Summer science: building a reptile incubator

20150320_114824James and I love animals. We incorporate all five of our pets into our homeschool program. For example,  when our boa constrictor got an infection in his throat, we took our students to the vet and allowed them to observe the examination, diagnosis, and treatment plan. The students took in the putrid smell of infection. They looked through a microscope into the snake’s eyes. Back home, James taught them how to give our snake an injection.

We use our two bearded dragons for discussions such as characteristics of reptiles and animal habitats.

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Recently, our female dragon began to show signs of pregnancy.  To prepare for future lessons and discussions, we adjusted our plans to include talks with our students about reptiles that lay eggs and those, such as our boa, that give birth to live babies. We also introduced some new science vocabulary words. See list below.

Next, we built our own incubator: NOTE On our first try, we built an aquarium incubator. all of the eggs died. This polystyrene cooler works much better. 

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MATERIALS:

  • 1 polystyrene cooler with a tight fitting lid
  • 1 heat mat roughly the size of the base of the cooler (buy two for larger projects)
  • thermostat
  • thermometer
  • humidity gauge
  • pencil or screw driver
  • plastic cup or tray

ASSEMBLY:

  1. Find an area with moderate temperatures and flat surface.
  2. Position the heat mat on the base of the polystyrene cooler so that it lies flat and covers most of the area (you can use two for larger projects).
  3. Make a groove in the side of the cooler where the wires from the heat mat and the thermometer can rest and you can still place the lid on tightly.
  4. Insert the wooden dowels into the cooler to create a shelf to set the incubation (egg) tubs on.
  5. Put a little lukewarm water into the plastic cup or tray and place it inside the base.
  6. Add the thermometer, adjust the temperature to about 84 degrees, place the lid on tightly, and switch everything on.
  7. Allow an hour or two for the temperature and humidity to get to the right levels and make adjustments to the number of holes in the lid as necessary. More holes will lessen the amount of humidity.
  8. Observe regularly. Add water as necessary. Allow 60 – 80 days for the eggs to hatch.

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REPTILE AND AMPHIBIAN VOCABULARY

  1. herpetology:  the study of reptiles.
  2. incubator: an apparatus used to hatch eggs.
  3. reptile: A cold blooded or (ectothermic) animal with scales, lays soft shelled eggs and
    breathes by means of lungs.
  4. amphibian: A cold blooded (or ectothermic) organism such as a frog, toad or salamander,
    adapted by structure to spending part of its life in water and part of its life on land. (breath
    from gills during part of life, and lungs as adults.
  5. habitat: a place in an ecosystem where an organism normally lives.
  6. ecosystem: an integrated unit of a biological community, its physical environment and
    interactions.
  7. environment: the sum of conditions affecting an organism, including all living and
    nonliving things in an area, such as plants, animals, water, soil, weather, landforms and air.
  8. food chain: transfer of energy through various stages as a result of feeding patterns of a
    series of organisms.
  9. food web: the interconnected feeding relationships in a food chain found in a particular place
    and time.
  10. predator: an organism that preys on and consumes animals; usually an animal.
  11. prey: an organism caught or hunted for food by another organism.
  12. adaptation: a characteristic of an organism that increases its chance of survival in its
    environment.
  13. camouflage: the coloration and/or shape of an organism which allows that organism to blend in with its surroundings (also known as cryptic coloration).
  14. albino: an organism lacing pigmentation.
  15. vertebrates: an animal that has a vertebral column.
  16. pigmentation: having pigments or color.
  17. herbivore: an animal that feeds on plants.

For an excellent article on the reproductive behavior of bearded dragons, click here.

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YouTube offers some excellent videos on handling and placing the eggs in a mixture of vermiculite and sand.

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