Confused Tortoise

Matt is an African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata).  He visits us for summer camp and enjoys mowing the lawn, eating delicious veggis from the garden, and visiting with the neighbor’s dog through the fence.

Matt must have had too many conversations with the chocolate lab next door.  Could this be defined as an identity crises?

Sulcatas grow quickly, eat constantly, and leave copious amounts of poo in their wake.  An adult Sulcata can easily weight over 100 pounds!  The largest African Spurred tortoise on record lived at the Giza Zoological Gardens weighing in at 232 pounds!

These tortoises are very difficult to care for.  They require constant warm dry temperatures, a very secure enclosure, eat a large variety of food, and are constantly getting into trouble destroying their surroundings.  We fondly call them little reptilian tanks.

I love watching Matt explore the wonderful outdoors and being the silly clown that he is.

Basic Reptile Pet Advice

Like any pet, caring for a reptile or amphibian requires time, money, and love. In addition to the requirements of a dog or cat, reptiles have special needs.

Reptiles and amphibians spend most of their time sleeping, they do not like to be touched or petted, and will not catch a frisbee. We receive calls daily about reptile pets that are no longer wanted by their owners. While reptiles are kept in a domestic setting they are still wild animals.

artiguana

Green Iguana

Consider rescuing a reptile before purchasing one. Shelters and rescue agencies regularly receive unwanted reptile pets, and often have all their animals checked by a veterinarian before putting them up for adoption.

A great resource for reptile information online is: kingsnake.com

Join your local Herpetology Organization to meet others interested in reptiles. Many hold fun meetings and exciting field trips.

Virginia Herpetological Society

The 10 Most Commonly Seen Snakes in DC Metro Area

Eeek! What is that snake in my backyard? We receive several calls a year from frantic and fascinated homeowners alike from the District and surrounding areas of Virginia and Maryland wanting to know what kind of snake is in their backyard

Here is a little guide to help you out.  Remember, all snakes are harmless if you leave them alone.

All snakes are able to flatten their head and shake their tail when scared.

(Disclaimer: Leave all snakes you find alone, they belong in the great outdoors; this includes your backyard. This guide is not intended to be the end all and be all of snake identification guides. All snakes can be born with different patterns and colors than what is typical for the species. As with ALL wild animals: Respect, watch, and admire from afar.)

ALL snakes listed are non-venomous unless otherwise noted.

1. Northern Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi) – a small, brown snake (15 inches) with darker paired spots down its back.

brownsnake

2. Ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus) – A small gray snake (up to 20 inches) with orange to yellow belly and a yellow or orange ring around its neck.

ringneckgreat

3. Garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) – A greenish or brown snake covered in checkered spots, and a yellow to white line down its back. Grows up to 48 inches long.

garterside

4. Black Ratsnake (Elaphe obsoleta) – A large and harmless black snake that can grow up to 80 inches long (6.5 feet).  The body is shaped like a loaf of bread. Belly is black and white checkered becoming gray near the tail.  Baby or juvenile black rat snakes are often confused with other snakes as they are gray or brown with black blotches on the body.  They are wonderful at taking care of rats and mice.

blackratsnake

 

babyblkrat

5. Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor) – A large shiny black snake that can grow to six feet.  These guys will slither away very quickly.  The young look very much like the baby black ratsnake.

blackracer06

6. Wormsnake (Carphophis amoneus) – A small shiny brown snake with a pink belly.  They look very much like a large worm, growing to 15 inches.  They think earthworms are delicious.

intwormsnake

7. Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) – A large gray to brown snake with darker blotches on its back.  They are non-venomous, that is they have no poison.  Watersnakes live in and around water snacking on fish.  Note: there are NO cottonmouths or water moccasins in the DC area.

nerodiaonroad

8. Red Bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) – A small grayish brown to black snake with a red belly.  They sometimes have black stripes down the back and light blotches on its neck.

occipitomaculata

9. Mole Kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster) – It may look like a cornsnake, but its a kingnake!  This gorgeous gray to brown snake with orange spots or blotches grows to 47 inches.

moleking01

10. Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) – VENOMOUS (Poisonous)* This is the only venomous snake found in the DC metro and surrounding counties.  Copperheads, like all snakes, will leave you alone if you leave them alone.  This beautiful snake has eyes like a cat so it can hunt at night.  Copperheads can be pinkish, tan, brown, and even a light rust color.  Nearly every snake in the area has been mis-identified as a copperhead, although uncommon in the area treat all snakes with respect. This snake provides humans with a very valuable rodent control service.

copperintsml

Remember:  Treat all snakes with respect.  Leave them alone as they belong where you found them just like the birds and butterflies living in your backyard.  Experts sometimes have trouble identifying snakes as all animals can be born all black (melanistic), patternless, or albino.

Find out more and join Virginia Herpetological Society

Visit your local nature center

Sources:
Pinder, MJ and JC Mitchell, “A Guide to the Snakes of Virginia.” 2002 Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Conant, Roger, “A Field Guide to Reptiles & Amphibians of Eastern & Central North America” (Peterson Field Guide Series)

Sad News for Galapagos Tortoise

Lonesome George, the last tortoise of his kind may not have babies after all.  The single survivor of the Pinta Island Galapagos giant tortoises, Lonesome George has been an icon for conservation the world over.  The big tortoise was paired with two female tortoises, and successfully mated with them for the first time in over 35 years just a few months ago. (The females are of another subspecies of the Galapagos Tortoise, but are of a close genetic match to the Pinta Island subspecies.)

Unfortunately, most of the eggs produced by this encounter are likely infertile. There is still hope for 20% of the eggs.  Researchers are keeping the eggs in incubators covered in religious symbols, waiting for a miracle. I myself am crossing my fingers. At 90 years old, the tortoise is still in his prime, but with several decades of failure I am a bit guarded. Scientists have tried many means to get George interested in breeding and have even tried artificial insemination. All of it with no luck.

The largest land tortoises in the world, Galapagos Tortoises can weigh over 500 pounds and live well over 100 years.  Since their discovery, only 11 of the 14 known subspecies of the tortoise survive today.  The big reptiles were used as a food source and ballasts on pirate, whaling,  and trader ships in the past.  More recently, introduced rats and goats have been destroying food sources and eating the eggs of the highly endangered tortoise.

It is clear that humans are likely solely responsible for the tortoises declining numbers. Lonesome George provides hope that humans may use their knowlege to do something good. It is unlikely the researchers in the Galapagos will give up with this latest disappointment. They had over 36 years of set-backs, there is still hope.

Tell us what you think!  Will successful breeding of Lonesome George with the hybrid females be considered a success for the species, or simply the creation of another hybrid?

 

Learn more about Galapagos Tortoises from the San Diego Zoo at:

http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/t-galapagos_tortoise.html

News Source: Associated Press US News:

http://usnews.feedroom.com/?fr_story=d68d6e925ab13a8451aa8ec0faa9c6b5f5a1346a&rf=bm

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