Most people who have pets have kept a pet hermit crab at some point in their lives, or know someone who did-- especially if they vacation at the beach. Pet store workers often hear complaints that hermit crabs don’t live very long, or worse, customers encouraging children to get these pets because they don’t live very long and they require little care or upfront cost. The thing is, none of that is true. Hermit crabs can live for multiple decades and get to be the size of a softball (counting their shell) but few people realize just how much work has to go into properly keeping hermit crabs.
Hermit Crab Anatomy
All hermit crabs have antennae, eye stalks, and 5 pairs of legs. The first pair have claws (one small and one large) for picking up food and defense, the next two pairs are walking legs, and the last two pairs hold the shell in place. Despite the fact many live on land, hermit crabs also have gills and have to constantly keep them moist. All hermit crabs except for the Coconut Crab also have a hard exoskeleton on the front portion of their bodies, including the claws, legs, head, and upper abdomen. The tail, however, is entirely soft. This is the part that the crab must protect at all costs, and why it carries a shell from another animal on its back!
On a hermit crab’s 4th legs, if its female, are tiny holes called gonopores which are used in breeding. You can see these legs by placing the crab in a clear-bottomed carrier and watching underneath until they walk around. You’re not going to end up with babies if you house male and female crabs together, though, as they absolutely cannot breed without the ocean tides and currents. The downside to this, though, is that not a single hermit crab has ever been born in captivity. This means that all hermit crabs you ever see for sale have come from the wild, and this is a conservation issue that can impact an island.
To have as little impact on the environment as possible, I recommend checking online for local hermit crab rescues if you’d like to become a hermit crab keeper (AKA Crabber). Don’t beat yourself up too much if you’ve bought a crab from a store before this, though-- I did it before I knew better too. Just try to adopt future friends for your crab rather than purchasing them. It’s amazing how many rescuers there are out there. (When I had to move and could not bring my crabs, I gave them to a rescuer who kept a colony of over 100 that I found through craigslist!)
Hermit Crab Species
There are over 1,000 hermit crab species. Some live in entirely marine environments, some in freshwater, and some on land. The Coconut Crab is particularly famous as the largest hermit crab species in the world-- it is so big that it cannot find a shell big enough to fit its back when it becomes full grown, and so it grows a hard exoskeleton across all parts of its body as it ages.
The kind of hermit crabs that most people think about for pets are usually the species known as a Caribbean Hermit Crab, or Purple Pincher. They got this name because they have one small claw and one very large, purple claw while the rest of them is usually tan and orangey-red. They have somewhat round eyes on top of their stalks. The second most common species you will find is the Ecuadorian Hermit Crab, which is easily distinguished by its claws being less exaggerated in size difference, having a tan or brown body all over (including its claws), and having elongated eyes. There are several other species that are kept as pets by hobbyists but they are harder to find and usually have to be bought from a specialist. They all have different sizes, colors, claw shape, and eye shape. For the most part all species are kept about the same, but they each have a few preferences for substrate type, water sources, etc. so be sure to do a little extra research if you find yourself with a different species. The care sheet here if focused on Caribbean Crabs, as they’re the easiest to find and care for.
Hermit crab care is very similar to keeping a vivarium for amphibians or tropical reptiles. When they are young, you can start with as small as a 10 gallon tank and grow your tank as the crabs do. To keep it affordable, check thift shops, craigslist, etc regularly for old tanks, or wait for a big sale at your local pet store (some offer a $1/gallon sale seasonally). Place thermometers and humidity gauges in the tank- at multiple locations if your tank is large. The tank requires a daylight bulb and a temperature between 75 and 85F. Crabbers recommend 80F, and one should never go below 70F as it may trigger hibernation or illness. It’s also helpful to have a slight gradient in the tank temperature as hermit crabs are cold blooded and need to regulate their body temperature using their environment. To do this, in addition to the heat from the light, place an under tank heater (UTH) on the back of the tank. Why the back? It will not only warm the air in the tank this way, but placing a UTH under the tank can result in a cracked tank bottom if your tank sits on a solid surface, or will fall off after awhile if the bottom of the tank stand is open.
Humidity is the hardest thing to keep-- below 70% will cause damage to a crab’s gills (and a slow suffocation) and above 80% invites mold growth. The best substrate to prevent mold and encourage digging is a roughly 50/50 mix of sand and coconut fiber. Play sand from the hardware store is fine, but smell it to make sure it hasn’t been contaminated by oils from delivery vehicles. This substrate should be moist at all times- just enough to build a sandcastle out of. Fill the tank four times as deep as the crab is large (about halfway up a long tank, or one quarter of the way up a tall tank). Place moss in one enclosed space in the tank (a food storage container will do). Spray the tank as needed and the moss daily to keep the humidity up. If you use a mesh lid, plastic wrap held down with aluminum tape on the exposed portions will seal it well.
Crabs are great climbers, so make use of the height in your tank to give them as much vertical space as possible. Nets, branches, and other aquarium furniture from the reptile or fish aisles are all useful, or make your own with natural materials like jute twine. Coconut fiber backdrops are good for this too and can help hold in humidity. Whatever you do, don’t become attached to where you place something, as crabs are stubborn things. If something is in their way, they will walk over it or push it, rather than go around. Be sure to give them hiding places as well.
As Caribbean crabs live along the coast, they are accustomed to both fresh and salt water. Provide one shallow dish of each- the dish should be deep enough for a crab to soak in, but not so deep they will drown. If you have many sizes of crabs, put a sponge in the dish to help the littlest ones climb out. All water should be dechlorinated, and only use aquarium salt to make your water mix, never kitchen salt.
The easiest part of caring for hermit crabs is their food. They are omnivorous and scavengers, so as long as you provide them with a base of hermit crab diet, you can change up the rest of their diet daily. I gave them the scraps from preparing my own meals as well as foodstuffs I collected outside or scraps from other animals’ diets. (Always clean food thoroughly as any pesticides and fertilizers can hurt them). For added calcium, use a large shell as a dish or provide cuttlebone from the bird section at the pet store.
Molting & Shell Shopping
Like other arthropods, hermit crabs have to shed their exoskeleton to grow, or molt. When they do this, they are extremely vulnerable and other animals, even crabs from their own colony, will try to eat them. To avoid others, hermit crabs will dig deep burrows and stay underground to leave their shell, shed their exoskeleton, harden their new exoskeleton (they are literally soft-shell crab when they first molt), and then put their shell back on before digging back up to the surface. Sometimes you get lucky and the crab will dig a tunnel alongside the glass of the tank so you can watch the process. Molting can take months, though, so if you can’t see where they are, sometimes people mistakenly think that their crab died. Rest assured, you will know if your crab has died because it will have the unmistakable smell of dead fish. If you don’t smell that, it’s in there somewhere (unless it got eaten but you’d find its shell).
Hermit crabs change their shells regularly. Just like we get too big for our clothes, crabs need to constantly “shop” for new shells. Some are pickier than others-- but generally they prefer a shell with an opening that matches the size and shape of their large claw. This isn’t a tried and true rule, however, so it’s good to provide a wide variety of shells for your crabs at all times. Moe would change his shell several times in one day only to go back to his favorite colored shell, a bright green painted one he came home from the store in. Painted shells are bad for crabs, by the way, so be sure to take those out as soon as the crab has left theirs alone. The paint not only could contain toxins the crab might eat if the paint chips off (and this paint is often lead-based from China), but a painted or plastic shell is not breathable.
When looking for shells, there are a few ways you can go about it. One is to buy shells individually, which is what pet parents of full grown hermit crabs often have to do. If you have small crabs, though, the simplest way to buy shells is to purchase an assortment from the floral section of the craft store. Always be sure to sanitize the shells by boiling them in non-chlorinated water for about 15-20 minutes (add aquarium salt to help attract the crabs). Do this every couple months with the shells in the tank as well, whenever you do a deep clean, and use an old pot you don’t mind accidentally staining if you find out the hard way the shells were not clean.
Shells Preferred by Caribbean Hermit Crabs:
With patience and steady hands, it is possible to hold your hermit crab without gloves, even a large one. When picking them up, make sure your hands are clean and free of chemicals like soap, grab them by the widest part of their shell, tilt it back so they aren’t hanging out, and then place them in the palm of your hand. A crab will not pinch unless it feels threatened, such as if it feels like it is going to fall out of your hand. Once comfortable, they will walk around your hands to the edge, and place the other hand in front to give it a new part of “road” to walk on (this is called laddering). Don’t have them out too long without spraying them with dechlorinated water, or else their gills will dry and they will have trouble breathing. When transporting, do the same by filling the bottom of the carrier tank with substrate or a paper towel and spraying it with water. Put a towel over the carrier or put the carrier in a cooler to keep the crab warm and the humidity up.
Animal Care Cost Example (2018 Prices): Basic Set Up
Annual Care Cost Example (2018 Prices): Annual
Hello all! Last year you may remember a blog post I made on the impacts of Argentine black and white tegus where they are introduced in Florida. Since last year there has been some further development on what tegu species are residing in Florida, what the tegus are eating, and how easy it is to accidentally lose a beloved (and expensive!) pet.
As a quick recap of my previous post: the Argentine black and white tegu is a large lizard native to South America – specifically Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. These lizards can reach up to four feet in length, spend most of their time on land, but can swim and remain submerged for long periods. These critters are intelligent, and when kept as house pets can be very attached to their owners and quite docile – making them wonderful pets. However, as the tegu grows very large it can become more work than their owners care to give, many owners and individuals who sell animals in the pet trade become irresponsible and release their Tegu into the wild. Occasionally, beloved pets are lost when not kept in a secure outdoor enclosure, not watched appropriately, or accidentally get loose and run away.
Currently there are three species of tegus in Florida – the Argentine black and white tegus (Salvator merianae), Gold tegus (Tupinambis teguixin), and Red tegus (Salvator rufescens).
The Argentine black and white tegu is the most apparent of all tegus in Florida. They have established populations in south Florida and central Florida, which occurred from two separate incidents of introduction. In the past year it has been seen that these tegus eat many vertebrate species including lizards, turtles, birds, rodents, and snakes in addition to native and nonnative plant species and insects. They pose a huge threat to ground nesting birds, American Alligators, and American Crocodiles, as they love to consume eggs. The Argentine tegus also have a “morph” or a genetic combination that is seen in the pet trade called a “Blue Tegu” which have also been seen in south Florida. These Blue Tegus are thought to be escaped pets, which range from $300-$400 in retail price at pet stores, while regular black and white tegus retail for under $200. Althought they are of special color morph, these blue tegus are still Argentine black and white tegus which means they can survive and damage the natural ecosystems in Florida.
The Gold tegu is very similar to the Argentine tegus. They are from South America, and have been trapped in Florida since 2008. They can grow up to three feet in length, and usually live in the tropical forests of northern and central South America, and Panama. In their native range they are known to feed on insects, invertebrates, small mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, and fruit. This means they are likely eating similar item sin Florida, although nothing is currently known about their dietary habits. What is known about the Florida population is that they are reproductively active. Hatchling, juveniles, and adults have been captured over the past decade. It is theorized that the Gold tegus have been introduced via the pet trade industry. To read more about the Gold tegu in Florida this paper by J. Edwards et al. is a great place to start! These animals retail for approximately $50, but they are also not as commonly kept as pets due to their naturally aggressive temperament.
The red tegu has been seen recently in the popular video on social media posted above! Quite a wonderful companion. This is one of the largest of the Tupinambis species and usually grows to be four feet in length or longer. They are powerful tunnelers and love to dig where they are native. They use these burrows for refuge during the day and night, as well as shelter for their eggs. They are known to eat birds, rodents, eggs, and other reptiles - making them another prime candidate for impacting the environment in Florida! There have been a total of eleven sightings since 2007 that span through seven counties in Florida. The Red tegu goes for a retail price of $200-$300, and for this reason it is also thought that the animals seen were escaped pets.
All three species of tegus go through brumation (reptile hibernation), where they reduce activity and resign to burrows for the cooler months of the year. This is one of the many reasons why tegus are such a formidable invasive animal in Florida! They have potential of surviving much further north than even the Burmese python. As you can see, these animals do cost quite a pretty penny. The red tegu, Argentine Tegu, and Blue tegus all retail for $200 or more, and it is common to see household pets brought in from neighborhoods, parks, and other urban areas. They are great diggers and will escapes outside enclosures, porches, fences, and even harness/leash if they put their mind to it! The most commonly encountered tegu are still wild Argentine tegus, but it is interesting to see what other morphs and species are also present in the Florida ecosystem! I hope you all have enjoyed the update.
The Red eared slider is a freshwater turtle that is native to the Mississippi River Basin in North America. The red stripe behind the eye of this turtle is where it gets its name, as well as the way that it slides off of rocks to evade predators. The rest of the body is dark in color with bright yellow stripes; the carapace, or shell of the turtle, is a green-brown color which usually has a faint map-like pattern - which often fades and darkens with age. Male turtles are smaller than females, and also have long claws on their front legs.
This turtle makes its home in many ponds, lakes, marshes, in slow moving rivers, and canals. This broad selection of habitat is one of the reasons that the red-eared slider is such a successful invasive species in much of its introduced range. These turtles feed on plants and small animals. Fish, crickets, crayfish, snails, tadpoles, worms, aquatic insects, and aquatic vegetation are all on the menu for these generalist predators. This turtle is very common in the pet trade which is how it became introduced in the first place! Irresponsible pet owners, pet stores, as well as some accidental escapees has caused this turtle to be considered one of the world's top 100 most invasive species (The Humane Society).
This turtle, being so common in the pet trade, usually begins living in homes at rather small sizes ranging from 2 inches in shell diameter to 4 inches in shell diameter. As small turtles they are easy and cute to keep, but as they grow they require larger housing which is when problems keeping them as pets arise. Red-eared sliders can grow to be 12 inches in length, and require a 50 gallon tank (or bigger!). This often is too much to ask of some pet owners, and the turtles end up dropped in a pond down the street.
The map above shows the native range of the red-eared slider, and three levels of introduction. HUC 8 Level Record is the only one I will touch on for this post, and it indicates established populations of introduced turtles. The Red-eared slider is present on both the east and west coast of the United States, as well as throughout rivers and tributaries in central and northern regions of the United States. Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, as well as Guam also are experiencing invasion by this freshwater turtle.
Once introduced these turtles are able to impact the native ecosystem and wildlife, however not much is known about the specific impacts they have. What is known, is that they compete with native turtles for basking sites, which are crucial for development of the carapace, eggs, and digestion of food; threaten imperiled species of turtles by competing for food resources; are a source for the spread of samonellosis, and spread diseases and parasites to native wildlife.
When it comes to pet ownership it is always best to do your research and learn about the animal you want to purchase at all stages of life. To own a pet you must commit to giving it the best life, and if you cannot afford or are otherwise incapable of providing that kind of life for your pet it is best to not purchase it. Animals released into the environment can cause all kinds of problems, and so if it ever comes to the point where you can no longer care for your pet there are always other options than releasing it. Local shelters, neighbors, class rooms, and rescue organizations may be willing to take on your animal and give it a happy captive life.
To learn more about red-eared sliders please see the links below:
USGS Red Eared Sliders
Bermuda and Red Eared Sliders
Nature Mapping Red Eared Sliders
VCA Aquatic Problems
Consider treats payment to your horse for a job well done! Riding is after all our idea!
When the temps are mild and the sky is clear there is an abundance of activities you can do with your equine partner. For many horse owners spending time at the barn is cathartic, but what about when the ground is frozen or too muddy to ride, the temperature and air quality soar into unsafe levels or the weather just won't cooperate? Even with an indoor riding arena horses and humans can get ring sour. There are still fun ways to interact with your horse that don't include riding in circles!
Give your horse a massage and muscle shake out!
Standing in a stall (or in a run in shed to stay out of the weather) can cause your horse to get stiff and sore. To start, check your horse for soreness with gentle palpation along the back. With your fingers four inches down from the spine, apply pressure on each side of the withers and run your fingers the full length of the spine. If your horse dips or moves away from the pressure that's an indication of soreness. Apply gentle pressure and rubbing to the muscles in the area, careful not to put direct pressure on the spine.
To loosen muscles in your horse haunches and shoulders, begin by lifting each leg one at a time. Hold the hoof from the toe low enough that there isn't pressure on the joints, but off the ground so that the horse doesn't lose their balance. With the other hand, gently shake the horses knee or hock side to side till your horse relaxes their upper muscles.
Stretching keeps them limber!
To further spoil and relax your horse, add some stretches! A great series to teach your horse which is great fun for them (treats!) and can be used later as a foundation for trick training are the Carrot Stretches. Ask your horse to keep their feet still and reach their neck and head around to reach a treat or clicker point back by their haunches. Most horses can't reach all the way to their tail at first, so reward your horse for a stretch that is as far as they are willing to go without assistance. Never pull your horses head further than they are willing to move it! After stretching towards their haunches on either side ask them to reach for a point down towards their hock. Lastly, hold a treat directly below the horses nose and over time move this treat between their legs and towards their belly. Be sure to do each stretch on both sides and reward your horse for effort.
Cleaning and checking the fit of your tack plus looking for weak points is another great rainy day activity!
Yielding the Haunches
If your horse needs some exercise and mental stimulation, teach them to yield their haunches.
In a herd the horse who is dominant is the one who can cause the other horses to move their feet. While teaching a horse to move their yield their haunches can be used to establish a working relationship with your horse, it's also a great stretch over their back. With a halter and long lead rope on your horse stand facing the side of your horse about halfway down their body. With the handle of a whip or even your fingers, start by pointing at your horses haunches and step towards them. If your horse doesn't move their rear end away from you help them understand by drawing their head towards you with the lead rope. You may have to start out by tapping your horse with the handle of the whip or poking them with your fingers while drawing their head towards you at first. Each time your horse yields away from you stop and reward them with strokes on the neck and kind words. Over time you will find that your horse will move away from a simple look and step toward their haunches!
About the Author: Jenna is a graduate student at the University of Florida. Currently she is studying Wildlife Ecology and Conservation while working in south Florida to manage invasive animals. Jenna primarily works with the Argentine Black and White Tegu and other invasive lizards.
The Common Agama, Rainbow Lizard
The Common Agama is native to Africa and can comfortably occupy urban, suburban, rural and undeveloped habitats. In Africa they occur in desert, dune, savanna, forest, rainforest, and mountainous areas. This lizard is yet another non-native species that can be found in southern Florida. They occur in Dade, Charlotte, Broward, and Seminole counties; likely posing threat to native insect and small vertebrates. There are several subspecies of agamas, and Florid has a mixture of West African subspecies and East African subspecies. The West African subspecies have bright orange-red heads that fades to a blue-indigo body, and end with a lighter blue-white tail tipped with black. They can reach up to 12 inches in length and are a diurnal species which can be seen moving around during the daytime.
The diet of these lizards consists of mostly grasshoppers, ants, beetles (James and Porter 1979), flowers, grasses, and discarded human food (e.g., candy, bread, cake, carrot pieces (Romer 1953, Chapman and Chapman 1964, Harris 1964, Cloudsley-Thompson 1981). Adults have also been known to eat their own young. They display behaviors similar to that of Bearded Dragons – the adults will perform head nods, head bobs or push-ups, and basking. The head nods and head bobs are commonly used as challenge displays between males, or to entice females who are wearing their reproductive colors. Basking is common in the morning between 10 AM and noon, with the dominant males holding the best basking position, followed by the sub-males, and then females.
Female agamas will lay two clutches of eggs each breeding season, usually between the months of June through September. The sex of the eggs is determined by the temperature of the soil, with males being produced in warmer temperatures than females. In Florida the lizards are established and have been breeding for at least ten years in Charlotte and Dade county, and for less than ten years in Broward, Seminole, and Martin counties; there is also a population in Monroe county which has not yet been reported as breeding.
Links and papers:
Chapman, B. M,. and R. F. Chapman. 1964. Observations on the biology of the lizard Agama agama in Ghana. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 143:121-132.
Clodusley-Thompson, J. L. 1981. Bionomics of the rainbow lizard Agama agama (L.) in eastern Nigeria during the dry season. Journal of Arid Environments 4:235-245.
Harris, V. A. 1964. The life of the rainbow lizard. Hutchinson Tropical Monographs. 174pp.
James, F. C, and W. P. Porter. 1979. Behavior-microclimate relationships in the African rainbow lizard, Agama agama. Copeia 1979:585-593.
Romer, J. D. 1953. Reptiles and amphibians collected in the Port Harcourt area of Nigeria. Copeia 1953:121-123.
Here at Ferrets and Friends, we have been hard at work training our two newest ferret recruits how to get along with people. Pabu and Abu have just turned seven months old. At this age, young ferrets are gaining more impulse control so they become easier to train. It's important to remember that ferrets tend to play rough so it is part of their nature to be rough with their human friends. Ferrets can be gentle and affectionate pets, but it is our responsibility to teach them how to best communicate with us. We have put together some of our top tips to help with the communication process.
Reduce Opportunities to Learn Bad Behaviors
Like most young mammals, young ferrets have a tendency to explore the world with their mouth. New objects are sampled with their teeth. In their excitement, they will nip at stuffed animals, pillows, furniture, electrical chords, shoes, and even their human caretakers. Their mouth-first approach at life will lesson as they get older and many ferrets naturally grow out of their nippy phase. However, if they discover that a nip at an ankle will produce of fun game of tag with their human companion, then that's something they will not outgrow. To minimize bad behaviors, keep unsocialized ferrets away your face, neck, and elbows. Wear long pants and use whatever foot coverings are the least interesting to your ferret (some may chewing socks, while other find endless entertainment in shoes). Gradually expose your ferret to other interactions at times when your ferret has the best chance of success. For example, towards the end of play time when your ferret is most calm, you may snuggle your ferret near your face or allow your ferret to sniff your feet. These interactions should be brief and followed up with positive reinforcement when your ferret shows calm non-biting behavior.
Look for Good Behaviors and Reward Them
Communication is a two way street. As much as we would like to simply tell our ferrets "don't bite me!", we also have to pay attention to their interests and desires. Ferrets tend to be very quiet pets so it is easy to miss some of their cues for our attention. If your ferret is biting your feet in order to get your attention, chances are that you have already missed several other cues that they have tried which caused them to resort to biting. To avoid problem behavior, look for the behavior that you want to see and respond to that behavior. If your ferret walks over to you and looks up at you, acknowledge their presence and offer your attention. If your ferret appears to be in a playful mood, encourage your ferret to play with toys instead of nipping your hands. Reward good behaviors before they figure out that bad behaviors work better. If your ferret has already developed a biting habit, you can reduce this habit by gradually working backwards towards more acceptable behavior. For example, you can teach your ferret to move from biting to lighter nipping, to licking, and eventually to just sniffing. This is done by rewarding the more tolerable behavior and putting a ferret in a time out for the more severe behavior. As your ferret learns, you continue to move the bar closer to the type of interaction that you want to have with your ferret. This technique has worked well for us with more anxious ferrets. If you have a nippy ferret who gets punished every time they bite you, your ferret may interpret these punishments as you not wanting to interact with them. By rewarding your ferret for more tolerable (but not ideal) behaviors, this teaches your ferret what direction to move towards rather than confusion about your interactions.
Find What Works Best for Your Ferret
Every ferret is different. For some ferrets, scruffing their neck and a soft hiss easily communicates that a nip was unwanted. Others may get more excited and bite harder! Time outs can be effective deterrents for some ferrets, while others may take the opportunity for a nap. It is equally important to find what motivates your ferret. Some may be motivated by treats, while others enjoy a shoulder scratch, or a chance to play with their favorite toy. Each ferret has an individual personality and has different things that motivate them. It is also important to look at the context of a biting behavior. Ferrets that bite while being held may be trying to communicate that they would like to be put down. Some ferrets may bite when they hear high pitch sounds (such as squeaky toys) or smell certain chemicals. These distress bites should be recognized and appropriate changes should be made to their environment (getting rid of squeaky toys or not wearing strong smelling cologne when handling your ferret). Ferrets are quick learners so if you do not see improvement within a week or two of working with your ferret, try a different tactic. For best results, make sure at least one part of your training involves positive reinforcement.
Horses love to run and play in cold weather to keep warm!
Horses have been domesticated for over 6,000 yrs and bred for a large variety of purposes. Originally used for food and transportation, the horse is now used for many sports, games and competitions as well as still finding their place as a work animal in some cultures.
A mare's gestation period is around 11 months, after which a foal should stay with their mother for 5-6 months. Most male horses (colts) are gelded around 18 months of age, while females called fillies are generally left intact. The age at which a colt is gelded is often based on their temperament, as leaving a quiet and non-studish colt intact until they begin work under saddle can improve strength and muscle tone.
In the wild horses exhibit short bursts of activity followed by long periods of quiet grazing, socializing and gentle playfulness. Socializing is an important part of the herd dynamic, and can be fascinating to watch! Although often thought of as high spirited and with lots of presence, the horse is a prey animal who often communicates silently though body language. It is important to understand your horses language to keep yourself safe together, as well as to establish a healthy bond with your horse!
Whether as a companion or a sporting partner, a minimum of two acres of turnout area per horse is necessary. Any turnout area needs to have a shelter that the horses can access at will with three walls and a roof. A 12ft x 18 ft run in shed is adequate for 2-3 average sized horses if they get along quite well.
Horses need a mainly forage diet. Forage includes grass, hay, and beet pulp which may be added to high quality feed as a supplemental form of forage. Horses can be fed as much forage as they will eat, with care being given to limit the sugar intake from hays such as alfalfa. Supplemental cereal grains may be added up to 1/2 lb of grain per 100 lbs of horse.
As a social and herd animal, horses should be kept on the same property as other equines. Kept alone, a horse will develop depression and/or anxiety greatly dampening their quality of life and even their life span. They get along well with not just other horses but also ponies, donkeys and mules. Some highly anxious horses and those who can't be kept with other horses for special reasons (such as a stallion) even enjoy having a goat as a companion who can join them in the field, stall and away from home at competitions!
Animal Care Costs per Month
While keeping a companion horse at your own farm with ample grass will save a lot on board and extra hay, a horse in training or at a boarding facility will require a lot more to keep healthy and happy! A young or green (inexperienced) horse, or any horse who is being used for competition will need professional training either continually or as a tune up from time to time. Since riding is a sport in which your equine team mate can't verbally talk to you, it is recommended to always take lessons in riding and horsemanship no matter what your experience level. Even Olympic Dressage riders still take lessons from one another!
Horses require a high level of skill and knowledge to care for and shouldn't be taken on lightly. They can be very costly and have a longer life span than many other pets. Intelligent and social, horses form a strong bond with their herd mates including their human and thrive on routine and consistency. Many if not most behavioral problems leading to dangerous behavior can develop from the misunderstanding of equine language and the separation caused by buying, selling, and moving horses from farm to farm. A happy horse has the same owner for most or all of their life, with a stable long term herd at home. With appropriate time, research and work put in a horse can be a sport and adventure partner and companion like no other!
Iguanas have become one of the most common invasive reptile seen in southern Florida. You can find them in trees, crossing streets, eating the flowers in your garden... Two of the more well known species of iguanas in Florida are pictured below - the Black Spinytail Iguana (Photo by Jeff Whitlock, 2013) and the Green Iguana (Photo by Save the Prairie Society, August 3, 2017).
Black Spinytail Iguana (Ctenosaura similis)
This species is native to southern Mexico, and was first noticed in Florida in 1978. Currently it has established its self breeding populations in Dade, Lee, and Charlotte counties in Florida. Adult males of this species can reach four feet in length, and females remain smaller. These lizzards are primarily terrestrial species, and are extremely wary of humans. When they feel threatened these iguana will retreat to their burrows for safety, however they are able to climb quite well if they are unable to safely reach their burrow (Bartlett and Bartlett 1999).
The habitats that this iguana is able to exploit are very broad. They can be found living on coastal uplands, in exotic plant communities, low density suburban developments, agricultural fields, and areas surrounding core urban areas and small towns. Over the years this species has spread across south Florida. First thought to be established in Lee county (1980), then Collier county (1998), and finally Broward county (2002); this species was introduced due to released or escaped animals intended for the pet trade.
The distribution of Black Spinytail Iguanas in Florida, 10 February 2018.
Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)
The Green Iguana is a large lizard that is also nonnative to Florida. This species, like the Black Spinytail Iguana, was introduced through the pet trade as well. The Green iguana lives terrestrially, and can be seen on the ground and in shrubs and trees all over suburban developments, urban areas, small towns, and agricultural areas. They are excellent swimmers, can tolerate fresh and salt waters, and can remain under water for up to four hours at a time. Male Green iguanas can grow over five feet in length and weigh just under 20 lbs, while females usually do not exceed 7 lbs at full maturity.
Originating in Central America to the tropics of South America and some eastern Carribbean islands, the Green iguana was first reported in Florida in the 1960s in Hialeah, Coral Gables, and Key Biscayne. Now the popualtions spread along the Atlantic coast in Broward, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach Counties; along with the Gulf Coast in Collier and Lee counties.
Distribution of the Green Iguana in Florida (EDDMAPS, 10 February 2018)
Status in Their Native Ranges
Although the Green Iguana has not been formally assessed in its native range, both it and the Black Spinytail Iguana are listed as being of least concern where they originate from. This means that they are exhibiting characteristics of a healthy population that is reproductively active and not exposed to any threats which may cause them to become threatened, endangered, or extinct.
Diet and Impacts
The diet of the iguanas includes a wide variety of vegetation. They are known to eat shoots, leaves, blossoms, and fruits of plants including nickerbean, hibiscuses, garden greens, jasmine, orchids, roses, Washington fan palms, squashes, and melons. They also occasionally feed on bird eggs, carrion, insects, and tree snails.
Due to their diet, iguanas pose a threat of damage to residential and commercial landscape vegetation and are considered a nuisance animal by property owners. They are most attracted to trees with fruit and flowers, with the exception of citrus. The dig burrows, which can erode and collapse sidewalks, foundations, sea walls, berms, and canal banks. They pose a threat to native and endangered species of tree snails, as well as have the potential to spread diseases and infectious bacterium Salmonella to other reptiles and to humans through water contact or surfaces contaminated with feces.
Iguanas can be legally removed year round with land owner permission. They are not protected by any laws except for the anti-cruelty laws. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encourages the removal of Green iguanas on private land by landowners, and captured iguanas can be kept as personal pets or humanely euthanized. The iguanas cannot, however, be relocated and released at other locations.
In order to deter iguanas from your own property you can alter the habitat around our home ot humanely harass the animals until they leave. Some effective methods are: removing plants that act as attractants; filling in holes to discourage burrowing; putting wind chimes or other items in the yard to make intermittent noises; hanging CDs or other reflective material outside; and spraying the animals with water.
Iguanas in the Florida Keys
Dealing with Iguanas
Iguana Assistance for Homeowners
Domesticated rabbits come in a huge variety of colors and sizes, from netherland dwarf (at 2-5 lbs) to the Flemish Giant (at 30 lbs or more). It’s a common misconception that rabbits stay small as some breeds of rabbits can reach lengths of up to four feet long.
Rabbits should stay with their mother for the first eight weeks. By four months of age, it is recommended that they are taken to a knowledgeable veterinarian to be spayed or neutered in order to prevent reproduction related cancers.
Rabbits tend to be most active at dawn and dusk. Their favorite activities include digging, jumping, and napping (as many as 18 naps per day!). Most rabbits enjoy exploring their environment and require mental and social enrichment to prevent boredom. Cardboard boxes with plastic eggs that are filled with food or treats encourage your rabbit’s natural foraging behavior. Happy rabbits will often jump into the air and twist the back half of their bodies (this is known as a “Binky”) while one that is comfortable in their surroundings will flop onto their sides and show their bellies. Some may even roll over.
There are many ways to house your rabbit but it is recommended that their space is at least 4-6 times the size of their body when they are entirely stretched out. More space should be provided if they will be confined for most of the day. An example of one space guideline is “at least 8 square feet of enclosure space combined with at least at least 24 square feet of exercise space, for 1-2 rabbits, in which the rabbit or pair can run and play at least 5 hours per day.” You can build your rabbit a two-story “condo” with the floors connected by a ramp, commonly called an C&C cage. You can also buy a hutch or set up an xpen which allows you to fit the sides of your rabbit's house to almost any space you have available. One of the most important things about setting up an enclosure is to have a sold, non wired, floor. When a rabbit stands on a wired floor for too long it will cause deformities in their feet.
A rabbit’s diet should be made up of good quality pellets, fresh hay (timothy or other grass hays), water and, fresh vegetables. Anything beyond that is a “treat” and should be given in limited quantities. Good quality rabbit pellets should be relatively high in fiber (18% minimum fiber) and the main ingredient should be timothy hay. The majority of the house rabbit diet should be composed of grass hay (about 75-80%), fresh greens (15%), good pellets (10%), and treats/fresh fruit (less than 5%). A more in depth break down on rabbit diet can be found here (https://rabbit.org/what-to-feed-your-rabbit/)
Bunnies are very social creatures. It is often recommended that you have two rabbits in what is called a bonded pair. Having a pair can prevent depression which may cause them to neglect grooming and develop other health issues. You can often adopt a pair that are already bonded and some rabbit rescues offer bonding classes that help to bond your rabbit with a new bond mate.
Rabbits are susceptible to a variety of health problems if they do not receive proper care. A common health issue is overgrown teeth which may require grinding by a healthcare professional. As rodents, their teeth continuously grow and this growth is normally managed by their diet and chewing behavior. Rabbits can also develop sore hocks, causing areas of the feet to lose their hair and the skin to look red or inflamed. To prevent this, owners should ensure that they have plenty of soft surfaces such as carpets or fleece in order to lessen the amount of hard surfaces they stand on. Other common health issues are fleas/mites, gas (as they can not expel gas on their own it may become a serious and life threatening health issue), stasis (this very serious condition is life threatening if not treated within 12-24 hours), and upper respiratory infections.
Overall, rabbit can be social and affectionate pets for owners who are willing to put in the time and energy to meet their care needs. Owners should be prepared to do their research as there are many misconceptions about rabbit ownership in regard to their diet, health, and other needs.
Animal Care Costs (2018 Prices): Set Up
Animal Care Costs (2018 prices): Annual Maintenance
As I write this, I’ve got a little green Frog sitting on my shoulder. Not just any little Frog though- this is a Froggie Bird. A Froggie bird that, a year ago today, would never have dreamed of perching on the shoulder of a human. (We are, quite obviously, Bird-Eating-Monsters you know.) But here we are, exactly one year later, quite bonded, and on much better terms.
January is Adopt a Rescue Bird Month, and January 29th, 2017, I brought home my first rescue bird. After learning that this unidentified little green parrot was in need of a home, I went to a shelter in Baltimore County to meet it. The poor bird, who came in with the name “Topsy”, had come to the shelter with a friendly little green cheek conure, who quickly found a home. So alone, adrift from its previous life, this bird cowered in the corner of its cage. Two days before, its wings had been clipped rather roughly, removing any ability to fly with confidence. I could tell it was terrified. The shelter, as wonderful as those places are, was not familiar with birds. When I opened the cage door and stepped away, I saw visible relief from the bird, that hands were not coming to grab it. When I asked to hold it, they told me no- if the bird bit me, it would be “unadoptable”- we all know what that means. Bye-bye birdie. So, having never physically interacted with this somewhat bedraggled creature, I signed the papers to bring it home.
Oh boy. What I got was a screaming, terrified mess. Hands were a BIG no-no. But, I signed up to love and care for you kiddo, and that’s what I’m gonna do. Below is my first picture of Froggie. She looks a little rough.
Rescue birds, like any other rescued animal, require lots of extra patience. Froggie would scream, in her/his (we find out next month!) angry squeaky toy voice, for stretches of time that did not seem to ever end. When frightened, when hungry, when needing attention...screams. It takes some time to change screaming behavior. Patience. The first thing I knew I had to do, to accomplish anything with this bird, was to establish trust. I have no idea of this bird’s background. Whether it came from a loving home, its age, how it was treated...nothing. All I could do was reassure the bird that its future, with me, was going to be a good one.
The key, I’ve found, was lots of research. There are numerous websites with lots of information on acclimating a bird to a new home (this blog will be expanding on it at later dates), training or applied behavioral analysis (fancy training terms!), and information specific to your type of bird. Ideally, you want to do the research first. Find out what treats your bird might like, safety hazards (such as Teflon and cleaning products), proper cage size, appropriate toys, dietary and sleep needs, and general behavior. I found Facebook groups very helpful for information and feedback.
So I sat, and I talked to Froggie. I sat far enough away so as to not cause distress, and moved closer as her comfort level grew. I offered treats often, speaking to her gently, to build in her mind an association between me and good things happening to her. I cannot stress enough the importance of choice for birds- letting them decide to move closer, and letting them determine the pace. Her cage was and always will be, her safe place. I did not violate that by sticking my hand in it to get her out. She comes out on her terms. I asked nothing of Froggie, not a single “step up”, until she gained some confidence in her safety and our relationship. Eventually, she would accept a treat from me. Hurray for progress! However, she still lunged for any hand that came near...that was gonna take awhile. And take a while it did. But we made baby steps, compromises. She eventually grew comfortable enough to step up onto my arm, hand hidden inside a long sleeve. No skin, thank you very much! From there, she graduated to shoulder.
After some time, I was able to get Froggie to step up onto my bare hand, as long as she was not on her cage when I asked. She’s still very territorial of it, as some birds are. I respect that boundary, and invite her to a perch or another cage before asking her to step up. Building that trust was imperative, because we had to have it to push her past her comfort zone. Once she trusted me, I was able to slowly start to desensitize her to hands being in her space. It’s important to do this at their pace, where the bird is maybe a little beyond comfort, but not stressed out. Once she realized that lunging at my fingers wasn’t going to make me pull away, she stopped doing it as much (she still tries to boss me when she thinks she can get away with it).
Nowadays, Froggie is my velcro bird. If her cage door is open, she wants to be on my shoulder. (That’s the best place to help eat mom’s breakfast from!) She’s still not a big fan of hands, but as you can see, I can now give scritches!
So, as an overview, please realize that all birds are individuals. The process of acclimating a new bird to your home could take days, weeks, months, years even. Research. Establish trust. Have patience…lots of patience. Let your bird determine the pace. Do some more research. Associate yourself with positive experiences for the bird. Talk to other bird owners, your vet, and your support network. Give the bird time to adjust and adapt. Birds are incredibly resilient, strong, intelligent creatures. By giving a rescue bird a home, and the time, attention, respect, and love it needs, you are giving them a second chance at life. And boy, do they deserve it. The tiny steps of progress you make will feel huge, when they show that tiny bit of trust. There’s no other feeling like it in the world.
About the blog
Ferrets and Friends, LLC has four writers bringing you information on a variety of topics from pets to wildlife, education to conservation, and from new developments in our business to information about our industry. Learn something new each week!