The Season Has Changed, Should Your Reptile Bulbs?

Just Because They’re Inside Doesn’t Mean That They Can’t Feel That It’s Fall

IMG_0371Fall is here again at That Fish Place – That Pet Place. The leaves are changing color and, more importantly, the temperatures are dropping. Chompers is packing his bags for winter migration, and Bernie is digging out all of his old doggy sweaters. They already have their plans to stay warm this winter, do your reptiles?

We mammals have it easy; when the outside gets too cold, our insides warm up. Reptiles, on the other hand work differently. As you probably already know, our scaly friends need to be provided with warm and cool areas within their enclosures in order to allow them to regulate their body temperature as they would in their natural habitats. The most common way to accomplish this is by the use of heat bulbs, which are placed on a metal screened top of a glass aquarium.


At first it can be overwhelming when trying to decide on what type of heat bulb to use. They come in different wattages. Some are round, others are beveled. Some are white, some are blue, some are purple, the list goes on.  Luckily, with the help of our awesome TFP reptile staff, we get you started off with the right type of bulb to keep your animal happy and healthy.

But just because they are indoors doesn’t mean that they aren’t affected by the changing temperatures outside.

Every fall, customers come to us in concern because their pet, who has been happy and healthy all spring and summer, is now slow and lethargic. Sometimes they may refuse to eat.  They may stay in their hide-out all the time.  Or they may just not seem like themselves. Many people begin to fear the worst, forgetting that the fall drop in temperatures have a huge effect on their cold blooded buddies. If you are finding yourself in a situation like the one that I have just described, it’s time to re-evaluate how you’re heating your animal for the upcoming winter.

Here are some tips that can help you figure out if you need to change your heating setup for the winter:


IMG_0356Know the appropriate temperature ranges for your pet

Every species’ temperature requirements will be slightly different. For example, a rat snake only needs a basking temperature of about 85 degrees, where as a bearded dragon prefers to have one around 110 degrees.


Know the heat output of the bulb that you are currently using

Most manufacturers post a chart on the back of the box to denote the approximate temperature output at various distances from the bulb itself. Note: These temperatures are approximations, usually based on 72-75 degree ambient room temperature.


Make sure that you have a good thermometer

I personally use digital probe thermometers such as ZooMed Digital Terrarium Thermometer for all of my pets. Those little stick on thermometers might be okay for your beta fish, but not really for reptiles.


Be sure that your thermometer is placed correctly in the terrarium

The probe should be placed under the heat lamp, in the spot where your pet usually basks.

If your thermometer placement is correct and it is still reading too cool for the species that you are keeping, it’s time to get a higher wattage heat bulb or add a secondary heat source.

Our reptile room staff will be happy to help you quickly figure out the best way to heat your pet for the winter. We have heat bulbs of all shapes, colors, and wattages, as well as heat pads and even automatic thermostat systems which will let you “set it and forget it.” Stop on in! Your reptiles will thank you for it.

Why Do My Crickets Keep Dying?

Acheta_domesticus,_adultes_WeibchenWe all love our reptiles, but most of us loathe their lunch. Many reptiles that we commonly keep as pets are insectivores, and the most commonly available feeder insect is the domestic cricket. Yes, you read that correctly, “domestic.” Scientifically referred to as Acheta domesticus, the type of crickets sold as feeder insects have a higher protein value and a more docile nature in comparison to their wild counterparts.

Although there are a few loopholes, due to laws that govern the importation of potentially invasive species, insects which are sold as feeders in pet stores throughout the United States and Canada must be domesticated versions of their wild counterparts. The process of domestication involves strict breeding guidelines which are used to bring out certain favorable characteristics within a species, and also ensure that they (hopefully) couldn’t cause too much harm if released into the wild.

Despite their assumed hardiness, many of our reptile room customers often ask the same two questions: “What can I do to keep these darn things alive?” and “how do I keep them from escaping?”

TIPZEven though we tend to simply think of them as food for our pets, crickets are living animals themselves and these points need to be kept in mind.


    • They need to eat: Crickets will eat almost anything. In the Reptile Room at our store we feed a special mixture of oatmeal, fish food, turtle food & dog food crumbs.


    • They need to drink: Crickets aren’t the smartest creatures, and if you put a dish of water in their enclosure they might drown. I prefer to use an all in one cricket food/drink combo such as Fluker’s Complete Cricket Diet. This provides both water and food for the cricket.


    • You need to clean out their enclosure: Even if you are just keeping them in an old plastic takeout container that you don’t really care about, waste products and dead crickets must be removed on a daily basis. When debris begins to break down it creates ammonia gas. After enough ammonia accumulates, the remaining crickets can quickly suffocate and die off.



  • You don’t have to have crickets jumping all over your house: Crickets are naturally tunnel/cave dwelling creatures, therefore they are attracted to darkness. You can use this to your advantage to keep them in their container, and off of your floors. Cricket Keepers such the Exo Tera Cricket Pen are a great thing to have. They have slots on their sides where dark plastic tubes are inserted. Being attracted to the darkness, the crickets hide inside of the easily removable tubes. All you have to do is slide out the tube, shake some crickets into your pet’s enclosure, then pop the tube back into the cricket pen.



Hot Weather Herp Tips – Summer’s Effect on Reptiles and Amphibians

Green AnoleMost herp enthusiasts know that amphibians are usually quite sensitive to warm temperatures.  However, reptiles, even those native to tropical and desert habitats, may be severely impacted as well.  Following are some general guidelines to keep in mind at the height of summer – please write in for more detailed information about the animals in your collection.

General Considerations

Even within the hottest of natural habitats, herps find ways to escape temperature extremes.  Millions of years of evolution have brought us a great many surprises in this regard – Australia’s Water Holding Frog, for example, thrives where most unprotected creatures, even reptiles, would cook in short order.  So while desert adapted animals may be better suited to withstand heat, do not assume that they will be fine without special attention. Read More »

Boas, Anacondas & Pythons in the Wild & Captivity: An Overview



Although they represent a mere 6% of the world’s snake diversity, boas, anacondas and pythons have long monopolized the attentions of herpetologists, private snake keepers, zoos and “non-herp people” alike. Much of our fascination centers upon the families’ giants, and the huge meals they consume. At least 2 species – the African Rock Python (Python sebae), and the Reticulated Python (P. reticulatus)occasionally add people to their diet, and anecdotal evidence indicates that the same may be true of the Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus). Captive Burmese Pythons (P. bivittatus), have on occasion killed caretakers, and the Indian Python (P. molurus) and Scrub Python (Morelia amethystinus) are certainly capable of doing the same. Even after a lifetime of working with giant constrictors, I was astonished by some of the anaconda meals (most notably a 60 lb. deer) that I was lucky enough to observe in the field.


Important Note: Green Anacondas and African Rock, Indian, Burmese and Scrub Pythons can exceed 20 feet in length, and cannot usually be properly and safely managed in private collections. Human predation, while rare, has been documented for several of these, and feral Burmese Pythons are causing ecological havoc in south Florida. As is the practice among professional zookeepers, at least 2 well-experienced adults should be on hand whenever constrictors exceeding 6 feet in length are fed or handled. Please see the article linked under “Further Reading” to read about a surprising study of human predation by Reticulated Pythons.


Anaconda by truckClassification

The world’s 40 python species are classified in the family Pythonidae and the super family Pythonoidae. Also included in Pythonoidae are the Mexican Burrowing Pythons (Lococemidae) and the Sunbeam Snakes (Xenopeltidae).


The world’s 58 boas (including the 4 anaconda species) are placed in the family Boidae. Boidae is further divided into 3 subfamilies – the True Boas and Anacondas (Boinae), the Sand Boas (Erycinae) and the Dwarf Boas (Ungaliophiinae).


Boas and pythons are considered to be “primitive” snakes, due to certain anatomical features such as vestigial pelvic girdles and rear limbs (the cloacal “spurs” seen on most species), but as you’ll see below they are extraordinarily successful. All are constrictors, and most are equipped with facial heat-sensing organs that allow them to locate warm-blooded prey at night.




At an adult size of less than 36 inches, Australia’s Pygmy Python (Antaresia perthensis), is the smallest species. At the other end of the scale, the Reticulated Python sometimes exceeds 20 feet in length. Also in the same general size category are Asia’s Indian and Burmese Pythons, the African Rock Python, and the Scrub Python of Australia.


A reward offered by the Bronx Zoo for a snake exceeding 30 feet in length remained uncollected for nearly 100 years. During my time working there, we were excited by photos of what looked to be a record-breaking Reticulated Python captured in Borneo. Upon arrival at the zoo, however, she proved to be “only” 21-23 feet long – but much stronger than the captive-bred specimens I’ve dealt with!


Brazilian Rainbow Boa

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Damien Farrell


The various Dwarf Boas (Ungaliophiinae) are fully grown at 12-28 inches in length, while female Green Anacondas are the heaviest of all snakes and may equal or exceed the Reticulated Python in length.


Of nearly 500 Green Anacondas that I and co-workers tagged in Venezuela’s llanos region, a 17 foot-long, 215 lb. female proved largest; several others measured 15-16 feet in length. Reliable colleagues report sightings of larger individuals along forested rivers within the Amazon basin, but in such habitats they are nearly impossible to capture.




With a single exception (the Mexican Burrowing Python, Loxocemus bicolor), pythons are limited to the Eastern Hemisphere. Their greatest diversity is reached in Australia and New Guinea, but they are also well-represented in Africa and South/Southeast Asia. Feral populations of Burmese Pythons and African Rock Pythons are established in Florida, USA.


Adult rubber boa

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by USDA Forest service


Boas occur nearly world-wide in tropical and subtropical environments, but are absent from Australia. They are represented in Europe by a single species, the Javelin Sand Boa (Eryx jaculatus). Many, myself included, are surprised to learn that the Rubber Boa (Charina bottae) ranges as far north as southern Canada. Boas reach their greatest diversity in Latin America, where they are sometimes the largest terrestrial predators in their habitats. Madagascar and several Caribbean and South Pacific islands are home to numerous endemic, and often rare, species.




Boas and pythons occupy nearly every conceivable habitat, including deserts, rainforests, major cities, farms, arid woodlands, swamps, cloud forests, sand dunes, grasslands, large rivers, and many others. Some are highly specialized for life in the water, treetops, or below ground, while others, such as the Common Boa (Boa constrictor), are habitat generalists.


Timor python hatchlings

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Tigerpython


All pythons produce eggs which in most if not all species are incubated by the female. By contracting their muscles, or “shivering”, females can raise the temperature of their clutch by as much as 40 F.


With a single exception (the African Ground “Python”, Calabaria reinhardtii, formerly classified as a python), all boas and anacondas give birth to live young.


Rainbow Boa consuming mouse

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by KaroH


Many boas and pythons are generalists that consume a wide variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. For example, field studies show that the Common Boa takes tamanduas, green iguanas, raccoons, bats, monkeys, birds and a huge array of other creatures with equal gusto.


Specialists are also common. Mexico’s Oaxacan Dwarf Boa, an inhabitant of cool cloud forests, feeds primarily upon frogs, salamanders and their eggs, while the reptile-partial Black Headed and Woma Pythons include frilled lizards, bearded dragons and blue-tongued skinks in their diets


Mammals weighing in excess of 100 pounds, large crocodilians, turtles and other seemingly “unlikely” meals are taken by the giants of each group. Please see the article linked below for more on large, odd snake meals.



Further Reading

Reticulated Python Attacks

Odd and Giant Snake Meals

Anaconda Care and Natural History



Barbour’s Map Turtle Care and Natural History

All thirteen Map Turtle species are both fascinating and very attractive, with several being highly prized by reptile fans. Although best reserved for experienced keepers, Barbour’s Map Turtle (Graptemys barbouri) deserves more attention from both private enthusiasts and zoos. With a specialized diet and restricted range, it faces an uncertain future in the wild. I had the good fortune to work with Barbour’s Map Turtles at the Bronx Zoo, and would like to pass along some thoughts for those up to the challenge of keeping this spectacular creature.


Barbour's map turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by maimaip2000


Female Barbour’s Map Turtles are very impressive, with noticeably-broad heads and shells that may approach 12 inches in length. The narrow-headed males are so much smaller – a mere 3.2 to 5.2 inches long – as to appear to be of a different species.


The carapace is brown to olive-green, with pale yellow or white marks along its edge, and is topped by 2 spine-like ridges. Yellow stripes decorate the neck and legs, and there are blotches of yellow behind the eyes.


Ringed map turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Eekhoorntje

Other Map Turtles, while smaller, exhibit a wide array of carapace “decorations”, colors and habits.  You can read more about some of these in the articles linked below.  Pictured here is the spectacular Ringed Map Turtle (G. oculifera).


Range and Habitat

The range of this USA endemic is restricted to the Apalachicola River System in the Florida Panhandle and Georgia.


Type habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Sallicio

Barbour’s Map Turtle is largely limited to clear, limestone-bottomed streams that contain numerous fallen branches and trees. Highly aquatic, it spends much time basking on logs, plunging into the water when disturbed. The Barbour’s Map Turtle feeds only in water, and, except when nesting, rarely travels far from shore.


The Aquarium

These large, active turtles require spacious homes. While a 55 gallon aquarium might suit a small male, females need tanks of 125 – 200 gallon capacity, or commercial turtle tubs and ponds.


Wading pools are often easier to manage than aquariums. Koi ponds sometimes contain shelves meant to hold plants; these work well as turtle basking areas. Outdoor housing is ideal, assuming that raccoons and other predators can be excluded.


Although highly aquatic, all map turtles need a dry surface on which to bask. Commercial turtle docks will suffice for small specimens. Cork bark, wedged or affixed via silicone to the aquarium’s sides, is a good option for adults.



Turtles are messy feeders and very hard on water quality. Submersible or canister filters are necessary unless the enclosure can be emptied and cleaned several times weekly (I’ve found the Zoo Med Turtle Clean Filter to be ideal). Even with filtration, partial water changes are essential.


Removing your turtles to an easily-cleaned container for feeding will lessen the filter’s workload and help to keep the water clean.



Bare-bottomed aquariums are best, as gravel traps food and wastes, greatly complicating cleaning, and may be swallowed along with food.


Light and Heat

Heliothermic turtles (those that bask) require UVB radiation in captivity. If a florescent bulb is used (the Zoo Med 10.0 Bulb provides high UVB output), be sure that the turtle can bask within 6-12 inches of it. Mercury vapor bulbs broadcast UVB over greater distances, and also provide beneficial UVA radiation. Natural sunlight is the best UVB source, but be aware that glass filters-out UVB rays.


Water temperatures of 72-80 F should be maintained. An incandescent spotlight bulb should be used to warm the basking site to 90 F.



Barbour’s Map Turtles will eat or chase fishes, newts and aquatic frogs.


Females and juveniles may get along, but be prepared to house them separately as aggression often develops over time. Males often harass females with mating attempts, and may stress or bite them in the process; adult males cannot be kept together.


Freshwater clams

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Boldie


In the wild, female Barbour’s Map Turtles feed almost entirely upon fresh water mussels, snails and crayfish. Males take smaller snails, insects, crayfish, and fish.


Pets should be offered a diet comprised largely of snails, crayfish, and mussels, along with whole fishes, earthworms and prawn. Those under my care accepted apple snails and other native and introduced species that I collected and bred, European land snails (introduced in NY, and also available in seafood markets), freshwater mussels and clams, periwinkles, crayfish, shiners, minnows, green crabs and fiddler crabs.


Goldfish should be used sparingly, if at all, as a steady goldfish diet has been linked to kidney and liver disorders in other turtle species. A high quality commercial turtle chow can comprise up to 30% of the diet. A cuttlebone should be available to supplement the calcium provided by whole fishes and similar foods.


Other important food items include earthworms, krill, freeze-dried river shrimp and, to a lesser extent, crickets and other insects.



Field studies indicate that females take 20 or more years to reach breeding age. This fact, along with their small natural range and past over-collection for the pet trade, threatens the future of the Barbour’s Map Turtle. Reproduction has not been well-studied in the wild, but pets have produced 6-9 eggs in June and July.


Gravid females usually become restless and may refuse food. They should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with 6-8 inches of slightly moist soil and sand; please see article linked below). Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention invariably leads to a fatal infection known as egg peritonitis. It is important to note that females may develop eggs even if unmated, and that captives may produce several clutches each year.


The eggs may be incubated in moist vermiculite at 82-86 F for 60-85 days. Please post below for further details concerning captive reproduction.



These shy turtles adjust well to captivity if provided proper conditions, but they may not become as responsive as other map turtles. All turtles are capable of administering powerful bites and scratches when frightened, and must be handled with care.




Further Reading

Nesting Sites for Captive Turtles

Choosing the Best Turtle Filter

Slider, Map and Painted Turtle Care



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