This year started off with promise, but there was an asterisk overshadowing success. A total of twelve eggs were laid between two females (which has been the consistent average over the past few years, six eggs per female) which was good, and all appeared promising with blood rings in all eggs. The asterisk earlier mentioned comes from two factors; 1. I did not cool one of my adult males last year but still paired him with the females, 2. my main man Winston wasn’t too interested in the girls this year. I do not know if it was because I rotated my pairs, or “he was just not that into her” as the saying goes. Winston was only observed coplulating 3 times in 2021, versus 11 times in 2020. While I have hope for success this year, it is tinged in skepticism and truly illustrates how little we know about breeding Gila monsters in captivity.
Of course success can be had following “The Recipe” as beautifully laid out in Mark Seward’s book but, much like cooking, following a recipe gets the basic job done but does not give us the insight into the inner working of what is really going on.
In spending years studying Heloderma suspectum; collecting articles, reading books, and joining and participating in online forums and Facebook groups, the realization that my success as a breeder has been a lucky coincidence came hard and fast this year. I would love to take credit for the success I have been fortunate enough to experience, but as stated in Jurassic Park I have simply taken what others have done successfully and applied it to my program. If it’s not broken why bother fixing it, right? If all eggs hatched and there were no issues, hard questions would probably not be asked. As this year has brought more failure than success (so far) it is hard not to face the fact there is much to learn. Since it is a universally known fact that Gila monsters are hard to breed in captivity, it seems this lack of knowledge goes well beyond my program.
Another unfriendly first this year was an infestation of phorid flies in my Gila monster egg boxes. As this pest has not plagued me yet, it was unnerving to find maggots on dying / dead eggs, and some on good eggs. Did the phorid fly maggots cause the eggs to die, or were they simply drawn to the smell of the decomposing matter? From what I have gathered by speaking to other reptile breeders and checking forums, the maggots do not cause they egg to due, but I am not 100% sold on that answer. Before getting into that topic, it would be good to share what was done to get rid of the fly infestation.
Upon discovering the phorid flies and maggots on my Gila monster eggs (after a releasing a string of expletives that would make Anthony Bourdain blush), the best course of action in my mind was to sterilize the egg boxes (S.I.M containers) and medium (clay Pangea Hatch) and close up all holes in the egg boxes. S.I.M. containers do not come with any holes from the factory, so when I first received them four holes were burned with a soldering iron into the top of each side to allow for greater oxygen exchange. These were now sealed with electrical tape so as to not allow entrance of the flies to lay eggs. After sealing the holes, the boxes were sterilized. The Pangea Hatch clay substrate can be boiled to sterilize, which is what was done to ensure no fly eggs would hatch from this area. After everything was cleaned the Gila eggs were gently scrubbed with a soft toothbrush to remove any fly eggs and then put back in, egg box tops then sealed to prevent further entry. Since then I have not seen any fly or maggot activity, though I do open the boxes every two or three days to make sure of this as well as provide oxygen exchange.
I forgot to mention that one egg was separated from the rest as this egg has a “weak” spot. When the cleaning occurred this part of the egg was covered in maggots attacking this area. I assumed this egg was a goner and would be the next to die, but as of today this egg remains viable. The soft spot has since hardened and no further maggots have been found on the egg! It is my belief that if left in the container with maggots and flies, this soft area would have been continued to be exploited which would have further weakened the egg and eventually would have led to its demise. Of course without having a control specimen to compare it to, we will never know if this egg would have continued to survive or would have died but my money is on the death of the egg. Ultimately the hatching of this egg will be the determining factor of this experiment, so fingers crossed a beautiful Gila monster comes out later this year!
With roughly 77 days until hatch, there is a lot that can happen. As my Grumbuach S84 keeps the temperature and humidity steady as a rock, I can only look at the other variables in my program for improvement. Every year new challenges arrive in breeding Gila monsters, and there is always something new to be learned. Unfortunately mistakes come at the cost of viable eggs and hatchlings, but there is always next year to make improvements!