Is My Reptile Warm Enough? August 2013

By Jonathan Rheins

In the world of pets, reptiles are very different from your everyday cat or dog. Your furry pets have the ability, like us, to regulate our body temperature internally, and keep it a constant and healthy level. Reptiles of course don’t have this ability. They are often referred to as cold-blooded, a term that is both inaccurate and rather unacceptable. The aforementioned term tends to spark negative connotations regarding these animals, as “cold-blooded” is so often associated with cruelty or evil.

The trend now in scientific literature is to identify these animals as what they truly are, which is poikilothermic ectotherms. These words are often used to describe reptiles interchangeably, although their exact definitions do differ slightly. Poikilothermic literally translates from Greek to mean “variable temperature.” In other words, poikilotherms are any animals that have a variable body temperature. Although a healthy human may have a body temperature of 98.6 plus or minus a few tenths of a degree, we are not considered poikilotherms. Rather poikilotherms are animals that not only have an inconsistent body temperature, but also one capable of massive highs and lows without harming the organism.
A basking Blue Tongue Skink

Now that we understand that aspect of reptilian physiology it is somewhat easier to understand the vital importance of providing captive reptiles with an acceptable range of environmental temperatures. The key word in the above phrase is “range.” Maintaining any reptile or amphibian at a constant temperature is neither healthy or natural. Instead we should strive to provide a thermal range, or gradient, for our pets so that they may choose the correct temperature for their specific needs at any given time. In the wild, reptiles are constantly moving around searching for microclimates within their environment that meet their needs. Aquatic turtles are a good example. On a sunny day, a turtle may haul itself onto a warm rock or log, and when it reaches its preferred body temperature, slips back into the water to cool down. A given animal may go through this series of behaviors literally dozens of times a day. Although I used turtles in my example, the same holds true for snakes, lizards, and amphibians (although to a lesser degree).

For any given species, a little research should quickly yield a set of vital temperatures that you should learn and love. One of these is the ambient temperature required by your species. This is essentially the background temperature, and additionally functions as the cooler temperature that you will eventually use in creating your gradient. The other temperature typically given is that of the basking spot. This is the temperature you want to achieve in the warmest spot in the cage. The basking temperature is usually limited to one or two local areas within the enclosure where the reptile can bask as needed to raise its body temperature.

As an example lets look at a popular species, the bearded dragon, Pogona vitticeps. Individual sources will vary, and the age of your pet and size of enclosure ultimately come into play when developing a proper gradient. Nonetheless, lets assume that beardeds require an ambient temperature of 78-82 degrees with a basking spot of approximately 110 degrees. This can simply be interpreted as: make cage 80 degrees with a localized basking spot of 110. The concept is fairly simple when you break it down.

Understanding the physiology and mechanisms behind reptilian thermoregulatory behavior is a large part of the battle. We are fortunate to live in a time where reptile keeping has become mainstream enough to allow the average consumer access to a wide variety of reptile care supplies. Therefore, the educated hobbyist can easily find and purchase any number of heating devices designed specifically for reptile use with which to provide a proper thermal gradient for their pets.

Reptiles like this Panther Chameleon cannot thrive without the proper temperatures.

The first and perhaps most important tool you can have when keeping reptiles is a high quality thermometer. Standard adhesive strip thermometers are very reasonably priced, and can provide the keeper with ambient temperature information at a glance. Analog thermometers are another option. Though slightly more expensive, the cost is offset by increased accuracy and precision, as well as the ability to move the device throughout the cage.

I typically recommend at least two thermometers per cage, or one easily movable one. One thermometer should be placed in the warmest spot in the enclosure (the basking spot).

This thermometer should allow the keeper to ensure that the basking spot does not exceed the safe level for the species being kept. The second thermometer should be placed away from the basking zone, typically on the far end of the cage. Utilizing this arrangement of one thermometer at both the hottest and coolest parts of the cage makes monitoring the gradient simple, and adjustment easy.

When designing your reptiles enclosure, keep the concept of the thermal gradient in mind. Placing the basking spot in the center of your cage will likely result in the entire cage remaining too warm. Instead, aim to have one side of the cage warm, and the other cooler. If you set up your enclosure this way, and have a properly temped basking spot, you will automatically have a gradient. The further away from the heat source that the animal travels, the cooler it will become. In very large or elaborate set-ups it may become necessary to have multiple basking spots. This is perfectly acceptable so long as cooler zones within the enclosure are still provided.

Using heat lights can encourage perching reptiles, like this Green Tree Python, to bask where you can see them.

There is a huge variety of heating bulbs, elements, pads, panels, and rocks available for keeping your pets warm. Heat bulbs, ceramic heat emitters, and heating pads are by far the most popular, so they will each be discussed briefly in turn, as a working knowledge of these items will help you choose the appropriate equipment for your specific situation.

Bulbs are the most popular method, and different types exist to serve specific purposes. Somereptile bulbs emit heat in a wide wash of light, similar to a standard household bulb. Other so-called “spot” bulbs are designed to focus the heat and light onto a smaller more concentrated area. Additionally, both spot and flood-type bulbs are available in red, effectively creating an infra-red heating device. The light emitted by these bulbs looks red to us, while it is likely that your reptiles do not see any light at all. The main advantage to red bulbs is that they can remain on at night without disrupting the animals natural day/night cycle (assuming supplemental lighting is used during normal daylight hours).

Ceramic heat emitters are yet another option for heating reptiles from above. Similar in form and function to a light bulb, these devices are essentially a solid ceramic heat element available in a variety of wattages to fit any need, They screw into any standard porcelain light fixture and produce an intense amount of heat compared to bulbs of similar wattage. Among the advantages of ceramic heat emitters is the total absence of light that they produce and their longevity. Properly used elements should easily last 5 to 7 years without problems.

A happily basking Texas Map Turtle

Heat pads are a common tool for snake owners due to the terrestrial habits of many snake species. Heat pads are usually, but not always, self adhesive and attach to the outside bottom of any glass terrarium. Individual models will vary, but on average you can expect the substrate temperature above the pad to be about 10 degrees above room temperature. In some situations a heat pad alone provides adequate heat, however do not be discouraged if you end up using both a pad and a light or ceramic element to properly warm your enclosure.

There is one more vital piece of advice that I would like to share with you. Having kept a wide variety of reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates myself over the years, I have adopted a unique and reliable philosophy regarding reptile behavior. As I said earlier, having an accurate thermometer in your cage is very, very important as it is very difficult for us as humans to detect slight temperature variations. Yet in my opinion, the most accurate thermometer that you have at your disposal is the animal itself.

Just as no two humans are exactly alike, nor are any two reptiles. Due to the uniqueness of each animal, carefully observing your pets is the best way to see if they are happy. Yes, within a given species of animal the needs will be quite similar, and as such are generalized accurately in care books. Nonetheless, individual variances do occur, and you should be open to making changes accordingly.

If your reptile is always in its basking spot, day and night, and never budges, chances are that it is too cold in the enclosure, and your pet is trying desperately to warm up. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the hypothetical situation where your reptile spends all day trying to claw through the glass on the cooler end of the tank, almost as if it were being chased. This would be indicative of temperatures that are too hot.

Some reptiles, like this Pygmy Leaf Chameleon, don’t actually like high temperatures in their cage.

Keep in mind that these behaviors may be part of your pets normal activity if it happens only occasionally. You needn?t worry until the above mentioned scenarios become chronic, or are accompanied by anorexia or other signs of illness.

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to share with you my thoughts and opinions in regards to keeping your reptiles warm and happy this winter. Please keep in mind that animals are unpredictable, and when dealing with them nothing is written in stone. We are all still in a learning stage when it comes to perfecting reptile-keeping and we all need to work together to allow our hobby to progress. All of the above is based on my personal experience and opinions, and is in no way intended to be the last word on the subject. If you ever find yourself in doubt about your animals health or well being, feel free to contact us or your local expert.

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.

Getting to Know Gryllidae – February 2013

By Jonathan Rheins

Getting to Know Gryllidae

The venerable cricket (Family Gryllidae) has become a mainstay fixture in the world of feeder fodder for all keepers of reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, fish, and even small mammals.  Easily propagated, readily available, and of acceptable nutritional value, the cricket makes an ideal staple diet for many species, both in the wild and within the home vivarium.

While certain variables do exist, the nutritional value and rearing care for crickets is quite stable regardless of species.  There are a number of cricket species available to US hobbyists, and the list expands when an international scope is considered.

Within the United States, the type and availability of feeder crickets will vary based upon geographical region, season, legal variables, and outside influences such as the recent virus-related production issues of particular species in certain areas of the country.

A special note should dictate that viral issues associated with the propagation of certain cricket species are not indicative of an unhealthy feeder cricket.  These ailments are specific to the genus, and will most certainly not spread to any animals consuming said crickets.

Among the genera of cricket likely to be encountered in the North American trade are; AchetaGryllus, and Gryllodes.  Regardless of genus and/or species, the steps required to maintain small-to-moderately sized holdings of these species are nearly identical.

The goal of this article is to impart upon the hobbyist a thorough understating of basic cricket care, the steps and importance of preparing these animals to be offered as food, and a multitude of tips and tricks to ensure success every time.

The Physical Cricket

Whether you are purchasing a dozen crickets at a time, or a thousand, it is imperative that the keeper has a firm grasp on the size/age of the crickets being purchased.  Furthermore, all of the species discussed herein grow rapidly, and this rapid maturation should be taken into account if more than a few weeks-worth of feeders are purchased at a time.

At birth the cricket species within our discussion are just about the size of the period that follows this sentence. These are colloquially referred to as pinhead (aka newborn) crickets.

Within a few weeks of adequate care, most crickets will approach the ¼” mark, about the size that is recommended for baby bearded dragons, leopard geckos, and adult dart frogs. Once this size/age is reached, maintenance and handling becomes significantly easier and less precarious for the crickets themselves.

Factors such as diet, temperature, and species will affect the rate of cricket growth, but on average, crickets double in size every 2 weeks.   Therefore a 4-week old cricket can be expected to measure between ½” and ¾” in total length.  Mature crickets of 1” or more are typically seen at an age of 6 to 8 weeks.  Again, many factors will contribute to the growth rate of crickets regardless of species and genetics.

Standing Room Only

When attempting to maintain any quantity of feeder crickets, the first step is to locate an appropriately sized and secure holding container.  Between 40 and 100 ¼” crickets can be comfortably housed in a container such as a Mini Faunarium , which is slightly smaller in size than a standard brick.  As size and quantity of crickets increases, so should the size of the enclosure being utilized.  A holding tank the size of an Extra Large Critter Keeper or standard 10-gallon aquarium is adequate for 500-1000 appropriately sized crickets.

The key to successful maintenance of crickets in any quantity is space and standing room.  Despite being ectothermic (body temperature influenced by external environmental factors), crickets en masse tend to generate a considerable amount of external heat and while they do not “sweat” in the traditional sense, condensation can form, which is a leading cause of cricket mortality.

Crickets of most species likely to be encountered will grow and thrive at slightly above room temperature.  For rapid growth and reproduction, ambient temperatures approaching 85° Fahrenheit are acceptable.   For typical day-to-day holding however, 75° to 80° should be considered maximum.

It should be noted that temperatures approaching freezing can be tolerated for short periods by some species, although typical repeated lows should be remain at or above 60° Fahrenheit.   As mentioned earlier, all genera of Gryllidae rely on external sources to regulate body temperature. As such, they are a fairly hardy group of insects, however, in all cases, lower temperature extremes are much less likely to prove rapidly detrimental than excessive heat.

On Solid Ground

In addition to maintaining a stable temperature within the cricket habitat, an appropriate substrate will ensure proper waste absorption as well as keeping humidity and moisture levels with a reasonable range.  While some keepers opt for a substrate-free enclosure, many find that utilizing a high-quality, dust-free flooring aids greatly in managing odor and moisture levels.

Chipped aspen shavings are an excellent option for cricket substrata.  These products are nearly sterile, dust free, and compact nicely for easy removal of small crickets and food waste.  Shredded aspen is another alternative, as is the use of shredded or pulverized coconut husk beddings.  Depending on your specific needs, a substrate should be chosen that allows for the proper humidity and temperature levels to be consistently maintained.

In order to increase surface area for held feeder crickets to assimilate, the addition of egg cartons, paper towel rolls, or even bunched up paper should be provided.  This will ensure that multiple specimens will never need to occupy the same space within the enclosure.  This small bit of “breathing room” is a simple but necessary consideration when keeping crickets in any quantity.

Herps Are What They Eat

Whether a cricket destined for consumption is kept for a day or for a month, they must be provided with food and water, as per any other animal.  Not including these provisions for feeder crickets is not only harsh for the insects themselves, but vastly decreases the moisture and nutritional level of the cricket at the time of being consumed.

The term “gut-loading” has come to loosely define the process of providing feeders of any species with a healthy and nutritious diet.  This practice not only ensures the survival of the feeder animal itself, but also affects the gut contents and consequent nutritional value of the prey item ultimately being consumed.

Naturally, crickets are opportunistic scavengers.  They will consume organic matter of any type including plants, carrion, fungi, as well as the weaker members of their own kind.  Providing a diet for captive raised crickets is a simple matter.  They need both a constant source of moisture and food.

Among the most tried and true means for feeding a cricket colony is via the provision of a constantly available, yet separate food and water source.   A dry, grain-based diet such as Fluker’s Cricket Feed or the pelleted Cricket Food from Rep Cal will provide crickets of all sizes with a well-rounded diet.  The addition of a water replacement such as Nature Zone Water BitesFluker’s Cricket Quencher, or a similar gelatinous water crystal will serve as a source of moisture for the crickets.  Liquid water within the cricket habitat will quickly lead to excessive drowning losses and bacterial growth, and should be avoided.

For those cricket caretakers with less time on their hands, there are an assortment of “complete” food, water, and gut-load products available that cover all aspects of cricket and other invertebrate feeder care in one simple step.  These products come either ready to feed (Nature Zone Total BitesFluker’s Orange Cubes) or in an easily prepared powdered form such as Repashy’s Bug Burger and similar products.  The goal of these products is to provide both sound nutrition as well as water to feeder insects of all sorts.

In the End

It may seem like a handful of crickets tossed into the terrarium once a week is all that it takes to maintain a healthy, happy herp. While this may occasionally be the case, more often than not, further attention to nutrition and long-term maintenance protocols of feeder crickets are needed to raise and breed exceptionalreptiles and amphibians.

When adequately cared for, crickets of any type provide an excellent dietary staple for many herp, invertebrate, and mammal species.  While readily available, it is important to ensure that all crickets are well cared for and properly fed prior to being offered to any animal as prey.

Ample space, a proper substrate, and appropriate food and water sources are the keys to maintaining feeder crickets of any quantity.  A little bit of foresight, planning, and effort on our part will ensure that our cricket-eating counterparts receive a nutritionally sound diet and live long, happy lives.

The Basking Spot: Installing Under Tank Heaters – December 2012

The Basking Spot

By Jonathan Rheins

Practical Guide to Undertank Heat Pad Installation

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

Brumation Basics – December 2012

Brumation Basics

By Jonathan Rheins

All reptiles and amphibians are ectothermic; that is, the environment in which they are found dictates their body temperature.  These animals have perfected the art of altering body position and their location within their surroundings to establish an ideal body temperature.  In the terrarium, this behavior is often demonstrated by animals moving in and out of localized “basking” spots.  In nature, this amounts to where the animal chooses to position itself in relation to the sun or other source of radiant heat.
During weather extremes many ectothermic animals seek refuge from the elements either underground, deep within rock fissures, or within any other acceptably insulated space.  This behavior is known as brumation,when the period of inactivity occurs during cold weather, and aestivation, when the weather is too warm for regular activity.
For wild herps, brumation and aestivation are basically survival tactics.  These behaviors are natural adaptations that allow them to slow down their metabolism drastically and survive for extended periods when conditions are simply too unfavorable for regular activity. While reptiles are generally rather tough creatures, they also often inhabit some of the harshest environments on Earth.
Central Asian (aka Russian) tortoises, Agrionemys horsfieldii,serve as a prime example of these principles.  During the winter months in most of their range temperatures can drop far below 0 degrees F with many feet of snow covering the ground.  Conversely, in the summer months, the temperature regularly soars over 100 degrees F.  When the weather reaches these extremes, A. Horsfeidii will be burrowed as far as 6’ under ground, and emerge only for 3 to 4 months after winter to eat, breed, and lay eggs.
When maintaining reptiles in a terrarium setting, we must keep in mind that the activity of many herps is seasonally dictated.   This is part of their hard-wired instinct and it is much easier to embrace this fact than try to combat it by “tricking” an animal by manipulating lighting and heating.  By gaining a thorough understanding of an animal’s natural history and behavioral patterns, it becomes easier to interpret their behavior and adjust husbandry accordingly.
There are two general approaches to dealing with brumation behavior in the terrarium setting.  With species that undergo a true brumation in the wild, it may be acceptable to replicate this rest period for captive animals housed indoors.  Animals such as tortoises and box turtles that live outside may be allowed to enter brumation on their own, with minimal involvement on the part of the keeper.  For some species, such as cornsnakes, this annual fluctuation of temperature and photoperiod induces breeding and subsequent egg-laying.  In the wild, most temperate and sub-tropical herps reproduce during the spring and summer months, ensuring the young have ample time and resources prior to facing their first winter.
If captive propagation is not your goal, most pet reptiles can be kept awake year-round.  This alternative is the more typical approach, and requires fewer changes to the husbandry routine.  In these cases, photoperiod and temperatures are mainatained the same throughout the year.  However, it should be noted that even if no adjustments are made on your part, some animals will experience a “slow down” exemplified by inactivity and decreased appetite.
A thorough understanding of an animal’s natural range and the weather patterns therein can aid greatly in making brumation preparations for any herp.  Every attempt should be made to replicate the natural environment as much as possible.  The specifics regarding brumation timing and procedures will vary from one species to another, but some generalizations can be made.
Changes in lighting and heating regimens should be done gradually, as they occur in the wild.  Transitioning areptile from “normal” summer temperatures to winter temperatures overnight can be not only stressful to thereptile, but can have negative health implications as well.  Additionally, feeding should be slowly reduced as the temperatures are decreased.  Brumating herps do not hunt or eat in the wild, and having an empty digestive tract prior to entering brumation will ensure that no undigested food is left to decay in the gut and potentially cause illness.
In the spring, this procedure is essentially reversed; temperatures and photoperiod are gradually increased and feeding is resumed once all environmental conditions are stabilized.  For many reptile species this return to warmer temperatures and longer day length triggers courtship and breeding behavior.  The actual cooling process plays a significant role as well, specifically with spermatogenesis and ovulation in male and female herps respectively.
Only animals in ideal health and of good body weight should be considered for any sort of artificial or natural brumation.  Typically, herps eat and grow during the spring and summer in preparation for cooler months when food is scarce.  Although baby herps do brumate in the wild, it is out of necessity.  Most hobbyists and breeders wait until an animal is in its second or third year prior to allowing it to undergo a full winter cool-down.
As one of the most popular and prevalent pet lizards in the US, it seems only fitting that we look at the details of brumation in bearded dragons, and its implications for the average keeper.  Many first time bearded dragon owners become understandably alarmed when their normally ravenous dragon suddenly begins sleeping all day and losing interest in food. However, the vast majority of mature dragons will show marked changes in behavior during different parts of the year.
In the United States, most bearded dragons that have reached sexual maturity (typically 12-18 months) will begin to show signs of impending winter dormancy beginning in mid-fall.  In southern California, where the author lives and breeds bearded dragons, animals begin slowing down by the end of September.  External cues such as shortened day length, lower temperatures, and fluctuations in barometric pressure all contribute to the onset of brumation in bearded dragons.
During this transitional time, most dragons will still enthusiastically eat their favorite foods, but may lose interest in less appealing fare. Basking behavior will often change as well, with animals spending less timeunderneath heat sources and more time in the cooler regions of the enclosure.
By mid-November most male bearded dragons will have stopped eating almost completely.  Female dragons tend to brumate as well, but males are more likely to exhibit more drastic changes in behavior.  Food should still be offered on a semi-regular basis as per the interest in food shown by the animal.
As the days continue to get shorter, and nighttime temperatures drop, one should not be alarmed to see their bearded dragon go for weeks, sometimes months, without eating.  Animals that are going through a normal brumation period will lose minimal body weight, and at no point should they appear skinny or weak.  However, it is normal for them to remain hunkered down in a cold and dark corner of the cage for days on end.
It is important to ensure that brumating herps, bearded dragons included, remain properly hydrated.  The majority of their normal water intake is via the foods that they eat.  So when they are off food for the winter, a water bowl should always be available.  Alternately, adult dragons can be given a 10-minute soak in warm water once or twice a week to allow ample opportunity to drink.
Most of the author’s adult dragons begin “waking up” around the beginning of March.  As the ambient temperature begins to increase and the days begin getting longer again, the dragons will begin basking more often, and showing a gradually increasing interest in food.  By April, male bearded dragons will begin displaying their full breeding behavior.  Darkened beards, head bobbing, and courting of any receptive female can be expected.
When temperatures have stabilized in mid to late spring the majority of lizards will have resumed a normal feeding schedule, and should exhibit more typical basking behavior.  It should be noted that some male dragons will be less inclined to eat when they are housed with a female.  These animals will often be more concerned with breeding than with eating.
To the uninitiated, the entire brumation or aestevation process seems quite unusual, and entirely foreign.  As mammals, we find the idea of going for extended periods of time with little to no food to be alarming, and a great cause for concern.  However, we must remember that reptiles are a very ancient and well-adapted group of animals that have evolved in such a way as to survive when and where most other organisms could not.
By familiarizing yourself with the underlying biological implications of the brumation process, one can become better prepared to recognize and accommodate these behaviors in the terrarium setting.  While some concessions must be made, overall, the best results are observed when herps are allowed to follow a natural seasonal cycle.
Behavioral and physiological changes in tune with the environment are part of what make reptiles and amphibians the creatures that they are.  If we can identify and embrace these behavioral changes, rather than allow them to concern us, it will only allow us to better care for our charges, and ensure that our herps live the most natural, and comfortable life that they can.