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  • Richard Adams
  • October 30, 2016 12:48:27 AM

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The UK reptile and amphibian blog, teaching you how to care for exotic pets.

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    Singapore Blue Tarantula (Omothymus violaceopes) Care Sheet

    The Singapore Blue tarantula is a mind-blowing species in so many ways. Firstly, there’s the appearance. As their common name suggests, the Singapore Blue is clothed in vibrant royal blue hairs that look almost purple in some lights. It is therefore right up there with other popular blue tarantulas in the hobby such as the […] The post Singapore Blue Tarantula (Omothymus violaceopes) Care Sheet appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

    The Singapore Blue tarantula is a mind-blowing species in so many ways.

    Firstly, there’s the appearance. As their common name suggests, the Singapore Blue is clothed in vibrant royal blue hairs that look almost purple in some lights. It is therefore right up there with other popular blue tarantulas in the hobby such as the Greenbottle Blue and the Cobalt Blue.

    In contrast to these other blue species, however, Omothymus violaceopes has another ace up its sleeve that makes it even more impressive; size. The Singapore Blue tarantula is an arboreal (tree dwelling) species of tarantula, with an enormous potential adult size.

    Some females have been reported to grow to 9” or even more. It is therefore considered to be one of the largest arboreal tarantulas known to science – right up there with the Red Slate Ornamental.

    These two factors combined – color and size – makes this a shockingly impressive tarantula to keep. At the same time, however, it is important to realize that this is an Asian arboreal tarantula which means that it is fast and likely has stronger venom than many other theraphosids. All told, especially when you consider the prices the Singapore Blues sell for, this is not a beginner tarantula.

    If you have the budget and experience, however, you’d be crazy not to add a few Singapore Blue tarantulas to your collection. Read on to find out how in my Singapore Blue care sheet…

    Wild Habitat of Omothymus violaceopes

    The Singapore Blue was described by scientists in 1924. As their common name suggests, Omothymus violaceopes (previously Lampropelma violaceopes) hails from Singapore. They may also be found in nearby areas including Malaysia, where they are recorded in Langkawi and Kedah.

    Singapore is renowned for its hot and humid environment, suggesting that this species would benefit from much higher humidities than species like the Mexican Red Knee which tend to thrive in more arid conditions. In captivity this means a regular spraying will be beneficial, though at the same time ventilation is important to prevent the kind of stagnant air in which mould and fungi thrive.

    While the females maintain their bright blue coloration, this species is sexually dimorphic in that males start to change color with age. Sub-adult males take on a rich orangey-brown tint, like a slightly duller Orange Bitey Thing.

    Subadult male Omothymus violaceopes showing the orange coloration.

    Most sexually mature males change once again to become an olive green/brown color, making them look like a completely different species.

    Adult male Omothymus violaceopes showing the olive green coloration.

    Singapore Blue Housing

    Opinions vary on the temperament of this species. Some keepers claim their specimen would be best described as “aggressive” with threat postures regularly seen when carrying out routine tank maintenance. Others claim that the Singapore Blue tarantula is far more likely to run away and seek refuge than they are to stand their ground and attempt to bite.

    However you find the temperament of your own Omothymus violaceopes there are a few things we can agree on: these are fast moving, grow to impressive dimensions and are strong climbers. This can have an impact on the housing of the species.

    Not only will you want to select a tall cage, where vertical hides can be added for your spider, but you’ll also want to ensure that the cage is a good size. This not only reflects the potential size of this species, but also gives a few precious moments to close the lid should your Singapore Blue tarantula suddenly make a break for freedom when you’re feeding or cleaning.

    These factors combined mean that a cage of at last 45cm tall is recommended, though even taller cages offer slightly more space for your tarantula to behave naturally.

    These days tarantula keepers are spoiled for choice when it comes to caging options. Over the years I have tried a huge range of different options, and all have their pros and cons. In the last 2-3 years I have been slowly replacing my old glass and plastic tarantula tanks with Exo Terras, which sit on shelving units in my “animal room”.

    It is my opinion that Exo Terras offer the best of all worlds. To start with they just look awesome. If you’re going to invest money into such an expensive species of tarantula then it makes sense to buy a cage that is really going to show them off to best effect rather than cutting corners.

    The all-glass construction of Exo Terras makes cleaning nice and easy, and helps to keep in the warmth on a cold winter’s day while offering excellent all-round visibility. On the other hand the front-opening doors are handy so that you can sneak one corner open for feeding without needing to totally remove the lid. Finally the mesh lid ensures ideal ventilation, perfect for a species that appreciates a regular spray.

    Of course, if you’re on a budget or are keeping a smaller specimen then a range of other options exist, from building your own custom tanks to re-using household storage containers.

    Heating & Temperature

    Temperatures in Singapore can be pretty consistent throughout the year, typically sitting at around 25-30’C. This means that Omothymus violaceopes is a tarantula that appreciates a generous temperature. Furthermore, this is a very fast-growing species, with some people claiming that the Singapore Blue may go from spiderling to sexually-mature adult in little more than a year.

    A range of different heating options borrowed from reptile keepers should work fine. If you have just one tarantula then placing a heat mat under the cage, or sticking it to the side, tends to be a cheap and effective solution.

    For those of us, like me, with big tarantula collections it’s all too easy to quickly run out of plug sockets for yet another heater. In these cases a heat strip can be used (basically a long, thin heat mat that can warm multiple tanks).

    My own choice here, however, is to use a soil warming cable. I have my cable attached to a thermostat, and it snakes its way around my shelving units warming dozens of different tarantula tanks while using just a single plug socket!

    Water & Humidity

    As a tree dwelling tarantula the Singapore Blue only very rarely ventures down to the floor of the cage. Therefore, they are unlikely to drink too often from a water bowl. All the same, I like to provide all of my larger tarantulas with water in this way so at least I know it is there if needed. I simply consider it “best practice”.

    With Omothymus violaceopes, however, you’ll also want to regularly spray the cage to ensure a suitable humidity. The best option I have found is to buy a houseplant spray gun specially for this purpose, giving the cage (but not the spider) a good soaking a few times a week.

    Another option is simply to tip some water onto the substrate, where it should start to evaporate, raising the humidity in the cage.

    Cage Furnishings

    As an arboreal species the Singapore Blue tarantula does not need a thick substrate. Just a centimeter or two of coconut fibre or rainforest substrate works well and looks quite natural.

    Possibly the most important aspect of care decor for your Omothymus violaceopes is one or more suitable hides. These should be placed vertically, allowing your tarantula to move up and down the simulated tree trunk. Ideally these hides should also permit your tarantula to clamber inside or behind them, so they can hide away during the day just as they would in the wild.

    Therefore, take the time to choose some suitable pieces of cork bark, and then securely fix these in place. With such a bulky spider you may want to consider using some aquarium-safe silicone sealant to fix the bark in place, which will prevent the hide from moving.

    Lastly, while it is not a necessity, I think this is a species that looks great in a “landscaped” cage. I therefore like to add some silk plants, leaf litter and so on to try give a real “rainforest feel”. Not only does this look awesome, but it arguably gives a more natural environment for your tarantula to explore.

    Feeding Omothymus violaceopes

    The Singapore Blue is a fast growing tarantula species, and fuels this rapid growth with a very healthy appetite. Very rarely will you have feeding issues, apart from the standard fasting around moulting time.

    Many specimens will eat more than the standard tarantula keeper routine of once-a-week feedings. If you’re keen to get your Omothymus violaceopes growing as quickly as possible then be prepared to try feeding your spider two or even three times a week with standard feeder insects such as roaches or locusts (my personal preference).

    Handling Singapore Blue Tarantulas

    Big, grumpy and fast, this is not a tarantula suitable for handling. Instead, great care should be taken moving your tarantula. You’ll want to try and pop a plastic container over the top of it, slide the lid in underneath and then remove the container before releasing the spider once again.

    Due to the difficulties with transporting this species it makes sense to choose a slightly larger cage, which your Singapore Blue can call home for months at a time. This is far less labor intensive that having to rehouse your rapidly growing blue tarantula every few moults.

    The post Singapore Blue Tarantula (Omothymus violaceopes) Care Sheet appeared first on Keeping Exotic Pets.

    Blue Tongue Skink Care Sheet

    The blue tongue skink has become one of the most popular pet lizards in the world. If you’re currently doing your research before purchasing your first blue tongue skink then read our detailed blue tongue skink care sheet for all the key information you need to know… Blue Tongue Skink Cages Blue tongue skinks are […] The post Blue Tongue Skink Care Sheet appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

    The blue tongue skink has become one of the most popular pet lizards in the world. If you’re currently doing your research before purchasing your first blue tongue skink then read our detailed blue tongue skink care sheet for all the key information you need to know…

    Blue Tongue Skink Cages

    blue tongue skink photo

    Blue tongue skinks are reasonably active, ground-dwelling lizards that hail from the hotter parts of the world. The vast majority of blue tongue skinks kept as pets come from Australia, though some others may be found on nearby islands like Indonesia. This, combined with their chunky adult size, means that they require a vivarium that offers a generous amount of floor space and a very hot basking spot.

    It is generally advised to blue tongue skinks alone, as males are likely to fight in captivity, whilst males can continually chase their potential mate if kept in pairs. In terms of cage sizing, most experts recommend a cage of 36” (90cm) long at a minimum, though a larger cage of at least 48” (120cm) is preferable.

    As these are ground-dwelling lizards it’s not just the overall cage length that should be considered, but also the depth in order to maximize the floor space available. An 18” (45cm) minimum depth is therefore also recommended. Vertical height is less of a consideration as blue tongue skinks only very rarely climb.

    A range of options meet these requirements. Some of the best examples of blue tongue skink cages include:

    Exo Terra Glass Vivariums

    Exo Terra glass terrariums are stunning cages that offer a whole host of potential benefits. These cages look fantastic, the front-opening doors make routine tank maintenance simple, and thanks to the metal grill lid (combined with a dedicated hood which is sold separately), installing heating and UV lighting very simple indeed.

    The downsides to such cages are that they can be quite expensive (though worth it in my mind), they retain heat less effectively than other cage types, and that there is only a limited range of sizes currently on the market. For my money, however, these are the best cages for blue tongue skinks.

    Modified Glass Aquariums

    A cheaper alternative can be purchasing a generously-proportioned fish tank, and topping it with a specially made vivarium hood like the one shown below:

    Using this combination can represent a cheap yet effective form of housing for your blue tongue skink. Like the Exo Terra this setup also offers excellent ventilation; something vitally important to blue tongues.

    If you go down this route then you’ll need to source a reflector for your UV lighting, to ensure that the light shines down into the cage. Remember that UV light can be harmful to human eyes so you shouldn’t install your lighting in such a manner where you’re looking directly at the bulb for extended periods of time.

    Wooden Vivariums

    I’ve used wooden vivariums for keeping reptiles for over 20 years and they still hold a special place in my heart. Oddly, it seems that wooden vivariums are far more common in the UK than they are in the USA. All the same, if you can find one of suitable dimensions then these can represent another cheap and effective form of housing.

    Wooden vivariums tend to be quite cheap to buy, and hold heat well in the winter months, which can mean lower electricity bills for you. The sliding glass doors at the front also make for easy feeding and cleaning, though if you’re keeping a large lizard like a blue tongue skink I would suggest you add a cage lock, to prevent your pet from sliding the door open (as happened to me with a juvenile iguana many years ago).

    Wooden vivariums are also available in a huge range of different sizes, so you’re almost guaranteed to be able to find one suitable for your needs.

    In terms of downsides, wooden vivariums can represent additional problems when it comes to installing the required electrics. For ease, try therefore to buy one flat-packed so that you can easily add heaters and UV lights as you set it up. Also, be sure to select a model that offers ventilation grills, to allow for the proper flow of air into your blue tongue skink cage.

    Home-Made Vivariums

    For the more creative reader, of course, it is entirely possible to build your own vivarium from wood. The benefits here are that a custom home build can be the cheapest option of all, and allows you the opportunity to create the “perfect” cage to suit your home.

    Heating & Temperatures

    Supplementary heating is necessary if your blue tongue skink is to remain happy and healthy. As with other lizards, it is advisable to try and mimic nature, by offering one particularly hot basking spot, combined with other cooler areas within the cage. In this way your pet can move around as they would in nature, regulating their body temperature by moving around the cage.

    For blue tongue skinks the hotspot should reach a temperature of around 100’F or 37’C. This should be positioned at one end of the cage, allowing the other end to reach a cooler 20-25’C (~70-80’F). The benefit of a larger vivarium is that this thermal gradient is easier to accomplish.

    A hotspot of this temperature requires a serious heater, especially in the colder months. Consequently the best options are typically either a ceramic bulb (my personal choice) or a light-producing heat lamp.

    Be aware that both these options can get very hot so some serious precautions should be taken to prevent either you or your pet from getting burned. Firstly, these over tank heat emitters should never be used without a suitable thermostat to prevent overheating. If you want to learn about choosing and using reptile thermostats then please click here.

    Thermostats with a day/night setting can be particularly useful, as they allow you to maintain some warmth in the cage during the night, while still showing a daily cycle as in nature.

    Secondly you’ll want to make sure that your pet lizard cannot come into direct contact with the heat source. This means placing it high enough in the cage so that you pet cannot reach it, placing it outside the cage (such as when using an Exo Terra) or protecting it with a mesh cover.

    Finally, be sure to invest in a good quality reptile thermometer so that you can regularly monitor the temperature of your blue tongue skink. Satisfy yourself that the hotspot is of a suitable temperature, and that the cooler end is indeed cooler. Some reptile keepers opt to place a flat rock under their heat lamp, which helps to trap the heat meaning your pet can warm up quicker when it so chooses.

    UV Lighting for Blue Tongue Skinks

    We’re unable to see ultraviolet light, but it plays a crucial role in the life of your blue tongue skink. Firstly, and most importantly, it is necessary for the proper synthesis of vitamin D. When ultraviolet light strikes the skin, it produces this essential vitamin which, in turn, helps to absorb and use calcium from the diet.

    In short, a blue tongue skink that doesn’t have access to UV light is likely to suffer from skeletal problems caused by this inability to use calcium – something often known in the hobby as “metabolic bone disease”.

    While this should be reason alone to provide UV light for your blue tongue skink, there is also some evidence that a suitable source of UV light seems to positively affect the behavior of many reptiles, encouraging more activity, a better appetite and even more successful breeding.

    UV lights have come a long way over the years, and providing such a light source is easier that ever before. The two most common types are fluorescent tubes or compact fluorescent bulbs. Both are equally effective, assuming the majority of your cage is bathed in this light.

    When selecting a UV light you’ll want to consider the strength of the light given. As blue tongues naturally hail from Australasia, with the strong almost desert-like sun that it offers, a bulb at the stronger end of the spectrum is recommended. A 10-12% UVB bulb is an excellent place to start.

    Your UV light should be left on during the day before being turned off at night. Personally I like to use a cheap timer to turn the light on and off automatically, giving a day length of around 12-14 hours.

    Lastly, while blue tongue skinks need regular access to UV light, they should also have the opportunity to escape from the glare when they so choose. Therefore, be mindful to include a hide or two, where your skink can completely conceal themselves if they wish. I’m a fan of the curved wooden “Habba Huts” for this purpose but almost any enclosed object, like a nice curve of cork bark, will work.

    Blue Tongue Skink Set-Up

    As relatively large and powerful lizards, blue tongue skinks typically aren’t kept in carefully designed cage setups as used for poison dart frogs or day geckos. Instead, the primary consideration should be the health of your pet, combined with the practicalities of care.

    A range of substrates can be used, including reptile-safe sand, beech chippings or orchid bark. Blue tongue skinks very rarely try to burrow so only an inch or so of substrate is needed on the floor of their cage.

    As discussed previously, at least one hide should be available so that your skink can hide away when they choose. I have written more about choosing a reptile hide here.

    The other piece of equipment you’ll need is a shallow water bowl. Fresh water should be provided at all times, though you may not see your skink drinking regularly. The water should be replenished daily, and the bowl scrubbed clean and allowed to dry once a week to prevent bacterial build-up.

    Routine maintenance is minimal with a well-kept skink. Monitor the environmental conditions in the cage on a regular basis, paying particular attention to any unusual changes in behavior that you observe. For example, if you notice that your blue tongue skink is spending much longer than usual under their basking spot then it may be that the cage isn’t quite as warm as your skink would like.

    Spot clean the cage regularly to keep it smelling fresh. Faeces can be easily removed, and any uneaten food should be taken away the same day to prevent it spoiling.

    Feeding Blue Tongue Skinks

    One thing that has helped to make blue tongue skinks such popular pets is that they are omnivores; meaning that they will eat a broad range of different animal-based and plant-based foods.

    I have written extensively about feeding your blue tongue skink here, but as a brief overview you should aim for roughly a 50/50 mixture of plants and meat over the course of a week.

    In terms of acceptable plants some safe options include green leafy vegetables, squash, peas and green beans, brussel sprouts and carrots. Blue tongues will also eat many fruits, though due to their higher sugar content these should be fed in moderation. Examples of suitable fruits include berries (blueberries, strawberries etc.), mango and melon.

    “Selective feeding” is the name given to the process of eating certain food items while ignoring others. It’s like the child that wants ice cream before they’ve eaten their kale. Of course, this feeding behavior can lead to nutritional deficiencies over the long term. It is therefore advisable to carefully chop or grate plant-based food stuffs, and mix them up to form a “salad” which makes selective feeding less problematic.

    There are a range of different foods that can make up the “meat” part of the diet. This can include super premium cat or dog food, commercial formulas like Repashy Bluey Buffet, live feeder insects like mealworms and waxworms, cooked chicken or even the odd pinkie mouse.

    Whatever you opt for, aim to vary your blue tongue skink’s diet regularly to offer a full range of vitamins and minerals. To further supplement this it is advisable to dust your skink’s food with a vitamin and mineral powder. Personally my go-to solution is Exo Terra’s vitamin powder, but there are many other respected brands on the market, such as those from Fluker Farms. Follow the guidance on the tub to ensure proper dosing.

    Handling Blue Tongue Skinks

    An interesting study took blood samples from blue tongue skinks behaving normally in their cages. They were then handled for a period of time before further blood samples were taken. The goal of the experiment was to assess just how much being handled stresses out blue tongue skinks. They found that in this species “brief periods of handling… do not appear to cause chronic stress”. In other words, handling your blue tongue skink, when done in a safe environment, doesn’t seem to upset your pet whatsoever.

    Blue tongue skinks are in many ways the perfect pet for someone who wants a lizard that they can handle. They’re reasonably slow moving, quite chunky which makes them easy to pick up, and as we have seen the action seems to cause them no distress.

    As with any exotic pet, great care should be taken when handling your lizard. Aim to hold them gently but firmly, and ideally position yourself very close to the floor or over a soft surface like a couch or mattress so that if your skink falls it won’t be harmed.

    Appreciate that it can take time for your blue tongue skink to get used to handling. The key is to move slowly, and to gently introduce the concept with regular, short handling sessions. Offering a favorite food item at the same time can help your skink to associate handling with a positive experience.

    This blue tongue skink care sheet discusses everything you need to know to keep your pet lizard happy and healthy in captivity. It covers everything from cages to feeding, heating to handling and more.

    Photo by phozographer

    The post Blue Tongue Skink Care Sheet appeared first on Keeping Exotic Pets.

    Musk Turtle Food

    To keep your musk turtle in the best of health it’s crucial that you offer them the right food. While musk turtles may eat the odd piece of pond weed in the wild, their diet is almost exclusively made up of meat. In captivity, this carnivorous diet can be supplemented with a number of specially-made […] The post Musk Turtle Food appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

    To keep your musk turtle in the best of health it’s crucial that you offer them the right food.

    While musk turtles may eat the odd piece of pond weed in the wild, their diet is almost exclusively made up of meat. In captivity, this carnivorous diet can be supplemented with a number of specially-made turtle foods, which can make feeding your musk turtle much easier.  

    Here are some of the best foods for your musk turtle:

    Frozen or Freeze Dried Fish Food

    Many tropical fish benefit from a diet that is high in meat. Dealing with raw chicken or beef is far from pleasant, however. To this end, fish-keepers have developed frozen fish foods.

    Suitable prey items are freeze dried or frozen into compact blocks. Simply pop out a cube or two and pop it into your musk turtle tank. A great example are blackworms, which are readily available online or from aquarium shops, and can be kept in your freezer to ensure you never run out of turtle food.

    Commercial Turtle Pellets

    A number of different specialist foods are available for turtles including those made by Zoo Med and Zilla.

    While these aren’t cheap to buy, they do represent a carefully formulated diet that is ideal for ongoing maintenance. They’re also dry, and are sold in tubs, which can make them very practical to work with. I recommend that every musk turtle owner keeps a tub of this food on hand to cover any “shortfalls” when you run out of feeder insects etc.  

    Have a look at the range on Amazon.

    Catfish Pellets

    An interesting observation is that musk turtles seem to crawl along the bottom of their cage looking for food, so food that sinks tends to be far more readily accepted than anything that floats.

    Catfish pellets have been designed specifically for bottom-feeding fish. They can therefore represent a cheap and easy food source for your musk turtle.

    Live Bloodworms

    Also available from aquarium shops are live bloodworms. These small, red aquatic worms are typically bought in a sealed plastic bag. Just snip the corner off and pour the bloodworms into your turtle tank.


    Crickets are routinely available from reptile stores or can be ordered online. A range of sizes are available and I would suggest you focus your energy on smaller crickets. Ensure the crickets you select will easily fit into your turtle’s mouth.


    Adult locusts are certainly likely to be too big for your musk turtle to eat but hatchling locusts offer a suitable alternative to crickets.


    Just as the previous two options, red runner cockroaches are being commercially bred and can make up another interesting part of your turtle’s diet. Be aware that these little insects can be very quick indeed, so can be challenging to handle. A good plan is to empty the tub into an unwanted aquarium or plastic tub, then individually pick out roaches using a long pair of forceps.


    Earthworms wriggle and writhe in the water, making them very appealing to musk turtles. They can be ordered from some reptile suppliers. Alternatively, some garden centers sell them as a means to start vermicomposting. Try to select smaller earthworms if you can, or consider chopping up an earthworm into smaller chunks.

    Chopped Fish

    Most human-safe fish can be fed to your musk turtles – either raw or cooked. Note that marine fish can be very high in salt so it is advisable to only feed these occasionally. In contrast, freshwater fish like salmon or trout should be safe to feed routinely.


    Some keepers have found that bivalves like cockles and mussels are also readily accepted by musk turtles. Once again, however, be sure to limit the intake to avoid increasing sodium levels too rapidly.

    The Importance of Variety

    Did you know that if you ate nothing but rabbit, you’d die? Not from hunger, but from a vitamin B deficiency. All of the above foods are suitable for musk turtles, but it’s also important to appreciate the importance of variety when feeding exotic pets.

    There’s nothing wrong with having a few staple food items, but I would also strongly advise you to regularly swap around your musk turtle’s diet to ensure they receive the full range of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients necessary for lifelong health.


    Turtles require suitable levels of calcium and phosphorus in their diet to maintain a healthy skeleton and a strong shell. Turtles that have insufficient nutrients in their diet can end up with shells that are soft, or that don’t grow properly. Alongside a varied diet another crucial aspect of feeding musk turtles is therefore supplementation.

    Unlike lizards, whose live food can be dusted with vitamin powder, this doesn’t work well in an aquatic turtle tank. A better alternative here is known as “gut loading”. A mineral-rich supplement is fed to feeder insects like crickets or roaches for 24-48 hours, before the insects themselves are fed to your musk turtles. When your turtle eats the insect, they also benefit from all the nutrients inside the gut.

    I recommend you opt for a good quality gut loading supplement, and follow the manufacturers guidelines to the letter.

    How to Feed Your Musk Turtle

    Let’s be honest; like other chelonians, musk turtles can be messy feeders. So how do you feed a musk turtle in the most efficient manner possible?

    Ensure the Water is Warm Enough

    Observations in the wild have found that musk turtles do almost all their eating in the water – not on land. Furthermore, studies have shown that when the water temperature drops below 18’C musk turtles simply stop eating. The first step in feeding musk turtles is therefore ensuring that their water is warm enough. I’ve written about the best heaters for turtle tanks here – select a suitable water heater to bring the temperature up to around 22’C.

    Place Food into the Water

    Placing food onto dry land very rarely elicits a feeding response in musk turtles. Instead, drop the food into the water infront of your turtle. If your turtle is hungry then it should start feeding rapidly. Note that some musk turtles can be quite shy. Sitting there with your face pressed up against the glass may therefore not be the best bet; instead consider giving your pet a little privacy while they eat.

    Remove Uneaten Food

    Turtles are messy feeders, and this can quickly start to soil the water. To keep your turtle tank hygienic, and minimize your water changes, it is a good idea to remove any uneaten food when your pet has finished eating – normally just 10-15 minutes.

    To ease this process some turtle keepers opt not to use gravel on the bottom of the cage. Use a kitchen sieve or an aquarium vacuum to quickly remove any uneaten food with the minimum of fuss.

    Keep Records

    Lastly, it can be a good idea to start a journal of feeding records. Over time you’ll gain a better understanding of how often your turtle needs feeding, which foods are most readily accepted, and any seasonal variations in appetite. This will mean less wasted food, a more accurate feeding regime, and represent a useful source of information for your vet if there are ever problems with your turtle.

    Musk turtle food is crucial to get right - but what is a balanced diet, what foods should be eaten and how often? Find out in this extensive feeding guide for musk turtle owners.

    Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Midwest Region

    The post Musk Turtle Food appeared first on Keeping Exotic Pets.

    Giant Day Gecko Care Sheet (Phelsuma grandis)

    The Giant Day Gecko has been on my “bucket list” of reptiles since I was a small boy. So imagine my excitement when I had the opportunity to buy an adult breeding pair of these beauties some months ago! How could I possibly say no? Since purchasing my giant day geckos I’ve done a ridiculous […] The post Giant Day Gecko Care Sheet (Phelsuma grandis) appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

    The Giant Day Gecko has been on my “bucket list” of reptiles since I was a small boy. So imagine my excitement when I had the opportunity to buy an adult breeding pair of these beauties some months ago! How could I possibly say no?

    Since purchasing my giant day geckos I’ve done a ridiculous amount of reading, research and plain-old observation. Now I’m ready to tell you everything I’ve learned, so you too can keep your Giant Day Geckos in the best of health.

    If you’re looking for the ultimate Giant Day Gecko care sheet then you just found it 😉

    Let’s get started…


    Day geckos are some of the most visually appealing of all lizards. As the name suggests, giant day geckos are the largest known day gecko of all – a genus known as Phelsuma. Depending on who you listen to day geckos can grow to between 10-12” in overall length, with over half of that being tail.

    In terms of coloration giant day geckos tend to be a vibrant green with variable red markings. In the States a number of different “morphs” are being developed, with some specialist breeders selling “high red” individuals.  

    phelsuma grandis photo

    Wild Habitat

    Most day geckos are found on the island of Madagascar and the giant day gecko is no different. They are most commonly encountered in the extreme north of the island, in a wide range of different habitats. While they are found in deep forest, they may also be found living peacefully alongside people, in orchards, gardens and houses.

    Indeed, it is this flexibility in lifestyle that has helped them to spread far and wide. These days they are recorded thriving on a range of nearby islands such as Reunion, Mauritius and Nosy Be, not to mention further afield in Hawaii and the Florida Keys. Giant day geckos are therefore born survivors, which can help to make them ideal pets, capable to living in a wide range of different habitats.

    Housing / Cages

    One of the things that makes giant day geckos such appealing pets is just how active they are.

    Anyone who has kept snakes like ball pythons knows that you very rarely see them actually “doing” anything much. They spend most of the day hiding away, really only coming out to poop or to eat the occasional rodent.

    Not so with giant day geckos, who are on the go all day every day. Indeed, since getting my geckos – which are housed in my living room for maximum visibility – I now spend more time watching the activity of my day geckos than I do watching TV.

    It should be of no surprise therefore that a highly active lizard reaching up to 30cm in length requires a decent sized cage. Like other day geckos, they also climb well, so a tall cage can work very well. Broadly speaking I would suggest a cage of no less than 45cm wide, 45cm deep and 60cm tall either for an individual or a pair.

    Having tested out a number of options in recent months the best solution I have found is a glass Exo Terra terrarium like the one below…

    If you live in an area with a tropical climate then an alternative would be to use a net cage of a suitable size.

    When choosing a giant day gecko cage the key factors to consider are:

    Security – Giant day geckos can move rapidly, scale vertical surfaces and can leap further than you might imagine. A crucial consideration is therefore to ensure there are no gaps through which your gecko can slip.

    Also put some thought into routine maintenance like changing the water and adding food – how will you do that with the cage you’re considering? Once again, the Exo Terra cages come in handy here because you can open one door rather than having the whole front of the cage open, allowing you to maintain security effectively.

    Environmental Control – Coming from the more tropical regions of the world Phelsuma grandis requires a suitably warm tank with at least one basking spot. They also appreciate a spray once or twice a week to raise the humidity. Just as importantly, your giant day gecko cage should have suitable ventilation to allow water vapour to escape, preventingthe build-up of stale, stagnant air in which bacteria and fungi can thrive.

    These requirements mean that wooden vivariums often won’t cope with such conditions, while net cages in cooler climates can get far too cold. In general, therefore, a glass vivarium works best for helping you to control these conditions.

    Electrical Equipment – You’ll be needing some electrical equipment to keep your giant day geckos healthy. At a minimum I would suggest a UV light, an infrared or ceramic bulb and a thermostat. Some people also opt to include a heat pad to provide gentle background warmth. This means that you’ll need to put thought into how you’re going to fit all this kit into the cage.

    Exo Terra’s are ideal in this respect for two different reasons. Firstly, Exo Terras have pre-made, closeable holes so that electrical cables can be fed into your vivarium. This saves you having to try and drill holes yourself.

    Secondly, Exo Terra sell a bespoke hood that fits over the top of the cage. This hood can easily house UV bulbs in an attractive and practical manner.

    Visibility – Lastly, of course, you’ll want to make sure that you’re able to fully enjoy your giant day geckos. This means that excellent visibility – such as with glass or plastic cages – is a benefit. You might even want to consider where you’ll place your tank for maximum visibility. Cabinets are available to raise them off the ground, creating an amazing focal point in your home.

    Tank Decor

    Keeping giant day geckos is a perfect opportunity to create a beautiful display in your home. I have found that whilst my own geckos spend much of their time “sunbathing” under their UV light or basking under their ceramic bulb, they still plenty of time exploring their cage. Investing time and money into creating a “mini rainforest” therefore provides just not visual appeal for you, but also a positive environment for your geckos.

    Here some elements to consider…


    A range of substrates can be used with day geckos, including orchid bark or coconut fibre. Personally, after doing some experimentation I have settled on Exo Terra rainforest substrate. This not only looks fantastic, but also serves as a useful medium for live plants to grow in, should you opt for this. Just buy a big brick of it, place it into a large container of water and leave it to expand for an hour or so. Drain off the excess water and place it into your cage.

    Giant day geckos don’t burrow, so substrate depth is less of an issue than with many other exotic pets. Personally I have included around 5” so there is suitable depth to install live plants in the future, but a shallower depth is perfectly acceptable if you don’t want to use plants.


    Giant day geckos are quite bold animals, and will readily explore their cage during daylight hours. All the same, all herptiles should have somewhere safe and secure to hide away from view. This is especially so if you are hoping that your day geckos will breed in the future, as the female will slink off somewhere private to lay her eggs.

    Day geckos are arboreal, meaning they’re normally found above the ground, either resting vertically or horizontally on twigs and branches. I therefore think it makes sense to try and mimic this habit.

    In my cage I use two different pieces of equipment. Firstly, I have added a number of large pieces of cork bark. Some of these are curved, while others are “tubes” of bark. These are positioned vertically, towards the back of the cage.

    Additionally in the wild giant day geckos seem to have an affinity for bamboo, with the females laying eggs in vertical pieces. I have therefore sourced some bamboo pieces large enough for my day geckos to retreat into if they so desire. You might be surprised to hear that you can actually order this off Amazon, then use a saw to slice it up into the required lengths.

    Climbing Branches & Perches

    Your day geckos will climb up your cork bark and bamboo, together with the walls of their cage, but giving them more options is always welcome. Most reptile stores offer a range of different climbing branches that can also serve as perches for your lizards. Go wild and have fun, seeing what is for sale in your local store or on Amazon.


    Coming from the forest areas of Madagascar it only seems natural to include some plants within your gecko cage. Many giant day gecko keepers use live tropical plants in their cages. If you opt to do so then ensure you buy plants from a reptile supplier – not a garden center or supermarket where they may have been treated with toxic chemicals.

    Alternatively, of course, you can now buy a range of very attractive fake plants and avoid the risk altogether. So far, this is what I have done in my gecko cage. Here’s an example of what I bought.

    Water Bowl

    Your gecko will happily drink from the droplets left over after spraying their cage, but I think it is good practice to include a water bowl at all times to permit drinking. Change the water daily and scrub out the bowl at least once a week with boiling water or reptile-safedetergent to prevent a bacterial build-up.

    Heating & Temperature

    Located off the east coast of Africa, Madagascar is a warm country. Therefore unless you’re lucky enough to live in a tropical area yourself your lizards will benefit from some artificial heating.

    I suggest aiming initially for a hotspot of around 26’C. Try to position the heater over a perch, to make basking easy for your giant day geckos. In the first weeks of ownership pay attention to their behaviour, so you can modify the temperature at the basking spot as required.

    For example if your lizards rarely move away from the hotspot then it is an indication to turn up the temperature a little. On the other hand if you find your pet constantly trying to avoid this area then they may find the hotspot too warm. Adjust as necessary until your day geckos seem happy.

    When it comes to choosing the right kit I would suggest that you combine a ceramic bulb with a suitable bulb holder/reflector and a thermostat. Read my full reptile thermostat guide here.

    Please note that ceramic bulbs can get very hot so it is important that your geckos can’t come into direct contact with it when it is on. Read about the safe use of ceramic bulbs here.

    Fortunately, if you’ve followed my suggestion and invested in an Exo Terra vivarium then it is very easy to add heating. The top of Exo Terra tanks are made from tough mesh, and your ceramic heater can be rested in this, allowing the heat to permeate into the terrarium whilst preventing burns.

    UV Lighting

    As the name suggests, day geckos are diurnal. In nature they are therefore exposed to ultraviolet light, which is in turn used by the body to absorb calcium from the diet, leading to a strong and healthy skeleton. An absence of UV light can not only affect the behaviour of your day geckos but can lead to a health condition known as Metabolic Bone Disease.

    Using an Exo Terra hood it is easy to add UV lighting to your day gecko cage. This is the bulb I’m using at the moment. I suggest keeping the light on for around 12-14 hours a day. Also, if you’re new to keeping reptiles then be aware that the UV output of bulbs drops over time. Even if the light looks absolutely fine experts recommend changing your UV light every six months or so for maximum output.

    Feeding / Diet

    Giant day geckos will eat a huge range of different food types. I suggest offering as broad a range of food as you can, which not only adds to the interest of keeping these fantastic lizards but also ensures they receive a wide range of nutrients. Here are the foods I’m using…


    Repashy is a powdered food designed specifically for geckos like day geckos and crested geckos. Just mix one part Repashy with two parts water and stir. Some people claim that giant day geckos can live exclusively on Repashy for their entire lives, but I like to vary their diet regularly.

    All the same, Repashy is a quick and easy solution for those evenings where you’re tired or have run out of livefood. Keep it in your fridge and a single pot will last for months; what could possibly be easier?

    Jelly Pots

    In the wild, day geckos have been observed drinking sweet nectar from tropical flowers. They certainly seem to be a reptile with a sweet tooth! Many reptile shops sell jelly pots, which you’ll see your day geckos licking on occasion.

    Feeder Insects

    The largest part of my day gecko’s diet is made up of live insects. I order my feeder insects online and I’m always trying them on something new. While almost anything of a suitable size (i.e. small enough to fit in your gecko’s mouth) should work here are the items that seem particularly welcome with my pair:

    Curly Wing Flies

    As the name suggests, these are house flies that have a genetic abnormality which gives them curly wings. So what? Well, the deformed wings mean that they can’t fly properly, so they’re a lot easier to handle than traditional flies. Just scatter a handful into the cage and watch your athletic geckos leap from twig to twig to hunt them down.


    Juicy, delicious and packed with nutrients, waxworms aren’t maggots but actually moth caterpillars. The thing I love about waxworms is just how easy they are to feed to my geckos. I grab a shallow food bowl, sprinkle in some mineral powder (see below) then add some waxworms. Give it a gentle shake to cover the waxworms in the powder and pop the whole pot into the gecko cage.


    To be clear, I’m not talking about adult locusts here, which would be far too large for even fully-grown giant day geckos. But I like to feed half-sized locusts regularly. One of the real benefits of locusts is that they climb and jump. This way, your gecko’s dinner can come to them, rather than your lizard having to come down to ground level as with waxworms.


    In line with their sweet tooth, giant day geckos will happily accept ripe fruit. Some examples of suitable fodder includes bananas, papaya and mango. Slice or mash the fruit for easy eating, and be sure to remove any uneaten food later in the day to prevent spoiling.

    Mineral Supplements

    A varied diet will help to minimize the chances of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, but to stay safe I also recommend that you provide mineral supplements to your geckos. This is especially so for those of us (like me) who are expecting our day geckos to breed. After all, your giant day gecko will use a whole load of calcium to create those egg shells, not to mention the demands of producing baby geckos.

    The best option here in my opinion is a dusting powder. If you’re feeding fruit then just sprinkle a little of the powder over the top. When it comes to feeder insects place them into a plastic sandwich bag, add the mineral powder and gently shake it to coat the insects in the powder. They can then be fed immediately to your lizards.

    Cage Mates

    Many commonly-kept species of reptile are kept alone. Giant day geckos, however, may be kept in pairs if you so desire. Having bought an adult breeding pair myself I have kept them together ever since, and haven’t had any issues so far. In fact, it is quite fun to observe the slightly smaller female wearing the trousers in that relationship!

    Note that some keepers have found splitting up a pair, and then reintroducing them some time later, can result in fighting. Therefore if you want to keep more than one giant day gecko together either buy them at the same time, or be very careful about monitoring your lizards for some days after an introduction.

    To minimize disagreements I try to provide multiple perches for my pair, so there are fewer disagreements over who has the “best” basking spot.


    Since getting my pair of day geckos I’ve been fascinated by the range of behavior I’ve observed. Perhaps the fact that I have a breeding pair has also added to this, as the two lizards communicate with one another.

    I’ve seen mating dances. I’ve watched them mating. I’ve smiled at how the smaller female is obviously “in charge” and won’t take any messing around from the male. I see them head bobbing, walking in a jerky way and sticking their tongues out regularly.

    All this behavior adds further interest to these fantastic little lizards. Trust me – you’ll never tire of watching them going about their day.

    Routine Care

    The hardest (and most expensive) part of keeping giant day geckos is getting their vivarium set up right to begin with. However once this is done very little is needed in terms of ongoing, routine care. Here’s what I do:


    While some people feed their geckos every other day, I personally feed mine almost daily (with the odd day off once in a while) and they seem tremendously healthy on this regime. Their water is changed daily.


    If there is a downside to giant Madagascan day geckos it’s that they like to poop on the glass. Within a matter of weeks their vivarium looks dreadful. Therefore, as part of my ongoing routine I gently clean the glass doors of their vivarium each week. Just spray some water on and wipe it clean with some kitchen towel. Repeat as necessary to get them sparkling.

    At the same time I like to give my geckos a heavy spray of water to raise the humidity, to scrub their water bowl clean, and to spot clean the floor of their cage for any faeces or dead insects.

    This whole process takes only a matter of minutes each weekend, and keeps my giant day gecko cage hygienic and looking its best. They most certainly aren’t a “high maintenance” pet.


    Giant day geckos are quick and athletic, especially when startled. If handled wrong day geckos will also drop their tail. While your lizard will survive, and their tail will grow back, it never looks quite the same and must be stressful for your pet.

    While some people do opt to handle their giant day geckos I have decided not to do so in order to prevent escape or danger to my lizard. Only you can decide what you think is best in your own situation.

    Giant day gecko care sheet from a lifelong reptile keeper. Covers every element from choosing a cage or vivarium, to heating, lighting and feeding giant day geckos - Phelsuma grandis.

    Photo by berniedup

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    Poecilotheria rufilata / Red Slate Ornamental Care Sheet

    Poecilotheria rufilata, commonly known as the Red Slate Ornamental, is an arboreal (tree dwelling) tarantula from the Indian subcontinent. It is generally considered to be the largest member of the Poecilotheria genus, with some keepers claiming a potential legspan of 8” or more. In appearance Poecilotheria rufilata broadly mimics it’s cousins like P. regalis and […] The post Poecilotheria rufilata / Red Slate Ornamental Care Sheet appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

    Poecilotheria rufilata, commonly known as the Red Slate Ornamental, is an arboreal (tree dwelling) tarantula from the Indian subcontinent. It is generally considered to be the largest member of the Poecilotheria genus, with some keepers claiming a potential legspan of 8” or more.

    In appearance Poecilotheria rufilata broadly mimics it’s cousins like P. regalis and P. ornata, being clothed in a rich pattern both on the legs and – most notably – on the abdomen. Besides it’s larger size the other thing that helps the Red Slate Ornamental tarantula to stand out is the color scheme. Unlike the more traditional Indian Ornamental, this species can look like it is being viewed through an Instagram filter, with a subtle green or red tinge. 

    If you’re considering investing in one of these beautiful tarantulas read on for my detailed Poecilotheria rufilata care sheet…



    Poecilotheria rufilata hails from India, where it is recorded over a very small area. Research has suggested that the species is only found within an area of roughly 5,000 square kilometers in the southern region of the Western Ghats. Indeed, field studies have reported the species in only five fragmented locations within the whole of India. With such a small distribution area, combined with continued habitat destruction, the Red Slate Ornamental is classified as endangered in the wild.

    Fortunately, like other members of the genus, Poecilotheria rufilata is a fast-growing species which can reach adulthood in between 12 and 18 months when fed well. It is therefore bred in captivity on a semi-regular basis, though tends to be far less common in the pet trade than many other Ornamental tarantulas.

    In captivity it is wise to mirror the conditions experienced in the wild habitat. This can mean a warm and humid environment. As an arboreal species, which spends most of its life hiding behind the loose bark of trees, a tall cage is also recommended.  


    Most tarantula keepers opt to keep Poecilotheria rufilata in a tall enclosure, allowing your tarantula to move around as it would in the wild.

    For spiderlings, I use plastic food jars of around 4” in height. Once spiderlings start to outgrow these pots they’re moved up into plastic sweet jars of around 12”/30cm in height. Finally, my largest specimens are moved into “proper” cages for long-term care.

    As these spiders can grow to a very large size I would suggest you consider a decent-sized cage for larger specimens. My adult Poecilotherias are kept in Exo Terra vivariums of varying sizes. Large juveniles go into Exo Terra Nanos, while larger specimens benefit from the 30cm x 30cm model. The very largest adult females are kept in even larger cages – 45cm tall by 30cm wide.

    Let’s be clear that these cages are quite a bit bigger than some other keepers choose, however there are a number of reasons for this decision. Firstly, Poecilotheria rufilata is a fast-moving tarantula which can quickly bolt out of the cage if you’re unlucky; a larger cage gives you a little extra time to close the lid if they make a break for freedom.

    Secondly, I actively breed my tarantulas; not only increasing captive numbers but also helping to fund the expansion of my collection. In my experience it is easier to introduce the pair when the female is kept in a large cage – and it also makes it easier for the male to escape from her clutches should the need arise.

    While Exo Terras aren’t the only option for adults, if you opt for alternative housing I would advise you consider the following points:

    Ventilation – Back in the early days of the tarantula hobby (I started in the hobby around 25 years ago) it was known that humidity plays an important role in the success care of tarantulas. We’d put a spider into a container that was almost airtight, then spray the cage with water. Unsurprisingly many tarantulas died from these stale conditions, and mould grew uncontrollably.

    Over the years tarantula keepers have figured out that an occasional spray to increase humidity is beneficial, good ventilation is also crucial. If you choose an Exo Terra you’ll find a metal mesh grill in the lid, allowing excellent ventilation. If you opt for other housing then check to ensure plenty of air flow is possible. For example, I use an electric drill to cut numerous air holes in the plastic sweet jars that I use.

    Ease of Heating – Unless you’re lucky to live in a more tropical area its likely that your Poecilotheria rufilata tarantula will benefit from some artificial heating – especially during the winter. The smaller a tub that you use, the less air there is inside, and so the easier it is to overheat. Larger cages can make it easier and safer to heat your spider in colder weather.

    Access & Maintenance – These are fast-moving spiders which are considered to have quite potent venom so you don’t want to be messing about inside their cage. Doing so risks an escape or a bite. So think about how you’ll carry out routine maintenance like removing uneaten food, sloughed skins etc.

    Height – As mentioned, the Red Slate Ornamental seems happiest when hiding above ground level. A cage with suitable vertical height is therefore recommended – I would suggest that the cage should be at least 2-3 times as tall as your tarantula’s leg span.

    Heating & Temperature

    During the summer months my Poecilotherias exist perfectly well at room temperature. However, my tarantula room gets cool enough at other times of the year that some form of artificial heating becomes beneficial.

    I recommend that you heat just one part of the cage, while leaving the other unheated. This creates a thermal gradient, allowing your spider to move to an area which suits them best. This can be challenging to accomplish in an arboreal cage with under tank heating, as they typically have quite a small footprint.

    For arboreal cages it can therefore be wise to place the heater on the *side* of the cage, rather than underneath it, to create this gradient.

    My tarantula room uses two different types of heater at the moment – heat mats and heating cables. Both are controlled with reptile thermostats to prevent overheating. If you want to know more about thermostats then I have a detailed guide here.

    Larger Poecilotheria specimens in their Exo Terras are generally heated with a heat pad. In contrast, spiderlings and juveniles in their smaller pots are placed into wooden snake vivariums. I can then just place one small heat mat within the vivarium to successfully heat dozens of babies.  

    In terms of numbers I would try to keep the ambient temperature in your Poecilotheria rufilata cage above 20’C except for very short periods of time. Furthermore, I recommend that your spider has access to an area in the mid-twenties (24-26’C) so they can warm up when required.

    While I am seeing trends of some keepers never heating their tarantulas I personally feel that a properly heated tarantula cage is closer to nature, is easier to manage and leads to healthier, faster growing spiders. I have also seen research to suggest that spiders kept at warmer temperatures also grow into much larger adults than those maintained at cooler temperatures.

    Water & Humidity

    Humidity levels in the Western Ghats can be high, but fluctuates with the seasons. I use a houseplant spray gun to gently mist my Poecilotheria rufilata cages once or twice a week. In between, the combination of good ventilation and warmth means that the cage gently dries out between sprayings, preventing the build-up of mould or fungus.

    While I very rarely see my Poecilotheria rufilata actually drinking I think it is wise to give a water bowl to all larger tarantulas. While spiderlings seem fine just drinking droplets from their occasional spraying, juveniles receive an upturned soda bottle lid, while my adult specimens have a proper water bowl of around 2” in diameter.

    Taking into consideration the warm conditions typically found in a Poecilotheria tank, it is advisable to change the water regularly. Bowls should be removed, scrubbed clean, treated with reptile-safe disinfectant, and left to dry before replacing them. I aim to do this weekly, and keep an “overflow” of spare water bowls to make the swap easier.

    Cage Furnishings

    There are two key considerations when it comes to actually setting up your Poecilotheria rufilata vivarium; substrate and hides. Everything after that is purely for your own visual interest.

    Over the years I used a range of different substrates for my tarantulas. My preference now is for coconut fiber, sometimes known as “coir”. Coconut fiber is a renewable resource, it looks great, it absorbs plenty of water which is handy for maintaining humidity in your tarantula cage.

    Of course, each keeper has their own preference. For a full discussion of the options available to you please read my guide here.

    Most Poecilotheria rufilata care sheets online point out that the Red Slate Ornamental is an arboreal tarantula, so only a shallow depth of substrate is required. While there is some truth to this, I have found that younger Poecilotheria’s will often dig dig shallow burrows in which to hide. Even some of my larger specimens actually excavate the substrate from behind their hide.

    The end result of this is that I like to give rather more substrate to my arboreal tarantulas than some other keepers do. Spiderlings and juveniles have a depth of at least their diagonal legspan. My adults receive at least 2”, sloping up towards the back to create a deeper area.

    Once in a while I “soak” this substrate by gently pouring water into one corner. It quickly swells, absorbing the water, before slowly releasing it over the coming weeks. This can further help to raise humidity.

    The other important consideration is one or more places to hide away. Poecilotheria rufilata can be quite a shy spider, spending much of its time out of sight. I believe that it is only fair to provide suitable places for your tarantula to conceal itself, and so feel safe.

    The easiest and most effective option I have found is cork bark. Spiderlings receive a small piece of cork bark, while juveniles and adults receive a proper cork bark tube. These tubes are positioned vertically, with the open end at the top. In almost every case my Poecilotheria hide away within these during daylight, only popping out to grab a cricket.

    I also like to provide more than one of these hides if the cage allows; one in the warmer area by the heater and one in the cooler area. This permits your spider to rest in the area that is most comfortable for them.

    As stated earlier, once these basics are covered, you can always let your imagination run wild in terms of landscaping. Just be sure not to over complicate your maintenance. I personally use artificial plants in many of my Poecilotheria cages just to add a little more interest.


    Here’s an interesting fact about Poecilotheria rufilata – they’re the only tarantula reported as eating bats in the wild. Scientists at the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala, India observed a large Red Slate Ornamental tarantula feasting on a Kelaart’s Pipistrelle Bat that it had caught. It seems unlikely that this is a normal part of the diet, and I’m certainly not suggesting you offer a similar diet in captivity!

    Like other tarantulas, the Red Slate Ornamental is most easily fed on a diet of live insects. Popular options in the hobby include cockroaches (“roaches”) and crickets. My personal food item of choice, however, are locusts. I don’t like the way that crickets can nibble on an unsuspecting tarantula, and there have been cases of spiders dying when a rogue cricket has attacked them during a moult.

    Locusts are available in a huge range of sizes. They’re easier to handle than crickets or roaches in my opinion, and they won’t nibble on your spider. Best of all they typically climb up towards the upper reaches of a cage, making it more likely that they’ll bump into your Poecilotheria rufilata.

    Whatever option you choose, I like to vary what I feed from time to time (to maximize nutrient intake) and I feed insects up to the body length of my spiders. Poecilotheria rufilata is a fast-growing species, and therefore has an appetite to match. Unlike slower-growing spiders like Brachypelma emilia I have found that Red Slate Ornamentals will eat on an almost daily basis given the chance. Far from getting “overweight” this means that your spider will just grow much more quickly.

    For spiderlings and juveniles I therefore feed them some 5 times or so a week. Adults get food 2-3 times a week. Be sure to check the cage the morning after feeding; any uneaten food should be removed. It may be that this is a temporary situation, suggesting that a moult is imminent (see my tips on moulting here) or it may be that you need to feed your spider less.

    Lastly, I have found that Poecilotheria tarantulas are happy to take rodents on occasion. As someone who also has snakes, I find that a defrosted (and warmed up) pinkie or fluff mouse will be taken by most of my specimens. While there is an argument to say that this may result in even faster growth, be aware that tarantulas can make quite a mess of a mouse, so more regular cage cleaning may be required. Note that these are only therefore given occasionally as a “treat” rather than being a staple part of the diet.


    Poecilotheria rufilata are big, fast moving and likely have potent venom. I would therefore suggest that you don’t attempt to handle this species. If you need to move your spider from one tank to another I would suggest you take a more “hands-off” approach. Either gently catch the spider in a clear plastic tub (like an empty cricket container) or simply place the old cage inside the new one, open the lid, and let your spider come out in its own good time.

    If this isn’t possible then place the cage into a room with no hiding places (bathrooms tend to work well) and gently coax it out of the cage with a long pair of forceps. Keep calm, move gently and don’t get impatient. With care, and a little luck, you’ll manage to herd your spider into the new cage without issue.

    Poecilotheria ruflata, the Red Slate Ornamental tarantula, is considered to be one of the largest arboreal tarantulas in the pet keeping hobby. Find out everything you need to know in this care sheet to see if such an invertebrate is right for your collection.

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    Musk Turtle Tanks & Setup Tutorial

    Musk turtles require very specialist housing if they are to thrive in captivity. The good news is that once your musk turtle tank is setup correctly then caring for musk turtles becomes quite simple. In this guide we’ll therefore take an indepth look at the best musk turtle tanks and how to setup your tank. […] The post Musk Turtle Tanks & Setup Tutorial appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

    Musk turtles require very specialist housing if they are to thrive in captivity. The good news is that once your musk turtle tank is setup correctly then caring for musk turtles becomes quite simple. In this guide we’ll therefore take an indepth look at the best musk turtle tanks and how to setup your tank.

    Selecting a Musk Turtle Tank

    Musk turtles may only grow to a modest size but they can be surprisingly active. This means that they require quite a generous tank. Larger tanks can also cut down in the cleaning that your musk turtle requires – simply because there is more water present.

    Broadly speaking a 20 gallon (~60cm/2 foot long) tank is suitable for single musk turtle, whilst two turtles require a 30 gallon home.

    Turtle tanks come in a range of different sizes, shapes and materials. In most cases a glass tank is the ideal solution, offering ease of cleaning, excellent visibility and a beautiful display.

    musk turtle photo

    Here are some aspects you’ll need to consider when selecting a musk turtle tank:


    Your musk turtle have suitable space to move about their tank in a natural manner. While musk turtles typically spend the vast majority of their time in the water they should also be able to haul themselves out onto dry land to bask when they choose. Therefore it is wise to consider whether you’ll have room for a “dry land” area in any cage you’re considering.


    Musk turtles don’t grow too large. They often “hang” in the water, with their heads above the water, and their lack feet resting gently on the tank bottom. Selecting a cage that permits a suitable depth of water to allow this behavior is therefore a good idea.

    Water Heater

    Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a tropical part of the world then your musk turtle will require their water to gently heated to around 22’C. While this is easily achieved with the right turtle water heater (read the guide here) you do need to consider where the heater will go, and how you’ll fit the wiring that such equipment needs.

    UV Light

    Like other chelonians, musk turtles require strong ultraviolet light. This UV light allows your turtle to generate vitamin D, which in turn is used to absorb and utilize calcium from the diet. Without a suitable source of UV light you may well find in time that your turtle’s shell or skeleton fails to grow properly; a potentially fatal problem.

    UV lights are available readily online, but you’ll need to consider how you’re going to install such a light in your turtle tank. Appreciate that UV light doesn’t travel through glass so you’ll need to install the light in your aquarium hood somehow.  

    Basking Spot

    It is generally agreed that musk turtles should have a basking spot in their tank – somewhere that simulates the warmth of direct sunshine. Most typically a powerful heat lamp (like a ceramic bulb) is positioned above the basking area. Just as with our UV light and our water heater, therefore, you’ll need to consider how and where you’ll fit such a heater. If you want more guidance on using ceramic heaters then please read my guide here.


    Turtles can be messy creatures, so a powerful filter is required to remove faeces and uneaten food from the water. Consider where you’ll place the filter and how you’ll power it.

    Ease of Cleaning

    You’ll regularly need to clean your turtle cage. Use an aquarium vacuum to remove detritus, rinse the filter media clean, and most likely use a magnetic aquarium cleaner to polish the glass. Make sure that any musk turtle tank that you’re considering makes this process as easy as possible.


    Musk turtles can climb surprisingly well. Just as importantly, however, other animals may be able to get into your tank. The last thing you want is a neighbour’s cat slipping in through an open window and taking off with your precious turtle. An enclosed tank can therefore be a good idea.

    The Best Musk Turtle Tanks

    If this is your very first musk turtle then the obvious question is what is the best tank for musk turtles? Where do you even start?

    Here I have two suggestions to start your search…

    Tetra Deluxe Aquatic Turtle Kit

    The Tetra Deluxe Aquatic Turtle Kit has a lot going for it. The tank itself is 30 inches long (2.5 feet) by 12” (30cm) deep. This is therefore an ideal size for two smaller musk turtles or one adult.

    The tank is built from solid glass and features a handy mesh lid. This lid means that you can shine a heat lamp and a UV light through it easily. Alongside the tank, however, this is a complete musk turtle setup, which includes a filter, basking platform, artificial plant, UV light, basking lamp and more. In other words you get virtually everything you need in one neat package. This is the ideal “starter” option.

    Take a look on Amazon.

    Glass Aquarium with Screen Cover

    An alternative musk turtle setup can be made by combining a standard glass aquarium with a mesh lid. Exo Terra make a huge range of these mesh tank toppers, giving you more choice on the size of the tank that you select. Larger screen covers are even hinged, or include a small access door.

    The flexibility of this option means that you have far more control over your musk turtle tank. You can select a larger tank, and cherry-pick the equipment that you use. You can hand-select the basking platform, your choice of UV light and so forth. This can be a lot of fun.

    On the other hand, having to individually select each item for your turtle tank can be rather intimidating for some people.

    The conclusion here is that neither option is necessarily better than the other. Either select the “all in one” kit, or get a little more creative with an Exo Terra mesh lid on a traditional fish tank.

    Musk Turtle Shopping List

    Let’s assume you’ve selected your tank now. What else do you need to tick off before actually setting up your turtle terrarium?

    Water Heater

    Choosing the right water heater for your turtle is important. I’ve written about this topic in detail here. In brief you’re looking for a heater that comes with a tough outer guard to prevent damage by your turtle’s claws. Buy your heater after (or at the same time as) your tank. This is because aquarium heaters differ in their power output, so you’ll want to choose one designed for the size of tank you’ve chosen.

    Aquarium Filter

    I don’t recommend an undergravel filter for turtles, primarily because so few people actually use gravel with turtles. Instead, a good quality canister filter will do a great job. Once again, select a filter designed for your size of tank.

    UV Bulb

    A range of UV bulbs are available. In my collection I now exclusively use so-called “compact fluorescent” bulbs. These are small in size but have a high output. I would suggest you opt for a 5% bulb like this one. UV bulbs need to be changed every six months, as their ultraviolet output drops over time.

    Basking Lamp

    A basking lamp will provide direct heat for your basking spot. In the past incandescent bulbs were used, but this can be a risky proposition when water is concerned. A splash of water on a hot bulb can cause it to shatter instantly. Instead I recommend ceramic bulbs, which are far sturdier. They also don’t produce light, so can be left on during cold nights without keeping your turtle awake.

    Bulb Holders/Reflectors

    Your UV light and ceramic bulb need to be housed in a bulb holder. These holders then plug into the mains to power the bulbs. Ceramic bulbs get very hot so be sure to select a holder with a ceramic fitting; plastic alternatives can melt. For ease, I would suggest that you buy two identical holders to use for your two lights. This is a good option if you’re unsure.

    Reptile Thermostat

    Getting cold can be bad for reptiles; but getting too hot is just as dangerous. Ceramic bulbs can provide a crazy amount of heat, and you’ll need to control this carefully. A thermostat does this. Be sure to choose a thermostat that is designed to (a) work with your chosen basking lamp and (b) can control the power of your chosen basking lamp. Learn more about choosing a thermostat here.

    Water Conditioner

    Tap water is filled with additives like chlorine. This, in turn, can be bad for your turtles. A reptile-safe water conditioner will remove this chlorine, rendering the water safe. This is a good option.


    With all this technology running, it is wise to keep an eye on everything. I would suggest that you invest in an aquatic thermometer to monitor the water temperature. A second thermometer can then help you to assess the basking spot temperature. Personally I use a handheld digital thermometer like this one.

    Basking Platform

    Musk turtles spend the vast majority of their time either swimming, or resting in the water. All the same, they should have the option to climb out and bask. The easiest way to achieve this is to install a simple basking platform like this one.

    Musk Turtle Tank Setup

    Now we’ve discussed musk turtle tanks, and the equipment you’ll need, let’s now put all this information together. In this final section we’ll actually looking at setting up your musk turtle tank so that your pet has everything it needs to thrive.

    Fill With Water

    Start off by adding the required depth of water. Broadly speaking the water should be slightly shallower than your turtle is long, so they can easily reach the surface while standing on the floor of the tank. Add your water conditioner to remove the harmful chlorine.

    Water Heater

    Following the instructions on your water heater place this under the water surface and firmly attach it to the side of the tank.


    Insert the aquarium filter you’ve chosen, being careful to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

    Basking Platform

    Install the basking platform at one end of the tank, ensuring that your turtle can easily access it from the water.

    Basking Lamp

    Install the basking lamp over the top of this basking platform. Ensure that your turtle cannot touch the lamp, and that it is attached to a thermostat to prevent overheating.

    UV Light

    Install the UV lamp. Be sure to use a reflector to shine the ultraviolet light down into the turtle tank. Be aware that UV light is harmful to your eyes so try never to look directly at the bulb when it is on.

    Turn On and Monitor

    By this point everything should be setup correctly. All the same, it is advisable that you don’t pop your musk turtle straight in. Instead, turn everything on and spend a few days monitoring your tank. You’ll want to make sure, for example, that the water temperature is correct. Check the basking spot is warm enough. Make sure the filter is doings its job. Only when you’re confident that everything is working properly should you gently introduce your new musk turtle.

    Musk turtle tanks need to tick an awful lot of boxes - so which tanks are best for these amazing little reptiles? Find out in this detailed buyer's guide for pet owners.

    Photo by Laurent Lebois ©

    The post Musk Turtle Tanks & Setup Tutorial appeared first on Keeping Exotic Pets.

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