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Turtle and Tortoise Eggs – Knowing When She is Ready to Lay

In the course of my work, I am often contacted by turtle owners whose pets cease feeding and become unusually restless.  The behavior appears suddenly, sometimes after many uneventful years – a Common Musk Turtle did so after 22 years in my collection – and seems to have no external cause.  A normally placid turtle may begin frantically paddling or wandering about, trying to climb the sides of the terrarium and escape.  Food, once the focus of the creature’s existence, is ignored.

Common Snappers hatching

Uploaded by Frank Indiviglio

It surprises some folks to learn that turtle and tortoise eggs may develop even if the female has never mated, and that mated animals may retain sperm and produce fertile eggs years later.  Unfortunately, gravid (egg-bearing) turtles can be very choosy when it comes to nesting sites…a ½ acre exhibit failed to satisfy some I’ve cared for at the Bronx Zoo!  If the eggs are not deposited, blockages due to over-calcification and life-threatening infections invariably result.  Fortunately, there are ways to “convince” your pet to lay her eggs; failing this, several effective veterinary options are available.

What To Do

If your female turtle or tortoise suddenly stops feeding and begins to act as described above, first check that something has not gone wrong in the environment.  Overheating, Lysol poured into the tank by a mischievous child (actual story), or cage-mate aggression can all cause similar behaviors.

If you suspect eggs, your best option would be to have radiographs done by a veterinarian (please post below if you need help in locating an experienced vet).  Your vet can determine how many eggs are present, approximately how far along they are in their development, and if problems related to unusual size or over-calcification can be expected.  Also, other health issues that may cause similar symptoms can be investigated. Read More »

How To Breed Green Anoles and Raise the Youngsters

With proper care, the Green or Carolina Anole, Anolis carolinensis, is quite willing to breed in captivity.  However, being relatively inexpensive, it is often considered a “beginner’s pet” and not worthy of serious attention.  This is a serious mistake, as anoles of all species are among the most interesting of all lizards.  In fact, the antics of a colony of Green Anoles that I exhibited at the Bronx Zoo regularly stole attention from the more “dramatic” but sedentary Water Moccasins that shared their quarters.  What’s more, we still have much to learn regarding Green Anole reproduction…hatchlings can be difficult to rear, and second-generation breeding is rare.  There’s plenty to challenge the well-experienced keeper, and information gathered will likely be applicable to rare and less-studied relatives. You can read about how to breed Green Anoles, Brown Anoles, Bark Anoles and many others below.  However, over 350 anole species have been described, and details vary.  Please post below for specific information on other anoles.

Anoles mating

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Tom Adams

Getting Started

A proper habitat and well-nourished, healthy animals are essential for breeding success.  When conditions are not ideal, reptiles respond by eliminating non-essential activities such as breeding.  Green Anoles kept in bare, cramped terrariums and fed upon crickets and mealworms alone will not breed.  Please see this four-part article on Green Anole Care and Natural History for further information, and be sure to post any your questions below.

Natural Breeding Behavior

The Green Anole’s breeding season extends from April to September.  Males display with vigorous head-bobs and flared dewlaps. The dewlap reflects ultraviolet light and is perceived by the female as more brilliant than the red coloration that we see.

Males actively pursue females and, using their mouths, grasp them by the neck during copulation.  Please see the articles linked below for notes on distinguishing the sexes.  One or two eggs are deposited 2-4 weeks after mating occurs. Most females leave them on or just below the substrate, along a log or other structure, although some bury eggs in soil or secrete them below leaf litter.  Many individuals will deposit eggs above-ground if possible.  Hanging live plants surrounded by a substrate of sphagnum moss and coconut husk make ideal sites.  The “pool areas” incorporated into Hagen Smart Plants (intended as a deposition site for Poison Frog eggs) might be attractive to gravid anoles if filled with damp moss; I hope to try this out shortly.

Male display

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by R. Colin Blenis

Inducing Reproduction

Females seem able to retain sperm, but most mate several times each season.  Additional clutches are produced at varying intervals, to a total of 8-10 eggs per female.

Breeding may occur spontaneously, but will be more likely if your anoles are subjected to cyclic changes in temperature, light and humidity levels that mimic natural seasonal variations.  The Green Anole’s huge range extends from Oklahoma and South Carolina through Florida to Cuba and other Caribbean islands.  A 6-8 week “winter” featuring reductions in temperature, humidity, and day-length is very effective in bringing them into breeding condition.  Populations in the northern portions of the range experience longer and cooler winters than do those from the south.  Most pet trade animals, however, are collected in central/south Florida and Louisiana.

Anoles do not require true hibernation or brumation.  During the cooling off period, daytime temperatures can be kept at 81-83 F, with a warmer basking site available.  At night, temperatures should be allowed to dip to 62-68 F (60-65 F if your anoles originated in the northern portion of the range).  The daytime light cycle should gradually be reduced to 8 -10 hours.  Mist once daily, but be sure that the anoles are drinking regularly.  Lowering the humidity is not as critical as daylight and temperature reductions.

After 6-8 weeks, gradually increase day length, temperature, and humidity.  Providing a wide variety of novel food items is a time-honored way of inducing reproduction in a wide variety of species.  Try offering small roaches, silkworms, and wild-caught caterpillars, leaf hoppers, moths, beetles, earwigs and other invertebrates.  Reptile misters and foggers can be used to dramatically increase humidity levels as the breeding season arrives.  Please see these articles for further information on collecting insects.

Incubating the Eggs

Eggs may be incubated in vermiculite or moist sphagnum moss.  I prefer to use a vermiculite and water in a 1:1 ratio by weight (please see this article for details on setting this up), but success has been had by adding just enough water so that the substrate barely holds together when squeezed.

The incubation container (a plastic deli cup will do) is best kept in a small commercial reptile incubator at 82-88 F.  However, eggs may also be kept at room temperature in an appropriately-warm attic or similar location. Depending upon temperature and humidity, the eggs will hatch in 30-50 days.  Please post below for detailed information on incubation.


Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by DragonTU84 DragonTU84 DragonTU84

Rearing the Young

Hatchling Green Anoles frustrate many hobbyists.  They are aggressive towards smaller cage-mates, prone to desiccation, and need ample exposure to UVB.  But in my experience, most failures are due to nutritional deficiencies. They will not thrive on pinheads and fruit flies alone.

Providing dietary variety can be difficult, given their size, but there are many options.  “Meadow plankton”, leaf litter invertebrates, tiny moths, termites, sap beetles, flour beetle grubs and other small invertebrates are essential.  Insect traps such as the Zoo Med Bug Napper will assist in the collection of tiny moths and other flying insects.  The information in this article on Feeding Poison Frogs is largely applicable.  Please also post your questions below.



Further Reading

Important Supplies for Green Anoles and Other Lizards

Green Anole Natural History


Jumping Spiders – Captive Care, New Species and a Surprise (They Watch Videos!)

Phidippus audaxAs a bug-hunting child, I was once startled to come upon a housefly that appeared to be walking on its hind legs.  Closer inspection revealed that the unfortunate insect was being carried in a head-up position by a Jumping Spider.  I was aware that a variety of these brilliantly-colored little beasts inhabited my Bronx neighborhood, and became interested in how they managed to capture such elusive prey without a web. I began reading and collecting, and was soon fascinated by their keen eyesight and cat-like stalking techniques.  They would follow my finger, leap on a feathers pulled by a string, and even display to a mirrors.

I’ve recently learned that biologists are showing videos to Jumping Spiders in an attempt to learn more about their remarkable eyes (which allow for forward, backward, an sideways vision simultaneously), and that a new ant-mimicking Jumping Spider with enormous fangs has turned up in Borneo.  I’ll highlight this new information below, and review their natural history and captive care.

A 360 Degree Field of Vision

Animals that are on the menus of other creatures generally have eyes set well back and to the sides of their heads.  This arrangement gives mice, deer and others a wide field of vision, with the only bind spots being well to their rear.  Predators, such as foxes and hawks, usually have forward-facing eyes, to allow for accurate focusing on prey. Read More »

Round Island Boa Reintroduction – Back in Wild after a 150-Year Absence

Casarea dussumieriMauritius, an island nation off the coast of southeast Africa, is best known to naturalists as the site of the Dodo Bird’s extinction (Mauritius also is, in a sense, the reason I was hired by the Bronx Zoo and spared life as a lawyer – see article below for the story!).  Herp enthusiasts, however, know it as the habitat of several unique reptiles, all of which are now very rare or extinct. But we can delight in some news just released by the Durrell Wildlife Trust – a new population of the Round Island or Keel-scaled Boas, Casarea dussumieri, will soon be established in the wild.  This unusual snake disappeared from nearly all of its range in the 1860’s, and its return is the culmination of 40 years’ worth of captive breeding and habitat restoration efforts.

Status and Conservation

The Round Island Boa is now confined to Round Island, a tiny speck of habitat where perhaps 500-1,000 individuals survive.  A single wild population and limited number of captives place it at continued risk of extinction.  The new population to be established on another Mauritian island (where the snake formerly lived) is a vital step towards ensuring the species’ survival.  Read More »

Reptile and Amphibian Abuse – Examples, Laws and How You Can Help

live turtles in Asian marketUnfortunately, animal abuse is a serious and surprisingly common problem in the USA. The applicable laws vary from state to state, and it can be difficult to determine which agency is responsible for enforcement. Regulatory agencies are often under-funded, so many rely upon citizen complaints. It is important, therefore, that concerned people learn how to proceed when they suspect that animal abuse is taking place. This is especially true where reptiles and amphibians are concerned, as they draw less interest than mammals, and mistreatment is difficult to detect by the inexperienced.  Please be sure to post your own observations below, and let me know if you need help in deciding how to report a problem.

State Law

Animal abuse is a crime every state in the USA, and most aspects of the problem are controlled by state law. This results in a confusing array of widely differing statutes and enforcement policies. Details, such as what constitutes abuse and how the laws are actually enforced, vary from state to state. Until recently (July, 2012), for example, an Indiana “festival” that allowed participants to twist off the heads of turtles for public amusement was held not to violate state law (please see below)!  In some states, live Tiger Salamander larvae are legally used as fish bait (please see this article), while in others they are protected as an endangered species. Read More »

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