Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Reptile Presentations

In 2008 I was asked to perform two reptile presentations to the Kathy Caraway Elementary second grade classes. The interest in the shows—from students and teachers—was overwhelming. I was asked to return in 2009, this time to perform four shows.

These presentations have made an impact not only on the students and staff, but on me as well. I realized how much I enjoy talking to people about these fascinating, often misunderstood creatures. After last year's shows, with the encouragement of school staff, I made the decision to offer more shows at more schools in the Austin area.

Currently, I'm offering presentations for grades K–5. The shows are designed to captivate students while exposing them to important grade-appropriate information with TEKS coverage, a variety of live reptiles, engaging discussion and fascinating reptile facts. The small group setting allows the students an up-close and personal experience.

Presentations generally consist of 6–10 reptiles, primarily snakes, but also include lizards and or/tortoises as available. Availability is determined by the reptiles' feeding, shedding and breeding cycles. Reptile eggs and hatchling reptiles may be included when available. NO venomous or aggressive reptiles will be included in the presentations.

Special presentations can be tailored to fit middle school and high school curricula, including lessons on genetics. I'm happy to present to scout groups, birthday parties and other groups.  

If you want to know more, contact me. I'll send you an information packet with all the 411.

How Do You Keep A Snake?

Part 3: Substrate

Once you have an enclosure for your snake, you need some sort of substrate or bedding to cover the cage floor. Snakes like to burrow in their substrate and hide between layers of paper; it makes them feel secure. There are several substrates that are suitable for most snakes. We prefer to use Aspen shavings for our hatchlings and juvenile snakes and newspaper for our adults. Cypress bark is also an acceptable substrate.

Wood shavings and bark should be spot cleaned every few days and replaced every few weeks—or more often—as needed. Newspaper should be changed at least once a week or as it becomes soiled. It is very important to keep your snake's enclosure clean to avoid potential health issues.

NEVER use cedar shavings as the oils in the wood are toxic to snakes, Pine shavings have received mixed reviews, so we avoid using this in our cages. Also avoid sand and other soils, as they may be ingested and cause intestinal impaction. They're also more difficult to clean.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I Do Not Like Green Eggs and Ham!

Convincing Your Problem Feeders to Eat Pinky Mice

Snakes are pretty easy to keep, but there can be challenges. Feeding time can stress you and your snake equally, especially if you're dealing with a very young snake that isn't well established. Sometimes baby snakes just need a little boost...or trickery..to get them started. But first, let's look at your husbandry practices. Be sure to check:

-Temperature and humidity. Are they at appropriate levels? Do you have a proper temp gradient?

-Housing. Is the snake's enclosure too large or two small? Sometimes small snakes become stressed if their enclosures are too large.

-Hide spots. Does your snake have one or more places to hide?

-Outside stressors. Are you handling the snake too much? Has the snake recently been moved? Is there loud music or excessive action outside the snake's enclosure? Try covering the cage with a towel or dark construction paper. Be sure not to block air flow.

-Photoperiod. Are you giving the snake proper periods of light and dark?

-Winter. Sometimes snakes simply refuse to eat in the fall and winter months. Brumation may be in order.

Once you've checked out your husbandry practices and made sure all is within the appropriate parameters, it's time to look at ways to persuade your picky reptile to eat. One of the main reasons that a snake may refuse to take pinky mice has to do with instinct. In the wild, snakes don't usually run across conveniently placed pre-killed baby mice. Lizards, frogs and other snakes are often the first things eaten by many hatchlings. Some snakes will devour just about anything that moves, but many will only eat what they are hardwired to eat in the wild. That's where the persuasion and trickery come in.

Offer something a little easier to swallow. Try these alternate foods to kick start your snake's feeding response and to keep the calories flowing:

-first off, try live mice.

-offer the type of prey your snake would eat in the wild (ei., lizards, non-lab mice)

-switch from mice to pinky rats or vice versa

-live prey followed by frozen/thawed

-rodent tails for very small snakes

Scenting and De-scenting. First, use unscented bar soap to wash the scent from a frozen/thawed pinky. If that doesn't work, try scenting a pinky mouse with:

-lizard, fish, snake, fish, frog or other known prey

-pinky blood (this works very well for some of my hondos)

-pinky brain juice

-egg yolk

-pinky rats (there's a difference in smell, and some snakes prefer rats)

-chicken broth/tuna water

-the skin of some other food item (even shed skin) wrapped around a pinky

Other Trickery. Sometimes you have to get really sneaky with your serpents. Try these tricks:

-put the snake and food in a paper bag or other small, opaque container and leave over night in a dark, quiet area

-put prey just outside of the snake's hide box

-wiggle prey with hemostats to simulate live prey

-bait and switch (Get the snake going with one type of food, then get it to strike a pinky instead. This takes some practice.)

-change substrate type (I've found that some snakes eat better with aspen than newspaper and vice versa)

-try feeding at different times of day, such as late at night.

-try feeding with lights off

You'll often need to combine two or more of these techniques. Watch your snake's body language to see what draws its interest. Once you get a snake to feed regularly, it's usually easy to switch over to the desired food type.

Know any other tricks? Please share!

How Do You Keep A Snake?

Part 2: Housing

Snakes can thrive in a variety of enclosure types. Glass aquariums are very popular among most consumers and some entry level breeders. They are most suited to small collections where space is not at a premium and there aren't too many cages to clean. Among breeders and those with larger collections, plastic shoebox/sweaterbox enclosures are more popular. These are easy to clean and can be placed in racks to save space.There are also more expensive plastic cages specially designed for reptiles. These are probably the best, but are more expensive.

Many baby snakes will do well in a 2 1/2 to 5 gallon aquarium or a plastic shoe box (approximately 6 quarts). As the snake grows, the size of the enclosure should grow as well. Adults should be kept in an aquarium at least 2/3 of the length of the snake or a plastic box of 41 quarts or larger (Rubbermade and Sterilite storage boxes designed to fit under a bed are the perfect size for this).

It is vital to make your snake's enclosure escape-proof. For aquariums, a tight-fitting screen top with some form of fastener is essential. For plastic boxes, there are two ways to keep your snake from escaping: stacks of books or other heavy objects (which is not visually appealing or convenient) or a rack designed to hold one or more boxes of the size you have chosen. In this type of rack, the boxes slide out like drawers and the shelf above each box acts as a lid. This method, while ideal for most large collections is generally not practical for the average pet owner. If you use plastic boxes, make sure to punch/drill air holes in the sides!

The majority of my snakes get four enclosures throughout their lives:

First is a small Ziploc brand food container with a snap on lid (about 2 quarts). I use this smaller box to establish new baby snakes so that they will feel secure and feed well. They come in packs of two for about $2.50 and can be found at just about any grocery store, Target, Wal-Mart, etc.

The second enclosure is a 6 quart Sterilite plastic shoebox in a rack setup. These cost $1 each. The rack cost me about $50 to build, but it has housed about 20 snakes already and doubles as a set of shelves when not in use.

Third is what I call an intermediate cage. I use 15 quart Sterilite (#1924) plastic boxes. These are the ones with the green latches. I use the lids for these and place them on shelves with weights on the lids. These cost $3.50 at Wal-Mart. These have proven very versatile, and house snakes between 20 inches and 3 feet long. They are good for transporting reptiles and I even use them for larger snakes when I cool them for the winter.

Finally, for my adult snakes, I use 41 quart Sterilite (#1960) under-bed boxes in a rack setup. These cost $7-9, or $5 if you catch them on sale. The rack cost me about $200 to build, but houses ten snakes at a time.

You can do the same thing with aquariums if plastic boxes aren't to your liking.

So why all the different sizes? Why not just put the snake in the biggest cage and be done with it? Snakes like cozy, confined spaces. Putting them in larger enclosures often stresses them, causing them to lose their appetites. They also seem to have trouble finding food left in a larger cage sometimes.

Sound complicated? It's not, really. Just start small, step up as the snake grows.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Ban on Pythons and Boas

Yesterday the Senate Committee on the Environment & Public Works held a business meeting on S.373, the "Python Ban" bill. This bill, in its current form, would list 9 species of python and boa as injurious species covered by the Lacy Act. This would ban the import, export and interstate transport of these species.

The supporters of the bill cite the problem with escaped Burmese pythons in the Everglades and a questionable report by the USGS. They also are very vocal about the tragic death of a 2-year old girl in Florida. She was killed this year by a Burmese python that escaped when the girl's father failed top properly secure it's cage. Interestingly, the bill, if passed into law, would do nothing to either eradicate the escaped pythons in Florida or make toddlers safe from large constrictors, as there is no provision to remove any pythons already existing in the U.S.

S.373 was voted by voice vote to move out of committee and on to the Senate. If voted on and passed by the Senate and House of Representatives it will then move on to President Obama to be signed into law.

USARK, the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, is working with Senators and EPW Committee Staff to change or kill this and other threatening bills.

For the average pet owner, it would appear that this is of little importance. But it's not. And for the avid reptile community this is disastrous. Many breeders of boas and pythons would be forced into bankruptcy, as interstate sale and trade is vital to their livelihoods. A domino effect would ensue as all the businesses that support these breeders would lose out on millions of dollars in revenue. A typical reptile breeder spends money on rodents, freezers (for storing rodents), heating (pads, rope, tape, lights and or RHPs), caging and rack systems, paper towels and other cleaning supplies, bedding, water bowls, shipping containers and other shipping supplies, shipping costs, electricity costs, office supplies, medications and supplements, veterinary bills, advertising, taxes, etc.
Think only the big-time breeders spend a significant amount of money? I only own 19 snakes, not including recent hatchlings, and I spend almost $2,000 a year to keep them alive, healthy, growing and breeding. That works out to about $100 per snake per year. To put that into perspective, I don't know of any breeder who makes a living with less than 200 adult snakes. Big-time breeders and industry pioneers sometimes have thousands of animals.
We're talking about serious economic impact, which WILL affect the average pet owner.

Furthermore, the authors and supporters of this bill are using this as a stepping stone to introduce more bills calling for the ban of other species of reptiles, including ALL pythons, certain species of fish, birds, mammals and invertebrates. They are implying that importing and trading in these animals will automatically threaten the ecosystems of the entire country. There is no scientific evidence to support this.
So one has to ask why? What's the real agenda here?
It is a fact that S.373 and related bills are supported by the HSUS (Humane Society of the United States). You thought they were all about saving puppies, right? So did I. The ugly truth is that the position of high level members of HSUS is that NO animal should be kept as a pet. They consider caging any animal as cruelty.
Don't confuse HSUS with your state or local humane society. They are not affiliated.
It's also a fact that Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, the sponsor of S.373, stands to lose huge amounts of Everglades restoration money if he can't show some kind of results.
And guess when the five-fiscal-year Strategic Plan by the USGS (supporters of the bill) ends: 2009. They're trying to get token results to get more funding.

USARK, the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, is working with Senators and EPW Committee Staff to change or kill S.373 and other threatening bills.
I urge you all to join USARK and contact your senators and representatives. The cost is minimal and the stakes are high.

These are the species currently affected by S.373 are:

1. Python molurus
2. Broghammeras reticulatus
3. Python sebae
4. Python natalensis
5. Boa constrictor
6. Eunectes notaeus
7. Eunectes deschauenseei
8. Eunectes murinus
9. Eunectes beniensis