Hey Monster Squad! It’s been way too long since I last sent an update out which is disappointing as so much has happened since the last post. As with all Gila monster breeding seasons, this one was full of surprises and a lot of lessons to be learned.
First, during pairing and copulating we attempted a 1.1 ratio for breeding pairs which we hoped would increase success. Two of our previously bred females were seen copulating at least five times, but the new girl we got last year was only seen once. Eggs seem to be maturing well as monitored on ultrasound, except for the new female which only had two eggs (the other two females had greater than five eggs from what we could see). By the time egg laying came about in June this is where things change and deficiencies in our program were found. our two long-term females produce 13 eggs between the two of them, and the new girl produced two.
Unfortunately only four of the 15 eggs survived of the whole group to date. One was actually eaten by it mother! This was a severe disappointment but valuable lessons were learned. First, the new female was under condition and not ready to be bred but she had enough weight and we thought she would be ready, she was not. Second our egg-laying protocol needs to be revised as it appears our girls are not comfortable laying eggs in their current egg boxes, which at this time are the entire cage turned into an egg laying nest with dark tint over the glass to provide privacy. Unfortunately this is not enough and we are going to try something entirely new next year fingers crossed!
As we approach the end of October we have four eggs still in the running. Four out of 15 is not a good ratio but some success is certainly better than none at all! It’s interesting that most eggs go bad within the first 30 days of laying, which says to me that our incubation protocol technique is working. Of course mid and late term and losses have happened but generally most eggs even fertile they are doomed will go bad within the first 30 days. These days I’m checking the incubator daily opening to egg boxes for fresh air as the humidity and temperature continue to remain stable throughout the week incubation period. We are super excited for the birth of our baby Gila monsters – each time I truly feel like a kid during Christmas opening the big gift center left under the tree! As soon as the babies are out we will post pictures and contact those on the waitlist in the order that they joined (Allen you’re up first!).
So as we wrap up our 2022 Gila monster breeding season and get our monsters ready for the Big Chill (hibernation, not the movie), we look forward to an amazing 2023 breeding season. One of our 2019 females produced here is growing follicles as shown by ultrasound and will be attempted to be bred next year. We are also very excited to have our axanthic Gila monster Winnie up to condition and ready to breed next year. This is a very, very exciting project for us as few of these morph are being bred throughout the world. We are also excited to put into motion the lessons we learned in this and past seasons to improve our success and to see more amazing baby Gila monsters born into this world, because what world isn’t better with more Gila monsters in it?
So, almost after all hope was lost on Day 153 the first Gila monster egg pipped from its leathery shell! Egg 02 at first cut a small slit and then a few more and over the next two days began to emerge from the egg. At first the baby Gila stuck its nose out, then it’s head, then half its body, and finally the entire body. It appears that hatching is a labor-intensive process as there are long pauses between progressive stages and also seems to be a good way of ensuring all the contents of the egg are consumed before leaving the egg. Over the ensuing days this process was (and currently is for two more lizards) repeated over and over, with Gilas emerging from their shell about two or so full days from pip to full emergence. Once the contents are completely devoured the neonate Gila monster leaves its shell and begins to wander the egg box. I witnessed one Gila that was out actually eating the egg yolk of another just coming out of its shell! Greedy bastard.
Once fully emerged and climbing around, the little monsters are pulled from the egg box, photographed, weighed, and set up solo in an 18 quart Sterelite box with paper towels as bedding and small water dish. The paper towel bedding serves as a clean substrate while the umbilical wound heals and the first few meals are eaten and passed through to make sure everything is going well. I will attempt the first feeding next week after the yolk has been fully digested and look forward to raising the babies from there!
I will be posting updates on the neonates growth, as well as some thoughts and insights on my first season captive breeding Gila monsters. Some reviews of the equipment I used is also likely in order as these items played an important role in my success. Whew, what an amazing season! The process has been fun, though frustrating and worrisome at times, and I look forward to greater success next year with these amazing reptiles!
Patience. Patience is what those in the know say. Sure, I am checking the incubator at least ten times a day for any action and patience is not my virtue, but I am old enough to know when to listen. A couple a the eggs dented in over two weeks ago, the two others are starting to dimple (not dent) and in all honesty I would be surprised if any of them hatch at this point. If they do not hatch my biggest concern is figuring out where my failure was. Is it the incubator? No, the Grumbach’s are renowned for their reliability. Is it the S.I.M. egg container? No, these have been used successfully with Gila monsters before. My temperature, though low, should not be the issue and my humidity is spot on, so it shouldn’t be that. We just started having cold fronts move through and temps have fallen so that may have a slight play into it (I have ordered a space heater to remedy this issue). At this point my guess is that since the fan in the Grumbach is unplugged that there may not be enough airflow which may be an issue, or the fact that the Pangea Hatch medium has started to grow mold adds to this theory. I do open the incubator to allow fresh air to enter but it may not be enough. Whatever the case, I will hold on hope until the last egg turns yellow and starts to sweat. If they all die I will carefully review my protocols and notes and seek the advise of successful breeders to plan for a better year next season!
On another note, I have stopped feeding my adults and am turning off the lights and under-cage heating in preparation of hibernation, which will begin after Thanksgiving. I have an old refrigerator that is hooked up to a Ranco thermostat for the cool down. Would be great if I could cool them in their cages but we do not see steady enough low temps here in northern Florida to ensure the Gila will reach and stay at 53°F for the three months of brumation.
We are 132 days past oviposition and the remaining six eggs appear to be hanging in there. One of the eggs has dented in, which I am hoping means that it will hatch in the next few weeks and does not mean the embryo has died. The other eggs remain rigid and appear to be well, fingers crossed they come to term! The Grumbach has been great in maintaining the temperature and humidity stable throughout incubation, but I have noticed that the egg boxes have increased in temperature by 1°F higher than the incubator over the last few weeks. Condensation has also started to build up (mostly on the sides) so I’ve been keeping an eye on that to ensure none falls on the eggs potentially suffocating the embryo inside. Since the eggs were incubated at the lower end of the range it can be expected that the eggs will hatch (if they do) toward the later end of the spectrum, potentially 150+ days. Man, I can’t wait…
On the other side of the house my adult Gilas are getting ready for next year. Weekly feedings of 2-3 mice (2 for the males, 3 for the females) has brought all of the Gilas to a healthy state; good fat reserves in the tails and a constant, though not concerning, weight gain. As most of my group was purchased earlier in 2019 and after the hibernation cycle, I do not have data on what the pre-hibernation weights were last year but I think they are ahead as their weights are above pre-breeding numbers from this season. I hope to have more fertile eggs that make it to term in the upcoming season as they entire group will have been with me for the whole cycle.
Winter cooling is going to start in late November and this year a larger refrigerator / cooler is going to be purchased in order to facilitate all adults. I’ve noticed an increase in activity and feeding response in the adults over the past week, almost being as active as breeding season. I do not know if this has to do with growing follicles and testes, a reduced photoperiod, or slight drop in temperature (or maybe all) but it does seem that the Gilas are getting ready for a long winter’s nap!
That’s all for now, hopefully the next post is of the Gilas hatching!!