The Best Infrared Temperature Gun for Reptile and Amphibian Terrariums

 Remote-sensing infrared thermometers, or “temperature guns”, have revolutionized reptile and amphibian husbandry.  I first used them at the Bronx Zoo, and was instantly hooked.  I was under the impression that my experience in herp care had left me with a good “feel” for exhibit temperatures, and the standard thermometers I used confirmed this.  That belief was shattered by infrared thermometers, which provide an instant digital read-out when pointed at an animal, surface, or the air.

In several cases, I was able to make major environmental improvements that fostered better health and breeding.  Early models were unwieldy, but inexpensive, pocket-sized units are now available to pet-owners.  I consider infrared thermometers to be an indispensable piece of equipment for both seasoned keepers and novices alike.  My favorite is the Zoo Med ReptiTemp Digital Infrared Thermometer.

t255193Avoiding “Beginner’s Mistakes”

The Zoo Med ReptiTemp Digital Infrared Thermometer allows newcomers to our hobby to start-off on a somewhat more advanced level than was possible in days past.  By simplifying the process of recording temperatures, this thermometer encourages us to look more deeply into the needs of our pets.  The time and effort involved in setting up healthful thermal gradients and naturalistic basking, hibernation, incubation, and nesting sites is greatly reduced. Read More »

Captive Care of Latin American Ratsnakes – The Tiger Ratsnake

The first time I saw an adult Tiger Ratsnake (Spilotes pullatus pullatus) streaking through the brush in Costa Rica, I was immediately struck by the appropriateness of its local name – the Thunder and Lightning Snake.  Large, fast-moving, and eye-catching in coloration, this impressive beast stopped me in my tracks and made me gasp.  I’d captured dozens of adult Green Anacondas and handled thousands of other snakes in zoos and the wild, but this Tiger Ratsnake was in a class by itself.  Small wonder that it draws attention throughout its huge range, where it is known by many common names, including Tropical Ratsnake and Tropical Chicken Snake (the latter refers to its food preference on farms).  The first individual I encountered eluded me, but I was eventually able to get my hands on other wild specimens, and to care for a few in captivity.

Tiger Ratsnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Geoff Gallice


Although not usually classified among the “giant serpents”, the Tiger Ratsnake is actually one of the longest snakes in the Americas.  Adults average 6-7 feet in length, but may reach 10 feet; 14-foot-long individuals have been reported.  They vary a good deal in color and pattern, but whether lemon-yellow with indigo-blue blotches or solid black speckled with orange, they are always stunning. Read More »

Darwin’s Frog is Extinct – Males “Nursed” Tadpoles in their Vocal Sacs

When it comes to inventive – some might say bizarre – breeding habits, amphibians are without equal.  Several, such as the skin-brooding Surinam Toad, are well-known, but recent studies have revealed others that could not have been predicted – i.e. tree-dwelling tadpoles that consume bark and others that gorge upon their father’s skin (which re-grows for their dining pleasure!) or on “egg omelets” whipped up by mom (please see articles linked below).  But even Charles Darwin would be shocked by the habits of a small frog he first described on his famous voyage, the Darwin’s Frog, Rhinoderma darwini.  Males guard their eggs and then gobble them up.  The tadpoles live in the vocal sac, feed upon nutritious parental secretions, and then emerge from their fathers’ mouths as fully-formed froglets!  Sadly, all evidence indicates that this astonishing creature is almost extinct – the latest victim of the infamous chytridiomycosis epidemic.  A related species, the Chilean Darwin’s Frog (Rhinoderma rufum), utilizes a modified version of this bizarre strategy…this species appears to be extinct (please see below).

Darwin's Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Mono Andes

Stomach-Brooding Frogs have also Vanished

A deadly amphibian disease that assumed epidemic proportions approximately 20 years ago has been blamed for the likely extinction of the Darwin’s Frog, the only amphibian known to rear its tadpoles entirely within the male’s vocal sacs.  Read More »

The Best Live Foods for Pet Salamanders – Ensuring Dietary Variety


Although many salamanders will eagerly gobble-up crickets and mealworms, a diet restricted to these food items usually leads to nutritional disorders and reduced life-spans.  This holds true even if supplements are used.  A varied diet is essential if you are to have success in keeping salamanders long-term (my 32 year-old Red Salamander, 25 year-old Fire Salamanders and numerous others can attest to this!).  Following are some useful tips for those seeking to vary the diets of their terrestrial salamanders.  While most newts and aquatic species (Axolotls, Amphiumas) accept dry foods, they too will benefit from invertebrate meals.  Please post below for detailed information on individual salamander species.  As there is an endless supply of useful live foods for pet salamanders, please also post your ideas and observations.

Dusky Salamander

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Stanley Trauth

Earthworms, Red Wigglers, Nightcrawlers (Lumbricus terrestris and relatives)

If you need to rely upon a single food item as a dietary staple for your salamanders, it should be earthworms, not crickets. I cannot recall a single salamander species that does not fare well on an earthworm-rich diet.  Earthworms and their relatives reproduce rapidly when kept properly (please see article below) and can be stored for weeks under refrigeration.  Their nutritional profile can be improved by a diet of leaf litter, corn meal, fish flakes and calcium powder. Read More »

Tokay Gecko Care, Feeding and Terrarium Design

Pugnacious reptiles with “attitudes” have long been favored by herp enthusiasts.  In the lizard world, perhaps none fits this description so well as the Tokay Gecko, Gekko gecko.  It truly is the ultimate “big lizard in a small package”.  Years ago, I liberated a group into a huge multi-species exhibit at the Bronx Zoo, mainly for my own interests.  Although my fellow keepers were well-experienced in caring for venomous snakes, dangerous primates and the like, I was roundly criticized…no one wanted to chance accidentally grabbing one of these foot-long nocturnal terrors!  But in the right hands (well, not literally “in hand”…most object strenuously!), Tokay Geckos make fascinating pets that may live into their 20’s.  What’s more, they are beautifully-clad in an array of colors, and are not shy about exhibiting their behaviors, including reproduction.

Tokay threat posture

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Nick Hobgood

Natural History

This accomplished vocalist draws its common name from the loud cries of “tokay, tokay” given by the territorial males.  Some years ago a pet store in Manhattan began renting them to customers as a form of “natural” roach control.  However, their habit of vocalizing in the wee hours of the morning doomed the scheme to failure. Read More »

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