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Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
Vol 9, Issue 2   
July, 2006
The Argentine Black and White Tegu (Part 2)
In this Issue

by Bert Langerwerf of AgamaInternational

Housing (cont.)

If you are going to go with front-opening doors, the easiest method is to use the plexiglass as the whole door. Thicker plexiglass is especially important here, as tegus trying to get out can exert quite a lot of pressure on the doors. You will want to make the door in two pieces, opening in the center. You will need hinges on both ends as well as several sets of dead bolts to keep it closed. Make sure that the base and top of the enclosure overlaps the front by about 2" (5 cm), as you will need to put holes in it for the dead-bolts to slide into. Attach dead bolts at the middle and end of the door, both on the top and bottom. When attaching the dead bolts and the hinges, drill holes in the plexiglass and use metal grommets. Other things like screws, super glue, epoxy, or silicone may be tempting, but they don't work. Screws will crack the plexiglass and likely hurt your tegu (their skin is thick, but screws are sharp, and they are quite persistent when trying to push through the plexiglass). Adhesives simply don't stick well enough to withstand week after week of determined pushing.

And your tegu will push against them. Tegus do not really understand transparent hard surfaces, like glass or plexiglass. They know that if they can see through something, they should be able to walk through it, or at worst dig through it. And if you use inferior methods of attaching your plexiglass, they will eventually be correct.

Tegus are thirsty animals, so it is a good idea to get one of the several-day water bowls with the attached reservoir. (Don't let the fact that it will last for a while fool you into not cleaning it, standing water is not good to drink after a few days.)

The best way to light the enclosure is with a standard 4' fluorescent shop light. Electronic ballasts are better than magnetic ballasts for a number of reasons, the biggest being energy efficiency. Electronic ballasts use up to 30% less electricity than magnetic ballasts. They also run cooler and don't produce a 60Hz hum, which your tegu would likely find annoying. At least one of the bulbs should be a ZooMed Reptisun 5.0 UVB bulb (choose the other based on whatever lighting you think looks best). Tegus need UVB light to synthesize vitamin D-3 which they use to absorb calcium. Not getting enough UVB is a very good way to cause all sorts of health problems. Make sure to change the bulb every 6 months as the UVB production of fluorescents drops off too low after about 6 months. Also, get only the zoomed bulbs. There is very little quality control in the reptile product industry and as of the time of this writing, most other fluorescent bulbs do not produce enough UVB.

As for heating, the safest and most cost effective method is to get a T-Rex Cobra Heat Pad in the largest size (the one for a 60+ gallon tank). It is important that the heat pad be larger than the animal laying on it to avoid burns due to heat build-up. As long as the pad is large enough for some portion of it to be exposed when the animal is laying on it, the cobra heat pads are very safe as they heat very evenly to 100 F (38 C). They are also very energy efficient. The largest model uses only 28 watts. Also, they are not a fire or burn hazard the way that light bulbs are. Place the bad on top of the substrate and underneath the UVB bulb so that the tegu gets its UV light while basking. (It is important not to cover the heating pad, so that it can dissipate its heat.)

Ground coconut fiber (such as Bed-A-Beast or ZooMed Eco Earth) is a good substrate to use as it is very absorbent and easily spot-cleaned. It does very well in the hide box/burrow as well, since it holds moisture for a long time but is not prone to mildew or mold. Cypress mulch also works well. You will want the substrate to be at least 6" (15cm) deep. Tegus love to dig and rearrange their substrate. They also like to use it to close up the entrance to their burrow or hide box when they go to sleep at night. Do not try to bother with substrates like carpet or paper. Carpet can get claws stuck and rip them out (and does so not infrequently), and paper will be ripped apart in very short order. Also, none of these will satisfy a tegu's digging needs.

The final thing that you'll need for an indoor enclosure is the hide box/burrow. Nearly anything that will fit your tegu and has a small opening will work. The clay bases to a large flower pot will work if you remove some portion of the side to make an opening (which is easy enough to do just by hitting it with a hammer). You can also buy concrete blocks cheaply and arrange them to make a burrow, though make sure that whatever you build is stable. A larger litter box for a cat will also work, though you'll want to put something on top of it to keep it from moving around. Whatever method you use, make sure that there is substrate, hay, or something else which will hold moisture without getting moldy inside of the hide box. Tegus naturally spend much of their lives inside of their burrow and so rely on it to be very humid. Good shedding, and consequently a healthy animal with all of its toes and tail, depend on a humid hide box.

One final note: it would be a good idea, before you put the substrate in, to seal the edges of the floor of the enclosure with silicone (use pure silicone rather than caulk as it is stronger and lasts longer, and is also more mildew resistant). When wetting down the sleeping part of the enclosure, this will keep excess water from pouring out of the edges and ruining the carpet underneath

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:
www.agamainternational.com

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Care and Breeding Australia's Diamond Python (Part 1)

Care and Breeding of Australia's Diamond Python

by Stan Charis

Maligned by some, misunderstood by even more, Australia's most stunning python makes not only a great pet snake but a wonderful breeder as well. The animal is just plain misunderstood, and if not for the breeding efforts of a dozen or so dedicated individuals, to this day we would be shying away from keeping them. I say this because almost half of the phone calls I get about diamonds start out the same way: "Isn't it true that they don't live very long, and that they die from bone deficiencies?"

Australian Diamond Python
Click image to enlarge

Obviously, if some of us have great success with diamonds, then it can be done-and believe me, it's not difficult. The problem is in overcoming basic flaws in what used to be common husbandry practices. I've said this a hundred times if I've said it once: Diamonds are not carpet or reticulated pythons, and you can't keep them the same as most other pythons (more on his later).Diamonds are cold-weather pythons, as evidenced by their dark coloration-an adaptation of animals in colder climates, enabling them to absorb heat from the sun quickly and efficiently. That doesn't mean you have to freeze their tails off, though. Found exclusively in southeast Australia, the weather gets downright cold during the winter months (our Northern Hemisphere summer months) and these snakes are accustomed to hibernating. The colder the winter, the more complete their hibernation.

During periods of mild winter weather, diamonds are frequently seen basking on rock ledges, apparently attempting to gain whatever solar radiation they can. Messing with partial hibernation is a bit risky in captivity.Studies of radio telemetry-equipped diamond pythons by University of Sydney's David Slip and Richard Shine have revealed interesting behavior, primarily that of extensive summer/ winter ranging. Males were found to follow females extensively during the winter months and typically a "ready" female had several males nearby. Oddly, and unlike their close relative the carpet python, male diamonds do not seem to engage in male combat during the mating season. Perhaps nature programmed these cold-weather serpents to save their limited winter energy for breeding, and survival of the fittest is defined as those with the energy to find females more than males who are capable of winning battles.

Reports of diamonds combating in the wild, and in captivity, simply do not exist. (This isn't to imply that one needs only one male for a successful captive breeding program, because wild and captive observations prove that females take more than one mate at a time, and while one waits his turn nearby, another may actively copulate with the female.)Diamonds are medium-sized when compared to carpet pythons. While exceptions do exist, adult females generally attain an adult length of 6 1/2 to 7 feet, while most males average about a foot shorter. One of my best ever breeding males never got an inch over 4 1/2 feet his entire life.Their color and pattern are somewhat variable, ranging from black and white to black and gold. The latter variation is highly sought by collectors for its obvious beauty. To breeders, a diamond's pattern is its true mark of excellence. The spots, or rosettes, ideally should be small, measured in scales and not interconnected. Ideally, rosettes should be between three to seven scales across. The perfect diamond has evenly spaced, small rosettes. Those with connected rosettes, or large blotches instead of small rosettes, are considered to be less attractive by diamond python aficionados. Those with significant variations from this theme are often referred to as intergrades-which occur naturally where the diamond python range extends north and west into the carpet python's range. Commercially offered diamonds are sometimes suspect because of the common practice of cross breeding the very beautiful, but mongrel, diamond x carpet hybrid.Let's have a look into the care, feeding and breeding of this fantastic python. I first started working with them in the mid-70s, when information was sadly lacking. By implementing care techniques congruent with the animals' natural habitat, I was able to successfully breed them by the late 70s, and it has become easier with each passing year. When the profiteer breeders got involved and began introducing speed-raising techniques into the picture, the diamond python started getting its bum rap. If you like diamonds for what they are-a true cold-weather python-you'll have absolutely no trouble keeping, and even breeding them successfully.

Basic Facts

Cold-weather animals adapt to their environment specifically. Expecting them to survive if kept in captivity differently is a chancy endeavor at best. While you might be able to keep them alive, keeping them healthy is another story altogether.Here is the problem. Diamonds migrate from low, warm environments to higher, cooler winter quarters-usually along the sun-exposed faces of rocky hillsides and cliffs. Diamonds evolved into this behavioral adaptation to the environment over millions of years. Taking a captive-bred animal and changing its evolutionary needs is a sure-fire prescription for trouble. This is a fancy way of saying that you can't keep a polar bear in a South American rain forest any more than a tapir could be expected to survive in the Yukon Territory. Even our own species, humankind, if it weren't for our expertise at adaptation, would survive only briefly without technological innovations (like clothing) in places like the desert or the far north. Expecting diamond pythons to do well when kept like carpet pythons, boa constrictors or Burmese pythons is sheer lunacy. Long ago we learned that even tricolor kingsnakes fare better if hibernated each year.Diamonds have evolved and adapted to the conditions of southeast Australia, and as keepers we must adhere to the rules established by nature for these pythons. While many snakes have been kept in conditions differing from their natural environment, this is one that requires certain adherence to the rules of nature.

Caging

Diamonds are quite arboreal, especially as youngsters. Typically, they are raised in flat-bottomed cages with virtually no limbs. This isn't best for the snakes, and to this day some of my breeders almost never leave their limbs for the bottom of the cage. One male in particular almost never leaves his branches, except to defecate. Others, especially the large females, spend more time on the cage floor, in hide boxes. Nevertheless, providing diamonds with limbs and shelves for basking is a good idea. They will use them a lot, and especially the young, which seem to feel more secure in the elevated areas.I prefer to keep my diamonds in fairly large cages, usually 6 to 8 feet long by 28 inches wide by 24 to 42 inches tall. They are very active, and if given enough room will exercise on a regular basis. One common syndrome of diamonds is obesity and resultant flaccid muscular development. An active snake by nature, it stands to reason that this activity (exercise) should be provided in captivity.Since nobody makes a hide box of adequate size for diamond pythons, I usually provide them with cork bark hiding places. While they love to hide, typically they'll pose as sentries, ready just inside the hide box entrance for any passing food item. It seems an obvious read that diamonds are opportunistic feeders, as my careless hands can attest. Picking up cage litter or the water bowl in the vicinity of the hide box opening often results in a feeding stab-by no means an act of aggression toward the keeper, but merely an opportunistic snake's response to a warm body within striking range!This aggressive, ever-ready feeding response has lead many keepers to overfeed their diamonds. Thinking they always want to and (mistakenly) need to feed, the well meaning but somewhat ignorant keeper obliges and ends up overfeeding the poor snake, leading to obesity and unavoidable deleterious health hazards. I can't say it any other way, or ever enough: Do not feed diamonds at the same rate as most other pythons. Mine get fed about six months out of the year, and oftentimes less than 10 regular-sized meals during that time. They always seem hungry, but that's the nature of an opportunistic feeder. Believe me, they don't need a lot of food! A diamond python, whether young or old, should be a lean, muscular, highly alert animal that is always wishing it had more to eat. Since nature rarely provides too much food, wild diamonds simply spend their lives hungry. Of all the snakes I've caught in the wild, from rattlesnakes to tricolors, to boas, pythons and anacondas, I've never caught or even seen a fat snake. So why should we overfeed them in captivity?The somewhat ingrained adage that you have to get your pythons, especially females, fat for breeding does not apply to this particular species. It has been my experience that most herps don't need to be fat, but merely healthy and not skinny to successfully reproduce.

Reprinted with permission of Stan Charis
http://StanCharisReptiles.com


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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

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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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