Learn More About Reptile Care in Tucson, AZ

At Orange Grove Animal Hospital, we care about the well-being of your reptile. Just as with any pet, regular checkups keep your reptile healthy and prevent disease. Dr. Jarchow and Dr. Merker are both experienced in reptile care and can evaluate your pet’s health.

Besides regular checkups, prevention is key to avoiding health problems that are unique to your animal’s species. Read the information sheets below to learn more about your pet and how to care for him or her at home.

If you have additional questions, please contact our office.

Aquatic Turtle Care

box turtles stacked on top of one another

Captive born Red Eared Sliders

Red-Eared Sliders, Painted Turtles, Cooters, Mud Turtles

While there is some debate as to what the term “turtle” refers to, for the purpose of this care sheet, “turtle” will refer to any aquatic species that requires water in order to swallow food. Aquatic turtles are primarily omnivorous although some adult turtles may eat some aquatic plants like anacharis or some dark green leafy vegetables. This care sheet can be used for Red-eared sliders, Painted Turtles, Cooters and Mud Turtles. Depending on the species, when fully grown, many common companion turtles can be in excess of 10 inches from nose to tail. As they get larger the space requirements for happy, healthy turtles increases. For additional aquatic or semi-aquatic turtle species, please call our office for any changes or additional notes.

Diet

  • Cockroaches
  • Crickets
  • Fishmeal-Based Pellets
  • Grubs
  • Guppies & Brine Shrimp
  • Low Fat Dog Food
  • Pinkie Mice
  • Raw Fish from Fillet (no batter/spices)
  • Slugs
  • Snails
  • Worms (earthworms/mealworms)

Adult turtles may eat aquatic plants like anacharis or dark green leafy vegetables. Never feed your turtle any fruit.

Importance of Water and Temperature

Turtles that live in captive settings need to have their water changed frequently (daily if possible). This helps to keep the bacteria levels down which can cause infections to your turtle. It is not advisable to add any type of commercial water treatment supplement to the water as these can often cause more harm than good. Sand and fine gravel or fish tank gravel are not recommended for aquatic species due to high risk of ingestion and their ability to hold bacteria.  Large stone can be used but you must be careful to not crack the bottom of the tank or cause a risk of your turtle getting trapped between the rocks.

The water should be deep enough for the turtle to completely submerge and swim around. If the water is too shallow the turtle cannot swallow its food (their swallowing mechanism only works underwater). It is recommended that aquatic turtles have a tank that is 10 gallons per inch of shell length.  A filter powerful enough to cycle and clean the water will also be necessary.

Turtles that are kept in an outdoor enclosure should have the water deep enough to withstand the hot Arizona summer temperatures and freezing winter temperatures. If the water is too shallow and gets too hot, the turtle can die. In the hot months of the summer, it is best to hang a piece of shade cloth over your turtle’s enclosure or place it in an area that will have some shade. Turtles can get heat stroke too. Try not to allow the water temperature to rise above the mid-80s during the summer. It is a good idea to purchase an inexpensive thermometer in the water.

In the winter the turtles should be allowed to cool down, as they would in nature. It is not advisable to keep them warm during these months. However, if you feel your turtle may be sick as fall approaches, get the advice of a veterinarian before cooling it down. It is not unusual for turtles to reduce their food intake or stop eating altogether in the winter.

A rock or basking area should be placed in the enclosure so the turtle can crawl out of the water if it wants to and soak up the sun. Turtles do best in a large tank-like enclosure that can be kept outside year round. Stock tanks can be purchased at hardware or feed stores inexpensively and work well for turtles.

Importance of Real Sunlight

Turtles whenever possible need to have exposure to real sunlight. The UVB rays from the sun keep their shell and bones hard and healthy. Without exposure to real sun, their shells may become soft or bendable, eventually resulting in death. If your turtle is kept indoors, a mercury vapor lamp is a good source of heat and UVB. Mega Ray at www.reptileUV.com or Power Sun by ZooMed is recommended.

Keeping Your Turtle Safe

Turtles need to be kept safe from predators like dogs, cats, raccoons and birds. To best keep them safe, cover the pond or enclosure with chicken wire to keep other animals out. These animals will often chew or peck on turtles mistaking them for a toy or food. Common injuries from dogs and other predators are chewed off limbs, badly chewed or cracked shell or even death. If this occurs, call a veterinarian immediately.

What Should I Do if I Think my Turtle Is Sick and What Are the Signs?

Call us right away at 520-877-2626. Our knowledgeable staff can help you determine if your pet should be seen and how soon. With our extended office hours, we can generally accommodate most schedules.

Signs that your turtle may be sick include: loss of appetite, weakness, lethargy, not wanting to lift the head, lumps or swelling on the side of the head, a soft or bendable shell, any discoloration, ulceration or pitting of the shell or limbs. Many of these are attributed to dirty water, a poor diet, lack of sunlight, or a combination thereof and all require veterinary care. If you notice any of these, or have any other concerns, call our office for advice and care instructions.

Aquatic Turtles and the Law

It is illegal to release aquatic turtles into public waterways. Red-eared sliders, snapping turtles, etc, are non-native species and can cause serious harm to the environment as well as our native turtle and tortoise species. Our native species are not able to compete effectively with released captives and are then exposed to a variety of diseases found in captive species. If you are no longer able to care for your aquatic turtle, please contact the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Tucson Herpetological Society (https://tucsonherpsociety.org/) or the Phoenix Herpetological Society.

It is illegal to sell a turtle less than 4 inches in length to the general public as pets. This law, Title 21, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 1240.62 was enacted to reduce the cases of Salmonella infections in children. To report a violation of this federal law please contact your local FDA Office of Criminal Investigations or local county health department.

Click Here to Download Aquatic Turtle Care Sheet

Bearded Dragon Care

bearded dragon

This dult bearded dragon is an excellent example of proper husbandry and diet.

Bearded dragons are diurnal (awake during daylight hours), omnivorous reptiles accustomed to high temperatures in arid (dry) environments. They are native of the deserts and arid woodlands of Australia and spend the majority of their day searching for food amongst bushes and trees or basking on rocks. They live an average of 5-8 years in captivity with some living as long as 10 years. As with most reptiles, the most common medical issues we treat is caused by inappropriate or inadequate diet and improper husbandry.


Diet

The diet recommended for bearded dragons consists of an herbivorous part, similar to green iguanas, with the addition of insects and pinkies. The following list of plants is appropriate when a mixture of 3 or more types is used in each meal.

Plant Items

  • Beet Greens
  • Bok Choy
  • Chard
  • Cilantro
  • Collard Greens
  • Dandelion (greens & flowers)
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Grape Leaves
  • Hibiscus (flowers & leaves)
  • Kale
  • Mulberry Leaves
  • Mustard Greens
  • Parsley
  • Rose Petals
  • Snow Peas
  • Spinach
  • Turnip Greens

Animal Items*

  • Beetles
  • Crickets & Mealworms (require gut-loading 2 days prior to feeding)
  • Grasshoppers
  • Grubs
  • Isopods (pill bugs)
  • Moths
  • Pinky Mice
  • Waxworms

*Never offer scorpions or lightning bugs.

A diet consisting of equal parts plant and animal items is nutritionally complete. Vitamin supplements are unnecessary, and in fact are often harmful. When feeding live insects, only provide as many insects as the animal can eat in a few hours. Young bearded dragons typically eat a larger percentage of insects and the number decreases with age. Clean water should be available at all times.*Never offer scorpions or lightning bugs.

Temperature and Lighting

Daytime ambient temperature (everywhere in the enclosure) should be maintained at 85-95 degrees F (29 - 35 C). Night time ambient temperature should be maintained at 72 - 75 degrees F (29.5 - 35 C). An Incandescent lamp for basking should also be provided. Light bulb wattage should be adequate to provide a basking temperature around 100 degrees F (37 C). This temperature should be measured with a thermometer placed directly at the basking site.
Bearded dragons require a good source of UVB light for at least 8 hours every day. Fluorescent lamps with a stronger UVB output, such as the Repti-sun 8.0 (ZooMed) or ReptiGlo 8.0 (Exoterra) are appropriate. A mercury vapor lamp, such as Power Sun by ZooMed or Mega Ray at www.reptileUV.com provides both heat and UVB. The lamp should be within 18 inches of the animal's body, with no glass or plastic between them.

Housing

Bearded dragons are best housed individually, as fighting with cage mates can occur between all combinations of bearded dragons. If breeding is desired, males and females should be introduced together only during spring or early summer.
Recommended cage substrates include desert topsoil, coarse gravel, and folded paper. The majority of intestinal impactions occur due to sand (including Calci-Sand), crushed walnut shell, or other substrates composed of small, equal-sized particles and therefore these are not recommended. Indoor-outdoor carpeting is also not recommended due to the possibility of carpet threads constricting toes or being ingested.

Gut-Loading

Gut-loading is the practice of feeding insects a diet high in calcium, protein, and other nutrients prior to offering the insects to reptiles and amphibians. Domestic crickets and meal worms should be fed a commercial, grain-based calcium enriched cricket diet such as those made by Flukers or ZooMed, or a diet consisting of four parts chicken or turkey starter mash and one part calcium carbonate for two or three days before offering the crickets to your pet. Also, offer the crickets water in a shallow dish or wet sponge. Gut-loading beyond 2-3 days is not beneficial, and can actually decrease the life expectancy of the insects.

Click Here to Download the Bearded Dragon Care Sheet.

Blue Tongue Skink Care

There are eight species of Blue Tongue skink all of which are found in Australian and the neighboring islands (New Guinea, Tasmania, and some islands of Indonesia) where they are known simply as Blue tongue lizards or “blueys”. They are large, docile, ground-foraging lizards easily recognized by the blue tongue within a pink mouth. With the exception of the Pigmy Blue-Tongued (an endangered subspecies thought to have been extinct), adults grow to 17 to 24 inches and about 2 pounds. In captivity, with proper diet and husbandry, skinks can live about 20 years.

Diet

Blue tongue skinks are omnivorous reptiles accustomed to warm temperatures and moderate to high humidity. The diet recommended for blue tongue skinks consists of both carnivorous and herbivorous parts.

Animal Items*

  • Beetles
  • Cat Food (semi-dry low fat on occasion)
  • Crickets & Mealworms (require gut-loading 2 days prior to feeding)
  • Grasshoppers
  • Grubs
  • Hard Boiled or Raw Eggs (infrequently)
  • Isopods (pill bugs)
  • Moths
  • Pinky Mice
  • Waxworms

*Never offer scorpions or lightning bugs.

Plant Items

  • Beet Greens
  • Bok Choy
  • Chard
  • Cilantro
  • Collard Greens
  • Dandelion (greens & flowers)
  • Endive
  • Frozen Mixed Vegetables
  • Grape Leaves
  • Hibiscus (flowers & leaves)
  • Kale
  • Mulberry Leaves
  • Mustard Greens
  • Parsley
  • Rose Petals
  • Snow Peas
  • Spinach
  • Turnip Greens

Temperature and Lighting

A diet consisting of equal parts plant and animal items is nutritionally complete. When feeding live insects, only provide as many insects as the animal can eat in a few hours. Items from the list of green plants are appropriate when a mixture of 3 or more types is used in each meal. Vitamin supplements are unnecessary, and in fact are often harmful. Clean water should be available at all times. As well as a more humid area of the enclosure to allow for proper shedding.

Daytime ambient temperature (everywhere in the enclosure) should be maintained around 85 degrees F (29 - 32 C). Night time ambient temperature should be maintained at 75 - 80 degrees F (29.5 - 35 C). Blue tongue skinks require a good source of UVB light for at least 8 hours every day. Fluorescent lamps with a stronger UVB output, such as the Repti-sun 8.0 (ZooMed) or ReptiGlo 8.0 (Exoterra) are appropriate. A mercury vapor lamp, such as Power Sun by ZooMed or Mega Ray at www.reptileUV.com provides both heat and UVB. The lamp should be within 18 inches of the animal's body, with no glass or plastic between them.

Housing

Being solitary creatures, Blue tongue skinks are best housed individually, as fighting with cage mates can occur between all combinations of blue tongue skinks. If breeding is desired, males and females should be introduced together only during spring or early summer and not left together unattended as serious injury can occur.

In the wild skinks live in areas with heavy ground cover, including suburban backyards and gardens. As they are not very good climbers, it is best to have an enclosure that is long rather than high. Think “Long and Low”. Australian wildlife code requires the enclosure for a full grown skink to be 2.5 times the length of the skink by 2.0 times the length of the skink. This amount of space will allow the skink to move about freely between warmer and cooler zones, forage for live food (crickets, snails and grubs) as well as provide enough space for live plants and a water dish.

Two hide boxes should be provided, a dry and a moist. The “moist” hide box should have moistened sphagnum moss (washed with soil removed) or damp sponges placed in it. Do not use peat moss. A moist moss hide box is vital to preventing one of the most common reasons veterinarians see skinks, toe loss from difficult shedding. The dry house can be anything from a shoe box to an artificial hollow log.

Recommended cage substrates include coarse gravel, dry orchid bark, forest mulch, and folded paper. The majority of intestinal impactions occur due to sand (including Calci-Sand and Kritter Crumble), crushed walnut shell, or other substrates composed of small, equal-sized particles and therefore these are not recommended. Indoor-outdoor carpeting is also not recommended due to the possibility of carpet threads constricting toes or being ingested.

Due to the heat and cold extremes of the Sonoran desert, it is not recommended to house skinks outdoors in Arizona.

Gut-Loading

Gut-loading is the practice of feeding insects a diet high in calcium, protein, and other nutrients prior to offering the insects to reptiles and amphibians. Domestic crickets and meal worms should be fed a commercial, grain-based calcium enriched cricket diet such as those made by Flukers or ZooMed, or a diet consisting of four parts chicken or turkey starter mash and one part calcium carbonate for two or three days before offering the crickets to your pet. Also, offer the crickets water in a shallow dish or wet sponge. Gut-loading beyond 2-3 days is not beneficial, and can actually decrease the life expectancy of the insects.

Click Here to Download Blue Tongue Skink Care Sheet

Box Turtle Care

Box turtle

Plastron, or underside, of a box turtle showing the hinge.

box turtle hiding in shell

Male Desert Box Turtle. Note the distinctive red eyes only males have.

Box turtles, (genus Terrapene) or box tortoises, are a native North American turtle species divided into several special and subspecies. The two native to Arizona are the Ornate or Western Box turtle (terrapene ornata ornata) and the subspecies Desert Box Turtle (terrapene ornate luteola). Other species are found through out the country. Box turtles are terrestrial (lives on land) but do require daily access to fresh water. Box turtles are distinguished by the hinge in the plastron (lower shell) that allows them to close tightly to protect themselves from predators. Box turtles grow to about 5-6 inches with a domed carapace (top shell). Males are most easily distinguished by their deep red eyes, although this color change doesn't happen until sexual maturity, around 7-8 years of age. Box turtles are amongst the long-living turtle species on average living between 50 and 100 years. Like Desert Tortoises, Box Turtles are often passed from generation to generation within a family.

Described as pugnacious by many, Box turtles will defend themselves with their strong beaks, while more timid individuals will tightly seal themselves in the shell. As with all reptile species, children should not handle box turtles to prevent Salmonella infections and to prevent bites. Small fingers and toes resemble a favorite food of box turtles.

Diet

Box turtles are primarily carnivorous scavengers who seasonally browse on fruits and berries.

Animal Items*

  • Beetles
  • Canned Dog Food (preferably a low-fat type)
  • Crickets & Mealworms (require gut-loading 2 days prior to feeding)
  • Earthworms
  • Grasshoppers
  • Grubs
  • Isopods (pill bugs)
  • Moths
  • Pinky Mice
  • Raw Fish Chunks
  • Slugs
  • Snails
  • Waxworms

*Never offer scorpions or lightning bugs.

Plant Items

  • Blueberries
  • Prickly Pear Fruit
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes

A diet consisting of a mixture of primarily animal items with occasional supplementation of plant items is nutritionally complete. Vitamin supplements are unnecessary, and in fact are often harmful.

Housing

In order to meet their UV light requirements and maintain normal light cycles, box turtles are best housed outdoors. Box Turtles are good diggers and will create burrows in your yard. As with desert tortoises, care is needed to prevent escape. During the summer months additional humidity should be provided. This can be accomplished by planting shrubs that are frequently watered in the turtle's habitat. It is important to also provide an insulated shelter for protection from excessive heat or cold. Smaller versions of the desert tortoise dens can be provided.

A puddle of fresh standing water shallow enough for the box turtle to walk across should be constantly available in the environment. A planter base or metal trash can lid can be partially buried in the enclosure.
If you need to house your box turtle indoors, a UV light will need to be provided. A mercury vapor lamp is a good source of additional heat and UVB. Mega Ray at www.reptileUV.com or Power Sun by ZooMed is recommended.

Box Turtles do need to hibernate in the winter months. Similar to Desert Tortoises, they begin to slow down about mid-September. At this time, your box turtle should be examined by a veterinarian to ensure he is healthy enough for hibernation. If your turtle shows any symptoms of illness (eye or nasal discharge for example), he should not be hibernated.

If you hibernate your box turtle outside, placing moistened (but not wet) peat moss, straw or leaf litter into the den will encourage your turtle to burrow and prevent dehydration. Monitoring the den every 2-3 weeks to ensure your turtle is staying hydrated is also important.

If you hibernate your box turtle outside, placing moistened (but not wet) peat moss, straw or leaf litter into the den will encourage your turtle to burrow and prevent dehydration. Monitoring the den every 2-3 weeks to ensure your turtle is staying hydrated is also important.

If you need to hibernate indoors, fill a plastic container filled about 2/3rd of the way with straw or moistened leaf litter and place it in a cool room such as a garage. Check on your turtle every 2-3 weeks and soak for 20-30 minutes in tepid water.

Gut-Loading

Gut-loading is the practice of feeding insects a diet high in calcium, protein, and other nutrients prior to offering the insects to reptiles and amphibians. Domestic crickets and meal worms should be fed a commercial, grain-based calcium enriched cricket diet such as those made by Flukers or ZooMed, or a diet consisting of four parts chicken or turkey starter mash and one part calcium carbonate for two or three days before offering the crickets to your pet. Also, offer the crickets water in a shallow dish or wet sponge. Gut-loading beyond 2-3 days is not beneficial, and can actually decrease the life expectancy of the insects.

Box Turtles and the Law

It is illegal to remove box turtles from the wild or to release captive turtles into the wild. There is a closed season on ornate box turtles in Arizona. Per Arizona Commission Order 43, possession of ornate box turtles, Terrapene ornate ornata, is prohibited, except for those legally held prior to January 1, 2005, when season closure went into effect.

Click Here to Download Box Turtle Care Sheet

Chameleon Care

There are more than 160 species of chameleons native to a wide area from sub-Saharan Africa through southern Europe, the Middle East, southern India, Sri Lanka, some islands in the Indian Ocean and Madagascar. Chameleons are found in tropical and mountain rain forests, savannas and some deserts and steppes. While most are arboreal (tree dwelling) there are a few that are partially or mostly terrestrial (ground dwelling). Uniquely adapted for visual hunting they are known for their long sticky tongues and separately mobile, stereoscopic eyes. The two most common species seen in the pet trade are the Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) and the Jackson's Chameleon (Chamaeleo jacksonii) therefore this page will focus on caring for these two species. For specific heat, humidity and lighting requirements of other species please contact our office during regular business hours to speak with a technician.

Diet

Veiled chameleons are omnivorous reptiles; all other chameleons are insectivorous. The diet for all chameleons should include the animal items listed below. Veiled chameleons require both plant and insect items.

Animal Items*

  • Beetles
  • Crickets & Mealworms (require gut-loading 2 days prior to feeding)
  • Grasshoppers
  • Grubs
  • Isopods (pill bugs)
  • Moths
  • Pinky Mice
  • Waxworms

*Never offer scorpions or lightning bugs.

Plant Items*

  • Beet Greens
  • Bok Choy
  • Chard
  • Cilantro
  • Collard Greens
  • Dandelion (greens & flowers)
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Grape Leaves
  • Hibiscus (flowers & leaves)
  • Kale
  • Mulberry Leaves
  • Mustard Greens
  • Parsley
  • Rose Petals
  • Spinach
  • Turnip Greens

*For veiled chameleons only

When feeding live insects, only provide as many insects as the animal can eat in a few hours. Vitamin supplements are unnecessary, and in fact are often harmful. Clean drinking water must be provided at all times. Veiled chameleons will often drink from a shallow water bowl if an air stone (for fish aquariums) is used to roil the water and will benefit from occasional misting of the leaves in the cage. All other chameleons will require a constant drip of water on leaves that are easily accessible.

Temperature and Lighting

Daytime ambient temperature (everywhere in the enclosure) for most chameleons should be maintained around 78-84 degrees F. Nighttime ambient temperature should be maintained at 72-78 degrees F. One exception are Jackson's chameleons which should be maintained at 68-74 degrees F during the day and room temperature at night.

Chameleons require a good source of UVB light for 10-12 hours every day. Fluorescent lamps with a strong UVB output, such as Repti-sun 8.0 (ZooMed) or ReptiGlo 8.0 (Exoterra) are appropriate. A mercury vapor lamp, such as Power Sun by ZooMed or Mega Ray at www.reptileUV.com provides both heat and UVB. The bulb should be within 18 inches of the animal's body, with no glass or plastic between them. An incandescent spot bulb should be shined in one part of the cage (6-8 hours per day) to create a warmer area for the chameleon to bask in.

Housing

It is best to house chameleons individually, as fighting with cage mates can occur between all combinations of sexes. If breeding is desired, the male and female should be placed so they can see each other (but not contact each other) until the female is receptive. The female is receptive when she exhibits light colored rings on her body and spends time on the side of her cage near the male.

When choosing a type of cage to house the chameleon in, it is best not to choose a glass enclosure. Chameleons can get their tongues stuck on the glass which can result in injury. Mesh or screen cages usually prevent this problem.

Recommended cage substrates include coarse gravel, dry orchid bark, forest mulch, and folded paper. The majority of intestinal impactions occur due to sand (including Calci-Sand), crushed walnut shell, or other substrates composed of small, equal-sized particles; therefore, these are not recommended. Indoor-outdoor carpeting is also not recommended due to the possibility of carpet threads constricting toes or being ingested. All chameleons need plenty of hiding places and branches for climbing. Live plants (such as pothos or ficus) or artificial plants should be used. Live plants also are beneficial because they increase the ambient humidity in the enclosure.

Gut-Loading

Gut-loading is the practice of feeding insects a diet high in calcium, protein, and other nutrients prior to offering the insects to reptiles and amphibians. Domestic crickets and meal worms should be fed a commercial, grain-based calcium enriched cricket diet such as those made by Flukers or ZooMed, or a diet consisting of four parts chicken or turkey starter mash and one part calcium carbonate for two or three days before offering them to your pet. The crickets should also be offered water in a shallow dish or wet sponge. Gut-loading beyond 2-3 days is not beneficial, and can actually decrease the life expectancy of the insects.

Click Here to Download Chameleon Care Sheet

Desert Tortoise Information

Turtle hiding under a bush

Female Desert Tortoise and Globe Mallow

Habitat

Yard with secure fencing (preferably block wall)
Tortoises are escape artists and can dig under most chain link or wire fences. They may go under or through wooden fences. Believe it or not, they can also climb chain link.

Shady, cool places to rest and sleep
Like other animals, tortoises cannot stay in direct sunlight in hot weather for too long without getting heat stroke. During the heat of the day, tortoises like to hide in shelters or under bushes in the shade. Many tortoises will dig burrows.

Access to shallow water source
Tortoises get the majority of the water they need from the plants they eat, but you should provide a shallow water dish for supplemental water. Many tortoises enjoy climbing into the bowl and soaking. Make sure the bowl is in a shady, accessible area and that the tortoise can enter and exit it easily.

Tortoises also like to drink from puddles on the ground made by running the hose or sprinkler as this simulates rainfall.

Diet

turtle eating plants

This tortoise has sever and uncorrectable deformities from being raised on a mostly romaine lettuce diet. Even a healthy diet cannot always correct improper husbandry.

A native plant diet occasionally supplemented with health greens, grass and grass hay is nutritionally complete. Using commercial tortoise pellets, high protein foods, lettuces (even romaine), and fruit can cause growth issues in young tortoises, metabolic disease and other medical problems. It is best to feed a native plant based diet with only occasional supplementation of foods listed below.

Protection Against Potential Hazards

No contact with dogs
Dogs, even gentle, well trained ones, often view tortoises and turtles as chew toys rather than living creatures and can kill or badly injure them by chewing. Dog caused injuries are one of the most common reasons we see tortoises especially during spring and the monsoon season.

No exposure to pesticides, household cleaners or other poisons.
Tortoises and most other reptiles are very sensitive to pesticides and other poisons and should not come into contact with these substances.

No access to swimming pool or other deep water.
Tortoises cannot swim and will quickly drown in deep water.

Protection against flipping.
If you find your tortoise turned over on his back, turn him back over immediately, and take him to a cool area. Tortoises who turn over usually can right themselves, but if they are unable to do so, you must do it for them-quickly. If a tortoise remains on his back, particularly if he is in full sun, serious health problems, or death can result very rapidly.

If your tortoise tends to flip when trying to climb over an obstacle (e.g., a pile of rocks or dirt) remove the obstacle or make is inaccessible to the tortoise.

Hibernation

Secure winter hibernation shelter
Tortoises hibernate from approximately mid-October through approximately mid-May. You may build an outdoor hibernation burrow following the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum’s guidelines as long as the burrow is protected from freezing, flooding, and chronic dampness. Contact the Museum or their website (http://www.desertmuseum.org/programs/tap.php) for instructions.

You may also hibernate the tortoise in a box in a garage or similar area that is not heated but is protected from freezing, flooding, and dampness. Put shredded newspaper in the box.

Soaking
Tortoises do not usually drink water while hibernating, but if hibernated indoors they should be soaked in shallow, lukewarm water for 20-30 minutes once a month during the hibernation period to maintain hydration. Do not offer food during hibernation.

Medical Care

Tortoises do not require vaccinations, nor do they need to be spayed or neutered. It is advisable to have your tortoise checked by a veterinarian once a year before hibernation. If a tortoise is ill and goes into hibernation, the disease will progress as the tortoise’s metabolic rate falls and could cause serious problems or death. Of course, if your tortoise is ill at any time you should seek medical care.

In the event of medical problems and for pre-hibernation check-ups contact Orange Grove Animal Hospital at (520)877-2626.

Diet

A diet composed of an assortment of the plants listed provides a nutritionally complete diet. Adding vitamin, calcium, or other mineral supplements is not necessary and may be harmful. All tortoises should be kept outside, as temperatures permit, to ensure adequate exposure to ultraviolet light, which is necessary to maintain calcium metabolism.

Produce is generally less nutritious than the other foods listed here and should only be fed when other foods are not available or as an occasional supplement.

It can be tempting to give tortoises “treats” such as bananas or other fruit, but too much of these foods are not good for them. Be sure the tortoise has a good basic diet and give only prickly pear fruit or strawberries as an occasional treat.

Favored Native Plants (Entire plant consumed unless otherwise noted)

  • Arizona Cottontop Grass
  • Bamboo Muhly Grass
  • Blue Grama Grass
  • Buckwheats
  • Cassia
  • Curly Mesquite Grass
  • Deer Grass
  • Desert Four O'Clock
  • Desert Honeysuckle
  • Desert Senna
  • Desert Willow (flowers)
  • Evening Primrose*
  • Fern Acacia (flowers)
  • Globe Mallows*
  • Hibiscus (flowers & leaves)
  • Hoary Abutilon
  • Morning Glory
  • Plantain*
  • Prickly Pear (fruit & new pads)
  • Spurges*
  • Trailing Four O'Clock
  • Vice Mesquite Grass

*= good for young tortoises/hatchlings

Acceptable Produce:

  • Barley
  • Bean Sprouts (mung)
  • Beet Greens
  • Bok Choy
  • Carrot Greens
  • Cilantro
  • Collard Greens
  • Endive
  • Kale
  • Mustard Greens
  • Parsley
  • Snow Peas
  • Spinach
  • String Beans
  • Turnip Greens

Other Healthy Foods:

  • Bluegrass Lawn
  • Cantaloupe Leaves
  • Clover *
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Grape (leaves & shoots)
  • Mix of Alfalfa & Grass (Bermuda or Timothy)
  • Mulberry Leaves *
  • Pumpkin Leaves *
  • Rose Petals *
  • Watercress
  • Zucchini/Squash leaves

* = good for young tortoises/hatchlings

Avoid the Following:

Desert Tortoises should never be given protein rich foods (such as dog or cat food) or animal proteins (meats or dairy products).

  • All Fruit
  • All Types of Lettuce (including Romaine)
  • Avocado
  • Caggage
  • Canned/Frozen Vegetables
  • Celery
  • Chinaberry Berries
  • Cucumber
  • Mushrooms
  • Plants in the Nicotiana Genus
  • Starchy Vegetables (like corn)

Sexing Tortoises

turtle laying on its back

This picture of an adult male Sonoran Desert Tortoise shows the inward curve to the bottom shell (the plastron). Females and those who are two young for sexing will have a flat plastron.

 The easiest way to determine the sex of an adult tortoise is by looking at it plastron (the bottom of the shell). A females’ plastron is completely flat, while a male’s plastron has a noticeable concave area (indent) across the width of the shell about 1/3 of the way up from his tail.

You can also look at the gular horn, which is the piece of the shell that extends from the plastron under the tortoise’s head. The gular horn is usually longer in males and may be upturned. However, unless you have a male and female tortoise and can compare gular horns, this method may not be reliable.

Male tortoises have slight longer tails than females do and more pronounced, well-developed chin glands.

If you have a juvenile tortoise, keep in mind that you may not be able to accurately determine its sex until it is 10-15 years old depending on its growth rate.

Escapes

Desert tortoises are escape artists! Even if you provide them with the perfect habitat and diet, they will likely escape if they have the opportunity. Males are more likely to escape than females and though escapes can occur during any time of the year that tortoises are active, spring and fall are the peak periods. If your tortoise attempts to escape, it does not mean he is unhappy: he is just following his instincts.

Preventing Escapes

Preventing escapes is much easier than dealing with them after the fact. Ensure that your habitat has the following:

  • Secure Fencing
    • Block wall is the best. Other types of fencing should be set well into the ground, preferably in a layer of cement, so the tortoise cannot dig under it. As mentioned before, tortoises can climb chain link.
  • Secure Gates
    • Make sure gates latch securely and there is not a large gap between the bottom of the gate and the ground. Tortoises may attempt to dig under gates.

One of the most common tortoise escape scenarios involves a gate that is accidentally left open. To prevent your tortoise from escaping this way construct a gate barricade. This can be as simple as a sturdy board held in place across the gate opening with cinder blocks. If you are the handy type, you can probably come up with something more pleasing to the eye. Whatever materials you use, be sure that:

  • The tortoise cannot dig under it, push it over, or climb over it (don’t use chain link or chicken wire)
  • The barricade is tall enough that the tortoise can’t climb over it, but short enough for you to step over it without too much difficulty.
  • The barricade is on the opposite side that the gate swings open.

Identifying Your Tortoise

It’s a good idea to identify your tortoise even if you are certain your yard is escape proof. The easiest way to identify a tortoise is to use a Sharpie® permanent marker to write your phone number on the side of the tortoise’s shell. Check the phone number a couple of times per year and touch it up if it is faded. Do not mark the tortoise’s shell with paint, fingernail polish, or similar substances.

If your tortoise does escape, take the following steps as soon as possible:

  • Conduct a search of the area as soon as your notice him missing. Repeat the search on a daily basis.
  • Alert your neighbors. One of them may have picked him up. If not, ask them to be on the lookout.
  • Post “lost tortoise” flyers in the neighborhood. If possible, include a picture of the tortoise. Give the date the tortoise went missing, the location and any identifying marks, such as chips in the shell. Remember to include your contact
  • information. If feasible, offer a reward for his return.
  • Place an ad in the newspaper.
  • Read the “Found animals” adds in the newspaper on a daily basis.
  • Contact the Humane Society.
  • Contact veterinarians in your area as well as Orange Grove Animal Hospital as we receive many “found” tortoises during the warmer months.
  • Contact the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Q & A

Q: How old is my tortoise and how long with he live?
A: Once a tortoise reaches adult size, it is not possible to accurately determine its age. Desert tortoises can live to be 100 years old or more.

Q: Is my tortoise going to be lonely by himself?
A: No. Tortoises are solitary creatures in the wild and generally only come together during the mating season. Some tortoises don’t seem to mind being around other tortoises, but many other are territorial and can be extremely aggressive to additional tortoises.

Male tortoises should not be kept with other males, as it is not uncommon for to males to fight to the death. A male tortoise kept with a female may relentlessly pursue her, attempting to mate, thus causing her a good deal of stress. If you have both a male and a female, be sure they are housed in separate enclosures with no access to each other.

Q: I understand that the wild Desert Tortoise population is diminishing. I want to breed my tortoise and release the babies into the wild to help replenish the population. Is that a good idea?
A: It is not a good idea and is not allowed under state law. The wild Desert Tortoise population is diminishing primarily due to habitat loss, rather than hunting, inability to reproduce or similar problems. Releasing more tortoises into a decreasing amount of suitable habitat does more harm than good. Captive-bred tortoises may carry illnesses to which the wild population has no resistance. A captive-bred tortoise’s chance of survival in the wild is not very good. It is also illegal to release captive-bred tortoises into the wild. (see Tortoises and the Law on page 6)

Q: If my tortoise has babies, can I give the babies away?
A: Yes. Just be sure to find them homes with people who will take good care of them or contact the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.

Q: How will I know if my tortoise is ill?
A: Watch for any of the following signs:

  • Inactivity during warm months
  • Lack of appetite during warm months
  • Excessive wheezing when breathing (many tortoises make some wheezing and whistling noises when moving about, but an increase in these noises can be a symptom of illness.)
  • Open mouth breathing
  • Fluid coming from the nose
  • Swollen eyes
  • Difficulty walking
  • Loss of coordination
  • Dragging shell on the ground
  • Change in appearance, areas of swelling or weight loss

Upper respiratory illnesses are especially common in tortoises. If you are not sure what’s going on it’s worth a call to the veterinarian. Note: Sick tortoises should not be hibernated!

Q: I have cats. Are they going to bother my tortoise?
A: Cats and adult tortoises are generally a good combination. A cat may be curious about a tortoise at first, but will soon become bored and ignore it. Cats should not be allowed access to baby tortoises, as they may try to play with them and injure them in the process, but they are usually no threat to adults.

Tortoises and the Law

The Desert Tortoise is a protected species. Here are some laws you should be aware of:

  • It is illegal to sell desert Tortoises.
  • It is illegal to take desert Tortoises out of the state.
  • It is illegal to remove desert Tortoises from the wild
  • Desert tortoises who have been in captivity for 48 hours or more may not be released into the wild.
  • Wild tortoises (if they are releasable) must be released into the same area where they were originally found.
  • A family is allowed to have up to one desert tortoise per household, and no more than that.

For more information about laws concerning the Desert tortoise, call the Arizona Game and Fish Department at www.azgfd.gov/w_c/desert_tortoise.shtml or you can call the Tucson Office at (520) 628-5376.

Click Here to Download Desert Tortoise Information Sheet

Desert Tortoise Diet

turtle eating plants

Bermuda Grass should be one of the daily staples of a complete diet. A small lawn will easily feed an adult tortoise.

turtle playing in the grass

Spiderling, while thought of as a weed, is an excellent source of native nutrition for hatchling desert tortoises.

A diet consisting of an assortment of these plants is nutritionally complete. Additional vitamin, calcium, other mineral supplementation and the use of “tortoise pellets” is not necessary and may be harmful. All tortoises must be kept outside, as temperatures permit (freezing temperatures in an exposed or inadequate hibernation site should be avoided). This insures adequate exposure to UVB to maintain normal calcium metabolism. This diet may also be used for Greek and Russian Tortoises. For other species of tortoise please see their specific lists.

Favored Native Plants (Entire plant consumed unless otherwise noted)

  • Arizona Cottontop Grass
  • Bamboo Muhly Grass
  • Blue Grama Grass
  • Buckwheats
  • Cassia
  • Curly Mesquite Grass
  • Deer Grass
  • Desert Four O'Clock
  • Desert Honeysuckle
  • Desert Senna
  • Desert Willow (flowers)
  • Evening Primrose *
  • Fern Acacia (flowers)
  • Globe Mallows*
  • Hibiscus (flowers & leaves)
  • Hoary abutilon
  • Morning Glory
  • Plantain*
  • Prickly Pear (fruit & new pads)
  • Spurges*
  • Trailing Four O'Clock
  • Vine Mesquite Grass

Acceptable Produce (as supplementation or while native plants are recovering or being established):

  • Barley
  • Bean Sprouts (mung)
  • Beet Greens
  • Bok Choy
  • Carrot Greens
  • Cilantro
  • Collard Greens
  • Endive
  • Kale
  • Mustard Greens
  • Parsley
  • Snow Peas
  • Spinach
  • String Beans
  • Turnip Greens

Other Healthy Foods:

  • Bluegrass Lawn
  • Cantaloupe Leaves
  • Clover*
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Grape Leaves & Shoots
  • Mix of Alfalfa & Grass (Bermuda or Timothy)
  • Mulberry Leaves*
  • Pumpkin Leaves*
  • Rose Petals*
  • Watercress
  • Zucchini/Squash Leaves

*= good for young tortoises/hatchlings

Avoid the Following:

Desert Tortoises should never be given protein rich foods (such as dog or cat food), animal proteins (meats or dairy products) or insects.

  • All Fruit (except prickly pear in season)
  • All Types of Lettuce (including Romaine)
  • Avocado
  • Cabbage
  • Canned/Frozen Vegetables
  • Celery
  • Chinaberry Berries
  • Cucumber
  • Mushrooms
  • Plants in the Nicotiana Genus
  • Starchy Vegetables (like corn)

Click Here to Download Desert Tortoise Diet Sheet

Green Iguana Care

The Green Iguana (iguana iguana)

The Green iguana is the most common of the more than 30 species of iguana seen as companion pets. Native to the tropical regions of Central to South American and the Caribbean, the Green iguana can grow to around 6 feet in length from nose to tip of tail. In captivity the Green Iguana can live around 20 years. Iguanas can be difficult to care due to having very specific humidity, lighting and nutrition requirements.

  • Beet Greens
  • Bok Choy
  • Chard
  • Cilantro
  • Collard Greens
  • Dandelion (greens & flowers)
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Grape Leaves
  • Hibiscus (flowers & leaves)
  • Kale
  • Mulberry Leaves
  • Mustard Greens
  • Parsley
  • Rose Petals
  • Snow Peas
  • Spinach
  • Turnip Greens

A diet consisting of combinations of these foods is nutritionally complete. Vitamin supplements are unnecessary, and in fact are often harmful. Water should be available at all times. One fruit-flavored Tums® should be crushed up and sprinkled over greens at least once a week.

Humidity

As a native species of South and Central American forests, green iguanas require a constant humidity between 80%-95%, as well as fresh standing water. Misting systems and bowls of clean water can be used to provide this ambient humidity. Humidity sensors should be placed in a couple of places in the enclosure. Living plants in the enclosure serve to not only maintain ambient humidity, but also provide cover for young iguanas and climbing surfaces.

Due to the need for a high humidity environment, enclosures need to be cleaned daily and all fecal matter removed promptly. Cage substrate will also need to be changed daily. Avoid using cat litter, sand, and all resinous wood (pine, fir, cedar, redwood, eucalyptus) shavings. Resinous woods are toxic to reptiles and small particled substrate such as cat litters or sand can lead to intestinal blockages. Avoid grass pellets as they mildew and grow mold and fungus quickly when subjected to moisture. We recommend using newspapers, Orchid bark or forest mulch as cage substrates.

Lighting

Fluorescent lamp (UV source): Appropriate lamps are Repti-sun 5.0 (ZooMed), ReptiGlo 5.0 or 8.0 (Exoterra), or ReptaSun 5.0 (Fluker). The lamp should be within 18 inches of the iguana's body, with no glass or plastic between the iguana and light. Leave light on 8 to 12 hours per day.

Incandescent lamp (for basking): Light bulb wattage should be adequate to provide a basking temperature of 85-95 degrees F (27 to 35 C). This temperature should be measured with a thermometer placed directly at the basking site.

A mercury vapor lamp, such as Power Sun by ZooMed or Mega Ray at www.reptileUV.com provides both heat and UVB.

Temperature

Daytime ambient temperature (everywhere in the enclosure) should be maintained at 80-90 degrees F. Night time ambient temperature should be maintained at 75 to 82 degrees F.

Medical Care

Unfortunately the most common reasons iguana owners seek veterinary care for their pets is due to inappropriate or unbalanced diets or improper husbandry. Metabolic bone disease is one of the most common results of poor or unbalanced diets. Feeding foods either low in calcium, high in phosphorus or high in oxalic acid causes calcium to be leached from the iguana's bones in order to maintain organ function. Broken and/or swollen limbs, misshaped toes, jaw, tail and head are all seen with Metabolic Bone disease. Weakness, reluctance to move or eat, staggering, or any other abnormalities require an examination by a veterinarian.

Constipation or obstipation (blockage) from ingesting cage litter such as sand, cat litter, wood chips or corn cobs is another common issue. Owners should never try to correct any suspected defecation issues on their own as serious complications and side effects can occur resulting in an emergency visit with an unlikely outcome. Diarrhea from a diet too high in fruit or intestinal parasite infection can lead to dehydration or prolapse.

Abscesses and burns are common causes of veterinary visits. Any bulges, "soft spots" oozing or open sores should be treated under the supervision of a veterinarian. Frequently check heat lamps, wiring, under-cage heat sources for exposed wires or excess temperature. Seek veterinary care if you suspect your iguana has been burned before the skin becomes infected. Deep burns may need extensive and prolonged care.

Some skin disorders can be from a green iguana kept in too dry of an environment. Compression on toes or tail from skin not fully shed can be in indication that the humidity level is too low.

If you suspect your Green Iguana is ill, please call our office right away.

Click Here to Download Green Iguana Care Sheet

Leopard Gecko Care

Leopard Geckos are popular reptile with specific humidity needs that can occasionally prove challenging in our dry Tucson climate.

Leopard Geckos are nocturnal ground dwellers native to the arid deserts of central Asia. They are one of the few gecko species to have eyelids. Typically small in size, adults average 8-11 inches and weigh about 45-70 grams. Being nocturnal, they spend most of their day in burrows or under rocks, coming out at dusk to hunt insects. Leopard Geckos are solitary creatures and should not be housed together.

Diet

The diet recommended for leopard gecko consists exclusively of insects.

Animal Items*

  • Beetles
  • Crickets & Mealworms (require gut-loading 2 days prior to feeding)
  • Grasshoppers
  • Grubs
  • Isopods (pill bugs)
  • Moths
  • Waxworms

*Never offer scorpions or lightning bugs.

A diet consisting of a variety of insect items is nutritionally complete. If meal worms are used, offer them in a small dish containing powdered calcium carbonate. Geckos have a higher tolerance for oral vitamin D3 than other lizards and combination calcium/D3 supplements such as Reptical are acceptable calcium carbonate substitutes in the dish containing mealworms. Other vitamin supplements are unnecessary, and in fact are often harmful. If you are feeding live insects, only provide enough for the animal to eat in a few hours. Clean water should be available at all times.

Temperature and Lighting

Daytime ambient temperature (everywhere in the enclosure) should be maintained around 85 degrees F (29.5 C). Night time ambient temperature should be maintained around 74 degrees F (23 C), a range of 72-80 degrees F (22 – 26 C) is acceptable. An Incandescent lamp for basking is not necessary for these nocturnal animals. Leopard geckos have a low requirement for UVB light. Fluorescent lamps with a moderate UVB output, such as the Repti-sun 5.0 (ZooMed) or ReptiGlo 5.0 (Exoterra) are appropriate. A mercury vapor lamp, such as Power Sun by ZooMed or Mega Ray at www.reptileUV.com provides both heat and UVB. Direct exposure to the fluorescent lamp, with no glass or plastic between the lamp and the animal, for 1 hour per week is adequate.

Housing

Recommended cage substrates include desert topsoil, coarse gravel, and folded paper. The majority of intestinal impactions occur due to sand (including Calci-Sand), crushed walnut shell, or other substrates composed of small, equal-sized particles and therefore these are not recommended. Indoor-outdoor carpeting is also not recommended due to the possibility of carpet threads constricting toes or being ingested. Provide a humid shelter for geckos to use during shed cycles. Damp sphagnum moss can be added to a hollow piece of wood, or a Tupperware container with a hole in the side to provide an adequate environment.

Gut-Loading

Gut-loading is the practice of feeding insects a diet high in calcium, protein, and other nutrients prior to offering the insects to reptiles and amphibians. Domestic crickets and meal worms should be fed a commercial, grain-based calcium enriched cricket diet such as those made by Flukers or ZooMed, or a diet consisting of four parts chicken or turkey starter mash and one part calcium carbonate for two or three days before offering the crickets to your pet. Also, offer the crickets water in a shallow dish or wet sponge. Gut-loading beyond 2-3 days is not beneficial, and can actually decrease the life expectancy of the insects.

Click Here to Download Leopard Gecko Care Sheet

Monitor Care

Monitors are generally large, carnivorous reptiles although three species never seen in the pet trade have been known to eat fruit. Of the 70 known species, the three monitors most commonly seen in the pet trade are the Savanna Monitor (Varanus exanthematicus) or Bosc’s Monitor, the Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus) and the Water Monitor (Varanus salvator). Other species are kept in captivity but generally require special permits not available to the general public.

Savanna Monitor (Varanus exanthematicus)

Also known as the Bosc’s Monitor, after Louis Bosc the French scientist who first described the species, is a heavy bodied carnivore native to the grasslands of Sub-Saharan Africa. Growing to between 4 and 5 feet, the Savanna monitor is a uniform gray to pale yellow with short powerful legs and a box-like head. Primarily a ground dweller, it will use bushes and low growing trees as cover.

Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus)

Native to the sub-Saharan regions of Africa, this species prefers to live near permanent water sources. One of the larger species of monitor, Nile Monitors can grow over 5 feet in length with some individuals reported as being over 9 feet. This species is not recommended for inexperienced monitor owners due to its large size, extensive space requirements and temperament. Nile monitors are highly adaptable and are considered an invasive species in parts of the United States. Life span in captivity has been reported as being between 10 and 20 years.

Water Monitor (Varanus salvator)

Not to be confused with the Crocodile Monitor (Varanus salvadorii), there are 5 subspecies of water monitor. Found along the banks of rivers and lakes of Southern Asia, India, Indo-Australian Islands and the Philippines, this monitor is a water dependent species. Classified as an extreme carnivore, water monitors will eat anything they can catch and have been known to scavenge graveyards, raid chicken coops, and attack pets in its native environment. Water monitors can grow to a length of 9 feet, but most individuals are around 5 feet fully grow.

Diet

Monitors are carnivorous reptiles. The diet recommended includes the animal items listed below.

Animal Items*

  • Appropriately Sized Mice or Rats
  • Beetles & Cockroaches
  • Crickts & Mealworms (require gut-loading 2 days prior to feeding)
  • Danios (for smaller Monitors)
  • Fish Fillets (for larger Monitors)
  • Grasshoppers
  • Grubs
  • Guppies
  • Infrequent Hard Boiled or Raw Eggs
  • Isopods (pill bugs)
  • Moths
  • Waxworms

*Never offer scorpions or lightning bugs.

Avoid food items such as beef heart and stew meet, as they are not nutritionally complete. When feeding live insects, only provide as many insects as the animal can eat in a few hours. Vitamin supplements are unnecessary, and in fact are often harmful. Clean water should be available at all times.

Temperature and Lighting

Daytime ambient temperature (everywhere in the enclosure) should be maintained around 80-90 degrees F. Monitors also require warmer basking area during the day. Use an incandescent light bulb to heat one spot in the cage (such as a rock) to around 100 degrees F. Night time ambient temperature should be maintained in the mid 70’s.

Monitors require a good source of UVB light for 10-12 hours every day. Fluorescent lamps with a strong UVB output, such as the Repti-sun 8.0 (ZooMed) or ReptiGlo 8.0 (Exoterra) are appropriate. A mercury vapor lamp, such as Power Sun by ZooMed or Mega Ray at www.reptileUV.com provides both heat and UVB. The lamp should be within 18 inches of the animal's body, with no glass or plastic between them.

Housing

As solitary and territorial creatures, Monitors are best housed individually, as fighting with cage mates can occur between all combinations of sexes. Monitors require a large cage where they can be physically active. Some individuals will require custom built enclosures at their adult length. Provide multiple hiding places and branches for climbing.

Some of the most common medical issues we see in monitors are related to obesity. Over feeding and lack of activity result in obese monitors. Hiding food in their cage so they must search for it and getting them out of their cage to exercise are additional ways to increase their physical activity. Monitors may be housed outdoors in Southern Arizona during the summer to provide natural sunlight, temperatures and activities, but this setup should be done with caution and only by experienced owners as some monitors may revert to wild behavior patterns.

Recommended cage substrates include coarse gravel, dry orchid bark, forest mulch, pine shavings (never cedar), and folded paper. The majority of intestinal impactions occur due to sand (including Calci-Sand), crushed walnut shell, or other substrates composed of small, equal-sized particles and therefore these are not recommended. Indoor-outdoor carpeting is also not recommended due to the possibility of carpet threads constricting toes or being ingested.

Gut-Loading

Gut-loading is the practice of feeding insects a diet high in calcium, protein, and other nutrients prior to offering the insects to reptiles and amphibians. Domestic crickets and meal worms should be fed a commercial, grain-based calcium enriched cricket diet such as those made by Flukers or ZooMed, or a diet consisting of four parts chicken or turkey starter mash and one part calcium carbonate for two or three days before offering the crickets to your pet. Also, offer the crickets water in a shallow dish or wet sponge. Gut-loading beyond 2-3 days is not beneficial, and can actually decrease the life expectancy of the insects.

Click Here to Download Monitor Care Sheet

Red Yellow Footed Tortoise Care

The Red-footed Tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria) and the Yellow-footed tortoise (Geochelone denticulata) are native species of South and Central America. Habitats in the wild range from tropical rainforests to dry thorn forest to grasslands. Both species can be found within the same country, often overlapping in habitat types and home ranges. The Red-footed tortoise is the smaller of the two averaging 10-14 inches, with the Yellow-foot averaging 11-13 inches. While both appear to be the same general size, the Yellow-foot tends to be slightly larger of the two species.

Both species follow many of the sexually dimorphic tendencies of other tortoises with males having concave plastrons and longer tails but are unique in that males are “pinched” in the center giving them a peanut-like shape. As their names imply, Red-Footed tortoises have distinct red markings on all limbs as well as the shell. The Yellow-Footed tortoise can have quite a variety in coloration depending on its home range, with scarlet being the only color not seen. More commonly in the pet trade distinct yellow marking are seen.

Both species are CITES Appendix II listed although the Yellow-Foot is Red-Listed as “Vulnerable” and has been given additional protection.

Winter Housing

Unlike our native Desert Tortoise, these tortoises do not hibernate and should be kept in a temperature controlled environment and fed during our winter months. Do not allow the ambient temperature in the enclosure to fall below 70 degrees even at night. These tortoises will need to have a constant water source (a shallow dish or pan) that is big enough for the tortoise to easily enter and drink from. On our warmer winter days, allow the tortoise to be outside once the temperature has risen above 70 degrees during daylight hours, then bring the tortoise into the winter enclosure once the temperature has fallen in the evening.

Summer Housing

The only special care necessary for Red and Yellow-footed tortoises for our summer months is the addition of a constant access to shallow water and additional humidity. Much like box turtles these tortoises do best if their enclosure is heavily planted with plants that are watered daily. Not only with this provide necessary humidity but also shade and cool areas for the hottest summer months.

Diet

Red and Yellow-footed tortoises can be fed much like our native Desert Tortoises with some notable exceptions. As you will note on the lists below, these tortoises may have some fruits two-three times per week, additional vegetables and should be offered a low-fat high-fiber quality dog food to mimic their natural omnivorous needs. Do not be surprised if you see your tortoise eating grasshopper or worms caught in the enclosure.

Native Plants (Entire plant consumed unless otherwise noted)

  • Arizona Cottontop Grass
  • Bamboo Muhly Grass
  • Blue Grama Grass
  • Buckwheats
  • Cassia
  • Curly Mesquite Grass
  • Deer Grass
  • Desert Four O'Clock
  • Desert Honeysuckle
  • Desert Senna
  • Desert Willow (flowers)
  • Evening Primrose *
  • Fern Acacia (flowers)
  • Globe Mallows *
  • Hibiscus (flowers & leaves)
  • Hoary Abutilon
  • Morning Glory
  • Plantain *
  • Prickly Pear (fruit & new pads)
  • Spurges *
  • Trailing Four O'Clock
  • Vine Mesquite Grass

Acceptable Produce:

  • Barley
  • Bean Sprouts (mung)
  • Beet Greens
  • Bell Peppers (any color)
  • Bok Choy
  • Carrot Greens
  • Cilantro
  • Collard Greens
  • Endive
  • Kale
  • Mustard Greens
  • Parsley
  • Peppers (various)
  • Snow Peas
  • Spinach
  • String Beans
  • Turnip Greens

Acceptable Fruits (2-3 times per week):

  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Oranges
  • Pears
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Tangerines
  • Tomatoes

Other Healthy Foods:

  • Bluegrass Lawn
  • Cantaloupe Leaves
  • Clover*
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Grape Leaves & Shoots
  • Low-Fat, High-Fiber Canned Dog Food ONE time per week
  • Mix of Alfalfa & Grass (Bermuda or Timothy)
  • Mulberry Leaves*
  • Pumpkin Leaves*
  • Rose Petals*
  • Watercress
  • Zucchini/Squash Leaves

*= good for young tortoises/hatchlings

Avoid the Following:

  • All Types of Lettuce
  • Avocado
  • Cabbage
  • Canned/Frozen Vegetables
  • Celery
  • Chinaberry Berries
  • Cucumber
  • Mushrooms
  • Plants in the Nicotiana Genus
  • Starchy Vegetables (like corn)

This care sheet can also be used for kinixys homeana and kinixys erosa.

Click Here to Download Red Yellow Footed Tortoise Care Sheet

Sulcata Tortoise Care

Diet

Sulcatas are tortoises native to the semi-arid grasslands of Sub-Saharan Africa. They are the 3rd largest tortoise species in the world and can live several decades in captivity.

Grasses & Hays

  • AZ Cottontop
  • Bermuda
  • Blue Grama
  • Buffalo
  • Curly Mesquite
  • Deer
  • Muhly
  • Orchard
  • Timothy

Produce & Other Plant Items

  • Bok Choy
  • Collard Greens
  • Kale
  • Mulberry Leaves
  • Mustard Greens
  • Pumpkin Leaves
  • Spinach
  • Turnip Greens
  • Zucchini/Squash Leaves

A diet consisting of primarily grasses/grass hays is nutritionally complete. Dark green leafy vegetables are acceptable. Vitamin supplements are unnecessary, and in fact are often harmful. Do not feed any type of lettuce, fruit or protein rich (including animal proteins) food as these can lead to nutritional deficiencies. ZooMed Grassland Tortoise food is acceptable for juveniles.

Size

Sulcatas are the largest mainland tortoise in the world. Adult males can reach up to 200 pounds and females can weigh 125 pounds. Shell length can reach up to 36 inches. Juveniles grow quickly, easily doubling in size each of their first few years and can have an appetite to match. Their large size must be taken into consideration when preparing an enclosure.

Housing

In order to meet their UV light requirements and maintain normal light cycles, Sulcatas are best housed outdoors in a large enclosure. The concrete or block walls of the enclosure should be sunk down into the ground at least 2 feet as these tortoises are known to dig deep burrows (almost 3 feet below ground and 10 feet long) to escape high temperatures and reach some humidity. Chain link or wooden fences are not recommended because of the Sulcatas’ strength and burrowing ability. It is important to also provide an insulated shelter for protection from excessive heat or cold. Sulcatas do not hibernate during the winter so it is important to provide adequate housing or bring them inside for the cold months. If a Sulcata gets too cold then it cannot digest food and the food already in the intestinal tract will start to decompose. A winter shelter should be large enough for the tortoise to move around, well insulated and heated so the tortoise’s ambient temperature does not drop below 60°. An outdoor shelter should be large enough for the tortoise to turn around in but have an opening to the outside just a little larger than the diameter of the shell to mimic a burrow. Sheds and doghouses can be modified to fit these requirements.

Water

Sulcatas are adapted to live in the arid climates of Africa where water sources are few and far between. They are able to obtain most of their hydration through the foods they eat but still need access to fresh clean water. Small Sulcatas can be soaked on a weekly basis for 30 minutes in a tub of shallow, lukewarm water, deep enough to cover the lower part of the shell. Adult tortoises can be offered a mud wallow large enough for the tortoise to climb into and out of.

Click Here to Download Sulcata Tortoise Care Sheet

Tokay Gecko Care

Not seen as often in the reptile community, Tokay Geckos are interesting and very vocal.

The Tokay Gecko (Gekko gecko) is a nocturnal arboreal insectivore native to rainforests from northeastern India to the Indo-Australian islands. The second largest gecko, males can reach an adult length of about 14 inches with females being slightly smaller. Tokay geckos are brightly colored with a pale grayish skin and red to orange markings. Known for their loud vocalizations, they have a range of chirps, hisses and croaks that are used to attract mates and warn off potential predators. In suburban areas of Asia and the Philippines, wild Tokay geckos can be seen on walls of homes and under roof lines seeking out insects viewed as pests.

Diet

Tokay geckos are insectivorous reptiles. The diet for Tokay geckos should include the animal items listed below.

Animal Items*

  • Beetles
  • Cockroaches
  • Crickets & Mealworms (require gut-loading 2 days prior to feeding)
  • Grasshoppers
  • Grubs
  • Isopods (pill bugs)
  • Moths
  • Pinky Mice
  • Waxworms

*Never offer scorpions or lightning bugs.

For variety or an occasional treat Tokay Geckos will also often eat fruit baby food. Place a small amount of baby food in a dish next to one of the glass walls of the cage in the evening. You can either mix a little calcium carbonate or sprinkle a little on top to ensure that the gecko is getting enough calcium. Choose baby foods without any sugar added and with fruit such as pears, and berries. It is usually best to avoid bananas, apples, and peaches.

When feeding live insects, only provide as many insects as the animal can eat in a few hours. Because Tokay geckos are nocturnal, it is best to feed them in the evening after the lights are turned off. Vitamin supplements are unnecessary, and in fact are often harmful. Clean drinking water must be provided frequently. Tokay geckos will usually not drink from a water bowl but will lap up water misted on the walls of their cage or on plants placed in the cage. Misting should be done at least once per day.

Temperature and Lighting

Daytime ambient temperature (everywhere in the enclosure) for Tokay geckos should be maintained around 78-85 degrees F and do not require any kind of daytime basking light. Nighttime ambient temperature should be maintained around 74-80 degrees F.

Tokay geckos are nocturnal and require little UVB light. Fluorescent lamps with a moderate UVB output, such as Repti-sun 5.0 (ZooMed) or ReptiGlo 5.0 (Exoterra) are appropriateThe bulb should be within 18 inches of the animal’s hiding places, with no glass or plastic between them. A nighttime only basking bulb should be provided. Choose a bulb that does not emit any visible light, such as an infrared light bulb or a ceramic heat emitter. Have the heat source only warm one part of the cage and check to make sure it isn’t getting too hot.

Housing

It is best to house Tokay geckos individually or as a male/female pair, as fighting with cage mates of the same sex can occur (especially males but females also). If a pair is housed together provide a large enclosure—at least 25 gallons in size with plenty of hiding places so the two geckos can get in places where they can’t see each other. When choosing a type of cage to house the Tokay gecko in, glass or hard plastic enclosures work best. This way, the gecko can use the walls of the cage as climbing places.

Recommended cage substrates include coarse gravel, dry orchid bark, forest mulch, and folded paper. The majority of intestinal impactions occur due to sand (including Calci-Sand), crushed walnut shell, or other substrates composed of small, equal-sized particles; therefore, these are not recommended. Indoor-outdoor carpeting is also not recommended due to the possibility of carpet threads constricting toes or being ingested. Tokay geckos need plenty of hiding places which can be made by leaning flat objects (such as sheets of bark or palm fronds) up against the walls of their cage so they can hide between the object and the glass of their cage. It also helps to cover the sides and back of the enclosure to close in the hiding spots and help the gecko feel more secure. Live plants can be useful in the cage to increase humidity and provide visual barriers.

Gut-Loading

Gut-loading is the practice of feeding insects a diet high in calcium, protein, and other nutrients prior to offering the insects to reptiles and amphibians. Domestic crickets and meal worms should be fed a commercial, grain-based calcium enriched cricket diet such as those made by Flunkers and ZooMed or a diet consisting of four parts chicken or turkey starter mash and one part calcium carbonate for two or three days before offering the crickets to your pet. Also, offer the crickets water in a shallow dish or wet sponge. Gut-loading beyond 2-3 days is not beneficial and can actually decrease the life expectancy of the insects.

Click Here to Download Tokay Gecko Care Sheet

Water Dragon Care

Chinese water dragons (Physignathus cocincinus, also known as Asian, Thai or Green water dragons) are a native arboreal (tree dwelling), diurnal (active during the day) reptile to the forests of India, China and Southeast Asia. They prefer to live on the banks of freshwater lakes and streams. Water dragons are carnivorous and insectivorous. Males grow to about 3 feet in length with about two-thirds of the body length being the tail. Females reach a slightly smaller adult length. In captivity (with proper diet and husbandry), water dragons may live from 10 to 15 years. Do not use this care sheet for Australian water dragon (Physignathus lesueurii) as this species has very different requirements for diet, heat and humidity.

Diet

Water Dragons are carnivorous reptiles accustomed to warm temperatures in humid environments. The diet recommended for Water Dragons consists of insects and pinkies.

Animal Items

  • Beetles
  • Crickets & Mealworms (require gut-loading 2 days prior to feeding)
  • Grasshoppers
  • Grubs
  • Isopods (pill bugs)
  • Moths
  • Pinky Mice
  • Waxworms

*Never offer scorpions or lightning bugs.

Vitamin supplements are unnecessary, and in fact are often harmful. When feeding live insects, only provide as many insects as the animal can eat in a few hours. Clean water should be available at all times and, due to high cage humidity, frequent water changes are necessary to minimize bacterial contamination.

Temperature and Lighting

Daytime ambient temperature (everywhere in the enclosure) should be maintained around 85 degrees F (29 - 32 C). Night time ambient temperature should be maintained at 75 - 80 degrees F (29.5 - 35 C). Water dragons prefer to bask in elevated branches. An Incandescent lamp for basking should should be placed over the branch. Light bulb wattage should be adequate to provide a basking temperature around 90-95 degrees F (32-35 C). This temperature should be measured with a thermometer placed directly at the basking site.

Water dragons require a good source of UVB light for at least 8 hours every day. Fluorescent lamps with a stronger UVB output, such as the Repti-sun 8.0 (ZooMed) or ReptiGlo 8.0 (Exoterra) are appropriate. A mercury vapor lamp, such as Power Sun by ZooMed or Mega Ray at www.reptileUV.com provides both heat and UVB. The lamp should be within 18 inches of the animal's body, with no glass or plastic between them.

Housing

Water dragons require relatively high ambient humidity levels. Recommended cage substrates include orchid bark or bedding bricks made of coconut fiber which absorb and expand when exposed to water. The majority of intestinal impactions occur due to sand (including Calci-Sand), crushed walnut shell, or other substrates composed of small, equal-sized particles and therefore these are not recommended. Indoor-outdoor carpeting is also not recommended due to the possibility of carpet threads constricting toes or being ingested.

If possible, provide growing plants in the enclosure to retain proper humidity levels as well as provide climbing, basking and hiding spots. Be sure to use plants that are non-toxic and thrive in high humidity environments.

Veterinary Care

As with many captive reptiles, the most common medical issues seen are due to improper diet or inadequate husbandry. Metabolic bone disease can result from a diet lacking in calcium or from a diet high in calcium depleting nutrients. We can also seen nutritional disorders secondary to parasite infections. Water dragons do not hibernate, so any period of inactivity or decrease in appetite is cause for concern. Swellings on the legs or jaw should also be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Make sure any substrate and soil used in the cage is free of fertilizers and pesticides as these are toxic to reptiles. If using live plants, make sure potting soil is fertilizer free and the plants have been washed repeatedly before placing in the enclosure. If the plant requires fertilizing, rotate it out of the enclosure for a few weeks.

Gut-Loading

Gut-loading is the practice of feeding insects a diet high in calcium, protein, and other nutrients prior to offering the insects to reptiles and amphibians. Domestic crickets and meal worms should be fed a commercial, grain-based calcium enriched cricket diet such as those made by Flukers or ZooMed, or a diet consisting of four parts chicken or turkey starter mash and one part calcium carbonate for two or three days before offering the crickets to your pet. Also, offer the crickets water in a shallow dish or wet sponge. Gut-loading beyond 2-3 days is not beneficial, and can actually decrease the life expectancy of the insects.

Click Here to Download Water Dragon Care Sheet

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