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!

The Basking Spot: Magnetic Ledges – April 2013

by Jennifer Greene

Magnetic Ledges

One of my favorite products for just about any cage is a magnetic ledge.  We carry a range of sizes, shapes, and textures that should suit nearly any cage type and style, and the lightweight foam material is easy to clean and maintain.  The magnets within them are extremely strong, which can be a bit difficult to pry off the packaging and/or cage, but the strength of the magnets is perfect for holding up to the weight of the average pet reptile.

The cork ledges are brown, and textured to look like a piece of cork bark or wood sticking out of the side of the cage.  Even if not using the ledges as a perch for your reptile, they can make it easy to prop up wood or other cage décor, creating ramps for your reptiles to climb on.

The fake rock ledges are nice and thick, and can be an excellent addition to desert terrariums.  The largest size fits an adult bearded dragon perfectly, and with the foam material that makes up the ledge, you don’t have to worry about the ledge heating up too much and burning your dragon.

In addition to plain ledges, there are also feeding ledges that have convenient niches built in to allow you to put disposable mealworm dishes into the ledge.

These come in two sizes, and make it extremely easy to offer your reptilesmealworms without the worms escaping into the bedding.  Elevating the mealworm cups can also make it easy to offer more arboreal reptiles a more varied diet, such as with pet chameleons.  A ledge ¾ of the way up the cage makes it easy for your chameleon to see its worms and hunt them down!

Magnetic ledges are an excellent addition to any cage, with a variety of colors and sizes to suit any need.  Definitely consider them to add perching sites and visual interest to your cage for any of your reptiles!

The Basking Spot – January 2013

The Basking Spot

Fluker’s Clamp Lamps with Dimmer

By Jennifer Greene

The more familiar you get with reptiles and reptile husbandry, the more you realize the importance of controlling temperature and light for your animals.  Many caresheets and online forums highly recommend the use of a dimmer or thermostat with all products that provide heat, which helps you as a keeper more accurately control exactly what temperature your animals are living at.  Most of the time, you have to purchase a dimmer or thermostat separately from your fixture, increasing your overall cost for set up and adding yet another item to the clutter around your cage.

flukers dimmable clamp lamp

Fluker’s has seen this, and produced a couple sizes of a fantastic fixture that comes with a dimmer switch already attached.  This is great for a number of reasons, the primary one being that now it is super easy to dim down your heat lights as needed.  While right now it is winter, and you likely need all the heat you can get in your tanks, come summertime you don’t need nearly so much.  Before this, you often had to buy a set of bulbs for winter, and a set for summer – two different wattages for the different temperature needs.  With the Fluker’s Clamp Lamp with dimmer, all you’ll have to do is dial down the light in the fixture!  You’ll save money not only in how much you spend on lightbulbs, but also on electricity due to your ability to dial down the lights any time there’s a warm day.

The only downside is that the fixtures do not work for mercury vapor bulbs or fluorescent lights, as the way those bulbs are designed they can only turn off and on.  They do not work when dimmed, and attempting to use a dimmer with them can burn them out.  The 8.5” fixture can take bulbs up to 150 watts, while the 5.5” fixture can take bulbs up to 75 watts.  They both are the standard black color of most fixtures, and screwing a bulb into the fixture is easy enough.

They both come with clamps in addition to the dimmer function, and are about the same price as regular clamp lamps without the dimmer function, making them a very economically priced fixture.

Since most dimmers cost almost as much as just these fixtures, and thermostats are at least double the price or more, there’s no reason not to just upgrade your light fixtures to something that allows you to easily control the light and heat output of your bulbs.

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.
 

The Basking Spot: Thermometers and Thermostats – November 2012

The Reptile Times

The Basking Spot

By Jennifer Greene

Thermometers and Thermostats

One of the very first things we learn about reptiles and amphibians is that they are “cold blooded”, or ectothermic, and as such are deeply dependent on their environment for their temperature needs.  In captivity, we, the keepers are responsible for providing them with suitable caging that allows our pets to seek out the conditions they need.  While reptiles do need to maintain a body temperature within a specific range, they do best when offered a range of temperatures to select from and utilize to maintain their own preferred body temperature.  This means controlling the amount of heat added to the cage, as well as accurately measuring temperatures within the cage.

You can measure the temperatures in the cage using a thermometer, which comes in a variety of options. Stick-on thermometers are the most inexpensive, and are ideal for getting a general idea of the temperatures within the cage.  Stick on thermometers most accurately tell you the temperature of the surface they are stuck to, so keep in mind when using them that air temperatures can be much cooler or much warmer than what the stick on thermometer reads.  However, they can be useful when placed on the glass directly touching a heat pad (allows you to check that it is working properly), or just to see at a glance that the cage is an acceptable temperature.

stick on thermometer

The next step up that is commonly used is a dial thermometer, or analog thermometer.  Because these are attached to one section of the cage and usually immovable, they are most useful for determining ambient air temperatures rather than specifics about areas within the cage.  When it comes to monitoring ambient temps, analog thermometers are my preferred type, as you can see the ambient air temp at a glance.

Analog thermometer

For more precise temperature readings, a digital thermometer with a probe is ideal.  To leave in the cages at all times and see temperatures at a glance, digital thermometers are the best you can use.  There are several brands, with some having memory that enables you to see the highest temperatures recorded as well as the lowest.  These thermometers with memory are extremely useful for monitoring temperatures when you’re not around, as well as testing new cages you are setting up to ensure they are reaching the desired temperatures.  Using these thermometers is delightfully easy – simply place the probe in the location that you’d like to know the temperature of (so inside the warm side hide, on top of a basking spot, or along the cool side) and check the screen!

digital thermometer

When it comes to measuring surface temperatures instantly and easily, the use of a temp gun is ideal.  Many advanced keepers prefer to use a temp gun to measure their temperatures, as the instantaneous readout of the temperature of the surface in question is extremely useful and efficient when it comes to maintaining larger collections.  Temp guns only measure the surface temperature, however, and ideally should be used with a thermometer that will measure the air temperature as well.  Temp guns are quite accurate, though, and as I said, when it comes to maintaining larger collections they are indispensable.

temp gun

A fantastic tool for any herper is the thermostat.  Thermostats work by maintaining your heating element for you, turning your heat sources off and on as needed to maintain a specific temperature that you determine. Rheostats are similar, and work much like a dimmer.  When using a rheostat, you simply dial down the level on the light bulb or heat pad plugged into it until it reaches the level you desire.  The downside to a rheostat as compared to a thermostat is that it does not maintain a specific temperature – you have just dialed down the intensity of the heat.  If temperatures in your home drop or spike significantly, then the rheostat will not compensate for that.

helix

Thermostats work in two ways – proportional or analog.  A proportional thermostat, such as those manufactured by Helix, increases or decreases the amount of heat being put out by the devices plugged in to it.  This gradual increase and decrease is much gentler and less abrupt on the animal, as well as extends the life of the bulb.  An analog thermostat will turn your heating elements off and on to maintain the temperature you set – once the temperature goes above the temperature you’ve set, it will turn the heat off, and once it drops below the set temperature, it will turn the heat on.  Which you use is entirely up to you.

The combination of an effective thermometer to check temperatures throughout the cage, as well as a thermostat on your heat bulb or heat pads, will help ensure that your cage is maintained at the correct temperatures.