Tuesday, April 29, 2008

March and April 2008

March was a crazy month for me, so there aren't many unique shots of Richard. So let's skip to April, shall we?

It's amazing what Richard's concept of "comfortable" is.

He saved me from an angry Styracosaurus !
But then he took pity on the Styracosaurus and allowed it to live.

Neither of us were prepared for the Deinonychus that would appear.

The Deinonychus ate the Styracosaurus... and then Richard ate the Deinonychus.
When I realized I had a real BEAST on my hands, I thought it would be necessary to protect the public from the rampaging Richard.... so I made him a special vest that would decrease his powers.

At first, he seemed to find it somewhat cumbersome.
But when he realized that it enhanced his looks, he didn't seem to mind it so much.
Now it seems my mom is interested in helping me make these lizard harnesses. I think I'll want one in a hound's tooth print with a red leash.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Here are some images of Richard from the month of February!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A new year, a new Richard

Until now, I haven't actually said much about what Richard eats, so I think I'll do that now. In January, Richard had already graduated to having a minnow upon occasion. Since fish are "complete" food for a lizard, you can see how they might be especially good for his diet. At first, I released the fish into his water bowl, but he exhausted himself trying to catch it. When I offered it to him on a napkin, he didn't seem to notice it, since it did not move much. Unmoving critters don't exactly capture his attention. So... I put a mealworm next to it, and after eating the mealworm, he promptly ate the minnow.

Richard eats mostly crickets and mealworms for the time being. I was reluctant to give him bigger food because of his size. Crickets are nice because they have a high calcium to phosphate ratio, and excessive phosphate is quite harmful to water dragons (I won't make many blanket statements about other lizards). Mealworms, on the other hand, have a low calcium to phosphate ratio. I believe the ratios are something like this:
  • Earthworms 1:1.4
  • Crickets 1:3
  • Mealworms 1:3-14
I added earthworms because I plan on starting Richard on them (or nightcrawlers) as soon as I can get over having to cut them for him... I like earthworms, so that will be hard to do.

Richard's crickets and mealworms are fed a combination of the previously-blogged gut-load, baby spinach, collard greens, carrots, and-- for the mealworms-- potatoes. Mealworms aren't very crazy about spinach and collard greens, but they will have a party with carrots and potatoes. The potatoes serve mostly to water the mealworms. The crickets receive a polyacrylamide gel that has been fortified with calcium. Yes, that's basically the gel people can put plants in, too. Having worked labs, I thought it might be clever to make agar for the crickets (using agar that you can buy from an Asian market), since they need some kind of matrix. Unfortunately, they didn't seem to care for my agar jello and I was unable to find polyacrylamide gel for plants in College Station.

Upon occasion, I might try to stick the bugs in a puree of fruits, but Richard doesn't fall for it. Technically, water dragons are omnivorous, but in captivity, it's very very hard to get them to eat their fruits and veggies. They are just like little kids, only cuter.

I don't give the bugs lettuce because it's basically useless in terms of nutrition. Not all fruits and veggies are appropriate for feeding, too. I consult The Green Iguana Society's food info chart . (There's a lot more literature on green iguana care than for water dragons)

You're probably wondering why I would even care about what insects eat. Well, whatever they eat is what Richard eats, and to enhance his nutrition, I have to make sure his bugs are well-fed. It's also a sly way to get him to eat his veggies!

Before I realized that mealworms were so high in phosphates, Richard ate them primarily. He was capable of eating 10 small mealworms in one go. Now he eats about 5 large crickets and 3 small mealworms. He gets a minnow every week in place of worms. Minnows are only 12 cents, so it isn't being extravagant, don't worry. Crickets are 10 cents. When I used to buy mealworms, I purchased 100 small ones or 35 giant ones for just under $3. Because I no longer buy mealworms, feeding little Richard costs me about $3 a week, not including what I spend to feed the insects.

Eventually, I'll breed crickets, earthworms or nightcrawlers, and possibly six-spotted cockroaches, too. Richard will get bigger, and his diet needs to be varied. Then he'll have an occasional pinky, and later, a mouse. I'm trying to prolong his lifespan by feeding him correctly. Besides, I have the impression that insectivorous critters are on my horizon.

By the end of January, Richard measured 4.15 inches (10.5 cm) from snout to vent, and 15.8 inches (40.1 cm) including his tail.

December Experiences

My mom met Richard and fell pretty hard for him, I think. When I introduced him to her, she said (and I quote), "Hello, Richert! Do you know who I am??? I'm your grandma!" Who can blame her, really? The little guy is a heart-breaker.

Richard and I went home for the holidays. My family and I learned very quickly that he had a love for... curtains.... and that eyes are no match little green critters.

Richard's climbing has reached new heights. Literally. Once, I searched high and low, unable to find him. It was a scary moment for a young mother, let me tell you. This is where he turned out to be:

I decided to spare some of my mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) to allow them to metamorphose into darkling beetles. Egg-laying factories, to be more specific. This was my first pupa, which I put in a pill box.

Today (April 19, 2008), I have 17 extremely spoiled beetles and several hundreds of mealworms, large and small.

When we ended the month, Richard measured 3.65 inches (9.3 cm), and 13.6 inches (34.5 cm) including his tail.

Images from November 2007

November was full of pleasant surprises. By the middle of the month, Richard had become very comfortable with exploring my room. He revealed himself to be a veritable monkey, climbing every possible object he could find. He developed a taste for my violin case, which he would ascend and nap on... daily.

I also got into the habit of hanging towels from my doorknobs to give him something to climb.

And, yes... I take a lot of photographs of Richard! :-) I found that natural sunlight was the most flattering. To be honest, I think Richard does the rest.

If you compare this photo of Richard to others from October, you may note that his nuchal crest has grown slightly! The scales on his face are also duller than those on his body. This is because the regions of his body shed at different times.
By the end of November, Richard measured 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) from snout to vent, and 13 inches (33 cm), including his tail.

Images from October 2007

On October 16th, Richard measured 3.25 inches (8.26 cm) from snout to vent (base of the tail). Including this tail, he measured 11 inches (27.9 cm). I read that water dragons-- and indeed, many other reptiles-- can have decreased appetite when they first move in. Not so with Richard. His appetite was completely intact! Then again, he seemed to dominate the food bowl he shared with his former tankmates...

It was at the end of the month that I realized the dust from his bark substrate was causing his eyes to be watery, so I switched to the less-attractive reptile carpet. Watery eyes can also be caused by a weakened immune system (due to a Vitamin A deficiency), but since Richard's crickets were eating carrots and collard greens and the symptoms appeared weeks after I purchased him, I was able to rule out the deficiency.

Around the same time, I built my own cricket keeper using a plastic container and pieces of plastic craft grid. The craft grid was hot glued to cover holes that I cut into the container, serving as ventilation.

I also found a recipe for cricket gut-load, which you can find online somewhere. The recipe called for wheat germ, whey protein, powdered egg, dry milk powder, bee pollen, kelp, and brewer's yeast. I found both the powdered egg and bee pollen on eBay at very reasonable prices.

I have also noticed that Richard can change colors. Of course, the changes aren't as dramatic as those you might observe from a chameleon, but they are noticeable. When Richard was younger, he would change from shades from dark brown to green. Now, in April, I observe changes from a medium brown to blue-green! Baby water dragons are darker in color to help them blend in with trees and stay out of the sight of predators.

When I first saw Richard bask in this peculiar position, I was alarmed. I couldn't find anything about it from books, so I decided to join a reptile forum called The Reptile Rooms. It's absolutely normal for a water dragon to relax like this. And funny, too. This kind of basking should not be confused with spastic limb extensions, which are associated with severe calcium deficiency.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Welcome home, Richard

Richard came into my life on October 2, 2007. I purchased him from Petco for $29.99 (It's incredible that a pricetag can even be put on something so cute and animated). Prior to bringing Richard home, I did extensive homework on what his care would entail. To avoid information overload, I will share my experiences gradually.

In all honesty, I assumed that a reptile would be extremely low-maintenance. I figured that Richard would make a nice "college pet." He has become much more than that, of course. The little, shy guy I found revealed himself to be a real trouble-maker. I say that most affectionately.

Learning to care for Richard has been an adventure-- one that I engaged myself in with utmost eagerness. I am, after all, a biologist... so all things that involve the reproduction of nature are exciting to me!

The first literature I consulted was a book called "Water Dragons" by Bert Langerwerf. It provided a nice crash course on Chinese water dragons (Physignathus cocincinus), as well as Australian water dragons (Physignathus leseurii). It's a very straight-forward book, and it is written by someone with lots of experience with water dragons.

It should be stated that water dragons are by no means "easy" pets. I believe in doing things right... or not at all. This is especially important when animals are concerned. If you are interested in having pets-- any kind of pet-- it can never be stressed enough how important it is to do your homework in advance. This will help you foresee expenses and prepare you for life's little surprises. You should never take a pet's life lightly.

Okay, onto the informative stuff. I'll keep it basic. Before bringing Richard home, I purchased the following:
  • A halogen reptile bulb (wattage depends on the size of your set up)
  • Calcium carbonate powder
  • A fluorescent lamp set up (7% UVB)
  • A hollowed out log (for hiding and sleeping)
  • An analog thermometer and hygrometer
  • A spray bottle
  • Bedding brick (coconut)
  • A glazed food dish
  • A water dish
The halogen light bulb is for producing a basking area. The fluorescent bulb is absolutely indispensable. Water dragons-- and indeed most reptiles-- require UVB to produce Vitamin D. Vitamin D, in turn, is necessary for calcium uptake in the diet. Supplementing calcium is pretty much worthless if your lizard is unable to utilize it. And growing lizards must have calcium to grow strong bones. Water dragons, in particular, grow very quickly, so you can imagine how vital it is to provide UVB in the first place. Unfortunately, the UVB produced by a fluorescent bulb is minute compared to what a lizard would get from basking in natural, unfiltered sunlight, so it's good to let them get some of that when you can!

Thermometers and hygrometers are absolutely necessary, as well. Because Chinese water dragons require certain conditions, you'll want to monitor the temperature and humidity of their habitat!

According to Bert Langerwerf, these are the requirements:
  • Average temperature of 23-26 degrees centigrade (mid to upper 70's in degrees Fahrenheit)
  • A hotter top section of 33-35 degrees centigrade (lower to mid 90's in degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Humidity: 65-70%
Remember that reptiles are ectotherms ("cold-blooded"), so they need to be able to thermoregulate and escape heat when they are too warm, or find heat when they are too cool. So it is necessary to provide a temperature gradient in the habitat.

I'll leave today's entry at that. Enjoy the photos of Richard!