Enrichment is the practice of changing a captive animals environment in order to improve their health, coping skills, and mentalistic welfare (how the animal “feels” about itself and its environment, this is very hard to figure out).
Enrichment allows animals to express a range of positive natural behaviors, provides positive utilization of the environment, increases the ability to cope with challenges, and reduces stereotypies. Stereotypies are repetitive or ritualistic movements or behaviors, which serve no obvious purpose.
There are five forms of enrichment: nutritional (foraging), cognitive (occupational, like a puzzle), physical (furniture or toys), social (contact or proximity), and sensory (engaging the five senses).
We often judge the amount of enrichment an animal should receive by their perceived mental capabilities and how similar their behaviors are to our own, because of this reptiles and amphibians tend to get the short end of the enrichment stick. We tend to forget that because for the most part they tend to lie around and bask in the sun all day. In reality though, reptiles need enrichment just as much as other animals do.
Reptile enrichment tends to be fairly simple and you can even do some of the enrichment with your own scaly pets. You should make sure to provide your reptiles with a variety of prey items (this doesn’t work for snakes really, unless you have a larger species), this is a form of nutritional and sensory enrichment as it provides different olfactory stimulation, providing ample cover and “natural” environment (such as pools of water for species with aquatic tendencies or multi-leveled rocks for lizards to promote dominant behavior) is also a form of enrichment and induces exploratory behavior.
Zookeepers often use scent-oriented enrichment for their reptiles; leaving scent trails or dragging another snakes shed through the enclosure while the animal is off exhibit can achieve this. Another way in which reptiles and amphibians can be enriched is the use of leaf piles, this provides a place to hide and scents to explore and is a very natural behavior that should be encouraged. One of the newer methods of enrichment for reptiles is to train them to do a “simple” task, this enrichment was used on the more “high-functioning” animal species in the past but now zookeepers have begun to use it with reptile species. Keepers will train certain reptiles to touch a colored target; the animal receives a food treat as a reward.
I have begun to attempt this training activity with my bearded dragons using a painting sponge brush. I am starting out with a food pellet placed on the sponge, allowing my bearded dragons to get used to the novelty of it, while receiving a reward for their curiosity. After a while, when I am satisfied with how often the girls touch their noses to the sponge to get the food, I will remove the food and start holding the sponge for them to touch and rewarded them with their favorite treat; the almighty raspberry. It is a work in progress but they seem to be catching on and it provides them with something novel to do and an excuse to give them their favorite fruit.
Enrichment not only benefits your animals greatly, it benefits you too! It allows you to do some creative work, observe behavior, bond with your animals, and increase your knowledge on the species. Happy healthy pets, make for happy healthy people, enrich your pets to enrich your life.
Featured above: Croc Monitor skull, Water Monitor,and Komodo Dragon
- Monitors have subpleurodont teeth, which means that thier the teeth are fused to the inside of the jaw bones.
- The teeth are placed one behind another, with replacement teeth behind and between each functional tooth also known as a polyphyodont.
- The maxillary and dentary teeth are laterally compressed (flattened sideways), sometimes with a slightly serrate cutting edge, while the premaxillary teeth are conical (having the shape of a cone).
- Normally Monitors have a dentition of somewhere around 78 premaxillary teeth, 10 maxillary and 13 dentary teeth. Replacement teeth move forward and about four replacements happens each year for a tooth.
- “A team of researchers from the University of Melbourne, Australia have revolutionized herpetology by showing that venomous lizards are actually much more widespread than thought. These scientists, under the leadership of Bryan Fry, have demonstrated that both monitor lizards (commonly kept as pets) and iguanas also produce venom. Nine types of lizard toxins are shared with snakes, but some toxins are new and yet to be investigated for medical research. Furthermore, it is now thought that venom production had, actually, a single early origin for lizards and snake and that the common ancestor to all venomous species lived about 200 million years ago. The evolution of venom would have, thus, coincided with the rapid spread of small mammals”. Monitors produce this venom by way of their mandibular glands, which produce secretions at the base of the teeth.
- To date, the toxin-producing oral glands have been identified in species of the anguimorph and iguanian lineages. It is believed that as many as 100 species of living lizards actually use venom.
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Dumeril’s Boa (Acrantophis dumerili)
- Endemic to the dry forests, and highlands (sometimes reaching an elevation of 1,300 metres) of Madagascar as well as near some of the remote villages
- This relatively large, heavy-bodied, ground dwelling snake is also known as the Madagascar ground boa
- This snakes mottled coloration provides the perfect camouflage when it is traveling through leaf litter
- Dumeril’s boas range in size from 3 to 6 feet. Snakes up to 9 feet long are rare, but they are out there
- Juveniles of this species are nocturnal, while adults are cathemeral (meaning they are active intermittently throughout the day or night and not exclusively active in either)
- This species is and ambush predator and kills its prey (normally consisting of rodents, birds, and other mammals) by constriction
- Dumeril’s Boa lacks the heat-sensitive facial-pits present in many other boa species, which are used to detect warm bodied prey
- Of all the reptiles alive today, crocodiles and alligators may be the least changed from their prehistoric ancestors of the late Cretaceous period, over 65 million years ago—although the even earlier crocodiles of the Triassic and Jurassic periods sported some distinctly un-crocodile-like features, such as bipedal postures and vegetarian diets
- Before the first true crocodiles emerged on the prehistoric scene, there were the phytosaurs (“plant lizards”): archosaurs that looked very much like crocodiles, except that their nostrils were positioned on the tops of their heads rather than the tips of their snouts. You might guess from their name that phytosaurs were vegetarians, but in fact they subsisted on fish and marine organisms in freshwater lakes and rivers worldwide
- By the start of the Jurassic period (about 200 million years ago), crocodiles had mostly abandoned their terrestrial lifestyles. This is when we begin to see the marine adaptations that characterize modern crocodiles and alligators: Long bodies, splayed limbs, and narrow, flat, tooth-studded snouts with powerful jaws (a necessary innovation, since crocodiles feasted on dinosaurs and other animals that ventured too close to the water)