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Bolitoglossa tail lossage & prevention (long)

S.McC. mech at well.com
Thu Jun 25 11:11:16 EST 1998

I am an amateur herpetoculturist, and have scoured the Net and the hobby
publications for information on Bolitoglossa sp., and found it to be
extremely lacking.  I've had one bad experience with this genus already,
and found it mirrored in others' failures with these salamanders: The
"dropping" of the tail.  I realize this forum is not for pet-related
postings, but I seem to have no where else to turn, and this genus seems
to be problematic in ways that the pet industry has no knowledge of as
yet. It occurs to me that people with some experience with Bolitoglossa
may be participants on bionet.organisms.urodeles, so I'm turning here rather
than rec.pets.herp or other forums that are not particularly known for
their expertise... 

The problem seems to be similar to lizard tail lossage, except that it
happens "by itself", without any rough handling. The only material I have
found to date on this problem simply suggested that amino supplements in
the form of "cricket dust" on food would prevent this problem, but I
remain skeptical (and it didn't work for me; though presumably any 
animal so undernourished as to lose its tail was already pretty far 
gone before I obtained it. I only had the speciment for 10 days or so).  

Does anyone know what causes this problem, and how to prevent it?  What I
had appeared to be B. dofleini or a closely related species, usually sold
in shops as a "palm salamander", when it is available at all. The sparse
materials I can find suggest a tall terrarium misted daily, low-to-mid 70s
Fahrenheit, a mini-waterfall to maintain some moisture in the air between
mistings, vines or creepers, a branch or two to climb on, orchids and
epiphytes, a live moss on potting soil substrate, and crickets as food,
plus indirect sunlight and/or a mild flourescent light on a timer.
This is what I provided for the specimen I had. The temperature sometimes
would be in the high 60s or high 70s (the weather here, in San Francisco, 
can be erratic) but mostly low-mid 70s F.

It came from the shop with a slight wound on its eyelid, that (despite
treatment with topical antibiotics) quickly turned into a nasty eye
infection (it subsequently lost most of its eyelid). The herp specialist
at the store recommended specific treatments, which I used, and said that
the eyelid would grow back. But the tail came off only a day or two later,
and I took the animal back to the store. On another forum, it was
suggested to me that the infection would be enough to cause the tail to
fall off, because the salamander's pain would interpreted by the body as a
threatening stress or attack.  Any opinion on this "diagnosis"?  I was
always very careful with the animal, especially its tail, but after a
little over a week I found it thrashing its nearly-severed tail around as
if willfully trying to discard it. If I obtain another salamander of this
sort, in good health, can I expect that it will keep its tail?  Have I
done something obviously wrong with caring for it in captivity?  The store
reluctantly gave me credit, but the manager is clearly suspicious and 
seems to think I yanked on its tail or something, which I did not.

Thanks for any info or pointers thereto.  I don't have immediate access to
academic herp journals, but can certainly go looking if there are good
relevant materials available.

PS: Even with the infection, the animal was active and a good climber,
though I never directly observed it eating. It would sometimes hide in the
substrate, but (especially when warmer and the terrarium light was on)
other times would be fairly energetically patrolling around as if looking
for the crickets.

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