Reptiles and Amphibians

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African Spurred Tortoise

African Spurred Tortoise


  • Scientific Name: Geochelone sulcata
  • Native land is on the Southern fringe of Sahara Desert
  • May live for 100 + years
  • Mature in approximately 25 years/grow 2 inches per year
  • Are strictly vegetarian
  • Largest mainland tortoise, 3rd largest of all tortoises
  • Grow to be 100 – 150 pounds
  • Is an endangered or threatened species in the wild
  • Is one of the most popular tortoises in captivity due to its very inquisitive nature, responsiveness to its owners, and great personality (it responds to you more like a dog than any other tortoise known).
  • No vaccines or allergy problems needed or known. Annual veterinary visits and fecal exams are the typical maintenance requirements.


The diet of wild tortoises includes dry grasses, succulent plants, and cacti. Captive tortoises do very well on similar forage, such as pesticide-free and non-fertilized Bermuda grasses, mulberry and grape leaves, green leafy vegetables (collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, beet greens, escarole, endive, romaine lettuce), non-spiny cactus pads, and cactus fruit. Store bought greens and thick vegetables are to be fed in small amounts only. No carnivore-based diets are to be fed ever (monkey chow, dog food etc.).


As hatchlings, sulcata can be kept indoors. Baby pools, large aquariums, or homemade pens are all satisfactory. Alfalfa pellets work well as floor cover for the tortoise. If the pellets are eaten, it is nutritious. It should be kept clean and dry. Adequate hiding places are recommended. Eventually the tortoise will be hardy and large enough to weather the outdoor extremes all the time. This usually occurs at about 2 years of age. Outdoor environments provide more normal behavioral patterns and healthier growth due to the sunlight and availability of grass to graze constantly. A large well-insulated doghouse or above ground burrow should be constructed for both winter and summertime use. Never keep a dog and a tortoise together, as tortoises are a tempting chew toy for dogs.


Tortoises housed indoors (babies under 2 years) should have a basking spot of approximately 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The rest of the enclosure can be cooler at 75-80 degrees if the cage is large enough to give this temperature gradient. When outdoors, housing the temperature is not controllable. However, if there is an adequate burrow, the tortoise can have a better control of its temperature. Cement block burrows covered with dirt or well-insulated dog houses/storage barns placed under trees or on west walls (to avoid afternoon sun) allow more efficient temperature control. Wintertime provides the opposite challenge to sulcatas as these non-hibernating tortoises become chilled in the Phoenix area. Installation of non-light heat producing elements such as infrared heat emitters in the burrow work well to control the sulcatas’ winter temperature. The emitters should be at least a foot away from the tortoise’s shell and should be very secure to its attachment, as these tortoises can easily bulldoze over poorly constructed environments. The burrow should be large and long enough to allow one tortoise past another to go closer to or farther away from the heat source.


Desert species of tortoises utilize large urinary bladders in the wild and recycle water, especially in the dry season. To stay hydrated (have adequate water in the body) in the wild, tortoises are active early in the morning and at night in the summer, and at all times (except night) in the fall and spring. They also control where they rest in the heat of the day in the wild. This may be in a cool low spot underneath the roots of a large tree. The lack of ability of captive tortoises to choose the perfect cool habitat causes captive tortoises to become dehydrated, and therefore the need for constant access to water increases. We recommend captive babies have access to water at all times and adults be watered at least twice weeks in a low spot in the yard.


There is no substitute for natural unfiltered sunlight. Outside, tortoises do wonderfully with respect to getting enough sunlight. While inside, tortoises need sunlight at least twice weekly for an hour or two. Shade should be provided in temperature extremes. Baby tortoises should also be provided with artificial indoor lighting. The most efficient light source is the Exo Terra Solar Glo. It is a mercury vapor bulb that emits heat, UVB, and UVA. UV light has multiple benefits, including calcium metabolism and improved appetite and activity. Proper calcium metabolism helps protect against metabolic bone disease. Install the bulb according to the manufacturer’s directions. Use a clamp lamp with a ceramic fixture to prevent melting. The fixture should be carefully secured to avoid being bumped into and breaking the filament or starting a fire. Make sure to replace the bulb yearly and remember that glass and plastic blocks UV light. If needed, a red bulb can be added for nighttime temperature drops.

The sulcata has a domed shell. As they get larger (around 10 inches long), you will need to change how you provide heat to tortoises kept indoors. If heat is provided in the form of an overhead light or an infrared heater, the shell will absorb and hold on to all of the heat emitted. The heat will not reach the rest of the body and will slowly burn the shell from the inside out over several weeks. Eventually, the top layer of the shell will detach and come off. To prevent this from happening, remove the heat-producing bulb, as the tortoise grows larger. Install a non-heat producing broad-spectrum UV bulb. For heat, use an oil re-circulating heater in the room, as it will heat the air in the room instead of your tortoise’s shell.


Being clean is essential for both the tortoise’s health and yours. All cages should be cleaned as frequently as needed. Tortoises often consume their own stool if it is left in the cage. Uneaten food also needs cleaned up after several hours. It is also always important to wash your hands after handling the tortoise or cleaning its cage.

Signs of Sickness:

  • Not eating
  • Runny nose
  • Reddened eyes
  • Diarrheas
  • Depression
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Ball Python Care

The Captive Care Guide to Healthy Ball Pythons (Python Regius)

Ball pythons are perhaps the most popular snakes bought at pet stores. They are relatively inexpensive, are beautifully marked, have a friendly disposition, and generally do not grow to more than four feet in length. As pets, they generally grow about a foot a year during their first 3-4 years. They can easily be identified by the brown, black, and tan markings. With a good imagination, you may see a tan profile of “E.T.” on the side of the snake.

Pythons have anal spurs along either side of their vent. These represent vestigial legs that were lost in the evolution of snakes. Males have longer spurs than females. Ball pythons reach sexual maturity at 3-5 years of age. Female ball pythons can lay 4-10 eggs per clutch and will incubate them for approximately three months. During this time, the female typically will not be interested in eating. Ball pythons can live for 20-30 years. These snakes have heat pits along the upper jaw. These pits are used to sense body heat, allowing the snake to hone in on their prey.

To properly care for any animal, it is important to know their natural habitat. Ball pythons come from West‑Central Africa. They are semi‑arboreal, which means they like to climb trees and hide in bushes. Many also inhabit brush piles in and around tropical rainforests in Africa. Their diet in the wild includes various African rodents including gerbils and African spiny mice. They tend to be most active at night. These habitat facts should be incorporated into your tank setup when you attain one of these excellent pets.

If the tank is set up improperly, ball pythons often refuse to feed. I recommend getting a tank that the snake can fully stretch out in. Inactive snakes will not eat consistently, so room to move about is essential. You will generally need at least a 30-gallon tank for an adult. Make sure the terrarium is escape proof. Cage temperature is also important in keeping the snake active and eating well. We recommend daytime temperatures of 80 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit with a basking spot of 90 degrees, and nighttime temperatures around 70-75 degrees. If a heat lamp is used, make sure it is setup outside the terrarium so the snake cannot climb on it and get burned. Humidity needs to be between 50-60%. Utilize a thermometer and humidity gage to check these values.

Ball pythons also benefit from a secure place to hide. An old cereal box is suitable or commercial hiding places may be purchased. Cage branching is a nice cage ornament as well as good simulation of the animal’s natural habitat. They will spend much of their time coiled around the branch. A water bowl of sufficient size for the entire snake to soak should be placed in the cage. It should be placed at the opposite end of the cage as the heat source, unless greater humidity is needed in the cage for complete proper shedding. Indoor/outdoor carpet is an ideal cage floor. It is aesthetically pleasing and easily cleaned once a week or whenever soiled. Two full size carpets are suggested in order to allow proper disinfecting and drying. Diluted bleach and dish soap disinfectants should be rinsed thoroughly.

Ball python babies will eat mice 1-2 times per week. Adults will eat every 7-10 days. Feeding ball pythons can be tricky, as they do not often care (particularly wild caught specimens) for the traditional white mouse found at pet stores. This is because rodents smell differently to them. As mentioned earlier, gerbils and African spiny mice are natural prey items. If your cage is properly set up and your snake refuses to eat, try one of these specimens.

There are other reasons why snakes do not eat, which need to be dealt with by a knowledgeable reptile/exotic veterinarian. The snakes may have problems with mites, ticks, intestinal parasites, or shedding difficulties. Other tricks to be tried on snakes that will not eat may be employed. Try taking away the snake’s water for a period of 2‑4 days and then offer gerbils that have been dipped in water. Force-feeding is the last resort and is usually not done particularly with ball pythons. These snakes may go for periods of one year without eating. Actions should be taken early in skinny snakes and never wait over two months before seeking help for your pet.

A note on feeding live prey: many ball pythons will eat only live prey. If it is necessary to feed live prey, it is essential to either stun the prey before offering it to your snake or observe the prey the entire time the prey is in the cage. When snakes are out of their natural environment, they will not be as skilled at killing their prey. Live rodents often become the predator in this case. Rodent bite wounds are common in ball pythons, and severe injuries from rodents are often seen. We suggest frozen prey that is thoroughly thawed before feeding. To try to convert to eating frozen thawed rodents, try rubbing a gerbil on the thawed rodent. Use tongs when feeding and twitch the rodent around to simulate rodent movement.

Common Medical Issues:

These include intestinal parasites, pneumonia, snake mites (tiny red-brown moving dots), incomplete shedding, and Inclusion Body Disease (IBD). IBD is a virus found in boas and pythons. It is fatal to pythons, but not to boas. Boas can carry and transmit the disease without being ill, which is why boas and pythons should never be kept together.

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Bearded Dragon Care

Bearded Dragon Care

Natural History:

Australian Bearded Dragons (Pagonna Sp.) are old world agamids. They get their name from their spiny throat and the ability to display it when threatened. The main bearded dragon found in the pet trade is the Inland Bearded Dragon (Pagonna vitticeps). Other species less common are Lawson’s dragon (Pagonna henrylawsoni) and common bearded dragon (Pagonna barbata).

Male bearded dragons are easy sexed when they reach sexual maturity as they have a large head, femoral pores, and cloacal slit when compared to mature females. Immature bearded dragons are more challenging to sex. Subtleties such as head size are helpful but not fool proof. Both mature females and immature females or males may exhibit the forearm wave, which is a submissive behavior to a more dominant lizard.


Young bearded dragons should be reared individually for many reasons. Ten to fifteen gallon tanks work well for babies under 4 months. Eating, drinking, and stool output should be closely monitored for each individual. Kept together, babies can inflict serious injuries to each other’s tails and limbs. Adults can be kept singly or in pairs depending on the amount of space available and the temperament of each lizard. The bigger the cage, the better. Fifty-five gallon tanks, horse watering troths, or homemade equivalents are adequate for two lizards. Two males cannot be kept in close quarters.

Though some use sand as the floor substrate, we recommend alfalfa pellets, cypress mulch, indoor/outdoor carpet or newspaper. Young lizards mildly deficient in calcium tend to overeat the sand in the cage causing impactions, slow growers, and poor doers. No matter the substrate used, it should be routinely cleaned at least weekly to prevent bacteria and parasite overpopulation.


The most efficient light source is the Exo Terra Solar Glo. It is a mercury vapor bulb that emits heat, UVB, and UVA. UV light has multiple benefits, including calcium metabolism and improved appetite and activity. Proper calcium metabolism helps protect against metabolic bone disease. Carefully follow the bulb manufacturer’s directions for instillation. Use a clamp lamp with a ceramic fixture to prevent melting. The fixture should be carefully secured to avoid being bumped and breaking the filament or starting a fire. Make sure to replace the bulb yearly and remember that glass and plastic blocks UV light. If needed, a red bulb can be added for nighttime temperature drops.


Daytime temperatures of 85 degrees Fahrenheit should be reached with a basking are of 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature can be achieved by using the Solar Glo bulb, infrared heat emitters, under tank heating pads or heat tape. More successful bearded dragon breeders set up tanks that have thermal gradients whereby basking spots are 95 degrees Fahrenheit and the cooler spots are 80-85 degrees. Nighttime temperatures should not drop below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Feeding and Watering:

Bearded dragons are omnivorous, which means they will eat vegetables and animal matter. Various appropriately sized insects, such as crickets, can be fed every other day. Vegetable matter should be given on alternate days. Collard, mustard, turnip, dandelion greens are excellent sources of vitamin D3 and calcium. Frozen (thawed) or fresh mixed veggies should complement the greens in approximate equal proportions. The veggies should be cut in proportionate sizes to the dragon.

Calcium is very important for growing babies and egg-laying females. Babies should have their insects dusted at each feeding. It is a good idea to feed hatchlings 2-3 times daily with 2-4 crickets and once with veggies. Insects must be appropriately sized (approximately no larger than half the width of the head. Never feed mealworms to babies as they will vomit up the exoskeleton, and become rapidly dehydrated. Feeding high quality vegetables and gut-loaded crickets/insects will decrease the need to supplement with calcium. With good UVB lighting or outside enclosures, a pure calcium supplement such as crushed cherry TUMS is adequate.

Baby bearded dragons do best if they are watered or misted twice daily. Misting the side of the tank or dripping water in a shallow dish often stimulates them to drink. Dripping water on their head or making a water meniscus also works to stimulate drinking. Older bearded dragons drink less as they get most of their water from their vegetables.

Common Medical Problems:

  • Spastic paralysis (stiff hind limbs)
  • Vomiting
  • Coccidian parasites
  • Flagylated parasites
  • Metabolic bone disease
  • Mate aggression
  • Fatty liver disease and obesity
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Blue-Tongued Skink Care

Blue-Tongued Skink Care

Natural History

The blue-tongued skinks are a group of aptly named diurnal (active during day), omnivorous (eating both plant and animal matter), and long-lived lizard that inhabits a wide range of habitats in Australia, New Guinea, and the island of Tasmania. These beautifully distinctive lizards are known for their excellent personalities, hardiness, and uniqueness. Most blue-tongues in the pet trade are a result of captive breeding, which makes them a little more expensive than most imported lizards. However, the captive breeding generally ensures that the skink is healthy and does not have a high parasite burden.

The wild blue-tongued family occupies a varied ecological niche and specific microhabitat. For the sake of individuality, each species will be listed separately for better understanding of how to adapt the captive indoor caging. These skinks live an average of 10-20 years and can reach 20 inches in length (including tail).

Tropical skinks

  • Teliqua gigas – Indonesian blue-tongued. Found in Indonesia and New Guinea. Disposition is not as pleasant as most other B-T’s.
  • Teliqua scincoides – Irian Jaya banded blue-tongued. Dry tropical areas of Southern New Guinea.
  • Teliqua scincoides intermedia – Northern blue-tongued. Tropical Northern Australia. Produces 5-20 live born babies.

Temperate to Dry

  • Teliqua mustifaciata – Centralian blue-tongued. Smaller skink that can range north into more tropical areas or central into more temperate dry microhabitats.
  • Teliqua occipitalis – Western blue-tongued. Prefers dry habitats. Likes berries and spiders. Produces 5-10 live young.
  • Teliqua scincoides – Common/Eastern blue-tongued. Likes semidesert/agricultural areas. Averages 12 live young.

Captive Housing—substrate, lighting, and temperature

These wonderful lizards should be housed individually as social groupings do not occur in the wild. An adult of any species should have a minimum of 2 x 2 foot enclosure. Vertical space is not as important as horizontal space for these ground dwellers. Cypress mulch works well for tropical species (to enable humidity to be stable) and aspen (serves to maintain a dry environment) for the desert species. Enough substrate should be put in the enclosure as to allow burrowing.

A basking area for both heat and full-spectrum ultraviolet lighting should be provided at one end of the enclosure. The heated spot should have a flat slate rock to shine the light on. The most efficient light source is the Exo Terra Solar Glo. It is a mercury vapor bulb that emits heat, UVB, and UVA. UV light has multiple benefits, including calcium metabolism and improved appetite and activity. Proper calcium metabolism helps protect against metabolic bone disease. Be sure to follow manufacturer’s directions when installing this bulb. Use a clamp lamp with a ceramic fixture to prevent melting. The fixture should be carefully secured to avoid being bumped and breaking the filament or starting a fire. Make sure to replace the bulb yearly and remember that glass and plastic blocks UV light. If needed, a red bulb can be added for nighttime temperature drops (night temperatures should not be below 70 degrees Fahrenheit).

Always use a thermometer to measure cage temperature. A hygrometer (to measure humidity) should be used as well for the more tropical species. The basking spot should reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The rest of the cage should range down into the low 80’s. If the tank does not get below 85 degrees on the cool side, a larger cage is in order. The best type of lighting for blue-tongues is the sun. These lizards should receive about 5-10 hours per week in the sun. The sunbathing should be only in temperatures at or below the maximum of the basking spot. Never sunbathe the lizard in any sort of aquarium, as ultraviolet light is converted to heat as in goes through it and will overheat the lizard. Baby pools in shade work very well.


Feeding the blue-tongues properly is not difficult due to the fact that it is an omnivore (eats both plant and animal material). It is recommended to feed babies at least every other day (if not daily). Adults should be fed not more than every third day. Green leafy vegetables should be the bulk of the vegetable diet. Grated carrots and few mixed vegetables can be added for variety. A pure calcium supplement such as Rep-Cal (without Vitamin D) or crushed Tums should be added to the greens of young lizards two to three times per week. Adults can be supplemented once weekly (true only if adequate UV light or exposure to the sun is achieved). Once weekly, feed an appropriately sized rodent or reasonable numbers of crickets, mealworms (very few as they are fatty), wax worms, or wild caught insects. The more animal based protein fed, the faster your lizard will grow. However, fast growth is not healthy growth as the liver and kidneys can be overworked. Fast growth typically means a shorter lifespan as a result. Supplementing diet with oral vitamin D is known to be toxic to diurnal (day basking) lizards. Do not supplement with vitamin D! Provide fresh water daily. Use a bowl that is large enough for the lizard to crawl into for bathing.

Diseases that occur in Captivity

  • Metabolic Bone Disease
  • Parasites – wild caught or captive
  • Cage trauma – another lizard or fallen object
  • Thermal burns
  • Obesity
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Box Turtle Care

Box Turtle Care

Box turtles are one of the best reptiles to keep for beginners (especially as adults). If these animals are given the proper care, they can live essentially the lifespan of a human being. Box turtles can live 40-50 years, with some reaching 100. Box turtles are named “Box” due to the hinged front undershell, or plastron. If disturbed or bumped, box turtles will withdraw their head and legs into their shell and close their hinge. They can close up tighter than a box. In captivity, they do note tend use this instinctive behavior when handled gently and not dropped.

Captivity requirements for box turtles require integrating their natural environment with a practical natural setup. Adequate diet, water, lighting, temperature, cage, and flooring must be provided.

Care in Captivity


In the wild, box turtles eat a diet of mainly land snails. They also eat various insects, slugs, earthworms, and vegetation. Dandelion leaves and various flowers seem to be a particular favorite. In captivity, they should be fed as much of the foods as possible as they would eat in the wild. This may entail stocking up on dandelions and leaves during the summer to freeze for the winter months. Some flower stores are more than happy to donate their dying unsold flowers in the winter as well. Bait shops sell earthworms and crickets (also sold in pet stores).

Young turtles have special requirements for calcium as their shells are rapidly growing. It is necessary to supplement with dietary calcium in order to meet their needs in captivity. Crushed up Tums or Rep-Cal (without vitamin D) work well for supplements. Young turtles should get calcium supplements 2-3 times weekly. A practical recommended diet is thawed frozen mixed vegetables mixed with a green leafy vegetable (i.e. kale, collared, mustard, dandelion, or turnip greens).

Note: Head lettuce should not be fed due to its low nutritional value. DO NOT LET TURTLES EAT ONLY ONE PARTICULAR FOOD ITEM OR NUTRITIONAL DEFORMITIES ARE LIKELY TO DEVELOP. Doming of the scutes on the upper shell (carapace) will occur if only insects or earthworms are eaten.

Never feed dog or cat food. Offer a small amount of food daily that will be completely consumed. Variety is everything. Avoid toxic flowers, such as oleander and marigolds.


Box turtles should be maintained in a temperature range of 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit. Nighttime temperatures should drop approximately 5 degrees. A temperature gradient should be maintained by placing the heating source on one end of the cage. Under-the-tank heating pads on low with indoor/outdoor carpet or cypress mulch does well to maintain adequate temperatures. Water can be added to cypress mulch to increase the humidity if necessary. Ideal humidity is 60-80 percent.


For those housed indoors, the most efficient light source is the Exo Terra Solar Glo. It is a mercury vapor bulb that emits heat, UVB, and UVA. UV light has multiple benefits, including calcium metabolism and improved appetite and activity. Proper calcium metabolism helps protect against metabolic bone disease. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions when installing the light. Use a clamp lamp with a ceramic fixture to prevent melting. The fixture should be carefully secured to avoid being bumped and breaking the filament or starting a fire. Make sure to replace the bulb yearly and remember that glass and plastic blocks UV light. If needed, a red bulb can be added for nighttime temperature drops. Timers for regulating light and temperature simulate the day/night cycle for these turtles.

UV lights are not replacements for natural sun but are the best thing available. For those living indoors, provide them time outside for several hours each week. A plastic children’s swimming pool, with a hole cut in the bottom and covered with mesh, works well as a temporary shelter. Flip the pool over grass and stake it to the ground. The turtle can move between the spot with the sun coming through and shaded areas. Avoid putting turtles in direct sunlight with no shade and they will be likely to heat stroke. Never put outside in a glass aquarium. If your turtle lives outside, ensure there is a burrow for him to retreat to during the heat of the day.


Fresh water should be provided every day as these turtles often soil their water. An inch of water is an adequate depth. The bowl must be large enough for the turtle to be able to totally submerge in and should be easy to get in and out of.


A box turtle can comfortably live in a 20-gallon or a larger aquarium. The turtle should be provided with a place or two to hide. Deep mulch, shoeboxes, carpets, and newspapers work well. Water and food should be kept on the opposite side of the heat source. Spring and fall outdoor enclosures can be made as long as a shaded area is provided. Water should be available at all times. Cage flooring can be artificial turf, cypress mulch, or newspaper. Keeping the cage clean and dry is important in preventing disease.

Common Diseases:

Inner ear abscesses, malnutrition, metabolic bone disease, internal parasites, and trauma.

Always wash your hands after handling turtles or cleaning the cage. Salmonella bacteria are normal flora in many turtle intestines.

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Burmese Python Care

Burmese Python Care

Basic Information

The Burmese Python, Python molurus bivittatus, is one of the giant pythons and is native to areas of Southeast Asia, such as China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Burma. It can live up to 25 years and can exceed 20 feet in length and 200 pounds in weight.

The Burmese Python is a diurnal rainforest dweller and is equally at home on the ground, in trees, or in water. The morning hours are generally spent basking in the sun to increase their body temperature. Then they hunt during the middle of the day. After eating, the focus becomes keeping warm and digesting their food. Generally they will not eat daily, or even weekly. They enjoy a wide variety of prey, including other reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals.

Before investing in a Burmese Python, you should understand that the cute little snake that you can buy in the store today can exceed 10 feet and 40 pounds in 2 years, and require full grown rabbits and chickens for its weekly feedings. If you are thinking of passing it on when you can no longer handle it, keep in mind that it is difficult to find homes for full-grown Burmese pythons. If you are planning to move in the near future, you should also consider state, county, and local regulations regarding the ownership of any large constrictors. If you are still determined to own a Burmese python, then you need to make a number of preparations to keep your new pet as healthy as possible.


You should always plan ahead; as it is pointless buying or making an enclosure that will be too small for your pet in a few months. Your snake should always be able to stretch out fully in its enclosure, and the enclosure should be secure enough to prevent any surprise escapes. Be careful with the use of screens and other abrasive transparent surfaces, as snakes have a habit of rubbing their noses against these kinds of surfaces. A 55-gallon tank, or a similar size enclosure, is generally adequate size for the first 6 months to a year.

Temperature, Humidity, and Lighting:

Temperature is very important to snakes as they are ectotherms (cold-blooded), and hence lack the ability to internally regulate their own body temperature. The enclosure should be organized to allow your snake a choice of temperatures so that it can regulate its temperature by choosing the appropriate spot. During the daytime, the cooler end of the tank should be 78 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the warmer end 88 degrees with a basking spot of 90 degrees. At night, the cage should be allowed to cool, but should not fall below 78-80 degrees. The heat can be provided by a number of sources – heating pads, heating rocks, lights or ceramic heat emitters. However, care should be taken to guarantee that your snake will not burn itself on any of the heat sources. Two thermometers will be needed to monitor the temperature accurately; one should be placed at the cooler end, the other at the warm end, and both near to the substrate.

Burmese Pythons do not require any special lighting but should be allowed 12 – 14 hours of darkness daily. Extended periods of light more than 10 -12 hours can be very stressful for your snake.

In the wild, Burmese pythons are found in a humid environment, and if adequate humidity (40- 70 %) is not supplied in captivity, problems such as difficulty shedding and respiratory disease can develop. The presence of a water bowl in the cage is often enough, but if necessary, additional humidity can be provided by misting the cage lightly with water or by keeping the water bowl closer to one of the heat sources. Your snake should always have an adequate supply of water available and it should be provided in a container large enough for it to immerse itself. Your snake will not only use this to drink, but will also completely immerse itself in it and defecate in it. The water will therefore need to be changed almost daily.

Substrate and Decorations:

Your choice of substrate should be determined by aesthetical pleasantness, ease of cleaning, and the health of your snake. Though attractive, wood shavings, chips, or bark can lead to intestinal obstruction if ingested. So, if this is your substrate, your snake should be fed in another container. Though unattractive, newspaper is cheap and can be replaced easily when soiled. Astroturf and carpeting can be easily cleaned, but be sure to have replacement pieces available to use so that adequate time is available for proper disinfecting.

Your snake will require a hidebox, which can be made of any sort of opaque material. Cardboard boxes, sweater boxes, garbage cans, and upside down litterpans are all suitable, as long as your snake is able to enter and leave easily and can comfortably fit underneath or inside.

In addition to the hidebox and the substrate, you should place some branches and rocks in the cage. This will supply your snake with rough surfaces on which to rub on, to aid in shedding. This will also allow some vertical movement. Remember that in the wild they also are found in trees.


Burmese pythons are generally voracious eaters, and it is easy to over feed them and end up with an obese snake. A good rule of thumb to use when deciding what to feed your snake is that it should not be fed anything that is wider than the widest part of its body. The feeding of a prey too large will result in the regurgitation of the meal in a few days. All food provided should be healthy and clean, and you should avoid feeding live prey. The use of wild prey should also be avoided because of the risks of introducing parasites and bacteria to your pet. Plan on initially feeding your snake weekly, and eventually feeding every other week or less.


Now that you have your pet all set up, your plan should be to keep it as healthy as possible.

The enclosure will need to be kept free of waste material, and you should plan on cleaning the enclosure thoroughly every 2-3 weeks with a weak solution of bleach. Products such as Lysol and Pinesol as well as any phenol-based product should be avoided as they can be toxic to your snake. The substrate should be completely replaced or cleaned as well. Whatever you clean with, be sure to rinse thoroughly afterwards with water.

You should plan on taking your snake to a veterinarian that treats snakes, so that it can be examined for any external parasites and have a fecal done.

Please be a responsible reptile owner. At 10 feet long, a Burmese python should be considered potentially dangerous, but with some care and precautions the risks can be minimized. All enclosures should be secure. Larger snakes should not be handled when you are alone. Snakes should not be allowed to roam unsupervised or be wrapped around the neck of any individual, young or old.

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Chinese Water Dragon Care

Chinese Water Dragon Care

Water dragons are native to Southeast Asia and Australia. They typically live 10-15 years and can grow up to three feet long (counting the tail). Males have larger heads, prominent jowls, and a larger crest on the back of the neck than females. Water dragons are diurnal (active during the day) and semi-arboreal. Water dragons are mature when 2 ft long and about 2 years old.


Dragons are very active and need lots of space. Also, water dragons tend to try to run through the glass to get what they see on the other side. This can lead to repeated trauma to the nose and cause infections. To discourage this behavior, use a terrarium with mesh sides or place an aquarium background along the sides of the tank. The terrarium should be at least 6 ft long, 3 ft wide, and 4 ft tall. These lizards are high in energy and enjoy climbing and swimming in water. Braches, vines, and plants are great for climbing. Provide a large water bowl that your dragon can fit at least 50% of his body into. Water dragons are messy so be sure to change the water daily. For substrate, Reptile carpet and wet cypress mulch are good choices.


Temperatures in the cage need to range from 80 degrees to 88 degrees Fahrenheit, with a basking spot of 90 degrees. Place the mercury vapor bulb at one end of the terrarium, which will create a thermal gradient across the tank. Nighttime temperatures should not be below 75◦F.

The most efficient light source is the Exo Terra Solar Glo. It is a mercury vapor bulb that emits heat, UVB, and UVA. UV light has multiple benefits, including calcium metabolism and improved appetite and activity. Proper calcium metabolism helps protect against metabolic bone disease. Carefully follow the bulb manufacturer’s directions for instillation. Use a clamp lamp with a ceramic fixture to prevent melting. The fixture should be carefully secured to avoid being bumped and breaking the filament or starting a fire. Make sure to replace the bulb yearly and remember that glass and plastic blocks UV light. If needed, a red bulb can be added for nighttime temperature drops.


Humidity needs to be 60-80%. Higher humidity can lead to skin and respiratory diseases while lower humidity can lead to shedding problems. A large water bowl will help increase humidity as will spraying the sides of the terrarium a couple of times daily. To increase the humidity in top screened enclosures, cover the top of the cage to attain an appropriate humidity with Plexiglas or cellophane wrap.


Water dragons are omnivores. The staples of their diet are crickets. Waxworms and mealworms can be given on occasion for variety. Gut load all crickets for at least three days prior to feeding. Offer a small amount of finely chopped veggies and dark leafy greens twice weekly. Not all dragons will readily each veggies or greens. If your lizard is not interested in the veggies and greens, then feed them to the insects you feed your dragon. Adults can be fed every 2- 3 days. Feed juvenile dragons small crickets daily that are smaller than the width of their head. While they are growing, sprinkle a calcium powder (no vitamin D) on the crickets twice weekly.

Common Diseases:

  • Abscesses
  • Stomatitis (‘Mouth Rot’)
  • Intestinal Parasites
  • Metabolic Bone Disease
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Corn Snake Care

Corn Snake Care

Basic Information

The corn snake is a constrictor ranging from the Southern East coast to West to Texas and Mexico. There are a couple of theories as to how the corn snake got its name. One theory is that the black and white markings on the belly resemble Indian corn or maize. The other is that farmers once thought that they ate corn due to their presence in cornfields.

Corn snakes’ habitat includes forests, fields, rocky hillsides, wetlands, farmyards, and similar terrains. They are most active in the evenings. They range in length from 2-6 feet, with the average being about 4 feet. They may live up to 20 years or more with proper care. These snakes are docile, easy to care for and make very good pets.


In the wild, corn snakes eat mice, rats, bats, and birds. In captivity, they do quite well on a diet of mice and/or rats. Hatchling corn snakes can be started out on pinkies (new born mice) that are 3 – 4 days old. If you are planning on maintaining the snake on a diet of pinkies for an extended time, you may want to coat the pinkies with calcium that does not contain vitamin D3. Once they start eating, they can be moved up to fuzzies, hoppers, adult mice and so on up to adult rats, if they indeed reach an adequate size to consume them. It is generally recommended feeding mice and rats that have been frozen for at least thirty days. This prevents your pet form being bitten, contracting parasites, and spreading bacteria the prey may carry. However, this is not as crucial when feeding pinkies.

Young snakes should be fed every 4-5 days. As they reach maturity, they may be cut back to every 10-14 days. When feeding, keep your snake’s activity in mind. A sedentary snake does not need to be fed as much as a very active snake.


Housing your snake may be as complex or as simple as you’d like it to be. Keep in mind how much effort you want to put into maintaining the enclosure. For most corn snakes, a large aquarium will do well. Newspaper, Astroturf, or towels make a nice bedding material. You may use pine shavings for a more natural look, but this will require more time to clean adequately. If you choose to use pine shavings, feed your snake in a separate tank lined with one of the other beddings. This should help prevent the ingestion of the shavings, which may lead to impactions. In addition to bedding, fresh water should be available at all times as well as a place to hide. Corn snakes like to hide, so don’t be surprised if they spend a great deal of time out of sight. You may add branches, rocks, and other items to enhance the appearance of the cage, but they are not necessary. Having a rock in the cage will aid the snake when shedding.

The temperature of the cage should range form 75 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a thermometer at each end of the cage to make sure that the temperature stays in this range. Do not estimate or assume cage temperature. This range can be achieved in some regions just by leaving the cage at room temperature. In other cases, it may be necessary to put a basking light at one end of the cage or place a heating pad under the one end of the cage. Caution should be taken when using a heating pad. The snake should never have direct contact with it. It should be set only on low, and should only be under a portion of the cage, not all of it. In the wild, the corn snake will hibernate in the fall and winter months. This period can be replicated in captivity if desired and needed, if your intention is to breed your snake. The snake should not be feed for 2-3 weeks prior to the start of its hibernation. Water should still be available during hibernation. The temperature should be lowered to between 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit over a week’s time. Keep them in hibernation for 6-8 weeks. Do not feed during this time. Your snake will not eat and may become dinner if live food is fed. At the end of the period, you can bring your snake back up to warmer temperatures over a day or two.

The humidity in the cage should be such that the snake doesn’t have problems shedding without condensation on the walls of the cage. No special lights are required other than one to provide thermal and photoperiod regulation.

Signs of sickness

Snakes are very good at hiding disease and in many cases the owner doesn’t know something is wrong until too late. The major sign of sickness is anorexia. Other sings are vomiting, regurgitation, diarrhea, and behavioral changes.

One common problem that may be encountered is parasites. Pet owners can most often see mites and ticks. Mites are very small and appear as little black dots walking on your snake. They are more easily seen on a white background such as a white towel or paper. They can kill a snake in large numbers. You should contact your veterinarian on how to get rid of them. Ticks may be more difficult to see than mites. They fit in under the scales and blend in nicely. Running your hand down your snake feeling for any little bump may help find ticks. Ticks are removed with tweezers or forceps, followed by cleaning the bite area. Your snake may also have intestinal parasites. Your veterinarian can identify these on a fecal exam. Signs of intestinal parasites include failure to grow, loss of weight despite eating well, and diarrhea.

Snakes in general are prone to respiratory infections. Signs of this condition include foaming or bubbling around the mouth, open mouth breathing, and anorexia. This is not a complete list of signs. If you feel your pet is not doing right, contact your veterinarian.

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Desert Tortoise Care

Desert Tortoise Care

The Desert Tortoise (Xerobates agassizii) is endangered in the wild and protected by both federal and state laws. These tortoises can be adopted if they are captive born. Wild tortoises should remain in the wild (unless severely injured or ill). If an owner is keeping a tortoise without proper permits, he or she may turn their tortoise in to Game and Fish or apply for permits to comply with the law. Permits must be obtained from Game and Fish and proper facilities must be provided. The commitment for owning a tortoise is 60-80 years (leave them to a responsible person in your will), as this is the longevity of a perfectly kept tortoise. Once a tortoise is in captivity, IT SHOULD NOT BE RELEASED due to potentially infectious diseases being spread and carried by captive stressed or exposed tortoises. Unwanted tortoises should be returned to the AZ Game and Fish for re-adoption.


Outside natural habitat is the best type of housing. Shelter and burrowing areas should be landscaped into the yard. The bigger the yard, the better. The area should be escape proof and fenced off. This requires burying the fence or cement blocks below the ground surface. Toxic plants (Oleander) should be removed from the grazing environment and the environment should be fertilizer and pesticide free. If outside habitat is unavailable, the Desert Tortoise should not be kept as a pet.


Healthy tortoises should eat every day. Natural diet should be provided when possible (various native plants and flowers). Fresh graze should be the predominant part of the diet (Bermuda grass is excellent). The diet should be supplemented with dark green leafy vegetables as needed (collard, mustard, turnip, and dandelion greens). Grass hay (timothy or orchard) should be provided free choice. Bulky, watery vegetables (zucchini, squash, tomatoes, etc.) should be given only rarely because their waste content may be associated with doming of the scutes on the carapace (upper shell). The tortoises tend to grow slower on non-watery diets but ultimately will be healthier. Calcium supplementation is not needed if the tortoise is on a good diet and is outside.


Sexual maturity is more size dependent than age dependent. Wild caught tortoises are generally mature between 10-15 years of age. In captivity, they will generally reach breeding size in 7-9 years because food is more readily attained. Males have concave plastrons (under shell) at maturity, longer tails, faster sloping carapaces (upper shell), larger mental glands (under the chin), and longer gular scute (front part of plastron). Males begin pursuing females shortly after coming out of hibernation. The males will fight amongst each other for breeding rights. Usually between May and July, gravid females began excavating a carefully picked egg laying spot where they will lay 2-12 ping pong ball sized eggs. Females can clutch twice in a season.


October/November is usually the time that tortoises become more sluggish, eat less, and bask less. A suitable hibernation place needs to be provided. An insulated doghouse with dry soil on the floor and a tarped entrance works well. The doghouse or natural burrow should be kept in a non-flood zone area. Some keepers prefer to hibernate their tortoises inside (garage, closet, or basement). A deep, newspaper insulated, cardboard box works well. The box should be covered with a blanket and kept off the floor. If keeping the tortoise in the garage DO NOT IDLE YOUR CAR (carbon monoxide poisoning). The incubational temperature should be between 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hibernating tortoises should be checked weekly and should respond when touched on the feet. Around March or April, tortoises become active in their hibernation areas and should be taken out of hibernation. At this time, soaking them in 1” of lukewarm water will stimulate them to drink. Within a week or two, they should resume normal activity. If not, consult your veterinarian.

A desert tortoise should weigh an adequate amount before hibernating.

(Shell Length (cm) x Width (cm) x Height (cm) x .66)/1000 = ideal weight in kg.

If the tortoise weights more than 5% less from its ideal weight, it should not be hibernated. Do not hibernate sick or injured tortoises. These tortoises need to be brought inside, kept at 85 degrees, and nursed back to health (underlying problems should be diagnosed and discussed with your veterinarian). All tortoises should have a pre-hibernation exam and fecal test before going into hibernation. Hatchlings and tortoises under 2 years old should not be hibernated.

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Desert Tortoise Hibernation

Desert Tortoise Hibernation

When concepts below are followed, hibernation can be done safely. The incidence of death during or shortly after hibernation is higher than at any other time of the year for Desert Tortoises. Questionable health before hibernation lends itself to post-hibernation death if or when the tortoise is deemed potentially ill, it should be evaluated further medically by routine blood analysis, x-rays, and potentially cultures.

Tortoises begin the process of hibernation when nighttime temperature drops are into the 60’s for several consistent days. Feeding slows markedly a month or so prior to hibernation. In Arizona this time of slowdown is usually mid-September to mid-October. Supplemental feedings (if started) in a healthy tortoise should stop when natural eating begins to slow down to prepare the bowel for hibernation.

Healthy tortoises should be allowed to naturally hibernate as the process is important for reproductive health, is part of their natural behavior, and probably has other unknown benefits. During hibernation, the decreased temperature causes the body’s natural processes to slow down. As a result, the immune system functions less effectively, making it easier for a tortoise to become ill. Therefore, it is important for a tortoise to have a pre-hibernation exam to ensure overall health. Health can be determined by accessing body weight compared to body measurements, fecal parasite exams, as well as physical exams.

Hibernation is a natural process for a Desert Tortoise. In the wild, mountains, weather, and freedom allow a tortoise to pick an appropriate area in which to hibernate. In a captive back yard environment, selection of an appropriate burrow is significantly limited. Burrow optimization for hibernation requires understanding and implementation of methods to control burrow flooding, excess humidity, and temperature regulation. Hibernation temperature should ideally be 60 degrees or less and always above freezing.

The goal of the hibernating tortoise is to avoid winter freezing and flooding. On the valley floor, the burrow opening direction is not as important as it is in the mountains (the floor of the desert is warmer which is the goal for tortoises in the winter). In the wild, the base of the mountains facing south to west would be the most ideal burrow sites to accomplish both goals. Avoiding flooding can be more challenging on the desert floor in a back yard environment as burrows are often not built out of the floor pane. When roofs are pitched toward the burrow or in a flood area, hibernating tortoises may drown or possibly wake up extremely ill. Outside hibernation should not be attempted in such burrows. Drip and sprinklers systems may also get damaged by the tortoise or develop leaks that will result in the tortoise developing similar problems. Burrows over and around such areas should be avoided.

Hibernation Indoors (not usually recommended):

The process of hibernation can be started outside. When temperature dictates the tortoise’s hibernation activities, it can be collected and brought inside a cooled garage to complete the process. Tortoises can be placed in a cardboard box with shredded paper or hay. Garage temperatures below 60 degrees are adequate for hibernation and result in less weight loss through it. The tortoise can be soaked in a shallow tub or water in order to avoid significant weight loss or dehydration.

Hibernation continues throughout the spring and females begin to come out in April and May. Most males wake up around the same time, although in the wild hibernation is usually about a month longer. Waking up is also a process. Most tortoises begin by drinking only until sufficient enough temperature is achieved to aid in digestion.

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Dietary Recommendations for Green Iguanas

Dietary Recommendations for Green Iguanas

Green Iguanas are herbivorous (plant eaters) and feed almost entirely on the leaves of various vines and trees in the wild. They do not have gizzards like birds and do not require grit in the diet. Similarly, they are not insectivorous at any time in their lives; they are herbivorous from birth (although the occasional insect may be taken opportunistically).

In captivity, Green Iguanas should be fed a mixture of vegetables and fruits, with some protein supplementation. Food should be prepared fresh daily and water should be available at all times. All plant material should be washed, chopped, mixed, and served at room temperature or slightly warmer. Discard any uneaten food after a few hours. Recommended diets, ingredients, amounts, and schedules are listed below.

Hatchlings up to 14 inches in length:

85% plant matter & 15% animal protein. Plant material needs to be finely chopped or shredded. Feed twice daily or have food continuously available.

Juveniles up to 2.5 years of age or 14 inches to 3 feet in length:

90% plant material & 10% animal protein. Plant material needs to be chopped fines to medium or shredded. Feed once daily.

Adults over 2.5 years of age or over 3 feet in length:

95% plant material & 5% animal protein. Plant material needs to be chopped coarsely. Feed once daily.

Recommended diet ingredients:

Calcium rich vegetables: should comprise 30-40% of diets; offer two or more items per feeding. Examples: Turnip greens, mustard greens, beet greens, kale, collards, bok choy, Swiss chard, dandelions, parsley, romaine, escarole, spinach, alfalfa pellets. Other vegetables: should comprise 30-40% of diet, feed a variety weekly.


Thawed frozen mixed vegetables, squash, zucchini, sweet potatoes, bell pepper, broccoli, peas, beans, okra, grated carrot, bean sprouts. Grain and fiber such as whole grain breads and natural bran cereals can comprise up to 20% of diet. Fruits should be no more than 15% of diet. These include figs, papaya, melon, apple, peaches, plums, strawberries, tomatoes, banana (with skin), grapes, and kiwi.

ANIMAL PROTIEN SOURCES: 5% of adult diet, 10% of juvenile diet, 15% of hatchling diets


Insects such as crickets, mealworms, king mealworms

Commercial Pelted Diets: premium low-fat dog foods (Iams/Eukanuba or Science Diet)

Primate diets (Monkey Chow, Monkey Biscuit)

Trout chow soaked in water and offered with the plant material

Note that all these products have high levels of vitamin D and, therefore, should be used sparingly and with caution

Other protein sources: tofu, hard-boiled egg

Calcium and the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) can be oversupplemented, to the lizard’s detriment, as well as undersupplemented. The best way to avoid the perils of oversupplementation is to feed a variety of natural sources of calcium and the fat-soluble vitamins. Modest amounts of vitamin/mineral supplementation are then used to balance out the diet. Choose supplements with Vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is the form of Vitamin D used by reptiles, and this is a better source than Vitamin D2. To avoid additive toxicity, avoid mineral supplements, which contain vitamin A and D3. For calcium supplementation, select powdered calcium carbonate or calcium gluconate, or cuttlebone shavings. Mix two parts vitamin supplement with one part mineral supplement and feed as follows: for hatchlings and juveniles - one small pinch per feeding. For adult males - one full pinch per two pounds body weight, twice weekly. Adult females - one full pinch of feeding from December until egg lying.

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Exo Terra Solar Glo Information

Exo Terra Solar Glo Bulb Information

An Exo Terra Solar Glo UV/ Heat (100 W Flood) Bulb is recommended during the day for reptiles. Unlike the fluorescent tubes, this bulb provides UV at the similar overall output level as the sun. It is also a source of both UV and heat, and will last for a full year. The bulb needs to be in a clamp lamp with a ceramic fixture to prevent melting. The fixture should be carefully secured to avoid being bumped and breaking the filament or starting a fire. A red heat bulb can be used at night to prevent nighttime temperature drops. UV is crucial for vitamin D, which allows the proper absorption of calcium.

For more information and where to purchase, click here.

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Feeding Your Insectivorous Reptile

Feeding Your Insectivorous Reptile

One of the most overlooked aspects to keeping healthy insectivorous reptiles is understanding how to feed them properly in captivity. Wild-caught insects are usually the most nutritious and easily attainable. Be cautious when collecting these insects in areas that may have been sprayed with insecticide. A good way to avoid worrying about insecticide-tainted insects is to make your own “bug catcher.” Insert a funnel into the mouth of an old plastic milk jug and attach a hanger through the handle. Then, by hanging it over an outside light, you can catch an abundance of flying insects for your critter to enjoy (you can generally assume that an insect that can fly is not a poisoned bug). Unfortunately, many places are routinely sprayed with pesticides; therefore, crickets purchased at the local pet shops are the most reliable resource. Avoid mealworms as a staple part of the diet as they are high in fat and phosphorus and contain virtually no digestible protein.

When purchasing crickets from a pet store, think of the cricket as an empty capsule that needs to be filled with good nutritious food, otherwise the cricket is nothing but exoskeleton and offers no nutritional value to your reptile. The easiest and most efficient way of ensuring proper nourishment to your reptile is to purchase a small glass or plastic aquarium and feed your crickets for two to three days before offering these insects to your pet. When choosing the appropriate food to feed your insects, try to keep in mind the natural environment from which your reptile originates, and the types of food the insects from that specific area might eat. In general, green leafy vegetables such as collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, and romaine lettuces are all healthy choices for a good source of plant-based protein, as well as an acceptable alternative to water. A source of animal-based protein is also important to provide to your insects, ground up dog food is one of the most easiest and affordable sources available.

Vitamin and mineral supplements cannot replace the benefits of natural sunlight!!! Be cautious when using supplements, as there is evidence that oral vitamin D is toxic to diurnal (day-basking) reptiles. Pure calcium (green labeled Rep-cal, ground up chalk, or Tums tablets) can be given safely once or twice a week, but a few hours a week of natural, unfiltered sunlight is definitely the best “supplement” you can offer your reptile.

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Kingsnake and Milksnake Care

Kingsnake and Milksnake Care

General Information

Kingsnakes and milksnakes belong to the family Colubridae, which also consists of over 2,000 of snakes around the world. The snakes in this family are distributed throughout the world and are dominant everywhere except Australia. This family is considered to be more highly evolved than Boidae, which contains boas and pythons. They have a very narrow rib cage and elongated organs, leaving little room. For this reason, their left lung has become vestigial, leaving only a fully functional right lung.

Both kingsnakes and milksnakes belong to the genus Lampropeltis. Lampro is derived from the Greek word for “shiny” and peltis is Greek for “shields.” This is an accurate description of their smooth, glossy, well-defined scales. Scientific names for Kingsnakes are Lampropeltis getula and milksnakes are Lampropeltis triangulum. Both species are found across the continental United States and northern Mexico. Both are robust constrictors and, kingsnakes especially, are known for their immunity to venomous snakes that inhabit their range. Many kings and milks mimic the colors of venomous coral snakes, but remembering the simple rhyme “red on yellow, kill a fellow” can easily differentiate them. Kingsnakes and milksnakes can be easily kept in captivity, are moderately sized, and are quite docile. They appeal to both beginners and experienced herpetoculturists.


When selecting a snake, the following is a list of things for which to look:

  • Firm rounded body
  • No cavity on sides or signs of broken ribs
  • Clear eyes
  • No secretions or cloudiness other than signs of normal shedding
  • No sign of mites (look for “dust” speckled appearance of the snake’s body which could be mite feces)
  • No gaping of mouth or open mouth breathing
  • Shiny skin with no sores or scabs (be sure to check underbelly)
  • Clean vent area (cloaca)
  • No swelling around vent
  • Pink inside mouth (no red spots, yellow cheesy substance or excess mucus)
  • Clean healthy looking tongue sheath
  • No lumps, bumps, excessively hard or soft areas along surface
  • Smooth movements

After you acquire your snake, you should collect a fecal specimen and drop it by a veterinarian’s office that is familiar with reptile medicine and have it checked for parasites. It is also helpful to use white butcher paper as an initial substrate to make it easier to monitor your snake for mites, as well as monitor the quality and quantity of feces produced.


Kingsnakes and milksnakes should be housed alone due to their cannibalistic nature, except when paired for breeding. The cage or aquarium size is dependent upon the size of the snake; however, keep in mind that since these snakes have only one fully functioning lung, they need an area in which to occasionally stretch out completely. This is very important to their respiratory health. A guideline is as follows:

  • Hatchlings: 10 gallon enclosure
  • Medium-sized adults: 20 gallon enclosure
  • Larger and longer snakes: 60 gallon enclosure

The top should be secure, since these snakes are escape artists and can squeeze through impossibly tight places. Although they are considered terrestrial, you may want to provide some vertical climbing spaces and above the floor basking spots. A hide box should be provided since they are very secretive. A water bowl should also be provided that is large enough for total immersion of the snake, and it should be thoroughly cleaned every 3-4 days.

When deciding on a substrate, keep in mind the ease with which it can be cleaned. Astroturf can be used but it is rough and irritating to the skin. Another option is outdoor carpeting, which is somewhat smoother. You should have two pieces cut to the size of your enclosure so while one is being cleaned and disinfected, another will be available. The cage should be kept free of waste and cleaned approximately every two weeks. Substrate that could be accidentally ingested during feeding, stays damp, or is irritating to the snake’s skin should not be used.

Temperature should be maintained at 76 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, with a nighttime drop into the lower 70s. Thermometers should be used at the cool end and the warm end of the tank, with the temperature in the warm end not rising more than 1 or 2 degrees above the upper end of the recommended range. Kingsnakes and milksnakes that live in extreme heat or cold climates alter their daily habits to accommodate those extremes. In captivity, such extremes do not need to be provided unless you are trying to breed your snake.

Heating pads may be placed under one half of the tank but under no circumstances should a heat rock be used as it is. If used, it should be equipped with a thermostat to control the temperature. These rocks heat up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit on the surface and can cause severe burns in reptiles. A non-light heat source such as a ceramic heating element can be supplied above the screen top. These can also be equipped with a thermostat for control. Lighting during the day can be provided using a vita-lite.


Kingsnakes and milksnakes are active daytime predators with a high metabolic rate (transit time of ingested is approximately 72 hours). In the wild, they are predators of other snakes, lizards, amphibians, rodents, birds, and rattlesnakes. However, they can do well on a diet of killed mice in captivity. The following is a guide for feeding amounts, but every individual is different and the amount should be based on appetite, growth, and body condition of your snake.

  • Hatchlings: 1 to 2 day old pinkie mice. Feed 1 to 2 mice every 2 to 7 days depending on desired growth.
  • Sub-adults: mice as big girth-wise as the widest part of the snake. 1 to 2 mice every 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Adults: (>3 yrs) adult mice or weaned pink rats.
  • A good rule of thumb: Snakes over 4 feet long need at least 2 adult mice each week.
  • Frozen killed mice may be thawed in a plastic bag in warm tap water. If you choose to buy live mice, or raise your own, they should be killed and frozen for at least a month. Mice can carry small protozoa on the bottoms of their feet that can infect the snake and cause illness. Another good reason to offer killed prey is that live mice or rats can bite the snake leading to abscessation of the site.
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Leopard Gecko Care

Leopard Gecko Care

Care & Maintenance

Leopard geckos do not need fancy housing. They are happy in terrariums, plastic sweater boxes, big wooden cages, etc. However, they do require the following things:

Adequate Heat

A heating pad (like the ones used or people’s backaches) can be used under one end of an aquarium. It should be under the glass, so that it never comes into contact with the lizard. Preferably use a pad smaller than the aquarium, so that the aquarium does not rest on the pad itself. This pad can be attached to the underside of the cage as well. A light can also be used, but the gecko also needs a day and night cycle, so the light will have to be turned off at night. Something else must keep it warm at night. A temperature around 85 degrees Fahrenheit or so during the day is best, while not much lower than 78 degrees at night.

A Constant Supply of Water

Leopard geckos drink fine from an open bowl of water.


Hatching leopard geckos will eat small crickets. Larger geckos will eat crickets, assorted insects and even pinkie mice. You must supplement their diet with some reptile vitamin mix (these can be found in many pet stores) and calcium. The calcium is sold cheaply at most feed stores as agricultural grade limestone. You should mix up about half limestone/half vitamin mix (by weigh, not volume) and then sprinkle this mixture on the gecko’s crickets once a week. The crickets should be covered in this whitish mixture. If the gecko is experiencing any calcium deficiency, its tail will begin to get little kinks in it. You should make sure it gets enough calcium. Most lizards can eat from 5-10 crickets every other day, but you will soon get a feel for what your individual lizard needs. Mealworms and other hard bodied insects should be avoided since they can cause constipation in lizards that are even a little bit “under the weather”.

Adequate Shelter

Leopard geckos need some space where they can hide from daylight, heat, other lizards, and people. This can be an overturned box with a hole cut in it, or something more aesthetically pleasing. They must be able to get away from it all.


All lizards shed their skin, so that they can grow. To aid in this process, you should place a stone in the cage somewhere, so that the gecko can rub against it when it sheds. If the gecko has any trouble shedding, you should help it. Place the gecko in a warm water bath up to the elbows for a few minutes, then pull any remaining skin off. You may have to soak it some more, if the skin does not pull off easily.

Natural History Information

The scientific name of the leopard gecko is Eublepharis macularius. This species of gecko is found in Pakistan and Western India in semiarid environments. Leopard geckos are mostly active at night or around dawn and dusk. They are predatory and eat most things that are smaller and they are, including insects, spiders, mice, and lizards. These geckos can be long lived, since the record for keeping one in captivity is 15 years. They are in a different family from most geckos, as evidenced by them not having the adhesive pads on their toes (so they cannot climb glass!) and by them having movable eyelids.

Sex Determination

This species of gecko is especially interesting to scientists because the incubation temperature of the egg determines the sex of the individual. If a leopard gecko egg is incubated at 79-82 degrees Fahrenheit, then it will come out a female. If it is incubated at around 90.5 degrees, then it will probably be a male (80% chance), and if it is incubated at 93-95 degrees, then it will be a female. There are temperatures that produce about 50% male and 50% female. These are around 86-88 degrees Fahrenheit and 91 degrees.

Leopard geckos are not the only animals to have this strange sex determination mechanism. All crocodiles and alligators studied so far, many turtles, and a few other lizards all have their sex set during incubation. Scientists have yet to discover how they exhibit this phenomenon. No one has yet determined if there is some advantage to having males produced at some temperatures and females at others.


Leopard geckos can be sexed externally quite easily after they reach a few months of age (sexing before then is difficult at best). The males will have open pheromone secreting pores in a V-shaped pattern between their legs, while females will have closed pored, thus the V pattern will be unclear or invisible. Males also have swellings at the base of the tail, much wider heads and are generally larger than the females. If you want your geckos to breed, then beginning in midwinter (January or so), the males and females should be separated and then placed back together after a few weeks. One male can be used for several females.

WARNING: Males are territorial when placed with new males and can fight nastily. Please be aware of this when housing several lizards together.

The females should start to develop eggs inside of them at least 3 weeks after being placed with a male. These can often be seen developing inside the female’s body. Before she lays, you should give the female a nesting box with moist vermiculite or sand in it. Females usually lay two eggs at a time (although first clutches often contain only one egg). The female should then lay a clutch of eggs every two weeks. The eggs should be removed immediately and placed in moist vermiculite or sand at a warm temperature (79- 93 degrees Fahrenheit). They should always be moist. The eggs should be ventilated and checked frequently during incubation as well. The higher the temperature, the faster the eggs will hatch. They usually hatch between 37 and 60 days.

The hatchlings are quite small (about 8 cm total length) and are also quite nasty tempered. They hiss and bite, but are quite harmless, even though the natives in Pakistan believe them to be poisonous.

Warning: Handle the hatchlings carefully because they often lose their tails when they are scared. The adults can do this too but they tend to be more resistant to it, since they have a lot of energy stored in their tail (hence their other common name – Fat-tailed Gecko). This tail dropping is a mechanism that many lizards use to get away from predators, because the predator goes after the writhing tail, while the lizard runs away.

Other Information

Many pet stores are just now selling leopard geckos, and many have owner’s manuals that can help you. If you have specific questions and cannot find help, you can call Chris Grimes at (317) 254-8564.

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Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) is a disease that plagues various ages of adult herbivores and insectivores and nearly all juveniles (herbivore, insectivore, and carnivore). MBD has many different names that mean slightly different things. MBD itself refers to any problem that causes bone weakening. Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism (NSHP), rickets, fibrous osteodystrophy (FOD) are commonly used as synonyms for MBD when each points toward a specific cause of MBD. Many things induce MBD, including calcium and/or vitamin D3 deficient diets, high phosphorus diets, lack of exposure to ultraviolet light, and kidney disease.

A brief discussion of reptile calcium metabolism is necessary to understand this complex disease. Calcium is necessary for mineralization of the skeleton, muscle contraction, stabilizing the nerves from uncontrollable firing, and for the clotting cascade (forming normal blood clots). Blood calcium is maintained relatively constant by the interplay of calcium intake and absorption from the intestines and lysis of the bone when intake is inadequate or unbalanced with phosphorus. When blood calcium is low, tetanic seizures will occur to some degree. These small seizures will occur until the parathyroid gland senses the low calcium and secretes parathyroid hormone (PTH). PTH acts on the bone (causes bone destruction) to free up bound calcium. When the calcium is released by the bone into the blood, the tetanic seizures stops at least until the new calcium is utilized.

When the parathyroid gland is constantly stimulated to produce its hormone, MBD results from Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism (NSHP). The parathyroid gland is also stimulated when dietary phosphorus is relatively high with respect to the calcium (this is what happens when feeding herbivores a carnivore diet, carnivores calcium deficient diets, and having kidney disease). A ratio of calcium to phosphorus between 1.5:1 to 2:1 is the ideal maintenance ratio. Chronic NSHP results in Fibrous Osteodystrophy (FOD) where strong bones are gradually replaced by fibrous connective tissue (cartilage). Low blood calcium (hypocalcemia) may also be caused from lack of vitamin D3 induced by lack of exposure to un-filtered ultraviolet UV rays or lack of dietary supplementation with this vitamin.

MBD manifests itself by many clinical signs ranging from lethargy, anorexia, paresis to paralysis (rear legs affected from fracture of lower back or a spinal chord swelling), fine intention tremors of the muscles (noticed in no weight-bearing phalanges first), pathologic fractures of any bone, fibrous osteo-dystrophy (cartilaginous tissue replacing bone), soft facial bones (particularly the lower jaw), intestinal prolapse, renal disease, to full-blown tetanic seizures. MBD has multi-factorial causes and is not simply a lack of calcium in the diet. Prevention of MBD depends on the owner’s expertise and knowledge of the specific reptile interplaying with the individual behavioral idiosyncrasies of the reptile’s feeding and sunbathing habits. Good common sense and compassionate forethought on the owner’s behalf will prevent the disease.

Here is a quick summary of nutritional aspects of a healthy, captive Green Iguana (MBD’s poster child) diet. Herbivores need high quality plant material. Green leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, dandelion greens fit this category. Please note that none of these staples end in lettuce. Head lettuce is particularly bad for young herbivores due to its high water content and overall low nutritive value. No growing herbivore needs to be put on a diet. Do not feed head lettuce to your reptile. Small amounts of a mixed assortment of carrots, peas, green beans, corn, squash, etc. can also be added to the diet, but are not as important and should not replace the greens. A small amount of this should be fed to your reptile (less than 30% by weight). Flowers can be added to spice up the diet. Hibiscus flowers and leaves seem to be enjoyed particularly.

Carnivorous reptiles also need special dietary attention.

Small snakes and various insectivores require special dietary attention as they commonly suffer from MBD related to calcium deficient food consumption. Pinky mice and improperly fed insect prey (cricket, mealworms, etc.) are nearly always calcium deficient. When a diet of these prey items is not supplemented properly, it results in stunting and clinical MBD. Insects should be gut loaded with dog food and vegetables when fed to insectivores. Powdered supplements can be used to coat the insects using the “shake and bake” method in a baggie. Pinkie mice should be allowed to nurse for 3 days before being pulled for prey items in order to obtain better calcium to phosphorus ratio.

The important aspect of nutrition that many reptile owners overlook is not about the food that is offered. Most owners have obtained that information by minimal pre-purchase reading on basic husbandry and nutrition (the owners who don’t have the message have not looked). It is about the quantity of food offered, and which foods are actually eaten. If reptiles are fed so much vegetables, fruits, flowers, etc., that they cannot eat the entire amount, they will often only eat their favorite foods. If these foods are nutritionally incorrect (too much phosphorus, too little calcium), gradual weakening of the bones will take place.

In young iguanas with little to no calcium reserves in the bone, the clinical signs will be lethargy, paresis, and mild to moderate tetanic spasms. Neonate iguanas require near-perfect calcium to phosphorus ratio in their diets due to their lack of bony reserve. It is hard to over-supplement calcium in the diet of young growing iguanas. Supplementation of phosphorus-free calcium is critical to the typical captive iguana whose lighting, food, and the ability to thermoregulate is suboptimal (compared to the wild).

The ability for every reptile to thermoregulate is imperative to nutrition. Most reptiles exist in a state of homeostasis when their temperatures are kept within a preferred range known as the preferred optimal temperature zone (POTZ). This zone is species specific. Having the ability to thermoregulate entails the reptile being able to behaviorally decide where he or she chooses to be within the defined area of the cage to control its own temperature. Reptiles digest food more efficiently when kept in conditions conducive to thermo-regulating in their POTZ. Iguanas cannot efficiently absorb dietary calcium at temperatures below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If kept at a temperature below the minimum of 85 degrees, most iguanas will suffer from MBD.

Lack of exposure to unfiltered ultraviolet light also will cause MBD. The exact mechanism of action of vitamin D3 production is not known in reptiles, but is assumed to be the same as in mammals. We feel strongly that temperature regulation is more important than exposure to UV light with respect to MBD. However, UV light does have positive behavioral, reproductive, and feeding effects on reptiles. Increased feeding response will cause more calcium to be eaten due to sheer increase in food intake (assuming that the diet is balanced). Vitamin D3, the desired beneficial product from exposure to UV light, is essential to dietary absorption of calcium. Vitamin D3 is also available in some oral calcium supplements. The right combination of UV light and calcium/D3 supplementation is essential in captivity with respect to preventing MBD. The more reptiles are exposed to natural sunlight or black lights, the less oral D3 is needed. Oral vitamin D3 can be over-supplemented in the adult, resulting in metastatic mineralization of some soft tissues including the stomach, intestines, kidneys, skin, etc. Therefore, we recommend routine sunbathing during adequate climatic conditions through outside caging and/or walks. Sunbathing is appropriate anytime the temperature is above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Outside caging is very good as long as the reptile is not in direct sunlight and can be cooled down (setting up a drip system is a good idea). When exposure to the sun is impossible, oral supplementing with calcium is essential. Young iguanas (1.5 years) should be supplemented only once or twice weekly. Cherry flavored Tums tablets can also be used as a calcium supplement and do not have D3 in them. Older lizards do well on Tums and also enjoy the taste.

Renal disease also can cause MBD. The kidneys excrete phosphorus. If the kidneys are hypo-functional, elevated phosphorus stimulates the parathyroid gland the same way dietary phosphorus does. If the kidney disease is chronic, clinical signs of kidney failure are yellow urates, pale mucous membranes, straining to defecate, and constipation.

Egg bound females will often present in muscle fasciculations to acute tetany related to hypocalcemia. The blood calcium is utilized to calcify the eggs. A salpingectomy/ ovariohysterectomy may be a necessary treatment once the patient’s calcium level is stabilized.

Most reptiles are solitary animals that will try to minimize social interaction with owners as well as with cage mates. Cage paired iguanas nearly always have subclinical to clinical metabolic bone disease. One reptile is nearly always more aggressive. The more dominant iguana has first access to the food and the better basking place. As a result, the second place subordinate iguana will often be much smaller and have MBD. Stress plays a large part in this disease as well. Secondary bacterial infections are common with MBD and stress.

The suggested clinical workup for iguanas with MBD includes a blood chemistry profile, PCV/TP, and radiographs.


Treatment for clinical MBD depends on the severity of the disease and may take as long as 6 months to resolve. Mild cases respond quicker. Some reptiles lose the ability to eat due to softening of jawbones. Treatment consists of heavily supplementing with calcium at 200-500 mg calcium BID per os, intracoelomic, or intramuscular for at least 2 weeks. If the reptile is still eating, daily oral calcium on the food is sufficient. Force-feeding with an appropriate carnivore/herbivore baby food diet is simple and effective. The dose we use is 15 ml per kg BID until the reptile is self-feeding. Injectable vitamin D3 should also be given. The dose for Injacom was .07 ml per 100 grams body weight. However, this drug has recently been pulled from the market. Exposure to unfiltered ultraviolet light and temperature regulation are also very important. We recommend removing all cage perching and other decor in the cage on which the lizard may break a leg or fracture its back. Understanding the husbandry deficiencies of the reptile owner is essential and self-evident upon historical questioning.

Pathologic fractures are common with MBD. Long bone limb fracture, as well as back fracture, complicates the treatment of MBD. Tape splinting or simply leaving the reptile alone are the options that are based upon the veterinarian’s personal judgment and level of expertise. Tape splinting will do harm if not properly placed or the reptile is allowed too much free roam time. General small animal splint application knowledge should be applied. Internal fixation should return to rear leg function. If the rectal tissue is flaccid, and/or the reptile cannot urinate properly, then euthanasia is often recommended.

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Native Plants for Desert Tortoises


The Desert Tortoise Natural Area (DTNA) is a 39.5 square mile area of prime natural habitat located in the Mojave Desert of California on the slopes of the Rand Mountains. This desert ecosystem includes over 160 different species of plants. Many of the animal inhabitants of the DTNA feed upon these plants. One such inhabitant is the desert tortoise (Gopherus (Xerobates) agassizii), Official Reptile of the State of California.

The desert tortoise meets its nutritional needs by consuming a wide variety of plant materials. This article does not presume to be a complete listing of all the food plants growing in the DTNA; in fact, it profiles only a fraction of the plants growing there. The article concentrates on DTNA plants stocked by the Theodore Payne Foundation, which is currently the only source that many of these native California plants can be purchased from. All the plants mentioned in this article are available as seed in packets and sometimes in bulk; a few are available as container stock. Seed can be mail ordered directly.

Desert tortoises in their native habitat feed on annual wild flowers, annual and perennial grasses, and the pads and buds of some cactus species. The term “annual” designates plants that complete their life cycle in one season. These plants germinate grow flower, set seed, and die in one growing season. The seed they have set will germinate and grow under the right conditions the following season. Perennial plants may live through several to many seasons. The roots and underground of some perennial plants remain alive through the seasons even when the above ground portions of the plants die back each year. These are known as herbaceous perennials.

Seeds of many of the annual wildflowers on which desert tortoises feed are available from Theodore Payne Foundation. The following paragraphs describe these annuals in more detail.

LeafyStemmed Coreopsis (Careopsis calliopsiclea) grows from 4 to 20 inches (10‑50 cm) in height and bears l to 3 inch (2.5‑7.5 cm) wide golden flowers. Whispering Bells (Emmenanthe perululiflora) grow from 4 to 20 inches (10‑50 cm) in height and bear small, yellowish cream flowers resembling bells.

The California Filago (Filago californica) is a small, white, woolly annual growing from 2 to 12 inches (530.5 cm) in height/spread and bearing minuscule flowers. Gold Fields (Lasthenia chrysotoma) is a slender annual growing 2 to 10 inches (5‑25 cm) tall with small yellow flowers, and which carpets the desert after the winter rains. White TidyUps (Layia glandulosa) grow 12 to 24 inches (30‑60 cm) in height and bear numerous flowers that are 1 inch (2.5 cm) across and white with yellow centers.

Desert Dandelion (Malacothrir glabrata) is a many‑stemmed annual 4 to 15 inches (10‑38 cm) tall which bears numerous pale‑yellow, fragrant flowers. Owl’s Clover (Orthocarpus purpurascens) is also known as Pink‑Brush, referring to its appearance in flower. It grows 4 to 15 inches (10‑38 cm) in height and bears striking flowers, which are greenish‑purple at the base and reddish‑purple at the tip.

Thistle Sage (Salvia carduacea) is an annual growing with a rosette of prickly leaves at the base of 12 to 24 inch (30‑60 cm) tall stalks of lavender‑fringed flowers each about 1 inch (2.5 cm) long. Chia (Salvia columbariae) grows in well-drained locations to a height of 4 to 20 inches (10‑50 cm), bearing clusters of blue‑purple flowers and edible seeds

Theodore Payne also offers a desert‑annual seed mix composed of many plant species, some of which are native to the DTNA and some of which are not.

Several perennials native to the DTNA are available as seed or 1 gallon container plants. Among these are Bluedicks (Dichelostemma pulchellum), which send up a few grass‑like leaves and numerous flower stalks 12 to 24 inches (30 ‑60 cm) tall from small onion‑like bulbs (grassnuts). Bluedicks have pale‑blue to purple flowers. Mojave Aster (Machaeranthera tortifolia) is a shrubby perennial growing 12 to 27 inches (30‑70 cm) in height, and bearing yellow 2-inch (5 cm) wide flowers in the spring. Desert or Apricot Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) is a desert cousin of tropical hibiscus, blue hibiscus, and Chinese lantern. Growing 20 to 40 inches (50‑100 cm) in height, desert mallow bears beautiful apricot to peach red to grenadine‑colored flowers, which are relished by desert tortoises.

Several native grasses occur at DTNA. lndian Ricegrass (Oryzopsis hymenoides) is a slender, perennial bunchgrass which, including florets (the “flowers” of grasses), reaches a height of 12 to 24 inches (30‑60 cm). Desert Needlegrass (Stipa speciosa) is also a perennial bunchgrass reaching a height of 12 to 24 inches (30‑60 cm). These two grasses are similar enough to hybridize naturally. Grow Desert Needlegrass with CAUTION! Needlegrass may cause mechanical injury from the sharp florets becoming embedded in the skin or mouth. It may also aggravate hay fever and asthma conditions.

Theodore Payne offers several shrubs native to the DTNA. Cattle Spinach (Atriplex polycarpa) is an intricately branched, grey saltbush reaching a height of 3 to 6 feet (1‑2 m). It bears minute male and female flowers on the same plants. California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) is a low, spreading shrub with many 24 to 48 inches (60‑120cm) long stems. The stems terminate in clusters of tiny pinkish flowers.

Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris) offers tortoises edible pads, buds, flowers, and fruit. This low spreading cactus has grayish stems 4 to 12 inches (10‑30 cm) long and showy rose‑orchid flowers. Spines are absent, but “glochids” (tiny, sharp, bristle hairs) are present. Glochids easily detach from the plants and embed in the skin. If this occurs, moisten the area with water and vigorously rub ordinary table salt on the place of intrusion. This will provide relief and will help work the glochids out of the skin. It is nearly impossible to remove them with tweezers, as they are very small and break off at the skin surface very easily.

Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) is NOT a food plant but provides shelter and shade, and tortoise burrows are often located at their base. The dominant shrub in the DTNA, it grows 4 to 10 feet (1‑3 m) tall, and bears small yellow flower throughout the year. Its strong‑flavored, resinous sap gives the leaves a polished look and deters browsing by animals.

Theodore Payne Foundation is a non‑profit, unendowed foundation dedicated to the propagation and preservation of California native flora. Its nursery, which includes a hillside wildflower walking trail, stocks a wide variety of California native plants. It provides educational events on topics ranging from native‑plant care to basketry. The bookstore offers many volumes on native plants and natural history. The reference library features an extensive horticultural and botanical literature. In the spring (March‑May) its wildflower‑hotline (818) 768‑3533 provides current reports on the best areas in the southland to see wild flowers in bloom.

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Old World Chameleon Care

Old World Chameleon Care

Chameleons have been kept in captivity for the last 20 years. Thousands of chameleons have been imported in to the U.S. every year over the past two decades. Until recently, widespread captive breeding has not occurred here in the U.S., and since then only with a few selective species. Two chameleons that have reproduced in the U.S. with great success recently are the Jackson’s chameleon and the veiled chameleon. Most other chameleons are imported.

Natural History

Chameleons are arboreal (tree dwelling), insectivorous/carnivorous lizards of the “Old World” (Africa, Asia, and Europe). Unlike the new world chameleons (Anoles), true chameleons have a laterally compressed body, fused digits, and a prehensile tail. They also have independently rotating eyes, a very long tongue, and the ability to “change color shades”. They move with a halted gate that resembles leaves blowing in the wind. This movement is used when stalking insects as both eyes are focused forward on its prey. The sticky tipped tongue is projected outward and they prey is caught. The Jackson’s chameleon is sexually dimorphic, as the males have horns. Male Veiled chameleons have spurs from their back feet. Chameleons are easily stressed, and most do not enjoy being held.


Chameleons are territorial, solitary animals in the wild and should be kept singly in captivity except during breeding season. Cage enclosures should be designed for space, ventilation, adequate lighting, and heat sources. Cages should be made of glass, non-abrasive screens, wood, or hard plastics. Cage décor should be sturdy live plants or trees. Vines may also be pieced together and adorned with synthetic plants. Live trees should have the coil covered with plastic or gravel to prevent insect prey from eating from fecal-contaminated soil. The cage floor should be wired (for feces to drop through) or any cleanable flay surface. The cage should have a basking spot and full spectrum ultraviolet lighting.


Incandescent bulbs used in the aluminum domed clip on light fixtures should be placed outside the cage to prevent lighting burns. Broad-spectrum lighting with ultraviolet should also be used to simulate the natural lighting of the sun (Lumichrome, Chromalux, Vita-lite, or Durotest). The ultraviolet lights are important for many natural behaviors, reproductive, and vitamin D3 production. These lights are effective if they are 2 feet or less away from the chameleon and changed every 6-8 months. Glass and plastics filter out UV light as well.


Desert species such as the veiled chameleon requires basking spots reaching 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Tropical species such as C. parsoni, C. senegalensis, and C. pardalis require basking spots up to 90 degrees. The basking light sets up temperature gradients and healthy chameleons regulate to a place in the cage comfortable to them. Nighttime temperatures should drop 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit for both desert and tropical species.

Montane (mountain dwelling) species such as the Jackson’s chameleon, Fisher’s chameleon, mountain chameleon and dwarf Chameleons, require lower temperatures. Basking spots should be about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity for most chameleons is best between 50-70%.

Watering and Feeding

Chameleons in the wild drink water as it condenses on the leaves. In captivity, this situation must also be duplicated. Daily misting or leaves in the cage can provide water, by pet store drip systems, IV bags and tubes, or by an aquarium power head fountain. Sunken eyes can be a sign of dehydration.

Feeding and nutrition is extremely important. Commercially available crickets are often deficient in nutrients such as protein, calcium, and vitamins. The following guidelines will be helpful in feeding your chameleon.

Offer a variety of insects including 50% crickets, 50% other insects including: wax worms, meal worms, king meal worms, Madagascan Hissing cockroaches, South American cockroaches, and silk moths.

Supplement the diets of insects for several days prior to feeding. Place a small dish of finely ground dog food with a calcium supplement, a slice of orange, and greens in with your crickets.

Female chameleons should be given more calcium supplementation during egg laying. This can be accomplished by the shake and bake technique of the crickets with and finely ground calcium powder (such as Tums tablets--any flavor). However, some chameleons do not like powdered crickets.

Whenever possible, supplement the diet with wild caught insects. Flies, grasshoppers, cockroaches, non-Monarch butterflies, moths, etc. are all good supplements.

Newborn 3-4 day old pinkie mice can be fed to larger species.

Common Medical Problems

  • Parasites
  • Metabolic Bone Disease- occurs if eating non gut loaded insects or if not eating well
  • Dehydration
  • Stress!!!
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Red-Tailed Boa Care

Red-tailed Boa Care

Background Information

The Boidae family is quite large and the Red-tailed Boa constrictors make up only a small part of the family. The name “Red-tailed Boa” is somewhat misleading. The name is given to several different species of Boa constrictor with red tails; it is not a unique species itself. The natural range of those snakes falling into the red-tailed category is from Central America down to South America. However, the family Boidae has members in North America as well as a few in Africa and Asia.

The red-tailed boa makes a very nice pet, but it is important to know what you are getting yourself into. Most red-tailed boas grow to be 8 –9 feet in length. There are a few reported cases of some growing up to 10 and 12 feet long, but these are rare cases. They can weigh up to 50 pounds depending on the species and diet. In addition, their life span is about 20 – 30 years. Taking on the responsibility of a red-tailed boa as a pet is a long-term commitment to its health and well-being. The first responsibility is proper housing.


Creating an enclosure for your pet boa can be quite rewarding as well as complicated. There are several points you should consider when housing a pet boa. The first thing to consider is the length of your pet. Neonates and juveniles may do well in a 10 – 20 gallon aquarium. However, they will very quickly outgrow this cage, as they may grow up to 3 -4 feet in their first year. Thus, you must be prepared to provide larger housing when the time comes. Provide a cage that is as long as the snake or longer. This enables the snake to fully stretch out. Height is as important as length and width. Take into consideration weather your pet is terrestrial (ground dwelling) or arboreal (tree dwelling). Red-taileds are semi-arboreal, which means that they spend some time in trees. For this reason, add branches and/or shelves strong enough to support your snake’s weight. This gives your pet the opportunity to climb as well as enhancing the appearance of the cage.

Bedding is another important point to take into account. Newspaper, paper toweling, unprinted paper, Astroturf, blankets, or in small tanks towels work well. These materials can be easily changed and cleaned, and are relatively inexpensive. A good plan is to have two pieces of bedding for each cage, so while one is being cleaned the other can be in use. Be careful when using blankets or towels, make sure they are large enough that your snake cannot swallow. This can happen when the blanket or towel picks up the scent of the prey animal and the snake mistakes it as more food. Wood shavings can be used as bedding, except cedar shavings, which are toxic. If using wood shavings make sure to feed on another substrate, it is too easy for snakes to ingest and become impacted. Also, it is quite difficult to keep clean and free of molds and mildews.

We all like to have our own little place to go to get away from it all, and red-tailed boas are no exception. Provide a hiding space or a hide box for your snake to go when it wants to be left alone. This helps reduce stress, which makes a healthier pet.

Temperature is very important. Remember red-tailed boas are from sub-tropical to tropical climates. Temperatures of the cage should range from 85 degrees Fahrenheit at one end to 90-95 degrees at the other end during the day. This allows the snake to choose the temperature it wants or needs. At night, the cool end of the cage may go down to 80°F but no lower. Only during the hibernation period should the temperature go below 80 degrees and then it should be between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Use thermometers and do not estimate the temperature. In addition to temperature, humidity is also important. The humidity should be high enough that your snake sheds its skin in one piece. On the other hand, it should not be so high that condensation forms on the walls of the cage.

Although light is important, there are no special lights required for boas. Boas tend to be more active from dusk until dawn. Therefore, the lighting provided should allow for a period of light and a period of darkness. The length of these periods should reflect normal lighting conditions. That is, longer days and shorter nights in the summer and shorter days and longer nights in the winter. However, you may decide to go 12 hours on and 12 hours off.

Boas do soak in and drink a lot of water. Provide a tub that can adequately handle the volume of water needed for your pet to fully submerge and not cause the water to overflow. The water should be changed daily or at least every few days and immediately if the snake defecates in the water. If you are only going to change the water every few days or if the snake defecates in the water, disinfect the water container as well. A 1:10 dilution of bleach and water or soapy water makes a good disinfectant. Remember to thoroughly rinse the container before placing it back into the cage.


Small mammals make up the diet of the boa. Feed frogs, small lizards, and small mice to juveniles. Rats and mice are the most commonly fed prey. In some cases, rabbits can be fed. It is generally considered that prey should be no wider than the widest part of the snake. The prey may be slightly larger so long as the snake doesn’t have problems swallowing it. In any case, live mice and rats should not be fed. There is a high potential for the prey to become predator if the snake is not hungry, or for them to inflict a nasty bite before the end. As for rabbits, they may kick the snake, leading to lacerated, dislocated or broken jaws.

You can purchase pre-killed mice and rats and store them in the freezer until needed. Just thaw at room temperature and feed, do not use microwaves as they may lead to hot spots in the food. If you must kill your own prey, cervical dislocation is considered the most humane method. Your reptile’s veterinarian or food supplier should be able to explain to you how to perform this procedure or direct you to someone who can. Feeding at night is recommended, as this is the time for the best feeding response.

Young snakes can be fed every 5-7 days. Feeding may be cut back to every 10-14 days after reaching a mature size (5-6 feet). It is important to take into consideration your pet’s activity level when feeding. A snake that gets a lot of exercise will need to be fed more frequently than a snake that sits in its cage all day doing nothing. A big snake is not necessarily a healthy snake. Feeding a snake too much too fast may lead to obesity which in turn may lead to health problems later on in life.

Fresh water should be available to your pet at all times. As mentioned earlier, boas drink quite often.


As your snake grows, it will be necessary for it to shed its skin. As your pet approaches the time of shedding, its skin will get darker and eventually a blue-gray cloud will develop over its eyes. In 2-4 days, the eyes will clear and a couple of days after that he/she will shed. During this time, a rough surface, such as a log or a rock, should be available for the snake to rub against to shed its skin. It is also a good rule to limit or avoid handling your snake while its eyes are clouded over. It cannot see and is much more likely to bite during this time.

The skin should come off in one piece. If it doesn’t all come off or if it comes off in several little pieces it could mean that the humidity is too low in the cage. If there is skin that remains on the snake, it may be removed by soaking the snake in warm water for 10-15 minutes, then slowly peeling the skin off in the direction of the scales. This problem may be corrected by increasing the humidity in the cage particularly at time of shedding, or by frequent misting at the time of shedding.


Determining the sex of a juvenile is often times difficult. Your veterinarian should be consulted. He or she may be able to probe your snake. However, at an early age probes are not always accurate. It may be possible to “pop” the hemipenes of a male out through manual manipulation. Often times it is better to wait until the snake has grown. At this time, the spurs on the male will be larger, the male will have a longer and thicker tail from the cloaca to the tip, and probes are more reliable.

Signs of Disease

Your pet should be examined for external parasites such as mites and ticks. A severe infestation can kill a snake by depleting their blood supply and/or cause a bacterial or viral infection. Mites are tough to get rid of. Start by wiping the snake down with a pyrethrin based flea spray, then rinse in water. The cage may also be sprayed or a pest strip, not the sticky kind, may be placed in the cage for about an hour. The cage should be given time to air out before putting the snake back. This should be repeated daily for a week then once weekly for few weeks. Treatment of ticks is manual removal followed by disinfecting the area.

Intestinal parasites may also be a problem for your snake. Your veterinarian should be consulted to do a fecal exam.

In addition to parasites, boas are prone to respiratory infections. This is characterized by foaming or bubbling around the mouth, nasal discharge, open mouth breathing, and resting in a head-vertical position. This is a serious condition and your veterinarian should be contacted. In addition to contacting your veterinarian, the temperature in the cage should be raised to the high end of the spectrum (90-95°F). Snakes are pretty good at hiding signs of disease. One of the major hallmarks of a problem is anorexia. You know the eating habits of your snake best. If your snake stops eating suddenly and it persists for more than two feedings, you should contact your veterinarian. In some cases, snakes stop eating before a shed, giving birth, or sometimes it is seasonal as for hibernation. Other signs of a problem are vomiting, regurgitation, diarrhea, excessive soaking, discolored urates (the white portion of the stool), or stargazing (staring up at nothing).

This is by no means a complete list of what to look for if your snake is sick. If you feel your pet is not doing properly contact your veterinarian.

Note: This paper is not intended to be a complete source on the care of boas. It covers some of the basics and common problems. There are several books published on the subject as well as many reptile organizations available. We encourage you to take advantage of these sources.

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Redfoot Tortoise Care

Redfoot Tortoise Care

Basic Information

The Redfoot tortoise is also called the Redleg tortoise, or the Savanna tortoise. This South American tortoise is the most common tortoise available in pet shops. The natural habitat of this animal is savanna areas and scrubby grasslands, although it is sometimes found in deep forests.


Redfoot tortoises are identified by large yellow head scales and orange-red scales on the limbs and tail. The shell is slightly elongated from very dark brown to black. The central parts of the laminae are yellowish. Redlegs reach maturity at 10-12 inches with a maximum length of 18 inches. Adults may weigh up to 30 pounds.

Cage Environment

These tortoises are from very warm climates and do not hibernate under normal conditions. They do best if kept all year at temperatures of 75-90 degrees Fahrenheit. An area should be provided that is of a constant 80-85 degrees, which the tortoise can go to and adjust its body temperature. They should be kept indoors and active in winter, preferably in a heated terrarium. In the summer, they may be left outside unless temperatures exceed 105 degrees or go below 70 degrees. They can stand more severe temperatures, but problems may arise with respiratory ailments or at a high temperature, heat stokes.

Redlegs need water to drink and bathe in, preferably at all times and at least every other day. Because they are from an area with high humidity, they seem to rapidly dehydrate, even with moist foods being offered. Therefore, water is always important. Any newly acquired specimen should be given a long drink and bath immediately upon acquisition; bathing them also helps to eliminate waste material.


These tortoises eat the largest variety of foods of seemingly any tortoise in existence. A good list consists of the following: All fruits and vegetables both fresh and cooked, eggs, lean meant, canned dog food and dry dog and cat food moistened, and cottage cheese. The fruits include apples, pears, peaches, apricots, bananas, grapes, papayas, cantaloupe, watermelon, and other melons. Vegetables include both fresh and fresh frozen with a favorite being corn on the cob, romaine lettuce, other lettuce types, mustard greens, celery, squash, tomatoes, chard and carrot (cooked or grated). Feeding will take place at any time of the day or night if light is provided and other factors such as heat and water are met, as these tortoises have prodigious appetites. They should be kept with other aggressive tortoises of like size.

The Redfoot tortoise is one of the hardiest tortoises to captive raise or keep and offers few problems. They are good around children and are very intelligent and can offer the advantage of reaching a fair size in a relatively short time. They may grow to adulthood size in 15 years or so if optimum growth occurs.

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Reptile Associated Salmonella

Reptile Associated Salmonella

Background Information

Salmonellosis is by no means a new disease. Its potential to cause disease has been recognized since 1946. Salmonella is a gram negative flagellated rod. In addition, it is a facultative anaerobe. Salmonella is a very stable organism. It is capable of remaining virulent for several months to years depending on the medium it is living in.

Medium Length of virulence

  • Tap Water 89 days
  • Pond Water 115 days
  • Pasture Soil 120 days
  • Garden Soil 280 days
  • Avian Feces 28 months
  • Bovine Feces 30 months

There are about 2,000 serotypes of salmonella, 200 of which have been isolated from reptiles. Of the 200 types seen in reptiles, only a few have been known to be involved in reptile zoonosis.


Transmission of salmonella is through the fecal-oral route for the most part. In the case of turtles, eggs laid in contaminated soil may be infected by the passage of the organism through the shell. Another point of note is that infection does not need direct contact with infected reptiles or their fecal material. To become infected, contact with individuals who have had contact with infected reptiles or the infected reptiles cage material may be all that is needed.

Clinical Signs

You may be wondering, “How do I know if my pet reptile has Salmonella?” Unfortunately, infected reptiles usually show no signs of disease. Occasionally they may become anorexic, lethargic, have diarrhea, or they may suddenly die. Fecal testing is often unrewarding. Several samples may have to be taken over several months to turn up a positive result. The problem is that negative results cannot be regarded as truly negative because the organism can undergo periods of latency. For this reason, it is almost impossible to say with 100% certainty an animal is free of salmonella.

In contrast to reptiles infected with salmonella, humans more often show very severe signs of infection. Common signs often exhibited by humans are: gastroenteritis, profuse diarrhea, sometimes bloody diarrhea, cramps, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, dehydration, dermatitis, red rash, and septicemia. In some cases, it may lead to more severe diseases such as osteomyelitis, encephalitis, and meningitis, Death is always a potential out come. Individuals diagnosed with salmonella must be reported to the Public Health Department, and carriers must be registered with the Public Health Department even after hospital discharge.

Individual that are at greater risk of infections include:

  • Children under age 5
  • Individuals with HIV/AIDS or other immunodefiency disorders
  • Transplant patients on anti-rejection therapy
  • Individuals on drugs that suppress or alters the immune system
  • Individuals receiving radiation therapy
  • Pregnant women
  • Elderly with poor nutritional status.


Treatment of salmonella infected reptiles is not recommended because in most cases the animal simply stops shedding the organism until antibiotics are stopped. Similarly, treatment of salmonella in humans is not warranted unless it becomes life threatening. The reason for this is that treatment may lead to individuals becoming carriers. Also, misuse of antibiotics has lead to development of antibiotic resistant strains of salmonella in both humans and reptiles. Because treatment is not recommended in all cases and is not successful in all, prevention of salmonellosis has been the main area of focus. 


Prevention of salmonella is relatively easy and usually requires little time commitment. The first and the most important thing to do is to your hands with antibacterial soap and water after handling reptiles or their cage materials. Avoid washing cage materials or placing reptiles in areas were food is to be prepared or eaten. Do not let young children to handle reptiles unsupervised and teach them to wash their hand after the do handle reptiles. Keep reptile cages/enclosures and accessories clean. Try to avoid splashing water when cleaning or wear eye and face protection if splashing is unavoidable. Individuals in the high-risk category should avoid contact with reptiles. Overall, the main point in preventing salmonella, is adhere to good hygiene. Also, keep in mind that reptiles are not the only source of salmonella. Other animals carry it, such as dogs, cows, horses, and chickens. Raw chicken and other uncooked meats serve as a greater risk than do reptiles. So, adhere to proper hygiene when dealing with these animals and food products, as well as when dealing with reptiles.

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Reptile Parasites

Reptile Parasites

Quarantine and Disinfecting

Parasites are extremely common and are often an overlooked problem in captive breeding and general pet reptile collections. It is fair to say that most reptiles brought into captivity in the United States are either farm-raised or wild caught. Wild caught imported animals often bear a heavy parasite burden in their natural environment, while showing no signs of disease. The stresses of captivity can cause this same animal to develop clinical disease ranging from poor reproductive performance to death.

Captivity in general causes a certain degree of stress from the mere fact that the animal has lost its ability to vary its environment and food. The reptile relies now solely on its keeper to provide a varied diet, water, environmental security, temperature, light, humidity, etc. When reptiles do not have their basic needs provided, their ability to fight infection are suppressed, just as humans are with the AIDS Virus. Reptiles get bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections more easily in captive environments. The purpose of this article is to discuss quarantining, disinfecting, and parasites in the captive environment in various types of reptiles.

The New Reptile Quarantine

Quarantining is the act of isolating as a precaution against diseases that are contagious. Whether or not the new reptile is captively bred or wild caught, it should be quarantined for at least 30 days or it should have 3 negative fecal examinations before entering a collection. A clinically sick animal should be kept separated regardless of its parasite status. Wild caught reptiles may have parasites shed in their feces for months. A positive fecal (for internal parasites) or physical exam (for external parasites) necessitates that appropriate action be taken from the reptilian veterinarian and from the owner to rid the animal of the parasite or parasites. The reptile needs to be dewormed with the proper medication (anthelmintic) and the owner needs to clean (remove organic waste, such as feces) and disinfect (destroy harmful organisms such as parasites, bacteria, viruses, or fungi) the quarantine caging on a daily basis. These quarantining procedures should be done again for at least 30 days or and should have 3 negative fecals.

Several pitfalls can occur in the quarantine process that allows parasites to enter the “clean collection”. Some herpetoculturalist and pet owners will try to save money and use the “dewormer” that they buy from the pet store. Some reptile owners do not have the fecal material checked by a veterinarian. These dewormers may only rid the reptile of one type of parasite when others may be present. Parasites enter collections this way and may result in the death of a particular animal or decreased production from the entire collection. Another common mistake that herpetoculturalists make involves trying to put the newly purchased reptile in with the potential mate in order to have quick breeding success. I have seen this work and backfire on clients. This break in quarantine can be analogous to Russian roulette. Other problems occur that may introduce parasites into a clean collection are using the same cleansing sponges, scrubbers, buckets or handling utensils like snake hooks, tongs, gloves, and water and food bowls for the quarantine cages as for the rest of the reptile cages. When cleaning cages, do the quarantine cages last. Strict hygiene should be practiced by serious reptile breeders. It is a good idea to wear rubber gloves and change between each cage during cleaning, particularly with quarantined animals. This is done in human medicine and should be practiced by veterinarians and serious reptile breeders as well. At the very minimum, wash your hands between handling animals in the quarantine status.

Disinfection for Quarantine and for the Rest of the Collection

Cleaning implies removing the organic debris (feces, uric acid, blood, dead or old food items, and various secretions) that is obvious to the eye. Disinfection implies that the area is cleaned of organic debris and relatively free of harmful organisms such as parasites, bacteria, fungi, or viruses. Cages must be cleaned before they are disinfected. Many disinfectants such as bleach are deactivated by organic debris.

With a quarantined animal, the cage should be cleaned daily to prevent reinfection through contaminated fecal material. Strict hygiene should be practiced between quarantine cages and the rest of the collection. The level of cleaning and disinfecting that needs to be done in a clean collection depends on the type of reptile owned and the amount of cage space per animal. In other words, if the reptile can avoid the fecal material (small reptile large cage) or the fecal material is not watery, then the reptiles tend not to ingest the material and the cage does not need to be cleaned immediately. Snakes will obviously need their tank cleaned every time they defecate due to the liquid content in their urine and their bodies’ constant contact with the surface of the tank.

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Respiratory Disease in Snakes

Respiratory Disease in Snakes

Respiratory disease is a commonly diseased organ system in snakes in captivity. Snakes develop both upper and lower airway diseases. The range of respiratory diseases seen in captivity can be of many different etiologies, including bacterial, viral, parasitic, and fungal. Factors that contribute to the expression of the disease include captive husbandry, stress, cage spacing, genetics, physiological ecdysis, individual species characteristics, and cleanliness of habitat.

This article is designed to understand both the disease causing pathogens and the environmental husbandry factors which often suppress the immune system of the snake precipitating clinical disease. Developing a working knowledge of the physiological and anatomical differences between the mammalian and the reptilian respiratory systems is an important concept that impacts husbandry changes (prevention) and therapeutics. Diagnosing the respiratory dysfunction is done by the standards techniques used commonly in veterinary medicine including cultures, serology, radiology, parasite exams, cytology, etc… Diagnosing the potential underlying husbandry problem is often times a foreign concept that we as veterinarians have received little training. For this reason a review of the physics of thermoregulation will be discussed. Cage design and other husbandry considerations will also be conceptually explained. Lastly, therapeutics will be discussed including conventional and unconventional routes of administration.

Snakes are a fairly large and diverse group of reptiles utilizing niches in the trees, on land, sub-terrestrial, in fresh water and in the ocean. The shape of snakes varies little but the size can vary from inches to thirty feet. With the diversity of niches occupied and the size variability of snakes, challenges of captivity are related to space, knowledge of natural history, knowledge of captive manipulation, and current and past health status.

Anatomy and Physiology

While the ecological niches occupied are diverse, the respiratory anatomy of commonly kept snakes is fairly constant. Snakes have an obvious, rostrally located glottis that fits into the choanal slit when the mouth is closed. When the snake is eating the mobile glottis can be position to maintain active respiration. The trachea, which is lined with more primitive endothelium (reduced function cilia), is “C-shaped “ and ends at the level of the heart. The endothelial lining of the trachea functions ineffectively as a mucociliary escalator as a result. Snakes seem to use gravity and body positioning in order to clear the lungs and the trachea of mucous caused by infection. Certain snake species have a dorsally located tracheal lung, which may function in respiration upon lung and air sac compression after eating large meals. Most snakes have only a functional right lung, which is attached dorsally to the body wall. Boids have a vestigial but functional left lung. The normal lung is comprised of a cranial portion where gas exchange occurs across peripherally arranged simple alveoli. The right lung in the boidae and colubridae begin just caudal to the heart and extends to the dorsal surface of the liver. The remainder (caudal and central portion) of the lung is functionally an avascular air sac that in most snakes ends as a blind pouch as is approaches the stomach. Snakes have no diaphragm, which prevents effective coughing.

Respiration is controlled by groups of muscles attached to the ribs. Inspiration is controlled by muscle groups that expand the ribs; resulting in lower intrapulmonary pressure. The air pulled in from the atmosphere, which increases intrapulmonary pressure up to the point where the air sacs no longer expand. The passive expiratory phase begins by the relaxation of the inspiratory muscles. Relatively high intrapulmonary pressure and natural recoil of the lungs coupled with the glottis being open allows air to passively flow from the lungs. The stimulus for reptiles to take a breath is a low partial pressure of oxygen (pO2). This is unlike mammals in which high partial pressure of carbon dioxide (pCO2) stimulates respiration. The clinical significance of low partial pressure of oxygen being the stimulus for spontaneous respiration is apparent when snakes are anesthetized. If too much positive pressure ventilation is administered during surgical procedures the partial pressure of oxygen is high. The patient may likely also be over anesthetized. Both conditions result in a prolonged recovery. Also pertinent to the concept is temperature control during anesthesia. Snakes need be kept in their preferred optimal temperature while anesthetized and recovered. If the temperature drops during anesthesia/recovery, then the demand for oxygen decreases. Body metabolism (including the anesthetic drug(s) of choices metabolism) decreases resulting in slowed recovery and delay in spontaneous respiration. If the temperature increases during anesthesia/recovery, the oxygen consumption increases as does drug metabolism resulting in more profound anesthetic depths; again resulting in prolonged recovery.

Reptiles are known very well for their ability to tolerate anoxia and hypoxia. The clinical significance of this fact is that despite major pulmonary pathology they are able to function in a somewhat normal physiological state. It is unclear how much anaerobic metabolism truly occurs during hypoxic periods. It is clear that during periods of hypoxemia some anaerobic metabolism occurs and some hypoxic depression occurs resulting in lower oxygen demand 3. This study was performed on the Chysemys scripta turtles’ heart and may be a species-specific phenomenon and may not necessarily be true with snakes. Severe pneumonia is compensated both behaviorally and physiologically. The inactive snake will refuse to eat and move around much. Arching the back at the level of the lungs or resting the head and upper one forth of the snake in the vertical position is a common way snakes employ to keep purulent exudate from the active respiratory surface. Yawning is frequently observed sometimes with productive mucous.

Cage Requirements

In captivity, cage design and space directly impact the health of the snake. The amount of space required for a snake depends on its genetic potential. As a rule of thumb for both juvenile and adult snakes captive caging should provide at the very minimum be ability to stretch out completely. This requirement is important due to the fact that the lung/air sac are able completely exchange air in a single respiratory cycle. Cage width is not usually a problem for most snakes. Ideally, the enclosure should be large enough to exercise. Cage size affects several other parameters that impact the reptile husbandry including thermoregulation, humidity, and lastly degree of necessary sanitation.


Understanding this concept is central to the health and life of a snake. Obviously, being ectothermic “cold-blooded” has its drawbacks. Especially when you, the reptile, are relying on the owner and your veterinarian to get this concept right. The basic knowledge of each species of snake must be known; continent of origin, climate of origin, period of activity, niche utilized, and chief food source. More detailed knowledge about the snakes microhabitat is useful such as seasonal highs/lows, periods of eating and reproducing etc…. When very little is known about the particular snake (reptile) it is essential to look at the form and function of the anatomy to make an educated guess as to the type of an environment it would come from. For instance, large snakes are not from the desert or snakes with eyes and nostrils located dorsally on the head are primarily aquatic. Consulting references via the internet and other text resources is also recommended for unfamiliar species. Husbandry is a species-specific process and knowledge in it develops over time. Educating clients to this concept is beneficial to their other reptilian pets. Problems can be associated with too large or too small of a cage. The basic goal of captive thermoregulation is to allow the reptile to control its’ own temperature according to its biological needs. This concept is achieved though spacious caging that have established microenvironments in them. Cages should have a dry hot area, a warm humid area, a cool dry area, and a cool damp area. The amount and extent of these areas is species dependent. How the areas and environments are achieved is up to the pet owner and guidance from other professionals such as veterinarians and professional herpetoculturalist. Housecall veterinarians may provide the best information for captive environmental manipulations.

Relatively small caging with moderate heat sources will elevate temperatures throughout the cage. This causes loss of a thermal gradient (meaning the temperature in constant throughout the cage and the reptile cannot cool down). Loss of thermal gradients causes reptiles to have to drink more in order to maintain their hydration. Evaporation in small caging also occurs more quickly, which exacerbates dehydration and its effects. Chronic dehydration can lead to renal disease, respiratory disease, and stress that can exacerbate sub-clinical disease. Another potential problem associated with smaller caging is the relative increase in organic load. The larger the snake, the more metabolic waste that is created. More sanitation will be necessary in order to keep the reptile from being exposed to increased loads of organic waste.

Large cages cause fewer problems with overheating and more with under heating. Large cages have significant advantages to larger snakes in the fact that thermoregulation can be achieved by temperature gradients. A combination of heat sources must be used to achieve efficient thermoregulation. Heat lamps/emitters and room temperature (as set for the house) can be used to provide a range of temperatures that will be conducive to health for most species of large snakes. By checking surface and air temperature within the cage and adjusting the distance between the reptile and light, temperature can be controlled fairly efficiently. The simple element of having a large enough space allows the reptile to behaviorally thermoregulate. Heat rocks, heat tapes, and heat lamps cannot be used efficiently by themselves. Combinations of different heat sources may need to be utilized to achieve sufficient temperatures. A thermometer should be placed where heat is being achieved and preferably at the coolest place in the cage. A large range between the high and low temperatures is desirable. The range should encompass the Preferred Optimal Temperature Zone (POTZ).


Humidity also impacts thermoregulation and is critical to the respiratory health of large tropical snakes. High humidity holds heat. Dryness allows heat to escape. The concept is best illustrated by observing weather patterns in the tropics. Cloud cover protects the land from evaporation. Evaporation is a cooling process. Less evaporation means there is more moisture in the air and therefore humidity is higher. The water in humid air has a high specific heat, which allows heat to accumulate in collective molecules. Therefore less change in temperature occurs in nightfall comes because humidity is maintaining the heat in the water molecule. Deserts are relatively dry and cloudless (low rain). As the sun beats down on the earth evaporation occurs. Water leaves the plant life and turns in brown. As evaporation (a cooling process) occurs temperatures drop tremendously. Temperature variability is great because water has evaporated and is not holding the heat in its collective molecules. For instance, temperatures can be as high as 110 F in the day and 70 F at night in the Sonoran Desert. In the tropical rainforest, temperatures rarely drop below 75 F and where large snakes inhabit rarely over 90 F. Dry cage environments also have drops in temperatures if the heat source is turned off at night. The drop in temperature certainly can be immunosuppressive, especially in captive environments in houses with winters.

When tropical snakes are kept in a dry environment, insensible water loss is greater. Respiratory secretions are viscous. The normal secretions tend to accumulate in the respiratory system. As mucous accumulates, it acts as a nice medium for potential infections or acute obstructions.

Cage Manipulation

Captive cage manipulation is necessary to simulate the natural environment. Temperature was mentioned previously in the fact that the goal is to have multiple microenvironments set up within the cage. This is achieved best by compartmentalizing heat and water. The warm and dry area should be confined to a large area that is closed off from the cool area in the cage. The cool area in the cage should have water and an appropriate substrate that holds moisture or maintains dryness (depends on species-specific needs). Refer to the general drawing of a compartmentalized cage. If a glass aquarium is used to house a particular snake several inexpensive steps may be done to increase the humidity and maintain a more constant temperature. Screen tops can be partially covered with plastic wrap or Plexiglas. Glass or Plexiglas can be used inside the cage to compartmentalize the heat on one side of the cage. The water may be places over the top of a heating pad to increase the humidity as well. Also moisture-holding substrates such as cypress mulch may be used to maintain humidity/heat. Plastic rubber boxes can also be used with appropriate high moisture substrates in them such as sphagnum moss. More expensive and more effective ways of maintaining humidity are using humidifiers. This method also forces cage ventilation measures. Hygrometers are a very effective tool for measuring the cage humidity. Cage perching is also important even in non-arboreal snakes. Perching areas allow larger snakes to use gravity in order to help expel purulent exudate or mucous from the air sacs.

Ventilation and oxygenation of the cage are essential. Both heat and humidity escape as ventilation increases. Experience in herpetoculture and keeping will allow balancing temperature, humidity and ventilation. Captivity management is an oversimplification of the complexity of the natural environment.


More infections occur in snakes kept in cages that are hard to clean. The type of caging that is hard to clean is typically painted plywood. As mentioned previously, the relative snake size to cage size determines the quantity of organic load that an individual may produce and contact. Many owners of Boidae have the uncontrollable urge to power feed their snake. These fast growing power fed snakes produce copious amount of stool. This makes effective cleaning and essential tool for long term health. Most boids live only 5-7 years of age in captivity as a result from a relatively small cage with high organic loads that eventually leads to both immunosupression and opportunistic infections. Larger snakes, particularly the boids, are the poster children for pneumonia.

Cleansing agents recommended by the author are warm soapy water and/or bleach, chorihexidine scrub, and quaternary ammonium compounds. Thorough rinsing and drying are important after using any cleansing agent.

Differentials and Treatment for Respiratory Dysfunction

Clinical signs associated with respiratory dysfunction can be anorexia, lethargy, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, skin opacity, dysecdysis, rostral abrasion, stomatitis, yawning, cyanotic mucous membranes, discharge from glottis, exaggerated breathing, superior ventral/ upper body positioning in the cage, lung elevating, dyspnea, head shaking, abortion/egg retention, and death. Feeding stooling and shedding records are an excellent way to suspect subclinical respiratory infection as anorexia, constipation/diarrhea and dysecdysis are physical signs that meticulous keepers can monitor.

Infectious causes of respiratory can be of bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic etiologies. Bacterial pneumonia is by far the most common. This statement is biased by the fact that bacterial cultures are commonly done as a first diagnostic step. Secondary bacterial infections are being mistaken for primary infections. It is the authors opinion that viral, fungal, and parasitic infections are under diagnosed. Bacterial pathogens of the respiratory tract are primarily gram negative aerobes. Psuedomonas sp., Klebsiella sp., Aeromonas sp., E. coli., and Proteus are common isolates in the authors practice. Atypical bacterial are occasionally found including mycoplasma sp., chlamydia sp., and mycobacteriosis. Performing culture and sensitivity on snakes suspected of having bacterial diseases is important for both diagnostics and treatment. The best samples to cultures are those obtained by a transtracheal wash. The mouth opening device of choice for the authors practice is a cookie doe spatula. Using sterile technique, a red rubber catheter of the appropriate size is inserted into the trachea. A saline filled syringe with up to 1% of the snakes body weight (in fluid volume) is connected to the catheter. The saline is introduced into the snake. The snake is then rolled around up and down for a brief time. The fluid is re-aspirated. It is common to get only a small volume back from this procedure. Cultures and cytology should be done on the fluid.

Antimicrobial therapy should be initiated immediately and changed if the sensitivity deems it necessary. Because most respiratory diseases are chronic upon presentation, the authors treatment for bacterial pneumonia is very aggressive and done for at least a three week period. The preference is to use the same technique for a transtracheal wash with. Instead of using a red rubber catheter a sterile intervenous catheter is uses. The normal injectable antibiotic dose is mixed in the syringe with the saline and introduced to the snake being held in the vertical

Viral etiologies are under diagnosed cause of respiratory disease due to the fact that few test are developed to diagnose them. Many times virally infected snakes have a secondary bacterial pneumonia. The secondary pneumonia is diagnosed by culture or therapeutically treated with antibiotics.

Inclusion body disease of boidae is caused by a retrovirus. Currently it is thought to be transmitted through bites from snake mites (Ophionyssus natricus). The author suspects vertical transmission as well (transovarially). The virus causes a multitude of signs and symptoms including anorexia, vomiting (intermittant or chronic), diarrhea, decreased locomotion, respiratory disease and/or nuerologic disease. The clinical signs manifested are variable and probably depend on the amount of virus present and the site the virus is infecting. Secondary bacterial infection occur commonly in the repiratory tract, bone, and gastrointestinal systems. Diarrhea and anorexia is usually due to enteritis causes by gram negative bacteria, anaerobes, or protozoal overgrowth. Nuerologic signs are variable. Signs may be slight paresis to the classical “star-gazing”. Several snakes the author has seen developed a severe spondylosing osteomyelitis similar to what Frye calls Paget’s disease. 5

There is currently no serologic test available for virus detection as funding thus far has been limited. Current antemortem diagnosis is done by a combination of methods including complete blood counts, endoscopy, and biopsies. White esophageal plaques are sometimes present in snakes that are positive for the viral inclusions. A confirmatory biopsy should be done identify inclusions. A laparotomy is necessary to perform the liver and kidney biopsy. Eosinophilic intracytoplasmic inclusions are evident in most positively infected animals. This virus is certainly under diagnosed as generalized immune suppression tends to cause further manifestations of more common problems (respiratory disease and enteritis). Inclusion Body Disease of Boids (IBD) is usually not evident until neurologic signs are manifested.

Paramyxovirus is a virus that targets respiratory system. Central nuerologic disease occasionally accompanies clinical respiratory disease. Clinical signs can be subclinical and non-specific or multiple including flaccidity of the body,open-mouthed breathing, tracheal/pharyngeal hemorrhage with mucous, seizures/convulsions and acute death. Cases involving a fer-de-lance involved 4 stages in an epizootic. Stage 1 last 5 to 12 days and is characterized by loss of muscle tone and linear body positioning. Stage 2 was characterized by restlessness in the cage with partially opened mouths and lasted 1-2 days. The eyes were also dilated and the tongues were incompletely withdrawn into the sheaths. Stage 3 is marked by a several hours to one day of complete mouth opening and purulent glottal exudate. Stage 4 was seen 1 minutes to one hour antemortem. Signs included excessive activity, dilated pupils, and the mouth wide open. Paramyxovirus is primarily in viperid snakes. Titers and clinical disease are seen less commonly but increasingly in boids. Inclusion Body Disease of Boids should be considered as a primary differential. Severe lower respiratory disease including mucous and secondary bacterial invaders may be present.

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Russian Tortoise Care

Russian Tortoise Care

Scientific Taxonomy/name: Testudo horsfieldi

Avg. carapace length: Males average around 5.5 inches and 1.3 pounds. Females average around 7.5 inches and 3 pounds.

Natural location: Dry/arid, hot areas around the Mediterranean Sea (i.e. parts of Turkey, Afghanistan, Russia, Iran, China, and Pakistan). Russian tortoises live in burrows for nine months of the year. They are the only land tortoise (Testudo spp.) without a hinge on their plastron near the rear legs, and the only land tortoise with only four claws/toes on each foot.

Temperature: 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit with basking area of 90 degrees. For tortoises kept inside, keep thermometers at various locations in the enclosure in order to check the temperature in their environment.

Humidity: 30-50% (dry environment). Use a hydrometer to check humidity levels in the enclosure.

Lighting: Natural sunlight (not blocked by windows) is the best source of light for tortoises (and other reptiles)! If being kept indoors during the winter or due to an illness, use a broad-spectrum heat bulb. The most efficient light source is the Exo Terra Solar Glo. It is a mercury vapor bulb that emits heat, UVB, and UVA. UV light has multiple benefits, including calcium metabolism and improved appetite and activity. Proper calcium metabolism helps protect against metabolic bone disease. Follow manufacture directions on proper installation and use a clamp lamp with a ceramic fixture to prevent melting. The fixture should be carefully secured to avoid being bumped and breaking the filament or starting a fire. Make sure to replace the bulb yearly and remember that glass and plastic blocks UV light. If needed, a red bulb can be added for nighttime temperature drops.

Avg. age of Reproduction: 7-11 years

Avg. age of Reaching Maximum Size: 20-30 years

Gender Identification: Females are larger than males of the same age. Females have a blunt, stubby, short tail. Males have a longer, pointier tail, which has a hard, bony prominence at the tip of the tail, used for mating. Females have a flat plastron (bottom shell) and males have a curved plastron. Male have larger serrations on the scutes near the tail.

Husbandry: The Russian tortoise digs out large burrows, or finds empty rodent dens, in which to take refuge during the night, hot summer days and cold winter months.

Indoor cage:

  • Plexiglass aquarium
  • Bedding: Astroturf, Carefresh bedding, alfalfa pellets, dirt (without fertilizer/pesticides, baked in oven to kill parasites and germs).
  • Overall temperature should be 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit with a basking spot temp of 90 degrees via heat lamps.
  • Provide warm water soaks 1-2 times a week for hydration or a shallow water bowl in the enclosure for drinking (or more commonly used for soaking)
  • Full spectrum lighting using Exo Terra Solar Glo overhead for the tortoises to metabolize calcium correctly
  • Usually 1 tortoise per cage to prevent fighting trauma

Outdoor cage:

  • They are very good diggers and climbers! Bury thick wood boards, concrete, or chicken wire about 1 foot deep to prevent tortoises from burrowing out
  • Build walls at least 3 feet high to prevent them from climbing over and escaping
  • Screening above the cage (i.e. chicken wire) to prevent other animals from attacking the tortoises
  • Fill in with regular soil (without pesticides or fertilizer), gravel, or sand so they may dig (only dry, thick dirt will work for them to dig burrows without them caving in; also make sure the substrate stays dry!)
  • Shallow water bowl for drinking (or more commonly used for soaking)
  • Plant grasses and plants (i.e. clover, hibiscus, etc.) inside their enclosure for a snack. Plant bushes near the cage so the leaves provide shade
  • Keep the tortoises dry!!! Their health will suffer if kept in a damp, rainy, humid environment


They need a high fiber, low protein, and calcium rich diet for normal digestive tract function and proper growth. Do not offer cat/dog food. Fruits can be given, but only in moderation because sugar can lead to upset stomach, overgrowth of bacteria, and diarrhea. The packaged spring mix contains a good variety of dark, leafy vegetables, which is their primary diet. However, most prefer food with leaves and roots still attached to the plant. Feeding a variety of foods is always important. Always make sure to sprinkle their diet with a 2:1 Ca:P supplement 2-3 times a week while they are still growing. Do not use calcium powder containing vitamin D. However, be careful not to over-supplement their diet. Overdosing on vitamins and minerals is just as bad as not getting enough in their diet.

List of foods that can be fed to Russian Tortoises:

Banana, Melon, Sweet corn off/on the cob, Dark leafy greens (i.e. collard greens, leaf lettuces (not iceberg), kale, endive, escarole), Hay (only a small amount), Bulk vegetables, Weeds (i.e. Dandelions) and grasses (i.e. from lawn but without pesticides and fertilizers), Flowers (i.e. Roses, clover, mulberry leaves and hibiscus), Bok Choy (small amounts), Berries, Squash, Apples (seeds removed), Romaine lettuce, Red and green leaf lettuce, Radicchio, Turnip greens, Mustard greens (small amounts), Collards (small amounts), Spring Mix (mixed salad greens), Hosta, Sedum, Prickly pear flowers, fruit and pads (burn the spines off), Mallow (flowers and leaves), Chrysanthemum flowers, Cornflowers, Dayflower, and Californian Poppy.

Food NOT to feed:

Spinach, rhubarb, cabbage, peas, potatoes, and beet greens all contain oxalic acid, which can bind to calcium. Legumes (i.e. Peas, beans) and cereal grains which contain phytic acid. Cabbage, kale, and mustard interfere with iodine absorption so only feed infrequent small amounts, if at all.


The Russian tortoise hibernates during the winter months. It is recommended to have your tortoise examined prior to hibernating during the winter. During hibernation, body temperature decreases and develops immunosuppression as a result. Tortoises that go into hibernation sick typically decline in health and can die during hibernation.

Common Diseases:

  • Calcium deficiency/Metabolic Bone Disease: Usually, there is either not enough calcium in the diet or no access to UV-B light (which allows the animal to absorb the proper amount of calcium they need from their diet). Usually, they will get weak in the limbs and may have muscle tremors in their legs. Their shell may feel soft and have abnormal growth. If left untreated, this disease will progress to painful broken bones, heart complications, and kidney failure.
  • Bacterial Infection (Shell rot): Usually due to poor husbandry. Shell rot can also be due to a disease circulating throughout the body.
  • Herpes virus: A viral disease that is associated with an upper respiratory tract infection in Mediterranean tortoises. Russian tortoises are all potential carriers of this virus and can pass the disease on to other tortoises and reptiles when introduced to each other.
  • Hexamita parva: A parasite (similar to Giardia), that causes damage to the kidney, urinary system, GI tract, and may infect other organs. Signs include weight loss, dehydration, lethargy, and decreased appetite. Kidney failure may develop. Other symptoms include thick/slimy urine and may smell of ammonia. Urine and fecal tests can be run to check for these and other parasites.
  • Trauma: Russian tortoises may fight with each other or with other tortoise species. Dogs are also a common source of trauma to tortoises.
  • Viral stomatitis: This is an inflammation of the mouth, which can be caused by infectious organisms (i.e. bacteria, viruses, fungus, etc.), or trauma leading to inflammation and infection.
  • Hepatitis: This is an inflammation of the liver that can be caused by infectious organisms (i.e. bacteria, viruses, fungus, etc.) or other primary causes leading to liver dysfunction.


  1. Melissa Kaplan’s Herp Care Web Site:
  2. Mader D.V.M., Douglas. Reptile Medicine and Surgery. W.B. Saunders Co. 1996.
  3. Barnard’s “The Reptile Keepers Handbook”
  4. Highfield‘s “Keeping and Breeding Tortoises and Aquatic Turtles in Captivity”_ Tortuga Gazette 30(11): 1-4, November 1994
  5. Mary Anderson Cohen’s “Russian Tortoise, Testudo horsfieldii
  6. Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay for Detecting Herpesvirus Exposure in Mediterranean Tortoises (Spur-Thighed Tortoise [Testudo graeca] and Hermann’s Tortoise [Testudo hermanni])
  7. C. Origgi,1, P. A. Klein,3 K. Mathes,4 S. Blahak,5 R. E. Marschang,6 S. J. Tucker,1 and E. R. Jacobson1
  8. “Practical Care & Breeding Of The Horsfield’s (Russian) Tortoise In Captivity”

British Tortoise Trust. 1996.

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Savannah and White-Throated Monitor Care

Savannah Monitors (Varanus exanthematicus) and White-Throated Monitors (Varanus albigularis) Care

Monitor lizards from the family Varanidae. This family contains 40 species ranging from Africa through southern Asia and Australia. All species are carnivorous and oviparous (egg-laying). These reptiles have a long snake-like tongue. The snout is typically long and narrow. The husbandry aspects of the Savannah and white-throated monitors are virtually identical. Both species are found in desert or dry woodland area. The average length of an adult is 3 feet 3 inches and weighs 10 pounds. They have a broad head and a flat, oval shape to the body. The coloration is typically a dull yellow/gray. Their average life span is 12 years. These reptiles are difficult to sex and usually require anesthesia to evert the hemipenes in the males.


These animals are predominantly solitary and should be housed separately. A 20-gallon fish tank can be used initially for juveniles. Adult Savannah monitors will require a large tank that should be a minimum of 6’ x 3’ x 3’. The large tank may be constructed out of lumber. Many different objects may be used to decorate the terrarium. Make sure that these objects are not toxic and that they cannot be ingested.

Some essential requirements of the enclosure include: a basking spot, a good variation in thermal gradient, a hiding place, and a water bowl. A source of UV-B light is essential to the adequate metabolism of calcium in Savannah monitors. The sun is the ideal provider of this type of light. We would recommend that to allow your pet a few hours of direct sunlight each day. If sun is unavailable, then a Reptisun fluorescent light works fairly well. The UV light should be no more than 18 inches from the top of the lizard and is ineffective if it is shinning through glass.

A basking spot can be created with an incandescent light or a ceramic heat source, and should reach 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. The basking light should be turned off at night and the temperature in the cage my fall to room temperature (not less than 54 degrees). By placing the basking spot on one end of the cage, your pet will be able to choose a preferred temperature optimum. Heat rocks are not recommended since they don’t provide total body heat adequately.

Substrate for the cage can include artificial turf, newspaper, bark, or cypress mulch. Cedar shavings must be avoided as they can induce carious medical problems in reptiles. The water bowl should be cleaned daily. Many monitors like to soak and will often defecate in their water dishes. Savannah monitors are desert species. Therefore, a low humidity is adequate in their tanks. An increase in humidity may be required to stimulate breeding.


These species are opportunistic carnivorous/insectivorous lizards. A variety of food items are suggested to fulfill their nutritional requirements. In the wild, they have a period of rapid weight gain for 5 months, followed by 7 months of fasting. As juveniles, they feed predominantly on invertebrates such as snails, earthworms, grasshoppers, cockroaches, beetles, mealworms, and crickets. These insects should be properly gut loaded prior to feeding. The adults eat a variety of vertebrates: amphibians, reptiles, birds, and small mammals. Canned dog food and cat food should be avoided since this will predispose them to obesity. A calcium supplement should be used in juveniles and breeding females. This calcium supplement should be free of phosphorous and Vitamin D3 (crushed Tums or green labeled Repcal are good calcium sources). *Note: Monitors usually have great appetites that must be regulated to prevent obesity.

Medical Problems

  • Obesity
  • Nutritional deficiencies (calcium)
  • Excessive administration of vitamin D3
  • Parasites (mites, ticks, and intestinal)
  • Ingestion of foreign bodies
  • Pneumonia
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Skin Shedding in Snakes

Skin Shedding in Snakes

Shedding of the reptilian skin is referred to as the process of ecdysis. Snakes will normally shed their skin in one piece. Any variation from normal ecdysis is referred to as dysecdysis or difficult shedding. Ecdysis is a normal process in all animals, including humans. Most animals slough their skin continuously and in small and unnoticeable amounts. Snakes have developed a different technique to shedding.

Snakes may shed 4 to 12 times a year depending on its age and how often it eats. Snakes are able to grow when they shed their skins. The new skin is stretchable and allows for a larger body size than the previous skin. Younger snakes should shed more frequently as they are in a more rapid growth phase. Snakes have no eyelids and rely on the overlying skin to keep their eyes moist. The skin over the eye is known as the spectacle and is normally shed with the rest of the skin.

You can tell when snakes are approaching ecdysis or shedding when their skin becomes dull and their spectacles turn a blue color. This process is called going “opaque.” The snake often becomes very irritable during this 4 to 7 day opaque period, refuses to eat, and may strike. The snake’s skin is very tender during this time because the new skin is incompletely formed and tender. Touching or holding the snake at this time is not recommended even if your snake does not strike at you. You may cause the old skin to prematurely rip, which will result in dysecdysis. The snake’s eyes clear up for a period of about 4 days before actual shedding (ecdysis) begins. A shedding snake will rub its face and nose on abrasive objects in order to start the shed. The snake will then literally crawl out of its skin like an inside-out sock.

As mentioned before, if the skin fails to come off in one piece, it is called dysecdysis. There are many reasons for dysecdysis and most of them are related to the captive environment. A big problem for snakes is cage humidity. If the air in the cage is too dry, then the old skin does not separate properly from the new skin. This is particularly a problem in the winter months or in extremely arid environments. This problem can be prevented if the water bowl is moved closer to the heat source, which will lead more water to evaporate into the cage air. Another cause of dysecdysis results from not having abrasive materials in the cage. Rocks, bricks, and branches can be added so the snake can better begin the shedding process.

Snakes may also shed improperly due to being infested with snake mites. Snakes most often retain their spectacles as a result of inflammation around the eye caused by the mite. The best way to treat this problem is to get rid of the mites. Your veterinarian can help you solve this problem.

After the underlying problem with difficult shedding is solved, the snake must often be assisted in shedding the rest of the skin. I recommend placing the snake in a dampened pillowcase in a sweater box container for about a two-hour period. The skin at that time should be sufficiently moist to manually peal off. Retained eye caps or spectacles may need extra care. Massaging the eye with moistened cotton swabs gently will loosen the skin over the eye. Gentle traction with small tweezers or forceps will result in complete shedding. Blindness may result if the spectacle is pulled on too hard due to the eye drying out. Consult your veterinarian to prevent this problem.

Besides cosmetic appearances of unshed skin, two other processes make dysecdysis a serious problem. Dead skin over the tail of snakes acts as a band that cuts off the blood supply. This may even lead the snake to lose the tail. Snakes that do not shed properly do not eat properly. Retained eye caps or spectacles shrink, and the snake cannot see the prey item. Another common area snakes have difficulty shedding is under the chin. The snake may be able to kill the prey by constricting around the mouse but is unable to swallow the mouse because the dead skin restricts the jaw from unhinging (disarticulation).

Trauma to the skin and thyroid gland abnormalities are not common reasons for dysecdysis and infrequently result in difficult shedding. Consult your veterinarian with any problems or questions regarding shedding.

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Solomon Island Prehensile-Tailed Skink Care

Solomon Island Prehensile-Tailed Skink Care

Over the last decade, the Solomon Island Skink has been imported into the United States in great numbers. This skink’s habitat is undergoing serious deforestation in the South Pacific Islands. The availability in the US market is good but will be dwindling as these lizards are now threatened in the wild. Over half the skinks imported are dead on arrival or seriously ill. Thus, veterinary care and captive breeding are necessary for keeping these skinks from being endangered or extinct.

Natural History

The Solomon Island Prehensile-tailed Skink, monkey tailed skinks, or Solomon Island skink all refer to the same lizard (Corucia zebrata). This is a tree-dwelling (arboreal), crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk), vegetable-eating (herbivore) skink that lives in the tropical rainforest. These lovely lizards come in several colors (olive, green, beige, brown, or yellow) and patterns (speckled, spotted, solid, or banded). Males have larger, square heads and more slender bodies than females. However, a trained professional should sex Corucias if it is not evident. Males have hemipenes that can be everted at the base of the tail. The skink’s tail is prehensile, which allows them to wrap branches and eat low hanging tree foliage.


Custom built caging is recommended. The larger the better. 4 feet length by 2 feet width by 4 feet high is the minimum size for a pair of skinks. If kept alone, one can modify a 55-gallon tank. The enclosure should have backing spots, plenty of cage branches, and elevated hiding places. The most dominant skink will usually occupy the highest branch.


Full spectrum ultra violet lighting (such as lumichrome, chromalux, Vita-Lite, or Durotest) work well. An incandescent bulb or a chromalux bulb can be used to provide heat as well.


Solomon Island Skinks are most active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular). Daytime temperature should be maintained between 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Basking spots can be up to 95 degrees. Temperature gradients are important and allow the animal to choose the temperature they prefer. Having a large cage and backing spots can establish temperature gradients. Lights or infrared heat emitters should be either kept outside the cage or screened off from the lizards. If the basking light is outside the cage, the aluminum clamp light work well as fixtures.

Feeding and Watering

Water should be offered free choice and changed daily. The bowl should be large and heavy to avoid being tipped. Feeding prehensile tailed skinks is similar to feeding other herbivorous lizards. Green leafy (not lettuce) vegetables should comprise the majority of the diet (50-60%). Collard, mustard, turnip, and dandelion greens are excellent choices. Frozen mixed vegetables and sliced sweet potatoes should comprise 30-40% of the diet. Fruit and monkey biscuits should comprise less than 5% of the diet.

For the newly acquired finicky skink, vegetable baby foods can be given. Pothos (a common house plant) clippings are also readily accepted. A calcium supplement is also necessary in skinks. Cherry flavored Tums tablets (crushed) should be sprinkled on the food twice weekly in adults and 3-4 times in newborns. All the food and supplements should be chopped in fine pieced and mixed thoroughly to prevent finicky eaters from choosing only specific food items. Long-term finicky eaters will develop nutritional deficiencies if fed improperly.

Veterinary Care

A post-purchase exam should be done in order to assure the health of your pet. Deworming should be done routinely and repeated annually.


If Solomon Island Prehensile tailed skinks are kept properly they can live for up to 8 to 10 years. Captive breeding of these lizards will be extremely important from keeping this animal from extinction as much of the tropical rainforest in these islands is being cut for lumber. Try to maintain these animals in pairs for captive breeding for the long-term preservation of the species.

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Stomatitis in Snakes

Stomatitis in Snakes

Stomatitis occurs most frequently in snakes, but turtles and lizards are affected as well. This disease is common in snakes due to the immune suppression of stress secondary to poor captive husbandry. Partial sheds (in snakes), feeding extruded pellets (dog food and other commercial products) in iguanas, internal and external parasites also act as stressors increasing the incidence of stomatitis. The clinical signs can include anorexia, increased amounts of mucous or purulent exudate (pus) from the mouth, inability to close the mouth completely (incomplete sheds), and swelling or reddening of the mouth.


Diagnosis is based upon observance of the clinical signs. Diagnostics should include a complete blood count and culture of the mucous or pus.


Treatment should be the same as for general respiratory diseases with the addition of localize flushing of the affected area. If abscesses are apparent, they should be lanced and flushed with dilute betadine solution. At Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital, we flush, cleanse, and pack the wound with silvadene creme BID for a minimum of seven days. Additionally, correcting the husbandry is the most important aspect of treating this disease.

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UV Lighting for Reptiles

UV Lighting for Reptiles

  1. What is ultraviolet light? UV is and band of electromagnetic energy between 200 and 400 nanometers. It is an invisible form of light that can unknowingly and profoundly affect many animal species in both physiological and psychological ways.
  1. What are the different spectrums of ultraviolet light? The three bandwidths of ultraviolet within the UV spectrum are UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C. UV-A is from 320 – 400 nm. UV-B is from 290 – 320 nm. UV-C is from 200 – 290 nm.
  1. Why is ultraviolet light important for reptiles? It plays a role in calcium metabolism through being a precursor to Vitamin D. It also plays a role in photoperiod regulations. Reptiles from the equator region typically have more consistent ability to be exposed to UV with 12 hours of light exposure year around. Photoperiods have profound reproductive influences on reproduction and behavior.
  1. How are ultraviolet light levels measured or assessed? Your veterinarian may have a UV meter that can measure UV intensity. The least expensive and qualitative way is to place a small piece of newspaper where the reptile basks for its ultraviolet. The paper usually turns yellowish in 2-3 days if the bulb is producing enough unfiltered UV and is close enough distance from the basking area.
  1. What are the different sources of ultraviolet available for keeping reptiles? Our typical recommendations are based upon both safety and effectiveness. We take into consideration what will do the most good and “above all do no harm”. We typically use Reptisun products by ZooMed and use different strengths based upon the reptiles’ closeness to the equator and known photo regulation practices in the wild.
  1. How should ultraviolet lights be positioned for reptiles in terms of filtration, distance, duration, and frequency of changing? This is a great question, which entails everything there is to know about a reptile’s wild niche. Reptile owners should understand the captive environments are not only about photoregulation, but also thermoregulation and humidity. These concepts are all connected as well. The obvious answer is that the light is 100% filtered by glass and about 30% filtered by screen. The distance from the reptiles basking spot is also important. The distance and the formula for its determination operate by the inverse square rule. The basic rule is that the light has to be within 24 inches of the basking area to receive any appreciable UV. Moving the UV half the distance or increasing the height of the basking area (if appropriate) will square the intensity of the UV by a factor equal to half the distance the light is from the reptile. In other words, if the reptile is 20 inches from the UV source and you move the bulb 10 inches closer (or raise the perch) the reptile will get 100 times as much UV. Duration of light depends on the individual’s habitat in the wild. Equatorial species need a 12-hour photoperiod and non-equatorial species need variable amounts of photoperiod depending on the distance they are from the equator. If the species is being kept in its native area, it is easy to know the seasonal variation in the photoperiod. However, UV intensity varies seasonally. So, any recommendation is a best guess situation. Our recommendation for changing the light is every 6-8 months. Write the date the light was purchased with a felt tip marker and write on the calendar to replace it 6-8 months later. The complex question has some simple solutions, but can only be accomplished with owners that have the perspective of “what is the best I provide for my reptile” not “what is the minimum I can get by with for this reptile”. The simple solution is habitat construction with complete microhabitats. The fundamental question is, how does this animal live in the wild? What niche or niches is it known to utilize? How do these niches (microhabitats) change seasonally? Is the species of concern nocturnal, diurnal, crepuscular, or seasonally variable? Is the species of concern an obligate carnivore, opportunistic, omnivorous, or herbivorous? Is this species aquatic, sub-terrestrial, terrestrial, semi arboreal, or arboreal? Is the species of concern from a tropical area, desert area, or deciduous area – (humidity variability)? Microhabitats can only be constructed with space. Compartmentalization will allow less space to be used but the key is sufficient space. Practically speaking, we recommend the owner to build or purchase (new or used) an entertainment center that will be large enough for the adult reptile (The bigger center the better). Entertainment centers are an ideal concept because of the compartments in it (TV, stereo, nick-nac shelf, and dark storage areas). A hole-saw can be uses to drill out the enclosure between compartments. The hole should be as small as possible but should allow for the adult reptile to gain access to the desired niche. The niches to be designed are species specific. Substrates, viewable areas, lights (UV and basking), perches/logs, humidity chambers (using plastic boxes to fit into a compartment with appropriate substrate), aquatic areas, cross-air ventilation, dark warm areas, dark cool areas etc… The process of cage design allows the owners to bond with their reptile/amphibian and teaches them a lot during the thinking process. Our goal is to get the process started and educate in general designs.
  1. Are there any particular species you have ultraviolet lighting concerns for? All herbivores and any young rapidly growing young herp (UV deficiency often coupled with dietary phosphorus excess (NSHP).
  1. What are the clinical signs of ultraviolet light deficiency in reptiles/amphibians? Twitching, seizures, swollen limbs, poor growth, reproductive production, anorexia, gut stasis, constipation, opportunistic infections, and potentially pyramiding.
  1. What diagnostics help to determine ultraviolet light deficiency in reptiles/amphibians? Ionized Calcium, cholecalciferol level, radiographs, and often times viewing the cage is diagnostic (glass filtering UV). A UV meter would help solve UV assessment in the cage.
  1. How is ultraviolet light deficiency treated in reptiles/amphibians?Predominantly with phototherapy and calcium where needed, as well as vitamin D injection. I also rule out concomitant disease with blood work and fecals to ensure more than one etiology is not affecting the herp.
  1. What are the clinical signs of over-exposure to ultraviolet light in reptiles/amphibians? The same signs as UV deficiency, except they are usually result from renal secondary hyperparathyroidism acute overexposure. We have seen sun burns occur over the top of bony prominences, such as the ribs and the pelvic bones of iguanas.
  1. What diagnostics help to determine over-exposure to ultraviolet light in reptiles/amphibians? History, calcium levels (in males)– r/o ovulation with females by lipid profile, radiographs (calcification of great vessels of the heart, renal mineralization, etc…. At Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital, we would perform a rectal exam to palpate the size of the kidneys (biopsy if large or small).
  1. How is over-exposure to ultraviolet light treated in reptiles/amphibians?Usually it is not a single causation problem with UV over-exposure. The problem is usually multifactorial, but the result is usually the same (Dystrophic calcification of the soft tissues). This scenario decreases blood flow to the kidneys that are hypo-functional already, and leads to renal failure. Treatments are largely ineffective but we give phosphate binders such as aluminum hydroxide and soak them daily in water. We would remove them from UV-B light sources and allow UV-A to continue. We recommend store bought greens and add Metamucil to the salad mix (if still eating). Also, we would tailor the treatment specifically however to the signs the individual is having with the disease. Again, treating secondary disease and administering supportive care as needed. We have placed catheters and given IV fluids from time to time, but it seems like if a herp needs IV fluids it was an emergency three months ago and the owners are acutely recognizing a chronic problem.
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Vomiting in Snakes

Vomiting in Snakes

Regurgitation or vomiting is a common symptom seen in snakes – especially in boas and pythons. A veterinarian should examine affected snakes as soon as possible, because the longer the disorder continues, the greater the risk of death from pneumonia or starvation.

Note that vomiting and regurgitation are symptoms of disease, but they are not diseases themselves. Therefore, the goal is to attempt to identify and correct the underlying cause. The table below lists some of the more common causes of vomiting or regurgitation. Many of the causes relate to improper management. In such cases, altering the husbandry techniques may solve the problem.

Snakes who continue to vomit or regurgitate in spite of an optimum environment and correct management generally will require an examination by a veterinarian and some combination of laboratory testing, x-rays, etc. in order to attempt to isolate the cause.

Possible reasons for vomiting:

  • Environment too cold
  • Food/Prey too cold
  • Snake too cold
  • Most boas and pythons prefer a temperature of at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with a focal hot spot, and a relative humidity of 50-70% or higher.
  • Food items too large
  • Excessive number of cage mates
  • Excessive handling
  • Handling too frequently after feeding
  • Snakes should be left undisturbed for four days after feeding
  • Behavioral anomaly
  • Some snakes that are very active and/or nervous and lack a proper hide box may vomit behaviorally if disturbed after eating a meal
  • Systemic infections
  • Internal parasites
  • Intoxication (poisons)
  • Metabolic disease
  • Purification of food in the gut
  • Foreign body obstruction
  • Cancer
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