The Madagascar day gecko is yet another specie that has been introduced into the wild in the state of Florida. These reptiles belong to the gecko family, the genus (classification of animals) Phelsuma, and the species madagascariensis, These cool green geckos reside on the island of Madagascar, and they usually live in rainforest trees. The Madagascar day gecko is one of the largest species of day geckos, and can grow to be just under 9 inches in length. They are a green-blue color with brown-brick red spots down their backs, and a similarly colored stripe from their nostrils to behind their eye. While these geckos are mostly found in the trees of the rainforest, deforestation has caused them to lose much of their usual habitat, and they have been known to dwell in villages and live inside the huts and banana trees on the eastern coast of Madagascar as a result. These brightly colored creatures eat insects and fruit (but only if it is soft!), and have been known to eat pollen and nectar as well.
Madagascar Day Geckos are very common in the pet trade, and they are easily kept and bred for sale in the United States. Usually housed alone, these lizards can be very territorial and even male-female pairs will occasionally fight. They thrive in 50-60% humidity and 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit, making them perfectly suited for Florida weather. Day geckos were first reported as being seen in Florida in the 1990s. There is one population in one county which has been reported as sustainable and breeding on their own, and have been sightings in three other counties where breeding has not been reported.
The most established population of day geckos is located in the Florida Keys. They are seen on white mangroves, buttonwood trees, buildings, and other man-made structures near mangrove estuaries. They were first reported outside of the Keys, in Broward county in 1999. These animals were confirmed as released or escaped pets, and the population in the Keys is a result of a single introductory event. Due to their popularity in the pet trade, and the suitability of Florida weather, a pet breeder released many adult individuals with the intention of having them breed and he harvests the hatchlings to be sold as pets.
This is another great example of how easy it is for nonnative animals to become established in areas where they do not belong. The geckos do not appear to have an adverse impacts on native Florida wildlife, however species such as the Argentine tegu and Burmese python were released and are wreaking havoc on native animals in Florida.
There are over 40 different species of day gecko, but the Madagascar day gecko is one of the most well known species. Below are photo of other day gecko species:
Photos Provided by: https://www.arkive.org/ and https://www.flickr.com/photos/cas_docents/
For more information on Day Geckos in Florida:
Florida Museum Report
Rehoming a pet can often times be difficult to do, especially for no-so-furry-friends, but Florida is trying to make it a bit easier. The Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs) along with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) have come together to hold an even called Exotic Pet Amnesty Day. During this event people are able to drop off their pet and it will be found a new home with a pre-approved adopter.
This day gives people an alternative to releasing their exotic pet into the wild. When exotic pets are released into natural environments they can cause disruptions which are damaging to the ecosystem. Some examples of the havoc released pets can cause are the Burmese python and the Argentine black and white tegu in the Florida Everglades. These two species have populations in the wilds of Florida which originated from released or escaped pets. They both eat many native animals, and this impact can be seen in the decline of mammals throughout areas where pythons are present in Florida. The tegu, a known egg-eater, threatens the protected American Crocodile, ground nesting birds, and turtle species including sea turtles.
The early set up allows for pet owners to drop off and register their animals for adoption. Two Golden thread turtles that were dropped off to be adopted are pictured below. The Amnesty day accepts all types of animals, from sulcata tortoises to parrots to all kinds of snakes. Every animal that is surrendered gets a visual examination by a volunteer veterinarian. The vet will give the animal a quick examination to assess what condition it is in and if it can be adopted out. The below pictured Veiled chameleon receives a vet examination. The veiled chameleon can be found in populations scattered throughout south and central Florida, all of which are suspected to be human released individuals.
After the vet gives the animals a clear bill of health they are set along tables with information about their previous home – their species, name, age, sex, any of their quirks for the new owners to be aware of, toys and food preferences, and any notes from the vet. When the surrender period is over, the adopters are allowed to walk the line of tanks and cages to see what animals are available to be adopted. After the viewing, each adopter is randomly assigned a number, and those numbers are randomly drawn to give the order adopters may chose the animal(s) they wish to bring home. Once every adopter has had their chance, the hope is that every animal surrendered has been taken to a new home. Any animal not selected at the event is taken to a holding facility, and a notice is sent to approved adopters to find them a home with people who may not have attended the amnesty day event.
It is a happy new beginning for every animal and adopter who attends. The most recent pet amnesty day was held in West Palm Beach, Florida on the 19th of August 2018. I was able to volunteer at this event, and saw dozens of animals surrendered. Red-eared slider turtles, yellow belly slider turtles, golden thread turtles, Russian tortoises, hamsters, cockatoos and cocktails, just over a half dozen ball pythons, and even prairie dogs! It was amazing to see just how many candidates were brought in to be put up for adoption. Every animal that was given up was taken home by the end of the adoption event.
Since 2006 this Pet Amnesty Day program has been very successful at rehoming animals that are no longer desired, difficult to care for, or are unable to be cared for. Below are annual summaries of each Amnesty event in Florida - I hope the totals continue to rise as the years go on.
Learn More about Pet Amnesty Day...
For this chapter I will be focusing on five species, which are so common in some areas that they are often not thought of being, and invasive species. Animals and plants alike, some species are so common that they are often overlooked as invaders. This is especially common for plants that we see used for landscaping purposes or see in the wild frequently; an animals that we see every day on farms, kept as pets, or commercialized!
For More information:
Monk Parakeet, Quaker Parrot
The Monk parakeet, which is also commonly called the Quaker parrot, is a bird which grows to be approximately 11 inches in length from tail tip to top of head, and has bright green coloration with a grey breast and green-yellow belly. This bird originated from temperate and subtropical areas of Argentina and other surrounding countries in South America. This is a very common bird, which has expanded its native range as eucalyptus forestry industry also expanded. The forestry industry provided artificial forest habitat for the parrots to nest with little competition from other species for resources.
In the pet trade, these parakeets are known to make wonderful companions due to their ability to develop a wide vocabulary of words and phrases. These critters are anything but quiet, and are quick to learn mimicry and perform tricks when they are motivated by treats and praise. They are also available in a variety of color mutations including blue and “cinnamon”.
Although they are such wonderful pets, the Monk parakeet is actually banned for sale in many states. This bird has established feral populations in Spain, Portugal, Azores, Madeira, Balearic Islands, Gibraltar, France, Corsica, Malta, Cyprus, Sardinia, Italy, Greece, Channel Islands, Great Britain, Ireland, Belgium, British Columbia, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Israel, Bermuda, Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Easter Island, Puerto Rico, South Korea, Japan, and the United States. Thousands of parakeets were imported to the USA in the 1960s-1980s (Lund, Nicholas. "The Monk Parakeet: A Jailbird Who Made Good". Audubon. Audubon. Retrieved 9 December 2016.), and many escaped or were intentionally released which cause several established populations to occur across seven states. The most prolific population exists in Florida, with estimates of 150,000 to 500,000 individuals (Gorman, James (8 September 2004). "Birds do it, bees do it ..." San Diego Union Tribune. New York Times News Service. Retrieved 9 December 2016.) Due to being seen as a pest, the parakeet has been banned for sale in California, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Hawaii, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wyoming, and Western Australia.
This invasive bird has been growing exponentially, with no show of slowing down until 2016. They have very few natural predators, diseases or other factors that would limit their population growth. Although they are thought to be agricultural pests, the real concern with Monk parakeets revolves around their massive nesting aggregations. The Monk parakeet builds its nest from sticks, and often are seen to breed in colonies where they will collectively build one large nest with multiple entrances for the various pairs of birds utilizing the space. Some of these collective nests have been seen to reach the size of small cars! These birds live to be 15-20 years old in the wild and as captive pets (Fasbach, Laura (23 July 2001). "A squawk in the park". Edgewater Online. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 12 January 2008.). They often nest on man-mad structures including electrical poles and cellphone towers, causing them to have a heavy impact on electrical companies in several states. The most common method of control is through the removal of nests and trapping of the birds. There is also reproductive control possible through contraception, which is a long-term, non-lethal population management strategy.
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.
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!