Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How Do You Keep A Snake?

Part 1: The Basics

A few people have recently told me that they were interested in getting a snake but felt they weren't ready to take care of one. I applaud the decision to not take on a pet that is beyond one's means or experience to keep. At the same time I'm astounded at how many people think that snakes are difficult to keep.

I realized that everyone who expressed this concern to me owns at least one dog and/or cat. Let me tell you, most snakes are much easier and cheaper to care for than a dog or cat.

Snakes require a relatively small space compared to many other pets. They don't eat as often or as much. They live in cages, so poop is contained and easy to clean. Snakes don't require elaborate setups or toys. A very simple enclosure will suffice. In fact, the only thing a snake needs that a dog or cat doesn't is a source of heat. I've had better luck with snakes than with fish.

So what do you need to care for a snake?

1. A suitable enclosure. Most people use glass aquariums with secure lids made especially for reptiles. Smaller snakes can also be kept in Kritter Keeper plastic cages. The important thing is to make sure the snake cannot escape.

2. A substrate such as aspen shavings or newspaper.

3. A water bowl that is not easy to tip over and is large enough for the snake to soak in.

4. A safe source of heat such as a lamp, heat pad or heat rope designed for reptiles.

5. A place to hide.

6. Thermometer and/or temperature gun.

7. Food.

That's it in a nutshell. I'll go into specifics in upcoming posts.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Last Meals

Most of my snakes have had their last meals for the 2009 season. Why? Breeding season 2010! An important part of breeding many reptiles, including most snakes, is a process called brumation. Brumation involves allowing a reptile to spend the winter in a cool, dark area for a few months to prepare it for the spring and summer breeding season. Brumation stimulates the production of hormones that kick start a reptile's reproductive system.
Methods for cooling reptiles vary, but mine is simple and straightforward. Toward the end of summer I decide which snakes I will try to breed the next year. I feed them as much as they will eat to build up body mass. Around mid October I stop feeding the selected snakes. After waiting three weeks, to allow for all food to be digested, I turn off the cage heaters. This allows for a slight drop in temperature in each cage. After a few more days (3-7), I move the snakes into smaller cages with bedding and a water bowl. I place these cages in an unheated closet. The temperature in the closet gets as low as 50 degrees during the coldest part of the winter and it stays dark.
I check on the snakes every couple of weeks to make sure they have water and to make sure all is well. Occasionally, snakes will shed during brumation, so they receive extra attention to make sure there are no shedding issues (stuck sheds, retained eyecaps, etc.).
After two months, the snakes are removed from the closet and gradually exposed to warmer temperatures. After about a week, I offer food, which is usually met with great enthusiasm!
That's it for brumation.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Anery Clutch

I had just about given up on this clutch when I spied this tiny anerythristic Honduran peeking up at me with it's little bandit mask. I'm pretty sure this is the only one of the four eggs that will hatch from this clutch, but I was thrilled to see it. This baby is 17 grams and comes from an anery to anery pairing. What does that mean? Anerythristic (anery for short) means lacking red pigment. Both of the parents display this simple recessive trait, so the baby does as well. Want to learn more about simple recessive reptile genetics? Comment on this post or contact me and I'll write about it in an upcoming post.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Is it poisonous?

Every time I do a snake presentation or show off any of my snakes the question comes up. Is it poisonous?

The answer is no. I don't keep any poisonous snakes, and I probably never will. Why? It's not because I'm afraid. I'm much more afraid of vicious dogs than venomous snakes. Rather, it's because I understand venomous snakes, their tendencies and their capabilities. I'm not trained to handle "hots", as they are called. Furthermore, I don't feel I have anything to prove (as a FEW venomous keepers do). Finally, there is always the chance of escape. With a wife and hopefully kids in the future, I would not risk their safety or my own. It's a personal question of responsibility that each keeper must answer for himself or herself.

That said, I have handled one venomous snake. It was a sea snake we found on the beach in Costa Rica. I picked it up with a short stick (to avoid giving my new wife a heart attack on our honeymoon). After I was done examining it and taking pictures, I revealed to her the fact that it has one of the deadliest venoms on Earth, although it rarely bites humans.

I also held a monocled cobra once, bare-handed, but it was a venomoid (which means it's venom glands had been surgically removed), so I don't count that one. Although I will say that it is a high-strung snake, prone to hissing, puffing and jerking. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

If I ever kept venomous, it would probably be eyelash vipers, gaboon vipers, coral snakes and/or copperheads. I consider all these to be among the most beautiful of animals. A few rattlesnake species are also amazing.

As cool as some of the hots are, my hands are full caring for my collection of colubrids and pythons.

So, to recap: Is it poisonous?