East African Black Mud Turtle Care: a Herpetologist’s Thoughts

West African Mud Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Loran

I was first introduced to the East African Black Mud Turtle, or African Mud Turtle, (Pelusios subniger) when working for a NYC animal importer many years ago, and they have remained great favorites of mine to this day. In common with many species that have evolved in harsh environments, African Mud Turtles are among the hardiest of reptile pets; longevities in excess of 30 years have been recorded. Perhaps due to their somewhat drab coloration, these interesting, responsive turtles are often overlooked, but that is a mistake – all the private and professional keepers to whom I’ve recommended them have been most pleased.

 

Description

The dark brown to black carapace is broad and oval-shaped, and averages 6-8 inches in length; some individuals may approach 10 inches. The neck is retracted into the shell by being “folded” to the side, as is seen in the South American side-necked turtles.

 

West African Mud Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by J-Moss

Classification

The African Mud Turtle is placed in the family Pelomedusidae, along with 26 relatives; 2 subspecies have been described. It is sometimes confused with the superficially similar (and equally hardy) West African Mud Turtle (Pelosius castaneus) and the African Helmeted Turtle (Pelomedusa subrufa); please see photos.  All may be kept as described here.

 

Range

The African Mud Turtle’s huge range extends across much of eastern Africa, from Burundi and Tanzania, south and west to Congo, Zambia and Botswana. It also occurs on Madagascar, the Seychelles, and several nearby islands, and has been introduced to Mauritius and, of all places, the Caribbean island of Guadalupe (I’m guessing there are some roaming about south Florida as well!). The Seychelles population is considered to be a distinct subspecies.

 

Habitat

Largely aquatic, the African Mud Turtle lives in well-vegetated rivers, marshes and swamps, as well as in seasonally flooded pans (low areas that hold water for a time) within savannas. Individuals occupying temporary water bodies burrow into the mud and aestivate (become dormant) or travel across land when their habitats dry out.

 

Like the Helmeted Turtle, the African Mud Turtle is often seen in water holes frequented by zebra, elephants and other large mammals.

 

Water hole habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Babakathy

Behavior in Captivity

African Mud Turtles quickly learn to “beg” for food as soon as their owner appears, and make excellent, responsive pets. They become quite bold once acclimated to captivity, and do well in busy locations.   If provided proper accommodations, captive breeding is possible (please post below for details).

 

Quite powerful, they are capable of administering severe bites and scratches when frightened, and must be handled carefully.

 

The Aquarium

African Mud Turtles spend most of their lives in water, but are more “bottom crawlers” than swimmers. Their habitat needs parallel those of the American mud and musk turtles. The aquarium’s water should be of a depth that allows the turtle to breath while it is standing on the bottom of the tank (i.e. without having to swim to the surface). If provided with easy access to land, adults can also be kept in deeper water. The water area should be stocked with driftwood and other structures that can be used as sub-surface resting sites.

 

Hatchlings should be kept in low water…just enough so that they can breathe without swimming. Floating live or plastic plants will provide youngsters with security…they are on the menus of many African predators, and remain shy for a time!

 

A single small adult might get by in a 40 gallon aquarium, but a 55 gallon or larger tank is preferable.

 

Zoo Med’s Turtle Tub, wading pools, and koi ponds can be fashioned into excellent African Mud Turtle habitats. Outdoor housing is ideal, assuming that raccoons and other predators can be excluded.

 

A dry basking surface is necessary. Commercial turtle docks and ramps work for smaller specimens, but large adults may sink anything that is not affixed to the glass with silicone adhesive. Cork bark wedged between the aquarium’s sides is another option.

 

Filtration

Turtles are messy feeders and very hard on water quality. Unless the enclosure can be emptied and cleaned several times weekly, a powerful submersible turtle filter or canister filter will be necessary. Even with filtration, partial water changes are essential. Removing your turtles to an easily-cleaned container for feeding will lessen the filter’s workload and help to keep the water clean.

 

Please see the articles under “Further Reading” for more on water quality and filtration.

 

African Helmeted Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Thomas Brown

Substrate

African Mud Turtles are best kept in bare-bottomed aquariums; gravel traps waste material, greatly complicating cleaning, and may also be swallowed.

 

Light

A source of UVB radiation is essential. Natural sunlight is best, but it must be direct, as glass and plastic filter-out UVB rays.

 

If a standard florescent bulb is used (the Zoo Med 10.0 UVB Bulb is ideal), be sure that the turtle can bask within 6-12 inches of it. High-output florescent UVB bulbs and mercury vapor bulbs broadcast UVB over greater distances.

 

Heat

Water temperatures of 78-82 F should be maintained. Large individuals may break typical aquarium heaters, so choose a model designed for use with turtles. An incandescent bulb should be employed to heat the basking site to 90-95 F.

 

Feeding

Wild African Mud Turtles take a huge variety of foods, including fish, tadpoles, snails, carrion, insects, frogs and small snakes. Aquatic and terrestrial plants have been reported in the diets of some populations as well.

 

tp53041Pets should be offered a diet comprised largely of whole animals such as fish, earthworms, snails, pre-killed pink mice, crayfish and prawn. Whole freshwater fishes such as minnows and shiners are the best source of calcium for turtles, and provide other important nutrients not present in prepared foods. Offer fish at least once weekly. A steady goldfish diet has been implicated in liver problems in other species, so use these sparingly if at all. Cuttlebones or turtle calcium blocks will also be accepted by many individuals.

 

Other important food items include various turtle treat foods and freeze-dried krill or shrimp. Crickets, butterworms, calci-worms, roaches and other invertebrates will also be consumed with gusto.

 

A high quality commercial turtle chow (the various Zoo Med pellets are my favorites) can comprise up to 50% of the diet. Reptomin Food Sticks and trout chow also provide excellent nutrition, and may be offered regularly.

 

Breeding

Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless and may refuse food. They should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with 6-8 inches of slightly moist soil and sand. Females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention always leads to a fatal infection (egg peritonitis); oxytocin injections usually resolve the problem quickly.

 

The 6 -18 eggs may be incubated in moist vermiculite at 82-85 F for 55-80 days.

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

Turtle Water Quality

Prepared Diets for Turtles

 

The 5 Worst Reptiles and Amphibians to Choose as Holiday Gifts

Choosing a live amphibian or a reptile as a holiday gift may be a nice gesture, but it is also fraught with potential problems. Please see The 5 Best Reptiles and Amphibians to Choose as Holiday Gifts for further cautions. General considerations aside, certain species are almost always a bad idea…even when the recipient has some experience. Unfortunately, many of these “bad choices” are promoted as being easy-to-care-for, and indeed all have some very desirable qualities. In the right hands, some can make great, long-lived pets – but, unfortunately, the “right hands” are often few and far between.

 

Please see the articles linked under Further Reading for detailed information about the animals mentioned in this article, and be sure to post any questions you may have below.

 

resturtleRed-Eared Slider, Trachemys scripta elegans

Bred in the millions on farms in the American Southeast, Sliders are among the most readily available of all reptilian pets. Responsive and hardy, they invariably surprise first-time owners with their rapid growth rate. An adult female, which will measure 8-12 inches when fully grown (the one pictured here is moderately-sized), requires a 75-100 gallon aquarium.  Powerful filtration, frequent water changes, UVB exposure, heat lamps, water heaters, and a proper diet are essential in meeting their needs.

 

With proper care, these active turtles can easily live into their 30’s. However, few people are prepared to commit the time and expense necessary to achieve this. As a consequence, millions of released pets and their progeny now inhabit dozens of countries worldwide – I’ve seen them in places as far flung as Kyoto, Japan temple ponds and sewage catchment basins in Caracas, Venezuela.

 

Burmese python

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Glogger

Young Burmese Pythons or other Giant Constrictors

I’ve had the immense good fortune of working with all of the giant constrictors in zoos, and with some in the field as well. I realize that the ability to live out this childhood dream is not available to most people, and so I’m somewhat torn when asked to comment on Burmese Pythons, Anacondas and related species as pets. Unfortunately, all are capable of killing an adult human, and they are far too large to be accommodated in most homes.

 

Novices usually find it hard to imagine that the slender, 18-36 inch-long youngster they buy will need a 6-foot long cage within 2-3 years and a professionally-built room-sized enclosure shortly thereafter. A 10-foot-long Burmese Python or similar snake can be expected to consume 100-150 pounds of food yearly. The nonsense about “dog tame” giant snakes prevalent on the internet should be ignored – snakes, no matter how long in captivity, will not distinguish between food and owner, and will bite anything moving within range!

 

Dart poison frogs

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by H. Krisp

Dart Poison Frogs, Dendrobates spp., and relatives

I recall a time when these living gems were rarely seen even in zoos. Today, captive bred specimens from a startling array of species are readily available in the pet trade. So colorful as to appear unreal, Poison Frogs are bold and active by day, and care for their tadpoles in “mammal-like” fashion – hard to resist!

 

Their tiny size might tempt the unwary into a quick purchase. But, in contrast to the other animals mentioned here, it is small size that renders Poison Frogs as difficult captives. They take live food only, and suitably-sized insects may be difficult to supply. Pinhead crickets and fruit flies, the most easily obtainable foods, are not an adequate long term diet. Springtails, flour beetle grubs, termites, leaf litter invertebrates, aphids, and other wild-caught insects are an integral part of their diets. Poison Frogs are also sensitive to ammonia in the water and substrate and to both cool and overly-warm temperatures, and thrive best in terrariums stocked with live plants.

 

African spurred tortoise

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Baseballchck02

The African Spurred Tortoise, Geochelone sulcata

These engaging tortoises exhibit a degree of responsiveness more commonly associated with dogs than reptiles, and captive-bred hatchlings are available for modest prices. Evolution in a harsh environment has primed them for rapid growth – two individuals that I’m familiar with topped 60 pounds by age 5, and an older animal tipped the scales at 190 pounds!

 

Few hobbyists are equipped to properly care for these behemoths, the largest of all mainland tortoises. In fact, a ½ acre outdoor exhibit proved too small for a pair of 80-pounders under my care at the Prospect Park Zoo. In most areas of the USA, winter care requires indoor accommodations, which translates into a room-sized enclosure for an adult.

 

Green iguana

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Paul Kehrer

Green Iguana, Iguana iguana

Cute, brilliantly-colored, and a mere 7 inches in length, hatchling Green Iguanas are often promoted as suitable pets for children and novice reptile keepers. But these arboreal lizards have very specific husbandry needs, and their adult size (4-6 feet in length) and potentially aggressive behaviors are serious considerations. Males affected by hormonal surges can be quite dangerous, as attested to by the numerous stitches on the neck of a zoo colleague of mine, and a scar on my arm; when disturbed, either sex may bite, lash out with the tail, or scratch (please see the article linked below for more on male aggression). At minimum, an adult Green Iguana will need a custom-made cage measuring 6 x 3 x 6 feet in size. Ample UVB and strict attention to their nutritional needs, which change with age, are necessary if they are to thrive.

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

Red Eared Slider Care

Green Iguana Aggression

New Species Found in 2014: Gymnastic Spiders and Other Invertebrates

I always advise young students intent on reaching fame to study invertebrates…uncounted millions remain to be discovered, even in such unlikely places as Manhattan’s Central Park (a centipede, in recent years). Almost every week, an exciting new insect, arachnid, crustacean, or other invertebrate is uncovered, and some of those found in 2014 have been especially surprising. Included among this year’s amazing finds are “living skeletons”, see-through snails, gymnastic spiders, and screaming-pink millipedes. Most have barely been studied, while others were found earleir but are only now being described in detail. The following discoveries represent just the tip of the “new species iceberg”…please be sure to post your own favorites below.

Pink Dragon Millipede

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by CHULABUSH KHATANCHAROEN

Shocking Pink Dragon Millipede, Desmoxytes puruposea

Unlike many of its relatives, this conspicuously-colored millipede shuns cover and is out and about by day. Discovered near Thailand’s Hup Pa Tard cavern, it is well-protected by spiny legs and an arsenal of cyanide-like gasses (these same gasses once gave me quite a scare: please see the article below). Several of its relatives are bright red in color.

 

 

 

Flic Flac Spider

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Ingo Rechenberg

Moroccan Flic-Flac Spider, Cebrennus rechenbergi

This relative of the Huntsman Spiders is named after a move used during gymnastic routines. When attacked, it engages in a series of forward and backward flips and is thus able to travel at twice its normal running speed. I wonder if the odd movements do not serve to confuse predators as well. It is the only spider known to use this form of locomotion. A robot based on its movements is being developed for possible use in agriculture and ocean/space exploration.

 

The Flic-Flac Spider is known only from the sand dunes of Morocco’s Erg Chebbi Desert. Perhaps the difficulties inherent in moving across sand have contributed to the evolution of its unique escape style – other desert-adapted spiders and insects are able to roll away from danger.

 

Skeletons and Ghosts

Skeleton shrimp

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Hans Hillewaert

Southern California’s Santa Catalina Island is best known for sunny weather and beautiful ocean views. But a cave within one of its offshore reefs was found to contain a ghoulish shrimp-like creature that looks very much like a living skeleton. Dubbed the Skeleton Shrimp (Liropus minisculus), this amphipod has a translucent exoskeleton that lends it an oddly bone-like appearance. Its otherworldliness is further enhanced by the “raptorial claws” – mantis-like forelimbs used to grasp prey and mates.

 

For millions of years, the Domed Land Snail (Zospeum tholussum) has gone about the business of living in an isolated cave system 3,000 feet below the ground in western Croatia. Eyeless, colorless and with a see-through shell, it moves only several centimeters each week. The existence of such a creature, described

by the few who have seen it as “ghostly”, cannot fail to make one wonder what else awaits discovery far beneath the earth’s surface.

 

Domed land snail

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Alexander M. Weigand

Lightening Roach, Lucihormetica luckae

Although quite a few sea creatures glow in the dark, luminescence is rare among land dwellers. But the Lightening Roach, known from only a single specimen collected in Guatemala, has developed this ability to a remarkable degree. Entomologists theorize that this light-producing roach mimics a toxic, glowing click beetle found in the same area. Unfortunately, a volcanic eruption in this insect’s only known habitat has cast doubt on its continued existence. Other glowing roaches have also been found in recent years…none are well-studied, and all appear to be rare.

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

My Millipede Emergency

Bird-Eating Frog Discovered

New Reptiles Discovered: 2010

The 5 Best Reptiles and Amphibians to Choose as Holiday Gifts

While most herp enthusiasts would be thrilled with a live holiday gift, it’s important to think very carefully before you make a present of a reptile or amphibian. Difficult as it may be to believe, the recipient may not share your enthusiasm! Presenting a pet to someone who is unwilling or unable to provide proper care is unfair to both the person and the creature. This is especially true of children…you must speak with their parents beforehand, and explain all that is involved in caring for your intended gift. With these cautions in mind, let’s look at some reptiles and amphibians that are well suited for mature children and adults new to herp-keeping.

 

Please see the articles linked under Further Reading for detailed care information, and be sure to post any questions you may have below.

 

snakeCorn Snake, Pantherophis guttata

The Corn Snake is one of North America’s most beautifully-patterned reptiles, and the world’s most popular serpent pet.  Despite having crossed paths with hundreds of species during my career as a herpetologist, I reserve a special fondness for these undemanding beauties. Topping out at a manageable 2.5 to 4 feet in length, Corn Snakes are amenable to gentle handling and can be housed in a 20-55 gallon aquarium. A hide box, incandescent heat bulb, water bowl, and a pre-killed mouse (available, frozen, at pet stores) each 7-10 days completes their needs. Longevities in excess of 20 years are known, and captive breeding – which has resulted in over 25 unique color phases – is commonplace.

 

Chinese Fire Bellied Newts

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dobromila

Japanese and Chinese Fire-Bellied Newts, Cynops pyrrhogaster and C. orientalis

Fire-Bellied Newts have much to recommend them as pets. They are active by day and quickly lose any shyness about exhibiting a range of interesting behaviors. Average room temperatures suit them well, and a pair can be kept in a 5 gallon aquarium equipped with a simple filter. Reptomin and other commercial foods, with occasional feedings of live blackworms (sold as tropical fish food), can serve as the basis of their diet. Fire-Bellies often surprise their owners with eggs, offering an excellent introduction to amphibian breeding.  Note: all newts produce skin toxins that can be harmful, and for certain species fatal, if swallowed; children must be supervised.

 

Leopard gecko

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Unibrow1994

Leopard Gecko, Eublepharis macularius

There’s good reason why this attractive little lizard is one of the world’s most desirable reptilian pets. Unlike Bearded Dragons and other popular lizards, the Leopard Gecko does not require access to UVB radiation. This simplifies care and reduces expenses. They are also slow-moving, calm in demeanor, and very amenable to handling…a big plus for children. Their dietary and space needs are quite modest, and a wide variety of inexpensive heat sources and other gecko-specific products are available. Although typically active by night, pets are always willing to eat during the day, and their nocturnal wanderings can be viewed with the aid of a red/black night bulb.

 

Musk turtle hatchling

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Karlwj1985

Common Musk Turtle, Sternotherus odoratus and its Relatives

I always hesitate to recommend turtles as first-time pets. Most need a great deal of room, expensive life support equipment, and their care can be quite time consuming. One possible exception is the Common Musk Turtle and such relatives as the North American Mud Turtle. While not exactly “simple” to care for, they make excellent choices for someone set on turtle ownership. Maxing out at 5 inches or so, the Musk Turtle can be accommodated in a 20 gallon aquarium equipped with an easy-to-clean filter. It differs from most turtles in not requiring UVB exposure, and a fish tank heater will meet its modest temperature requirements. A diet of high quality turtle pellets, supplemented with minnows, earthworms and other easily-obtainable foods, will keep them in great health long-term – as attested to by the 45 year-old female that is watching me as I type!

 

African clawed frogs and eggs

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Shields R

African Clawed Frog, Xenopus laevis

Several African Clawed Frogs in my collection have lived into their mid-20’s, and all have been most amusing. Bold and brassy, these aquatic frogs quickly learn to “beg” for food, and readily feed from the hand. They do fine at temperatures ranging from 55-90 F, and, unlike almost all other frogs, accept non-living foods such as reptile and fish pellets (occasional insects are also appreciated). A simple filter and weekly partial water changes are essential to their health…provided that, African Clawed Frogs will prove to be among the hardiest of all amphibian pets.

 

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

Fire Bellied Newts as Pets

 

Leopard Gecko Care

 

Musk Turtle Care

 

Keeping Corn Snakes and other Ratsnakes

 

The Care and Breeding of African Clawed Frogs

Sailfin Dragon Care and Conservation: a Zookeeper’s Notes

H. pustulatus

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by MKFI

Sailfin Dragons (4 species in the genus Hydrosaurus) are among the most spectacular of all the world’s lizards. Even after a lifetime of working with reptiles in zoos and the field, the sight of one stops me cold – and I know of no herp enthusiast who reacts otherwise. While certainly not suitable for beginners, the experienced keeper with ample space will be hard pressed to find a more exciting prospect. And with a new species recently described, and wild populations of others in jeopardy, serious attention to captive breeding is urgently needed.

 

Description and Natural History

The Philippine Sailfin Lizard, Hydrosaurus pustulatus, was the species most commonly seen in the pet trade until the mid-1990’s, when exports were restricted. Stoutly built and sometimes nearing 4 feet in length, males are clad in green, neon purple, and reddish blue, and bear huge crests along the back and tail. DNA studies of individuals in Manila animal markets revealed that 2 genetically-distinct species are currently classified as H. pustulatus. The newly-described species has not yet been named. Please see the article linked below for further information.

 

Sailfin habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Ramon FVelasquez

The Amboina Sailfin, H. amboinensis, native to Indonesia and New Guinea, now often appears in pet markets in the Philippines. Weber’s Sailfin Lizard, H. weberi, is limited in distribution to the Indonesian islands of Ternate and Halmahera.

 

Sailfin Dragons are found near water, frequenting forested river edges, swamps, and coastal marshes.

 

Behavior

Sailfin Dragons are alert and somewhat high-strung. Pets will flee from noises, cats, dogs, large birds and other threats. Injuries during such escape attempts are common. While some calm down and accept gentle handling, wild caught individuals may remain unapproachable for years.

 

Female

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Adrian Pingstone

Status in the Wild

A recent survey by University of Oklahoma herpetologists (Biological Conservation, V 169, Jan, 2014) revealed that only 10% of the Philippine Sailfin Dragon’s remaining habitat is protected. The rest is impacted by logging, coastal fisheries, illegal collection, and other activities.

 

The Terrarium

Sailfin Dragons forage on the ground but are otherwise arboreal. They will be stressed if kept in low enclosures that do not allow climbing opportunities.

 

Youngsters may be raised in 30-55 gallon aquariums. In common with Asian Water Dragons and Basilisks, they often run along the glass and are prone to snout and jaw abrasions. Cardboard or other solid borders along the lower 3-4 inches of the tank’s sides will help to limit such injuries.

 

Larger individuals must be housed in custom-made cages. A single adult will need a home measuring approximately 5 x 4 x 5 feet. More height – 6 feet or so – is ideal. In suitable climates, predator-proof outdoor enclosures, including pre-fabricated bird aviaries, can be fashioned into “luxury accommodations”.

 

H. amboinensis

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Cburnett

Numerous wide, stout branches and shelves should be provided. Sturdy live plants (Pothos, Philodendron, Spider Plants) and/or artificial plants should be added to provide a sense of security. Wild Sailfin Dragons always live near heavy cover, and will be ill-at-ease in bare terrariums. One or two sides of the enclosure should be solid as opposed to screened, again to place the animals at ease (this is standard in zoo exhibit construction – many animals fare poorly when open to view from all directions). Never position rocks below branches, as startled individuals may jump to the floor and be injured.

 

A water bowl large enough for bathing must be provided. Custom built cages with filtered pools are ideal.

 

Substrate

The substrate should be capable of holding moisture and soft enough to cushion falls when hungry or frightened Dragons leap to the ground. Cypress mulch is ideal; soft sphagnum moss can be added if falls are frequent. Avoid fine substrates such as peat and coconut husk, which tend to lodge around the eyes and jaws.

 

Light

Sailfin Dragons will not thrive without a source of UVB radiation. Natural sunlight is best, but be aware that glass and plastic filter out UVB rays, and that fatal overheating can occur very quickly. If a florescent bulb is used (the Zoo Med 10.0 UVB Bulb is ideal), be sure that all animals can bask within 6-12 inches of it. Mercury vapor bulbs broadcast UVB over greater distances, and provide beneficial UVA radiation as well. A 12:12 hour day-night cycle should be maintained.

 

Heat

The ambient air temperature should range from 80-90 F, with a basking spot of 110-120 F; night-time temperatures can dip to 75 F.  Incandescent bulbs should be used to maintain these temperatures. Provide your pets with the largest enclosure possible, so that a varied temperature gradient can be maintained. A ceramic heater or red/black reptile “night bulb” can be used after dark.

 

Humidity

Sailfin Dragons require humidity levels of approximately 80%, and the chance to dry off as well. The terrarium should be misted twice daily. Large bathing pools and reptile misters can be used to increase humidity.

 

Companions

Males are territorial and will fight savagely. Females often co-exist, but may also battle for dominance.

 

Crayfish

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Thomas Seip

Feeding

Sailfin Dragons need a varied diet. Those fed crickets and mealworms alone quickly develop serious developmental disorders. Whole vertebrates such as minnows, shiners, crayfish or small bait crabs, and pink mice represent the best means of meeting their high calcium requirements; use goldfishes only sparingly, as a steady diet has been implicated in health problems in other reptiles. Pink mice should be fed less often than fishes (once each 7-14 days), and furred rodents are best avoided.

 

Roaches, earthworms, crickets, butterworms, silkworms, super mealworms and other commercially-available insects, should be offered regularly. In order to increase dietary variety, try canned grasshoppers, snails and silkworms. Cicadas, beetles, grasshoppers, moths and other wild-caught insects should be provided as well; please see the article linked below for further information on safely collecting insects.

 

Young Sailfin Dragons are primarily carnivorous, but add greens and fruit to the diet as they mature. Captives, however, often reject non-living foods. Mixing live mealworms into a bowl of kale, dandelion, squash, carrot, mango, peaches and other produce may encourage them to sample the salad.

 

Depending upon the type of food, Sailfin Dragons can be fed daily, every-other-day or thrice weekly; young fare best when fed frequently. Food (other than vertebrates) should be powdered with Zoo Med ReptiCalcium or a similar product. Vitamin/mineral supplements such as ReptiVite should be used 2-3 times each week.

 

While ingested substrate is usually passed, food is best offered in bowls to limit potential problems.

 

Health Considerations (Pet Owner and Pet)

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 write me for links to useful resources.

 

Unfortunately, captive breeding remains the exception rather than the rule. Wild-caught individuals will be afflicted with various parasites and should be seen by an experienced veterinarian shortly after acquisition.

 

Sailfin Dragons are prone to snout and jaw injuries that result from rubbing against glass and screening. Wounds may become infected, and should be treated immediately.

 

Fine/gritty substrate may lodge along the gums and in the eyes.

 

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.

 

Further Reading

 New Sailfin Dragon Species Found in Pet Market

Feeding Insectivorous Lizards

 

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