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:: WATER ALL FORMS OF LIFE


All forms of life, from the simple single celled organism to the complex human body, have water as their major constituent. Sometimes amounting to 95% never less than 60%. Only in specific parts of organic structures such as hair and bone, or when cells are dormant or dying do levels fall below these.

Water is indispensable to life. It was not until water became a feature of the planet that life on it became possible. The origins of life lie in the unique power or water to either dissolve substances or hold them in suspension. The existence of life depends on the controlled movement of solutes either in true solution or suspension throughout the cells of a body. Water alone cannot control this. The phenomenon of osmosis does. This is the diffusion of higher and lower concentrations of solute molecules constantly battling to equalise osmotic pressures either side of cell membranes. In perfect harmony with the surroundings at cell level osmotic equilibrium is achieved and the whole body functions well.

Th body of a human or a reptile is a biological system. It is extremely sophisticated with complex solutions and suspension held within the 95% water. These include the powerful electrolyte mixtures of free ions, such as sodium and potassium so vital to muscles and nerve control. In humans 83% of blood, the major transport system of oxygen and 'food' is made up of water, albumin present within the blood is used to maintain osmotic pressure.

Reproduction is even a water-based process in land animals where by the spermatozoa must swim to the egg. In both oviparous and viviparous reptiles an aqueous medium is required for the developing embryo.

To have a properly functioning body there must be a balance between water gained and lost within the body. Drinking is by far the best way of redressing water loss. This is only possible if supplies are readily available. Thirst is a signal that water loss has exceeded gain. Excess water is eliminated by the kidneys. Species that have very limited access to water have adapted to rely on water released from the oxidation of their food.

In many animals the thermoregulation is achieved by evaporation of water from the lungs and skin as sweat. This is not so in most reptiles who must actively move to cooler sites. However Crocodilea do gap to increase the surface area and allow moisture to evaporate. Most animals, even reptiles have a limited tolerance to temperature changes, most cannot survive above 45°C, this is due to the breakdown, often irreversibly of the enzyme system, as the proteins that they are constructed of denature.

Excretion of nitrogenous waste products from an organism can put huge demands on water requirements. The simplest end product in many animals is ammonia, this is highly water soluble and highly toxic. Water must be kept in reserve by the body to convert toxic ammonia to the relatively non-toxic urea. Reptiles and birds are even more economic with water and produce semi solid or solid uric acid.

Although many reptiles appear to be able to go with out water for long periods, many keepers appear to think that water is an optional extra! A few years ago when there was a proliferation of reptile shops in the UK it was not uncommon to visit premises and see a shop full of vivariums with out water. Luckily this situation rarely occurs these days. True many reptiles do not drink every day, or even every week, but there should be the option available.

Do reptiles die in hibernation because they suffered hypothermia, or were malnourished and under weight prior to hibernation OR, was it the fact the keeper turned the heat off and shut the door to the room in October and didn't revisit until February? When did the water bowls evaporate, October? November?

Some novice keepers believe there animals do not drink, as they are never seen at the water bowl. There are several reasons for this. On is simply many of these creatures are nocturnal and chooses to have a sip at 3am! Many Lizards especially geckos and Chameleons rarely use bowls they will lick droplets of water off vivarium furnishings and so the viv must be sprayed on a regular basis. Some will actively absorb water through the skin, so the animal should be lightly sprayed too. There should be no excuse for any PRAS members not to know how their animals prefer to drink. They have access to other members and the club library. For many the Internet is also an option.

Some snakes, such as water snakes will not thrive without large bowls to submerse themselves in. Green Anacondas require aquatic environment to support their large bodies. Viper Boas, only feel secure and able to eat if they can strike at prey from water.

To check whether any animals within your collection are dehydrated look around the eyes. Do they appear sunken? Also pinch the skin. If it springs back readily it is ok. If it feels flaccid and stays in the pinched position there is a problem. Poor coordination. Jerking motions and 'star gazing' are also a signs and symptoms (but also of other problems too) This is due to low water levels restricting the levels of electrolytes within the body so the lack of essential, minerals, salts and ions are not allowing the nervous system to function correctly

Dehydration is very common in escapee snakes and lizards that most of us have had at some point but do not readily admit to. Try to keep and accessible bowl on the floor. Once caught give the animals a good soak and allow to drink freely for several days whilst warming up slowly. Do no feed until the metabolism is up to re-established to near normal.

Water is necessary in what ever form your animals takes into it body, through food, drink or misty spray. It is utilised for normal daily body functions, sloughing and mating, plus environmental familiarity and security in some cases. Water is the dominating feature of life.

Always ensure your animals have access to water.

Ignorance is death.

No excuses.

©Karen Hollingsworth.