Breeding and neonatal care

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Successful reproduction in reptiles is dependant on a range of environmental factors. This chapter covers reproduction in reptiles, inducing reproductive behaviour, inducing multiple egg clutches, pre-nesting behaviours, nesting or brooding environment, egg anatomy, handling and incubation, hatching, live-bearers, neonatal husbandry and diseases, semen collection and artificial insemination.

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5.1 Providing reptiles with an environment that closely mimics their natural history offers the best chance for longevity and reproduction. An outdoor enclosure with a pair of yellow-footed tortoises in Florida, USA.
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5.2 (a) A green tree python incubating eggs in a nest box. (b) A litter of Solomon Island boas at 2 weeks of age.
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5.3 (a) Green tree pythons from South East Asia can be induced to cycle with minimal fluctuations in temperature and humidity. This is an example of a continuous reproductive cycle. Pictured is a female green tree python with preovulatory swelling occupying the midsection of the body. (b) Copulation in a compatible pair of green tree pythons. (c) Copulation in a compatible pair of Mandarin ratsnakes. This is an example of an associated reproductive cycle whereby gonadogenesis follows a period of brumation. Note the male biting the female. (d) A hibernaculum for temperate reptiles provides individual housing for each reptile in darkness where the temperature is monitored. (e) During brumation, a North American eastern box turtle is maintained on a combination of damp potting soil and shredded newspaper.
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5.5 (a) During the breeding season, the mental glands of male North American gopher tortoises hypertrophy and produce pheromones that are important for agonistic behaviour and copulation. (b) A male veiled chameleon extruding semen on a branch in response to a receptive female; semen also contains pheromones. (c) Copulation in a pair of Asian box turtles. This species, in particular, should be closely monitored during courtship owing to the risk of the animals injuring each other. (d) Copulation in a pair of Chinese 100 flower snakes. A hemipenis has been inserted into the cloaca by the male to the left in the picture.
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5.7 A gravid green tree python basking under a heat source.
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5.8 (a) A Namibian house snake with a clutch of eggs. Note the damp sphagnum moss placed in a container to encourage oviposition. (b) A loggerhead sea turtle ovipositing in the evening on a beach in Florida, USA. (c) This Chinese 100 flower snake oviposited despite the absence of a nest box. Dystocia due to retained eggs could have easily occurred. (d–e) This tokay gecko oviposited two eggs that adhered to a branch.
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5.9 (a) The eggshells of Sulawesi black-tailed ratsnakes are very thick and possess calcified ridges. Hatching can be problematic owing to inability of neonates to slit the shells. (b) Dorsoventral radiograph of a red-footed tortoise with retained eggs. Note excessive calcium deposits on the shells. (c) Appearance of eggshell after induced oviposition.
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5.10 Appearance of a Solomon Island boa fetus at midterm. Note the non-pigmented fetus, yolk and vascularized chorioallantois.
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5.11 This spider tortoise egg weighs 12.5 g. Note the ‘X’ on the dorsal aspect of the egg. Pencil is preferred instead of felt-tipped markers.
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5.12 (a) A Styrofoam incubator with a thermostat works well for reptile eggs. (b) Vermiculite mixed 1:1 with water by volume is a commonly used substrate. Note the thermometer that would be located adjacent to the eggs.
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5.14 (a) Congenital supernumerary scutes in a red-footed tortoise. (b) Congenital caudal agenesis in Honduran milk snakes. (c) Congenital cervical agenesis in a juvenile diamondback terrapin. Note maximal extension of the neck. (d) A dorsoventral radiograph revealed the presence of three cervical vertebrae (arrowed) instead of the normal eight. Neck is in maximal extension.
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5.15 (a) Snapping turtle eggs incubating on a mixture of vermiculite and water; note the eggs are half buried in the substrate. (b) Chinese 100 flower snake eggs incubating on a plastic rack on top of shallow water. Note moistened peat moss surrounding the eggs. This set-up works well for eggs that require more humidity during incubation.
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5.16 (a) Transillumination (candling) of a three-striped Asian box turtle at 72 hours; vasculature and embryo are clearly visible. (b) Transillumination of an infertile egg from the same clutch. (c) Transillumination of the egg of an Assam trinket snake; note the presence of vasculature at 48 hours. (d) ‘Chalking’ of a viable three-striped Asian box turtle egg at 48 hours.
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5.17 A necrotic infertile egg from a clutch of normal royal python eggs.
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5.18 (a) Egg tooth (caruncle) just beneath the nostrils of a neonate red-eared slider. (b) Neonatal snapping turtles; note the pipping incisions. (c) Pipping Honduran milk snakes. (d) Neonatal leaf-tailed gecko; note the relatively small size of the egg compared with the camouflaged neonate. (a, Courtesy of William Cermak)
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5.19 (a) Manual incisions to assist hatching in a clutch of Sulawesi black-tailed ratsnake eggs at 115 days. (b–c) Manual removal of eggshell fragments to assist hatching of a three-striped Asian box turtle at 87 days.
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5.21 Sudden death of a pregnant Solomon Island boa due to salpingitis.
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5.22 (a) Communal raising of neonate diamondback terrapins with an absence of hide areas; animals should be closely monitored for aggressive social interactions particularly during feeding. (b) Communal raising of neonate snapping turtles. Provision of anacharis supplies both food and a visual barrier; this is a more appropriate set-up than (a).
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5.23 (a–b) Neonatal North American box turtles consuming thawed pinkies and dipteran larvae under close supervision; commonly, one individual seems to stimulate feeding behaviour in its clutchmates. This species is more carnivorous at a young age. (c) The safest method of food presentation is to separate neonates during feeding. Pictured are side-necked turtle neonates consuming bloodworms.
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5.24 (a) A premature neonatal red-eared slider with unabsorbed yolk. It is critical to prevent desiccation and infection by keeping the turtle on a clean moist substrate such as paper towel while the yolk is being absorbed. (b) An open umbilicus in an albino hognose snake; a suture was used to oppose the skin. Note this is the same individual as in Figure 5.33 .
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5.25 Neonatal prehensile-tailed skinks: (a) individual with normal umbilicus; (b) septic appearance due to yolk sac infection. (Courtesy of Kevin M. Wright)
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5.26 Omphalectomy in a prehensile-tailed skink with yolk sac infection. (a) The patient is anaesthetized. (b) The infected yolk sac has been exteriorized. (c) Ligation of the yolk sac at the point of attachment to the intestine. The sac is then excised and removed. (d) The skin has been closed using a horizontal mattress suture pattern. (e) Appearance several months after operation. (Courtesy of Kevin M. Wright)
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5.27 Omphalectomy in a neonatal yellow-footed tortoise with yolk sac infection. (a) The patient is prepared by scrubbing the surgical site with dilute povidone iodine or chlorhexidine. (b) After omphalectomy, the coelom is flushed and horizontal mattress sutures are placed across the suture site. (c) An epoxy resin patch covers the gap in the plastron to provide complete closure of the coelom. (d) The tortoise rests on a drying rack. (Courtesy of Kevin M. Wright)
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5.28 ‘Fly strike’ afflicting a Honduran milk snake egg owing to premature death in the egg.
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5.29 ‘Cold-stunned’ neonatal red-eared sliders with torticollis and buoyancy problems.
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5.30 (a) Endoparasite-associated ileocolic intussusception in a juvenile corn snake at 12 weeks of age. (b) Numerous hookworms were present when the intussusception was opened. (c) Cloacal prolapse in a juvenile bearded dragon secondary to oxyurid infestation.
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5.31 (a) A pathological fracture of the spine resulting in hindlimb paralysis in a bearded dragon with nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism (NSHP). (b) Distortion of the maxillary and mandibular bones causing malocclusion in a flap-shelled turtle; also note curling of the edges of the carapace secondary to NSHP. (c) ‘Swelling’ of the extremities and plantigrade stance in a leopard gecko with NSHP.
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5.32 Prolapsed hemipenes in a neonate Sulawesi black-tailed ratsnake that has just emerged from its egg.
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5.33 Pseudobuphthalmos of the left eye, secondary to a congenital defect of the nasolacrimal duct in a neonate albino hognose snake.
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5.34 (a) Retained spectacle in a rhino ratsnake at 6 weeks of age, secondary to suboptimal ambient humidity. (b) Appearance of the eye after placing the snake on moist paper towels for 12 hours and removal of the retained spectacle. (c) Weakness and inability of a juvenile leopard gecko to remove its skin secondary to chronic diarrhoea. (d) Dysecdysis in a neonatal river cooter that was constantly maintained in water. Note the edges of the retained scutes that are raised and discoloured; one shed scute lies in the water. (a, b, Courtesy of William Cermak)
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5.35 (a) Recalcitrant feeders such as this rhino ratsnake will often aggressively consume minnows as opposed to geckos and rodent pinkies. This probably represents an ontogenetic change in food preferences under natural conditions. (b) Placing individual snakes in paper bags for 24 hours with dead prey commonly stimulates a feeding response. (c) Severe cachexia and dehydration in this juvenile green tree python necessitated tube feeding. (d) The use of oral alimentation and a cooperative patient such as this anorexic leaf-tailed gecko greatly decreases recovery time.
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5.36 (a) A juvenile bearded dragon with severe injuries from aggressive conspecifics sharing a communal enclosure. (b) A juvenile red-eared slider with severe injuries from aggressive conspecifics sustained during feeding. (c) A juvenile veiled chameleon with a fractured tibia/fibula due to being pulled from its perch by the owner. (d) A hatchling red-eared slider with right radial palsy due to an intramuscular injection.
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5.37 (a) Bilateral blepharoedema secondary to hypovitaminosis A in a juvenile diamondback terrapin. The turtle had been fed exclusively a pelleted diet that was deficient in vitamin A. (b) Bilateral periocular oedema in a juvenile veiled chameleon with early hypovitaminosis A.
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5.38 Ataxia and loss of righting reflex in a thiamine-deficient juvenile North American garter snake that was fed exclusively on thawed fish.
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5.39 (a) Anorexia, dyspnoea, weakness and depression in a 5-month-old leopard tortoise. (b) Craniocaudal radiograph revealing infiltrates in the dependent portion of the right lung consistent with lower respiratory tract disease. (c) Accumulation of exudate in the right internal choana of a juvenile water monitor with an upper respiratory tract infection.
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5.40 Ataxia and loss of righting reflex in hatchling Burmese pythons that were exposed to dichlorvos for the purpose of controlling a mite infestation.
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5.41 (a) Viable sperm cells from a Honduran milk snake. (b) A semen plug extruded by a female Asian ratsnake 24 hours prior to oviposition. The purpose of the plugs is to seal the oviducts after copulation.
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