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Gila monster YouTube video now up!

Kicking off the 2022 Gila monster breeding season seemed like a time to start our YouTube videos. We plan on documenting the entire breeding season, from warm up to hatching babies, to help expand the knowledge of breeding Gila monsters in captivity. Check it out here and let us know what you think!

2022 Gila monster season: Engage!

Winnie the monochromatic (axanthic) Gila monster wasn’t quite ready for the 2022 breeding season despite being six years old but we look forward to her joining the group in 2023.

Our 2022 Gila monster breeding season is about to kick into high gear. Our group (or lounge of Gilas as it’s known) of adults will be coming out of brumation soon and the captive breeding season begins. But all’s not been quite as our monsters sleep here at Goatsby’s Place, quite to the contrary as we’ve worked hard to prepare for this season and improve on what we’ve learned over the past year’s successes and failures.

Our 2020 holdbacks aren’t ready to breed so do not get brumated during the winter until they are a few years old.

Our primary goal this year (other than to have fun and raise amazing baby Gila monsters!) to increase our hatch rate to 80% or better. Over the past few seasons are hatch rate has been 50% or less which is disappointing to say the least but I have some ideas as to why our success has been limited. This year will be the first time we can test these theories and prove them out. Last year‘s phorid fly attack and the fact that only one male was cooled certainly contributed to the lack of success. This year on the other hand we have equal ratio adult pairs and are working with our own ultrasound to closely follow the inner workings of the male and female reproductive systems.

Ultrasounding a very patient Gila monster. Photo by J. Brueggen

On a technological front we are migrating to a fully web-based system to monitor and adjust things as the season progresses. We’ve purchased and implemented the über-cool Spyder Robotics Herpstat SpyderWeb proportional thermostats to control the heat, and importantly, set up a nighttime temperature drop for the Gilas. We continue to use the SensorPush system to monitor ambient temperature and relative humidity, and added night vision cameras to monitor copulation and activity between paired Gilas. Having all this work with Alexa is just a geeky bonus, but fun nonetheless.

Herpstat 2 SpyderWeb proportional thermostat is a web-based unit that can be checked and adjusted from anywhere!

And last but certainly not least, keep an eye out on our YouTube channel as we begin a series of videos documenting the full reproductive season of our Gila monsters, from pairing, to copulation, to egg-laying and incubation, and if all goes well, hatching. My goal is to produce informative and fun videos to help increase our understanding of the amazing Gila monster. The good news is you get to see lots of beautiful Gila monsters, the bad news is you’ll get to see my ugly face from time to time:)

2021 baby Gila monsters!

The last three Gilas hatch!

The 2021 baby Gila monsters are all out and settling in here at Goatsby’s Place! We are very proud of our beautiful baby monsters, and feel blessed to have been successful again this year. While most are spoken for, we may have a few available for new homes. Please email us if interested, or to get on the list for 2022.

Anything can happen on Halloween

Trick or treat! Baby Gila monster emerging from its egg.

I have always loved Halloween, but for the past two years our Gila monsters have been hatching on this magical day which delights me too no small end. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

For those who know, know. Thank you, Tim Curry.

PIT tagging Gila monsters

Caption reads, “OUCH Dad!!”

PIT (passive integrated transponder) microchip tags are certainly not new to the pet industry, being used extensively on cats and dogs to help lost animals find their way home. Taking this application a step further, some reptile owners PIT tag their herps to help keep track of animals in their collection or to identify those produced by a certain breeder. Until recently I haven’t given much thought to putting these microchips into my Gilas but a recent incident convinced me otherwise.

Someone on an Internet forum claimed to be selling one of my Gilas, but they didn’t have the “Certificate of Captive Birth“ that I provide with each Gila born here, and the person selling the animal was not registered on my list. I take this very seriously as there are folks selling wild-caught animals as captive-bred using well known breeders names and credentials. After a short investigation, it was found that the Gila was not one of mine but someone was using my name to sell a Gila of unknown origin (I cannot say for sure if it was wild-caught, but the circumstances around this sale were very suspicious). To help verify my Gilas in the future, I decided to look into PIT tagging my lizards.

After doing some research and speaking with my friend John who is very knowledgeable in both Gilas and PIT tags, it seemed this would be a good way to go in ensuring my Gilas could be easily identified within my group and to those that purchase from me.

Overall, the procedure is simple and can be done at home with the help of an experienced vet tech or if you are lucky enough to have a good friend knowledgeable in such things (thanks John!), otherwise inquire with your herp vet about the procedure. The health and safety of the animal is always paramount so please don’t take shortcuts on this or any matter concerning your Gilas. I was able to do this at home because I had an experienced friend but would not hesitate to take my Gila monsters to the vet to get the PIT tag installed safely.

After installing the PIT tag, it was checked with a scanner to be sure it didn’t come out.
Handling Gilas is always a risky proposition, be sure to put the safety of yourself and those working with you first!

Best laid plans of Gilas and men..

Gila laying egg in hide box, which was moved to remove the egg.

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.

Egg about one week after being laid, showing veins which indicates growth.

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.

Some of these eggs are bad, can you tell which ones? Here’s a hint, three are bad (insert sad emoji).

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!

Bad egg being attacked by phorid fly maggots. Do the maggots harm good eggs in the same container?

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!

Better together

With the discovery that hatchling Gila monsters over winter in their nest, I wanted to perform my own non-scientific social study of hatchling Gilas. Normally baby Gila monsters are reared on their own in solitary containers to facilitate easier feeding and maintenance, but this year I housed two siblings to see how they would be together. While they were housed alone for for the first two months to ensure both were feeding regularly and healthy, they were introduced into an adult-sized terrarium and have been there ever since. So far? The photo above best describes the behavior from the hatchlings. The definitely tend to share the same “burrow” / hide more often than not, and are active at the same time. Feeding has to be done carefully so as to ensure there is not fighting over food.

I do not know if there is a certain age they go their own way, but I will keep they together through the first year to see how they act with each other. Seeing this and the behavior of my adults makes me wonder about the social structure of these reptiles. There truly is still so much to learn about Gila monsters!

Check here for the scientific findings from the discovery above.

May 2021 Update: Nest boxes and hopefully eggs soon!

Momma getting ready for the big day!

Though work and the other parts of my life have kept me from updating this blog on a regular basis, working with the Gilas has not slowed down. As of today my females are gravid and have gone through their pre egg-laying shed so oviposition is expected within the next week, according to my calculations.

Two of my females cages with privacy tint installed.

This year my nesting protocol has changed due to the failures (or, opportunities for learning) of last year. last year one of my females delayed egg laying by about 10 days which resulted in the death of six viable eggs. Not a very fun lesson but certainly an opportunity for improvement. I think last year the female did not have the proper secure nesting area and held her eggs until she could not hold them any longer. I also tried a new nesting material which did not work out very well as it did not hold moisture for very long. This year, things have changed.

To help increase privacy and to solve the humidity issue everything has been changed. To start, the entire cage has been converted to a nest box. This is to allow the females to continue to thermoregulate (though over lower temperatures) throughout this period. I have installed privacy tint on 1/2 of the cage as well as a large black hiding box to increase privacy. I also went back to good old sphagnum moss misted daily to help maintain moisture in the cage. The ultimate goal is to provide a secure area that matches conditions for positive egg growth. So far it appears to be working as the conditions in the cage mirror those in my incubator (see below screenshot from my SensorPush app).

Pretty close!

Will this ultimately work? We will know within two weeks. If all goes well my females will lay viable eggs this year. If not, I’m sure there will be a lesson learned and opportunity for improvement next year! Fingers crossed!