The Most Astonishing and Bizarre Newly-Discovered Frogs

 

Mimic Poison Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Gabsch

Be it the discovery of a new species in the middle of NYC or the revelation that Mimic Poison Frogs are monogamous, frog enthusiasts are accustomed to surprises.  But those revealed in the last few years have been especially interesting and unexpected…frogs with sheathed claws, tadpoles that feed upon their father’s skin and on tree bark, bird-eating, bird-voiced and lungless frogs, fanged tadpoles and much, much more.  Were I new to this field, I’d consider much of the following article as pure fantasy…but even after a lifetime of working with amphibians, I’m still shaking my head.

 

Note: please see the linked articles for further information on the frogs introduced here.

 

 

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Best Substrate for Hermit Crabs – Avoid Deadly Mistakes

 

Coenobita variabilis

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Vanessa Pike-Russell

I’ve had the good fortune of working with many species of terrestrial Hermit Crabs, including the unbelievably huge Coconut Crab (Birgus latro).  Most are surprisingly long-lived – for example, the species most commonly sold in pet stores (the Caribbean Hermit Crab, Coenobita clypeatus) can survive for 20 or more years if properly cared for!  We’ve learned a great deal about Hermit Crab captive needs over the years, but serious mistakes are still commonly made when it comes to hermit crab substrate choice.  The ability to successfully molt and form a new exoskeleton, and to survive the attacks of cage-mates during this dangerous time, hinges upon the substrate.  Even if all else is perfect, Hermit Crabs will expire long before “their time is due” if they do not have access to appropriate substrates of the correct depth.
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Providing Clean Water to Reptiles and Amphibians – The Nitrogen Cycle

 

Mexican Axolotl

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by ZeWrestler

Successful aquarists know the importance of monitoring the nitrogen cycle, and the lessons I learned while working for fish importers and sellers have served me well when caring for all manner of creatures.  When I began my career in zoos, I was surprised to find that reptile and amphibian keepers, while aware of the necessity for clean water, did not generally pay attention to understanding water chemistry and its effects on animal health.  That situation is much changed today, but professional and private herp keepers can still take some lessons from our aquarist friends. Awhile back, I helped establish an amphibian exhibit at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Ct.  I was not surprised when the aquarists there, despite lacking prior amphibian experience, excelled at their care and breeding.  Today we’ll look at how the nitrogen cycle functions and review some useful care techniques and products.

 

How Critical is Reptile and Amphibian Water Quality?

It’s important to understand that most amphibians, especially largely-aquatic species such as African Clawed Frogs and Mexican Axolotls, absorb water and dissolved chemicals over a much greater surface area than do fishes (scale-less fishes, such as eels, loaches and most catfishes, are similar to amphibians in this regard).  In fact, when we administer fish medications to aquatic amphibians, we always begin with a 50% or so dose…the amount recommended for fishes might kill or injure amphibians.

 

It follows that amphibians are often more sensitive to ammonia and other water-borne toxins than are fishes. My experience bears out the fact that ammonia poisoning is responsible for a great many sudden, unexplained amphibian pet deaths.  Reptiles are less susceptible to water quality problems than are amphibians, but certain species, such Tentacled Snakes and Soft-shelled and Fly River Turtles, seem sensitive to ammonia and pH levels.

 

Fly River Turtle

Uploadedto Wikipedia Commons by Faendalimas

What is the Nitrogen Cycle?

The nitrogen cycle can be summarized as the process by which nitrogen is converted to other organic compounds that are then utilized by plants and animals as food.  Nitrogen enters the water via dead animals and plants, decaying food, and animal feces and urates.  In herp enclosures, animal wastes are usually the primary sources of nitrogen.

 

Ammonia, the most toxic of the nitrogen-based compounds, may be ionized or un-ionized; it is most dangerous to aquatic animals in its un-ionized form. More of the water’s total ammonia becomes un-ionized as the temperature and pH increases.

Two types of aerobic (air-breathing) bacteria, which live on gravel, filter pads and other substrates exposed to oxygenated water, control the nitrogen cycle. Collectively, they are termed nitrogenous bacteria.

 

Nitrosomas bacteria convert ammonia to less-toxic compounds known as nitrites.  Nitrobacter bacteria convert the nitrites to nitrates.  Nitrates, the end product of the nitrogen cycle, are the least toxic of the nitrogenous compounds.

 

Managing the Nitrogen Cycle in Your Pet’s Home

Aquarists use the term “conditioning period” to describe the time that it takes for healthy populations of both types of nitrogenous bacteria to become established in a new tank.  This period varies in length, but usually falls in the range of 2-6 weeks.

 

Your aquarium’s conditioning period may be shortened by the addition of commercially-available live aerobic bacteria.  I’ve had good experience with Biozyme Freshwater Bacteria and Nutrafin Cycle.  Micro Lift Bacterial Water Balancer, specifically formulated for turtles, should also be considered.

 

You can also help the process along by introducing filter material from a well-conditioned tank and, where conditions permit, by using “live rock” and “live sand” (please post below for further info).  The frequent use of water quality test kits is essential. The pH level should be checked often as well, since the water may become acidic during the conditioning period.

 

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Undergravel Filters

Although some of my younger readers will no doubt consider me a dinosaur for saying so, I still use and recommend undergravel filters in many situations.   They are simple to maintain, largely invisible to the eye, and essentially turn the entire substrate into a giant biological filter.  Where useful, power heads can be added to increase water follow though the gravel bed or to create a reverse-flow system (please see the article linked below).

 

Many public aquariums still maintain huge exhibits with undergravel filters alone.  At various zoos and in my own collection, I have used undergravel filters on large exhibits housing Tentacled Snakes, Northern Water Snakes, adult Snake-Necked Turtles, Largemouth Bass, and other creatures that are very hard on water quality and clarity.

 

I also favor fluidized bed filters, which are mounted outside the aquarium. They rely upon the same principles as do undergravel filters, and are especially useful where substrate is not used in the enclosure.

 

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 Indiviglio.

 

Further Reading

Using Undergravel Filters in Reptile and Amphibian Terrariums 

 

Using Bottled Aerobic Bacteria

Vitamin D3, UVB and Pet Reptiles: Important New Information for Pet Owners

Brown Anole

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Hans Hillewaert

We’ve long known that many reptiles need Ultra Violet B (UVB) light exposure in order to manufacture Vitamin D3. Vitamin D3, which is essential for proper calcium uptake, is also present in many foods, and some reptiles can utilize it in this form.  However, there are some gray areas.  It seems that reptiles long considered incapable of using dietary D3 (and which therefore need UVB light exposure), can sometimes obtain D3 from their diet (please see chameleon and day gecko articles linked below).  Generalizations can be misleading – for example, the study summarized below shows that two anole species sharing the same habitat obtain D3 in very different ways.

 

Anole Study – Vitamin D3 and Basking Behavior

A study recently published in the Journal of Herpetology [47 (4) 524-29, 2013] examined whether the level of Vitamin D3 in the diet would affect the basking behavior of two anole species.  Earlier research had shown that Panther Chameleons do alter their basking behavior in response to blood levels of Vitamin D3; please see the article linked below for details.

 

Wild and captive Brown Anoles, Anolis sagrei and Stripefoot Anoles, A. lineatopus, living in Jamaica were used as study subjects.  When the D3 content of the diet was increased, Brown Anoles decreased the amount of time they spent basking in UVB light.  This remained constant over a 6 week period.  This indicated that they were obtaining enough D3 from their diet. When the dietary D3 was decreased, the Brown Anoles increased their exposure to UVB, so as to be able to manufacture D3 in the skin.

 

Stripefoot Anoles, on the other hand, did not decrease their basking time when fed high levels on D3, and they did not increase basking behavior when fed diets low in D3.

 

The researchers therefore concluded that Brown Anoles are able to use dietary D3, while Stripefoot Anoles cannot.  Stripefoot Anoles seem to rely upon the Vitamin D3 that is produced in their skin when it is exposed to UVB light.

 

Studies such as this show us that we must carefully research the needs of each species under our care.  Even if they are closely related, and share similar habitats, diets, and lifestyles, captive conditions that work for one could spell doom for another.

 

Madagascar day Gecko

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Manuel Werner, Nürtingen, Germany

My Experience: Day Geckos Without UVB Did Well

I’ve made some related observations on Madagascar and Standing’s Day Geckos.  UVB exposure has generally been considered critical to their welfare in captivity.  Yet a colony of both, living at semi-liberty in a large zoo aviary, seems to be doing very well without access to UVB light.  Please see the article linked below for further details.

 

Providing UVB to Lizards and other Reptiles

Natural sunlight is the best source of UVB, but it is important to bear in mind that overheating can occur quickly, and that UVB does not penetrate glass or plastic.  Reptiles housed or placed outdoors must also be protected from rats, raccoons, dogs, cats, crows and other predators.  Where conditions permit, screen cages offer a great means of providing natural UVB to your pets.

 

t255908UVB Bulbs

In recent tests, the Zoo Med 5.0 and 10.0 Bulbs were found superior to several other models.  Mercury vapor and compact florescent bulbs generally emit higher levels of UVB than traditional florescent bulbs, and they broadcast it over greater distances.  Mercury vapor bulbs also produce heat, and so may eliminate the need for an additional heat source.

 

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 Indiviglio.

 

Further Reading

Chameleon Basking Behavior Influenced by UVB Needs

My Notes: Day Geckos Thrive Without a UVB Source

Using Compact UVB Bulbs

 Using Screen Cages

 

Keeping the USA’s Longest Snake: Eastern Indigo Snakes as Pets

Eastern Indigo Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Arjuno3

Hi, Frank Indiviglio here.  I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career of over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.  The magnificent Eastern Indigo Snake, Drymarchon couperi, is the longest of all snakes native to the USA, but occupies one of the smallest ranges.  These facts, along with stunning coloration and its reputation as a responsive pet, place the Indigo on the wish lists of serious snake keepers and zoos worldwide.  I had the good fortune to assist with an Eastern Indigo breeding/release program headquartered at the Bronx Zoo, which was both fascinating and frustrating.  Today I would like to pass along some thoughts on its natural history and captive care.

Description

The Eastern Indigo Snake is among the longest of all North American snakes; in the USA, only the Bullsnake, Pituophis catenifer sayi, regularly rivals it in size.  Robust and alert, the Eastern Indigo Snake averages 5-6 feet in length, with a record of 8 feet, 5 inches.  The glossy, blue-black coloration is unique to this species.  Some individuals, greatly favored in the pet trade, sport heads and chins highlighted by a reddish tint.

Natural History

The Eastern Indigo Snake is restricted to southeastern Georgia, southeastern Mississippi, and Florida.  Although coastal dunes, Palmetto scrub, agricultural areas and marsh fringes are colonized, healthy populations seem to require large expanses of longleaf pine forest and similar upland environments.  Human development within prime Indigo habitat has severely threatened this species’ future.  Today, only captive-born individuals may be legally sold, but over-collection was a severe problem in the past.

The Texas Indigo Snake (D. corais erebennus) ranges from southern Texas to central Mexico, while other relatives, known as Cribos, inhabit Central and South America.

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