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All You Need to Know About Reptiles: Q&A with PetSmart Reptile Expert John Gerstenberger

November 30, 2011 -

On March 8, 2011, PetSmart hosted a live, one-hour reptile Q&A with John Gerstenberger, PetSmart’s resident expert on reptiles and other specialty pets. This live discussion was open to PetSmart Facebook fans to ask questions and learn more about reptiles, their habitats and special care needs.

Pet Parent: I have a Crested Gecko and he hates crickets. He just has a calcium supplement, some baby food, and a Crested Gecko diet. Is there any safe fruit to give him?  He's about a year old. 
John: You can try other insects such as small mealworms to see if that stimulates any feeding activity. Regarding fruit, try bananas, papayas, peaches and other (soft) fruits.
Pet Parent: My son has a male Bearded Dragon a little over 1-year-old. He has recently stopped eating fresh veggies. He still eats crickets and seems healthy. Any thoughts on how to get him to eat again? Also how often should he soak in water?
John: Dragons are a little like kids; sometimes they're picky eaters. Don't be alarmed that he's eating more crickets, but be sure to continue to offer the veggies - Dragons will eat them when they’re interested in them. Is your beardie soaking in water?
Pet Parent: We give him baths. Just wondering how often he should have them?
John: Baths, while not bad for your Beardie, are also not required. Misting (spraying the tank with a spray bottle) the tank once a day lightly and feeding vegatables will keep him properly hydrated.
Pet Parent: What humidity level does a green Iguana need? 
John: We recommend 60% - 80% humidity for a green Iguana.
Pet Parent: How long during the day should I leave the light on? We’re using a 150-watt halogen for my uromastyx?
John: If you're using the bulb for heating and lighting, generally 10 - 12 hours is the max you should leave it on.
Pet Parent: Can Crested Geckos have wax worms?
John: Yes, but you should limit their consumption as they are high in fat and are best used as a supplement. We recommend feeding wax worms no more than once a week.
Pet Parent: Is it a good idea to keep my Hermit Crab with my Turtle?
John: It will depend on the Turtle. For example, Red Eared Sliders are opportunistic omnivores, which mean they may try to eat a Crab.
Pet Parent: I have wanted a Chameleon for ages, but everyone tells me they're too difficult to keep. No one can tell me what makes that so. Can you tell me what makes them "so difficult?"
John: It partially depends on the type of Chameleon you'd like to keep as a pet. Part of their difficulty is the specificity of their habitat requirements (humidity, decor set-up, etc). That said, Veiled Chameleons are a good starter Chameleon.
Pet Parent: What size tank would be good for one full-grown female Red Eared Slider? And also, would plants be a good idea to put in the tank and, if so, which kind?
John: We recommend a tank as big as you can afford - the more space the better. However, a minimum of 75 gallons is ideal. Assuming you're talking about live plants, anacharis and anubius are good options.
Pet Parent: I have a Beardie that’s about 5-months-old and he keeps trying to bite me when I try and pick him up. His cage is kind of small for him right now. Is he just being territorial or could it be something else?
John: It sounds like you're on the right path. Try to pick up on behaviors when he's aggressive (i.e. after feeding, before feeding, etc). All animals, like humans, have individual personalities and some are more aggressive than others. That said, interaction is what's key. Typically, the more you interact with your Beardie, the more social he'll become with you.
Pet Parent: Are the Exo Terra Solar Glo Bulbs the best bulbs to use as a basking/UV light since they produce high UV output? Is there a better brand of bulbs you'd recommend? 
John: The bulbs you are referring to are considered combination bulbs (UVA/UVB and heat), and are very effective at meeting your reptile’s needs.
Pet Parent: For UV lighting, do I just buy any random UV bulb?
John: Actually, you need a UV bulb that is specific for desert/arid environment. This means it has a higher concentration of UV. Popular brands include Zoo Med and Exo Terra.
Pet Parent: Are silkworms the most nutritious worm for reptiles?
John: No, but they make a good supplement. Some of the best insects for nutrition are gut-loaded crickets, mealworms and super worms.
Pet Parent: My Beardie has been trying to climb out of her cage a good bit recently. She's in a glass terrarium and she'll rub her head on the sides and try to climb the walls. Is there something I need to change to make her calm down? 
John: We're heading into the spring season, and it's possible because your Beardie has reached full maturity that she is actively seeking a mate. This is only one possibility; it's not uncommon for reptiles to show a lot more activity during the spring.
Pet Parent: I have Red Eared Sliders, is it ok to put a Frog or any other reptile in with them?
John: Yes, you can. You'll need to make sure you have enough space. Each species will need its own area in the tank, which means you will need a very large tank. A 120-gallon tank would not be uncommon. If you have any concerns about them not getting along, you'll want to keep them in separate enclosures.
Pet Parent: I bought two Red Eared Sliders from the same clutch and have them in a 30 gallon tank. I am wondering why one is now three times the size of the other one?
John: Generally, female Red Eared Sliders grow larger than male Red Eared Sliders, so that might be why. Also, one may be more dominant than the other and may be eating more of the food. We highly recommend you move them to a larger tank - they will outgrow the 30 gallon tank very quickly. The minimum size for this species is 75 - 80 gallons for two full-grown sliders.
Pet Parent: Both are female. I am actually thinking of getting an outdoor pond set up with a heater but leaving the pond above ground.
John: Great news! Be very careful. Make sure they are contained and are protected from outside predators like Raccoons.
Pet Parent: What is the smallest tank a full-size adult Bearded Dragon can live in? 
John: Our recommendation is a 40-gallon tank that is appropriately set up. See our Bearded Dragon information site for pointers on proper set up:
Pet Parent: The lights I have do not say I have to replace them.  I have the halogen reptile light which lasts one year and has the UVA, but I’m not sure how to get the UVB. Any suggestions?
John: Yahoo has some great Yahoo groups dedicated to specific species, their habitats, nutrition and mating habits. The group "The Naturalistic Vivarium" is a great resource for amphibian and reptile info. Light bulbs should be replaced every six months, as the UVA and UVB rays start to diminish after that point. It's frustrating to throw away a good bulb, but your pet will suffer if it's not getting enough of the proper rays, particularly if it's not a nocturnal lizard.
Pet Parent: How long during the day should I leave the light on a 150-watt halogen for my Uromastyx?
John: If you're using the bulb for heating and lighting, generally 10 - 12 hours is the max you should leave it on.
Pet Parent: Can you please help with what type of vitamin supplement I should be getting? Should it just contain calcium or can it contain all vitamins. 
John: Uromastyx will get most of their nutrition from a proper diet. That said, we recommend you use a calcium dust applied to their food 2-3 times a week.
Pet Parent: I am unsure what the calcium dust should contain. Is it only supposed to contain calcium or should it have more? Can you tell me what type of vitamin   need to get for my Uromastyx?
John: Equally important to the food, is proper UV lighting which helps synthesize vitamin D3. Make sure you replace lights according to instructions on the package (can be as often as every six months).
Pet Parent: Please tell me some info on breeding Uromastyx Lizards?
John: PetSmart's goal is to support Pet Parents in the care of their pets, but unfortunately we don't provide information on reproduction. You may want to contact your local vet.
Pet Parent: How do I breed my Leopard Geckos? They grew up together.
John: Leopard Geckos are usually sold as unsexed, meaning the breeder cannot tell, or as temperature sexed. Temperature sexed refers to Geckos that hatch from eggs incubated at temperatures known to produce primarily a given sex. This is not a guarantee they will be sexed correctly, however. You still must mature them and verify the sexes visually. Usually, when a male is confronted by a female ready to breed, he will begin to stalk her. He may rapidly vibrate his tail or begin waving it about and scent marking. He'll slowly get near and will then bite the female, often at the base of the tail. He'll then take rapid nips, moving forward a little with each bite in hopes of achieving a neck hold on the back or side of the neck. If the female accepts him, he'll curl his tail under that of the female and copulation will take place. This usually lasts a very short time, and the male can usually be seen cleaning himself immediately after they separate.
Pet Parent: I have an 8-month-old Gecko that I got (well I’ve had him for 8 months) and he will not eat his crickets! I give them to him and they will crawl all over him. He ignores them.
John: A mixture of worms and "gut-loaded" crickets keeps a Leopard Gecko healthy and happy.


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