Is a Red-Eared Slider a Good Pet? Read This Before Buying a Turtle

Sliders basking

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bizarria

The Red-Eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) is without question the world’s most commonly-kept pet turtle. But while these attractive reptiles are extremely responsive to people, many novice owners underestimate the amount of care and space their upkeep requires…and do not realize that Sliders commonly live to age 20+, and often well beyond. Over time, these factors lead many people to release or re-home their once beloved pets. As a consequence, Sliders have become established, in the wild, in dozens of US states and in countries ranging from Brazil to South Africa and Japan, where they are causing ecological havoc. Turtle adoption services and reptile rescues house literally thousands more unwanted pets. Please read this article carefully before buying or adopting a Red-Eared Slider, and be sure to post any questions below. Please also see the linked articles on the care of Sliders, Map Turtles and similar species.

 

Slider in outdoor pond

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Lawrencekhoo

Aquarium Size and Upkeep

Female Sliders reach 8-12 inches in length. I personally measured one that was just over 12 inches long…and 11 ¾ inches wide! Males generally top out at 6 inches, but both sexes are very active, and will languish in cramped quarters. An adult female will require a 75-100 gallon aquarium, a commercial turtle tub, or a wading pool. Pairs rarely do well together, as the overly-amorous males constantly harass the objects of their desire with mating attempts.

 

Turtles are messy feeders and very hard on water quality. Powerful filters help, but even so partial or total water changes will be necessary. If a large plastic storage container is used as a home, it must be emptied and cleaned several times weekly.

 

Slider nesting

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Nephets

Cost

With so many being up for adoption, Slider ownership might appear to be a good deal. But the initial purchase price of any reptile is generally the smallest of the related financial considerations. In addition to large and expensive aquariums and filters, Slider ownership entails electricity use, veterinary care, and the purchase of UVB bulbs and fixtures, heat bulbs and fixtures, water heaters, basking platforms, food, and mineral supplements.

 

Veterinary Care

Veterinarians willing to treat reptiles are difficult to find in many regions, although those experienced in turtle care are becoming more common. It is always a mistake to obtain a reptile of any kind before locating a veterinarian, or to imagine that even the hardy Slider will not require medical care at some point. Veterinary costs for reptiles are comparable to those charged for dog or cat care.

 

Hatchling slider

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jf268

Longevity

Sliders routinely reach age 20 in captivity, and have the potential to live much longer. The published longevity record is 41 years, but I’m quite sure, judging from experience with related species, that there are some that have exceeded the half-century mark. That cute little hatchling you bought for your child may become your (much larger!) responsibility when she or he goes off to college.

 

Health Considerations

Salmonella bacteria, commonly present in turtle digestive tracts, can cause severe illness in people. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene, but are a serious concern for children and elderly or immune-compromised adults. Please speak with your family doctor and see the article linked below for further information.

 

Razorback Musk Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Ltshears

Slider Alternatives

Several Map and Painted Turtle species share the Slider’s lifestyle, good nature and hardiness, but do not grow quite as large. Common Musk Turtles, Eastern Mud Turtles and a number of their relatives are even smaller, and do not need a source of UVB radiation. All make great pets, and become quite responsive to people. There are a great many other possibilities as well…please see the linked articles and post below for further information.

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook. Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

 

Further Reading

Common Musk Turtles in Captivity: the Perfect Pet Turtle

Slider, Map and Painted Turtle Care

 

 

 

I Found an Orange Salamander: Is it a Red Eft and Does it Make a Good Pet?

Red Eft

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bruce Lucas

As the summer weather cools and kids return home from camp, questions concerning Red Eft care are among the most frequent I receive. Bold, brightly-colored, and often out by day, Red Efts are more commonly-collected by children than any other amphibian. And, being attractive and seemingly-benign, they are also less likely to be rejected outright by parents. However, efts are temperature sensitive and require a specialized diet. Unfortunately, they are poorly-suited to captivity, especially when inexperienced owners are involved. In the following article I’ll explain why, and will offer some alternative species and care tips to folks intent on trying to keep these beautiful salamanders.

 

Natural History: What is an Eft?

The term “Eft” refers to a temporary land stage in the life cycle of the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens). This species’ huge range extends from southern Canada through most of the central and eastern USA to Texas and Florida; in North America, only the Tiger Salamander has a wider distribution. Four subspecies have been described.

 

Eastern Newt (Eft's Adult Phase)

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Raeky

The olive-green, red-spotted adult newts are aquatic, and at one time were a pet trade mainstay. Many states now prohibit collection, but where ownership is legal they make wonderful introductions to amphibian care (please see the article below).

 

In most populations, Eastern Newt larvae transform into orange to red-colored efts. The efts leave the natal pond and take-up residence in forested areas. The eft stage generally lasts from 2-3 years, but may extend to 7 years in the northern part of the range and in mountainous habitats. The eft stage is skipped in certain populations, with the larvae developing directly into aquatic adults. “Eft-skipping” was first documented on Long Island, NY, but has since been found among all subspecies, and across the range. It most often occurs where the land surrounding breeding ponds is sandy or otherwise inhospitable to moisture-loving amphibians.

 

Skin Toxins

Efts are well-protected by powerful skin toxins. This seems to account for their tendency to wander about on damp days, seemingly oblivious to the attentions of curious children (always wash after handling one, as their skin secretions can irritate mucus membranes, eyes and wounds). Several other species, including the Mud Salamander (Pseudotriton montanus) and the Red Salamander (P. ruber), are believed to mimic the Red Eft in order to discourage predators.

 

Springtail

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Tpe

Captive Diet

Wild-caught efts are not at all shy, and willingly forge by day. Judging by the questions I receive, however, it seems that many Red Eft owners are first-time salamander keepers, and are not prepared for the work involved in keeping these gaudy little gems. By the time most folks write in, their once-perky little pets are lethargic and emaciated.

 

Red Efts require a highly-varied diet comprised of tiny invertebrates, and will not accept the dry foods and pellets favored by adult newts. Those experienced in keeping Dart Poison Frogs and other small amphibians usually have no trouble with efts, as a number of frog foods suit them well. Flightless fruit flies, 10-day old crickets, springtails, bean beetle larvae and sow bugs can be purchased from online dealers, and are readily accepted. In order to add variety to the diet, termites, millipedes, tiny earthworms, beetles and other small leaf-litter invertebrates should also be collected when possible (please see the article linked below).

 

Heat Sensitivity

While different eft population vary in regard to temperature requirements, most fare poorly when kept at 72 F or warmer for any length of time. A cool basement or similar location is essential to their survival.

 

Look But Don’t Touch

Children are drawn to efts because they accept handling without protest. However, it’s important to realize that handling damages the skin’s protective mucus covering, leaving the animal exposed to attack by bacteria and other pathogens. As mentioned above, skin secretions can also irritate people. Furthermore, all amphibians can be assumed to harbor Salmonella bacteria. While infections are easily preventable if proper hygiene is maintained, children must be supervised carefully.

 

Fire Salamanders

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Überraschungsbilder

Eft Alternatives

 

Those seeking a land-dweller cannot do better than the Fire Salamander. These gorgeous creatures, captive bred in large numbers, are among the most responsive of all amphibians…and, with proper care, they may live to age 30, 40, or beyond! Please see the article linked below.

 

A wide array of semi-aquatic species, including Fire-Bellied, Paddle-Tailed and Ribbed Newts, are being bred in captivity and make hardy, long-lived pets. As mentioned earlier, the Red Eft’s adult phase is also a good choice, but captive-bred specimens are scarce. Please see the linked articles and post your comments below if you’d like more details on newt and salamander care.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Eastern Newt Care

 

Collecting Leaf Litter Invertebrates

 

Fire Salamander Care

Pet Lizards: Large, Small, and Colorful Insectivores

Rainbow Whiptail

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by DiverDave

The world’s astonishing lizard diversity – 5988 species have been described to date – is mirrored by the huge array of species now available to reptile enthusiasts. In recent years, refined husbandry and breeding techniques have introduced and re-introduced many fascinating lizards to the pet trade. Today I’d like to cover several that might interest folks with varying degrees of experience. I’ll review others in the future…until then, please post notes about your own favorites below, as those mentioned here are just a small sample.

 

Important Notes

A highly-varied diet is essential if you are to have success in keeping insectivorous lizards. Crickets and mealworms alone, even if powdered with supplements, are not an adequate diet for any species.

 

Always provide your lizards with the largest possible enclosure. Large terrariums will simplify the establishment of a thermal gradient (areas of different temperatures). Thermal gradients, critical to good health, allow lizards to regulate their body temperature by moving between hot and cooler areas.

 

Few diurnal (day-active) lizards will thrive without a source of UVB light.  If a florescent bulb is used (the Zoo Med 10.0 UVB Bulb is ideal), be sure that your pet can bask within 6-12 inches of it. Mercury vapor bulbs broadcast UVB over greater distances, and provide beneficial UVA radiation as well.

 

The following information is meant to provide an overview. Please post below for more detailed information.

 

Emerald Swift

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Charlesjsharp

Emerald Swift, Sceloporus malachiticus

Also known as the Green Spiny Lizard, mature males are breathtaking even by lizard standards. Note the Latin species name – malachite green, with a blue tint, best describes these beauties. Although many in the trade are wild-caught, captive births (they bear live young) are becoming more common. Emerald Swifts range from southern Mexico (Yucatan) through Central America to Panama, and are restricted to cloud forests and similar mountainous habitats.

 

Unfortunately, as with most habitat specialists, care can be somewhat complicated. Emerald Swift terrariums must be kept rather cool and humid (74-76 F, humidity 60-70%), but hot, dry areas (90 F) must also be available. As airflow is important to their health, the screen top should not be covered with plastic as a means of increasing humidity; rather, a reptile fogger, or frequent hand-misting, should be employed.

 

A pair might get by in a 30 gallon terrarium, but a 55 gallon, which will also support a second female, is preferable. Driftwood and rocks should be supplied for climbing and basking; all rocks should be placed on the tank’s floor, not on the substrate, so that tunneling lizards will not be crushed. UVB exposure is essential. A highly-varied diet comprised of well-fed, calcium and vitamin-supplemented roaches, crickets, butterworms, waxworms, calciworms, silkworms, hornworms and wild caught insects is critical for their long-term health. Like most related lizards, Emerald Swifts are high-strung and should be viewed as pets to observe rather than handle.

 

Long tailed Grass Lizard

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by B kimmel

Long Tailed Grass Lizard, Takydromus sexlineatus

This active, attractive lizard is also sold as the Asian Grass or Six Lined Grass Lizard. Originally available only as wild-caught imports, they have proven to be prolific breeders, with multiple clutches per year being common. Their huge natural range extends from India and China through most of Southeast Asia to Indonesia. Long toes and an extraordinarily-long tail (an individual with a 2.5 inch long body will sport an 8 inch tail!) enable these little acrobats to hunt in the “canopy” of their grassland home – a niche unavailable to other lizards.

 

Although small, Grass Lizards are very active. A trio should be provided a 20 long to 30 gallon terrarium. If given sufficient space and cover, a small group can be maintained together; success has also been reported in housing them with small geckos, treefrogs and anoles. The terrarium should be well-stocked with real and artificial plants and branches, as they are stressed in bare enclosures.   UVB exposure is essential, and a temperature gradient of 72-85 F, with a basking site of 90-95 F, should be established.  A diet comprised of as many insect species as possible must be supplied; crickets and mealworms alone are not adequate.

 

Sudan Plated Lizard

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Haplochromis

Sudan Plated Lizard, Gerrhosaurus (Broadleysaurus) major

This thickly-built lizard appears quite formidable, but it is actually calm in demeanor, and usually becomes a most responsive pet. Also a long-lived pet – a pair under my care at the Bronx Zoo was still actively-courting at age 25+. The “Sudan” part of this lizard’s name is misleading, for its enormous range extends from that country clear across the width of Africa, and south along the continent’s western coast to South Africa. “Plated” is, however, apt, as they sport very sturdy, thick scales. Sudan Plated Lizards favor semi-arid scrub, brushy savannas and lightly-wooded grasslands, and may also colonize parks and other developed areas.

 

Plated Lizards really come into their own in large enclosures, and should not be considered unless a cage of at least 4’ x 3’ x 3’ (and preferably larger) is available. Those I’ve kept in large zoo exhibits were doing something interesting all day long…the same cannot be said for the many poorly-housed specimens I’ve seen over the years. They prefer to bask on rocks, and are inveterate diggers. Be sure to place all rocks on the terrarium’s floor, not on the substrate, or a lizard may tunnel beneath one and be crushed. A deep layer of sand and gravel should cover the cage bottom; PVC tubes and similar shelters make great retreats. Plated Lizards do well at a temperature gradient of 76-88 F and with a basking site of 95F. Ample UVB exposure is essential.

 

Providing a varied diet to these ever-hungry lizards is a simple matter, as little will be refused. Mine relished the cicadas, crayfish and may beetles, along with all of the standard feeder insects. Interestingly, they also take earthworms, which are rejected by most arid-adapted lizards. An occasional pink mouse can be offered, but rely primarily upon supplements rather than vertebrates as a calcium source (wild individuals do take the occasional small lizard or snake, but they are mainly insectivorous). Fruit is accepted by many individuals, but they seem to do fine without it.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

The Best Diets for Insect-Eating Lizards

 

How to Breed Swifts and Spiny Lizards

Diamondback Terrapin Care: Keeping the USA’s Most Unique Turtle

Diamndback terrapin

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Tom

The Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) is often described as the most beautiful turtle in the Western Hemisphere, if not the world. It is also distinguished by being the only turtle adapted to life in estuaries, salt marshes and other brackish habitats (water that is neither fresh nor marine). Long considered a delicate pet, the needs of this spectacular animal are now well-understood, and captive-bred specimens are increasingly available. My first Diamondback, received in childhood, was a hatchling. That ill-fated creature was quickly consumed by a Blue-Claw Crab (long story!), but later experiences with this species in the wild, at home and in zoos has (hopefully!) enlightened me as to their proper care. We still have much to learn, however, so please post your own observations below.

 

Description

The Diamondback Terrapin varies greatly throughout its range, but is always breathtaking. The carapace, marked with deep concentric grooves and ridges, is unique in the turtle world. Other shell markings vary, with the most eye-catching being born by the aptly-named Ornate Diamondback (M. t. macrospilota) of Florida. The skin is also unusually-attractive, ranging from pearl-gray to black in color, and decorated with dark flecks and slashes. Males average 5-6 inches in length, while females may approach 10 inches.

 

Range and Habitat

Although the Diamondback Terrapin is a habitat specialist, its range is among the largest of any US turtle. Seven subspecies are found along the Eastern and Gulf coasts of the USA, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts through the Florida Keys and along most of Texas’ eastern coast (to the vicinity of Corpus Christi). An isolated population lives along Bermuda’s coastline.

 

Diamondbacks are found only in those habitats that straddle the line between fresh and salt water – coastal salt marshes, estuaries, tidal flats near river mouths and protected lagoons. Highly aquatic, they often bask by floating at the water’s surface. Some populations also spend varying amounts of time in purely-marine water.

 

Tidal creek

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Captain-tucker

Tidal creeks spanned by footbridges are great places to observe wild Diamondbacks. If unmolested, they will forage and bask without regard for prying eyes. I know of several sites on Long Island, NY where, due to the height of the footbridges, I can sometimes see terrapins picking snails and other invertebrates from bridge pilings.

 

Populations have been decimated by collection for the food trade and habitat loss, and many perish as “by-catch” in commercial crab traps. These unique turtles are protected throughout their range, but regulated commercial harvesting is permitted.

 

The Terrapin Aquarium

Even by aquatic turtle standards, Diamondback Terrapins are extremely active. While a 75 gallon aquarium might suit a male, females need tanks of at least 100 gallon capacity, commercial turtle tubs or ponds.

 

A dry basking surface is essential. Commercial turtle docks and ramps suffice for smaller specimens, but adults will likely sink anything that is not affixed to the glass with silicone adhesive. Cork bark wedged between the aquarium’s sides is another option.

 

Hatchling

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Flickr upload bot

Salinity of the Water

While individuals from some populations have adapted to fresh water in captivity, keeping them so is not recommended. Fungal and bacterial skin infections are commonly seen when Diamondbacks are denied access to salt water, and internal ailments may develop as well.

 

Marine salt marketed for aquarium fish should be used to raise salinity to 1.014-1.018. Water evaporation will cause the salinity to increase (salt does not evaporate), so be sure to take weekly readings with an aquarium hydrometer. 

 

Diamondback Terrapins remove some salt from the water they ingest, but should also be placed in fresh water 1-2 x weekly and allowed to drink for 10-20 minutes. Some keepers do fine with less-frequent fresh water immersion, and by using rock salt instead of aquarium salt, but I prefer to err on the side of caution.

 

Filtration

Water quality is extremely important…more so than for most other turtles. Fouled water invariably leads to skin infections. As Diamondbacks are adapted to the alkaline water habitats, it is advisable to check your aquarium’s pH regularly with a simple test kit or pH strip. Turtle wastes and uneaten food will cause the water to become acidic, which will leave your pets open to attack by various fungi and bacteria.

 

Turtles are messy feeders and very hard on water quality. Unless the enclosure can be emptied and cleaned several times weekly, a powerful submersible turtle filter or canister filter will be necessary. Even with filtration, partial water changes are essential. Please see the articles under “Further Reading” for more on filtration, and links to useful models.

 

mediaRemoving your turtles to an easily-cleaned container for feeding will lessen the filter’s workload and help to keep the water clean; please see the article linked below.

 

Substrate

Diamondback Terrapins are best kept in bare-bottomed aquariums. Gravel traps wastes, which greatly complicates cleaning.

 

Light

A source of UVB radiation is essential. If a florescent bulb is used (the Zoo Med 10.0 UVB Bulb is ideal), 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.

 

Heat

Water temperatures of 70 – 76 F should be maintained. These large, robust brutes often break typical aquarium heaters, so choose a “turtle-proof” model. An incandescent bulb may be employed to heat the basking site to 85-90 F.

 

Green Crab

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Lmbuga

Feeding

The Diamondback Terrapin’s broad, crushing jaw surfaces are an adaptation to a diet comprised largely of hard-shelled crustaceans and mollusks such as crabs, snails, clams, mussels, barnacles and shrimp; fish, marine worms and algae (seaweed) are also taken. Pets should be offered a diet based upon whole marine animals such smelts, shiners and other bait fish, prawn, crabs (i.e. bait crabs), squid, conch, periwinkles (available in many seafood stores) and similar foods. I occasionally use bags of mixed “chowder” seafood as a means of adding variety to the diet.

 

Collecting Diamondback Terrapin food brings one into contact with countless fascinating creatures, so I try to gather or trap snails, mussels, clams, spider crabs and fishes for my charges whenever possible.

 

Most individuals will also accept commercial turtle pellets and trout chow, which can comprise 40-50% of the diet. I favor Zoo Med’s products and Reptomin.

 

Without sufficient exercise, your terrapin’s jaws will quickly become over-grown. Shells, exoskeletons and bones also supply calcium, which is needed in great quantities by this dietary specialist. A cuttlebone or turtle mineral block should be available as a calcium supplement and to supply beak-trimming exercise.

 

Breeding

Gravid (egg-bearing) 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. Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention invariably leads to a fatal infection (egg peritonitis). It is important to note that females may develop eggs even if un-mated, and that pets may produce several clutches each year.

 

The 4-20 eggs may be incubated in moist vermiculite at 80-82 F for 55-65 days.

 

Temperament

Diamondback Terrapins make very responsive pets. Most feed readily from the hand, and adapt well to busy households. However, all turtles are capable of administering powerful bites and scratches when frightened, and must be handled with care…this is especially true of a large species that can crush snail and clam shells!

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

The Best Turtle Filters

Keeping Semi-Aquatic Turtles

 

 

Hognose Snake: Breeding and Care for the Madagascar Giant

Giant Hognose Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by MrPanyGoff

North America’s Hognose Snakes are well-known for their impressive bluffs, which make them appear large and, to many people, dangerous. If this tactic fails, they feign death most convincingly. Even after a lifetime of working with snakes in zoos and the field, I cannot help but be awed and amused by these harmless “frauds”. But their acts pale in comparison to those given by the world’s largest hognose snake, the 5-foot-long, thickly-built Madagascar Giant, Leioheterodon madagascariensis. This fantastic snake is gaining in popularity, and rightly so…it is far more active than its American counterparts, and, unlike some of them, does not limit its diet to toads.

 

Description

One can be forgiven for thinking that this impressive beast is related to the Hognose Snakes of North and South America. However, the two groups seem to be an amazing example of parallel evolution (adaptations to similar conditions) rather than close relatives.

 

Like the American hognose snakes, it is heavily-built, yellowish-tan to dark brown in color, and marked with brown, gray or black blotches. Upturned rostral scales on the pig-like snout, similar to those seen in the New World species, assist it in burrowing and unearthing prey.

Adults average 4-5 feet in length, but appear larger due to the thickness of their bodies.

 

At Kirindy reserve, Madagascar

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Tom Junek

When cornered, the Madagascar Giant Hognose Snake even puts on the same impressive defensive display used by its American namesakes – flattening the body and hissing loudly, after which it may roll over and feign death.

 

This species is sometimes offered under the common name of Malagasy Hognose Snake.

 

Range and Habitat

The Madagascar Giant Hognose Snake is, like many of the creatures that share its home, endemic to Madagascar and the nearby islands of Nosy Be and Nosy Sakatia. An introduced population is established on Comoro Island. Two slightly smaller related species, L. geayi and L. modestus, are also limited to Madagascar.

 

Natural Habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Masindrano

It favors open habitats such as grasslands, sparsely-wooded savannas, forest edges, farms, and village outskirts.

 

A colleague of mine who was studying tortoises on Madagascar said that many large individuals would appear from below ground after every rain. They seemed to materialize from nowhere and immediately began foraging for the lizards, toads and small mammals that were also roused to activity by the weather. Single-minded in their pursuit of food, the snakes would glide into and through tents and campsites without so much as a second glance at the surprised biologists they encountered.

 

Temperament in Captivity

Madagascar Giant Hognose Snakes are rear-fanged, and produce mild venom that is used to overcome their prey. They are not considered to be dangerous to people, but cautions must be exercised by keepers, and the possibility of allergic reactions should be considered. They are best handled with snake hooks, and should be kept only by responsible, experienced adults. Consult your doctor before acquiring any snake that produces venom, however mild.

 

Like American hognose snakes, Madagascar Giants tend to bluff more than bite. However, individual dispositions vary, and these always-hungry snakes may strike at nearby movements, biting their keeper in the process. Always use a long-handled tongs when offering food or working in the cage.

 

Caging

Madagascar Giant Hognose Snakes are quite active, especially when compared to their American counterparts. Youngsters may be accommodated in 20 gallon aquariums, but adults should be provided a tank or custom-built cage measuring at least 4-5’ x 4’. The enclosure’s screen lid must be secured by cage clips, as they are very powerful, even by snake standards.

 

Natural burrowers, Giant Hognose Snakes are most comfortable below-ground. A deep layer of cypress mulch or eucalyptus bark is preferable to newspapers as a substrate. A dry cave may also be utilized.

 

Sheltering in Leaf Litter

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Tom Junek

Heat and Light

Madagascar Giant Hognose Snakes fare best at a temperature range of 80-85 F. An incandescent bulb should be used to create a basking spot of 90 F.

 

Large enclosures are necessary if a thermal gradient (areas of different temperatures) is to be established. Thermal gradients, critical to good health, allow snakes to regulate their body temperature by moving from hot to cooler areas.

 

A ceramic heater, heat pad, or red/black reptile night bulb can be used to provide heat after dark.

 

Diet

Not nearly as picky as North America’s Eastern Hognose Snake, which largely confines its diet to toads, the Madagascar Giant Hognose takes toads, frogs, lizards, small mammals and the eggs of tortoises, lizards and birds with equal gusto. Captive adults readily accept mice and rats, but hatchlings often prefer lizard or toad-scented rodents at first. In time, they can be weaned-over to un-scented mice.

 

Breeding

Captive-bred individuals have been quite scarce in the past, but hopefully this situation will change as more reptile enthusiasts discover the charms of these spectacular snakes. A winter cooling period of 65- 68 F, with a basking spot of 80 F, will help to stimulate reproduction. Females produce up to 12 eggs, which hatch after an incubation period of approximately 2 months at 85 F. Hatchlings average 12 inches in length.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Your First Snake: Some Considerations

Study Hints at Global Snake Decline

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