Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps)
The inland bearded dragon is generally considered one of the all-time best lizard pets. It is known for being alert, hardy and tame, and bearded dragon owners love watching their lizards, whether during a feeding frenzy while chasing crickets or simply interacting with each other. Bearded dragons exhibit interesting behaviors, too, such as “arm waving,” in which a female (and occasionally males) may lift a front leg in the air and “wave” it as a submissive gesture. The spiny “beard” from which the lizard gets its common name may also be extended, though it’s uncommon for tame captives to do so; dragons typically do this when alarmed.
Bearded Dragon Size
Hatchlings measure about 4 inches; large adults can be nearly 2 feet in length.
Bearded Dragon Lifespan
Average captive lifespan is between six and 10 years, though there are reports of specimens living twice that long.
Bearded Dragon Caging
While a hatchling dragon could live in a 20-gallon aquarium for a short time, it will quickly need a larger enclosure. A 75-gallon aquarium or equal-sized enclosure is OK for one or two adult dragons. Screening should be used for proper ventilation, whether as a top on an aquarium enclosure or in the construction of a custom enclosure. During warm weather bearded dragons can be kept in outdoor cages. Be sure the outdoor enclosure provides both sunny basking areas and shady retreats, as well as shelter from rain. Having access to the sun outdoors provides healthy UV. Bearded dragons like to climb, so some sturdy branches are welcome in their enclosures.
Bearded Dragon Lighting and Temperature
Bearded dragons like it hot. A basking site of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit works well for them. The basking site can be provided by a spotlight (such as a mercury vapor bulb) positioned over a rock, branch, etc. at one end of the enclosure. Keeping the spotlight at one end of the cage will allow your dragon to thermoregulate (move between a cooler end of the enclosure and the hotter end with the basking area). The cooler end of the enclosure can be kept at about 80 degrees.
In addition to the basking spotlight, provide full-spectrum UVB (ultraviolet) lighting over the rest of the enclosure. This lighting is critically important for dragons that are kept indoors, as it assists them in synthesizing vitamin D3, which aids in calcium absorption. There are many types of lights available; consult with store employees and read the packaging to determine the best for your setup.
Heat can also be provided using heat tape, heat emitters and other devices available in pet stores. Keep a thermometer in the enclosure to track the cage temperature. At night, it can go down to about 65 degrees.
Bearded Dragon Substrate
Sand is commonly used with bearded dragons, though there is concern, especially when keeping young lizards, that intestinal impaction could result if they accidentally eat some. It is not recommended that you keep young bearded dragons on sand, or any kind of loose substrate. Newspaper, paper toweling or reptile carpet (though watch for loose threads or areas that can snag dragon toenails) would be better choices.
Adult bearded dragons can be kept on these same substrates. If you must use sand, playground sand (available at hardware and do-it-yourself stores) is a decent choice due to the fact that it's not as dusty as other types of sand. You can also purchase digestible “reptile sand” at reptile and pet stores, though opinions on the safety of these are varied. If you try some, be sure to follow manufacturer directions. Sand mixed with clean soil that has not been treated with any fertilizers, pesticides, etc., can also be used with adult bearded dragons.
If you keep your bearded dragons on sand, reduce the risk of impaction by offering food on a shallow dish rather than placing it directly on the substrate.
Bearded Dragon Food
Bearded dragons are omnivorous, meaning they eat both animal and plant matter. They are not usually picky and eat with gusto. Insects, such as crickets and mealworms, should be dusted with a vitamin/mineral supplement and calcium. Dusting can be achieved by placing the insects in a plastic bag with some of the powder, and shaking the bag to lightly coat the insects prior to offering them to your lizards.
Also offer bearded dragons finely chopped veggies (such as romaine lettuce, zucchini, carrots, etc.), greens (collard, mustard, dandelion, etc.) and fruit (kiwi, banana, mango, etc.). Use healthy, vitamin-rich items; sprinkle the appropriate amount of powdered supplements on these foods, too. Avoid iceberg lettuce because it is not nutritious.
Bearded dragons will also eat pinky mice, and a wide variety of nutritionally balanced manufactured diets are available at pet stores, too. Again, if you keep your dragons on sand, offer food on a shallow dish rather than placing it directly on the substrate.
Water For Your Bearded Dragon
Mist bearded dragons using a water spray bottle; they’ll lick water droplets off cage walls, rocks, etc., as well as themselves. Don’t overdo it; you don’t want their enclosure to get too wet and become humid. Offer water in a dish that is large enough for them to soak. Be sure to keep this dish and the water in it clean.
Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularius)
The leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) lizard has been captive bred in the United States for more than 30 years and is one of the most commonly kept lizards today. These hardy saurians come in a variety of colors, patterns and sizes. This is a great species for the home. Imagine a lizard that can vocalize and wash an eye with its tongue with ease. There is a friendly dinosaur in this small package.
Leopard Gecko Size
Hatchlings measure 3 to 4 inches long. Adult females are typically 7 to 8 inches, and males are 8 to 10 inches. Some males of the giant bloodlines reach nearly a foot.
Leopard Gecko Life Span
Leopard geckos are long-lived compared to some reptiles. On average you can expect your gecko to live six to 10 years, but many males live 10 to 20 years. At least one male is still breeding at 27½ years of age.
Leopard Gecko Caging
A 10- to 20-gallon aquarium houses one or two leopard geckos from hatchling to adult size. Larger tanks tend to cause the geckos to stray away from their proper heat and hide box. Although visibility is reduced, many people use plastic storage boxes as housing. Any cage you choose should be at least 1 foot tall. Be sure to have a secure screen top on your gecko cage that will support a light fixture, provide good ventilation and keep out bothersome cats. A hide box filled with moist moss or vermiculite is needed, so your leopard gecko can shed its skin properly. This secure setting also is needed for egg laying if you plan on breeding geckos. Live or artificial plants can be added for a nice decorative touch.
Leopard geckos can live six to 10 years with males living to 20 years.
Leopard Gecko Lighting and Temperature
The best way to heat your leopard gecko is by using an undertank heating pad or tape. These are available at any pet store or online. Heating one end of the cage is best. This allows for a temperature variation that your lizard needs. Heat rocks tend to become too hot for leopard geckos and should be avoided due to the risk of burns. For viewing, a simple low-wattage light can be placed overhead on the screen-cage top and left on 12 hours a day. Because leopard geckos are active at night (notice their vertical pupils), they do not need to bask under a special UVB light.
The ideal temperature in the hide box is 88 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit at all times. The ambient air temperature of the room they are housed in should be above 73 degrees.
Leopard Gecko Substrate
Newspaper, pea gravel, artificial turf, flat stones or no floor covering are OK. A young or debilitated leopard gecko might consume sand or fine-particle products on the cage floor, and this could lead to intestinal impaction. Leopard geckos actually have a “bathroom” in one corner of their cages, and that area can be spot-cleaned without disrupting the entire system. Do not expose your gecko to commercial plant soils or sands that may contain fertilizer or pesticides.
Leopard Gecko Food
Live insects are a must for your gecko; they do not eat plants or veggies. The best items to use are mealworms or crickets, but you can treat your pet to waxworms or superworms once a week if you wish. Avoid feeding leopard geckos pinky mice. All insects must be first given a nutritious powdered diet for at least 12 hours before being fed to your leopard gecko. This process is called gut loading,” and it is very important to the health of your pet. Chick or hog mash is available at all feed stores, and several good commercial diets are available for this purpose, as well. Simply place the insects in a tub of gut-load diet with a piece of potato to serve as a source of water.
Dusting your insects is one way to deliver important vitamins and minerals to your leopard gecko. Insects and the dusting powder can be placed in a plastic bag or deep tin can, and shook gently to coat the insects’ bodies. When adding the dusted insects to the cage, be sure not to let the powder get into a gecko’s eyes. Another way to give the extra powdered supplements to your gecko is to keep a small jar lid filled with vitamin-mineral powder at all times. The gecko knows how much its body needs, and it will lick up the powder accordingly.
Keepers can offer two appropriately sized insects for every inch of a leopard gecko’s total length. A meal every other day is fine. Therefore, a 4-inch-long gecko would receive eight mealworms three to four times a week. It is normal for leopard geckos to eat their shed skin.
Leopard Gecko Water
A shallow water dish with fresh water must be available at all times. It should also be stable, so it cannot be spilled. Cage substrate should be kept dry, so be careful about spillage. Make sure that young and adult leopard geckos can climb easily out of the dish you use. Vitamin drops should not be added to the water.
Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)
Green iguanas are found throughout tropical and subtropical North and South America. Green iguanas are common in Mexico and south throughout Central America and down through South America to Paraguay and Argentina. Green iguanas also occur throughout the Lesser Antilles and, in the past 20 years or so, the Greater Antilles and Southern Florida. In the Greater Antilles and southern Florida, green iguanas are an introduced species.
There is a definitive difference in the physical appearance of green iguanas depending on their locale. First, the South American green iguana population used to have the taxonomic name of Iguana iguana iguana. South American green iguanas are much less cold tolerant than the Central American green iguanas once referred to as Iguana iguana rhinolopha. All these subspecies are now synonymous, and there is only one recognized species: Iguana iguana. Green iguanas from some parts of Central America have horns on their noses ranging in size from small bumps to quite large flexible horns over a ½ inch long.
Green Iguana Size
Green iguanas may reach lengths of 6 to 7 feet and weigh around 20 pounds. Male green iguanas reach a greater length than female green iguanas, which rarely exceed 5 feet in length. Additionally, mature male green iguanas have larger spikes going down their back and large femoral pores on the underside of their back legs.
Green Iguana Life Span
If kept properly, green iguanas live to be 15 to 20 years old.
Green Iguana Caging
A 20-gallon-long aquarium will suffice as caging for baby and young green iguanas up to about 18 inches long. We acclimate our baby albino green iguanas in this kind of enclosure. If you put a newly acquired small lizard in a HUGE enclosure, they sometimes have difficulty finding their food and water. Additionally, these smaller tanks allow green iguanas to understand that you are not a predator that intends to eat them. All in all, a small tank is much better than a large cage for a baby green iguana.
An adult green iguana needs LOTS of space. That cute little baby green iguana will grow at a very rapid rate to a 6-foot-long dinosaur with special needs that the average owner cannot provide.
An adult green iguana requires an enclosure at least 12 feet long by 6 feet wide by 6 feet high. The height of 6 feet is very important as, these lizards are primarily arboreal in nature. A good rule of thumb is to provide a cage that is at least twice as long as the iguana, with a width at least the same length as the lizard. You cannot house adult males in the same cage, or they will fight.
The cage parameters and temperature gradients are easier met for adult iguanas in some type of wire enclosure. How you construct or purchase the enclosure is not as important as providing the proper size and temperatures needed to house an adult iguana.
Green Iguana Substrate
The substrates we use for our green iguanas are plain rabbit pellets or alfalfa pellets. This is done because substrate is often eaten by neonate green iguanas by accident, and eating these pellets will not cause as much harm as other substrates. However, if I ever saw baby green iguanas eating the rabbit pellets or alfalfa pellets deliberately I would remove them. If I were keeping larger green iguanas inside I would use cypress mulch.
Green Iguana Lighting and Temperature
Green iguanas need lots of heat. With a baby green iguana, one heat bulb is sufficient, but with an adult green iguana, you need a bank of at least six lights in order for the green iguana to adequately heat up its entire body.
I suggest using incandescent heat bulbs and a double row of fluorescent UV bulbs so that vitamin D synthesis is possible. UVA and UVB should both be provided for optimum results. Strong UV fluorescent lights are needed to prevent metabolic bone disease.
A hotspot of at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit should be provided. Additionally, the heat should come from above the green iguana, so the parietal eye is engaged, thus enabling the green iguana to thermoregulate as required. Located directly on top of the head of green iguanas, behind their eyes, is an unusual scalelike organ called a parietal eye or pineal body. This scalelike sensory organ can detect light, dark and movement. The parietal eye is extremely important for thermoregulation purposes and to warn green iguanas of predators approaching from above, such as birds of prey.
Of course, parts of the cage should be cooler, so the green iguana is able to choose the temperature it likes by thermoregulating between hotter and cooler temperatures. A high end of 120 degrees and a cooler end in the low to mid 80s works well with green iguanas. The real key is allowing the green iguana to choose its own body temperature, and all the keeper has to do is provide the means for it to do so.
DO NOT USE HOT ROCKS, HEAT PADS OR ANY OTHER HEAT SOURCE COMING FROM THE FLOOR. Captive green iguanas often burn themselves when substrate heaters such as "hot rocks" are used as a heat source. The reason for this is that the parietal eye is not engaged, and green iguanas do not recognize these as heat and attempt to bask. The iguanas’ legs and stomach are usually burned because they do not realize how hot they are getting. I have seen second- and third-degree burns serious enough to cause death from using a hot rock as a heat source. Remember these two things very well: provide the adequate size and the adequate temperature.
Green Iguana Water
Water should always be made available. Remember that smaller green iguanas, especially babies, may not be able to locate their water bowl. Because of this, it is vital that you mist them daily and soak them at least twice weekly in order to ensure that they are well hydrated.
If you start with a juvenile green iguana, it is beneficial to mist them as well as to occasionally put them in their water dish. If possible, it is best to provide a water container large enough for the lizard to get into and soak. In the wild, green iguanas always live near water and are excellent swimmers.
Green Iguana Food
Green iguana dietary needs are easily met both with raw natural foods that can be purchased in a supermarket and commercially prepared "Iguana Food." Vegetables such as collard greens, turnip greens, dandelions, yellow squash, whole green beans, etc., are excellent food for your green iguana. We also provide fruit about once a week. A green iguana diet that is high in fruit can cause diarrhea.
Food preparation for small green iguanas is slightly different than for adult green iguanas. When cutting up raw vegetables, it is wise to cut each piece to the proper size for the green iguana to pick up and easily swallow whole. Remember that green iguanas cannot chew their food and have to swallow it in one piece.
Additionally, there are great commercial foods made by Zoo Med, Mazuri, Rep-Cal and others that are nutritionally sound and that green iguanas like to eat. If you are using a commercial food source such as Mazuri Tortoise Chow, which we rely heavily on, you must moisten it as needed so the juvenile green iguanas are able to eat it. My large green iguanas will simply pick up the dry pieces and swallow them.
You should add a calcium supplement, such as Osteoform, to the green iguana food about once a week. Under NO circumstances should you give green iguanas a diet that is high in protein. If you do, over time this will lead to renal failure and the death of the iguana.
We also provide live hibiscus plants of the proper size to fit into the cage as not only a food supplement but also for the juvenile green iguanas to climb on. Hibiscus plants can be purchased at most garden centers, but remember that these may have been sprayed with an insecticide. We always spray any new plant with water thoroughly and sit it outside for a minimum of 14 days before placing it into an enclosure as a food source and shelter.
Common Name: Ball python or Royal python
Scientific Name: Python regius
Native Habitat: Western and Central Africa
Lifespan: With proper care, they can live between 20-40 years old.
Size: They will grow from 3-6ft. Females are much larger in girth than males.
Expert Level: Great for beginners of all ages.
Temperament: Baby Ball pythons are normally very shy and as they get older Ball pythons will become more engaging and curious.
Handling: Make sure to continue to handle your Ball python on a regular basis so they become used to human interaction.
HERE'S WHAT YOU WILL NEED TO CARE FOR YOUR NEW BALL PYTHON(S):
Enclosure: There are many different ways to keep a Ball python. The most popular way is to keep your baby Ball python in a 15-20 gallon terrarium. If you are looking to become a breeder, look into purchasing a rack system. Rack systems are the best way to keep medium to large collections of Ball pythons where you can connect Flexwatt heat tape to share heat. *** In our opinion, baby Ball pythons will feel safer if you start them in an enclosure smaller than 25 gallons. Then, as your Ball python grows, go ahead and increase the size of their enclosure. ***
A really cool thing to do for your Ball Python is to create a Bioactive Vivarium which includes creating a natural living space with plants, substrate and living organisms that act like a cleanup crew in the enclosure.
Housing Multiple Ball Pythons: Do not cohabit your Ball Pythons. Yes, some people do successfully cohabit their snakes, but it is not a good ideal at all. Your Ball pythons can become stressed out or injured. The only time you should have two snakes together is during breeding.
Water Dish: Water is very important for your Ball python and should be in their enclosure at all times. Make sure to NOT use distilled water for your reptile. If you do not know if your tap water is safe, we would suggest using bottle water like spring water. Also, you can you the product: “ReptiSafe® water conditioner which is great for water bowls and removes chloramines and chlorine, detoxifies ammonia and nitrites, and provides essential ions and electrolytes which help to hydrate newly acquired animals.”
Substrate: Do not use sand or cedar substrate. Safe options: Reptile Prime, Repti Bark and Newspaper/Paper Towel.
Hides: It is best if you have two hides, one on the hot side and one on the cool side. Your Ball python will be able to comfortably regulate their temperature having a hide on both sides.
Humidity: Ball pythons on average need to have about 60% humidity in their enclosure. Babies sometimes need a little bit higher. My personal tip is that if your Ball python has problems shedding you may need to raise your humidity slightly. Just a few ways to add increase humidity: dampen bedding with a spray bottle, larger water dish. cover screen top 75% with a towel, place a humidifier in the same room, place a waterfall feature in the enclosure and adding live plants. Keep in mind if you live in an area that gets cold and dry in the winter, it might be next to impossible to keep the humidity high. Try your best to keep it as close to 60% as possible and refer to the shedding section if you need tips about stuck shed.
Hygrometer: I am always surprised how many keepers opt out of purchasing this very important tool for keeping most reptiles. A hygrometer is a very inexpensive piece of equipment that allows you to measure the humidity in your reptile's enclosure.
Shedding: Ball pythons will shed their skin multiple times thru their life. The younger the Ball Python is the more often they will shed. When your Ball python is ready to shed, their scales will look dull and their eyes will start to look blue which is called Pre-ecdysis. Sometimes during this period, your Ball python may refuse to eat which is perfectly normal. To help your Ball python have a full shed, you can slightly raise the humidity. When your Ball python sheds their skin that is called Ecdysis. You will see your Ball python start to rub their little faces on decor, the terrarium, rocks or even you if you are holding them. If the humidity is correct and your python has no shedding issues you should have a beautiful complete shed.
Shedding Issues: If your Ball python has stuck shed, first make sure that your humidity is high enough in their enclosure. There are a few ways to help with stuck shed is using a Rubbermaid or Sterilite tub with holes. The first way is to soak your Ball python about an inch of (just warmer than room temperature) water for 30 minutes. The second way you can help is by dampening a paper towel with warm water, twisting out the excess water and placing in a tub. Then, let your Ball python cruise around for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Once your Ball python has either soaked or cruised around the paper towel, put on a rubber thumb to gently remove the stuck shed. If you notice that you are unable to remove an eye cap or a piece of shed that looks restricting, please go to a local breeder or vet to have it professionally removed.
Scale Rot: If you notice that your Ball python has a rash or blisters this could be scale rot. Scale rot is typically due to the humidity being way too high. First, place your Ball python into a completely dry environment and we would suggest using paper towel as a substrate as you can change it frequently to keep the enclosure dry. Wait a day or two before placing a water dish back into their enclosure. Once you place a water dish back into the enclosure, if you notice that the water dish has spilled onto the paper towel please change it. Make sure to clean up immediately if your snake has urinated or defecated. Finally, visit the vet in order to start a course of antibiotics to help heal your snake.
Heating Source: Heating mat (undertank or side), heat tape, ceramic heat emitters or a basking light. UVB light not required. The easiest and most efficient way to keep a single Ball python is with a basking light or undertank heating mat. This can be easily purchased online. For larger groups in a rack system, Flexwatt heat tape is a great choice. You can find this either online or at a hardware store. Do you not use heat rocks in your Ball python’s enclosure as your python could get burned.
Temperature: Hot side should be between 85-91°F and should not exceed 93°F as it can begin to kill calories in your Ball python. Cool side should be about 80°F.
Thermometer: In order to make sure that your temperatures are correct in your Ball python’s enclosure, we believe it is a MUST to make sure to purchase at LEAST one. We highly recommend purchasing two so that you are able to measure the temps on both the hot and cool sides. There are many options on the market. Shop around to see where the best deals are. You can also purchase a Digital Infrared thermometer that reads the temperature instantly.
Feeding: We normally start all of our baby Ball pythons on live small adult mice once a week. Once they have started feeding regularly, we begin to switch them over to frozen/thawed. You can keep your Ball python on live or switch to frozen/thawed whatever works best for you. Please note if you feed live you need to supervise the feedings as live mice can injure your Ball python. The size of the prey should be the same size as the largest part of their body. You can switch your Ball python over to rats whenever you feel like it. Normally, we wait until our Ball pythons are feeding on medium or large adult mice. If you are feeding live, try to find a local breeder in your area who supplies rodents. If you are feeding frozen, there are many online companies that ship bulk mice and/or rats to your door. To prepare a frozen rodent, either thawed out overnight on your counter or place in warm water to defrost. DO NOT MICROWAVE YOUR RODENTS. Once your Ball python has eaten do not hold them for 24-48 hours.
Feeding Issues: Ball pythons are known for being picky feeders, so do not immediately feel like you are doing something wrong if your Ball python does not wish to eat. If you have a newborn Ball python that has never taken a meal, they may refuse to take food for a few weeks as they are still full from the egg. After that, if your newborn is still refusing to eat, you may need to assist feed. If you have never assist fed before, please do this with a professional. NEVER FORCE FEED YOUR BALL PYTHON.
If you have a baby Ball python refusing to eat from a breeder or store that has said that they have already taken a few meals, your Ball python may need some time to acclimate to their new environment. Also, double check to make sure that your temperatures and humidity are correct. Here are a few other tips: try switching between live or frozen rodents, slightly warm a thawed rodent a little more in warm water, switching between rats and mice, try a smaller rodent, try feeding in the evening or right before bed and try feeding in a separate smaller feeding box. Keep in mind that if your baby Ball python is refusing to eat, please keep your offerings between 1-2 weeks apart to keep your Ball python's feeding response strong.
We have heard of some keepers offering a different color mouse, scenting the mouse and braining a frozen/thawed mouse. I haven’t heard about a ton of keepers having luck with those methods, but it is always worth a try.
Regurgitation: Ball pythons are extremely sensitive to regurgitation. If for whatever reason your Ball python regurgitates, make sure to wait about a 1.5 weeks before feeding again and give smaller meals for about a month before offering a regular meal. If your Ball python regurgitates a second time, please visit a vet.
Respiratory Infections (R.Is): If your Ball python has signs of Respiratory infection, please visit a vet to diagnose your snake and receive antibiotics to treat the infection. The sooner that you go to the vet the faster the healing time will be. Also, make the following adjustments to their enclosure, keep the hot side at 92°F and the humidity around 90%. A hot and humid environment will help the healing process. For minor RI, there is some success with using F10 veterinary disinfectant to nebulize your snakes with. I would only suggest doing this along with having a vet check out your python. If your Ball python has a bad respiratory infection, ask your vet if they feel that they need to be off food for a period of time.
Mite Prevention: Anytime you bring a reptile in your home or collection, make sure that you quarantine them away from other reptiles. There is a product called Prevent-A-Mite that you can spray into their enclosure which will really do a great job.
Mite Symptoms: If your Ball python is hanging out in their water dish a lot and you see black specks floating around in the water, you may have a snake with mites. Also, you can double check their scales to see if there are any raised scales with mites hiding.
Mite Treatment: If you find that your Ball python has mites, make sure to bathe your Ball python in warm water about an inch deep. While your Ball python is bathing, completely disinfect their enclosure. In my opinion, I would get a separate like Rubbermaid/Sterlite tub or terrarium and spray down with Prevent-A-Mite. Let the enclosure completely air dry and use paper towel as a substrate with nothing else in the enclosure. After a day or two place the water dish back into the enclosure. You will need to continue to bath your Ball python, disinfecting your enclosure and use Prevent-A-Mite for about a month or so.
Corn Snake - Pantherophis guttatus (Elaphe guttata)
Corn snakes are one of the most popular of all pet snakes and for good reason. Their extremely variable and gorgeous colors and patterns, ease of care and breeding, and generally docile dispositions have earned corn snakes their rightful, premier place in herpetoculture. The size of mature corn snakes is just right: big and hardy enough to accept regular handling, yet not large enough to intimidate a novice or child. Easy to breed and care for with an endless array of genetic traits, corn snakes offer something for the newest snakekeeper, yet they also challenge those with years of experience.
Corn Snake Size
Corn snakes hatch at 8 to 12 inches long, and most eventually reach 4 to 5.5 feet in length.
Corn Snake Life Span
With proper care, a corn snake could live at least into its latter teens, and it may well live into its 20s. They are often reproductive until 10 to 12 years of age and sometimes longer.
Corn Snake Caging
Baby corn snakes can easily live in a plastic vivarium the size of a large shoebox for the first several months of their lives. Adult corn snakes need a cage at least the size of a 20-gallon long aquarium, but bigger is even better. Snakes are not social animals, so cagemates are quite stressful. House only one corn snake to a cage. All snakes are escape artists, so make sure the cage is absolutely escapeproof. Climbing branches may be appreciated, but a couple of dark, tight hides are essential to help the snake feel secure.
Corn Snake Lighting and Temperature
No special lighting is required, but natural light from nearby windows will help your corn snake adjust its day and night cycles, and its seasonal cycles. Be careful to avoid direct sunlight shining into the cage, or the temperatures could quickly become lethal.
Provide a temperature gradient with a light, or undertank heat pad or cable. On the warm end 85 degrees Fahrenheit is perfect, and room temperatures (low 70s) are fine for the cool end. One long, skinny hide, such as a hollow log or PVC pipe, can be placed so one end of the hide is cool and one end is warm. Be sure to check the temperature inside the warm end of the hide — not on the glass. Temperatures can vary quite a bit within just a few inches, so thermometer and hide box placement is important.
Misting the enclosure often causes fungus and mold. If the corn snake sheds its skin in pieces, increase humidity inside the hide box by adding a clump of damp moss or paper towel whenever the snake prepares to shed. Remove this damp filler in between sheds to avoid buildup of bacteria, mold, etc.
Corn Snake Substrate
Most breeders use aspen shavings as bedding because it is absorbent, soft and holds its shape when snakes burrow. Cypress mulch also works, but avoid aromatic woods such as pine or cedar. Newspaper and reptile carpet also suffice, but the corn snake tends to get under it whenever possible. Avoid sand because it may cause impactions if ingested.
Corn Snake Food
The primary natural food of corn snakes is appropriately sized rodents. Some baby corn snakes also eat lizards or an occasional frog. Adult corn snakes may eat birds or their eggs. Do not offer crickets because corn snakes don’t recognize them as food.
Hatchlings normally eat newborn mice. Increase to a jumbo mouse for a large adult corn snake. Most corn snakes learn to eat previously frozen, but fully thawed out, mice. Be prepared to offer a live newborn mouse to baby corn snakes stressed by a new home or not used to thawed mice yet. It usually won’t take many times to train them to take thawed mice. Placing your corn snake and a thawed mouse in an empty container with a few air holes and closing the lid will help the snake concentrate on the food, and encourage it to eat. Be sure the lid is on tightly, and don’t put it near a heat source, or you risk overheating the snake. Cuts made into the skin of a thawed mouse ensure faster and more complete digestion. Feed baby corn snakes once every five to seven days, and feed adult corn snakes once every seven to 10 days.
Corn Snake Water
Fresh water should always be available in a shallow, heavy bowl. Clean out the bowl every few days or sooner if it is soiled. Place the bowl in a cage corner so it can be easily found as the snake cruises the cage perimeter at night.
Boa Constrictor (Boa constrictor imperator)
The Colombian boa constrictor is the most widely kept boa constrictor in the pet industry (there are nine accepted subspecies of Boa constrictor, and many localities of some subspecies). Other common names include the common boa and red-tailed boa, although the true red-tailed boa is Boa constrictor constrictor, which is larger and found in countries including Suriname, Guyana, Peru and Brazil. There may be B. c. constrictor in southeastern Colombia, but these are rarely seen in the reptile world. Colombian boas have become popular due to being docile and having more “personality,” in that they seem to be more curious about their surroundings than some other snakes. Colombian boa constrictors make great pets, and they are available in a vast array of appealing color and pattern morphs. Proper care can be provided even by beginner hobbyists, but due to their potentially large size and lengthy life span, boas are best suited for moderate- and advanced-level keepers. With reptile health and wellness prioritized, this care sheet should help ensure quality keeping of the Colombian Boa Constrictor.
Boa Constrictor Size
Female Colombian boa constrictors may reach 10 feet in length, though this is rare for B. c. imperator, and the average adult size for females is usually 6 to 8 feet. Males are smaller, usually 5 to 7 feet in length. Some Central American boa constrictors remain much smaller—if you would like a smaller boa constrictor, look into Central American locality types, such as those from Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Smaller subspecies include Boa c. longicauda and B. c. sabogae, though keep in mind that these localities and subspecies have not been bred in captivity as long as the Colombian boa, so they may not be as docile and could require extra attention to calm them down.
Boa Constrictor Life Span
Boas are very long-lived reptiles. There are documented cases of captive boas living longer than 40 years; however, the average captive life span is 20 to 30 years. Please consider this carefully before bringing a boa home.
Boa Constrictor Housing
Many caging options are available for boa constrictors. Reptile terrariums can be used, but reptile-specific plastic enclosures made from high-quality plastics that maintain proper humidity are much more suitable for boas than anything else. A rack system is something to consider should you advance into breeding boas, or if you plan to have many boas living with you. Custom enclosures are another option.
Young boa constrictors have simple needs; a large, beautifully decorated cage is not the best choice for them. While a new boa is acclimating, simple housing is preferred, and the enclosure should be prepared prior to your new boa’s arrival home. An appropriate first cage for a baby boa would be no larger than 30 inches long by 12 inches wide, in which it will feel very secure.
Naturally, as the young boa grows, a larger cage will be required. Boa constrictors are terrestrial and floor space is more important than height. Young boas may climb, but do so much less as they grow. Typical full-grown adult boas should be housed in cages no smaller than 4 feet long by 2 feet wide (with larger-than-average snakes in larger enclosures).
A hide box/shelter should be provided, which will allow the boa to feel safe and secure. There are many commercially manufactured types available for snake habitat products. The Zilla Habba Hut is one good option for reptile hides. Offer two hides, one on the warm side of the enclosure and one on the cool side. A stressed baby boa may stay on one side of the cage if only one hide is provided, which may discourage the snake from thermoregulating properly.
You may also provide rocks, sticks or other structures, but be sure they are positioned securely and free of parasites. A variety of reptile habitat accessories are available at stores or online.
Boa Constrictor Snake Lighting and Temperature
Boas control their body temperature through thermoregulation, and the cage should have a warm side and a cool side. This is very important! Do not place the heat source in the center of the cage, place it at one end. Then if the boa gets too warm, it will move toward the cooler side, and if it is too cool, it will move to the warmer side. That’s thermoregulation!
The temperatures in the cool end your boa cage should not drop below 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The warm side should be 85 degrees, with a hot spot of 90 degrees provided by an under-cage heating device that will provide “belly heat.” Boa constrictors greatly prefer this, so they can coil over the rising heat.
Belly heat can be provided using various devices. Under-tank heaters are the most readily available, such as a Zilla heat pad. Heat cable and heat tape are other possibilities. Any heating device should be controlled with a proportional thermostat or rheostat, such as the Zilla heat and temperature controller. Some heat sources, especially heat tape, can get too hot for some enclosures, and they must be regulated not just for the boa’s safety, but yours, too. If using these devices, especially if you’re using a glass enclosure such as an aquarium, be sure some ventilation is provided around the heat source. If heat builds up, it can crack the bottom of a glass tank, or cause other caging materials to melt or overheat.
Overhead lighting is not usually needed. If an overhead bulb is used, it should be placed directly over the source of the belly heat. Be sure to check the temperature of your hot spot while the bulb is on. If the belly heat being provided from the under-enclosure device is not warm enough, overhead lighting will assist in maintaining a proper hot spot, but overhead lighting or an overhead heating device alone is not recommended for boas.
A low-wattage fluorescent bulb, such as the Exo Terra natural daylight reptile lamp, can be used to provide a photoperiod (day/night cycle) and to better observe your boa. Full-spectrum bulbs with UVB like the Solar Glo all in one reptile lamp, may provide physical and physiological benefits to boas, but this has not been proven. UVB lighting is not needed for the proper care of boas, and the vast majority of boa keepers do not use it. Still, it won’t harm your boa, so feel free to provide it just in case there is some benefit.
Boa Constrictor Snake Substrate
Boas can be kept on several types of substrate. Newspaper, aspen, white or brown butcher/wrapping paper, and cage carpet are the most often used substrates. Fir and cypress barks are also acceptable but not often used by breeders. If using cypress bark or mulch, be sure it does not become too damp as it holds humidity very well. When using aspen bedding or carpet, the cage can be spot cleaned often, with a full change occurring as needed. If using paper, the entire substrate should be changed each time cage cleaning occurs.
Boa Constrictor Food
It is very important to allow your new boa to acclimate to its new surroundings before feeding. Never attempt to feed a new boa for at least five days after you bring it home. I assure you your new boa will be fine without food during this time. If you feed it too soon, while it may still be stressed from the move to your home, the snake may regurgitate. If this occurs, be sure your temperatures are correct, and do not attempt to feed the boa again for two weeks. The most common causes of regurgitation are improper temperature and stress from being handled, so be sure you provide proper cage temperatures and do not excessively handle boas after meals.
Never feed a new boa constrictor a meal that is larger than the snake’s mid-body girth. It should never exhibit a bulge after eating. Especially in young boas, a meal that is too large may lead to regurgitation. An established boa will handle a meal resulting in a small bulge just fine.
Pet boa constrictors should be fed only quality mice or rats. They need no additional food or supplementation. Be sure you buy your rodents from a good source to prevent disease and mites. Boas 2 years old and younger should be fed one appropriately sized rodent every seven to 10 days. Excessive feeding may lead to regurgitation, improper growth, and even premature death. Once boas near adulthood, they will thrive while being fed every 10 to 14 days. It is okay to feed your boa more or less often, but be sure to monitor weight so the boa does not become obese or underweight.
Most boa constrictors available as pets will be eating frozen/thawed prey. If you purchase one that is eating live rodents, it will often take frozen/thawed prey that is presented from a pair of tongs. Pre-killed rodents are always best, whether they are frozen/thawed or freshly killed, because live rodents may harm your boa. If your snake does not kill its prey (boas will not eat if they are not hungry or are kept under improper conditions), the rodent may bite or even kill your boa. Even if the boa does constrict its prey, the rodent may bite before it is killed. Never leave your boa unattended with live rodents.
Boa Constrictor Water and Humidity
A water bowl is a necessity. This allows your boa a place to drink and helps provide the proper humidity for your boa. The humidity in the cage should be 60 to 70 percent; use a hygrometer (humidity gauge) to track the percentage.
Water must always be clean and should be changed as needed and the bowl cleaned. Some boa constrictors will defecate or urinate in the water, which must be cleaned immediately if this occurs. Be sure to scrub and rinse the bowl, using an antibacterial dish soap and hot water. Be sure to rinse thoroughly, and run the water bowl through your dishwasher monthly if possible. Disposable forms of water bowls, such as deli cups, are another option.
Young boas will often soak before or during a shed cycle. This aids in shedding their skin, but usually occurs only when proper cage humidity is not being met. A boa that is constantly in the water bowl usually indicates the humidity is too low, the temperature is too high, or the boa has mites.
After a shed, be sure to check the tip of your boa’s tail. Young boas will sometimes retain a small piece of shed skin there. If caught soon after the shed, this old skin is usually easy to remove by gently pulling the skin off. Always be careful when attempting this. If it’s sticking, usually a dip in warm water will make removal easy. This skin retention does not necessarily mean you have husbandry issues. Sometimes the skin simply tears before the shed is removed completely. If you notice retained skin on other areas of your boa’s body, you may need to adjust the humidity levels.
Shedding issues are usually a result of insufficient humidity. A soak or two during the shed cycle will greatly help if you are experiencing low-humidity issues. Place a quarter-inch of warm water in an appropriately sized plastic container, and place your boa inside with a secure lid in place. Then place the container in your boa’s cage, positioned so the inside of the container has a warm side and cool side. This will keep the water warm and the humidity high. Do not place it directly over the belly heat or under a basking bulb. A few holes in the lid or sides of the container will provide ventilation. Soak your boa in the container for up to an hour (two hours if you’re combating a particularly tough shed) and repeat as necessary. Be sure to check on your boa regularly, as they will often defecate while soaking. Change the water and clean the container if this occurs. At end of the shed cycle, remove the water and place a small towel in the container so your boa can rub on it to help shed its old skin.
Sulcata Tortoise (Geochelone [Centrochelys] Sulcata)
The most produced tortoises in the world are probably the sulcata tortoises of north central Africa. Sulcata tortoises are sometimes referred to as African spurred, African spur thigh, and just spurred tortoises. As recently as a few decades ago sulcata tortoises were rare in the United States, but they have shown an amazing ability to adapt to various climates and habitats in captivity, and their low cost combined with a curious personality make them tortoises that are commonly sought after by first-time tortoise owners.
Sulcata Tortoise Size
Sulcata tortoise hatchlings measure approximately 1½ to 2 inches in carapace length. Growth rates of sulcatas are probably more variable than any other tortoise. You could literally have a 10-inch tortoise that is 3 years old or 10 years old. Many adult sulcata tortoises break the 100-pound mark. However, most of the large sulcatas in our collection aren’t much over 100 pounds, but we do have a few. Our big female sulcatas tend to be in the 70 to 90 pound range, and are still growing slowly. These tortoises (males especially) can reach 200 pounds. Any tortoises nearing that weight would be very old. Sulcata tortoises grow rapidly for the first five to 10 years, and then their growth slows with age.
Sulcata Tortoise Life Span
Because sulcata tortoises haven’t really been raised from birth for very long, it’s still hard to determine what age a well-raised sulcata born into captivity is capable of living to. Raised on a lean, high-fiber diet, captive-raised animals in low-stress environments have higher life expectancies. Most indications are that sulcata tortoises can live more than 70 years.
Sulcata Tortoise Caging
Because of their size, sulcata tortoises are best kept by those who have access to an outdoor area, where their tortoise(s) can be kept for most, or all, of the year. We keep our sulcatas in a desert-type setup outdoors with a large grass area in the center and dirt around the perimeter. They commonly “patrol” the perimeter of their enclosures, so we leave it dirt there, because any grass would just be destroyed with time.
Sulcata tortoise enclosures require a sturdy wall at least 24-inches in height above ground, as well as 12- to 24-inches below ground to prevent (or discourage) these tortoises from digging. Concrete masonry blocks work well when cemented in place, as well as a well-built wood wall as a barrier. See-through fences and walls shouldn’t be used, as the tortoises tend to try to escape through or over these walls.
Sulcata tortoises are burrowers if there isn’t a proper hide box accessible as a cool retreat during the summer months or a warm retreat during the winter. There are exceptions to every rule, though. When the tortoises make efforts to dig, these spots should be filled in with large flagstones, etc., to prevent future digging. A single tortoise can be allowed to burrow naturally, but with multiple tortoises in an enclosure, they can “stack up” in the burrows, and the deepest ones will be unable to exit.
Sulcata tortoises are grazers and will eat any grasses and most plants in their enclosure. We plant any of the various clump grasses as well as desert-type mesquite and African sumac trees, which also make for nice cage décor. Fragile plants are likely to be destroyed by the tortoises once the animals have any size to them.
Young sulcata tortoises can be raised indoors. While outdoor housing is preferred anytime the temperatures are in the acceptable range, many people raise their sulcatas indoors for the first few years of life. Probably the best enclosures to use are simple plastic sweaterboxes, or a “tortoise table,” which you can buy or make yourself. The container itself isn’t as big of a deal as the furnishings you put into it, including substrate, lighting, temperature gradients and cage furniture. In cold climates, a suitable enclosure can be built in the garage for large tortoises that need to spend a few months indoors during the winter. These enclosures should be heated enough to keep the tortoises comfortable during the indoor months.
All of our baby sulcata tortoises raised indoors have access to a humid hiding area where they can snuggle in and get a dose of humidity, much like they would in a natural burrow. This humid microclimate helps their shells to grow smoothly and helps in keeping the tortoise hydrated. Tortoises raised without proper humidity tend to dehydrate quickly and form “bumpy” shells as they grow.
Many different substrates can be used in indoor enclosures. For all sizes of tortoise, cypress mulch has proven to be a great bedding. It’s absorbent, safe and relatively low cost. Other options are various hays (timothy, Bermuda, alfalfa, orchard grass, etc.), as well as coconut coir or peat moss. Outdoor enclosures don’t need fancy substrates, provided the soils that are there are mostly natural and not tainted with chemicals or fertilizers.
I also include a few large, flat rocks in an indoor enclosure. They help file down the tortoises’ nails and give them a clean surface for food.
Sulcata Tortoise Lighting and Temperature
Sulcata tortoises that live outdoors are tolerant to various temperature ranges. High temperatures are not going to be a problem provided the tortoise has a shaded area to escape to if desired. The tortoises themselves can handle surprisingly cold temperatures, as low as 45 degrees Fahrenheit, with no problems. When nighttime temperatures drop below 50 degrees, a heated hide box should be provided that maintains at least 55 to 60 degrees at night (70s is better), or the tortoises should be brought in during those times. Sulcata tortoises are kept outdoors year-round in some parts of the country where nighttime lows in the winter are 20 degrees (including here in Las Vegas). It is absolutely required that these tortoises are checked on each evening to make sure they get into a heated area and do not fall asleep out in the open and become exposed to these temperatures at night.
Indoors, sulcata tortoises can be maintained at normal room temperatures: 68 to 80 degrees. They should also have a basking area heated by an overhead light. This spot should be in the 100-degree range. Like most diurnal, herbivorous reptiles, they need a UVB light in their indoor enclosures to help them properly process the calcium in their diets. Keep lights on 12 to 14 hours a day, and turn off all light and heat sources at night.
Sulcata Tortoise Food
Sulcata tortoises are eager eaters, rarely turning down a meal. With adult tortoises, the best staple diets are various grasses and leaves, the same as their natural diet. They will graze on any of the lawn grasses, mulberry leaves, grape leaves, hibiscus leaves and flowers. With size, most sulcata tortoises will eat grass hays (we like orchard grass hay). Baby and smaller sulcatas have a harder time eating the tougher grass and hay because of their less powerful jaws.
We also use spring mixes (particularly with baby sulcata tortoises), which have several leafy ingredients in them, and we supplement with kale, collard greens, turnip greens and any of the darker lettuce types. Cactus pads have become a major part of the diet of many of our tortoises as well. Mazuri Tortoise Diet is offered occasionally to cover any of the nutritional bases that the other diet may have missed. Variety is the key. Feed tortoises from a grass surface, flat rock or concrete, or from a tray. To prevent them from eating soil or rocks, never feed tortoises directly from a gravel or dirt surface.
Sulcata Tortoise Water
Sulcata tortoises can have small water dishes in their outdoor enclosures. We use shallow, low-sided dishes that are glazed to make cleaning easy. Cleaning must be done on a regular basis, as most tortoises tend to soak in their dishes and defecate in them. I provide water bowls during the hottest parts of the year, but I don’t during cooler times. We also provide small “mud holes” and puddle-areas where the tortoises can sit in to stay cool during the hot months. Tortoises living in areas with regular rainfall drink from puddles and leaves. If you live in areas with prolonged dry periods, such as Las Vegas, offering them water helps to keep them hydrated.
When sulcata tortoises are housed indoors, I prefer not to have standing water in the bowls, because they tend to defecate in them while soaking. In shallow water, the tortoises usually begin drinking immediately and flush their systems at the same time. They need to be soaked outside the enclosure in shallow, warm water once or twice a week for 15 to 30 minutes to get fully hydrated.
Baby and juvenile sulcata tortoises tend to dry out much quicker than larger, more established tortoises. Because of this, I soak baby sulcata tortoises in shallow, warm water up to three times a week, for 10 to 15 minutes, whether they’re housed outdoors or indoors.
Sulcata Tortoise Health
For best results, purchase an alert, active sulcata tortoise with bright, clean eyes, or buy one from a reputable source that will guarantee (at least) a live arrival. These tortoises can suffer from most common reptile health problems, but respiratory infections are the most prevalent.
Sulcata tortoises can also be prone to respiratory infections if they are kept in cool or wet enclosures. They need to be able to dry out, particularly if temperatures are low.
Sulcata Tortoise Handling and Temperament
Contrary to what many sellers tell customers, tortoises generally should not be handled with any regularity. They are easily stressed when overhandled, and children tend to drop them when spooked. These stress factors can lead to a decline in a tortoise’s activity levels and health.
Adult sulcata tortoises are generally more resistant to handling, but all tortoises should be handled carefully. Avoid pinning them down or restricting them. Allow them to carry on in their intended way, especially when they’re young. Older sulcatas are usually pretty tolerant of people.
Red-Footed Tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria)
Some of the most popular pet tortoises in the United States are the red-footed tortoises of South America. Red-footed tortoises are easy to acquire, are simple to take care of, remain a size that most can easily handle, and they show amazing colorations on their head, legs and shells. Red-footed tortoises are native to moderate climates and have shown an ability to adapt to various climates and habitats in captivity. Red-footed tortoises’ low cost, combined with a curious personality, make them tortoises that are commonly sought after by first-time tortoisekeepers.
Red-Footed Tortoise Size
Red-footed tortoise hatchlings measure approximately 1½ to 2 inches in carapace length out of the egg. Growth rates are variable depending on many factors, but are mostly based on the amount and quality of food they are taking in as well as the temperatures they are exposed to.
Red-footed tortoise adult size is generally somewhere between 11 to 14 inches in length, with some exceptions to this rule. We have had females as small as 9 inches in length lay eggs, although it is more likely with females in the 11 to 12 inch range. Like most tortoises, red-footed tortoises grow rapidly for the first five to 10 years, and then their growth slows with age.
Red-Footed Tortoise Life Span
The life span of a red-footed tortoise can vary depending on many factors, but most indications are that they can live for more than 50 years. Tortoises kept in ideal conditions that mimic their natural habitat, without the threat of predation, tend to have higher life spans than tortoises raised in artificial settings.
Red-Footed Tortoise Habitat
Red-footed tortoise enclosures require a sturdy wall at least 16 inches in height above ground, as well as a few inches below ground, to prevent (or discourage) these tortoises from digging. Red-footed tortoises aren’t usually burrowing or digging tortoises, so this isn’t as much of a concern as it would be with other tortoise species. See-through fences and walls should not be used, as the tortoises tend to try to escape through or over these walls if they can see the other side.
Red-footed tortoise enclosures should have walls at lest 16 inches in height above ground and a few inches below ground.
Young red-footed tortoises can be raised indoors if the outside conditions are beyond their tolerance. While outdoor housing is preferred anytime the temperatures are in the acceptable range, many people raise their red-foots indoors for the first few years. Probably the best enclosures to use indoors are simple, plastic sweaterboxes or a “tortoise table,” which you can buy or make yourself. The container itself isn’t as important as the furnishings put into it, which include substrate, lighting, temperature gradients and cage furniture. In colder climates, a suitable enclosure can be built in the garage for large tortoises during the winter. These enclosures should be heated enough to keep the tortoises comfortable during the indoor months.
On top of keeping a moderate humidity level in the enclosure, all baby red-footed tortoises raised indoors should have access to a humid hiding area where they can snuggle in and get a dose of humidity, much like they would in a natural burrow. This more humid microclimate helps their shells to grow smoothly and helps in keeping the tortoise hydrated. Tortoises raised without proper humidity tend to dehydrate quickly and form “bumpy” shells as they grow.
Many different substrates can be used for indoor red-footed tortoise enclosures. For all sizes of tortoise, cypress mulch has proven to be a great bedding. It’s absorbent, safe and relatively low cost. Other good options include coconut coir or peat moss. Outdoor enclosures don’t need fancy substrates, provided that the soil is natural and not tainted with any chemicals or fertilizers.
I also include a few large, flat rocks in the enclosure. They help file down the tortoises’ nails and give them a clean surface for food.
Red-Footed Tortoise Lighting and Temperature
Red-footed tortoises that live outdoors are tolerant to various temperature ranges. High temperatures are generally not going to be a problem provided that the tortoise has a shaded area to escape to if desired and constant access to water to soak in and drink.
We keep our adult red-footed tortoises outdoors in Las Vegas with temperatures of up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit occasionally and have had no losses to heat. Keep in mind the fact that our red-footed tortoise “jungle” is sprayed with sprinklers several times a day, which lowers the overall temperature in that area and raises humidity. The entire area is covered with 80 percent shade cloth.
The tortoises themselves can also handle surprisingly cold temperatures, as low as 45 degrees, with no problems. When nighttime temperatures drop below 50 degrees, a heated hide box should be provided that maintains at least 60 degrees at night (in the 70s is better), or the tortoises should be brought in during those times. Red-footed tortoises are kept outdoors year round in some parts of the country where nighttime lows in the winter are 20 degrees (including here in Las Vegas). It is absolutely required that these tortoises are checked on each evening to make sure they get into a heated area and do not fall asleep out in the open and become exposed to cold temperatures at night.
Indoors, red-footed tortoises can be maintained at normal room temperatures: 68 to 80 degrees. They should also have a basking area heated by an overhead light or a ceramic heat emitter. This warm spot should be in the 90-degree range. While some don’t think it’s needed, we provide a UVB light in the indoor enclosures to help them properly process the calcium in their diets. When placed overhead, it will not lead to eye damage as is sometimes claimed. Lights should run 12 to 14 hours a day, and a mild heat source can be used 24/7 under or over the hide box area (small heat pads, red bulbs or ceramic heat emitters work great for this). Lamp timers make the light cycle consistent and easy.
Red-footed tortoises exist in a wide variety of habitats in the wild, from grassland to jungle, almost all with moderate to high humidity and moderate temperatures. Red-foots can handle variable amounts of humidity in captivity once grown, but babies should be kept humid to ensure proper smooth shell growth in their first few years.
Red-footed tortoises do not hibernate but will go through a winter slow-down period during cooler weather and shortened day-lengths. As adults, red-footed tortoises can safely handle body temperatures as low as 45 degrees at night as long as they are able to heat up into the 70s during the day. Summer temperatures up to 100 degrees can be tolerated as long as there is a cooler, shaded retreat the tortoise can get into. Moisture is not a problem in warmer temperatures (a cool mudhole on a hot day), but the tortoises should be kept dry on cold nights.
Red-Footed Tortoise Food
Red-footed tortoises are typically eager eaters, rarely turning down a meal. With adult tortoises, we feed them the best mix possible of various fruits, veggies, flowers and leaves. They will also graze on mulberry leaves, grape leaves, hibiscus leaves and flowers. They enjoy Mazuri tortoise diet as much as any tortoise does, and having this on hand works well for a backup plan if you can’t get to the store for fresh greens, and it is a good supplemental diet. Mazuri tortoise diet works well to cover any of the nutritional bases that the other diet may have missed.
Feed adult tortoises the best mix possible of various fruits, veggies, flowers and leaves.
We also use spring mixes (particularly with baby red-footed tortoises), which have several leafy ingredients in them, and we supplement with kale, collard greens, turnip greens and any of the darker lettuce types. Cactus pads have become a major part of the diet of many of our tortoises as well. Variety is the key.
It is generally thought that red-footed tortoises need more protein in their diet than many other species. While we don’t offer ours a direct source of protein, they probably do take the opportunity to eat an earthworm or a grub if they come across them in their enclosures. Some keepers offer insects as a supplemental food source (waxworms, mealworms, superworms or earthworms). Some even offer baby mice as a protein source in the diet of their captive red-footed tortoises. Mazuri tortoise diet is higher in protein than a normal vegetarian tortoise diet, so by using this in the diets of our tortoises, we think their needs are being met.
Feed tortoises from a grass surface, flat rock or concrete, or from a tray. Tip – Light-colored trays stay much cooler in the sun and prevent the food from drying out as fast. To prevent them from eating soil or rocks, never feed tortoises directly from a gravel or dirt surface. Red-footed tortoises are grazers and will munch on any plants in their enclosure. We like to use various hibiscus, palm trees and clump grasses in our enclosures to provide them with a somewhat renewable food source.
Red-Footed Tortoise Water
Red-footed tortoises should have water dishes or small ponds in their outdoor enclosures. We use shallow, low-sided dishes that are glazed to make cleaning easy. Cleaning must be done on a regular basis, as most tortoises tend to soak in their dishes and defecate in them. We provide water dishes to our red-footed tortoises all year, although their use of them in the winter is very minimal. We also provide small “mudholes” and puddle-areas that the tortoises can sit in to stay cool during the hot months.
When red-footed tortoises are housed indoors, shallow water dishes can be used, but again, they need very regular cleaning. In shallow water, the tortoises usually begin drinking immediately and flush their systems at the same time. Baby and juvenile red-footed tortoises tend to dry out much quicker than larger, more established tortoises. They can also be soaked outside the enclosure in shallow, warm water once or twice a week for 15 to 30 minutes to get fully hydrated, which also helps keep the main enclosure clean. This is a form of “forced hydration” but works well in keeping the tortoise fully hydrated.