Indian Sand Boa Care: Keeping the World’s Largest Sand Boa

The Indian Sand Boa (Eryx johnii johnii) is a “boa” in name only…in lifestyle and appearance it is in a class all its own. Being the largest and most docile of the world’s 12 sand boas, this fascinating snake is much sought after by reptile enthusiasts. Although no harder to maintain than the Kenyan Sand Boa and its other popularly-kept relatives, Indian Sand Boas are not commonly seen in the US pet trade, and rarely exhibited in zoos. Despite having spent a lifetime involved in reptile care in zoos and museums, I’ve only run across this attractive, interesting snake sporadically – hopefully more private keepers will begin working with it soon. Please let me know of any interest or experience you have had by posting below…you may also see this snake sold under the names “Red Sand Boa” and “Two-Headed Sand Boa”.

 

Indian Sand Boa

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by AshLin

Description

To sand boa enthusiasts accustomed to the modestly-sized species typically seen in the pet trade, the Indian Sand Boa will seem impressively large and stout. The cylindrically-shaped adults average two feet in length, although some may reach nearly twice that size.

 

The small scales appear “polished”, and are colored reddish-brown or yellow-tinged tan. Certain individuals exhibit very beautiful hues of these colors, but all are attractive. The blunt tail closely resembles the head… when threatened, the Indian Sand Boa tucks its head into a protective ball of coils and presents the tail to its attacker. As an adaptation to life spent below ground, the wedge shaped head serves as a “spade”.

 

Habitat type

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bilal Mirza

Range and Habitat

The Indian Sand Boa’s range has not been well-studied, but it is known to occur in western and southern India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and, possibly, Nepal. A subspecies, the Persiche Sand Boa (E. j. persicus), is limited in range to Iran. Eleven related sand boa species are found in Africa, south Asia and the Middle East.

 

Arid, scrub-studded plains, semi-deserts, and rocky hillsides are the Indian Sand Boa’s preferred habitats. Life is spent below-ground, usually just beneath the surface, with the head partially exposed.

 

The Terrarium

A single adult may be housed in a 20 to 30 gallon aquarium. Indian Sand Boas must be provided course sand and smooth gravel in which to burrow. These secretive snakes rarely thrive if forced to shelter in caves – rather, body contact with the substrate is essential. However, some will remain beneath a piece of glass laid atop and partially covered by sand, and so may be easily observed.

 

tPG03200Heat

Indian Sand Boas do well at an ambient temperature range of 78-85 F, and with a basking temperature of 90-95 F. As they rarely bask on the surface, a sub-tank heat pad should also be employed along with an incandescent bulb.

General Care

In common with other snakes hailing from arid habitats, the Indian Sand Boa produces dry, compact waste products. If droppings are removed regularly, there is usually little need to break down and clean the entire terrarium.

 

Kenyan sand Boa

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Viki

As with the more commonly-kept Kenyan Sand Boa (please see photo), Indian Sand Boas must be kept dry, because skin and respiratory disorders develop rapidly in damp surroundings. Always use heavy water bowls that cannot be tipped over when the animal burrows. As other snakes are included in their diet, Indian Sand Boas are best housed alone, and should be watched carefully when paired for breeding.

 

Diet

Indian Sand Boas are highly-specialized ambush predators that wait below the sand for gerbils and other rodents, lizards and smaller snakes. To assist in this hunting strategy, the eyes and nostrils are placed high on the head, which is left partially exposed when they are hunting. Captives will literally explode from the sand to snatch mice moved about with a feeding tong…very impressive, and always a shock to the uninitiated!

 

Fat-tailed gerbil

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by P.H.J. (Peter) Maas

The jaws of the Indian Sand Boa are not well-suited to swallowing large meals. Except for extra-large individuals, young mice are preferable to adults as a food source. Youngsters should be fed once weekly, while adults do fine with a meal each 10-14 days.

 

Breeding

A short period of increased humidity may encourage breeding, but seems not essential.

 

The young are born alive after a gestation period of approximately 4 months. Due to their large size (nearly 1/3 that of the mother) and unique coloration (orange with black rings) newborn Indian Sand Boas command high prices.

 

Unlike the young of other sand boas, they are large enough to take pinkies, and rarely “demand” lizards as food.

 

Temperament

While most other sand boa species become stressed when removed from their subterranean hideaways, Indian Sand Boas often take short periods of gentle handling in stride. However, the smooth, glossy scales may render them difficult to control.

 

All sand boas have an ingrained feeding response that often causes them to strike if touched while buried, so take care when approaching your pet or working in the terrarium.

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

Breeding Indian and Kenyan Sand Boas

Boa Overview: Care and Natural History

 

Your First Pet Lizard: a Checklist of Things to Consider

Certain lizards, notably Leopard Geckos and Bearded Dragons, are almost mainstream pets these days, but it still seems that many people purchase their first pet without fully considering all that is involved. In the course of my work as a reptile keeper at the Bronx Zoo, I prepared a list of important points that, if considered beforehand, will greatly improve life for both lizard and lizard owner. Please be sure to post any questions, or additional factors that you have found to be important, below. Please also see the articles linked below for my “best pet lizard” recommendations.

 

Rainbow Ameiva

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Tomfriedel

Captive-Bred vs. Wild Caught: This is much easier to check today than in years past. Lizards born in captivity do not drain wild populations, are less likely to harbor parasites or diseases, and are generally easier to handle than are their wild relatives. Please post below if you need help in this area.

 

Handle-ability and other Pet Qualities: Lizards will not seek human companionship. The words of legendary snake expert Bill Haast have some applicability to lizards as well: “You can have a snake for 30 years, but leave the cage open, and it’s gone – and it won’t come back unless you have a mouse in your mouth”!

 

Lizards definitely adjust to captivity, and some species accept handling better than others, but they should not be expected to be “friendly”.

 

Carolina Anoles mating

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Tom Adams

The “It Doesn’t Do Anything” Factor: Ideally, the new lizard owner will be interested in her or his pet for its own sake. But most of us wish to see how it lives, what it does, and so on. Many lizards, especially well-fed pets, are about as active as the infamous “pet rock”, although there are notable exceptions.

 

If you want action, consider a small species that actively forages for food, and keep it in a large, naturalistic terrarium. For example, a male and several female Green Anoles in a well-planted 55 gallon tank will provide you with infinitely more to observe than will an adult Green Iguana in a commercial iguana cage outfitted with a single shelf.

 

Cost: Your pet’s initial purchase price is but one part of the cost of lizard ownership, which also includes electricity use, veterinary care (as expensive as dog/cat care), food, enclosure, and so on.

 

Water Monitor

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bing

With some planning, you can easily limit costs. A Flying Gecko needs only a 10 gallon aquarium with a low-wattage basking bulb, and a diet of small live insects…much less expensive than a 6 foot-long Water Monitor kept in a room-sized cage supplied year-round with powerful heat lamps and UVB bulbs and feeding upon rats and other rodents.

 

Veterinary Care: Reptile-experienced veterinarians are difficult to find in many regions. It is a grave but common mistake to embark on lizard ownership before locating a veterinarian, or to imagine that even the hardiest of species will not require medical care.

 

Safety: All lizards, even the shyest and smallest, will bite when threatened, and they may react to scents, vibrations and other cues that we cannot perceive. Even minor bites should be treated by a doctor, to avoid infection, tetanus and other complications. Large monitors are best reserved for zoos or highly experienced keepers with the space and financial means to properly accommodate them.

 

While easily managed with proper hygiene, Salmonella, which is generally carried by all reptiles, presents grave risks to certain individuals. Please see the article linked below and contact your doctor for advice.

 

Plumed Basilisk

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Joseph C Boone

Space: While Leopard Geckos and certain other lizards can make due with moderately-sized enclosures, you’ll see much more of interest if your pet has ample room to explore and forage. Be sure to research (feel free to post below) your lizard’s ultimate size and typical growth rate. And please remember – zoos will not accept unwanted pets and, even if native, they cannot be released into the wild!

 

Time Commitment: Depending upon the species and size of your pet, its care can range from a short, thrice-weekly task to a major daily chore. Long term care should also be considered – several popular pet species regularly live into their teens, while Leopard Geckos may reach 30 years of age!

 

Spynx Moth larvae

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by EricM

Most Lizards Need a Highly-Varied Diet: No insectivorous lizard will thrive long-term on a diet comprised solely of crickets and mealworms, even if these foods are powdered with supplements. I’ve done well by relying heavily upon wild-caught invertebrates during the warmer months.  Useful food species that you can buy include roaches, butterworms, calciworms, silkworms, hornworms and sow bugs.  Herbivorous lizards are easier to accommodate, but attention must still be given to providing species-specific variety.

 

Some monitors do well on diets comprised solely of mice and rats, but many of these are too large to be accommodated in typical private collections.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist 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

Feeding Insectivorous Lizards

 

Pet Lizards: Large, Small and Colorful Insectivores

The Indigo Snake’s Less Expensive-Relative: Blacktail Cribo Care and Natural History

With its stunning coloration and reputation as a responsive pet, the Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon corais couperi) is on the wish lists of serious snake keepers worldwide. I had the good fortune to assist with a breeding/release program headquartered at the Bronx Zoo, but federal and state regulations, and astronomical prices, hamper private ownership. However, an equally large and striking relative, the Blacktail Cribo (Drymarchon melanurus melanurus), is far easier to acquire as a pet. My first encounter with this impressive snake in the wild came while I was working with Green Turtles in Costa Rica. Streaking through the seaside scrub on a hot afternoon, the beautiful 6-7 foot serpent impressed me as few others have. From then on, I searched for them whenever I was within their range, and eventually sighted specimens in Mexico and northern Venezuela. Zoos and private keepers in the USA have not shown too much interest, but thankfully that is changing. Experienced snake keepers looking for an “Indigo alternative” will, I’m certain, be very happy with this fascinating snake.

 

Blacktail Cribo

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by MKFI

Description

Robust and alert, the Blacktail Cribo averages 5-6 feet in length, but may approach or slightly exceed 8 feet. Most individuals are light to yellowish tan with a jet black tail and black markings on the neck, but there is a great deal of variation throughout their large range. Some are almost yellow, while others lack the black tail entirely. Breeders are focusing their attention on particularly-attractive specimens, and will likely develop distinct color strains in time.

 

Where their ranges overlap, hybridization occurs with the Western or Texas Indigo Snake (D. corais) and with a related Blacktail Cribo subspecies, D. m. erebennus (also sometimes referred to as the Texas Indigo Snake).

 

Range and Habitat

The Blacktail Cribo ranges throughout much of Mexico south through Central America to northern Venezuela, Columbia and Peru. It’s presence in El Salvador, Panama and Peru needs further confirmation. The northern subspecies, sometimes known as the Texas Indigo Snake (D. m. erebennus), is found from southern Texas to Guatemala and Belize.

 

Typical habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Alejo Rendón (David

The Blacktail Cribo is less demanding in its habitat requirements than is its highly endangered cousin, the Eastern Indigo Snake. It tolerates some disturbance, and may colonize farms, the outskirts of small towns and cattle ranches. When I worked in Venezuela’s llanos country, ranchers reported that Blacktail Cribos were sometimes seen near storage sheds and outbuildings. Chicken coops were not common in the area, but I’m guessing they would be a favored stop-off for these ever-hungry brutes as well! Natural habitats include thorn scrub, brushy areas within the llanos, open woodlands, desert fringes and swamps.

 

Blacktail Cribos actively search for their prey, which includes a surprisingly-wide array of creatures. Rodents, rabbits, snakes, birds and their eggs, lizards, frogs, fish, small turtles are large insects have been reported as being taken. I have first-hand experience with impressive biting power packed by most rodents, and find it amazing that Cribos do not utilize constriction, but merely grab and swallow their victims!

 

Blacktail Cribos as Pets

Eastern Indigo Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by US Federal Gov’t

In common with the Eastern Indigo Snake (please see photo), wild caught or un-habituated individuals may make a show of flattening their heads, hissing and vibrating the tail when approached. However, with care and attention, most calm down. In fact, many consider them to be among the gentlest of the larger Colubrids, on par with captive reared Eastern Indigo Snakes.

 

Alert and quite aware of their surroundings, Blacktail Cribos seem much more responsive than is typical of snakes in general. However, they tend to move about when held, and can be difficult to control. Bites may occur even where well-habituated pets are concerned, as hungry individuals will strike at nearby movements.

 

The Terrarium

Cribo ownership should not be entered into lightly. They are very active, and do poorly in cramped quarters. A typical adult requires a custom-built cage measuring at least 6 x 4 feet.

 

A dry shelter, and another stocked with moist sphagnum moss, should be

available.

Substrate

Cypress mulch, eucalyptus bark and similar materials may be used as substrates. In common with Indigo Snakes, Cribos produce copious, watery waste products at frequent intervals…near daily cleaning is often necessary. Keepers weaned on Ball Pythons and similar snakes will be in for quite a surprise! Enclosures should be cleaned regularly with a reptile-safe product or diluted bleach or Nolvosan.

 

Due to this snake’s vigorous movements, newspaper tends to wind up crumpled in a corner. Washable terrarium liners be used for younger animals kept in aquariums.

 

Heat and Light

Blacktail Cribos favor cooler temperatures than might be expected, and fare best at a range of 70-78 F. An incandescent bulb should be used to create a basking spot of 85 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.

 

Young tegu (common natural prey)

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Patricia Carabelli

Feeding

As mentioned above, Cribos will eat nearly any animal that can be overpowered. Captives do fine on a straight rodent diet, but some private and professional keepers advise providing more variety. I favor this approach on general principles and because, unlike many other snakes, Cribos tend not to become “fixated” on one food item as opposed to others. Chicks, shiners, trout, eggs, and any pet trade rodents you may wish to offer will all likely be accepted.

 

Blacktail Cribos should be offered smaller meals than might be accepted by similarly-sized snakes of other species, as their jaws do not stretch to the same extent. Small to medium rats are about the largest food item that should be offered to adults. They have fast metabolisms, and may need to be fed a bit more frequently than each 7-10 days.

 

The 18-24 inch-long hatchlings may prefer fish scented rodents at first, but are easily weaned onto unscented mice in time.

 

Water for drinking and soaking should be available. Bowls are best filled to a point where they will not overflow when the snake curls up within, as damp conditions will lead to fungal infections of the skin and other health problems.

 

Breeding

Captive breeding successes are increasing, but as with Eastern Indigo Snakes consistent results have been elusive. Pairs must be monitored carefully, as males may bite females during courtship. Please post below for further information, or to share your own experiences.

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

Indigo Snake Care

Tiger Ratsnake Care

Care of the World’s Most Colorful Mantella: A Zookeeper’s Thoughts

Long overshadowed by the wildly popular dart poison frogs, the equally tiny and beautiful mantella frogs are finally coming into their own. While most are spectacularly colored, the Baron’s Painted Mantella (Mantella baroni) seems to eclipse all others, at least in my opinion. It is also the largest species commonly available (and the second-largest known), a fact that renders it both more eye-catching and a bit easier to provide with a varied diet.

Baron's painted Mantella

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Franco Andreone

 

Description

Among the mantellas, Baron’s Painted Mantella is exceeded in size only by the Green Mantella (Mantella viridis)…but at 0.88-1.2 inches in length, it is still quite diminutive. Clad in a spectacular array of contrasting colors, with orange, black, yellow and green appearing to varying degrees on different individuals, it is well-named!

 

This species is easily confused with the Malagasy Painted Mantella (M. madagascariensis); tips and photos that will help you to distinguish the two can be found in the article linked below. Unfortunately, both species have long been imported and housed together, and hybridization has likely occurred. Both are often offered for sale as “Painted Mantellas”

 

Cowan's mantella

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Franco Andreone

Baron’s Painted Mantella is closely related to and sometimes confused with Cowan’s Mantella (M. cowani, please see photo); natural hybridization has been documented in wild populations.

 

Range and Habitat

The 16 frogs in the genus Mantella (family Mantellidae) are largely confined to Madagascar, although several species inhabit Reunion and other nearby islands. Baron’s Painted Mantella is found in eastern-central Madagascar, from Fierenana to Andringitra. Three national parks are located within its range, so some populations may be spared the declines faced by other species. However, Chytrid infections have recently been documented in Madagascar, so strict protection and captive breeding efforts are essential.

 

Habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Anlace

This species seems somewhat adaptable as to habitat, although specific populations may have evolved a dependence on local conditions. Barron’s Painted Mantellas have been found in swamp forests, stream side thickets within arid habitats, bamboo groves, rain forests, and re-vegetated agricultural areas, at elevations of 900-3,600 feet above sea level.

 

Toxins

Brilliant colors warn predators that Baron’s Painted Mantellas are protected by powerful skin toxins. Entomologists at the California Academy of Sciences have discovered that mantellas derive these toxins, or alkaloids, from their diet. A primary source of the toxins, at least for some species, is an endemic ant, Anochetus grandidieri. In an amazing example of parallel evolution, 13 of the toxic compounds found in Mantella skins are also utilized by unrelated dart poison frogs, which feed upon unrelated ants, in Panama!

 

In addition to utilizing ants as an alkaloid source, Baron’s Painted Mantella is also believed to rely upon certain mites and beetles.

 

The Terrarium

Once they have settled in, you can expect to see many interesting behaviors from Baron’s Painted Mantellas, as they are active by day, quite bold, and are always foraging, exploring, interacting, and otherwise “on the go”. They do best in terrariums stocked with live ferns, bromeliads, Philodendron and other plants. A densely-planted tank will provide you with many interesting observations, as the frogs will feel secure and behave normally.

 

A pair or trio can be kept in a 10 gallon aquarium; larger tanks can support small groups. As males defend specific territories, mixed groups must be given plenty of room and cover, and watched carefully.

 

Mantellas spend most of their time on land and drown easily. One-half inch of de-chlorinated water should be provided in a shallow bowl or sloping pool.

 

Baron’s Painted Mantellas can scale glass and will escape through even the tiniest of openings, so the terrarium’s cover must be secured with clips.

 

Substrate

A mix of top soil, coconut husk and commercial rainforest substrate works well. I like to use sheet or sphagnum moss over the substrate, to help retain moisture.

 

mediaLight

Low levels of UVB light may be of some benefit.   The Zoo Med 2.0 Low Output UVB Bulb is ideal.   UVA may help to encourage natural behaviors, including reproduction. A number of UVA-emitting bulbs are now available (please post below for further information).

 

Heat

Baron’s Painted Mantellas generally dwell at high elevations or deep within forests, and require cooler temperatures than one might expect. They fare best at 68-76 F. Most individuals become stressed when temperatures exceed 80 F, and death may occur with 2-3 days of sustained high temperatures.

 

Due to the variety of habitats and elevations to which this species has adapted, individuals originating from different areas of the range may vary in their temperature needs. Further research is needed – please post your observations below.

 

Humidity

Humidity levels of 80 -100% should be maintained by keeping the moss layer damp and spraying the terrarium heavily. Small misters are especially useful in arid homes and dry climates.

 

Feeding

A highly-varied diet is essential. Crickets alone, even if powdered with supplements, are not an adequate diet. As the Baron’s Painted Mantella is quite small, providing a proper diet requires careful planning. Monitor your frogs closely – underfed individuals will exhibit protruding hip bones and flat stomachs.

 

Aphids

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Michel Vuijlsteke

The diet should be comprised of as many of the following food items as possible (please see the articles linked below for further information on rearing and collecting small insects):

 

Tiny flies, gnats and moths

Flightless fruit flies

Pinhead/10 day old crickets

IMG_4614Hatchling mantids (see article below)

Springtails

Termites (please see article below)

Flour beetle larvae

Ants: experimenting required, as some species are rejected

Aphids: tiny insects that colonize plant stems.

Field Plankton: insects gathered by sweeping through tall grass with a net (also great fun for kids and adults alike, please see photo!)

 

Baron’s Painted Mantellas have large appetites and should be fed every day or two. A free-living Brown Mantella was observed to eat 53 ants in 30 minutes!

 

Important food supplements include Zoo Med ReptiCalcium or a similar product (most meals) and a vitamin supplement (ReptiVite with D3) 3 times weekly.

 

Breeding

Males issue their “single-click” call from concealed positions by day. Unlike most frogs, amplexus is dispensed with. The eggs, which may number over 100, are deposited on land, with the tadpoles being washed into nearby waterways by rains. Captive breeding needs more attention from private keepers and zoos – please write in for further information.

 

Handling

Baron’s Painted Mantellas are tiny, quick, and easily-stressed. They are best considered as animals to observe, not handle, and should be moved by being urged into a plastic container.

 

Individuals that feed upon typical captive diets are not likely able to synthesize skin toxins, but imported individuals will retain them for some time. Other skin secretions transferred to wounds, eyes, or the mouth may cause irritations.

 

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

Collecting Feeder Insects

Differentiating the Two Painted Mantellas

Turtles and Tortoises: 5 You Should Never Keep as Pets

FI WITH ALL SNAPPERSo as not to alienate the many hardcore, dedicated turtle keepers among my readers, I’ll start off by qualifying the title. I know people who do quite well with 4 of the 5 species discussed in this article. But in addition to being very well-experienced, these folks have both the financial means and space to meet the challenges posed by these unique creatures. People who, for example, keep 2,000+ individual turtles in good health and can devote entire floors of commercial warehouses or 80 privately-owned ponds to their hobby (or “obsession”, as some may say!). Of course, the turtles covered here can be kept by those of more modest means, but they are, in general, not suitable for most private collections. Please be sure to post your own thoughts and experiences concerning these and similar species below, thanks.

 

To be honest, there’s no denying the allure of large, interesting turtles, and I’ve been most fortunate in having had the chance to indulge my passion for them. My own experiences with the turtles listed below came via jobs with animal importers in NYC decades ago, and later through a career at the Bronx and Staten Island Zoos. Thanks in part to a “turtle-centric” Bronx Zoo curator, the opening of a 77,000 gallon Asian river exhibit allowed me to work with large turtles on a grand scale. Another unique opportunity came in 1997, with the seizure of nearly 10,000 turtles of several species in Guangzhou, China. Many were sent to the USA, where we helped to place them in private and public collections (please see the article linked below).

 

Fly River Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Junkyardsparkle

Fly River Turtle (Carettochelys insculpta)

Unless you are another Fly River Turtle, it’s hard not to like these engaging creatures (they are notoriously aggressive towards one another). Equipped with a pig’s nose, sea turtle-like flippers and an abiding curiosity, they are among the most unique turtles one can imagine. They are also very responsive…those I cared for would swim about my legs when I entered their exhibit, soliciting food and rubbing against me. One in the Bronx Zoo’s collection is now at least 70 years of age.

 

Unfortunately, despite being protected within their native range, Fly River Turtle hatchlings are still being collected and sold. They are among the most active of the world’s turtles, and even small ones require far more room than most people can provide. Adults may top 40 lbs. in weight, and are nearly impossible to accommodate at home. They rarely stop swimming, and my group seemed crowded even in a 77,000 gallon exhibit. And despite all that space, battles were a daily occurrence – how they managed to breed I’ll never know (literally, since the eggs incubated unseen within the exhibit!). A susceptibility to fungal and bacterial infections, often centered on the carapace, adds to the difficulties involved in keeping these unusual turtles.

 

Nile Softshells

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Lena Levin

Nile Softshell Turtle (Trionx triunguis)

Although certain populations are in decline, this huge aquatic turtle has a large range, and seems to be doing well in some areas. Youngsters occasionally appear in the trade, where they are quickly snapped-up despite steep price tags.

 

All softshells are active and interesting, but the Nile may reach 4 feet in length – far too large for all but an outdoor pond in the appropriately-warm region.

 

They can be quite aggressive as well. I’ll never forget a sub-adult kept by a friend. When approached, it would paddle out to the rim of its pool and seemingly “patrol” the area, with the head held high above the surface. Further advances were met with a lightning-fast strike.

 

Spurred Tortoise

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Baseballchck02

African Spurred Tortoise (Geochelone sulcata)

This is the most commonly-kept of the giant Chelonians. They differ from the others covered here in that captive born hatchlings are readily and inexpensively available. They also grow much faster – few novices can imagine that their new palm-sized pet may reach 60 pounds in weight within 5 years, and eventually top 200 pounds. Proper accommodations necessitate an outdoor enclosure in a dry, warm locale. A ½ acre exhibit proved too small for a pair of 80 pounders under my care, and they pushed through or burrowed under a surprising array of barriers.

 

African Spurred Tortoises are extremely responsive to people, being described as “dog-like” by many. But despite an innate hardiness, they have very specific dietary needs which are misunderstood by many sellers and new owners. And as you can see from the terrier-tortoise story in the article linked below, they are also very tough customers.

 

Malayan Snail-Eating Turtle (Malayemys subtrijuga)

A delicate constitution rather than large size leads me to recommend against keeping this 6 inch-long Southeast Asian beauty. Fortunately, they now rarely if ever appear in the US trade, but untold numbers are still collected for Asian food markets.

 

The Malayan Snail-Eating Turtle first caught my eye decades ago, when it sometimes showed up, unexpected and un-named, mixed in with other imports. I read what little information I could find, and did manage to induce several to feed upon the 2-3 aquatic snail species that I collected and bred for them. However, then as now, this was not enough to sustain them long term.

 

Field studies have revealed that youngsters feed largely upon two snail species. Some adults add mussels, insects, fish and other items to the diet, but even these fail to thrive in zoos or private collections. I’ve spoken with people who have kept them in seemingly perfect situations, but all wind up frustrated. I continue to look for clues to their proper husbandry…please post below if you have any insights.

 

Alligator snapping turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Norbert Nagel, Mörfelden-Walldorf, Germany

Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macroclemmys temminckii)

The old fellow I’m posing with in this article’s first photo tips the scales at 206 pounds – is there any reason to discuss why this species might not be the best choice for most folks!? Looking more dinosaur-like than even the Common Snapping Turtle, Alligator Snapper hatchlings are produced by a few private breeders. Small and sedentary, and sporting their famous “fishing lure”, it easy to see why they are so hard to resist (I feel the same about Common Snappers, and hatch eggs each year despite first doing so over 50 years ago!).

 

As this largest of the Western Hemisphere’s aquatic turtles is in dire straits in the wild, captive breeding efforts are needed – but this majestic beast is best left to those with private ponds surrounded by nesting beaches.

 

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

Are You Ready for an African Spurred Tortoise?

Working with the World’s Largest Freshwater Turtles

 

 

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