How Do Snakes Eat?

Even if you’ve never owned a pet snake or seen one up close in real life, we bet you’re aware that snakes can swallow food that is much larger than their head in a single bite. How cool is that? But, how do snakes eat other animals?

As humans, we not only cut up our food into manageable portions, we also chew it until it is the proper consistency to be swallowed. It’s hard to imagine trying to swallow an entire cow or even an entire carrot whole, but that’s what snakes do.

How do snakes eat?

So, how are snakes able to eat this way without choking? What unique adaptations do they possess that allow them to eat so efficiently? Well, if you’re curious about this topic at all, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’ll cover topics from how a snake’s jaw is built to other special traits they have in order to be such powerhouse eating machines.

how do snakes eat
Snakes are able to eat food that is literally larger than their own head. They have special jaws that give them an enhanced range of movement. This photo shows a Hog Island Boa (Boa c. imperator) consuming a mouse. This particular snake is a picky eater and therefore had to be fed a live mouse rather than one that had been frozen.

What do wild snakes eat?

As is the case with many wild animals, snakes are opportunistic eaters and usually will eat a variety of food based on what types of prey can be found in their vicinity. Keep in mind that all snakes are carnivores though, so there are no species that eat plants or vegetable matter.

Most mid-size snakes will eat small vertebrates, usually mammals. Ground-dwelling rodents such as mice, shrews, voles, rats, and even moles are all excellent meals for snakes in the wild. However, mid-size snakes are also not afraid to indulge in appropriately-sized vertebrates such as frogs, toads, small birds, and even other snakes!

Larger snakes can obviously eat larger food. North American species that don’t grow to extremely large sizes will eat chickens, lizards, rabbits, and other large rodents.

Some of the larger snake species (i.e. boas, pythons, and anacondas) can eat large game animals such as deer, boar, and even goats. However, this is usually reserved for jungle-dwelling species that eat wild game animals.

green anaconda
Snake species such as this green anaconda (Eunectes murinus) will grow so large that in time they will eat small game animals!

We’ve covered what large snakes eat in the wild. But, what do tiny snakes such as ringneck snakes and blind snakes eat in the wild? What prey items are small enough for these nearly earthworm-sized reptiles to consume?

Well, many will eat small invertebrates in place of vertebrates. Small insects like cockroaches, crickets, and even worms are all on the menu for these itty bitty snake species.

Notice anything in particular about this list of prey items? All of them are listed as “prey” and not “food.” This is because snakes actually won’t eat dead matter. They will only eat living food, or in the case of snakes we keep as pets, food that they perceive to be living prey.

How does a snake’s jaw work?

The jaw of a snake is very different from the jaw on mammals and other reptiles such as lizards and tortoises. Most mammals and reptiles that are not snakes have a skull and a lower jaw bone called a mandible.

These two main bones are generally fused together and unable to perform too broad of a range of movement other than opening and closing and perhaps a little shifting from side to side.

Snakes have jaws that are much more flexible and capable of a broad range of movement. This is because instead of two pieces that are fused together, the jaws of a snake are comprised of three pieces that are held together by much more flexible tendons, muscles, and ligaments.

Snakes have a top skull bone and two bottom jaw pieces that are actually not fused together at the chin. Instead, these two bottom jaw pieces are held together by muscle allowing each side of the jaw to move independently of each other.

Getting into the nitty gritty anatomy of a snake’s jaw, the upper bone and lower bones are connected via the quadrate bone. This special bone behaves like a hinge and allows for the snake’s jaw to open 150 degrees!

This means that any snake can open its mouth to swallow food that for all intents and purposes appears too large for it to eat.

snake jaw
This diagram shows the inner workings of a snake’s jaw. Notice the quadrate bone and how it behaves like a hinge allowing the snake to open its jaws to such a wide angle.

One myth that we’d like to clear up regarding a snake’s jaw bones is that a snake’s jaw can actually come unhinged or detached. This is not true. Snakes don’t detach their jaw bones on command.

As we’ve already discussed, they simply have special adaptations that make their jaws extremely flexible and this makes it appear that the jaw detaches.

If you’ve ever witnessed a snake eating, you’ll know that although you’d think it would be a very slow and tedious process, most snakes eat very quickly and will consume their prey in under five minutes.

This is because once the jaws have opened over the prey, the snake’s curved teeth grab the prey and make sure it doesn’t slip forward and out of the snake’s wide open mouth.

The snake then secretes a lot of saliva and lubricates the food while “walking” its jaws forward over the prey one side at a time. The digestive muscles then take over the remainder of the process and push the food further down the digestive tract and proper digestion begins.

How do snakes catch their prey?

If snakes have no arms, legs, or even claws of any sort to catch prey, how then do they capture food to eat? What special abilities do they have to make up for their lack of arms and legs?

As we’re sure you’re aware, some species of snakes are venomous. They have long, hollow, front fangs that grab prey and inject them with venom that allows the snake to eat the prey item at its leisure.

Examples of venomous snakes that most Americans are familiar with are vipers, coral snakes, and rattle snakes.

Did you know that each species of snake actually possesses its own special venom type? The effects of the venom can vary by species, but there are three main types – neurotoxins, cardiotoxins, and hemotoxins.

Neurotoxins affect the nervous system and generally cause respiratory function to cease. Cardiotoxins affect the prey’s heart, causing the muscles to deteriorate and eventually make the heart stop beating.

Hemotoxins cause blood vessels to rupture which results in widespread internal bleeding.

Boa dumerili
This Dumerils Boa (Boa dumerili) is a typical constrictor. It will suffocate its prey before eating it and does not possess fangs like venomous snakes.

When a venomous snake is not biting something, its hollow fangs fold back into the snake’s mouth. This is because if the fangs didn’t lie flat, the snake would either be incapable of closing its mouth or its teeth would puncture through the bottom of its own face.

Most other non-venomous snakes are constrictors, meaning that once they lunge and grab their prey, they begin to squeeze the animal until it has suffocated to death allowing the snake to eat freely. Each time the prey inhales, the snake’s coils tighten and the prey is unable to take another breath.

So, whether the snake injects venom or squeezes its food to death, it’s clear that lacking limbs poses no problems for these reptiles when it comes to grabbing a meal.

How should I feed my snake in captivity?

Snakes are usually not hard to feed in captivity. Most smaller species will happily eat mice their entire life, while the larger constrictor species will eventually move onto rats.

If you’re squeamish about feeding a living rodent to your pet snake, luckily most snakes will eat pre-killed frozen rodents. All you need to do is keep the frozen rodent in your freezer until it’s meal time for your snake and then you de-thaw it.

We usually allow our frozen mice to thaw in warm water, but you can also just allow them to sit out until they’ve completely thawed. Just be sure to NEVER put a frozen rodent in the microwave!

You will have disastrous and rather messy results and end up with a snake that goes hungry.

Sometimes, snakes can be picky eaters. This is usually only true of the ones that are wild-caught. Captive bred snakes will generally accept frozen/thawed rodents with no issue.

If you do end up with a picky eater, you can certainly feed it living rodents. Pet stores sell feeder mice specifically for this very reason. There will be a few extra steps to the feeding process though.

First of all, we don’t recommend throwing a live mouse in with your snake in its normal enclosure. No matter if you’re feeding a live rodent or a frozen one to your snake, we highly recommend transferring your snake to a new enclosure for the feeding process.

This helps your snake to associate being moved to a specific area with feeding time and helps develop a schedule. It also trains your snake to recognize that not every time the cage opens means feeding time and will help minimize accidental striking and biting.

So, the first step when feeding a live rodent is to transfer your snake to a separate feeding container. Once you’ve done this, we recommend stunning your live rodent. This process is certainly not for the faint hearted.

There are many ways to stun a rodent, but many snake owners will strike the mouse against a hard surface to knock it unconscious. The rodent should be stunned because like any animal, it will fight for its life and this means that if your snake doesn’t consume the rodent immediately, the rodent could actually gnaw on your snake and inflict wounds that will get infected.

If you are simply unable to stun your snake’s dinner, then always stick around for the entire feeding process and make sure that the mouse or rat is not injuring the snake in any way.

If your snake turns out to not have an appetite, which can happen often if the snake is preparing to shed, then always remove the rodent from the enclosure and return your snake to its normal enclosure. Never leave the rodent around assuming the snake will eventually eat it.

There are also specific species of snakes such as egg eating snakes, water snakes, and tiny snakes like ringneck snakes that don’t eat mice. Obviously, egg eating snakes eat eggs.

They’re specialized eaters and won’t eat rodents no matter how hungry they are. Water snakes might eat rodents, but usually they eat small reptiles and amphibians in the wild, so we recommend offering feeder frogs and even feeder fish.

green water snake
Specialized snake species such as this green water snake probably won’t eat rodents like a “traditional” pet snake. We recommend doing your research before you purchase any species of snake to be sure that you can properly address its food requirements.

If you ever happen to end up with a snake that proves to be a troublesome eater, we actually wrote an entire blog article dedicated to offering tips and tricks to get them to eat. You can find that particular article here.

Conclusion – How do snakes eat?

Snakes are fascinating reptiles and watching your pet snake eat is usually quite a spectacle. Most snake owners genuinely enjoy observing the feeding process and it’s a huge reason many reptile hobbyists choose to care for snakes.

We hope that this “How do snakes eat?” article has taught you some things about how snakes have evolved to be able to eat food that is much larger than their own head. We think it’s a really cool adaptation and we never grow tired of feeding the snakes we keep at Backwater Reptiles.

 

 

Why Pet Reptiles Aren’t Considered Domestic Animals

Are reptiles domestic animals?

Anyone who reads the Backwater Reptiles blog is more than likely a reptile owner or at least curious about getting a pet reptile. But did you know that even though there are tons of species of reptiles sold to hobbyists that these animals are not domesticated?

Many are not even technically tame. They are still exotic pets even if certain species are commonly sold at large, chain pet stores.

Time and time again we get emails from Backwater Reptiles customers or even just reptile owners who ask us how to make their snake, lizard, or turtle calmer or more accepting of human interaction.

But in truth, pet reptiles have not been around long enough to be tame and domesticated in the same manner that cats, dogs, and even rodents are.

In this blog article, we’ll touch upon topics ranging from why some reptiles just don’t like being held to how to work on taming your own pet.

domesticated blue tongue skink? Perhaps not.
Blue tongue skinks, like the one pictured, are generally fairly docile. But just like human beings, reptiles have various temperaments and moods. As you can see, this skink certainly was not in the mood to be removed from its enclosure.

What constitutes a domestic animal?

Through monitored reproduction and selection for specific traits, humans have created animals that are so different from their wild ancestors that they are not usually suited to live without the assistance and help of humans. Domestic animals usually have specific purposes such as being cultivated for food, raised for companionship, or even to work alongside of people as helping hands.

We’re all familiar with dogs and cats. Clearly, these animals are intended to be companion animals or pets to people. Everything from their size to their personalities indicates that they are meant to live side by side with humans, usually in such a personal manner that they even share our beds.

Dogs and cats are just one example of a species that has been bred through generations in order to coexist with people symbiotically. Both humans and the domestic animal benefit from this relationship. In the case of dogs and cats, the benefit to people is usually just camaraderie and company, however sometimes specific dog species are bred to work on farms, to serve as service animals, or even to protect people. While the benefit we get from pets is pretty  clear cut, the animal also benefits by being given food, a home, and protection from the elements.

french bulldog
Believe it or not, this French bulldog puppy’s ancestor was the wolf. Through human selection, this breed has become domesticated and drastically altered from its ancestral form in order to suit the needs of humans. Reptiles have not undergone this process yet and are thus not considered domestic animals.

So, because reptiles haven’t been kept by people long enough to be bred for generations to retain specific traits that make them anything other than more colorful than usual, we can’t truly classify them as domestic.

However, that doesn’t mean that individual pet reptiles don’t get along well with their human owners. Many become tame and can behave like a dog or cat. If you continue reading, you can find out the difference between what makes an animal tame and what makes it domestic.

“Tame” versus “domestic”

We’ve already covered the definition of a domestic animal and explained why reptiles simply don’t fall into this category at this point in time. But you might be wondering about the tegus, iguanas, and bearded dragons who come running up to greet their family members just like your average dog. Why aren’t these pet reptiles considered domesticated?

The answer is simple really. Although individual pet reptiles can certainly grow fond of and acclimated to people, they have not been bred in captivity for many generations and altered from their wild state in order to suit the needs of people. A lizard, snake, turtle, or tortoise that enjoys human companionship has become tame and docile rather than domesticated.

A good way to look at the difference between tame and domestic is to again draw from a source that we are familiar with – the pet dog. The wild ancestor of the dog is the wolf. Dogs are descendants of wolves that have been selectively bred through many generations by people to express very specific traits that we desire. With the exception of a few species, dogs no longer resemble the wolf in either disposition or appearance. On the other hand, if you capture a wild chameleon, iguana, or alligator lizard, it will look much the same as a captive bred specimen. There will be little to no physical difference other than specific examples where certain species have been bred a few generations to exhibit definitive color morphs.

Captive breeding of reptiles

We’ve already mentioned that certain species of reptiles are captive bred in order to display different morphs. A few common examples are corn snakes, leopard geckos, and bearded dragons. All of these reptiles are available through breeders in a multitude of unique and special morphs that change their color but no other physical attributes.

This is different from the selective breeding of a domesticated animal because usually these morphs only have to go through two or three generations in order to achieve the genetic makeup that causes their coloration to be different from their “normal” brethren. Furthermore, other traits such as docility, work ethic, companionability, etcetera are generally unchanged. We selectively breed these reptiles just to aesthetically please us.

Which species of reptile are the closest to tame and domesticated?

We would like to point out that there are many species of reptiles that tend to be more docile. This can be because the species is more laid back in general or it can be because the parents were captive bred.

If you wish to have a pet reptile that you can hold, pick up, and train to eat from your hand, we do have a few recommendations.

Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularius) – Leopard geckos are very commonly sold at pet stores as well as specialty breeders. They are available in a seemingly endless number of morphs including a “jumbo” size. They are very docile as a species and are overall pretty healthy because nearly all of them are captive bred.

Corn Snake (Elaphe g. guttata– Like leopard geckos, corn snakes are commonly available at large pet stores. You can get many morphs that result in colors ranging from lavender to bright red.

albino cornsnake
Corn snakes, like this little albino beauty, are usually captive bred. This means they are accustomed to humans and are actually healthier overall. As you can see, holding a baby corn snake can be quite fun!

Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) – Beardies love being held! They love to sit on your shoulder, lap, or near your warm laptop computer. They are very hardy lizards and feeding time is always fun.

Argentine Black and White Tegu (Tupinambis merianae) – Although they can be a tiny bit skittish as hatchlings, tegus will generally warm up to their owner and become very tame. When mature, they reach large sizes and can be trained to behave much like a pet dog.

Savannah Monitor (Varanus exanthematicus– Keep in mind that although Savannahs are very cute when young, they eat voraciously and grow to large sizes very quickly. Be prepared to provide a very large enclosure and lots of attention as these lizards truly enjoy going for walks outside with their owner and being given plenty of attention in the form of baths, petting, and other interactions.

My reptile doesn’t like being held. How can I train or teach it to be more docile?

First off, we’d like to say that not all reptiles can be tamed. This is particularly true of the species that already have ornery dispositions and double true of species that have been captured from the wild and not bred in captivity. Again, reptiles are not tame or domestic animals so there is never a guarantee that your pet will like being held or handled.

Patience is key when it comes to teaching your reptile good manners. You will need to devote time to taking him or her out of the enclosure and socializing with people. Be warned – you’ll likely experience some aggression if you’re working with an animal with a poor disposition and snakes tend to be particularly prone to nipping their owners when first being removed from the cage. Our best advice is to wear gloves if your reptile has sharp teeth or you are afraid of being injured.

pictus gecko
One way to help tame your reptile is to adopt it as a baby. Start handling him or her from a young age and it will be easier to get it accustomed to you.

Don’t be deterred if it takes time for your reptile to become accustomed to you. In addition to patience, you’ll need to be calm, collected and ready to confront your pet’s mood swings with compassion and understanding.

A very useful trick to use when acclimating your reptile to people is to associate the cage opening with feeding time. Most reptiles love to eat and if you teach your pet that treats come when the cage opens, they will receive positive reinforcement and become used to being picked up. Just be sure that you avoid getting your fingers in the pathway of your reptile’s mouth!

If you want more specific tips and tricks on picking up your pet lizard or picking up your pet snake, we wrote blog articles about both topics.

Which species should I avoid if I want a pet reptile that behaves like a cat or dog?

Snakes can be somewhat jumpy or nervous when you remove them from their cage. Sometimes it’s because they’re being woken up from sleeping and sometimes it’s just because you accidentally took them by surprise. However, there are certain species that are actually known for their aggressive nature such as anacondas and a few species of pythons.

Many small lizard species also don’t like interacting with people on a regular basis. Smaller lizards tend to be flightier because they have more natural predators in the wild. They will view you as a predator and most likely try to hide or become aggressive. Many of them are too small to inflict pain or draw blood if they attempt to bite, but it’s best to avoid causing any unnecessary stress to your pet if it’s not necessary.

Here’s a short list of lizards that make rewarding “look not touch” pets:

Anoles – These little lizards are known for being great beginner lizards. They are inexpensive, pretty, and overall healthy little critters. However, they usually don’t like being held and would much rather hide from you than play with you.

Tokay Gecko (Gekko gecko– While very colorful and striking at maturity, Tokays are actually known for being particularly grumpy. They can pack a pretty mean bite when they feel threatened and they don’t particularly enjoy the company of people either as babies or adults.

Ameivas – Although ameivas are bright and colorful lizards, they are extremely fast and pretty agile. Most of the time, they will bolt and try to hide if you attempt to pick one up. They thrive in captivity but we do recommend that you give them space and don’t try to interact with them on a frequent basis.

Conclusion

Ultimately, reptiles of all species are NOT domestic animals. Many are not even tame. When you adopt a pet reptile, you should understand that these creatures still have their wild survival instincts in tact. They will do anything to survive ranging from dropping their tail, biting, snapping, and hissing at you, and even defecating and/or urinating on you!

baby bearded dragon
Bearded dragons are one species that nearly always has a friendly disposition towards people. We recommend them if you want a mid-size lizard that enjoys being held.

Not all reptiles have bad manners though and many can be worked with to develop good habits. If you are willing to put forth the effort to tame your reptile, you’ll find that they can make quite entertaining and rewarding pets.

How to Set Up a Chameleon Cage Habitat

We love chameleons at Backwater Reptiles. In fact, we specialize in these quirky, colorful, and always fascinating lizards. If you’re wondering how to setup a chameleon cage habitat or enclosure, you’ve come to the right place.

We’ve bred and hatched thousands of chameleons over the years, everything from common species to extremely rare. We’re experts on everything from breeding, feeding, and even hydrating these reptiles and we’re going to pass our knowledge on to you!

Many people are drawn to the bright complexions of chameleons and their ability to alter their color, but they don’t always take the time to research and find out the specific needs of their new pet lizard.

What might seem like common sense to experienced herpers is often like learning a foreign language to new reptile enthusiasts. They often need help getting started. That’s where this blog article comes in!

Not only will we provide written instructions on how to set up your pet chameleon’s enclosure, we’ll explain to you why things need to be done this way. And we’ve even thrown in a video tutorial for good measure!

So read on to find out how we set up our chameleon cages at Backwater Reptiles as well as learn some tips and tricks even if you are an experienced chameleon owner.

Overview of setting up your chameleon’s cage

Before you get into the nitty gritty specifics as detailed in writing below, we wanted to give you the chance to watch a video we made detailing how to set up the perfect enclosure for your pet chameleon. Watch the tutorial video and then read our FAQs for even more details!

What type of cage should I get for my chameleon?

Unlike many species of reptiles which will thrive in glass tanks, all chameleons (with the exception of the pygmy chameleon) should have a mesh or screen cage.

Although there are cages that have mixed glass and mesh walls, we recommend an enclosure that is completely screens with no glass walls to ensure your pet chameleon’s optimum health.

Are you wondering why your chameleon should have a mesh cage? The answer is simple really – ventilation. A glass cage prevents air from circulating properly and creates a stagnant environment within the chameleon’s home.

If the air doesn’t circulate properly, your chameleon can develop a respiratory infection due to stagnant, humid air. Once an infection takes hold, they’re not easy to eliminate.

If you’re wondering where to find a specialty chameleon cage, you can purchase them right on our website–the same ones we use so successfully. Each chameleon page has a supplies section if you scroll-down just a bit.

Many types and brands of chameleon cages exist, but we usually go for ones that give easy access to the animal with secure latches and swinging doors on the front. Some will also have sliding screen tops, although we prefer the front access kind.

simple chameleon cage setup
This is a classic chameleon cage. Notice how it has an aluminum (no corrosion) frame and all screen walls. Chameleon cages shouldn’t have glass walls to encourage air circulation.

Usually we also prefer mesh cages that have two separate swinging front doors – a larger top door for gaining access to your chameleon itself and a smaller, lower door. The lower door is opened to slide out your cage liner so you can wipe up dead insects and any feces that might collect.

Backwater Reptiles has a simple selection of cages and cage requirements that you can purchase at the same time you buy your pet chameleon. As mentioned, just scroll down a bit on any of our chameleon pages.

What size enclosure should my chameleon have?

Most chameleons are relatively small lizards with the exception of a few species such as Oustalets chameleons (Furcifer oustaleti), Parson’s chameleons (Calumma parsonii), and Mellers chameleons (Chamaeleo melleri). This means that you can house most species in small to medium-sized cages.

Babies and juveniles obviously don’t need as much space as their adult counterparts. In fact, we recommend smaller cages for babies because it can be hard for them to find their food source (i.e. catch the tiny crickets and fruit flies that they eat) in such a large cage.

However, there are certain instances where you can get one size cage and keep it for the entirety of your chameleon’s life.

Most common species of adult chameleons that are kept as pets such as Jackson’s chameleons (Chamaeleo jacksonii), Panther chameleons (Furcifer pardalis), and Veiled chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus) do just fine with a mid-size cage.

We recommend an enclosure that is eighteen inches deep by eighteen inches wide and thirty-six inches tall for sub-adults and adults. However, smaller cages can be used successfully.

Panther chameleon cage
Here’s one of our more prolific Ambilobe Panther chameleon breeders (a male). Females are much less colorful–you can see one on the left side of the picture.

Notice that the cage we recommended is more tall than it is wide? That’s because chameleons are arboreal species and they will spend most (if not all) of their time up in the branches and foliage you provide for them. You’ll very rarely, if ever, see your chameleon on the floor of the cage.

This means that height is far more important than floor space when keeping a chameleon’s life style in mind. More height means that the chameleon has more room to thermoregulate.

It can choose to be up high close to the heat source and UV lights to bask or it can descend further down into the enclosure to cool off.

What kind of accessories are safe to put inside my chameleon’s enclosure?

When it comes to decor and accessorizing your chameleon’s cage, we’re of the mindset that natural is beautiful. In other words, although it might not harm your chameleon to add cute little cage decorations, there certainly is no benefit to doing so.

We prefer our set ups to mimic the conditions of the chameleon’s natural habitat as closely as possible, which means plants and vines are our go-to accessories.

We recommend either artificial or living plants as your main cage decor. This is both practical and aesthetically pleasing. Chameleons needs lots of foliage to climb on as they are arboreal lizards and having plants inside the cage will satisfy this need.

Many cage set ups actually come with some artificial vines and foliage and these are perfectly acceptable options.

If you do choose to go with living plants, please make sure that you are not buying a toxic plant. Below is a list of a few species that we have used successfully in our set ups at Backwater Reptiles:

Hibiscus – This tropical plant has fairly large, green leaves and very gorgeous flowers when it blooms.

hibiscus
This is a mature hibiscus plant growing in the wild, but you can purchase much smaller, potted hibiscus plants from your local hardware store.

Ficus benjamina –  This species of fig is commonly known as the weeping fig, Benjamin fig, or even simpler yet, the Ficus tree. Although this “plant” will eventually grow into a tree, if you purchase a young one at a hardware store, it will last you many years inside your chameleon’s enclosure.

Pothos Plant – Considered by many to be a classic house plant, the pothos plant is very easy to care for. It will grow quickly and “outward” unless you give it something to grab on to though, so we recommend a sturdy stick or branch to make it grow upwards within your chameleon’s cage.

Schefflera arboricola – We highly recommend this species if you want living plants in your chameleon cage. This species does very well under stress and doesn’t require much care to thrive.

The verdict – although we think living plants are more aesthetically pleasing, they can also add another layer of care to your chameleon set up. Not only will you have to care for a chameleon, but you’ll also have a plant to water and provide sunshine for.

Plastic foliage requires no additional care and is also easier to spot clean for feces and dead bugs.

What type of lighting and temperatures will my chameleon need?

Make sure that you provide a UVB light for your chameleon. It should sit atop the cage. You will also need to make sure that the foliage and climbing areas within the enclosure allow the chameleon to be within six inches of the UV light.

This distance is important because you don’t want to allow the chameleon to get too close to the light because it could unintentionally burn itself. But on the opposite side of the spectrum, if your chameleon can’t get close enough to the light, it won’t be able to properly absorb the rays and synthesize the vitamins that help it to develop strong bones.

At Backwater Reptiles, we prefer to use Zoo Med Reptisun 5.0 bulbs. We’ve had great success with these bulbs and we highly recommend them whenever people ask us. You can purchase the ones we use right on our website.

One quick note regarding all UV lights, whether they are used for a chameleon cage set up or for some other reptile – they need to be replaced every nine to twelve months. They lose their efficacy if you don’t replace them. We recommend changing sooner rather than later if you ever have doubts.

As far as temperature is concerned, we’ve found that room temperature tends to be just fine for most species of chameleons unless your ambient room temperature drops below seventy or above eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit.

You can provide a basking heat lamp in addition to a UV light. The ambient temperature around the basking area should be between one hundred and one hundred ten degrees Fahrenheit. You should invest in a reptile heat gun in order to monitor both your ambient cage temperature as well as your basking spot temperature.

Does my chameleon need a water dish?

The shortest answer to this question is no, your chameleon does not need a water dish.

Chameleons actually don’t drink water from a bowl. In fact, they will die of dehydration before drinking water from a dish. They simply won’t recognize it as a source of hydration.

How then do you get a chameleon to drink water and stay healthy and hydrated? The answer is simpler than you might think. All you need to do is regularly mist inside the cage or provide some sort of drip system on top of the cage.

Because we have many cages and many chameleons to care for, at Backwater Reptiles we have automatic misters called monsoons on top of all our chameleon enclosures. However, these are rather pricey misting systems and we only really recommend them if you have multiple animals and a very busy schedule.

If you just have a single chameleon or even a breeding pair living in a single enclosure, there are many ways to make sure your chameleon gets water. The first way is to simply manually use a spray bottle and mist the cage several times per day.

You’ll want to make sure that in addition to creating humidity, you are spritzing in areas to collect water droplets on the leaves.

chameleon drinking water
This Parson’s chameleon is lapping up water that has collected on the foliage in its enclosure.

You can also buy an inexpensive drip system from just about any pet store. These drip systems are usually tubs with a spout that allows you to control the intensity of the drip.

And if you’re real thrifty, you can even hydrate your chameleon using a small, plastic, disposable cup! All you have to do is poke a small hole in the bottom of the cup, fill it with water and set it in a place atop the mesh cage where it will drip onto leaves and create small pools of water for your chameleon to lap up.

So, we’ve learned that you can choose to hydrate your pet chameleon using several methods – manually misting, setting up an automatic mist system, or creating some sort of dripping apparatus.

However, one thing is definitely clear – a water dish is not necessary and your chameleon will not drink from it.

Conclusion – Setting up a chameleon cage

Chameleons make fantastic and rewarding pets. They are so fun to show off to friends and family and many can even be trained to eat from your hand!

Setting up a proper environment where they can thrive is paramount. We hope that this blog article has helped you out with your own chameleon’s set up, whether you’re brand new to keeping chameleons or an experienced herp enthusiast.

 

Endangered Reptiles Hobbyists Wish They Could Have as Pets

Many species of reptiles kept as pets are commonly bred in captivity. Many are easy to care for because they are hardy animals both in captivity and in their natural habitats. There is no shortage of these critters either in captivity or in the wild.

However, just like there are endangered mammals and birds, there are also endangered reptiles. Although we’d never keep a critically endangered species as a pet or encourage trade in these animals, we can always fantasize about how cool it would be to keep some as pets in a perfect world.

In this blog article, we’ll name some of the critically endangered reptiles that we think would make amazing pets for one reason or another. Since we’ve never kept or seen these reptiles in real life (except for maybe at a zoo if we’re lucky!), this article won’t focus on care tips or handling techniques.

Instead, we’ll discuss why these endangered species are unique and what makes us so interested in them. Perhaps we’ll even raise some awareness and inspire conservation efforts to protect them.

Gharial/Gavial (Gavialis gangeticus)

The gharial or gavial is a crocodilian known for its very unique snout and appearance. Unlike typical crocodiles and alligators, the gavial’s mouth and nose are long and narrow rather than triangular in shape.

The narrowness of the mouth combined with sharp teeth that lace together in an interlocking pattern makes it perfectly suited to catch fish, which just happen to make up this reptile’s main diet.

Topping off the long mouth is a bulbous snout which is said to resemble an earthenware pot known as a ghara in Hindi. This is where the gharial’s common name is derived. It’s believed that this nose bulb is used in mating behaviors such as bubbling water to attract a mate and as a visual indicator of gender.

gavial
This photo very clearly shows the prominent bulb on the gavial’s nose. It also lets you see that the gavial’s mouth is longer, more tapered, and more pointy than any other crocodilian’s. And although those teeth protrude and look quite fierce, the gavial’s primary diet is fish, which means that it’s less likely to view you as an appetizer.

The gavial is native to India. While this fascinating creature used to inhabit nearly all the major rivers in India, it can now only be found in two percent of these waterways. The numbers of the gavial have been declining largely due to hunting for trophies, indigenous medicine, and consumption of the reptile’s eggs.

We think the gavial would make a cool pet because of its very particular mouth and nose. Unlike a croc or gator, the gavial actually doesn’t possess a whole lot of jaw strength. This means that although we’re not sure we’d recommend it, you could probably hold a gavial with much less fear of being bitten.

We’re sure that a gavial’s bite would still be pretty painful, but probably not nearly as bad as that of a reptile with as much jaw strength and ferocity as a crocodile.

Cayman Island Blue Iguana (Cyclura lewisi)

As its name suggests, the Cayman Island blue iguana is a lizard with a stunning color palate. At rest, these iguanas have a grayish complexion, but when breeding season hits, or when the iguana becomes agitated or excited, it transforms into a brilliant azure blue color.

The Cayman Island blue iguana is endemic to the Cayman Islands and is actually considered to be one of the most endangered lizards alive today. Back in 1940 when this reptile was originally described taxonomically, it was considered to be on the brink of extinction, and with human interference, whether accidental or intentional, its numbers have dwindled even further. In fact, in 2002, the population of these lizards remaining in the wild was estimated to be a mere ten to twenty-five animals!

cayman island blue iguana
This photo captures the true azure blue coloration of the Cayman Island blue iguana. Who wouldn’t be proud to show off such a beautiful lizard to family and friends?

Efforts to preserve the species have definitely been ongoing. As recently as 2004, a wildlife conservation group released hundreds of animals back into the wild. Additionally, at least five separate nonprofit organizations are working with the Grand Cayman government with the hope of preserving this colorful iguana.

Considered to be the largest native land animal living on Grand Cayman, the Cayman Island blue iguana maxes out around twenty to thirty inches in body length with a tail that is usually around the same length, putting the average animal anywhere between forty to sixty inches in total length. Despite this large size, the iguana is still preyed upon by non-native, invasive species such as feral cats and dogs.

While there are certainly blue iguanas available to reptile hobbyists nowadays, these are just variants of the very common green iguana and are still of the genus and species Iguana iguana. We think it would be beyond rewarding to be able to keep a breeding population of these “true” blue iguanas and be able to help contribute to the conservation efforts as well as enjoy the beauty of such a flashy lizard.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)

We admit, having a pelagic reptile of any kind as a pet seems no easy feat. But, in a perfect world, wouldn’t it be cool to have a salt water aquarium full of tropical fish and a sea turtle or two?

Like all sea turtle species, hawksbill turtles are endangered due to human interference. Believe it or not, people eat sea turtle eggs and mature sea turtles around the world, despite the protected status of these majestic ocean reptiles. Hawksbills in particular also have very beautifully designed shells which people love to collect. The fishing industry is also a factor in the endangered status of the hawksbill. Often times, these turtles will become accidentally entangled in fishing nets which can lead to drowning.

hawksbill sea turtle
The scutes or hard, bony plates that make up the hawksbill’s carapace are visible in this photo. People hunt the turtle to keep the beautifully patterned shell as a trophy.

Out of all the sea turtle species, the hawksbill turtle is one of the smaller species. Adults will grow to be around forty-five inches long and weigh around 150 pounds.

Hatchling hawksbill sea turtles have heart-shaped carapaces which eventually elongate. When mature, the shells have overlapping serrated scutes, or bony plates. They also have unusually sharp points on their nose/mouth area that resemble a bird of prey’s beak, which is how they received their common name. And yet another characteristic feature of the hawksbill is a pair of claws that adorn each flipper. Overall, the hawksbill sea turtle is a very visually striking reptile.

As reptile lovers, many of us are familiar with the struggle infant sea turtles of all species must undergo when it comes to safely making their first journey to the sea. The mother turtles lay their eggs in a hole dug into a sandy beach and some months later, baby turtles emerge. Because sea turtles make mass migrations to beaches to lay their eggs, the baby turtles tend to all hatch around the same time, meaning that tons of baby sea turtles end up crawling out of the sand and into the ocean.

Because there are so many, they wind up being easy prey targets for predatory animals, namely birds and crabs. In addition, due to human encroachment and installation of street lights and hotel lights along beach fronts, baby sea turtles often wind up crawling towards civilization instead of their true home, which also has an impact on the wild populations.

We’d truly enjoy raising a baby hawksbill sea turtle and watching it grow into a regal adult. But we’ve got to admit that “Finding Nemo” has us a little biased towards that idea. Can’t you just picture them swimming around and speaking in surfer lingo?

Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus)

What makes the tuatara so fascinating to scientists and reptile enthusiasts alike is that this animal is part of its own distinct lineage – the order Rhynchocephalia. This means that although the tuatara very much resembles a lizard, it is in fact, not a lizard!

From a scientific stand point, the closest living ancestor of the tuatara is the squamates, which of course are lizards and snakes. Scientists study the tuatara in order to learn more about the history and appearance of early reptiles called diapsids.

Tuataras are endemic to New Zealand. Because they are so isolated geographically coupled with the fact that they take many years to reproduce, the population of these reptiles has dwindled placing them on the endangered species list.

tuatara
Although it resembles a common lizard such as an iguana, the tuatara is in a family all its own.

Quite possibly one of the coolest things about the tuatara is that it possesses a third eye! This third eye appears in the middle of the reptile’s forehead and is called a parietal eye. Just like normal eyes used for seeing, the tuatara’s parietal eye has its own lens, cornea, retina with rod-like structures, and is connected to the brain via a degenerated nerve.

When tuataras are babies, the parietal eye appears as a translucent spot in the middle of the animal’s head, but sadly, as tuataras mature, the eye becomes covered with scales and pigment. This is why you don’t see photos of adult tuataras with three eyes, although we think that would be pretty freaky!

As far as function is concerned, scientists have deduced that the purpose of the parietal eye is to help with absorption of UV rays to help the tuatara produce vitamin D. It’s also been postulated that the eye helps with thermoregulation as well as determining light and dark/day and night cycles.

Unlike other reptiles, tuataras thrive in much lower temperatures. They can be active in temperatures as low as forty-one degrees Fahrenheit and temperatures over eighty-two degrees Fahrenheit can actually be fatal to them. This unique animal has the lowest resting body temperature of any reptile. This also means they have a particularly slow metabolism.

Tuataras have unusually long life spans. In captivity, they are estimated to be able to live up to two hundred years old! In fact, Henry the tuatara, who lives in the New Zealand Zoo, became a father at the ripe old age of one hundred and eleven!

Since they have such low metabolic rates (as we already mentioned), tuataras take a long time to reach sexual maturity and a long time to reproduce. Tuataras aren’t ready to mate until they are ten or twenty years old! From start to finish, the entire reproductive cycle can take two to five years, which is the longest of any reptile.

So, if the abundance of weird factoids and cool tidbits of knowledge about this “living fossil” reptile hasn’t convinced you that a tuatara would make a fascinating pet, we’re not sure you’re reading the right blog!

Conclusion

We have already mentioned that this a purely hypothetical blog article. As reptile lovers, we are definitely not endorsing capturing any of the endangered species, exporting them, and/or keeping them as pets for our own entertainment and pleasure.

We are fully aware that these reptiles are in need of serious help and this article is written from a place of wishful thinking. In a perfect world, these wonderful and rare species wouldn’t need our help to survive in the wild and we wouldn’t have to feel bad about having them be a part of our families as pets.

But alas, all we can do for now is discuss how neat it would be to care for these reptiles and hope that this article inspires people to try and help with conservation efforts.

If you want to help preserve these magnificent animals, we recommend donating to a conservationist group. There are multitudes of organizations that focus on protecting specific species as well as plenty of groups that specialize in general endangered species preservation efforts.

Rather than have us tell you who we donate to, we feel you should do your research and find a group whose goals, morals, and standards are in line with your own.

Misrepresentations of Snakes in Movies

Welcome to our ultimate guide to snakes in movies. We’re a reptile company, so naturally we have a better perspective on the subject than your average Joe.

It’s a given that we all love reptiles at Backwater Reptiles, so it also makes sense that we love seeing some of our favorite scaly, slithering snakes on the big screen in movies. Don’t you?

However, one thing that kind of bugs us is when the critters we love get misrepresented in cinema. For instance, being snake fanatics, we know that often times non-venomous species of snakes are depicted as venomous in order to create a sense of danger because non-snake folks don’t know any better.

So, in this blog article, we’ll discuss some common tropes associated with snakes in film and why their incorrect portrayal of our scaly companions can sometimes be annoying.

snakes in movies
We’re always happy to see snakes in movies, but they do tend to be misrepresented or stereotyped.

Snakes in Movies – The Ultimate list

Oversized or Giant Monster Snakes in Movies

It’s common knowledge that members of the boidae and pythonidae families (boas, pythons, and anacondas) are the largest species of snakes in the world.

However, often times, these snakes will be depicted on screen as enormous, monster, killer snakes. If you’re going to put a snake in a movie, why not use a huge one, right?

There are a few SyFy channel original movies starring killer giant snakes such as “Piranhaconda,” “Mega Snake,” and “Boa Vs. Python.” However, although these films are relevant to this discussion, we’re intentionally leaving them out due to their intended gimmicky nature and the fact that they played on television and not in movie theaters.

Probably the best example of an oversized killer snake within recent memory is the 1997 flick “Anaconda” starring Jennifer Lopez, Jon Voight, and Ice Cube. While this movie does in fact place the anaconda in the correct native habitat, the snake itself is depicted as larger than life.

In reality, the largest reported anaconda was twenty eight feet long and had a recorded girth of forty-four inches. This is obviously a huge snake, but the killer snake represented in “Anaconda” was large enough to consume Jon Voight’s character whole in one bite with no trouble or resistance.

While anacondas can eat large prey items like deer and pigs, it’s highly unlikely one would get big enough to accomplish this feat so easily.

anaconda movie poster
It’s clear from the tagline of this movie poster that “Anaconda” is a movie where a giant snake is out to “get you.”

We’d also like to mention that a snake so large would most likely not be as energetic or active as the anaconda in the film. Sure, anacondas are quick to strike, but they are not typically considered speedy.

Perhaps in water they are nimble, but overall, these heavy animals lie in wait for their prey and don’t tend to seek it out or chase after it.

The bottom line is that oversized, gigantic and monstrous snakes in movies can be fun but they are also misleading. People who don’t know better might actually think that anacondas commonly grow to the proportions shown in the film, which is just not true.

And because we sell snakes to the public and believe in educating our customers, it can be annoying to have incorrect portrayals of the creatures we love so much in the media.

Overly Bad Tempered Snakes in Movies

While it’s clearly not a film meant to be taken seriously, “Snakes on a Plane” is an epic misrepresentation of the temperament of snakes as a whole. No matter the species of snake, the ones on Samuel L. Jackson’s plane are mean and out for vengeance which is a completely inaccurate picture of the disposition of snakes in general.

Whether they’re attacking people in the lavatory or actively chasing potential victims down the crowded aisles of the plane, the snakes in this film are certainly overly aggressive. Even in real life, venomous snakes don’t chase people or seek out ways in which to harm them, no matter how small the space they are in.

While there might not be too many other films specifically dedicated to multitudes of snakes murdering people in confined spaces, we feel that it’s safe to say that in general, snakes cast as the “bad guy” or meant to be a threat to a character in some way or other are nearly always shown as being unrealistically bad tempered.

Because we handle snakes on a regular basis at the Backwater Reptiles facility, we know that in real life, most snakes prefer to hide and be left to their own devices.

Some species don’t mind interacting with people, but many snake species that are not bred in captivity will only bite as a last resort. They will usually choose to try and escape from you rather than seek you out and come after you.

The bottom line is that snakes chasing down humans – whether the snakes are normal-sized like those in “Snakes on a Plane” or monstrous like the previously discussed killer snake in “Anaconda” – is a myth.

While we know the truth about how to handle snakes of different dispositions ranging from grumpy to docile, not everyone does. We think portrayals of snakes with bad tempers gives people the wrong idea and more reason to vilify these already misunderstood animals.

Snakes as Comic Relief in Movies

There are several instances where snakes are cast as comic relief in films. Have you seen “City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold”? There is one scene in particular in this comedy where a character believes he has been bitten on the rear end by a rattlesnake, when in reality, he just sat on a cactus. Clearly, the rattlesnake is the butt of the joke so to speak in this scenario.

If you’ve seen any of the original Indiana Jones flicks, you’ll remember that our hero Indie has quite a dislike for our slithering pals, and there’s an epic snake pit involved (full of snakes that have no business being in Egypt, by the way).

While the actual snakes present in the film never do anything that makes them seem funny or silly, their screen time is met with a laugh from the audience due to how they make Indiana Jones so uncomfortable.

The sentiment behind the joke being that such a masculine, virile, explorer who can tackle life threatening situations daily can’t handle a few serpents makes the snakes funny.

In our opinion, this is one of the few snake-related jokes in a movie series that’s okay by us. Because we handle, feed, and ship out snakes on a daily basis, it’s old hat for us to be around snakes of all personality types.

While we know that many people do have a phobia of snakes, we can’t say we understand it since we love these animals so much. It’s hard for us to sympathize with anyone, let alone an action hero, who is afraid of these amazing reptiles.

Another more well-known instance in which snakes are cast in a humorous light is in Disney animated films. We’ve all seen “The Jungle Book” and know of the snake Kaa’s scenes with Mowgli. Kaa’s attempts to hypnotize Mowgli and eat him are met with disapproval and ultimately humiliation.

Another animated Disney snake of note is Sir Hiss from “Robin Hood.” Sir Hiss is the henchman of Prince John and as a rule of thumb, henchmen tend to be silly, stupid, or foolish characters in cartoon movies. Sir Hiss is no exception as his attempts to warn Price John are always met with temper tantrums and punishment.

sir hiss
This screen capture from Disney’s “Robin Hood” shows that Sir Hiss is definitely cast as comic relief in this scene.

Granted, Disney animated cartoons with anthropomorphic critter characters are obviously not meant to be taken as serious representations of what animals are really like, but these caricatures are usually based on stereotypes.

Although it might be entertaining to cast snakes as nitwitted characters that always over-pronounce their “S” sounds in their speech, we think it’s a definite over simplification of the true nature of these fascinating animals.

Snakes have personalities just like other pets, plus they should definitely be respected regardless of whether or not they are a non-venomous constrictor or a dangerous black mamba.

While casting them as comic relief doesn’t cause them to be misunderstood in the same manner that casting them as villains does, we still think it’s an unjust, albeit far more pleasant role for them to play in film.

Snakes as Villains in Movies

The most well-known, recent example we can think of where snakes are credited as being villainous is the Harry Potter series. Obviously these movies were books first, but the representation of snakes as evil or wicked remains true in both the novels and the films.

In the second Harry Potter film, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” a giant snake called a basilisk is running rampant throughout Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The entirety of the film is spent trying to locate the “monster” that resides within the Chamber and save the students from being killed or petrified. This is an example of two common snake tropes in action – both the gigantic snake and the villainous snake are at play in the character of the basilisk.

Although there is no such animal in real life, the mythical basilisk is known for being able to kill with a single glance, which is also true in the Harry Potter film. What could possibly be more malevolent than a creature that kills you before you can even see it coming?

harry potter basilisk
Harry Potter is battling the evil basilisk in this scene.

Aside from the basilisk, the all time worst villain in the Harry Potter series, Lord Voldemort, keeps a “pet” snake that he actually instills with part of himself. This snake is akin to Voldemort’s “familiar” and actually helped him be reborn and ascend back into power by giving its venom to sustain and feed him when he was weak.

And while we’re on the subject, Lord Voldemort himself can speak Parseltongue, which is the language of serpents. And it is a well-known fact within the wizarding community that the ability to speak to snakes tends to mark one as being a practitioner of dark magic.

In addition, Voldemort’s dark mark that he brands all of his followers with is the image of a snake intertwined with a skull. And the crest of one of the four houses of Hogwarts, Slytherin, that is reputed to have produced all the wizards who ultimately end up siding with Voldemort and practicing the dark arts, also features a snake as its center piece.

While we’re fully aware that Harry Potter is clearly a work of fiction and fantasy, there is no doubt that snakes are a symbol and representation of all that is evil in this particular series of movies. They have no redeeming qualities or facets. Snakes in movies don’t get much love, do they?

Aside from Harry Potter, snakes are often cast as villains in films where massive amounts of them are out to get the often unsuspecting and otherwise innocent human beings. A few examples of this are the aforementioned “Snakes of a Plane,” “Snake Island” (2002), and “Rattlers” (1976). All of these movies feature large groups of snakes that for some weird reason just want to kill people.

While we’re not incredibly alarmed by snakes being depicted as villains in either fantasy or science fiction films, we would like to reiterate that real snakes would much rather flee from humans than seek them out and murder them.

Again, these wonderful animals are being shown in a bad light and we just wish there were more instances in film where snakes are not mean or malicious.

Rattlesnakes in the Western Genre

It’s pretty much a given that any movie in the Western genre will have a rattlesnake in it at some point or other. We have no real problem with this trope as it’s not necessarily untrue, but we do think that rattlesnakes in Westerns has gotten sort of cliche.

In most dramatic Westerns, whether they are more recent or from thirty plus years ago, rattlesnakes are simply part of the terrain. A character will often encounter one in some capacity or another.

Sometimes the hero will interact with the snake by either killing it, eating it, or being bitten by it. Nothing too alarming about that, although we still think that more often than not, rattlesnakes would rather hide from cowboys than bother them.

A good example of a snake character that utilizes nearly all the tropes listed above is Rattlesnake Jake from the 2011 animated film “Rango.” We’re a fan of this movie not only because it’s funny and appropriate for many ages and audiences, but also because many of the main characters are cartoon reptiles!

rattlesnake jake
Rattlesnake Jake clearly looks pretty villainous despite being an animated character.

Rattlesnake Jake is of course initially depicted as the villain in “Rango,” although it later comes to light that he is not as evil as some other characters, so that takes care of the “snake as villain” trope.

Jake is also comic relief at times, although we’d say “Rango” is a comedy in general, so nearly all the characters have humorous moments on screen. Jake also has a bad temper, although he doesn’t set out to hunt down innocent bystanders like many other ferocious snakes in cinema.

Conclusion – Snakes in Movies

Overall, we’re happy to see snakes in movies at all and therefore we can’t complain too much when they are easily type cast and tropes are over utilized.

However, we do think it would be nice to see snakes cast in a more positive light from time to time. What do you think? Are you happy with the way snakes are often seen in movies? What would you change? Can you name any films where snakes are portrayed as more dynamic entities?

 

Aldabra Tortoise Care (Geochelone gigantea)

If you’re reading this, you want to know all about Aldabra tortoise care (Geochelone gigantea), and rest assured, you’ve come to the right place! These tortoises are very intelligent, responsive, and interactive pet reptiles. Many people are attracted to the larger species of tortoise because they can let them roam their yard much like a dog. Many are even trained to come when you call them!

No matter what your reason for keeping an Aldabra tortoise, clearly you’ll need to know how to care for such a long-lived animal. In this blog article, we’ll set out to detail how to best care for an Aldabra and hopefully prepare you for a tortoise of your own.

Aldabra Tortoise Care Explained

Aldabra Tortoise Description

Did you know that the Aldabra tortoise is the second largest species of tortoise in the world? The only other tortoise that grows larger is the Galapagos tortoise. On average, a mature adult Aldabra can weigh around 500 pounds, although the Aldabra at the Fort Worth Zoo weighs in at around 800 pounds!

Aldabras are very long-lived. Some have been reported to live 200 years and there is currently one in captivity that is 170 years old. So be prepared to pass your Aldabra down to your children and possibly even grand children!

aldabra tortoise care
Aldabra tortoises grow very large and for proper care will need a large amount of space in which to roam around. We highly recommend setting up a backyard enclosure if you plan to keep one as a pet. Pictured is one of our 5-inch beauties.

Aldabra tortoises get their name from the location from which they hail – the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles islands in the Indian ocean. They can be found in a variety of habitats ranging from mangrove swamps to coastal dunes.

Overall, Aldabras are quite remarkable as far as physical appearance is concerned. They have domed carapaces with super long necks and pointed heads. They range in color from dark grey to black and sometimes even dark brown.

Creating an Aldabra Tortoise Enclosure

Like many of the larger tortoise species, the best way to keep an Aldabra is outdoors if possible. Tortoises older than two years old do best with a large space to roam, backyard vegetation to nibble on, and natural sunlight and weather conditions to absorb.

If your backyard doesn’t have a fence, you can create boundaries for your tortoise using cinder blocks or even wooden planks. Your wall should be just over two feet tall and contain as much square footage as you are able to provide.

Using see-through fencing is risky because a tortoise will almost always try to get somewhere it can see. Aldabras aren’t big on digging, like the Sulcata tortoises, so that’s not too much of a risk. We recommend solid wood or cinder block walls.

Your Aldabra will also require a little tortoise home or hide to escape from cold or too hot weather. You will also need to provide a heat source if you live somewhere where the weather drops below seventy five degrees Fahrenheit.

Large heating pads will suffice–we use pig blankets, which automatically heat 20-degrees (F) warmer than the surrounding temperatures, unless it’s already warm out, in which case they don’t activate. You can also simply bring your tortoise indoors during bad weather.

Keep in mind, cooler temperatures generally aren’t overly dangerous to tortoises, it’s cold and wet that’s dangerous. If your nighttime temperatures are dipping below 60F, we recommend bringing your tortoise into a warmer area such as a garage for the evening, unless you’ve got a tortoise house with a heat pad already set up.

If temperatures go below 50F, regardless if you have a tortoise house and heating pad, just take the tortoise indoors.

aldabra tortoise
Pictured is a young Aldabra tortoise, but they can live up to 200 years and weigh up to 500 pounds! Make sure you are prepared for such a long-term pet before purchasing.

It’s not necessary, but if you can provide a mudhole for your Aldabra, that is ideal. Surprisingly, Aldabras enjoy wallowing and soaking in a mudhole if one is provided.

Feeding Your Aldabra Tortoise

Many people enjoy keeping pet tortoises because they are vegetarians, which means no insects or mice to feed them.

Aldabra tortoises nibble as they roam on everything from backyard grasses and weeds, but they will also thoroughly enjoy prepared foods. Leafy greens high in nutrition such as collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, and spinach are all excellent options.

Some fruit is also a treat for them, but avoid acidic fruits as they can harm intestinal biotic balance. They are particularly fond of melons. Hay is a great food for them as well. Remember, they are grazers and aren’t used to highly nutritious foods. Mazuri tortoise pellets are also great for supplemental feeding.

Fun fact: If your Aldabra tortoise knows you have food or a treat ready for it, it will come running to greet you. Be prepared – Aldabras are not slow movers, despite what you might believe!

aldabra tortoise
Aldabra tortoises are vegetarians that will eat as they roam your yard. However, they always enjoy it when you prepare them meals of leafy greens mixed with the occasional fruit treat.

Conclusion – Aldabra tortoise care

Aldabra tortoises are known for their large size and unique personalities. They are fascinating and rewarding animals to keep as pets. They make excellent backyard companions who will absolutely learn to recognize you.

If you are up to the task of caring for such a long-term pet that you can literally pass down to your grand children, then an Aldabra tortoise just might be the reptile for you!

Pixie Frog Care (Pyxicephalus adspersus)

Pixie frog care isn’t complicated or difficult. These frogs are known for their insatiable appetites, large size, and inclination to eat virtually anything small enough to fit in their mouth. Overall, they make for very entertaining and lively pet frogs, which is why they are so popular in the reptile hobbyist world.

Thinking of buying a pixie frog of your own? Then you’ll need to know how to care for one of these amphibious eating machines. Continue reading this blog article to find out how we care for ours at the Backwater Reptiles facility.

Pixie Frog Care (Pyxicephalus adspersus)

Pixie Frog Description

Known mainly for their massive size at maturity, pixie frogs are true giants. They are the second largest frog in the world and can reach lengths up to ten inches and weigh approximately two pounds! That might not seem like much, but it’s tremendous for a frog.

The largest frog in the world is the Goliath frog from Cameroon (Africa). It’s basically a huge frog that likes to jump–imagine a normal adult American Bullfrog, except 2-3 times larger.

 

huge goliath frog
Here’s a Goliath frog in Cameroon.

Goliath frogs are actually illegal to export from Cameroon, and it’s just as well–they don’t fare well in captivity due to their habit of jumping several feet at a time. There just isn’t an enclosure large enough for them.

pixie frog care
Young pixie frogs like this one are not usually as chubby as their adult counterparts. They also have more prominent stripes and spotted markings that will usually fade with age.

It should also be noted that pixie frogs are known by several common monikers. You might hear them referred to as African bull frogs, African burrowing frogs, and sometimes South African Pyxies.

Pixies are usually an olive green color at maturity, but they can also be shades of brown, yellow, and even creamy beige. They have very thick, stocky, hefty bodies and as adults, their bellies tend to protrude, which can give them a somewhat blob-like shape at rest. When they are babies, they tend to be a dark green shade with dark striped accents and cream-colored tummies.

Pixie Frog Habitat

Pixie frogs hail from Africa where they spend most of their time burrowed underground. This means that they will require a substrate that accommodates this behavior. Eco-earth, fertilizer-free, organic potting soil, and even paper towels are all acceptable options.You’ll want the substrate to stay moist and damp, but not wet.

A humid environment is best for pixies. We recommend keeping the enclosure at around eighty percent humidity for best results. Regular misting of the substrate will help keep the moisture level in the proper range. We use a spritzer bottle filled with water and squirt the substrate itself, the glass walls of the tank, and sometimes even the frogs themselves.

It’s also wise to invest in a sturdy water dish that is wide and shallow. You won’t see your pixie drink the water, but it helps maintain humidity levels and also allows your pixie to have itself a soak if it wants to.

young pixie frog
This pixie is approximately four weeks old. The quarter is provided to show scale.

Although most pixies will simply burrow to hide themselves, we definitely recommend placing a hide space or two within your frog’s enclosure. Terra cotta pots, logs, and hides purchased from pet stores are all good options.

We use coconut husk fiber as substrate, at about two-inches deep. We keep the substrate damp throughout, but not dripping wet. If you notice the surface drying out, it’s a signal you’re not keeping the substrate damp enough.

If your frog senses a drier environment, it’ll cover itself in a type of cocoon layer to prevent moisture loss. This really shouldn’t happen in captivity. If you see it, make sure to make adjustments to prevent it from happening again.

Try to keep the tank in the temperature range of 74 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit. We keep them very successfully at room temperature.

Pixie Frog Feeding

If we haven’t already made it clear, pixie frogs love to eat! In the wild, they are ambush predators and will sit around until something comes their way that they can fit into their mouth. This means their prey items range from invertebrates to small birds!

Because they are not active animals, you will have to be careful not to overfeed your pixie frog. In fact, you’ll have to keep a close eye on your frog’s weight because pixies are prone to obesity.

We feed our pixies a staple diet of appropriately-sized insects, depending on the size of the frog. Our babies will eat mostly crickets, mealworms, and waxworms. Adults will eat crickets, hornworms, roaches, and wax worms.

Some people will feed their pixies pinkies or fuzzies, but we recommend this only as an occasional treat item. Again, pixies will eat to the point of being unhealthy, and fatty, high calorie items like mice will only contribute to the problem. Moderation is key.

Pixie Frog Disposition

As a general rule, most pet frogs don’t take well to human interaction or handling. We’ve found that with pixies, it tends to be a mixed bag. Some pixies don’t tend to mind being picked up, while others are quite opposed to the idea.

adult pixie frog
Adult pixies can be held, but beware of putting your fingers near their mouth as they can deliver quite a powerful bite.

If you do want to handle your pixie on a regular basis, be sure it is supported fully. A flailing frog is not a happy frog. We also recommend washing your hands before and after picking up your pixie for the safety of both human and frog.

We’d also like to say that pixies have nasty bites. Be sure that when you pick up your frog that you keep wiggling fingers that could be mistaken for food away from its mouth.

However, I’ve picked-up hundreds of Pixie frogs spanning all sizes, and I’ve never had one attempt to bite or put on a threat posture.

These frogs rarely fight with each other, or have territory issues. If you keep more than one in an enclosure, just make sure you’re feeding them well. Don’t keep noticeably different sizes together because, as mentioned, they’ll eat anything they can fit into their mouths–including their own species.

Conclusion – Pixie frog care

Pixie frogs make excellent, fascinating, long-lived pets. They’re really fun to raise from babies to full-grown chubby adults. Feeding time is always entertaining when you have a pixie–a definite crowd-pleasing event!

If you’re interested in purchasing a pixie frog of your own, Backwater Reptiles sells both captive bred hatchlings and adults. You won’t be disappointed with this behemoth of a species!

How to Pick Up Your Pet Lizard

Wondering how to pick up a lizard? There are countless numbers of animals available in the reptile hobbyist world and many of them can be picked-up and held. Some pet lizards even enjoy human interaction.

However, lizards are not domesticated animals like cats or dogs, and so they can be tricky to handle if you don’t have experience. That’s why we’ll explain our methods for picking up lizards, address some common mistakes made when handling lizards, and offer up helpful tips and tricks we’ve learned throughout our years of experience dealing with all kinds of lizard species.

How to pick up a lizard

There are several methods you can use when picking up lizards and in truth, the best method will vary from animal to animal, species to species, and even person to person! It’s going to take some experience on your part to learn which way works best for your own pet.

how to pick up a lizard
Geckos are more delicate than other species of lizards. Be careful not to restrain them too tightly or you may accidentally injure them. Gentle handling is the key.

The first thing to take into account when picking up and handling any pet lizard is the size of the animal. Larger species such as bearded dragons and Savannah monitors will require a different technique than something as small as a dwarf gecko species.

If you are dealing with a larger species or a species that has a good disposition, such as a leopard gecko, then picking up and handling the lizard is very straight forward. Approach the animal steadily with no jerky or overly speedy movements and simply pick it up. Once the lizard is in your hands, make sure it is supported and that it has a place to crawl if it is moving or wiggling a lot.

If you are working with a smaller species or a more delicate species, such as a day gecko or an anole, we recommend cupping the animal rather than grabbing it outright. You can accomplish this by literally trapping the animal under a cup and sliding a piece of paper or other flat, solid object underneath the cup. Or, alternately, you could form a cup with your hands over top of the lizard and pick it up from there.

Things to avoid when picking up your pet lizard

Possibly the most important thing you want avoid when dealing with your pet lizard is squeezing it or making it feel trapped. If you hold it too tight in order to prevent escape, your lizard will feel very stressed and uncomfortable. If you can’t hold the lizard without feeling like you’re physically restraining it, odds are you’ve got a lizard that isn’t meant to be held.

crocodile skink
This crocodile skink is being supported and has a comfortable perch. Be sure to cradle and not squeeze your pet lizard and you will both be more at ease during the handling process.

Never try to hang onto a lizard by its tail. Many species actually drop their tails as a defense mechanism against predators when they are stressed. While its true that ultimately it won’t harm your lizard in the long run to drop its tail, it’s still a stress to the animal at the time it occurs and many people dislike how their lizard appears cosmetically after losing a tail.

Helpful tips and tricks for handling your pet lizard

  1. Big lizards will need two hands. It’s common sense that you shouldn’t try to pick up a four foot long monitor with just one hand. Bigger lizards need more support and therefore more hands.
  2. Not all lizards should be picked up. Again, keep in mind that lizards are not domesticated animals and they do not all enjoy interacting with people. In fact, many of the smaller, flightier species will get overly stressed out if you handle them because they will think that you are a predator. And some species are so delicate that you can actually injure them if you pick them up incorrectly.
  3. Take some time to get to know your lizard’s personality and read its moods. If you invest in learning about lizard body language, you’ll be able to tell if your pet is in the mood to come out and play or not. This will help avoid unnescessary stress and will also help avoid any unnecessary biting or scratching.

Conclusion

bearded dragon hatchling
Bearded dragons are very interactive lizards that enjoy being held by humans.

Lizards make great pets and there are many species that are hands on and incredibly interactive animals. However, not all species will enjoy being held and it’s up to you as a potential pet owner to do your research and make sure you’re choosing a species that suits your needs.

We hope that this article has given you some insight into how to handle different species of lizards. But if you have any tips or tricks of your own, feel free to share them in the comments!

How to Care for Baby Scorpions

What if your pet scorpions have mated and now you’ve got a bunch of scorpion babies to care for? Or perhaps you recently acquired a gravid mother scorpion who just gave birth? No matter the scenario, you now have scorplings to care for.

You’re probably wondering what to do with all the tiny, delicate babies? How do you care for them? What does such a tiny invertebrate eat? Is it safe to handle them?

In this blog article, we will answer commonly asked questions such as the ones above and discuss in detail how we care for our scorplings.

How to care for baby scorpions

What do I do once my scorpion has given birth?

If you don’t handle your scorpion too frequently, you may not even be aware that your female is gravid, particularly if you’ve only recently acquired her. It’s very possible you might wake up one morning to discover a batch of scorplings riding around on her back.

caring for baby scorpions
Luckily, mother scorpions do most of the work when it comes to caring for newborn scorplings. Here’s one of our Dictator scorpions (Pandinus dictator) with her babies.

If you just have a single female in a small enclosure, don’t move her. The less you disturb her, the better. Disturbances will stress her and could even cause her to eat her babies.

The babies will actually ride around on the mother scorpion’s back for a few weeks until they have undergone their first molt. During this time, the mother will make sure they are fed and cared for, so the best thing you can do to care for the babies is to ensure the mother is well-cared for.

Perhaps the most important aspect of baby scorpion care when the scorplings are still on the mother’s back is making sure that mama scorpion is well-fed. If she feels hungry or doesn’t get enough food, she will eat her children, so we recommend offering her food on a daily basis.

Watch the mother and babies closely for the first few weeks. You will want to remove the babies once they have molted as they will no longer ride around on their mother’s back. Allowing them to remain in the same enclosure as their mother once they are off her back is a bad idea as once more, the mother might see her babies as a food source rather than as her children.

What kind of care set up should I provide for my baby scorpions?

Not surprisingly, baby scorpions have the same care requirements as their adult counterparts. The only real difference in care is that obviously smaller invertebrates eat smaller food. We will go into what to feed your baby scorpion in the next section.

When creating a habitat for your baby scorpions, it is generally acceptable to place them all in a single container until they outgrow it.

baby pandinus dictator
Pictured is a baby Dictator scorpion (Pandinus dictator).

Your scorpion tank should be well-ventilated with a screen lid or lid with holes in it. You should line the bottom of the tank with a substrate such as cocoa fiber, moss, or other similar material.

A UV light is not necessary as scorpions tend to avoid lighted areas. Instead, you should use a heat mat in order to maintain ambient temperatures in the 80s. We don’t recommend using a heat lamp unless you want to mist the enclosure regularly as heat lamps tend to dry out substrates.

Another essential element to a scorpion enclosure is plenty of places to hide. You can use something as simple as used toilet paper or paper towel rolls to fancy logs and pet store hide spaces.

What do I feed my baby scorpions?

Small, fragile  baby scorpions means small prey items. What then, is small enough to feed baby scorpions?

At Backwater Reptiles, once our scorplings are not living on their mother’s back anymore, we feed them pinhead crickets and fruit flies. Both of these are appropriately-sized invertebrates that baby scorpions are quick to consume.

You can place one or two pinhead crickets per scorpion into the enclosure each day. We’ve even heard that squishing the crickets so that the soft insides come out is a useful trick to get baby scorpions to eat, but ours seem to eat living crickets just fine.

In addition to food, baby scorpions should have a water source. You can place a small container that the scorplings can’t drown in inside the cage, however, we think that soaking a cotton ball in water is actually a better way to hydrate your baby scorpions.

When are my baby scorpions old enough to be handled?

Technically, once the babies are off the mother’s back, they can be handled, but we don’t recommend it as they are still very fragile and still very small.

Once their exoskeletons have had time to harden, it should be safe to pick up and handle your baby scorpions. This could take anywhere from a few weeks to a month and a half depending on the species.

dictator scorpion babies
Baby scorpions will cluster on their mother’s back until they have undergone their first molt.

We personally recommend leaving handling to a minimum until the scorplings have darkened up or gotten close to reaching their adult coloration. Once this occurs, their exoskeletons are usually hard enough to protect them properly from any jostling that might unintentionally occur.

Conclusion – baby scorpion care

Overall, caring for baby scorpions is not really that much different than caring for adult scorpions. The main difference is in what size prey items you offer.

And luckily, mother scorpions are actually pretty good at taking care of their babies until they are strong enough to fend for themselves. Nature takes care of the hardest part for you. All you need to do is pick up where mama scorpion leaves off.

If you are interested in starting a scorpion family of your own, Backwater Reptiles has many different species of scorpion for sale.

 

 

How to Care for Your Sunbeam Snake (Xenopeltis unicolor)

If you are unfamiliar with the sunbeam snake (Xenopeltis unicolor), you’re not alone. Because these prismatic snakes have pretty specific care requirements, they’re actually not very popular in the reptile world.

Truth be told, there’s also not a lot of information online explaining how to best care for the sunbeam snake. Therefore, in this blog article, we’ll detail how we care for our sunbeams and hopefully help out anyone thinking about investing in one of these gorgeous animals.

Sunbeam Snake Description

The most striking feature of the sunbeam snake is its unmistakable iridescence. In fact, this brilliant rainbow hue is how this snake got its common name. Other snakes such as the rainbow boa might also be iridescent, but when the sunbeam snake’s scales interact with the sun’s rays, the result is unbelievable. Other snakes just can’t compete!

sunbeam snake care
Sunbeams snakes are known for their iridescent scales.

Aside from shimmering scales, sunbeam snakes are fairly monochromatic. Their dorsal sides are dark, deep brown or even black. Their under bellies are cream-colored or whitish. They have small eyes and pointy heads with little neck demarcation.

Sunbeam Snake Habitat & Housing

The first thing that is important to know when keeping a sunbeam snake is that these reptiles are burrowers. They live in Asian rice paddies in the wild where there is lots of moisture, humidity, and plenty of places to hide. Therefore, sunbeam snakes spend lots of time underground.

Because sunbeams are burrowers, it is of utmost importance that you provide your snake with a substrate that accommodates this behavior as well as retains moisture. Cypress mulch, moss, and loose reptile bark all work well. Be sure that the substrate is damp, but not dripping wet.

sunbeam snake
Sunbeam snakes have specific care requirements. We recommend doing your research and making sure this species is suitable for you before you purchase.

Humidity levels need to stay between 80 to 100% at all times. This might seem a bit high, but keep in mind that rice paddies are nearly always flood lands and sunbeams are used to this type of environment. One of the worst things an owner can do for a sunbeam snake is to allow its home to dry out.

The hot end of your sunbeam snake’s enclosure should stay between 85 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit, while the cooler side should be in between 75 to 80 degrees. We recommend a heating pad to regulate temperature, but you can also use a lamp that doesn’t give off light. Sunbeams aren’t nocturnal or afraid of light, but they do spend most of their time underground, so there is no real need for UV lighting.

Sunbeam Snake Disposition

As we’ve already mentioned, sunbeam snakes are burrowers. They spend most of their time underground and usually only emerge to catch prey and eat. This means they are solitary, secretive animals that appreciate privacy.

Sunbeam snakes are not aggressive, but they don’t really enjoy being handled too frequently. In fact, it rather stresses them out. If you want a hands on pet snake, we don’t recommend that you get a sunbeam. Sunbeam snakes should be handled minimally and left to their own devices when possible.

handling your sunbeam snake
Sunbeams are shy snakes that definitely prefer to be left alone. However, when you have to clean their cage or remove them for any other reason, they are not aggressive and can be handled like any other species of snake.

One thing that you should also be aware of is that sunbeam snakes can excrete a very nasty musk when stressed. So, unless you want to shower, we highly recommend not poking, prodding, holding, or otherwise making your sunbeam feel threatened.

Feeding Your Sunbeam Snake

Many people are surprised at how quickly sunbeam snakes eat. They lunge for prey very speedily, constrict, and swallow it nearly as rapidly.

In the wild, sunbeams are known to consume frogs, shrews, moles, lizards, and other small vertebrates. In captivity, they will strike at anything that disturbs their substrate, so we recommend using tongs and offering them appropriately sized frozen/thawed mice.

Conclusion

Although sunbeam snakes are absolutely stunning animals with brilliantly shiny rainbow scales, we don’t recommend them to everyone. These snakes are best suited to owners who understand that sunbeams enjoy solitude and like being left alone.

Keep in mind that sunbeam snakes have four basic requirements in captivity to stay happy and healthy: solitude, humidity, a place to burrow, and warmth. If you are ready to provide these things to a pet sunbeam snake of your very own, Backwater Reptiles does sell them.