Frog Facts, Natural History, and Behavior – Notes on Amphibian Pets

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Those with an interest in frogs and toads will never be bored…among the 6,200 known species are found some of the world’s most fascinating and unusual animals.  Many amphibian pets may, with proper care, live for 10, 20 or even 50 years, and can be wonderful animals to keep and observe.  A number engage in complex social behaviors that range from hand-signaling to the feeding of tadpoles…and well-adjusted captives are often not at all shy about doing so before an audience!

I cannot remember a time when I was not fascinated by frogs and toads, and my amphibian-keeping friends and Bronx Zoo colleagues often voice the same sentiment.  But what is it that draws us to keep, study and breed these marvelous creatures?  True, some species, due to their ability to survive near people, become our first herp pets…as did Bullfrogs, American Toads and others when I was growing up in the Bronx, but there’s more to it than that.  Part of the answer, I believe, lies in their amazing diversity of forms and lifestyles…some of which stretch the limits of believability.  Please be sure to post your own thoughts and experiences below, as well as any questions you may concerning choosing a pet frog or caring for individual species.

Dendrobates

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Pixeltoo

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Snake Fungal Disease – Conservationists Fear Emerging Disease Epidemic

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Recently I reported on a study that documented declines of 50-90% in 17 populations of 8 snake species (please see article linked below).  These findings brought to mind the global amphibian decline that was first uncovered in 1990.  Since then, an emerging disease caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatitis has likely caused the extinctions of over 100 frog species.  Researchers seeking to avoid a similar crisis among the world’s snakes have now identified an emerging illness, Snake Fungal Disease, as cause for serious concern.  Associated with a newly-described fungus, Chrysosporium ophiodiicola, the disease has been found in several species in 9 states (USA), but is likely much more widespread.

Timber Rattler

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Rkillcrazy

New Victims of a New Fungus

The global snake declines mentioned above first came to light in the late 1990’s, but explanations remain elusive.  In 2008, herpetologists became alarmed when Eastern Massasaugas (or Swamp Rattlesnakes) in Illinois and Timber Rattlesnakes in New Hampshire showed evidence of an unusual fungal infection.  A fungus (Chrysosporium sp.) that had previously been isolated from captive snakes, but never in the wild, was identified from head lesions on the Timber and Swamp Rattlesnakes.  All of the snakes submitted for study expired.

In April of 2013, the USGS National Wildlife Health Center announced the discovery of a fungus new to science, Chrysosporium ophiodiicola.  This fungus has been implicated in an emerging disease that is now afflicting snakes in the Eastern and Midwestern USA.  Increasing numbers of snakes showing evidence of infection have been found by USGS biologists, who fear that the disease may devastate snake populations. Read More »

Salamanders and Cell Regeneration – How Do They Regrow Limbs?

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  As anyone who has attempted to lift one by its tail knows, salamanders and newts can discard these body parts with no ill effect.  In time, we learned that they can regenerate not only tails, but also heart, brain and spinal cord tissue…parts of any organ, it turns out, can be regrown.  Furthermore, researchers describe the cell regeneration process as “perfect” – normal function is restored, and there is little if any scarring.  Salamanders hold special interest for me.  I’ve kept a great many species in zoos and at home, have studied several in the wild, and even had the happy opportunity to write two books on their care.  I’ve always hoped that we would uncover the key to their mind-boggling abilitiesI’m happy to report that a groundbreaking discovery has now given us some answers, and may lead to research of immense benefit to people suffering from a wide range of diseases and injuries.

Axolotl, natural coloration

Puloaded to Wikipedia Commons by Stan Shebs,

Why Study Salamanders?

Internally, amphibians and people show many similarities.  And while most are aware of the medical significance of frog studies and dissections, few people know that the real amphibian research star is the Mexican Axolotl, Ambystoma mexicanum.  Studies of this unusual aquatic salamander have led to important advances many fields, including gene expression, neurobiology and limb/organ regeneration. Read More »

Leopard Gecko Care – The Ideal Gecko Terrarium – a Zookeeper’s Thoughts

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Leopard Geckos (Eublepharis macularius) possess distinct personalities, accept handling, are easy to breed, do not require UVB radiation and are content with modestly-sized terrariums – surely as close to a “perfect reptile pet” as one can imagine.  However, while some have reached ages of 20+ years, Leopard Geckos will not thrive if their specific needs are not met.  Drawing from my work with this and related species at the Bronx and Staten Island Zoos, today I’ll describe the type of captive habitat these fascinating lizards require, and some useful products that will help you excel in Leopard Gecko care.  I’m also hoping to publish a revised edition of a book I’ve written on Leopard Geckos…I’ll try to include any interesting observations you might post below.

Male leopard gecko

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by MKGeckos

Natural History

Understanding an animal’s natural history is a critical first step in successful captive care and breeding.

The Leopard Gecko is found in southeastern Afghanistan, western India, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran, where it frequents desert fringes and arid grasslands. Its habitat is characterized by sand, gravel, rocks, tough grasses and low shrubs (please see photo).  In the course of the year, temperatures may range from 41-104 F. Please see the article linked below for further information on Leopard Geckos in the wild. Read More »

Giant Centipedes – My Experiences with Centipede Bites and Behavior

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Whether you are considering the massive Amazonian Giant Centipede (Scolopendra gigantea) or the tiniest native species, the keeping of these fascinating but potentially dangerous creatures should not be undertaken lightly.  During the course of my career in zoo-keeping and field research, I’ve encountered many species, and have learned something of the difficulties and dangerous their care poses.  An escaped Giant Centipede once gave me much cause for concern (please see article linked below), and several colleagues have been bitten, sometimes with dire results.  Yet many of us are drawn to them, and with so much still to learn, and so many species yet to be discovered, their study offers an exciting challenge.

Escapes

Vietnamese Centipede

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Matt Reinbold

Centipedes are very fast, can scale glass, and are able to squeeze through unbelievably small openings…escapes are not uncommon, even in zoos.  And once out, they are almost impossible to find – or forget! I should know – I’ve helped recapture animals ranging from Snow Leopards to Kodiak Bears, but concerns caused by an escaped Giant Centipede lingered longest of all; please see the article below for details. Read More »

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