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Secrets of Breeding Blotchies

Posted: Mon Mar 24, 2014 10:20 pm
by Scotts1au
I've started this thread as a way of teasing out tricks that people might use to help enhance breeding success with blotched blueys.

Whilst in Southern Australia, it isn't exactly rocket science there are a few tricks that seem to help.

Making sure females are in a reproductive state

With female blotchies, size matters. Age appears to be irrelevant. Personally I've had them breed in their first year (not deliberate), provided that they get at least a month or so of proper brumation (ave temperature at ground level below 13C or thereabouts (55F)).

Generally they will become sexually mature from approximately 40 cm or so under these conditions.

The most important factors are, an adequate brumation period, adequate body size and condition.

By condition I mean body fat! This needs to be on the girl before she goes into brumation. The breakdown of fat in the spring is important in the production of sex hormones which are sensed by males as pheramones. Male blotchies generally show no interest in emaciated females (they don't conform to human stereotypes) :lol:.

Under natural conditions in the wild many females reproduce every second year with an average of 6 babies with babies typically between 30-50 grams each at birth. This takes a hefty toll on the mothers with babies and associated body products equaling about 1/3 of the gravid weight of the female. Given that babies are often born late - with only a month or so until the brumation period, the females often have little opportunity to put the weight back on.

If breeding is to be attempted in subsequent years, careful management is required particularly if kept outdoors in Southern Australia to ensure that females put on adequate weight.

What does adequate weight look like?

I can't give a recipe such as weight/length ratio etc but with experience you can generally tell an animal that is likely to be successful and one that isn't. In Southern Australia you have to consider that the bluey will generally brumating on or off for 4 to 6 months. That is, living off fat reserves albeit slowly, although in most cases they will make it though in alive and healthy, an underweight one simply won't breed and will use this years a lay year to build up reserves for the subsequent year.

As a generalization females will breed throughout their lives, however it seems to become more difficult to maintain females at a reproductive weight in subsequent years as they get older. A tipping point does appear to be about 7 years of age for many animals that difficulty seems to start in bouncing back post parturition.

It is important to look at breeding females in terms of being blotchies and not attempting to compare with other Tiliqua species for that purpose. Often T.scincoides will still breed even when quite thin.

I've attached a photo below of a female who recently gave birth but had gone off her food and started the brumation process. I've pulled her out and now placed her in a heated enclosure - she has now resumed eating and once she is fat enough (given a week or two's grace to make sure she has no undigested food onboard) I will start the cooling process with her.

Note that she is barrel shaped naturally. She has lines running longitudinally on body which are firm showing little fat reserves.

A close up of the hips shows that there are limited fat reserves where I would want them to be, the space behind the hips should be rounded and plump. Although not clear from the photo, there is obvious bone protrusion in real life.

For comparison here are some photos of Flicker another female who didn't breed this year - whilst not as big as I would want her at the moment, you can see that she has better general plumping with fat reserves and will be ready for action come November.

A close up of her hip area shows it a bit better.

Re: Secrets of Breeding Blotchies

Posted: Tue Mar 25, 2014 2:52 am
by Richard.C
Ive found older ones to be more consistant breeders,they seem to hold there weight better,7 years plus has higher rate of consecutive litters for me,mainly because they are eaier to keep weight on,alpines anyways,my lowlands dropping later have a bad habit of skipping a year,they have usually mellowed off eating here when babies are born,some years ive had to bring them indoors to drop because its cooled down so much already,usually april droppers here,sometimes very late april

Re: Secrets of Breeding Blotchies

Posted: Wed Mar 26, 2014 12:17 am
by Scotts1au
I've added some more photos to demonstrate my point. My point in the previous post was that for me at least, under my keeping conditions my blotchies seemed to switch from being once a year breeders to alternate year, largely because of a failure to put on weight. And yes, Richard this experience was with Lowlands in Melbourne. :-)

See below is a photo of one of my oldest females "Buddy" who is 6 years old. She has recently given birth but it has taken it's toll on her this year. I've added some photos of another female "Elke" (a baby from Liz) who is 3 years old and also recently given birth but has retained her condition much better. For mine this is a consistent pattern with age, under my keeping conditions.





Re: Secrets of Breeding Blotchies

Posted: Wed Mar 26, 2014 5:50 pm
by Richard.C
One difference with us scott is your old ones,say 7 year olds are when alot of mine actually have first litters,usually more 4 or 5 but some have taken 7 years for first litters

Longer for ones left outside for first winter,but even o es brought indoors,i often let indoor ones shut down a bit as well,even with appropriate basking spot temps some bugger off to cool end and shut down on me anyways,lol

Re: Secrets of Breeding Blotchies

Posted: Wed Mar 26, 2014 8:15 pm
by Scotts1au

Here is a photo of some of my mature males. These guys are all mature breeding size, the smallest is about 500grams, the largest about 800g. They have solid heads, muscly and bony and can take and give each other a pounding. If you get bitten in anger by one of these guys - you will know all about it!

It doesn't go that the biggest and baddest will be the best breeder. However generally in a group, if kept in a large outdoor enclosure one will be dominant to the others.

Generally ( I say generally because there are always exceptions) they are not competent breeders until the age of 3 years, although are probably sexually capable in the first year if large enough and given an initial brumation - they can drop plugs at as little as 6 months of age. Generally 2nd year males will have a go at mating but get chased off by larger males -it is a good idea to separate them from larger males during the Spring period. Small males can often be seen going on pony rides attached to large females around the enclosure (which is pretty funny), they get the idea that they have to latch on but lack the size or abilities to get the job done.

Generally lowland blotched blueys are smaller, and males can be quite small. Male lowlands can be sexually mature at slightly less than 40cm long, although generally successful Alpines will be 43 cm long before you will have success, which may depend on a few factors including the size of the female, and whether there is other competition in the form of other more aggressive or dominant males.

Males mostly wake up from brumation earlier than females (although not always the case) and be more active early. They suffer similar silliness to Easterns, in that males will often not eat for some time after waking, however they will often eat if offered raw meat or snails in warm weather during this period. In Central Victoria - Australia, males may be sexually active from around mid October, through November, generally in months where the diurnal maximum temperature averages in the order of 20-23C. However, activity will vary significantly depending on the year. Activity is greater if there are several consecutive days at or above the average period during this time.

Anecdotally, the presence of another male, or males has a stimulating affect on males which may have something to do with a fight or flight response and impact on testosterone levels. I'm not aware of any studies into this. Often the first sign that mating activity is going to occur is actually males chasing each other, rather than showing interest in females.

Re: Secrets of Breeding Blotchies

Posted: Wed Mar 26, 2014 9:07 pm
by Scotts1au
Feeding for Breeding

As discussed above, fat composition of blotchies is important component of breeding success. Indeed the ability to breed and maintain repeatability often comes down to bulking females up as much as possible after giving birth for the subsequent year, prior to going into brumation. From this perspective feeding isn't necessarily about achieving what one might consider as a sustainable or balanced diet, it is about bulking up, meaning energy dense food that will enable them to pack on weight fast. This discussion leads to the natural conclusion of developing a diet that is designed to achieve a purpose, that is, to get female blotchies over a threshold to breed, not to make them "fat" but fat enough.

Think about it, if you want your chickens to lay good size, well formed eggs sustainably and come through the experience ok - you feed them layer pellets - high in protein, calcium etc.

It is interesting to consider that a large proportion of the diet of a blotched bluetongue in the wild is composed of invertebrates, and of this largely larvae of moths and beetles. Indeed most of the these larvae contain saturated fat levels in excess of 10% by weight. In general, grubs have a much higher protein and fat component than beef or chicken. As scientific study suggests, in the order of 70% of their diet consists of these critters so at odds with a lot of discussion about appropriate diets for blueys, at least in the case of blotched blueys, a diet on the higher side of the equation in relation to fat percentage doesn't appear to be a bad thing. An interesting observation is that even when fed relatively high fat foods, unlike turtles etc there is very little apparent undigested fat in the faeces, suggesting a relatively high capability for breakdown and absorption of ingested fats.

Interestingly the fat composition of commercial canned dog foods generally lays within 5-10% (puppy foods at the higher end) with a large proportion being animal (mostly saturated fats). Although actual meat content is relatively often as little as 20% or less, there is considerable plant based material contained within it, often vegetable based proteins and other plant products. In many cases, the "chunks of meat" you can see in dog food are not meat at all, but rather vegetable proteins.

Many people feed canned dog food as a staple food, particularly us types who keep a number of them together in outdoor enclosures. Indeed many people who are regular breeders, of blotchies and other Australian temperate species including T.rugosa aspera. IF this works for you, all the better, but I do find that mature blueys won't tend to weight gain as much as I want them too, particularly if they are run down, unless I vary the diet.

It is important to emphasize that if feeding for a purpose for a short term purpose - which includes helping a bluey in need of medical attention, that caloric intake is the most important factor (within reason) and a focus on high quality proteins seems to give the best results. Issues such as Ca:P ratios are consideration for "normal" dietary strategies. Throughout this process, temperatures need to be maintained at normal levels, day and night.

A typical bulking up strategy would be to cycle between high caloric value, high protein foods, including chicken, snails, raw or cooked beef and wet dog foods - Note: I much prefer loaf type variety dog foods for many reasons, including less residue left on the blue's face, or the propensity to stick to substrate. In other words the foods that are most likely to tempt a bluey to eat.

Note that Liz pictured above, had two more stillborn babies this year after the photo was taken. She and is currently recovering.

Re: Secrets of Breeding Blotchies

Posted: Wed Mar 26, 2014 11:50 pm
by Richard.C
Thats one odd thing with my lot,i havnt noticed males waking earlier,if anything i normallu see more females out rarlier than males,in saying that its still cold when they wake up here,often still months before they eat with any gusto

I think the need to wake males early indoors for most is because there often taken straight out of brumation to to warm conditions ,meaning its trickier to get males and females cycles to coincide

When i breed indoors,whilst they get decent basking temps after wake up,ambients are still really cool and they hold out for 3 months or so before mating ,i had them in groups indoors so they all got heat the same

Re: Secrets of Breeding Blotchies

Posted: Sun Mar 30, 2014 4:41 pm
by anchietae
Thanks for sharing, Scott! That was fascinating and helpful.


Re: Secrets of Breeding Blotchies

Posted: Mon Apr 21, 2014 8:20 pm
by Scotts1au
Death of Babies or Failure to Thrive

This probably applies more to Alpines than other forms but many people on various forums have written that they have had juvenile or young alpines drop dead on them when previously seeming healthy.

I don't know the exact cause and obviously some are accidental but there are a couple of scenarios that seem to keep coming up.

- often deaths occur with new owners (or at least those who are new to Alpines).
- babies initially look and act normal and suddenly die a week or two after emerging from brumation.
- babies look and act normal then stop, or slow their growing.

Death with new owners

My experience is that babies tend to do best when fed consistently, with heat not allowed to drop below 23C (at the cool end) in the first year.

Whilst this may seem counter intuitive for a cool temperate species, they are not in the wild and cannot exercise whatever microhabitat choice they might in the wild and being young they seem particularly prone to malaise associated with infections which they are otherwise very resistant to as adults.

To be continued.

Re: Secrets of Breeding Blotchies

Posted: Mon Apr 21, 2014 9:38 pm
by Richard.C
I think with blotchies especially juvies you have 2 options with winter,either shut down fully or keep them active,its the in between of those 2 scenarios that caise most of the issues i believe

In the past i had the odd one develop an infection and drop dead to,i think alot of the issue is with the cooler ambients basking temps drop enough to not allow proper function,but still warm enough to feed ect

I used to set bubs up in a 4 foot long fish tank with heat down one end,some babies just went to cool end and brumated,some stayed close to warmth and ate and remained active,the poor doers tended to be the inbetweeners,active sometimes,inactive other times and that its mu belief the middle ground is where the danger lies.

Last few years ive upped basking spot temps to be sure rhey can get hot enough,which seems to have stopped any issues,other wise i just turn everything off and let them brumate,which has never been a concern for me either,blotchies are very hardy

Its the choices we offer them that likely affects them and alot of people expect there cages to have ideal temps year round ,which in a cool climate is very hard to replicate with out testing temps ect,my ambients fluctiate a heck of alot and in winter it can drop basking temps down to 20 or so degrees if i dont up bulb size or move it closer to basking spot where as in warmer months its 40 plus and thernostaticlly shuts off alot

If u just assume temps are hunky dory it can lead to issues,to warm to brumate but not warm enough to function right can put blueys at risk and babies even more so then adults

Re: Secrets of Breeding Blotchies

Posted: Sat Aug 23, 2014 11:39 pm
by Helikaon
Just to throw a stone into the works, my alpines in qld, dont brumate will often eat through winter and certainly will be out daily basking. they start mating in July to early august and are the first to give birth at my house, while my lowlands havent even woken up yet.

Re: Secrets of Breeding Blotchies

Posted: Sun Aug 24, 2014 2:41 am
by Scotts1au
I suppose we can only say what works for us, but it is worth mentioning that you are in a sub-tropical climate, 2000km north of Richard and myself. This year my alpines only have Brumating fully for 2 months and are out most days- not eating though. It will be interesting to see if you can produce babies consistently.

Re: Secrets of Breeding Blotchies

Posted: Sun Aug 24, 2014 4:34 am
by Helikaon
Yeah, So far i have 3 females starting to breath heavy and are packing on the weight so i assume ill have another litter or two this year. but will have to wait and see

Re: Secrets of Breeding Blotchies

Posted: Sun Aug 24, 2014 10:54 pm
by Richard.C
they sound very promising gary

just to rub a bit more salt in scott,theres a chap in cairns with his outdoors and active and eating year round,his wete mating in june,so will be interesting to see if any of those take

i had a bunch of lowlands and a few alpines in over winter to put condition on,ive brumated them inside,still brumating,but before i put them in brumation one male lowlands with very swollen hemipenes was chasing females around cage,and biting and grabbing,no actual mating attempts were seen though,he injured one girls rear leg so was thrown into brumation tub to cool off,lol,and the rest joined him couple of days later,im going to stick them all outside in next week or so for a slow warm up with the rest of the outdoors blotchies,though i do have a trio of bluemountains in now that were brumating outdoors,males just shed so will be interesting to see if he does anything soon

Re: Secrets of Breeding Blotchies

Posted: Sun Aug 24, 2014 10:58 pm
by Richard.C
ive been wondering about the south east qld bred blotchies and especially since seeing the cairns chaps mating back in june,but with the south east qld ones,theres a few keepers with similar timing with mating and babies including tassie blotcheds as well

Re: Secrets of Breeding Blotchies

Posted: Tue Aug 26, 2014 1:41 am
by Scotts1au
When I've looked at the climate and when people have reported mating and successful breeding it seemed to be in a month when ave day temps were at or about 23 degrees Celsius with mating occurring on the warmer days, eg 25 or so. I have had successful breeding after only 3 weeks of Brumating.

Will be interesting to see if someone can successfully breed them in Cairns.

Re: Secrets of Breeding Blotchies

Posted: Tue Aug 26, 2014 9:56 am
by Richard.C
Ill keep u posted on chap from cairns,the interesting thing there is im pretty sure they have been active and feeding all winter