Madagascar Hissing Cockroach Allergy: Popular Pet Insect Hosts Troublesome Mold

Hissing roach

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Almabes

Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches (Grompadorhina portentosa) are extremely popular as pets, classroom animals and reptile food.  Recent studies at Ohio State University have revealed a darker side to these otherwise harmless insects…their bodies and wastes are colonized by 14 mold species, several of which can cause allergic reactions and secondary infections.  I’ve worked with huge colonies of these and other feeder insects in zoos, and coworkers seem to have developed allergies to crickets, but I have not heard of similar reports concerning roaches.  As of now, precautions rather than outright avoidance of Hissing Roaches are being advised.

 

Allergic Reactions and Secondary Infections

The study, published in the March, 2014 issue of the journal Mycoses (V. 57, N. 3), examined Hissing Roach colonies in schools, zoos, homes, and pet stores.  Molds of various species were found on shed skins, feces and the bodies of live insects.  Several of the molds are capable of triggering allergic reactions such as skin and eye irritation, wheezing and nasal congestion; sensitive individuals could be at additional risk.  Aspergillus niger, which is commonly associated with contaminated foods, was especially numerous (see photo).  People are impacted mainly via mold spores that land on the skin or are inhaled.

 

Aspergillus niger on onion

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by S. K. Mohan

Several of the molds found on Hissing Roaches can also cause secondary infections in wounds or the lungs.

 

At present, researchers advise those working with Hissing Roaches to wash their hands after contact with the insects.  I would suggest that, as with all pets, a doctor should be consulted if you have concerns, or suspect that you or a household member may be at risk.

 

Hissing Cockroach Care Tips

Molds are fungi that thrive in moist environments.  In order to help lower your roach enclosure’s humidity level, I recommend that cricket gel cubes be used as a water source; please see this article for further information.  Gel tubes eliminate the need for damp sponges and water bowls, and also prevent nymphs from drowning.  Fruit, which is also an important source of water and nutrients, should be replaced regularly to prevent spoilage and mold.

 

Regular cleaning of the terrarium and replacement of cardboard sheltering sites (if used) is important; Zoo Med’s Wipeout Terrarium Cleaner or a solution of 1 oz. of bleach per gallon of water can be empoloyed.  I keep Madagascar Hissing Roach colonies in bare-bottomed tanks; substrate is not necessary, and it complicates cleaning.  This type of housing also enables one to maintain a dry environment, which should, in theory, assist in mold control (I’ve not checked into exactly how much moisture the roach-associated molds require…any insights appreciated).

 

Mites on Hissing Roach

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Sarefo

Mites to the Rescue

Researchers are now studying a type of mite (Gromphadorholaelaps schafeiri, see photo) that commonly lives on and around Hissing Roaches.  By consuming organic debris, these mites may help to limit mold growth.  Many scorpion, millipede and tarantula owners are familiar with other tiny white mites that often establish themselves in invertebrate terrariums.  Although disconcerting when first seen, most are harmless or perhaps even useful…please see the article linked below for information about their habits and tips on mite control.

 

Other Roaches

Whether you keep them as pets or a reptile food-source, roaches are a most fascinating group of insects.  Their fossil record stretches back over 300 million years, and 4,000+ species have been described to date.  Latin America’s Megaloblatta baberoides  sports a 7 inch wingspan while the heaviest, Macropameothia rhinoceros of Australia, weighs in at 1 ½ ounces.  Among the most interesting new discoveries is an African cockroach that resembles and behaves like a grasshopper.

 

The Orange-Spotted Guyana Roach (Blaptica dubia) has much to recommend it as both a food animal and terrarium subject.  Please see the article linked below to read more about its natural history and care.

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

Keeping and Breeding Dubia Roaches

Mites in Scorpion and Tarantula Terrariums

Tortoise Rescue: Finding a Home for a Turtle or Tortoise

1535481_643171095725305_447254353_nTurtles and Tortoises are the most popular of all reptilian pets, but first-time owners are often misled by the small size and irresistible cuteness common to hatchlings.  Even after a lifetime of working with hundreds of species, I’m shocked by the growth rates exhibited by Red Eared Sliders, African Spurred Tortoises and other hardy turtles.  Many keepers are not able to provide the space that these commonly-available species need.  It’s also easy to underestimate the time and expense involved in meeting specific needs for diets, mineral supplementation, heat, ultraviolet radiation, vet care and so on.  In this article, I’ll highlight some organizations that may be able to help those who cannot provide a 75 gallon tank for their adult Slider or a ½ acre yard for the Spurred Tortoise that ballooned to 80 pounds in 5 years…or who need to find homes for “less extreme” turtles.  And those readers who wish to adopt turtles in need – often a better option than purchasing – will learn how to do so.

 

Note: Some of the most popular turtles and tortoises are actually among the worst pet-choices for most people…as illustrated by the millions of released Red Eared Sliders that now populate over 30 foreign countries (see photo of  Sliders basking in a pond at the Shitennō-ji Buddhist temple in Osaka, Japan; photo courtesy of Matthew Lu) .  Please see Ideal Pet Choices: Small Turtles and The Best “First Tortoise” before deciding on a new pet.

 

New York Turtle and Tortoise Society

I’m in touch with reptile interest groups from all over the world, but the NY Turtle and Tortoise Society (NYTTS) remains my favorite.  My friends there are both knowledgeable and dedicated, and over the society’s long history have helped thousands of turtles and turtle-owners and supported many young turtle biologists and conservation projects.  Their monthly talks and annual day-long seminars draw some of the world’s best known herpetologists as speakers.  I was proud to have been asked to speak recently, although I suspect this was due more to the charms of my 6-year-old associate than any expertise on my part! (check the photos on the NYTTS website!).

 

shitenno-jiIn common with similar groups, NYTTS’s resources have been overwhelmed by armies of homeless Red Eared Sliders.  Thousands have been placed, but the supply of local homes is now depleted.  However, society members can assist with husbandry information and may be able to point you towards other options.  They can sometimes accommodate other turtle species, and are always happy to hear from folks who wish to provide homes for turtles (especially Sliders, I imagine!).  Please see the NYTTS Website and Facebook page for further information on adoptions.

(Photo above courtesy of Matthew Lu)

Social Tees Animal Rescue

Social Tees’ owner Robert Shapiro and I haunted the same NYC swamps, vacant lots, and pet stores as children, and were influenced by the same reptile-pioneers (most notably dear friend Aldo Passera, who owned a legendary Manhattan pet store, Fang and Claw).  I don’t know anyone who devotes more of him or herself to animal welfare.  Robert has also re-homed thousands of other reptiles, cats and dogs, along with some birds, spiders, fish…he does whatever it takes, and has an extensive network of placement contacts.  If you wish to place or adopt an animal, or to help Social Tees in its important work, please check the website or call 212-614-9653.

 

WITH LARGE MATA MATACalifornia Turtle and Tortoise Society

CTTS is well-known for assisting the California Department of Fish and Game with the placement and conservation of the endangered Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii).  Their success in re-homing a wide variety of other native and exotic species is also impressive, as you can see from their adoption statistics.  CTTS takes great pains to assure that the turtles under their care are placed in appropriate homes, and generally only considers adopting to folks living within a region that is served by a CTTS chapter.  They also provide excellent care info and other guidance.

 

Forgotten Friends Reptile Sanctuary

I first met the kind folks at FFRS while participating in events held at ThatFishPlace-ThatPetPlace in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (if you have a chance to visit the store, do so – I’ve been to pet stores on several continents, but was overwhelmed by the selection and service here…no way to do it justice in this article!).

 

FFRS is run with a distinct personal touch – prospective owners are emailed when turtles or other reptiles become available – and each situation is given individual attention.  The group also has an extensive network of contacts, and so may be able to assist even if you are not in the immediate area…and for a $20 donation you receive 4 excellent pocket field guides covering all of PA’s reptiles and amphibians!

 

Spurred Tortoise

Uploaded to Wijkipedia Commons by Baseballchck02 (Melissa Mitchell)

Austin’s Turtle Page

I often post articles and participate in discussions on Austin’s Turtle Page.  I urge you to check out this wonderful turtle care and natural history resource.  The adoption forum lists a wide variety of turtles located throughout the USA.

 

Post Below for Other Contacts

I maintain contacts with numerous herp societies in the USA and other countries.  Please post below if you need assistance in finding a home for your turtle or tortoise, or wish to help out by adopting one.

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

Tortoise Care: an Overview

Keeping Sliders, Painted Turtles & Map Turtles

Anole Lizard Care, Facts & Behavior

Allison's Anole

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Fil.Al

In terms of the sheer number of species and of individual animals, Anoles may be the most successful of all lizard groups.  Each year, herpetologists add several new discoveries to the total species count – which now stands at 388!  In Anole-rich regions, several seemingly-similar species manage to co-exist in the same habitat…and many thrive in and around towns, farms and even cities.  Their adaptability sometimes leads to staggering population densities, with up to 10,000 Anoles per acre being present on some Caribbean islands!  Intelligence may also play a role in their success, as is shown by this fascinating study .  Many herpers of my generation were introduced to reptile-keeping by the Green Anole, Anolis carolinensis…today we’ll take a look at the fascinating, diverse family to which it belongs.

 

Classification

The world’s 388 Anole species are classified in the family Dactylidae (formerly Iguanidae) and the genus Anolis. 

 

Description

Most Anoles are alert and active, and nearly all have a streamlined body with long tails, limbs and digits.  Males have colorful dewlaps (areas of loose skin below the throat) that are erected during mating and territorial displays. Female Green Anoles, and those of several other species, sport smaller, less colorful dewlaps.  The body color is usually some shade of green, tan or brown, and many are capable of rapid color changes.

 

Leopard Anoles breeding

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Nathalie Colucci

Anoles range in size from the various Twig Anoles, which barely reach 3 inches in length, to Cuba’s Knight Anole, A. equestris, an 18-inch long hunter of treefrogs, lizards, small snakes, and nestling birds.  The Grenada Anole, A. richardi, is also sizable, sometimes exceeding 12 inches in length.  Most Anoles, however, measure 6-8 inches when fully-grown.

 

Range and Habitat

Anoles range from the southern United States through the Caribbean and Mexico to Central and South America.  Mexico is home to over 50 species, while well over 100 occupy various Caribbean islands.  The USA has but a single native, the Green Anole.  However, it is by no means “Anole-poor”, as stowaways and released/escaped pets have resulted in the establishment of breeding populations of at least 9 foreign species!

 

In the USA, all introduced species except the Brown Anole are restricted to Florida, which is now home to Hispaniolan Green, Puerto Rican Crested, Barbados, Marie Gallant Sail-Tailed, Cuban Green, Jamaican Giant, Large-Headed, Bark, and Knight Anoles.  The highly adaptable Brown Anole has managed to extend its range into southern and perhaps central Georgia.  First documented in peninsular Florida in the 1940’s (and likely established earlier in the Florida Keys), the USA’s Brown Anole population is comprised of 2 interbreeding subspecies – the Cuban Brown Anole, Anolis sagrei sagrei and the Bahaman Brown Anole, A. s. ordinatus.

 

Anolis barbatus

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Olaf Leillinger

While ground-dwellers are known, most Anoles are arboreal, with different species (often in the same habitat) favoring reeds, bushes, tree trunks, low limbs, and forest canopies.  Anoles have adapted to life in rainforests, dry forests, cities, farms, suburban yards, arid scrub, swamps, brushy grasslands, riverside thickets, and many other environments.  Some, such as the Cuban Brown Anole, may actually be more common around human dwellings than in their natural habitats.  This highly adaptable lizard has actually been observed to quickly change to an arboreal lifestyle after the introduction of a terrestrial predator (please see this article); many believe that it is also responsible for decline in Florida’s Green Anole population.

 

Anole Care and Feeding

Anoles make wonderful pets, as they are out and about by day, and usually quite active; their group dynamics will keep even the most experienced keeper fascinated.  Many breed year-round if properly cared for, and some may be housed with certain treefrogs, skinks and other animals.  However, the common opinion that Anoles are a “beginner’s” lizard does these fascinating creatures a great disservice.  All Anoles are highly-complex, and have very specific needs that must be met.  Without ample space and cover, proper temperatures, access to UVB and a highly-varied diet, they will not thrive.  Please see the linked articles for detailed information on their care, and be sure to post your questions and observations below.

 

t260596Anoles feed largely upon flies, caterpillars, spiders, beetles and other invertebrates, and many also take over-ripe fruit, nectar and sap.  Larger species, such as the Grenada and Knight Anoles, occasionally add smaller lizards, frogs and snakes to the menu.

 

Anoles are major food items for predators ranging from large spiders to small mammals and birds.  Therefore, most are instinctively wary, and they tend to remain high strung in captivity. While there are exceptions, few take well to handling.

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

How to Breed Green Anoles

 

Green Anole Natural History

 

Keeping Cuban and Hispaniolan Green Anoles

Nile Crocodile Found in Florida: Is World’s Largest Crocodile a Resident?

Nile Crocodile

Uploaded to Wikipedia commons by Tim Muttoo

Yet another Floridian reptile drama has made headlines.  Earlier this month (March, 2014) officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FFW) reported that a Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) had been captured in the northwestern Everglades.  Although the origin of this particular animal may be known, it is not the first Nile Crocodile to have been captured in the state, which is now home to an astonishing 500+ species of non-native animals (and a great many plants)!  And while Nile Crocodiles are a rarity in Florida, the possibility of hybridization with the native American Crocodile (C. acutus) may be a concern.  In the course of my work in zoos and via contacts with commercial croc farming projects, I’ve seen many examples of hybrid crocodiles.  I cared for a Cuban Crocodile x American Crocodile cross, and Siamese Crocodiles are regularly interbred with others on farms.  Hybrid crocs were even openly offered for sale as “pets” back in the “Wild West” days of the pet trade (and perhaps still are?).

 

Nile Crocodile Origins

The recently-captured Nile Crocodile measured 5 ½ feet in length and weighed 37 pounds – too small to have reached sexual maturity (another, also an escaped exhibit animal, measured 9 feet in length when re-captured). It is believed to be the same individual that has been sighted several times over past 2 years.  FFW officials are looking into the possibility that this animal escaped from a Miami facility just before the sightings began.  If genetic evidence confirms

Ameriocan Crocodile

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Mattstone911

this, the owners could be subject to a fine and/or imprisonment under Florida law.

 

Crocodiles and the Leather Trade

There has been speculation that live crocodiles imported to the USA for use in the skin trade may be another source of escapees.  However, all operations that utilize Nile Crocodiles are, according to the IUCN’s latest report, located in Africa (please see article linked below).

 

Nile Crocodiles are second only to American Alligators in terms of the number of skins sold each year.  The IUCN reports that between 2006 -2008, 1.5 million crocodile, alligator and caiman skins were legally traded.  Thirty countries and 13 crocodilian species were involved.  The global economic downturn has suppressed demand since that time.

 

Financial Concerns

Florida has the dubious honor of hosting more non-native invertebrates, fishes, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals than anywhere else on earth.  An astonishing 500+ exotic species have been observed, and many if not most have established breeding populations.  Last year, the federal and Florida state governments spent 80 million dollars in eradication attempts.  Threats to agriculture and habitats posed by introduced plants are also significant.

 

Other costs are involved as well – over the past decade, for example, 100 million dollars has been spent on re-establishing the endangered Wood Stork.  Nile Crocodiles and Burmese and African Rock Pythons are capable of preying upon Wood Storks, and other species could impact these endangered birds in ways that have not yet been identified.

 

Mexican Spinytail Iguana

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by John J. Mosesso, NBII

Notable Exotics: Reptiles and Mammals

Many of Florida’s introduced reptiles are very well-known, even to those without much interest in animals.  In some areas, Green Iguana populations are denser than in natural habitats…denser, in fact, than populations of any other lizard, anywhere on earth (please see article below for an interesting study on iguana-raccoon interactions)!  Brown Anoles seem to have replaced the native Green Anole in many areas, and 6-8 other anole species are established as well.  And, of course, one cannot escape news of introduced Burmese and African Rock Pythons and Boa Constrictors.

 

Less well-known is the fact that Spectacled Caimans (Caiman crocodylus) have been breeding in Florida since the 1960’s, which was their heyday in the pet trade.  Other surprising transplants include Javan File Snakes (Acrochordus javanicus), Texas Horned Lizards (Phrynosoma cornutum), Mexican and Black Spinytail Iguanas (Ctenosaura pectinata and similis) and Indochinese Tree Agamas (Calotes mystaceus).  There are many others…please post below if you wish a complete list.

 

I’m surprised that, with the exception of Armadillos and Nutrias, Florida’s introduced mammals do not seem to generate much interest.  The list really is quite amazing, and includes such large and unusual creatures as Asian Sambar Deer, American Elk, Jamaican Fruit Bats, Capybara, Mexican Red-Bellied Squirrels and Rhesus, Squirrel and Vervet Monkeys.  Please post below for more info, and see the linked article on Florida’s many feral parrots.

Sambar Deer

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by N. A. Naseer

 

Extermination efforts have rarely been successful, regardless of the species involved.  In fact, the FFW has given indications that the Burmese Python campaign may shift from “eliminate” to “control” mode.  I’ll post updates as they become available.

 

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

Raccoons and Iguanas in Florida – an Interesting Dilemma

 

Florida’s Introduced Parrots

 

Commercial Crocodile Farming (IUCN report)

My Leopard Gecko Is Not Eating: What To Do

 

 

Adult female

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jerome66

When cared for properly, Leopard Geckos are among the most hardy and long-lived of all reptile pets.  But apparently-healthy geckos sometimes refuse to feed, or cut back on their intake, and there is still much confusion as to why this occurs.  My work with Leopard Geckos and hundreds of other species in zoos and at home has (I hope!) provided me with some useful insights into this problem.  Some involve areas that any good reptile keeper would investigate – environment, stress levels, disease – while others, such as the effects of circadian rhythms (“internal clocks”), are less obvious.

 

Winter’s Arrival and Internal Rhythms Regulate Eating

Leopard Geckos are native to southeastern Afghanistan, western India, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran, where they inhabit desert fringes and arid grasslands.  In some parts of this range, temperatures rise to 100+ F in summer and drop below 32 F during the winter.  Wild Leopard Geckos living in environments that experience severe winters become dormant for several months each year, while those in milder regions may remain active (please see the article linked below to read more about their natural history).

 

While your pet is, no doubt, many generations removed from the wild, internal circadian rhythms may cause it to become lethargic and refuse food during the winter.  This can happen even if your gecko is kept warm and given a photo-period of 12-14 hours.  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 Indian Gharials (fish-eating crocodiles) 15 years removed from the wild, and in many others.  Captive Bearded Dragons also exhibit this type of behavior on occasion; please see this article.

 

leopard geckoUnfortunately, it’s not often possible to be certain that a pet has stopped feeding due to the effects of an internal rhythm, so be sure to check the other possibilities discussed below.

 

Next I’ll mention other things that should be checked if your gecko stops feeding, including husbandry (tank set-up, temperatures, diet, etc.), stress, and disease.  I’ve written on each of these in further detail in the linked articles.

 

Your Gecko’s Environment

As Leopard Geckos are nocturnal, it’s important to monitor nighttime temperatures, especially during the winter, when most people lower their home thermostats.  The ambient air temperature should range from 78-84 F, which can be maintained by a ceramic heater or red/black reptile “night bulb”; a below-tank heat mat should be positioned so that one corner of the tank is warmer (88 F) than the rest.  Be sure also to establish a thermal gradient (areas of different temperatures) so that your gecko can regulate its body temperature as needed.

 

tPG01794While Leopard Geckos often adapt to smaller enclosures than do other lizards, individuals 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 (small terrariums tend to remain at the temperature of the basking site).

 

And, no matter how well-adjusted or bold your pet may be, it’s important to provide a dark, secure cave or other shelter.  Geckos forced to remain exposed often cease feeding.

 

Diet

Wild Leopard Geckos feed upon a huge array of invertebrates, while pets are often limited to 2-3 food items.  Dietary variety is important for health reasons.  But providing different types of insects can also incite new interest in feeding.  We see this most commonly in chameleons, but the enthusiasm your Leopard Geckos will show for novel foods will leave you with no doubt as to their value.  Please see this article to read more about adding silkworms, house flies, sow bugs, wild-caught insects and other important foods to your pet’s diet.

 

Stress Can Affect Eating

Geckos may be stressed by the mere presence of a dominant cage-mate, even absent fighting.  If you suspect aggression, observe your geckos after dark, when they will be most active (a red/black reptile bulb will prove useful).  Appetite-suppressing aggression is especially common among young geckos 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.

 

Disease and other Health Issues

Impactions from substrate swallowed with meals and Metabolic Bone Disease are two of the more common reasons that geckos cease feeding.

 

Other health concerns that have been identified include Hyperthyroidism, Eyelid Lining Retention (following shedding) and Cryptosporidiosis.  Internal or external parasites, and a host of other less common ailments, should also be investigated if your pet stops eating.  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

The Leopard Gecko in the Wild

 

The Ideal Leopard Gecko Terrarium 

 

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