Pet Snakes That Don’t Eat Rodents: Insect-Eating Snake Care

Snail eating snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by ShareAlike 2.5

Snakes that feed solely upon insects, earthworms, spiders, snails and other invertebrates are a great choice for folks who would rather not handle rats and mice. They also have other attractive characteristics, including small size, inoffensive natures, and adaptability to naturalistic terrariums containing live plants. What’s more, most receive scant attention as captives, and so offer us the opportunity to record new facts about their needs and habits. Several invertebrate-eaters, such as Brown Snakes (Storeria) and Ring-Necked Snakes (Diadophis), thrive in the hearts of large cities, while others, including the Worm Snakes (Carphophis), Black-Headed Snakes (Tantilla), Snail-Eating Snakes (Sibon), Red-Bellied Snakes (Storeria), Pine Woods Snakes (Rhadinae) and Flower Pot Snakes (Rhamphotyphlops), are sometimes collected and offered for sale. Today I’ll introduce this fascinating but over-looked group. Please see the articles linked below to read about others that can do without rodents, including Garter, Ribbon and Green Snakes.

 

Note: There are thousands of snake species that fit within this general category…please post your own experiences below, thanks, Frank

 

Eastern Worm Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Greg Schechter

Description

Most invertebrate-eating snakes are shy and secretive, and measure less than 12 inches in length when fully grown (Garter and Ribbon Snakes, covered elsewhere, are an exception). Many, such as Brown and Worm Snakes, are well-camouflaged by their somber coloration, while Ring-Necked and Red-Bellied Snakes flash bright warning colors when disturbed.

 

Range

Invertebrate specialists occur from southern Canada to southern South America and in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia – everywhere that “typical” snakes dwell.

 

Nearly all spend most of their time below leaf litter, decaying logs, rocks, or other cover that offers protection and access to grubs, earthworms, slugs and other prey. Some, such as the Eastern Worm Snake, have pointed heads that assist in burrowing, and rarely appear above-ground. However, the lifestyles of these interesting snakes are as varied as the habitats they occupy. Garter Snakes, for example, actively forage on land and in water, while Rough Green Snakes spend most of their time in bushes, hunting caterpillars.

 

Habitat

Insect-eating snakes of one type or another may be found in rainforests, cities, farms, arid scrubland, swamps, grasslands, deserts, montane cloud forests and many other environments.

 

Flowerpot Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Eugene van der Pijll

The aptly-named Flowerpot Snake, a native of India, has been shipped worldwide as a stowaway among plant roots, and is now established in greenhouses and gardens in Florida and elsewhere. Brown Snakes are still to be found in Manhattan, while Ring-Necked and Red-Bellied Snakes frequent gardens, farms, and suburban parks.

 

Care and Feeding

Note: Husbandry details may vary widely from these general guidelines. Please post below for information about the species in which you are interested.

 

Depending upon the snake in question, the natural diet may include earthworms, beetle grubs, slugs, grasshoppers, caterpillars, termites, and a wide variety of other invertebrates. The most commonly-kept species accept soft-bodied foods such as earthworms, waxworms, silkworms and butterworms; crickets and mealworms are often rejected. Specialists, such as the Cloudy Snail Eater or the Red-Bellied Snake (which favors slugs) can be difficult to keep unless their natural foods are available. Fascinating snakes that specialize in hunting centipedes, spiders, fish and frog eggs and other unusual prey items are also known, but these are rarely kept as pets.

 

Ring-necked Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Greg Schechter

A single adult of most species will do fine in a 10 gallon aquarium. Unlike more commonly-kept snakes, they do not fare well on newspapers, aspen shavings or similar substrates. The terrarium should instead be furnished with a mixture of dead leaves and coco-husk. Many will shelter below the substrate, but a dark cave stocked with moist sphagnum moss should also be provided. Due to their small size, insect-eating snakes make ideal inhabitants of naturalistic terrariums provisioned with live plants.

 

On the menus of predators ranging from frogs and tarantulas to crows and skunks, most insect-eating snakes are shy and retiring. Brown, Worm, and Ring-Necked Snakes can rarely even be induced to bite, but stressed individuals may release musk. Many take short periods of gentle handling in stride.

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

Brown Snake Care (the Best Small Snake Pet?)

Garter Snake Care & Natural History

Keeping Rough & Smooth Green Snakes

African Bullfrog or Pac Man Horned Frog: Choosing the Best Frog Pet

Ornate Horned Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by “Max Gross”

The Argentine, Pac Man or Ornate Horned Frog (Ceratophrys ornata) may be the world’s most popular amphibian pet. Beautiful and “charmingly” pugnacious, Horned Frogs require relatively little space despite their “salad bowl” size, and may live to age 20 or more. In a close second among frog fans is the massive African Bullfrog, Pyxicephalus adspersus. These brutes, which can live past age 50, are resilient beyond belief – one was observed downing 17 hatchling spitting cobras, and during droughts they can remain dormant for 10 to 12 months!

 

In the following article I’ll compare Horned and African Bullfrogs in terms of their habits, activity levels, and care needs, so that you’ll be able to choose the species that best suits your interests and frog-keeping skills. Detailed care information is provided in the articles linked under “Further Reading”; as always, please also post any questions or observations you may have.

 

African Bullfrog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Steven G. Johnson

Handling Your Pet Frog

Both Horned and African Bullfrogs have powerful jaws equipped with bits of bone that extend up from the jaw. These “teeth”, technically known as odontoid structures, can inflict serious wounds. Even after years in captivity, an instinctive feeding response will cause frogs to bite fingers moved within range.

 

Fortunately, it is a simple matter to safely pick up either by grasping it behind the front legs. However, they should be handled only when necessary, and then with wet hands, so that you do not remove the protective mucus from their skin. Wash well after handling any animal.

 

Surinam Horned Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Maarten Sepp

Activity Levels

Neither is overly active, but each has fascinating behaviors (please see articles linked below). Both will feed by day, but may become more active after dark. In order to observe them at night, you can equip the terrarium with a black or red reptile night bulb (frogs do not sense the light produced by these bulbs).

 

Life Span

The published longevity for an Ornate Horned Frog is just short of 15 years, but there are unofficial reports of individuals approaching age 23. African Bullfrogs are among the longest-lived of all amphibians, with a 51-year-old individual holding the record.

 

Breeding Potential

Both are bred by commercial dealers, but reproduction is not common in home terrariums. However, given suitable space and proper pre-conditioning, either species may surprise you with thousands of eggs…and the tadpoles are as rabidly carnivorous as their parents!

 

Cost

The cost of ownership of each frog is about the same. Neither requires UVB exposure, and they do fine with similar diets, terrariums and heat levels.

 

Horned frog habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Haroldarmitage

Terrarium Size (single adult)

African Bullfrogs and Horned Frogs are “sit and wait” predators, and as such are relatively inactive. A 20 gallon aquarium (or a similarly-sized plastic tub) will accommodate an average adult, but a 30 gallon tank will be “appreciated”. Males, the smaller sex, have been successfully kept in 15 gallon aquariums.

 

Light and Heat

Neither frog requires exposure to UVB light.

 

Both African Bull and Horned Frogs fare best at temperatures ranging from 72 F on the cooler side of the terrarium to 85 F at the warmer. Reptile heat pads are ideal as heat sources, but are best located along the sides of the terrarium. When placed below the tank, there is a chance that your frog may burrow down and come in direct contact with overly-hot glass. Incandescent bulbs, night bulbs, or ceramic heaters may also be employed, but beware of their drying effects.

 

Minnows

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Etrusko25

Frog Diet

The dietary requirements of the two species are identical.

 

Both require a great deal of calcium, especially as they are growing. Whole fishes and, to a lesser extent, pink mice, are ideal calcium sources. Pink mice may be offered once each 7-10 days, or omitted if fish are consumed regularly.

 

Crickets alone will not supply adequate nutrition. Minnows, shiners, earthworms, roaches, and crickets can make up the bulk of their diet. Crayfishes, butterworms, silkworms and other invertebrates should also be included regularly.

 

Food (other than pinkies and fish) should be powdered with Zoo Med ReptiCalcium plus D3  or a similar product. Vitamin/mineral supplements such as ReptiVite should be used 2-3 times weekly.

 

Health Concerns (Pet and Pet Owner)

African Bullfrogs and Horned Frogs are equally at risk from the following health issues. If proper care and diet is provided, both will prove to be extremely hardy and long-lived.

 

Ammonia toxicity is the most frequent cause of death. Ammonia is released with waste products and is rapidly absorbed via the skin as frogs soak in water or rest on the substrate. Ammonia can prove fatal in short order, so be sure to have someone clean the terrarium frequently when you are away from home for extended periods. Generally, water should be changed daily, and always treated with a chlorine/chloramine remover. Unclean conditions can also result in a bacterial skin infection known as Septicemia or “Red Leg”.

 

Intestinal impactions resulting from substrate ingestion are sometimes encountered (both species). This problem can be avoided by the use of cage liners, or by feeding your frogs in large bowls, via tongs, or in a bare-bottomed enclosure.

 

Calcium deficiencies and other diseases related to poor nutrition are common among frogs maintained on crickets and mealworms alone. Please post below for further information.

 

Salmonella bacteria, commonly present in reptile and amphibian digestive tracts, can cause severe illnesses 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. Please speak with your family doctor concerning details, and feel free to post below if you would like links to useful resources.

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

African Bullfrog Care

An Appetite for Cobras: Huge Bullfrog Meals

Horned Frog Care

New Salamander Fungus Found: Are More Pet Trade Regulations on the Way?

Fire salamander

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by M. Linnenbach

As a herpetologist and animal keeper, I’ve long been interested in the emerging amphibian disease commonly known as Chytrid or BD (Batrachochytrium dendrobatitis); please see my other articles, linked below. Believed to be responsible for the recent extinctions of over 200 frog species, this fungus remains a serious threat. In 2013, a related fungus, B. salamandrivorans, or BS, was identified. Since then, studies have revealed it to be as lethal as BD, and responsible for wiping-out the Netherlands wild Fire Salamanders. Once limited to Asian salamanders, some of which carry the fungus without becoming ill, BS seems to have found its way to Europe via the importation of Chinese Fire-Bellied Newts and other pet trade species. In order to stem the tide, the USA and the European Union are now considering import and sale regulations.

 

Chytrid infected frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Forrest Brem

Proposed regulations always raise hackles among pet-keepers and some politicians. However, amphibians sold in the pet trade (African Clawed Frogs), bait trade (Tiger Salamander larvae) and food trade (American and Asian Bullfrogs) have been implicated in the spread of the deadly Chytrid (BD) fungus, and released Burmese Pythons and various exotic fish are causing ecological havoc in Florida. So – what is the solution? Your thoughts would be most appreciated, please post below.

 

Chinese Fire Bellied Newt

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dobromila

 

100% Mortality in North American Newts

As reported in Science Magazine (V. 346, No. 6209, Oct., 2014), researchers tested 5,000 salamanders from 4 continents for susceptibility to the newly-discovered fungus. Of the 35 species examined, some showed 100% mortality. Included in this group were 2 well-known US natives, the Eastern Newt and the Rough-Skinned Newt.

 

Several Asian salamanders were unaffected by BS, spurring fears that such individuals, while appearing to be healthy, could serve as long-term carriers capable of transmitting the fungus to other species.

 

Rough skinned newt

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jsayre64

Pet Trade Connection

The millions of Chinese Fire-Bellied Newts imported into Europe from Asia are believed to be the primary route by which BS was spread to the Netherlands’ now extinct Fire Salamanders. The fungus may have found its way into natural habitats via discarded terrarium water and/or released pets. According to researchers at the Imperial College of London, there is no way to limit the spread of the fungi populations that are already established in Europe, and herpetologists predict that more local extinctions will be documented. The EU is considering restrictions on amphibian imports under various animal health laws.

 

Fire-Bellied Newts and other Asian species are also popularly kept in the USA, home to the world’s greatest diversity of salamander species. With so many US natives already decimated by BD and habitat loss, and scores naturally limited to tiny ranges (i.e. the Texas Blind Cave Salamander), the arrival of BS would be disastrous.

 

Eastern Newts

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Magnus Manske

Congress, US F&W Service Taking Action

According to a recent New York Times op-ed piece (Oct. 31, 2014), Congress is considering increasing the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s authority to regulate the importation of pet trade animals. However, the process is being resisted by anti-regulation members.

 

Working in conjunction with the US F&W Service, the Pet Industry Joint Council is seeking ways to limit the threat posed by imported Asian salamanders.

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

Food Trade Kills Billions of Frogs & Spreads Chytrid

Chorus Frogs and Chytrid

Arachnids and Herps: A Zookeeper’s Scary Halloween Stories

Anaconda by truckEach Halloween, I think back to the close calls I’ve had during a lifetime of work in zoos and the field. I suppose some, such as narrow escapes from a Kodiak Bear and an enraged King Cobra, would qualify as “near death experiences.” Others, i.e. wrestling huge Green Anacondas from Venezuelan swamps and mixing it up with a giant, wild-caught Reticulated Python, were dangerous but manageable, and have provided me with ample fodder for “war stories”.   I’ll summarize a few of these today. I’d also like to highlight Windscorpions, Hellbenders and other creatures that appear to be dangerous but do not actually deserve their fearsome reputations.

 

My Scariest Experience

When you are lucky enough to send an entire lifetime working with creatures ranging (literally!) from ants to elephants, a few encounters that set the heart to full throttle are inevitable. In contrast to what you may see posted on social media by self-styled “adrenaline junkies”, serious professionals do not actively seek trouble – enough comes along on its own.

 

Kodiak bear

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Yathin S Krishnappa

Mammals, with their advanced abilities to plan and respond, demand special respect from zookeepers and field researchers, and are responsible for more injuries and fatalities than are other groups. My closest call came courtesy of a Kodiak bear that weighed-in at approximately 1,200 lbs. With one eye patched (another story!), I failed to notice an unlocked door when I moved the animal into its shift cage. I entered the main holding cage and began cleaning, noticing in passing that the light from the hallway suddenly dimmed, and then was back to normal. As my brain registered that there were no passing clouds to dim the light, I heard the sound of tools falling – and I knew what had happened.

 

I stuck my head out of the cage, and came face to face with the bear. It was in front of the nearest door (of course!), and stood up to its full 12 foot height as I appeared. My mad dash through the building, around corners and down 2 flights of stairs set some type of record I’m sure. The exit I reached had to be opened via a key but, amazingly the right one (on a ring with 15 others), appeared in my fingers as I reached the door.

 

I made the standard radio emergency calls, and NYPD was first on the scene. The officer, whom I knew well, patted his weapon and said all would be okay should the bear break through the building’s door before the big game rifles (always on site for emergencies) and anesthesia darts arrived. Then the beast’s huge head appeared at a window – the officer looked at his weapon and said “This would just make him angry” (that’s a cleaned-up version of his actual comment!).

 

Co-workers arrived and asked why I was holding a broomstick; I didn’t know, but must have instinctively grabbed it while fleeing the scene. “Toothpick for the bear” quipped the once again cocky police officer! Fortunately, the bear was drugged and returned to its cage without further incident, and I (somehow!) remained employed.

 

Pygmy Hippo skull

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Uwe Gille

Anesthetized animals that woke up unexpectedly – including a tiger that was beside me in a van and a polar bear with which I was temporarily sharing a shipping crate – also livened up my days at the Bronx Zoo. Wrestling animals into shipping crates was always risky – a guanaco treated me to several cracked ribs, and pygmy hippos, nyala antelope, bison and too many others to list here all did their best to exact their pound of flesh. Escaped gorillas, snow leopards, gibbons and others added to the excitement. I’ll detail these and others in future articles…until then, please post your own questions and observations below.

 

SMILE,RAT SNAKERampaging Reptiles and Invertebrates

Three trips to capture and tag Green Anacondas in the Venezuelan llanos provided me with a lifetime of interesting and sometimes dangerous experiences. Accidentally grabbing an electric eel or stepping on a fresh water ray were actually the most risky aspects of the work, but the snakes did their best to leave their mark as well – as evidenced by the tooth that remains embedded in my wrist to this day (the resulting infection was far more serious than the bite itself). One especially aggressive anaconda grabbed a co-worker in what was undoubtedly a feeding attempt – you can read more in the article linked below.  Of course, as you can see from the photo above, many reptiles are harmless in the right hands…and at the right size!

 

Venomous snakes pose great risks to zookeepers, because we must physically move the animals in the course of servicing their exhibits. Special challenges were presented to me by Spitting Cobras that escaped after a visitor encouraged his son to kick-in the glass front of their exhibit, and by a King Cobra at large in an airport. Danger-wise, crocodilians are in a class by themselves – none more so than the fast, high-jumping and always feisty Cuban Crocodile. A pitched battle between 7 individuals and 2 enormous False Gharials, into which I and 2 co-workers inserted ourselves, was both thrilling and frightening. This story is recounted in colleague Pete Brazaitis’ fine book You Belong in a Zoo. You can also read more about this incident, and those mentioned earlier, in the articles linked below.

 

Alligator at SIZInvertebrates have generally treated me well, but I was once awakened by a frantic call from a biologist who had left some recently-collected tropical millipedes in my care. Two researchers working with these creatures had recently died, and a toxin released by the animals was the suspected cause. It turned out to be a false alarm. Interestingly, some South American monkeys do rub these millipedes into their fur. Secretions released by the agitated millipedes are believed to repel insect pests and/or kill parasites.

 

Scary When First Seen, but…

First impressions matter, and this is especially true where fear is concerned. Many relatively harmless creatures are fearsome in appearance, and can thus bluff their way out of trouble. And it is not only novices that can be fooled. I’ve collected and reared dragonfly larvae since childhood, and have handled the adults of dozens of species. While larger ones, some of which capture small fish, can deliver a slight nip, none have stingers. Some years ago, I caught a beauty on St. Croix. As I examined it, the bright red abdomen quickly curved forward and the tip pressed against my skin…a harmless ruse, but I instinctively dropped the insect and off it flew!

 

The bizarre Windscorpions or Sun Spiders, sometimes kept by arachnid enthusiasts, can administer a painful bite with their huge jaws. But their threatening appearance, and unsettling habit of scurrying after people in order to hide in the shade they provide, lends them a reputation that far exceeds their capability to do harm.

 

Hellbender

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Brian Gratwicke

The USA’s Hellbender, a huge, aquatic salamander, has much more to fear from us than vice-versa. But it is just so odd-looking, and so infrequently seen, that its appearance on the end of a fishing line always causes a stir. All of my childhood herp books carried a statement to the effect that “most fisherman cut the line once its ugly, flat head appears”… “Ah, to have such problems” I thought, longing for the chance to encounter one. I still haven’t – at least not in the wild – but I have had the great pleasure of meeting its 5-foot-long cousin, the Japanese Giant Salamander, in Japan.

 

Another US native, the beautiful Rainbow Snake, also generates unwarranted fear. It and the related Mud Snake bear a hard, pointed scale at the tail’s tip. When handled, they press this into the skin of the would-be-collector. No damage is done, but they are often dropped in response, and have earned the name “stinging snake” in some regions. Various centipedes employ a similar tactic, but it their case toxins may be injected, and the distraction sets one up for a very painful and potentially dangerous bite.

 

Windscorpion

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Braboowi

Vampires, Ghosts and Goblins

Vampire, Ghost, and Thailand Fanged Frogs, Goblin Sharks, caecilians that consume their father’s living skin, parrot-eating bats, Halloween Crabs and numerous others are great creatures to investigate as the creepiest of holidays approaches. You can read more about them in this article.

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

Tagging Anacondas in Venezuela

Cobra and Python Escapes

Working with Large Crocodiles

 

Reptiles and Amphibians in Outdoor Pens or Ponds: Preparing for Winter

Backyard pond

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Nowis

I’ve always enjoyed keeping my herp pets, and those I’ve cared for in zoos, in outdoor ponds and exhibits. I see a wider variety of behaviors and have better breeding results, and the access to natural sunlight and wild insects is very beneficial for the animals. The arrival of winter, however, ends the fun and brings special challenges. Today I’ll cover indoor and outdoor hibernation of terrestrial and aquatic turtles and frogs, and review what to do if you wish to keep your pets active year-round.

 

General Considerations

Hibernation is risky under the best of circumstances. Each spring, I see evidence of winter die-offs among free-living reptiles and amphibians. The safest option for most pet owners is to keep your animals active and feeding throughout the winter.

 

Reptiles and amphibians native to temperate climates may not reproduce unless subjected to period of dormancy. However, in many cases a short, cool resting period will suffice – true “winter” in not needed.   Details vary widely as to species, so please post below for further information.

 

Green frogs in amplexus

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Greenfrogmaster

It has been theorized that hibernation enhances the long-term health of those species that do so in the wild, but there seems to be nothing of substance published to this effect. During my long career in zoos, I’ve kept hundreds of temperate zone species active and breeding year-round for many years. In my personal collection, a number of North American natives, including 30-45 year-old-turtles and salamanders aged 20-35 years, have never experienced dormancy.

 

Animals subjected to hibernation must be healthy, well-hydrated, and possessed of ample fat reserves; a vet exam in early autumn is recommended.

 

Depending upon the species and the size of the individual, pre-hibernation preparation should include a fast of 1-4 weeks in duration (please post below for further information).

 

Eastern Box Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Stephen Friedt

Outdoor Hibernation

Box Turtles and Toads

I’ve had good results by allowing Eastern Box Turtles and American Toads to dig down into the soil and leaf litter within their pens. However, the ground must be loosened in the fall, and I always add a 6-12 inch layer of fallen leaves to the surface. Note: although many people keep American Wood Turtles in largely-terrestrial pens, they spend the winter at the bottom of streams, not on land.

 

The pen should be exposed to rainfall year-round, as terrestrial turtles and toads require somewhat moist hibernation sites. Drainage must be provided…I’ve only left animals outdoors in bottomless pens, so that water does not pool.

 

Eastern Painted Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Greg Schechter

Aquatic Turtles and Frogs

Red-Eared Sliders, Painted Turtles, Green Frogs, American Bullfrogs and similar species usually overwinter underwater, beneath mud and leaf litter. Unless you are well-experienced or have expert guidance, I would not recommend trying to keep these creatures outdoors for the winter.

 

Dormant turtles absorb oxygen via the cloaca, while amphibians utilize diffusion through the skin. Your pond water’s oxygen level is, therefore, critical, but we have little information on any species’ exact requirements. Water depth is also a concern.

 

Aerators and surface heaters designed for use with koi and goldfish can be employed if you wish to keep your aquatic pets outdoors. You can read more about general winter pond preparations on ThatFishBlog…please see the links below.

 

I have had success in overwintering some aquatic species outdoors (i.e. Sliders, Snappers, Musk, Mud, Spotted and Painted Turtles, Green and Bullfrogs, Northern Watersnakes) but my best results were in large outdoor zoo exhibits rather than backyard ponds.

 

In both my pens and natural situations, I was several times surprised to find American Bullfrogs and Green Frogs hibernating on land – they missed the “go to the pond memo”, I guess!

 

Indoor Hibernation

Indoor hibernation is a bit less risky in some ways, as you can monitor the animals closely and avoid the extreme conditions that occur outdoors. However, it is still not advisable for pet-keepers lacking considerable experience.

 

American Box Turtles can be over-wintered in moist sphagnum moss at 38-42 F. A refrigerator designated for this purpose is ideal, but attics, garages and similar areas can be used if temperatures are appropriate. American Toads and their relatives can be maintained in the same manner, but they usually remain active and feeding down to 55 F or so, and so are easier to “keep awake”.

 

Keeping your pets in an unheated or extra-cool room of the house is not satisfactory. At temperatures too low for normal activity, yet above those needed for dormancy (i.e. 50-65 F for many temperate zone species), food reserves are used and the immune system fails to protect from respiratory and other infections.

While aquatic turtles and frogs have been successfully over-wintered in aerated water at 40 F, I would not advise taking the risk.

 

Avoiding Hibernation

Spotted, Wood, Box and Painted Turtles, and others with similar life histories, may be kept active at their normal temperatures year-round. I tend to maintain them at the lower end of their normal active range, but provide a warmer basking site. If the animals are in good health, a dip to 60 F at night will do no harm (different species vary in this regard – please post below for specific information).

 

Gray Treefrogs in amplexus

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Fredlyfish4

Temperate zone frogs and toads, including Fire-bellied Toads, American Bullfrogs, Gray Treefrogs and Leopard Frogs remain active and feeding at normal to low (i.e. 55 F) room temperatures. The change from summer highs seems to do them good, and in some cases (i.e. Fire-bellied Toads), may also stimulate breeding behavior.

 

Tortoises

Russian and Greek Tortoises, along with several other species, experience cool to cold winters in some portions of their natural ranges. However, it is difficult to successfully induce dormancy among captives, either in the home or outdoors. Please post below if you wish to attempt this, and I’ll send along specific information.

 

Internal Controls on Behavior

Circadian rhythms, which might be likened to “internal clocks”, govern behavior to varying degrees. For example, Indian Gharials under my care for 14 years refused food in tune with the cool season in their native range, despite being kept at optimal temperatures (they lost virtually no weight during the 3 month period, however).

 

Among pets, wild-caught individuals of certain species may refuse food and become less active even when kept warm during the winter. In some cases, captive-born youngsters of the same animals will feed normally all winter long. Captive born individuals of other species may enter semi-dormancy despite being many generations removed from the wild. For species with large ranges, the origin of the parent stock may be important. I’ve had experience with this scenario in a number of reptiles and amphibians, and am very interested in learning more…please post your observations and questions 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

 Preparing Your Pond for Winter

Bullfrogs in Backyard Ponds

Red-eared Sliders in Backyard Ponds

Scroll To Top