Leopard Geckos

Care of Leopard Geckos

LEOPARD GECKOS (Eublepharis macularius) are gentle, hardy, long-lived lizards that have fascinated beginner and advanced reptile keepers alike. Their ease of maintenance, moderate size, and attractive appear­ance have earned them high praise and popularity in the pet industry.

Originally native to the deserts and dry rocky plains of Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, leopard geckos are now well established in captivity following decades of large-scale commercial propagation. As a result of selective breeding, several color and pattern varieties of leopard geckos are available. Wild-caught animals are occasionally available but are fairly uncommon.

Basic External Anatomy and Behavior

Unlike many other geckos, leopard geckos possess movable eyelids. They lack the adhesive lamellae on their feet that enable many other geckos to cling to glass or walls. Instead, on each digit is a small claw, suiting them well to a terrestrial lifestyle.

The dorsal body color is light to dark yellow with numerous black spots and blotches. Large tubercular scales are present on the rear of the head, back, tail, and extremities.

The ventral skin is plain white, and the colors and outlines of some abdominal organs and eggs in gravid females may be seen through this translucent surface.

Juveniles have a banded black and yellow pattern, with stronger contrasts and brighter colors than adults.  In adults the large tail serves as a significant fat reserve.

Adult males have a V-shaped row of enlarged pre-anal pores which produce a waxy secretion, and prominent hemipenal bulges.  Females lack prominent pores, having only very small pre-anal pits.  Hemipenal swellings are absent..

Restraint

A leopard gecko should not be caught or lifted by the tail; its body should be fully supported when it is handled. Leopard geckos have the capability of autotomy, or self-amputation of the tail, which they will execute when restrained or stressed excessively. A lost tail will take several months to grow back, and regenerated tails are never as aesthetically pleasing as the original. Replacement tails are usually shorter, with a simpler arrangement of scales and colors and a shape resem­bling the lizard’s head.

Housing Recommendations

Leopard geckos can be housed in groups provided there is only one adult male per enclosure. At least 200 square inches of floor space is recom­mended for a group of 2-3 animals, with a cage height of at least 6 inches.  The cage should be easy to clean with a screen top for adequate ventilation.  Standard 10-gallonaquariums or plastic containers as well as larger aquariums emphasizing horizontal floor space work well as enclosures.

Acceptable substrates include paper towel, newspaper, orchid bark, or fine sand, although the latter is controver­sial. Coarse sand, corncob, and walnut shell should be avoided, as they have been implicated in gastrointestinal impactions. Feces should be removed regularly and substrate replaced as necessary.

A moist hide box filled with damp sphagnum moss, cypress mulch, or vermiculite is especially important for both security and proper shedding. While these animals are well adapted to a dry climate, the lack of a moder­ately humid shelter will make a leopard gecko prone to dysecdysis (shed retention). A common shedding problem is retention of skin around the toes with subsequent toe loss.  This is especially true in leopard geckos that are not provided with a moist shelter.  Skin shedding occurs at regular intervals, and leopard geckos generally consume the shed skin

 

Table 1

Most Common Disorders of

Leopard Geckos

Intestinal parasites

Metabolic bone disease

Egg binding

Gastroenteritis/diarrhea

Sand impactions

Shedding problems

Loss of digits

Tail loss

Stomatitis

Respiratory infections

Rectal or hemipenal prolapse

Poor aim when catching prey

 

Table 2

Vital Statistics

Body length                                                    7-10 inches

Average body weight                                     45-60 g

Maximum body weight                                   100 g

Average lifespan                                             10-15 years

Maximum lifespan                                          30 years

Age of sexual maturity                                   10 months

Ambient daytime temperature                        75-80°F

Ambient nighttime temperature                      65-75°F

Preferred optimum temperature zone             84-88°F

Clutch size                                                      2

Breeding season                                              January-September

Number of eggs laid per year                          6-16

Incubator temperature                                     78-92°F

Incubator relative humidity                            75-100%

Incubation period                                            6-15 weeks

Heating and Lighting

Leopard geckos fare best at temp­eratures in the mid-80s°F. A gradient of temperatures should be available in the enclosure, from 70°F on the cool end to 84-88°F on the warm end. Heat should be provided by a heat pad, heat tape, or basking light. Avoid hot rocks or direct contact with heating elements or light sources.  For healthy geckos, a nighttime temperature drop is also important.  UVB or other supplemental lighting is not essential to these primarily noctur­nal lizards but can be used to enhance the aesthetics of the vivarium and may have a health benefit at low levels.

Diet

Leopard geckos feed primarily on live moving insect prey. Other commercially available diets have recently emerged, including dried or canned insects and frozen prepared meats; however, leopard geckos need to be conditioned to feed on these items, and some are hesitant to adapt to them.

The diet may consist of commercially ­raised crickets with smaller numbers of silkworms, roaches, mealworms, superworms, waxworms, and other live insects. Large leopard geckos will also con sume baby “pinkie” mice and other lizards, but these food items are not required. Prey items should be fed a high quality diet (“gut-loaded”) for at least 24 hours before feeding them out.

Live prey may be offered in shallow containers, which will prevent meal-worms from burrowing, reduce cricket dispersal in the enclosure, and reduce accidental ingestion of substrate.

Appropriate-sized prey items should be offered every 1-2 days for juveniles, and 2-3 times a week for adults. As a general rule, feed crickets with a body length no greater than the length of the gecko’s head and about half the width of the head. Feed no more than the animal will consume within 15 minutes, which usually amounts to 4-6 food items. Beware that hungry juveniles housed together may nip toes or tail tips off their cage mates.

Clean fresh water should be provided in a shallow container and changed daily.

Supplementation

A jar lid full of calcium powder should be available in the enclosure at all times and will be particularly relished by breeding females. While vitamin and mineral supplementation

is controversial, leopard geckos will tolerate a wide range of supplementa­tion regimens. Dusting prey items with a calcium supplement is probably beneficial. Prey are dusted daily for juveniles and every 2-3 feedings for adults.

Table 3

Annual Veterinary Visit Physical examination should reveal:

  • Alert and responsive attitude
  • Bright colors and a fat tail ~ Normal alignment of maxilla and mandible when mouth is closed
  • Digits free of old adherent skin
  • Nose and eyes clear of discharge
  • Eyes of equal size, not reduced or enlarged (“bug-eyed”)
  • Clean pink oral cavity

Fecal examination

Normal feces are dark and firm and are deposited in one corner of an enclosure (defecatorium). Sticky, soft, or excessively malodorous urates and feces may indi­cate a gastrointestinal disorder. Fecal analysis for parasites should include both a saline wet mount and a flotation.  White urates are prominent in these normally dark droppings.

Sexing

As juveniles, there is little visual difference between male and female leopard geckos. Interestingly, leopard geckos undergo temperature-depen­dent sex determination, which means the sex of the gecko can be predicted based on the temperature at which it was incubated as an egg. In tempera­tures from 78-82°F, the great majority of hatchlings will be female; from 85-87°F, there will be fairly equal ratios of males and females; and around 90°F, one can expect mostly males.

As adults, males have a V-shaped row of enlarged pre-anal pores along their inner thighs, whereas females have only small pre-anal pits. Males also have paired hemipenal swellings at the base of the tail, which females lack. Males are slightly more heavy-bodied and robust with a broader head and thicker neck than females.

Table 4

What Every Leopard Gecko Owner Should Know

  • Quarantine new geckos in a separate area of the house for at least 30 days.
  • House only one adult male in a group to prevent fighting.
  • Ensure a gradient of tempera­tures in the enclosure, from 70°F on the cool end to 84-88°F on the warm end.
  • Heat should be provided by a heat pad, heat tape, or basking light. Avoid hot rocks or direct contact with heating elements or light sources.
  • Avoid coarse sand, corncob, and walnut shell as a substrate.
  • Mist the hide box substrate daily, which promotes normal skin shedding.
  • Avoid picking up a leopard gecko by its tail.
  • Prevent free roam of the house and exposure to cats, dogs, or other predators.

Blood Collection and Anesthesia

Blood collection from leopard geckos is challenging, because excessive immobilization for venipuncture may cause them to drop their tails. Sedation using isoflurane is recom­mended for improved restraint, to prevent autotomy, and to obtain a cleaner and more accurate blood sample.

A small induction chamber (mask, clear plastic bag or small plastic container) is filled with 5% isoflurane and the gecko is left undisturbed for 10-20 minutes or until its righting reflexes are lost. Blood collection sites include the ventral abdominal vein, ventral tail vein, or cardiac puncture.

Leopard Geckos

Range

Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.  Most in the US are now captive bred

Selection

Choose a gecko that appears alert and if possible one that you see feeding.  Make sure the gecko is captive bred and not imported.  

Appearance

Adults attain a length of around 8 or 9 inches. Most adults have a yellow background with brown spots. Juvenile geckos have a predominantly striped pattern that fades to the spotted pattern with age. They also have a very obvious outer ear and eyelids.  Their feet lack an adhesive lamellae (meaning they can’t walk up vertical services).

Housing

An aquarium is a perfect home although many people have success with plastic sweater boxes. As terrestrial species, a long aquarium is ideal. A 20 gallon long aquarium is adequate for 3 or 4 geckos. Make sure that you only have one male per enclosure because they fight otherwise.  The substrate can be anything from sand to newspaper. Sand creates the most natural setup, and you can buy playground sand from any hardware store. Occasionally incidental sand ingestion leads to a blockage, so my preference for substrate is newspaper.  Rocks and logs can make the terrarium more natural looking and they provide your lizards with places to climb.  A hide box is also recommended to keep the lizard(s) feeling secure.

Lighting and Temperature Leopard geckos are a nocturnal species so UV lighting is not necessary. A simple spotlight/ceramic heat bulb with the appropriate wattage can provide both daytime light and heat. Daytime temperatures should be roughly in the 90’s under the heat source, with a gradient of lower temperature (80’s to room temp) as you get further away from this high zone.  Nighttime temps can go down in the low 70s. It’s best to provide any reptile with a temperature gradient in order that they can regulate their temperature by moving into or out of different temperature areas of the habitat.  Under-tank heating pads and hot rocks don’t generally raise the ambient air temperature in the tank and their surfaces often produce extremely high temperatures.

Feeding and Watering

Leopard geckos will thrive on insects. A staple of crickets along with occasional waxworms and mealworms make a good diet. To add a better variety cockroaches can be used along with “field sweepings” from pesticide free fields.  Adult geckos can also be fed an occasional pinkie mouse. Juveniles can be feed every day and adults every other day. Supplementation is a must for leopard geckos. Two supplements should be used: one that is just calcium/D3 and another that is a reptile multivitamin. Juveniles should be supplemented at every feeding and adults at every other feeding. Gravid females should also be supplemented at every feeding to make up for the large nutritional depletion caused by egg laying. These supplements are best delivered by “dusting” directly on the insects that are fed.  Simply put the insects and the powder in a plastic bag and shake.  Also, be sure to feed the insects a high quality diet so as to “gut-load” them and increase their nutritional value. It is better to feed them in a separate container to reduce the chance of impaction due to ingesting the substrate in the aquarium.  This also allows better monitoring of how much each gecko is consuming.

A shallow water dish should be provided at all times.  It should be cleaned and changed daily to prevent bacteria and fungus growth. Allowing leopard geckos access to a moist area is a good idea that aids in shedding. A hide box with vermiculite or sphagnum moss works well.  Even though they come from arid climates their burrows tend to have moderate humidity. Make sure that the overall cage isn’t wet or overly humid.

Breeding

Leopard geckos are relatively easy to breed. One male will mate with several females so people tend to keep them in groups of one male to 3 or 4 females. Pregnant females can usually be detected because of a bump on each side of her abdomen. If provided with a laying box females will tend to use it. Something like a cool whip tub with a hole cut in the side that is filled with moist moss or vermiculite will provide an attractive place for the females. Females will usually produce multiple clutches of eggs during a breeding season. The eggs should be removed and incubated in vermiculite with a 1:1 ratio of water to vermiculite by weight. A plastic shoebox inside of a ten gallon aquarium makes an adequate incubator. If incubated at 85 degrees they should hatch in around two months. A higher incubation temperature will produce more females although this may result in overly aggressive females. The newborn geckos will not eat until after their first shed (usually about a week).  They can then be started on appropriately sized insects. It’s also best to house them separately (plastic shoeboxes)  See section on reproduction for more detailed information..

Price

With so much captive breeding going on the price of leopard geckos has decreased dramatically. In pet stores they still usually cost between $60 and $70.

Sexing Leopard Geckos

There is very little sexual dimorphism (appearance) between males and females. In general, males are more heavy-bodied than females, with broader heads and thicker necks, and have a V-shaped row of pre-anal pores at the ventral aspect of the thighs.  These pores exude a waxy substance.  Hemi-penal bulges can be seen at the base of the tail of sexually mature males. Females have pre-anal pores which are not filled nor exuding the waxy plugs. Some experts can sex juveniles as early as one month of age with some degree of reliability (using a 10X magnifying glass).

Temperature-Dependent Sex Determination in Leopard Geckos

Studies have confirmed that the sex of leopard geckos is temperature dependant. If the eggs are incubated at a temperature of 79F, virtually all of the offspring will be female. At a temperature of 85F, one can expect roughly equal numbers of males and females. At 90F, the great majority of the hatchlings will be males. At 92F, the hatchlings are virtually all males. Females that have hatched from eggs incubated at high temperatures, called “hot females”, will be unusually aggressive and demonstrate male behavior traits, making them unsuitable for breeding.  When large-scale breeding is the primary goal, selecting for females is preferred because they can be kept in groups.

Male leopard geckos are harem breeders. Ideally they should not be kept with no less than 3 females. Being territorial and aggressive over breeding rights, two males should not be kept together. Females generally get along with other females and males, but should always be monitored because there can be incompatibility. Incompatibility may result in outright attacks, or more subtly preventing (actively or through intimidation) others access to food, sleeping, basking, etc.  When this occurs, the individuals must be housed separately.

This is an overview of leopard gecko care. Some recommended reading is:

Brant, Bill. “Leopard Geckos” Reptiles, pg. 16-22, April 1994.

Coborn, John. Snakes and Lizards…Their Care and Breeding in Captivity. Tetra Press. 1987.

de Vosjoli, Philippe. The General Care and Maintenance of Leopard Geckos and African Fat-tailed Geckos. Advanced Vivarium Systems.1990.

Seufer, Hermann. Keeping and Breeding Geckos. T.F.H. Publications, Inc. 1991.

Husbandry for leopard gecko

I recommend pet stores not sell insectivorous pets unless or until they can provide 10-20 kinds of insects to feed them. Here in the US I recommend www.zoofood.com for soft billed bird/insectivore fare. It takes work to convince a healthy insectivore to eat it, harder yet for an ill specimen.

The “Corn Dog” Method of Carnivorous Lizard Dietary Improvement (THIS DOES NOT REFER TO IGUANAS)

Nearly all carnivorous lizards (eat only animal food sources, not plant sources like omnivorous iguanas) eat a wide variety of foods. Even the purely insectivorous (eat insects) species rarely eat only one type of insect and no other. Many lizard feeders, however, come to rely on crickets and/or mealworms as the sole diet. The main reasons for this are that crickets and various types of mealworms are readily available. There are a wide variety of insects in the usual insectivore’s environment, and nature rarely allows an insectivore to make her diet of only one favorite food. In addition, arboreal (tree dwelling) lizards such as geckos usually encounter only the softer types of food such as caterpillars(yummy and juicy, with minimal chitin) and flying insects which rely on flight for protection instead of a hard shell.

There was once a nice little book out there called “Live Foods for the Terrarium and Aquarium” published by TFH publishers (number PS-309) which any pet shop could order for you. Soft grubs are available from a company called Grubco. If you call them at 1-800-222-3563 they will accept your credit card number and place your standing order for Wax Worms or other low chitin succulents to be delivered to your door as often as weekly. In addition, serious zoologists use the Carolina Biological Supply catalog for sources of wingless fruit flies and the like. They can be reached at 1-800-547-1733.  Zoos are using an artificial diet called “Insectivore Fare”, formerly “Reptile Fare” from Reliable Protein products (760-321-7533 or zoofood@att.net). Here’s where the “corn dog” system comes in. In order to convince an insectivore to eat artificial diet, I recommend that you begin by using the “shake ‘n bake” method, that is, take your crickets or mealworms, moisten them and apply powdered Insectivore Fare by shaking in a bag. When you have the pet used to the presence of the insectivore fare in its diet, become more aggressive and make little Corn Dogs. That is, the mealworm or cricket is the hot dog, and the Insectivore Fare is the coating. It takes a bit of practice with the insectivore Fare, moistening it just enough to make it doughy and applying it to the “hot dogs”, one at a time. The last steps involve a bite size mass of Insectivore Fare with perhaps a head or leg sticking out, and finally the Insectivore Fare alone, without the “hot dog” (insect) at all! A client recommended drying some Fare and powdering it, then sprinkling the powder in a wet insect to cause it to adhere. Try that and let us know how well it works for you. If you feel a need to apologize to the mealworms or crickets, do it now. If need be, use cotton string attached to the food bit and wiggle the food like a fisherman would do to attract a fish to bite. It worked for Christy, who advises dancing the stringed food along the cage floor.  Sometimes little cricket or mealworm “spread” on the outside of the Insectivore Fare makes it more familiar to the pet.  Be persistent because it takes time to change the diet.

Sulcata Tortoises

Care of Sulcata Tortoises (African Spurred Tortoise)

(Geochelone Sulcata)

Home Range: Northern parts of Africa, ranging from the southern edge of the Sahara down through the arid countries, including Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, the Sudan, and Ethiopia, up through the dry, hot Massaua coast bordering the Red Sea.

Sex Determination: Little morphological difference between males and females. Males may be larger than females at breeding age. Bred females may show a polished carapaces from the contact with the male’s plastron.  Also female’s may have a slightly flatter carapaces and slightly concave plastrons vs. males. There is no significant difference in tail size or shape between the sexes.

Males and females both can be quite aggressive with each other.  Male’s may ram and attempting to flip each other over after they reach sexual maturity (@ about 14 inches carapace length).  Bloodied and often severely injured heads and limbs may result from repeated ramming.  Unless their outdoor area is extremely large, housing multiple males together should be avoided.

Heating and Housing: Overhead heating with a basking lamp (ceramic bulb that produces only heat) is more natural for the tortoise, as in the wild they would get their heat from the sun, above.  In rare instances heat from below can cause digestive upset and related problems.  Make sure your basking source is not of a too high a wattage for the enclosure size and type.

Size- as large as you can make it, but minimally, about 2 feet long X 1 foot wide for a hatchling.  Air flow from two sides (this means that glass terrarium enclosures are not ideal).  Larger specimens need to be housed outdoors (if weather permits).

Lighting: Natural sunlight (not through a glass window or plastic, etc.).  When indoors- we recommend using a MegaRay mercury vapor UVB bulb.  Replace bulbs every 6 months (unless tested and still effective).  Usually after six months your bulb will still shed light but the UVB rays may be gone.  Use an automatic timer to turn the lamp on and off per recommended light cycles (10-12 hours of light a day).

Temperature: Use a digital thermometer with a probe (Radio Shack).  Measure the temperature in various areas in the enclosure, at the level that the tortoise occupies.  Do not use the stick-on reptile thermometers (not accurate).  In a small enclosure it is difficult to make a hot zone and a cool zone (which is another reason that an enclosure that is too small is inappropriate.  Preferred temperature range is up to 105F degrees in the hot zone and 80-85F in the cool zone.   

Behavior: Sulcatas need to burrow away from the heat and do so by retreating to their pallets or into muddy wallows where they will stay for hours, flipping cool mud up onto their backs. Typically when environmental temperatures exceed 104 F, they will begin to salivate and smearing the saliva on their forearms to help cool themselves down (by evaporation).

Soaking/Humidity: Juveniles- soak at least 3 times/week.  Hatchlings, newly acquired tortoises, and yearlings – every day or every-other-day.  Considered a juvenile (from a hatchling) at about 1 year of age.  An adult should be still soaked 1 time/week.  The water should be lukewarm and no deeper than the bottom shell (plastron).  Use a plastic kitty-litter pan as a “bath tub” (the tortoise can see out over the rim).  Soak for 5-10 minutes.  Large tortoises should be provided a shallow outdoor pool for soaking and wading.

Substrate: It is important for your tortoise to be able to burrow.  If housed outdoors this is easy.  For juveniles (housed indoors) CareFreshÒ and Yesterday’s News both are absorbent, unlikely to be consumed, and hygienic choices to allow digging.  Many other inappropriate bedding options are available, but should be avoided for health reasons.  You should put about two to four layers of newspaper on the bottom of the enclosure under any substrate.  It is also important to provide a hide box placed in the “cool zone” of the enclosure. A cardboard or plastic box works well.  Sulcata’s are active during the day and need room to exercise.

Feeding Schedule: It is crucial NOT to overfeed your tortoise greens, cactus, flowers, and pellets. @ 0-12 months: one feeding per day is plenty @ ¼ cup.  @  >12 months: no more than ½ to 1 cup.  As full-grown adults the ration is increased.  At all stages of life, unlimited grass and grass hay should also be allowed.  Slow, Steady, growth is the key to a healthy tortoise.

Diet: Mostly (75%) a variety of grasses, weeds, and clovers.  NEVER offer iceberg lettuce.  Sulcatas have a high fiber requirement.  They graze in the wild, and are voracious eaters who consume grasses, weeds, and other hard-to-digest plant matter.  Do not offer fruits. In place of fruits (as a treat) offer Opuntia cactus and berries (seasonal).  Opuntia cactus is also known as “Prickly Pear Cactus” or “Nopales”.  There are about 200 varieties of Opuntia, but they are all edible.  The remaining (25%) diet can be a mixtures of dark leafy greens such as turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, chicory, watercress, mulberry leaves, grape leaves, dandelion greens and blossoms (untreated with pesticides), edible flowers (nasturtium, geraniums, hibiscus leaves and blossoms, rose petals and shrubs).  If you feed kale and collard greens, only do so once in a while in small amounts.  Avoid chard, spinach, broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, green beans or beans of any kind, corn, sprouts, tomatoes, or any legume or other high-protein vegetable.  Avoid feeding too much goitrogenic vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage and bok choy. In excess, these can impair thyroid function and cause goiter.  Greens high in calcium oxalates (parsley, spinach, rhubarb, beet greens, collards, carrots, etc.) should be avoided in excess as the oxalic acid binds calcium and can lead to metabolic bone disease.  Sulcatas respond to bright colors, so always include at least one vividly colored food in your selection. This also means that you must keep brightly colored foregn objects away from them!

Supplementation: A tortoise on an ideal diet (grass/hay and dark leafy greens) probably does not need any vitamin/mineral supplementation.  However, juveniles in particular often are aquired in a nutritionally depleted state.  Any tortoise that is young and housed indoors should probably be offered a calcium-only supplement  (phosphorous-free) on a daily basis sprinked on the greens.  A multivitamin can be offered once to twice a week.

Outdoor Housing: When you eventually (inevitable based on size) move your tortoise to your yard, you want to make sure that the grass is natural (no pesticides or fertilizing agents).  These stong tonrtoises require a large area in which to freely roam.  Ensure a sturdy fence that can withstand digging and burrowing (sink it into the ground).  For a detailed list of which plants are edible for the tortoises, the California Turtle & Tortoise Club link is a good place to start  www.tortoise.org/general/edibplan.html.  For a detailed list of which plants are poisonous or toxic, use  www.tortoise.org/general/poisonp.html.  Provide adequate shelter in case of inclement or cold weather.  Cold, damp, and rainy weather may be dangerous.  Provide an insulated shed with a access ramp for shelter.  Also provide heating in the shed (either pig farrowing heat pads or heat lamps hung from the ceiling).  Protect smaller tortoises from predators.  House tortoises indoors during rainy weather and at night if needed due to cold and/or damp conditions.  Take care to make sure the tortoise will not climb over an obstacle and flip over.  A tortoise who is upside down for a prolonged period (if it is not able to right itself), can become dehydrated, overheated and even suffocate.

Special note on predators: Animals such as raccoons, opossums, dogs and cats may harm a tortoises (sometimes just in play).  Tortoises kept in front and easily accessible side yards are enticing for these predators.  Make sure all fencing is secure, to prevent the tortoise from escape and unwanted visitors from coming in.

Medical, & Vet Info: Immediately after acquisition, take your tortoise to a qualified reptile vet for an exam and consultation.  Many tortoises (especially new ones) are infested with parasites or have respiratory illnesses that require treatment.  Weight your tortoise once a month.  Annual examination (especially pre-hibernation), fecal examination, blood work and in some cases, survey radiographs (x-rays) are recommended to pick up on illness early in the course of disease.  Tortoises, as prey species, tend to hide their illness until it is very advanced, so a tortoise who acts in any way abnormally or stops eating or defecating should be seen immediately.

Quick Facts

Size:                                      up to 24-30” (60-75 cm) in length

Weight:                                  80-110 pounds (36-50 kg)

Longevity:                               Up to 54 years

Dimorphism:                           Mature males develop reverted marginal scales in the front

Temps:                                  85-105 F (29-40 C) day, 70s F (21-26 C) night

Maturity:                                Typically full growth within 15-20 years

Comments:

  1. Raise the temperature to the high end of the range to help with immune function
  2. Soak twice a week
  3. Scrub the underside of his shell after soaking twice a week
  4. Bring in a fresh fecal sample for testing
  5. Bring in your uv-b light for testing
  6. Re-check if he declines or is not returning to normal

Breeding

Copulation may take place anytime from June through March, but occurs most frequently right after the raining season, during the months from September through November. During the several copulation events which may take place each day, the female is weighted down by the much larger and heavier, and rather vocal, males. The females stay in one place during the event, with movement restricted to a side-to-side shifting of the hind quarters.

Soon after mating (generally between September and December), the developing eggs take up increasing room inside the female’s body. Food intake will decrease. Restless behavior will be noted as the female begins to roam the compound looking for suitable nesting sites. For five to fifteen days, four or five nests may be excavated before she finally selects the location in which the eggs will be laid. The site is generally in one of the trial nests. The digging may start like the usual pallet digging, but the female soon turns around and continues to dig using her hind legs.

Loose dirt is kicked out of the depression, and the female may frequently urinate into the depression. Once it reaches approximately 2 feet (.6 m) in diameter and approximately 3-6 inches (7-14 cm) deep, a further depression, measuring some eight inches (20 cm) across and in depth, will be dug out towards the back of the original depression. The work of digging the nest may take up to five hours; the speed with which it is dug seems to be dependent upon the relative hardness of the ground. It usually takes place when the ambient air temperature is around 78 F (27 C). Once the nest is dug, the female begins to lay an egg every three minutes. Clutches may contain 15-30 or more eggs. Tortoises in warmer climates where they are outdoors most of the year may double clutch. After the eggs are laid, the female fills in the nest, taking an hour or more to fully cover them all.

Eggs incubate in the ground for eight months. They have been successfully incubated in captivity, using enclosed containers half-filled with vermiculite and water in a ratio of 1:1-2 by weight, or in open containers in chick incubators with water replenished as needed. Both the closed container and the incubator were opened once a week to allow fresh oxygen to reach the eggs. Incubation temperatures ranged from 82.5-84 F (28-29 C), with hatching taking place between 118-156 days later, with some hatchlings emerging as early as 92 days; one zoo reported hatchlings emerging as late as 170 days later (Stearns). The length of time from the first pipping to actual emergence of the hatchling from the shell may vary as well, from 24-72 hours. Some have almost no yolk left, while still others have a sizable yolk sac still attached, as much as 25% of their total mass. Such hatchlings are placed on damp paper towels in individual covered containers and maintained at 84 F (29 C) until the yolk is absorbed.

Hatchlings

Hatchlings are 1.5-2 inches (4-6 cm) carapace length. They are somewhat long and narrow, oval-shaped, weighing less than one ounce (20-25 gm). Their scutes are pale yellow, almost sandy colored, bordered in brown. Hatchlings have been observed with supernumerary scales, additional and often irregular or asymmetrical scales on their carapace. Hatchlings are aggressive right from the start, and quite active, starting their ramming behavior when just a few days old. Anything may be subject to ramming, including furnishings in their enclosures.

Hatchlings may be maintained indoors in aquariums. Keep them on paper pellets (Yesterday’s News) in order to keep a clean environment.  Half of the enclosure should be placed on a heating pad enabling the hatchling to thermoregulate itself.  In addition, a heat lamp to provide a focal basking spot with a 105-110 (40-43 C) basking surface temperature should be provided in one corner of the enclosure on the warm side. To provide the necessary ultraviolet B exposure, hatchlings kept inside must be given 10-12 hours a day exposure to UVB-producing lights.

Hatchlings may also be housed outdoors during the day during clement weather in an enclosure suitably protected against entry or damage from predators. As with outdoor enclosures for adults, hatchlings must be provided with cooler retreats and food for foraging.

Hatchlings may start feeding right away or may not eat for the first couple of weeks; the first defecation may take longer. Food should be put out right away, however, and each day thereafter until it starts feeding. Once it starts feeding, food should be offered every other day, with any leftovers removed from the enclosure. Food selection of hatchlings tend towards more succulent plants; offer dark greens such as collards, kale, dandelion, grasses. Analysis of self-selected hatchling diets showed them to be composed of 4% protein, 5% fiber, and 71% carbohydrate, with 76 calories per 100 grams.

Many breeders, veterinarians, and researchers believe that no animal protein, other than what they may incidentally pick up while grazing out of doors, need or should be given to hatchlings or adults.

Twice weekly, hatchlings housed in enclosures should be bathed in shallow tepid water. Short, fifteen minute soaks helps to stimulate elimination.

Hatchling vs. Adult sulcata

Hatchling vs. Adult sulcata

 

Red Eared Sliders

Care of Red-Eared Sliders  

Trachemys scripta, T. s. elegans

(Adapted from Melissa Kaplan’s Red-Eared Slider Handout)

Natural History

Yellow-eared and Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys [Chrysemys] scripta; T. s. elegans,) are found throughout the United States east of the Rockies. They are the sliders is the one most often sold in pet stores here in the U.S. and abroad. These fresh water turtles spend much of their time in the warm waters of their native habitat. While they are strong underwater swimmers, these sliders spend much of the warmer hours of the day hauled out on logs or rocks (or, when very small, on marsh weeds and other aquatic plants) basking in the sun. All of the sliders are omnivores, eating both animal protein and vegetable/plant matter. Younger turtles need up to 40% of their food from protein sources; adult turtles feed more heavily on vegetation. In the wild they begin by eating tiny fish and amphibian larva, water snails and a variety of plants growing in the water and on land.

It is illegal in the U.S. for pet stores to sell any turtle that is less than four inches (10.6 cm) in length (this is problematic for those few turtle species whose full adult size is 4″ or less!). The ones soldlegally must be at least four inches long from the neck end of the carapace (top shell) to the tail end of the carapace. If male, it will be somewhere between 2-4 years old and already sexually mature. Wild females reach maturity later, between 5-7 years, and will then be over 5 inches (12.7 cm) in length; in captivity, females may reach maturity at about 3 1/2 years. You will be able to tell male from females: males are smaller than females in overall body size but have longer tails.

As with all wild-caught reptiles, the animals found in pet stores have been under stress for some time. As a result, they are most likely suffering from protozoan and bacterial infections, including Salmonella which is easily transmitted to young children. Additionally, they are usually emaciated and dehydrated due to long periods of time without food or water or being held in areas too cold to stimulate the appetite; many of these turtles will not eat when they are stressed or frightened, and cannot eat when they are too cold. As soon as you can after you take your turtle home, scoop up a fresh fecal sample and take it and your turtle to a reptile veterinarian. While the feces is being tested, the vet will check out your turtle for signs of nutritional deficiencies, topical bacterial or fungal infections, beak overgrowth, respiratory and eye infections – all very common in wild-caught animals (and in captive turtles who have not been provided with the proper environment or diet). Make sure your turtle is given all the medication prescribed by the vet. If you have trouble administering it yourself, take your turtle back to the vet to have it done. If maintained at the proper temperatures, fed a healthy varied diet and kept in a stress-free active environment, your turtle may outlive you: some individuals have lived more than 100 years.

Creating the Proper Habitat

All sliders need both a warm, dry area and a large pool of warm water. In the wild, they chose water that warms up quickly in the sun each day. You will need to provide a warm enclosure with both heated water and a warm place for your turtle to climb out and dry off. The water must be kept clean; rotting bits of food mixed with feces will combine to make an unhealthful habitat and a sick turtle. Turtles are messy eaters and defecate in their water, so cleaning will be an almost daily routine.

Tank

For the smallest turtles, start with at least a 30-50 gallon (113-189 liter) glass aquarium (see Waterbefore you rush out and buy that 30 gallon aquarium you saw on sale!) . If you are not interested in actually being able to watch your turtle swimming around under water, you can use a suitably large opaque plastic container such as a large plastic storage box bottom, concrete mixing bin or deep kitty litter pan. You can use clean aquarium rock and gravel to build a slope up from the wet end (the pool) to the dry end (the land). You can silicone together pieces of Plexiglas to make a moveable platform onto which your turtle can crawl onto to rest. Floating or anchored cork rafts or logs are another alternative. Rough rocks must not be used as they can scratch turtle shells which allows bacterial and fungal infections to get started and penetrate into the turtle’s body.

Note: one of the biggest mistakes aquatic turtle keepers make is not providing a body of water that deep, long and wide enough for their turtle. The minimum size required for a 4″ turtle will not work for a 6″ or 8″ (15 or 20 cm) aquatic turtle, and certainly not for a full grown one. Since turtles will grow relatively quickly when they are cared for properly, you should start off with an enclosure size big enough for your turtle to comfortably grow into for at least 1-2 years. That will give you some time to think out, plan, and build the turtle’s next, much larger, enclosure.

Think two turtles are better than one? Assuming they are compatible, it can be nice for your turtles to have one another for company. But two turtles require an even larger enclosure than a single turtle. So, unless you are prepared to keep and service giant enclosures for turtles who can easily reach the size of dinner plates, rethink getting two…or even one.

Water

The water must be at least 1.5 to 2 times your turtle’s total length (called carapace length, or CL) in depth, with several extra inches of air space between the surface of the water to the top edge of the tank to prevent escapes. The tank length needs to be at least 4-5 times the CL, and the front-to-back width should be at least 2-3 times the CL. So, for a turtle who is 4″ CL, your enclosure water area must be at minimum 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) deep, 16-20 inches (40-51 cm) in length, and 8-12 inches (20-31 cm) in width. As you can see, if you are going to have a land area at one end as well as sufficient water area, you need something much larger than a 10-20 gallon (38-76 liter) tank. See Reptile Housing: Size, Dimension, and Lifestyle for the dimensions of standard aquaria and other enclosures.

Keep in mind that if your turtle is not yet full grown (hint: if he is not yet as large as a dinner plate, he is not full grown), you not only need to provide room in the tank (water and land) for him the size he is now, you need to provide additional room to allow for future growth.

Water Filter

Proper water filtering systems are necessary to keep the water fairly fresh between your weekly changes. If you have a powerful filter system and you feed your turtle in another tank, you may be able to get away with replacing 25-50% of the water each week for two or three weeks, emptying and cleaning out the tank thoroughly every third or fourth week. Remember to replace the water with warm water. Talk to your aquarium shop about the following types of filters that are suitable for Red-Eared Sliders: canister, undergravel, sponge, and power filters. You will also need some type of automated siphon for the partial changes of water between the overall heavy-duty changes and cleaning.

Water Heater

The water temperature must be maintained between 75-86 degrees F (23.8-30 C). If you buy a submersible pre-calibrated heater, test it first and make sure the water is the proper temperature before you put your turtle in the water. Too cold and it won’t eat; too hot and you’ll cook it. Buy good quality an aquarium thermometer and monitor the temperature regularly.

Area Heating

If the room the turtle is being kept in is always over 75 F (23.8 C), then you will only need to heat up a basking area, rather than heating up the room, too. Using an incandescent light or spot light, allow the area closest to the light to reach 85-88 F (29.4-31 C).

Make sure there is absolutely no way for the light to fall into the water or for the turtle to come into direct contact with the light bulb. Be aware that the light will heat up the water to a certain degree so be sure to monitor the water temperature.

Young sliders, and any sick turtle, should be kept warmer (water temperatures between 82-85 F) than the average healthy adult. Sustained low temperatures (between 65-72 F [18.3-22.2 C]) will cause turtles to stop feeding and respiratory infections may result.

If the room is not warm enough to provide the turtle with the proper air temperature gradient, you will need to supplement the heat, providing another source of heat which may be used day and night in addition to the basking light. One alternative is to use a ceramic heat elements (CHE). CHEs screw into regular incandescent sockets and come in a variety of watts, and last a very long time. Safety warning: you must install CHEs into porcelain light sockets. These devices throw enough heat upwards to melt plastic sockets.

Note: Don’t guess at the water or air temperatures. Reptile species have very specific temperature ranges during the day and during the night. If your guess is off, that will make the difference between a reptile that thrives, and one who merely survives – or dies. Use thermometers.

Special Lighting

On sunny days when the outside temperatures are warm, feel free to put your turtle outside for a while for some sunshine. Either move your turtle tank outside (so long as it is not a glass enclosure, which can overheat to the point of causing fatal hyperthermia), or set up a secure outdoor enclosure for your turtle to sun and soak in, or set up an indoor enclosure complete with a UVB-supplemented basking and a swimming area. The latter will be required if you cannot regularly get your turtle outside or otherwise safely exposed to sunlight (not filtered through plastic or glass), or live where the amount of natural UVB is not sufficient year round to enable your turtle to make the amount of pre-vitamin D it needs to ensure adequate calcium metabolism.

Keep in mind that, in the wild, when turtles get too hot when basking in the sun or upper layers of sun-heated water, they simply dive into deeper, cooler, water or move into a cool pocket of wet bankside overhung with plants providing shade. So, while it is great to give your turtle some direct sunlight, you must guard against it getting too hot, which can result in fatal hyperthermia. If you cannot provide a suitably cooler retreat area your turtle can go to when it gets too warm, and you can’t keep a direct eye on your turtle to watch for signs of overheating, don’t put it outside. Enclosures are like automobiles: the temperatures inside reach 20-30 degrees hotter than the outside air temperature, making the inside potentially lethal on mildly warm days.

Exposure to a high output ultraviolet B (UVB)-producing light, such as a uv-b mercury vapor bulb, is considered mandatory by most reptile experts. UVB exposure is an essential part of the calcium metabolization process, and calcium deficiencies are very common in captive turtles. Many herpetoculturists use UVB-producing bulbs because of their importance in calcium metabolization but also because the UVA they produce may have subtle psychological benefits such as improved appetite, since many reptiles see into the ultraviolet range.

Electric Shock Hazard

As with tropical fish, there is a danger of electrical shock–to you and to the turtle–when using electric filters, water heaters and lamps in and around the tank of water. All electrical cords should be connected to a ground-fault interrupter which shuts off the current if anything happens. Buy one at your local hardware store. Do not use bulbs with higher wattage than your light fixture is rated for (in other words: no 100 watt bulbs in 60 watt fixtures). Turtles will investigate and knock things about. You must secure your water heater behind an immovable wall or partition to turtle-proof it.

Feeding Your Turtle

To ensure proper nutrition, strong growth and a healthy long-lived turtle, feed a varied diet to both adults and juveniles. Just remember that adults eat less animal protein and more vegetable matter. Juveniles must be fed every day; adults can be fed once every two to three days. Do not feed more than they can eat; the excess food will go to waste and foul the water. Feed a combination of the following foods:

Commercial diets (No more than 25% of total diet)

Trout Chow, commercial floating fish, reptile or turtle food (pellets, sticks or tablets). The pellets and sticks have the advantage of being formulated specifically for reptiles and don’t decompose in the water as fast as other foods.

Animal Protein (No more than 25% of total diet)

Live feeder fish–do not feed defrosted frozen fish; they are deficient in thiamin and excess consumption will cause a thiamin deficiency in your turtle. Earthworms–buy them from a reptile or aquarium store; do not feed the ones from your yard as they may contain bacteria, parasites and pesticides against which your turtle has no immunity. Finely chopped raw lean beef, beef heart and cooked chicken are okay for treats, but are not appropriate as a major part of a balanced diet for whole prey eaters. Raw chicken and beef is too often riddled with Salmonella, E. coli and other food-borne organisms. High quality dog kibble can be offered occasionally as treats, too; like muscle meat, dog and cat foods are not appropriate when used as a significant portion of a turtle’s diet.

Plant Matter (50% or more of total diet)

Offer leaves of dark leafy greens such as collard, mustard and dandelion greens. Offer shredded carrots (and carrot tops), squash and green beans. Thawed frozen mixed vegetables may be used occasionally, but care should be taken as some frozen green vegetables develop thiaminase which destroys that all-important B vitamin. Fruit can be offered (in smaller amounts) shred hard fruits like apples and melons, chopping soft fruits such as berries. To help keep their beak in trim, let them gnaw on pieces of cantaloupe with the (well washed) rind still attached. Check out the edible aquatic plants sold at aquarium stores, too. You can drop these into their enclosure for them to free feed upon.

Vitamin Supplements should be added twice a week. Use a good reptile or turtle multivitamin. Turtles must also be supplied with additional calcium; they often enjoy taking bites out of calcium blocks and gnawing on cuttlebone, so always have some available to them.

Health

Watch your turtle for any signs of illness: cloudy, closed or swollen eyes; swollen cheeks; open mouth breathing; bubbly mucous around the nose or mouth; runny stools; loss of appetite; listlessness; spots appearing on plastron (bottom shell), carapace or body; soft shell or excessive shedding.

Newly acquired turtles are under a lot of stress and may be riddled with bacterial or parasitic infections that may be passed along to you or your kids. One of the reasons for it being illegal to sell turtles under 4″ in the U.S. is that, once the law was passed, it greatly reduced the number of hospitalizations and deaths of children whose parents did not realize that most turtles carry Salmonellae, which is irregularly passed through their feces into their water, and onto their shells and skin. Read up on proper precautions to take to prevent infection of children and immunocompromised adults.

Always take a sick turtle to a reptile veterinarian. Reptile vets are an important part of keeping healthy reptiles healthy, and helping sick ones attain health. Many people don’t want to spend more for a vet visit than they paid for the animal. A good rule of thumb for all animals, especially ‘cheap’ ones, is: if you can’t afford the vet, you can’t afford the pet.

Make sure to have your children checked out by their pediatrician if they begin to exhibit any signs of illness (nausea, stomach aches, vomiting, diarrhea).

Handwashing Hint: One way to get your children to make sure they are vigorously rubbing their hands with soap (including between their fingers and under and around their fingernails) is to have them sing the Happy Birthday song two times in a row. Depending on how often they wash their hands, you might eventually want to encourage them to sing softly, or sing it in their heads. Decrease the risk of infection by using a liquid soap in pump bottle instead of a bar of soap, and disposable paper towels for drying the hands and turning off the water faucet.

 

Acclimation And Handling

After bringing home and placing your turtle in its already-established tank, let it get used to its new surroundings for several days. It may spend the first couple of days closed tight in its shell, or may quickly withdraw when it sees you looming overhead or approaching the enclosure.

During this time, put fresh food out every day and make sure the water stays warm and clean. After a while, the healthier turtle will begin to explore its surroundings, and may begin to watch the goings-on around it. When you pick up the turtle, support its body with both hands. Turtles feel more secure when they can feel something beneath their feet; “swimming” in air is stressful to them. Let them feel your hands or fingers beneath their feet, not just their plastron (bottom shell). A two-handed carry will also help ensure that they will not suffer a potentially crippling–or fatal–fall.

When your children’s hands are big enough, teach them the proper way to hold and carry the turtle and how to properly wash their hands after handling the turtle. If they have been playing with any other animals before they go to handle the turtle, they should wash their hands before handling the turtles, as well as afterwards.

Generally speaking, turtles are not appropriate pets for young children. The higher risk of infection aside, the care and feeding is more complicated than is generally thought, and the daily maintenance of the enclosure, enclosure apparatus and feeding soon gets boring for most kids. (Some adults, too, are dismayed to find that they can’t just stick the turtle in a box or tank of water or let them loose in their yard, tossing lettuce to it once in a while.) When obtained for a child, the parent must acknowledge and accept their primary responsibility for the care of the turtle and routinely check it regularly for any signs or symptoms of illness.

Scientists believe that many cold-blooded animals, especially turtles and tortoises, can live almost forever as they show no signs of aging as they get older. They die from being successfully attacked by one of their few natural predators, from the poisoning, intolerably alteration or destruction of their natural habitat, and from improper care in captivity.

Ornate Horned Frogs (Pacman Frog)

Ornate Horned Frogs (Pacman Frog)

Ceratophrys Ornate

This info-sheet is meant to cover only basic care, for in-depth information on the species, please consult: The General Care and Maintenance of Horned Frogs by Philippe de Vosjoli  or Keeping and Breeding Amphibians by Chris Mattison

Size: Grow up to 7 inches in diameter, females up to 1lb.  Males are smaller.

Habitat: Montaine rain forests of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay. Need hiding places: moss, plants Should live in at minimum a 10 gallon aquarium.  Don’t need a lid, because they don’t jump high.  Use pebbles (large enough that they won’t swallow them) and build on a slope so that there is a shallow pool area and a beach area.  Water and cage setup needs to be changed minimally once a week.  The simpler the habitat, the easier to effectively clean.  Ideally substrates should be purchased through a pet store, as self-collected samples can be dangerous to the frogs due to infectious contamination with bacteria/fungus/parasites.  Provide a hiding area.  Use bottled spring water or de-chlorinated tap water.  Avoid de-ionized or r/o water.

Humidity: 80% is ideal.  Mist 1-2x a day, or use an air stone in a clean water source to accomplish this

Temperature: 75-85 degrees during the day and 70-75 degrees at night.   Radio Shack makes a digital thermometer with a probe that can be used to measure the temperature in multiple areas of the terrarium.  A digital humidity guage is a good idea as well.

Lighting: UVB (full spectrum) lighting should be used 12 hours a day with a timer (bulbs need to be replaced every 6 months).  Natural (unfiltered) sunlight is the best, and should be used when the climate permits them to bask outside.

Activity: Diurnal (daytime) or sometimes crepuscular (dawn). All frogs sleep with their eyes open

Aestivation: During this “summer-hibernation” they don’t shed, but form a hard plastic-like outer skin that traps moisture.  Usually they dig under the substrate and don’t move or eat.  During this time they breath through the skin.

Diet: Other frogs, insects, small birds, lizards, rodents, beetles, worms, fish. Adults should eat 3-4 times a week.  Juveniles should be fed daily. Dietary variety is important.  Prey need to be gut-loaded with a high quality insect food.

Colors: Red, brown, black, tan, and green.

Life span: 5-6 years in captivity.

Handling: Minimize handling.  It is better to wear rubber gloves because the oils on your skin can be toxic to them.  As with all amphibians, they are very sensitive to aerosols and chemicals.  Rinse all habitat furniture thoroughly before using.  After cleaning substrate/cage, rinse all detergent or other chemicals thoroughly with tap water and allow to dry before returning to cage.