New Species of Sailfin Dragon Found During Pet Market Study

Philippine Sailfin Lizard

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by MKFI

The three species in the genus Hydrosaurus, commonly referred to as Sailfin Dragons, are among the most spectacular lizards on earth.  Even after decades of working with all manner of reptiles in zoos and the field, I’m still stopped in my tracks by the sight of one.  Unfortunately, the coastal swamps and forests they inhabit are being developed out of existence, and captive breeding is not common.  Recently, genetic studies of lizards illegally held in Philippine pet markets surprised herpetologists by bringing to light a new species of Sailfin Lizard.

 

The Currently-Recognized Species of Sailfin Dragons

The Philippine Sailfin Lizard, Hydrosaurus pustulatus, is the species most commonly seen in the pet trade.  Stoutly built and reaching over 3 feet in length, males sport huge crests along the back and tail, and are clad in several shades of green, neon purple, and red-tinted blue.  Small wonder they are high on the wish-lists of lizard enthusiasts worldwide (and “large wonder”, in my opinion, why zoos do not pay them more heed!).

 

The Amboina Sailfin, H. amboinensis, is found in Indonesia and New Guinea; its occurrence in the Philippines is debated.  Weber’s Sailfin Lizard, H. weberi, appears limited to the Indonesian islands of Ternate and Halmahera.

 

Unfortunately, Sailfin Lizards are a poor choice for all but experienced keepers with a great deal of space.  They require huge enclosures and usually remain high-strung, even after years in captivity. Today, as in years past, nearly all in the trade are wild-caught, and captive breeding is very rare.

 

Riverine rainforest

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by bri vos

An Uncertain Future for Sailfin Lizards

In order to access the Sailfin Lizards’ status and formulate a conservation strategy, herpetologists from the University of Oklahoma surveyed natural habitats and pet markets in the Philippines (Biological Conservation, V 169, Jan, 2014).  The coastal marshes and riverside forests upon which these lizards depend were found to be under immense pressure from logging, fishery expansion and other forms of development.  Only 10% of the Philippine Sailfin Lizard’s habitat lies in protected areas – the rest is open to human activities. The species is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN.

 

Illegal collection also seems to be a problem, as black market animals were easy to locate, and field surveys of easily-accessible habitats revealed few adult specimens.

 

A New Species Emerges

Animal markets in Manila seem to be the main source of entry into the pet trade.  DNA studies of scale and nail-clippings from lizards found in these markets revealed that Sailfins inhabiting Sulawesi, Indonesia are genetically distinct from those in New Guinea; both are now classified as H. pustulatus.  The newly-described species has not yet been named.

 

Why Bother with Genetic Identification?

“Discovering” new species via genetic research is becoming ever more common, and I think there’s sometimes a tendency to regard this as less noteworthy than finding an animal that is “new” in the sense of having never been seen, or seen only by people living within its habitat.

 

However, it’s important to bear in mind that genetic differences evolved over millions of years undoubtedly have survival value.  Well-known examples abound – Green Anoles from southern Florida cannot tolerate north Florida winters, venoms of rattlesnakes with wide ranges differ radically (in response to prey defenses) from place to place, and so on.  These unnoticed but very significant differences can greatly affect conservation plans and captive breeding attempts.

 

Also, properly identifying a species can have important implications where legal protection is concerned.  Considering the horrific confusion and red tape that plagues international conservation laws, any means of introducing order and clarity should be welcomed.

 

Green Basilisk

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Joseph C Boone

A Sailfin Dragon “Substitute” for Lizard Fans

As mentioned earlier, Sailfin Lizard ownership should not be undertaken lightly, as they are quite demanding pets.  However, those who are enamored of large, beautifully-colored lizards bearing “dragon-like” crests do have excellent alternatives – the Green Basilisk, Basiliscus plumifrons and the Asian Water Dragon, Physignathus cocincinus.  You can read more about the care and breeding of these very impressive lizards in the articles linked 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

Breeding the Green Basilisk and its Relatives

Keeping the Asian Water Dragon

Cold Weather Tips for Reptile, Amphibian & Invertebrate Owners

Sungazer

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Eric Johnston

Whether you keep a single, cold-hearty Common Snapping Turtle or a large collection of tropical lizards, frogs and tarantulas, cold winter weather brings certain challenges.  This is especially true for those of us who, in the interests of environmental and financial responsibility, do not wish to super-heat our homes in order to satisfy our pets’ needs.  While working at the Bronx Zoo, I always sought the advice of our staff electricians when faced with heating issues.  Today I’ll review what I’ve learned there concerning various types of heating devices, cage material and location, insulation and other topics that take on special importance when temperatures drop.

 

Seek Professional Advice

I always advise herp keepers facing extreme winters to speak with an experienced electrician.  Most of us know a great deal about our pets’ needs and the available heating products, but as “electricians” we are usually “self-taught” (not a term that should be used in connection with electricity!).  Incorporating an electrician’s expertise will save time, money and, most importantly, assure our safety.

 

Concerning safety, please be aware that free-roaming dogs, cats, ferrets, tortoises, iguanas and other pets cause a number of fires each year (pushing papers and other flammable items close to heaters and bulbs, knocking over heaters, etc.).  I have first-hand knowledge of several such incidents, as well as others caused by improperly-located heat bulbs…please exercise caution.

 

Be sure to show your electrician the bulbs and other equipment that you use, and request guidance concerning safe distances from plants and other flammable objects, extension cord use, etc.  Don’t forget thermostats and rheostats – I was surprised to learn that these can sometimes drain enough power to interfere with the functioning of heaters and bulbs.

 

t246145Room Temperature and Cage Location

Room temperature will greatly affect you choice of heating equipment.  As most folks lower their heat at night, be sure to monitor temperatures at this time.  Oil-filled radiators may be a useful option, especially if you house your collection in a single room.

 

It’s important to have a detailed temperature profile of the rooms in which your terrariums and cages are located.  The Zoo Med Digital Infrared Thermometer  provides a simple, effective means of accomplishing this.  Pointing the thermometer at an area or surface will give an instant temperature readout, allowing you to identify the warmest and coolest places in the room. While exterior walls, floors and window areas are obvious cool spots, each home is different, so be sure to check carefully.  A simple terrarium re-location may save time, effort and money.

 

Terrarium ambient and basking temperatures should be carefully monitored, day and night; a huge array of herp-specific thermometers greatly simplifies this task.  Zoo Med’s Hygrotherm Humidity and Temperature Controller and other light and heater timers can help create healthful environments while cutting heating costs.

 

Iguana basking

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Paul Kehrer

Insulating Terrariums and Cages

Insulation is not often used by herp and invertebrate keepers, but I urge you to look into the many possibilities.  I first discovered insulation during a power outage, and was surprised by the results I achieved.  I’ve since met several people who significantly cut their heating costs by lining terrarium and cages walls with various insulating materials.  Styrofoam, cork panels, polyethylene, polystyrene, foil fiberglass, bubble wrap and other home insulating materials  may all be put to good use.  Towels and blankets can be pressed into service during emergencies.

 

Wood and Masonite-sided cages will retain heat more effectively than glass, but all can be improved by the addition of insulation.  If such does not compromise your pet’s health, relocation to a smaller, more easily-heated enclosure might be worthwhile.

 

Bulbs and Heaters

Ceramic heat emitters, heat bulbs, under-tank heaters, red/black night bulbs and heat tapes are the most commonly-used heating devices.  Each provides heat in a different manner, although in certain respects there are overlaps as well.  The species you keep, your home’s temperature profile, and the characteristics of your pet’s enclosure will determine which method (or methods) should be used.  Please post below for specific information pertaining to your collection.

 

Slimy Salamander

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Patrick Coin

Species Choice

If you live in an area that experiences extremely cold winters (or hot summers), you may wish to tailor your collection accordingly.  For example, axolotls, spotted and slimy salamanders, wood frogs and many other temperate zone amphibians are quite content at 55 F (fire salamanders that I attempted to chill down remained active at 40 F), but many do poorly when temperatures rise above 70 F.  Common musk turtles, northern five-lined skinks, Eastern garter snakes and other reptiles that range into cooler regions are also relatively easy to maintain during cold winters.  There’s certainly no shortage of interesting, cold-hearty species, and many are in need of study and captive breeding efforts.

 

Hibernation/Brumation

A cooling off period during the winter can be beneficial for those species that experience dormancy in the wild, and is often essential to breeding success.  However, this step must not be undertaken lightly, and details vary by species.  Please post below for specific information on the animals in your collection.

 

Emergencies and Power Outages

Hand warmers and battery-operated aerators (for aquatic amphibians and fishes) should be available for use during power outages. I’ve not used a generator at home, but relied upon them several times during my years working at the Bronx Zoo…well-worth investigating.

 

Chilled reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates should be gradually warmed, not immediately placed at their optimal temperatures.  Heating pads are very handy in these situations.  Please post any questions or observations 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

The Best Infrared Temperature Gun for herp Terrariums

 

Hibernation/Brumation: Bearded Dragons and other Reptiles

Python Eats Crocodile – Tales of Big Snake Eating

Anaconad, me and MariaRecently, dramatic photos of an Olive Python, Liasis olivaceus, swallowing an Australian Freshwater Crocodile, Crocodylus johnstoni, have been much in the news.  A very interesting story, no doubt, but actually a 3-4 foot long croc is well within the size range of prey taken by large pythons.  In past articles I’ve mentioned some of the astonishing snake meals I’ve been witness to (please see articles linked below).  One, a 60 pound White-tailed Deer taken by a huge Green Anaconda in Venezuela, would be hard for me “to swallow” (sorry!) had I not been awakened by the snake disgorging it below my hammock in the wee hours!  A 5-foot-long Spectacled Caiman grabbed by another took 6+ hours to subdue.  I’ve also searched my notes for feeding accounts recorded by Messrs. Ditmars, Pope, Greene, Kauffeld and other notables, and thought I’d take this opportunity to share them with my fellow snake enthusiasts…Enjoy!

 

Following are some of the more memorable meals that I’ve witnessed or read about.  Please see the linked articles, or post below, for further information, and be sure to let me know of your own experiences.

 

Big Anaconda Meals I have Witnessed

The Green Anaconda I mentioned above was captured as part of a study on their natural history in the western llanos region of Venezuela.  The snake, which measured nearly 17 feet long, was transported to our research station for tagging.  During the early AM, it disgorged the deer, which had been recently consumed.  The Anaconda pictured in this article was the largest I came across, measuring just over 17 feet long and weighing in at 215 pounds; this seems to be about their maximum size in that habitat (seasonally-flooded grasslands), but larger ones are to be found in forested rivers.  The blood on my hand is courtesy of one of her teeth, which remains imbedded in my wrist as a souvenir…

 

Gator-Burmese Python battle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Lori Oberhofer, National Park Servic

Other notable Green Anaconda meals include a 5 foot-long Spectacled Caiman, Caiman crocodilus (witnessed by a co-worker at the same site; photo to right is of an American Alligator turning the tables on a Burmese Python in Florida) and a 10 pound Red-Footed Tortoise, Geochelone carbonaria (unfortunately, an exhibit-mate at the Bronx Zoo, long ago!).  I and fellow Anaconda-chasers also called to a site where one was said to be swallowing a large Savanna Side-Necked Turtle, Podocnemis unifilis.  The 14-15 foot long snake had given up or been outwitted by the time I arrived, but she bore long, narrow wounds along the neck – the result, perhaps, of trying to swallow the ill-advised meal.  This snake later died, apparently of an infection.

 

Size isn’t the only means by which Green Anacondas have managed to surprise me.  Pigeon-sized birds known as Jacanas and other small species were commonly taken by snakes measuring 12-15 feet in length.  We also recorded fish and other Anacondas as food items – not all that surprising, but not often documented.  Capybaras were often hunted as well; these rodent giants were also favored by Pumas – a co-worker saw one catch a capybara in broad daylight.

 

Despite their seemingly-unrefined palates, captive Anacondas can be very picky.  Ducks are the old zookeeper’s standby for reluctant feeders, but one Anaconda under my care would take only Muskrats, while another relished free-ranging Norway Rats but refused lab-raised rats of the same species.

 

People, Dogs, Cats, and Ibex on the Big Snake Menu

Reticulated Pythons, although lacking the Anaconda’s girth, are also well known for taking enormous meals.  And, perhaps because they often adapt to life among people, (please see Urban Pythons, below), human predation has been documented.  In fact, a recent study in the Philippines revealed that from 1939-1973, 26% of all Agta men had been attacked by Reticulated Pythons, resulting in at least 6 fatalities!  Please see People as Python Prey http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2012/01/30/people-as-python-prey-giant-snakes-attack-150-kill-6-in-philippines/#.UxehEYVnupE for details.

 

Some years ago, animal keepers visiting from the Singapore Zoo informed me that a free-ranging Reticulated Python took a 40 pound Cape Hunting Dog from an outdoor exhibit.  Please see this article http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2013/09/12/rock-python-kills-full-grown-husky-in-florida/#.Uxfl3oVnupE to read about a husky that was killed by a feral African Rock Python in Florida.

 

Legendary zoo-man Carl Hagenbeck reported that a 25 foot long Reticulated Python residing at the Hamburg Zoo consumed a 71 pound Ibex and two domestic goats of 28 and 39 pounds, for a total of 138 pounds of food within a few days!  In the “small but surprising” meal category is a Siamese cat that was eaten – bells, collar and all – inside the palace of a former king of Siam (modern-day Thailand)!

 

King Cobra

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Greg Hume

King Cobra makes a Meal of its Mate

The world’s largest venomous snake, the King Cobra, favors other snakes above all other foods, and seems not to have as wide a jaw-gape as do similarly-sized individuals of other species (given their alertness and speed, I avoided working close enough to them to check, and am happy to speculate!).

 

But that does not limit their capabilities in all respects.  During a breeding attempt at the Bronx Zoo (well, we considered it a breeding attempt, the snakes obviously had other opinions!), a 12-13 foot male consumed a 10-11 foot female. We had caged them side-by-side for weeks prior, and the male was well-fed, but to no avail.  Even the deer-eating Anaconda did not appear quite as stuffed as that male King Cobra!

Rock Python consuming gazelle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Alex Griffiths

The Largest of all Snake Meals?

The title-holder among giant meal-eaters may well be an African Rock Python that downed a 130-pound Impala (South Africa, 1955).  You can read more about this and similar observations in one of my favorite books, Clifford Pope’s classic The Giant Snakes (1961, A. Knopf, NY).  Even by giant constrictor standards, African Rock Pythons seem unusually well-adapted to taking large meals.  Unfortunately, these snakes have consumed people within their native range, and captives have caused human fatalities here in the USA.

Other Snakes

Harry Greene’s wonderful book Snakes, the Evolution of Mystery in Nature, holds several accounts of large and unusual meals taken by snakes of other species.  As I recall, some prey items neared and even exceeded the mass of the snakes that consumed them!  Don’t miss this book…and please be sure to post your own observations 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

Most Dangerous Snake in USA? Rattlesnake Study Provides Clue

Southern Pacific Rattlesnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Chris Brown

I’ve spent decades working with venomous snakes, setting-up snakebite protocols in zoos, and responding to snakebite emergencies.  Today, I’m sometimes criticized for my strong stand against the keeping venomous snakes in private collections.  But I have learned that, even under the best of circumstances, treatment can be hampered by gaps in our knowledge.  For example, we know that the chemical characteristics of venom vary over the ranges of certain species.  This can affect treatment, and, as we’ll see below, may mean the difference between life and death for a victim.  In fact, the venom of some Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes is so unique that it is unaffected by the antivenin currently in use! Are they the most dangerous snake in the USA?

Read More »

What Do Leopard Geckos Eat? – An Ideal Diet Based on Zoo Research

High Yellow Morph

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by MKGeckos

What DO Leopard Geckos Eat?! The Leopard Gecko, Eublepharis macularius, makes a wonderful pet for novices and advanced hobbyists alike (even after many years as a professional zookeeper, I enjoy keeping them, and wrote a book about their care).  However, both sellers and buyers sometimes underestimate this delightful lizard’s needs, especially where feeding is concerned.  Contrary to popular belief, vitamin-powdered crickets and mealworms do not constitute a suitable diet!  If you wish your pet to live out its potential lifespan of 20-30 years in excellent health, you’ll need to provide it with as many different foods as possible.  Fortunately, a surprising array of insects can be purchased online and in stores.  Collecting and rearing your own insects is another excellent way to add to your gecko’s quality of life…and its great fun as well! Read More »

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