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Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
 Issue 17  
August, 2005
Should I Get an Iguana? Or: The Top 5 Contributors to Early Iguana Death
- Part 2
In this Issue

 

#3 - Not Enough Sun - Not only do you need to consciously provide your potential iguana with a diet that is calcium-rich (most vegetables are calcium-poor) but you also have to provide your potential iguana with exposure to light in the UV-B range. That means direct, unfiltered sunlight. This is necessary for calcium absorption - without it, precious calcium will pass through the body unused. You need to be willing to take your iguana out into the sun during the summer months. Construct an outdoor cage. Construct a window seat of sorts. At the very least, buy full spectrum fluorescent bulbs to mount in your iguana's cage, and replace them every 6-12 months. These bulbs emit only a minute fraction of the UV-B emitted by the sun, so when used in lieu of natural sunlight they need to be turned on for 12-14 hours a day. And the iguana needs to sit less than 18 inches away from the bulbs. Without exposure to UV-B radiation, iguanas frequently suffer from calcium deficiency, leading to metabolic bone disease, which is lethal when untreated. Metabolic bone disease is one of the biggest killers of iguanas in captivity, and you can probably see why!

#2 - Neglect - It is very important that you are aware of your iguana every day. Look at its eyes, look at its body, touch it, interact with it. Unless you know exactly how your iguana looks, feels, and acts, you will not recognize problems when/if they arise. If you do not look at your iguana's stomach for many weeks at a time, it could very well be developing a fungal infection and you wouldn't even know it. Iguanas can and do suddenly die from systemic bacterial/fungal infections because their owners were not aware that there was a problem. The better you know your iguana, the better you will understand its needs. Please interact with your iguana. You'll become great friends.

#1 - Misunderstanding - You must learn what an iguana is, what it will grow up to be, and what it needs. Don't think you can change it, or that you can change with it. A healthy iguana will grow to be 5-6 feet in length, and will require a very large cage or an entire room to live in. It needs to climb. It needs stimulation. Iguanas are not suited to be "cage pets" - they are not happy just sitting in a cage all day with no attention or human interaction. They can and do get depressed. They do get sick. They do need medical (veterinary) attention. An iguana is a living creature, just like you. You are thinking of taking one into your home and dictating its entire future. You need to be responsible. You need to be able to provide it with what it needs and you need to be able to pay for it. So many iguanas are given away or abandoned when they get to be too big or too much trouble. This is traumatic for an iguana. Iguanas are not mere possessions - they live and breathe. Their eggs are stolen from the wild and the hatchlings who are lucky enough to make it to their country of destination alive have yet to endure more shipping, pet stores, and frequently, multiple owners. If you decide to buy an iguana, please make its next stop its last. Understand its needs, give it a good home, and keep it forever.

Help an iguana! If you still want to have an iguana of your own, consider contacting your local herpetological society, humane society, and/or animal shelters. Iguanas are given up all the time, and they need homes or they will be destroyed. Adopt an iguana. By doing this, you are not only helping the iguana you adopt - you are also helping to reduce the demand of importation by not buying one. As long as people continue to pay pet stores for iguanas, iguanas will continue to be imported by the hundreds of thousands.

Letter in response

Jen Swofford operates a number of successful websites, such as BaskingSpot.com. Jen has written extensively on Iguana care and her website is recognised as one of the leading Iguana
informational sites on the internet.

Snake Nutrition - Part 2

NUTRITION

A question I am often asked is, "How long will food animals last in the freezer?" We know that some people keep their own food in frozen storage for a year or more before they eat it. If they butchered one of their cows or shot a deer, the meat gets eaten over a long period of time. Or maybe they're using the turkey they got as a company Christmas present last year for Thanksgiving dinner this year. Obviously, the humans, unlike a snake, will be eating other types of food at their meal besides the meat, so they'll get nutrition from a variety of sources. That's what a human needs. A snake needs the nutrition from one source, a whole food animal, so you need to ensure that the animal is of acceptable quality. If you start with good quality food animals and keep them properly frozen, they should have good nutritional value for about six months. This is a rule of thumb that has been applied over a period of years and seems to be working just fine. Even one-year-old food won't hurt your snake, but some vitamins have probably deteriorated by then, and it may have less nutritional value than is needed.

For some snakes, you will have a choice to feed them either furry mice or pink rats because the two are about the same size. The mice with hair are more mature and would have a higher calcium content, while the pink rats probably have more "baby" fat. Not only will the hairy mice stay in better condition when frozen, but the hair also adds "roughage" to the snake's diet. A snake's digestive system doesn't break down hair. Instead, it passes all the way through the snake, and the hair helps produce more coherent stools, which can result in easier cage cleanup. Based on these factors, hairy mice are better food than pink rats for the long-term maintenance of a snake, and usually they're also cheaper. However, if you need to quickly fatten up a breeder or are feeding a species that gets large and would soon outgrow mice anyway, the pink rats may be your best choice, and their use would be only temporary.

Some people have used chickens for snake food. I would caution anyone planning to do this about the risk of salmonella. Testing has shown that a significant percentage of chicken parts for sale at grocery stores in the United States test positive for this bacteria. Usually dangerous microorganisms are killed when the chicken is properly cooked for human consumption, but, of course, a snake would eat it raw and be subject to much greater risk. Chicken parts would not be adequate anyway for the long-term feeding of snakes because the gut has been removed, and that's an important part of the snake's diet. Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that salmonella bacteria can be passed from snakes to humans, and both parties can be seriously affected.

Here's an additional point on nutrition and hatchling snakes. My Eastern Milksnakes, Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum, produce eggs that, when hatched, yield neonates that average about 7 inches long and are much thinner than a pencil. Newly born mice are needed to feed these small hatchlings, but it's best to allow some time for the mice pups to nurse off their mother before feeding them to a snake. This will increase their calcium content, and fast-growing baby snakes need lots of calcium for proper bone growth. To consistently find enough pink mice in the pet stores that are 12-24 hours old to feed a whole clutch of baby snakes can be difficult or impossible. I obtain adequate numbers of tiny frozen pinks while I'm incubating the eggs and have had good success starting most of the hatchlings right out on frozen/thawed food.

Extract from "Snake Keeping - Proven Techniques Everyone Can
Use" by Barry Neilsen

Leopard Gecko Care - Part I

Eublepharis macularius
By Christina Miller - Herptiles.net (http://www.herptiles.net)

I. Introduction

The leopard gecko is one of the most popular lizards in the pet world. Easy to care for and readily available in many different color morphs, this species is an excellent choice for beginners and a favorite of more advanced hobbyists. This small lizard also has an astonishing longevity, and can live to 20 years of age.

The leopard gecko is different from most other species in the Gekkonidae family (sub-family Eublepharinae, the true eyelid, or eublepharine geckos); it lacks the adhesive toe pads and lens-like eyelids that characterize the majority of gecko species. They are small lizards, females reaching about 20cm (7.8") in length, males about 25cm (9.8") long. Males have a large bulge and a row of pores beneath on the underside of the base of their tail, females lack the bulge and pores. They are banded with pale pink and whitish yellow, irregularly covered in dark brown or black spots.

They are nocturnal animals, and originate from the desert-wastelands around some middle-eastern countries like Pakistan and Iran. There are five natural subspecies (Eublepharis macularius fasciolatus, E. m. afghanicus, E. m. macularis, E. m. montanus and E. m. smithi), but because most geckos in the pet trade are captive bred, through so much crossbreeding between them it would now be nearly impossible to determine the subspecies of most captive bred geckos.

II. Behaviour

These geckos are typically very well-tempered, most will quickly acclimate to being held. When trying to pick up your gecko, do not simply grab it from above, leopard geckos do not like to be restrained in a closed hand, and approaching your lizard from above might confuse the lizard into thinking you are a descending predator. Gently coax the gecko onto your hand from the side, they are often very curious so this is not usually difficult. If the lizard feels like it is being restrained or closed in on by your hand, it will squirm to try and escape, or may resort to biting or tail autotomy.

Like other desert geckos, leopard geckos have plump tails where fat is stored, so that the lizard will have a source of energy if food is scarce. This tail can be dropped if the lizard feels threatened and wants to escape: A defense behaviour called caudal autotomy. The detached tail will continue to twitch on the ground (due to jumpy nerves still "alive" in the tail), which is supposed to distract the predator while the gecko flees. The tail will grow back after time (a few months to a year, depending on how much of the tail was lost and the gecko's diet), but will not be the same color, shape, or have the same scale texture as the original tail. A lizard that stores as much fat in their tail as a leopard gecko does is taking a greater risk when it drops its tail; It loses its "emergency" fat store, which it would rely on if prey becomes difficult to find.

Sources:

Bartlett, R.D. and Bartlett, P. 1997. Lizard Care from A to Z. New York: Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Dr. Gecko (Reptile Rescue, Canada). 2003. (http://www.drgecko.com/index.html)
Norman, C. 1995. Anapsid.org. "Leopard Gecko Care" (http://www.anapsid.org/leopardgek.html)

Christina has always been interested in animals, but at nine years old discovered reptiles and amphibians to be the most intriguing. For her tenth birthday she received two Gekko ulikovvski, or golden geckos. Since then, she has moved her way around the reptile and amphibian kingdoms, now owning seven herps.

Christina studies animal health (veterinary) technology at Vanier College and is in the process of writing a detailed book about the care of leopard geckos. You can find more pictures and information on Geckos and their care at Christina's website.

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