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!
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!
Our 2021 Gila monster breeding season has kicked off and we could not be more excited! All pairs have been seen copulating and follicles appear to be nice and healthy. We hope to correct last year’s mistakes and improve our program through the insights gained over the past few seasons. We are also now incorporating the use of ultrasound (we’ll post more on this once we’ve actually figured this technology out). Stay tuned on the haps here at Goatsby’s Place and our amazing monsters, much more to come!
It’s mid-February, the adult Gilas are slowly coming out of hibernation, the 2020 babies are going to new homes, and to say we are excited about the 2021 season is an understatement! This year we have an ultrasound that will help us improve breeding and oviposition, and we will share some information on this here once we can successfully figure it out:$ If you are interested in getting on the list for 2021 or just want to discuss monster, drop us a message!
In case you haven’t seen them, here are 2020’s babies!
Some time has passed since the last blog post (my sincerest apologies, I am a terrible blogger). What’s been going at Goatsby’s Place since we last wrote? Besides the usual life stuff (family & work) the babies are doing great and growing like weeds. Of all the baby reptiles I’ve worked with Gila monsters are the only species that have not given me an issue to start feeding (tree vipers, I’m looking at you). Some of the neonates take a little longer to eat the pinky, but they all ate on the first offering. They all have different personalities, some are very laid back, others are angry and more nippy, but all are amazing. It’s going to be tough to choose which one will be held back but I do have a favorite:) The babies are all housed individually in 18 quart Sterilite Ultra boxes and taken out to feed twice-weekly and be weighed every two weeks. A small 20 ounce water bowl is in the box for them to drink, soak, and sometimes defecate. I had smaller bowls at first but found they soiled them or knocked them over too easy and made the move to a larger bowl which is where I will start next time. They have been a blast to watch grow and I look forward to seeing how they mature.
The adults are back in the fridge resting at a chilly 56°F until early March. I hope to get a new female for next season but think I’ll have my hands full with the ones here. I look forward to building on the success of this season and hope to improve things next year.
That’s it for now, here are photos of the babies taken today. Shoot me an email if you are interested in any of them. One of these days I will get this website fully functional with and will try to not so much time lapse in-between posts. Thanks for stopping by!
About a week or so ago, I noticed that Egg 10 was not looking so good. As only six eggs remained viable it is a hard hit when one is lost. I had kept it in the egg box in hopes it would turn around but after waiting a few days the egg started to sweat and smell so I candled it to see what was happening inside. No veins were present and there was a lot of clear yellow mass which was present in all the other eggs that died, so I knew it was no longer viable. Still hoping, I left it in the egg box for a few more days but it continued to deteriorate and smell so tonight it was removed.
After removing the egg I was morbidly curious to see what was going on, and how far the embryo had developed. Sadly, a fully-formed Gila monster was inside. It was much smaller than the typical hatchling but appeared normal overall. Why did this embryo die after being alive for so long? Has it been dead for a long time? It’s hard for me to say at this point with my limited knowledge, but I really hope that the other five eggs are healthy and hatch. Regardless of how this season turns out I am going to thoroughly review my notes and protocols and see where improvements can be made and where things may have gone wrong. At this point, my feeling is that the females were not prepared last year for this season. Maybe it was improper temperatures or not enough food but this year I know all my adults are in proper order and ready for next year. I’m not giving up on this season yet and still have hope that the five remaining eggs will sprout baby monsters in the next few weeks!
Mark Seward says 124 – 150 days. I am at Day 102 and it’s hard to be patient. Six eggs remain in the incubator and I have not touched them in some time for fear of creating a problem that didn’t exist. The Grumbach has done an admirable job of keeping both temperature and humidity very stable, and the S.I.M. Containers are keeping the eggs off the moist substrate while maintaining 100% relative humidity so as long as the eggs are good there’s a fair chance in the next 48 days baby monsters will grace my home! As the time nears I need to watch out for excessive condensation in the egg containers, though there is none now, as this can cause egg death.
In other news, all the Gilas in my breeding group are at a good weight and ready for the winter cooling. An interesting observation that I have made over the past few months is that it has taken a lot longer for the females to get back up to weight despite being fed more (three mice per week instead of two). The females have also remained generally more active than the males, which probably attributes to their slower weight gain. I hope to get another female before winter cooling, but am looking for the right Gila to add to the group. This year I plan on modifying an old refrigerator to hibernate the Gilas in as I do not think it gets cool enough for long enough to reach and sustain the appropriate temperatures. Will post pics here of this year’s set up so stay tuned. But, hopefully a few Gila babies first…
This very exciting event recently popped up in my news feed! A symposium specifically about Heloderma in the New Mexican desert? Count me in. The website is currently up and you can follow the updates here: https://www.biologyofheloderma.com/home. Hope to see you there!
So, I made a third update some weeks ago but found out I never posted it, so here it goes…
UPDATE 3 – May 3, 2019
The females had been separated from the males for about two weeks now as I observed both females being copulated with and, according to other successful breeders, mating is wrapped in in a two week period. Though both weight and girth were increasing on both females, I felt extremely paranoid that breeding was not over and pulled them out prematurely (no pun intended). After searching through Internet forums and FB posts, it did appear that I may have separated the sexes too early. A few successful breeders commented on some of my posts how they usually separate mid-May, or when the female appears to be gravid.
So, I figure better safe than sorry and put the pairs back together. What also came out of this was the insight that Gilas become pairs, meaning that success can be enhanced by putting two “known” pairs together and that they will successfully breed together in the future without male combat or by cycling through male cages. I cannot comment on this but it does seem that certain Gilas do pair together and prefer one another. In my example, Gila 01 and 05 successfully mated and remained close together whenever introduced to each other. Conversely, Gila 01 and 03 were not close to each other though they did successfully mate. The same with Gila 04 and 05, though 04 did not mate with 05 and they were always on opposite sides of the terrarium. Gilas 06 and 09, both males, stay home without dates this year. Gila 06 remains quarantined while 09 was not preferred by either females despite his most earnest effort.
After re-introducing Gila 03 and 04, Male 04 wasted no time in getting to it. Unlike earlier in the season where the males chased the females and copulation took place later, this interaction was direct and immediate. Though I suspect that 03 was already gravid I think it was good for him to actually copulate this season; he began eating again after he sowed his wild oats. His activity level also calmed a bit after having his girlfriend back in his territory. I observed copulation with this pair four more times while 01 and 05 did not hook up again though they remained close together.
I will separate the pairs on May 11 as I am pretty sure the females are gravid, but want to be sure. It is fascinating to me how the Gilas know one from another and have different choices in mates. In the wild it is reported that Gilas visit the same dens to breed year after year. Not sure of the same lizard if there each time, but think it means they are familiar with the area and hope to find an old flame that they previously has a successful connection with.
I discovered Grumbach incubators from the book Beaded Lizards & Gila Monsters Captive Care & Husbandry which states that “Grumbach incubators are especially well suited for hatching Heloderma eggs”. After some Google searching and browsing through reptile forums I quickly found that the problem with Grumbach, a German manufacturer, is that these machines are not commonly used in the US (especially for reptile egg incubation) and finding information about their incubators and how they are used is scant. The sole distributor here in the States, Lyon USA, seems to have disappeared. The Grumbach website does have English instructions for their incubators so, armed with what little knowledge was available it was off to eBay. As luck would have it I found an older analog Grumbach S84 Compact model for a fair price and picked it up. After downloading the manual from the Grumbach website I sent the next few weeks attempting to get the incubator to where I needed it to be; 82*F with a 90% humidity. But no matter what I tried the coolest stable temperature I could get down to was 89*F. Way too hot for Gila monster eggs! The S84 was made for hatching birds, so I contacted Grumbach directly to see if this unit could be used for reptiles (they have several reptile specific incubators, but again getting one here in the US is a very expensive proposition). They did get back to me and said that the S84 could be used for this, but they did not give me guidance on how to get the temperature to where I needed it. Frustrated, I sold the Grumbach since it was apparent the incubator would not work for my purposes and I did not want to modify or damage this fully functional unit. The hunt for another incubator began.
Then, again on eBay, another S84 popped up but this one was being sold for parts and not working for a deep discount. I figured this unit would be a better fit as I could modify it to fit my needs without having to worry about losing too much money if it didn’t work out. The owner reported that they only tested the incubator on 110v (the Grumbach’s are 220v) so they weren’t sure what worked and what didn’t. This model was digital so, to me, it was worth the risk. The unit arrived and once properly hooked up to my Todd Systems 115v to 220v step-up transformer I was able to get most of the components up and running properly. The exception being the fan. The Heidolph fan was dead and upon contacting Lyon USA found out that Grumbach no longer supplies a replacement and the entire unit (fan, heater, assembly) had to be purchased at a cost of $800! It appears that Heidolph produced these fans specially for Grumbach as I couldn’t find a replacement anywhere. Buying a new unit obviously wipes out any cost savings of purchasing this unit so I started researching other options and found an Ebmpapst 4850 ZW 220v fan, which some Grumbach’s use, to fill the position and it works well! This unit pushes a lower cfm (cubic feet per minute) than most of the others I looked at which is an important factor as we do not need a hurricane to dry the eggs out or draw out the moisture, only for moving the air to provide a consistent temperature.
I want to take a moment to mention again that Grumbach incubators are 220v. Here in the US, our outlets are 110v and a step-up transformer is necessary to properly operate the unit. When I started researching transformers, it quickly became apparent that this was an area to not skimp on. The abundance of lower cost and quality units which are readily available on Amazon and eBay make it seem like they are all the same, but that is far from the case. Perhaps for intermittent use these cheap units would be fine but my incubator will be running continuously for 5-6 months! I read horror stories of how these cheaper units run hot and can catch on fire after a few hours of use, and that you need to double their wattage (if your unit uses 500w, you need a minimum of 1000w or greater transformer) to ensure proper power is supplied. After all these years and planning, the last thing I want is for a cheap component to ruin my eggs, or even worse burn my house down! So, more research ensued and I found a few high-quality transformers; the one I bought from Todd Systems and there was another company ACUPWR, that made equally good equipment.
I set up the incubator well in advance of oviposition to make sure the eggs go straight into a stable environment. I don’t know why, but this second Grumbach was able to achieve the conditions required for incubating Gila monster eggs and it didn’t take long to get everything dialed in. I placed a SensorPush digital thermometer / hygrometer to track my temperature and humidity, as well as some Squamata Concepts S.I.M. egg containers in the incubator and think I am all set. All I need now is the eggs!
I cannot yet comment on how good the Grumbach S84 incubator will be for Gila monster eggs, but feel it should be adequate as it is well insulated and maintains a very steady temperature and humidity while the fan provides a consistent temperature throughout the unit. I must say that it is cool how the digital display can be seen in the dark across the room for obsessive checking:) I’m sure other incubators and DIY units can do the same job, but Grumbach is world renowned and I am fascinated by German engineering (thanks, Leica!). I’ll revise this post after the first year and report how well it does and if I’ll be sticking with it for upcoming hatches.
Update: June 12, 2020
Now that the first successful year of breeding Gila monsters is behind me and the second season is well under way, I wanted to update this post with some additional thoughts on the Grumbach S84 incubator.
The first year, I did not find a good solution for circulating the air and ended up not having a fan at all. Only 5 of 13 eggs hatched (though 4 were bad out of the gate) and I wondered if there may have been a lack of fresh oxygen to sufficiently allow the eggs to grow. This was an area I wanted to improve in 2020 and have found a good solution. I found that 220v fans increased the temperature in the incubator by 8* – 10*F which put the temperature too high for my comfort. Last year, the incubator averaged 78.2*F without the fan, which would put the temps in the mid 80’s and on a hot summer day could wind up in the upper 80’s – certain disaster! Keeping in mind heat from the tank that maintains the humidity also adds a temperature increase, I started off with a 12v computer fan plugged into a 120v converter. Temperature only increased a degree or two, so things were looking promising. I wanted to try a native 120v fan with low wattage and RPM’s to keep the temp low, and found the AC Infinity 8038 axial muffin fan on Amazon which can be purchased with a separate speed controller. My interest was piqued as this fan, of all the AC Infinity 120v fans, only used 4 watts of power and moved 23 cubic feet per minute so it fit the parameters that should work for this application. With a quick order and Prime delivery the fan and controller were at my house in short order and installed for testing. After a few weeks of adjustment between fan speed and humidity control I was able to dial in a steady temperature of 81*F and 90% relative humidity, perfect! Temperature and humidity were constantly monitored (and checked) with my SensorPush system; one sensor in the incubator and one in the egg box. Time will tell if the fan holds up to the high humidity, but the fan seems very well made and I love the external speed controller. With eggs in the incubator now, I am hopeful this new set up will help increase my success in 2020!
I still love this incubator and agree it is an excellent choice for incubating Heloderma eggs. Parts are scarce and expensive, but things are working good for now. One of these days I need to pick up another Grumbach S84 just in case this one fails or I get more pairs of Gila monsters to breed!