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).

10 Questions with Gary Bagnall

10 Questions with Gary Bagnall

By Scott Wesley

Gary Bagnall is the owner and founder of Zoo Med Laboratories and has a wide range of interests which we will dive into this month!

1. You got started in the reptile business at the ripe age of 19 in 1977. What are the major differences you see in today’s reptile culture versus in the 1980’s?

****When I started importing reptiles in the late 1970’s we did not have a huge domestic source of captive raised animals. In fact, approximately 80% were wild caught with maybe 20% or less obtained from captive breeders. Today the opposite is true with fewer direct live reptile importers and a huge amount of captive bredreptiles on the market.

2. One of the things we commonly say and hear is – you can’t have captive bred without wild caught. Having started Cal Zoo back in the 80’s – do you still see the same importance and need in the importation of wild caught reptiles to support and help further the reptile hobby today?

****Absolutely! People who raise the “captive raised” flag as the be-all end-all of reptiles you should own are short sighted. 1.) Where do you think your original animals came from. 2.) You need “wild” stock to add back to the captive gene pool or you eventually get recessive traits like what are currently showing up in some captive bearded dragons and leopard geckos, and last, 3.) Without wild imports we eliminate the chance to get new species which really drives this hobby.

3. I have seen some of the historic fish tanks you collect. Is this still a hobby of yours, and what is your favorite / most prized one?

****I started working in pet shops at the age of 11 (Russo’s Wonderful World of Pets, Fashion Island, Ca.) so my love of pet keeping runs deep. I collect everything that has to do with historic pet keeping including antique aquariums and terrariums. My favorite is probably my 900 gallon Matson Aquarium made of bronze with metal frogs, salamanders, and various fish in “relief” over the metal casting. This aquarium originally sat at the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco from about the 1920’s through 1960’s.

4. You have traveled the world looking for reptiles. Can you recall what the coolest or most uniquereptile you ever saw / found in the wild was and where?

****I traveled to Western Samoa and met the king of Samoa to get permits to export Pacific Island Boas and Coconut Crabs (worlds largest hermit crab). It was amazing getting to know the Samoan people and their culture which is extremely friendly. We kept a days’ worth of collected coconut crabs in a wooden outhouse and they chewed through the door by morning and escaped! (they eat coconuts in the wild.) I also traveled to Egypt and brought back the first Uromastyx aegyptia plus was the company that brought in the first 4 albino boa constrictors into the U.S. I miss all the travel but if you want to keep your wife happy you have to give it up at some point.

5. You have always been passionate about reptile laws. Do you feel like we are now on the right track with USARK and will eventually see a more fair representation at the state and federal level?

****This is a big question. I think USARK is the best ammunition we currently have against fighting major anti-reptile keeping laws but people need to understand that politics is complicated and it is not always “what is right for the animal” but sometimes an unfair economic or political factor will come in play. Andrew Wyatt (USARK President) understands Washington (D.C.) and the current lobbyist hired by USARK is the best one I have ever met. The best way to win against these unfair laws is to have a strong representative for thereptile industry in Washington (USARK) and the power of the internet. Washington and the animal rights people are afraid of public opinion in huge numbers via the internet so don’t forget you have a voice, but make sure it is a unified one through the USARK channel. Also, register in your town as an “animal stakeholder” and request that any city laws being proposed on animals/pet keeping that you are notified.

6. Many out there in the reptile world start the business out of their garage (just like we did at LLLReptile). What made you take the leap from your garage to forming Cal Zoo, and eventually Zoo Med?

****I think I’m a little ADD (can’t sit still) and my love of animals just naturally turned into a business that grew. There is a saying in business that you are either going down or up but flat is not possible. I have never had a down year in my 35 years of owning my own business, thanks to a bunch of very talented people I surround myself with.

7. Was Zoo Med the first company to produce and distribute a calcium for reptiles?  How did you come across that product?

****Zoo Med was the first company to manufacture a reptile vitamin (Reptivite) which was originally developed for the San Diego Zoo. I was good friends with the person who developed the product and sold it through Cal Zoo originally. Our proudest accomplishment though was our invention of the first UVB lamp forreptiles in 1993 which was a game changer in how reptiles are kept in captivity.

8. Was there ever a reptile that came in back in the day that was maybe overlooked or undervalued at the time – but now is something special (i.e a piebald, leucistic or anery something or other)?

****In my Cal Zoo days we imported thousands of ball pythons, boas, all kinds of reptiles and amphibians. We occasionally had shops come by and pick out a strange color morph of snake or lizard but we never thought anything about this because we were too busy running the business. A livestock business is an 80 hour a week business and I always said you can import or breed reptiles but you can’t do both. It amazes me how a new industry grew that did not exist 15 years ago from unusual color or patterns (or both) of many species of snakes. So did one great color morph get away? I’m sure of it!

9. Possibly the best product to ever come out of Zoo Med is the Repti Sun 5.0 Bulb. This bulb revolutionized the industry, and is STILL the industry standard today when it comes to UV bulbs. What goes into the research and development, and is the 5.0 bulb the same today as it was 19 years ago when it was released?

****We brought my nephew Shane Bagnall on board about 8 years ago and he is a biologist/engineer who formally worked at the prestigious Salk Institute in San Diego. Shane has worked with some of the best UV engineers in the world plus Shane brought control of the actual phosphors we use to make many of these lamps “in-house”. The Reptisun 5.0 was originally made in the United States but we moved the production to Germany about 15 years ago because the manufacturing equipment was better there, hence a better lamp. We truly believe in quality and this is why we make the majority of our UVB lamps in Germany or Japan. Our compact fluorescent UVB lamps are the only ones we make in China but we source and blend the phosphors in Japan which no other company does. The problem with UVB lamps is there is no good, better, best on the pet shop shelf, there is only “works” or doesn’t work, so don’t be fooled by the inexpensive Chinese made brands.

10. If you could choose one thing to change about the reptile hobby – what would that be and why?

****The best thing that could happen to the reptile hobby is the end of the endangered species act and roll this outdated piece of legislation into C.I.T.E.S. where it belongs. A good example is our government is currently considering adding the spotted, wood and blandings turtles to the endangered species act. What this means is that everyone who owns these turtles currently will no longer be able to sell them out of state or export them. If instead they went from appendix 2 CITES to appendix 1 then the captive offspring from your animals would be legal to sell anywhere you chose. We need a USFWS that stops looking at all reptilebreeders as criminals and starts encouraging trade based on captive breeding which helps to prevent smuggling in the end!

10 Questions with Allen Repashy

Allen Repashy

By Scott Wesley

Allen Repashy is an author, breeder and owner of Repashy Superfoods. Superfoods are revolutionizing the way we feed not only many species of reptiles – but fish too!

1. What specific reptile got you hooked on the hobby, and is it still something you work with or breed today?

In the beginning, it was all about what I could catch in the canyon on the way home between my grade school and my house. My favorite was definitely our Coastal Horned Lizard. As far as exotics, the lizard that started it all for me was the Frilled Dragon. I was lucky enough to be the first person in North America to breed them in captivity in the late 80’s… I can’t say that I am still keeping them. The thing I enjoy most is working with species that have been challenging to keep. I enjoy “figuring out” difficult species and the challenge to reproduce them….. then moving on to something new.

2. I have heard that you are a Brazilian Jujitsu expert. Did you ever have aspirations for a career in the UFC back in the day and do you have a favorite UFC fighter today?

For me, BJJ was something I discovered when I was watching the very first UFC fight on PPV. I thought it was amazing that a guy my size (Royce Gracie) could take on all comers and defeat most of them without even throwing a punch. That was 1993. It took me ten more years to actually get in a gym and start myself at the age of 40. I don’t like getting punched in the face, so I doubt I would have has aspirations of a career in the UFC. LOL. I do have the privilege of getting to train with guys at our gym, who DO have careers in the UFC, and being able to contribute to the careers of these guys through grappling, or just being a life coach, is quite rewarding in itself. It keeps me feeling young, which is my main goal these days.

3. What gave you the idea to feed people to fish?  (aka the Repashy Soilent Green diet…).  I mean – it is people, right?  Can you also explain what this diet actually is, and why it is so cool?

Yeah, I do like to get people’s attention and have a bit of fun with my formula names. “Soilent Green” is a product in my new line of fish foods…. I actually kept and bred fish before reptiles, and now I have come full circle, and regained my passion for fish again. What’s unique about this formula is that it forms a gel that can be fed in blocks, or poured over various surfaces like rock or wood, to provide a natural grazing surface for species that naturally pick rocks or scrape for algae. There are a couple great videos o youtube that give a better idea.

4. What are some of the cooler animals you are working with / breeding right now?

For the last 10 years or more, I have been exclusively focusing on Rhacodactylus. My second passion has been the development of the Superfoods range. My keeping goals right now, are not focused so much on breeding, but developing and testing diets. I have a whole range of  Gel Based Reptile diets that I am currently testing. The first two products in the range (Meat Pie and Savory Stew) have been released, but I have some great things on the way for Omnivores and Herbivores. I am working with various species of Skinks, Tortoises, and even Uromastyx and dwarf Monitors right now. I am raising specimens exclusively on these new formulas and plan to breed them over multiple generations to prove the concept of the products.

5. Your gecko diet is certainly your most popular product. What are some of the benefits in the recent changes made to it, and what gave you the idea in the first place to develop an all in one diet for Rhacodactylus and other species?

The development of the diet came out of my desire to reduce, or eliminate the need for insects in my growing breeding colony of Rhacodactlus. I am allergic to Crickets, so that was my first thought, but then I realized that it would reduce costs, maintenance, increase sanitation, and allow the geckos to be marketed to consumers who didn’t want to buy crickets. The thought of selling the foods, was never even in the back of my mind until years later. My first thoughts about marketing the food, was that it would help sell the geckos….. now, 15 years later, my thinking has evolved from sell a gecko and make 25 bucks, to.. give the gecko away, because it will eat food for 25 years!

6. You come up with some ridiculous and funny names for your products (SuperPig, Soilent Green, SuperFly, etc). Is there a method to your madness?

I have always had a quite twisted sense of humor and enjoy plays on words. I use these crazy names, simply because I can! This is my company, and I am having fun with it. I don’t have to answer to anyone. I believe that if you come up with a funny name, that people will not easily forget it, and if it is funny enough, they will tell their friends about it……. I want a name that will easily pop into someone’s head when they decide to go shopping.

7. You work closely with Philippe deVosjoli working with some very cool reptiles, amphibians, crabs, crayfish and others. How did this partnership come about?

Bob Mailloux, who I was partners with for many years in Sandfire Dragon Ranch, introduced me to Philippe. I was already familiar with his books and of course the awesome Vivarium magazine he was publishing back then. He was, and always will be, the Godfather of modern herpetology He has been a huge inspiration to me over the years, and our friendship has become an inseparable bond.  The fact that we has such similar interests, eventually brought us together in business.

8. If you had to choose a completely different career – what would you be doing?

My second passion to reptiles, is plants. I actually have a plant tissue culture lab where we clone and propagate rare succulents. It could be a real business if I had the time for it, and maybe sometimes I will. I always wanted to breed tropical fish, but that isn’t a very far reach from reptiles. To be honest, I am totally excited about the food and supplement business because there is so much room for improvement and the introduction of new specialized products. It really is rewarding to be able to contribute to improved long term success with rare species.

9. How is your Baja racing career working out for you?

Haven’t raced in the Desert for quite a few years now, it just got too expensive, and takes huge timecommitment. Last month, I did go down to Baja and pre-ran the Baja 500 course the week before the race. The course gets marked weeks before the race so you can drive it and take notes before the race. We decided to just split it into a three day adventure and it was a blast.

Last year, I bought a Polaris RZR, which keeps me having fun in the desert on a low budget.  A few friends and I who also have RZR’s are planning on pre-running the upcoming Baja 1000 course all the way to La Paz at the end of the year.

10. If you could choose one thing to change about the reptile hobby – what would that be and why?

Coming from the point of view of someone who has been active for 30 years in the hobby, I would have to say that the diversity of interest in the hobby has gone to nearly zero. The hobby was a whole lot more interesting in my opinion, when people were excited about keeping a lot of different species, and not about keeping a bunch of different morphs of the same species. If you go to a reptile expo now days and take out the ball pythons, leopard geckos, bearded dragons, and even crested geckos, the place will be almost empty.

There are so many interesting species that are no longer available because someone decided to “invest” in a ball python or a leopard gecko instead. Back in the day, making money with your collection was a secondary goal to just keeping, learning, and enjoying it. Now days, I think the majority of people who seriously get involved in the hobby, are looking at it business venture. Exports are closing down left and right, and if we don’t breed more species, there won’t be a hobby left at all, just commercial breeders and a short list of species.

Our biggest threat to the hobby is the loss of species diversity, and of course, the threat to be regulated out of existence by all the new legislation.

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

Inside the Reptile Industry with Loren Leigh

Inside the reptile industry

As we embark on the first edition of The Reptile Times, I am eager to introduce you to an exciting change that is occurring in our reptile hobby.  Reptiles have gained popularity at an unprecedented pace over the last 20 years, and are now making their way into the lives of mainstream America.  Reptiles and amphibians of all shapes and sizes have moved from the back room of the house to the prominent area of the living room, where they have become a major part of our everyday lives.

This rapid increase in reptile ownership has unfortunately not come without its bad points.  Issues such as the widely publicized Burmese python situation in Florida have drawn great attention to our hobby, and to the need for reptilekeepers of all levels to unite and work together to keep our rights intact.  State and city laws nationwide are being proposed and enacted as a means of placing restrictions on reptile ownership, as well as many other regulations that threaten our hobby and industry greatly.

In each issue of The Reptile Times I hope to provide a sneak peak inside our hobby and give our readers timely  updates on the state of our reptile industry, what is happening within it, and the many directions we are going.  Doing so will hopefully keep us all up to speed on current events industry-wide. Additionally I hope to provide insight into how we can all work together in the molding of realistic solutions while at same time helping the fight against those who do not want us to have our beloved pets at all.

A close friend of mine once told me that laws are won and changed by people just showing up.  My hope is that through this column I can help to better your understanding of the facts, encourage involvement, and enlist your help as part of the active reptile nation.

So, for this month, I encourage you to learn about The United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) by visiting their website (www.USARK.com). Even better yet, become a member, get involved, and help us in the fight!

Loren Leigh
President LLLReptile
USARK Board member

Harness the Sun: Outdoor Housing of Bearded Dragons

Harness The Sun

By Jonathan Rheins

INTRODUCTION

The awesome power of the sun plays a tremendous role in the lifecycle of nearly all reptiles and amphibians.  While some species bask in its glory, even those that avoid its brilliance rely on day length as a seasonal clock. Whether in nature or in the terrarium, solar wavelengths and intensity play an integral role in basking behavior, brumation schedules, and reproduction among herps.

Indoors, we must make every possible effort to mimic outdoor conditions for our charges, doing our best to ensure that appropriate photoperiods and lighting type and intensity are provided.  However, in certain climactic zones, select species have proven quite content to enjoy the region’s outdoor weather.

Case in point is the Inland Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps).  Perhaps the most popular and beloved pet herp across the globe, Bearded Dragons are personable, attractive, and love getting some sun!

Bearded outside

Pugsley soaking up some rays.

HABITAT TYPES

During much of the year throughout most of the United States, Bearded Dragons will be maintained indoors, with outdoor housing reserved for impeccable weather.  However, in Mediterranean and desert climates, such as Southern California, ‘beardies’ will thrive outdoors from late spring into late summer if certain preparations are made.

Outdoor habitats for any species should first and foremost be secure.  It is our responsibility as the keeper to do everything in our power to ensure the well being of the animals under our care.  Protection against escape and rural predators should be high on the priority list.  Thoughtful habitat construction and careful husbandry routines will reduce the risk of either worst-case scenario.

Glass-walled enclosures or aquariums should never be placed in direct sunlight for any reason.  Animal overheating is likely to occur.  Even when outdoor ambient temperatures are relatively cool, the light of the sun can be magnified through the tank walls, creating a see-through oven!  Herps housed outdoors for anytime period should be in screen or mesh type enclosures.

Custom-built enclosures are an option, but one must consider the time, efficiency, and cost of such endeavors on a small scale.  Zoo Med Laboratories manufactures two fantastic products that are both equally well-suited for the occasional sunning or seasonal housing of one or two mature dragons.  Granted, they are geared towards keepers of tortoises, but Bearded Dragons are equally happy to make a summer home of either enclosure type.

The Zoo Med Tortoise Pen is a medium sized outdoor sunning enclosure that is ideal for getting one or two adult dragons outside when temperatures are acceptable.  A built-in shelter is provided to allow for thermoregulation so as to help prevent overheating.  The floor is open, which allows for placement over organically grown grasses and dark, leafy greens such as kale, dandelion, and romaine–all dragon favorites!

Also from Zoo Med is the Tortoise House, a slightly larger and expandable take on the Tortoise Pen.  With the Zoo Med Tortoise House, more Bearded Dragons can be kept per enclosure, and a solid floor is incorporated should escape by digging be of concern.  Additionally, these units can be combined in a linear fashion, and the built in shelter is larger, allowing for lay boxes or heating devices.

Beardeds in Reptariums

Some of the author’s Bearded Dragons basking in Reptarium Screen Cages

I have found that for small to moderately sized dragon collections, Reptarium brand mesh enclosures are quite acceptable, and perhaps preferable, when a larger number of animals are being maintained.   They are modular, easy to clean, and allow for a maximum amount of “leg room” for each dragon.  Furthermore, acceptable amounts of heat and UVB easily transfer through the heavy duty replaceable mesh cover.

HABITAT PLACEMENT

Once the overall design and attributes of the outdoor habitat have been determined, physical orientation to the sun must be taken into consideration.  A fair amount of observation, measures, and experimentation may be necessary before an acceptable configuration is adopted.

Obviously, it is important that the area selected for your outdoor enclosure receive a good amount of sunlight, but also offers the animal(s) some refuge from the heat of the sun.  I try to locate outdoor habitats in areas that receive nearly direct sunlight for a few hours in the morning and afternoon.  This correlates to the general activity patterns for most dragons.  And, during these hours, the sun is lower in the sky, providing a constant but not overly intense amount of exposure.

Natural features around your property can also be utilized as a natural shade cloth.  I have found that the citrus trees in my yard provide partial shade to my Reptariums during the hottest parts of the day, allowing dappled light to reach the enclosures.

bearded in cage

No reptile of any species should ever be housed outdoors for any period of time without access to water and a shaded area.  Even though most reptiles like it hot, it is still vitally important that they have the ability to cool down if needed.

By ensuring that no outdoor habitat is placed in direct constant sunlight, both shaded and illuminated sections within the enclosure can be established at the same time.  This allows for easy thermoregulation of the dragons as they move in and out of shaded or sunny areas.

TEMPERATURE CONSIDERATIONS

While the primary reason for housing Bearded Dragons in the backyard is to allow access to natural sunlight and high levels of UV light, air temperature must be considered before animals are placed outdoors.  If Bearded Dragons are placed outside when the temperature is too cool, they may become stressed or ill.  Furthermore, reptiles can only effectively utilize the beneficial UV rays of the sun when they are within their preferred temperature range.

It should be noted that air temperatures and surface temperatures within the enclosure can vary greatly.  A high quality digital thermometer with a minimum/maximum feature should be included in every enclosure.  I also highly recommend the use of an infrared temperature gun that can be used to easily measure surface temps of basking surfaces and the animals themselves.  Temp guns are perhaps the most useful tool in herpeteculture today, and will prove truly invaluable when establishing outdoor housing for any herp.

When given a variety of basking and hiding areas, Bearded Dragons are incredibly adept at maintaining a body temperature between 90 and 100 degrees F, almost regardless of air temperature.  As long as ambient temperatures are above 75 F, dragons with access to full sun will quickly and efficiently achieve their preferred thermal range.

Only when conditions are optimal should animals be left outside overnight. Keep in mind that while wild dragons can and do thrive when nighttime temperatures drop into the 50’s F, pet dragons are usually not acclimated to such changes in temperature. It is good practice to bring your pet indoors after dark, unless lows hover around 70 degrees. In most cases, the threat of predators (such as cats and raccoons) and the risk of chill greatly outweigh the advantages to keeping Bearded Dragons outside over night.

Beardeds basking

Beardeds basking on wood inside a reptarium.

FURNISHINGS AND SUBSTRATE

Just as with any indoor habitat, some attention must be given to the choice of enclosure floor covering, as well as decorative and functional decor.  Outdoor habitats are subjected to different extremes in temperature and humidity, so what may work wonderfully indoors may or may not be an acceptable outdoors.

Products that are conducive to easy cleaning and replacement are ideal for use in backyard herp enclosures.  I have had much success keeping larger dragons on a substrate mix of cypress mulch and large grade redwood chips (Repti Bark).  These products combined are aesthetically pleasing, easy to spot clean, and hold up well when exposed to weather.

When housing small groups of hatchlings or juveniles outdoors, coconut husk type beddings are ideal.  The small particle size makes accidental ingestion practically a non-issue, and it has the same weather-resistant properties of other substrates.

All bearded dragons housed in outdoor enclosures must have multiple basking areas, either of wood, rock, or both, to ensure that each animal being housed has access to its own basking area.  Large pieces of driftwood,African mopani wood, and slate slabs work well.  One of the newer products to hit the market (and a personal favorite of mine) is bamboo root.  This all-natural product is very funky in appearance, having all sorts of angles and branches.  One main advantage of bamboo root is that unlike grapewood, it has no cracks or crevices in which crickets and other feeder insects might hide.  Additionally, when it comes to cleaning large numbers of enclosures, anything with a smooth surface is easier to clean and disinfect.

Whatever cage furniture tickles your fancy, make sure that you give your pet a couple of basking and shade options. A few pieces of strategically placed wood perches and a nice warm basking rock can turn a ho-hum screen cage into a comfy outdoor vacation spot for your scaly friend.

Bearded

Ferrari, a translucent Italian leatherback.

IN CLOSING

Harnessing the power of the sun for herpeteculture is not only natural, but self-sustaining. While special UV and heating bulbs will likely constitute the majority of your pet’s basking media, take advantage of the terrific weather that we usually enjoy in southern California. Bearded Dragons are especially well suited for outdoor housing in the summer as they love to soak up the rays in what we would consider unusually hot weather.

When considering outdoor housing options, remember that your pet’s safety and comfort come first. Make sure that your pet is secure from escape as well as from your inquisitive pet tabby.

Placement of your enclosure is also equally important. Too much sun is as bad as too little. Make sure that it receives some direct sunlight, but also has a naturally shaded area, like that of a nearby tree, to give your pet a temperature gradient. Just like indoors, you want to give your pet the option to get away from the heat.

Appropriate furniture and substrate can help by providing lots of heating and cooling spots, which can also be aesthetically pleasing.

In the end, it is our responsibility to keep our herps happy, whether indoors, or out. With a little thought and creative use of resources, your Bearded Dragon can enjoy its own summer getaway spot right in your own backyard.