on the side of the cage for my geckos, and allow nighttime temperatures to dip into the high 60s/low 70s for 3 to 4 months a year.

breeding day geckos

2 of the author’s geckos in the breeding process

You will begin to see the female swell up with eggs about a week after copulation is noted, and after about 3 to 4 weeks, she will lay a clutch of one or two eggs.  When eggs are laid, they are pasted to a surface within the cage that the female deems suitable.  In a planted vivarium, this can be anywhere, and once established in her cage the female’s choice of egg laying sites is impeccable in leading to high hatch rates.  She will lay them around the lining of the top of the cage, on plants, in wood crevices, nearly anywhere in the cage above ground.  Keep the cage humid without getting the eggs themselves wet, whenever possible – for mine at home, I run a fogger 4 times a day, for ½ an hour each time, in addition to light spraying with a mister in the morning.  Little additional maintenance is required to encourage these eggs to hatch; providing your female with a large, planted vivarium that she thrives in will also provide a suitable environment for egg development.  Females will continue to lay eggs every 3 to 4 weeks for the duration of the breeding season, which is most of the year.

fogged terrarium

An interesting note – sometimes females can and will consume eggs.  They will almost always consume the shells of hatched eggs, and often do so within the first 24 hours of the babies hatching.  My females have always consumed the eggshells, and will often eat infertile eggs as well. They seem able to detect something about the eggs that is not good, as sometimes they will leave the eggs for several weeks before consuming them.  When I have caught them in the act, the insides of the eggs have indicated that they had no embryo inside.  They will sometimes even consume freshly laid, infertile eggs – the female Electric Blue pictured here ate her own egg within minutes of laying it.  She has not been with a male in several months, and the egg was undoubtedly infertile.

gecko eating egg

One of the author’s geckos eating an egg just a few weeks ago!

Incubation time can vary wildly from as little as 2 months for eggs laid close to the heat source to up to 4 months for eggs laid further away or during cooler months of the year.  I have even had one egg laid in November hatch in March – an incubation period of about 5 months!  If you are only keeping dwarf geckos in your vivarium, it is possible to just leave the neonate geckos in the cage with the adults. All of my babies have been raised this way, and from personal communication with others who have successfully bred these geckos, this seems to be the most common way to successfully raise hatchlings. I have even observed babies watching adults feeding from the powdered gecko food placed out for them, and once the adults have left the babies will head down to the food and eat as well.  In addition to gecko food, babies will also feed on springtails, pinhead crickets, fruit flies, and other tiny invertebrates found within the cage and substrate of an established and well planted vivarium.  Supplementation should be very minimal, as these babies are tiny and need only minute amounts of vitamins to grow properly.  To be frank, I have never intentionally provided extra supplementation for my baby geckos – they get what they need from the gecko MRP (which has vitamins in it) or on the rare occasion among the small dusted crickets provided for the adults, a few pinheads that they can eat are in there as well.

baby williamsi day gecko

Once they are about 3 to 4 months of age, most geckos are well started enough to consider moving to their own enclosures.  Between 4 and 6 months of age, they begin to develop sexable characteristics, although it can still be difficult to sex them accurately until they are over a year old.    Raising the baby geckos can be one of the most rewarding aspects of keeping them, and it is difficult to think of anything more adorable than a newly hatched dwarf gecko.