Friday, January 18, 2013

Future Aquisitions (part 2)

So over the last couple posts, I've mentioned that I'm now looking into another possible creature to bring into the fold.  I came a cross one while at Stacey's, getting crickets.  I even got to touch it, hold it, let it check out my arm.  It climbed right up to my shoulder before the girl took it back and replaced it in its tank.  This creature, steeped in myth, legend, and fear, carries the name "royal", for it was rumoured to be ever at the wrist of Cleopatra.

I'm talking about Python regius, the royal python, or ball python as it's commonly called.

Image from Wikipedia
These snakes are one of the most, if not the most, popular pet snake across North America.  They're very even-tempered, docile, and easily handled.  They also grow to respectable, yet manageable length (about 3 feet for males and 5 feet for females) and can live several decades.  Their diets aren't overly pricey, only requiring a feeding every week, or other week once fully grown.  They also have some very attractive morphs, varying from browns, to yellows to whites.

The snake I got to play with was a youngling, only about a foot and a half long.  This was the first time I've actually held a snake on my own and it was amazing.  You can really feel the power in it, like a great spring, ready to strike.  But I also get the feeling that it was totally safe with it in my hand, and on my arm.  I can really say that I respect this animal for being something much more than just an attractive creature; it's a predator.  I was informed by the girl at Stacey's (going to have to learn her name) that they don't require as much room as some people would think, if you are the type of person to let it out of the tank often enough.  That's not to say some caring, passionate people don't go all out on their pythons. I would honestly like to have a setup of about five feet long by three or four feet up; these snakes are terrestrial, but do like climbing up in the lower branches from time to time.

Image from Amuzani's forumpost on
After doing some research, I notice that most people (at least those that post to the internet) use the sterile type setup for ease of cleaning and maintenance.  Well, that's just not my style.  I've seen some really nice naturalistic setups, and I feel I would be okay with that.  But what I would really like is to try and reproduce some of the natural habitat of Ghana and Nigeria, which is the native homeland of the the royal.  I've seen some nice setups, but I'm not blinded to the fact that natural setups can engender health risks, like moulds, parasites, and the like.  However, if you take the time and build up a more natural ecosystem, the risks are minimized, and I feel like that's what I would really like to do.  My experience with natural versus artificial is definitely leaning in favour of the natural. 

The setup itself is straightforward; two hides, a heat source, a light source, a watering source big enough to soak in, a dry substrate, and as much enrichment as you can provide, as well as all the little bits and bobs that come with tanks.
This simple diagram came from The Doctors Foster and Smith pet care site (linked to right here).  It shows all the basic needs for your python.  The tank sounds fairly easy to control, and certainly no more difficult than a crested gecko.  From what I've gathered so far, I could use a similar mix of substrate as the one I mixed for my tropical terrarium, with maybe some sand in place of the tree fern; something to make it a little more arid than what I currently use it for.  The girl at Stacey's does caution that these inquisitive explorers are escape artists and to watch for any possible way out of the enclosure.  I like the idea of the wading pool.  It will definitely make controlling humidity less of a critical task.  Any additional moisture can be taken at the snake's leisure.  Time to break out the foam and grout; we're making a pool!  Well, one day.

Image from
When I see the variety of morphs out there, even though they're all nice, it's clear in my mind which one I prefer; original.  Or at least, the deep, earthy browns that look like polished wood.  The white and yellow morphs are okay, but I can't see the desire to keep a stark white snake when you could keep one that looks like a piece of living, varnished driftwood.  Gorgeous.  All the pics I've thus far posted reflect my particular tastes.  Oh!  And best of all, what with the popularity of this snake, pretty much all the one found locally are Canadian-bred.  I would definitely look into a breeder though.  From what I've seen, your animal will get the better care at a breeder than a store, which makes sense.  Breeders are usually well experienced in what they breed.  I found a breeder in Ottawa (a list actually) and I would love to visit some facilities and see what they have to offer.

I could go on and on about this species, like how they're revered as earth spirits in their native homeland, and seen as good omens and all sorts of stuff, but I'll just cut it off here.  Next post, I'm thinking I need to start looking into actual construction.  I'm getting less and less impressed with commercial terrariums as a whole.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Leopard Gecko Build (part 4)

After reviewing my third post on the leo build, I realize I never got around to talking tech about the methods and materials used for the foam rock cave.

Therefore, as promised, methods and material review for my rock cave!

My best advice here is to keep searching until you have exactly what you want.  I spent weeks trying to find Modge-Podge, finally settling for Liquitex, a similar product.  Ironically, I later found Modge-Podge at Wall-mart for half the price.  Now, I have to say, however, that the Liquitex seems to have worked really well.  It was the least toxic substance I could find, it was the right finish, and it is resistant to moisture.

For the paint, all I did was dig through some old (really old) arts and crafts boxes in the basement and found a decent pallet of naturalistic rock colours.  I based my pallet choice on some of the rocks I've collected to use in future tanks; rocks found along the shoreline, in fields, etc.  Rocks are one of the few things I prefer to find outside than actually buy. They aren't porous (obviously) so they're easy to disinfect and use.  Sorry, side-bar.  This is one of the parts of the build that might require a bit of an artistic background.  I've been taught colour selection and identification since I was young, so it's all fairly second nature to me.  Luckily for everyone, the rules of art are somewhat flexible.  And by that, of course, I mean it's all up to you.  It all comes down to what you're able to achieve.  Choose colours that reflect the type of habitat you want to create for your animals.  For this build, as I recall, I used the following colours; a creamy white, a deep blue, a dark grey, a mocha brown, and bit of black.

Lastly, the right tools for the right job.  I'm lucky enough to have a plethora of brushes both new and old kicking around.  I used just one brush for the majority of the painting, one sponge brush for the sealant, and one fine brush for the cave painting details.  I originally wanted to use a spray-bottle  to apply the sealant, but Liquitex specifies not to mix with water, which would have been necessary to reduce its consistency.  The sponge brush work fairly well, leaving a nice pitted texture, which I found worked better than the unnatural strokes of a course brush.

The best way I can describe how to get a natural rocky look is to just dump on the paint.  Don't mix it on the pallet, mix on the canvas (the rock).  This makes for a blotchy, heterogenous mix of colours which looks much more natural than straight lines of different, solid colours.  Another tip is just that, the tip.  Use the tip of the brush and... just... tap it on.  Hard to explain.  Let the bristles give the rock that "sprayed on" look like that of centuries of mud and weather working on the stone.  Once you've got a nice mix of colours, don't over work it!  This will blend the colours and ruin that natural texture you've jsut spent fifteen minutes getting!
Also, don't feel rushed, but if you can establish a base over the entire build while the initial coat is still wet, you'll have a much easier time mixing the colours up just the way you want them.  If, by chance, you want a dusty look, try a little dry brush action, which I won't get into detail here.  I'll leave that up to the much artsier people of the internet.

You want to see the third phase of the leo tank?  Yeah you do.

For anyone who's followed the progression of my leo tank, much change can be observed.  Chief among them, the substrate.  Although the use of sand makes me leery, this is not your run of the mill sand.  It's Zoo-Med's Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate.  Before I launch into it, I have to mention the following:

This is a clay-based substrate; there IS a risk of impaction.

Having said that, here's why I still chose to use it.
First of all, the clay is a great base to hold all the driftwood and stones in place, and it makes for great hills and depressions.  It also holds heat far better than the Eco-Carpet.  It's also more natural and visually appealing, though by no means should you compromise functionality for looks.  This clay sand compacts nicely and forms a fairly solid base.  It's much harder to accidentally ingest this than regular sand.  Also, in my case, the crickets usually make for the dark "safety" of the cave.  As such, the cave still makes use of the Eco-Carpet, for exactly that reason.  It becomes the feeding ground for crickets.  Another designated feeding area is the large flat stone I sunk into the clay sand just outside of the cave.  So far, it's been great.

The clay is made of sculpt burrows and tunnels, but I've heard tales of the tunnels collapsing, most likely due to poor construction.  I didn't even try this, for exactly that reason; I didn't want to risk having a tunnel collapse on my leo. 

The overall result has so far been pretty good.  The cave, thanks to the new Heat Wave Desert under-mounted tank by Exo-Terra, I'm holding a pretty cozy temperature inside the cave.  I haven't yet been able to buy the thermometer I've been eying to get an exact reading, but it's certainly around 30 °C.  Bronka spends most of his time basking half inside the cave, half outside, sleeping right under the heat lamp.  I put not a small amount of thought into the layout of this setup; the cave is both the first and second floor of a three-storey "bungalow", the third being the old piece of driftwood I've been using since I first got him.  This layout effectively creates a sort of Rete's stack, despite the fact that it's far warmer at the bottom.  The new piece, clearly visible on the right, was a great find! It's hollow, making for a very cozy natural hide out of the direct light.  I will be placing moist moss in it soon enough, finally providing the two natural hides he should have; cool and warm, dry and moist.  I've seen him out exploring much more since he's moved in.  I truly thinks he enjoys it!  The front door access has made picking him out ofthe tank much easier, allowing me to handle him much more than before!

Although I could fit a couple extra furnishings, I think I'll limit myself another rock or two, just to minimize the overall amount of open sand, effectively reducing risk of ingestion.  He has a lot to climb on as it is, and I think he appreciates the wide open spaces he now has as well.


Coming up in the next post, I'll talk about the creature I'm really working on acquiring, and possibly revisit some of my previous product reviews.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Tropical Terrarium Build (part 2)

First, a little catching up after the holidays!

Regrettably, my moss project didn't go so well.  I think it was due to a poor mixture and lack of sufficient natural lighting.  I think I'll give it another try in the spring, after the melt, when the moss will be accessible.  This time, I'll give the beer recipe a try.  Or maybe even both yogurt and beer, for a comparative analysis.

I've also got a bunch of new pics to put up!  Lots of new things in both my leo's habitat and my tropical terrarium.  My leo's build has been completely upgraded, tank and all.  For Christmas, I got the Exo-Terra Medium Low terrarium; much nicer than an old aquarium!  I'll get into that on a different post.

For now, I'll showcase my tropical terrarium.


Behold, the final product of my tropical build!

It's not quite what I had envisioned, but I'm satisfied with it.  I was obviously hoping for a little moss in there, but I may yet be able to culture some and transplant it.  In the meanwhile, I bought some Zilla Premium Compressed Frog Moss to toss around  for a little extra splash of green.  I'm glad I didn't try to stick it down; it works much better just fluffed about.  The colour can be a little dominating if I put too much of it in one spot. 

Also note that my plants have been trimmed down and separated.  I mixed up my pothos a little, so I hope that they won't be in direct competition for root space.  The gold pothos (just visible on the right) is doing fine.  It's sprouted a couple new leaves in the time since it's planting, meaning that it is doing well.

I was having some trouble with the philodendron and sansevieria (snake plant), however.  When I put the Zoo-Med Hydroballs in, I oversaturated the soil.  This lead to me loosing a couple philodendron leaves and a sansevieria stalk to overwatering.  Still, being fairly hardy plants, they've totally bounced back.  The philodendron has also sprouted two new leaf, which are not visible in the above image.  Some of the individual pothos plants are withering off, but some have also sprouted new growths, kind of averaging it out.  The sansevieria is now my cresty's favourite resting spot.  He wedges himself between the leaves, almost completely concealed.  I wish he'd take advantage of the log hideout I built him, but I'm just glad he's enjoying the plants.

I've still got to install the Monsoon system from my old tank, although for now, my hand mister is doing fine.  As a side bar, I'll most likely be revisiting my review of the Monsoon system eventually, as I've had some issues with it since.  One of the tubes is also in need of a little patch job.  A drop or two of silicone should solve the issue.

In later pics, you'll see the substrate layers; drainage, mesh, and substrate layer.  The substrate is a combination of three Exo-Terra products: Exo-Terra Jungle Earth, Exo-Terra Tree Fern Substrate, and Exo-Terra Plantation Soil (brick format).  The mixture I used is as follows:
-2 parts plantation soil
-1 part tree fern substrate
-1 part forest soil
This gives me a really nice, fairly natural substrate that is both visually appealing and thus far totally functional.  Plenty of drainage and a good amount of water retention.

I've also added a couple extra pieces of wood, drift wood and grapewood.  I originally planned to use them for the leo tank, but once again, my eyes are bigger than the physical space of my tanks.  It's all worked out though, since they fit perfectly into the tropical tank.  They give even more jumping and climbing platforms, and help to break the line of sight.

The overall effect has been fairly noticeable.  Humidity has been stable at the 50 to 70 percent range, and temperature has been holding at 20 to 25°C.

Psycological effects have been noted as well.  Rocza's a little less intimidated by my presence, he eats more freely from my fingers, he's actually walked up to the glass and observed me, and he's gone as far as jumping at my fingers as I worked to place some wires around the outside of his tank.  I'm fairly sure it was the twiddling movements that set him off.  I placed my hand in right after and he recognized it at once, and tryed to lick Repashy off my fingers. 

But enough analysis, time for some more pictures!

The philodendron leaf on the left covers the feeding dish, giving the gecko a better
sense of security while he eats.  Having the dish on the door also simplifies cleaning.

Formerly, the newest leaf of the philodendron.

Jade pothos, now a little more worst for where.

Here, we see the pothos wrapped around the grapewood, as well as the log hideaway.  And Rocza, of course.

Next post, I'll show off the third phase of the leopard gecko build, talk about some new product I'm trying out, do a little research into yet another animal I'd like to acquire, and post plenty new pictures.  Hopefully, it won't be another month till then!