Turtle or Tortoise – Which is the Best Reptile Pet for Me?

Radiated Tortoise

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Hectonichus

Turtles and tortoises often appeal even to those who would not dream of keeping – or allowing their children to keep – a snake or lizard. Their good reputation as pets is due in part to generally amiable natures and the degree of responsiveness they exhibit to people. But the needs of these interesting reptiles are not always well-understood by first-time owners, and choosing between turtles and tortoises, and among the individual species, can be a daunting task. Today we’ll look at what is involved in turtle and tortoise ownership, so that you can decide which would be best for your particular situation. As always, please post any specific care questions you may have below.

 

Please Note

The terms “turtle” and “tortoise” are used interchangeably for some species, and in different ways throughout the world. Most commonly, “turtle” refers to semi-aquatic and aquatic animals, while “tortoise” is used for those that spend their time on land.

 

The following points are general in nature. Please see the linked articles and post below for detailed information on the care of individual species.

 

Smooth softshell

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by EyeYubel

Space Requirements

Turtles and tortoises need far more living space than most people realize, and many grow faster and larger than one might expect.

 

Among turtles, the commonly-kept Red-Eared Slider is a perfect example. Females (the larger sex) will very quickly reach 8-12 inches in length, at which point they will require a 75-100 gallon aquarium, a commercial turtle tub, or a wading pool. The smaller males, as well as some Musk, Mud, Map and Painted Turtles, might (depending upon the species) get by in a 20 to 55 gallon aquarium. Although hard to resist as hatchlings, Common Snapping Turtles and most Softshells grow very large, and they can be dangerous.

 

Tortoises generally need even more space than do turtles, with nearly all requiring a custom-built cage or fenced outdoor area. In addition to being very active, tortoises fare poorly unless provided with a thermal gradient. Thermal gradients, critical to good health, allow tortoises to regulate their body temperature by moving between hot and cooler areas (small cages quickly take-on the temperature of the basking site). Aquariums are ill-suited for use as tortoise homes, as they do not provide the ventilation (or space) required by most.

 

Pancake Tortoise

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Davepape

Life Support Equipment

All tortoises and turtles must have access to a source of UVB radiation, a heated living area, and a hot basking spot. For most owners, this translates into the purchase of UVB bulbs and fixtures, basking bulbs and fixtures, heat mats and ceramic heaters (tortoises) and aquarium heaters (turtles). Expenses can be trimmed somewhat if one keeps Mud and Musk Turtles, or those few other aquatic species that can get by without UVB if provided a proper diet.

 

Aquatic turtle tanks must also be equipped with powerful filters. Housing your pets in easily-dumped plastic bins eliminates the need for filtration, but this option has drawbacks in terms of visibility and aesthetics.

 

Tortoises hailing from deserts and other arid habitats are susceptible to respiratory infections in even slightly-humid environments. Therefore, a de-humidifier may be essential.

 

mediaDiet

It is in the area of nutrition that turtles and tortoises diverge most noticeably. With few exceptions, turtles are the easier of the two groups to maintain. Zoo Med and other commercial turtle pellets, earthworms, sun-dried or fresh shrimp and several other easily-obtained foods will keep most in good health and breeding condition. Nearly all, however, should be provided with whole minnows and similar fishes on a regular basis (these are the best source of calcium and other important nutrients).

 

Healthful tortoise diets, on the other hand, can be difficult to arrange, and the needs of the various species differ greatly. Poor nutrition is the leading cause of death among captive tortoises. Please see the linked article and post any questions you may have below.

 

Fly River Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Mistvan

Workload

I receive many questions and complaints centering on the amount of work involved in keeping turtle aquarium water clean. Turtles are messy feeders, and very hard on water quality. Powerful filters help, but partial or total water changes will still be necessary (and filtration medium needs frequent replacement).

 

Land-dwelling tortoises are fairly simple to clean-up after, unless one has a large collection or concentrates on the giants of the group. For example, a pair of 80 pound African Spurred Tortoises (“Sulcatas”) under my care at a zoo brought back memories of cleaning rhino pens as a fledgling animal keeper decades ago!

 

Human Health Considerations

Salmonella bacteria are likely present in the digestive tracts of all turtles and tortoises. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene, but are a serious concern for children and elderly or immune-compromised adults. Please speak with your family doctor and see the article linked below for further information.

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

Caring for Red-Eared Sliders, Painted and Map Turtles

 

Keeping Desert, Rainforest and Grassland Tortoises

Venomous Snakes: Care and Habits of the Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin

Threat display

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Upload Bot (Magnus Manske)

Big and bold, the Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin is one of the most frequently-encountered of the USA’s venomous snakes. Stories of its alleged ferocity abound, and many folks living within its range are convinced that it goes out of its way to attack people. I’ve had the chance to work with this impressive serpent at the Bronx and Staten Island Zoos (Note: venomous snakes should never be kept in private collections), and to observe it in the wild, and have found its actual habits to be far more interesting than the supposed ones! From scavenging road-killed pigs to turning up in areas far north of where most people “expect” it, the Cottonmouth is full of surprises. Today I’ll focus on the natural history and captive care of the Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorous picivorous), with some comments on the 2 related subspecies.

 

Typical adult

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Ltshears

Description

Most Eastern Cottonmouths are olive to dark brown in color, and are patterned with irregular, dark cross-bands. However, nearly-black, pattern-less individuals are common, and hybrids (which vary in appearance) occur where its range overlaps with that of the Florida and Western Cottonmouths.

They are stoutly built, and this makes adults appear larger than their actual size. Most average 3 to 5 feet in length, but occasional “giants” turn up. The published record length is 6 feet, 2 inches…but there’s no shortage of people who will claim to have seen, or even killed, Cottonmouths twice or three times as large (note – they haven’t!).

 

Green Watersnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by John Sullivan Cali

Several of the larger, non-venomous water snakes of the American Southeast are often confused with the Cottonmouth, as they are superficially similar in appearance and share the same habitat. And if you’ve ever tried catching a large Brown or Florida Green Watersnake, you’ll understand why most “non-herpers” give these irascible brutes as wide a berth as they do Cottonmouths!

 

The Cottonmouth is classified in the family Viperidae, and is most closely-related to the Copperheads and various Cantils of Mexico and Central America.

 

Range

The Eastern Cottonmouth is found from southeastern Virginia to eastern Alabama and Georgia. I grew up associating Cottonmouths with Florida’s swamps and canals, and indeed it is there that the Florida Cottonmouth, (A. p. conanti) thrives in good numbers. I was surprised to learn, however, that the Western Cottonmouth(A. p. leucostoma)ranges much further north than I expected – to southern Illinois and eastern Missouri.

 

Typical Habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Moni3

Habitat

Cottonmouths are typically found in and along slow-moving bodies of water such as swamps, marshes, canals, rice fields, ponds and weedy lakes. However, they will forage in fields, open woodlands and around farms, often far from water. Individuals in many populations hunt mainly by night, especially during the summer, but they bask in the daytime.

 

In the northern sections of their range, Cottonmouths hibernate in subterranean dens on land, often on hillsides far from water. Hibernation sites may be shared with copperheads, rattlesnakes, water snakes, ratsnakes and other species.

 

Status

Cottonmouths can be quite common in suitable habitat and in protected areas such as the Everglades, but are threatened in some regions by wetland drainage. Basking Cottonmouths are said to be used for “target practice” in some places…not much of a challenge, given their size and immobility when basking, I imagine!

 

Longevity

Zoo specimens have reached at least age 24; several under my care were in their late teens, and still full of spunk. Longevity in the wild has not been well-documented, as far as I know.

 

Youngster

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Accipiter

Reproduction

In most populations,females breed every-other-year, usually in August and September. The young, 1-16 in number, are born alive and are 7-13 inches in length. They are reddish-brown and vividly marked, and use their bright yellow tail tips to lure frogs, lizards, and other prey. Sexual maturity is reached in 3-4 years.

 

Diet

Cottonmouths take a wider range of prey than do most other snakes, and even scavenge road-kills. I was once very surprised to read a journal note (Herpetologica?) describing a large individual consuming chunks of fat from a dead pig!

 

The usual diet is extremely varied, and may include catfish, bream, eels and other fish, sirens, amphiumas and other salamanders, frogs, hatchling alligators, small turtles, lizards, snakes, ducks and other birds, and mammals such as rice rats, muskrats and voles.

 

I once housed a colony of Green Anoles with a pair of Cottonmouths at the Bronx Zoo. Whenever I tossed roaches or crickets in for the lizards, the Cottonmouths would move about in an apparent search for food. I’m wondering if youngsters consume insects as well; the closely-related Copperhead has been observed feeding upon cicadas and grasshoppers.

 

Cottonmouths under my care were fed minnows, shiners, trout, goldfish, mice and rats; I’ve always meant to try crayfish, but unfortunately did not. Like many fish-eating snakes, they seemed perpetually hungry. The opening of their exhibit door, with or without the scent of food, generally elicited a mad rush forward. All those I’ve kept adjusted well to captivity – thrusting them away with a snake hook did nothing to damper their desire to feed!

 

Light-colored individual

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Hydriz

Additional Information

The name “Cottonmouth” arose from this species’ threat display – when cornered, it throws back its head and gapes widely to expose the cottony-white interior of the mouth. If this fails to dissuade the intruder, the snake strikes repeatedly. Basking animals usually drop into the water and swim away, either below or at the surface, when disturbed.

 

Classification of Cottonmouths and other Vipers

Cottonmouths and their relatives, collectively known as “pit vipers”, are placed in the family Viperidae and subfamily Crotalinae, along with palm vipers, rattlesnakes, copperheads and related species. They are considered to be the most advanced, or highly evolved, of all snakes.

 

Crotalids, or pit-vipers, possess a sophisticated sensory organ (the “pit”) that detects the infra-red rays produced by birds and mammals. Located between the eye and nostril, this organ is far more sensitive than the heat receptors that have evolved among the boas and pythons. The arrangement of the heat receptors within the pit viper’s sensory organs are replicated in the brain and integrated with visual information received there. The pit may thus be considered more of an “imaging device” than mere heat receptor, and likely provides detailed information concerning the size and shape, as well as location, of warm-blooded animals. Aided by these unique organs, pit vipers are able to hunt and escape predators even in complete darkness.

 

Vipers possess long, hinged fangs that fold back against the roof of the mouth when not in use. Venom is injected with a single bite, in the manner of a hypodermic needle. The snake then retires and allows the prey to run off, and follows its scent trail once the stricken animal has expired. This strategy spares vipers the injuries that can be inflicted by prey animals upon snakes such as cobras, which must hold on while injecting venom. When attacking frogs, fish and other relatively benign prey, however, Cottonmouths hold onto the animal after striking.

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 World’s Largest Rattlesnake

Keeping Watersnakes

 

 

Is a Red-Eared Slider a Good Pet? Read This Before Buying a Turtle

Sliders basking

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bizarria

The Red-Eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) is without question the world’s most commonly-kept pet turtle. But while these attractive reptiles are extremely responsive to people, many novice owners underestimate the amount of care and space their upkeep requires…and do not realize that Sliders commonly live to age 20+, and often well beyond. Over time, these factors lead many people to release or re-home their once beloved pets. As a consequence, Sliders have become established, in the wild, in dozens of US states and in countries ranging from Brazil to South Africa and Japan, where they are causing ecological havoc. Turtle adoption services and reptile rescues house literally thousands more unwanted pets. Please read this article carefully before buying or adopting a Red-Eared Slider, and be sure to post any questions below. Please also see the linked articles on the care of Sliders, Map Turtles and similar species.

 

Slider in outdoor pond

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Lawrencekhoo

Aquarium Size and Upkeep

Female Sliders reach 8-12 inches in length. I personally measured one that was just over 12 inches long…and 11 ¾ inches wide! Males generally top out at 6 inches, but both sexes are very active, and will languish in cramped quarters. An adult female will require a 75-100 gallon aquarium, a commercial turtle tub, or a wading pool. Pairs rarely do well together, as the overly-amorous males constantly harass the objects of their desire with mating attempts.

 

Turtles are messy feeders and very hard on water quality. Powerful filters help, but even so partial or total water changes will be necessary. If a large plastic storage container is used as a home, it must be emptied and cleaned several times weekly.

 

Slider nesting

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Nephets

Cost

With so many being up for adoption, Slider ownership might appear to be a good deal. But the initial purchase price of any reptile is generally the smallest of the related financial considerations. In addition to large and expensive aquariums and filters, Slider ownership entails electricity use, veterinary care, and the purchase of UVB bulbs and fixtures, heat bulbs and fixtures, water heaters, basking platforms, food, and mineral supplements.

 

Veterinary Care

Veterinarians willing to treat reptiles are difficult to find in many regions, although those experienced in turtle care are becoming more common. It is always a mistake to obtain a reptile of any kind before locating a veterinarian, or to imagine that even the hardy Slider will not require medical care at some point. Veterinary costs for reptiles are comparable to those charged for dog or cat care.

 

Hatchling slider

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jf268

Longevity

Sliders routinely reach age 20 in captivity, and have the potential to live much longer. The published longevity record is 41 years, but I’m quite sure, judging from experience with related species, that there are some that have exceeded the half-century mark. That cute little hatchling you bought for your child may become your (much larger!) responsibility when she or he goes off to college.

 

Health Considerations

Salmonella bacteria, commonly present in turtle digestive tracts, can cause severe illness in people. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene, but are a serious concern for children and elderly or immune-compromised adults. Please speak with your family doctor and see the article linked below for further information.

 

Razorback Musk Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Ltshears

Slider Alternatives

Several Map and Painted Turtle species share the Slider’s lifestyle, good nature and hardiness, but do not grow quite as large. Common Musk Turtles, Eastern Mud Turtles and a number of their relatives are even smaller, and do not need a source of UVB radiation. All make great pets, and become quite responsive to people. There are a great many other possibilities as well…please see the linked articles and post below for further information.

 

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

Common Musk Turtles in Captivity: the Perfect Pet Turtle

Slider, Map and Painted Turtle Care

 

 

 

I Found an Orange Salamander: Is it a Red Eft and Does it Make a Good Pet?

Red Eft

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bruce Lucas

As the summer weather cools and kids return home from camp, questions concerning Red Eft care are among the most frequent I receive. Bold, brightly-colored, and often out by day, Red Efts are more commonly-collected by children than any other amphibian. And, being attractive and seemingly-benign, they are also less likely to be rejected outright by parents. However, efts are temperature sensitive and require a specialized diet. Unfortunately, they are poorly-suited to captivity, especially when inexperienced owners are involved. In the following article I’ll explain why, and will offer some alternative species and care tips to folks intent on trying to keep these beautiful salamanders.

 

Natural History: What is an Eft?

The term “Eft” refers to a temporary land stage in the life cycle of the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens). This species’ huge range extends from southern Canada through most of the central and eastern USA to Texas and Florida; in North America, only the Tiger Salamander has a wider distribution. Four subspecies have been described.

 

Eastern Newt (Eft's Adult Phase)

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Raeky

The olive-green, red-spotted adult newts are aquatic, and at one time were a pet trade mainstay. Many states now prohibit collection, but where ownership is legal they make wonderful introductions to amphibian care (please see the article below).

 

In most populations, Eastern Newt larvae transform into orange to red-colored efts. The efts leave the natal pond and take-up residence in forested areas. The eft stage generally lasts from 2-3 years, but may extend to 7 years in the northern part of the range and in mountainous habitats. The eft stage is skipped in certain populations, with the larvae developing directly into aquatic adults. “Eft-skipping” was first documented on Long Island, NY, but has since been found among all subspecies, and across the range. It most often occurs where the land surrounding breeding ponds is sandy or otherwise inhospitable to moisture-loving amphibians.

 

Skin Toxins

Efts are well-protected by powerful skin toxins. This seems to account for their tendency to wander about on damp days, seemingly oblivious to the attentions of curious children (always wash after handling one, as their skin secretions can irritate mucus membranes, eyes and wounds). Several other species, including the Mud Salamander (Pseudotriton montanus) and the Red Salamander (P. ruber), are believed to mimic the Red Eft in order to discourage predators.

 

Springtail

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Tpe

Captive Diet

Wild-caught efts are not at all shy, and willingly forge by day. Judging by the questions I receive, however, it seems that many Red Eft owners are first-time salamander keepers, and are not prepared for the work involved in keeping these gaudy little gems. By the time most folks write in, their once-perky little pets are lethargic and emaciated.

 

Red Efts require a highly-varied diet comprised of tiny invertebrates, and will not accept the dry foods and pellets favored by adult newts. Those experienced in keeping Dart Poison Frogs and other small amphibians usually have no trouble with efts, as a number of frog foods suit them well. Flightless fruit flies, 10-day old crickets, springtails, bean beetle larvae and sow bugs can be purchased from online dealers, and are readily accepted. In order to add variety to the diet, termites, millipedes, tiny earthworms, beetles and other small leaf-litter invertebrates should also be collected when possible (please see the article linked below).

 

Heat Sensitivity

While different eft population vary in regard to temperature requirements, most fare poorly when kept at 72 F or warmer for any length of time. A cool basement or similar location is essential to their survival.

 

Look But Don’t Touch

Children are drawn to efts because they accept handling without protest. However, it’s important to realize that handling damages the skin’s protective mucus covering, leaving the animal exposed to attack by bacteria and other pathogens. As mentioned above, skin secretions can also irritate people. Furthermore, all amphibians can be assumed to harbor Salmonella bacteria. While infections are easily preventable if proper hygiene is maintained, children must be supervised carefully.

 

Fire Salamanders

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Überraschungsbilder

Eft Alternatives

 

Those seeking a land-dweller cannot do better than the Fire Salamander. These gorgeous creatures, captive bred in large numbers, are among the most responsive of all amphibians…and, with proper care, they may live to age 30, 40, or beyond! Please see the article linked below.

 

A wide array of semi-aquatic species, including Fire-Bellied, Paddle-Tailed and Ribbed Newts, are being bred in captivity and make hardy, long-lived pets. As mentioned earlier, the Red Eft’s adult phase is also a good choice, but captive-bred specimens are scarce. Please see the linked articles and post your comments below if you’d like more details on newt and salamander 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

Eastern Newt Care

 

Collecting Leaf Litter Invertebrates

 

Fire Salamander Care

Pet Lizards: Large, Small, and Colorful Insectivores

Rainbow Whiptail

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by DiverDave

The world’s astonishing lizard diversity – 5988 species have been described to date – is mirrored by the huge array of species now available to reptile enthusiasts. In recent years, refined husbandry and breeding techniques have introduced and re-introduced many fascinating lizards to the pet trade. Today I’d like to cover several that might interest folks with varying degrees of experience. I’ll review others in the future…until then, please post notes about your own favorites below, as those mentioned here are just a small sample.

 

Important Notes

A highly-varied diet is essential if you are to have success in keeping insectivorous lizards. Crickets and mealworms alone, even if powdered with supplements, are not an adequate diet for any species.

 

Always provide your lizards with the largest possible enclosure. Large terrariums will simplify the establishment of a thermal gradient (areas of different temperatures). Thermal gradients, critical to good health, allow lizards to regulate their body temperature by moving between hot and cooler areas.

 

Few diurnal (day-active) lizards will thrive without a source of UVB light.  If a florescent bulb is used (the Zoo Med 10.0 UVB Bulb is ideal), be sure that your pet can bask within 6-12 inches of it. Mercury vapor bulbs broadcast UVB over greater distances, and provide beneficial UVA radiation as well.

 

The following information is meant to provide an overview. Please post below for more detailed information.

 

Emerald Swift

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Charlesjsharp

Emerald Swift, Sceloporus malachiticus

Also known as the Green Spiny Lizard, mature males are breathtaking even by lizard standards. Note the Latin species name – malachite green, with a blue tint, best describes these beauties. Although many in the trade are wild-caught, captive births (they bear live young) are becoming more common. Emerald Swifts range from southern Mexico (Yucatan) through Central America to Panama, and are restricted to cloud forests and similar mountainous habitats.

 

Unfortunately, as with most habitat specialists, care can be somewhat complicated. Emerald Swift terrariums must be kept rather cool and humid (74-76 F, humidity 60-70%), but hot, dry areas (90 F) must also be available. As airflow is important to their health, the screen top should not be covered with plastic as a means of increasing humidity; rather, a reptile fogger, or frequent hand-misting, should be employed.

 

A pair might get by in a 30 gallon terrarium, but a 55 gallon, which will also support a second female, is preferable. Driftwood and rocks should be supplied for climbing and basking; all rocks should be placed on the tank’s floor, not on the substrate, so that tunneling lizards will not be crushed. UVB exposure is essential. A highly-varied diet comprised of well-fed, calcium and vitamin-supplemented roaches, crickets, butterworms, waxworms, calciworms, silkworms, hornworms and wild caught insects is critical for their long-term health. Like most related lizards, Emerald Swifts are high-strung and should be viewed as pets to observe rather than handle.

 

Long tailed Grass Lizard

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by B kimmel

Long Tailed Grass Lizard, Takydromus sexlineatus

This active, attractive lizard is also sold as the Asian Grass or Six Lined Grass Lizard. Originally available only as wild-caught imports, they have proven to be prolific breeders, with multiple clutches per year being common. Their huge natural range extends from India and China through most of Southeast Asia to Indonesia. Long toes and an extraordinarily-long tail (an individual with a 2.5 inch long body will sport an 8 inch tail!) enable these little acrobats to hunt in the “canopy” of their grassland home – a niche unavailable to other lizards.

 

Although small, Grass Lizards are very active. A trio should be provided a 20 long to 30 gallon terrarium. If given sufficient space and cover, a small group can be maintained together; success has also been reported in housing them with small geckos, treefrogs and anoles. The terrarium should be well-stocked with real and artificial plants and branches, as they are stressed in bare enclosures.   UVB exposure is essential, and a temperature gradient of 72-85 F, with a basking site of 90-95 F, should be established.  A diet comprised of as many insect species as possible must be supplied; crickets and mealworms alone are not adequate.

 

Sudan Plated Lizard

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Haplochromis

Sudan Plated Lizard, Gerrhosaurus (Broadleysaurus) major

This thickly-built lizard appears quite formidable, but it is actually calm in demeanor, and usually becomes a most responsive pet. Also a long-lived pet – a pair under my care at the Bronx Zoo was still actively-courting at age 25+. The “Sudan” part of this lizard’s name is misleading, for its enormous range extends from that country clear across the width of Africa, and south along the continent’s western coast to South Africa. “Plated” is, however, apt, as they sport very sturdy, thick scales. Sudan Plated Lizards favor semi-arid scrub, brushy savannas and lightly-wooded grasslands, and may also colonize parks and other developed areas.

 

Plated Lizards really come into their own in large enclosures, and should not be considered unless a cage of at least 4’ x 3’ x 3’ (and preferably larger) is available. Those I’ve kept in large zoo exhibits were doing something interesting all day long…the same cannot be said for the many poorly-housed specimens I’ve seen over the years. They prefer to bask on rocks, and are inveterate diggers. Be sure to place all rocks on the terrarium’s floor, not on the substrate, or a lizard may tunnel beneath one and be crushed. A deep layer of sand and gravel should cover the cage bottom; PVC tubes and similar shelters make great retreats. Plated Lizards do well at a temperature gradient of 76-88 F and with a basking site of 95F. Ample UVB exposure is essential.

 

Providing a varied diet to these ever-hungry lizards is a simple matter, as little will be refused. Mine relished the cicadas, crayfish and may beetles, along with all of the standard feeder insects. Interestingly, they also take earthworms, which are rejected by most arid-adapted lizards. An occasional pink mouse can be offered, but rely primarily upon supplements rather than vertebrates as a calcium source (wild individuals do take the occasional small lizard or snake, but they are mainly insectivorous). Fruit is accepted by many individuals, but they seem to do fine without it.

 

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 Diets for Insect-Eating Lizards

 

How to Breed Swifts and Spiny Lizards

Scroll To Top