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.

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

By Erin Lane

What to Expect

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

Egg Deposition

Cupping the clutch

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

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

Happy medium

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Eggs can quickly go bad if kept too moist.

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

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

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

Placement parameters

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

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

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

Easy bake

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

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

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

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

Egg in the final days before hatching

Tools of the trade

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

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

Egg just beginning to dimple before hatching

Temps and times

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

Clutch of eggs hatchinh

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

Proof in the pudding

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

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

Egg that has just pipped

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

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

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

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

Hold a candle up

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

The baby beardie emerging.

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

Time’s up

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

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

The next phase

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

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

By Erin Lane

What to expect

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

Female Translucent Bearded Dragon Basking

Being responsible

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

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

Female Bearded Dragons enjoying some calcium dusted mealworms!

Counting the calories

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

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

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

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

Bearded Dragon getting a drink in the shower

A quick note on hydration

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

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

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

The lay box

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

Laying Box with organic potting soil

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

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

Bearded Dragon in the middle of laying eggs.

Knowing when

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

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

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

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

Bearded Dragon depositing a healthy clutch of eggs!

Captive Husbandry of the Fire Skink – January 2013

By Jennifer Greene

Fire skinks, or Riopa fernandi, are arguably some of the cutest lizards out there.  With big, doe-like eyes set on a cute little face, bright colors and little legs on a long body, they are capable of making even non-reptile lovers squeal about how cute they are.  Their common name arises from the vivid red coloration on their sides, which connects to red strips down the side of their neck and up into bright red cheeks.  They typically have a black base color with a white checkered chin, and their backs are often a golden tan, with some individuals having a redder color instead.  They are on the smaller end in size, with mature adults reaching between 14 and 20” depending on tail length.   Their relatively small adult size compared to other pet lizards, in combination with their adorable faces and ease of care, make them quite delightful pets to keep.  Captive bred skinks can be downright outgoing, often coming out to see their owners and check for more food.  As rewarding as these little skinks can be, they are not often kept, or not kept for extended periods of time.  They are seen as either too difficult for the beginner (not the case!) or too basic for the more experienced keeper.  My hope is to help the beginner embrace these adorable creatures, and to highlight the rewards of keeping them to encourage more herpers to give them a shot.

Fire skinks can regrow their tail, much like this captive bred baby is doing!

Most fire skinks available to reptile keepers today are wild caught in origin, with most originating from a handful of countries in West Africa, often the same countries that baby ball pythons come from.  A small number of keepers have successfully bred their fire skinks (myself included), so captive bred babies can be available on occasion – it just takes patience sometimes to find them.  Wild caught skinks are not usually difficult to get acclimated to captivity, especially when set up properly and given time to settle in.  Captive bred babies do tend to be more outgoing than their wild caught cousins, but regardless of your skink’s origins, their care is the same.

I prefer to keep them in a relatively large cage, as they can be extremely active and will utilize all the space.  You can maintain one or two in a cage as small as a 20 long, but I highly recommend a cage at least 36” x 16” x 16”.  I keep my adult pair in an ExoTerra terrarium that measures 36” long by 24” tall by 18” deep, and I routinely see them using the entire cage.  In a cage like the ExoTerra one that I use, you can offer them a nice thick layer of substrate to burrow into, which they will love.  I use a combination of cypress mulch, Eco Earth, and orchid bark to achieve a nice, natural looking appearance that maintains humidity well and does not require frequent changing of the substrate.  I check the cage daily for feces, and once a week stir up the bedding and add fresh water to keep it moist.

I rarely actually see my skinks in their water bowl, but I do find fresh feces in the bowl about every other day.  Because they are prone to pooping in their water dish, I prefer to offer them a bowl big enough for them to climb into, and for mine I use a ZooMed Large Corner Dish.  I furnish their cage with a variety of items for them to climb on and around, and they really seem to love clambering up inside of cork tubes to bask under the lights.  I have a large tube on each side of the cage, and a few large and medium pieces of cork flats piled throughout their cage.  In addition, I added some fake vines to provide some foliage in the cage and visual barriers for them.  Using fake or live foliage helps make the cage look a little nicer, and provides cover for your skinks to hide behind and feel safe within their cage.  You may even see them peeking out at you from under the leaves!

One of the most important things about skink housing is something that doesn’t even get placed directly in the cage, but instead over the top: lighting!  As terrestrial skinks, these little critters don’t require exceptionally intense heat or light, but they do need heat and UVB provided during the day.  In the large cage that I use, a 100 watt powersun bulb provides all the basking light and UVB, and to illuminate the rest of the cage I use the new ExoTerra Ion bulbs.  I really like using the Powersun bulb on larger cages to provide heat and UVB, as the skinks really seem to thrive with the ability to get close to the light as needed.  The new ExoTerra Ion bulbs are nice, extremely bright bulbs that do not put out measurable amounts of UVB, making them ideal for illuminating reptile cages that already have a source of UVB.  Putting too many UVB lights on one cage has the potential to irritate the eyes of yourreptiles, and does not give them the option to escape UVB exposure if they feel the need to.  The Ion bulbs are super bright, and that in combination with their low cost makes them ideal for illuminating just about any cage you have.

 

My favorite bulb for most diurnal reptiles – the fantastic Powersun!

Basking temperatures can reach up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit as long as the cool side remains below 80 degrees.  How you achieve these temperatures is up to you; I use only the Powersun bulb in my cage during the day, and at night my skinks have a 75 watt infrared bulb to keep cage temperatures from dropping too low.  Exactly what wattages you use for your own cage at home is something you may need to tinker with to get it just right.  A warmer home (75 to 80 degrees) will not require as hot of a basking light, nor would it need a night time heat source.  A cooler home (65 to 70 degrees) would probably require higher wattage bulbs.  Using a thermostat or rheostat to help monitor temperatures within the range you prefer can make your life much simpler, rather than switching out multiple wattages depending on the time of year.  I also use a Zilla Power Center Digital Timer, which makes my life immensely easier because it switches all my lights on and off on its own.  All the lights are automated, which just leaves the daily maintenance to cleaning out the water and feeding my skinks!

Feeding your skinks can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of their care – they are often very enthusiastic feeders, and readily consume most live feeder insects.  The staple of the diet can consist of primarily crickets and mealworms, with full grown adult skinks easily consuming 1” crickets, giant mealworms, or superworms.  In addition, I highly recommend including roaches in your skink’s diet.  Mine happily eat dubia and hissing cockroaches, and I do not doubt that they will consume just about any species you can order online or find at your nearest reptile expo. Waxworms, reptiworms, silkworms, and hornworms all can and should be added to your skink’s diet whenever possible, as the variety in their diet will help your skinks grow and thrive their best.  On top of all that, they will often also eat canned insects, such as canned caterpillars, grasshoppers, and even snails, so there is no excuse for not providing a varied diet for your lizards!

Adult Skinks can easily eat superworms

Waxworms are good treats to feed occasionally too

Illustrating the size difference between regular mealworms and giants – both are acceptable food items!

Whenever offering live insects, it is also important to dust them with a high quality reptile calcium and/or multivitamin.  I use and highly recommend either the ZooMed Reptivite (with D3 for lizards kept indoors), or the Repashy Calcium Plus, as both have a great balance of calcium, multivitamins and vitamin D3.  While you may be making quite the effort to provide your skinks with as varied a diet as possible, it does not come close to approaching the dozens or hundreds of different insects and small animals they would consume in the wild.  For this reason, it is important to dust your skinks’ food at least every other feeding, or as per the instructions on your calcium or multivitamin supplement.

When it comes to handling your skinks, it really depends on your skink and how well it reacts to your presence.  This is where it can pay off to pick up a captive bred baby, as they are often already well-accustomed to human interaction and handling.  Certain long term captive skinks mind it less than others as well, and even originally skittish skinks can become habituated to their owners with time.  The key is patience and time: feeding your skinks well and letting them get used to you for several weeks or months will give them time to settle in and learn that you are not going to harm them.  Once they are well established and feeding well for you, you can attempt to coax them out or handle them for short periods of time.  Not all skinks enjoy handling, especially at first, and they can be extremely squirmy and fast, so you may want a spotter around for the first few handling sessions in case your skink escapes!  Most skinks are perfectly happy if they are rarely, if ever, handled, so do not feel as though you need to handle your skinks for them to do well.  If anything, they would probably love to be left alone entirely, and instead will come out to check out their surroundings and watch what is happening outside their cage.

Any of these supplements are suitable for your skinks!

Calm, confident handling is key to teaching your skink to accepting human interaction!

Fire Skinks are cute, brilliantly colored little lizards that can be incredible pets for the keeper looking for a smaller species of lizard to display in their home.  Their sturdiness and ease of care coupled with how frankly adorable they are makes it hard not to love them as a fantastic beginner lizard or fun side project for the experienced keeper.  Breeding them is also fairly easy and straightforward, and once established they can be extremely prolific.  Check back with us next month to see a Breeding Spotlight take you through step by step on how to condition, breed, incubate, and raise Fire Skinks of your own!

The Basking Spot: Canned Diets

The Basking Spot

By Jonathan Rheins

ZOO MED CAN O’ PRODUCTS

This month we take a look at canned whole-feeder products from Zoo Med.  These diets make feeding your herps easier and more exciting than ever.  Now you can offer your pets all sorts of insects, snails, and even shrimp!
All Zoo Med canned insects are cooked whole in the can to ensure the highest level of nutrition and palatability.  This unique cooking process also softens the exoskeleton, making the food more easily digested by even young animals.
Zoo Med Can O Diets
WHOSE FOOD
One of the greatest things about canned feeders is that most any herp will learn to eat them.  Some animals, such as bearded dragons or blue tongue skinks, will readily consume canned insects or snails straight from the can or off of a feeding plate.
Herps that normally hunt live prey may need to be enticed to try canned foods at first by moving the food around in front of them.  Use a pair of feeding tongs to gently wiggle food, giving it a life-like appearance.  Plastic tongs, like Zoo Med’s Plastic Feeding Tongs, are ideal, as the plastic tips are less likely to injure an over zealous eater!
Aquatic turtles will quickly learn to accept nearly any type of food offered to them, and Can O’ products are no exception.  Dietary variety is a cornerstone of aquatic turtle husbandry, and with Can O’ products, turtles can be offered a much wider range of prey than would be available as live feeders.
Zoo Med Can O Diets
Reptiles and amphibians are not the only animals that will enjoy Zoo Med’s canned insects.  Freshwater and marine fish will also eagerly eat these diets.  They can be free fed or even trained to accept individual pieces from feeding tongs!  Other small pets such as hedgehogs and sugar gliders will also eat Zoo Med canned insects as an alternative to, or in addition to, live foods.
CONVEINIENCE SAKE
 
For some reptile keepers, watching their pets hunt is all part of the thrill.  However, others would rather not have to deal with finding, caring for, and handling live food.  For these individuals, canned insects make keeping some insectivorous herp species a viable option for the first time.
Zoo Med Can O Diets
Additionally, by purchasing feeders in a can, there is no need to “gutload” prey items to increase their nutritional value.  In fact, they do not need to be fed or watered at all.  They can just sit on the shelf until you are ready to feed your pet.  Once opened, these products remain good for up to a week if refrigerated.
PICK YOUR FLAVOR
 
Zoo Med offers a wide variety of food items in their Can O’ products line.  Large grasshoppers (a bearded dragon favorite),caterpillars,  crickets,  mealworms,  superworms,  shrimp, and snails (great for skinks and box turtles) are all available.  The mealworms and crickets are available in two different sizes to meet the needs of herps of all ages and sizes.
LONG STORY SHORT
 
If you have any insect-eating or omnivorous herps, you really should give Zoo Med Can O’ products a try! They are readily accepted by most species, and the variety of types available allows for the provision of a naturally diverse diet.  Next time you go feeder shopping, pick up a can or two.  Your lizards, turtles, and fish will thank you!
Check out the following video showing the product in action:

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.

Getting to Know the Bibrons Gecko

Bibrons Gecko Article

By Kevin Scott

NATURAL HISTORY AND NOMENCLATURE

The Bibron’s Gecko, Pachydactulus bibronii (formerly Chondrodactylus), was first described by naturalist Andrew Smith, and named after the French zoologist Gabriel Bibron. There is some debate between the identity and range of P. bibronii and P. turneri, which are very similar in appearance, particularly with imported specimens. Both species are typically found on cliffs, in rocky crevasses, steppes and savannahs. However, the new revision of P. bibronii states that it is restricted to South Africa while P. turneri also ranges into Angola, Zimbabwe and in southern regions of Namibia and Tanzania. Imported specimens that are referred to as Bibron’s geckos are likely P. turneri, since neither are currently coming out of South Africa. The following information is for the Bibron’s gecko, but is generally true for both species, and identification of imported species will be left to the reader.

Bibrons Gecko 1

DESCRIPTION

With an adult length of 6-9 inches (15-22 cm), the Bibron’s Gecko is a medium to large, stocky-bodied gecko of the family Gekkonidae.  The head is broad with large, yellow, grey or brown eyes that have vertical pupils and lack eyelids. The background dorsal color is a brown- to olive-gray, with black and white tubercle scales covering the head and back, creating a rough texture. Dark bands extend the length of the body and along the tail[1]. Despite the lack of flashy colors, I find this a modest but quite attractive species. A life span of ten years can be expected.

BEHAVIOR

This species is incredibly hardy and fairly common in captivity, but not extremely popular amongst hobbyists, perhaps due to their flighty nature and capability to deliver a relatively hefty bite. Males are usually aggressive toward one another, so no more than one male should be housed per cage. Females can also be aggressive toward each other, although to a lesser extent, so it is recommended to keep this species in pairs or alone. This species does not exhibit clear sexual dimorphism (e.g. femoral pores), although males have a broader head and thicker tail base because of hemipenes. Although the Bibron’s gecko is mainly arboreal, it will not hesitate to come to the ground to feed.

CARE IN CAPTIVITY

terrarium measuring 45 x 45 x 60 cm is sufficient for an adult pair. Multiple hiding crevasses should be offered, and some great options include cork bark flats, shale flats and other flat stackable stones. When assembling cage décor, think of a cliff like habitat with tight but accessible hiding spots.

As a rule, the more hiding spots available the more secure the gecko will feel, and, in turn, the more it will be out and visible. This species will sometimes take advantage of terrestrial hiding places.  Take care to ensure that individual pieces cannot shift and pin the gecko in a space where it cannot get out. Quartz sand is an acceptable substrate, although I prefer a mixture of sand and coconut for sanitary reasons, and also to help maintain humidity between misting. A terrarium planted with live plants is an appealing option, both for aesthetic and practical reasons. Pothos ivy, Sansevieria and smaller species of Phylodendron are hardy choices with broad leaves that can tolerate the geckos’ climbing upon them.

bibrons 2

basking lamp is sufficient for lighting, and ultraviolet lights are not necessary. An ambient temperature of 79-86° F (26-30° C) and night time temperature of 64-72° F (18-22° C) should be aimed for. Basking temperatures immediately under the light can reach 35-40° C. During the summer the diurnal photoperiod should be 12-14 hours, and during the winter the photoperiod can be reduced to 6 hours for about a month – these changes can be achieved either with a timer or manually, although the former is usually the more convenient option. Although this is a natural annual cycle for the gecko, it is optional in captivity, but suggested if breeding is a goal. Ambient humidity of 40-50% can usually be achieved by light to heavy misting three times a week, depending on the natural humidity in your region. The terrarium can be allowed to dry out between misting.

NOURISHMENT

Bibron’s Geckos have a voracious appetite and will eagerly feed upon crickets, grasshoppers, mealworms and waxworms, and almost any other appropriately sized live food item. Canned food items (insects) can be fed as well, although I personally have never seen the Bibron’s gecko eat pre-killed prey. Calcium and vitamin supplements are not typically necessary, but it is recommended that feeder insects are gut loaded with calcium and other nutrients prior to feeding. The Bibron’s gecko hydrates primarily by licking water droplets from surfaces. Water is usually not taken from a dish, although a water dish should be offered. This ensures that water is available should it be needed, while simultaneously contributing to humidity.

REPRODUCTION

If courtship is successful, the female will lay one or two eggs three to four weeks thereafter and up to sixtimes per year. The eggs can be removed and placed into an incubator for a better success rate. Incubation temperatures of 81-86° F and humidity of 60% is sufficient, and eggs typically hatch after about two months of incubation under these conditions. Although it is not necessary, a nighttime incubation temperature drop to 68° has been witnessed to produce stronger young. Hatchlings are usually about five centimeters in length.

CLOSING COMMENTS

This article is only intended as a brief overview of the species in an attempt to increase its popularity. For further reading, the book Dickfingergeckos (Thick-toed Geckos) by Mirko Barts is a valuable, readily available, and inexpensive information source, although as far as I know it is only available in German. This book also covers other related species. The website www.pachydactylus.com is another good information source that is available in English.

[1] For more detailed physiological description see Field Guide to the Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa, by Bill Branch (page 267 in the 1998 edition).

Mountain Horned Lizards: An Introduction to Acanthosauria in the Terrarium

Mountain Horned Lizards

By Jonathan Rheins

MEET THE DRAGON

Mountain Horned lizards (Accanthosaura sp.), or Mountain Horned dragons, as they are sometimes referred, are moderately sized tropical lizards belonging to the family Agamidae.    They have an extensive range throughout much of South-East Asia, the Malay Peninsula, and adjacent island chains.  Locally abundant, these lizards are common in the pet trade, and make for incredibly fascinating and entertaining terrarium subjects.

All mountain horned lizards are of the genus Accanthosaura.  Species accounts vary from one publication to another, but it is safe to assume that as many as 10 described species exist within the genus.  Despite such a taxonomically diverse family tree, only a handful of species are ever encountered in the U.S pet trade. The most common is A. capra, with the occasional A. crucigera making its way into the hands of American hobbyists.

The vast majority of Mountain Horned lizards are collected in Asia and shipped to various markets throughout the world.  However, A. capra have proven to be quite prolific in captivity, and private breeding efforts have increased the number of domestically produced dragons available.

NATURAL HISTORY

All species of Accanthosaura are highly arboreal in nature, spending much of their time high in the dense canopies of both primary and secondary rainforests within their range.  They are almost always encountered near permanent sources of running water.

Accanthosaura capra, the most often encountered species, seldom attain sizes of more than 12”, total length.  Their arboreal nature dictates that the tail length is often equal or greater to snout-to-vent (SVL) length.  While little is known about the longevity of wild individuals, captive born and raised animals can be expected to live in excess of 8 years, with 5-10 years being a reasonable goal.

Mountain Horned lizards typically perch motionless in the treetops, waiting for various invertebrate and vertebrate prey to cross their paths.  Insects make up much of the diet in the wild, with earthworms being a favorite food, both in nature and in the terrarium.  Some wild individuals have been reported to stalk and prey upon fish from overhanging perches.

When startled, these lizards will remain motionless until the threat has passed.  If they continue to feel threatened, they will dash to the forest floor (or bottom of the terrarium) as a last resort to evade the perpetrator.  As terrarium subjects, this behavior correlates to a very mild-mannered, easy to work with species.

Mountain Horned Lizards

“Accanthosauria capra”

HOUSING

There are many suitable enclosure types for Mountain Horned lizards.  The most important aspects to consider are enclosure height and the ability of the enclosure to maintain adequate heat and humidity within.

All-glass terrariums with sliding screen lids work well, although the front-opening terrariums manufactured by Zoo Med and Exo Terra may be preferable.  Front access tends to reduce stress of the inhabitants, while making feeding and maintenance less difficult.   Molded plastic enclosures with sliding glass fronts (such as those made by Vision Products shown below) are simply the best at keeping heat and humidity at optimum levels.

Although not terribly active, size should still be a consideration when selecting a Mountain Horned lizard enclosure.  A single adult should be allotted space equal to that of a standard 20-gallon “tall” terrarium, or front opening enclosure measuring 18x18x18”.   If multiple animals are to be housed together, terrarium size should be increased.

Care should be taken to avoid housing multiple mature males together.  They can become territorial overtime, which can lead to stress, lack of appetite, and occasional physical altercations.  Male-female pairs are communal, as are harem-type groups consisting of one male and multiple females.

Vision Cage

A well-designed habitat suitable for a pair or trio of Mountaini Horned Lizards

FURNISHINGS & DÉCOR

Designing any reptile habitat should be fun and exciting.  It is our opportunity to be creative and recreate a small piece of nature in our own homes. Mountain Horned lizards are not terribly picky about their surroundings, so long as multiple horizontal and vertical perches are provided.

Large pieces of grape wood, mopani wood, and vines should make up the bulk of the climbing structures within the terrarium.  These most closely mimic the natural habitat of these lizards.  Additionally, a multitude of both live and synthetic plants should be included, creating a dense, “canopy” feel in the enclosure.

The substrate used should be one that both promotes humidity and inhibits the growth of molds and fungus.  Coconut husk beddings and cypress mulch are among the best for this type of application.  Both products are available in a variety of forms and graded sizes, and both are excellent for maintaining the high levels of humidity required by these animals.

The use of planted vivaria has proven a highly successful and aesthetically pleasing means of keeping Mountain Horned lizards.  The inclusion of multiple live plants, mosses, and a significant drainage layer produce high levels of humidity as well as an environment that is as close to nature as a lizard can get!

vivarium

Creative “living vivaria” are suitable for Mountain Horned Lizards of all sizes

In addition to being quite beautiful to look at, living vivaria are also much easier to maintain than standard bedding-and-water bowl setups.  When properly constructed and maintained, this type of habitat can go months, even years, without a total overhaul and cleaning.  Furthermore, a nicely put-together vivarium can easily rival any tropical fish tank as a stunning living room center piece.

HEATING & LIGHTING

Compared to other tropical herps, Mountain Horned lizards seem to be less tolerant of extreme heat.  Because they are found at high elevations, and often near bodies of water, they may simply be better adapted to cooler, more humid environments.

Ambient air temperature within the Mountain Horned lizard terrarium should be between 75 and 85 degrees, with 80 degrees being an ideal temperature.  Under tank heat pads, infrared bulbs, and ceramic heat emitters are all excellent choices for maintaining a comfortable background temperature for these animals.

A basking bulb or spot light should be positioned over a section of the enclosure to produce a basking spot of approximately 90 degrees.  This should be the absolute hottest part of the enclosure, and should not be allowed to climb much above that temperature.  A series of analog or digital thermometers within the enclosures will prove an invaluable resource when keeping this, or any species of herp.

A moderate drop in temperature at night is acceptable, and is easily achieved by shutting off the basking bulb, while leaving all other heaters as-is.  Temperatures dipping into the low 70’s or high 60’s should be considered a minimum nocturnal temperature.

In addition to being kept warm, Mountain Horned lizards also require full spectrum lighting if expected to thrive long-term.  Full spectrum lighting, specifically light in the UVB wavelength, is produced naturally by the sun.  As reptile keepers, we must rely on specially designed bulbs to mimic the sunlight.  Linear fluorescent bulbs, as well as compact fluorescent bulbs work well in this capacity.  UVB lights should be on during the same time as any light-emitting basking bulbs.  10-12 hours of daylight is recommended for these lizards year round.

Mountain Horned Lizards

“Mowgli” – a captive-hatched Mountain Horned Lizard, surveys his domain.

WATER & HUMIDITY

Proper hydration is paramount to the successful maintenance of Mountain Horned lizards.  Like many other arboreal herps, these lizards prefer to drink water directly off of leaves and other foliage, rather than seeking a pool of standing water.  That said, a large water bowl should be provided for soaking, and also for producing added humidity within the enclosure.

In addition to a water dish, mountain horned lizard terraria should be misted heavily 2-3 times daily to ensure high levels of humidity (60-80%) as well as ample drinking water.  Automated misting systems, waterfalls, and foggers all work well if manually spraying each enclosure becomes too tedious or timeconsuming. These alternate methods of providing moisture can be extra helpful if you live in an excessively hot or dry climate.

NUTRITION

Mountain Horned lizards are not difficult to feed in captivity.  They readily accept all manner of commercially produced crickets, mealworms, superworms, and cockroaches.  Like true chameleons, these lizards have been known to become “bored” when provided a monotonous diet.

To avoid this issue, provide these lizards with the widest variety of foods possible.  In addition to insect prey, many Mountain Horned lizards will relish the occasional pinky (newborn) mouse, handful of earthworms, or even minnows and goldfish!

All food items should be “gut-loaded,” that is fed a highly nutritious diet prior to being offered as food themselves.  This maximizes the nutritional value of each individual food item, which helps to offset the relatively limited diet made available to most terrarium lizards.

In addition to variety and gut-loading, all food items offered to Mountain Horned lizards should be lightly dusted with an appropriate calcium and vitamin supplement. A high quality calcium powder with added vitamin D3 should be used at every feeding for young and growing lizards, or those suspected of carrying eggs.  This will ensure proper bone growth and skeletal integrity.

In addition to calcium, a reptile multi-vitamin should be used as well, about once a week for animals of all ages.  These products ensure that the animals are receiving all of the necessary fat and water-soluble vitamins they would normally encounter in their wild prey.

IN CLOSING

Mountain Horned lizards are in a class of their own when it comes to prehistoric-looking, yet readily available saurian companions.  They are just different enough looking to catch even the seasoned herper off guard, but easily obtained and cared for.  Their gentle disposition, range of colors, and inexpensive price make them one of the best choices for lizard keepers of all levels of experience.

When properly acclimated and housed, these lizards will no doubt provide endless hours of enjoyment and entertainment, whether it’s your first lizard, or your 50th!

Inside the Reptile Industry with Loren Leigh

Inside the reptile industry

This past month I was lucky enough to attend the inaugural Top-To-Top conference in La Jolla, CA. This was the first joint meeting to bring together stakeholders in all parts of the pet industry. The purpose of this meeting was to bring awareness to an important organization called PIJAC (Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council) along with many current issues pressing against the pet industry today. Several issues were discussed, but the topic I want to touch on this month is animal activism in America.

Many discussions took place on this topic to help better understand and combat the estimated 38,000 introduced animal laws and regulations coming this year alone on the city, state and federal levels. One big question discussed was “Can animal rights groups and the pet industry live in the same dog house together?”. We are both in the business of animal welfare, right? We both want what’s best for animals in the end, right? So – you would think this would be easy. Sadly – this is far from the case.

I realized at this conference how strong of a group the pet industry really is. Even more so is how strong our segment (reptiles) are by the great turnout by many of my fellow colleagues that work extremely hard for our reptile industry each and every day. Hagen/Exo-Terra, Zoo Med, Gourmet Rodent, Reptiles By Mack, Timberline and NARBC to name a few. The response to this meeting exhibited by the leaders and stakeholders of our industry to offer their time, donate their money and resources, and completely understanding that the future of owning pets in this country is in real jeopardy was awesome to see.

I think for the first time I saw our industry realize that we need to bond together now and fight for all pets (not just dogs, cats or snakes, but ALL pets) because in the end, if you own a dog, cat, snake, lizard, hamster or even a fish, there are people out there that feel this is just wrong.

I think for the first time I saw our industry realize that we need to bond together now and fight for all pets (not just dogs, cats or snakes, but ALL pets) because in the end, if you own a dog, cat, snake, lizard, hamster or even a fish, there are people out there that feel this is just wrong.

I personally feel very fortunate each and every day to work with animals and surround myself with people that love animals and bring people and animals together. You might ask “how can I help in this fight to keep our reptiles and pets?”. You have the most important and most beneficial role in this fight; good public relations! Get out there and teach people about how just plain cool our pets really are. Show them the bond you have and help warn off any, and all negativity. This could be as simple as getting a friendly snake into a child’s hand or bring it to share with a local school group (we at LLLReptile do this with schools and libraries all the time). When the local news does a damaging story on a reptile (or any pet) – be proactive! Reach out and educate them. Show them the truth of how great our pets really are. These are OUR pets they are talking about. It’s time for us to get out there and defend them and fight for our rights to have them in our lives.

Loren Leigh
President LLLReptile
USARK Board member