As most hobbyists know, fungal infections are among the most common health problems to inflict captive amphibians and fishes. However, few realize that many species of fungus also attack lizards, turtles, snakes and other reptiles. Perhaps because, with the exception of skin fungi, infections are difficult to detect, treatment options are limited. However, some of the lessons we’ve learned in working with amphibians are helpful. Read More »
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While the importance of providing a shelter for pet herps is well-known, the question of where to place the shelter is often not given adequate consideration. In both zoo exhibits and home terrariums, I have noticed that animals sometimes refuse to enter perfectly suitable shelters. Studies carried out at the University of Sydney have recently shed some light on the factors that influence shelter choice in lizards.
Safety vs. Warmth
Writing in the journal Behavioral Ecology (21:72-77), researchers report that Velvet Geckos (Oedura leseurii) avoided shelters that carried the scent of their predators (in this case, Broad-Headed and Small-Eyed Snakes). The geckos refused to enter the shelters despite the fact that they represented the only warm areas within the enclosures, choosing instead to hide in cold shelters. When the cold shelters were also scented, the geckos remained in the open. The experiment was repeated in the geckos’ natural habitat, with the same results.
Practical Applications for Pet Owners
While this behavior might seem to “make sense” to us, I think it is important to bear in mind that hiding from predators and thermo-regulating are key aspects of reptile and amphibian survival. Remaining in the open is very stressful for most species, and may lead to illness and death. Similarly, the failure to maintain the correct body temperature is a direct threat to their survival.
While we do not (hopefully!) house our pets with their predators, other factors may be at work. For example, I have found that many animals will remain in a shelter even if the temperature within is too hot or too cold – safety trumping thermo-regulation in these cases.
Also, dominant tank-mates may prevent others from using shelters or basking sites, or cause them to remain within shelters for extended periods (thereby affecting feeding and basking behavior). This can occur even in the absence of actual aggression – the mere presence of a dominant animal is often enough to influence the behavior of other animals.
Where highly territorial, visually-oriented animals are concerned, a dominant individual can cause stress just by being within the view of another animal, even if housed in a different terrarium. I have observed this to occur among both chameleons and monitor lizards.
Turtles need shelters other than their shells! Please see my article on Turtle Shelters.
Please see this Herpetologica article abstract for information on other factors that influence shelter choice.
Thanks, until next time,
Lesueur’s Velvet Geko from Sydney image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Hexasoft
I’ve received a number of questions lately from herp enthusiasts (and “regular people”!) who have come across cold-stunned reptiles and amphibians in Florida. Cuban Knight Anoles, Green Tree Frogs and many other species have been severely impacted by the record-breaking cold weather.
A colleague’s comment on cold weather and Florida’s introduced Burmese Pythons brought to mind an incident that occurred several years ago. A friend of mine stopped into a coffee shop near Florida City and was surprised to see the skins of 14 large Burmese Pythons tacked to the wall. She learned that the shop’s owner had captured all along one road on a single warm morning following a cold snap. Herpetologists also know that such times are ideal for collecting, as snakes flock to roads to take advantage of the warm pavement and access to sun. Read More »
Wildlife rehabilitators are private citizens who care for injured, sick or orphaned animals and, whenever possible, return them to their natural habitats (un-releasable animals may sometimes be retained for educational purposes). Such work has traditionally focused on birds and mammals, but these days a growing number of caring people are focusing their efforts on turtles, frogs, snakes, alligators and other herps. Read More »
In Part I of this article, we discussed those situations in which a spray-on Calcium supplement might be useful. Over the years I’ve been shown, and have developed, a few other techniques that may help to boost the Calcium and vitamin content of reptile and amphibian diets. These strategies are based on observation and trial-and-error only, as solid research in this area is lacking, but have so far proven to be quite useful.
Calcium-Rich Insect Diets
Powdered Calcium mixes easily with tropical fish food flakes, and the resulting blend is readily consumed by crickets, roaches, sowbugs and earthworms. Try allowing your feeder invertebrates to load up on this nutritious diet for 2-3 days before offering them to your pets.
Mixing Your Own Calcium Supplements
In situations where additional Calcium might be called for, you can also mix powdered Calcium with a vitamin mineral supplement. I’ve used a 1:1 ratio (by weight) for animals recovering from Calcium deficiencies and as an occasional supplement for a variety of creatures, especially young individuals. Again, no hard evidence as to the effectiveness of this, but it may be useful as “insurance” (Note: different products vary in vitamin/mineral content).
Calcium cannot be utilized by reptiles and amphibians unless an adequate supply of Vitamin D3 is also provided. Heliothermic (basking) reptiles, such as Painted Turtles and Green Iguanas, make D3 in their skin in the presence of Ultraviolet B (UVB) light. Be sure to provide such creatures with a quality UVB bulb or unfiltered sunlight (UVB does not penetrate regular-grade glass or plastic).
Highly aquatic turtles (i.e. softshell turtles), nocturnal lizards (leopard geckos), amphibians and other non-basking species require a diet that supplies adequate D3, either naturally or with the help of a supplement.
Recently, it has been shown that some chameleons regulate basking behavior in accordance with their Vitamin D3 needs. To read more about this fascinating research, please see Chameleon Basking Behavior.