Sexual Maturity and Aggressive Behavior in Parrots and Iguanas Michael King and Laura Klar
When is my parrot sexually mature? • Can range from 2 ½ to 5 years of age depending on the breed.
Why the aggression? • It comes down to normal behavior • Acting on impulses
When to expect this type of behavior • When removing the bird from it’s cage or any area it regards as it’s alone • When strangers or disliked family members approach while the bird is with it’s favorite person – displaced aggression • When someone regarded with less authority is handling the bird
Removing the bird from the cage • Prepared owners will expect to be bitten • Always follow through and never back down • Be consistent • If necessary, use a towel or a stick to safely obtain the bird
Displaced Aggression • Generally a result of exclusively bonding to one individual • Will try and bite owner when others enter the room • This relationship will intensify during sexual maturity
A question of authority • Spouses usually fall victim to this • Try and let the bird and the disliked person work it out • Taking the bird out of the situation may only reinforce the behavior • If necessary, the favored person can act as disciplinarian
Avoid increasing sexual behavior • May inadvertently increase sexual behavior with physical affection • Avoid petting under the wing, pulling on the tail, encompassing the body, touching near the vent or beak wrestling
Set yourself up for success • Establish good behavior patterns early in life • Consistency is key • Don’t back down • Be willing to accept some distance during the breeding season • Don’t place yourself in compromising positions
Pharmaceutical treatment • Lupron (luprolide acetate) – human GNRH analogue; expensive as hell – 3 injections once every 2 weeks; very effective. Used for chronic egg laying, ovavian cysts and feather picking • Haldol – antipsychotic; leads to a very sedate bird • Prozac – TCA; again, very sedate
Surgical Treatment • Salpingohysterectomy – removal of the uterus and the oviduct • Commonly indicated to alleviate pathologic egg laying • Castration – this is still a very risky procedure with a low post surgical survival rate
Reptile Behavior • Besides husbandry, one of the most important aspects of client education • Understanding enhances the human animal bond • Important when handling animals for treatments
Green Iguanas (Iguana iguana) • Common, inexpensive • Can be challenging to own - not a great first reptile to recommend for a novice owner • Lifespan > 12 years • Large - up to 6.5 feet • Now living long enough to reach sexual maturity = seeing behavioral issues in males
Iguana Communication • Posture • Movement & Gait • head bob • dewlap movement • lateral torso compression • Use of three-dimensional space • placement in enclosure • seeking height or flattening out
Defensive Aggression • May exhibit if threatened • Stand sideways to the threat • Swallow air to increase their size • Stand high off the ground to look larger • Lash at the threat w/tail • May gape or bite if provoked
Offensive Aggression • Less common • Usually involves sexually mature males during mating season (Dec. - March) • Now living long enough to reach sexual maturity • 1.5 - 6 yrs dep.on husbandry • sudden change in behavior or color • investigate medical cause but be suspicious if male
Offensive Aggression • May attack anyone entering their territory & attempt to bite - cage confinement? • Wearing certain colors may provoke attacks • Female owners & menstruation/ovulation - pheromones?
Offensive Aggression • Males may try to mate (display mating behaviors, including bites) with female owners • May see other human males as competition
Offensive Aggression • Neutering does not completely resolve this problem • Research continues in this area - identify causes besides testosterone • Photoperiod? Variation from diurnal schedule? Too small enclosure? etc.
What to do? • Towels, stuffed lizards, “toys” towards which to direct their sexual aggression • Always be aware & alert • Bites - wave alcohol-soaked gauze in front of nose. Cover head with towel - may relax & let go • Negative reinforcement
Non-breeding Aggression • Does occur • May involve a male lizard being dominant over its human owners • Prevent by proper handling and interaction
Iguana Body Language: Dewlap • Fully tucked up under chin, relaxed & floppy = non-aggressive • Rigidly extended +/- sideways presentation of body = threatening.
Iguana Body Language: Head Bobbing • Several meanings? • Warning • Visual equivalent of scent-marking? • Territoriality? • Greeting?
Iguana Body Language: Hissing • Low, guttural click • Mouth wide open, tongue arched • Body in full compression • Dewlap flared • Last straw warning! • Careful - “shhh” sound may be interpreted as an offensive hiss
Iguana Body Language: Open Mouth • Fully open mouth, pink-red color (engorged), tongue up & out = anti-predator • Body tensed, mouth only slightly open = aggressive or dominance - NOT a smile. • Differentiate from dyspnea & over-heating
Summary - Clients • Be aware of challenges of ownership - educated, informed decision to buy an iguana • Protect themselves • Enhance the human-animal bond by better understanding their pet
Summary - Veterinarians • Education of clients • Protect yourself when handling and treating these patients • Owning reptiles yourself
Alternatives for novice clients? • Bearded dragons! • Pogona spp., native to Australia • Smaller (males up to 2 feet) • Lifespan 5-12 +? years • Excellent temperament • Docile, easily handled • Aware, social, responsive
Alternatives for novice clients? • Leopard Geckos • Smaller – can keep in 10 gallon tank • Beautiful – lots of color variation • Easier husbandry – no veggies, no UV • Great personalities
References • Cogger, H.G. and R.G. Sweifel. 1998. Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Academic Press, CA. • Grenard, S. 1999. An Owner’s Guide to the Bearded Dragon. Howell Book House, NY. • Mader, D.R. 1996. Reptile Medicine and Surgery. W.B. Saunders Co. PN. • Zoffer, D. and T. Mazorlig. 1997. The Guide to Owning a Bearded Dragon. T.F.H. Publications, Inc. NJ. • http://www.anapsid.org/ • www.reptilecare.com