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Questions and Answers

If you have a question you would like an amswer to, then send it to prk.ed@kelsey.co.uk.

Q
Is it true that you can age a tortoise by counting the rings on its shell?

A
Unfortunately, this is not reliable method of aging these reptiles. Young tortoises for instance often have several rings evident on their shells by the time they are a year old, which would suggest they are actually older than is the case. On the other hand, you frequently find that the shells of adult tortoises become smoother, with signs of these concentric rings disappearing in old age.

This applies particularly in the case of those such as the American gopher tortoises (Gopherus species) which burrow underground. They rub their shell regularly on the sides of their tunnels, obliterating these patterns as they move in and out of their retreats.

But, just as with a tree’s growth rings, the shell of the tortoise does give some clues as to its past. When food has been plentiful the tortoise grows rapidly and as a result, the spacing between the concentric rings on the shell will then appear wider.

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Q
I am 14 years old. I have recently bought a pair of ghost mantis nymphs. One of them is feeding fine and has a nice fat abdomen, but the other one refuses to feed and is very skinny. I am keeping them separately in the same conditions and they are the same age and similar size. Can you please explain what is going on?

A
We asked Graham Smith of Metamorphosis (www.metamorphosis.gb.com) has particular experience with this species. He says that your problem could have several causes. Firstly, it could be that the skinny one may have moulted recently, and if this is the case, it will need a few days to harden sufficiently to start feeding again. Alternatively, it could be that it is coming up to moult its skin and again, during this time, a nymph will go off feeding for a few days. Another possibility is that the ‘skinny one’ may actually be a male and as such, has a much lower food intake than a female, being generally thinner in build.

 

Q
I have a Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni) who is four years old, and would like another. But can I put a younger one with it or would a companion have to be the same age?

A
This may seem as if it would be possible to give an easy “yes” or “no” response to your question, but there are a number of different factors here that need to be considered Basically, one of the key things to bear in mind is the gender of your existing pet. Male Hermann’s in particular can be surprisingly belligerent in their courtship, and if you obtain another, younger tortoise now, there is a real possibility that it could end up being harried and bullied, assuming you are hoping to house them together in due course. It is quite easy to recognise males in this case though, because their tails are significantly longer than those of females, tapering to a point.

A female Hermann’s is likely to be much more tolerant towards a younger companion, although you will need to be sure that there is sufficient food for both of them once they are together, so the smallest tortoise does not simply end up with left-overs! My own inclination would be to look for a female of a similar size to yours. If your existing pet is a female, then they should agree without any worries over compatibility.

On the other hand, should your tortoise be a male, then a female of similar or even slightly larger size is less likely to be harried, although this can still occur within the confines of a tortoise table. It may actually be necessary to buy a couple of females, rather than just one, as this will lessen the level of aggression in a male.

Whatever you decide though, you will need to obtain a second set-up, at least initially, because if you buy another tortoise, it is vital to keep it isolated for a period so that you can check that it is healthy. The situation with Hermann’s is that they can be vulnerable to serious diseases such as herpesvirus. Be sure to purchase your new pet from a reputable source therefore, and it will be a good idea to arrange a check-up with an experienced reptile vet as soon as possible after purchase.

Even if you have been told that the tortoise has been dewormed recently, arrange for a sample of its droppings to be tested, so you can be sure that it will pose no threat to your existing pet. Tortoises do not need to come into direct contact for these parasites to be spread, as this can occur by allowing them to graze on the same area of lawn at different times.

Only once you are certain that the newcomer is eating well, and appears healthy in all respects, should you place them together. Tortoises are not herd animals are such, but it’s probably fair to say that they can develop bonds. Initially, they are likely to sniff at each other, and will probably just carry on, seemingly ignoring the other’s presence. Out in a garden setting particularly though, you may then find them spending more time in close proximity to each other, even if they are not interacting directly.

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Q
Is it true that you can age a tortoise by counting the rings on its shell, in a similar way to a tree trunk?

A
Unfortunately, this is not reliable method of aging these reptiles. Young tortoises for example often have several rings evident on their shells by the time they are a year old, which would suggest they are actually older than is the case. On the other hand, you frequently find that the shells of adult tortoises become smoother, with signs of these concentric rings disappearing in old age. This applies particularly in the case of those such as the American gopher tortoises (Gopherus species) which burrow underground, as they rub their shell regularly on the sides of their tunnels, obliterating these patterns as they move in and out of their retreats. But just as with a tree’s growth rings, the shell of the tortoise does give some clues as to its past. When food has been plentiful, the tortoise grows rapidly, and as a result, the spacing between the concentric rings on the shell will then appear wider.

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Q
Our Indian stick insect eggs have hatched, giving rise to tiny nymphs. How do you suggest handling these, when I need to change their food supply?

A
Young stick insects are very fragile at this stage, and the simplest means of moving them is to use a small paint brush, as sold for artists. You can eff ectively sweep the nymphs up, by persuading them to step on to the bristles, and then transfer them elsewhere. Even so, they are very well-camoufl aged and it is easy to miss individuals hanging on to the bramble shoots when you are replacing these stems.
A better option is to prolong the life of the stems of bramble, which you can do by placing them in a narrow-necked container of water, so you will not need to disturb the nymphs as frequently. Stuff the top of the vessel tightly with tin foil, which will prevent any of the young stick insects drowning in the water. This also means that you will not need to cut as much bramble to feed your stick insects. As they grow bigger, you can pick up the stick insects directly, using your thumb and first finger.

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Q
My snake-necked turtles are refusing to eat pellets. What do you suggest?

A
These turtles can be rather fussy when it comes to accepting pellets, but do persist in aiming to persuade them, because this type of food provides a much more balanced diet than invertebrates such as mealworms or waxworms. In the short term however, dust these livefoods with a vitamin and mineral powder to improve their nutritional value, and provide the turtles with a smallpiece of cuttlefish bone, which they may nibble to obtain extra calcium.
There are now approaching a dozen different types and formulations of pelleted turtle food available, so try experimenting. Although these may not be widely available in local pet shops, you can buy them by mail order from advertisers in this magazine. Snakenecked turtles may be less inclinedthan many species to eat longer food sticks such as Reptomin, but they may start to take these if you simply break them into shorter lengths at first. The shape of the food can be important - they may alternatively prefer rounded pellets.
Hikari Turtle Sticks can also give good results under these circumstances, but whichever brand you try, drop this food into the water with the livefood, so as the turtles snap at the insects, they may start sampling the pellets. It is likely to be a gradual process, but once they start taking bites out of the pellets, then it will only be a matter of time before you can wean them them across to this type of food.

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Q
Which plants would be suitable to include in a vivarium housing dart frogs?

A
With many amphibians, and particularly dart frogs, it is quite easy to create and maintain a naturalistic setting. Large-scale specialist planted vivaria of this type are popular in the Netherlands and Germany, although you can achieve a similar effect on a smaller scale using Hagen’s Exo-Terra enclosures.
Obviously, you need to try to match the plants to the conditions in the vivarium, which in this case will be basically warm and humid. The lighting requirements of the plants are also important, because this type of enclosure will not be brightly-lit, mimicking the surrounding in the rain forest where these stunning frogs are to be found.
If you hope to breed your dart frogs, then you will need to include bromeliads in their vivarium. These plants are often epiphytes, growing off branches, and have a central cup where rainwater accumulates. The dart frogs deposit their tadpoles in this water. Choose relatively small bromeliads to include in the vivarium, and keep the central cup fi lled with dechlorinated water.
Other plants should be selected so they too will not rapidly outgrow the enclosure. They can be set in pots, rather than planted, with the pot itself being concealed by vivarium decor and moss. Be sure to remove dead leaves, before they start to become mouldy. Avoid using fertilisers for the plants in the vivarium too, as these can be harmful to the occupants by raising the level of nitrogen.

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