Home | Reptile and Amphibian Health

Category Archives: Reptile and Amphibian Health

Feed Subscription

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.

 

Tortoises

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.

 

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

 Preparing Your Pond for Winter

Bullfrogs in Backyard Ponds

Red-eared Sliders in Backyard Ponds

Exciting New Exotic Animal Displays in our Reptile Room

In the Reptile Room section of our Lancaster, Pennsylvania retail store, our expert staff is always creating new and exciting displays.  These amazing displays rarely get the exposure they deserve – so we wanted to take a moment and highlight their extraordinary work on That Reptile Blog. Check them out below or stop by our store and see for yourself!

 

IMG_0922

Mantella Tank

This display features the unique Mantella frog (Mantella ebenaui) in a 40 gallon Marineland Perfecto aquarium.  The brown variety of this rare frog is native to Madagascar.  The landscape includes river rock gravel, topped with several live plants, including creeping fig, liverwort and begonia.  The staff has also included a mini water reservoir with several small goldfish.

 

IMG_0955

What makes this set up special, is that the tank is fully sustaining ecosystem that requires no filtration and little maintenance.  The system relies on the live plants and gold fish to digest nutrients created by the breakdown of uneaten food and waste.  The only maintenance required is feeding the Mantella and trimming back plants as needed.  This set up is maintained by several members of our staff, including Josh Mangan.

 

 

 

 IMG_0876Volcano Tank

This awesome “active” volcano was handcrafted by our Reptile Room associate Jesse Taylor.  The inventive design includes a Zoo Med Repti-Fogger surrounded by natural Eco Earth bedding.  The fogger releases a steamy mist that creates the appearance of volcanic activity.  Housed in an 18 in. x 18 in. x 24 in. Exo Terra Glass Terrarium, the ecosystem also includes an Eco Earth and live seasonal moss base, as it is prepared to hold African Reed Frogs.

 

 

IMG_0952Customized Blue Gliding Frog Terrarium

Created by Reptile Room supervisor Ryan Chillas, this great set up features two Vietnamese Blue Gliding Frogs.  To best replicate the natural environment of the frogs, Chillas created a detailed, natural set up that includes a water reservoir and waterfall.  He added a river rock base and several live plants, including creeping fig, liverwort and a peace lily.

To create the waterfall, Chillas borrowed some non-toxic expanding foam sealant from our pond section.  He used it to fashion a back wall that holds an Aquatop fountain pump.  The pump draws water from the bottom reservoir and moves it to the top of the foam wall.  Chillas also added petrified wood and rocks throughout the foam wall.  Adding live plants, it creates the perfect climbing environment that the arboreal Blue Gliding Frogs would find in their natural habitat.

 

If you’d like to check out these great displays, stop by our Reptile Room in our Lancaster, Pennsylvania store. In addition to these animals, we also have a large variety of lizards, tortoises and spiders to pique your curiosity.  You can check with Josh, Jesse or Ryan in person or speak with any of the members of our helpful expert staff.  We are always ready, willing and able to answer any questions you might have!

 

 

 

 

Bearded Dragon or Leopard Gecko? Comparing the Ownership Costs

Both Bearded Dragons and Leopard Geckos are about as close to “perfect” as a reptile pet can be, and either is a great choice for new and experienced owners alike.  But the costs of ownership, both short and long term, do vary between the two.  Novice reptile enthusiasts sometimes obtain their first specimens without fully investigating this point, and may be surprised (or delighted!) at the expenses involved in their care – especially as each can reach 20 or even 30+ plus years of age!  In the following article I’ll compare the start-up and long-term costs of owning Bearded Dragons and Leopard Geckos.

 

There are also major differences in the habits, activity levels and care needs of Bearded Dragons and Leopard Geckos.  Please see the articles linked under “Further Reading” for a comparison of their habits and husbandry, and for detailed care information.  As always, I welcome any questions or observations that you may wish to post.

 

BDvLG

Bearded Dragon or Leopard Gecko?

 

Start-Up Expenses

 

Purchase Price

The cost per animal is similar for individuals that exhibit natural coloration.  A huge array of uniquely-colored “designer morphs” of each species has also been developed. Prices for such animals vary greatly, but are in similar ranges for both geckos and dragons.

 

Verdict: Similar for natural coloration – varies based on color morphs

 

Terrarium and Cover (single adult)t255908

Bearded Dragon: 30-55 gallon aquarium and cover

Leopard Gecko: 10-20 gallon aquarium and cover (larger is preferable)

 

Verdict:  Bearded Dragons require larger, more expensive habitats

 


UVB Fixture and Bulb

Bearded Dragon: Full length florescent UVB fixture and bulb

Leopard Gecko:   UVB exposure not required

or

Mercury vapor fixture and bulb

 

Verdict: With their UVB requirements, Bearded Dragons cost more.  

 

 

204499opHeat

Bearded Dragon: Incandescent fixture and bulb for basking site

Red/black bulb or ceramic heat emitter (night)

Leopard Gecko:  Incandescent fixture and bulb for basking site

Heat tape or ceramic heat emitter (night)

 

Verdict: Bearded Dragons require higher temperatures, but the cost is negligible for the equipment.

 

Other Supplies

Both will also need a substrate or terrarium liner, caves, and driftwood or rocks upon which to bask.  The costs for these items are similar for each species.

 

Verdict: Other supplies are similarly priced across species

 

Food

 

Bearded Dragon (adult): 36-48 insects per week

Leopard Gecko (adult):  15-25 insects per week

and

3 bowls salad per week

 

Please note that these figures are meant to provide a general idea of expected food intake.  The actual amount of food your lizard will consume is influenced by temperature, the type of insect offered (i.e. 1 cricket vs 4 sowbugs vs 2 butterworms, etc.), general health, age, and the animal’s individual metabolism.  Please see the linked articles and post any questions about your pet’s specific needs below.

 

Verdict: Bearded Dragon adults consume almost twice as many insects as leopard geckos – and also require salads. Juvenile requirements can be even greater. Bearded Dragons cost considerably more to feed.

 

BeardedDragonEatting

Ongoing Expenses Unique to Bearded Dragons

 

Bearded Dragons grow significantly larger than do Leopard Geckos, and will need roomier terrariums (please see above) as they mature

 

UVB bulb and fixture replacement will also be necessary (Leopard Geckos do not require UVB exposure).

 

Ongoing Expenses Common to Both Species

 

200px-Leopard_gecko_with_new_tailVeterinary Care

Although both lizards are quite hardy if properly cared-for, occasional veterinary visits can be expected. The costs for such are comparable to those charged for cat or dog care.  Intestinal impactions (from swallowing substrate) and diseases related to poor nutrition may be encountered by geckos and dragons alike.

 

If a moist shelter is not available, Leopard Geckos may suffer retained eyelid linings when shedding, while Bearded Dragons that are denied proper UVB exposure will develop metabolic bone disease and related afflictions.

 

Atadenovirus infections, which are increasing in captive Bearded Dragon populations, are as yet incurable.

 

Verdict – Veterinary expenses are basically the same for both species

 

Other Expenses

Substrate replacement and vitamin/mineral supplement costs remain similar for both species over time.  Electrical expenses will also be in the same range, although Bearded Dragons require higher temperatures than do Leopard Geckos (75-110 F as opposed to 72-90 F).

 

In Conclusion

 

Overall, a Bearded Dragon is the more expensive pet to maintain, due to this species’ needs for spacious living quarters, access to UVB radiation, and large, frequent meals.  However, veterinary care needs cannot be predicted – as few visits by a relatively “inexpensive” gecko can level the field!

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.

 

Butterworms as Reptile-Amphibian Food: Nutritional Content and Care

Butterworm

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dicklyon

Butterworms, also known as Trevo Worms, are highly nutritious caterpillars that deserve more attention from reptile, amphibian and invertebrate keepers. They have many of the advantages associated with wild-caught insects yet lack most of the risks. Their calcium content of 42.9 mg/100g (as compared to 14 and 3.2 mg/100g for crickets and mealworms) is especially-impressive. Simple to use and store, and accepted by a huge array of species, Butterworms are in many ways superior to the more commonly-used feeders. I promoted their use throughout my long career as a zookeeper, and today would like to introduce them to those readers who may be interested in adding important nutritional variety to their pets’ diets. Please also see the articles linked below for information on other “alternative” foods such as sow bugs, sap beetles, leaf litter invertebrates, earwigs and many others.

 

Adult (related species)

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Butko

Natural History

Although they resemble beetle grubs, Butterworms are actually the larvae, or caterpillars, of the Chilean Trevo Moth (Chilecomandia moorei). As far as is known, they are found only in Chile, where their diet is comprised entirely of Trevo Bush (Trevoa trinervis) leaves.

 

Butterworms are collected rather than captive-reared, and are subjected to low levels of radiation before being exported from Chile. Irradiation prevents them from pupating, thereby addressing US Department of Agriculture concerns that the species could become established in the USA. This process, and the fact that they cannot be bred commercially, renders Butterworms a bit more costly than similar insects, but I believe their value as a food source merits the extra expense.

 

Silkworms

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Rocket000

Nutritional Information

Being wild-caught, Butterworms likely provide nutrients absent from commercially-reared insects. They also exceed all other typical feeder insects in calcium content (please see Introduction, above), with only silkworms and phoenix worms approaching them in this regard (some find silkworms to be delicate, and phoenix worms are quite small, but both are also worth investigating).

 

The Butterworm’s protein content of 16.2% is on par with that of crickets, phoenix worms and waxworms, and below that provided by silkworms and roaches. Fat content stands at 5.21%, which is less than (considerably so, in many cases) that of all other commonly-used feeders.

 

Please Note: The nutritional needs of reptiles and amphibians vary by species and by individual age, health, and other factors. The fact that a food is “low in ash” or “high in protein” does not necessarily mean that it is a good or bad choice for your pet. Please post specific nutrition/feeding questions below.

 

Why Use Butterworms

In addition to their nutritional value, Butterworms are readily accepted by a wide variety of reptiles, amphibians, tarantulas, fishes, scorpions, birds and small mammals. They vary in coloration through shades of yellow, red and orange, and have a distinct, “fruity” scent. I’ve not seen any research on the subject, but these qualities perhaps may make them attractive to predators…in any case, Butterworms often incite interest from reluctant feeders.

 

Rough Green Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Cotinis

Butterworms range from ½ inch to 1 ½ inches in size, with the average in most containers being ¾ inch. They are far plumper than waxworms, and ideally suited for both small and larger pets.

 

These colorful, chubby caterpillars are more active than waxworms and phoenix worms, yet can easily be confined to a shallow bowl or jar lid. I’ve found this to be especially useful when keeping certain treefrogs, geckos and other arboreal species that are reluctant to feed on the ground. Butterworms may also be used to provide important dietary variety to insectivorous snakes (Smooth Green Snakes, etc.), terrestrial salamanders and others that tend to accept relatively few traditional feeder species.

 

Storage

Butterworms can be kept under refrigeration at 42-45 F for at least 4, and possibly up to 6, months. I keep my refrigerator at 39 F, and have had no problems with losses at that temperature over periods of 2-4 weeks.

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

Collecting Insects for Herp Food: Traps and Tips

Earwigs as Reptile/Amphibian Food

My Bearded Dragon is Not Eating: What to Do

Head and

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Aka

Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps) are among the most popular of all reptile pets and a great choice for both new and experienced lizard enthusiasts.  But apparently-healthy specimens sometimes refuse to feed, or lose weight despite feeding, and there is still much confusion as to why this occurs.  My work with Bearded Dragons and hundreds of other lizards in zoos and at home has (I hope!) provided me with some useful insights into this problem.  When presented with a non-feeding Bearded Dragon, we must check our husbandry protocol (UVB, temperature, etc.) and investigate the possibility of a disease or injury. Other potential problems, such as the effects of circadian rhythms (“internal clocks”), may be less obvious, yet very important.

Feeding

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Frankly Man

Is My Lizard Hibernating?

Hibernation (or brumation) is not the neat, tidy process I learned about as a child – there are varying degrees of dormancy. Depending upon where they live within the natural range, wild Bearded Dragons may experience severe winters, and will become dormant for several months each year. However, those in milder regions may remain active (please see the article linked below to read more about their natural history).

Pets sometimes cease feeding in the fall, despite being provided with 12-14 hours of daylight and high temperatures.  Although all Bearded Dragons in the US pet trade are several generations removed from the wild, the tendency to hibernate may persist.  “Internal clocks”, or circadian rhythms, can cause pets to become lethargic and refuse food during the winter.  To confuse matters further, some reptiles enter dormancy when winter arrives in their native habitats…even if it happens to be summertime in their present home!  I’ve seen this among captive Indian Gharials (fish-eating crocodiles) and other reptiles.

The Bearded Dragon Habitat

Bearded Dragons vary in their response to crowding.  Moving your pet to a larger terrarium may help, and this will also make it easier for you to establish a thermal gradient. Thermal gradients, which allow reptiles to move from hot to cool areas, are critical to good health. A 30 gallon long-style aquarium is the minimum size that should be considered for an adult…a 55 or larger is preferable.

Basking

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Greg5030

Inappropriate temperatures will cause your lizard to slow down its feeding, and will impair digestion. An incandescent spotlight bulb should be used to create a basking site of 100-110 F. The rest of the terrarium should be kept at a temperature range of 72-85 F.

 

Like all desert-dwelling diurnal lizards, Bearded Dragons require high UVB levels. If a florescent bulb is used (Zoo Med’s models are excellent), be sure that your pet can bask within the distance recommended by the manufacturer. Mercury vapor bulbs broadcast UVB over greater distances, and provide beneficial UVA radiation as well.

Beetle Grub

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by 99of9

Diet

Wild Bearded Dragons feed upon a huge array of plants, invertebrates, and the occasional small lizard, snake or rodent. A diet comprised only of crickets, mealworms and a simple salad will not support good health long term. Offering different types of insects can also incite new interest in feeding.  We see this most commonly in chameleons, but the enthusiasm your Bearded Dragons will show for novel foods will leave you with no doubt as to their value.

Please see the articles linked below to read more about adding silkworms, house flies, sow bugs, wild-caught insects and other important foods to your pet’s diet. Studies have shown that some lizards will alter their diet in accordance with changing nutritional needs…your pet’s poor appetite may indicate that more variety is needed.

Stress

While female Bearded Dragons usually co-exist, males are intolerant of other males and cannot be kept together. If you keep your lizards in a group, make certain that each is able to bask and to obtain enough to eat. Dominant animals can frighten others even without direct aggression…merely seeing a “bully” in another terrarium may be enough to inhibit an animal from feeding. Appetite-suppressing aggression is also common among young lizards that are being raised in groups.

 

Locating the terrarium in a noisy part of the house, or where there are vibrations from machinery, may also depress appetites and contribute to other health concerns.

 

t420Disease, Impactions and other Health Issues

An impaction from substrate (swallowed with meals) is one of the more common reasons that Bearded Dragons cease feeding. While many have been successfully kept on sand, others seem to have problems almost immediately. The exact type of substrate used, composition of the diet, calcium intake, hydration levels and many other factors likely play a role in explaining the differences we see. Washable terrarium liners are the safest substrate option.

 

Unfortunately, highly-contagious Atadenoviruses are well-established in US Bearded Dragon populations. These viruses are spread via body contact and improperly cleaned tools; afflicted females may also pass infections along to their young. Some of the illnesses they cause, including Wasting Disease and “Star Gazing”, are accompanied by a loss of appetite and/or weight. Please see the article linked below for further information.

Internal or external parasites, and a host of other less common ailments, should also be investigated if your pet stops eating, or if it feeds but continues to lose weight. Please post below if you need help in locating a reptile experienced veterinarian.

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

 

Atadenovirus in Bearded Dragons

 

Hibernation in Bearded Dragons

 

Collecting Insects as Food for Reptiles

Scroll To Top