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Before you buy that Wild Caught reptile, read this!

The Trials and Tribulations of keeping Acanthosaura capra

(Commonly called Mountain Horned Dragons, Mountain Horned Lizard, and Giant Mountain Lizard)

An ongoing Journal By Marcia Bradley of FroggieB Dragons

March 28, 1999 - We purchased our first Mountain Dragons .Like many owners of Acanthosaura species, we purchased these and then tried to research what we had. Definitely a bad way to start off with any animal! Our searches on the internet found only 4 hits, the sketchy caresheet provided by Melissa Kaplin, two photos from Vietnam, and a photo of a tiny hatchling on the finger of someone who was not identified on the single accessible page! At least we now knew what we had and how to get started, but as we were to soon find out, there is still much to be learned about these beautiful animals. These guys only weighed about 64 grams each and are 10 - 11 inches long head to tail. We started with two females and one male, as luck would have it.

March 30, 1999 – Had the new dragons checked by Michael Bosilevac, DVM. And found that they are heavily infested with parasites. They are given Pancur and Flagyl.

April 14, 1999 – Took Darrell to see Carol Curry, DVM. He has been lying on the bottom of the enclosure and has stopped eating. Carol did a Cloacal smear and found a bacterial infection. She sent out a slide for pathology and determination of correct antibiotic. This begins a regime of force feeding and forcing liquids. All three dragons are put on antibiotics since they have all been kept together.

April 28, 1999 – I have been force feeding Darrell and administering electrolytes for 2 weeks. He seems to be responding to treatment, but is still not eating on his own.
** We lost one female. She seemed to thrive in a separate tank, but back in the large enclosure she became submissive and quit eating and finally died. I believe this may have been the result of the bacterial infection.

May 5, 1999 – I have been force feeding Darrell insects for over 2 weeks now, and he is finally taking them willingly. I still have to put them in his mouth, but now he doesn’t spit them out or bite them in half. He is doing much better and I feel confident that he is going to make it.

July 5, 1999 – Have observed both Darrell and Darla displaying. Darrell is displaying, bobbing his head, and chasing Darla all over the enclosure.

July 23, 1999 – Darrell is rechecked by Carol Curry, DVM and found to still have a bacterial infection. We start him back on the antibiotics. This time he is eating on his own. I believe we have caught this early.

August 2, 1999 – Darla is looking plump and has a voracious appetite. I believe she is gravid.

September 12, 1999 – Darla is very fat. She still eats about 3 super worms a day plus crickets. Darrell is again chasing her and she is trying to avoid him. Darrell has bit off most of the spines on he nape and she has a small wound from his bites on her side, so I have taken her out and temporarily put her in a 29-gal aquarium.

September 12, 1999 - We acquired another female. Her previous owner said she had laid eggs. The eggs didn't hatch and he lost his male. Dixie is a beautiful specimen with lots of yellow in her face. We had her checked out immediately and she was found to be free of parasites and bacterial infection. She appears to be very healthy and active. I have her in the large enclosure with Darrell and they are both displaying.

September 30, 1999 - Found soft mushy feces. Took specimen to vet for exam. No parasites or bacteria found. Vet says this may just be stress. Whew!!!

October 4, 1999 – Darrell has bit off a couple of Dixie’s spines on her lower back and bit her sides. I have removed him to the 29 gal tank that Darla was in and put Darla in the large enclosure with Dixie. Darla is now obviously gravid so we put a large tub of moist peat moss in enclosure for egg laying.

October 7, 1999 – Dixie is in full shed from the neck down. Shed is almost complete. The bites from Darrell seem to have been superficial, only as the only damage now visible is the missing spike. Dixie now looks a little plump. She has a voracious appetite., eating so many crickets that she often catches and eats them a mouthful at a time!
** Darla is very lethargic and doesn’t eat much, if at all. Up until last week she was taking super worms and occasionally crickets. I have not seen her eat for at least two days and she rarely moves.

October 8, 1999 – Darla is sitting in the tub of peat. She has not moved all day. She watches any movement and seems to stare at the soil.
** Darrell appears to be depressed. He is not eating and is lying flat on the bottom of his tank and only occasionally climbs the driftwood. I force fed him 3 crickets last night. Night before he wouldn’t allow me to feed him any more.

October 19, 1999 – I read that the optimal temp for MHDs is 85 degrees F by and lower at night. I turned off the heat lamp eliminating the basking spot. Darla is a bit more active and has eaten a night crawler. She is visibly gravid now; her sides are now lumpy.
** Darrell is looking better as well. He has eaten some on his own. He now spends most of his time on the driftwood, and I see that the super worms are being eaten.

October 24, 1999 – Darla laid a clutch of 15 eggs today. She chose the outdoor carpet on the bottom of the enclosure instead of the nest box of moist peat. I set up a 20-gal aquarium with 2 bricks to set the egg box on and about 2 ½-3 inches of water. I placed a submersible aquarium heater and a Sand Shark filter/pump on the bottom to heat and circulate the water. I placed a thermometer on the vermiculite in the egg box and also stuck a one to the back wall of the tank. I covered all but one inch of each end of the egg box with Saran wrap and covered the top of the tank with Saran wrap leaving a three by one inch opening on both front corners. The soil thermometer reads 78 degrees F and the back one reads 80 degrees F.

October 26, 1999 – I have replaced the thermometer in the egg box with a combo temp and humidity gauge. The temp is 76-78 degrees F and the humidity is 85%.

October 29, 1999 – Returned Darrell to the large enclosure. He seems much more comfortable and doesn’t appear to be bothering either of the females.

October 31, 1999 – All 15 eggs still look OK with no mold or unusual color.

November 2, 1999 – Darla is eating well. Her skin is flaky and needs to shed, but she looks plumper and her skin isn’t hanging in folds anymore.

November 16, 1999 – I am really confused, all three MHDs weigh 3 ounces, but Darla looks fatter than the other and I can’t believe that Darla would be gravid again so soon.!
** Darrell has been shedding all week and his new skin looks great. Dixie still looks to be in good condition. Darla is still flaky and needs to shed. I have been misting frequently.

November 26, 1999 we purchased a sub-adult female from a local pet store. She is vigorous and almost impossible to handle. Thus we introduced Daphne, or Daffy for short! She has been set up in a temporary enclosure until we can make sure she is healthy.

December 3, 1999 – Daphne has eaten 1 super worm and 2 night crawlers over the last week. She has had crickets in with her, but I don’t believe she has eaten any. She has passed ureates, but no feces. I have tried soaking her and will keep her in isolation until I have had a fecal done for her.

December 8, 1999 - The morning Daphne ate another night crawler. I placed a heat lamp above the water dish in her enclosure. She was soaking in her water when I got home from work. I checked and found feces on the floor of her enclosure. I will take it to the vet in the morning.
** Darla has finally shed. Most came off in one piece. Still some hanging on tail, legs, and neck. She looks much better!

December 9, 1999 – Daphne does have parasites, just as I had expected, and will remain in isolation until we get a negative fecal check.

January 4, 2000 – Dixie has laid her first clutch consisting of 18 eggs.

January 14, 2000 - Daphne has finally moved to the group enclosure. So far she is shy and spends most of her time in the back hiding under the plants.

January 16, 2000 – Daphne has actually joined the group. She is climbing and this evening was even sharing a branch with Dixie.
** Darla has been digging for the last week. She really looks fat! I can’t yet feel the eggs moving into position, so I think she has a little time left.

January 17, 2000 – Lost two eggs from Darla’s October clutch. I decided to open them to check fetal development. The fetus was perfectly formed, legs, toes, eye lids and mouth. One was 30 mm total length and the other was 33 mm total length.

January 18, 2000 – Darla has laid a second clutch, this time there are 10 eggs. It has only been 2.7 months since she laid her last clutch. Normal gestation is 4 months.

March 11, 2000 – Dixie has laid a second clutch, this time 16 eggs. It has been 2.2 months since her first clutch!

March 29, 2000 – Another clutch from Darla. There are 9 eggs and it has been 2.4 months since her last.

April 3, 2000 – One egg from Darla’s 3/29/00 clutch was infertile and succumbed to mold.

May 6, 2000 – We have lost Darla’s entire first clutch. All had babies but appears they were too weak to hatch. I am afraid we are losing Dixie’s 1/4/00 clutch also. There are nine eggs left from the original 18 and they are starting to get soft and slimy. This is very discouraging.
** Dixie laid a third clutch today. There are 15 eggs. It has been 1.9 months since the last clutch. She seems to be exhausted. She fell asleep on top of the mound of dirt she buried the eggs under! I am going to move Darrell to another enclosure so the ladies can get a rest! Some of the eggs are not buried and are scattered around under the plants. I am afraid the entire clutch is infertile.

May 7, 2000 – Dixie is still sleeping a lot. She did wake up long enough to eat a night crawler today. I am supplementing with Jump-start and Hydro-life.

May 9, 2000 - I found a juvenile female with horns intact and couldn’t resist her. She is still un-named.

May 10, 2000 - I found the new juvenile female dead in her tank. When I returned her to the pet shop on 5/10, they only remaining MHD was a beautiful juvenile male without horns, so I made the exchange and brought home Dexter.
** We have lost Dixie’s entirel/4/00 clutch. I have been informed that incubation temps need to be lowered to 68-70 degrees F with a lower humidity. This information is from a Cheyanne Day who has successfully hatch one MHD using room temps.

May 11, 2000 – Dixie still sleeps a lot, but ate two night crawlers today. I have given her supplements of Jump-start and Hydro-life daily since she laid her last clutch.
** All but two of the eggs from her 5/6 clutch have slimed and gotten moldy.
** Dexter, the new male, ate several small crickets and has eaten at least five mealworms a day. He is very spunky and plump.

May 15, 2000 – I had moved Darrell and Daphne to a separate enclosure, but it is too small and I am unable to regulate temps and humidity. I am putting them back into the large enclosure.

May 16, 2000 – Dexter is doing great! He is eating well, defecating regularly and is active. He is being administered Flagel and Pancur for parasites. We have learned that it is imperative to have these animals checked and treated immediately since they are wild caught and usually are full of a wide variety of parasites.
** Dixie is eating regularly now and is showing improved vigor. She is not sleeping as much and seems to be more active.

May 18, 2000 – A major breakthrough! Our first baby has hatched from Darla’s 1/18/2000 clutch. It looks pretty good, but has a yolk sac the size of a small green pea.

May 19, 2000 – The baby doesn’t look very good this afternoon. I am afraid he is not going to make it.

May 20, 2000 – We lost the first hatchling. There are two soft eggs that are starting to sweat. I don’t see movement like I see with my Leopard Gecko eggs. It is getting very close to vacation and I am getting very nervous about these eggs!

May 23, 2000 – Lost another egg. It collapsed and was hard. I opened it and the baby looked perfect, but was stiff. There was a yolk sac the size of a split pea, but it too was hard.

May 24, 2000 – I am afraid the 1/18 clutch is not going to make it. All but one of the remaining eggs is shrunken and sweaty, and one is dented. They all feel like the baby inside is hard. There is still one that hasn’t changed, but the shadow in it is much smaller than that in the rest of the eggs. I am afraid it hasn’t developed like the rest. I will wait a little longer and see what happens.

June 4, 2000 – All remaining eggs from 1/18 are moldy. I opened them and all of the babies were dead and stiff.

June 20, 2000 - I lost Darla, my sole female from the original trio. I am heartbroken. Since I knew she was gravid, I opened her and removed the eggs in hopes that I could save some offspring. When candled, they appear to be yellow. I am afraid that all are infertile. I will place them in the incubator just in case. It has been 2.8 months since her last clutch was laid.

July 1, 2000 - The pet shop got in a juvenile female. I brought home Darcy! She is very docile and will sit on my shoulder for hours! She looks better than most wild caught. Her hips don’t protrude and she is nice and plump.

July 2, 2000 – one egg from Darla’s 3/29 clutch has collapsed and hardened. When opened there was a partially decomposed fetus.
** Two of the remaining eggs extracted on 6/20 from Darla are covered with mold. All are still yellow when candled and are starting to slime. I have to assume this clutch is infertile.
Darcy ate all of the mealworms in her dish, about 15. She has also taken 3 crickets. She appears to be a vigorous feeder with a good appetite.
** Dixie appeared to be gravid at the time that Darla died. Today I noticed that she and Daphne now look almost identical. Both are slender, non-gravid females. I have not observed any digging and none of the normal peat on the top of her head from digging. If she was in fact gravid, the eggs were re-absorbed or she laid them in a different spot than usual without being noticed! It has only been 1.9 months since her last clutch was laid.

July 3, 2000 – I found Dixie’s 15 eggs! All but three look like raisins. I put them in deli cups anyway just in case I have found them in time to save them.

July 12, 2000 – All of the shriveled eggs from Dixie’s 7/2/00 clutch are moldy and have black spots. The three remaining eggs still look good.

July 18, 2000 – One of the three remaining eggs from Dixie’s 7/2 clutch is slimy and discolored. Two remain.

July 30, 2000 – The remaining two eggs from Dixie’s 5/6 clutch and the remaining two from her 7/2 clutch have molded and turned colors. All eggs from both of these clutched were infertile.

August 3, 2000 – Our first hatchling! One of Dixie’s 3/11 clutch has hatched. This is very excited!

August 20, 2000 – Of the 16 eggs Dixie laid on 3/11, five successfully hatched. The first died the next day. It had a large yolk sac and the perlite that stuck to it may have caused dehydration. Four other eggs hatch, but one died at one week of age. The remaining eggs failed to hatch but did contain babies. There are three surviving hatchlings.

September 3, 2000 – Two of Darla’s 3/29 clutch pipped but failed to hatch. Today I removed the dead babies from the egg box.

September 5, 2000 – One egg pipped last night and hatched sometime this morning. There are four eggs remaining.

September 8, 2000 – One egg started to shrink and sweat, but it never pipped and today it is hard. I opened it today and found another dead baby.

September 30, 2000 Three of Darla’s 3/29 clutch have hatched successfully. I am really excited and feel that I am ready for our next breeding season. We lost many eggs this year, but I have found the proper temperatures and should have much better success incubating next seasons’ eggs.

October 19, 2000 - Darcy surprised us when she presented us with 10 eggs on 10/8/00. We had only had her for 3 months and gestation is 4 months so her offspring will be unrelated to any of our males. I had noticed that she was looking a bit bloated, but thought this was from the worms she was being treated for. When the roundness turned into that lumpy look, I knew something was up! She laid the eggs in a burrow she dug under her water dish. November 19, 2000 - Daphne laid her first clutch. Another surprise because this was a record count of 19 eggs! All seem to be fertile, too! I am pretty certain that this was Daphne’s first breeding too, as we purchased her as a juvenile and we have kept her separate from the adults until she was fully-grown.

December 2000 - I was blessed with six more Juveniles. These came from a veterinary student in California who was no longer able to keep them. They are just spectacular and when they display, their colors are wonderful! It has taken a little time to get them settled in, but I have had them a month now and they are really starting to eat well! I feel really confident that they are strong and will be a great addition to my group. It is amazing how much different personality each has!

Dixie laid 18 eggs. Two were not fertile and we are still waiting to tell about the rest.

Now that the ladies are laying and we are certain that mating has taken place, Darrell has been removed to a separate tank so the girls would not be put through what they endured last season, laying four consecutive clutches each for Dixie and Darla. We believe this was the cause of our losing Darla and want to prevent a repeat.

January 27, 2001 - In spite of Darrell being removed long before Daphne laid her first clutch, she had begun to look quite bloated and had gained a considerable amount of weight for her size. She laid her second clutch today. This confirms my suspicions that this species retains sperm for multiple clutches.

January 28, 2001 - Darcy also laid a second clutch on 1/27/01but I didn’t find them until today. She laid them in the space between the water pan and the side of the enclosure. They were all dried out but look good otherwise. February 4, 2001 – Darcy’s entire second clutch plumped up when I put them in the incubator. When candled they showed veins and nice color that indicate that they are fertile. I must not have found them in time or possibly there was too much bacteria on them as Darcy laid them in the defecation end of the enclosure. Whatever the cause, all have molded and are beyond saving.

This page last updated May 4, 2001.

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©2002, Marcia E Bradley - FroggieB


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