Chameleon Care Tips from a Herpetologist – Panther Chameleons as Pets

Chameleons are spectacular creatures to care for, but they are almost “too interesting” for their own good.  Drawn by their beauty and unique-to-bizarre characteristics, many rush into chameleon care without proper preparation.  None are suitable for beginners, but if asked to recommend a large, colorful species to an experienced keeper, I would choose the majestic Panther Chameleon, Furcifer pardalis.  While not as hardy as the Veiled Chameleon, Chamaeleo calyptratus, the Panther is adapted to environmental conditions that fluctuate wildly, and this seems assist its adjustment to captivity.  It is also an excellent study subject…recent studies have revealed new insights into the relationship between chameleon basking behavior and diet (please see below).

Male Panther Chameleon

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Marc Staub

I’ve worked with many chameleon species in zoos, and can attest to the difficulties involved even when one has sufficient space and supplies.  Please read this article and those linked under “Further Reading” carefully, and post any questions below. Read More »

Pet Lizards – Fascinating Species for those who keep Reptiles as Pets

 From minute House Geckos to massive Water Monitors and endangered Rhinoceros Iguanas, an amazing array of fascinating lizards is now available in the pet trade. Fortunately, many are being bred in captivity, and new discoveries concerning their needs occur regularly.  But the range of choices of pet lizards can be overwhelming. Not all species are suited for each keeper, and some, although popular, are best avoided by private collectors.

Drawing from decades of work with hundreds of species at the Bronx and Staten Island Zoos, today I’d like to highlight the pros and cons of some popular lizards. Detailed care information can be found in the linked articles, or by posting your questions below. Scores of other species could be used in place of those I have suggested…please be sure to write in with your own favorites, so that other readers may benefit from your experiences.

Chuckwalla (Sauromalus obesus)

Frilled Lizard

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Miklos Schiberna

This stocky desert-dweller was once difficult to maintain in captivity, mainly because its UVB requirements were ignored. Today’s high-output florescent UVB and mercury vapor bulbs have changed this situation, and captive bred animals are now readily available. Read More »

Mazuri High Calcium Cricket Diet and Other Foods for Feeder Crickets

My professional experience with captive reptiles, amphibians and other creatures extends back over 4 decades, with much of that time being spent at the Bronx Zoo. For the past 24 years, I’ve relied heavily upon Mazuri animal diets, as have many of my zoologist colleagues worldwide. From turtles to elephants and hamsters to cassowaries, Mazuri formulates more carefully-researched foods than does any other company. I recently had occasion to experiment with and read about Mazuri’s High Calcium Cricket Diet, and am quite pleased with the results. In the following article, I’ll also highlight some other useful products for crickets and similar feeder insects.

Crickets feeding

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Sean Wallace

The Calcium: Phosphorus Ratio

In order to maintain optimum health and normal growth, the foods offered to reptiles and amphibians should (depending upon the species) contain calcium and phosphorus in a ratio of 1:1, 1.5:1 or 2:1. Crickets and many other feeder insects in their natural (“un-supplemented”) state have a calcium: phosphorus ratio of only 0.3:1. Read More »

Emerald Tree Boas in the Wild – Applying Natural History to Pet Care

The Emerald Tree Boa is extremely popular in zoos and private collections, but its life in the wild remains relatively unstudied.  What little we have learned has come mainly from chance observations rather than long-term studies.  Cryptic coloration, nocturnal ways and a life spent high in tropical forest canopies or dense brush has served to shroud their habits in mystery.  But each bit of knowledge has helped us to better keep and breed this magnificent snake.  For example, studies of the Emerald Tree Boa’s natural habitat have revealed the importance of providing captives with humid but airy enclosures, and temperatures that are somewhat lower than one might expect.

Emerald Tree Boa

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jyothis


Emerald Tree Boas are native to two distinct but adjacent areas of northern South America – the Guyana or Northern Shield region and the Amazon Basin.  Individuals from each area differ somewhat in appearance, and some have suggested that 2 subspecies should be named.  Corallus batesii has been proposed for the Amazon Basin population by those who believe that 2 distinct species are present.

Description: Differences between the Two Major Populations

Snakes from the Guyana Shield region, which encompasses parts of Surinam, Guyana, French Guiana and Venezuela, are light green in color (often described as “lime green”), and have noticeably larger head scales than do those further south. Read More »

Tarantula Care and Habits – Useful Facts for those with Pet Tarantulas

Over 900 of the world’s 40,000+ spider species are commonly known as tarantulas (family Theraphosidae).  Among them we find a staggering diversity of sizes, colors, and lifestyles, and many species that make interesting, long-lived pets.  In the early 1980’s, I had the chance to work with the huge collection of a long-time friend, now a noted arachnologist.  Several species in that collection were (and remain) little known in the hobby or zoos.

Goliath Bird Eater

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bobisbob

Today, a wide variety of pet tarantulas, including such long-time favorites as the Mexican Red Leg (Brachypelma), Chilean Rose-Haired (Grammostola), Pink Toed (Avicularia) and the massive Goliath Bird-eating Tarantula (Theraphosa blondii), are now regularly bred by hobbyists.  The key to success with tarantulas is an understanding of their lives in the wild.  Following is an overview; please remember that tarantulas are an extraordinarily diverse group, so details will vary.  Please post below for information on individual species.

Unique Characteristics

While the fangs, or chelicerae, of typical spiders move from side-to-side when grasping prey, those of tarantulas are employed in a downward strike.  Tarantulas are also distinguished from other spiders by their unusual respiratory organs, known as book lungs, and by the presence of 2 claws and adhesive pads on the tips of the legs.  The defensive, urticating hairs of New World species are also unique among spiders (please see “Handling”, below).

One typically sees tarantulas referred to as “primitive” spiders, but they quite successful (please see “Range and Habitat”), and may be the dominant invertebrate predators in many environments.

Females of several species may live into their 30’s, while males rarely exceed 1- 4 years of age. Read More »

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