Leopards and Beardies


Long considered your best bet if you're a beginner, leopards and beardies remain favorite pets.

By Joe Hiduke and Bill Brant

Younger readers of reptiles may be surprised to know that few captive-bred lizards have been available in the recent past. While there are far more species and specimens available now than there ever have been, those species, that have been with us the longest are still among the best pet reptiles.

Leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius) and beardies (Pogona vitticeps) rank among the most popular pet reptiles. Both species are easy to care for, personable, and readily available. Leopard geckos are often the choice for a first pet reptile. Their popularity  as a starter herp is due primarily to their inexpensive nature and because they do not require much in the way of equipment to be properly maintained.

Beardies are more expensive and require larger,  more elaborate enclosures; however, beardies tend to reward their owners with a much higher degree of interaction.


By a large margin, more leopard geckos are captive bred in the United States than any other reptilian species.

In addition, for reasons already given, leopards enjoy mass appeal, in part because they come in a wide variety of color and pattern morphs. Some of these are selectively bred, such as high-yellows, tangerines, and melanistics. Other morphs are genetic mutations, including albinos, patternless, blizzards and jungles. Combinations of all the above are also produced.

All leopard gecko genetic mutations are thought to be single gene traits that breed true, but there are multiple strains of albinos that will produce normals when bred together. This is a relatively new area in gecko production and certainly more surprises are on the horizon. Regardless of appearance, all of these geckos have the same captive-care requirements.

The range of leopard geckos encompasses Pakistan, Afghanistan and western India. Almost all animals available today are captive bred, and imports should be avoided by novices. In their native environment, leopards frequent arid areas and are thought to live in loose colonies with considerable cover.

There are several options available for acquiring geckos, including pet shops, breeders and reptile expos. First-time buyers should search for a gecko locally so they can see what they are buying. When selecting a gecko, choose an animal that is alert, active and with a full tail. The tail should expand past the base; geckos with a thin tail may be in poor health.

Hatchling-sized geckos are less expensive and more commonly available. However, they tend to be high-strung and fragile. Until they put on some size, hatchlings should be rarely handled. Sub-adults are very sturdy and are ideal to start with, but they will be more expensive.

If you maintain multiple reptiles, you should always quarantine new arrivals away from existing collection, service them last and use separate equipment. Three months is a reasonable quarantine time; however, some breeders quarantine for up to a year.

Housing Leopards

Housing for leopard geckos can range from plastic shoeboxes to large, elaborate vivariums. Single animals do well in a 10-gallon tank, while a trio can easily be housed in a standard 20-gallon, "long" aquarium. A secure lid is essential. While leopard geckos don't climb glass, they can climb furnishings quite well, and household pets, (such as cats) would love to eat them. Leopard gecko breeders often house there geckos in plastic sweater boxes in rack systems.

The specifics of the cage are not critical, as long as the animal's needs can be properly met. Multiple geckos can be kept together, but do not keep more than one mature male to a cage. Males will fight and can have been known to kill one another.

The substrate is an important consideration. Newspaper is an excellent choice, albeit aesthetically displeasing. Other options include calcium or silica based sand with a fine consistency, mulch, bark chips or cage carpet. It has been said that sand can cause impactions, but if the geckos' nutritional needs are met they are not likely to ingest sand to cause a problem. Small bark chips can become impacted, but using large-chip substrate eliminates this risk. Cage carpets must not have any loose strands because these tend to wrap around gecko feet or legs and can lead to necrosis.

Thermal Gradients

As for all ectotherms, a proper thermal gradient is essential for leopard geckos. They are nocturnal, hence a basking lamp is completely inappropriate. An under-tank heating pad designed for reptiles is the best option. If placed at one end of the cage, this creates a thermal gradient from one end of the cage to the other.

If you use newspaper as a substrate, use caution when using a heating pad; some brands need a deeper substrate to disperse heat, and thermal burns are likely if the enclosure glass gets too hot. We don't recommend heat rocks because they do not provide a gradient.

Ideal leopard gecko cage temperatures are about 95 degrees Fahrenheit at the warm end and the low 80s at the cooler end.

Hide and Seek

Hide areas are important fixtures for any gecko cage. Rock caves, cork hollows, or plastic shoeboxes are all options. These should be provided at both the warm and cool ends of the enclosure, Hide areas need to be large enough to encompass a heat gradient. Use caution when creating a hide area from rocks, as geckos tend to dig and can collapse rock piles with fatal consequences. If you have a natural vivarium, the structures should be siliconed in place.

Hide boxes may also be used to provide a high-humidity area. While leopard geckos come from arid areas, they are still thought to inhabit high-humidity microclimates in their burrows. Even in Florida, captive leopard geckos may experience dry sheds if kept without a humid hide box. Damp vermiculite or sphagnum moss works well to raise the humidity inside a hide box.

Beardies and Leopards: Diet and Nutrition

For the reptile enthusiast with snake experience, gecko nutrition is a whole new challenge. They are insectivores and must have a high-quality diet if they are to thrive. Geckos do well on a diet of mealworms, and can also be given crickets, superworms, wax worms, and pinky mice. Offer your pet leopards as much variety as possible.

Feeder insects must also be fed a quality diet before being fed to your geckos. Lizards receive much of the nutrition from the gut content of their prey. There are many quality commercial insect foods available; these should be supplemented with fresh fruits and veggies for added moisture. Additionally, your geckos' prey should be dusted with a vitamin and mineral supplement several times a week for juveniles, less often for adults. The supplement should contain calcium and phosphorous in at least a 2-1 ratio, high levels of vitamin A, high amounts of D3 and a wide range of other vitamins.

Geckos can be given free access to mealworms. Because loose mealworms will dig into the substrate, place them in a bowl they cannot escape from. Any supplements on the worms will fall off after a couple of hours, so the bowl should contain a shallow layer of food (not enough to cover the worms) to keep their digestive tracts full. Not all geckos will readily accept mealworms, so you will have to monitor the condition of the geckos.

Crickets are also a good dietary component. Hatchling geckos can be fed crickets daily, while sub-adults and adults can be fed every other day. Don't feed any geckos more than they will eat overnight -- squads of uneaten crickets have been known to chew holes in leopard geckos. The crickets should be dusted with a supplement at every feeding for hatchlings and once a week for adults.

Many geckos will also accept superworms as a regular part of their diet. Wax worms are another good supplement but very fatty and should be used sparingly. Pinky mice are another good supplement, but again they should be offered in moderation.

Fresh water must always be available. Hatchling geckos may not drink from bowls and are very prone to dehydration, so they must be sprayed down a couple of times a day until they are drinking on their own.

Breeding Leopards

Many hobbyists who keep leopard geckos eventually become interested in breeding them. Geckos can be bred in a 1-1 ratio up to (at least) a 1-20 ratio of males to females. Remember, only one male per cage.

The first step in any successful breeding endeavor is to make sure that your two breeders are indeed a pair. Adult males are easily identified by their hemipenal bulges, immediately caudal to the cloaca, and the V-shaped row of pre-anal pores just cranial to the cloaca. These can be seen in juvenile geckos but are not well developed until maturity is reached.

Maturity is a function of size, not age, in leopard geckos. A safe breeding size 1.4 ounces, but if raised in mixed-sex cages leopards will breed when they're as small as 0.7 ounces. This frequently leads to serious health problems for the females, however, so growing animals should be separated by sex. Most leopard geckos will reach breeding size when they're about 1 year old.

Many breeders put their geckos through a winter cooling period. This is recommended but not required, with a minor cooling period not lower than 70 degrees Fahrenheit for one to three months. Food should be made available, and the geckos' consumption will decrease over time. During cool-down, males can be kept in breeding groups or separately.

In the springtime, raise the temperature to initiate breeding activity, and reintroduce the males to the females. Breeding generally occurs shortly after they have warmed up.

Females lay clutches of two eggs in a damp nest box at approximately 30-day intervals for around six months. This is a stressful time for females, and they must be closely monitored to make sure they are keeping adequate body weight. This is a good time to add wax worms or pinkies to their diet.

Eggs should be incubated in plastic boxes with a damp medium and little airflow. Vermiculite or perlite in a 1-1 ratio with water (measure by weight) works well as an incubation medium. Incubation temperatures often determine the sex of the offspring and also may impact adult behavior. Temperatures in the low 80s will yield a mix of sexes in the hatchlings. At these temperatures, the eggs should hatch in about 45 days.

Neonates will shed and be ready to start feeding in a day or two. Potential health problems to be wary of include dry sheds, abscesses, injury from cage-mates, nutritional imbalances and internal parasites.

It is important to work with a knowledgeable reptile veterinarian, as reptile medicine is a new and frequently changing discipline. The Association of Reptile and Veterinarians (www.arav.org) is a good source for locating knowledgeable vets. Due to the low cost of leopard geckos, many people tend to view them as disposable pets and refuse to provide proper veterinary care. If this is your attitude, please do not purchase a leopard gecko.


Bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) are Australian agamids. They are a relatively recent addition to the United States pet trade and have become well established due to their hardiness, social behaviors and prolific breeding habits.

Beardies come from very hot, arid areas of Australia, living in social groups where there is lots of cover available. They can be found in natural, wild habitats and have also adapted well to living near human habitation. All animals seen in the pet trade are captive born, as Australia has a long history of prohibiting animal exportation.

Beardies are also available in a wide variety of color morphs. A few of these are single-gene mutations, such as the recently hatched albinos and an established leucistic line. High-yellow, orange and red morphs are all available, with many different names (such as Sandfires). In selecting a good color morph, buy from a reputable breeder, and try to see pictures of the adults if possible.

Like leopard geckos. "beardies" can easily be acquired through reputable pet stores, breeders, and expos. Again, it is a good idea for first-time buyers to buy locally. In addition, beardies are relatively fragile during their first month of life and react poorly to shipping. Purchase animals that are at least 1 month old. They should be active, bright-eyed and feed readily. Avoid any dragons with visibly protruding hip bones or eyes that appear to shrunken in.

Big Houses

Housing for beardies must be spacious. While a juvenile can get by in a 20-gallon, long aquarium, a single adult should have at least 4 square feet of floor space. A trio should have at least 6 square feet. As always, a secure lid is a must. Glass aquariums are not your only option, provided alternatives have enough space and plenty of ventilation. With beardies, floor space requirements are of greater importance than height requirements.

As with geckos, substrate is an important consideration. Newspaper, fine calcium or silica-based sand, mulch, bark chips or cage carpet are all acceptable substrates. Bear in mind that the amount of sand required for a large cage tends weigh quite a bit. As a result, any beardies enclosure and stand must be sturdy enough to support this added weight. Because of their voraciousness, beardies may ingest loose cage carpet fibers, so be sure to check synthetic carpets for loose strands and remove any that you discover. Periodically checking for loose fibers won't hurt, either. Upon entering your dragon's system these carpet strands can cause health problems.

Beardies like the hot spot in their enclosures to be very hot. They are diurnal basking lizards, so a heat lamp is the most appropriate way to provide the extreme temperatures preferred by these hardy lizards. Temperatures around 110 degrees Fahrenheit are perfectly acceptable to beardies. However, the cage should not be this warm. Once again, create a thermal gradient by placing a basking spotlight at one end of the cage and provide good ventilation. The cool end of the cage should be in the mid 80s. If you can't provide this kind of gradient, consider a larger cage, If nighttime lows fall below the mid 70s, then an under-tank heater should be used to provide supplemental heat at night.

Furnishings for beardies should include warm and cool hide areas as well as basking spots. If you are keeping multiple dragons together, make sure the basking spots are large enough for all of them. Large rocks or bricks make good basking spots because they hold heat well. Many dragons, especially juveniles, will also use sturdy branches as basking spots. Make sure all fixtures are firmly in place, as dragons will dig a lot and can undermine furnishings, thus creating potential hazards.

Omnivorous Beardies

Beardies are omnivores, and they need as much variety in their diet as possible. Insects, especially crickets, provide a good staple diet. They must be properly gut loaded and supplemented. Dragons also relish mealworms, superworms wax worms roaches, pinky mice and anything else that moves and will fit in their mouths. Small dragons are prone to mealworm impactions, so wait until the lizards are a couple of months old before offering mealworms.

Vegetables are an important component of the beardies diet. They should receive a wide variety of leafy greens, such as mustard, collard and turnip greens, spinach, kale, and romaine and real-leaf lettuce. Again, the more variety you offer then the healthier your dragons will be. In addition to leafy greens, provide other chopped vegetables such as squash, zucchini, peas, carrots, tomatoes, string beans and peppers.

Commercial beardies foods are also available and make good addition to any dragon's diet (but still offer other foods for variety).

A good feeding schedule for young dragons is a salad mixture every morning and insects every afternoon. Young dragons have ravenous appetites and must be fed daily. Adult dragons should be fed salad three or four times a week and offered insects on a similar schedule. For larger dragons, a bowl of mealworms or superworms can also be made available at all times.

Vitamins and Supplements

Vitamin and mineral supplementation is very important. A high-calcium, high-D3 supplement should be used several times a week for juvenile dragons and breeding females, less often for older non-reproductive animals. Vitamin supplements are less important if a good variety of vegetables is offered, but should  still be provided at least once a week.

Like leopard geckos, juvenile beardies don't often drink from bowls and should be sprayed with water several times per day. This is especially important as many hatchling dragons are reluctant vegetable eaters (apparently they have something in common with human children). Larger animals usually will drink from a bowl and eat their vegetables, so misting them is not usually necessary.


Bearded dragons are easily bred in captivity. Using multiple females with one male spreads the male's attention around and prevents any one female from getting too run-down. Multiple males can be used, but subdominant males will have to be removed periodically.

Sexing dragons is not quite as easy as with leopard geckos, but with practice it is not too difficult. Mature males will have hemipenal bulges caudal to their vents. These extend further back than a leopard gecko's and are positioned closer to the sides of the tail. A split down the middle of this bulge is a good indication that the lizard is a male. In addition, males tend to be larger, have broader heads and necks, and as not as heavyset as females. Femoral pores are also more pronounced in males. Examining the hemipenal bulges is a more reliable sexing indicator than are the femoral pores, which hare a good secondary indicator.

Beardies should weigh between 7.9 and 9.6 ounces before breeding. They will breed if they're smaller than this, but are more likely to experience dystocias (difficult birth), so separate your sexes until they are ready to breed. Most dragons will reach adequate breeding size between 9 and 15 months of age.

Virgin females are generally not cycled, although older animals usually go through a cooling period. Breeders use many different cycling techniques, including length of cooling. Dragons can take temperatures in the mid 50s during their brumation, although most breeders prefer temperatures in the 60s or low 70s. If your dragons are going to be cooled below 70 degrees, make sure they have at least a week without food to purge their gut content. Length of brumation can last from one to three months.

Most breeders also manipulate day and night cycles, giving the dragons anywhere from zero to eight hours of light during brumation, and 12/12 cycles during breeding season.

When your dragons warm up, they will be ready to eat immediately. If you introduce the males at this time, you should observe courtship behavior taking place almost instantaneously. The males will bob their heads vigorously. Females will often respond with hand waving. Eventually, when females are receptive, breeding will occur.

Taking Care of Mom

Gravid females can be difficult to identify. watch for digging activity. When the female is digging, add a pile of damp sand or move her to another deep bin with damp sand. She will generally lay her eggs within a few days.

Eggs should be removed and set up for incubation in the same manner described for leopard gecko eggs. Incubation temperatures in the low 80s are appropriate for beardies eggs. The eggs usually will hatch after about 60 days.

Bear in mind that females that are not bred may still cycle and lay infertile eggs. This can lead to a significant dystocia risk, so owners of unbred female bearded dragons may want to explore having them sprayed.

With proper care, health problems are rare. However, dragons are prone to dystocia, nutritional imbalances, impactions, and internal parasites. Be sure to work with a competent reptile veterinarian when dealing with these problems.

There are now many options available when choosing a pet lizard. As mentioned, two of the best captive-bred choices are still leopard geckos and beardies. Evaluate the needs of these lizards and decide which one is the best choice for you. If you give your pet the care it requires, you will have a happy and healthy leopard or beardies for a long time to come.

Venomous Snakes: Steer Clear


Most Top End's venomous snakes are not considered deadly. by Graeme Gow

The northern half of Australia is home to many species whose bite requires medical treatment - so it is wise to steer clear.

Venomous Snakes Profile: Secretive Snake: Cryptophis pallideceps

Description: Head slightly distinct from neck, moderately slender body. Dorsal coloration is blackish, often with a paler head. The ventral surface can be creamish to pink.

Its maximum length is about 630 mm. It is found in the Top End of the Northern Territory.

Remarks: The secretive snake is a nocturnal species that shelters beneath rocks, logs, and other debris. It is probably a live-bearer. It mainly feeds on small lizards but will occasionally take frogs. It is not considered dangerous to humans, but a bite from a large specimen may require medical treatment.

Venomous Snakes Profile: Little Spotted Snake: Denisonia punctata

Description: Head depressed, slightly distinct from neck, moderately slender body. Dorsal coloration is light to reddish brown, often with a darker spot on each scale. The head and neck have prominent dark blotches. Ventral surface is white or creamish.

Maximum length is about 520 mm.

It is found in Northern Australia, with the exception of eastern Queensland.

Remarks: The little spotted snake is a nocturnal species usually associated with red desert areas. It is a live-bearer. One litter of five has been recorded.

It preys mainly on small lizards, but has also been recorded feeding on blind snakes.

Although it is not considered dangerous, its bite can be painful.

Venomous Snakes Profile: Black Whip Snake: Demansia atra

Description: Head deep and narrow, distinct from the neck, long slender body. Dorsal coloration is black, becoming reddish. The head is dark coppery brown. Dark posterior blotching may be present. The lips, chin, throat and undertail can be pinkish to whitish.

The maximum length is 1.8 mm.

It is found on the coast and adjacent areas of northern Australia, from the East Kimberleys Western Australia through the top end of the Northern Territory to central eastern Queensland. It is also found in Papua New Guinea.

Remarks: The black whip snake is an active diurnal species, which is occasionally semi-nocturnal on warm nights. Considered to be Australia's fastest moving snake, it is nervous and retiring. It will not bite unless provoked. It is an egg layer and may produce up to 20 eggs in clutch. It feed on small reptiles, frogs, mammals and insects. Although the exact potency of its venom is unknown, bites from large specimen are regarded as potentially dangerous to man.

Venomous Snakes Profile: Demansia papuensis:

This species, which is similar to the black whip snake, may be distinguished by its higher ventral and subcaudal scale counts, spotted head and its anterior ventrals not being black edged.

Venomous Snakes Profile: Yellow-face Whip Snake: Demansia Psammophis reticulata

Description: Head barely distinct from neck, elongate body. Dorsal coloration is greenish grey merging to coppery brown. Each body scale has prominent black edging, giving a distinctive reticulated appearance. The head is olive green or coppery brown, with a pale edged dark line running from the rostral to the eyes, where it meets a pale-edged, narrow comma-shaped marking surrounding the eye. The throat is yellow and the remainder of the ventral surface is yellowish white.

Its maximum length is about 900 mm.

It is found in all of Western Australia, apart from the far south and far north, southern Northern Territory and northern South Australia.

Remarks: The yellow-face whip snake is a fast moving, diurnal species which feeds on small reptiles and frogs. It is an egg layer, but there are no records of clutch size. Although it is venomous, it is not regarded as dangerous to man.

Venomous Snakes Profile: Curl or Myall Snake: Suta suta

Description: Depressed head distinct from neck, robust body. Dorsal coloration may be any shade of brown, occasionally olive green, often with dark tips on the scales, giving a reticulated appearance. The head and nape are dark brown to black. A dark line extends from below the eyes to the snout. This line is bordered by white scales. These marking are barely discernible or completely absent in aged specimens. The under-surface is white or cream.

Its maximum length is about 900 mm.

It is found in most of South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory, extending into eastern Western Australia. It is also found in the north-west corner of Victoria.

Remarks: This nocturnal, terrestrial species ranges through a variety of habitats, but is most common in dry arid areas. It shelters in earth cracks or under logs and other ground debris. It is a live bearer and may produce about six in a litter.

These venomous snakes feed on lizards, frogs, and small mammals. Of unpredictable nature, this snake derives its vernacular name from its threat display, which consists of flattening the body, curling tightly, then lashing from side to side. Although it was not previously regarded as dangerous, the toxicity of its mainly neurotoxic venom is not fully known and bites from large specimens may require medical treatment.

Australia to the venomous snakes

While Australia is home to some of the most fascinating and unique creatures in the world, its beautiful settings also attracts some of the world's most venomous snakes.

Tiger Snake for Breakfast


Tiger Snake: an unlikely breakfast?

Gold Coast naturalist David Fleay recalls the time, collecting snakes for Commonwealth Serum Laboratories anti-venene research, he and his companion hit on the idea of the snake as food.

Moira Lakes upstream from Echuca, along the big bend of the Murray crawls with snakes.

Only droughts knock their numbers back and even these natural disasters serve merely as temporary checks.

I first came across this 'snakiest' place in all Australia in 1926 as a wandering kid on a push bike marveling at first of the river swamps and their mighty flocks of birds.

Those days, local Aborigines had not been pushed into settlements but hunted happily as of yore. They speared cod from hollowed out redgum craft and lived in humpies.

Bu the Tiger Snakes, then as now, dominated the scene -- a fact forcibly noticeable when the snow waters flooded down in October, isolating box ridges and the higher river banks for weeks or even  months at a time.

Then, if so inclined, you didn't need to go on a binge at Barmah Pub to get the horrors.

Landings on flood-girt high spots in the morning sun began an all-pervading series of slitherers, accompanied by the incredible spectacle of the Tigers by the score racing into piled up debris.

Less fortunate snakes sun-basked three, six, 10 or 13 metres above water level in and about the loose bark of ancient isolated eucalypts.

No wonder in later days of antivenene work, we could amass 80 to 100 'milkers' in a morning's work.

One evening, by the camp fire with snake bags full and tied and passing night herons attempting to croak above the mighty roar of amorous frogs, my mate speculated about Burke and Wills.

In their desperate need for some form of sustenance, had they ever  considered snake as food? That did it, for, tough as we reckoned we were, we'd never tested such a possibility ourselves.

Next morning, a passing tiger snake was killed, beheaded, skinned and cleaned.

The fact that our victim carried parasitic nematode worms packed in its stomach almost halted the culinary experiment, but curiosity triumphed and the carcass was then boiled for 15 minutes in salty water.

Finally we fried our quarry in butter and sat on a log for a tiger snake breakfast.

Still not quite convinced we'd removed the very potent venom by decapitation, my mate said his only grace before a meal for the entire trip!

However, almost immediately his apprehensions to eat the tiger snake vanished like the mists of morning.

That fat old Tiger was delicious - a kind of cross flavour between fish, eel and chicken.

It was completely consumed and we didn't even begin to hiss.

Considering that canned Rattlesnake sells from the shelves in USA and crocodile meat has its devotees, why not Tiger Snake fillets or Mulga munchies for Australian gourmets?

What a marvelous idea for the money-spinning entrepreneurs of Surfer's Paradise!

Snake Catchers Snakes Alive!


The snake catchers of Alice Springs rush to answer residents' cries for help - to ensure the safety of the reptile causing the panic.

Story by Liz Johnswood Pictures by Peter Watkins

If you discover a snake at the bottom of your garden and you live in Alice Springs, don't panic - just send for the snake catchers of the Alice. There's Bruce Munday, an incredibly laid-back, fiercely mustached chap who will come to the rescue as quick as a flicker of fang. Or there are the rangers of the Northern Territory Conservation Commission (NTCC), big willing fellows who'd rather face a snake any day than a nasty bush litterer.

Bruce, an animal keeper at Alice Reptile World, and Greg Fyfe, head ranger stationed just out of town at the historic Telegraph Station, filled us in on the reasons behind the creepy service they offer residents.

"We're really more interested in protecting the snakes than the people," Greg explained dealing a blow to the human ego/ "It's illegal to kill snakes in the Territory, but if they're found within 100 metres of your home, that law doesn't apply. It's considered a life-threatening situation, so frightened people start whacking."

Bruce agreed. "You have to get there in a hurry or it's curtains for the snake. I had one hysterical woman screaming at me as I approached, " Hurry up or I'll dong it!" It was just a baby western brown, but a chap was there fending the poor little devil off with a broom.

"Another chap walked into the reptile house one day clutching a small, dead legless lizard that looked as if it had been run over by a Sherman tank. He'd seen a lot of them around the place and wanted it identified.

"The trouble is, with most people anything that hasn't got legs is a deadly king brown or a death adder out to get them," he said.

They can "get" them, too. Like most Australian snakes, the snakes of the Centre are highly venomous -- death adders, eastern and western browns, vicious tiger snakes and a few others.

"It's safer for people to call in snake catchers than tackle them themselves," Greg said. "You can't be too gung-ho about it, either. I've been almost bitten by an eastern brown because of carelessness.

"Anyone trying to kill one of these fellows could be in trouble. They're big, nasty and very fast. They stand their ground, up in a typical aggressive S-bend, mouth agape, hissing like mad.

"We use a snake stick to pin them down while we grab them and I've had an angry eastern brown coming up the stick at me. They are the crankiest snakes I've ever handled." shared by one of the snake catchers

"Most people call us or Bruce or the wildlife people. We place an advertisement in the local newspaper every now and again, telling people to get in touch. It's better than taking risks."

Most of the serpents the snake catchers caught are taken well out into the bush and let go. A few are kept for educational purposes. "Sometimes we get an interesting snake and keep it for a while to do talks to kids at schools. We let them pat the snakes and teach them that they're not slimy creatures," Greg explained.

Bruce keeps a few "magnificent specimens" to add to the reptile house and uses them in talks to groups on the correct method of treating snakebite.

"There are two basic principles," he said. " First you put pressure on the skin over the bite by binding it up and splinting it to keep the limb perfectly still. Then you get a doctor as fast as possible. Don't do ant barn-dances on the way and save the whisky for after the cure. If a bite is treated this way, it can take at least seven hours for it to be fatal."

In the Territory as a whole, Greg says, the rangers get about 800 call-outs a year. Some of these are to tend injured birds or animals, but the majority of calls are for snake catchers task.

"You get snakes in the house, in swimming pools and in gardens," he said. "You even get them in the street."

Not infrequently, the troublemakers are snakes which have been kept illegally as pets. "We picked up one 3-metre olive python that must have come illegally from Queensland," Greg explained. "The suspicious large bulge in his belly turned out to be the caller's prize duck. However, we never did catch the snake's owner."

Poultry yards and bird cages are favourite restaurants for snakes. They track down their prey by picking up scent particles in the air, home in, have a feed and can't get out because they're fatter than when they slid in.

Both Bruce and Greg are snake buffs (snake catchers in the future) from way back. As a youngster, Bruce delighted in catching copperheads on a golf course near where he lived in Tasmania, and scaring his mother silly. Greg was doing pretty much the same on the mainland.

Trainee ranger Peter Mckenzie, who works with Greg, got his training in courage and cunning by pinching crocodile eggs around Darwin, so snakes don't scare him. "We'd take the eggs from nests that were likely to be flooded and the eggs lost, then incubate them," Peter said.

Snake Catchers job or pinching croc eggs -- it's a sure thing not too many will be trying to take the jobs from these intrepid fellows!

King Of The Croakers - the Mighty Green Tree Frog


It's hard for many of us to look back on the invention of septic tanks, sewerage farms and reticulated water without shedding a few tears for auld lang syne and a few for old green tree frog.

by Steve Van Dyck

For there, among the galvanized clutter of overflow drains, slimy tank stands, thunderboxes, stink pipes and dripping taps, dozed the king of croakers, the mighty green tree frog, undisputed lord of the outside loo.

And it was in the rainwater tanks, at the very end of the dry season, when the green tree frog and the water were down to the last rung, that their thunderous booming welcomed in the first of the summer deluges. The effect of a good reverberating tankful of bullroarers was then measured on the Ritcher scale and the potential of the approaching wet season predicted.

Likewise, in the humble little outhouses, a prodigious cohort of clammy green cockroach gobblers patrolled by night.

Everyone from that aromatic era knows that no respectable backyard lav was ever equipped with an electric light. The darkness was faced head-on with a collection of old weeping candles and half-dead torch batteries.

Our privy was as black as a caved-in coal-pit; our exhausted blobs of candlewax were always beyond ignition and our torch hadn't seen new batteries since the first set died, haemorrhaged and digested everything around them.

This meant that each nocturnal outhouse operation that required illumination had to be performed to the flicker of a judiciously struck match.  In retrospect this system probably differed little from family to family. In fact, in those days the accomplishment of normal, healthy childhood toilet training relied on the proven horror-of-the-dark, burning-of-the-fingers technique.

But running high on the list of consuming night-time terrors was the worry that if the match ran out enroute to the dunny, a big, cold, spongy green tree frog would have materialized in the darkness, either on the door knob, or directly, underfoot, or right in the opening path of the shuddering door.

While it was always impossible to tell who got the biggest shock -- green tree frog, child, parents or neighbors -- it was never hard to tell who screamed the loudest.

The green tree frog let out a crackling shriek like a string of tom-thumbs going off

- Unexpected and ear-splitting was the screech that whatever had constituted the purpose of the visit was gladly aborted in favor of a soul-restoring nip of brandy administered by a sympathetic mum back in the kitchen. It's a wonder we weren't alcoholics before puberty!

But black nights were quickly used for black comedy when uninitiated dinner guests were compelled to visit the lean-to.

For this dubious cause, brotherly talents were combined to grab an old dependable green tree frog from in or near the letter-box and plant him inside the outhouse. This way, if a visitor's hand wasn't ravaged by the black hen which nested in the sawdust-box, the hand inevitably fingered the green tree frog lying camouflaged in the soft green apple papers nailed to one of the throne-room noggings.

It is an ironic twist of homeopathic proportions, that the high blood pressure generated by these loo-lurking detonators was later to be medically controlled by a substance called caerulein, which was isolated from the protective slime on the back of the green tree frog. However, anything other than small, medically supervised doses of caerulein can do such unspeakably horrendous things to the human gut wall and gall bladder that green garnishes of frogskin are a definite no-no in Aussie camp-fire cuisine and are side-stepped by all bush cooks happy to be pink and not green around the gills.

With the demise of domestic tanks and backyard dunnies the future became grim for these slimy springers. But against swamp reclamation, insecticides and the aggressive competition of introduced cane-toads, the future of the green tree frog species on the domestic urban scene is decidedly bleak.

This prognosis may actually please the faint-hearted, whose appreciation of green skin and webbed feet begins and ends with the Muppets. But to others, who as youngsters fell asleep to the sound of a friendly old grandpa frog going "gar-ork, gar-ork" outside in the meter-box, no amount of felt puppets or television can replace a quality of life that is slipping through our fingers as quickly as a handful of tadpoles.

Not too long after the Point Lookout Hotel was built, a large amphibious party of freeloaders decided to try out 20th century technology and sprung into the flash new septic ablution block. Here the frogs chose to camp out of sight inside the shiny new pedestals, tucking themselves in under the flushing lip, just below the seat.

Like sticky green sandbags, their clogging effect not only gummed up the hydrodynamics of the ultra-fashionable flush. But when suspicious guests gazed into the abnormally churning maelstrom, what they beheld either sent them packing or looking for a doctor, depending on what they'd been drinking for lunch.

The poor frogs who had been born and bred in the backwaters of swamps and rainwater tanks thought that every flushing cascade was a fresh summer downpour and cause enough to clamber out and go a-wooing. So many guest preoccupied with lid closing came close to a coronary when old Jeremy Fisher, or one of his offspringers, spread their glutinous digits over the seat and hoisted themselves up out of the porcelain like the creature from the Black Lagoon coming up for air.

The green tree frog eventually moved on to less disruptive pastures and their grand plans to leap along with modern technology unfortunately amounted to no more than a flash in the pan.

Frog In The Throat for Eastern Green Snake


It ain't easy bein' green - especially when there's a mother of an eastern green snake hanging off your backside.

Yes this little frog was a dead certainty to croak, but not without  a struggle.

He knows instinctively that serpents, particularly the eastern green snake, like to attack from the front and wrap their fangs around the head. Notice how froggie's got his front toes firmly attached to a reed to prevent the enemy from turning him and getting a head!

Eastern Green Snake and its Struggles

He has also flattened himself out in a last ditch attempt to dissuade the eastern green snake from going ahead with the meal. But the wide-mouthed snake seemed determined to dine on frog in any shape. Anyway the frog didn't give a stuff after a while when the paralyzing poison of the eastern green snake took effect.

These snakes should come out here and work in a Queensland cane field for a while and see how they like it with a toad in a hole. The eastern green snake don't know how easy they've got it over there in Europe.

Ferocious Crocodiles


Crocodiles come in different forms but they are pretty all the same, sharp teeth, ugly head, and pretty skin.

Of all the crocodilians including alligators, caimans, garial, false garial and crocodiles, Crocodylus Porosus is the largest. Where do they live? Right here in the land downunder. That's right; the saltwater or estuarine crocodiles, the world's largest, still calls Australia home.

We also have the freshwater crocodiles - Crocodylus Johnstoni - taken from the Johnstone river in Queensland where they were discovered. They are called freshies and are less aggressive than the estuarine croc. they feed primarily on fish and some small rodents. No! this does not mean you can walk up and pat them. They live in fresh water, rarely grow over three metres and are basically passive, when left alone. They are unlikely to stalk you, however, will bite if annoyed, threatened or if they have young.

I can hear you asking "what about the South and East Alligator Rivers?" American explorers, who didn't know the difference, discovered them. Quite frankly, our salties would open a can of whoop-ass on d'em gators.

Some older Territorians still refer to crocs, as gators - it sounds cool and easier to say - but you get what they mean. Saltwater crocs, salties, have glands in their bodies that disperse excess salt. This means that they can live in ANY water, which is why most Top Enders prefer showers.

Towards the end of the 19th century , when white settlers arrived in the Top End, there where an estimated 100,000 salties in the waterways of the Northern Territory. Hunting crocs for skins became a major business, up to eight metres, were recorded. When croc hunting was halted in 1971 the numbers had dwindled to an estimated 10,000 or less as fears grew they be wiped out completely in some areas. After crocs were listed as 'A' Heritage in Australia, they were left alone, basically. Some scientists believe that an instinct of survival led crocs in some areas to breed twice, instead of the normal once a year, in an attempt to rebuild numbers. Today the numbers are estimated around 90,000 in the same areas. By the way, crocodiles don't bother with anything less than two metres because they might not survive.

Conditions in the tropics are perfect for this dinosaur, warm water, ample food, room to move and no predators - except man. Today, any large croc, four metres or better, has survived the hunting period and is 30 to 40 years old. The correct way to age a croc is to saw its bones; they have growth rings like trees. Of course not all crocs were killed and the big fellas became very wary around humans, remebering the fire sticks they carry - boats mean death.

Crocodile farming has become an acceptable way to harvest the species. When larger crocs are caught in populated areas, they are taken to farms as breeding stock and also for show and tell. This is the safest way to see crocodiles up close.

With crocodiles back up to significant numbers, tourism has taken advantage of their presence; everyone wants to get closer to this survivor of the ages. The best way to do this is to feed them. The young ones are curious and have less fear of man, to them, boats mean food. As they get larger they will have less fear. Guess what will happen if a croc comes up to a boat expecting to get fed and you don't give him any?

Crocodiles Chronicles: Size DOES Matter

Larger crocs take a little longer to trust boats but the availability of a free feed is too much temptation. Take aggro for example, he lives in the Adelaide River, he is every bit of 5.5 metres, around 70 years of age and he gets fed by tour boats at least four times a day. He doesn't need to hunt; his belly is well catered for. If he can't be bothered eating, he will just give that evil look that says "rack off", turn his back and go under.

Hey Steve Irwin, crikey, he'd be fun to ride, eh? Go on bloke he's not hungry have a go. Just in case you are thinking gees that would be fun, eh? If he goes under I'll just hang on. Riding a death roll would be fun, if you could hang on. However, there is one small catch. Salties have a four-chamber heart, not unlike humans, except they have the ability to shut two of them down. This pushes oxygenated blood into the lungs; it also slows down the heart rate to as little as two beats per minute. A big croc can hold its breath for two hours or more. I bet you can't! As soon as you let go, you are in his territory, he can swim faster than you and hw will be angry.

If you think you can out run a croc on land, now hear this? A saltwater crocodile can exit the water at around 40kph, even if you see him coming, and you won't - by the time you have turned to run, he will have you by the back foot.

People want to see big crocs, tour guides want to feed big crocs. Seeing a saltie of four metres or better, leaping vertically out of the water is an amazing sight. Providing the water under them is deep enough they can get all four legs out of the water. This is particularly impressive if you are a tinny when you realise that a croc can jump over your boat and grab you on the way.

Let's face it; old stinkers are not fussy if it breaths its food - birds, fish, pigs, cattle and people.

Crocs have the ability to slow down their metabolic rate according to food supply. A croc of four metres can live on a chicken for two weeks if need be. Another thing is they don't chew their food; the teeth are designed to crush, hold and snap bones. With a closing pressure, up to 3,000psi they are capable of snapping the bones of anything that walks the earth.

Because they swallow their food whole they need to get a piece that fits down the throat. This is where the death roll comes in, grab hold, snap the bones and twist off a chunk and swallow.

Usually when a croc is approached by a boat it heads for the water. This is not because it's scared, at least not the big fellas. This is a croc's greatest advantage - stealth. From there it can see and hear everything you do.

Make no mistake, once a croc gets over four metres he is afraid of nothing, except a bigger croc. Salties get really big, five and six-metre males are not uncommon. Females rarely grow over three and a half metres.

Crocodiles have a certain mystique about them, which makes humans do stupid things. Swimming! I can't see any, it must be safe; it's not. This stealthiest of predators has all the time in the world, he will wait for days at a time, stalking, sniffing, feeling vibrations and assessing the situation. A croc can submerge and re-surface without so much as a ripple on the water. If you see fish scales on a riverbank in the middle of nowhere, it's probably been eaten by a croc. DO NOT SWIM HERE.

Common sense will tell you that a 'ridged-back mud gecko' will live near a food supply; I like seafood, so do they. Because they conserve as much energy as possible they live near food. If there are lots of barra or mud crabs you will find crocodiles near by.

Salties have multiple eyelids, both horizontal and vertical. They are a transparent film, which act like lenses so they can focus in varied conditions. They can see you on the bank from under the water.

When crocs hatch (they come from eggs) they have light and dark patches on their skin, the dark bits are like solar panels. Low tide in the morning on a mud bank is a good place to find crocs sunning themselves. Like all reptiles they are cold-blooded and need the sun to give them energy to hunt.

As they get larger they get darker, absorbing more heat. They also camouflage themselves to their surroundings, dark water, dark skin. The biggest crocs are usually dark all over to almost black; a five or six-metre croc is huge and needs a lot of warmth to generate energy. It's hard to imagine a lizard of four metres or better. Go outside and measure your tinny, then imagine a reptile that is just as long and nearly as wide.

A five-metre croc can weigh in at 600kg, a six metre around 900kg, this is almost a tonne. Like people, when they get to a certain age they spread in all directions, like me! Consider this if you are thinking of taking one home to show the kiddies.

Crocs are often seen on the banks with mouth open. Once they reach operating temperature they open their massive jaws to allow cooling of the brain. In the cooler times, the long cold week of winter, July 7-15, where night temperatures drop to a bone chilling 12 degrees Celsius, they are sluggish. During cool weather, sometimes, they prefer to remain out of the water whenever possible. This does not mean that you can go swimming in winter - it's too bloody cold. Despite the usual warmth of the tropics it gets quite cold on some mornings, a foggy river-bank is very pretty and it is also very deceptive. The water can often be warmer than the ambient temperature. In this case guess where the crocs will be?

In summer when everything is warm, they are most active. So are the fish. Hence, good fishing for you, good for crocs. It's also mating season.

I used to think that crocs, being air breathers could not attack underwater, pulling up half a barra one day made me rethink this theory. Watching crocodiles feed at close range I learned that they have a flap in their throats, which stops water coming in. However, they must have their head out of the water to swallow or they drown.

Crocodiles have really bad breath - they never brush their teeth - something to do with the size of their legs. Many of the crocodile hunters who survived attacks died from the infection that usually followed.

Strangely enough, crocodiles have the ability to shut down the blood flow to a missing limb or tail lost in a fight. And they never get infections themselves. Apparently scientists have isolated the gene responsible for this and are currently researching ways to adapt it to humans.

Crocodiles are amphibians, they can walk across land as well as you and me and can move very fast over a short distance. They also like to hide in the shade and sneak through the grass, which they can do without a sound.

Living with crocodiles can be a major learning curve.

Care Sheet: Water Dragons



This care sheet is for beginners and covers the basic maintenance of the Eastern Water Dragons (Physignathus leseurii).

You should join your local herpetological society, where you can meet others and obtain more detailed information on keeping these lizards. Water dragons are very hardy animals and one of the best dragons for beginners to keep as long as a few important guidelines are followed. These cover cage size, lighting and diet.

Water Dragons Care Sheet 1: Size

hatchlings measure around 15cm in total length. They can grow up to 90cm long although more usually they range from 60 to 70 centimeters.

Water Dragons Care Sheet 2: Caging

Juveniles: Hatchling Water dragons can be kept in a large plastic tube, approximately 60cm long, 40cm wide and 40cm high. The lid of the tub should be placed outdoors to give the little dragons access to ultra violet light. It is very important not to put them out in the sun during the middle of the day. Glass fish tanks should not be used for this purpose as the temperature inside the tank will very quickly reach a level that will kill the dragons. Shade and water must be provided at all time and the dragons checked regularly.

Adults: To keep adult Water dragons in captivity a large outdoor enclosure is required with access to sunlight. Outdoor enclosures can take two forms -- converted aviary style enclosures, or the more typical reptile pits with walls made of sheet metal. It is essential that the walls of the pit are at least 1 metre high and preferably 1.2 metres, as Water dragons are excellent jumpers and will take advantage of any rock piles or or branches inside the enclosure that are placed too near the walls. The walls should extend at least 30cm underground to prevent the dragons from digging out. Alternatively, weld mesh can be sunk beneath the ground. If an aviary is used, it is important to use sheet metal to a height of 1 metre from the ground to prevent the dragons from rubbing their snouts on the wire. Both types of enclosures can be decorated with plants, logs, rock slabs, etc. A pond must be included to satisfy their semi-aquatic lifestyle. Some of the enclosure should be sheltered from the weather. To keep an adult pair of Water dragons, the enclosure must be at least 1.2 metres long and preferably more than 2 metres, with a width of 1 metre. the floor can be covered with bark chips or leaf litter. A pond or at least a water dish large enough for the dragons to submerge themselves is essential. There must be at least one hiding place for each dragon in the form of logs, sheets of bark pipes. Faeces and uneaten food must be removed promptly.

Water Dragons Care Sheet 3: Lighting and Heating

Water dragons require basking spots with high temperatures (up to 45 degrees Celsius) to be kept successfully. Your enclosure must get plenty of sunlight and be sheltered. It must also provide shady spots that the dragons can move to. Basking spots can be created by installing 100W - 150W floodlights at one end of the enclosure. These lizards need UV light to survive, which is why they are best kept outdoors in natural sunlight. If they are kept indoors special UV type fluorescent tubes need to be installed. Before attempting such a set up, you should discuss the placement of these lights with n experienced keeper.

Water Dragons Care Sheet 4: Feeding

water dragons are omnivorous, making them quite easy to feed. A suitable diet for adult dragons would include twice weekly feeding of canned pet food and mixed, chopped fruits and vegetables. They should also be fed a variety of insects such as crickets, cockroaches, meal worms and earth worms. Small mice can occasionally be offered but they should not form a major part of the diet. Once a week the food should be dusted with a calcium/vitamin D powder such as Rep-Cal®, and a multi-vitamin powder such as Herptivite®. Young dragons should be fed every day with as great a variety of insects as possible. Calcium and vitamin powders should be used every second feeding. In general, Water dragons will not accept pet food, fruit and vegetables until they have reached a total length of about 20cm. At this stage these foods can be gradually introduced into their diet.

Water Dragons Care Sheet 5: Diseases/Illnesses

These are outside the scope of this basic care sheet. Any unusual behaviour or signs of illnesses should be discussed with an experienced keeper or with a veterinary surgeon. If you suspect something is wrong, act immediately, don't leave it. Early diagnosis and treatment is important.

Further Reading on Water Dragons (Weigel, J (1988) Care of Australian Reptiles in Captivity, Reptile Keepers)

Eastern Bearded Dragons (Pogona Barbata)


Eastern Bearded Dragons Care Sheet prepared by Sue Davis

The most important thing to remember if keeping eastern bearded dragons outdoors, is to provide an escape-proof enclosure with plenty of high perches and basking spots, offer plenty of food and let lizards do the rest.

Eastern Bearded Dragons belong to the Agamidae family and average snout to vent length in adults is 25 centimeters. They have a well-developed "beard" and a strongly depressed body. The inside of their mouth is usually bright yellow. There are many colour variations from grey, yellowish-brown, brown, to reddish-brown etc. Mature males develop a dark grey to black beard and a pale green to blue tinge on the forehead.

Eastern bearded dragons are found in woodlands and dry sclerophyll forests extending into many urban areas in eastern Australia from Cooktown in Queensland to south eastern South Australia. Their habitat is mostly terrestrial and arboreal, preferring elevated perches such as sumps, fence posts, or rocks. they shelter in hollow logs, shallow depressions beneath vegetation or surface debris.

Eastern bearded dragons (Beardies) regularly display courtship or defense actions such as head bobbing, arm waving, head licking, push ups, pawing of substrate, biting, erection of beard, expanding their body and colour changes. Up to 75 separate display sequences have been observed.

In the wild, beardies forage for insects including ants, spiders, small lizards, flowers (especially low, daisy-like species and pansies or violas), fruits and green shoots.

Mating occurs in the spring and gravid females are found from October to February. Clutches of 8 to 35 (average) eggs are laid in shallow burrows and sometimes 2 clutches are laid per season. Eggs hatch at around 54 - 60 days at 30 degrees Celsius. Bearded dragons usually hibernate in the winter but in captivity it is often wise to maintain hatchlings at around 25 degrees and feed weekly to maintain healthy growth.

In captivity, eastern bearded dragons food should be dusted with calcium and vitamin supplements at least once per week. Good brands are Herptivite® or Rep-Cal®, available at most good pet stores.

Suggested insects to feed captive beardies include crickets, wood roaches, mealworms (only adults), grasshoppers, flies, butterflies, bettles, Garden worms, and pinkie mice are also favourites as well as most soft fruits such as melon, berries, grapes, strawberry, apple, and green vegetables and shredded carrot and sweet corn niblets. Flower favourites include hibiscus, dandelions, carnation, squash, clover, nasturtium and daisy.

Always chop fruit and vegetables into very small (finely diced) pieces.

As hatchlings, beardies will live happily in a 30cm x 30cm x 60cm aquarium with a mesh top but as adults, will require much more room as they like to climb and bask. Newspaper makes the most convenient and hygienic substrate for the floor of the enclosure and should be changed at least per week or more often if necessary.

UVB light is essential for most reptiles. Ordinary fluorescent tubes are useless as they provide light only - not UVB that is required for healthy bone development and assists in th digestion of food. The light will need to be within 30cm of the animals to effective.

Beardies also need to keep warm, especially after eating as they cannot digest their food properly without adequate warmth. Around 25 to 30 degrees through the day and from 20 to 15 degrees overnight.

Bearded dragons are diurnal (active during the day) so if you don't have timers fitted to your lights or thermostat, make sure that you manually switch on the UVB light first thing in the morning and turn it off again at dusk.

Beardies can make excellent pets and are easily "tamed". They respond well to lots of handling (often and short is best). Always support a reptile's belly from below.

Suggested reading:

"Keeping Bearded Dragons" - Warren Green and Ty Larson (Australian)
"The General Care and Maintenance of Bearded Dragons" - Philippe DeVosjoli and Robert Mailloux (American)


Eastern Bearded Dragons like a large, shallow water dish that they can "swim" in.

Eastern Blue Tongue (Tiliqua Scincoides)


Eastern Blue Tongue Care sheet prepared by Sue Davis

Blue tongue lizards are native to Australia and New Guinea and will live happily in your backyard and are helpful by eating snails and other pests in the garden. They will eat canned cat food (not fish varieties), soft fruits, tomatoes, apples, mushrooms, chopped green vegetables, mince meat and thawed frozen pinkie mice. They will also lap water from a shallow dish and like a hollow log or similar hide box to hide in.

Eastern blue tongue lizards can be aggressive if provoked. If you must handle a wild animal, hold it firmly but gently behind the head.

The patterns and colours among eastern blue tongue lizards vary a lot but consist mainly of dark and pale cross-bands. There are 6 or 7 blackish-brown banks on the neck and body and these sometimes branch or end at the midline of the back. The dark bands are usually orange-brown, yellowish or pale grey on the sides. The pale bands are yellowish-brown, greyish-brown or grey and there are 6 or 8 dark bands on the tail. There is an indistinct darker patch on the side of the head.

Ticks are common on the wild animals and can usually be seen around the head and armpits. They can be removed wit tweezers but always remove the tick's head.

Blue tongues can suffer from colds which can develop into pneumonia. Treatment involves keeping the lizard warm (around 25 to 30 degrees C). symptoms are a runny nose, eyes, sneezing, lethargy, and wheezing. Seeking veterinary treatment is wise.

Eastern blue tongue preferred temperature is around 25 to 28 degrees Celsius and most animals will not feed if the temperature drops to below 20 as they cannot digest their food.

Eastern blue tongue species grow to around 60 cm in length. They are ground dwellers so don't need branches to climb on, even though they are quite good climbers and excellent escape artists.

The water bowl should be large enough for the animal/s to bathe in and should be freshed regularly as blue tongues often defecate in their water bowl.

Blue tongues make excellent pets as they tame easily and can be handled by small children. Always wash hands thoroughly both before and after handling.

Tiliqua Scincoides is one of the largest members of the skink family. If kept indoors, the enclosure should have adequate floor space for the lizard to move freely. Enclosures should be at least 1.2 metres (4 foot) long by 35 cm (14 inches) wide and between 12 (30 cm) and 18 (45 cm) inches high. Two to four animals could be kept in an enclosure this size. The enclosure will need a reasonably tight fitting lid to ensure it is escape-proof. Newspaper makes the most convenient substrate as it is easily replaced. Blue tongues tend to be messy. These lizards also require UVB light and a heat source when kept indoors.

If housed outdoors, blue tongues can be kept in a converted aviary or a pit constructed of solid, smooth material with the walls braced on the outside only if it is to have an open top. Galvanised iron makes good walls as blue tongues can climb brick or concrete walls.

It has been claimed by several noted herpetologist over the years that heating a reptile during winter and keeping it active all year round  could be detrimental to its health. If one considers that it is natural for most reptiles to hibernate during winter, then they should be allowed  to do so in captivity. There are however, exceptions to this rule. Reptiles that originate from tropical areas where there is little difference between summer and winter temperatures should be maintained at or near their natural temperatures. If the winter temperature in the area in which the animal is maintained is considerably lower than that which it would find in its natural habitat, then the enclosure should be heated to the normal winter temperature of the reptile.

In nature, eastern blue tongue lizards require large amounts of Vitamin D for their survival. It is especially essential in their growth patterns and for bone development. Most Vitamin D is obtained from direct sunlight (or UVB tubes if housed indoors). Placing the enclosure near a window WILL NOT help the animal. UV light does not penetrate glass. If an additional heat source is used in  an indoor enclosure then it is wise to also install a thermostat to ensure that the temperature does not get too hot. A Vitamin D (Calcium) supplement should also be added to the animal's diet.

Please not that although meal worms make a tasty treat, they should not be offered to juvenile animals as the outer casque is rather hard and can cause internal damage. Mealworms are also not suitable as a staple diet for large lizards as huge quantities would be required to maintain even one animal.

It is important to also remember that in the wild, reptiles are "opportunistic" feeders and will eat all they can find at one feeding session. In captivity they will tend to eat all that is provided to them and could become obese and sluggish which eventually will cause health problems. If an animal seems to be putting on too much weight then food should be withheld for several days to allow it to absorb what it has already eaten.

Most reptiles will hide while they digest their food and reappear when they are hungry again, to go in search of more food. Use this as a guide to your feeding regime and observe the amount the animal consumes over several feedings to gauge the correct amount of food to offer. Vary the diet with each meal and experiment with different foods to see what your animal prefers. We find that strawberries, snails, and mushrooms are particular favourites.

Mating behaviours often sees the male bite the top of the female's head and neck prior to actually mating. This biting among eastern blue tongue lizards can result in permanent scarring.

Eastern blue tongue lizards usually have litters of between 5 to 25 live young that are born in summer.

Spencer's Monitor


Varanus spenceri or Spencers Monitor

When well fed, spencers monitor can become quite bulky. But when times are lean, Spencers Monitors can tolerate quite severe emaciation. Adults of this species eat lizards, snakes, large insects, and small mammals. Juveniles will eat smaller insects, such as grasshoppers, and small reptiles like geckoes and skinks. Living in the drought-prone Black Soil Plains of arid Australia, these animals have had to become accustomed to a Feast-or-Famine lifestyle - gorging when food is plentiful during a rainy spell, then surviving on their stored fat supplies when the going gets tough.

Spencers Monitors are named after W. Spencer, a past professor of biology from the University of Melbourne. A female will lay from 11 to 35 eggs in a deep burrow that she's excavated in an elevated soil bank. The eggs take about 110 days to hatch, and after emerging, the young monitors will shelter under rocks and stones, or in the deep soil cracks. These cracks provide a home not only for the youngsters, but also for many small insects, meaning that the growing monitors never have to look very far for a quick snack.

Did you know that Spencers Monitor...

  • When well fed, spencers monitor can become quite bulky. But when times are lean, Spencer's monitors can tolerate quite severe emaciation.
  • A female spencers monitor will lay from 11 to 35 eggs in a deep burrow that she's excavated in an elevated soil bank. The eggs take about 110 days to hatch.
  • Living in the arid Australia, these animals have had to become accustomed to a Feast-or-Famine lifestyle - gorging when food is plentiful when it rains, then surviving on their stored fat supplies when the going gets tough.
  • Spencers monitors are named after W. Spencer, a past professor of biology from the University of Melbourne.

Where to find Spencers Monitor in Australia:

Caring For Australian Freshwater Turtles in Captivity


Freshwater Turtles: An Introduction

Turtles are one of the most appealing animals of the reptile kingdom. There are no "effort free" animals to keep as pets, and freshwater turtles are no exception. Along with the pleasure of owning a turtle comes the responsibility to provide the best possible care for it that you can. Their survival is in your hands! If basic guidelines are followed, then your turtle should thrive in captivity and may even breed for you. Freshwater turtles are renowned for their longevity and provided your pet remains healthy, may live thirty to seventy-five years in your care. This point should be taken into consideration before purchasing freshwater turtles to begin with. You may be choosing a friend for life!

Most Australian freshwater turtles are very timid and shy, but within time will loose their fear and become accustomed to you and will recognise where their food comes from. There are many stories of keepers being amused while watching freshwater turtles in their aquatic enclosures, and some go as far to say that they each freshwater turtles have their own recognizable personalities.

I believe that if more people keep our Australian freshwater turtles in captivity, then we can learn more from them and the better equipped we will be to help them. As pollution increases and swamplands are filled in for development, or rivers are dammed all in the name of progress, then we must make a concerted effort to monitor the effects that this is having on the population of our freshwater turtles. The world's most endangered turtle is the Western Swamp turtle whose numbers fell to around thirty in the 1980's. This species is currently undergoing a careful breeding program under turtle expert Gerald Kuchling and the Perth Zoo. Imagine how helpful it would have been if amateur herpetologists were already successfully breeding Western swamp turtles in captivity.

Australia has some thirty described species and sub-species of freshwater turtle and four monotypic genera. They naturally occur in all states excluding Tasmania! There are possibly many undiscovered species of turtle that have eluded the watchful eye of herpetologists due to the elusiveness and subtlety of these fascinating creatures.

The correct zoological classifications that apply to Australian freshwater turtles are Class - Reptilia, Order - Testudines, Sub-order - Pleurodire (all except the Pig-nosed turtle which is Cryptodire). Members of the sub-order - Pleurodire, or side-necked turtles, did not evolve until the Cretaceous Period -some 135 million years ago. Reptiles in this sub-order are closely linked by the fact that their bodies are encased in a hard shell, they curl their heads back into the shell by horizontal movement and their pelvic girdle (Ref. Fig 1) is joined to the shell. Turtles are sometimes described as "living fossils" and in many respects this term is correct.

Turtle, Tortoise, or Terrapin?

The main difference is based on physiology. Tortoises are terrestrial (land dwelling) and possess thick legs and toes and require water for drinking only. There are no tortoises indigenous to Australia.

Freshwater turtles are aquatic and are not capable of swallowing food or mating unless submerged in water. They possess webbed feet or paddle-shaped, flipper-like limbs (as in the case of the Pig-nosed or Pitted-shelled turtle) and will only leave the water to lay eggs, bask in the sun or seek more favorable conditions in circumstances such as food shortage or drought. Freshwater turtles kept on dry land will dehydrate, starve, and die slowly and painfully.

"Terrapin" is merely a synonym for "Turtle" and was derived from the North American Indian word "Terrapene".

Temperature Control (Thermo-Regulation)

Turtles are sometimes incorrectly regarded as "cold-blooded" and cannot produce their own body heat, but instead regulate their body temperature by behavioural means - (Ectothemic). Surprisingly, their body temperature can be higher than that of their environment. On warm or hot days, turtles may leave the water and bask, usually stretching their hind legs out behind them to attain maximum surface area or maximum contact with a warm surface, and will retreat into the water to cool down. Turtles have also been observed floating near the surface in warm water currents with outstretched limbs. Here they are able to capture valuable U.V. and warmth, but with the added security of being submerged. One interesting personal observation has been a turtle's reluctance to sometimes dive back into the water after it has obviously reached its preferred temperature, and occasionally submerges its head and neck in an attempt to cool down. Other turtles sometimes appear to be "crying" and are releasing fluids via the eyes as part of cooling mechanism. Basking also aids in the control of skin complaints such as fungal infections, assists in shedding scutes and helps inhibit the growth of algae on the shell. Freshwater turtles are able to gain heat much quicker than they lose it. The colour of the carapace of a turtle also plays a role in thermo-regulation. A darker carapace will heat up more quickly than a tan or other light coloured turtle, and will be able to reach a higher temperature. Heat gained through basking and ambient temperature allows a turtle's metabolism to increase.

Brumation and Aestivation

In the winter months, turtle, kept in outdoor enclosures will reduce their activity, lose interest in eating and enter a state of dormancy termed brumation. The amount of time spent brumating is governed by environmental factors and some turtles can be seen on warm winter days swimming around or sunning themselves. In colder regions of Australia such as Victoria, turtles will brumate for longer periods than more northern species. Turtles living in warmer climates such as the Northern Territory will not brumate and will remain active right through the year. Turtle's brumate either on land or in water, burying themselves in dirt and foliage or mud and sediment respectively. Those that remain beneath the water are able to absorb oxygen by means of gaseous exchange. Gaseous exchange can be performed through three different processes:

1. Pharyngeal respiration - where an extremely vascularised area at the back of the mouth will take oxygen out of the water.

2. Cloacal respiration - is achieved through thin walled sacs in the cloaca, also absorbing oxygen from the water.

3. Oxygen absorption through the skin.

It is important to note that most species cannot survive under the water for more than 2-3 hours when not in a state of dormancy.

Aestivation is when a turtle buries itself in the mud at the bottom of its waterhole or drinks as much water as it can then leaves the water and buries itself under dirt and foliage to escape drought conditions, or dangerously low levels of water. During this time, a turtle also enters a state of dormancy and slows its body processes down. Here it will remain until the water levels are restored or will perish in the event of an extended drought.

Digestion in Turtles

All modern turtles lack teeth. Short-necked turtles use the tough edges of their jaws to tear and dismember food. Here the clawed forelimbs also serve a useful purpose by tearing excess food away while it is firmly clamped by the mouth. Long necked turtles are essentially ambush feeders. They strike with their mouths open, drawing in large quantities of water containing their prey. Food intake of all turtles is subject to availability, and the size and age of each individual. Food intake is also temperature dependent, with most turtles ceasing to feed below 15 deg.C. Temperature also plays an important role in the time food takes to pass through the digestive system. For this reason, it is not recommended to offer food to your turtles for several weeks prior to brumation, as the food may rot in the gut and cause death. Food normally takes around 1 to 2 weeks to be completely digested. At the end of the intestinal tract is the Cloaca (Ref. Fig 2) which is where faecal and urinary waste collects and is passed. Both the male and female genital openings are also located in the cloaca. Food digested that is considered excess to the turtles growth and energy requirements is turned into fat and stored in the abdomen, rather than beneath the skin as in the case of mammals. This may be because fat stored beneath the skin could act as insulation and effect thermo-regulation.

The Shell

A turtle's shell is divided into two sections. The lower section is the Plastron and the upper section is the Carapace (Ref. Fig 1). The two sections are joined together by the Bridges that are located either side of the body, between the fore and hind limbs. The strength of the shell comes from the fused plates (Ref. Fig 1), which are covered by shields called scutes, lamina or scales (Ref. Figures 1+3). These shields are made from Keratin that is produced by the Malpighian cells; located just under the scutes.

Circulatory System

Freshwater turtles have heart (Ref. Fig 2) with only three chambers. Many things including increased activity, temperature and increased pressure during diving affect their heart rate. An increase in ambient temperature will cause an increase in heart rate, thus increasing a turtle's metabolism. As a turtle dive, pulmonary resistance increases and the heart rate decreases. The scientific name for this is "Bradycardia". When a turtle dives, the level of oxygen in the blood decreases as the body uses it. Anaerobic metabolism takes over causing an increase in carbon dioxide. Most aquatic turtles can tolerate extremely high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. After about 15 minutes of being submerged and the oxygen supply depleted, the brain will divert as previously mentioned, to anaerobic metabolism. Here the brain can continue to function effectively for around 2-3 hours depending on the species and size of the individual.


Unlike the lungs of mammals, a turtle's lungs (Ref. Fig 2) are not maintained at positive pressure. The ribs of a turtle are joined to the shell (Ref. Fig 1). Breathing is performed with help of muscles that are located near the limbs at four corners of the shell. These muscles create a negative pressure in the lungs and respiration takes place. Inspiration occurs due to the difference in pressure. Expiration, however, does take some degree of effort. When a turtle enters the water this situation is completely reversed due to the increase in water pressure. Inspiration now requires muscular activity, and expiration is aided by the water pressure and takes little or no effort. The amount of air in the lungs and the transferral of fluids within the bladder and cloaca control a turtle's buoyancy. Proof that the lungs help control a turtle's buoyancy is clear when watching a turtle with a respiratory infection. turtles suffering from respiratory infection cannot dive and have been observed floating at unusual angles (pers. obs).

Sight, Smell and Hearing

A turtle's senses of vision, smell and hearing are highly developed which is necessary for locating food, avoiding predators and important in finding suitable mates during breeding season. It has been suggested that they possess colour vision and this may be why some turtles show colour preferences when feeding. All freshwater turtles have a thin, transparent third-eyelid, called a nictitating membrane that covers their eye while they are submerged to allow them to see proficiently under water. Their sense of smell is achieved through the nose and also through a specialise structure called Jacobsen's organ. Jacobsen's organ is located in the roof of the mouth. Its function is to detect and identify tiny chemical, scent particles that are floating around in the air and water. The scent particles are moved around the mouth and throat by "gular pumping" (throat movements similar to that of frogs.) We have observed many species of freshwater turtles' gular pumping while submerged. Turtles do not have external ear opening instead they have a tympanum (eardrum) that is covered with skin. The inner ear is surrounded by a bony box-like structure known as the otic capsule. Turtle's hearing is at its best detecting low-frequency vibrations under water and to lesser extent, on land. Their ability to hear medium to high frequency sounds is difficult to determine. All Australian turtles have four scent glands, one on either side of each bridge, near the limb pockets (Refer arrows on Fig.3). The odour produced is used as a defence mechanism against predators, and possibly with other males when they feel threatened while competing for the same female during breeding season.

Keeping Turtles Indoors

It is recommended to keep small turtles up to seven centimetres shell length indoors where they can be easily monitored. A 3-foot or 4-foot long  aquarium is recommended. the aquarium should have 3-4 centimetres of river gravel and be a half to two-thirds full of water. The aquarium should also contain a log that protrudes above the surface of the water, or an artificial platform, so the turtles may leave the water to bask and dry out. Choose a log that has been collected from a creek or steam as dry timber will float and discolour the water. There are some commercially available floating islands like the Zoo-Med "Turtle dock"or the Herp Craft "Floating Land" products that are inexpensive and highly recommended. The "basking areas" should be situated directly below the sides of the aquarium where the glass lids can be removed.

Freshwater Turtles are those pets you can spend with through the years

Mertens' Water Monitor


Varanus mertensi or Mertens Water Monitor

Mertens Water Monitor is an aquatic lizard. The word goanna is often used for these and other Australian species of lizard with a forked tongue. The word Goanna originates from South America. These monitors love to bask on rocks, logs, and branches that are overhanging the water. If the animal becomes alarmed, the water is a close and safe haven for the animal to retreat to. Their tail is flat like a paddle, which is used for swimming, and sometimes herding fish into areas that make catching easy. Mertens Water Monitor can remain submerged for up to 30 minutes.

These monitor lizards are found in coastal and inland waterways right across the northern part of Australia, from Cape York to the Kimberleys. Mertens Water Monitor feed on crabs, frogs, fish, insects, and turtle eggs (when available). These are one of the many Australian animals that have suffered through the introduction of the cane toad. Mistaking the toad for a tasty frog has led to the widespread decline of these animals. Mertens Water Monitor breed throughout the year in the wild, but there is a preference for the dry season. 3 to 12 eggs are laid, taking about 270 days to hatch at 30 degrees Celcius.

Did you know...

  • Mertens water monitor is an aquatic lizard which can remain submerged for up to 30 minutes.
  • Their tail is flat like a paddle, which is used for swimming, and sometimes herding fish into areas that make catching easy.
  • Mertens water monitor feed on crabs, frogs, fish, insects, and turtle eggs (when available).
  • These are one of the many Australian animals that have suffered through the introduction of the cane toad. Mistaking the toad for a tasty frog has led to the widespread decline of these animals.

Where Mertens Water Monitor dwell across Australia

Road Testing Aussie Pythons


A Short Guide To Snake Selection Text & Images (except where indicated): Doc Rock

Australian Pythons: Southern Cross Reptiles


Since I can remember, the late summer and early autumn months have been traditionally the busiest time for python sales in Australia. It is a period when young newly-bred pythons are starting to feed and breeders are keen to reduce their cleaning and husbandry responsibility by selling the fruits of the last 12 months labour.

The aim of this article is to provide a timely and brief overview of the traits, husbandry quirks and personalities of the various types of python as a quick matchmaking guide when faced with the onslaught of options which are presented to the reptile shopper these days.

Types of Australian Pythons

Australian pythons can be split into a number of groups. The largest group is the genus Morelia which includes the carpet pythons, the green tree pythons, rough scales, the Oenpelli python and Australia's largest snake, the scrub python. Carpet pythons are the most popular Australian pythons in captives. They include the coastal, jungle, diamond, in-land, south western, and north western forms, as well as the centralian carpet which is a different species and often just called by its scientific name of "Bredli".

The second most popular type of captive python belongs to the Children's group which includes the spotted python pr maculosus, the large-blotched python pr stimsoni, and the Children's python or childreni. The taxonomy of these snakes has been in perpetual change for decades with various author's placing them in the genus Antaresia, Bothrochilus, and Liasis, so don't be confused if you see any of these names used as the snakes are still the same. These pyhtons are not large animals and include the world's smallest python, the ant-hill or pygmy python (also called perthensis) which is currently uncommon in captivity.

The third group of snakes belong to the genus Liasis which contains the popular olive and water pythons. these quite large and robust snakes are closely related to the Children's group (they used to belong in the same genus.)

The fourth group and final group occupies the genus Aspidites. This genus includes the spectacular black-headed python, often called BHPs for short, and the woma. They used to be uncommon in captivity because of the difficulties in keeping wild caught animals and then in getting them to breed. Today, having passed through a number of captive generations, they are bred in increasing numbers and their popularity is rapidly growing.

Australian Pythons: The Carpet Group

When considering how best to summarise the various forms of carpet pythons for this article, I decided to start with the ones that we have found the easiest to keep and then work through to the ones that can be more challenging to maintain and breed.

Inland Carpet Python Morelia spilota metcalfei

Without a doubt and by almost any yardstick, the inland carpet python (Morelia spilota metcalfei to some) is a stand out captive python among australian pythons. Typically found along the inland river systems and surrounds over the eastern half of inland Australia, they are a medium sized carpet which has a lovely placid nature once adult size and is extremely hardy in captivity. I have captured numerous inland carpets through my involvement in various research projects and I'm always amazed at how placid they are as wild caught adult animals.

We have kept the Murray-Darling form of inland carpet for the last two decades and have found nothing easier to keep and to breed. They handle cold well, not minding if their environment gets down at night to a few degrees in winter as long as they have somewhere to bask for an hour or two during the day. If their cage gets a bit hot, they don't seem to mind either. They are not very sensitive to humidity and providing they have something to drink and the cage is not soaking wet they seem to thrive.

Inlands are also excellent subjects when learning to breed snakes. They will mate with minimal fuss, their eggs are extremely resilient to ignorant abuse and their babies are generally quick to start feeding. About the only thing negative I could say is that they are snappy as babies (like most pythons), but they quickly settle down.

Australian Pythons: Coastal Carpet Python Morelia spilota mcdowelli

For many years, the most numerous Morelia in captivity were the coastal form of carpet python (Morelia spilota mcdowelli to some). This is probably because they are the most common non-venomous snakes encountered in the wild around densely populated areas and so were easy to source for captivity. Coastals live along the central to northern coast of Australia and can vary markedly in colour and size, but generally they are one of the largest carpets with animals in excess of nine feet not uncommon. In March of 2002, a coastal carpet was collected from the mid-north coast of NSW that had a total length of 3.47 metres (nearly 11.5 feet) and weighed in at 22.3 kilo making it the third heaviest snake caught in Australia!

We have kept many coastals and if I was to try and sum them up, I would have to say "highly variable." I have known some placid beautiful giants and some unattractive, weedy little so-and-sos. While some feed happily in captivity, I have known far too many that are patience-testing nightmares when it comes to being finicky. We have also found that they are less tolerant to extremes of temperature and humidity than their inland compatriots. Similarly, while temperament is highly individual, as a general rule they are also a more nervy and irritable snake. From a breeding perspective, they are not difficult and their eggs are fairly forgiving. One strong point in their favour is that they are about the least expensive pythons on the market.

Centralian Carpet Python Morelia Bredli

A close second to the inland carpet for suitability in captivity would have to be the Centralian python (Morelia Bredli). These carpets tend to grow larger and to be a bit more irritable than the inlands, but on the whole they are a hardy, tolerant species. They can be a bit trickier than inlands to breed too, but still are by no means difficult and their eggs can survive quite a bit of mismanagement. I must confess that they are probably my favourite carpets not only because of their pleasant nature, but also because of their striking appearance with all the earthy colours which mimic their habitat in the red centre around Alice Springs and the McDonell Ranges.

Australian Pythons: Darwin Carpet Python Morelia spilota variegata

The north-western or sometimes NT or Darwin carpet (Morelia spilota variegata) is a medium to small member of the group that is quite slender to suit its arboreal nature. They have a reputation for being an aggressive snake and like many northern species they certainly are inclined to be quite highly strung and assertive in nature. We have kept numerous coastals and most have been willing to bite when given any provocation. The flip side to this coin, however, is that they are generally great feeders and are not terribly difficult to breed.

Darwin carpets like warm humid conditions and will not tolerate prolonged cold. One annoying habit shared by most is their love of soaking in their water bowl so that water is spilt everywhere and the cage is constantly wet. However, they do not handle ow humidity and will have trouble shedding if their cage becomes too dry. Some NT carpets can be very attractive with their bright orangey markings. Recently, we developed the albino form of this carpet which displays bright yellow/gold and white banding. For a reason completely unknown to me, these albino carpets generally have extremely placid natures, even more so than the inlands and Bredli.

Australian Pythons: Jungle Carpet Python Morelia spilota cheynei

When it comes to an irritable nature, few snakes can top a narky jungle python and gold jungle for natural good looks, they can be both the beauty and the beast all wrapped into one. We have been breeding jungles for 15 years now and have been selecting them for colour, pattern, and temperament. While the strain has definitely got more placid over time, it seems that the better looking the snake the greater the tendency for them to be stroppy with their keeper.

Like the NT carpets, jungles require a cage with reasonable humidity to do well. Unlike the NTs, they do not like their cages kept too warm and can become temperamental if not kept in conditions that allow them to escape the heat sometimes. For this reason, we keep all our jungles in the lowest and coolest cages in our main breeding room. To finish on a positive note, jungles are generally good feeders, quick growers and will breed in captivity.

Australian Pythons: Diamond Python Morelia spilota spilota

The last of the carpets I will cover is the Diamond Python (Morelia spilota spilota) which is kept in large numbers in Australia. Diamonds are a medium to large carpet. They are a challenge to breed indoors in captivity and keep healthy and even more of a challenge to breed indoors. Because of this, the majority of diamonds are kept and bred in outside aviaries, or at least in cages that have access to an outside enclosure. When kept inside they tend to suffer from a condition which has become known as "Diamond Syndrome". This syndrome can express itself as problems with feeding and/or shedding, a reduced immune system and in extreme cases neurological and muscular disorders which invariably result in death.

Many years ago, we kept diamonds in our main breeding room only to watch them die one by one. Since then, and after much research and experimentation, we learnt that they cannot handle constant warm conditions. You may hear that they need UV light or that they must live outside, but this is not our experience. As long as you keep them cool most of the time and only provide basking temperatures for short periods during the day, they can thrive. We have kept them for nearly 20 years and they now flourish indoors, although we have been selectively breeding our stock from animals that tolerate the indoor life best. Currently, we have a beautiful female that is 10 years old and breeds regularly indoors (we have a clutch of eggs in the incubator as I write). Needless to say, breeding diamonds regularly indoors is not an activity for the novice though.

Australian Pythons: Water and Olive Pythons

Olive Python Liasis olivaceus

Before describing Olive Pythons (Liasis olivaceus) in captivity, I must declare a possible conflict of interest and confess that my favourite pet snake in the world is my male olive called Brutus. He is big, powerful, alert, inquisitive and as gentle as a snake of his size can be. In my view, a large placid olive python is very difficult to beat as a scaly companion.

However, anyone contemplating buying an olive must allow for the fact that they grow very quickly (still a youngster at 2 metres) and that they can easily reach three to four metres and weigh over 15 kilo in captivity. My wife, Diane, is also fond of Brutus, but will not handle him unless I am within screaming distance just in case he makes a mistake and thinks she is food instead of a friend. Although he is yet to make that mistake, he can get very excited when hungry and he would be a handful if ever he wrapped around a human neck with thoughts of juicy rats on mind.

Not all olive pythons are gentle giants either. We have kept a number and one of them is particular considered that its role in life was to rip the face off anyone that came near its cage - and that's a lot of face ripping snake to control. So to some extent, it is a bit of a lottery when you buy a baby olive. Although by far the majority turn out to be gentle giants, the odd one that doesn't will be a snake to remember.

Unless you live in a place like Darwin, olives can be very challenging to breed, especially if you live in the southern half of Australia like we do. It took as many attempts before we were able to breed them consistently in Adelaide. When we questioned some of the most successful breeders of olives about how they did it, there seemed to be no commonly agreed method and most had little idea why individual snakes bred some years and not others. While I just love olives, they are not an ideal snake for the first time keeper, for a child, for a home without the room for decent cage or for someone to learn how to breed snakes.

Australian Pythons: Water Python Liasis Fuscus

I must also confess that I am rather fond of water pythons (Liasis Fuscus) too, although we don't keep any these days. Compared to other pythons, they are a medium length, heavy bodied snake and are often called "rainbow pythons" because their skin is highly reflective and has a prismatic effect on light. The first species we ever bred was a water python and that is a testament to just how easy they are to breed. We knew nothing at the time about any aspect of breeding and I shudder at the way we incubated the eggs, but in the end half the clutch hatched and we managed to raise a whole lot of baby waters.

Back in this dim, dark past, we learnt that there are two distinct types of water and that they are like chalk and cheese to keep. Firstly, there lovely bright yellow belly which come from Queensland. Then, there are the more brownie coloured ones with white bellies from the Northern Territory. The Queensland ones are usually quite well mannered. In contrast, our experience is that the NT waters are generally spawn of Satin and will bite and scent their keeper (i.e. smear foul smelling tail secretions on you) at the drop of a hat.

Often, I'm asked about python bites and which ones I think are the worst. Putting aside scrub pythons, I would say that for power and determination it's hard to beat a big BHP and for razor sharp teeth and deep penetration it's hard to beat a large GTP. However for all round deep penetrating power and tenacity, there is nothing worse than a large NT water python. I have caught many bites in my life, but remember my few big water python bites above all others.

I do not want to put the reader off his species by talking about bites. Water pythons can be beautiful, well-handling snakes which some argue are much more interesting and active than the Morelia group. However, bloodline is important when buying a L. fuscus, because as the advert goes "waters ain't waters."

Australian Pythons: The Children's Group

Australian Pythons: Spotted Python Antaresia maculosus

When it comes to describing the Children's group of pythons in captivity it is probably best to discuss the spotted pythons (maculosus, or sometimes just maccies) separately from the Children's and Stimson's pythons which are both very similar to keep and to breed.

Maccies are found in the wild from north-eastern NSW to the tip of Cape York Peninsula. Although relatively small compared to other pythons, they are the largest of this group and average about 75 to 90 cm with the biggest reaching well over one metre. On the positive side, spotted pythons are generally good feeders, breed easily, maintain their bold markings throughout their life, are hardy and can thrive in most cage setups. On the negative side, they are generally the feistiest members of the group and often can take quite a bit of work to quieten down sufficiently to stop them constantly snapping and scenting their keepers. However, once settled into their captive home, they can be an excellent snake for responsible keepers of any age or skill level to keep.

Australian Pythons: Children's Python Antaresia childreni


Australian Pythons: Stimson's Python Antaresia stimsoni

Children's pythons are found along the top part of Australia from the Gulf of Carpenteria though to the Kimberly district of Western Australia. Stimson's pythons are found from the West Coast of WA through central Australia to the area east of the Great Dividing Range. They are both small pythons with childreni averaging a slightly larger size than the stimsoni, but with either exceeding one metre often. The colourful patterns on childreni tend to fade more with age than those on stimsoni, so that as adults stimsoni are usually the more attractive snakes.

Both these snakes, and particularly the Stimson's pythons, are more challenging pets to keep and to breed than their maculosus cousins. Many varieties are extremely difficult to establish as feeders when babies. We have force fed non-feeding Stimsons for three years before finally giving up. If they are sold when too young and before they are feeding well, they can go off their feed and be almost impossible to start again. If they get a little too cool in their cage environment (because of the cage itself, or the place they choose to hide), they can stop eating too. So, vital pre-requisites when buying a young Stimson's or Children's python, are firstly to make your object of desire is feeding and growing well and secondly to take careful note of the cage conditions and temperature regime it is being kept under successfully. Providing this advice is taken, then these snakes are a joy to keep. Once grown up, they rarely bite and can become very relaxed even with frequent handling.

The Children's group do not like to bask in the open, but prefer to position themselves in a tight warm hideaway. For this reason, their cages are extremely easy to set up and all they need is thermostatically controlled heat tape, a water bowl and something to hide under which is a warm at one end and cool at the other. A plastic tub with tape under it and newspaper inside as a substrate and for hiding under is all they require to thrive.

One of the other great advantages of the Children's group is that, because they are small and thrive in compact vivaria, you can have lots and lots of them in a small area! These days there is an enormous variety of forms in captivity and a keen collector can have a dozen different forms from a range of habitats on a few shelves instead of the half a house that larger species would require.

Australian Pythons: The Aspidites Group

Australian Pythons: Black-headed Python Aspidites melanocephalus

Black-headed pythons Aspidites melanocephalus are found across the northern third of Australia and would have to be one of the most impressive looking pythons that our country has to offer. Their large size, shiny jet back heads and striped bodies look very imposing and to the average, snake-uneducated member of the general public they are safe, or that there is no food on offer, then they are generally pussycats.

However, the trick with BHPs is getting them into your hands without mistakes. One of their quirks is that they love to sleep on their basking site. When they are touched in this state, they almost jump out of their skin and can go immediately into a full defensive threat display. Once picked up they will usually calm down straight away. Alternatively, sometimes when they are touched, they assume food is on offering - and a hungry snapping BHP is a site to behold. One day I opened the cage of a very large female BHP and upon being woken from a sound sleep she decided that I was food and, rushing out of her cage at head height, she proceeded to try to grab me. She succeeded in forcing me back into the cages behind where upon she nailed my hand (which was protecting my face) and then set about hauling me back into her cage for digestive purposes and without having a say in the matter. "Diane,#$%@# .......Help me,%$#@!"

Research has shown that in the wild BHP prey consists of a high proportion of reptiles. Probably for this reason, frequently they can be nightmares to start feeding as babies. Like the Stimsoni pythons, my strong advice when buying a BHP is to make sure it has been feeding well and consistently for some time. We won't sell ours until they have been feeding well for at least two months and have shed a couple of times.

Summing up BHPs, while they are beautiful snakes and will handle well, they are not for the faint hearted and not to be taken lightly when approaching them in their cages. Once feeding well on rodents, they are easy to maintain in captivity, although they are one of the harder snakes to breed consistently. Also, being natural reptile feeders, they are not a snake you should keep with others of their kind if you wish to avoid accidents.

Australian Pythons: Woma Aspidites ramsayi

The final specie in this short guide to snake selection is the Woma (Aspidites ramsayi). My partner, Diane, adores womas. We have ended up with so many types and forms now that by number they are the most numerous type of snake we keep after carpet pythons.

Womas are found all over central Australia and the coastal region of the Pilbara in WA. They are wonderful captive snakes for many reasons; they are a stocky and compact terrestrial python with very simple cage needs; feeding problems are rare; they are not difficult to breed; they are inquisitive animals and put on great feeding displays with frantic caudal luring and head bobbing behaviours and; they redefine the concept of being laid back. Once they are more than six months old, womas become completely relaxed about captive life. They are a joy to handle and as long as they know there is no food on offer, they are safe in the hands of the whole family.

Diane loves them as babies because "they are so feisty with great threatening displays but don't bite and only head butt you say stay away". Sine Di does 90% of the husbandry care these days, she also likes them because they are amongst the most trouble free of captives.

An ordinary run-of-the-mill woma used to coast about $2,000, but recently they have dropped in price to somewhere between a half and two thirds of this price. This trend is opening up the species for more people to enjoy. The majority of State Authorities (not SA) classify them as specialist animals and place all sorts of restrictions on keeping them. This is understandable given that there were very few in captivity until eight or so years ago and their needs were poorly understood. However, today with 3rd and 4th generation captives readily available, they are one of the easiest and most enjoyable pythons to keep and are less of a specialist animal than BHPs, certainly less than many of the Children's group, and less than some of the Morelia species too. Hopefully, the authorities will catch up with advances in the hobby soon and let them take their rightful place in Australian herp society.

Australian Pythons: The Won't Bite; Cuddly Group

Snakes are predators and obligate carnivores. They don't live in a complex social structure and have had no need to develop affectionate behaviour. As babies most things eat them and so being handled by a human 3.2 million times their weight is not an experience they seek out. With careful attention and patience some pythons can become quite relaxed with captivity. However, there are no snakes that won't bite on occasion and certainly there are none that like to cuddle their keeper. At best, they become indifferent to their handler and enjoy the stimulation removal from their normal cage surroundings and exposure to new stimuli.

It is not uncommon for us to receive e-mails at Southern Cross Reptiles asking which snakes won't bite and would make a lovely pet. recently, a person told us that they had to sell their baby maculosus because it was too aggressive and scared them. They wanted to know if we thought their buying a young olive python was a good idea!!

Hells, bells if you want to buy a snake, but you want it to act like a cat on valium, then be honest with yourself and ask why do I really want to take on custodial responsibility for this animal. If you want a snake to be a cuddly little pet rather than enjoy it as a the magnificent predator for that it has evolved into over the last tens of millions of years, then I recommend you would better off keeping earthworms or sticking with non-biting and cuddly type pot plants.

Australian Pythons: Summary

Pythons can be fascinating and wonderful creatures to care for and observe in captivity. Each species has its own quirks and characteristics and each snake its own unique personality. When buying a new snake you should think carefully about your objectives and be honest about your skills and abilities too. I suggest you spend time doing research about a species pr form or interest so that you know what you are getting into. Many folk that contact us are in a blistering hurry to buy "a snake". Don't be. Part of the unique attributes of snakes is their slow metabolism and the very frugal way they approach life. If you want to experience the full benefit of owning them, you need to slow down when dealing with Australian pythons and take the time to enjoy the acquisition process.

Mangrove Monitor


Varanus indicus or Mangrove Monitor

Did you know...

  • The mangrove monitor is one of Australia's most beautiful goanna species.
  • Mangrove monitor live along the coast of northern Australia.
  • Mangrove monitor lizards are also found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and the western Pacific islands.
  • Mangrove monitor eat fish, crabs, insects, birds, mammals and other reptiles. They will also dig up and eat turtle eggs.
  • Female mangrove monitor lizards will lay their eggs in a burrow in soil, or in the rotting centre of a fallen tree.

Where Mangrove Monitors dwell in parts of Australia:

    Mangrove monitor lizards are excellent swimmers, and will take to the watch if they feel threatened.

    Keeping Advice Sheet

    Northern Death Adder.jpg

    Venomous Snakes

    • Southern Death Adder (Acanthophis antarcticus) -- Maximum length 100 cm. Category 5.
    • Desert Death Adder (Acanthophis pyrrhus) -- Maximum length 75 cm. Category 5.
    • Pilbara Death Adder (Acanthophis wellsi) -- Maximum length 70 cm. Category 5.
    • Western Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus) -- Maximum length 160 cm. Category 5.
    • Mulga Snake (Pseudechis australis) -- Maximum length 300 cm. Category 5.
    • Spotted Mulga Snake (Pseudechis butleri) -- Maximum length 180 cm. Category 5.
    • Dugite (Pseudonaja affinis) -- Maximum length 180 cm. Category 5.
    • Gwardar (Pseudonaja nuchalis) -- Maximum length 100 cm. Category 5.

    NOTE: All species listed here are dangerously venomous snakes and are listed as Category 5. only the experienced herpeculturalist should consider keeping any of them. One must be over 18 years of age to hold a Category 5 licence. Maintaining a large elapid carries with it a considerable responsibility. Unless you are confident that you can comply with all your obligations and licence requirements when keeping dangerous animals, then look to obtaining a non-venomous species instead.

    Natural Habits of Venomous Snakes

    Venomous snakes occur in a wide variety of habitats and, apart from Death Adders, are highly mobile.

    All species are active day and night.

    Housing of Venomous Snakes

    In all species listed except death adders, one adult (to 150cm total length) can be kept indoors in a lockable, top-ventilated, all glass or glass-fronted wooden vivarium of at least 90 x 45cm floor area. The height should be a minimum of 30cm if front opening and 45cm if top opening. Adult death adders require less room, 50 x 30 cm floor area being adequate, but for safety it is preferable  to use a top opening vivarium to house these rapid-striking snakes. It is recommended that all venomous snakes be housed separately (except during mating) to avoid problems associated with removal for cleaning, or when feeding. Juveniles (less than 40cm long) may be kept in smaller cages be strongly constructed, escape-proof and kept locked.

    Captive Environment of Venomous Snakes

    Furnishings should be kept simple. Try not to clutter up the cage too much. The floor covering should be easily removed for cleaning. Some alternatives are newspaper, pea-gravel, woodchips and indoor-outdoor loop-pile carpet. Do not use sand or soil, as this is unsuitable and will harbour disease-causing pathogens. Provide an enclosed shelter such as a wooden constructed hide box, shoebox or wine cask. The snake must be accessible when hiding, and a means to trap it there can reduce the need for handling when cage cleaning. All that is required for Death Adders is an area of leaf litter 3-4 centimeters deep. Before cleaning the cage, the snake should be removed and placed in a spare enclosure or secure bag.

    Venomous snakes can be ascertained on tail shape, or with probing by a competent herpetologist. Breeding success is improved by allowing a cooling off period in both sexes for a month or so in winter. Mating occurs in late winter to late spring. All the above species, apart from viviparous Death Adders and Western Tiger Snake, are oviparous, depositing eggs 40-90 days after mating. The live bearers give birth 120-210 days post mating.


    Adhered skin after sloughing is common in dry environments when humidity is too low. Try a larger water container. Soaking snake in wet bag for 30 minutes or so will often cause the adhered skin to come away in the bag.

    Lack of appetite may be normal seasonal fasting, but is also caused by a too low cage temperature.

    Regurgitation can also be a sign that the snake cannot get warm enough to digest its food.

    Venomous Snakes Diseases

    A clean artificial environment with the appropriate husbandry mentioned above will usually result in your pet reptile remaining healthy. Quarantine newly-acquired animals for at least a month before introducing them to those already being kept.

    Reptile Mites on Venomous Snakes

    Reptile mites are the scourge of many keepers. They can rapidly multiply and quickly kill a reptile. If an infestation is found, it is imperative that you take immediate action to eradicate it. Although small (a large female may be one-third the size of a pin head) they will be obvious on white paper as miniature black tick-like animals. If you find you have an infestation, it is important to kill it in situ. This can be achieved by placing a Sureguard Ministrip® within the respective cage for at least 8 hours before cleaning. Then follow up with two 8-hour cycles two days apart. DO NOT expose your pet to the pest strip for any longer or you may kill it.

    Ticks on Venomous Snakes

    When first obtaining your reptile, check it for ticks. These are often seen tucked up under the scales. They can be removed using tweezers and the bite site dabbed with antiseptic.

    supported by Western Australian Society of Amateur Herpetologists Inc. (WASAH) and Department of Conservation and Land Management

    Care of Australian Reptiles in Captivity - John Weigel Reptile Keepers Association, Gosford, NSW Understanding Reptile Parasites - Roger J Klingenberg, AVS, USA -

    Further Reading on Venomous Snakes

    Perentie Monitor


    Varanus giganteus or Perentie Monitor

    The Perentie Monitor is Australia's largest, and indeed our largest lizard. Its scientific name, 'Varanus giganteus' literally means 'giant monitor'. As they get to a length of 2.5 metres and a weight of 15 kilograms, it's easy to see why this name is well deserved. At this size, Perentie monitor lizards are able to prey on animals such as rabbits, and even small kangaroos. Their powerful claws make them a formidable predator. Their strong, whip-like tail can also be used as a weapon. As an aggressive display, a Perentie monitor will distend its neck pouch and make a loud hissing noise.

    Female Perentie monitor lizards will lay from 6 to 11 eggs in a long burrow dug under a solid object (such as a rock), and then cover this over. The young are brightly coloured and very nervous. Monitor lizards, otherwise known as Goannas, are named as such because it was thought that they warned of the presence of crocodiles, hence 'monitor'. The scientific name of 'Varanus' comes from the Arabic word 'Waran', which was the name given to lizards from the Arabian Peninsula.

    Did you know...

    • The perentie monitor is Australia's, and indeed our largest lizard.
    • Its scientific name, Varanus giganteus, literally means ''giant monitor'.
    • Young perentie monitor lizards are brightly coloured and very nervous.
    • Perentie monitor lizards can get to a length of 2.5 metres and a weight of 15 kilograms. At large size, perenties are able to prey on animals such as rabbits, and even small kangaroos.

    Where to find Perentie monitor lizards in Australia:

    As an aggressive display, a perentie monitor will distend its neck pouch and make a loud hissing noise.

    Care Sheet: Children's Python


    Introduction on Childrens Python

    This care sheet is for beginners and covers the basic maintenance of this group of pythons. You should join your local herpetological society, where you can meet others and obtain more detailed information on the keeping of these pythons.

    The term "childrens python" is used to describe a group of small, rock dwelling pythons known as Childrens Python (Antaresia Childreni), Small Blotched Pythons (Antaresia Maculosa) and Large Blotched Pythons or Stimsons Python (Antaresia Stimsoni). Contrary to popular belief these pythons are not known as Children Python because it is the snake for children but because Antaresia Childreni was named after Mr. J.G. Children, an English naturalist. The Eastern Small Blotched Python and Childrens Python are most commonly bred by reptile keepers and hence most readily available, although Stimsons Python is also sometimes available.

    Childrens Python: Caging

    Childrens python need to be kept indoors. An aquarium with a close fitting and secure lid is the simplest type of cage. Wooden cages with glass fronts retain heat better and are preferred by some keepers. Remember that snakes are expert at escaping and can squeeze through very small spaces, so you must make quite sure there are no gaps or holes. Small snakes do not need big cages.

    One or two adult Childrens Python can be housed in a 1 meter long cage which is 40 to 60 centimeter wide. Hatchlings can be kept in smaller cages or plastic containers 30cm x 20cm and be moved to larger cages as they grow.

    The bottom of the cage can be covered with aquarium gravel, coarse sand, leaf litter or bark. Some keepers just put down newspaper or butchers paper. Whatever material is used must be kept dry and clear. Faeces must be removed promptly and the floor covering material replaced it it gets damp or soiled, and certainly completely changed every few months.

    Cage furniture should be kept to minimum. A stable water dish is essential and should be of a type that the snake cannot push under and spill the water. A suitable hiding place for each snake is also essential. This can be a cardboard box which provides a snug fit for the snake. Even curled pieces of bark under which the snake can curl are suitable. Plants, rocks, logs, etc. are optional. They can be dangerous for the animal if not secure, and they can make it difficult to retrieve and remove the snake from the cage safely. The more the cage is cluttered up, the more it takes time to clean and the greater the risk of accidents.

    Childrens Python: Lighting and Heating

    Childrens pythons are nocturnal although they will come out during the day. If the cage is situated in a room that gets plenty of sunlight then the lighting in the cage is mainly to provide heat. A word of caution, do not place cage in direct sunlight as temperatures within the cage could reach lethal levels. It takes only a few minutes for a snake to die from overheating.

    As incandescent globes give off heat, these can be used to raise the temperature in the cage which should provide a range of temperatures so that the snake can move to a warmer or cooler spot as it wishes. The temperature range should be from about 35 to 25 degree Celsius and can be accomplished by placing the light source at one end of the cage to create a hot spot and by the use of heating devices such as hot rocks, heating pads or heat strips. A thermometer must be used to check the temperature levels in the cage until these are stabilized. Don't try and guess the temperature.

    Childrens Python: Feeding

    Adults can be fed every 10 to 14 days. One fully grown mouse will usually be sufficient. Juveniles should be fed at least weekly starting off on one or two new born "pinkie" mice and progressing to larger mice as they grow.

    Hatchlings that are reluctant to take mice can usually be encouraged to do so by washing and drying the mouse to reduce the mouse scent. Another method is to scent the mouse by rubbing it with a lizard. It is not necessary to feed live animals to snakes. Almost all snakes will take dead mice, either freshly killed or thawed frozen mice. It might be necessary for the first couple of feeds to wriggle the mouse around a bit to get the snakes attention.

    Frozen mice must be completely thawed out before being offered to the snake and if not eaten must be discarded. Do not refreeze mice that have been defrosted.

    Childrens Python: Diseases/Illnesses

    These are outside the scope of this basic care sheet. Any unusual behaviour or signs of illnesses should be discussed with an experienced keeper or with a veterinary surgeon. If you suspect something is wrong, act immediately, don't leave it. Early diagnosis and treatment is important.

    Weigel, J. (1988) Care of Australian Reptiles in Captivity, Reptile Keepers -

    Further Reading on Childrens Python.

    Keelback Snakes


    Tropidonophis mairii or Keelback Snakes

    Keelback snakes are non-venomous snakes that love to eat frogs, tadpoles and lizards. Unlike most other Australian animals, keelback snakes can eat baby cane toads. They appear to be immune to low doses of cane toad toxin. This species, also know as the freshwater snake is very widespread, and variable in colour. Keelback snakes shelter and forage under debris, especially fallen timber and bushes; under clumps of vegetation, and even in the water.

    Keelback snakes look very similar to the highly venomous Rough-scaled snake. The keelback snake is the only member of this genus found in Australia. There are 17 other species found throughout Malaysia, Indonesia, and New Guinea. When disturbed, keelback snakes can emit a foul-smelling odour from anal scent glands.

    Did you know...

    • Keelback snakes are non-venomous snakes that love to eat frogs, tadpoles and lizards.
    • Unlike most other Australian animals, keelback snakes can eat baby cane toads. They are immune to low doses of cane toad toxin.
    • Keelback snakes look very similar to the highly venomous rough scaled snake.
    • The keelback snake is the only member of this genus found in Australia. There are 17 other species found throughout Malaysia, Indonesia, and New Guinea.

    Where to find Keelback Snakes in Australia:

    When disturbed, Keelback Snakes can emit a foul-smelling odour from anal scent glands.