As we all know, prices of everything have been rising sharply for some time now. I’m not sure where the government was getting their 10% inflation from because that is not what we have been seeing. From small increases in livefood to 100% increases in some seed products and of course a 600% increase in energy for commercial properties. All fuelled by post covid adjustments, war in Europe and around the world and of course good old corporate racketeeering (looking at you oil and gas producers). That’s why it came as a very pleasant surprise when we were informed by our supplier that Orijen is actually going down.
Following on from this we have noticed other prices starting to fall and other suppliers, such as our APL manufacturere promising no further increases in price this year. The price reductions we are seeing range from a couple of pence on smaller items to really quite large drops of several pounds on larger bags or bulk items. on Hopefully these are early signs of an end to the spiralling price increases we have seen over the last year or two.
As a retailer we have very little control over prices. Our suppliers tell us what the increase is and we see how much of that increase we can absorb before passing any residual onto our customers. As an example the last increase in our dog food to our customers was around £4 a 12 or 15kg bag but to us it was actually £8. So although we charged more, we made less. Such is life. With price reductions however we like to pass on the entire saving to our customers as soon as we can.
Orijen prices have already been put down and some other products, such as dried mealworms have also been reduced in store and on our website. As, hopefully more reductions come through, we will pass these straight on to our customers. We know that people notice (and certainly comment) when prices go up but don’t notice when they go down so forgive us if we point it out when it happens!
Everyone is aware of the ongoing energy crisis and everyone is effected in one way or another. The obvious and I am sure, most important to our customers is the dramatic rise and subesequent caps and governement support for residential energy consumers.
Whilst the rises have been large, domestic charges have been capped and payments of at least a few hundred pounds are being made available for all domestic users. Not so business. Business accounts have no protection to date against these unprecedented rises. It seems that, as there is a limit to what can be charged to domestic customers the power companies have pushed the increases onto businesses. The actual size of the increase is unprecedented and I strongly suspect that a lot of small and medium businesses will cease trading this winter as they struggle to deal with these exhorbitant rises in costs.
I cannot speak for any other business as each negotiates its own deal with its supplier but I can outline what has happened in our case and detail the changes we have been forced into and those we are currently considering.
At the beginning of the year our unit charge for electricity was 15.95p/kWhr and our bill for the month of January, the middle of winter, was £492. In March this year our tarriff doubled and March’s bill (a warmer, lower usage month) was £796. In April in went up again by another 14p/kWhr. Our bill for May 2021 was £278. May 2022 was £1074 so up until yesterday we were paying 300% more for our electricity. It’s imprtant to note that price increases in our products during this period were not a result of these increases. They were caused by direct increases in puchase price of those products from our suppliers and increases in delivery charges. We absorbed all of the energy cost increases into the business by making some changes in the shop to try to offset at least some of it.
We are now at the limit of what we are able to do with those changes and today (8th Sept.) our unit charge doubled again. We are now paying nearly 600% more for electricity than we were at the beginning of the year. Without some drastic changes May 2023 charges are going to be around £2200 for one month. I hate to think what the winter months will be.
Obviously this is not sustainable for any business and we have been forced to take steps to offset the increases by a selection of measures. Unfortunately some of these involve increasing some prices but we have avoided this wherever possible. I have detailed below what we have done to mitigate these extraordinary increases (and future,further increases),
At the beginning of the year we invested £1300 in new display freezers. Under the new tarriff these freezers would now be costing us over £100 per day to run. Currently we have removed all the stock to cheaper storage freezers and switched the display freezers off until prices fall again. Obviously this decision was not taken lightly as £1300 is a significant investement to right off for a business of our size.
After todays increase we have recalculated the cost of running even the storage freezers and the money generated to the business by the products stored in them. Even the storage freezer we are using for the dog food is costing us £45 per month. If we sell all the products currently stored in this freezer within this time period we will just about break even for the month. In other words selling frozen dog food is not generating any income for the business, even with the recent price increases customers have seen. The only way we could continue to sell these products and make a profit would be to further increase the selling price by aproximately 50% and no one is going to want to pay that. We have therefore made the decision to continue selling frozen dog food for the time being whilst these rediculously high energy prices continue or some sort of support becomes available for business. However if there are further increases in energy costs to us we will, once current stocks have gone, have to switch this freezer off for the foreseable future.
Hopefully no one has noticed but we have removed around half of the shop lights. Each unit has four tubes and we have removed two from each unit. I will be looking at the sodium lamps tomorrow to see which of these can also be removed without effecting the customer experience too much.
We have 10 tropical fish tanks and we have changed half of these to temperate tanks. Under the new tarriff this saves us nearly £400 a month.
We are reviewing the number of reptiles we hold on site in the shop. We are likely to drop the holding to a few display species and publish a list of what else we can offer to order. I won’t publish the savings here as it rather depends on which vivaria we keep swiched on as they all have different power needs.
We are looking at pricing of our animals to better reflect the actual cost to us of each one, including the cost of keeping them in store rather than just the purchase price.
We will be forced to increase our boarding fees for reptiles with immediate effect to £6 per day. This represents a 100% increase on what we charged at the beginning of the year but remember, the cost to us of caring for these animals has increased by 600% in electricity alone. Food and substrate prices have also increased this year.
We are carrying out a review of all our prices to ensure that whilst some increases are going to be necessary, we remain competitive compared to others. We are routinely better value than the large chain pet stores and we intend to stay that way.
This is a difficult time for everyone and we really do appreciate the understanding of our loyal customers. We rely on you to keep the business afloat and want to reassure everyone that we are doing everything possible to keep prices down but I’m afraid that it’s impossble to avoid increases completely.
So far we have only had one or two unfortunate comments on the recent price increases that were trying to suggest we were profiting in some way from the situation. I can assure everyone at the moment that we, like a lot of other small businesses, are currently working merely to increase the profits of Shell, BP and the like, not our own. Everything we make currently goes on paying their bosses bonuses, not ours. Until energy prices fall or the government steps in to stop this profiteering this will continue to be the case, if we all manage to stay in business until then that is.
Many reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates require livefood (insects and other invertebrates) as a whole or part of their diet. Some mammals such as pygmy hedgehogs do to. At Angell Pets we have stocked a range of livefood options since we opened over 13 years ago.
We often get new customers who have been buying their livefood either on line or at a chain store comment on the quality, condition and price of our livefood when they first come in. Our pre-existing customers have obviously been benefitting from this qualityfor some time and know why they shop with us. How do we keep our prices down and quality up? Well hard work and care mainly
Sticking a box of livefood on a shelf and leaving it there until a customer picks it up is just about it for most outlets. Not us. When we get the livefood in from one of our high quality suppliers (on their own temperature controlled vehicles, not via courier where the heat of summer or cold of winter decimates the stock before it even arrives) it is first inspected for quality. Any substandard packs are removed and not put onto our shelves. Fortunately for us this is a rare occurence and is usually where a tub lid may have come off in transit. The tubs of livefood are then fed, usually with a thin slice of organic carrot, before putting on the shelf for sale. It would be easy to just put in a large slice and leave it at that for the week but it is important that all the food is eaten before it has a chance to spoil. Too large a piece and it will start to rot and spoil the tub of livefood. For this reason we revisit each and every tub three times a week to remove any uneaten food, replace with a fresh slice and also remove any moulted skins from the insects (crickets, locusts, mealworms, morio worms etc.). This is very time consuming and fiddly but essential if we are to keep up our excellent standard of livefood that our customers have come to expect. As I write this blog it is a bank holiday Monday. When I have finished the first draft here I am off to the shop to feed and water the animals (reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals and fish) and yes, feed all the livefood tubs on the shelf.
Toward the end of the week, especially in the large and extra large sizes during the summer months, some of the tubs will have grown into adults or started to deteriorate. We then go through every tub, removing any dead insects and replacing with live ones (consolidating the tubs) to ensure a tub bought on a Wednesday afternoon is as good as a tub bought on a Thursday morning when the fresh delivery arrives. We also consantly review the numbers ordered and we have become quite good at ensuring we order just enough to keep stock on the shelf for the week and are just running out when the new stock arrives so the tubs are never older than a week and look as fresh as when delivered.
Why do we go to all this effort. Well, the main reason is it is important the the food you feed your animal is as full of nutrients as possible. Just being alive is not enough. A starving, dehydrated locust, with an empty gut and not enough energy to really move let alone grow is not as benificial to your animal as one that is fit and healthy. Also by keeping our tubs of livefood well fed and hydrated we ensure we lose very little stock to spoilage. Each tub lost is a tub not sold so effects the return on our investment. By ensuring spoilage is at a minimum we are able to control costs to the business and keep the price to our customers down. Finally although reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates such as tarantulas do require livefood to survive we believe we have a responsibility to these insects whilst they are in a our care. Just letting a tub die because “they are just crickets” doesn’t wash with us.
We hope you as a customer share our views on the importance of looking after livefood for the benefit of you and your animal and look forward to seeing you during the week when you can be confident that you are getting the best quality for the best possible price.
Everyone is aware of the huge increase in the cost of living at the moment. Sadly we are not exempt from these increases. Increases in fuel and energy prices (ours have over trebled May 2021 – £350 electricity bill, May 2022 £1104!), rises in employment costs and the effects of Covid are just some of the pressures on price. The war in the Ukraine is an additional element that particularly effects some of our most popular products, wild bird foods. Anything containing sunflower seed has seen massive increases in wholesale price as supplies from this region disappear. 80% of sunflower seed comes from the Ukraine. With these supplies seriously curtailed, demand on the remaining 20% of world supply has been at levels that have inevitably driven up the price. Despite all these pressures our products remain much lower that those found in chains such as Pets At Home.
(Price comparison carried out 25/07/22 between Pets at Home website and Angell Pets website angellpets.co.uk and in store pricing.)
So even though global pressure has resulted in price increases recently, the good news is that despite this and despite us not having the buying power of the large chains, we have still been able to compete on price and in many cases massively out perform them.
So you could drive a few miles, using up your very expensive fuel to shop at an expensive out of town chain store. Alternatively you could stay local and use an independent, family run store, staffed by people who know the products and can give expert advice and pay significantly less into the bargain
I delivered an order this evening to one of our oldest customers (FREE local delivery on orders over £10). By using us instead of a chain store she saved herself £30 and received an extra 750g delivered to her door, so no fuel costs. Seems like a no brainer to me but hey! I’m biased I guess.
If you wish to place an order just call us on 01452501882 for FREE local delivery or order on line for in store collection. Of course we would love to see you in store in person too.
Billie has left temporarilly on maternity leave. Whist she is away we will be short staffed and her duties (pretty much everything to do with running the business) will have to be picked up by me. So whilst she is away we have introduced lunchtime closing from 12:30 to 13:00 every day. Appologies for any inconvenience but I gotta eat (tried seeing if I could go without lunch – not happening).
As the Government begins easing lockdown we have had another look at our opening times. We have put off the decision until now in case there was a need to re-enter lockdown, we didn’t want to keep extending and then reducing hours all the time. The first easing measure was the return of kids to school. We have monitored the situation and it seems very unlikely that this decision is going to be reversed, which means parents want to be able to call after picking up their kids. In the next couple of weeks, non essential shops will be reopening and as the vaccination program progresses at pace, the number of our own customers still needing local deliveries continues to fall.
With all this in mind, now seems like the best time to extend our opening hours back to pre-COVID levels.We have been working hard, remaining open throughout the pandemic and adding the additional evening delivery service. That’s why we will be taking full advantage of the Easter break to recharge and come back next week with extended opening hours.
Opening hours this weekend and onwards are as folows
Thursday 01/04/21 – 10am to 4pm
Good Friday – CLOSED
Saturday 03/04/21 – 10am – 4pm
Easter Sunday – CLOSED
Bank Holiday Monday – CLOSED
Tuesday 06/04/21 – Back to old hours – 10am – 5:30pm Tuesday to Saturday (1pm – 5:30pm Mondays)
Billie will also be going off for a few weeks on maternity leave at some time in April/May so there may be a need to introduce a lunchtime closing at that time but we’ll wait and see.
This subject is so varied and species specific it is usually treated in individual care sheets for each individual species. However there are some common threads that it is useful to discuss in one article to give a better overall understanding. This should help new owners decide on which is the correct equipment to purchase and existing owners to understand why we do the things we do and why some advice has changed over the years. We are lucky at Angell Pets to be able to draw on the expertise of our technical adviser George Angell. George is course leader at Abingdon and Whitney college and regularly lectures on all things herpetological. He has kindly written the following article which explains the mysteries of enhancing the health and wellbeing of our animals through correct heating and lighting and how the two interplay. Plus he is a bit more succinct than I am so this advice, whilst the same as I have been giving in the shop for years is much clearer than my ramblings!
UV to Infra Red Lighting
The subject of reptile lighting can be very confusing. White, red, blue, and green heat bulbs, UV lighting, LED lighting, heat mats and heat cables, heat rocks, ceramic heat emitters, halogen bulbs, mercury vapour, metal halide; the list goes on and on. But what do I need to get for my reptile or amphibian?
Well first we need to understand why we need to provide any of this equipment at all. Nearly all reptiles are ectotherms, meaning they use external sources of energy for heat. In the wild, reptiles will use the sun’s energy for this purpose, but in captivity they do not have access to the sun. We need to use a range of equipment to try and replicate the energy from the sun.
This solar energy hits the atmosphere and we see it as light. However, there are elements of the suns energy which we cannot see with the naked eye and these are in the form of UV (ultra violet) and infra-red. These are all forms of radiation from the sun, but they have different wavelengths. UV light is short wavelength in the range of 200-400nm, visible light is 400-700nm and infra-red radiation is in the range of 700-1 million nm.
If we are to try and recreate the sun’s energy inside our vivarium, we need to try and produce the full spectrum of light for our reptiles. This includes providing UV light, visible light, and infra-red light.
Let’s focus on the higher energy end of the relative section of the electromagnetic spectrum. UV light can be split into 3 categories. UVA, B and C. In the picture below is shown the UV categories and their relative wavelengths, as well as the other important types of light radiation that we will deal with later.
UVC, the highest energy form, is harmful to cells as it begins to breakdown the DNA molecules inside the cell. We do not want to be producing this in our reptile enclosures. Most equipment manufacturers will ensure their lamps are not producing any UVC.
UVC lamps are used in the animal industry however but mainly as a disinfectant bulb, particularly in fish filters so it is always worth buying your lamps from a reputable pet shop and be wary of buying cheaper bulbs from the internet.
UVB is essential for reptile health and wellbeing. UVB is critical in the process of metabolising calcium obtained in the diet. UVB (290-315nm) enables the reptile to convert cholesterol in the skin into pre-vitamin d3. This undergoes a temperature dependent reaction to convert to vitamin d3. This is metabolised in the liver and the kidney to produce the hormone calcitriol which, in turn controls calcium metabolism. UVB has also been shown to increase the skin’s barrier functions, increase the pigments in the skin and to act as a mild disinfectant for bacterial and fungal infections.
The diagram below shows why both ends of the light spectrum are important to this function
UVA light, whilst not visible to the human eye, can be seen by reptiles and amphibians and is used in communication, recognition of food items and recognition of conspecifics
We now know we need to provide UV light in the forms of UVA and UVB but how much? This is very dependent on where our reptile/amphibian comes from in the wild. How much sunlight, and as a result, UV light, is it exposed to in its natural habitat and can we mimic that in captivity?
Bearded dragons come from the deserts of Australia. They naturally have large amounts of sunlight and UV light every day. A nocturnal, forest dwelling gecko species, such as a crested gecko, will only see glimpses of sunlight through the canopy of the trees as it is hiding under a leaf during the day.
Many UV equipment manufacturers have marketed their lamps to be easier to understand and have tried to aim them toward certain habitats. For example, there are “desert” style lamps that emit higher levels of UV compared to “jungle” or “natural sunlight”. These used to be marketed as 10%, 5% and 2% UVB lamps. This indicated how much of the lamp output was in the UVB range of wavelengths. This has now largely changed, and lamps are marketed differently for different brands. For example Exo Terra now use 100, 150, and 200 (the amount of UVB recorded 10cm away from the lamp) and arcadia use desert, forest and shade dweller.
The most important thing to find out before committing to purchasing a UV setup is the natural range of UV for our reptile. Lots of research has gone into this in recent years and many of the commonly kept species have been categorised into 4 groups. These categories are called Ferguson zones and they differentiate the group depending on their natural UV levels in their natural range. This is measured as a UV index using a UVI meter. For example, nocturnal gecko species are Ferguson zone 1. They do not encounter large amounts of UV light in nature so need a UV index of 0-1.0. The bearded dragon however is in Ferguson zone 3, needing a UV index of 2.9-7.4. This is because they openly bask in the hot sun of the Australian desert.
Once we know what Ferguson zone suits our reptile or amphibian species, we can begin to plan our basking area. The Ferguson zone will also indicate how our reptile gains its energy. If it is in Ferguson zone 1-2, it is very unlikely to get direct sunlight in its natural range. This could be because it is nocturnal and doesn’t openly bask in the sunlight, or it could be a jungle species that lives under the canopy, so sunlight is filtered and reflected by the leaves above. If your reptile is in Ferguson zone 3 it is likely to be basking in direct sunlight and actively coming out during the day to bask. Fergusson zone 4 animals spend almost the entire day exposed to strong sunlight. We can provide the UV accordingly.
For a reptile that is in Ferguson zone 1 or 2, we can provide UV by the “shade” method. This is where we provide low levels of UV, over most of the enclosure and the animal can get away from the UV in hides or in the shade from plants/enrichment. For animals in Ferguson zones 3 and 4 we provide UV by the “sunbeam” method. As we discussed, these animals bask in direct sunlight. Natural sunlight contains UV, visible light and infrared (heat) light which we will discuss in more detail later. So, for us to provide high levels of UV, in the UV index range of 2.9-7.4, we provide it in the basking area at the hot end of the enclosure. We then provide a shaded end at the other end of the enclosure where the animal can regulate its UV exposure.
Now we have decided what Ferguson zone our reptile/amphibian belongs in and we have decided how we will provide the correct UV index in the enclosure according to the animal’s behaviour, we can choose the type of lamp. There are many methods to provide UV to our animals, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, there are many conflicting opinions on the internet about which method is best and it can get very confusing. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what type of UV lamp we are using, if we are providing the correct UV index for our species.
The usual way to provide UV in reptile enclosures currently are to use compact UV lamps (swirly bulbs), T8 tubes, T5 tubes, mercury vapour or metal halide. All have their advantages and disadvantages and we will discuss them in a bit more detail later but before we start it is important to note that levels of UV deteriorate over distance and time. The UV levels your reptile receives 30cm away from your lamp will be different to what they receive 10cm away. Also, what the animal receives 6 months later will be less at any distance. It is worth checking your lamp output regularly.
UV compact lamps are what they say on the tin. They are small, compact lamps that have been designed to fit inside a canopy which can sit on top of an enclosure. They are great for using in small enclosures or for additional UV at the basking site. However, they don’t project their UV very far so the basking area needs to be relatively close to the bulb.
T8 tubes are the thicker tubes, approximately 1 inch in diameter. These are used by a large proportion of the hobby. They are often the cheaper options of UV available and they can provide reasonable levels of UV for most enclosures. Again, UV deteriorates over distance and these lamps don’t project the UV as far as some others but can provide adequate UV for shade dwelling enclosures and if used correctly, for the sunbeam method.
T5 lamps are the higher end type of fluorescent tube and are more powerful than the compact lamps and T8 bulbs. They can project their UV further so the animal doesn’t need to be as close to get the same level of UV. They are slightly more expensive, though recent developments and a push from the reptile trade for better equipment in the hobby is making these more available to every keeper. These can be used for both shade dweller and sunbeam methods providing the correct intensity bulbs are chosen. Both T8 and T5 lamps need a separate controller that is mounted outside of the vivarium. Some of these controllers can be used in any type of habitat but some can only be used in arid environments (i.e. cannot be sprayed with water as the fittings are not sealed) so do check first which one to use.
Mercury vapour lamps are large bulbs. They provide UVA, UVB, visible light and infrared light (heat). They are self-ballasted, meaning they can be put into a standard reptile light large eddsion screw fitting; however, they cannot be controlled on a thermostat. This is because the ballast requires constant voltage to be able to start the bulb and keep it running, and the thermostat will cut that power. This will cause the lamp to cut out and restart which will shorten the lifespan of the bulb. As they are such large bulbs, generally 80-160W, they provide lots of heat too (the glass surface gets very hot). This fact combined with not being able to be combined with a thermostat means they are often unsuitable for use inside a vivarium. They are however, very useful for large enclosures such as a room, or for open topped enclosures like tortoise tables or terrapin enclosures.
Finally, metal halide lamps are similar to mercury vapour in that they produce UVA, UVB, visible light and infrared, except that they require the use of an external ballast. This ballast effectively amplifies the electricity from your supply in order to start the bulb. This means the bulbs themselves can be lower wattage which helps to reduce the electricity bill. However, they still produce large amounts of infra-red radiation and cannot be used on a thermostat due to their ballast. Therefore, they are best used in open top enclosures or larger enclosures like mercury vapour. Trials have shown that they project UV light and visible light much further into the enclosure than other methods.
We know our Ferguson zone, we know how we will setup our UV lamp, either shade method or sunbeam method and we have decided on our UV lamp, now we need to set up the equipment and ensure the measured UV index is correct. For our bearded dragon we know it is Ferguson zone 3, needing a UV index of 2.9-7.4. It is best to use the sunbeam method, and as a result we will use a “desert” T8 or T5 bulb in our vivarium at the basking area in the hot end. Once we have this setup, we will turn it on and allow the lamp to “burn in”. Often UV lamps require a time to stabilise the output of UV. This is often around 100 hours of being on. After this period the amount of UV the lamp produces will be more stable and will then start to decline slowly over the lifecycle of the lamp. We will then check our UV index in the basking area, where the animal will sit, and it is hopefully reading within the range of 2.9-7.4.
Now for visible light. This is a developing area in reptile keeping as, for many years we have been happy being able to see our reptiles with the visible light that is also produced by our fluorescent UV tubes. However, more and more research is being done into the benefits of providing well-lit vivariums. A bright enclosure not only allows us to see the enclosure better but also stimulates more natural behaviours from our animals, even if they are a nocturnal species. Nocturnal species have been shown to react to light levels and carry out a behaviour known as cryptic basking. This can be, for example, where they are hiding under a leaf but have a foot sticking out. The reptile is therefore able to utilise light and infrared radiation, just as if it was basking in the open.
As we discussed the sun has UV, visible and infrared light all in one. But we need to provide multiple bulbs to produce the full spectrum effectively. Visible light is often added to an enclosure using LED lamps. These are high output, efficient lamps that provide a bright light. Many basking lamps also give out light in the UVA range.
We measure light levels in lumens and also the colours of light in degrees kelvin. As shown in the illustration at the start of the blog, visible light at different wavelengths appears to us as different colours, i.e.the colours of the rainbow. Reddish light (often seen at sunrise and sunset), shows when blue light is filtered out, which is around 3000K. Bluish light shows when the red light is filtered out which is often when it’s cloudy (10,000K). Bright sunlight is around 6500K and this is generally what LED manufacturers aim for. Bright, well-lit enclosures also have benefits for naturalistic or bioactive enclosures that contain live plants. Live plants require light in the visible light range of wavelengths in order to photosynthesis. By producing bright, full spectrum lighting, we can improve the health of our plants. The pros and cons of naturalistic and bioactive enclosures is another whole article in itself! To complete our lighting setup, we need an infra-red heat source. Like UV, infrared can be split into 3 categories. Near infra-red, middle infra-red and far infra-red.
These 3 categories all provide warmth to the reptile/amphibian; however they provide it in different ways. The near/short infra-red is the wavelength that is closest to visible light. We cannot see it, but some reptiles can, and they will use this when choosing where to bask. This wavelength of infrared also penetrates the tissue of the reptile and has a deeper warming effect on the tissue than the other types of infrared. Mid-infrared penetrates the skin less than near infra-red but still has a moderate warming effect and far infra-red penetrates very little but has a surface warming effect for the items in the enclosure.
The different types of heating/lighting equipment we use produce different types of infra-red radiation. Again, the sun produces the whole range of this energy, along with UV light and visible light so we want to try and replicate that in our enclosures and provide a full spectrum of infra-red radiation too.
To provide near infra-red we can use incandescent bulbs such as halogen bulbs, or basking bulbs. These produce visible light that we can see, but the filaments inside them are very slowly burning and also producing near infra-red energy. As we discussed, this type of infra-red radiation penetrates the skin deeply and provides positive influences on the animal’s blood vessels and sub-cutaneous functions. For pre-vitamin d3 to convert to vitamin d3, the process requires warmth as shown in the illustration below.
To produce mid infra-red, we can use “deep heat projectors”. These do not produce visible light but do produce near and mid infra-red. This helps to provide heat deep into the tissue of the animal without disturbing the day-night cycle and also without producing extra visible light. This can be an advantage if you already have a very bright basking area by using multiple UV bulbs, LED bulbs and incandescent bulbs, but you still need to increase the basking temperature.
Finally, to produce far infra-red we can use equipment like heat mats, ceramic heat emitters or heating cable. This type of infra-red radiation is the type of infra-red that is reflected back into the environment once the sun has gone down. For example, a rock that has been under the sun all day and has been warmed by the sun’s energy. Once the sun goes down and external air temperatures start to decrease, the rock releases its energy back into the environment and cools down. This energy is in the form of far-infrared radiation. In our enclosures we can provide this by using the equipment listed above and this can help maintain temperatures overnight and provide a warm area for the animals to hide or move around in whilst still allowing a day/night cycle of visible and UVB light.
The reptile trade is developing equipment all the time. Recently, there has been a big push in the trade to try and move away from the old style of heating an enclosure using a heat mat at one end and that’s it. Now we understand more about the wavelengths of infra-red and how the provision of near infra-red wavelengths has so many benefits for reptiles and amphibians, we are trying to give a good full spectrum of lighting. However, to do this it is important that the heating elements of our spectrum should be on a thermostat. This ensures that the temperature doesn’t get too hot, and that the equipment is able to turn off when the enclosure gets above the required temperature for the species. In the wild, the animal would move itself into shade and escape the heat, or burrow into the substrate. However, without a thermostat turning our heating off in our enclosure, it can become like an oven with nowhere to escape to. Reptiles and amphibians can tolerate low temperatures for some time but over temperature can kill in minutes if extreme.
Near infra-red sources like incandescent light bulbs are best used on a dimming thermostat. This is because they also produce visible light (even the red lamps produce red light that we can see as well as infra red that we can’t). The light can be dimmed down by reducing the voltage applied and as a result the amount of infrared radiation is also dimmed down. If we were to use the other types of thermostats (pulse proportional or on/off) then the light will be flickering and it is likely to blow the bulb, meaning it needs replacing. This type of thermostat also gives the finest level of control as it keeps the highs and lows of temperature change closer and thus a more stable temperature overall. As the lamp spends a lot of time with the voltage applied to it lower than the maximum it is rated for the life of the bulb is also extended, sometimes quite significantly.
Heating elements like ceramic heat emitters are best used on a pulse proportional thermostat. This is where the electricity supply is on and off in short pulses. For example, when the temperature is too cold, the “on” pulse is longer than the “off” pulse. Then when the temperature is approaching the correct temperature, the pulses are about the same, 50/50. When it is too hot the “off” pulse is longer than the “on” pulse. This is why we use this type of thermostat with a far infra-red heating element as with an incandescent light bulb, this is likely to significantly reduce the life of the bulb.
The on/off thermostat is generally used for heat mats and cables and is the most basic of the thermostats. The heating element is on full power until it reaches temperature, and then it is completely off. This creates large peaks and troughs in temperature and is the least stable level of control. Heat mats can also introduce the chance of a phenomenon called “thermal blocking”. This is where the enclosure is cold, so the reptile moves to the heat mat to warm up. The heat mat is mainly producing far infra-red. It is not warming the air in the enclosure very much and not penetrating the tissue of the reptile. As a result, the reptile still feels cold, so stays on the heat mat. The heat mat stays on at full power as the thermostat probe thinks it is too cold because the reptile is sitting on the heat mat, blocking the heat warming the air temperature in the enclosure. As a result, the reptile can get burnt, even when using a thermostat. Therefore, if heat mats are used, it is often recommended to put them on the side of the enclosure so the animal cannot sit on them. This mainly effects large animals that can significantly cover the mat with their body.
That is an overview of lighting our reptile enclosures. It covers the principles of UV lighting, visible lighting and infra-red heating and the need to provide the full spectrum to our captive reptiles and amphibians. For detailed information on individual species the supplier should be asked for further advice. Animals should only be purchased from licensed suppliers who are able to give advice on the animals they are selling. Licences are graded from one to five stars. Always choose a 5 star supplier.
George Angell Bsc (Hons)
Countryside Management Course Leader & Lecturer
Abingdon and Witney College in Partnership with Oxford Brookes University
The spotted python (Antaresia maculosa) is one of the smallest python species in the world, although it is the largest in its genus (the smallest is the ant hill python). They reach between 90 to 110cm in length and are a relatively slender python. The species ranges from eastern Queensland, Australia down to north eastern New South Wales in the wild but they are readily available as captive bred snakes. Their docile and calm nature, small size and attractive spotted pattern make them fantastic first snakes for someone looking for something a little different to the standard cornsnake/royal python usuallly suggested. Also when enclosure space is an issue the smaller size makes them a great option.
A spotted python’s natural habitat is dry, open forest. They are often found around rocky outcrops that provide holes and caves for them to hide in. A wooden enclosure around 70 – 90cm is ideal. Glass can be used but be aware that as glass does not keep in the heat the heating bill will be higher and larger wattage heaters are likely to be needed. Done correctly though a bioactive display enclosure will look impressive. Be sure to use appropriate plants that can tolerate lower soil humidity levels.
The cheapest method of heating a vivarium would be to use a combination of a suitably sized heat mat and on/off thermostat. Due to the smaller size of the spotted python this would suffice (no thermal blocking). However a more steady temperature can be acheived using a ceramic heat emitter and pulse proportional thermostat. If using a ceramic heat emitter and heater guard is essential to prevent the snake touching the very hot surface and burning itself. The temperature should range across the enclosure, with a “high end” and a “low end” so if you have more than one heat source make sure they are at the same end. The hot end wants to be around 29-30 degrees celcius and the cold end 23 – 26 degrees C. This gradient allows the snake to move to different areas to thermoregulate. Most reptiles do not maintain their own body temperature internally and rely on the external temperature of their surroundings so must have areas where they can warm up and cool down.
The debate over whether snakes really need UVB goes on. Due to the higher calcium content of their diet many breeders and hobbysists have been keeping snakes without UVB for years with great success. However it can be demonstrated that your spotted python will benefit from low levels of UVB (and UVA) in terms of stimulating natural behaviour and activity as well as improved calcium uptake from the diet. Whatever light source you use needs to be switched on during the day and off at night to give the snake a day/night cycle to stimulate natural behaviour.
Feeding and Watering
We feed our snakes once a week on suitably sized defrosted mice and rats. Being a smaller snake the spotted python will not need to be moved onto rats, as soon as possible as with some larger species. It is never going to need anything larger than a mouse. However it is a good idea to vary the diet, rather than just feed one species of rodent. We feed mice, rats up to small weaner, multimammate mice (actually a type of rat). Hamsters, gerbils, chicks etc. are also available for fussy feeders but spotted puthons are generally good feeders so this wouldn’t normally be necessary. As with all snakes, defrost the food naturally and if necessary warm to blood heat gently (in a plastic bag under your arm if you only have one or two specimens to feed, on top of the viv. above the heater if you have a few). Never defrost or heat the food in a microwave or on a radiator. Snakes can get food poisoning too, although most will simply decline the spoilt rodent. Ensure a water bowl, large enough for the snake to emmerce itself if required, is placed at the cool end of the viv. Don’t place it at the hot end, it will evaporate too quickly and make the viv. too humid. Keep the bowl clean and replace the water daily. It is surprising how quickly bacteriea will grow in the hot, enclosed environment of a vivarium.
Substrate and Decor
I like natural looking enclosures so tend to use natural looking substates. For a dry forest snake like a spotted python we are using a combination of coir, bark chips mixed with a sandy soil. It looks great but it is not what you “have to use”. Any suitable snake substrate such as lignocel, aspen, straight bark chips etc will do. I just prefer trying to create a natural look and feel, you don’t have to. It is easier to spot the poop with the lighter colloured substrates so there is always that to take into account. Spotted pythons are quite shy snakes so really do appreciate their hides. Any non toxic material will do, plastic, resin caves etc. I prefer cork bark (more natural looking and safer than rock stacks) but it’s up to you. A branch will be appreciated and some greenery in the form of silk plants will finish the look off.
Spotted pythons make excellent beginner snakes due to their docile nature and small adult size. But Make sure when purchasing you use a reputable, 5 star licenced supplier with a good returns policy to ensure you can buy with confidence.
The largest of the 70 or so species/sub species of the Phelsuma genus. This fascinating bright green, usually red spotted, arboreal gecko comes originally from the north area of Madagascar. As the name suggests this is a diurnal (active by day) lizard. It feeds mainly on insects, smaller vertebrates and some nectar. The Madagascan Giant Day Gecko hunts through the branches and leaves and has the lamellar pads on their toes that make geckos (some) famous for being able to climb vertical surfaces and even hang up side down from leaves and ceilings. In captivity they have no problem running round the glass sides of a suitable vivarium. Anyone considering a bioactive set up would do well to consider the day geckos. I had this set up myself with a breeding pair of Giant Day Geckos (Phelsuma grandis) and it looked the business.
The Madagascan Gian Day Gecko is arboreal so height is as important as floor space. The larger the enclosure the better but as a minimum 60cm long by 60cm high. They can grow up to 30cm (male) although not always. Females are usually a couple of inches smaller. As already stated, they are very agile. They can also be very fast and will shoot out through an open vivarium door if you’re not careful. If they do then you are left chasing a very quick lizard around your walls and ceiling, at my age not that easy. They are known for being escape artists, you have been warned.
If using a wooden vivarium you will need to ensure it is well sealed. These are tropical/sub tropical lizards and the humidity will blow the panels if not properly sealed. I prefer glass for these and similar animals because they are better suited to to the humidity and for spraying the plants and gecko with water. Also, unless you are using some sort of tray liner, wood or more properly melamine) is not suitable for a bio active setups. There are at least four readily available brands of glass vivarium/terrarium currently in the UK (and we have accounts with all of them) and a host of custom builders.
Madagascan Day Geckos are tropical/sub tropical lizards so some form of heating is essential to the continued health of the lizard. Which ever form of heating is used, a temperature gradient across the vivarium will allow the gecko to thermoregulate. Nearly all reptiles are poikilothermic. That is their internal body temperature varies with the temperature of their surroundings (unlike us homeotherms who maintain a stable internal body temperature). They need a hot end (30-32C in the basking area) and a cold end (24-25C) with a gradient in between so they can position themselves to warm up and cool down as required. There are a variety of heating products on the market that can achieve this but I will just outline one method here (with variation depending on budget) as it is the one I tend to use.
A heat mat, mounted to the side of the vivarium to give background heat. This can be left on day and night and connected to a thermostat to switch it off if temperatures get too high (more likely in the day time – why will be clear in a second). A second heat (and light) source, at the same end as the heat mat, mounted above the mesh of the vivarium lid, in the form of a basking lamp. This gives a “hot spot” for the gecko to bask in when it wants to warm up and if a UVA lamp is used it also helps stimulate natural behaviour and colour in the lizard. This lamp is only on during the day giving a day/night difference in temperatures.
Alternatively you could put the basking lamp on a dimmer stat. (dims it down if it gets to hot by reducing the voltage applied to the lamp, which has the added benefit of prolonging lamp life) and have a smaller mat on all the time for background heat. The second method gives finer control but a dimmer stat. is twice the cost of a mat stat. so… As long as the Madagascan Day Gecko is protected from over temperature, either will work fine. If using a wooden vivarium, all heat sources would need to be on a thermostat of some description as wood is a good insulator and will keep the heat in. Glass vivariums usually have mesh lids. Heat rises and escapes so the chances of dangerously high temperatures is much reduced.
Only house one male in an enclosure as males will fight. If housing a male and female together ensure you have a large enclosure with plenty of furniture to ensure the female can avoid the male when she wants. Constant attention form the male will at best cause distress and at worst physical injury.
Most of the food you are going to feed to your Madagascan Giant Day gecko is going to have a poor calcium/phosphorous ratio, namely live insects. This imbalance can be corrected by supplementing the diet with calcium in one form or another. However unless the correct levels of UVB light are supplied then this dietary calcium remains unavailable to the gecko. Animals (us included) use light in the UVB range of the spectrum to synthesize vitamin D3 in the skin. Vitamin D3 is used to metabolize calcium in the diet (and as we are all aware with the COVID pandemic, by the immune system). No vitamin D3, no calcium absorbed from food. The body then goes on the hunt for calcium as it is required by the nervous system and it will start to rob it from the only source left to it, the bones. This leads to a horrible, debilitating disorder called “metabolic bone disease”. The bones start to go thin and even bendy. Mild cases can be reversed but severe cases, even when conditions are corrected, will leave the gecko with deformed limbs and joints. It is painful, crippling and can be fatal and it is totally avoidable with the right UVB lighting. It is even worse in young, growing geckos as obviously they need more calcium to actively grow bones. A Madagascan Giant Day gecko is diurnal, so it is out in the partial sun all day. It is generally classed as a Ferguson zone 3 reptile which means it needs a UVI (UV index) range of 1.0 – 2.6 (Maximum UVI: 2.9 – 7.4 in basking zone).
Don’t worry too much about the technical details of this but the type of UVB lamp you use will depend on the set up of your vivarium and the positioning of the lamp. Not only are there differing strengths of UVB lamp (5%, 10% etc.) but different types, T8 tubes, T5 tubes, compact, mercury vapour, metal hallide. The important thing is that the gecko gets enough UVB light during the day. Unless you possess an expensive UVI meter to check the levels you can only go on a basic understanding of what you are buying.
If the lamp is going to be very close to the basking spot or area where the gecko spends most of the time then a 5% compact will work. If it is going to be a little further then a 10% would be better. If you wish to use a more spread out source then go for a tube. T5 tubes kick out more UVB than T8 tubes but are more expensive. Mercury vapour and metal hallide are probably too strong for this set up and generate a lot of heat, unless of course they are mounted much further away from the lizard. UVB does not travel far from the lamp and the level decays over distance. The stronger the lamp the further it will reach so Mercury vapour are better for ground dwelling species like tortoises or more specialized set ups (such as very large enclosures or rooms). If in any doubt speak to your local reptile shop. In the UK, as part of the license conditions (and you have to have a license to sell animals commercially here) all shops must have a UVI meter and record readings daily. They will know exactly what lamp you need for your set up. Note that ALL UVB lamps will need to be replaced annually. It may still light up but it will no longer be giving out sufficient UVB.
I mentioned UVA with reference to basking lamps in the heating section. UVA stimulates natural behavior and brings out colour. It does not facilitate vitamin D3 synthesis so a UVA lamp alone is not sufficient. They are different wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum. It may surprise you how many times, when asked what UV lamp they have, customers just have a basking lamp and when it is pointed out that that is mainly for heat and doesn’t provide UVB they tell me “it says UV on the box”.
What about UVC? Well that is the part of the spectrum responsible for skin damage and cancer. No lamps sold for reptiles as UVA or UVB generate any UVC.
All forms of lighting used should be on for around 12 hours a day and off at night to give a day/night cycle that will encourage natural behaviour and benefit the wellbeing of the Madagascan Day Gecko.
Feeding and Watering
I have already alluded to the diet of the Madagascan Giant Day Gecko. In the wild they eat insects, some vertebrates that are much smaller than themselves and nectar. This diet can be easily recreated in captivity. There is a a much wider range of commercially produced live insects on the market now than when I started keeping reptiles getting on for 50 (cough) years ago. I would recommend varying the diet. Don’t just feed one type of insect. They will take whatever they can get in the wild so swapping the food around a bit is good for them. Not only does it just provide a variety from a behavioral aspect but the insects themselves have different nutritional benefits. I am not going into detail of the different fat, protein, calcium, phosphorous etc. levels of all the available insects here, just vary what is presented and you will be OK. Also gut loading the insect before feeding to the gecko significantly boosts the nutritional content. The lizard eats the whole thing, including whatever the the insect has just eaten (so watch what plants you use that the insects might nibble on!). Just feed some carrot to small to medium small crickets for proof, they almost glow orange! Feeding veg. such as carrot, kale, lettuce, basil etc. will not only boost the vitamins and minerals available to the gecko but will also keep the insects alive. DO NOT let the veg. spoil though. This will wipe out the livefood pretty quickly. They will get sweaty and smelly and you have just wasted a couple of quid. Feed very small amounts frequently (should be all gone in a couple of hours or so) rather than a large chunk for the week.
For the nectar content of the diet there are commercially available powders that you just add water to and present in some sort of small container. Always make these up in small amounts daily and do not allow to spoil. They can also be used to gut load the insects. There also jelly pots available and the geckos seem to like these too.
I never bother with vertebrates. If you want you can try presenting a defrosted pinkie. The diet ours receive is well balanced enough to make this a bit pointless. Remember, in the UK it is illegal to feed live vertebrates to another animal (except under strictly defined circumstances that are not relevant here).
You can present water in a small bowl and the gecko will drink from it. However I prefer to spray the leaves of any fake or real plants at least daily and allow the gecko to drink from that. If you do use a bowl/dish or something flasher like a water fall set, make sure you keep the water fresh. In a warm environment with insects and gecko poop falling in it will get very nasty, very quickly.
People write books about this subject alone so I am only going to cover the basics. I tend to categorize set ups into three types.
Standard or basic. A suitable substrate on the floor, something that helps maintain a bit of humididity like Cresty Life or Coir mixed with bark chips. Your set up, your choice. Some people don’t use any substrate and just wipe the base daily. Fair enough, bit too boring and too much work for me but I guess it works if you spray more frequently. Fake plants both to spray for the Madagascan Day Gecko to drink from and to provide cover (plastic and silk are available, although I prefer silk as I think they look more “real”). A small container for the mixed food and away you go.
Does the job but it will need the substrate cleaning regularly. You can prolong the life by spot cleaning the gecko poop but I challenge any one to find the cricket faeces! After a couple of months it will start to pong a bit and you will start to get fungus growing which will be detrimental to health.
Standard set up but with added detrivores.
Detrivores are small invertebrates (at least in this case) that, well eat detritus. There are several species available that devour the faeces and break it down into nutrients available to plants. If you are using a standard set up with fake plants, you will still have to periodically clean out the substrate but much less frequently.
Bio Active Set Up
To do this properly I strongly recommend using a drainage layer. You can do it without but it is much more difficult to maintain the correct soil moisture content. Too dry and your plants will not thrive, too wet and you could lose the lot very quickly. Plus the soil could go anoxic, which apart from being unhealthy for the lizard, absolutely stinks.
On the bottom you place a reasonable layer of drainage material, usually clay balls. Over this you place a porous membrane or fleece layer to keep the substrate out of the drainage media. On top of this you place your substrate. For good plant growth use a quality forest media with added plant nutrients. I often put a watering tube through the substrate and membrane into the drainage media so water can be added directly to the media for the plants to access when they have established roots but you don’t have to. Add in your detrivores. I use different species (and different sized) woodlice, springtails (an even smaller species of isopod) and in the past have also used white worms (tiny, threadlike detrivores). These should thrive in the substrate and breakdown all the waste so bacteria can have a go and produce nutrients for your plants. Add plants suitable for the environment. There are so many available I am not going to this subject at all here but you want a variety of different heights. These can be planted directly into the substrate if it is deep enough. If you really want lush plant growth you may have to invest in a specialist lamp specifically for them. There are a number of brands making LED lamps for plant growth in vivariums and they all seem to work well. Your vivarium set up will dictate the size and power required. Spray a couple of times a day (more than you would in a basic set up, you are watering the plants too) and that’s it. OK, not really. You will become a bit of an indoor gardener but the gecko is going to love it and you don’t have to clean it out, just clean the water marks off the glass occasionally. Using rainwater reduces the amount of water marks generated and makes them easier to clean off – no mineral deposits.
This is often overlooked by new owners. By taking on any animal you are taking on a commitment to being responsible for that animal’s welfare for the entirety of its life. In the case of a Madagascan Giant Day Gecko this is usually around 8-12 years although there are reports of up to 20 years. If you can’t plan for this and budget for replacing equipment as it reaches the end of its life or fails then please don’t buy an animal at all. If you can then you have many years of observing these fascinating animals interacting with the forest you have created in your living rom.