How To Trim Your Tortoise’s Beak and Nails

We care for turtles and tortoises of all types, ages, and sizes at the Backwater Reptiles facility. While most of these shelled reptiles are pretty low maintenance, from time to time, they do require some additional care such as nail trimming or beak trimming.

Most of the time, trimmings won’t need to occur more than once or twice per year, and the process will be quick and easy to perform. However, because Backwater Reptiles accepts rescue animals, we do often receive turtles and tortoises who need to have this process taken care of right away.

In this article, we’ll address these topics and answer the following questions:

How to trim turtle and tortoise nails
Why is it necessary to trim turtle and tortoise nails?

How to trim a tortoise’s beak
Why is it necessary to trim a tortoise’s beak?

 

How to Trim Turtle and Tortoise Nails

What supplies do I need to trim my turtle or tortoise’s nails?

Luckily, you really don’t need many supplies to trim turtle or tortoise nails and the supplies are identical regardless of whether you’re using them on a turtle or a tortoise.

In order to trim your turtle or tortoise’s nails or claws, you will need:

1) Cat/Dog Nail trimmer OR human cuticle nail trimmer

2) Paper towels or other soft pliable material such as a normal towel

3) Corn starch

How do I trim my turtle or tortoise’s nails?

The first step you’ll want to take when trimming your turtle or tortoise’s nails is to secure the animal safely and eliminate squirming and discomfort to the animal as much as you can. This can be accomplished by wrapping the animal in paper towels or a soft towel. It will also help avoid slipping as it can be somewhat tricky to get a firm grip on the animal’s shell without some sort of “blanket” to hold the animal in place.

If you are trimming the front nails, wrap the back half of the animal firmly but not too hard. You don’t want to squash or harm the animal, and wrapping it up half way will help to make sure you don’t unintentionally over-restrain it.

Some owners find it useful to place the turtle or tortoise between their thighs while trimming, while others keep the animal on a counter or other hard, torso-height surface. We have used both methods and we recommend doing whatever feels safest for you as the whole process will run smoother if you are confident in your abilities.

turtle nail trimming
Sometimes turtle claws require trimming. This photo shows what the turtle’s nails looked like before being trimmed using the methods described in this article and what they looked like once the process was completed.

Once your turtle or tortoise has been securely wrapped, you’ll need your clippers. There are many types on the market and the type of clipper you will use will vary based on the size of your animal and the thickness of the animal’s nails or claws. We don’t usually use the guillotine type of clippers as we find they provide less accuracy, particularly with terrestrial turtles and tortoises. Our clipper of choice tends to be either the manicure clippers used by people or the scissor type used on cats and dogs. When it comes to your own pet’s needs, we recommend using whatever feels most comfortable for you personally that will also get the job done quickly. The speedier you are able to perform the process, the less stress you will cause the animal.

Once you’ve determined which type of nail clipper works best for you and your animal, you will simply trim the nail as close to the quick as possible without actually hitting the quick itself. The quick of the nail is the portion that still receives blood flow. It’s essentially a blood vessel within the nail or claw.

The corn starch is really just a precautionary measure. You will only require it if you accidentally trim the nails or claws too close to the quick and cause bleeding. If this occurs, simply dab the tip of the claw in enough corn starch to staunch the bleeding. And while you’ll obviously want to avoid hitting the quick if possible, this is not always realistic as reptiles are not known for their ability to sit still during procedures such as nail trimming. But not to worry – your animal will recover quickly and so long as you keep an eye on the nail itself to avoid infection, there shouldn’t be any lasting damage.

Keep in mind that turtles and tortoises in particular, can be shy animals. They will likely do everything in their power to tuck in their feet as much as possible when you try to trim their nails. Please be patient with your pet and don’t attempt to trim their nails if you don’t feel you are capable and prepared for this measure. There are plenty of veterinarians who will perform this process for a small fee and we highly recommend taking your turtle or tortoise to the vet if you are nervous about doing the procedure on your own.

A word of caution: Sometimes the process of nail trimming can bring out attitude in even the calmest of animals. If at all possible, keep your fingers away from the beak of your turtle or tortoise so that you can avoid potential bites. You also want to avoid being scratched by the long nails, which is another reason why we do recommend wrapping the animal in a towel if possible.

Some helpful tips and tricks for getting your turtle or tortoise to stick out a leg:

1) Tickle the animal’s shell. This is particularly useful underneath the shell on the plastron. Sometimes the sensation of touch elsewhere on the animal’s body will bring it out of hiding.

2) Push in gently on the leg on the other side of the retracted limb. There is only so much room inside a shell and a natural response to the crowding will be to relieve it by pushing out a limb.

3) Hold the animal in the air rather than cradling it in your lap. Because the animal will sense that there is nothing underneath it, it might try to walk or start wiggling a little bit and there’s your opportunity!

4) Please be patient with your shelled friends. Never shake or jiggle your turtle or tortoise as this is not only stressful but could cause the animal injury. Eventually, your turtle or tortoise will get tired and you will be able to get at their toes without much struggle.

For your convenience and reference, we’ve included a brief video below demonstrating how we trim nails at the Backwater Reptiles facility.

Why is it necessary to trim my turtle or tortoise’s nails or claws?

While it is true that several species of turtle (cooters, sliders, and three-toed box turtles to name a few) naturally have longer front nails as a sign of prowess or physical fitness, in captivity, these long nails can become a health hazard if they grow too much.

Aquatic turtles can accidentally get their claws caught in filters or in carpet if you remove them from the tank for some exercise. The nails can also unintentionally injure other turtles as they do tend to climb all over one another if they are kept communally. Not to mention, if you enjoy handling your turtle, shorter, clipped nails are far less likely to inflict scratches on their owner.

In the wild, turtles and tortoises walk or exercise enough that their nails will naturally wear themselves down to a manageable length. However, in smaller enclosures, the nails can continue to grow and therefore will require trimming.

How To Trim a Tortoise’s Beak

What supplies will I need to trim my tortoise’s beak?

Trimming a tortoise’s beak is a bit tougher than trimming a turtle or tortoise’s nails, although the supplies needed are virtually the same.

1) A pair or clippers. Human cuticle clippers or pet scissor nail clippers will both work.

2) Paper towels or another type of soft towel or wrap.

3) A nail file. Do not use the metal or glass kind.

And that’s pretty much it! Not much is needed, but you will definitely want to make sure that the pair of clippers you select is an appropriate type. They need to be small enough but still strong enough to cut through the beak quickly.

tortoise beak trimming
This rescue tortoise was in desperate need of a beak trim. We used the methods described in this article to carefully trim his beak to a normal and manageable length.

How do I trim my tortoise’s beak?

First of all, we’d like to mention that you can help minimize the amount of beak trimming you actually have to do by providing a cuttlebone within your tortoise’s enclosure. Like many bird species, tortoises can use a cuttlebone to chew or nibble on to keep their beak at bay.

However, if you do find that you need to trim your pet’s beak, the first step is to secure the animal using the paper towels or other wrap. If possible, you’ll want to make sure that you can keep the legs inside the wrap so the tortoise doesn’t push the clippers away or use them to shield its face.

Next, you’ll want to be very patient in order to gain access to the tortoise’s face. Odds are your tortoise will be shy and it will retreat into its shell. If you are careful and very delicate, you might be able to trim the beak while the tortoise’s head is inside the shell, but it’s much easier if you can gain access while the tortoise has its head outside the shell.

Sometimes, it’s helpful to grip the tortoise’s head gently but firmly for a few brief moments while another person utilizes the clippers to trim the beak. However, we’ve found that for most tortoises, this can actually stress the animal more. Ultimately, you know your animal best and you should use whatever methods work best for you and your pet while minimizing stress.

With most clippers, we’d recommend performing a series of clips. You likely won’t be able to clip the entire beak in one shot. Try angling the clippers at 45 degrees on both sides at first to create a “point” at the beak’s tip. Then you can carefully trim the tip of the point and get it semi-squared off. You’ll want to mimic the natural shape of the tortoise’s beak as much as possible.

Once you have managed to trim the beak down to a normal length, you might need to file it a bit in order to shave down any rough edges. This is where your nail file or emery board comes in handy.

When filing, we highly recommend avoiding files with sharp points or very stiff natures as they can unintentionally injure the tortoise if it happens to jerk or squirm during the process. A simple, flat, emery board works best for this procedure.

Below you will find a video demonstrating how we trim tortoise beaks at the Backwater Reptiles facility.

Why is it necessary to trim my tortoise’s beak?

In the wild, tortoises have to work a lot more to find their food as well as to consume their food. This means that their beaks actually endure more wear and tear and essentially, trim themselves.

In captivity, your tortoise has no need to forage or roam or even really chew its food because most owners do all of that for them. While this is standard pet owner behavior, it does mean that your tortoise could eventually require a beak trim, especially if it doesn’t have a cuttlebone to rub on.

If you allow your tortoise’s beak to become overgrown, it can actually inhibit the animal’s ability to eat. The beak can prohibit the tortoise from opening its jaw wide enough to fit anything its mouth.

Another serious issue that we’ve witnessed in some of our rescue tortoises is scale rub. If the beak becomes too overgrown, it can begin to rub against the scales on the tortoise’s front legs causing irritation and infection.

Conclusion

Turtles and tortoises are very popular pet reptiles and they require relatively minimal care. However, from time to time, it might become necessary to trim either their beaks, their nails or both.

We hope that this article has helped instruct you how to go about these processes. And please – if you’re not comfortable performing these procedures or you think that you might injure the animal by performing them, take the reptile to a vet. Don’t risk your pet’s health.

Dubia Roaches (Blaptica dubia) As Feeder Insects

Introduction to Dubia Roaches

Many reptile, amphibian and invertebrate owners commonly feed their pet(s) crickets. It’s a very common husbandry practice and crickets are most certainly an acceptable, affordable, and convenient feeding option. But did you know that exotic pets need a varied diet just like human beings and shouldn’t subsist solely on a diet of crickets?

So, what other insects should you should feed your reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate besides crickets? At Backwater Reptiles, often times when we don’t feed our animals crickets, mealworms, or commercially prepared food, we turn to dubia roaches (Blaptica dubia).

In this article, we’ll answer some very commonly asked questions about dubia roaches and their usefulness as feeder insects such as:

-What are dubia roaches and do they make good feeder insects?
-What types of exotic pets eat dubia roaches?
-Why should I feed my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate dubia roaches? What are the benefits?
-How do I breed and raise my own feeder dubia roaches for my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate?
-What is “gut loading” and how does it affect my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate?
-Where can I get dubia roaches to feed my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate?
-I’ve received my order of dubia roaches. What do I do with them now?
-Are there any downsides to feeding my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate dubia roaches?

Dubia Roaches as Feeder Insects

What are dubia roaches and do they make good feeder insects?

Dubia roaches (Blaptica dubia), which are also referred to as Guyana spotted roaches, Orange spotted roaches, and Argentine roaches, are a species of cockroach that are commonly used as feeder insects in the exotic pet industry.

dubia roach
Dubia Roaches make very nutritious meals for all types of reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. They are full of protein and low in fat. They also contain a reasonable amount of moisture. We highly recommend them as feeder insects for all types of reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.

Dubias range in size from one eight of an inch in length as nymphs to two inches long as mature adults. Interestingly enough, if they are not eaten by another animal, they typically have a life span of between one and a half to two years. They are also edible during their entire life span.

Although they might come with a slightly higher price point than traditional feeder insects like crickets and mealworms, dubias are also much higher in nutritional value. This means that YES, dubia roaches do indeed make excellent feeder insects!

What types of exotic pets eat Dubia Roaches?

The answer to this question is short and simple. Virtually all types of exotic pets, including reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates, will eat dubia roaches.

Because dubias are available in so many sizes, they can be eaten by pretty much all sizes of carnivorous or omnivorous animals.

Reptiles that are particularly fond of dubia roaches include: bearded dragons, chameleons, and many species of gecko. Amphibians that eat dubias include mainly frogs and toads, although larger species of salamanders with hearty appetites (a la tiger salamanders) will readily consume dubias too. Finally, scorpions and arachnids are known to have a hunger for dubias as well.

Why should I feed my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate Dubia Roaches? What are the benefits?

Although crickets, mealworms, reptiworms, wax worms, and other similar feeder invertebrates all make great feeder options for various reasons, dubias are known for their highly nutritious nature.

Dubia roaches have very high protein levels compared to many other chitinous feeder insects. They pack a whopping thirty six percent protein percentage and also contain a lower fat content than many of the “worm” insects such as wax worms, reptiworms, and silk worms.

The calcium level present in dubias is also slightly higher than that of crickets and considerably higher than that of mealworms. This means that although we do still recommend dusting your feeder insects, there is a better chance that your pet will need vitamin supplements less frequently.

Finally, dubia roaches are 61 percent moisture, which is a reasonable amount. While most reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates do acquire moisture through other means, it is good to feed them an insect that contains a good moisture balance.

These nutritional ratios make dubia roaches quite possibly one of the most well-rounded nutritious options when it comes to herp health.

Aside from the obvious health benefits, dubia roaches are also relatively easy to maintain and keep. They are far less noisy, messy, and for lack of a better word, stinky, than crickets. Plus, as we’ve already established, they are edible to herps at all their life stages.

Unlike crickets, which are the most common feeder insect, dubias are not known escape artists. Crickets can and will jump out of holding containers, whereas dubias aren’t inclined to fly and they cannot climb on slick surfaces such as glass or plastic tubs. This means that temporary holding pens as well as long term housing for dubia breeding projects are easy to come by and you’ll never have to worry about a dubia “infestation” in your home from escaping roaches.

Another benefit that most herp owners probably haven’t even considered is the safety of their animal. Crickets are known “nibblers” and can actually injure your pet by gnawing on it if you leave them unattended with your herp. Dubia roaches, on the other hand, are not aggressive and won’t harm your pet if you leave them unattended in the animal’s cage.
How do I breed and raise my own feeder Dubia Roaches for my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate?

While dubias are an excellent nutritional option for feeding your reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate, they are not as readily available via pet stores and they are also a bit costlier than traditional crickets. Luckily, dubias are actually relatively simple to breed and maintain. All you’ll need to raise your own dubias at home is a ventilated enclosure, heat source, food, water, and hiding space(s).

dubia roach breeding
Luckily, dubia roaches are very easy to maintain in captivity. They are edible at all life stages and breeding them is a breeze. You won’t need many supplies, just an enclosure, food, water, hiding spaces, and a heat source. You don’t even have to clean their enclosure frequently!

The first thing you’ll need to start your own breeding colony is of course the dubia roaches themselves. Luckily, Backwater Reptiles does sell starter breeding colonies! Each colony also comes with the supplies you’ll need to begin keeping your dubias including: instructions, roach food, water crystals, and egg crates.

The good news about keeping dubias is that they do best if you just leave them alone. You should regularly check to make sure that they have fresh food and water, but other than that, maintenance is very simple. In fact, dubia roach enclosures only need to be cleaned two to three times per year! Leaving the droppings and other accumulated detritus in the bottom of the enclosure is actually beneficial to the roaches for many reasons.

Once your colony has been established, you should remove feeder roaches at regular intervals and keep them housed separately from your growing roaches and breeding roaches.

Naturally, dubias are scavengers like all cockroaches and the good news for breeders is that this means you can feed them a variety of things. We recommend a food that is dry and doesn’t encourage rot, mold, or fungus to grow inside the roaches’ enclosure. Cereal, dry pet food, and chicken feed are all acceptable options, but you can also give them house scraps such as bread.

When it comes to roach feeding, it’s also recommended that you provide a “fresh” food source at least once or twice per week. Fresh food includes everything from leftover greens, citrus fruits, potatoes, and even fruit such as apples or grapes.

Just be very mindful when feeding your dubias fresh food items. You’ll want to make sure that the food you’re giving them is not harmful or toxic in any way to the species that will be ingesting the dubias. You’ll also want to remove any uneaten fresh food remnants from the enclosure to avoid bacteria, rot, and mold from forming.

What is “gut loading” and how does it affect my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate?

Gut loading is the process of giving your feeder insects highly nutritious food in order to pass that nutrition on to your pet that will be consuming the roach. Keep in mind that your pet is essentially eating whatever your feeder insect eats, so gut loaded insects of all varieties, whether crickets, roaches, reptiworms, or any other type of invertebrate, are directly transferring the nutritional value of what they’ve eaten on to your pet. Ever heard that common saying that you are what you eat? Well, in the case of gut loaded feeder insects, this is literally true!

One thing to keep in mind when gut loading your dubias is that this species of roach has a slower digestion process. Unlike crickets and some other species of feeders which produce a lot of waste in very short amounts of time, the food given to a dubia will stay in the roach’s system for much longer, thereby providing more residual nutrition to your pet.

The bottom line is that you should feed your dubias well because their health is directly correlated to the health of your pet.

Where can I get Dubia Roaches to feed my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate?

As we’ve already mentioned, dubia roaches are not readily available in most commercial pet stores.

However, the good news is that even if you are not lucky enough to have a store in your area where you can buy dubias, you can purchase them online.

bearded dragon adult
Bearded dragons are one species of lizard that will virtually never turn down a dubia roach. They love eating them and have quite large appetites!

Did you know that Backwater Reptiles sells feeder dubia roaches of all sizes and ages? And shipping is absolutely one hundred percent free!

I’ve received my order of Dubia Roaches. What do I do with them now?

If you have no intention of starting your own breeding colony of dubias, maintaining the dubias you ordered online is still just as easy.

The growth rate of dubias compared to crickets is much slower, so the good news is that whatever size roach you order should stay the same size for the duration that you have it before it gets fed to your pet.

We recommend providing the same elements you’d provide for your breeding colony – food, water, enclosure, heat element, and hiding space – only on a smaller scale.
Are there any downsides to feeding my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate dubia roaches?

In reality, dubia roaches are one of the most nutritious and “healthy” options for your pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate. There are not many downsides to mention in terms of nutritional worth.

Virtually the only cons we can think of when it comes to feeding your herp dubia roaches are the costliness of the roach and the availability of the roach.

As we’ve mentioned already, dubias are not commonly sold in stores, nor are they the cheapest insect you can feed your herp. However, if you can offset cost and availability by either breeding your own colony or making your roach orders last you for a while by practicing good husbandry habits, then feeding your pet dubia roaches is well worth the extra effort!

Conclusion

Dubia roaches are excellent choices as far as feeder insects are concerned.

Dubias are a very healthy and nutritious option for exotic pets and herps of all types! Scorpions, lizards, frogs, and even tarantulas all love to eat them. And the good news is that because dubias pack such a nutritional punch, you ultimately end up having to feed your pet fewer of them than you would if you chose another species of feeder insect.

Do you have any special tips or tricks to offer readers when it comes to dubia roach husbandry? List them in the comments! We’d love to hear your experiences!

Should I Feed My Snake Rats or Mice?

Did you know that most pet snakes eat rodents in captivity? Depending on the size and species of snake, it could be eating mice, rats, or even rabbits!

Because there are several options when it comes to feeding your own pet snake, you might be wondering which option works best nutritionally for your own snake. Well, look no further! This blog article is dedicated to discussing the benefits and drawbacks to each type of feeder rodent and will help you make an educated and informed decision when it comes to making sure your own precious slithering snake friend receives the best diet.

In this blog article, we’ll answer questions such as:

What is the difference between feeding your snake mice or rats? 
What size feeder rodent should I be giving my pet snake?
Should I feed my snake frozen or live feeder rodents?
Can I feed my pet snake food other than rodents?
Where can I buy feeder rodents for my pet snake?

pearl island boa eating
This Pearl Island boa is eating a live mouse rather than a frozen/thawed one because it is a picky eater. Not all snakes will accept frozen mice or rats as food.

Rats Versus Mice as Feeders

What is the difference between feeding your snake mice or rats?

There is much debate as to whether or not your pet snake should eat mice or rats. And honestly, there are nutritional differences, but the bottom line is that is comes down to personal preference of the snake’s owner as well as what species of snake you are feeding.

First of all, the most significant difference in nutritional value between rats and mice is that mice contain more fat than rats. Rats are leaner and higher in protein value. Both rodents are overall pretty comparable in terms of vitamins and minerals.

Keep in mind that different species of snake will also fare better on different types of feeders. The general consensus amongst reptile enthusiasts is that heftier bodied snakes such as pythons and boas benefit greatly from consuming rats on a regular basis. More slender species of snakes that are commonly kept as pets such as king snakes, corn snakes, and milk snakes are usually better off eating mice.

Because rats are higher in protein, this tends to mean that larger snakes with slower metabolisms (i.e. pythons and boas) can digest them more efficiently. They will overall receive more nutrients from any given meal and will ultimately require fewer feeding sessions.

Mice are great options for snakes that are more active such as the “slim” species we listed above. Due to their fat content, mice provide more immediate fuel that snakes with quick acting metabolisms can utilize and put to good use.

That isn’t to say that various species of snakes are unable to eat both types of rodent. Whether you opt for mice or rats, your snake should be getting everything it needs nutritionally, provided you feed it on a proper schedule.

What size feeder rodent should I be giving my pet snake?

Obviously, the size mouse or rat you feed your snake should change depending on the size of the snake being fed. You wouldn’t want to feed a hatchling corn snake a full-grown rat, nor would it make sense to give a full-grown ball python pinkie mice!

So then, what is the appropriate size rodent to give a snake?

The general rule of thumb that most snake owners follow is that you should feed your snake a rodent that is approximately the size of the thickest or most girthy part of your snake. Anything larger and you risk impaction or choking. Anything smaller and you risk underfeeding.

We’d like to point out that although you can certainly feed your snake rodents that are smaller than the thickest portion of the snake’s body, if you are doing so, you should probably be feeding the snake more than one rodent at a time. So, you can choose to feed several smaller rodents or one larger rodent in a single feeding session. Most snake owners would opt for a single larger rodent just for the sake of convenience, although both methods will ensure your snake doesn’t go hungry.

The only species of snakes that might need to eat feeder animals larger than adult rats would be Burmese pythons, anacondas, and/or reticulated pythons. These species of snakes can actually get large enough to eat rabbits!

leucistic ball python
Ball pythons are a hefty bodied snake. This means that they do very well digesting rats which contain more protein and less fat than mice.

Should I feed my snake frozen or live feeder rodents?

For the sake of safety and convenience, if you can feed your snake frozen/thawed rodents, we highly recommend doing so. Picky eaters excluded, all the snakes at the Backwater Reptiles facility that eat rodents are fed a diet of frozen/thawed mice.

Frozen rodents are easier to store. Rather than make a trip to the pet store to pick up a live mouse or rat every week or every other week, depending on the age of your snake, you can keep a supply of frozen rodents in your freezer at all times. Snake hungry? Thaw your rodent and you’re ready to go.

Because frozen rodents aren’t alive, it also means that you don’t have to worry about your snake being injured or bitten by the rodent during the feeding process. Not all snakes have the greatest aim and often times live rodents that can move out of striking range can be missed or awkwardly grabbed, resulting in the rodent being able to bite and claw your snake.

But again, we’d like to stress that some snakes are picky eaters and won’t even eat rodents that have been previously frozen. So, if your snake denies frozen rodents, it does become necessary to feed it using living rodents and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We just recommend sticking around for the entire feeding process and making sure that your snake isn’t in any danger.

Can I feed my pet snake food other than rodents?

Not all snakes eat rodents. In fact, many species eat other small vertebrates. There are even some very, very small species of snake that eat invertebrates!

Feeder fish such as minnows and goldfish are an option for certain snake species. Amphibians such as frogs and toads are also often consumed by species such as garter snakes, ribbon snakes, and water snakes.

red bellied water snake
Some species of snake, like this red bellied water snake, don’t generally eat rodents in the wild. This means that they will have a different diet in captivity.

Very small snake species such as ringnecks and Bimini blind snakes are too tiny to eat even normal sized invertebrates. In captivity, they often eat earthworms and other appropriately sized prey.

However, most species of snake that are kept as pets do eat rodents, so in general, it’s safe to assume that you won’t have to feed your own pet snake anything other than mice or rats.

Where can I buy feeder rodents for my pet snake?

Luckily, most commercial pet stores do sell both frozen feeder rodents and living feeder rodents.

Ultimately, the best place to buy your feeder rodents if you own just a single snake is probably your local pet store. Purchasing one live rodent at a time or several frozen ones to keep in your freezer is usually sufficient for most normal herp hobbyists.

If you own many snakes or if you breed them or plan on starting a breeding project, it could definitely be beneficial to buy frozen rodents online in bulk. Backwater Reptiles does sell frozen feeder rats and mice in various sizes, however they are sold in large quantities rather than being available to purchase individually like they are in most pet stores.

Conclusion

As we’ve already mentioned before, it is very much a personal preference as to what type of rodent you feed your own pet snake. Many snakes thrive on feeder mice their entire lives and there are no negative consequences to feeding one over the other.

There is no “right” diet for any given snake. In fact, some snakes are such picky eaters that as an owner, you might have no choice but to feed your snake a single prey item its entire life. The information provided in this article is simply meant to serve as a guideline, answer some commonly asked questions, and hopefully inform potential snake owners what to expect in terms of feeding their new herp friend.

How to Care for Your Red Eared Slider Turtle

Did you know that red eared sliders are one of the most popular species of turtles kept as pets? They are great aquatic reptiles that can be kept in either a tank or an outdoor pond environment, are hardy and versatile, and also quite cute which makes them appealing to both seasoned herp enthusiasts and those just getting introduced to the hobby as well.

Because red eared sliders are so common, we’re dedicating this blog article to discussing how to care for these fantastic turtles. We’ll answer some commonly asked questions such as:

Do red eared sliders make good pets?
What do red eared sliders eat?
What kind of habitat will my red eared slider need?
Can I keep my red eared slider outdoors in a pond?
Are red eared sliders good classroom pets?

So if you’re contemplating getting a pet red eared slider or you already have one and you want to make sure you’re giving it the best care possible, read on!

How to Care for your Red Eared Slider Turtle (Trachemys s. elegans)

Do red eared sliders make good pets?

To sum it up – yes! Red eared sliders make excellent pets, which explains why they are so popular!

baby sliders
Red eared sliders are communal and often stack on top of one another when basking. It’s quite humorous to watch them slide into the water when they’re hanging out in groups like this.

Red eared sliders get their common name from the distinctive red mark or stripe behind their eyes where typically an external ear would be found. They range in color and can have shells that are greenish brown, olive green, or even just brown. They always have yellow bellies with irregular markings on their belly scales or scutes.

Red eared sliders can be longer than sixteen inches, however it is far more common to see turtles that range in size from six to ten inches. They are relatively long-lived animals and typically live between twenty and thirty  years.

Not only are sliders appealing to look at, they are great outdoor and indoor pets. Many people build fancy ponds in their yards and enjoy watching the sliders thrive in a very natural outdoor environment, while others are content to create aquatic enclosures within their homes. No matter where your slider lives, they are communal creatures and it is entertaining for young and old alike to watch them stack on top of each other while basking, only to scuttle into the water when startled. Funny enough, this habit is actually where the “slider” portion of this turtle’s common name originated.

What do red eared sliders eat?

In the wild, red eared sliders are omnivorous. They eat both protein (meat) and vegetation. Ideally, this omnivorous diet should be replicated in captivity as well, with a good balance being struck between the amount of protein your turtle eats and the amount of plant matter.

Aquatic vegetation and plants that occur naturally in pond environments coupled with dead fish, frogs, and invertebrates are all food items consumed by red eared sliders in the wild. In captivity, in order to ensure a proper diet with all the correct nutrients, many slider owners feed their turtles commercial pellets. But like people, sliders shouldn’t necessarily eat the same thing all the time, so it’s a good idea to offer leafy greens, crickets, roaches, worms, krill, and even pinky mice as treats from time to time. Most sliders aren’t picky eaters and will pretty much enjoy eating anything you feed them.

We recommend that vegetable matter always be available for your turtle to consume when it’s hungry. Protein items can be offered daily, but don’t be alarmed if your slider doesn’t eat them right away. Reptiles have much slower metabolisms than mammals and actually don’t need to eat as frequently.

What kind of habitat will my red eared slider need?

Because red eared sliders are semi-aquatic turtles, you will need to provide them with an aquatic set up, whether you choose to house your turtle(s) indoors in an aquarium environment or outdoors in a contained pond.

Creating an Indoor Habitat

We always recommend keeping hatchlings and juvenile turtles under four inches long indoors. This way you can monitor their diet more closely, keep an eye on them to ensure they don’t escape your yard, and also make sure that no predators manage to capture them.

Indoor aquatic set ups for red eared sliders aren’t very complicated, although because sliders are a messy species of turtle that produce a lot of waste, you will be required to clean the tank fairly often, even with a very good filtration system.

baby red ear slider
Baby red eared sliders are best kept indoors in small tanks. They are more vulnerable to weather, predators, and other threats than their older counterparts.

When it comes to setting up a tank for your red eared slider(s), the general rule of thumb is that the enclosure should be able to comfortably hold ten gallons of water for every inch of the turtle’s shell. So, for example, if you have a hatchling slider that is three inches long, your tank should hold at least thirty gallons of water. This might seem like a lot of space for such a small reptile, but keep in mind that red eared sliders are a particularly active species of turtle and they do quite a bit of swimming and spend a lot of time in the water. For this reason, we do recommend making sure that you can provide a home large enough for your adult turtle before you purchase. Considering that at maturity, although rare, very large sliders can be around sixteen inches long, you’ll want to make sure that you are prepared to provide an aquatic enclosure that holds at least 160 gallons of water.

In addition to making sure your tank is the proper size, your turtle’s aquatic set up will require several other elements.

We recommend a good filtration system to help keep the tank clean since we’ve already established that sliders are messy. While a filter is certainly not a replacement for regular cleaning of the tank, it will certainly help keep things as clean as possible between cleanings.

Your red eared sliders will also require a UV lamp. Both UVB and UVA rays are  essential to your slider’s health, so make sure your bulbs are full spectrum and mimic the rays of the sun. The temperature of the basking area beneath the lights should be between eighty-five and ninety degrees Fahrenheit.

In addition to a basking light set up, your red eared slider will need what’s referred to as a basking dock. This is essentially an area or platform completely out of the water where the turtles can emerge to dry off and soak up the UV lights. Basking docks can be hand made or purchased at commercial pet stores.

While we have seen aquatic turtle set ups without a water heater, we do still highly recommend purchasing one. Turtles of all species will thrive when the water temperature is consistent. If you keep the water temperature from fluctuating too much, your slider’s metabolism will stay active, making for an overall healthier reptile. Our recommendation for the ideal water temperature is between seventy-five and eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit.

Creating an Outdoor Pond Environment

We highly recommend keeping larger red eared sliders outdoors in contained pond environments, provided the temperatures and weather are appropriate. It is better for the health of the turtle(s) and it is also far less hassle to maintain since large turtles require large bodies of water.

Read on to find out more about how to create an outdoor pond set up for red eared sliders.

Can I keep my red eared slider outdoors in a pond?

As we’ve already touched upon, yes, you can most certainly keep your red eared sliders outdoors in a pond environment! However, please keep these things in mind when you choose to use this housing method:

  1. Your pond needs to be large enough to accommodate the number and size of sliders that you own. Most turtle pond set ups don’t just have a single turtle living in them, so you’ll want to be sure that your pond is large enough to comfortably contain all your sliders.
  2. The outdoor temperatures and weather in your area need to be red eared slider friendly. This means that if you love somewhere extremely cold or conversely, extremely hot, you might want to reconsider having a turtle pond.
  3. Your outdoor pond should be contained. Red eared sliders are active reptiles and they might want to go exploring. You’ll want to be sure that they are unable to go far if they leave the safety of the pond, so backyards with fences are ideal.
turtle pond
Turtle ponds can be as elaborate or as simple as desired.

When building a turtle pond, you’ll want to protect it from local wildlife, namely any potential predators. Racoons, foxes, and coyotes are often quite threatening to turtles, believe it or not. You can protect your enclosure and help prevent escaping turtles too by setting up a fence or other similar border around the pond.

Another consideration when you build your pond is to make sure that the water is not always in direct sunlight. You will want some form of shade present so that the turtles can thermoregulate and the temperatures don’t get too hot. Essentially, just like you want a hot and cool side for your indoor tank, you will want to fulfill the same requirement for your outdoor pond.

You can go as big or as simple as you want when building your pond. There are so many different options available for budgets and yards of all sizes. You can even include fish and aquatic plants as natural sources of food for your red eared sliders.

group of turtles
Because Backwater Reptiles also re-homes and rescues reptiles, we get so many sliders brought in from the side of the road. Good Samaritans often save them from being run over but then don’t know where to safely return the turtles to the wild.
The turtles in this photo are all rescues being temporarily housed in a kiddie pool until they are re-homed.

One thing we’d like to stress when it comes to creating an outdoor pond environment is that you need to make sure your pond is secure. Red eared sliders are so hardy and versatile that they have actually become an invasive species in many areas. They can escape yards and wind up interfering with natural ecosystems if you’re not very careful. Please plan your pond’s “security” accordingly. Ideally, no predators should be able to get in and no turtles should be able to get out.

Are red eared sliders good classroom pets?

Red eared sliders can make excellent classroom pets, however please make sure that you are not keeping small turtles in a classroom with children who still like to put small things in their mouth. For this reason, we’d recommend only turtles with shells over four inches long for any classroom.

Sliders are great animals to teach kids responsibility. Not only do they need to be fed a balanced diet, they need to be cleaned up after frequently. Red eared sliders provide a good way to teach children the responsibilities of cleaning up their pet’s waste.

No matter what age group your classroom happens to be, it is important that all children wash their hands after handling the sliders. While most people with healthy immune systems are fine being exposed to the natural bacteria sliders carry, it is always best to be safe. We recommend that any time the sliders are handled by anyone, that person wash their hands with antibacterial soap to kill any potential bacteria such as Salmonella.

Conclusion

Whether you keep a single red eared slider in a tank inside your home or build a fancy outdoor pond habitat for many red eared sliders, know that these turtles are popular pets for a reason.

Red eared sliders are very versatile, hardy, and beautiful reptiles and we guarantee that you and your family will get hours of enjoyment and entertainment from watching them and interacting with them.

Ready for a red eared slider of your own? Backwater Reptiles has sliders of all sizes available for sale.

 

Are Crickets Good Feeder Insects?

If you’ve ever had a pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate, you’re likely aware that many of these animals eat insects such as meal worms, crickets, and roaches at meal time.

Crickets are actually a very common insect that are eaten by virtually all types of insectivorous exotic animals. We’d even go so far as to say that they are a “staple food” when it comes to reptile feeding.

In this article, we’ll touch upon some commonly asked questions about feeder crickets such as:

-Do crickets make good feeder insects?
-What types of exotic pets eat crickets?
-Why should I feed my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate crickets? What are the benefits?
-How do I breed and raise my own feeder crickets for my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate?
-What is “gut loading” and how does it affect my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate?
-Where can I get crickets to feed my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate?
-I’ve received my order of feeder crickets. What do I do with them now?
-Are there any downsides to feeding my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate crickets?

Crickets as Feeder Insects

Do crickets make good feeder insects?

The short, sweet, simple answer to this question is YES! They make great feeder insects and we highly recommend them for feeding virtually all types of animals.

crickets as feeder insects
As you can see, we keep a lot of crickets at Backwater Reptiles because we have many mouths to feed! All crickets need in order to thrive is a container to live in, a food source, and some egg crates or other similar “furniture.”

Crickets are probably the most popular option when it comes to feeding insectivorous and omnivorous reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates and for good reason. We’ll go into more detail as to why they make such nutritious meals later on in this article.

What types of exotic pets eat crickets?

As we’ve already mentioned, virtually all insectivorous reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates consume crickets.

Omnivorous lizards such as bearded dragons, some skinks, and even iguanas will all happily eat crickets. Carnivorous lizards such as young monitors, chameleons, geckos, and many species of agama also love to eat crickets on a daily basis.

Amphibians such as frogs, toads, and salamanders are also insectivores and will therefore gladly eat crickets for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner.

Believe it or not, even other invertebrates such as scorpions and tarantulas eat crickets.

Why should I feed my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate crickets?  What are the benefits to using crickets as feeder insects?

Crickets are extremely nutritious food for pet herps. They possess a ton of protein and a fairly decent water content as well. However, we will say that because they are both smaller and less dense than other feeder insects, like dubia roaches for example, your pet will need to consume more in a single sitting to get the same nutritional value.

We do highly recommend crickets as feeder insects due to their ubiquitous nature. Not only can you order feeder crickets in bulk online from many sellers, you can also pick up as many as you need from virtually any big box, commercial pet store in your area. Crickets are very, very commonly fed to exotic animals of all types, so they are very easy to purchase at a physical store front when necessary. This is a huge benefit in our book because if you accidentally run out of crickets and your pet is hungry, food for them is usually very easy to come by on that same day. No need to wait for them to arrive in the mail while your pet goes without food for a day or more.

Another added bonus to feeding your pet crickets that has nothing to do with nutritional value is that crickets are inexpensive. While other species of feeder insects most certainly are beneficial to your pet’s health, crickets are generally the cheapest option. This tends to be true whether you purchase them in bulk or on a case by case individual need basis. Because crickets are everywhere as a food source, the market for them is fairly inexpensive and this appeals to many exotic pet owners.

Not only are feeder crickets nutritious, ubiquitous, and inexpensive, they also come in a variety of sizes. You can purchase pinhead crickets to feed smaller reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates such as dart frogs, baby chameleons, and anoles, but you can also purchase full-grown adult crickets to feed to large pets such as mature bearded dragons, adult frogs of many species, and large scorpions and tarantulas.

How do I breed and raise my own feeder crickets for my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate? 

We’re going to be up front and state right off the bat that breeding and raising crickets to save money on purchasing them as feeders is quite a pain in the rear end! In most cases, it is actually more cost efficient and time efficient to just order your crickets online or purchase them locally from a pet store.

Raising and breeding crickets requires space, time, effort, and a tolerance for the cricket’s smell, noise level, and propensity to escape.

For these reasons, we don’t even breed and raise our own crickets at the Backwater Reptiles facility, and we feed hundreds of reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates on a daily basis.

However, if your mind is set on breeding feeder crickets of your own, there are some very handy tutorials online. A quick Google search will reveal a multitude of videos and written instructions on how to do so, but we’re going to steer clear of this topic for the purposes of this blog article.

What is “gut loading” and how does it affect my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate?

Gut loading is a term used to refer to what the feeder crickets are themselves eating at meal time. It essentially means that the crickets are being fed a specific diet that ensures that they are as nutritionally dense as possible for the animals that will be eating them.

Feeder crickets are essentially an empty vessel. Whatever the crickets eat is basically what your pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate will be eating. The process of gut loading feeder crickets ensures that your pet gets the most out of meal time.

Gut loaded crickets are fed a variety of foods that are healthy for exotic animals. Most will eat a commercial cricket chow that is specially formulated to deliver nutrition, but often times this staple food is supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s not uncommon to give feeder crickets items such as: carrots, dark leafy greens (kale, collard greens, romaine lettuce, mustard greens, etc.), squash, sweet potatoes, wheat germ, prepackaged reptile foods, fish flakes, and regular potatoes (peel included). Your pet should have a varied and balanced diet, and because gut loaded feeder crickets usually do, the nutritional benefits are passed along.

Where can I get crickets to feed my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate?

As we’ve already mentioned, feeder crickets are very, very easy to come by both online and in physical store fronts.

In our opinion, where you buy your feeder crickets depends upon how many you require at a time, how many animals you’ll be feeding, and what’s most cost effective for your budget.

If you are a serious herp hobbyist with many pets to feed, we highly recommend ordering in bulk from an online retailer. It is not only more cost efficient, but it saves you time because you don’t have to trek to the store to purchase what you need. The crickets will be shipped direct to your doorstep, just like with any other type of online purchase.

scorpion eating a cricket
As you can see, crickets make excellent food items for invertebrates as well as reptiles and amphibians.

If you only need to buy a small amount of crickets because you’re just feeding a single animal, we don’t recommend ordering in bulk. This is because not only will your single animal probably not be able to eat all the crickets you order, but the crickets will likely grow and end up being too large for your pet to eat, especially if you buy juvenile crickets. There’s also the possibility that your crickets will die before they even get the chance to become your pet’s dinner.

If you’re looking for a reliable feeder cricket bulk supplier, Backwater Reptiles has certainly got you covered! Simply click here and select a quantity of either 500 or 1,000 from the drop down menu. Your feeder crickets will be shipped overnight for free direct to your doorstep. So convenient!

Smaller quantities of feeder crickets can be purchased from chain pet stores such as PetCo or PetSmart. Many smaller mom and pop feed stores and pet stores also sell feeder crickets in manageable quantities.

I’ve received my order of feeder crickets. What do I do with them now?

You can expect your feeder crickets to live about a few weeks, depending on the age and relative size that you purchase. Obviously, younger crickets will live for a bit longer as they are farther from the end of their life cycle.

Because your pet will probably not be eating all of the crickets you purchase in a single setting, there are things you should do in order to keep your remaining feeder crickets alive and healthy for your pet’s next meal time.

First of all, you will need a holding container for the crickets. Depending on the number of crickets you purchased, a bucket or tall tub should work just fine.

Next, make sure there is some sort of hiding space/crawling space that your crickets can call home for the brief remainder of their life cycle. Generally, when you purchase crickets from the store, you will get a piece of cardboard egg crate. This will usually suffice for the few days that you keep the remaining uneaten crickets.

Lastly, you’ll need to provide a food source for your feeder crickets. If you only have a few crickets to care for, you can just toss a carrot or a piece of potato into the container where your crickets are being held. There’s no need to provide a water dish as crickets get all the water they need from the food they consume.

Now that you’ve provided them with food and some “furniture,” your crickets have everything they need to survive for the next few days while you continue to feed them to your critter.

Are there any downsides to feeding my pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate crickets?

Although crickets are excellent food for many exotic pets, they are certainly not perfect. There are definitely some downsides to feeding them to your pet, although these are not because they are not nutritionally poor or lacking.

First of all, crickets can be quite smelly. This is one of the main reasons many people prefer to simply order and/or purchase crickets as needed rather than breed and raise them on their own. The digestive tract of crickets is rather short and simple, so they process their meals in twenty-four to forty-eight hours, and therefore create and eliminate waste rather quickly, which is what causes the distinctive odor that usually accompanies their housing arrangement.

newborn parsons chameleon
Because feeder crickets are available in multiple sizes, you can even find crickets small enough to feed to tiny animals like baby chameleons.

Secondly, crickets are actually rather mean insects. This doesn’t mean that they will bite you and you certainly have no need to fear your feeder crickets, but they can be quite nasty to your pet if left unattended. This essentially means that when you feed any reptile, amphibian, or even invertebrate crickets, you will need to stick around for the duration of the feeding and make sure that any crickets that are not consumed are removed from the enclosure. Otherwise, crickets can actually bite and injure many animals, no matter how unlikely it seems.

Crickets are also known for being escape artists. It’s pretty much inevitable that some will escape from their enclosure, especially if you keep large quantities.

And one final thing we’d like to mention about crickets as feeder insects is the noise they make. As you’re likely aware, crickets are known to chirp and this behavior stays with them even in captivity. So if noisiness bothers you, you might want to think twice about trying to maintain your own personal feeder cricket colony and just purchase feeders as needed.

Conclusion

We hope this blog article has been helpful in laying out the pros and cons of crickets as feeder insects.

While there are certain drawbacks to breeding and maintaining your own colony, we personally think it’s more cost efficient and less time-consuming to just purchase your feeder crickets as needed.

Overall, crickets make excellent meals for all sorts of reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates!

How to Set Up a Scorpion Enclosure

One of the first things to consider when purchasing a non-traditional pet of any sort is where the animal will live. What type of cage or enclosure does it require to stay happy and healthy? How can you make sure your pet’s housing needs are met?

Because scorpions are pretty popular in the reptile hobbyist world (despite the fact that they’re obviously not reptiles!), we get asked a lot about scorpion care, housing, and husbandry. In this blog article we’ll answer the following questions:

Do scorpions make good pets?
What do you need to set up a scorpion enclosure?
How do I set up a scorpion enclosure?
What types of scorpions is this set up appropriate for?
Where can I buy a scorpion enclosure kit?

How to set up a scorpion enclosure

Do scorpions make good pets?

We certainly think that scorpions make great pets! However, they are certainly not for everyone.

Keep in mind that scorpions obviously have venomous, stinging tails and pinchers, so they can be dangerous if you don’t know how to handle one. Most people report that the sting of a scorpion feels similar to a bee sting and the effects of the venom vary from species to species, but usually, they don’t cause too much harm unless you happen to be allergic.

So, because scorpions require careful handling and a knowledge of how to handle a venomous invertebrate, we’d say make sure that you are not squeamish, afraid, or allergic before you decide to purchase a pet scorpion.

We’d also like to mention that scorpions are not meant to be interactive, social pets. They thrive when left alone to their own devices, so please don’t purchase a pet scorpion with the intent of handling it all the time. Scorpions are relatively secretive and will get stressed with too much human interaction.

So, the bottom line is if you are not allergic to scorpion venom, if you are okay with a mostly “look don’t touch” pet, and you aren’t squeamish around invertebrates, then a scorpion would make a great pet!

What will I need to set up a scorpion enclosure?

Believe it or not, scorpions cages are very simple. You don’t need a lot of room, decorations, or other accessories in order for your pet scorpion to thrive.

Listed below are the items needed to set up your pet scorpion’s home:

Cage/Enclosure/Home – This is a pretty obvious requirement. Clearly your scorpion will need an enclosed space of some sort to call its home. We recommend a clear plastic or glass box or tank so that you are able to view your scorpion when it emerges from hiding.

Ideally, your enclosure will be longer rather than it is taller and possess more horizontal space than it does vertical as scorpions are not arboreal invertebrates and won’t be doing any climbing.

We also highly recommend that your tank or cage have a lid. While it’s true that scorpions can’t really climb, especially up the walls of a glass tank, we do recommend it for safety purposes. A lid can help prevent many types of accidents and will also prevent your scorpion from getting out of its tank on the off chance that it is an escape artist.

Substrate – All scorpion cages should be lined with some sort of substrate. Scorpions can be burrowers, so make sure to choose a substrate that supports this habit. At Backwater Reptiles, we usually use coconut husk mixed with sand because it holds tunnels well and is very safe for the scorpion. However, depending on the species, you can use other types of substrates too. Forest species will require some moisture, so substrates such as peat moss, coconut husk, and even orchid bark mixed with organic potting soil are all good options. Desert species such as the desert hairy scorpion, will require a much drier substrate. Sand is generally the best option for a desert species.

scorpion kit
Pictured is the Backwater Reptiles scorpion kit. It includes all that you see – a plastic faunarium complete with lid, a brick of plantation soil substrate, a faux plant, a water dish, and a rock hide space. This set up works great with nearly all species of scorpions.

Hide Space – Scorpions are by nature pretty shy and secretive, so a hide space is essential. They require an area where they can feel secure and invisible from predators.

There are any number of hides you can make or purchase. We prefer something simple with a bit of weight to it so that the scorpion can’t accidentally displace or dislodge it.

Water Dish – Although you’ll likely never ever see your pet scorpion drinking water, it is still in the best interests of your scorpion to provide a sturdy water dish.

A water dish helps maintain proper humidity levels and is also important for hydration should your scorpion become thirsty.

We highly recommend a dish that is heavy enough to stay put. You don’t want a light weight dish that will tip over or spill water everywhere within the scorpion’s cage as this could lead to the growth of mold or fungus.

Foliage/Plant – Scorpions don’t need a lot of cage accessories to do well in captivity. Because they usually do best in relatively small enclosures, we recommend a small plastic plant that doesn’t spread out or stick up too high. This gives a natural look to the cage and also provides a bit of decoration.

Heating Pad/Heating Mat – If you maintain decent temperatures and don’t allow your room to grow too cold or too warm, most scorpions don’t absolutely require a heating element, although we do recommend it to at least give them the option to thermoregulate.

If you do choose to provide a heating element, we don’t recommend heat lights or lamps as scorpions tend to avoid light and will simply hide from it all day. Rather, we recommend investing in a heat mat that you secure to the side of the enclosure. Because scorpions are known for burrowing, sticking the mat to the bottom of the tank might actually create temperatures that are too warm and you could inadvertently “cook” your scorpion!

Springtails – Believe it or not, springtails are actually something living that you can add to your scorpion’s set up in order to promote a healthy cage ecosystem. They are however not a necessary addition to your scorpion’s set up and are completely optional.

Springtails are actually tiny little bugs that are helpful in breaking down waste elements in the scorpion’s environment. This is beneficial to all parties because this means you have to clean your scorpion’s enclosure less frequently and your scorpion is not walking around in its own waste.

Remember how we mentioned that you want to be careful when choosing a water dish as you don’t want to create excess moisture that could lead to fungus and mold growing within the scorpion’s enclosure? Well, springtails can actually help alleviate mold and fungus, so they are also beneficial when it comes to keeping harmful and invasive elements out of your scorpion’s environment.

How do I set up a scorpion enclosure?

Once you’ve obtained the items on the list above (read more on where to purchase these items later on in this article), it’s a very straight forward, simple process to prepare your scorpion’s enclosure.

The first step is to line your enclosure with your chosen substrate. Make sure that it is at the proper moisture level. Desert scorpions should have dry substrate, while tropical species should have more moisture. Usually you want the substrate to be damp but certainly not dripping.

arizona bark scorpion
Pictured is a young Arizona bark scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus). This species is actually the most venomous in the entire United States, so be wary when purchasing one. You can follow the set up we describe in this blog article when keeping an Arizona bark scorpion, just make sure to choose an appropriate substrate. As its name suggests, this particular species prefers dry bark, wood, or leaf litter.

If you have a heating pad, secure it to one side of the enclosure, preferably on a side wall and not on the bottom of the tank.

All of the other elements of the set up – the water dish, the hide space, and the  faux foliage – can be placed however you desire within the cage. We usually like to keep the water dish on the same side as the heat because the evaporation helps to maintain moisture levels. Just be aware that if you choose this option, you’ll likely need to refill the water dish more frequently.

As you can see, setting up the enclosure for a scorpion is really not rocket science. You basically just place the objects listed above in the cage as you choose and – voila – your scorpion’s home is ready to go!

What types of scorpions is this set up appropriate for?

This type of set up will work excellent for just about every type of scorpion available to keep as a pet.

We’d like to point out that the only real difference in cage set ups to be aware of is that desert scorpion species will require a dry substrate, whereas tropical species will require a moist substrate.

Otherwise, you can follow our instructions for setting up this type of scorpion enclosure for any species!

Where can I buy a scorpion enclosure kit?

If you’re wondering where to get all of the items listed above, it’s really actually very simple. Backwater Reptiles not only sells pet scorpions, we also sell scorpion kits!

Contained within the kit is the actual cage/terrarium itself, substrate, a plastic plant, and a water dish. The only items not included would be a heating pad and the springtails, although as we’ve mentioned, both are optional.

burrowing scorpion
Pictured is a burrowing scorpion which is a species known for being able to dig burrows nearly five feet deep in the wild. In captivity, you’ll want to be sure to provide as much burrowing area as possible, which means securing a substrate that can hold tunnels and burrows. Coconut husk mixed with sand is great option.

All you need to do to find our scorpion kits is visit any “scorpion for sale” page and scroll down to the bottom of the page. There you will find listed two different sized scorpion kits. You can select from small/medium and medium/large depending on the size of your pet scorpion.

If you do wish to buy a heating element, you can go to any commercial pet store and obtain a reptile heating mat for relatively low cost.

You can also go to a commercial pet store to purchase all the elements included in the Backwater Reptiles scorpion kit, however it does save you time, energy, effort, and money to purchase a kit/bundle.

Unfortunately, springtails are not sold by Backwater Reptiles. They are also not commercially available in pet stores. If you wish to add springtails to your scorpion’s little ecosystem, then your best bet is to purchase them online.

springtails
Springtails make great additions to your scorpion’s cage, although they are not necessary. They’ll simply help maintain cleanliness by breaking down waste and harmful organisms like mold and fungi.

How to set up a scorpion enclosure video tutorial

Although we’ve written out how to set up a scorpion’s enclosure and detailed the supplies needed to do so, we’ve also included a brief video tutorial that walks you through the same process. You can view it below.

Conclusion

We hope this article has shown you how simple and easy it is to set up a scorpion’s enclosure.

Scorpions can make awesome pets for the right owner. If you want a very low maintenance pet that is mostly “for looks,” then a scorpion would be a good fit.

Although they’re not a very hands on or interactive pet, they can be very rewarding to keep and show off to friends and family.

But please, be smart when buying a scorpion. Make sure that if you do handle it, you do so with extreme caution. Although scorpions are not lethal (unless you have an allergy), their sting is still painful.

 

How Does the Backwater Reptiles Shipping Process Work?

One of the biggest concerns many people have with purchasing an animal of any kind online is the safety of the animal during transit. To the unexperienced, it would seem like delivering a reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate in the mail would be dangerous. However, at Backwater Reptiles, we have years of experience packaging, shipping, and ensuring safe delivery of our animal cargo.

In this article, we will explain how we go about making sure that our animals and our customers are happy.

We will answer questions such as:
Exactly how safe is it to package and ship an animal? Isn’t it risky?
How does the entire ordering process work?
What happens if the animal is unintentionally harmed during transit?
How do I know that my pet will arrive safe and sound?
How will my pet be packaged?

We’ll even include a video demonstrating our packing method so that you can see exactly how the animals are boxed up.

How safe is it to package and ship a reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate? Isn’t it risky?

The short answer to this question is that it is very safe. Although there are rare instances where an unforeseen occurrence can injure an animal during the shipping process, it is rare. Most pets will arrive safe and sound at their new home with little to no stress.

Truthfully, the types of animals sold by Backwater Reptiles are all critters with pretty hardy dispositions. Most reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates don’t need to eat on a daily basis, so not eating for a day or night while they travel to you is nothing out of the ordinary for them.

hybrid box turtle
Turtles and tortoises fare particularly well during the shipping process. They do travel with their “homes” on their backs anyways!

And rest assured that at Backwater Reptiles we do everything in our power to make sure that the manner in which our animals are packaged and shipped keeps them within the proper temperature and moisture range. But we’ll touch upon that a little later in the article.

The bottom line is that it is very safe to ship snakes, lizards, frogs, spiders, scorpions, and all other types of pets sold by Backwater Reptiles. In fact, ninety-eight percent of orders we send out arrive safe and sound and we’re very proud of those numbers.

How does the entire ordering process work?

Our ordering process is very straight forward and simple. It’s not really that different from ordering anything else online.

You can browse www.backwaterreptiles.com by the type of animal you’re looking for. For instance, we have a section for lizards, snakes, toads, frogs, spiders, etc. Each of these categories is further divided into specific species categories. The lizards section contains species tabs such as geckos, iguanas, and chameleons. The snakes section contains species tabs such as boas, pythons, and corn snakes. We like to make browsing as uncomplicated and easy as possible.

You also have the option to use the Backwater Reptiles website’s search feature. This is useful if you have a specific species name or even a scientific genus and species you’re looking for.

One you’ve located the pet you wish to purchase, simply add it to your cart. Generally, you can also purchase all the needed supplies and accessories for any given type of animal on that specific animal’s “for sale” page. For example, on each chameleon for sale page, you can scroll to the bottom of the page and add a chameleon kit to your order.

What happens if you have a question? What if you have a gender request, size request, or even color request for any given animal?

All you need to do if you have a question of any kind before placing your order is email our hard-working customer service team. They work full-time to ensure that all your questions are addressed. After all, we do want you to be one hundred percent satisfied with your order!

We would like to mention that the main difference between ordering a living creature and ordering any other product online is that we require our carriers to obtain a signature from the recipient of the animal to ensure that it was delivered in a timely, efficient, and secure manner. So check out our shipping schedule when you place your order and make sure that you are ordering for delivery on a day when someone will be present to sign and accept the animal.

antilles pink toe tarantula spiderling
Invertebrates such as this Antilles Pink Toe Tarantula spiderling also fare extremely well during the shipping process.

How do I know that my pet will arrive safe and sound?

While we can’t guarantee with one hundred percent certainty that all will go exactly as planned during the shipping process for every single order placed, at Backwater Reptiles we take every precaution to ensure that each and every animal that we ship out is packaged with care and attention to detail.

When packing a shipment, we take into consideration everything from the external temperature in our location to the temperature of the animal’s final destination. We also make sure that each animal is packed in an appropriately sized container with the correct amount of air circulation.

Furthermore, we clearly and distinctly label each and every box with a stamp that indicates that there is a live animal inside. This helps make sure that the carriers are gentle with the boxes and therefore makes the journey safer for the animals.

All animals that depart from the Backwater Reptile facility are sent out using overnight shipping. This means that the animal is transported quickly and with minimal stress. Although most of the animal we ship don’t mind being in a small space for periods of time, we do like to make sure that they get to their destination as quickly and efficiently as possible. Most will depart our facility in the morning before or around noon and arrive at your doorstep the following morning.

Using overnight shipping not only means that your pet arrives quickly, it means that you receive up to date tracking information that allows you to follow the progress of your pet and make sure that you are home to sign for it. While being able to sign for the animal on the first attempt is ideal, most FedEx and UPS facilities will hold the animal for pick up at your convenience. If you do happen to miss your delivery window for any reason, we do highly recommend retrieving the animal as soon as possible to avoid stress or injury from occurring.

What happens if my pet is unintentionally harmed during transit?

It’s beneficial to all parties involved if the animal arrives at its new forever home safe, sound, and without incident. However, there are unfortunate times when animals will arrive either injured, ill, or dead on arrival (DOA). And while nobody wants to have to deal with the heart ache or hassle of such an occurrence, just know that at Backwater Reptiles, we take good care of our customers and we will do everything to make sure that you have a good experience with us.

contact backwater reptiles
If you ever have any issues with your order, all you have to do is use the contact form on our website or email our customer service team via sales@backwaterreptiles.com.

We also think it’s worthwhile to mention that we have a shipping success rate of ninety-eight percent, which means that only two percent of all orders sent out have any issues. We’re very pleased with this statistic because it means that our animals are treated well, our customers are treated well, and we can rest easy knowing that we do and will continue to do everything within our power to be humane and ethical when delivering our beloved critters to their new forever families.

Because we do offer a live arrival guarantee PLUS an extended seven day warranty on all animals ordered from us, if you do ever happen to have something go wrong with your order, the process of either getting a refund or a replacement animal is very straight forward. All you have to do is email our customer service team and tell them your situation. They are fully equipped and ready to address your concerns and want to make the process go as smoothly as possible.

How will my pet be packaged?

Packing and prepping an animal to be mailed is not as simple as putting a frog in a box. It requires a bit of planning and careful placement and organization. After all, you don’t want your pet bouncing around inside a box or getting too cold, too wet, or too hot.

Most animals sold by Backwater Reptiles are small enough to fit inside small plastic cups with breathing holes. Most hatchling snakes, invertebrates, amphibians, and small lizards fall into this category. However, sometimes reptiles that are too large (i.e. some iguanas, some mature snakes, and other adult animals) will be sealed inside a breathable bag for transportation. No matter what temporary container your new pet is inside of, we make sure that said container is placed comfortably but securely within the shipping box to minimize movement and jerkiness.

Styrofoam inserts are placed on all sides of the box to not only secure the container from moving around, but also to create additional insulation. The styrofoam helps maintain the desired temperature within the box.

Whether or not a heat or cool pack is included inside your new pet’s shipping box depends on several factors – namely, the local temperature at our facility and the temperature at the animal’s final destination.

For instance, because the Backwater Reptiles facility is located in Northern California, our summers can get into triple digit temperatures. This means that even if the animal’s destination is somewhere cold, we can’t include a heat pack to keep the animal warm because it would overheat while in transit from our location. It’s a balancing act taken case by case, and usually we choose to take into account the most extreme temperature situation at either the departure location or the destination and compensate for it.

We will also take temperature into account when poking air holes in the actual shipping box itself. More holes does allow for more air flow, but it also allows the temperature exchange to occur more quickly. So, for instance, if the exterior temperatures are very cold and we’ve packed the animal with a heat pack to compensate, it doesn’t make sense to poke a ton of air holes in the shipping box because it allows all the heat created by the pack to escape. There’s no need to fret though – the boxes themselves aren’t sealed to the point of preventing proper air circulation, so your new pet will not suffocate.

All of our shipping boxes are also properly labeled to help the FedEx and UPS carriers understand that there is a live animal inside. Not only are the boxes labeled as such, but we use a special “LIVE ANIMAL” stamp to add extra security.

All you have to do once your new pet arrives is crack the tape seal on the box, open and remove your critter! Most animals will need anywhere from a day to a week to feel at home in their new enclosure and to begin eating, drinking, and functioning as normal.

Below is a video demonstrating the details of how we package each animal. The video does go over much of the same information that’s listed above, but it’s a useful visual representation for those who prefer watching a video over reading.

Conclusion

We hope that this blog article has helped make you comfortable with the process of ordering a living animal online.

Our goal is to show current, past, and future customers that delivering animals through the mail is safe. Even if something does go wrong in transit, Backwater Reptiles will do everything to make sure our customers are happy by either offering a replacement animal or a refund.

We also have the best live arrival and warranty terms of any online reptile vendor!

If you have any questions or concerns that were left unanswered by this article, feel free to ask them in the comments section.

How To Set Up Rack Systems for Reptiles

If you only own a single reptile of any sort, and you’re not a reptile collector, odds are you might not have even heard of a rack system. So, we’re going to preface this article by explaining exactly what a rack system is…just in case you’re unfamiliar.

When reptile enthusiasts and hobbyists speak of rack systems, they are referring to what is essentially a shelf filled with reptile “cubby” habitats in the simplest of terms. It is a specially designed shelf lined with bins that are heated to support reptile thermoregulatory habits and tend to be most useful to breeders or hobbyists who keep many reptiles.

How To Set Up a Leopard Gecko Rack System

First, we’ll tell you a little about using a rack system when breeding leopard geckos. We’ll outline what you need, how to set it up, and even include a brief video tutorial to explain how to set up our rack systems for leopard geckos at Backwater Reptiles.

leopard gecko rack system
Leopard geckos like this super snow morph, thrive in rack system set ups.

Items needed for a leopard gecko rack system set up
Plastic bins or tubs. These are used to house individual animals within your shelving unit. They function as lidless mini “cages.”
Shelving system to stack bins. Obviously you’ll need the shelf system in order to accommodate the bins your leopard geckos are living in. These units can be purchased online from specialty retailers or, if you’re handy, you can build your own.
Heat tape. Rather than hook up many pesky individual heat pads and wind up with a bunch of bulky electrical cords and ultimately, an electrical hazard, you should use heat tape to make sure the temperatures within your leopard gecko’s bin stays within the proper range.
Appropriate substrate. Just like with any other enclosure, your leopard gecko rack system bins will each require an appropriate substrate. You can use sand, paper towels, or any other substrate suitable for leopard geckos.
Water dish, food dish, and vitamin dish. Leopard geckos will need three kinds of dishes within each bin. Each dish’s purpose is pretty obvious based on what it will hold.
Egg laying bin or box/Hide space. Because most people using a rack system with leopard geckos intend to breed them, it’s necessary to have a hide space with dirt inside so that the females can lay their eggs when the time is right. The egg laying box also functions as a hide space for when your geckos feel like being secretive.
Drill. Each individual bin will need to have air holes drilled into the sides to allow for proper ventilation and moisture retention. You will only need the drill to poke holes in the sides of the plastic bins.

How to set up a leopard gecko rack system

As we’ve already established, a rack system will house numerous bins with various geckos living separately in each bin. The best strategy for success is to make each bin the same. In other words, follow the instructions below and replicate for however many number of bins you have in your shelving unit.

Step one – Drill holes in each leopard gecko bin. This is fairly straight forward. You should have at least ten to fifteen holes on each side of each bin. Spread these holes out evenly.

Step two – Hook up your heat tape. You’ll want to make sure that each bin that will have animals in it is properly heated. If you need some guidance using heat tape or setting it up, we’ve got an entire blog article dedicated to this process.

Step three – Line your bins with substrate. As we’ve mentioned prior, there are several substrates known to be appropriate for leopard geckos. Simply choose your favorite and line the bottom of each bin.

Step four -Set up your leopard gecko’s hide box. We use plastic shoe boxes with lids. You’ll want to put organic, chemically untreated soil inside and cut a round hole in the top so that the geckos can exit and enter easily.

Step five – Prepare your leopard gecko’s dishes. You will need three dishes, as previously mentioned above. The largest dish should be used for water. The mid-sized dish should contain mealworms, reptiworms, or whatever type of insect you will be feeding to your gecko. And lastly, the small dish should contain vitamin powder.

Voila! You’ve set up bin number one! Now all you need to do is repeat the process for each breeding pair of geckos you wish to house.

Leopard gecko rack system video tutorial

In the video below, we show you a physical example of how we set up our leopard gecko bins that we use within our rack systems.

How To Set Up a Snake Rack System

Items needed for a snake rack system set up
Plastic bins or tubs. Again, these bins or tubs will be home to a single snake. They will be “cages” without lids.
Shelving system to stack bins. As we discussed with leopard gecko rack systems, you will need a shelving unit to organize your snake bins. Shelving units can be purchased from specialty retailers or you can always make your own if you prefer.
Heat tape. This is the alternative method used to heat rack systems as it’s much too cluttered and unsafe to use individual reptile heating pads when working with so many animals.
Appropriate substrate. The preferred substrate for most species of snake (but not all!) is aspen bedding. You can use whatever substrate works best for your particular species, but always avoid cedar bedding as the fumes given off are toxic to snakes.
Water dish. Unlike leopard gecko bins, which require three dishes, a snake’s bin will only need a single water dish. We recommend one that is sturdy enough that the snake can’t tip it over.
Two hides. Ideally, snakes should have two hide spaces available to them, no matter what type of cage they are housed in. One hide should be on the warmer side of the cage and the other hide should be on the cooler side of the cage. This allows the snake to thermoregulate while still feeling safe and secure.

How to set up a snake rack system

snake rack system
Snakes such as ball pythons do quite well in rack systems.

Just like with the leopard gecko bins, once you’ve set up one snake bin, all you need to do is replicate the process for the remainder of the bins. Uniformity works well when it comes to rack systems.

Step one – Drill holes in each snake bin. Just like with leopard gecko bins, snake bins will require “breathing” holes. These holes aren’t so that the snakes can breathe, but rather so that their miniature ecosystems can. The holes will allow moisture to exit and will allow air to circulate better. As with leopard gecko bins, ten to fifteen holes per side should suffice, unless you are housing very large snakes in very large bins. Use common sense and space the holes evenly for best results.

Step two – Hook up the heat tape. Again, this process should be exactly the same as with the leopard gecko bins. Although we’ve already given you this link above, just so you don’t have to scroll back, here’s the link to the article we wrote discussing the ins and outs of how to set up reptile heat tape.

Step three – Place your chosen substates within the bottom of the bin. A thin layer is fine. Don’t overfill the tub/bin. You should have just enough to absorb any spilled or collected moisture and snake waste.

Step four – Set up a hide box on each side of the snake’s bin. One should go on the cooler side and one on the heated side.

Step five – Place the snake’s water dish inside the bin. It’s not really that important where you put it, but be aware that if you place it above the heated side, you will create more moisture in the environment due to more rapid evaporation. If your snake likes humidity, this is great, but if you have a species that prefers a more arid, dry climate, then it’s probably best to put the water dish on the unheated side of the bin.

Guess what? Your snake bin set up is now complete! All you need to do is repeat the process for each pet snake you have and finally…add snakes!

Setting up a snake rack system video tutorial

In the video below, we walk you through how we set up our individual snake bins used in the rack systems at Backwater Reptiles.

Reptile Rack System Frequently Asked Questions

-How do I heat a rack system?

Hopefully if you’re invested in reptiles enough to need a rack system, you’re aware that they need a source of warmth in order to thermoregulate. But because rack systems are not set up like normal cages and you can’t place a heat lamp on top of the cage or attach a heat mat to the bottom of the cage, how then, do you provide heat to all the individual bins?

The answer is simple really. At Backwater Reptiles, we use reptile heat tape. This allows us to control temperature and is also safe and convenient for both humans and animals alike.

As we’ve previously indicated, we actually have an entire blog article tutorial complete with video instructions on how to set up heat tape. Click here to read the entire article.

-Do I need UV lights when using a rack system?

Luckily, most of the species that thrive in rack system set ups (i.e. leopard geckos, corn snakes, ball pythons, etc.) don’t require UV lighting.

You can always take each animal out individually or in groups and expose them to natural UV light by taking them outdoors, but due to the way rack systems are set up, there’s really no way to provide a consistent source of UV lighting.

Ultimately, this means that reptiles that require UV light in order to process vitamins and maintain healthy bones and immune systems cannot be housed in rack systems. So do your research before your invest in a rack system for any particular species.

-How many animals can live in each bin?

This is a question with variable answers. In reality, the answer will depend on the species you are housing as well as how large your individual bins are.

With leopard geckos, generally a breeding pair or trio is acceptable. A single male with one or two females tend to get along just fine in the amount of space provided in a single bin within a standard sized rack system.

We don’t recommend keeping more than a single snake of any species within a single bin. The bins are just too small and the snakes will end up feeling stressed and competing for resources.

-Don’t the animals escape since there are no lids or screens?

The short answer to this question is yes, the animals can escape due to the more open nature of the rack system.

Because the plastic tubs or bins that house individual animals don’t usually have lids, some more tenacious and stubborn reptiles can and will find ways to climb over the edges of the bins and out into the real world.

There really is no guaranteed way to avoid this other than keeping a close eye on your animals and making sure that all their needs are met so they have little to no reason to seek outside stimulus.

We recommend checking each bin at least twice daily if not more. And as you learn the personalities of your individual animals, you will learn to watch out for the trickier ones who might be more inclined to be escape artists.

Conclusion

Rack systems are efficient for serious reptile hobbyists who intend to keep many animals or start breeding projects of their own. They take up less space than keeping multiple large cages would and they give convenient and easy access to the animals all in one place.

We hope this tutorial on setting up reptile rack systems has proved helpful. If there’s anything we didn’t cover or if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments!

How to Care for Pet Crocodilians and Pet Monitor Lizards

Most pet reptiles sold by Backwater Reptiles can live comfortably within a tank or enclosure that maxes out around twenty gallons. However, there are some really amazing reptiles that people keep as pets that grow rather large.

While we definitely feel that these large pet reptiles make rewarding pets, it’s very true that they are not necessarily the best animals for beginners to the reptile hobby. For obvious reasons, they are also not good pets for people who have limited space, live in compact city environments, or don’t have the physical capabilities to transport such large animals when they need to leave the house (i.e. take a trip to the vet).

In this article, we will discuss our favorite large pet reptiles. We’ll go into detail about how to care for them, the pros and cons of keeping such large animals, and what is required to keep these amazing reptiles happy and healthy in captivity.

Crocodilians

We want to preface this section about pet crocodilians by making it very clear that we are NOT endorsing alligators, caimans, and other crocodilians as pets for just anyone. These animals can not only be dangerous, they have very specific care requirements in captivity that make them suitable for very special owners who can meet and understand their needs.

So please, if you are interested in owning a pet crocodilian, do your research and be prepared to handle the animal when it attains its full size.

When considering a pet crocodilian, it’s also necessary to be sure that it is actually legal to own this type of animal within your state, city, and county. Check with your local fish and wildlife department and obtain any necessary permits before adopting.

Creating a Crocodilian Enclosure

Of all the large pet reptiles discussed in this article, crocodilians are certainly the most difficult to maintain. They require a large habitat with both land and water elements as well as a specific protein-based diet and warm temperatures. In the long run, they are costly and their enclosures require quite a bit more effort to maintain and keep clean.

Even caimans, which are considered small by crocodilian standards, grow to be around five feet long. They will need an enclosure that is at least several times their body length with both aquatic and land elements. Crocodilians do spend most of their time in the water, but they do need a dry area to emerge to bask.

Despite rumors indicating otherwise, crocodilians do not stop growing to fit the size of their enclosure. So if you’re not prepared, your crocodilian can and will outgrow its home. If you don’t enlarge your pet’s space as it grows, its health and life span can be compromised.

american alligator
Pictured is a baby American alligator. They grow to be quite large pets and require dual wet/dry habitats, so please do your research and make sure you can care for an alligator or other crocodilian species before you adopt.

So, how big should a crocodilian’s home be then? We recommend that the width and length of the cage, tank, or terrarium be at least three to four times the animal’s length, but the larger, the better. Your crocodilian should be able to swim around and walk around comfortably in both portions of the enclosure.

Hatchling and juvenile crocodilians tend to start out small enough to fit comfortably in glass tanks that are readily available at commercial pet stores. But be advised that as your pet outgrows the tank, odds are you will need to have some sort of custom enclosure built to keep your pet at its peak health. You’ll be hard-pressed to find the proper housing for a medium to large-sized croc at any brick and mortar store.

What to Feed Your Crocodilian

In the wild, caimans and alligators are very opportunistic predators who will eat pretty much anything they can get their jaws on. Obviously, the type of prey varies based on the size of the animal. Juveniles tend to consume foods such as insects, fish, and small amphibian and reptiles. Adults eat everything from birds to mammals. They’ll even eat crayfish and mollusks when obtainable.

The most important thing to keep in mind when feeding your pet crocodilian is that they will eat pretty much whatever you feed them, so you’ll need to balance their diet and make sure that your pet is getting all the proper nutrients in the correct doses.

In the wild, crocodilians eat entire animals and are able to therefore ingest all the minerals, vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients that are essential to their health. The best diet for a captive crocodilian is one that replicates what they eat in the wild – entire prey animals. So if your pet is large enough, whole chickens, rodents, and other feeder animals varied at meal times is a great place to start. Juveniles do well on a varied diet of fish and chopped up meat.

Handling Your Crocodilian

Caimans and other crocodilians are generally “look don’t touch” pets. However, there are some owners who actively interact with their croc. It’s generally accepted that the amount of handling will vary from owner to owner and animal to animal depending on temperament.

If you do plan to interact with your crocodilian on a regular basis, we highly recommend starting from a young age to get the animal accustomed to you. This will also make it easier when it comes time to clean your pet’s home.

dwarf caiman
Dwarf caiman are the world’s smallest crocodilian species. Males max out around five feet long.

Please be aware that although you can handle your crocodilian, it is always a risky move. There is ample opportunity to be bitten. We recommend having plenty of experience with these types of animals before owning one as a pet and taking preventative safety measures (i.e. wearing gloves and occasionally taping the animal’s mouth shut if need be) in order to safely move your pet from place to place.

Monitor Lizards 

Although they do grow quite large, there are many species of monitor lizards that can be trained to be friendly family pets. Some Savannahs and Black Throats can be trained to go for walks on leashes, watch television with their owner, and even go on road trips. They can prove to be quite interactive companions with proper husbandry and attention.

Creating a Monitor Enclosure

The best thing to keep in mind when it comes to your pet monitor’s home is that size is extremely important. Bigger is definitely better, even for the juveniles and babies. It’s always a good idea to go with the biggest cage possible.

When your monitor is young, you can likely make due with a large, commercially-produced tank or enclosure purchased from a pet store. However, once your monitor reaches six or more feet long, it’s likely that you’ll have to order a specially built enclosure or, if you’re handy, build a cage on your own.

A large monitor should have an enclosure that is at least eight feet long, three feet wide, and six feet high. Many people construct cages using two-by-fours, wire screen, and plywood to meet these dimensions. But, we’ve even heard of specialty homes for pet monitors where entire walk in closets have been specially modified with screen doors and proper ventilation in order to give the monitor plenty of space and comfort.

No matter what size your monitor is when you purchase it, please do your research and be prepared to handle it when it grows to its full potential.

What to Feed Your Monitor

In the wild, monitors are opportunistic hunters. They will eat virtually anything appetizing that fits in their mouth. The primary diet of each monitor species varies from habitat to habitat, but the most commonly consumed monitor meals are: eggs, birds, small mammals and rodents, crustaceans, fish,  and even other smaller reptiles.

Monitor lizards of all species, sizes, and genders require a balanced diet in order to stay healthy. Nearly all will have ravenous appetites and consume virtually any food you give them, so it is up to you as an owner to be sure you are feeding nutrient rich meals that cover all the bases when it comes to vitamins, minerals, and protein.

So what are acceptable foods for pet monitors?

Juvenile and hatchling monitors are pretty easy to feed. They will readily eat insects such as crickets, roaches, reptiworms, and waxworms. Gut loaded insects are the best option as they are fed nutritionally dense food in order to be as nourishing as possible for your pet.

Pet monitors of all sizes can also be fed commercially produced pellets from the pet store. While these pre-packaged food items are certainly nutritionally dense, we don’t recommend making them your monitor’s only food source. It is always a good idea to vary the food your lizard eats.

Mice and rats are also good in moderation. We highly recommend using frozen rodents that have been thawed as it is safer and more humane for all parties involved in the feeding process. Believe it or not, live rodents can actually put up quite a fight and harm your monitor.

Many other common super market food items can also be fed to your monitor. Raw chicken, fish, shrimp, turkey, and eggs are all acceptable options. The only thing to keep in mind when feeding any type of meat is that  you will need to cut up or chop the meat into acceptably sized pieces. Most monitors gulp their food without chewing, so anything that is too large can cause impaction in the gut and an unwanted trip to the vet.

As with most pet of all kinds, a water dish is a requirement for all monitor species. Not only will your monitor drink water, but a water dish allows for soaking and aids with making sure the environment is humid enough.

Handling Your Monitor

As we’ve already mentioned, pet monitors can be far more interactive than a pet crocodilian. If you handle your monitor regularly from a young age, you can train it to become very docile and accustomed to human interaction.

Monitors are very intelligent as far as reptiles are concerned and they can sense discomfort, fear, and anxiety in their owners, so be sure that you approach your monitor with a calm demeanor and patience.

mangrove monitor
Pictured is a baby mangrove monitor (Varanus indicus). While some monitor species can be tougher to tame than others, most will acclimate to human interaction very well by the time they are fully grown if they are handled and interacted with regularly as hatchlings and juveniles.

Baby monitor lizards can be skittish and fearful, so it is best to handle them on a daily basis in a routine manner so that they learn to associate human interaction with a reward. Offering a treat item before, during, or directly after being picked up, handled, or otherwise played with is a great way to reinforce positivity and teach them that being removed from their enclosure is nothing to be afraid of.

Savannah monitors are particularly known for being “dog-like” in their interactions with their owners. As they mature and grow larger, many enjoy being walked outdoors on a leash and soaking up sunshine. They enjoy bath time, anticipate meal time, and enjoy sitting on their owner’s lap during down time. Many Savannahs will even fall asleep with their owner on the couch – just Google it!

Conclusion

Both monitors and crocodilians are very different as pets. Crocodilians are best as “look don’t touch” animals whereas many species of monitors actually thrive when allowed to bond with their owner.

The one thing that both large reptile species have in common when it comes to a life in captivity is that they both require large, often times specially built enclosures. They are active animals and will need plenty of space to accommodate their size and habits.

Again, although this article is dedicated to keeping these amazing reptiles in captivity, we can’t stress enough that if you are considering getting either a crocodilian or a monitor lizard as a pet that you do your research and be one hundred percent prepared to care for the animal for the duration of its life. This includes being fully prepared for their voracious appetites and extremely fast growth rates.

How To Help Your Snake Shed Its Skin

Every snake owner knows that as their pet grows it will shed its skin. Normally, this process is accomplished quickly, easily, and without any issues. However, some snake species are prone to “bad” sheds or problem sheds where the entire skin does not come off in one neat, tubular piece.

Because incomplete sheds can become a health issue for a pet snake of any species, we’re dedicating this article to explaining what we do to remedy this problem at the Backwater Reptiles facility.

The Ideal Shedding Process

A normal shed occurs when a snake’s skin comes off in one single, tubular, opaque piece. It’s a very cool process and when your pet snake has completed a shed successfully, you actually have a really cool souvenir.

When a snake sheds its skin normally, the process is referred to as ecdysis. When the process doesn’t go smoothly and the skin sheds in flakes, pieces, or fails to come off properly in any way, the proper term becomes dysecdysis.

black blood python
Healthy snakes with proper husbandry and humidity in their enclosure should shed their skin in one solid piece.

You can tell your pet snake is preparing to shed its skin because not only will its behavior change, its physical appearance will also change.

Many snakes will go into hiding prior to shedding. They will retreat into their hide box and tend to stay pretty immobile most of the time. They might also become aggressive or refuse food if you offer it. But don’t worry. If you notice your snake has become lethargic, you can also detect changes in its physical appearance that will tell you that your pet is not ill, but just preparing to shed.

Prior to shedding, snakes will develop grey, cloudy looking eyes. You will also notice that their skin appears duller in nature. For instance, many snakes have shiny, iridescent scales. You will be able to see them become less brilliant in color and the iridescence may disappear altogether.

Side note: When you notice the signs that your snake is preparing to shed, you should handle it as little as possible. You also should avoid feeding as odds are the snake won’t eat the food being offered anyway.

Often times, your pet snake will shed without you even being aware of the process. You might notice a change in behavior and appearance one day, go to sleep, and wake up the next morning with a clean tube of snake skin waiting for you in the cage.

Solution Number One – Giving Your Pet Snake a Bath

If you do notice that your snake has shed some skin but not cleanly, the first solution we’d recommend would be to provide a large soaking dish within your snake’s cage if there is not already one provided. Often times problem sheds are caused by lack of humidity, so providing a bowl or water dish where your snake can go to naturally remedy the problem is a good place to start.

But what if you have an arboreal snake that doesn’t necessarily enjoy a good soak? Well, then you may just have to help the snake by giving it a bath or confining it to a sealed container with water for a time.

We recommend manually giving the snake a bath only if you know your snake has a pleasant temperament. You don’t want to try bathing and removing stuck skin on a grumpy snake.

If your snake is small enough, calm enough, and receptive enough to a manual bath, then fill a bowl or basin with lukewarm water. You want to be careful the water is not too cold or too hot as you don’t want to shock the snake’s system. Carefully immerse the snake in the water while making sure its head doesn’t get submerged. Many small snakes will let you hold them and dip them in the water. You can also dribble water over the snake while holding it if your snake doesn’t enjoy being in the water fully.

While manually bathing, it’s also useful to massage the snake’s body where the problem skin resides. Generally, once the skin has moistened, it will loosen naturally and you can gently rub it off.

If your snake is too large for the manual bath method or gets grumpy easily, then obtain a container with a lid that is large enough to hold your snake. Fill the container with enough lukewarm water so that your snake is submerged as much as possible but does not have to swim. You don’t want your snake to drown!

Once your container holds the appropriate amount of water, it can be helpful to place a rough object in the pool with the snake. This is because the snake will rub against it, either intentionally or unintentionally, and this will help remove the remaining skin. We’d recommend a textured rock or brick – just be sure there are no sharp edges for the snake to injure itself on.

The final step is obviously to place your snake in the container and shut the lid so that it has no choice but to hydrate. We always recommend standing by or placing the container somewhere it is always visible. It is never wise to leave a soaking reptile of any kind unattended, despite taking all the proper precautions.

If all goes well with the confined soak, you should be able to gently slough off any remaining skin pieces very easily after about fifteen to thirty minutes without harming the snake.

Solution Number Two – Putting a Rough or Coarse Object in the Snake’s Enclosure

Sometimes all a snake needs in order to complete a tough shed is something rough to rub itself against.

If you’ve noticed your snake soaking itself, placing a rough object in the cage is probably the easiest and most low maintenance solution.

Just like with the manual bath/soak method, a textured stone or a piece of brick can work wonders. As previously mentioned, please be sure that even though the object is rough that there are no sharp edges for the snake to cut itself on.

Once the object is in the cage, keep a close eye on the progress of the snake. If the problem skin still isn’t fully coming off, you can always try a confined soak or manual bath to finish off the process.

Solution Number Three – Use a Commercial Shed Aid 

If all else fails, there are actually commercially produced reptile shed aid solutions that can assist your snake through a tough shed.

These products are essentially “snake conditioners” and can be used in conjunction with the soak/bath method.

You can use the products by adding them to the snake’s bath itself, or you can lightly coat your snake after it has had a bath to help remove any remaining skin pieces.

We’d like to make note that we prefer the natural method of lukewarm water because nine times out of ten, this method will eliminate any stuck pieces of skin.

Troublesome Eye Caps

One aspect of problematic sheds that we’d like to touch upon specifically is what to do when your snake doesn’t properly shed its eye caps. Just for reference, the eye caps, or spectacles as some like to call them, are the scales that cover the snake’s eyes. Because snakes lack eyelids, they have a special scale to protect and keep their eyes moist. This scale can often stay put during problem sheds and can require special tactics to remove safely.

Retained eye caps can occur with both normal and problematic sheds. If you notice after any kind of shedding that your snake’s eyes are still cloudy, you might have to intervene and remove the eye caps yourself.

Because your snake’s vision will be impaired, sometimes it will make the necessary efforts to remove the retained spectacle itself. You may have to do nothing at all. We recommend making sure there are rough surfaces for the snake to rub on within its enclosure and waiting a day or two after noticing the problem. If the eye cap is still present, then you should make efforts to remove it manually.

bull snake pre-shed
Although this bull snake is only in pre-shed mode, a retained eye cap will look cloudy and grey like this snake’s eyes. It may also appear somewhat wrinkled.

Make sure that you are confident and comfortable handling your pet snake before you attempt to remove retained eye caps by yourself. It requires patience, confidence, and a knowledge of your snake’s mannerisms and temperament.

The first thing you should do is to moisten the eye cap. Because snakes don’t like to have their heads submerged under water, we recommend dribbling lukewarm water onto the affected eye cap and allowing it to sink in as much as possible. Next, gently rub the eye cap with a q-tip or fingertip. Make sure you have a light touch. This is simply to attempt to begin the process as you will usually need tweezers to completely remove the eye cap.

After you’ve softly rubbed the retained cap enough that you can see an edge, very carefully  grip the loosened edge with your blunt tweezers. Please don’t use sharp or pointy tweezers because if your snake jerks or moves, it could spell disaster. Very slowly remove the retained spectacle using the tweezers. Don’t pry – if it is not coming off with gentle manipulation, it needs to be moistened more or your snake might need to make a trip to the vet.

Make sure to monitor your snake’s behavior closely during this entire process. Many snakes will sit calmly through the process, but others will not like you being that close to their head and may start to show signs of aggression, even if they are normally well-behaved.

It will take some time and lots of patience, but with proper moistening and effort, you should be able to remove the eye cap safely.

Side note: If your snake has several layers of unshed eye caps (usually only happens with poor husbandry habits), or if it is known for being aggressive, it’s probably best to take the snake to your local veterinarian. They will be able to properly anesthetize the animal and remove the eye caps during that time.

Preventing Future Problematic Sheds

The number one reason why snakes have issues with shedding is that their enclosure is not humid enough. Although different species from different habitats will obviously require different humidity levels, most species tend to need anywhere from fifty to seventy percent humidity.

Once you have determined the proper humidity level that is required for your species of snake, there are several things you can do to maintain this humidity.

The number one thing is to make sure your snake has a water dish! This should be common sense as snakes do actually drink water, but having water present in the snake’s immediate environment is key. You can also place an under the tank heating mat directly underneath the water source to help speed evaporation and therefore increase humidity within the cage.

Another option is to include a moisture box in your snake’s home. What this usually entails is creating a separate hide box and filling it with a substrate that retains moisture well such as sphagnum moss or moist paper towels. Be sure to check your moisture box frequently for mold though as you don’t want to unintentionally create a toxic environment for your snake.

And lastly, instead of altering the humidity levels within the snake’s cage, you can actually change the humidity within the room itself. Just go to any drug store or big box retailer and buy a humidifier. A hygrometer can help you measure the humidity in the room to make sure it is at the proper level for your snake.

Helping Large or Temperamental Snakes Through Problem Sheds

If your snake is very large, or if it has a bad temper, it might simply be wisest to take the snake to the vet to assist with an incomplete shed. This is particularly true if you are having trouble with retained eye caps.

However, this is pretty much going to be up to the discretion of the owner. Most snakes will put up with a certain level of handling, even if they do have a testy disposition.

We would however recommend that you wear leather gloves or some other form of protection if you know that your snake is prone to biting.

Conclusion

Snakes make wonderful pets, but like all reptiles, it’s very possible that you will have to deal with an incomplete or problem shed at some point during your snake’s life.

This article is intended to help out should your own pet snake encounter this issue as well as help prevent this issue from occurring in the first place.

If you have any other tips or suggestions for how you’ve helped your own snake through a difficult shed, feel free to leave them in the comments section.