Teaching

Huddersfield Technical College; 1994 –2003.

BTEC 1st Diploma, ND and HND. Reptiles and amphibian husbandry, animal behaviour, scientific method, statistics and research projects supervisor. I was based at the Taylor Hill Annexe, where in addition to teaching, I was responsible for the reptile collection including instructing technicians on correct housing (e.g. light, appropriate thermal gradients, structural composition) dietary regimes and general husbandry procedures. When I took up the post the reptile collection comprised a few terrapins that were housed in an aquarium. The construction of the new enclosures was carried out during the summer breaks beginning 1994 with assistance from fellow lecturer Nick Stevens. Three horticultural units were converted and also several smaller units constructed. A heating and sprinkler system was already in place and hence the main effort was to design housing that would replicate as near as possible the animals natural environments.

Roger Meek at Huddersfield Technical College

Work on the main reptile enclosure ('Jurassica') with Nick Stevens and myself installing a pond.

Roger Meek at Huddersfield Technical College

The finished enclosure included natural growing plants (a list of the plant species can be found here pdf 48), two ponds and a small stream. The sprinkler and ventilation system enabled humidity and temperature to vary but a key design feature was ensuring spatial complexity based on research on common lizards (Zootoca (=Lacerta) vivipara) by Roger Avery at Bristol University (Avery, R.A. (1985).Thermoregulatory behaviour of reptiles in the field and in captivity. In, Reptiles: Breeding Behaviour and Veterinary Aspects pp 45 - 60. British Herpetological Society, London). This research showed that common lizards increased spontaneous foraging movements in response to increases in environmental complexity. This is an important research finding that can be applied to husbandry and we subsequently installed physical barriers that limited the reptiles visual field, using either living plants, logs or stonework.

Over a period of years, we constructed a second tropical house, several desert type set-ups and special housing for monitor lizards. In addition to being used for teaching husbandry, for instance demonstrating diet and use of dietary supplements, the enclosures were used for student research projects on reptile behaviour and thermoregulation (examples pdf 40, 47, 48). A further benefit was that students often had to locate the reptiles - not always easy, particularly the smaller or medium sized species. This provided some insight into reptile microhabitat selection, albeit in a semi-natural enclosure.

However, a large reptile collection cannot be maintained successfully without first class technician support and in this respect Brenda Mills was outstanding. 

 

Some Reptiles at HTC

Reptiles at HTC

Reptile studies at HTC

Reptile studies at HTC

Musk Turtle study

In enclosures where students, technicians and various other visitors enter on a daily basis and are hence in close contact with the animals, the requirement is for species that are robust and less stressed in the presence of humans. The initial selection was a colony of common iguana (Iguana iguana) consisting of four females and one male- shown (top photos). Males are territorial and hence only a single male is practical in a relatively small enclosure (7.5 x 10metres horizontally and 3.2metres high at the apex). One photograph shows three females feeding on a prepared diet. Although the iguanas foraged on plants in the enclosure, dietary supplements were required due to UV filtration by the glass roof. Reptiles, require UV light for production of vitamin D3, which is critical in calcium metabolism. The second group consisted of green water dragons (Physignathus cocincinus) again a single male for the reason given above, and several females. The photo shows the alpha male. Both species reproduced naturally in the enclosure with selection of egg-laying locations by the reptiles. The eggs were left to incubate naturally without staff interference and we were only aware of events when the baby lizards appeared. Two species of terrapin (Trachemys scripta elegans) usually RSPCA unwanted pets, and a musk turtle Sternotherus odoratus (bottom photograph) were housed in the tropical house. The musk turtle was one of the reptiles that I had brought from the Leeds University collection where it was appropriately nicknamed 'pit bull terrapin' due to its belligerent nature.


panther chameleon skink corucia zebrata

Two other species housed in the other tropical enclosures were panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis ; photograph left) and Solomon Island skink Corucia zebrata (pdf 48, 50). The chameleon became famous (UK national newspapers) when it managed to bite off most of its tongue in a fit of aggression whilst recovering from the anaesthetic after minor surgery.

Monitor Lizard research Monitor Lizard research
Monitor Lizard research

Monitors lizards are true predators and not suitable for housing with most other lizards - although we did manage to house them successfully with similar sized tegus (Tupinambis sp) at Leeds University. Two species of  African monitors were housed in their own special enclosures and used for HND student research into association learning (pdf 46) and for teaching husbandry and handling. The top photographs show a Varanus albigularis confiscated by Heathrow Customs and Excise from an illegal shipment. The top left photograph was taken soon after its arrival at HTC as a juvenile and on the right the same lizard several years later, when it exceeded 1.5 m in length. The Nile monitor (bottom photograph) is the subspecies (V. niloticus ornatus) and was a donation to the college after becoming an unwanted pet. In a teaching context we placed special emphasis on their unsuitability as pets, partly because most species grow to a large size, but also as due to their widely foraging lifestyle and sophisticated exercise physiology and hence requirement for very large enclosures - that even zoos are not really able to provide.

smaller reptilessmaller reptiles smaller reptiles
smaller reptiles smaller reptiles

Smaller reptiles used in teaching included European eyed lizards (Lacerta (= Timon) lepida) top left photograph, North American collared lizards (Crotaphytus collaris) next photograph down and hognose snake (Heterodon nasicus) top right. Larger iguanids included ground iguanas Ctenosaura similis (bottom left photograph). The photograph (below right) was taken on a solo trip to the Animal Reception Centre at Heathrow Airport to collect another batch of illegally exported reptiles, most  of which were apparently bound for the USA. Regular trips were made with college HND students to provide insight into the centres working procedures.

 

Students

Teaching various aspects of reptile husbandry to National Diploma students. The photo (top left) shows a student feeding a colony of desert lizards Uromastyx dispar. This is a herbivorous desert species that includes flowers and seeds in its diet (the dish has seeds for budgies). The special heat and UV lamps these lizards require can also be seen. In the photograph above right students and myself administer medication and fluids to a dehydrated desert lizard (Uromastyx aegyptius). Lower photograph shows a student being filmed by Yorkshire Televison measuring the body temperature of a panther chameleon with an infra red detector as part of a 2nd year HND research project.  Part of the film by Yorkshire Television can be seen here


North American Snapping Turtlesnake handling

Dealing with potentially dangerous species was a part of the course work and here a student cleans algae from the shell of a North American snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) after transferring it from its usual housing. Handling and sexing reptiles, including snakes (photograph right) was part of the syllabus for BTEC 1st Diploma and National Diploma.


Publications

The listed publications are mostly based on data sets collected between 1994 –2003 whilst employed at HTC. However, some were not published until after 2003 and include HND research projects.

  • (1995). Reptiles, thermoregulation and the environment. BCG Testudo 4, 56 – 78. pdf 37
  • (1998). Thermoregulation in Physignathus cocincinus (Abstract) In British Herpetological Society 50th Anniversary Meeting. British Herpetological Society Bulletin 62, 36 - 38.
  • (1999) Lizards (review). Herpetological Journal 9, 134 – 135. pdf 39
  • (1999) Thermoregulation and activity patterns in captive water dragons Physignathus cocincinus, in a naturalistic environment. Herpetological Journal 9, 137 - 146. pdf 40
  • (2001). Nest temperatures of the water dragon Physignathus lesueurii in south-east Australia. Herpetological Bulletin 76, 26 – 27. pdf 41
  • (2001). Natural History Note; Physignathus lesueurii (Australian Water Dragon) predation on a skink (Lampropholis delicata). Herpetological Bulletin 76, 31 - 32. pdf 42
  • (2001) Lizards of Iran (review). Herpetological Journal 11, 83. pdf 43
  • (2002) Snakes (review). Herpetological Journal 12, 44. pdf 44
  • (2003). Husbandry of captive bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps); does handling influence thermoregulation? Herpetological Bulletin 82, 5 - 9. pdf 45
  • (2003). Response of monitor lizards (Varanus spp) to a repeated food source; evidence for association learning? Herpetological Bulletin 84, 1 – 4. pdf 46
  • (2003). Diurnal body temperatures in semi-captive Tokay geckos (Gecko gecko); evidence for thermoregulation? Herpetological Bulletin 85, 24 – 28. pdf 47
  • (2004). Understanding the relationship between body temperature and activity patterns in the Giant Solomon Island Skink, Corucia zebrata, as a contribution to the effectiveness of captive-breeding programmes. Applied Herpetology 1, 287 - 298. pdf 48
  • (2004). The relationship between respiratory rates and husbandry manipulations in captive bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) Herpetological Bulletin 87, 3 - 8. pdf 49
  • (2004). Possible effects of antibiotic therapy on digestion in a Solomon Island Skink, Corucia zebrata. Herpetological Bulletin 89, 2-3. pdf 50
  • (2005) Null models and the thermal biology of the anguid lizard Anguis fragilis; evidence for thermoregulation? Amphibia – Reptilia 26, 445 - 450. pdf 51 (also published (2008) in Finnish by the Herpetological Society of Finland in Herpetomania 12, 5 – 10. pdf 51b
  • (2008). Basking in the Australian water dragon Physignathus lesueurii: why do alpha males not respond to operative temperatures in the same way as adults and sub-adults? Amphibia-Reptilia 29, 257 – 262. pdf 58

 

University of Leeds; 1986 - 1988.

Adult and Continuing Education. Lectures on reptile ecology and husbandry for part-time students returning to education. Most of the talks were held in the zoology department where I was involved in the design of a small number of reptile enclosures. I also carried out my first laboratory study on monitor lizard thermoregulation in 1977 (pdf 6) and later with the technicians initiated a breeding programme for some of the snakes (pdf 33). Several reptiles were used in the animal mechanics experiments, some of which I was fortunate to participate.

 

reptile ecology

Measuring angular movements of chelonians during animal locomotion experiments using Heosemys (= Geoemyda) grandis (Giant Asian Pond Turtle). This research, using a force platform, showed (among other things) that chelonians have evolved slow-acting muscles that are extremely economical in terms of energy consumption. Monitor lizards were also used in the mechanics work including this Varanus dumerilii, a Southeast Asian species found in humid forests (lower left photograph of the three below). In locomotory terms monitors are typical reptiles, they have three-dimensional movement that involves the lateral bending of the backbone to increase stride length and hence are more complex to describe mathematically. Chelonians have a rigid backbone attached to the inner face of the carapace and hence less complex (Jayes, A.S. & Alexander, R. McN. (1980). The gaits of chelonians; walking techniques for very slow speeds, Journal of Zoology; London 191, 353 –378: Alexander, R. McN. (1984). The gaits of bipedal and quadrupedal animals. International Journal of Robotic Research 3, 49 – 59).


Asian Rat Snake

AmericanKing Snakes

American King Snakes
Species we had success with were Asian rat snakes (Gonyosoma oxycephala; pdf 33) (top left) and North American King snakes (Lampropeltis getula).


Filming Yorkshire Television, Leeds University

Probably the largest snake (over 4 metres) I "worked" with on a regular basis was this Burmese python (Python molurus bivitattus) one of the zoology department’s reptile collection (above). Seen here with myself are Head Animal Technician Stuart Pickersgill (who had to feed the mighty beast and clean his cage!) and vet John Baxter. Part of the monitor lizard and tegu enclosure can be seen in the background. Part of a Yorkshire Television film of the reptiles at the Zoology Department can be seen here and a paper I co-authored with John Baxter that describes the use of cryosurgery on one of the tegus can be found here (pdf 32).


Publications

  • (1978). On the thermal relations of two oriental varanids; Varanus bengalensis nebulosis and Varanus salvator. Cotswold Herpetological Symposium Report 1978, 32 – 47. pdf 6
  • (1988). Cryosurgery in the treatment of skin disorders in reptiles. Herpetological Journal 1, 227 – 229. pdf 32
  • (1988). Husbandry notes on the Asian rat snake Gonysoma oxycephala. British Herpetological Society Bulletin 23, 23 – 24. pdf 33

 

 

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