Assisting Snakes During “Dry Sheds” and other Skin Shedding (Ecdysis) Related Problems: Soaking and Commercial Shedding Aids

 

Shedding problems, collectively referred to as “dry sheds” by herptoculturists, are a not uncommon occurrence in snake collections.  As I’ve never encountered a wild snake bearing unshed skin, despite having handled innumerable specimens, I am led to believe that establishing proper environmental conditions in captivity helps greatly in avoiding problems in this area.

Soaking Pools

Ribbon SnakeAn important first step is providing an adequately sized pool for soaking.  Although some snakes will not make use of a pool, most, even some highly arboreal species (i.e. red-tailed ratsnakes), will.  Snakes that frequent moist habitats, such as the ribbon snake pictured here, should always have access to a large pool and dry basking sites (even highly aquatic species are prone to fungal infections if unable to dry off).

Leucistic Burmese PythonThe leucistic Burmese python pictured below is over 20 feet long and nearing 21 years of age.  She resides in an exhibit that I recently refurbished at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum in NYC – her pool measures 5 feet square, and is 4 feet in depth, allowing her to completely submerge (not an easy feat in a private collection!).

Arboreal Snakes

For arboreal snakes that might be reluctant to soak in a pool, such as green tree pythons, emerald tree boas and garden tree boas, maintaining the proper ambient humidity (while providing adequate air flow) is important.  Extra misting is usually necessary when these snakes are ready to shed.

Soaking Containers

Most shedding difficulties can be resolved by confining the snake in water overnight.  Keep the water at a level which allows the snake to breathe without having to swim, and provide a brick or rough stone for it to rub against when loosening the old skin.

Snakes so confined will try to escape their unfamiliar surroundings, and very often rub their snouts raw if a screen top is used.  I have found ventilated plastic garbage cans to be perfect for soaking snakes – be sure to secure the top with duct tape and/or bungee cords.

Moss as a Shedding Aid (High Strung, Desert and Arboreal Snakes)

Crotalus durissusSome species or individuals are simply too high strung to tolerate confinement in a bare pool of water.  I have found this to be true for black racers, certain garter snakes, coachwhip snakes, eyelash vipers and Neo-tropical rattlesnakes (pictured below).  Note: Eyelash vipers and rattlesnakes were under my care in zoos, and, being venomous, are not suitable for private collections.

For other species, standing water seems to be such a foreign element that confinement to it causes extreme stress.  Among this group are African egg-eating snakes, vine snakes, patch-nosed snakes and rough/smooth green snakes.

These snakes and similar species do very well when confined to containers of damp moss  instead of water.  They usually burrow right into the moss, finding security and moistening their skins in the process.  When provided with a rough stone, they most often shed by morning.

Commercial Shedding Aids

Specially formulated shedding aids  are now available and are proving to be quite useful, especially when paired with the foregoing suggestions.  Some individual snakes have difficulty with every shed – for these, you can apply the shedding aid once the snake has become opaque (once the eyes cloud over).

Checking the Eye Caps

After a problematical shed, be sure to check that the old eye caps (technically known as the brille) have been shed.  This can be difficult to ascertain, so please seek the advice of an experienced snake keeper if you are unsure.  Retained eye caps can be removed with the aid of mineral oil and a fine tweezers, but again this is not an undertaking for one inexperienced in the procedure.

 

Caring for Reptiles and Amphibians: Useful Products from the Aquarium Trade – Using Frozen and other Foods for Turtles, Aquatic Salamanders and Tadpoles – Part 2

Click: Caring for Reptiles and Amphibians: Useful Products from the Aquarium Trade – Using Frozen and other Foods for Turtles, Aquatic Salamanders and Tadpoles – Part 1 to read the first part of this article.

Frozen Foods for Tadpoles

Tetramin Staple Diet Flakes  and spirulina flakes have long been used by hobbyists and zookeepers as foods for poison frog and other tadpoles.  However, frozen tropical fish foods have been largely over-looked as regards tadpole husbandry.

I have found a number of frozen foods to be well-accepted by a wide variety of tadpoles, including most poison frogs, tomato frogs, golden bell frogs, various flying frogs and native species such as bull, green and gray tree frogs, and Fowler’s and Colorado River toads.  The consistency of frozen foods renders them very palatable to tadpoles…by utilizing a few different types, it is a simple matter to formulate a healthy diet for many species.

Suggested Frozen Foods for Tadpoles

Cichlid Vegetable Food contains a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, while Emerald Entree has spinach and other vegetables along with animal protein derived from mysids and brine shrimp.   Spirulina is always a favorite and is a fine food for nearly all tadpoles.

The tadpoles of most frog and toad species, even those described in references as “grazing upon algae”, usually consume a good deal of animal matter in the form of Daphnia and other tiny invertebrates and carrion.  I suggest you provide a mix of several foods containing both plant and animal matter to most species.  Please write in information concerning individual species that you might be interested in rearing.

Freeze Dried Foods for Tadpoles

As mentioned earlier, Tetramin Staple Diet and Spirulina flakes are tadpole-rearing standbys, and I continue to rely upon both.  For most tadpoles, I also make liberal use of freeze dried fish foods.  Many of the fresh water invertebrates favored by small fishes, and available in freeze-dried form, are consumed by tadpoles as part of their natural diets.

Be sure to offer your tadpoles a variety of these highly nutritious foods, especially Cyclops, Daphnia, and bloodworms.

Tablets and Wafers for Tadpoles

Sinking tablets and wafers are especially useful when rearing tadpoles.  They are dense enough to keep the tadpoles of bullfrogs, smoky jungle frogs, marine toads and other large frogs busy, yet are palatable to even the smallest species (I have used algae tablets for the tiny tadpoles of wood frogs and spring peepers).

I usually raise tadpoles in bare-bottomed tanks, especially where large numbers are concerned.  This eases cleaning and allows for close observations.  However, in zoo and public aquarium exhibits, I am sometimes faced with the task of rearing tadpoles on gravel or other substrates (please see photo).  In these instances I find tablet and wafer type foods to be a great help in maintaining water quality, as most of the food stays above the gravel bed.  Also, in well-planted exhibits, it is easier to keep track of how much is being consumed when using tablets as opposed to flake or frozen tadpole foods.

Recommended Tablets and Wafers

Tetramin Tablets provide both animal and vegetable matter, and are a good choice as a dietary staple for many species.  Algae Eater Chips are quite unique in containing several types of algae, and should be fed to any frog or toad tadpole that will accept them (most do so readily).  As with frozen and flake products, spirulina discs are a good basic food item for most commonly-kept tadpoles.

 

Caring for Reptiles and Amphibians: Useful Products from the Aquarium Trade – Using Frozen and other Foods for Turtles, Aquatic Salamanders and Tadpoles – Part 1

 

Many items marketed for tropical fish are of great value to reptile and amphibian enthusiasts. Please see: Caring for Reptiles and Amphibians: Useful Foods, Medications and other Products from the Aquarium Trade – Introduction and Feeding Accessories for background information and notes on other products.

Frozen Foods for Turtles

Frozen silversides, krill, beef heart, sand eels, mussels and similar foods provide a convenient means of increasing dietary variety for many reptile and amphibian pets.  They are readily accepted by nearly all aquatic turtles, including soft-shells, sliders, cooters, map turtles, snake-necks and musk turtles.

Diamondback Terrapins – Estuarine Specialists

Marine foods, such as sand eels, should not be used as a dietary staple for freshwater turtles, but rather as a supplement each 7-14 days.  However, diamondback terrapins, which inhabit estuaries and other brackish environments, should be offered mussels, krill and other such foods at most meals.

These gorgeous, variably-patterned turtles have an undeserved reputation as difficult captives.  Indeed, when kept in what is the proper manner for, let’s say, a painted turtle, a diamondback will usually fail to thrive.  However, when kept in brackish water and fed shellfish, krill, marine fishes and other natural food items, they make active, long-lived pets.

Other Salt Marsh Turtles

Snapping turtles often enter brackish environments…indeed some populations are specifically adapted to such.  I have had good success in raising snapper hatchlings on diets composed of approximately 50% marine-based organisms.

The eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) is another “freshwater” turtle that is often associated with estuarine environments.  In New York State, it occurs only on Long Island and Staten Island, where it is almost always found in salt marshes.  Mud turtles also fare well on a diet high in marine foods such as mussels and krill.

A Note Concerning Krill

Krill are shrimp-like creatures native to marine environments.  As such, I would normally recommend they be used in the diets of fresh water turtles on an occasional basis only (except for the estuarine species mentioned above).  However, some years ago a colleague raised a group of Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) hatchlings on a diet composed entirely of freeze dried krill and Reptomin Food Sticks.  The turtles grew quickly, matured into adults with perfectly-formed shells, and have, I believe, reproduced.

Since then, I have used frozen and freeze dried krill as a substantial part of the diet of spiny soft-shelled turtles, a number of Australian snake-necked turtle species, red-headed side-necked turtles, midland painted turtles, axolotls, tiger salamander larvae, red-spotted newts, sharp-ribbed newts, African clawed frogs and many others…with fine results in each case.  I heartily recommend that you include krill as part of the diets of your aquatic reptile and amphibian pets.

Frozen Foods for Large and Small Aquatic Salamanders

Amphiumas, mudpuppies and sirens will accept most of the aforementioned items, and newts of all types relish krill.

Beef heart was long used as a staple diet for laboratory colonies of Mexican axolotls and African clawed frogs, and countless generations were raised and bred on this food item alone.  Although I favor a more varied diet for these creatures, certainly frozen beef heart is a very useful food that should be offered regularly.

Click here to read the 2nd part of this article.

 

Feeding Box Turtles (Terrepene spp.) and Wood Turtles (Clemmys insculpta): The Importance of Commercial Diets (and how to trick your pet into accepting them!)

 

Wood TurtleBox and wood turtles are well-known for both their suitability as pets and the unusual degree of intelligence that they display.  Unfortunately, they often put their brain power to use in thwarting their owners’ efforts to provide them with a balanced diet.  More so than most other species, box turtles (and, to a lesser degree, wood turtles) very often become fixated upon certain foods, and can be very stubborn about switching.  As a result, they sometimes end up living on inappropriate diets composed of 1 or 2 favored items, such as strawberries and cooked chicken.

Prepared Box Turtle Diets

Prepared foods formulated specifically for box turtles, supplemented with a variety of natural foods, provide the best means of assuring that captive box turtles are consuming a balanced, nutritious diet.  Zoo Med’s Canned  or Pelleted Box Turtle Food, or Bug Company’s Box Turtle Pellets should form the bulk of your pet’s diet. Taste is a big factor with box turtles, and each of these foods has a different fruit-base and taste, so be sure to experiment a bit.

Tricking Your Turtle

Keeping turtles a bit hungry is useful when attempting substitutions, but most captives carry plenty of reserve fat and so can usually wait out their owners.  There are a few tricks that can be used to increase the palatability of prepared box turtle diets.

Especially effective is spreading blueberry or strawberry jelly over the prepared diet.  The fruits themselves can also be used, but turtles tend to be very good at picking out only what they want and leaving the rest…covering the food with jelly forces the turtle to consume everything.

Canned Snails and Insects

Canned insects and invertebrates offer an excellent means of increasing dietary variety while adding to the attractiveness of commercial turtle foods.  We’ll take a look at using canned and live invertebrates, as well as the importance of fruits and vegetables, in Part II of this article.

Further Reading

Please see my article Providing a Balanced Diet to Reptile and Amphibian Pets  for further information on reptile and amphibian nutrition.

 

 

Breeding Emperor Scorpions

Please see Part I and II of this article for information on scorpion natural history and further details on emperor scorpion care.

Emperor ScorpionThe captive reproduction of emperor scorpions is a most interesting endeavor (for hobbyists and, I imagine, the scorpions themselves!).  When properly housed and cared for, emperor scorpions are relatively easy to breed.  This is surprising, given that they are such unique and highly specialized creatures, and is an opportunity that should not be missed.  Many prominent invertebrate specialists started out with this species…keeping them is a wonderful way of becoming involved in invertebrate husbandry, and will almost certainly “hook” you for good.

Distinguishing the Sexes

In captivity, as within certain parts of the natural range, mating may occur during any month.  Adult females are longer and stouter than males, but this is not a reliable means of distinguishing the sexes.

There are some slight differences in the shape of the genital openings.  View the scorpions from below, in a clear plastic box, when attempting to sex in this manner – do not restrain them via hand or tongs.  Photos of the undersides of male and female emperor scorpions are posted at http://www.pandinusimperator.nl/EN/biology_EN.htm.

Courtship and Mating

Reproduction is most likely to occur if your scorpions are housed in a large terrarium that provides ample burrowing opportunities.  All species studied thus far perform a “mating dance”, with the pair locking claws and moving about.  It is theorized that this helps to clear a patch of ground for the deposition of the males’ sperm packet.  I imagine, but have not been able to determine for sure, that the specific dance “moves” also aid in species’ recognition among these nearly blind creatures (this is the case in “dancing” scorpion relatives, such as jumping spiders).

The male deposits a sperm packet on the ground and pulls the female over it (it is tempting here to draw analogies to salamander reproduction).  Hooks along the edges of the sperm packet latch onto the female’s genital opening, and the eggs are then fertilized internally.

Gestation and Birth

Gestation is highly variable, ranging from 7-10 months on average but sometimes exceeding 1 year.  It is likely that stress, temperature and other factors play a role in determining the length of the gestation period.

Females continue to feed while gravid, and may swell noticeably…when viewed from above, the carapace segments appear widely spaced, and seem ready to split apart (heavily-fed scorpions of either sex, however, may also appear gravid).

The young (sometimes called “scorplings”), 8-30 in number, are born alive and measure about 5/8 of an inch in length.  They are white in color and remain on the female’s back until their first moult, at which time they darken and begin to venture off on their own.  Once this occurs, they will readily accept ½ inch crickets, small waxworms, newly molted mealworms, wild-caught insects and canned silkworms.

Maternal Care of the Young

Female emperor scorpions feed their young with finely-shredded insects – this really is something to see.  By all means, try to do so by viewing yours at night with the aid of an incandescent “nocturnal” bulbThe degree of care they provide to their young is extraordinary, and is far greater than one might expect from such supposedly “primitive” creatures.  Even among those scorpions that exhibit social behavior, emperors stand out as being very advanced in this regard.

Caring for the Mother and Her Brood

Once the female has given birth, all other scorpions should be removed from the terrarium, as she will become highly aggressive and defensive.  Do not relocate the mother…this inevitably stresses her and may cause her to consume her young.

Females with young react aggressively to any disturbance, even occasionally grabbing and eating scorplings that become dislodged from their backs.  This is not an uncommon occurrence – do not remove the remaining young unless she begins eating them regularly, as the overall survival rate is improved when clutches are reared with their mother.  I have raised several clutches to adulthood with the mother present – the key lies in disturbing her as little as possible and in providing a deep, secure burrow.

I usually raise the terrarium’s temperature to 85-90 F when rearing young emperor scorpions – this may not be essential, but I have found it to work well.

Sexual maturity in the wild is reportedly reached in 4-7 years, but captives may breed when only 12-14 months of age.  Emperor scorpions under my care have reproduced at age 3 and 4 years.

The Woodland Park Zoo provides interesting information on emperor and other scorpions in nature and captivity at:

http://www.zoo.org/factsheets/scorpion/scorpion.html

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