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.

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