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Why Reptiles Need Enclosure Décor

Why Reptiles Need Enclosure Décor

Why Reptiles Need Enclosure Décor

Written for The Bio Dude – September 2020

 Many reptile keepers make the mistake of thinking that enclosure décor is just for the human looking at the enclosure. It’s called “décor” because it’s just a bunch of aesthetic accessories with no functional value right?

Wrong.

While décor definitely can make an enclosure more attractive, that’s not its primary purpose. The main purpose of putting décor in your reptile’s enclosure is to provide enrichment. What’s enrichment? Enrichment is the practice of using items and activities to strategically encourage an animal to indulge its instincts and exercise natural behaviors.

If we go one step further, environmental enrichment pertains to designing an animal’s enclosure in a way that provides enrichment. This means going beyond the basic necessities of food, water, and shelter:

Décor Creates More Places to Hide

Although enrichment requires going beyond the basic necessities, sometimes providing options in those necessities becomes a form of enrichment in itself. Shelter is one of those things.

Reptiles can be found just about anywhere, but chances are that you don’t see them very often, even when you go outside with the express purpose of finding them. Why? Because they’re VERY good at hiding. Most reptiles prefer to spend most of their time hiding, because that’s how they avoid predators and conserve energy, which enables them to stay alive long enough to reproduce.

Most of the décor in your enclosure should provide additional places for your reptile to hide, whether it’s in the shade of a large plant, under some leaves, or inside a hollow log or plastic cave. Like humans, reptiles do best when they have options.

Many reptile keepers are under the false impression that they shouldn’t provide too many places for their reptile to hide, because then it will spend all of its time hiding and the keeper will never get to see it. However, just the opposite is true. Not having places to hide makes reptiles feel exposed to predators, which makes them very stressed — imagine someone with social anxiety in the middle of a mosh pit, and you’ll have a general idea of how they feel. Stressed reptiles suffer from reduced appetite, get sick more easily, have difficulty recovering from illness, and are likely to have a much shorter lifespan than non-stressed counterparts. In fact, dying from stress is a real diagnosis.

The good news is that if you provide lots of different places to hide (rather than just one or two) you will be more likely to see your reptile out in the open. Of course, this varies depending on what type of reptile you have, but chances are good that they will feel more comfortable exposing themselves when they know that they have a bolt-hole nearby.

Décor Provides Things to Explore

Imagine your current living space. Now take away all of entertainment — no books, no computers, no video games, no TV, no Internet, no board games, no craft supplies, nothing. Don’t think about leaving your house, either, because you’re locked in (quarantine flashbacks, anyone?). Sure, your home will still be perfectly functional, but you just might die of boredom.

As it turns out, that’s pretty similar to how things are for reptiles when they’re kept in barren enclosures with nothing to engage them. Many people believe that reptiles are simply too dumb or simple to care, but the fact is that they’re not dumb or simple. They’re quite smart actually – after all, in the wild, they need to be able to find their own food and water, remember places to hide, and recognize the limits of their territory. These activities require intelligence. And where there is intelligence, there can be boredom.

Providing a variety of décor in your reptile’s enclosure to challenge your reptile and vary their surroundings helps combat that boredom. Enrichment items like climbing branches, edible plants, and a natural, burrowable substrate all encourage your reptile to engage with its habitat and exercise. In turn, your reptile will enjoy better heart health, better muscle tone, healthier weight, less strain on its organs, and likely a longer lifespan. Plus, you get to watch them explore the things that you’ve provided for them! Few things are as satisfying as seeing your ball python climbing a branch or your bearded dragon digging its own burrow.

For extra enrichment value, switch up your reptile’s décor every now and then. Move a log. Add something new. Rearrange the enclosure. Whatever you do, watch your reptile’s reactions and adjust accordingly. Don’t overdo it if you have a reptile that is easily stressed.

Décor Satisfies Their Instincts

Let’s take a quick break from all these blocks of text. Take a look at these gorgeous landscapes. These are examples of where you can find reptiles in the wild. What do these habitats have in common?

Source: Pixabay

Source: Pixabay

Source: Pixabay

Source: Pixabay

At first, these pictures don’t look like they have much in common. They’re very different types of habitats. However, they have one very important thing in common — or rather, it’s something they don’t have: empty space!

Nature is CHOCK FULL of stuff — mostly plants, but also logs, branches, twigs, leaves, moss, rocks, pebbles, dirt, sand, you name it. And as it happens, nature is the place where reptiles evolved. They didn’t evolve in an empty box with paper towel and a water bowl. Evolution drives animals to make the most of the resources available to them, and that means your reptile has instincts to look for and use these resources. You don’t need to perfectly replicate your reptile’s native habitat, but the basic elements should still be preserved:

If you have a crested gecko from the forests of New Caledonia, then you will need an enclosure with plenty of vertical space, vines and branches for climbing, and leaves to hide behind.

If you have a bearded dragon from the scrublands of central Australia, then you will need an enclosure with both horizontal and vertical space, a deep layer of dirt or fine sand for digging, a cozy burrow, an edible plant for nibbling, and at least one sturdy branch for climbing.

If you have a western hognose snake from the plains of North America, then you will need an enclosure with plenty of horizontal space, a deep layer of dirt for digging, leaf litter to hide under, and a rock to bask on.

That’s just the basics, but you get the idea.

Conclusion

Bioactive enclosures are convenient because they are all about décor since it happens to serve important functions in ecosystems. But even if you don’t have a bioactive or even naturalistic enclosure, you can (and should) still make a point to provide lots of décor for your reptile.

Of course, that makes décor one of the biggest expenses when setting up a reptile enclosure. There are ways to decrease this cost, but the fact remains: If you want to meet the requirements for your reptile’s physical and psychological wellbeing in captivity, décor isn’t optional or just an aesthetic choice — it’s a necessity.

When creating your reptile’s enclosure, use photos of your reptile’s natural environment and study up on their natural behaviors, then arrange their enclosure accordingly. The goal is not to make it look pretty — the goal is to make it functional for your reptile.

Your enclosure also need to be large enough to facilitate enrichment. If you’re worried about how to put more décor in your reptile’s enclosure because you don’t have enough space, then that’s a sign that you probably need to upgrade.

When you prioritize enrichment (décor) in your reptile’s environment, you will have a healthier, happier pet reptile that will be more of a pleasure to watch and interact with.

  • Josh Halter
Do substrates cause impaction in reptiles?

Do substrates cause impaction in reptiles?

Do Bio Dude Substrates Cause Impaction in Reptiles?

What is impaction? Impaction is more or less a fancy word for constipation. Constipation, as you probably already know, is a condition in which an animal has difficulty with passing stool or passes stool infrequently. Impaction occurs when constipation is caused by a blockage in the digestive tract.

Substrate impaction occurs when the impaction is perceived to be caused by ingested substrate particles that are blocking the digestive tract. Substrate impaction is a major concern in the reptile community. If you browse a reptile forum or a Facebook group, it doesn’t take long at all to see the topic being discussed. For this reason, the use of loose substrates (most notably sand) is considered taboo in many bearded dragon, leopard gecko, and other subsets of the reptile community.

This has presented a significant obstacle to the argument that any reptile can be kept on a bioactive substrate, and that doing so is superior to other substrate options.

Recent findings are presenting a compelling argument that substrate impaction is NOT caused by the type of substrate being used — instead, the impaction is a symptom of larger husbandry problems.

Causes of Impaction

Dehydration

If you’re familiar with the nature of constipation in humans, then you probably know that dehydration is the most common culprit in that regard. As it turns out, dehydration causes digestive trouble for reptiles as well — and most other animals, for that matter.

When a reptile is dehydrated, a urate plug can form, blocking the passage of feces and any ingested substrate. Captive reptiles are notoriously chronically dehydrated — particularly “desert” species like bearded dragons and leopard geckos. This is because people think that “desert” means a bone-dry environment with no water at all. Add a good dose of paranoia about respiratory infections to the mix, and you get extremely dry enclosures and dangerously dehydrated reptiles. This is one of the reasons why you see more cases of impaction reported with bearded dragons and leopard geckos, and not so much Indonesian blue tongue skinks or crested geckos.

According to Dr. Brad Lock, DVM, dehydration is one of the most common causes of impaction.

Inadequate UVB or Vitamin D Supplementation

UVB is a wonderful tool for improving the quality of care that we provide for our pet reptiles, but to be fair, it can be confusing and a little difficult to use for beginners. To sidestep this difficulty, some people choose to use vitamin D supplementation as a replacement. While this should work in theory, the truth is that UVB is more than just a source of vitamin D for reptiles, and no one actually knows exactly how much vitamin D each species needs at every stage of life — so D supplementation is just a bunch of guesswork, and it’s frighteningly easy to potentially under- or over-dose. However, the amount of UVB needed for commonly-kept reptiles IS known, and correctly providing UVBenables reptiles to get the perfect amount of vitamin D that they need.

When animals don’t get enough vitamin D (whether from inadequate UVB or supplementation), their bodies can’t function correctly. One of the functions that typically gets affected is digestion. In a 2019 study on humans, for example, lower levels of vitamin D were linked to reduced intestinal movement and chronic constipation.

Yes, that was a human study, not a reptile study. However, this problem affects most (if not all) vertebrates, including reptiles. When there’s not enough vitamin D in an animal’s body, digestive function is compromised and the animal becomes more likely to become constipated or impacted.

Underheating

As most reptile keepers well know, reptiles depend heavily on the temperatures in the environment in order to survive and stay healthy. That is because the energy that they get from external heat sources is vital to “powering” the many physiological processes that keep their bodies working properly.

When reptiles don’t have access to temperatures high enough to allow them to achieve their preferred body temperature, then their bodies don’t have the energy to work properly. And when that happens, one of the results is that digestion slows down and becomes less effective. This is one of the reasons why brumating a reptile with a full stomach is so dangerous — without heat to power the digestive tract, food gets stuck and starts to rot inside the reptile’s body, poisoning them.

When there’s enough heat energy for the reptile to eat and move, but not enough for it to digest properly, the risk of impaction is increased.

Other Causes

Some other potential causes or contributors to impaction are lack of exercise and illness.

If you’ve ever taken a dog for a walk, you take a plastic bag along with you because you know you’re going to have to clean up poo. The same goes for reptiles — when they don’t move very much (which can be caused by things like low basking temperatures, obesity, and small or unenriched enclosures), intestinal motility is reduced and there’s more opportunity for things to get stuck.

Similarly, when reptiles get sick, their bodies aren’t working properly. Some of the causes of illness have already been addressed (vitamin D deficiency, low basking temps, dehydration), but there are other causes like cancer, endoparasites, and calcium deficiency. According to a 2017 study on over 500 sick bearded dragons, it was found that illness seems to be a contributing factor to the development of impaction.

In Other Words, Substrate is Unlikely to Cause Impaction

Saying that substrate causes impaction is like saying that vaccines cause autism. Just because a kid got diagnosed with autism a month after receiving routine vaccinations doesn’t mean that the vaccinations caused the autism. Mistaking correlation for causation is one of the biggest mistakes in the book.

Loose substrates are part of reptiles’ natural habitats.

“Loose substrates” are naturally present in most, if not all, reptiles’ natural habitats. If we assume that loose substrate kills reptiles via impaction, then they wouldn’t exist in the wild. They’d all be extinct from eating sand.

Since bearded dragon owners are among the most vocal in perpetuating the myth that loose substrate causes impaction, let’s use bearded dragons as a quick example. Bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) are native to Central Australia, where most of the “dirt” there isn’t actually dirt — it’s sand. Dr. Jonathan Howard (a.k.a. “The BeardieVet”) took a sample of this stuff and sent it off to Southern Cross University for lab analysis. Here’s the results:

  • 3% gravel
  • 9% fine sand (quartz, colored by iron oxide)
  • 5% silt
  • 3% clay

Definitely not paper towels. And last I checked, the bearded dragons in that area are quite alive and healthy.

Wild reptiles aren’t dying from substrate ingestion.

Using that same logic from the previous point, wild reptiles that die from ingesting substrate, especially the youngsters, wouldn’t live long enough to reproduce — or at least not make as many babies as the ones whose intestines could handle occasional substrate ingestion safely.

Hey, didn’t evolution already take care of that?

Each species of reptile has evolved to thrive in its wild environment. Not survive — THRIVE. In these environments, the substrate is a potential hazard. So their bodies have evolved to be able to pass that ingested substrate so they can live to make as many babies as possible. Wild reptiles are more likely to die from predation, starvation, habitat destruction, or being harvested from their natural habitat for export to the pet trade than they are likely to die from substrate ingestion.

Dissection is a common technique used by herpetologists to determine what a reptile species eats in the wild. They open up the stomach and the rest of the digestive tract to piece together a picture of the species’ typical diet – what it eats, and how much of each type of food comprises total diet. In published research where the reptile was dissected for stomach content analysis, soil and sand are very rarely a noteworthy component of the stomach contents

However, it must be acknowledged that there have been a couple of cases where wild reptiles have been found (dead or alive) with impaction. Most notable is the case of a curly-tailed lizard (Leiocephalus carinatus) from earlier this year.

This lizard was found near a pizza parlor in Florida, with such a severe case of impaction that feces made up 80% of its body weight. Fecal analysis revealed that the mass was made up of pizza grease, sand, and insect remains — the lizard had been eating insects covered in greasy sand. Because pizza grease is a saturated fat, it needs to be heated in order to become liquid, and the lizard’s body wasn’t a consistently hot enough environment for the grease to become liquid and pass. So the grease stayed congealed and created a sticky mass that couldn’t be processed by the lizard’s digestive tract.

So if you’re in the habit of feeding your pet reptile bacon or pizza, loose substrate is not a great choice, but that will be the least of your problems.

Solid Substrate Isn’t As Safe As You Think It Is

Some people prefer to avoid sand, bioactive, or any other kind of loose substrate because they don’t want to take the “risk”.

Well, I’ve got some bad news for you: Solid substrates aren’t as safe as you think they are. They come with their own set of risks, and these risks can’t be mitigated as easily as just making sure your husbandry parameters are correct:

  • Reptile carpet harbor bacteria and can rip out claws or break toes.
  • Paper towels can be shredded and ingested, which may lead to impaction.
  • Ink from newsprint contains VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and may also dye the reptile’s skin/scales.
  • Linoleum and shelf liner off-gas VOCs when heated.
  • Slate tile is significantly harder than natural sand or soil, and may cause joint damage.

Avoiding loose, naturalistic substrates in favor of avoiding substrate impaction without actually changing anything else about your husbandry is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. It might make you feel a bit better, but it’s not addressing the actual problem, and the reptile will probably still get sick — just not with impaction.

Not All Loose Substrates Are Safe, Either

Here’s the point where I have to come clean: Not all loose substrates are all that safe either. Some are toxic, some are made of unnatural (potentially dangerous) materials, and others are simply too large or sharp to be safely ingested. Here’s a quick list for reference:

Safe

  • Natural sand
  • Organic, untreated topsoil
  • Peat moss
  • Bioactive mixes

Not Safe

  • Aspen shavings
  • Cedar/pine shavings
  • Bark chips
  • Calcium sand
  • Ground walnut shell

Might Be Safe

  • Coconut fiber
  • Hemp fiber
  • Small aspen chips
  • Orchid bark
  • Coconut husk

If the particle size is small enough relative to the reptile (or too large to possibly be ingested), it’s probably safe. But the ultimate rule is: If a substrate mimics the reptile’s natural environment, it’s likely to be safe to use in captivity.

When Shouldn’t You Use Loose Substrate?

As great as loose, naturalistic substrates are, there are a few occasions when it’s better to keep your reptile in quarantine conditions and/or a solid substrate:

  • Sick reptiles
  • Reptiles with neurological defects
  • Reptiles that deliberately ingest large amounts of substrate

As always, if you notice unnatural or otherwise worrying behavior from your reptile, don’t ask the internet for a diagnosis or treatment advice — make an appointment with an experienced reptile vet.

Conclusion: Bio Dude Substrates Are Not Going to Give Your Reptile Impaction

There are a lot of myths and misinformation out there on impaction and what causes it. Substrate impaction is one of the greatest fears among reptile keepers, and because fear is involved, the thinking that goes along with it can get a bit irrational. By understanding the science and facts behind impaction, you can work to prevent it while also giving your pet reptile a better standard of care.

  • Josh Halter
Hognose Snake Caresheet

Hognose Snake Caresheet

Hognose Snake Care Sheet

North American Hognose Snake (Heterodon spp.)

Skill Level: Easy – Intermediate

 North American hognose snakes are a type of fossorial (burrowing) snake native to southern Canada, northern Mexico, and most of the United States. They are named for their hog-like upturned noses, which are actually an evolutionary adaptation that helps them dig tunnels and unearth prey.

Hognose snakes are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day. In the wild, they spend most of their waking hours looking for food like toads and other amphibians — although they are known to eat reptile eggs and the occasional small mammal as well.

Depending on gender and exact species, hognose snakes can grow anywhere between 14-46” long, with females generally being much larger than males. Hognose snakes can be expected to live about 10-15 years with good care.

There are four species in the Heterodon genus:

  • kennerlyi (Mexican Hognose)
  • nasicus (Western Hognose)
  • platirhinos (Eastern Hognose)
  • simus (Southern Hognose)

The western hognose is the most common type of hognose snake in the US pet trade. For more detailed information on the species of the Heterodon genus, visit ReptiFiles.

Hognose snakes are venomous, but fortunately they are rear-fanged, and the venom is not significantly harmful to humans.

 

What you will need for a pet hognose snake:

 

Terrarium Size

The general rule for determining minimum enclosure size for a terrestrial snake is as follows:

  • length = snake length
  • width = half snake length
  • height = half snake length

Considering the wide variety in adult lengths for hognose snakes, some small males may be able to be comfortable in a 20 gallon tank. However, bigger is always better, and if you don’t know exactly how long your snake is going to grow, 40 gallons is a safer general minimum.

Front-opening terrariums work well for housing snakes because they’re more difficult to escape from. They also make access easier, which decreases handling-associated stress for the snake and increases overall convenience.

Some advise housing young hognose snakes in small enclosures until they reach adulthood. However, as long as your hognose is not very young (i.e. near hatchling size), and they have plenty of places to hide, your juvenile hognose should be able to live in an adult-sized enclosure with no issues.

Hognose snakes are not social animals, so multiple snakes should not be kept in the same enclosure.

Lighting

Having a light on in your hognose snake’s enclosure helps them regulate their day/night rhythm and stimulates activity. This is especially important considering that hognose snakes are most active during the day.

If you’re building a bioactive hognose snake vivarium with live plants, then you will need a full-spectrum (roughly 6000K) plant light to “feed” your plants and keep them healthy. This daylight-mimicking bulb is also beneficial to snakes.

There is a widespread myth that snakes don’t “need” UVB, and therefore there’s “no reason” to provide it — some people even mistakenly cite potential issues such as stress and eye damage as reasons why not to provide UVB. However, there is mounting scientific evidence to the contrary: UVB is, in fact, beneficial to snakes, especially the diurnal ones. For this reason we recommend the Zoo Med T5 HO ReptiSun 5.0 or Arcadia Forest 6%, long enough to cover about 1/2 of the enclosure.

Lights should be left on for 12 hours/day. Nighttime lighting and colored bulbs are not necessary.

 

Heating

Hognose snakes, like other reptiles, are cold-blooded. This means that they rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature, which in turn regulates healthy metabolism and processes such as digestion. So they need to have a range of temperatures within their enclosure that enables them to regulate their temperature as needed.

Temperatures for western and Mexican hognoses:

  • Basking zone: 90-95°F
  • Cool zone temps: 70-80°F
  • No cooler than 70°F at night

Temperatures for eastern and southern hognoses:

  • Basking zone: 86-88°F
  • Cool zone temps: 70-75°F
  • No cooler than 70°F at night

People may try to tell you that you should use a heat pad for your heating your snake, but this is in fact an outdated practice and does not allow a hognose to thermoregulate properly — especially not if you’re using a thick bioactive substrate.

Instead, use a halogen flood heat bulb to mimic the effects of the sun in a hognose snake’s natural environment. Place the bulb in a dome heat lamp for best results. If you have a larger snake that needs a basking area larger than one lamp can provide, try using two smaller dome lamps placed next to each other. It’s also good practice to plug the lamp(s) into a lamp dimmer so you can dial the bulb down if it gets too hot.

Your heat lamp should be placed on the extra left or right of the enclosure, as this will help create a healthy temperature gradient. Measure this gradient with a temperature gun for quick at-a-glance data, but you should also have a digital probe thermometer placed on the basking spot so you can keep an eye on the basking temperature.

 Humidity

Western and Mexican hognose snakes thrive between 30-50% humidity.

Eastern and southern hognose snakes thrive between 50-60% humidity.

Correct humidity levels help maintain respiratory health and facilitate proper shedding, which is a regular part of your snake’s life. Maintain good humidity by regularly watering your plants, using a deep substrate layer, and misting with a spray bottle as needed. It’s a good idea to mist a little extra when your snake is about to shed.

You can keep track of the humidity levels in your snake’s enclosure with a digital probe hygrometer. The probe for this device should be placed on the substrate on the cool end of the vivarium.

Substrate

Considering that hognose snakes are fossorial, it’s extra important to provide a thick layer of a substrate that they can easily dig in. Aside from encouraging natural behaviors, the right substrate will enable the snake to thermoregulate more naturally and promote healthy humidity levels.

For these reasons, a bioactive substrate is a great way to meet your hognose’s needs. Bioactive substrates mimic the function of soil in a reptile’s natural habitat, so things like coconut fiber or aspen shavings aren’t going to work. Instead, you can make your own bioactive mix with 2 parts organic topsoil, 2 parts Zoo Med Reptisoil (or similar), and 1 part play sand, or you can let The Bio Dude do the work for you with a 40 breeder Terra Firma Bioactive Kit.

Because you’re setting up a bioactive habitat, you will need to mix and layer the substrate with sphagnum moss and leaf litter. For best results, combine with an appropriate amount of Bio Dude Bio Shot reptile-safe fertilizer. 

Decorating the Enclosure

Just because hognose snakes are fossorial doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from some above-ground décor! Aside from beautifying your snake’s habitat, décor also adds variety to your miniature landscape and maximizes the available space in your enclosure by giving the snake lots of things to explore and utilize. So feel free to clutter it up!

Here are some ideas of ways that you can decorate and enrich your hognose snake’s bioactive vivarium:

  • cork flats
  • hollow logs
  • branches
  • hides/caves
  • plants
  • décor

 

Feeding Your Hognose Snake

Like other snakes, hognose snakes are carnivores. This means that they need to eat whole animals in order to get the nutrients that their bodies need.

Generally speaking, young and growing hognose snakes should receive one pinky mouth every 3-4 days, and adult hognose snakes should get 2-3 rat fuzzies once every 7-14 days. It is best to use prey items that are hairless or nearly hairless, as it is speculated that hair may cause digestive problems for hognose snakes.

Prey items should be about the same diameter as the snake’s head. As the snake grows, you can gradually increase the size of the prey. Picky eaters may need to have their prey scented with frog scent or tuna water.

Watering Your Hognose Snake

Keep a large bowl (big enough for the snake to coil up in) of water in the enclosure at all times. Change the water at least twice weekly — daily is best. When the bowl gets soiled, scrub it out with an animal-safe disinfectant like chlorhexidine or F-10SC before replacing.

 Handling Tips

After bringing your new pet home, do not handle it until it is eating regularly. This can take anywhere from two weeks to two months, so be patient and use this time to make sure your husbandry is on point. Once your snake is ready for handling, handle it at least 1-2x weekly to keep it accustomed to you, but no more than once daily.

Wash Your Hands First

Before you pick up your hognose snake, first wash your hands with soap or hand sanitizer. This removes potentially harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites from your hands, as well as makes your hands smell distinctly inedible. Hognose snakes find prey via heat and smell. If your (warm) hands smell like mouse, frog, animal, or anything else remotely appetizing, your pet may confuse you for food.

How to Pick Up a Snake

Next, use a paper towel roll to tap its head (gently). This sets expectations by letting the snake know that it’s time for handling, not food. Pick it up with two hands, one behind the head and one supporting the rest of the body. NEVER pick up a snake by its tail — this can really hurt their spine!

Safety with Snakes

Always supervise children closely when they are handling a pet snake (or any kind of pet, frankly). This is as much for the snake’s safety as it is for the child’s.

DO NOT Handle If…

Don’t handle your snake within 24-48 hours of a meal, as this can stress them out and lead to regurgitation, which is a traumatic experience that can actually lead to death.

Also do not handle if your pet’s eyes have turned opaque or cloudy. This means that the snake is preparing to shed and can’t see well, making them more jumpy than usual and more likely to bite out of self-defense.

 

Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles. Visit ReptiFiles.com for further information on hognose snake care.

 

  • Josh Halter
Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttatus)

Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttatus)

Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttatus)

This article is brought to you by Mariah Healey creator of ReptiFiles.com

Difficulty: Easy

 Corn snakes are nonvenomous, terrestrial snakes native to the southeastern United States, parts of Mexico, and the Cayman Islands. They got their name from early European settlers who found these snakes in their corn fields and corn cribs, and concluded that the snakes must be feasting on the corn. The snakes were not, in fact, eating the corn — they were eating the rodents which were eating the corn.

Corn snakes are crepuscular, which means that although they are active at night, they are most active around dawn and dusk. They spend most of their waking hours looking for prey.

Corn snakes grow to 3-5’ long as adults, and males tend to be smaller than females. In captivity they generally live for about 15-20 years.

Corn snakes are popular snakes for first-timers and more experienced reptile keepers alike due to their simple care requirements, active and curious personalities, and exceptional hardiness.

 

Shopping List

 

Terrarium Size

The general rule for determining minimum enclosure size for a primarily terrestrial snake goes like this:

  • length = snake length
  • width = half snake length
  • height = half snake length

Considering that corn snakes average between 3-5′ long as adults, the minimum corn snake enclosure size is going to be at least 75 gallons, or 48″x18″x22″. Of course, bigger is always going to be better.

Front-opening terrariums work well for housing snakes, especially corn snakes, because they tend to be more difficult to escape from. Front-opening terrariums also tend to hold heat and humidity better and make access easier.

Some advise housing young corn snakes in small enclosures until their reach adulthood. However, as long as your corn snake is not very young (read: near hatchling size), and they have plenty of places to hide, they should be able to live in an adult-sized enclosure without issue.

Corn snakes are not social animals, and so multiple snakes should not be kept in the same enclosure.

 

Lighting, Temps & Humidity

Lighting

Corn snakes are most active at night, particularly around dawn and dusk. Having a light in their enclosure helps them regulate their day/night rhythm, and is more effective than simply relying on light coming through a window or from a light in the room.

There is a common belief that snakes don’t “need” UVB to survive, and for that reason, shouldn’t have access to it because it will “stress them out” or “hurt their eyes.” But there is no real evidence that, when used properly, UVB actually harms corn snakes.

There is mounting scientific evidence, however, that UVB can be beneficial for snakes, and many experts recommend using it as part of providing optimum care. For a corn snake housed in a 75 gallon enclosure, we recommend using a 22”  Zoo Med T5 HO ReptiSun 5.0 or Arcadia Forest 6%, mounted on the same side of the enclosure as the heat lamp.

Any lights in a corn snake enclosure should be left on for about 12 hours/day. Colored bulbs are unnecessary and can even be harmful, so they should not be used.

Heat

Corn snakes are ectotherms (cold-blooded). This means that they rely on the heat in their environment to regulate their body temperature. So as pets, corn snakes need a range of temperatures in their enclosure that allow them to regulate their body temperature as needed. This is the optimal temperature gradient for corn snakes:

  • Basking surface: 90-95°F
  • Cool side: 75-80°F

The best way to provide heat for your pet corn snake is with a halogen heat lamp, as this is the closest way to replicate the warming effect of the sun in nature. These are also much more effective for bioactive enclosures than heat mats.

Use a white or clear halogen flood bulb like the Zoo Med Repti Basking Spot 100w or Philips 90w PAR38 Halogen Flood Bulb housed in a dimmable dome lamp for best results. If your dome lamp does not have a built-in dimmer, it’s a good idea to plug your lamp into a lamp dimmer so you can turn down the lamp if it gets too hot.

Place the lamp on the extreme left or right side of the enclosure to create a healthy temperature gradient. To measure your temperature gradient, use a temp gun like the Zoo Med ReptiTemp or Etekcity 774.

Humidity

Corn snakes do best with average humidity levels of 40-50%. Correct humidity levels help maintain good skin, scale, and respiratory health, and help prevent dehydration.

Bioactive setups are very good at maintaining humidity, but if you need to raise the humidity levels, mist the enclosure with a spray bottle and some distilled water.

To keep track of your humidity levels, use a hygrometer like the Zoo Med Digital Thermometer and Humidity Gauge. Place the humidity probe on the cool side of the enclosure to get a good sense of your humidity gradient.

 

Substrate

To create a bioactive corn snake vivarium, you will need a bioactive-compatible substrate. That means that things like coconut husk or cypress mulch aren’t going to work. You need a soil-like mix that mimics the conditions of your corn snake’s natural habitat. You can make your own with 2 parts organic topsoil, 2 parts Zoo Med Reptisoil (or similar), and 1 part play sand, or you can let The Bio Dude do the work for you with a Terra Firma Bioactive Kit for 75 gallon enclosures.

Because you’re setting up a bioactive habitat, you will need to mix and layer the substrate with sphagnum moss and leaf litter. For best results, combine with an appropriate amount of Bio Dude Bio Shot reptile-safe fertilizer.

 

Decorating the Enclosure

Enclosure décor is more than just making your setup look good. It’s also an important part of providing environmental enrichment to your corn snake, which enhances your pet’s quality of life by providing opportunities to express natural behaviors, explore, and exercise. And since corn snakes like to hide and  climb, feel free to clutter it up!

Here are some ideas for ways that you can decorate and enrich your corn snake’s bioactive vivarium:

  • hollow cork logs
  • branches
  • hides/caves
  • plants
  • décor

 

Feeding Your Corn Snake

Corn snakes, like other snakes, are carnivores. This means that they need to eat whole animals in order to get the nutrition that they need to be healthy.

Here is a rough chart of how much and how often you should be feeding your pet corn snake:

  • Hatchling to 2 months —1 pinkie mouse
  • 4 months — 2 pinkie mice
  • 6 months — 3 pinkie mice
  • 8 months — 1 fuzzy mouse
  • 10 months — 2 fuzzy mice
  • 12 months — 3 fuzzy mice
  • 14 months — 1 small mouse
  • 16 months — 2 small mice
  • 18 months — 1 or 2 adult mice

Young corn snakes should be fed once every 7-14 days. Adults (18+ months old) should be fed once every 14-21 days.

The above chart is based on age, but not all corn snakes grow at the same rate. If you have a young corn snake and can’t get information from the pet store or breeder about its age, choose a prey item that is only a little larger than the snake is at its widest point. Then offer it feeders until it refuses, and repeat 7-14 days later.

Weighing your snake regularly with a kitchen scale can be a good way to make sure it’s getting enough to eat. If it starts to lose weight, feed more often. If it’s an adult and is rapidly gaining weight, feed less often.

Water

Keep a large, shallow bowl of fresh water in the enclosure at all times. The water should be changed at least twice weekly or whenever it gets soiled. Scrub the bowl with an animal-safe disinfectant before replacing.

 

Handling Tips

After bringing your new pet home, do not handle it until it is eating regularly. This can take anywhere from two weeks to two months, so be patient and use this time to make sure your husbandry is on point. Once your snake is ready for handling, handle it at least 1-2x weekly to keep it accustomed to you, but no more than once daily.

Wash Your Hands First

Before you pick up your corn snake, first wash your hands with soap or hand sanitizer. This removes potentially harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites from your hands, as well as makes your hands smell distinctly inedible. Corn snakes find prey via heat and smell. If your (warm) hands smell like rat, animal, or anything else remotely appetizing, your pet may confuse you for food.

How to Pick Up a Snake

Next, use a paper towel roll to tap its head (gently). This sets expectations by letting the snake know that it’s time for handling, not food. Pick it up with two hands, one behind the head and one supporting the rest of the body. NEVER pick up a snake by its tail — this can really hurt their spine!

Safety with Snakes

Always supervise children closely when they are handling a pet snake (or any kind of pet, frankly). This is as much for the snake’s safety as it is for the child’s. Keep the snake’s head away from your face, and don’t let it wrap around your neck.

DO NOT Handle If…

Don’t handle your snake within 48 hours of a meal, as this can stress them out and lead to regurgitation, which is a traumatic experience that can actually lead to death.

Also do not handle if your pet’s eyes have turned opaque or cloudy. This means that the  snake is preparing to shed and can’t see well, making them more jumpy than usual and more likely to bite out of self-defense.

 

 

Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles. Visit ReptiFiles.com for further information on corn snake care.

  • Josh Halter
Ball Python Care Guide

Ball Python Care Guide

Ball Python (Python regius)

Difficulty: Intermediate

Ball pythons are a terrestrial species of constricting snake native to regions of eastern, central, and western Africa. In the wild they are most often found in semi-arid grasslands, sparse woodlands, and in farm fields, sheltering in burrows and hollow logs.

These snakes are crepuscular, which means that although they are active at night, they are most active around dawn and dusk. Like other snakes, ball pythons are carnivorous, and they use this time to hunt prey such as rodents and birds.

Male ball pythons typically grow 2-3’ long while females grow to be 3-5’ long. Larger individuals have been recorded. These snakes reach adulthood in 3-5 years and have a 15-30 year lifespan in captivity.

Ball pythons are very common in the reptile hobby and in the pet trade in general. Part of this is due to morph breeding, which is the practice of selectively breeding reptiles to produce new colors and patterns not found in nature. At the moment, there are about 6500 known morphs.

Ball pythons can make good pet snakes for first-timers due to their docile temperaments, slow movement, and manageable size.

 

What You Need for a Pet Ball Python:

 

Terrarium Size

When it comes to choosing a terrarium for pet reptiles, keep in mind that larger is always better! There is a common myth that ball pythons prefer small, cramped spaces, but this is not true. Tiny enclosures that prevent a ball from being able to full stretch out as needed promote obesity as well as decrease the snake’s overall quality of life. So the minimum enclosure size recommended by modern ball python experts is 4’x2’x2’.

It’s best to choose a front-opening enclosure with a covered top, which makes accessing the snake much easier (and less startling for the snake).

Ball pythons should not be housed together in the same enclosure.

 

Lighting

Ball pythons are crepuscular (active at night, particularly dawn and dusk), so they benefit from having a light in their enclosure to regulate their day/night cycle.

There is a common myth that ball pythons are stressed by light. There is another myth that snakes do not “need” UVB light for survival and therefore providing it as part of their habitat in captivity is unnecessary. Both are completely false and do not reflect the snake’s native habitat. Our goal as good reptile keepers is not to simply allow our pets to survive — it is to do everything in our power to enable them to thrive. And there is mounting scientific evidence that UVB is, in fact, beneficial to ball pythons and other snakes.

Therefore we recommend installing a Zoo Med T5 HO ReptiSun 5.0 or Arcadia Forest 6% in a reflective T5 HO fluorescent fixture, long enough to cover about 1/2 of the enclosure’s length. So for a 48” long enclosure, you will want a bulb about 22-24” long. Do not use other brands — when it comes to UVB, brand matters!

In a 24” tall enclosure, it is best to install the UVB fixture under the mesh instead of over it, as the mesh will block a significant portion of the UVB light and your snake may not get enough. This can be done most easily with zip ties.

 

Heating

Because ball pythons are reptiles, they are cold-blooded, and that means that they need a range of temperatures within their enclosure so they can regulate their own body temperature as needed. Areas of heat speed up their metabolism and promote activities like digestion and healing. Cool areas slow the metabolism and promote activities like rest and energy conservation.

The warm side of a ball python’s enclosure should be between 90-95°F, and the cool side should be between 75-80°F. For best results, place one of your ball python’s hides directly below the heat lamp so it can get nice and warm.

Many ball python keepers recommend using heat pads as the snake’s primary source of heat, but heat pads don’t work well in a bioactive enclosure because they have to compete with a thick layer of substrate, and thus can become a fire hazard. Instead, use a heat bulb like the Zoo Med Basking Spot Lamp 150 Watt or Philips 100w PAR38 Halogen Flood Heat Bulb in a dome heat lamp. Plug the heat lamp into a lamp dimmer so you can control it if it gets too hot.

The most accurate way to keep track of your terrarium’s temperature gradient is to use a temperature gun. They’re super reliable and essential for monitoring surface temperature, which is the temperature that your ball python will be feeling on the ground.

 

Humidity

Ball pythons need humid air in their environment in order to stay hydrated, keep their lungs healthy, and shed their skin safely. To be specific, they need an average of 55-65% ambient humidity, although areas of low humidity (40%) and areas of high humidity (80%) are perfectly acceptable as part of your enclosure’s gradient. Keep track of your humidity levels with a digital hygrometer like the Bio Dude Digital Thermometer / Hygrometer, with the probe placed on the cool side of the enclosure, preferably inside of the cool hide.

A large water bowl will help, but regular misting with distilled water in a pressure sprayer like the Exo Terra Mister is recommended. It also helps to provide a “humid hide” lined with damp sphagnum moss, which should be the most humid spot in the enclosure. Since you have a bioactive enclosure you may not have to worry about the moss getting moldy, but make sure to check on it regularly and replace as needed.

If you have live plants as part of your bioactive setup, the regular watering that they require will also help keep humidity levels within the appropriate range. As an added bonus, plants’ leaves release water into the air, further boosting ambient humidity! 

 

Substrate

To create a bioactive ball python vivarium, you will need a bioactive-compatible substrate. That means things like coconut husk or cypress mulch aren’t going to work. You need a soil-like mix that mimics the conditions of your ball python’s natural habitat. You can make your own with 2 parts organic topsoil, 2 parts Zoo Med Reptisoil (or similar), and 1 part play sand, or you can let The Bio Dude do the work for you with a 4' x 2' x 2' PVC Kage Terra Firma Bioactive Kit.

Because you’re setting up a bioactive habitat, you will need to mix and layer the substrate with sphagnum moss and plenty of leaf litter. For best results, combine with an appropriate amount of Bio Dude Bio Shot reptile-safe fertilizer.

 

Decorating the Enclosure

Enclosure décor is more than just making your setup look good. It’s also an important part of providing environmental enrichment to your ball python, which enhances your pet’s quality of life by providing opportunities to express natural behaviors, explore, and exercise. And since ball pythons like to hide and occasionally climb, feel free to clutter it up!

Contrary to popular believe, ball pythons are not “pet rocks” that are content to live in a virtually empty box. They are complex animals that we are just beginning to understand. Here are some ideas for ways that you can decorate and enrich your ball python’s bioactive enclosure:

  • hollow cork logs
  • thick, sturdy branches
  • hides/caves
  • plants
  • décor

 

Feeding Your Ball Python

Ball pythons are obligate carnivores, which means that they must eat whole animals in order to get the nutrition they need. There is no replacement. Here is a rough chart of how much and how often you should be feeding your ball python, based on snake weight. 

  • >200g — rat fuzzy or small mouse every 7 days
  • 200-350g — rat pup or adult mouse every 7-10 days
  • 350-500g — weaned rat every 10-14 days
  • 500-1500g — small rat every 14-21 days
  • >1500g — medium rat every 28-56 days

Always feed your snake inside its enclosure, not outside. Contrary to the myth, feeding inside does not make snakes more aggressive. Also, use feeding tweezers to offer the rat, not your hand.

Variety is essential to complete nutrition. You can add variety to your ball python’s diet with African soft-furred rats, chicks, quail, and Reptilinks. Do not offer live prey if it can be avoided, as live rodents may injure your snake in the process of feeding. Instead, buy frozen prey and thaw to 100°F internal temperature in warm water.

 

Handling Tips

After bringing your new pet home, do not handle it until it is eating regularly. This can take anywhere from two weeks to two months, so be patient and use this time to make sure your husbandry is on point. Once your snake is ready for handling, handle it at least 1-2x weekly to keep it accustomed to you, but no more than once daily.

Wash Your Hands First

Before you pick up your ball python, first wash your hands with soap or hand sanitizer. This removes potentially harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites from your hands, as well as makes your hands smell distinctly inedible.  Ball pythons find prey via heat and smell. If your (warm) hands smell like rat, animal, or anything else remotely appetizing, your pet may confuse you for food.

How to Pick Up a Snake

Next, use a paper towel roll to tap its head (gently). This sets expectations by letting the snake know that it’s time for handling, not food. Pick it up with two hands, one behind the head and one supporting the rest of the body. NEVER pick up a snake by its tail — this can really hurt their spine!

Safety with Snakes

Always supervise children closely when they are handling a pet snake (or any kind of pet, frankly). This is as much for the snake’s safety as it is for the child’s. Keep the snake’s head away from your face, and don’t let it wrap around your neck. Ball pythons don’t try to hurt humans, but they are strong enough to cause accidents.

DO NOT Handle If…

Don’t handle your snake within 48 hours of a meal, as this can stress them out and lead to regurgitation, which is a traumatic experience that can actually lead to death. Also do not handle if your pet’s eyes have turned opaque or cloudy. This means that the  snake is preparing to shed and can’t see well, making them more jumpy than usual and more likely to bite out of self-defense.

 

Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles. Visit ReptiFiles.com for further information on ball python care.

 

 

  • Josh Halter
Blue Tongue Skink Care Guide

Blue Tongue Skink Care Guide

Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua spp.)

Difficulty: Intermediate

Caresheet courtesy of Mariah Healy of www.ReptiFiles.com

Blue tongue skinks are a group of diurnal, terrestrial lizards found throughout Australia and parts of Indonesia. They can grow up to 24” long, and have an average lifespan of 15-20 years, although with good care, they can live past the age of 30.

Blue tongue skinks have thick, sausage-like bodies, short but strong limbs, and triangular heads. But their most distinctive feature is their namesake — a blue tongue. Most members of Tiliqua have blue or bluish tongues. Although popular speculation places this unique trait as a defense mechanism against predators, it may also play a role in communication with other blue tongue skinks.

There are 12 known species of Tiliqua, but due to strict export restrictions on Australian animals, only 5 of them are commonly kept in the US:

  • Northern blue tongue skink (Tiliqua scincoides intermedia)

  • Classic Indonesian blue tongue skink (Tiliqua gigas gigas)

  • Halmahera blue tongue skink (Tiliqua gigas gigas halmahera)

  • Merauke blue tongue skink (Tiliqua gigas evanescens)

  • Irian Jaya blue tongue skink (Tiliqua ssp.)

Different types of blue tongue skinks have slightly different care requirements. For visuals on what each type looks like, visit ReptiFiles.

 

What You Will Need for a Pet Blue Tongue Skink:

 

Terrarium Size

Blue tongue skinks are relatively large lizards that grow quickly, so the minimum recommended enclosure size even for a baby is going to be 4’x2’x2’, or 8 sq ft of floor space. Blue tongue skinks are quite active, so if you can afford/fit a larger enclosure, it’s strongly advised to do so. Bigger is always better!

For maximum convenience, get an enclosure that opens from the front rather than from the top. PVC is generally the best material for a blue tongue skink enclosure, as it’s waterproof and lightweight, but glass or well-sealed wood are also options.

Do not house more than 1 blue tongue skink per enclosure. Housing blue tongue skinks together will likely stress them out, and risks them fighting and getting severely injured.

 

Lighting

Blue tongue skinks are diurnal, which means that they are active during the day. And as reptiles, they need UVB lighting as part of their environment to encourage health and wellness. Reptiles use UVB light to create the vitamin D that their body needs, as well as to strengthen their immune system, and stimulate production of endorphins. UVB even helps keep the enclosure free of pathogens.

The Zoo Med ReptiSun 10.0 T5 HO and Arcadia Desert 12% are high-quality fluorescent bulbs that provides the right amount of UVB for blue tongue skinks in a 4’x2’x2’ enclosure. These bulbs must be replaced once a year to remain effective. For best results, install the bulb in a reflective fixture like the Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO Terrarium Hood or The Bio Dude Solar Grow light fixture.

The UVB bulb and fixture should span 1/2 of the enclosure’s length, and should be placed on the same side as the heat lamp, because heat and UVB work together.

If you are setting up a bioactive enclosure, you will also need a full-spectrum fluorescent or LED grow light for the plants. This is also beneficial for the skink, so it’s a win-win!

Heating

Unlike humans, blue tongue skinks and other reptiles are cold-blooded, which means that they need external heat for their bodies to work properly. A diurnal (day active) reptiles, blue tongue skinks use heat most effectively from an overhead heat source that mimics the sun. And because they’re cold-blooded, they need a gradient of temperatures inside their enclosure so they can warm up and cool down as needed:

  • Basking surface:

    • Northerns — 105-115°F

    • Others — 100-105°F

  • Cool side: 70-80°F

  • Nighttime: No lower than 65°F

To create your basking area, use a high-wattage halogen flood bulb inside of a dome heat lamp with a ceramic. You can find the bulbs you need at the hardware store or pet store. For an average 48″ x 24″ x 24″ enclosure, 100-150w should achieve the temperatures you need. If you find that gets a bit too hot, use a plug-in lamp dimmer to dial down the heat. To create the best basking area possible, place a large, flat stone (large enough for the skink’s whole body) under the basking lamp for the skink to bask on.

How do you make sure you’re doing it right? Don’t get a cheap gauge-type stick-on thermometer — these aren’t very accurate. Instead, use an infrared temperature gun like the Etekcity 774 to measure surface temperature. Using a digital probe thermometer like the Bio Dude Digital Thermometer / Hygrometer is also a good way to track your basking temperature when the probe is placed on the basking surface.

 

Humidity

All life on Earth depends on water. Animals can get it either by drinking it, eating food that contains water, or by breathing humid air. Reptiles need specific levels of humidity in their environment for best health, and the requirements for blue tongue skinks are as follows:

  • Northern blue tongue skink — 40-60%

  • Classic Indonesian blue tongue skink — 60-80%

  • Halmahera blue tongue skink — 80-100%

  • Merauke blue tongue skink — 60-80%

  • Irian Jaya blue tongue skink — 60-80%

Simply add water to the enclosure via spray bottle to increase humidity. Bioactive substrates are excellent at maintaining humidity compared to other substrate options.

Humidity will naturally be higher on the cool side of the enclosure than on the warm side, so use a Bio Dude Digital Thermometer / Hygrometer with the probe placed on the cool side to track the humidity levels in your skink’s habitat.

 

Substrate

“Substrate” is another word for bedding. Blue tongue skinks are burrowing lizards, so they require 4-6 inches of deep, soft, loose substrate. But which kind of substrate you need depends on your type of skink. Australian species need dry substrates, and Indonesian species need humid substrates.

The Bio Dude’s Terra Firma Bioactive Kit is excellent for creating a bioactive substrate for Northern blue tongue skinks, and The Bio Dude’s Terra Fauna Bioactive Kit is excellent for creating a bioactive substrate for Indonesian blue tongue skinks.

Bioactive substrates need a clean-up crew (CUC) of beneficial bugs to work properly. At very least you will need relatively large cultures of tropical springtails and isopods such as powder blues, powder oranges, or dwarf purples.

For best results, let your bioactive substrate and any live plants get established for about a month before adding your blue tongue skink.

 

Feeding Your Blue Tongue Skink

Blue tongue skinks are omnivores, which means that they need to eat both plant and animal matter to be healthy. And like humans, skinks’ nutritional needs change as they grow.

·       Animals —

o   70-80% for <2 years old

o   50-60% for >2 years old

·       Plants —

o   20-30% for <2 years old

o   40-50% for >2 years old

How much should a blue tongue skink eat?

  • Feed babies (up to 3 months) daily.

  • Feed juveniles (3-8 months) 3 times weekly.

  • Feed adults (8+ months) 1-2 times weekly.

 

Portion size should be about the same size as the skink’s skull.

 

The key to success with blue tongue skinks (and most reptiles, for that matter) is to feed them as large a variety of foods as possible. The below options are just a small sample list. For a more comprehensive list of feeding options, and which foods to avoid, visit ReptiFiles.

 

Animals

Meat
  • eggs

  • small rodents, live or pre-killed

  • high quality dog food

  • high quality cat food

Insects

  • crickets

  • roaches

  • snails (not wild)

  • silkworms

  • earthworms

Feeder insects should be no bigger than the space between your skink’s eyes. ALL FEEDER INSECTS SHOULD BE COATED IN CALCIUM SUPPLEMENT BEFORE FEEDING. For best results, give your dragon a variety of bugs for best nutrition.

Plants
  • collard greens

  • dandelion greens

  • carrot greens

  • turnip greens

  • shredded squash

  • bell pepper

  • shredded carrot

 

Fruits should be used as treats only due to their high sugar content.

 

Calcium & Vitamins

To ensure that your skink is getting all the vitamins and minerals they need, you need a calcium powder and a multivitamin powder. Take care not to use these too often; too much vitamins can be just as deadly as too little. We recommend Miner-ALL Outdoor (no D3) dusted on all insects and Exo Terra Reptile Multivitamin sprinkled on food once a month.

Water

Aside from humid air in their environment, blue tongue skinks also need a water dish so they can drink water as needed. Choose a bowl that is large enough for the skink to soak in as desired, but shallow enough to prevent drowning.

 

Handling Tips

When you first bring your blue tongue skink home, resist the temptation to immediately start playing with it. You’re huge compared to a blue tongue skink, and s/he needs time to figure out that you’re not going to eat them. Let your new pet settle in for at least 2 weeks before you start handling.

Once your skink has established confidence in his/her new home, you can introduce yourself. Let them get comfortable with your scent by placing an old, used shirt in the terrarium. Let your hand rest in the terrarium and allow the skink to familiarize itself with your hand.

After your skink has stopped running away from your hand and seems calm in your presence, you can start to handle them. But just because you have reached this step does not mean your pet trusts you. Trust and friendship (as far as it goes for lizards) takes time and daily handling.

Handling Techniques

  • Support the whole body.

  • Use slow movements.

  • Do not grab or forcibly restrain unless absolutely necessary.

  • If they are shedding, leave them alone and don’t pull on loose skin.

Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles. Visit ReptiFiles.com for further information on blue tongue skink care.

  • Josh Halter
Introduction to UVB, part 2

Introduction to UVB, part 2

Introduction to UVB, part 2:

How to Use UVB in Your Reptile Enclosure

Guest post written by ReptiFiles for use by The Bio Dude

Over the course of millions of years of evolution, every reptile has specifically and remarkably adapted to a specific type of environment and lifestyle. Under ideal circumstances, we would all be able to keep our reptiles outdoors in the exact same environment that they evolved in and wouldn’t have to artificially provide heat or UVB.

As pets, our beloved reptiles are far removed from their natural habitat in the wild and require our care. So it’s up to us to recreate allaspects of the habitat that they evolved in: temperatures, humidity, UVB, substrate, diet, territory size, etc. When we succeed in this effort, we enable them to truly thrive (not just survive) in captivity.

Both UVA and UVB are present in all reptiles’ natural habitats. However, the exact amount of UVB that is present varies from habitat to habitat. Different types of reptiles from different microclimates require different levels of UVB. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. You can’t walk into a pet store, grab whatever UVB bulb looks good, and walk out. However, most reptiles fit into one of four categories:

Meet the Ferguson Zones

Dr. Gary Ferguson categorized the different levels of UVB need into 4 zones, and revolutionized the way we approach UVB provision for reptiles.

Zone 1describes crepuscular reptiles and shade-dwellers that thrive with a UV Index between 0.1-0.7.

  • ball pythons
  • corn snakes
  • crested geckos
  • leopard geckos

Zone 2describes partial sun and occasional baskers that thrive with an average UV Index of 0.7-1.0.

  • red-footed tortoises
  • green anoles
  • Chinese water dragons
  • boa constrictors

Zone 3describes open and partial sun baskers that thrive with an average UV Index of 1.0-2.6.

  • red-eared sliders
  • day geckos
  • blue tongue skinks

Zone 4describes mid-day open sun baskers that thrive with an average UV Index of 2.6-3.5.

  • bearded dragons
  • uromastyx
  • chuckwallas

*Note that these are all-day averages, not maximums or total gradient specifications.

If you keep a reptile species that is not on this list, reference Frances Baines’ UV Tool to find the Ferguson Zone categorization, recommended UVI, and optimal lamp for your pet’s needs.

What are these numbers?

UV Index, or UVI, is how we measure UVB radiation. It was initially developed by the World Health Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, and the World Meteorological Organization as a way to raise awareness of the risks of excessive exposure to sunlight, and to alert people of when and where the sunlight is strong enough to cause skin damage.

Although initially created for human health, UVI is also very helpful for measuring the levels of UVB that wild reptiles expose themselves to and how much we’re giving them in captivity. The Solarmeter 6.5, Solarmeter 6.5R, and Zoo Med Digital UV Index Radiometerare devices that can be used to measure the UVB output of the lighting anywhere in a reptile’s enclosure. If you are serious about reptile keeping, it’s a good idea to invest in one of these devices to fine-tune your husbandry.

Types of UVB bulbs

UVB bulbs generally fall into 3 different categories: linear fluorescents, compact/coil fluorescents, and mercury vapor bulbs.

Linear fluorescent UVB bulbs

Linear fluorescents come in two types: T8 and T5 HO. The number indicates the diameter of the fluorescent tube, as well as the power.

  • T8 bulbsare older technology and produce less powerful UVB. They also tend to have shorter lifespans, lasting about 6 months before needing to be replaced.
  • T5 HO (high output) bulbsare a newer technology and produce stronger UVB that penetrates further into an enclosure. They also last at least 12 months before needing replacement.

Linear fluorescents should be mounted inside a reflective light fixture appropriate to the size and power of the bulb for optimal output and lifespan. Reflective T5 HO fixtures aren’t cheap, but they’re an essential investment.

T5 HO UVB bulbs are the most popular type of UVB lighting in the reptile hobby because they work well with a variety of enclosure sizes and reptile species. They are also the preferred source of UVB lighting at reputable zoos.

The best linear fluorescent UVB bulbs in the US are made by Arcadia and Zoo Med.

Compact/coil fluorescent UVB bulbs

Compact and coil fluorescent UVB bulbs are like T5 UVB bulbs that have been folded and twisted around themselves to fit in a standard incandescent bulb socket. They are less powerful than T5 HO or even T8 linear bulbs at the same distance, but they can work well in small enclosures 12-18” tall and less than 24” wide. You will usually see them available in two sizes: 13w and 26w. Lifespan is between 6-12 months, depending on brand. For best results, use with a reflective fixture.

The best manufacturer of compact and coil fluorescent UVB bulbs in the US is Zoo Med.

Mercury vapor & metal halide bulbs

Mercury vapor and metal halide bulbs are unique because they produce heat, visible light, UVA, and UVB all in one bulb. This also makes them very appealing to most reptile keepers at first glance.

  • Mercury vapor bulbs (MVBs)project intense UVB and heat further than many other types of UVB bulb, making them popular for particularly tall enclosures. But even the best MVBs tend to fluctuate in output from one bulb to the next, and use a relatively short wavelength of UVB compared to other sources, which makes them potentially dangerous and distrusted by many experts. High quality bulbs can last 12 months or more.
  • Metal halide bulbsare extremely bright and have a particularly high UVA output compared to other UVB bulbs. Some consider them to be the best sunlight simulators, although they must be positioned at a greater distance than other bulbs for safe use. They also require external ballasts and a fixture that can cope with their high-voltage ignition pulse. Unfortunately, UVB production decays fairly quickly in these bulbs.

Although they seem convenient, mercury vapor and metal halide bulbs tend to be extremely limiting because they don’t allow for independent control of heat and UVB. This makes them a better fit for some reptiles rather than others, and requires the use of a Solarmeter and an accurate digital thermometer for safe positioning and use.

If you use mercury vapor or metal halide bulbs, you must use bulbs that were specifically designed for use with reptiles. Otherwise they can seriously harm your reptile. They also require lots of air circulation around the bulb to prevent overheating (no dome fixtures) and break easily when bumped during use.

The best mercury vapor and metal halide bulbs available in the US are by Arcadia and Mega-Ray.

Are brands other than Zoo Med, Arcadia, or Mega Ray okay to use?

At this point, the evidence is not strong enough for me to recommend other brands such as Zilla, Exo Terra, All Living Things, etc. Most are simply weaker than advertised or run out of UVB more quickly than higher quality options, or have inconsistent output. However, some (especially off brands you may be tempted to buy for cheap online) actually produce UVC radiation, which is VERY dangerous to your pet.

 

How to use your UVB bulb properly

Okay, now you know what UVB is, how it works, the different types of bulbs, and which brands are best. But if you don’t use your bulb(s) properly, all of this money and effort will be wasted and you could end up hurting or even killing your pet. So here’s how to do UVB rightin your reptile’s enclosure:

Placement is everything!

UVB bulbs should always be mounted on the ceiling of the enclosure, like the sun in the sky. But there’s more to it. When figuring out where to put your UVB, ask yourself the following four questions:

  1. Is the bulb installed over or under the mesh? Mesh blocks a significant amount of UVB.If your enclosure has a mesh ceiling, your UVB bulb and fixture should be installed on the underside of this mesh, not over it.
  2. Is there glass or plastic covering the bulb?Glass and plastic block all UVB. Remove any protective glass or plastic bulb covers that the fixture may have come with before using.
  3. Are the heat source and UVB lamp on the same side of the enclosure?Heat and UVB always go together. These two factors need each other for the reptile’s body to make the vitamin D that it needs, and keep in mind that in the wild, sunlight delivers both heat and UVB wherever it is found. So for example if your heat source is on the far left side of the enclosure, the UVB should also be placed to the far left so its beam overlaps with the beam of the heat source.
  4. How far will the UVB bulb be from your reptile? There is an inverse relationship between UVB strength and how far away your reptile is from the source. If closer, then the UVB it experiences will be stronger. If further, then the UVB it experiences will be weaker. Pay attention to the recommended distance listed on the bulb’s packaging, and position your basking areas accordingly.

Use the right fixture

Each type of UVB bulb needs a specific type of fixture to work properly. Follow the directions on the bulb packaging, and don’t try to take shortcuts. If the bulb is available in a kit that includes the fixture or the manufacturer offers a fixture that goes with the bulb, buy that one.

Don’t forget the reflector

Fluorescent UVB bulbs must be used with a reflective light fixture, and preferably one that has been polished to a mirror finish. Otherwise 50% of the UVB produced will go into the fixture rather than getting reflected down into the reptile’s enclosure.

Replace the bulb on time

UVB bulbs don’t last forever. Almost from the moment you turn the bulb on for the first time, its UVB output will gradually decline until it’s just an ordinary lightbulb. Don’t try to save money by using the bulb for as long as it produces light — look at the manufacturer recommendations (usually 6-12 months), write the purchase date on the bulb, and be ready to replace it when it needs replacement.

Give your reptiles opportunities to escape the UVB

In the wild, reptiles will seek shade when the sun gets too strong or when they’ve had enough for the day. Similar to how they move between warmer and cooler areas to thermoregulate, reptiles also photoregulate by moving from sunlight to shade and everywhere in between.

Your UVB lamp should not span the entire length of the enclosure, but rather only part of its length. John Courteney-Smith of Arcadia Reptile calls this “the Light and Shade Method.” The exact ratio of light to shadow will vary from species to species — for example, a bearded dragon will need its UVB lamp to be about 2/3 as long as the enclosure, but a leopard gecko’s lamp will only need to be 1/4 to 1/2.

Adjust your supplements

When you are using a UVB bulb at the correct strength for your reptile’s species, its body makes all the vitamin D that it needs, so you don’t need to supplement it in the diet. Use plain, D3- and phosphorous-free calcium powder for dusting on insects.

 

Conclusion

There will always be people who claim that UVB is “optional” or that certain species just “don’t need it.” But as our understanding of reptile health and husbandry improves, it is becoming increasingly clear that we must consider UVB not just a beneficial option, but a necessity, and included with heat, humidity, and other key elements as a requirement of adequate husbandry.

 

References and Resources:

These are the resources that I referenced while writing this mini-series. I was only able to skim the surface here, so I highly recommend reading through the following for more in-depth information on UVB and related subjects. However, pay attention to publication dates, as although these are great sources, some are more up-to-date than others.

  • How much UV-B does my reptile need? The UV-Tool, a guide to the selection of UV lighting for reptiles and amphibians in captivityby Frances Baines et al.
  • Fire — The Sun: Its Use & Replication Within Reptile Keepingby John Courteney-Smith
  • Evaluating the Physiologic Effects of Short Duration Ultraviolet B Radiation Exposure in Leopard Geckos (Eublepharis macularius)by Amelia Gould et al.
  • Effects of ultraviolet radiation on plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 concentrations in corn snakes (Elaphe guttata)by Mark J. Acierno et al.
  • An In-Depth Look At UV Light And Its Proper Use With Reptilesby Dr. Frances Baines, MA, VETMB, MRCVS
  • com
  • co.uk

About the author: Mariah Healey has been passionate about animal research from a young age. Today, she is a reptile husbandry specialist and the author of ReptiFiles.com, where she publishes her findings on the best practices in modern reptile care. ReptiFiles is the most comprehensive, accurate source of reptile care on the internet, boasting 15 science-based guides to date, with two more in active development.

  • Josh Halter
Introduction to UVB and reptiles, part 1

Introduction to UVB and reptiles, part 1

Introduction to UVB, part 1:

What is UVB, and Why is it Important to Reptile Husbandry?

Guest post written by ReptiFiles for use by The Bio Dude

Among experts, you can’t talk about reptiles for very long without bringing up UVB. And yet despite this essential component of reptile husbandry, there’s still a lot of misunderstandings and misinformation about it. The only way to get past confusion and misinformation on any topic is by seeking to understand how it works, so in this two-part article we’re going to talk about the basics of UVB: what it is, why it matters, and how to utilize it better in your own husbandry.

What is UVB?

When you think about our Sun, what comes to mind? If you’re like most, probably bright light, intense summer heat, and sunburns. But it’s more complicated than that. As a blazing ball nuclear fusion reactions, the Sun produces many different forms of energy, including little energy particles called photons. Photons move in waves at different speeds, and their speed determines how much energy they carry and how they function. This is called the electromagnetic spectrum:

  • Radio waves
  • Microwaves
  • Infrared light
  • Visible light
  • Ultraviolet light
  • X-rays
  • Gamma rays

As reptile keepers, we are most interested in infrared (heat), visible light (daylight), and ultraviolet light.

Infrared

Of the three, infrared is the lowest-energy wavelength. Humans can’t see infrared, and most reptiles can’t either, but we all feel it as heat. There are 3 types of infrared: IR-A, IR-B, and IR-C.

  • IR-A— Highest in energy. This is the primary type of infrared produced by the Sun, and penetrates deepest into surfaces like animal tissues. That deep, “ahhh” feeling you get when you step out into the sun on a nice day? That’s IR-A at work.
  • IR-B— Contains a medium amount of energy. This is the secondary type of infrared produced by the Sun, and penetrates surfaces well, but not quite as deeply as IR-A.
  • IR-C— Lowest in energy and does not penetrate very deeply into surfaces, if at all. IR-C is actually not produced by the Sun. It’s actually a byproduct produced when IR-A and IR-B wavelengths have come in contact with a surface that has absorbed some of their energy. This is the ambient heat you feel on hot asphalt or a warm summer night.

I’d love to go more into detail on this subject, as proper reptile heating is even more important than proper reptile lighting, but this is an article on UVB, not heat, so we’ll leave that for another day.

Visible light

Visible light is the range of wavelengths that humans perceive as light and color, between 400-700nm. The exact wavelength of visible light is what we perceive as different colors of light, which is measured in Kelvin. It is also associated with the light’s intensity, or brightness. Artificial light sources generally range from about 1,900K (dim and warm) to 10,000K (extremely bright and blue). Many consider 6500K to be optimal for best plant growth and truest color perception.

Ultraviolet light

Ultraviolet is the highest-energy wavelength that we regularly use as reptile keepers, and completely invisible to humans. Like infrared, UV is broken down into 3 distinct categories: UVA, UVB, and UVC.

  • UVA— With a wave length of 315-400nm, UVA is a low-energy form of ultraviolet. This light is invisible to humans, but it is visible to some animals, including reptiles. UVA can pass through glass and clear plastic.
  • UVB— With a wave length of 280-315nm, UVB is a high-energy form of ultraviolet. It is partially filtered by Earth’s atmosphere and is blocked by glass and plastic. It can damage cellular DNA with prolonged exposure, causing sunburn in humans. It is also essential to the process of vitamin D synthesis and metabolism in many animals, including humans and reptiles.
  • UVC— With a wave length of about 180-280nm, UVC is the highest-energy form of ultraviolet. This wavelength destroys DNA on contact, and would destroy all life on Earth if it weren’t completely filtered out by our atmosphere. For this reason, artificial UVC-emitting lights are often used for disinfecting in devices such as toothbrush cleaners and air purifiers. This process is known as “irradiation,” and no, it doesn’t turn foods or objects radioactive.
Why is UVB so crucial to captive reptile husbandry?

Although UVA is important to many aspects of reptile life and shouldn’t be ignored, it is always included in artificial UVB lamps, and again for the sake of brevity we have to focus on UVB from this point.

As mentioned in the previous section, UVB (combined with heat) is required for the creation of vitamin D, and in turn, it is required for the healthy function of many associated metabolic processes. After getting processed into its usable form by the liver, vitamin D plays essential roles in a reptile’s brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, bones, immune system, and digestive system.

Additionally, UVB exposure plays an important role in boosting immune response, stimulating beta endorphin production, and increasing pigmentation (color).

UVB lamps are expensive. Why not just give them vitamin D in their food?

  1. Because “homemade” vitamin D is more available for the reptile’s body to use, and thus more effective. In one study, corn snakes exposed to UVB had higher (read: healthier) levels of vitamin D than those which had no UVB lighting and only received vitamin D from their food.
  2. Because it’s too easy to overdose or underdose supplementary vitamin D. Unlike with humans (and even that understanding could still use some work), we don’t have enough data on the exact amounts of vitamin D that each reptile species requires per gram of weight at each stage of life. Vitamin D is toxic in large amounts, causing a variety of severe symptoms, including kidney damage, calcification of soft tissues, and premature death. Underdose results in the softening of bones, malfunction of the digestive tract, nerve damage, and premature death.
  3. Because cellular vitamin D production is self-regulating, so when adequate UVB lighting is provided, it is impossible for a reptile to develop a vitamin D deficiency or toxicity. The reptile creates exactly the amount of vitamin D that its body needs.

But isn’t UVB dangerous since it causes sunburns and cancer in humans?

A lot of people think of UVB as a bad thing because it causes sunburns, and the associated cellular damage can lead to skin cancer (thanks propaganda!). But humans needUVB.

The Sun is one of the essential elements that makes life on Earth possible, and all life has evolved in varying responses to the availability of this resource, protecting themselves from the bad while making use of the good. Reptiles evolved scales, birds have feathers, cats and dogs have hair, and humans have…well, we exchanged our body hair for clothes.

Most humans in the US are vitamin D deficient because we’re indoors all day and anti-skin cancer propaganda has us afraid to go out in the sun without sunscreen. Vitamin D pills help, but studies are indicating that we need way more vitamin D than previously thought in order to replace sunlight. If roles were reversed and reptiles were keeping pet humans, we would need artificial UVB lighting too.

Furthermore, reptiles will also move into the shade when sunlight gets too intense or they’ve had their fill. Even sun-loving lizards like bearded dragons, chuckwallas, and uromastyx do most of their basking early in the morning and then find a hiding place by midday when the sun it at its strongest.

But some reptiles don’t need UVB, right?

Wrong!

If you keep snakes or crepuscular lizards like crested geckos or leopard geckos, you may have heard people emphatically assert that these species “don’t need UVB,” that it’s a “waste of money,” that it “hurts their eyes,” etc.

This is a very outdated approach, and more folklore husbandry than scientific fact. In fact, a mounting number of modern studies are proving the benefits of providing UVB to captive species that don’t ordinarily get UVB. Remember the corn snake study I referred to earlier? That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Outside of formal research, many reptile keepers have observed daytime basking behavior in nocturnal species that have been provided with UV lighting. Although they may not bask as openly as bearded dragons and red-eared sliders, they will cryptically bask by strategically exposing parts of their bodies to UV while keeping the rest hidden. This is a strategy evolved in the wild to help them get benefits from sunlight without making themselves vulnerable to predators.

When in doubt, keep in mind that all reptiles are exposed to the sun at some point or other in their natural habitat. Even those that seem to spend most of their time in holes or caves are indirectly exposed to small amounts of beneficial sunlight that reflects off rocks and other surfaces in the environment and into their hiding space.

**I should acknowledge here that albino, thin-scaled morphs, and other reptiles with reduced or no pigmentation are more sensitive to UVB as well as visible light, and will need exposure reduced accordingly. They don’t need the same amount of UVB to get the same benefit. Normal levels of light and UVB can lead to sunburn, blindness, and cancer in these animals.**

About the author: Mariah Healey has been passionate about animal research from a young age. Today, she is a reptile husbandry specialist and the author ofReptiFiles.com, where she publishes her findings on the best practices in modern reptile care. ReptiFiles is the most comprehensive, accurate source of reptile care on the internet, boasting 15 science-based guides to date, with two more in active development.

  • Josh Halter
How many gallons is my enclosure? How do I figure out how much substrate that I need?

How many gallons is my enclosure? How do I figure out how much substrate that I need?

How many gallons is my terrarium? The complete breakdown for commonly available terrariums in the USA. Exo Terra, Zoo Med and Kages.com 

We hope this sheet will help you as the keeper figure out exactly what you need for the needs of your animal. Gallon size is very important when it comes to choosing the proper size enclosure for your reptile and amphibian. It is also very important to understand their needs as an animal, if they are arboreal, you want a taller cage. If they are terrestrial a longer, not so high cage may be needed.

Not sure which is best for your animal? Reach out to us and we can help you at customercare@thebiodude.com or 717-305-0684.

  • Josh Halter
Introduction to Bioactive Terraria

Introduction to Bioactive Terraria

Introduction into Bioactive Terraria

Joshua Halter

The Bio Dude

Thebiodude.com

20 May 2019

In almost every area of the world where life is supported, there are millions of different biological processes that happen right under our feet and above our heads. From biological decomposition of organic matter, to the different cycles that incur naturally in nature; our unique planet has many different tools for maintaining an equal balance between Earth, air, fire and water. To maintain these different balances each living organism has a unique role to play, in which it will either benefit the ecosystem or cause an abrupt change. To maintain life, there are different processes that  breakdown organic matter or follow through with unique cycles, such as the Oxygen, Nitrogen or Hydrogen cycle which create the water we drink and the air we breathe.  With that in mind, envision a forest floor; deciduous, tropical, temperate or even sparse desert environments all have different ways of getting nutrients back into the environment to maintain the efficacy and living conditions of the biome itself.  In this article, I will discuss how these different processes and cycles must be replicated, as closely as possible in a captive environment when keeping reptiles and amphibians as pets. Commonly kept in un-furnished, human décor terrariums, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates are wild animals, that have wild instincts, adaptations that must be nurtured and reinforced for the captive animal to have a natural, healthy well-balanced life. To mimic these cycles, creating a self-cleaning, bioactive terrarium is the best standard of care to keep reptiles and amphibians as pets. This  article will clearly explain different methods in which to do so.  

Since  the trade began gaining popularity around the 1970’s, there have been few  innovations when standards of care are concerned, but overall the hobby standard has plateaued with few innovations in care. Innovations in UVB from Arcadia Reptile, automatic misting systems from Mist King, nectar diets from Pangea Reptile, glass terrariums from Exo-Terra are all great examples of the innovation of the standard of care for the reptile hobby as a whole. However, when looking at the scale of substrates, instinctual nourishment, ability to provide live plants to herbivores or omnivores, nourishment of maintaining tunnels and burrows and other basic/most important husbandry aspects of reptile keeping have been stale and untouched. The term bioactive coined its name back in the mid 1990’s when Poison Dart Frogs became imported with the utilization of springtails and isopods in the Atlanta Botanical Gardens (ABG) mix with leaf litter and other organic matter mixed in to provide a self-cleaning, self-maintaining eco system. Since then, it has been very hard for hobbyists to replicate the same results themselves for different biomes, such as temperate forests, deciduous forests, plains, desert and even different types of neo-tropical habitats. Keeping reptiles and amphibians in a 100% organic, self-cleaning, self-maintaining setup will allow you to closely replicate their natural environment, which in turn nurtures the natural instinctual niches that make these animals so unique to begin with. Another great benefit to bioactive is the money saving aspect. While initially, you may spend more upfront, long term you will save a significant amount of money and time from not constantly replacing substrates and other terrarium accents. This one and done deal will maintain the entire life of the animal, as long as it is maintained appropriately.

When choosing to go bioactive there are many different avenues in which you can choose from to get started.  A solid understanding of the care, needs and diet of your pet reptile or amphibian is very important along with requirements. This is where your options become available to you. After selecting the appropriate size enclosure, figuring out what type of substrate to use is the next step. If you prefer to utilize your own, handmade mixes, it is very important to understand how well the soil drains, aerates and if you are going to need a drainage layer. If you do not want to create your own mixes, the Bio Dude is pleased to offer a full range of bioactive substrates to cater to the needs of each biome while taking the needs and instinctual niches of the inhabitants in to consideration. The drainage layer is the very first step when constructing a tropical or neo-tropical bioactive terrarium and can be composed of many different types of material: pebble rocks, clay pebbles (LECA) or growstone. If you are looking for a drainage layer that is very light, 100% natural with no glass that fully aerates and drains, the Bio Dude’s HydroGrow is recommended. The point of the drainage layer is to catch any and all excess draining water out of the substrate to prevent over saturation. Over-saturation will quickly ruin and kill your terrarium. Oversaturation will cause a buildup anaerobic bacteria(bad) which will outcompete the aerobic(good) bacteria causing a pH imbalance, soggy soil, root rot and a potential buildup of toxic methane as a byproduct in your terrarium. When maintained appropriately, your substrate will take on water. Excess water will fall through and sit directly into the bottom of the drainage layer. As long as the water line does not exceed the drainage layer into the substrate, the proper soil will maintain, cycle and flourish for the life of the animal. If the water level gets too close to the substrate, simply siphon out the excess water. A screen on top of the drainage layer can help to separate out of the soil and drainage layer. With the Bio Dude’s HydroGrow that is not necessary.  It is highly recommended with alternative drainage layers to use a screen to prevent the soil from mixing with the drainage layer.

 The soil is placed on top of your drainage layer (if a drainage layer was required), and if a drainage layer was not needed, placing the soil directly into the terrarium. Soil ingredients such as coco coir, peat moss, sand, charcoal, orchid bark, Spag moss and other things can all be used and mixed to your liking, but it is very important to know that the soil is aligning with the humidity and biome requirements. Poor soil consistency will quickly kill the terrarium and can even cause damage or death to the inhabitant. If you do not want to create your own mix, the ABG mix (mentioned above) is a great tool for very high humid terrariums, but that too will eventually breakdown into a very large orchid based substrate over time. The Bio Dude is very pleased to offer different substrates for different biomes. Terra Flora for your high humidity environments  (dart frogs, tree frogs), Terra Fauna for neotropical reptiles and amphibians(Crested Geckos, Day Geckos), Terra Firma for all temperate, deciduous or burrowing reptiles or amphibians (Ball Python, Corn Snake, Tegu), Terra Sahara for all desert species (such as Bearded dragons) and lastly Terra Aranea for all invertebrates such as spiders and tarantulas. Whether you choose your own mix, Bio Dude’s mix or another vendors mix be sure to apply at least a 2.5” substrate depth layer for tropical or neo-tropical and at least a 4”-8” depth for all desert and deciduous/temperate forest reptiles and amphibians. It is imperative to provide this deep layer as many of these reptiles and amphibians are burrowers and will quickly create a network of tunnels or burrows that they would naturally create in the wild.

 The Terra Firma, Terra Sahara and Terra Aranea will retain all tunnels, burrows and hides that your animals naturally create, further nurturing the natural wild animal instinct. It is very important to mix in valuable biodegradeables into you substrate. These biodegradeables breakdown over time to create organic nutrients for your soil and plants so the biome is constantly revitalized via natural, organic processes. These essential biodegradeables are broken down multiple ways. The first way, is via tiny organisms that live in almost every ecosystem on the planet. Springtails (wood lice) and isopods (rolly pollys). These important organisms breakdown wood, feces, shed, leaf litter, dead plants and other organic matter  and transform it into viable nutrients used by your soil. They will also play a pivotal part in aerating your soil. Another means, which it the method that the Bio Dude uses in his bioactive kits is the utilization of numerous types of fungi, mycorrhizae and archaea bacteria. They are many ecosystems’ backbone to proper change and development. They will breakdown organic matter on all levels of the terrarium via molds, slimes, mushrooms and other processes. As these microscopic processes breakdown matter, they create Nitrogen and other important organic compounds that are utilized by plant roots. These processes will also aid in the breakdown of shed, feces, dead plants, leaf litter, woods and mosses, slowly over-time creating your natural, bioactive ecosystem. The Bio Dude is very happy to offer a blend of all of these processes available called Bio Shot. You can readily find assorted biodegradeables at the Bio Dude or you can collect them yourself, as long as you know it is from a clean, pesticide, herbicide free area. Remember, whatever you put into your terrarium  will stay in your terrarium as it is a closed ecosystem.

Another benefit of a bioactive ecosystem is allowing the keeper to utilize live plant. Not only do many reptiles prefer to have live plants in the terrarium, but  it also provides many different types of benefits for them. When keeping your herbivores and omnivores on bioactive, it allows the keeper to purchase healthy edibles, such as various herbs or spineless cacti that your animal can naturally forage or graze directly in their terrarium. Not only does this nurture their natural instincts, it allows them to act like the wild animals that they are. Many reptiles will utilize the live plants as a hiding area (chameleons hide in live trees, tree frogs hiding under broad leaves) to help make them feel more secure and at home. While the live plants improve the air quality in the terrarium, many of them will also hold excess water in the roots, axils or on the leaves, giving your reptiles and amphibians more options for hydration.

Overall, bioactive is the best way to keep your reptiles as pets. When looking at pet reptiles as a whole, some keepers fail because they are not properly maintaining the big three when it comes to reptile husbandry. Proper shedding, respiration and hydration. When providing a proper bioactive environment it is very easy to provide the perfect care and husbandry these animals require. With a dense substrate that retains proper air pockets to aerate appropriately the substrate will have various humidity pockets in which your reptile can easily rehydrate, shed and have clean, fresh air in their terrarium. When keeping reptiles and amphibians as pets it is important to remember one thing: you want to provide the best care, not the basic care, using research driven practices and techniques. Providing all the essential elements of care will not only give your reptile a full life, but allow them to act like the wild animals they are by nurturing the wild instinct that makes them so unique as animals in the first place.

 

           

  • Josh Halter

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