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Re: Let me share my story about sick HL's

[ Follow Ups ] [ Post Followup ] [ The Horned Lizard Forum ]

Posted by reptoman on September 19, 2002 at 16:50:02:

In Reply to: Re: Let me share my story about sick HL\'s posted by Les4toads on September 19, 2002 at 11:15:26:

::The question of parasitic overload brings three issues to mind for me:

::1. Equilibrium: Wild HLs(and most reptiles) generally maintain equilibrium with their parasitic 'friends'. Many variables affect this equilibrium, foremost of which would be environmental stress, diet & hydration. IMO, one of the ways HLs maintain equilibrium with their parasites is by eating ants, which are known to be beneficial because of formic acid's natural ability to kill parasites.

::While ants apparently carry parasites like everything else, HLs have undoubtedly evolved around the parasites that naturally come from ants in their natural range. However, HLs do not have these natural defenses against the parasites that come with the domestic crickets raised for reptile consumption.

::It is my belief that some captive HLs can, and do, cope with these 'new' parasites from crickets. However, this ability to cope appears to be very fragile as one environmental stressor can send the delicate equilibrium way out-of-wack: ie the parasites grow more than their host can handle. Which brings me to the next interconnected issue:

::2. Environmental stress: If a captive HL is managing to cope with the unfamiliar cricket parasites for months, then they are usually the lucky ones and generally are as sensitive as an HL can be. Any environmental factor that is not just-right can cause stress, which, in turn, can disrupt the quilibrium maintained with the parasites from the crickets.

::IMO, this is one of the reasons you see HLs fine one day and dead 7 days later; any minor disruption sets-off a chain reaction. Too cold = dead. Too many crickets or worms =dead. Not enough ants just the way they like = dead. Not enough water = dead. Not enough sunshine = dead; etc,etc,etc. Unfortunately, by the time beginners see signs of illness, it is normally too late to do anything to reverse the dying trend.

::One of the most stressful things that a wild lizard could go through is capture and inadequte husbandry from a well-meaning human; ie the stress from new parasites, crappy tap water, cheesy light-bulbs for heat & UV, nutritionally deficient ants, inadequate feeding conditions and methods, dehydration, capture, shipping, handling. You get the picture.

::IMO, the reason why we see so many HL deaths at this time of year is no coincidence. This is one of the most stressful times for HLs in the wild is the time approaching brumation. It's like tax day. Either they have enough calories stored for winter or they do not. Either they are healthy enough to brumate and not die in their sleep, or they are not. Either they have a spot they instinctively know will work for brumation, or they do not. Lots and lots of stress.

::Compounding all this stress is normally the well-meaning human trying to get their 'sleepy' HLs to eat enough for winter by coaxing them with crickets, or jostling them about and rearranging their living conditions. The bottom-line is that stress dirupts any equilibrium being maintained with crickets. Consistent stress leads to parasitic overload.On to the last issue:

::3. The bane of the cursed cricket and the uncaring dealer.
::The first winter for newly 'acclimated' HLs normally finds them in very precarious health conditions. Unfortunately for most people who buy WC HLs on the pet-market, they are not told to feed ants, nor do most the dealers feed ants while the lizards are conglomerated together in a couple enclosures for months. Most newcomers would not know that, if they want to have the best chance getting a healthy WC HL in the pet trade, then spring is the time to do it. This way, they HLs are not subjected to months of inadequate conditions and diets consisting entirely of parasite-ridden crickets. While this particular point does not relate you specifically 'reptoman', i thought I'd say it because it fits well in the discussion and is appropriate for many other people.

::I could think of no other feeder insect that carries more parasites than crickets. As i stated earlier, wild HLs have not had a chance to adjust or evolve around these particular parasites. This is why I rarely feed crickets and only to individuals i know are super-healthy. Unless the crickets that are being fed are miraculously free of parasites, then feeding crickets to unresponsive HLs is essentially counterproductive. HLs that do not appear to be doing well should not be fed crickets, IMO. People will often resort to feeding crickets because their HLs haave stopped eating ants. This sort of mentality of perspective is often the reason why the HLs aren't 'doing good' in the first place. It's like adding fuel to the fire.

::I don't know of any vet that keeps and breeds HLs. Until I do, i could never really accept the advice they'd be giving me. Reptoman, I feel that you are, in essence, correct in your assessment that a vet is not going to be much help in these situation except maybe by providing a functional necropsy or knowledge about the particular parasite in question(if its ordinary).

::If an HL is showing signs of parasitic overload, then normally it is too late. I have no advice to offer people who are experiencing parasitic overleoad and i do not know of anything that could keep death at bay beside healthy conditions and diet and no stress. I might recommend someone to try super-dilute Para-Zap because of its natural ingerdients and relatively minor side-effects that could be detrimental to an HL. But, this would be grasping-at-straws and a unproven last-resort.

::My condolences to everybody who's having problems and i wish you all the best of luck.

::::Before you give any meds. the best thing to do is Go To A Vet.

:::Ask Lester or anyone who worked horned lizards for a long time, I am on the west coast with some of the best Vets money can buy, and I have yet to have one help when a horned lizard gets sick, it's usually curians with rare exception....I don't how many times you've taken a horned lizard into a vet but we have an excellent reptile vet in Long Beach, and once their sick that's it...a $40.00 visit and drugs still won't help most of the time. This has been my experience and I have worked with horned lizards for over two decades and have a lot of experience, the one thing that I can say is the people that posted below including Lester was able to at least come up with a diagnoses for the death, but there is also something these guys can catch which kills them with in a week and it will spread to the others like a flu or plague, have you ever seen that, I'm sure LEster or others have. Horned lizards are not easy to keep and definately not for novices, and even the best of us loose an animal, it certianly not from neglect or poor maintenance techniques.........Thought I'd throw that out for anyone else that has comments about illness.

::Loren, you have addressed this issue very well and identified a very critical points. Parasites are definitly a problem and stress is a factor that most do not even comprehend. There is also the issue of bacterial imbalance in the digestive tract. Ants provide an acidic control, pH, that maintains a specific balance of beneficial bacteria. If that balance is upset by food items that do not provide this equilibrium, the result is deadly. I know this will again bring up the issue of formic acid "supplements." The "supplement" of formic acid will not, and I want to make this very clear, will not provide the value of the ant diet. Mother Nature designed HLs to eat ants. HLs do not chew their food prey. They do not have the bite pressure or the muscles in the jaw/mouth to due so. That big cricket is not crushed and predigested in the mouth. It is gulped down whole and there the problems begin. Ants, on the other hand, are small and just the right size to be "gulped" down. The digestive system is designed for this process. The enzymes, acids, carbs and proteins are all contained in the ants that HLs require. Other insect prey that HLs may eat are supplements and are of similar size to the normal ant prey. Sometimes, in the wild, HLs will display opportunistic behavior and eat insect prey such as small beetles, honey bees, moths and butterflys, and an assortment of other insects, but ants are always the main staple. Scat analysis proves this time and time again. Temperature requirements, water requirements, and many other factors are not just random requirements for HL health. Each HL species has very specific requirements. A Desert Horned Lizard is just that, a Desert Horned Lizard. It is not a Mountain Shorthorned Lizard that likes cooler temperatures. The Desert Horned Lizard likes it hot. Mountain Shorthorned Lizards like it cooler and have the metabolism to match. The Flattail Horned Lizard, a protected species, likes it very hot. If the requirements are not met, disaster follows.

:Parasites are a problem, even in the wild, but the HLs do have defense mechanisms in place to control such infestations. Bacterial imbalance, due to improper diet, is a big problem with HLs in captivity. That, and not meeting the ecological requirements (water, heat, light, etc.). Stress is the central problem that can cause all of these problems to escalate rapidly and not be detected by even the most observant. Lester G. Milroy III

Thanks gentleman for an excellent discussion, and all I can say is
as much as I love HL's those were my last hl's, although I have raised wild caught babies and maintanined these in captivity for 2 1/2 to 3 years, I believe that they are best left in the wild or until the husbandry techniques are perfected and the law allows for such. Although I feed my Hl's a 90% diet of ants, the ants from the vendor doesn't come from the area that they are indigenous to, and yes an uccasssional cricket or moth, or spider was good fair as well. I think that considering this discussion, people keeping hl's should steer clear of cickets. Thanks...

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