Geckolepis maculata: Learning a New Species
I first heard of the genus Geckolepis a few years ago from online photos and was immediately drawn to their cartoon-like features with short, thick legs and their typical gecko “smiling” faces. Unfortunately, extensive searches on Google proved that there was very little information available on them let alone purchase availability and I had no better luck in the months to years in between looking them up.
This difficulty made me pass when I found a single male available a few months ago, but when someone had multiple G. maculata in January, I decided to take the chance, especially when I found out a friend had already ordered some for his local store.
What little I had read warned me that they were super fast, flighty, and easily shed their large scales when touched. Placed in a tank together, I took out each gecko to look them over and begin assessing their behaviors and characteristics. Three had fairly fresh wounds from fighting in a tank with few available hides and they certainly moved in short, quick bursts as I went to scoop them up.
But there was no denying the clear personalities among these tiny animals.
While the less dominant ones where clearly more wary of their surroundings due to having been picked on by at least one other, all four were openly curious and very inquisitive about their surroundings. Every few steps they would lick me, learning smells, tilting their heads every which way observing everything. None made any mad dashes to escape so there was never any reason for me to do more than cup my hand around them to lift or move them so I didn’t have any scales dropped.
Going in I had intended on only a single pair to begin and learn with, but there was no leaving without all four after meeting them. I did learn very quickly that they will display territorial behavior even while being transported instead of riding out the movement looking for somewhere to hide as I have seen in other species.
“Getting to Know You”
Since they proved tricky to sex without being obvious or knowing what to look for, I decided to set them up together in a larger tank than I had originally planned being a custom 15x23x20 and filled two thirds with branches and cork for a maze of hides. I took photo documentation of each so that I could identify them later as well as weighed them. I gave them a container of dirt in case anyone was already gravid and put it in the front with a piece of cork lying over it so I could check it without disturbing the tank. They also got bowls for water and Crested Gecko Diet since I had it on hand, which even newly arrived they were immediately coming out to lick at, as well as dubia and crickets.
With the lack of information on their care, I decided to try the methods used for Day Geckos since they are also from Madagascar. I put their tank on a lower shelf in my gecko building where it didn’t get quite as warm, but the building has ambient temperatures ranging roughly 73-85F throughout the full day. I didn’t mist at first and never saw any shedding problems though living near the coast, I have naturally high humidity anyway, but I am now heavily misting the entire tank every few days.
Since they were all choosing hides on varies places next to the glass, I was able to observe everyone’s condition easily so I left them alone for a month. After that, I took new identification photos and checked their weights. All four were fully healed from their wounds showing rapid regeneration of their scales. Since I had to remove everything in the tank to take them out, I was able to see that they ate few, if any, of the dubia I had offered, but only one cricket had managed to evade them. I have since found that prefer the Gecko Diet over insects since the bowl is cleaned quickly while crickets continue to roam.
Other Geckolepis keepers turned up on Facebook after I posted photos, and I was provided with comparison photos showing me what to look for to sex them. I have confirmed 1.2 with a small one left in question and if they turn out to be 2.2 than I will split the pairs so I can keep records of who the parents are. Recently I did find that one of them had laid an egg out of the lay box, but it was clearly infertile and very likely a virgin egg so I have also added a bowl of calcium that has since obviously been licked at. Having only had them for two months, they have proven very hardy and easy to care for. Their personalities make them a joy to interact with, though I do handle them at a bare minimum to be safe.
"Some reptiles do appear to enjoy human contact" - Dr. Hoppes
When thinking of reptiles, the image that comes to the minds of most people can vary from a garter snake slithering through the grass to lizards of Jurassic proportions roaming the earth. The idea of bonding with such creatures may seem creepy, or even impossible, yet some people insist that their reptiles know themand enjoy being with them. Can reptiles feel or portray emotions?
Generally, reptiles do demonstrate basic emotions. According to Dr. Sharman Hoppes, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, the main two are fear and aggression, but they may also demonstrate pleasure when stroked or when offered food.
"A snake that is feeling aggressive may warn you with a hiss," states Dr. Hoppes. "This can occur when you are forcing your attention on the snake, and if you persist, they may strike out. Typically snakes hiss or coil when they are feeling hostile, but most pet snakes are not aggressive animals unless threatened."
A reptile that is feeling fear may simply try to get away, but it can also exhibit actions similar to aggression. For this reason, it is a good idea to keep handling sessions with a new reptile to a minimum until it gets used to you. Otherwise, you may scare it into striking at you, a perceived threat. It is better to have a good session without upsetting the animal that lasts two minutes than a longer session trying to force a reptile to accept you.
Corn SnakeA more controversial emotion in reptiles is the concept of pleasure, or even love. Many feel that they have not developed this emotion, as it does not naturally benefit them. However, most reptiles do seem to recognize people who frequently handle and feed them.
"I don’t know if it is love," says Dr. Hoppes, "but lizards and tortoises appear to like some people more than others. They also seem to show the most emotions, as many lizards do appear to show pleasure when being stroked."
Another interesting fact is that while many reptiles lay their eggs and then leave their young to fend for themselves, some, such as prehensile-tailed skinks, form family groups and protect their young. Female alligators also stay with their young and will guard them for up to six months, teaching them survival skills and vocalizing with them through a series of grunts. Whether this is due to a survival instinct or concern for their individual offspring is unknown.
When it comes to interactions with humans, some reptiles do seem to enjoy their company. A tortoise that enjoys being petted might stick its neck out or close it eyes and become still and calm during the interaction. The same is true of lizards.
"Some reptiles do appear to enjoy human contact," adds Dr. Hoppes, "especially when food is offered. Many will respond to feeding times, coming to certain people they associate with food. And certainly most iguanas prefer certain people over others."
Iguanas have individual personalities that can vary from tranquil and laid-back to aggressive and dominating. The latter can be very difficult to live with and care for. The more calm iguanas, however, tend to bond with their person but may only endure handling by that individual. It is the rare iguana who is social with strangers.
Many reptile owners believe that their personal reptiles do recognize the good intentions they have towards them. Others deem that their cold-blooded dependents only tolerate them when they have to and would prefer to be left alone. By careful observation and handling of your reptiles, you can determine which are more social and which may not be quite so impressed with having a human as a best friend.
Article from 2011 via https://vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk/reptile-emotions#.U0V4PPldVqU
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.
Photo: Bearded Dragon © Joshua Burch
Sea snakes: Camels of the ocean
Like most creatures, sea snakes need to hydrate from time to time, yet they live in a world of mostly undrinkable sea water. What’s a thirsty sea snake to do?
According to researchers at the University of Florida in Gainesville, they find places where it is raining heavily, wait for pools — the scientists call them “lenses”— of fresh water to form on the surface, and drink. They have the handy advantage of not needing to do that very often, sometimes going six or seven months without a drink.
The snakes studied by Harvey Lillywhite and colleagues are the yellow-bellied sea snake, a venomous animal that is the most widely distributed reptile in the world, and the only pelagic snake, meaning it lives in the open sea, often far from any land. Most of these snakes probably never leave the ocean.
Their study was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society in England.
The yellow-bellied sea snake ranges from the coast of Southeastern Africa, across the Indo-Pacific to the shores of Central America. The Florida scientists caught their snakes using nets off the coast of Costa Rica.
The snakes can grow to be greater than a yard long, although the ones Lillywhite catches are generally a bit smaller. They have flattened tails that act as paddles. Like all snakes and marine mammals, they must breathe air to live even if they do spend their entire lives in the sea.
The yellow-bellied variety are called true sea snakes because they never go on land willingly, and those that do wind up ashore have trouble maneuvering, according to Jack Cover, general curator at the National Aquarium in Baltimore who has captured snakes off the Panamanian coast.
Other sea creatures rely on complex methods to hydrate. Dolphins gain water from the bodies of the fish they eat. They also invariably ingest saltwater but have physiological ways of excreting the salt, helped by special structures in their kidneys. Seals in polar climes eat snow.
Sea snakes rely mostly on lenses of fresh water that pool on the ocean surface.
“When you have a good rain storm, there’s a lot of fresh water falling on the ocean surface. It’s less dense than sea water so it tends to float” Lillywhite said. “How big the lens is, how pure it is, and how long it lasts, depends on how much rainfall there is and the nature of the mixing conditions at the time, driven by wind, and other factors.”
The water could be brackish, he said, but not very. If it is raining or just rained, it would be pure. The lenses can be thicker than 3 feet, and can persist for several days.
The snakes come up from below and drink from the collecting lenses.
How they find the lenses is another question. The snakes seem to know where it rains in the vicinity.
“I do not think these snakes go very far looking for the rain,” Lillywhite said. “Wherever they are, they come up to breathe air. If it is raining, they will detect it and take a drink.”
Some snakes can detect atmospheric pressure and can detect when a storm is approaching or if it is raining, research has shown.
Since the snakes rely on currents for much of their movements, opportunities for hydration are unpredictable. Months can go by with a snake encountering little or no rainfall, Lillywhite said. They would have to drift to where it’s raining.
But, these snakes are built for survival and are able to survive for months without a good drink.
Snakes lose body water slowly in sea water, but are able to retain a great amount of it for a long time. Their skins also are impermeable to the sea water.
A hydrated snake is up to 80 percent water, according to Lillywhite. Most animals, including humans, have around 60 percent.
The snakes can survive a body-water content low enough to kill a human, he said.
More important, thanks to efficient salt glands, they excrete the salt from sea water they ingest, Cover said.
The snakes are venomous, but Lillywhite said he has never been bitten. He has talked to herpetologists who have been bitten, but they report that nothing much happened; either the snakes did not inject venom — dry bites — or the venom isn’t as effective on humans as it is on fish. Many sea snakes, including a supposedly deadly variety known as sea kraits, just don’t bite.
“The snakes we study can be a little snappy. We just keep our hands far, far away from them,” said Lillywhite.
Cover said they are often very aggressive, dangerous and have to be handled carefully. Their venom, like cobra venom, is a neurotoxin and there have been fatalities. Fishermen in the Philippines often bring them up in fish nets and are bitten.
Article by Joel Shurkin via http://www.insidescience.org/content/where-do-sea-snakes-go-drink/1596
Photo: Yellow-bellied Sea Snake (Pelamis platurus) © William Flaxington