Understanding Reptile Vision: Parietal Eyes – January 2014

By Jennifer Greene

In this third installment of understanding reptile vision, we’ll be discussing the parietal eye that is present in many species of lizards, and its impact on how your lizard perceives the world.  The parietal eye is often referred to as a “third eye”, and in some species of lizards you can even see the scale or spot on the top of the head where the “eye” is present.  The parietal eye in lizards is tied to their pineal gland; a gland that produces, among other hormones, melatonin – the hormone that helps you sleep at night.  The pineal gland is a fascinating organ, and one that we don’t know nearly as much about as we’d like to.  Even in humans, the functions of the pineal gland are still somewhat of a mystery, so it’s understandable that in reptiles, we struggle to understand fully what impact it has on their day to day lives.

If you have never seen a parietal eye, or are unsure of what exactly one is if you wanted to look for it, in our pet lizards it is usually a small, circular scale in the center of the top of the head.  It can be grey in color, or just a slightly different shade than the rest of the lizard.  The third eye is most pronounced in the prehistoric tuatara lizard – their third eyes have similar parts as their two main eyes, including a lens similar to a cornea.  The third eye is quite primitive, “ much more like the retina of an octopus rather than that of a vertebrate” (Schwab and O’Connor, 2005).  This eye cannot see in quite the same way as the main eyes, instead likely only detecting shapes and shadows rather than full pictures.  They are also highly sensitive to light – producing markedly different hormones based on time of day, with one study showing a system of neurons reversing their reactions based entirely on the daily photoperiod of the lizard. (Engbretson and Lent, 1976)

Older studies done on lizards to examine the purpose of their parietal eye experimented with removing the eye as well as simply covering it up.  In humans, the pineal gland is what helps control our circadian rhythm, and in lizards the combination of the third eye and pineal gland serve a similar function.  Experiments that removed the third eye from common North American fence lizards found that lizards missing their parietal eyes were more active for a longer period of time than their counterparts with intact eyes.  On the surface, this doesn’t seem like such a bad thing – why wouldn’t a reptile want to be out and active for the most amount of time?  Turns out, that’s only a good thing if you’re a mammal.  We are active as much as possible to get as much food and energy as possible.  For us, just sitting costs energy, while for reptiles, the less they move, the less energy they expend.

So, when a lizard is active for a longer period of time, but is not necessarily consuming more food, being that active becomes a hindrance, not a help.  Parietal eyes helped limit the amount of time that fence lizards were spending out basking or moving around.  In addition to the differences in activity between lizards that had parietal eyes and those that didn’t, lizards with their third eyes removed were harder to startle and scare away, with speculation in one study that “the pronounced heliothermism perhaps works antagonistically to the normal retreat reaction.”  (Stebbins, pg 35)

Not only do the parietal eyes help set a lizard’s internal clock, control hormone production, and help them determine needed activity levels – they also use their parietal eyes to navigate.  A study done with Italian wall lizards found that they used the sun to navigate through a “Morris water-maze” (click link for the wikipedia article), and by tricking their biological clock to be 6 hours faster or slower, the lizards were no longer able to reach their goal at the end of the maze.  Painting over or removing the parietal eye entirely caused the lizards to no longer be able to navigate the maze at all.  (Carnacina, 2009)

All of this just scratches the surface of what the parietal eye and, through extension, the pineal gland, are responsible for and control in a lizard’s life.  This sensitivity to light is one reason for the common recommendation to provide basking lizards with bright, white lights to bask under – you are helping your lizard to keep its biological clock ticking at the right speed.  Any diurnal lizard is particularly sensitive to light, and understanding how heavily they rely on external sources to help guide their lives will help you as a keeper provide them with a rich captive life.   This is, of course, most relevant to true lizards, such as iguanas, skinks, lacertas, bearded dragons, and other similar reptiles.  There are few, if any, lizards that are nocturnal, and in fact searching online for “nocturnal lizard species” will instead bring up the gecko family.  Geckos do not appear to have the same parietal eye as diurnal lizard species, but as we saw in the last article, that does not at all mean that their sight is less attuned to light!

For your diurnal lizards at home, please be sure to provide them with a regular day/night cycle, including a nice bright, white basking light for them to heat up under.  As studies have shown, diurnal lizards rely heavily on lighting as well as heat to determine activity levels as well as hormone levels.  Good lighting not only encourages natural behaviors, but enables your pets to thrive all the way down to a cellular level.  Lighting is vital to proper husbandry, and an integral part of any set up for diurnal lizards.  Asking for help from any experienced lizard keeper in a sick, non-feeding, constantly sleeping lizard will immediately earn you questions about your lighting set up – and is it any wonder?

References:

Augusto Foa, Francesca Basaglia, Giulia Beltrami, Margherita Carnacina, Elisa Moretto, and Cristiano Bertolucci (June, 2009) “Orientation of lizards in a Morris water-maze: roles of the sun compass and the parietal eye”, Journal of Experimental Biology, 212 Retrived from:http://jeb.biologists.org/content/212/18/2918.short

Gustav A. Engbretson, Charles M. Lent (February 1976) “Parietal eye of the lizard: Neuronal photoresponses and feedback from the pineal gland”, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci USA Vol 73, No 2, pp 654-657 Retrieved From: http://www.pnas.org/content/73/2/654.full.pdf

I.R. Schwab and G.R.O’Connor (March 2005) “The lonely eye”, British Journal of Opthalmology, V. 89(3), 256 Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1772576/

Robert C. Stebbins and Richard M. Eakin (February 1958), “The Role of the “Third Eye” in Reptilian Behavior, American Museum Novitates, Number 1870 Retrieved fromhttp://digitallibrary.amnh.org/dspace/bitstream/handle/2246/4659//v2/dspace/ingest/pdfSource/nov/N1870.pdf?sequence=1

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. 

Choosing the Right Bromeliad for the Tropical Vivarium – June 2013

By Bruno Magana

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

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

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

Tillandsias in the Terrarium!

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

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

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

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

Dangerous Beauties: Rattlesnake Season in Southern California – June 2013

by Kyle Morales

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

A mid sized Southern Pacific rattlesnake

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

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

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

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

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

Caring for Varanus acanthurus, the Ackies Monitor – June 2013

By Max Weissman

Varanus acanthurus is a species of monitor lizard found widely throughout most of Australia. Commonly referred to as Ackie Monitors or Spiny Tailed Monitors, they are found in arid regions or scrubland environments throughout Western Australia, Northern Territory, and parts of Queensland. They live near rocky outcroppings, and when frightened they retreat into small crevices of the rock. They will fill their bodies with air to wedge into the rocks and fold their hard, spiny tails in front of the rock face to discourage predators from trying to pull them out. They live in humid burrows that they dig deep into the ground to escape the midday heat and also to control their hydration and temperature levels. Ackie Monitors are a popular pet monitor species to own because they are inquisitive, active, and have great colors and patterns, and relatively small adult size.

Ackie Monitors grow to reach an average length of 24 – 28 inches, with males usually having a thicker, heavier set head and neck than the females.  Ackie Monitors, like most monitors, can live a long time with an average life span of 15 to 20 years if properly housed and maintained.

When housing any Ackie Monitor keep in mind they actively hunt, explore, bask, and burrow. With this in mind I would recommend a 48” x 24” x 24” or larger glass terrarium from Creative Habitat, which we sell online and in our stores, or you can make a custom enclosure. It is best to give them a tall cage to give them a deep substrate to burrow into. Remember, if you ever question the size of your cage, bigger is always better with monitor species. Also, with cages that have screen lids you can add a cover made of acrylic, foil or a towel to help maintain humidity levels in the cage. However,  if you keep at least 10 to 12 inches of moist substrate in the cage, and an appropriate size water bowl, humidity levels on the top level can dip very low as Ackie Monitors will retreat into their burrows to control hydration and shedding.

Happily peeking out of a burrow! 

Since Ackie Monitors come from Australia, they should be provided with a basking zone surface temperature (which is best measured with a temp gun) of around 130 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter, while the air temperature measured by a probe thermometer is around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. You must maintain the cooler side’s air temperature at no lower than 70 degrees Fahrenheit and no warmer than 80 degrees Fahrenheit for your ackies to have optimal temperatures for thermoregulation.

This is critical since all reptiles are ectothermic and need to regulate their body temperatures by the temperatures of their environment. The best way to do this is by giving them as many areas of different temperatures as possible. Also, while some breeders have successfully kept and breed Ackie Monitors without UVB lighting, I highly recommend you use UVB lighting with your own monitors, since Ackie Monitors are basking lizards and in the wild they are exposed to UVB. Using a Mercury Vapor Bulb provides the animal with both UVB and heat all in one bulb. Deep Dome light fixtures are the best way to house your bulbs because they do not protrude out of the bottom of your fixture. Do not leave any visible light on at night as this can stress your animal; I recommend that you keep them on a 12-hour cycle (12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness). This can be accomplished simply by turning the light on in the morning and turning it of at night, or by a use of a timer. With this being said, if you are an experienced monitor owner or feel comfortable in doing such you can try a more natural approach with cycling the lights. This means going down to as little as 8 hours a day through the winter months, as long as you maintain the proper temperatures, and as much as 14 hours a day in the summer months, again making sure you are constantly reading and maintaining the temperatures within an acceptable range. If the daylight heat bulb you are using does not reaching the optimal temperatures you can add ceramic heat emitters. The ceramic heat emitters do not produce any light but put off a good deal of heat. Lamp stands can also be a good way to help keep temperatures at a constant by keeping the light at just the right height.

Ackie Monitors love to burrow and need a substrate to hold humidity and the shape of the burrows.  Compressed coconut substrate, when lightly packed in the cage, holds its shape and humidity nicely. And, if mixed with clay based substrates such as Zoo Med’s Excavator substrate makes a great combo at a ratio of 1 part excavator to 3 parts coconut substrate. Most coconut, cypress, and sterile plantation soils are all highly recommended.  They make a great mix when added in with vermiculite and play sand in a ratio of 1 part vermiculite : 1 part play sand : 3 parts soil. Making the substrate layer thick and moist will aid in keeping your monitor hydrated and shedding properly. There are a variety of ways to provide hiding spots, which include cork bark stacks, half logsflat pieces of wood, thick layers of bedding and moss,caves, and lots of cover in the form of fake plants. A monitor’s need to hide and stay warm can be duly accomplished in the form of providing a stack of cork bark or wood underneath the basking light, with the highest level being a few inches away and forming the hottest spot in the cage, with the lower levels being significantly cooler. This will allow your Ackie Monitor to thermoregulate its temperature and still feel secure. The key to success in a monitor’s cage is to offer the lizard as many choices as possible. The more options the monitor has to utilize for thermoregulating, the better it will do.

One of the author’s ackies enjoying some natural sunlight! 

An effective way to keep an Ackie Monitor hydrated is to keep a water bowl large enough for the monitor to soak in within the cage, so that if it wants to climb in, it can. They tend to like the surface and air to be dry and their burrows to be moist. A good way to keep burrows moist is to add water into them when the animal is out and about and not in the burrow. Also misting the cage once or twice a day will help keep the humidity levels up and aid in proper shedding and hydration.

Ackie Monitors in captivity have been known to take a wide range of prey items, including but not limited to: micecrickets, hissing cockroaches, dubia roaches,mealworms, Zoo Med’s canned food diets, snails, eggs (chicken and quail), and shrimp. It should be noted that just because a monitor can eat something, that does not mean that it is a suitable food. While a wide variety of food will be accepted, some foods are more readily eaten than others and some are far more appropriate as food items than others. While these monitors will eat dog and cat food, I do not recommend it as a part of the diet. Ideally, a diet consisting almost entirely of whole prey items with a small portion consisting of the raw turkey and egg diet, which was pioneered by the San Diego Zoo, is best.

Suitable whole prey items include hissing cockroaches, dubia roaches, lobster roaches; mice (avoid unweaned rodents as they are high in fat and low in calcium and other nutrients). All food items, with the exception of rodents, should be dusted with a high quality calcium and/or vitamin powder, such as Sticky Tongue Farms MinerAll Indoor Formula or Repashy’s Calcium Plus.Young monitors can be kept mainly on crickets, mealworms, and small roaches, while adult monitors can be fed the entire range of possible food items. Rodents should be fed in moderation, leaning on the side of fewer rodents than insects. Captive monitors rarely, if ever, get the same kind of exercise wild monitors do, and care should be taken to ensure that an adult monitor does not become obese.

Some of the author’s baby Ackies basking

In addition to being fascinating and hardy captives, Ackie Monitors are relatively easy to handle. With calm, confident handling on a regular (but not necessarily frequent) basis, these monitors can learn to tolerate and even enjoy human interaction. Care must be given to allow the monitor plenty of time to acclimate before any attempts at developing an owner-monitor bond are made. Once the monitor shows a healthy appetite and eats readily, and does so regularly, start handling it for just a few minutes at a time daily. If the monitor continues to eat and does not spend the time immediately after handling buried beneath the substrate, avoiding you at all costs, increase the handling time slowly but surely, until the monitor does not mind being out for extended periods of time. Always be sure to read your monitor’s behavior: If it hides and does not move for days on end after being handled, decrease handling time and frequency. With patience, eventually these monitors can and will become tame.

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!

The Humble House Snake – April 2013

By Jennifer Greene

An extremely underrated but fantastic pet snake to keep is the African House Snake.  There are several different species referred to as House Snakes that originate from Africa, with the most common in the US pet trade being Lamprophis fuliginosus..  As I said, there are numerous species which all can be called House Snakes, but my article will focus on the care for the most commonly available species, also referred to as the Brown House Snake.

This House Snake is comfortable in her owner’s hands

The Brown House Snake is a bit of a misnomer in that this highly variable snake can range in coloration from a dark brown, almost black color, to a golden brown and a wide selection of colors in-between.  Some of the more attractively colored varieties have red tones to them, and selective breeding has resulted in some extremely high red individuals.  All house snakes have a gorgeous iridescence to their scales, comparable to that of rainbow boas and sunbeam snakes.

Most also have a pale tan or gold stripe running along their eyes, which may or may not extend down the length of the body.  Due to the range of colors, it is extremely easy to selectively breed animals to create your own lines of attractive, captive bred house snakes.  In addition, albino snakes are available from time to time, and this one simple mutation combined with the multitude of naturally occurring variance in the species holds great promise for morphs in the future.

If you couldn’t guess from the name, African House Snakes originate from the continent of Africa.  They are one of the most widespread species of snakes found there, and range across the entire continent below the Saharan Desert.  Their common name comes from their habit of hanging around human dwellings, where they aid in rodent control.  Extremely adaptable, they are found in nearly every type of habitat in Africa, only eschewing outright desert areas.

This natural sturdiness is part of what makes them excellent beginner snakes, as they thrive in a wide range of conditions and will withstand nearly any mistake a beginner is likely to make.

House snakes do not get very large; while some females can reach lengths as great as 5 feet, it is much more common for them to remain under 4 feet as adults.  Males mature much smaller than females, often 2 – 2.5 feet in length, meaning that when you have mature, breeding adults they are clearly sexually dimorphic in size.

Fortunately, even large females remain slender, never needing feeders larger than an adult mouse.  House snakes are voracious feeders, and care must be taken to ensure your snake does not become too fat.

I have never seen a house snake turn down a meal, not even babies!  They will eat daily if you offer them food, but they do not need to eat any more often than every 5 to 7 days.  Don’t let those eager little faces fool you – these little piglets of snakes don’t need more food!

Due to their extreme sturdiness, they are among the easiest of species to keep.  Adults rarely need a cage larger than a Vision cage model V211, although a 20 gallon long (30” x 12” x 12”) is also a suitable size enclosure for most adults.

Babies can be kept in smaller enclosures, such as a 10 gallon tank or 12” x 12” x 12” front-opening terrarium. Setting up the enclosure is simple, and can be as plain or elaborate as you desire.  I prefer to use orchid bark as the substrate, as with occasional misting it holds enough water to allow for perfect, full sheds.  While House Snakes do not necessarily require excessive care taken with humidity, when they are entering a shed cycle it can be beneficial to provide them with a humid hide or to mist the enclosure daily until they have shed.  While they are not prone to respiratory infections at extremely low humidity levels (like some tropical species) they do seem to require an extra bump of humidity while preparing to shed.  Other acceptable substrates include shredded aspencypress mulch, and sani chips – all of which we have used here at LLL with success.  House Snakes are extremely adaptable, so as long as you can provide that humid hiding spot during shed cycles, use whichever bedding you like best!

Temperature requirements for the African House Snake are nothing extraordinary; simply provide them with a warm side or basking area of about 90 degrees, and a cool side of 80 degrees or lower.  Depending on your setup, you can utilize either a heat pad or a basking light to provide your snake with its preferred warm side temperature.  When using a basking light, I recommend either using a red bulb (which can be left on all the time) or a red bulb at night in combination with a daylight blue or basking bulb during the day.  For the best looking display, I highly recommend using a bulb during the day that produces a white light (such as the daylight or basking bulbs) to best view your snake.  Adding a 5.0 compact fluorescent is not necessary for your snake to grow and thrive, but it does highlight the beautiful rainbow iridescence of their scales when you display them in a nicely set up cage.  Make sure that at night, your snake has an alternate source of heat beyond the white light producing bulbs; they do best when provided with a dark period of time to sleep in.

Setting up the décor in the cage is a matter of personal preference.  Your House Snake needs at least 2 hiding places: one at the warm side and one at the cool side.  Brancheslogscork flatscork rounds, and bamboo hollows all make excellent climbing and hiding options for your snake.  You can also add fake caves or natural looking rock outcrops for a naturalistic appearance, but the plain and simple Black Hide Boxes work just as well.  I prefer to include foliage in the form of fake plants as well as a variety of branches and wood for the snakes to climb on for exercise.  Having a terrarium full of branches and decorations is not only aesthetically pleasing to us as keepers, but highly beneficial for the snake as well, providing cover and hiding places as well as exercise as they cruise through their cage.

Now that you have your snake all set up and a feeding schedule prepared, you get to enjoy the pleasure of handling and interacting with your pet!  While their feeding response can be quite strong (so make sure to wash your hands before picking yours up!), once they realize there isn’t anything edible to be had they are extremely mellow and laid back snakes.  They will leisurely cruise around when being handled, and often curl up around a wrist or neck to hang out and relax.  In my experience, they almost seem to enjoy regular interaction, thriving even when handled daily.

Not only are they a pleasure to handle, but they are extremely inquisitive and nosy, coming out to see what is happening around them when there are people in the room their cage is in.

With their extreme ease of care, solid and easy to engage feeding response, and entertaining personalities, I highly recommend African House Snakes as a great first pet snake.

They’re off the beaten path, and not nearly as common as Kingsnakes or Cornsnakes as pets, but that’s no reason for you to avoid keeping them yourself!

It is worth waiting for them to become available to get your hands on these cute little snakes, as they are not as consistently available as the other commonly kept pet snake species.  I hope reading this article has helped you to decide to try something other than the average pet snake, and to go out and find yourself an awesome little House Snake to keep as a pet!

The Basking Spot: Installing Under Tank Heaters – December 2012

The Basking Spot

By Jonathan Rheins

Practical Guide to Undertank Heat Pad Installation

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

Inside the Reptile Industry with Loren Leigh

Inside the reptile industry

So as another National Reptile Breeders Expo, NRBE, in Daytona Beach passes it is something I use as a bench mark of the year to come.  It is a chance to see the state of our hobby, where we are at on our legal efforts, what’s hot and what’s not, and how the hobby is functioning as whole.  One thing I can say for sure – Ball Pythons are still hot, and the morphs are amazing.  The amount of floor space taken by Ball Python breeders was at an all time high and they did not disappoint, the color and patterns produced today are amazing.  The show did not stop at just Ball Pythons, though: frogs, lizards, turtles and tortoises were also well represented.

But one thing that I am always in awe of is the auction that takes place and people’s participation.  This year was a record for the auction (Proceeds going to USARK) in which almost $50,000 was made.  This auction is very important financial tool for the reptile industry and it is just awesome to see our hobby step up to the plate and first donate but also take part in bidding and spending the much needed money for the USARK legal fight.  So I wanted to personally take a second and thank every person that took part and every vendor that donated.  Your donation (big or small) to this event will translate into huge things in the years coming forward.

The NRBE, if you have not been, is always a great social event and always proves to be a good time.  Anytime you have 1000’s of die hard reptile folks descending down on a beach front hotel in Florida good times are to be had.  The show, the turtle and frog talks, auction, everything there is a good time to be had.  We at LLLReptile did our part in some good times, had a great show and really enjoyed getting to hang out with fellow herpers.  It was nice to see familiar faces and friends and to meet new ones as well.  Hope to see everyone at show soon in your local cities (We will be there I am sure) and if you make to NRBE 2013 stop by and see us.

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.