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Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
Vol 2, Issue 10    
August, 2006
A Guide to Buying Lizards (Part 1)
In this Issue

by Bert Langerwerf of AgamaInternational

The ins and outs of the reptilian pet trade

Nearly every day I get an e-mail that goes like this: "Hi, I went to the local pet shop and saw a nice lizard, fell in love with it and bought it. The people there did not know much about lizards and now I am trying to find out...." This is about the worst possible scenario.

The first thing that you should do is decide what kind of lizard you want. Then you should search for information in books, magazines and on the internet. Now, the internet can be somewhat tricky. In general you should avoid personal sites and pages with almost no information on them, as they are likely wrong or misleading.

The best sort of sites are the pages of breeders who breed the sort of reptile that you are interested in. There is a certain level of care necessary to keep an animal alive, and a better level of care necessary to get an animal to breed. Someone who successfully breeds the species that you are interested in will have to know how to care for them well. Someone repeating what they heard from a pet store about the animal which they've owned for three months does not. (Reptiles are very good at surviving bad conditions for a long time, so make sure that whoever you are getting your advice from has at least a year of experience with the species. Many types of reptiles (especially snakes) can withstand starvation and all-but-complete dehydration for months.) NEVER buy a lizard if you do not know how to take care of it.

While a few wild caught lizards are OK and do well, like Sudan Plated lizards, most of them do not do well at all. The reptile import business is often very harsh and usually the animals are badly overcrowded. Pretty much every horror story which you've heard about the old parrot trade applies to the modern reptile trade (though reptiles will usually live through conditions which will immediately kill parrots). Typically imported reptiles are weakened and very stressed. Worse, the overcrowding usually spreads disease and parasites.

While all sorts of animals are important, this is especially common of cheaper species. And the cheaper the animal, the more likely that it was treated badly and will die within weeks of purchase. Here are a few of the cheaper species which are always imported: butterfly agamas, ameivas, red headed agamas, toadhead agamas.

The other problem with wild-caught animals is that they are often handled roughly by humans and as a result very distrustful. If they are adults, it doesn't much matter if they were mistreated, as adult animals which grew up in the wild (where they have escaped being something else's dinner many times) will naturally just be anti-social. They will have learned through a long and hard life that being social to other species is a good way to get eaten, and we look like predators.

Finally, recently we have seen how African rodents can pass a life threatening virus to American rodents (prairie dogs). This is also true for lizards. The lizards from different continents have different viruses and parasites. In places where they come all together for distribution they may infect each other, but still look good. Then they may die in your well meant care weeks later.

For all of these reasons, you should only buy captive-bred animals that are well cared for. If at all possible it is best to buy directly from the breeder, as this minimizes the chance that the animals are infected with dangerous parasites due to contact with other reptiles at dealers. (Buying direct from breeders also generally minimizes cost on captive-bred animals, though that is not always the case.)

Even with captive bred animals, however, here there are a few things to watch out for. For the breeder, it is easier and cheaper to sell the babies as small as possible. Newly hatched baby lizards are often delicate, especially lizards like bearded dragons. Even if the somewhat older ones are more expensive it is worth while to choose them over the younger ones.

Now we come to the subject of pet stores. Pet stores are sometimes good places to buy a reptile, but most often they are terrible. Between overcrowding, the spread of disease, mite infestations, no information (or bad information), and an often completely incompetent staff, many pet stores are traps that you can only escape by buying nothing. Even worse, there are too many pet stores run by hustlers who will happily lie to you in order to make a sale.

Article reproduced with permission. Bert Langerwerf breeds and sells a wide variety of animals including Australian Eastern Water Dragons, Tegus, Bearded Dragons, Shinisaurus crocodilurus, Uromastyx. Berts website is:


Care and Breeding Australia's Diamond Python (Part 2)

by Stan Chiras


Temperature has been a fairly controversial topic among diamond keepers. I first bred diamonds back in the mid-1970s when it had never been done before anywhere, to the best of my knowledge. After communicating with people in Australia, it became evident that this black snake lived in a place where basking and heat retention were fairly important to its health.

While it gets hot as Hades during summer, diamonds manage to keep themselves within reasonable temperature limits throughout the year, save the winter hibernation period.Diamonds do well if kept in the low-to-mid-80s (Fahrenheit) (day) to high 70s (night) during 3/4 of the year.

The key to not only breeding, but to successfully maintaining healthy diamonds is to give them time off each year to duplicate the natural seasonal cycles these wonderful snakes have evolved to biologically expect from nature.Cooling theories vary considerably.

After experimenting for many years and experiencing too many snakes with respiratory problems after gradual entry and emergence from artificial hibernation, I resorted to a sudden plunge into and out of this critical time period to:

Properly and safely hibernate my animals, and

Create the conditions necessary for successful reproduction.

Since reproduction depends on actual breeding behavior (courting and copulation) and viable sperm and eggs (spermatogenesis and oogenesis), just getting your snakes into and out of hibernation isn't necessarily enough.

Achieving the proper temperature and humidity parameters is also necessary.Nature operates under relatively loose guidelines in regard to the diamond pythons' winter. She might throw an extremely harsh winter, or conversely a wonderfully mild winter at her charges, at the whim of El Nino or whatever contrivance she elects to utilize. Likewise, she might impose severe drought on southeastern Australia and make conditions for growth or reproductive cycling difficult on the local herpetofauna.

We can improve these conditions in captivity. We can always, with a little care, make sure our animals are adequately fed and sufficiently thermoregulated and conditioned. While nature might throw a particularly cold period of days at the snakes, we can't necessarily afford the same carelessness. A wild diamond might simply retreat farther underground, or even come out to bask in the warm sun during such a time, but nature has designed into her babies ways of dealing with such extremes. It is far more difficult to do so in captivity, or at least more difficult to understand all the variables at work during such a time.

What I'm leading up to is the actual procedure I'd recommend during the diamond python's captive maintained cold period-a time, as previously indicated which is vitally important to the animal's health and well being. Many keepers have s-l-o-w-l-y dropped their animals into the cold period. In a similar fashion, some other keepers offer their pythons a spot to get warm during the day, with nighttime lows still imposed on the animals.

This has proven to be a dangerous procedure in my personal experience, one that oftentimes leads to respiratory complications. Here's how it goes: the python, and its ever-present, noncolonized, potentially non-pathogenic bacteria normally get along just fine-much the same way as you and I live with bacteria in our systems everyday-until we become highly stressed and our immune systems compromised.The daily passage through high and low temperatures (when often a captive python's inner body temperature may not achieve the cage's high temp) will stress the immune system and its ability to ward off normal bacterial fauna from proliferating to pathogenic levels.

The result is often respiratory infection that goes unnoticed until the spring warming period, at which time the snake is often so infected that swift death results.The problem is simple enough to avoid by taking another route. I generally feed my snakes their last meal by November 1, and by Thanksgiving, while I'm consuming my last turkey of the year, their gastrointestinal tracts are cleaned out completely.

This way, they have a clean bill of health heading into the cooling chamber and a long winter's rest, which they need so much. They really do.During November, lower the temperatures a little, perhaps to the middle 70s at night and low 80s during the day. In nature, we've all seen snakes in North America basking during that mild Indian summer respite from fall's oncoming siege into winter, but we can dispense with that foolishness in captivity. Quite simply, the party is over when we say it is. No breaks, no mini vacations. Quit feeding, cool a little (enough to keep the snake's metabolism going well enough to empty the gut and ward off the bacteria), and Pow! It' s time to hibernate. And I do mean hibernate.

My diamonds spend the next three months in Styrofoam boxes in the cold garage, which ranges between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit all winter long. Thermostatically controlled heaters keep it from getting too cold, and for the next few months my snakes lay coiled, in total darkness, undisturbed in silent, peaceful slumber. Their bacteria too are dormant, and together they ignore each other. It might sound crazy, but it makes sense. Think about it. Both snake, its metabolism and its potential pathogens, lie in a suspended state, neither having any effect on the other.

Spring comes, I move the snakes back into their cages during the dark of night, and the next morning they are greeted by the rising sun through a room window and warm temperatures-just as though they had crawled from a burrow back into the warmer, lengthening days of spring. The snake quickly warms, and with that warming comes a full-strength immune system and a competent ability to resist bacterial infections. It is very rare that a diamond python, hibernated in this manner, becomes ill.

After a week of enjoying the warmth and getting its body ready for action, feeding can resume.If hibernated at a cold enough temperature, weight loss is very minimal because the snake's metabolism wasn't using up any of its reserves at the low temperature! A common mistake is to hibernate them too warm, where their metabolism uses up reserves. Wild pythons might be able to deal with those variables, but in captivity it's best to avoid the situation. My diamonds typically come out of hibernation just like they went in: muscular and healthy. A meal or two and they're ready to breed.

Reprinted with permission of Stan Charis

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In the News
Tell Us What You Think!

If you have a story about one of your critters, funny or serious, found a great web site, found a great article or would like to contribute in any way, please contact me. I'm friendly, don't bite and would welcome your contributions.

And of course, if you have any suggestions for upcoming issues that you'd like to share with us, please send those too!

These could include:
- Great herp web-sites
- A fantastic herp article you know of that should be shared
- Why you pet reptile is fantastic
- A great idea you had
- Funny things that happened
- Dumb**s things that happened
- Images you'd like to share
- Care sheets for your herp

Remember - there are lots of people who would love to hear your stories. Just e-mail me at: Reptile-Cage-Plans


Tell Us What You Think!!

Thanks to those who have given me feedback. I always want to
know of your achievements, good and bad.

I've just added a section on making cages waterproof. There
are a number of ways to do this and I have covered some of
those options.

I have also added "How to Make a Reptile Cage Stand in Five
Easy Steps" to the bonuses. Those of you have purchased the plans
are welcome to download it. It is about 25 pages and has detailed
steps. It is aimed people who have not made something like that
before. There is a picture on the website of what a finished
stand would look like.

I am currently finalising a book on making glass vivariums
and should have that available within a month or so.

I have also some plans for a 3'x3'x18'' display type cabinet
with side doors. This should also be available within a month
or two.

Thank you to those people who continue to give me feedback
and help others in their endeavours. You know who you are
so well done!!

I have a few ideas for some other additions to the book and
perhaps some other publications but I would love your input.

These could include:

  • Great herp web-sites
  • Why you pet reptile is fantastic
  • Funny things that happened
  • Dumb**s things that happened (like the one in this issue)
  • Images you'd like to share.

Remember - there are lots of people who would love to hear your stories. Just e-mail me at: Reptile-Cage-Plans

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