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Contains articles on a wide variety of both reptile and amphibian species. Commonly addresses topics which affect herps in capitivity as a whole.

Wild Caught Invertebrates as Reptile and Amphibian Food – Pesticide Concerns – Part 2

Please see Part I of this article for a general discussion regarding the collection of insects and other invertebrates and their use in the diets of captive reptiles, amphibians, birds, invertebrates and fishes. Today I’d like to focus on some areas of special concern.

Toxic and Biting/Stinging Invertebrates

Black WidowWhile not involving pesticides per se, for your own safety and that of your collection it is imperative that you learn to identify the toxic or otherwise dangerous invertebrates that you may encounter while collecting. A good field guide (i.e. Audubon, Golden Guide or Peterson series) is indispensable in this regard. Be sure to handle unfamiliar species with plastic tongs.

Please bear in mind that even relatively mild bee venom can cause fatalities in allergic people. And while less than 1% of the world’s 40,000+ species of spiders are considered dangerously venomous to us, a number readily bite both people and animals in self defense. It is best, therefore, to avoid them…the Thin-legged Harvestman or “daddy long-legs”, which are not spiders, are safe to use. Steer clear also of bees, wasps, large ants, stag beetles and others well-equipped to defend themselves.

Bright colors often indicate that an animal is toxic or bad-tasting; ladybugs, fireflies, milkweed bugs and a great many others fall into this category. Unless you are sure of an insect’s identity, the safest course of action is to avoid brightly-colored species.

Native vs. Non-Native Prey Species

In many cases, predators avoid dangerous prey animals that occur naturally within their ranges; this can spare both pet and pet- Milkweed Bugskeeper a good deal of grief!  However, dangerous non-native prey animals may be attacked with abandon if the hunter has no “frame of reference”, so use extra caution in such cases.

I have, for example, housed highly-toxic Marine Toads with Green Anacondas for decades without incident, despite the fact that anacondas consume non-toxic frogs readily. However, Australian monitors and snakes, which have no instinctive or learned toad avoidance behavior, eagerly consume the Marine Toads that have been introduced there, often with fatal results.


Earthworms are one of the most nutritious live foods available. There are, however, situations that warrant precautions.

Earthworms are unique in consuming dirt as they tunnel, and in doing so may concentrate toxins present there. To my knowledge, the only problem that has arisen thus far has involved worms that dwell along golf courses, which are subjected to unusually high degrees of pesticide application. Please see my article Raising Earthworms for details concerning striped skunks and earthworms in NY.

West Nile Control and Related Programs

Avoid collecting invertebrates for 1 week after an area has been sprayed as part of West Nile eradication efforts, and steer clear of farms where pesticides are known to be applied regularly. Avoid also local insects that are considered to be agricultural pests, as they are likely the subject of control measures (this may apply to aphids, caterpillars, Japanese Beetles, etc.).


Despite the precautions that must be taken, invertebrate collecting is a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable endeavor. Don’t forget to examine your catch closely…several years ago a new species of centipede was uncovered in NYC’s Central Park, on ground trod daily by thousands of people. Like me, you just may wind up keeping some of your discoveries in captivity for their own sake!

Further Reading

For a very interesting account of how toads learn to avoid stinging insects, please see my article Amphibian Learning Abilities.

Please write in with your questions and comments.


Black Widow image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Trachemys.

Milkweed Bugs image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Greg5030.

The Western Hognose Snake – a Toad Specialist That Can do without Toads

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. It’s hard for snake enthusiasts not to be taken in by the Eastern hognose snake, Heterodon platyrhinos. It puts on an incredible defensive display, it’s stout, viper-like body is variably patterned in many hues and its natural history is quite unique. However, a preferred diet of toads precludes it from becoming well-established in captivity. The Western hognose snake (H. nasicus), however, shares many of its eastern cousin’s outstanding qualities, yet has a wide appetite that is easily satisfied in captivity.

Physical Characteristics

Stoutly built with strongly keeled scales and an upturned snout; tan, brownish-yellow or grayish-yellow in color, with dark blotches; reaches 16-36 inches in length.


Central and western North America, from southern Canada through Arizona and Illinois to northern Mexico (San Luis Potosi).


Prairies, farms, sparsely wooded fields and semi-deserts, usually in areas of sandy soil suitable for burrowing. Western hog nose snakes spend much time below ground.


Mating occurs from March to May, with 9-25 eggs being laid in June –August. The young, 6-7 inches in length, hatch after an incubation period of 45-54 days.


In the wild, Western hog nose snakes take young ground nesting birds, mice, shrews, toads, lizards, snakes and reptile eggs. In one study, they were found to be a major predator on Pacific pond turtle nests.

Those I’ve kept have done very well on small mice and quail eggs.

Other Interesting Facts

This snake’s upturned snout (modified rostral scale) assists in digging for fossorial prey such as toads and the buried eggs of turtles and lizards. Specially modified teeth allow the hognose snake to puncture toads and defeat their defense mechanism of inflating themselves with air.

The western hognose puts on a less elaborate display when threatened than does its eastern relative. It will, however, spread the head in hood-like fashion and strike, and will sometimes play dead when this bluff fails. Animals feigning death roll onto their backs with the tongue lolling out, and will flip onto their backs if righted during the process!

Eastern Hog Nose Snake Conservation

I have been involved in a re-introduction program for the eastern hognose snake at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in NYC. In this area, it inhabits open beaches and sand dunes…please see the accompanying photo. I’ll write about this interesting program in the future.

Read more about Western hog nose snake care and natural history.

Please write in with your questions and comments.

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

Western Hognose Snake image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Dawson

Top 5 Turtle and Tortoise Care, Natural History and Conservation Websites

Turtles and tortoises are the most popular of all reptilian pets – even “non-herpers” like them – and this is reflected by the many websites devoted to Chelonian-related matters. Following are some that I have found to be especially valuable. This list is by no means exhaustive…I’ll cover others in future articles.

The New York Turtle and Tortoise Society

I’ve worked with the dedicated folks at NYTTS for many years, and they have been kind enough to feature my articles on their Florida Softshell Turtlewebsite. More important (infinitely more!) than my connection to NYTTS is their long standing relationship with legendary turtle biologist Peter Pritchard, who often speaks at the group’s day-long annual seminars. Rhom Whittaker, Mike Klemens, Roger Wood, Indraneil Das and numerous other notables have also participated in NYTTS sponsored programs.

NYTTS provides quality husbandry information and also gets involved in the hands-on work upon which the survival of so many turtle species depends. They have long provided support to Southeast Asian students studying turtle biology here in the USA and to the fine work of the Wetlands Institute and have helped in large scale rescues of confiscated turtles.

NYTTS conservation and trade issues expert Alan Salzberg publishes Herp Digest, a wonderful resource and the only free electronic herp conservation and natural history newsletter.

Tortoise Trust

Tortoise Trust is one of the reptile-world’s most highly-respected sources of information on turtle and tortoise husbandry, Geochelone pardalisconservation and natural history. Noted author and herpetologist Andy Highfield directs the organization, which is utilized by professionals and hobbyists alike.

Tortoise Trust is unique among turtle interest groups in the range of activities it sponsors – courses, field trips, political action, research efforts – and in the numerous top notch publications it has generated (in addition to online material).

Turtles of the World

It’s difficult to believe that a resource of this caliber is available without charge on the inter net. An updated version of Ernst and Barbour’s classic book Turtles of the World, this publication provides detailed accounts and photos of the 288 species of turtle and tortoise described at the time of publication. A “must read” for serious turtle enthusiasts.

Turtle Homes

Operated by volunteers throughout the USA, the UK and Canada, and with connections to similar organizations in Asia and elsewhere, Turtle Homes members seek to place un-releasable turtles and tortoises with people or organizations that can properly tend to their husbandry and veterinary needs. They also post accurate care sheets, answer questions and direct site visitors to appropriate sources of information.

The California Turtle and Tortoise Club

The husbandry articles drawn from CTTC’s magazine, Tortuga Gazette, and posted on the group’s website, offer Chelonian enthusiasts some of the best information available on the inter net. The printed version of the Tortuga Gazette, published since 1965, is a well-written, invaluable resource to hobbyists and herpetologists alike.

The group is also actively involved in conservation efforts and supportive of turtle-friendly legislation, and offers site users a Black-knobbed Sawback hatchlingsnumber of ways to participate in such. In addition to dozens of informative articles, one may also find photographs and even recordings of tortoise vocalizations on this most useful web site.


Ultraviolet A Light Bulbs and Lamps – Product Review – Part 2

Redheaded Rock Agama Please see Part I of this article for a description of UVA light, information about its importance to reptiles and amphibians and its role in their captive husbandry.

Light and Heat

In addition to promoting natural behavior and improving the appetites of many captive reptiles and amphibians, ( Part I), the light emitted by UVA bulbs will also accentuate your pets’ natural colors.

The models listed below are incandescent, and therefore provide heat and encourage basking.  When placed in close proximity to florescent UVB bulbs (which emit little heat), UVA bulbs can help assure that your pets receive the full spectrum of essential light rays.

Light Cycle

The length of the UVA light cycle provided is critical, especially for those creatures that are native to areas subjected to seasonal changes in sunlight intensity and duration.  Ideally, you should study the natural habits and ranges of the animals in your collection, and endeavor to provide them with an appropriate light cycle.

Suggested UVA-Emitting Bulbs (Lamps)

Zoo Med manufactures a number of useful UVA bulbs. Select a foodRepti-Halogen Bulbs are available in 50-150 watt sizes.  Repti-Basking Spotlights offer a narrow, tight beam, and range in size from 25-150 watts.

Zoo Med Turtle Tuff Halogen Bulbs  are water-resistant, and so can stand up to the splashing that is so common around aquatic turtle basking areas without breaking.  They have an average life of 2,500 hours.

Other high quality UVA bulbs include the Hagen Sun Glo Daylight Halogen and R-Zilla’s Spot Day White Bulbs and Incandescent Day White Bulbs.

Providing Ultraviolet A Light (UVA) to Reptiles and Amphibians – Part 1

While the role of UVB light in the care of reptiles is well understood, we are only beginning to learn about their needs for UVA. Unlike UVB, UVA may also be critical to the proper husbandry of amphibians and invertebrates. Today I’ll summarize what is known; in Part II of this article we’ll take a look at some of the UVA-Emitting Bulbs currently available at ThatFishPlace/ThatPetPlace.


UVA light has a wavelength of 320-400 nanometers (a nanometer measures 1 thousandth of 1 millionth of a meter…don’t ask me how that was figured out!) and is visible to herps and many invertebrates, but not to people.

The Pineal Gland

UVA light sensed by an organ known as the pineal gland (located near the brain) of many reptiles.  It functions in the regulation of their “internal clocks” or circadian rhythms, and is believed responsible for daily and seasonal behavioral changes in response to varying light levels.  A similar process is at work in amphibians and at least some invertebrates.

Uses in Captivity

The provision of UVA light encourages natural behavior, better appetites, basking and breeding in a great many species.  UVA reflective areas on animals and plants (which we cannot see) help a variety of creatures to identify mates, food and predators.

A lack of UVA may be responsible for the failure of many otherwise hardy species to breed regularly in captivity.  For example, without UVA light, female desert iguanas cannot see the pheromone trails laid down by males in breeding condition, and hence may fail to reproduce.

Unlike UVB, which is generally not essential to nocturnal animals, UVA light may have a role in regulating the behavior of both diurnal and nocturnal species.

Next time we’ll take a look at some UVA-emitting bulbs.  We have a great deal to learn about UVA.

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