KEEPING REPTILES AND FROGS
Most reptiles and frogs are best kept in glass fronted cages, such as fish tanks, converted packing cases, shop display cabinets, or especially constructed cages. The minimum size of the cage should reflect the needs of the reptile/s or frog/s to be housed in the given cage/s. For example arboreal species usually require a tall cage whilst for terrestrial species cage height is usually unimportant. Although there are no strict rules for cage size, I will give examples of what I view as minimum cage size for reptiles and frogs, (See Table ).
In some parts of Australia it may be possible to house larger specimens in outdoor 'pits'. These usually are walled enclosures with a large landscaped area that allow the reptiles to enjoy near natural surroundings.
One should not house 'incompatible' herptiles in the same cage.
When housing reptiles and frogs it is important to spare no expense in getting housing requirements suitable/optimal for the specimens concerned as failure to do so will invariably result in premature death of specimens.
When constructing a cage for herptiles there are a number of essential points.
1/ The cage must be escape proof, (And most herptiles are experts at escaping, so extra care is needed here).
2/ The cage must be located in a position where it is relatively secure from burglaries and theft of specimens. Outdoor reptiles must be secure from cats, birds, etc.
3/ The keeper must have total access to all specimens at all times, (Necessary in case of diseases, etc).
4/ The enclosure must have an environment that will enable the specimen/s to maintain health. This usually includes:
A/ The cage should be of adequate size for all specimen/s to be placed in the cage, (it is better to build a larger cage if in doubt).
B/ Fresh clean water must always be available, (usually in a non-spillable, cleanable dish or bowl). The reptiles or frogs should always be able to completely immerse themselves in water if they so choose.
C/ Adequate cover for specimens.
D/ Required interference by the keeper for maintenance should be kept to a minimum, as herptiles should not be disturbed unnecessarily.
E/ The enclosure should afford the herptile adequate protection from climatic extremes, and provide optimum temperatures for the herptile at most times. (This may involve the need of heating/cooling systems).
F/ The landscaping/environment should be one that is conductive to the herptile settling into captivity. Although some snakes, particularly Pythons, can be kept successfully in very Spartan cages, it is best when in doubt, to landscape a cage in a manner as similar to the natural habitat as is possible, (bearing in mind the above).
A number of aids in making a cage suitable for herptile/s may be used.
These include filters and pumps to provide clean water. Heating cables, light bulbs, 'hot rocks', and 'hot boxes' can all be used to provide warmth to specimens if needed. Air conditioning units may be used to either heat or cool reptile cages. Thermostats are useful in controlling cage temperatures when one cannot be present at all times and one needs to accurately control temperatures.
Various lights may be used to provide daylight for indoor reptiles. 'Trulite' is the form of artificial light most like natural sunlight and is consequently widely used by reptile keepers. Agamids in particular need sunlight or similar to survive in captivity.
Water spray systems may be used to increase humidity in cages if
necessary (usually for frogs).
Frogs are best kept in moist humid environments, with plenty of litter, etc. Tree frogs often thrive in plant terrariums sold in shops. Ground-dwelling and burrowing species should have soil at least 10 cm deep in the cage. This should be moist but not waterlogged.
Fresh water is essential to frogs and many species seem to prefer a cage with circulating fresh water. A fish tank filter/pump is an excellent inexpensive way to provide circulating water for frogs.
Tadpoles can be raised in any small water container with well cured water. They usually thrive on lettuce boiled for 10-20 minutes, although a few species are carnivorous. When metamorphosis approaches it is necessary to place a projecting surface into the water, such as a large rock, so that the froglets can emerge, (otherwise they will drown). The water container must also be made escape proof for the froglets.
Generalised examples Of Minimum Cage Sizes For Reptiles and Frogs.
Type of herptile Minimum size of cage
Length X Width X Height (Metres)
FROG .5 X .3 X .3
CROCODILE 5 X 5 X N/A
SEA TURTLE 10 X 8 X 1.5 (Water Only)
FRESHWATER 1 X 1 X .5 (Pond Only)
TORTOISE (UNDER 30 CM) 1.5 X 1 X .5 (Total Cage)
GECKOES, PYGOPIDS AND SMALL SKINKS 1 X .5 X .4
SMALL DRAGONS AND SMALL MONITORS (AV.30CM) 1 X 1 X .5
LARGE SKINKS, LARGE DRAGONS, 2 X 1.5 X 1
AND MEDIUM MONITORS (AV. 60 CM)
LARGE MONITORS (OVER 1.14 X 3 X 2 METRE)
SNAKES UNDER .5 METRE 1 X .5 X .5
SNAKES OVER .5 METRE, BUT UNDER 2 METRES 2 X .5 X .5
SNAKES OVER 2 METRES 3 X .5 X .5
1/ The above consists of generalizations only. The operative word in the above key is MINIMUM. Most herptiles will do best in larger cages. However some reptiles (e.g. some pythons) actually do better in relatively small cages rather than larger ones.
2/ The above cage sizes are quoted for one or two adult specimens only, and should one intend putting more than two individuals in a cage then the cage should in all likelihood be larger.
Crocodiles are usually kept in outdoor cages in warmer areas. These are usually very large (Over 100 square metres), include large ponds/lakes, etc, which must be regularly cleaned, and are usually only affordable by zoos, crocodile farms and very wealthy individuals.
Marine turtles must be kept in very large tanks with fresh circulating sea water. Again only zoos, aquariums, and similar institutions can usually afford to build facilities in which to keep sea turtles.
Fresh water tortoises are among the hardiest of reptiles in captivity.
They thrive in outdoor pits which have large ponds for the tortoises.
Larger ponds are easier to maintain than smaller ponds as it takes longer for the tortoises to foul them up. Care should be taken in constructing the pond to make sure that the surfaces are not abrasive to the shells of the tortoises. Shallow ponds often have problems of rapid algae build up, and this should also be realized when designing ponds. Tortoises usually do best in clear water.
It is important to provide suitable nesting areas for tortoise cages.
In colder areas, and for young specimens, tortoises are best kept indoors in aquaria. They should have a platform or land area on which to bask if necessary. Tortoises will attempt to eat fish in the same tank.
Smaller lizards are best kept indoors in cages. Outdoor pits are usually the easiest way in which to maintain larger lizards. Lizards do best in cages with plenty of cover in which to hide, and plenty of space in which to forage.
Diurnal lizards kept indoors must be provided with natural sunlight in order to survive for any substantial period of time. If it is impossible or impractical to provide sunlight, then 'Trulite' or similar are the only suitable substitute light that can be used for these reptiles. 'Trulite' is difficult to obtain in Australia, although it is readily available in the United States and Europe.
Nocturnal lizards including geckoes do not need to have their cages exposed to any sunlight.
Species of lizard from arid areas will die if kept in a humid cage.
Conversely species from wet habitats may have problems in an excessively dry or sandy cage.
Snakes can generally survive well in smaller cages than most other reptiles. Most snakes do best in bone dry cages, although they should still always have a water dish provided.
Access to cages with venomous snakes should be particularly good, so as to reduce the risk of bites when removing them from the cages, which will have to be done from time to time. The safest access to snake cages is when constructing these cages.
Due to difficulty of handling some snakes, simplicity is a key word for snake cages, as one doesn't want to destroy some elaborate set up to remove a given snake, only to spend hours putting it back together again. Burrowing snakes should be provided with moist sand or soil in which to burrow.
FEEDING REPTILES AND FROGS
Feeding in herptiles is important in maintaining health in specimens.
Many species feed only on live food and it is often necessary to breed or capture food for these herptiles on a regular basis.
Usual foods for given herptiles in captivity are given in the table.
Herptiles have slow metabolic rates, and in general should not be fed on a daily basis. They should be fed periodically depending upon the size of the animal, larger specimens requiring feeding less frequently. Regularity of feeding also depends upon the size of meals eaten at each
feeding, and can be worked out on the basis of what is needed to maintain condition. It is inadvisable to feed excessively large amounts at a single feeding session as the risk of regurgitation, and associated
problems becomes important.
With regards to the above, one should in general feed herptiles 'nearly' as much as they will take. However it will take some experience to work out how much this is, and because of this it is advisable to feed new herptiles all that they will take, (but still not too much per feeding).
The theory is that 'slightly hungry' herptiles will always be more consistent feeders than ones which go through gorging then starving phases. (Almost all herptiles will go through some periods of not feeding anyway).
Uneaten food/prey should ALWAYS be removed from the cage for several reasons including the following:
1/ Herptiles with constant exposure to food have a tendency to loose their appetites.
2/ Uneaten food may decay and create further problems.
3/ Uneaten prey (including mice and rats) may actually attack the herptile and kill it, when it is resting. (Many inexperienced keepers loose Pythons to mice when the mice are left in the cage overnight).
If a herptile is presented with food during an 'active' period, and it doesn't eat the food within three hours one can fairly safely deduce that the food will not be eaten.
Force feeding of herptiles is rarely necessary. It usually involves the opening of the mouth and gently massaging the food item down the throat and into the esophagus, where the herptile usually commences to finish off the feeding process. Usually a blunt stick-like tool is used to assist in forcing the food into the mouth of the herptile. 'Tube feeding' involves the placing of a tube down the throat and into the stomach, through which food or medicine may be pumped. (Force feeding should only be used as a last resort to anorexia, or to administer medicine).
Obesity is rarely a problem in herptiles, however some larger monitors and other herptiles are prone to becoming grossly obese. For a number of reasons, obesity should be avoided, although it is more preferable to have an obese herptile than one that is undernourished.
For those species which feed on meat and fruit, obtaining food rarely presents problems.
Obtaining live food for snakes and insect feeding lizards and frogs can sometimes pose problems.
Insects may be obtained by several means. By leaving meat out to rot, maggots (Fly Larvae), will rapidly be attracted in large numbers, and these can be used for food. However many people have a strong dislike for these, and take to breeding certain types of insect in captivity.
Flour Beetles Tenebrio molitor, (Mealworms) are the most popular insects bred by herpetologists. These insects appear to lack a distinct breeding season and a large number can be maintained relatively easily throughout the year. Mealworms are maintained in a well ventilated but sealed container, such as an old ice-cream container containing oats interspersed with a few layers of cloth. The small yellow mealworms grow rapidly, pupate, turn into black beetles, lay their eggs and die shortly afterwards. Occasionally pieces of moist vegetable matter should be added to provide moisture for the mealworms. One should avoid removing material from the container as it may contain unhatched eggs. Mealworms or beetles can be removed from the colony as needed. It is advisable to maintain several colonies of over fifty mealworms at any given time, so that one does not overly deplete any given colony leading to later food supply problems.
For snakes which feed on skinks, the only way to obtain food is to simply catch it oneself. One must be careful not to keep more snakes than one can obtain food for. As a general rule, most lizard eaters feed on an average of three per week, (of 'appropriate' size).
Although many snakes will feed on frogs, frogs should be avoided when possible as they are often an intermediate host for a number of internal parasites which are harmful to reptiles. Fortunately there are only a few species which appear to feed exclusively on frogs.
Pythons and most other medium to large snakes will readily take mice and rats. These food animals may be bred by the keeper without too much difficulty. It is important to keep these breeding animals well away from the captive snakes, as the constant smell of these animals tends to put snakes off their food. When one has large surpluses of mice, rats, and similar food it is advisable to store it in the freezer for possible use at a later date. When killing food for storage one should not use any chemicals or gasses that may be toxic to the reptile. To thaw out frozen food rapidly, a microwave oven is often useful. Although most snakes only take live food in the wild, they will in captivity learn to eat pre-killed food. Once a snake is accustomed to eating pre-killed food, it is more desirable for a number of reasons to feed them exclusively on pre-killed food. Reasons include:
1/ The Snake won't be at risk from attack by the food item.
2/ The feeding of given snake/s can be regulated more easily.
3/ One won't have to dismantle or interfere with a cage in order to remove uneaten food.
4/ If one has a large stock of frozen snake food, one can more easily guarantee a permanent food supply for all snakes.
For several years the author held a large number of snakes of varying types. ALL were fed exclusively on dead food.
Initial stocks of mice and rats can be obtained from pet shops. Day old chickens (usually surplus males) which may be used for snake food can be obtained in large numbers from chicken hatcheries either free or for a nominal price. When given a choice of using birds or mammals for snake food, always use mammals, as the nutritional value per gram of bodyweight appears to be greater.
A number of methods are used to induce newly captive snakes (and agamids) to eat dead food. The best method is probably to give the reptile the opportunity to eat a pre-killed food item immediately after it has just eaten live food, and when the reptile is obviously still very hungry. Using long forceps one may be able to hold the dead food item in front of the reptile and wiggle it. The movement will usually cause the reptile to seize the item. Forceps are necessary as the reptile will otherwise attack the handler's hands instead of the food.
When snakes are large enough to take even small mice, mice are for a number of reasons, the most desirable food to use. However often people have trouble converting 'Skink feeders' to mice. A method successfully used by the author was the following. The mouse would be tied with string to the (dead) skink and fed to the snake. The snake would strike at and commence to eat the skink. The attached mouse would also be swallowed.
After one or more times of doing this, the snake should become used to taking mice only.
Usually when administering oral medicines to reptiles, it is best to place the medicine inside a food item, and then feed the whole lot to the reptile.
Foods usually fed to and eaten by most captive herptiles
Type of Herptile Foods eaten
MOST FROGS Live insects only, (Occasionally mice).
CROCODILES Fish, most types of meat including chickens.
SEA TURTLES Fish, occasionally sea weed.
FRESHWATER TORTOISES Raw meat, Tinned pet food, small fish, snails, etc.
MOST GECKOES Insects only
MOST PYGOPIDS Other lizards, occasionally fruit, such as banana.
MOST DRAGONS Arthropods, live worms, occasionally plant material.
SMALL SKINKS Live insects, occasionally meat, and/or fruit.
LARGE SKINKS Meat, including tinned pet food, and fruit.
MONITORS Meat, other vertebrates.
BLIND SNAKES UNKNOWN/Presumably ants and/or termites.
PYTHONS Mice, rats, chickens, etc.
COLUBRIDS Frogs, sometimes mice and small rats.
MOST SMALL ELAPIDS (60 CM OR LESS) Small lizards only.
MOST MEDIUM ELAPIDS (50 CM TO 1 METRE) Small lizards, and/or mice, small rats, etc.
MOST LARGE ELAPIDS (1 METRE OR OVER) Mice, rats, etc.
SEA SNAKES Fish and small eels.
To continue to the rest of this section
The above was from the book Australian Reptiles and Frogs by Raymond Hoser and now available on a fantastic CD-Rom along with a vast amount of other information, papers and the like on reptiles, frogs and other wildlife.