Caring for Collared Lizards – October 2013

By Anthony Neubauer

Introduction

The Eastern Collared Lizard, Crotaphytus collaris, is a hardy, medium sized lizard native to the deserts of the Southern United States. They are common in Arizona and Texas, but also range into neighboring states. They are a very active species that spend much of their day running, jumping, and digging throughout the terrarium. Captive bred specimens can be very tame and relaxed, and make much better captives than wild caught specimens. If you’re looking for something different to put in a desert setup that will tolerate occasional handling and make for an entertaining captive, look no further. Collared lizards are for you.

Housing

Collared Lizards are extremely active. Keep this in mind when selecting an enclosure. A tank measuring 12″ long x 12″ deep x 30″ wide can house up to 3 babies for the first 6-8 months of life, and could house a single baby for up to a year.

Once they reach adulthood at around a year to a year and a half, it’s time to upgrade to a minimum of a 16″ x 16″ x 36″ sized enclosure.

This allows for adequate space to run around, as well as some height for offering a deep layer of substrate to burrow in and sticks and rocks to climb on.

Collared Lizards will readily use any space given, so if more space can be provided, your lizards will appreciate it. Glass tanks manufactured by Creative Habitat and Exo Terra are preferable, as they provide adequate light and ventilation for this desert reptile.

Environment

When setting up an enclosure, the first decision you must make is to go naturalistic or simplistic. You could very easily throw in a dry bedding such as Sani-Chips, a couple rocks and or sticks, and a water bowl and your Collareds would survive just fine. However, many hobbyists take it a step further in creating a much more aesthetically pleasing setup, complete with sand, gravel, live or fake plants, and rocks and wood setup as natural as possible.

I highly recommend using a sand-like substrate that allows burrowing. When given the opportunity, Collared Lizards will create burrows and retreat to them at night for sleeping.

This keeps them occupied all day, and in the end leads to happier lizards. I prefer to use Excavator Clay by Zoo Med, topped with a thin layer of sand for added texture and looks.

When wet, Excavator Clay can be shaped and molded into any shape you can imagine. When dry, it becomes hardened enough to hold burrows, but still able to be dug into.

Succulents and some cacti can be used to add some color, as well as a few flat basking rocks and a piece of Manzanita or Grape Wood.

Water

These lizards hail from the harsh deserts of the United States, and so are adapted to a water preserving life style. I like to provide a shallow water bowl with clean water at all times, even though they rarely drink. I also very lightly spray the tank down once a week, mostly for the plants, although the lizards drink the droplets as well. Other than their weekly spray, they don’t need any added humidity.

Water

These lizards hail from the harsh deserts of the United States, and so are adapted to a water preserving life style. I like to provide a shallow water bowl with clean water at all times, even though they rarely drink. I also very lightly spray the tank down once a week, mostly for the plants, although the lizards drink the droplets as well. Other than their weekly spray, they don’t need any added humidity.

 

Heating and lighting

These guys like it HOT. The basking area should be 110-120 Degrees Fahrenheit during the day, with the ambient temperature ranging from room temp to 85 Degrees. I use and recommend a Halogen basking bulb, as they make it easy to achieve these hot temperatures, but in a small, concentrated area so the entire tank isn’t cooking. I position this light over a large flat rock, so the rock heats up providing belly heat similar to using a heat pad. They will move closer and further away from the hot spot to achieve their preferred temperature. At night time, your temperatures can drop pretty significantly, as long as it heats up during the day. Anything above 60 degrees is fine, although 65-70 Degrees is optimal. This is a truly diurnal species, so high intensity UVB lighting is absolutely necessary for them to thrive. The Zoo Med T5 High Output bulbs rated 10.0 is the way to go. I provide 12-14 hours of daylight, and 10-12 hours of darkness without the lights.

 

Feeding

Collared Lizards eat A LOT. This is especially true when growing, as they are using all nutrients towards their rapid growth. They should be fed daily for their first year, and then every other day once they’re close to adult size. They eat a variety of insects, and the more variety the better. I feed mine mainly appropriately sized crickets, with either Dubia roaches, wax worms and moths, and mealworms being offered with every other cricket feeding. Flying insects are cherished, and they can easily jump up and chase them down to get them. Adults can eat the occasional pinky mouse, and will even eat feeder lizards! It is to be noted that Collared Lizards have extremely large heads and throats in comparison to their size, so taking larger food items is no problem. They have a ravenous appetite, and the more you feed youngsters the better they’ll do. I have also witnessed mine eating the leaves of certain succulents, so it may be worth offering yours leafy greens or even fruit from time to time.  While some will readily consume plant matter, not all do, so don’t worry if yours do not eat vegetation.

Vitamins

On top of a varied diet, I still use a few dietary supplements. Once a week I dust their crickets with RepCal Calcium with D3 mixed 50/50 with Repashy SuperPig pigment enhancer. I also use RepCal multivitamin once a month, also mixed with SuperPig. This is essential in making your Collared Lizards as bright and healthy as possible.

Adult Size and Sexing

Collared Lizards are sexually dimorphic, meaning you can tell them apart just by looking at them. Males will have more blue and green on their body, and females will have more tan and red. Males also get a little larger, have bulkier heads, and an overall heftier build. Adult size on these guys is around 12-14 inches, with males being toward the larger end, and females being on the smaller end.

They can reach adult size in a year to a year and a half with proper feeding, food, and nutrition as well as heat.

Conclusion

The Eastern Collared Lizard is a fun one to keep. They are always doing something, and are very inquisitive. They are quick, but can be tamed down with frequent calm, confident handling. Care for them is pretty straight forward, and they have few to no health issues as long as their heat and feeding requirements are provided. Overall a fascinating desert captive that is sure to become a favorite in any hobbyist’s collection.

Is My Reptile Warm Enough? August 2013

By Jonathan Rheins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A happily basking Texas Map Turtle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Weekend in the Life of an LLLReptile Employee – September 2013

By Curtis Pieramico

Not a day in the life, but a weekend in the life of an LLLReptile employee! Particularly an employee at the Oceanside location, the largest of the LLLReptile retail stores. This location in particular separates the weekend from weekdays because we ship so many animal packages during the week.  Without these shipments, which can take close to a full day of work for half of our staff, it leaves more time for us to be a little more hands on both for our customers as well as our animals. The weekends also leave more time for some of the larger projects of the week such as making shipping boxes, different inventories, online shipments and cleaning, lots of cleaning.  In addition, we feed all the animals in the store at once, a task that is usually split up during the week.

When working at this particular location during the week, you encounter tons of animal shipments both incoming and outgoing.

Without these shipments all of the employees have the pleasure to do a ton of activities!

These are a lot of activities that many of the employees both love to do and are necessary to be done in order to keep our animals healthy.

We often hear from customers that they would love to do these tasks as well!

These two wonderfully busy weekend days have everything from day-to-day projects, to unique projects only done on weekends. One of the most exciting and fun projects of the weekend is the time we can dedicate to feeding everything!  That wouldn’t be too cool of us to only feed over the weekend, and we don’t, but the difference is we get to feed the majority of our animals on both Saturday and Sunday, while during the week we spread things out a bit more. We get to feed the monitors, insect eaters, vegetarians, and arachnids.  Some of these groups overlap, such as certain insect eaters that also eat veggies, and some monitors that also eat insects, which is one reason to keep the feedings spread out during the week.  On weekends, however, everything gets to feast!  This ties in to other projects that are more unique to the weekend days. Being a store that deals with a lot of shipments, our animal inventories have to be pretty spot on.  Feeding everything on the weekends gives us the opportunity to thoroughly check over animals, check quantities, and update our inventory. It is always a good time having an excuse to interact with the tons of little creatures we keep in a way that’s more up close and personal.

The next two undertakings that the weekend goes through both have to do with the shipping side of the company. With all of the animals that we ship throughout the week at the Oceanside location, we need a ton of boxes! When the week is over, the boxes are usually gone and it’s time to make more. The number of boxes is always increasing so we sometimes have little competitions with a couple of the employees on who can make the boxes faster. The other shipping part of the weekend is printing and reviewing all of the orders that are placed online. While the shipping warehouse is closed we still need to answer emails, calculate shipping costs and make sure the animals that you guys order are where they need to be to be shipped!

Now, what else could we do over the weekend? Clean of course! We clean all of the glass throughout the store between the two days including all of the vision glass (over 100 vision cages of all sizes) and glass cages (130 ten gallon tanks) to the reptariums, vision racks and more glass cages that we keep in the back of the store.

It definitely can get a little repetitive cleaning all of these cages, but if you forget about the cleaning part and remember that this is the time where you get close the all the animals it’s a great time! With all of the larger and smaller projects that need to be done throughout the weekend we sometimes forget about the biggest and best part of our jobs.

Customers! Without shipping animals out of the store and getting new shipments of animals and supplies on a day-to-day basis throughout the week, we get the chance to help and be a lot more hands on with all of the customers that come in. There is nothing better than to hand a person the first snake or lizard that they have ever held and see their reaction, or going over a setup with someone and seeing how happy they are to be getting a new pet. There are so many different types of people that come in that we can talk to or help out.  It could be specialized hobbyists where we can have a little more of an in depth conversation with them, or talking to a six year old about how cool the new gecko they are getting is. There’s always someone new coming in, as well as our treasured repeat customers, and it’s always fun.

Hopefully getting a little more on the “insider” track of the LLLReptile shop on weekends allows you to see how much hard work and persistence we have while working here.  It can seem like a ton of work, and we definitely put in long hours and lots of hard days working.  After you remember that you have the opportunity to work with different animals from all over the world, plus helping people choose and setup a habitat for a pet that will be with them for years to come, you always end up realizing the same thing. We just have one of the coolest jobs out there.

 

Reptile Vision: Nocturnal Geckos – November 2013

By Jennifer Greene

Geckos make up an extremely large group of species, the majority of which are nocturnal or at least crepuscular – that is, active at dawn and dusk.  It is worth noting that geckos evolved from diurnal lizards, and initially had the full set of rods and cones that we discussed in last month’s issue of the Times.  However, as time went on and these diurnal lizards were active only during bright daylight hours, their rod cells began to disappear, and eventually the ancestors of geckos lost their rod cells completely.  When these lizards evolved into geckos, they began moving back into nocturnal niches in the environment, and needed to develop better nighttime vision once again.  “In response to the demands of nocturnal vision without rods, the cones of nocturnal geckos have become much larger and more light-sensitive than those of their diurnal relatives” (Roth 2009).

Refresh your memory on the color spectrum and what wavelengths match which colors.

What does that mean?  That means that geckos see at night, but they see in color.  When we see at night, we are seeing in shades of grey, as rod cells simply pick up whether or not light is present, regardless of the color of that light.  Geckos can see color at light levels that equate to dim moonlight – where we would hardly be able to see at all, much less determine color!  There are studies, for example, that show that helmeted geckos can differentiate between the color blue and the color grey at extremely low light levels.  Scientists were able to test this by dusting crickets in powder dyed either blue or grey.  Crickets dyed blue were “tasty”, or had nothing extra added, while crickets dusted in grey powder were “distasteful”, and extra salt was added to the dust.  Very, very quickly, the geckos learned the difference, and chose the blue crickets over grey crickets nearly every time.  (Roth and Kelber, 2004)

In the diagram above, you can see the test used in the study.The crickets were offered to the geckos on forceps, and the ones coated in grey were always salted.  The geckos almost always refused these crickets in favor of the tastier, non-salted blue crickets.

They made the choice of blue crickets independent of the intensity of the grey coloration on the crickets.  These tests were performed at extremely low light levels, comparable to that of a night with no moonlight, and demonstrate that the geckos were capable of color vision.

An interesting point made in the study was that the scientists varied the shades of blue and grey to match in a black and white view (so if the geckos were not using color vision, the crickets would look identical), as well as grey colors that were brighter and darker to cover UV reflection.  Why would they be concerned about UV reflection, you ask?  Another study looking at crepuscular and nocturnal illumination in regards to a particular moth found that there is enough UV reflection at night for nocturnal animals to have UV sensitive vision.  (Johnson, Kelber, et al 2005)   Geckos in particular have eyes sensitive to blue and green, which makes sense when you consider that in most habitats, the wavelengths of light being reflected most fall into that color range.  Most geckos have minimal red light sensing cones, which is what leads to the use of red light bulbs for heating nocturnal reptiles – they can, at best, see minimally when red light is used to illuminate their cage.

Instead of red, the cone cells in gecko eyes see into the UV range – UVA at least, if not into the UVB range.  When testing spectral irradiance, or the radiation of various wavelengths of light off of surfaces, UV was found to be a substantial portion of light being reflected at night.   This is due to the lower amount of visible light making it through our atmosphere, allowing for more UV radiation and non-visible light to make it through, relatively speaking.  While UV is still being reflected, it is in much lower quantities (relative to overall light being reflected) during the day.  I know, I know, it sounds confusing!  During the day, because there is so much light coming through our atmosphere, it filters out most wavelengths, and what ends up making it through is mostly the visible spectrum, with smaller quantities of other wavelengths.  At night, the light being reflected from the moon, as well as starlight, is less intense in visible light.  This allows for a wider range of other wavelengths which may reflect better to make it through our atmosphere, so while there is a smaller amount of light being reflected, a larger portion of that is not visible light, but instead ranging into the infrared and ultraviolet (UV) range.

Comparing Honey Bees (Apis mellifera), Hawkmoths (M. sctellatarum, D. elpenor, H. lineata, H. gallii) and nocturnal geckos (Tarentola chazaliae).

So, back to our friends, the nocturnal geckos.  Aside from the study on helmeted geckos and their ability to differentiate between grey and blue colored crickets, there really isn’t much in the way of studies on their sight.  They are capable of multifocality, or the ability to have multiple focal zones, while interestingly, the day gecko (top row) had only one focal zone.  The varying colors in the diagram below show how much light was passing through different parts of the pupil.  The study noted large variation between individual animals in sight, which raises an interesting question for keepers – do different geckos have varying ability to see?  Do some geckos need glasses?  That’s rhetorical, of course, but it’s an interesting thought that not all geckos see as well as others. See the study in works cited for more details on this particular study on gecko vision. (Roth, Lundstrom, et al 2009)

The limited other studies on nocturnal vision and non-mammalian animals active at night show that with a full moon, the available light spectrum is nearly identical to that of daytime colors.  Naturally, it is not as bright or as intense as midday light levels, but the range of light is similar.  However, on moonless nights, the color range shifts towards the red or infrared end of the spectrum, meaning that things visible during moonless nights would seem to be redder in tone than they would during daylight or a full moon.  But geckos can’t see red, right?  So are they blind on moonless nights?  Not quite – there are other sources of light, such as star light, as well as other reflective surfaces bouncing light off of each other, leaving enough light for the blue and green seeing geckos to still be active.

The diagram above illustrates the relative levels of different wavelengths of light at different times of day – showing that while there are lower amounts of light, the wavelengths available are still similar to that of daytime illumination.  Note the impact that light pollution has on the colors of available light – interesting to consider what our captive geckos may be experiencing with the ranges of light available to them indoors, entirely surrounded by artificial light sources.

In addition, geckos seek out light to thermoregulate, which seems counter-intuitive to what many keepers have observed with their own animals.  Yes, we can keep geckos without visible light – but one study performed on Tokay Geckos demonstrated that using visible light in addition to heat enabled them to more precisely control their body temperatures both during the day as well as night.  (Sievert and Hutchinson, 1988)  The conclusion the researchers came to was that “it appears that G. gecko is using the position of the light source as well as time of day in establishing diel  (24 hour period of time) cycles of temperature selection.”  So while geckos may not actively bask out in the open under bright, white lights, they do utilize the light source as a reference point for seeking out basking areas to reach their preferred body temperature.

Nothing here is intended to drastically change established husbandry practices of reptiles we have been keeping in captivity and breeding successfully for many years.  I do, however, hope that it encourages some thought for naturalistic enclosures, or helps those with difficult species try new things to help their geckos become established.  I feel it also highlights how little we still know about these incredible animals and their natural habitat, especially when compared to other species commonly kept in captivity. When setting up naturalistic displays, I hope you find the information here helpful in setting up basking areas, full spectrum lighting, or even whether you feel those things are needed.  There is still a lot to learn, and next month, we will be examining diurnal basking lizards.

Watch the video here! 

Works Cited/ References

Lina S.V. Roth, Linda Lunstrom, Almut Kelber, Ronald H.H. Kroger, Peter Unsbo (March 30th, 2009).  The pupils and optical systems of gecko eyes.  Journal of VisionVol. 9 no. 3, article 27 .
Retrieved from: http://www-mtl.journalofvision.org/content/9/3/27.full

Almut Kelber and Lina S.V. Roth (March 1st, 2006).  Nocturnal colour vision – not as rare as we might think, The Journal of Experimental Biology, Vol. 209 
Retrieved from: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/209/5/781.full

Beate Roll (July 2001), Gecko vision – retinal organization, foveae, and implications for binocular vision, Vision Research, Volume 41 Issue 16
Retrieved from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0042698901000931

Lynnette M. Sievert, Victor H. Hutchinson (Sept. 1988.  Light versus Heat: Thermoregulatory Behavior in a Nocturnal Gecko Lizard (Gekko gecko), Herpetologica, Vol 44 No. 3
Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3892340

Lina S.V. Roth, Almut Kelber (December 2004). Nocturnal color vision in geckos, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, Volume 271
Retrieved from: http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/271/Suppl_6/S485.full.pdf+html

Carrie C. Veilleux, Molly E. Cummings (July 30th, 2012).  Nocturnal light environments and species ecology: implications for nocturnal color vision in forests, The Journal of Experimental Biology, Volume 215 
Retrieved from: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/215/23/4085.full

Sonke Johnsen, Almut Kelber, Eric Warrant, Alison M. Sweeney, Edith A. Widder, Raymond L. Lee Jr., Javier Hernandez-Andres (December 20th, 2005).  Crepuscular and nocturnal illumination and its effects on color perception by the nocturnal hawkmoth Deilephila elpenorThe Journal of Experimental Biology, Volume 209
Retrieved from: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/209/5/789.full

The Basking Spot: Snake Hooks – May 2013

by Jennifer Greene

Snake Hooks

When it comes to hunting for reptiles out in the wild, or maintaining a captive snake with an attitude, any herper knows what the best tool is for keeping them away from the bitey end of the snake.   Snake hooks are an essential tool for any serious snake keeper, with different sizes suitable for different sized snakes and different needs.

Small hooks are ideal for baby snakes or for easily maneuvering in tubs and small spaces.  Pocket hooks are best for tiny hatchlings, while the thicker, 15” standard hooks are my preferred size for working with strange snakes under 5 or 6’.  The short hook enables me to maneuver the snake’s head as needed, but isn’t so long that it’s unmanageable.

For larger or more aggressive snakes, a longer hook is a good idea.  I prefer 24” for larger or more aggressive species, as it’s just long enough to keep them out of striking range but not so long that I can’t easily manage it.  For taller people or those more concerned about the snake being at all close to them, you can utilize the 38” hook.

There’s an even larger and broader type of hook called a boa/python hook, which is best suited for moving extremely large and potentially aggressive snakes.  Due to the sheer size of the hook, it can be unwieldy for smaller species, so unless you have a truly large snake you are unlikely to need a hook quite this big.

I personally have one of each size hook; I use the two smaller sizes for working with captive animals, and use the longest hook for outdoor herping.

With the long reach of the 38” hook, it’s ideal for flipping boards and looking around under bushes, as here in Southern California, we have a substantial population of rattlesnakes.

To prevent bites, I often use my hook to check under boards and other flat items before putting my hands in places I can’t see.

Check back next month for an article discussing Southern California’s native rattlesnake species!

Then and Now: A Look Back at Reptiles on the Internet – April 2013

By Scott Wesley

In the winter of 1996, I was sitting in my college apartment at Chico State University playing “fantasy hockey” on America Online. While in this league one of the really nerdy things we decided to do was set up a website for our own teams. So – I started to research HTML and how things worked. I wanted a “counter” for traffic stats, a link for email with a cool animated graphic, pictures, team logo, etc.  I quickly figured out how to lay out a basic website, and upload it via Netscape.

Meanwhile down in LA – my brother had started a reptile business out of his garage (literally). He was breeding leopard geckos and selling supplies via a printed mail catalog. He called his business “LLLReptile & Supply“.  I had been selling reptiles at my school previously through my brother who was at that time working for a reptile wholesaler – so I was sort of familiar with what he was doing. One night, I took that knowledge and his product catalog and sat down at my computer to create a website for his business. The website address washttp://members.aol.com/L3Reptile/pricelist.html .  I emailed him a link, and asked him what he thought of doing a website?  With our hard work and dedication – the website took off and the rest is history for us.

This was how the LLLReptile website looked 1 year after creation.

When I created the LLLReptile website – there was very little in the way of competition. There were a few places to run classifieds online (ReptilesOnline.com and The Herp Mall were a few that come to mind). These pre-dated Kingsnake.com – which soon followed. Other companies online at that time were Hartford Reptile Breeding Center (pythons.com) and Big Apple Herp.

There were lots of “breeders” online – most of the names I forget (some are still around like Ron Tremper at LeopardGecko.com and BHB). Google didn’t even exist yet!  16 years ago doesn’t seem that long – but in the world of the internet – it is a lifetime.

At the end of 1997 – we decided to really upgrade and buy the domain name LLLReptile.com.  This was a BIG step for us and expensive at the time as well (no .99 cent godaddy names back then).

The late 90’s were really the explosion for reptile websites. Our business grew rapidly – as we had created something that had not existed prior; an all-in-one reptile website for supplies, live reptilesand feeders. Your “one stop herp shop”!

In the late 90’s, Jeff Barringer had taken Kingsnake.com to a new level as well. This was now the premier place to advertise anywhere on the net for the reptile world. His website was the “one stop” for classifieds, discussion forums, law updates via NRAAC and much more.

At one time – Kingsnake.com was the world’s LARGEST “pet” website that existed (and still is the largest reptile website by far today). The big “pet” companies really took a LONG time to find their place on the internet (set aside Pets.com and their 2 million dollar superbowl commercial. #miserablefail).

The reptile world was way ahead of the curve here.  Kingsnake.com literally allowed almost anyone working from home to start up a reptile business and immediately reach a vast customer base. I know for a fact that this website is why MANY reptile companies exist today!

Around the turn of the century we started to see a negative turn for the internet world.  Keyboard warriors found outlets for their disdain of individuals, breeders and companies on several websites that allowed anyone to say anything with literally no facts to back them up. It was also filled with rubberneckers there to watch the gossip and hate. While there is certainly a “need” for this in certain aspects (as there are certainly “bad” people out there) – the lack of monitoring the child-like posts filled with hate and personal attacks was sad and disturbing. Fortunately we have seen the evolution through the last decade through places like Yelp, the BBB and other legitimate feedback websites run in a much more professional manner. While the negativity still goes on to this day – it has certainly seen a draw down from it’s original form. People seem to have realized that these forums are typically filled up with false or unfounded statements posted mostly by children (or adults acting like children).

Around 2005 – We saw the biggest change online for the reptile world since its inception. Social media had turned from a place where kids talked about their music and interests on MySpace to something entirely different. Facebook took over the internet like a wildfire.  It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like to be a 13 year old kid who was totally intoreptiles, who could then make “friends” with others who held the same interests online.  Being able to talk about your interests together, share pictures, and learn so many new things all in one location is pretty cool.  There is a good reason why facebook has and will remain untouchable in this aspect (see google + about that). Even through the endless ads that are now in your newsfeed – it is still the place hundreds of millions go to daily. Now – you can follow the breeders and companies you like, and get direct feedback and answers from most of them (we answer questions on our facebook page every single day at LLL). Facebook allows a much more intimate relationship between a business or breeder and the consumer along with allowing like-minded reptile people to become “friends” as well. Pretty awesome stuff!

Over the last few years – we have seen some really cool new websites in the reptile world.USARK.org comes to mind. The internet (and facebook) makes it so much easier to organize nowadays and USARK is a perfect example this. We can now all see reptile news, upcoming votes on laws in our area or federal, and organize to help protect the reptile community. If you have not checked it out – I highly recommend you do asap!

Another cool new website is The Reptile Report.  The idea behind this website is pretty neat (kind of like reddit). It takes almost all of the really cool reptile discussion forums online, and organizes the most popular discussions all on one website. So if you are a ChameleonForums.com or Ball-Pythons.net fan but don’t have the time that day to look through all the new topics – you can quickly browse some highlighted discussions right here!

Nowadays you can get everything you need for your reptile right on the web. Any supply you can think of, all sorts of feeders, live reptiles shipped right to your door, find out when the next reptile show in your area will be, watch videos instantly of any reptile you can think of, and even start your own business easily with the help of websites like Kingsnake.com and ShipYourReptiles.com to name a few. The evolution of the internet has just begun. We have gone through such huge changes over the last 15+ years online – I can’t imagine what the next 15 will bring!

The Language of Love: Breeding Behavior in Reptiles and Amphibians – March 2013

By Erin Lane

Part II: Scintillating Scents

When it comes to the senses, we humans are dominated by our eyesight.  Sound, touch, smell, and taste all fall into place as well to create a dynamic set of tools to experience the surrounding world.  What we sometimes forget is that not all animals experience the world the same way that we do.  For some, like many frogs and toads, sound is key when it comes to communication.  For others, touch, or tactile communication, is by far the most important sense, while still others depend on taste and smell to figure out the world.

Last month we left off talking about how animals use sound to attract mates.  This month, we will be discussing how your pets use chemical cues to communicate.

Smelling and tasting

You have no doubt seen a snake flick its tongue in and out in rapid succession.  Sometimes it is in response to food, being handled, or being placed in a new environment.  What the snake is doing is grabbing up chemicals floating in the air to be examined.  Sometimes people refer to this as ‘tasting’ the air, and they aren’t that far off.  Smell and taste rely on the same mechanisms to analyze chemicals in the environment.  In both instances, chemicals from the environment (e.g., from food, scents, pheromones) bind with specialized receptors that are interpreted as a particular smell or taste.  So, when a snake is ‘tasting’ the air, they are more or less smelling andtasting.

This False Water Cobra is checking out the camera!

You have probably also seen this behavior in lizards as well.  This is especially noticeable in tegus and monitors, whose long forked tongues flick in and out much like that of a snake.  However, it is also prevalent in other lizards, such as bearded dragons.  When you put two dragons together for the first time, you will likely see one or both of them tasting the other with the tip of their tongue.  This is likely a way to determine who the other dragon is—male or female, healthy or not, a good mate or a bad one.

The benefit of chemicals is that they can continue to be an effective form of communication, even after the animal that produced them has left the vicinity.  Chemicals can linger in an environment, laid down in excrement, body oils, musk, or other specialized exudates.  While we see scent marking all the time in mammals (think of your cat rubbing its chin on you, or your dog urinating while on a walk), we don’t usually think of reptiles as doing much scent marking.  However, much research would suggest otherwise.  There is evidence in some reptile species that individuals can even differentiate between a desirable and an undesirable mate just by using chemical cues.

Sniffing out a winner

In the animal world, males are typically the ones doing the chasing.  Females in most species have evolutionary incentive to choose the best mate available, or to accept the male that has outcompeted others for access to her.  In other words, in most mating systems, males have more impressing to do, and females have more choosing.  Females and males alike use chemical cues, among others, to detect and distinguish between good mates.  For females, this usually means finding the best male available.

For example, female Iberian rock lizards (Lacerta monticola) can distinguish between males with symmetrical and asymmetrical femoral pores using just the scent of a male on a cotton swab1, 2.  Now what do femoral pores have to do with love?  Good question.  Femoral pores are the large tubular scale-like bumps found along the under side of the upper thigh on many lizard species. They exude a waxy substance, and seem to be primarily used by males to lay down scent.  This scent likely says a lot about the quality of the male, like whether he eats well, or is sexually mature.  Symmetry is often a sign of overall health and good development.  Female Iberian rock lizards can therefore differentiate between males that are objectively higher and lower quality, possibly helping them to choose a good mate.

Here you can clearly see the femoral pores present on this male Bearded Dragon.

The scent of a female

Males also use chemical cues to find receptive females.  Male southern water skinks (Eulamprus heatwolei) have been shown to differentiate between the scents of females that are more and less receptive to mating3.  When given a choice between three hides scented with a large receptive female, a smaller unreceptive female, or no scent, males tended to choose the hide that   smelled like a large sexually receptive female.  While males are usually not as picky as females when it comes to finding a mate, they still need to determine where they will be most wanted.  It takes energy to court a female, and would be wasted on one that has no interest in mating.

Playing the pond

Such discrimination of scents has also been found in turtles.  Both male and female Spanish terrapins (Mauremys leprosa) show a preference for pools of water that formerly contained different sizes of other Spanish terrapins4.  Females showed a preference for water scented by large males, and males preferred water scented by females that had better immune response (i.e., healthier).’

Males also had preferred water that had chemicals from relatively smaller males than water that had contained relatively larger ones.  It is not surprising that females preferred chemicals left by males that were larger, as large body size has been found to be a good fitness indicator and a trait preferred by females across many taxa.

This male Bearded Dragon is interested in mating, but the female just wants to eat grass!

It is also interesting that males were attracted to the chemicals left by females that were likely healthier, or at least had a better immune system.  As stated earlier, while males aren’t usually as picky, they often do show some preference for females that are more likely to want to copulate, or are able to produce offspring.  Males also showed a tendency to avoid water formerly occupied by bigger males, and to prefer water formerly occupied by smaller males.  This makes sense when we remember that females like bigger males.  If you are the biggest male terrapin around, you probably won’t have a hard time attracting all the females in the pond.

In conclusion

Chemical communication is found throughout the animal world.  Many reptiles use their sense of smell and taste to find food or mates, or even to avoid competition.  It can be an effective means of leaving a message for others to smell or taste, or a way to advertise your own attractiveness.  However, chemicals are not the only means by which reptiles find love.  Next month we will be discussing how our ectothermic pets attract each other via visual signals.

Works Cited:

1 López, Muñoz, & Martín (2002)

Martín & López (2000)

Head, Keogh, & Doughty (2005)

Ibanez, Lopez, and Martin (2012)

The Language of Love: Breeding Behavior in Reptiles and Amphibians – January 2013

By Erin Lane

Introduction

For most of the country, it’s the middle of winter.  Cold storms are moving through, the thermostat is turned up on the furnace, and going out in anything less than a parka is out of the question.  Your herps, however, are likely blissfully unaware—either because they are basking in their own temperature controlled enclosure, or because they are sleeping it out until the Spring.  This doesn’t mean though that they aren’t getting prepared for breeding season.  As your temps start to warm up here in the next month, your pets will be undergoing physiological changes that will prepare them for breeding season.

Whether you have snakes or frogs, monitors or turtles, most of their wild counterparts have a well defined period of time when the conditions are just right for procreating.  In the tropics, this may be the start of the rainy season.  For creatures living in the temperate zones (which is most of the U.S.), this means the beginning of warmer days and milder weather.

This is also the time that most of our pet reptiles and amphibians begin to gear up as well.  The means of communicating the readiness to breed is different from species to species, but there are some common types of communication when advertising love.  As we get ready for springtime here at the Reptile Times, we will be discussing the many ways in which our ectothermic (aka ‘cold blooded’) animals attract and choose mates.

Green Tree Frogs like this one are found throughout the East Coast of the US

Part I: Auditory Announcements

Although we initially rely pretty heavily on appearance when attracting or finding a mate, many species would find all of this primping and grooming a waste of time.  For most anurans (frogs and toads), the voice is often the most important tool to attract a mate.  But why?  What is the benefit of vocal communication, and how can that help to find a suitable partner?

Well, think about the areas in the world that have the highest densities of anurans.  These are wet places with dense vegetation, such as rain forests.  Even if you have good eyesight, it won’t help you to find other small, cryptically colored frogs hiding out under leaves and in small pools of water.  With so much thick foliage, it won’t do much good to see well.

Chorus Frogs, like this one, get their name from the distinctive calls they are known for making

Picky listeners

Sound, on the other hand, carries far, even when visual barriers are present.  Having a strong voice means that you can be heard over a greater distance, thereby increasing the number of listeners (and potential mates).  As for most animals, it is the males that do the majority of calling.  Females tend to be choosy since they typically have a very limited number of reproductive opportunities in a given season.  Making eggs is taxing, and, depending on the species, they may only have one opportunity to have their eggs fertilized.  In that case, finding a mate becomes a choice that could be the difference between their genes getting successfully passed on to the next generation, or not at all.  If the chosen male doesn’t pass on good strong genes to your offspring, they may not live long enough to have offspring of their own.

Males, on the other hand, typically have a very different take.  Where females are all about quality, males are all about quantity.  Unlike females that produce large, energetically costly eggs, males make millions of small, energy efficient sperm.  In most cases, the number of females they can breed with is dependant primarily on how many they can convince.  So when it comes to attracting a mate, males are usually the ones with the tougher job.

Size matters

You have likely heard the saying “appearances can be deceiving,” but it’s hard in the animal world to disguise a voice.  Vocalizations, or calls, are usually closely tied with the size of the animal making them.  For example, a small frog can’t make a deep call, just like a snare drum will never sound as big and deep as a base drum (think of an American bull frog versus a chorus frog).  It’s all about the size of the instrument, and it’s hard, if not impossible, to alter a call enough to trick a discerning ear.

But why is being bigger important?  It isn’t always, but being bigger usually means that the male is older, has more access to food, or both.  If a male lived long enough to become big and can make a nice booming call, it likely has good genes that have allowed it to find food and escape predators.

Standing out in the crowd

Often times, males stay put and call while the females seek out the one they wish to breed with.  In some species, the males form a lek, which is essentially a gathering place where they can show off for females.  The females come to the lekking spot, and can suss out which male would be best to breed with.  In some cases, the mere act of being able to participate in the lek is the only qualification a male needs to attract a mate.  Males that live long enough to make it there every season are usually those that are higher quality, and therefore suitable for a choosy female.  In other species, females will find vocalizing males from a distance, led on by the sound of their call.  Only males that have strong, attractive calls will be sought after, meaning that males with less attractive ones will be left singing to themselves.

An important point to make here is that every species will have its own particular call structure and/or frequency.  Ideally, females will only be attracted to the call of their own species.  If they weren’t, it would be a waste of their time, and they wouldn’t be likely to reproduce.  They are tuned in, so to speak, to the vocalizations of their own kind, and discern between calls that are within certain acoustic parameters.  Some of them within those parameters just happen to be more or less attractive.

This is an important element in vocal communication because of possible interference from other species.  In your mind, go to that lush rain forest with all of those frogs.  Think of how many species there are, and how that might sound.  Pretty confusing, for an animal that is relying on sound to find a mate.  Animals need to be able to ‘filter out’ the sounds of other species, and focus in on those of their own.  Not an easy task for us, perhaps, but one that comes naturally to even the most inconspicuous little frog.

This little Chorus Frog was caught in a surprise spring snowfall – he hopped away to sing another day!

Curtain call

As the country begins to thaw out in the next few months, we will start to see our reptiles and amphibians perk up, and get into breeding mode.  This is the time of year that is often most rewarding to serious herp breeders and casual hobbyists alike.  Your pets begin to wake up, eat more, and, often times, start looking for a mate.  The way they do so depends on the species, and it can make for truly interesting behavior.

Although we rely heavily on sight when finding a potential mate, many animals use other senses to discern a good partner.  For frogs and toads, it’s all about the voice.  A call that sounds out over the rest is sometimes the most enticing attraction for a female, making it a male’s most important asset.  However, sound is not the only way that animals communicate and find mates.  Next month we will be discussing how some species use chemical cues to find and attract each other.  In the mean time, keep an ear out for local frogs and toads as they get ready to sing their hearts out in search of springtime partners.

Captive Husbandry of the Fire Skink – January 2013

By Jennifer Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Adult Skinks can easily eat superworms

Waxworms are good treats to feed occasionally too

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

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

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

Any of these supplements are suitable for your skinks!

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

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

Basic Ball Python Breeding: Using a Punnett Square – December 2012

By Jennifer Greene

Ball Pythons have some of the most diverse and beautiful combinations of mutations that affect their color and pattern.  In the last 10 years, the number of genetically inherited traits that we have discovered in ball pythons is easily several dozen of single, simple traits, with the combination of those traits easily numbering into the hundreds.   For the average person just beginning to scratch the surface of ball python breeding, learning about all the morphs and mutations, and all the fancy names for them, can seem extremely daunting.  When you own morphs and are trying to create new ones, or just figuring out what you could potentially hatch out when you breed together animals carrying different traits, it can seem nearly impossible to memorize all the possible combinations and outcomes.  Fortunately, you don’t need to memorize the hundreds of combinations; instead, you can use a formula called a Punnett Square to predict your chances of hatching out specific types of offspring.  Using a punnett square properly will enable you to figure out potential offspring for any possible combination of traits.

In this article, it’s my goal to help you understand how to use a simple punnett square.  To learn how to combine two, three, or more traits in a punnett square, I highly recommend picking up The Complete Ball Python, which has two excellent chapters on punnett squares that will help you out.  In addition, search online for a free tutorial on genetics to help you out, or even consider enrolling in a basic biology course for a more thorough understanding.  Next month’s article will cover basic breeding principles such as inbreeding, line breeding, outcrossing, and their relevance in reptile breeding programs over the short and long term.

First, let’s talk about recessive traits.  These traits are only visible when an animal has two copies of the gene, one from each parent.  Some examples of recessive traits are clowns, piebalds, ghosts, and the various types of albinos.  Understanding how to predict your clutches is fairly easy  – use that punnett square! It’s a fairly simple method of determining probability per egg of what could hatch out.

Below I’ve drawn a simple square – for any single recessive trait, this is all you need to do to determine your chances of hatching out each baby.  For punnett squares, the use of capital and lowercase letters indicates which gene is dominant over another.  In recessive mutations, the normal type is going to be dominant over the recessive trait, so the capital letter A is going to mean the normal gene, while the lower case a means the recessive trait – albino for this example.  Each trait has two copies of the gene, so when writing out the genes of an animal, you’ll always use two letters – a het albino would be Aa, and an albino would be aa, and a normal would be AA.

Along the top of your square, put one of the parents.  In our example, we’ll have a het albino breed with an albino.  Up top, I’ll have the het albino parent (which gender they are doesn’t matter).  Along the side goes another parent (again, gender doesn’t matter for this), and this one will be the albino.  Each box gets 1 letter.

http://lllreptile.com/load-image/StoreInventoryImage/image/10230

When you carry down the letters to fill in the box, you’ll see that you get two possible outcomes – Aa, het albinos, and aa, albinos.  Since one of the parents was an albino, all normal looking babies are going to be het albinos.  You might be asking about what happens when you breed two het albinos together… Well, this is what that punnett square would look like:

Punnet Square Two

You see that there are now 3 types of outcomes.  AA, or completely normal babies, Aa, or het albino babies, and aa, or albino babies.  The albino babies will be easy to pick out when they hatch, but what about the normal and het babies?  They both have at least one copy of the normal gene, which means they will look totally normal.  This situation is how possible hets are made.  Since there is no visible difference between a normal ball python and a het albino ball python, instead many breeders will sell the offspring at a discounted price compared to guaranteed hets, and call them 66% hets.  The 66% refers to the probability of each normal looking baby being a het – it’s a short hand way of saying that the normal babies have a 66% chance of being het for albino.  Buying these kinds of hets is a kind of calculated gamble, but can be a great way to score some hets for a discounted price.   There are hets sold as smaller percents, such as 50% hets and 33% hets, and the same kind of short hand applies. Any time there is a percent in front of the word het, what should be referred to is the percent chance of that animal being het.

Ball Pythons are one of the most rewarding species to breed for fancy morphs because so many of the morphs are visible in the first generation.  These morphs are referred to as codominant in the reptile hobby, although technically the term is inaccurate (it’s been noted that the correct term should be incomplete dominant).  Codominant morphs have a “super” form, which is when an animal has two copies of the trait.  To show you in the form of a punnett square, writing out codominant traits is a little different than recessive.  The capital letter in this case is the trait that is more dominant, so for a pastel, refers to the pastel trait, while is the normal gene.  We’ll write up a punnett square to describe breeding a pastel to a pastel.

Punnett Square Three

Three potential combinations occur – normal babies, pp, more pastels, Pp, and super pastels, PP.  Another term for super pastels is homozygous pastel, meaning that they have two copies of the pastel gene.  A simpler definition for homozygous is same, meaning that the genes are the same, while heterozygous means mixed, or the genes are not the same.  For some codominant traits, the homozygous form may look nothing like the heterozygous form.   Lessers, Butters, and Mojaves are an example of this – they are all the heterozygous form of a blue eyed leucistic snake.  Yellowbellies are the heterozygous form of the ivory ball python, and fires are the heterozygous form of the black eyed leucistic.  Many codominant mutations have a homozygous (or super) form that looks like an extreme version of the heterozygous form, and when new mutations come out, discovering what the super expression looks like is one of the most exciting aspects of proving out the morph.

Fortunately for ball python breeders, the majority of ball python morphs are codominant, meaning that in the first generation of offspring you should see some babies that are visible morphs.  This makes them extremely gratifying for the beginner, as you see results relatively quickly.  There are also a handful of morphs that for all intents and purposes, are dominant traits, meaning that there is no super form.  Dominant traits express the same regardless if the animal has one or two copies of the gene.  Spider ball pythons and Pinstripe ball pythons could both be considered dominant, although popular opinion on spider ball pythons is still inconclusive as to whether or not a “super” form exists.  Generally speaking, it is frowned upon to breed spider x spider or pinstripe x pinstripe, as it can result in weaker or misshapen offspring that often do not thrive.  In addition, many do not see any real benefit to that breeding, as your chances for producing more morphs per clutch do not increase significantly.  I’ll create the punnett square for you to look at the pairing and the results.  We’ll do a pinstripe x pinstripe, with P indicating the pinstripe gene, and p indicating normal.

Punnet Square Four

So, as you can see we get slightly increased odds of hatching out a pinstripe per egg.  Instead of a 50% chance of each egg having a pinstripe in it (as would be the case when breeding a pinstripe to a normal), you have a 75% chance per egg of hatching out a pinstripe.  However, that 75% actually breaks down into a 50% chance of a regular, or heterozygous pinstripe (only one copy of the pinstripe gene) and a 25% chance of a homozygous, or super, pinstripe.  Now, pinstripes don’t have a super form that looks different from the form with only one copy of the gene.  This means that when you create a homozygous pinstripe, you will not be able to tell it apart from your heterozygous pinstripes.

Why does it matter if you can tell a homozygous pinstripe apart from a heterozygous pinstripe, you ask?  Because when you raise up that baby homozygous pinstripe and breed it to anything else, it will always produce pinstripes!  That makes it a valuable addition to a breeding project, although not visually more interesting than any other morph.  Morphs that are genetically homozygous will always produce offspring that are morphs, which is why they generally fetch a higher price and can be considered more valuable to breeding projects.  For a pet, there is no difference or benefit to getting a morph beyond appearance, so make your decision on a pet snake based on what you find the most visually appealing.  When it comes to pet snakes, the genes behind their appearance are only as important as you want them to be.

There is one last type of morph that is available, and often quite a steal for a fancy looking pet snake, and that’s the “non-genetic” morphs.  Labyrinths, Jungles (not to be confused with pastels, which are sometimes archaically referred to as pastel jungles), and a handful of other unique looking ball pythons are different in appearance than a normal ball python, but genetically they are no different.  While many folks refer to these snakes as “non-genetic” morphs, that is a bit of a misnomer, as appearance is always to a certain extent controlled by the genes of the animal (thus, genetic).  However, these morphs are not inheritable, or passed on from one generation to the next.  If you were to breed a Jungle ball python to a normal, you would get entirely normal babies, with no increased likelihood of hatching more jungles.  Occasionally, when temperatures fluctuate greatly during incubation, pattern or color can be affected: I personally have seen a clutch of extremely unique looking pastels with scrambled and reduced pattern that were the result of some accidental and extreme temperature fluctuations during incubation.  They were very pretty, but their unique appearance was not a trait they were able to pass on to their offspring.

In closing, I just want to emphasize again the importance of selecting snakes to add to your collection that you enjoy and want to keep.  If breeding, especially on a larger scale, is your goal, then consider taking a basic course on genetics (there are numerous free tutorials online).  The punnett square is an extremely useful tool for understanding odds and probabilities for certain crosses, but remember that each punnett square is calculating your odds per egg, not per clutch, and does not tell you the guaranteed outcome of each breeding.  It is a helpful tool to see possibilities, and not a fortune telling device.