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The Season Has Changed, Should Your Reptile Bulbs?

Just Because They’re Inside Doesn’t Mean That They Can’t Feel That It’s Fall

IMG_0371Fall is here again at That Fish Place – That Pet Place. The leaves are changing color and, more importantly, the temperatures are dropping. Chompers is packing his bags for winter migration, and Bernie is digging out all of his old doggy sweaters. They already have their plans to stay warm this winter, do your reptiles?

We mammals have it easy; when the outside gets too cold, our insides warm up. Reptiles, on the other hand work differently. As you probably already know, our scaly friends need to be provided with warm and cool areas within their enclosures in order to allow them to regulate their body temperature as they would in their natural habitats. The most common way to accomplish this is by the use of heat bulbs, which are placed on a metal screened top of a glass aquarium.


At first it can be overwhelming when trying to decide on what type of heat bulb to use. They come in different wattages. Some are round, others are beveled. Some are white, some are blue, some are purple, the list goes on.  Luckily, with the help of our awesome TFP reptile staff, we get you started off with the right type of bulb to keep your animal happy and healthy.

But just because they are indoors doesn’t mean that they aren’t affected by the changing temperatures outside.

Every fall, customers come to us in concern because their pet, who has been happy and healthy all spring and summer, is now slow and lethargic. Sometimes they may refuse to eat.  They may stay in their hide-out all the time.  Or they may just not seem like themselves. Many people begin to fear the worst, forgetting that the fall drop in temperatures have a huge effect on their cold blooded buddies. If you are finding yourself in a situation like the one that I have just described, it’s time to re-evaluate how you’re heating your animal for the upcoming winter.

Here are some tips that can help you figure out if you need to change your heating setup for the winter:


IMG_0356Know the appropriate temperature ranges for your pet

Every species’ temperature requirements will be slightly different. For example, a rat snake only needs a basking temperature of about 85 degrees, where as a bearded dragon prefers to have one around 110 degrees.


Know the heat output of the bulb that you are currently using

Most manufacturers post a chart on the back of the box to denote the approximate temperature output at various distances from the bulb itself. Note: These temperatures are approximations, usually based on 72-75 degree ambient room temperature.


Make sure that you have a good thermometer

I personally use digital probe thermometers such as ZooMed Digital Terrarium Thermometer for all of my pets. Those little stick on thermometers might be okay for your beta fish, but not really for reptiles.


Be sure that your thermometer is placed correctly in the terrarium

The probe should be placed under the heat lamp, in the spot where your pet usually basks.

If your thermometer placement is correct and it is still reading too cool for the species that you are keeping, it’s time to get a higher wattage heat bulb or add a secondary heat source.

Our reptile room staff will be happy to help you quickly figure out the best way to heat your pet for the winter. We have heat bulbs of all shapes, colors, and wattages, as well as heat pads and even automatic thermostat systems which will let you “set it and forget it.” Stop on in! Your reptiles will thank you for it.

Why Do My Crickets Keep Dying?

Acheta_domesticus,_adultes_WeibchenWe all love our reptiles, but most of us loathe their lunch. Many reptiles that we commonly keep as pets are insectivores, and the most commonly available feeder insect is the domestic cricket. Yes, you read that correctly, “domestic.” Scientifically referred to as Acheta domesticus, the type of crickets sold as feeder insects have a higher protein value and a more docile nature in comparison to their wild counterparts.

Although there are a few loopholes, due to laws that govern the importation of potentially invasive species, insects which are sold as feeders in pet stores throughout the United States and Canada must be domesticated versions of their wild counterparts. The process of domestication involves strict breeding guidelines which are used to bring out certain favorable characteristics within a species, and also ensure that they (hopefully) couldn’t cause too much harm if released into the wild.

Despite their assumed hardiness, many of our reptile room customers often ask the same two questions: “What can I do to keep these darn things alive?” and “how do I keep them from escaping?”

TIPZEven though we tend to simply think of them as food for our pets, crickets are living animals themselves and these points need to be kept in mind.


    • They need to eat: Crickets will eat almost anything. In the Reptile Room at our store we feed a special mixture of oatmeal, fish food, turtle food & dog food crumbs.


    • They need to drink: Crickets aren’t the smartest creatures, and if you put a dish of water in their enclosure they might drown. I prefer to use an all in one cricket food/drink combo such as Fluker’s Complete Cricket Diet. This provides both water and food for the cricket.


    • You need to clean out their enclosure: Even if you are just keeping them in an old plastic takeout container that you don’t really care about, waste products and dead crickets must be removed on a daily basis. When debris begins to break down it creates ammonia gas. After enough ammonia accumulates, the remaining crickets can quickly suffocate and die off.



  • You don’t have to have crickets jumping all over your house: Crickets are naturally tunnel/cave dwelling creatures, therefore they are attracted to darkness. You can use this to your advantage to keep them in their container, and off of your floors. Cricket Keepers such the Exo Tera Cricket Pen are a great thing to have. They have slots on their sides where dark plastic tubes are inserted. Being attracted to the darkness, the crickets hide inside of the easily removable tubes. All you have to do is slide out the tube, shake some crickets into your pet’s enclosure, then pop the tube back into the cricket pen.



Hot Weather Herp Tips – Summer’s Effect on Reptiles and Amphibians

Green AnoleMost herp enthusiasts know that amphibians are usually quite sensitive to warm temperatures.  However, reptiles, even those native to tropical and desert habitats, may be severely impacted as well.  Following are some general guidelines to keep in mind at the height of summer – please write in for more detailed information about the animals in your collection.

General Considerations

Even within the hottest of natural habitats, herps find ways to escape temperature extremes.  Millions of years of evolution have brought us a great many surprises in this regard – Australia’s Water Holding Frog, for example, thrives where most unprotected creatures, even reptiles, would cook in short order.  So while desert adapted animals may be better suited to withstand heat, do not assume that they will be fine without special attention. Read More »

New Salamander Fungus Found: Are More Pet Trade Regulations on the Way?

Fire salamander

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by M. Linnenbach

As a herpetologist and animal keeper, I’ve long been interested in the emerging amphibian disease commonly known as Chytrid or BD (Batrachochytrium dendrobatitis); please see my other articles, linked below. Believed to be responsible for the recent extinctions of over 200 frog species, this fungus remains a serious threat. In 2013, a related fungus, B. salamandrivorans, or BS, was identified. Since then, studies have revealed it to be as lethal as BD, and responsible for wiping-out the Netherlands wild Fire Salamanders. Once limited to Asian salamanders, some of which carry the fungus without becoming ill, BS seems to have found its way to Europe via the importation of Chinese Fire-Bellied Newts and other pet trade species. In order to stem the tide, the USA and the European Union are now considering import and sale regulations.


Chytrid infected frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Forrest Brem

Proposed regulations always raise hackles among pet-keepers and some politicians. However, amphibians sold in the pet trade (African Clawed Frogs), bait trade (Tiger Salamander larvae) and food trade (American and Asian Bullfrogs) have been implicated in the spread of the deadly Chytrid (BD) fungus, and released Burmese Pythons and various exotic fish are causing ecological havoc in Florida. So – what is the solution? Your thoughts would be most appreciated, please post below.


Chinese Fire Bellied Newt

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dobromila


100% Mortality in North American Newts

As reported in Science Magazine (V. 346, No. 6209, Oct., 2014), researchers tested 5,000 salamanders from 4 continents for susceptibility to the newly-discovered fungus. Of the 35 species examined, some showed 100% mortality. Included in this group were 2 well-known US natives, the Eastern Newt and the Rough-Skinned Newt.


Several Asian salamanders were unaffected by BS, spurring fears that such individuals, while appearing to be healthy, could serve as long-term carriers capable of transmitting the fungus to other species.


Rough skinned newt

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jsayre64

Pet Trade Connection

The millions of Chinese Fire-Bellied Newts imported into Europe from Asia are believed to be the primary route by which BS was spread to the Netherlands’ now extinct Fire Salamanders. The fungus may have found its way into natural habitats via discarded terrarium water and/or released pets. According to researchers at the Imperial College of London, there is no way to limit the spread of the fungi populations that are already established in Europe, and herpetologists predict that more local extinctions will be documented. The EU is considering restrictions on amphibian imports under various animal health laws.


Fire-Bellied Newts and other Asian species are also popularly kept in the USA, home to the world’s greatest diversity of salamander species. With so many US natives already decimated by BD and habitat loss, and scores naturally limited to tiny ranges (i.e. the Texas Blind Cave Salamander), the arrival of BS would be disastrous.


Eastern Newts

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Magnus Manske

Congress, US F&W Service Taking Action

According to a recent New York Times op-ed piece (Oct. 31, 2014), Congress is considering increasing the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s authority to regulate the importation of pet trade animals. However, the process is being resisted by anti-regulation members.


Working in conjunction with the US F&W Service, the Pet Industry Joint Council is seeking ways to limit the threat posed by imported Asian salamanders.

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

Food Trade Kills Billions of Frogs & Spreads Chytrid

Chorus Frogs and Chytrid

Reptiles and Amphibians in Outdoor Pens or Ponds: Preparing for Winter

Backyard pond

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Nowis

I’ve always enjoyed keeping my herp pets, and those I’ve cared for in zoos, in outdoor ponds and exhibits. I see a wider variety of behaviors and have better breeding results, and the access to natural sunlight and wild insects is very beneficial for the animals. The arrival of winter, however, ends the fun and brings special challenges. Today I’ll cover indoor and outdoor hibernation of terrestrial and aquatic turtles and frogs, and review what to do if you wish to keep your pets active year-round.


General Considerations

Hibernation is risky under the best of circumstances. Each spring, I see evidence of winter die-offs among free-living reptiles and amphibians. The safest option for most pet owners is to keep your animals active and feeding throughout the winter.


Reptiles and amphibians native to temperate climates may not reproduce unless subjected to period of dormancy. However, in many cases a short, cool resting period will suffice – true “winter” in not needed.   Details vary widely as to species, so please post below for further information.


Green frogs in amplexus

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Greenfrogmaster

It has been theorized that hibernation enhances the long-term health of those species that do so in the wild, but there seems to be nothing of substance published to this effect. During my long career in zoos, I’ve kept hundreds of temperate zone species active and breeding year-round for many years. In my personal collection, a number of North American natives, including 30-45 year-old-turtles and salamanders aged 20-35 years, have never experienced dormancy.


Animals subjected to hibernation must be healthy, well-hydrated, and possessed of ample fat reserves; a vet exam in early autumn is recommended.


Depending upon the species and the size of the individual, pre-hibernation preparation should include a fast of 1-4 weeks in duration (please post below for further information).


Eastern Box Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Stephen Friedt

Outdoor Hibernation

Box Turtles and Toads

I’ve had good results by allowing Eastern Box Turtles and American Toads to dig down into the soil and leaf litter within their pens. However, the ground must be loosened in the fall, and I always add a 6-12 inch layer of fallen leaves to the surface. Note: although many people keep American Wood Turtles in largely-terrestrial pens, they spend the winter at the bottom of streams, not on land.


The pen should be exposed to rainfall year-round, as terrestrial turtles and toads require somewhat moist hibernation sites. Drainage must be provided…I’ve only left animals outdoors in bottomless pens, so that water does not pool.


Eastern Painted Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Greg Schechter

Aquatic Turtles and Frogs

Red-Eared Sliders, Painted Turtles, Green Frogs, American Bullfrogs and similar species usually overwinter underwater, beneath mud and leaf litter. Unless you are well-experienced or have expert guidance, I would not recommend trying to keep these creatures outdoors for the winter.


Dormant turtles absorb oxygen via the cloaca, while amphibians utilize diffusion through the skin. Your pond water’s oxygen level is, therefore, critical, but we have little information on any species’ exact requirements. Water depth is also a concern.


Aerators and surface heaters designed for use with koi and goldfish can be employed if you wish to keep your aquatic pets outdoors. You can read more about general winter pond preparations on ThatFishBlog…please see the links below.


I have had success in overwintering some aquatic species outdoors (i.e. Sliders, Snappers, Musk, Mud, Spotted and Painted Turtles, Green and Bullfrogs, Northern Watersnakes) but my best results were in large outdoor zoo exhibits rather than backyard ponds.


In both my pens and natural situations, I was several times surprised to find American Bullfrogs and Green Frogs hibernating on land – they missed the “go to the pond memo”, I guess!


Indoor Hibernation

Indoor hibernation is a bit less risky in some ways, as you can monitor the animals closely and avoid the extreme conditions that occur outdoors. However, it is still not advisable for pet-keepers lacking considerable experience.


American Box Turtles can be over-wintered in moist sphagnum moss at 38-42 F. A refrigerator designated for this purpose is ideal, but attics, garages and similar areas can be used if temperatures are appropriate. American Toads and their relatives can be maintained in the same manner, but they usually remain active and feeding down to 55 F or so, and so are easier to “keep awake”.


Keeping your pets in an unheated or extra-cool room of the house is not satisfactory. At temperatures too low for normal activity, yet above those needed for dormancy (i.e. 50-65 F for many temperate zone species), food reserves are used and the immune system fails to protect from respiratory and other infections.

While aquatic turtles and frogs have been successfully over-wintered in aerated water at 40 F, I would not advise taking the risk.


Avoiding Hibernation

Spotted, Wood, Box and Painted Turtles, and others with similar life histories, may be kept active at their normal temperatures year-round. I tend to maintain them at the lower end of their normal active range, but provide a warmer basking site. If the animals are in good health, a dip to 60 F at night will do no harm (different species vary in this regard – please post below for specific information).


Gray Treefrogs in amplexus

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Fredlyfish4

Temperate zone frogs and toads, including Fire-bellied Toads, American Bullfrogs, Gray Treefrogs and Leopard Frogs remain active and feeding at normal to low (i.e. 55 F) room temperatures. The change from summer highs seems to do them good, and in some cases (i.e. Fire-bellied Toads), may also stimulate breeding behavior.



Russian and Greek Tortoises, along with several other species, experience cool to cold winters in some portions of their natural ranges. However, it is difficult to successfully induce dormancy among captives, either in the home or outdoors. Please post below if you wish to attempt this, and I’ll send along specific information.


Internal Controls on Behavior

Circadian rhythms, which might be likened to “internal clocks”, govern behavior to varying degrees. For example, Indian Gharials under my care for 14 years refused food in tune with the cool season in their native range, despite being kept at optimal temperatures (they lost virtually no weight during the 3 month period, however).


Among pets, wild-caught individuals of certain species may refuse food and become less active even when kept warm during the winter. In some cases, captive-born youngsters of the same animals will feed normally all winter long. Captive born individuals of other species may enter semi-dormancy despite being many generations removed from the wild. For species with large ranges, the origin of the parent stock may be important. I’ve had experience with this scenario in a number of reptiles and amphibians, and am very interested in learning more…please post your observations and questions below.



Further Reading

 Preparing Your Pond for Winter

Bullfrogs in Backyard Ponds

Red-eared Sliders in Backyard Ponds

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