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Helping the “Chilly” Lizard!

One of the many reasons I wanted to be a veterinarian was that the thought of doing a boring desk job was just impossible to comprehend! While some would argue that talking about fleas, vaccinations and anal glands every day is the veterinary equivalent of an office job, it’s my work with reptiles and amphibians that brings me sanity on a daily basis… and sometimes gets me out in the wide open spaces.
Such was the case earlier this year when I was asked to assist researchers at Latrobe University with their work with the Guthega Skink (Liopholis guthega).

The Guthega Skink is a small skink species found only in the Bogong High Plain alpine regions of Victoria, Australia at elevations more than 1600 metres above sea level. Because of their restricted distribution, this species is considered endangered and threatened by events such as fire, grazing and construction. Construction comes primary from the fact that right in the middle of the skink’s habitat is one of Australia’s largest ski fields, Falls Creek!
As part of the efforts to ensure the Guthega Skinks’ survival, a captive breeding program is being developed at Healesville Sanctuary. Part of the challenge of housing, maintaining and breeding these active little lizards is the fact that during the cold, snowy winters they remain dormant in their burrows. In order to replicate these natural conditions, researchers are trying to determine what body temperature the skinks descend to during this time.
But how do you obtain this temperature data? Simple… implant specially designed data loggers in the coelomic cavity of captured lizards and then release them back into the wild for the winter before recapturing them and removing the loggers for analysis in the spring!
So, one weekend in January I made the 5-hour drive from Melbourne up to the ski resort and spectacular scenery of Falls Creek where I was met by lead researcher, Zac Atkins. Over lunch he filled me in on his latest findings and gave me a great overview of the project. Zac had already caught 10 Guthega Skinks of assorted ages, sexes and reproductive states from several locations over the mountain area in preparation of my visit. These were housed, in pairs, in large heated plastic tubs in the University’s apartment at the ski resort. I set up my equipment on the kitchen table and we started.
  • Each lizard was weighed, sexed and identified via its previously implanted microchip.
  • I anaesthetised each skink using isoflurane administered via a small face mask. The skinks took only a few minutes to reach a surgical plane of anaesthesia before they were gently placed on their backs and their abdomens aseptically prepared.
  • I made a small paramedial incision in the left caudal abdomen and dissected down into the coelomic cavity. Each data logger measured approximately 15mm long and 6mm wide… they looked positively huge against a small lizard!
  • Each logger was gently inserted into a lizard, and with a quick couple of stitches in the abdominal musculature and some tissue glue on the skin, we were finished. 1 down and 9 to go!
  • The skinks woke up very quickly and were back in their enclosures 10-15 minutes later.
  • 1 hour later and they were aggressively hunting down meal worms that we flicked towards them.
On the first day we implanted 5 of the skinks before calling it a night and getting some sleep. 
The next morning, we finished off the remaining 5 lizards before jumping into the 4WD and heading out into the national park to see if we could catch some more Guthega Skinks. We did not have to wait long as Zac spotted a likely habitat nestled into the embankment beside a road. Sure enough, there were plenty of openings to small burrows scattered around the site each covered with some overhanging vegetation. Sitting in the opening of many of the burrows was a Guthega Skink. As we approached, they would scuttle into the burrow but we had our magic weapon! Mealworms… these lizards go nuts for them!

To catch a skink, a small noose made from fine fishing line is placed around the opening of one of the burrows. A mealworm is set just outside the burrow and within 30-45 seconds the inhabitant skink cannot resist. It creeps forward to grab the mealworm, and if you are fast enough, you quickly pull up the noose and hopefully the skink is nabbed.
We spent a few hours catching skinks and checking on their health. It was pleasing to find many pregnant females and young animals. They were all in excellent condition and appeared to be getting plenty of food.
The scenery of the area is simply breathtaking. Large open grasslands give way to rocky outcrops and areas of trees, many just dead trunks of silvery timber. It is not surprising that many people regard this area as the most stunning landscape in all of Australia… and we have plenty of landscapes! It’s not a bad “office” for a couple of days.
Since implanting the data loggers I have heard from Zac. He reports that all the lizards were released and were doing well. He had recaptured several of them recently and their wounds had all healed well. They will go underground for the upcoming winter for the next few months. In late October-early November, we hope to get back up to the mountains to remove the data loggers so Zac and his colleagues can analyze the data. Hopefully it will have a positive impact on ensuring the survival of this very cute but chilly skink!
Dr. Shane Simpson  BVSc(Hons), GCM(VP), CMAVA
Director – Karingal Veterinary Hospital, Frankston, Australia

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The Board’s Board

Nominations Committee Update
It’s that time of year again folks! The Nominations Committee will be meeting to look over nominations for Secretary and two Members at Large this year. Nominations will be accepted by Rachel Marshang until June 29, 2015 for the 2016 Executive Committee positions. For more information on policies and the description of the positions, go to:
Please submit all Board nominations to Rachel Marshang.
ARAV Awesomeness

Excited for San Antonio but worried you're going to dehydrate in the hot summer air? 

Never fear! 

We have water bottles at our ARAV online store! 

Take a look around our store and purchase your epic water bottle today.

Visit the store.  

ExoticsCon 2015
San Antonio, TX • August 29-September 2, 2015

Katie Heinz-Taheny of the Tri-Lateral Conference Committee wanted to let everyone know about the first ExoticsCon, a combination of AAV, ARAV and AEMV conferences!
  • ARAV’s exciting preconference includes a robust line-up: clinical pathology, radiology, anesthesia, cytology and the ecology and evolution of reptile disease (including Dinosauria). 
  • Are you ready to learn new procedures and dive deeper into cutting edge herp topics? ARAV labs explore chameleon medicine, advances in herp clinical diagnostics and therapeutics, reptilian clinical and surgical anatomy, chelonian endoscopy, turtle shell repair and venomous snake handling. 
  • Herp-focused scientific tracks include: Clinical Reviews, Diagnostics and Imaging, Cancer, Infectious Diseases and Therapeutics. Reptile and amphibian masterclasses offer advanced consideration of herp issues from diseases of the head to virology, NSAIDs, snake dystocia and clinical approach to chelonians.
Wet Lab Highlights for ExoticsCon
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Greetings from your ARAV Technician Liaison

Hey there! I am beyond excited that the wonderful folks at NAVC have helped us create an amazing format for the Herp Blerp! The NAVC Team and our Executive Director, Dana Varble, have been wholly supportive. A huge thank you again!
One thing most of our members don’t know is that we're on Twitter! 
With the conference coming up, we'll be updating our Twitter feed when wet labs are starting and ending, where committee meetings are being held, where people are eating dinner, and other important bits of information in 140 characters. Our Twitter handle is @ARAVets. Make sure you share this so no one misses the fun!
Your Herp Blerpin’ Tech,
Erica Mede, CVT

Test Your Knowledge

Thank you to the epic folks at AVTCP for supplying these questions to help vets study for specialization and helping technicians study for the Avian and Exotic speciality!
1. Moderate to marked anisocytosis, erythrocyte mitosis, and poikilocytosis in reptiles can be associated with:
            a. Post-hibernation
            b. Severe inflammatory disease
            c. Malnutrition and starvation
            d. All of the above
2. Which of the following is the preferred method of sex determination in the snake?
            a.  Cloacal probing
            b.  Hydrostatic eversion
            c.  Manual eversion
            d.  Examining secondary sexual characteristics
3. What is the gastrointestinal transit time in carnivorous lizards and snakes?
            a.     1 to 5 days
            b.     5 to 10 days
            c.     1 to 2 days
            d.     2 to 4 days    

Answers: 1. d, 2. a, 3. d 
Tales from the Clinic: Unique Cases that Make you go Hmm

Michael Miller had an adult male Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) of unknown age come into his hospital. The chameleon was being kept in a private residence with inappropriate humidity and water access. The owner had financial concerns and wouldn’t allow Dr. Miller to perform a fine needle aspirate on the two masses shown below.  

Since the masses were symmetrical, the team asked whether these could be granulomas due to infections, abscesses or possibly due to aging with inappropriate husbandry. Upon the recommendation of Dayna Willems, Miller was able to surgically debride the masses which were abscesses. The impression smear of the purulent discharge was comprised primarily of gram negative rods.

As far as we know, this chameleon is doing well on medication post debridement.
ARAV Infectious Disease Committee Announcement 
North American Team Formed to Address Emerging Diseases
in Amphibians and Reptiles 

Viruses, fungi, protozoans, bacteria and parasites are finding their way into herpetofaunal populations native to North America, and the exotic invaders are having negative effects on some of the most imperiled animals on the globe.

In some cases, the pathogens are already present and changes in environmental conditions are resulting in their emergence. The recent outbreaks of pathogens, such as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, Ranavirus and Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, are especially troubling, because they can lead to death of entire populations. ​Herpetofaunal diseases can result in mortality of a few individuals to entire populations. For example, ranavirus can kill more than 200,000 tadpoles in 24 hours and Ophidiomyces has resulted in mortality of 10% of a single population in Illinois.

To combat the problem, the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) formed a new disease task team made up of biologists, veterinarians and wildlife managers from the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Details about the PARC Disease Task Team can be found at the PARC website.