Aussie lizards die after eating local grasshoppers

2011-05-26 00:00

CARING for pets from other countries can be a rewarding experience, but it can also be fraught with hazards. This was the lesson for a local family who lost their two bearded dragon lizards­ recently when they died after being fed grasshoppers found in their garden in Clarendon.

The lizards, which are native to the Central Australian desert, were purchased as babies from a Pietermaritzburg pet shop four years ago and belonged to Julia (11) and Holly (9) Soderlund­.

“They were very tame, lovely pets,” said Holly. “They would sit on my shoulder. They loved warmth and would snuggle in my gown.”

According to the girls, the lizards, which were named Spike and Monster, had great character and were fun to play with.

“We would bath them in warm water, and clean them gently with toothbrushes,” said Julia. It was particularly rewarding when Monster laid eggs. Seven hatched after three months of incubation in a warm environment.

The omnivorous bearded dragons were mostly easy to look after, happily eating plants such as nasturtiums, butternut and frozen mixed vegetables, but one requirement in their diet — live crickets or grasshoppers — became “a bit of a schlep” according to the girls’ mother, Susan Spencer, and ultimately led to their untimely death.

“These are costly to buy from the pet shop,” she explained. “The alternative of catching insects from one’s own garden can be hazardous because, as we discovered, some grasshoppers are poisonous and garden insects may have been contaminated with pesticides.”

She told how Spike and Monster were fed “minute black grasshoppers that were found in a cluster on a bush. We had not seen them before and felt slightly uneasy about feeding them to the beardeds. When we rushed them to the vet the following day, the one was already dead and the other was in a sort of diabetic coma.

“The vet gave them charcoal, hydration­ and warmth overnight. The male, Spike, survived the night but died the following day.”

Veterinarian Oliver Tatham performed an autopsy on Spike and confirmed in an e-mail that the lizards had died as a result of eating grasshoppers from the family Pyrgomorphidae which he said are “extremely toxic”. He also found severe fatty change in the liver which he said could be an indication of dietary problems, probably long-term.

Spencer said that her daughters were greatly upset by the loss of their pets and are hoping that their death can alert people to the danger of feeding their bearded dragons these small black grasshoppers, and the importance when purchasing pets, of being quite sure that their diet is as close as possible to what it should be in the wild.

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