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The 5 Best Holiday Gifts for Reptiles, Amphibians and Their Owners

Today I’d like to offer some gift suggestions for the herps and herp owners on your holiday shopping list. Several are items that we just never seem to think of, despite the fact that they can lighten our workload and improve our pets’ quality of life. Others can be classified as critical life support equipment for certain creatures. Included are some that I have tended to do without – until I saw how much easier life became with them! Please see the linked articles and post questions below if you’d like further information on any of the products covered here.


t255193ReptiTemp Digital Infrared Thermometer

I’ve highlighted the Zoo Med ReptiTemp Digital Infrared Thermometer in other gift-oriented articles, but it deserves a re-mention here. This wonderful product allows us to remotely sense temperatures and can also be set to continuously record. Most importantly, the critical task of establishing a temperature gradient is greatly simplified. Amazing technology for a very reasonable price…I was hooked on the idea from the moment I first used the original, bulky prototypes in zoos years ago.


Red Foot Tortoise

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by H. Zell

Forest Tortoise/Box Turtle and Grassland Tortoise Kits

American Box Turtles and many tortoises can make wonderful, long-lived pets, but their specific needs are not always fully understood by new owners. Our Forest Tortoise/Box Turtle and Grassland Tortoise Set-Ups contain much of what you’ll need when getting started with a variety of species, including Russian, Greek, Sulcata and Red-Foot Tortoises and American and Asian Box Turtles. I especially like the fact that Zoo Med products are included among the heating, UVB, diet and other supplies found in each kit.


mediaCork Bark

This suggestion may sound odd at first, but throughout my zoo-keeping and pet-keeping careers, cork bark has proven indispensable in so many ways – yet an ideal-sized piece is rarely at hand when needed! We ordered it by the skid-load at the Bronx Zoo, but always needed more.


Large rolled sections look great in terrariums and can serve as “hollow logs” for both arboreal and terrestrial snakes, lizards, frogs, tarantulas and others, while flat pieces make great sheltering spots for most anything that needs a place to hide. I wedge pieces between aquarium glass to create convenient, smooth resting sites for turtles, newts and frogs. By positioning the bark just below the water’s surface you can also provide the submerged sites favored by musk and other aquatic turtles and many amphibians. I could go on, and I’m sure most readers have found other uses as well. Trust me, the herpers on your gift list will appreciate all the cork bark you might send their way!


t243860Humidifiers and Rain Systems

Zoo Med’s Repti Fogger, with a 1-liter reservoir, will be very useful to those keeping Emerald Tree Boas, Red-Eyed treefrogs and other rainforest-adapted species. It may also help to stimulate breeding, and is nearly indispensable to rainforest herp fans living in dry climates.


The Exo-Terra Monsoon Rainfall System parallels models I’ve relied upon for years in zoos. Frogs and other herps that come into breeding condition in response to rain often respond to artificial showers as well. Able to deliver multiple “storms” ranging from 1 second to 2 hours in duration over a 24 hour period, the Monsoon System can be programmed to meet the needs of the species you keep.


Panther Chameleon

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Marc Staub

Portable Screen Cages

No bulb, no matter how well-designed, comes close to mimicking the UVA and UVB levels provided by the sun – even when it is shielded by clouds! Zoo Med Repti Breeze Screen Cages, available in 3 sizes, offer herp keepers a means of providing chameleons and other lizards with natural sunlight while assuring ample ventilation. An aluminum frame renders the cages very light in weight, so that carrying them outdoors is a snap (be sure take predators and possibility over-heating into account). Repti Breeze cages also make fine permanent homes for mantids and other insects, anoles and many other arboreal lizards.






Further Reading

More Herp-Oriented Gift Ideas

Constructing a Rain Chamber


Zoo Med Pacman Frog Food for Horned Frogs and African Bullfrogs

t264488Frog owners have recently been presented with an interesting alternative to live insects and rodents as a pet food source. Continuing its trend of pioneering innovative, well-researched products, Zoo Med has introduced a powdered food that can be molded into various sizes and tong-fed to frogs. Although long-term studies on the value of commercial diets are lacking, experience indicates that some prepared/artificial diets have proven very useful. For example, thousands of generations of Mexican Axolotls have been bred (in research labs) on beef liver alone, African Clawed Frogs and many newts do well on Reptomin-based diets, and trout chow seems useful for American Bullfrogs. In both in zoos and my own collection, I have raised Mexican Axolotls and various newts, salamander larvae, and tadpoles primarily on trout chow and Reptomin. Zoo Med’s Pacman Food is eagerly accepted by African Bull and Horned Frogs (no surprises there -please see video below!) and Marine Toads. It’s likely that other “bold” amphibians, such as White’s Treefrogs, Fire Salamanders, American Toads, would be willing give this untraditional food a try as well.


Why Consider a Prepared Diet?

Usually, commercial diets are promoted for convenience-sake and as an option for pet owners who do not wish to handle live insects or rodents. However, I’m mainly interested in Zoo Med’s Pacman Frog Food because it may help to solve 2 recurring problems faced by frog owners. The first is the difficulty in providing adequate dietary variety. Wild amphibians utilize dozens to hundreds of species as food, but most pets must make do with 2-3 food items at best. Owners of African Bullfrogs, Horned Frogs, Cane Toads and other giants face the additional task of “filling-up” their pets and providing enough calcium without over-using rodents (while some success has been had on

Argentine Horned Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by avmaier

mouse-based diets, there are also risks…please see this article).


Providing enough high-quality food can be a major undertaking – please see the article linked below to read about an African Bullfrog caught in the act of swallowing 17 baby cobras! Zoo Med’s product, which one mixes with a bit of water, can be molded into any size (or shape!), and so might be useful to people keeping dinner-plate sized amphibian behemoths.


Some Considerations

We do not have studies illustrating benefits or problems associated with this food; long-term success is claimed by a Japanese company manufacturing a related product. The examples I mentioned earlier (amphibians fed dry foods, liver, etc.) may be somewhat relevant, but we cannot draw any direct conclusions about Horned Frogs or others from these.


Surinam Horned Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Maarten Sepp

I would suggest trying Zoo Med Pacman food as a portion of your pets’ diets. Continue to provide as much variety as possible, and choose from nutritious foods such as roaches, earthworms, sowbugs, minnows, crickets and silkworms. Please see the article linked below for other ideas, including the use of wild-caught insects.


In posts on other sites, some folks have expressed concern over the plant-based ingredients in this product, or the fact that fish is used as a protein source. While on-point research is lacking, it is well-known that frogs and other carnivorous animals take in a good deal of plant matter in the course of feeding upon herbivorous prey species. Fish, which I and others have long fed to many large frogs, does not seem to present any problems. Zoo Med Pacman Food also contains added vitamins and minerals, including calcium and Vitamin D.


Those who have tried will not need this warning (I’m sure!), but I should remind you not to feed Horned or African Bullfrogs with your fingers. The bony, tooth-like spikes that protrude from their jaws can inflict severe injuries. As most frogs seem to lack “self-control” when it comes to lunging at prey, use plastic feeding tongs only…sharp-edged metal models may injure your pets’ mouths.




Further Reading

Video: Using Pacman Food

African Bullfrog Consumes 17 Baby Cobras

Nutritious Live Foods for Frogs


Reptile UVB Bulbs: Insights on the Best from Zoo-Based Herpetologists

Ploughshare Tortoise

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Hans Hillewaert

I recently attended the NY Turtle and Tortoise Society’s (always fabulous!) annual conference on turtle and tortoise care and conservation, and had a chance to catch up with friends and former zoo co-workers. I learned that certain UVB bulbs manufactured by Zoo Med have been used to achieve significant improvements in the health and (possibly) reproductive output of captive tortoises. Over the course of my career as a zookeeper and herpetologist, I’ve tried to convince my zoo colleagues to consider the promising reptile care products available in the pet trade. I was not always (or, perhaps, not often!) successful, but zookeepers were doing the same elsewhere, and progress was made. Today, many products favored by well-informed private herp keepers are also in use in the world’s leading zoological parks. In this article I’ll relate some interesting findings concerning the role of UVB bulbs and sunlight in the care of Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) and other h


The conference I attended is a day-long event sponsored annually by my favorite turtle care and conservation organization, the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society; please check this website to read about their fine work…and to see photos from my recent presentation there. As in so many years past, legendary herpetologist Peter Pritchard graciously traveled to NYC to anchor the event.


t262180gVitamin D3 Deficiency

Through presentations and conversations, I learned that Zoo Med T5 UVB and Mercury Vapor Bulbs have proven useful in the care of Radiated Tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) and other heliothermic (basking) reptiles. When blood tests revealed low levels of circulating D3, the UVB bulbs in a large tortoise exhibit were replaced with those mentioned above. Florescent bulbs (the Zoo Med T5), which do not emit significant heat, were paired with mercury vapor bulbs, which produce both heat and UVB. This technique, useful for pets as well, assures maximum UVB exposure by drawing animals to a heat source. When possible, the Radiated Tortoises were also exposed to several hours of natural, unfiltered sunlight.


Research is ongoing, but the tortoises’ D3 levels are now at normal levels, and several previously-infertile females have produced viable eggs. I’m interested to see if the effects of the bulbs and the sunlight can be distinguished (nothing tops natural sunlight, of course).


Several Ringtail Lemurs that share the tortoise exhibit also became very fond of basking under the new lights…maybe some bright young researcher will be asked to look into sunscreen for non-human primates!


T5 and Mercury Vapor Bulbs

Zoo Med’s T5 Florescent Bulbs are available in two strengths and several lengths, and must be paired with T5 fixtures or hoods. They are rated to emit UVB over a distance of 22-24 inches, at levels that double the output of Zoo Med’s traditional bulbs (anecdotal evidence may indicate a greater range, but further work is needed). In situations where traditional bulbs will be adequate, Zoo Med’s standard 5.0 and 10.0 are good choices. One study found that they out-performed similar models (please see the article linked below). Both models provide UVA as well.


Zoo Med’s Powersun and Exo-Terra’s Solar Glow Mercury Vapor Bulbs broadcast UVB to a distance of 36 and 22 inches respectively, and also produce UVA and heat. In many home situations, they can double as a basking light and UVB source, eliminating the need for other bulbs.


Common Flat Rock Lizard

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Sputniktilt

Which Reptile UVB Bulb is Best?

Choosing a UVB source had once been easy – unfiltered sunlight was the only source (and it remains unmatched). By the time I began working at the Bronx Zoo, our choices had expanded to include “black-light bulbs” and Vita-Lights. Today a bit of forethought and research is needed before one goes bulb-shopping. Please post any questions or thoughts below.




Further Reading

Zoo Med’s Standard UVB Bulbs: Test results

Chameleon Basking Time Affected by D3 Levels



Reptile, Amphibian, Scorpion and Tarantula Feeding Tools

t259648Today I’d like to highlight some interesting feeding tools, automatic feeders, live food dispensers and other products designed for herp and invertebrate keepers.  Included are items that can lighten our work load, ensure safety when feeding aggressive creatures, and automatically provide meals in our absence.  I especially favor products that dispense live insects at irregular intervals, and also those which force turtles, newts and aquatic frogs to work for their food.  This concept, known as behavioral enrichment, became standard zoo-practice while I was working at the Bronx Zoo.  In addition to encouraging exercise, such devices add greatly to the range of interesting behaviors we can observe among our pets.


Hanging Mealworm Feeder

The perforated bottom of Zoo Med’s Hanging Mealworm Feeder allows grubs to find their own way into the terrarium.  Mealworms that escape detection will encourage natural hunting behaviors.  Animals of all kinds quickly learn to recognize the feeder…if you remove it when not in use most, will respond right away when it is returned.


t259647I’ve employed similar feeders in zoos for a wide range of creatures.  Zoo Med’s modal should also be useful to those who keep oscars and similar fishes, hedgehogs, sugar gliders, finches, shama thrushes, and other insectivorous pets.


The first worm feeders were designed to provide tubifex worms to tropical fishes.  I still use the same modal I first purchased as a child…and the price hasn’t gone up much!  In addition to being a great fish-feeding tool, Lee’s Four-Way Worm Feeder is perfect for offering blackworms to newts, axolotls, African clawed frogs and small turtles.


Cricket Feeders

Available in 3 sizes, Exo Terra’s Cricket Pen takes much of the hassle out of keeping those pesky but ever-present crickets.  Detachable dispensing tubes, which are used as sheltering sites by crickets, are set into a ventilated, plastic cage.  A flap seals the tubes lower end when it is removed, allowing crickets to be added to terrariums with a tap of the finger.  Cricket food and water receptacles are also included.


Depending upon the species and terrarium set-up, you may also be able to simply place the Cricket Pen into your pet’s tank and let the crickets escape on their own.  Covering the pen with dark paper will keep animals from trying to reach crickets through the plastic walls…you should notice an increase in alertness and foraging behavior if you use it in this way.


Asian Forest Scorpion

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Chris huh

Feeding Tongs

Gone are the days when we had to modify tweezers and cooking utensils for use as herp-feeding tools.  Zoo Med’s 10-inch Stainless Steel Feeding Tongs is perfect for presenting meals to snakes, scorpions, mantids, and tarantulas, and for removing debris from tanks where one’s fingers are best kept out of reach.


As most frogs seem to lack any sort of reasonable control over their feeding lunges, I use Zoo Med’s Plastic Feeding Tongs   when feeding mine (this tendency is not limited to pets – I’ve seen wild American Bullfrogs crash into rocks, and one landed so close to a larger frog that it too wound up as a meal!).  Lizards vary in their feeding responses…over-zealous feeders may injure themselves on metal tongs, while others are not at risk.  You might want to stay with plastic tongs for certain snakes also.


Feeding tongs can also be used with various fishes and birds…or, if you’ve been as lucky as I. with captive short-tailed shrews and least weasels (two of the most insanely-ferocious creatures I’ve worked with!).


Turtle Feeders

The Zoo Med Floating Turtle Feeder is the best behavioral enrichment -type turtle product on the market.  Amazingly simple in design and easy to use, it will keep sliders, musk turtles, map turtles and similar species well-occupied…and their owners very amused!


Exo-Terra’s Automatic Turtle Feeder, similar in design to automatic fish-feeders, is a much-needed addition to the turtle-keeper’s supply kit.


You can read more about these useful turtle-feeders in this article.



Further Reading

Canned Insects and Snails


Collecting Insects for Captive Herps


The Best Infrared Temperature Gun for Reptile and Amphibian Terrariums

 Remote-sensing infrared thermometers, or “temperature guns”, have revolutionized reptile and amphibian husbandry.  I first used them at the Bronx Zoo, and was instantly hooked.  I was under the impression that my experience in herp care had left me with a good “feel” for exhibit temperatures, and the standard thermometers I used confirmed this.  That belief was shattered by infrared thermometers, which provide an instant digital read-out when pointed at an animal, surface, or the air.

In several cases, I was able to make major environmental improvements that fostered better health and breeding.  Early models were unwieldy, but inexpensive, pocket-sized units are now available to pet-owners.  I consider infrared thermometers to be an indispensable piece of equipment for both seasoned keepers and novices alike.  My favorite is the Zoo Med ReptiTemp Digital Infrared Thermometer.

t255193Avoiding “Beginner’s Mistakes”

The Zoo Med ReptiTemp Digital Infrared Thermometer allows newcomers to our hobby to start-off on a somewhat more advanced level than was possible in days past.  By simplifying the process of recording temperatures, this thermometer encourages us to look more deeply into the needs of our pets.  The time and effort involved in setting up healthful thermal gradients and naturalistic basking, hibernation, incubation, and nesting sites is greatly reduced. Read More »

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