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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.

Keeping Captive Amphibians Healthy – bacteria, fungi, parasites and other considerations – Part 1

The prevention and treatment of disease in captive reptiles and amphibians has advanced greatly in recent years. Unfortunately, however, there is still a great deal that baffles us — our knowledge of amphibian medicine in particular is quite poor. On the positive side, we do know a quite a bit about the diagnosis and treatment of disease in tropical fishes, and much of the basic research behind this is applicable to amphibians.

General Notes Concerning Amphibian Health Care
Among the most important steps you can take to insure the health of your pet amphibians is to establish a relationship with a qualified veterinarian. Veterinary practices specializing in amphibian medicine, although by no means common, are on the increase. Your local herpetological society should be able to provide some leads.

Many medications designed for use with aquarium fish work well on related conditions in amphibians. Bare in mind, however, that amphibians absorb medication over a much greater area surface area that do fish — in many cases, the entire skin of the amphibian will allow transfer of the medicine. Although I have had success using certain medications in the same dosages as are recommended for fish, I always begin treatment with a 50% dilution and watch carefully for signs of stress (gasping, swimming about wildly, scratching, skin sloughing).

Good hygiene is the basic starting point for avoiding sickness, and, in some cases, even for treatment. Again, the porous nature of amphibian skin is a consideration – ammonia from waste products and other toxins in the terrarium will be absorbed through the skin if not removed.

Bottled spring water (not distilled water) should always be on hand. Salamanders and frogs suffering from ammonia or other chemical toxicity can sometimes be revived by placing them in such water and allowing it to flush harmful chemicals from the body.

Considering how little we know concerning the treatment of disease, prevention is vital. Always be sure to keep your pets in a secure, stress-free environment and provide each species with the appropriate temperature, humidity, light cycle and diet.

Amphibian skin is extremely delicate, and its mucous covering repels attacks by harmful microorganisms. Extreme care must be taken in administering injections and in handling frogs and salamanders. Amphibians should be held with wet hands only, or confined within a water-filled plastic bag when being examined. Catching a frog or salamander with a stiff nylon net may also remove some of the skin’s mucous coating and expose the animal to bacterial infection. When in doubt, use a preparation designed to replace the mucus coating of aquarium fish.

Due to the nature of reptile and amphibian circulatory systems, injections of most medications are given in the front legs. If multiple injections are needed, a different leg, and a different site on each leg, should be used. This will go a long way in avoiding damage to the delicate skin.

The details of all the medical treatments administered to your pets should be recorded. Not only will this prevent mistakes, especially when you’re experimenting with different dosage levels, but a record of what you have done will also be very useful to yourself and others in the future, and may even lead to a new discovery. Trust me on this – write it down, you will not remember in years to come!


Learning in Rhinoceros Iguanas, Monitors and Other Lizards – observations on zoo animals

Rhinoceros Iguana

Observant lizard keepers cannot fail to become aware of the surprising degree of intelligence exhibited by many species. In the course of my long career at the Bronx Zoo, I was fortunate to have been able to observe the learning abilities of a number of species not often available in the pet trade.

Although species and individuals varied markedly in their capacities, one constant seemed to be that all recognized and responded to changes in their normal routine. This makes sense, of course, from the viewpoint of survival, but I was none-the-less always impressed by the rapidity at which most learned.

Rhinoceros iguanas, Cyclura cornuta, and water monitors, Varanus salvator, were particularly striking in this regard. Animals in the collection for over 15 years, long in the habit of approaching or ignoring a single keeper in their exhibit for routine maintenance, would flee if 2 people entered. It took but 1-2 incidents for them to learn that 2 people meant trouble – i.e. a veterinary exam, but that 1 person meant no harm. The animals unfailingly retained this knowledge over a period of years, even without reinforcement by new events.


An interesting article on intelligence in monitor lizards is posted at:

Chemicals (pesticides, Atrazine, gonadotrophin) and Their Effects on Frog and Fish Sexuality and Reproduction

download (2)Amphibians and fish are highly susceptible to even minute amounts of foreign chemicals in their habitats. As such, their current population declines should serve as an important “early warning signal”, forecasting problems that will eventually affect other animals and ourselves.

An odd twist to this sensitivity issue among frogs is that an injection of gonadotrophin, a human growth hormone, brings many species into breeding condition. This discovery was a boon to captive breeding programs, as most frogs require the duplication of certain environmental cues – dry or wet seasons, for example – if they are to breed normally. However, things can easily go wrong – while using hormones to stimulate breeding, I and others have noted that some male frogs began to develop organs resembling ovaries.

Now, male frogs in the wild are being found to have inter-sex characteristics, including immature eggs within the testes. A recent Harvard University study found such characteristics in 21% of the male green frogs, Rana clamitans, in ponds in suburban Connecticut. It seemed that the affected frogs were more common in suburban than agricultural areas, but other studies have yielded opposite results. Similar reproductive system changes have been documented among catfish in Africa, sturgeon in the Mississippi and other fishes.

Drainage_nitrates_vers_HondeghemFr_2003_04_09Pesticides, the herbicide Atrazine, and other chemicals commonly found in water and soil have been shown to affect sex hormone development, but much more research needs to be done.

There is a great deal of ongoing research in this important area – please read any related articles that you may come across and write in to share new information.

An article describing research into the effects of Atrazine on amphibians is posted at:http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1247376

Algae and Salamander Eggs – an odd partnership

Spring Peeper
Spring in the northeastern USA is prime time for amphibian watchers. Its arrival is most noticeably announced by frogs – first by spring peepers, Pseudacris crucifer and wood frogs, Rana (Lithobates) sylvaticus, with a succession of others following close behind. However, the season’s earliest greeters are silent. I have observed tiger salamanders Ambystoma tigrinum, move into breeding ponds during warm spells in late January (Long Island, NY).

Another amphibian that breeds in early spring is the strikingly marked spotted salamander, A. maculatum. Reaching 9 ¾ inches in length, these stout animals are jet black with yellow spots, and have been observed crossing snow during breeding migrations (I find them in ponds in southern NY in mid-March).

Amazingly, a species of green algae, Oophila amblystomatis, colonizes the spotteSpotted Salamanderd salamander’s globular egg masses. The algae most likely utilizes carbon dioxide and ammonia produced by the developing salamander embryos, and may in turn provide the embryos with oxygen (although the amount released is quite low). There is speculation that the algae may produce a growth factor that benefits the embryos, but more research is needed. In any event, experiments have shown that egg masses with this algae hatch faster, and with a higher survivorship, than do those lacking the algae. Conversely, algae growth slows markedly if the embryos are removed from the egg mass upon which it is established.

Spotted salamanders make interesting pets, and, while adapted to a burrowing lifestyle, adjust well to life above ground. Properly cared for, they can live for over 25 years. I will discuss them further in a future article.

More detailed information on this unique relationship is available at:

Providing A Balanced Diet To Reptile and Amphibian Pets

The diets that you provide your reptile and amphibian pets are of critical importance in maintaining their good health and longevity. Providing a balanced diet can be a quite simple matter for some species and, unfortunately, nearly impossible to achieve with others. Proper nutrition plays an important role in every aspect of your pet’s life, from its ability to grow normally and reproduce to less obvious areas, such as the functioning of its immune system. Reptile and amphibian hobbyists today have a wide variety of both prepared and live foods from which to choose when formulating a diet. In most cases, this is a very good state of affairs. However, sometimes it has a tendency to make us a bit lazy — for example, is very easy to provide an insectivorous lizard with a diet based on one or two readily available food items when, in actuality, the animal may need a great deal more variety to maintain optimum health.

What I would like to do in this article is to present some general principles and ideas for your consideration. Please bear in mind that actual feeding techniques – how to present the food — will also affect the ultimate value of the diet that you provide. For example, the length of time between a food animal’s introduction into the terrarium and when it is actually eaten will affect how much of its vitamin/mineral supplement coating will be passed along to your pet. Whether food insects will live or die within the terrarium, and how to keep track of the food intake of secretive or nocturnal pets will also affect the manner in which you must present the food. All of these factors, and many more, will be addressed in future articles. Until then, please contact me with your questions and observations on this subject.

There are two basic approaches to feeding reptiles and amphibians in captivity. One method is to identify one or two commercially prepared diets that provide all of the nutrition that your pet needs for a long and healthy life. This option is available to those who keep animals, such as tortoises and newts, that normally consume, or will accept, non-living food items. Animals that consume live prey in the wild will generally need a varied diet in captivity (one notable exception is most of the commonly kept snakes, all of which do quite well on a diet composed entirely of rats and mice.

For the rest of this article click to ThatPetPlace.com

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