Thursday, December 9, 2010

Snakes on a rope: Researchers take a unique look at the climbing abilities of boa constrictors

ScienceDaily (2010-11-30) -- In the wild, how does a snake climb a vertical surface without slipping? To find out, researchers sent snakes climbing up varying widths and tensions of ropes as they explored snake movement in relation to their musculoskeletal design and variation in their environment.
Read the full story here.

Flying snakes, caught on camera

ScienceDaily (2010-11-23) -- New video analysis and mathematical modeling by engineers reveals how certain types of snakes can "fly" by flinging themselves off their perches, flattening their bodies, and sailing from tree to tree.
Read the full story here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Indian Fair pays tribute to snake goddess

Indian Fair pays tribute to snake goddess: "A 130-year-old festival aims to educate locals about the snakes that live in their backyards.

In India, there is a reason to have hesitation of some snakes; even reptile folks would need to..."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Boa constrictors can have babies without mating

ScienceDaily (2010-11-03) -- In a finding that upends decades of scientific theory on reptile reproduction, researchers have discovered that female boa constrictors can squeeze out babies without mating. More strikingly, the finding shows that the babies produced from this asexual reproduction have attributes previously believed to be impossible.
Read the full article here.

World's Longest Snake Dies

Fluffy, the world's longest snake according to the Guinness Book of World Records, died unexpectedly on Tuesday, October 26, at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Fluffy, formerly owned by Bob Clark, was a gentle 24 foot-long reticulated python. Check out pictures of Fluffy and read the full story here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Imperiled tropical frog shouting the impact of climate change from the mountaintops

ScienceDaily (2010-10-27) -- Scientists studying disease and climate change are heading to the mountains of Puerto Rico -- hoping to learn what a struggling frog species can tell us about the danger changing weather patterns present to ecosystems around the globe. 
Read the full story here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How Do You Keep A Snake?

Part 7: Food

All snakes are carnivorous and, as such, they eat only other animals. This makes some people squeamish. If you're one of those people, a snake may not be the pet for you. But let's assume you're cool with all that. Here's what you need to know:

Most pet snakes feed on rodents... 
In the wild, however, snakes have adapted to feed on a variety of animals including insects and other invertebrates, fish, amphibians, birds, lizards, turtles, crocodilians, various mammals and even other snakes. Each species has its own preferences and may not eat prey that it doesn't recognize. Some baby king snakes, such as the grey banded king snake, will only eat small lizards. They don't recognize mice as a source of food until they're older. The eastern mud snake eats only frogs and amphiumas (a salamander-like creature). You're probably not going to have access to large quantities of such exotic animals to feed to your snake. There are tricks for persuading a snake to eat foods it normally wouldn't accept, but if you're a beginner, you should choose a species that does well on easily available rodents. 

Live vs. pre-killed
Snakes are powerful predators, but don't underestimate the damage that a rodent can do to even the biggest, strongest snake. Rodents can be very aggressive and have vicious teeth. It's generally better to serve your snakes pre-killed mice or rats. 
Some snakes are picky and will only take freshly killed animals. The technique for this is simple but kinda gross: you put a mouse or rat in a pillow case and whack it against a hard surface, killing it. 
I prefer the easy way: I buy frozen rodents. You can get them from your pet store or in bulk from a rodent supplier online. You take out the mice or rats you need, leave them out for a while to thaw (they MUST be completely thawed or your snake could die) and then feed them to your snake. Some snakes will prefer you to wiggle their food to simulate a live animal, others prefer you to leave the food alone for them to "find." Learn which your snake prefers.

It's important to feed your snake appropriately-sized meals. Most species eat food the same size as (or slightly larger than) the thickest part of their bodies. If you feed a snake a meal that is too big it could regurgitate or, worse, it could die from internal injuries.

How often to feed
Most pet stores will tell you to feed your snake about once a week or every 7-10 days when it gets larger. A snake can survive on this type of feeding schedule, but it will grow slowly. I recommend feeding a new baby snake a single rodent of the appropriate size every 2-3 days to get started. After a few feedings, I increase that to 2 or 3 rodents every 2-4 days. As the snake grows, gradually increase the size of the rodents, always about the same diameter as the body of the snake, and feed it as much as it will eat. 
Observe your snake and let it's behavior tell you when it wants to eat. If it hasn't moved from its hiding spot since its last meal, it's probably not hungry yet. But if it's come out and pooped and is moving around its cage, it's most likely ready for a meal. I find that it's almost impossible to overfeed a growing snake.

What if my snake won't eat?
First off, if a snake skips a single meal (or even a couple of meals) it's no cause for alarm. It could just be entering a shed cycle (in which case you should wait until after it sheds before offering it food again), or it may sense the change in seasons and be inclined to go off feed for the winter.
There are a number of other reasons a snake might not eat. Stress is a common cause, as is disease. Check the conditions of your snake's cage. Is the temperature and humidity right? Is the cage clean? Does the snake have an adequate place to hide? Are you offering the snake the appropriate type (and size) of food? If your snake refuses to eat for more than a few weeks you should consult with a qualified veterinarian.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Baby Hognose Snake Tries to Act Tough

This is a baby hognose snake I found in the yard the other day while taking out the trash. These harmless snakes put on a show by flattening their heads into a hood, inflating their bodies, hissing, false strikes (they don't bite), defecating/musking, regurgitating and playing dead. This particular specimen didn't use EVERY trick in the book, but he sure gave it a shot.
I released the snake the following morning in the spot where I found it. See another hognose snake I found in my yard here and read more about these interesting tricksters.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Family ties bind desert lizards in social groups

ScienceDaily (2010-10-08) -- Researchers have found that a species of lizard in the Mojave Desert lives in family groups and shows patterns of social behavior more commonly associated with mammals and birds. Their investigation of the formation and stability of family groups in desert night lizards provides new insights into the evolution of cooperative behavior.

Read the full story here.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What can a New Zealand reptile tell us about false teeth?

ScienceDaily (2010-09-07) -- Using a moving 3-D computer model based on the skull and teeth of a New Zealand reptile called tuatara, researchers have revealed how damage to dental implants and jaw joints may be prevented by sophisticated interplay between our jaws, muscles and brain.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Irish lizards threatened by agriculture

ScienceDaily (2010-09-25) -- A new ecological network is urgently needed in Northern Ireland to ensure the continued survival of its precious lizard population, according to researchers. Lizards are found in coastal areas, heath and boglands around Northern Ireland, but a new study has found their natural habitats may have been replaced through agricultural intensification.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Goini Cross

Check out these new pics of the goini cross project. The hypo female is coloring up nicely and growing fast. She eats two fuzzies about every other day. And the blaze male is finally home! I picked him up from Tom Stevens the other day and set him up here. Look at the rich color on that little guy!
I'm so excited about this project. The male is a very unique snake; I don't know if anyone has ever produced a patternless blaze goini cross before. I can't wait to see how these two look as they grow and what their babies will look like. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

50-million-year-old snake gets a CT scan

ScienceDaily (2010-09-20) -- Even some of the most advanced technology in medicine couldn't get Clarisse to give up all of her secrets. After all, she's protected them for more than 50 million years. Clarisse is a snake, found in the Fossil Butte region of Wyoming, perfectly fossilized in limestone and the only one of her kind known to be in existence.

More Eggs and Setting the Sights on Next Year

Well, we've had a very busy week here. I'm happy to say that the baby snakes are eating well, we're taking reservations for shows for this year and we have five more Honduran milk snake eggs from the same parents that produced the albinos and hypo. 

Now it's time to focus on getting our snakes ready for next year. All of the snakes we plan to breed next year will be fed as much as possible for the next several weeks. Then they will get a three week fast to clear their digestive systems before being put into brumation, in which they will be kept cool in a dark closet for about two months. This helps trigger the biological changes that prepare the snakes to breed the next season. During this time, the snakes will not eat, but will be very inactive. They will continue to drink and may even shed their skins while in brumation.
After brumation, the snakes will be gradually warmed up and will resume feeding to kick off another season.

Next year's breeding goals are:

Honduran milk snakes
California king snakes
Brooks king snakes

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Honduran Milk Snakes: The Final Count

The results are in. All the good eggs from this summer have hatched. On the downside, we lost an entire clutch of anery's and a few eggs from the other two clutches. We also had two babies that hatched with fatal defects and one beautiful albino that didn't make it out of the egg. Despite these disappointments, I'm still very happy about what we did produce: 

Four healthy normals
Two albinos
The mystery hypo

Some of the babies have already shed and are starting to eat. I'll post more pictures soon.
Want one of these little gems for a pet? Here are the prices: 

Clutch 1:
3 Normals, 66% het for albino, 50% het for hypo...$50 each

Clutch 2:
1 Normal (Sibling to the mystery hypo), 66% het for albino and hypo...$70
1 Albino  (Sibling to the mystery hypo) 66% het for hypo...$200
1 High white albino  (Sibling to the mystery hypo) 66% het for hypo...NFS
1 Mystery hypo 66% het for albino...NFS

I'm also excited because two of my snakes may double clutch for me this year. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stephen's Reptile Room

My little brother, Stephen, and my mom recently remodeled his bedroom in this super-cool reptile theme. They repainted the walls and added reptile pinups and pics of Steve Irwin. Homemade snakeskin-patterned blanket, pillowcases and curtains adorn the bed and windows. A big, stuffed alligator on the bed and leopard geckos on the ceiling fan blades (hand painted by Mom) finish off the project. Besides Stephen, the room is home to three leopard geckos and a San Diego gopher snake. It's a great habitat for a herp-loving teen.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

High-white albino and mystery hypo

These two will probably be my holdbacks for this year. The mystery hypo and this beautiful high-white albino. Check out how the white overtakes the wide orange bands half way down the body. I'd like to explore the genetics of this mystery hypo and see what happens. As for the albino, I want to line breed and see just how much white I can get into one of these snakes.
Everything else will be up for sale as soon as they are shed and fed.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hypo Honduran Hatchling

Today just keeps getting better. This little sucker just popped out from the same clutch as the albinos. It's a sweet little hypo. I can't wait to see how the colors hold up. I think I might have to keep this one.

Albino Honduran Milk Snakes Hatching

Wow! These are my first albino Honduran milk snakes ever. You can see one is already out of the egg and another tiny nose is poking out of an egg to the right. You can also see the left over yolk and a bad egg in one of the pics.
The color on these snakes is amazing; the photos don't do them justice. I've been drooling over albino Hondos for a few years now and bought a pair of het-for-albino babies from Nokturnal Tom about three years ago. Then, two years ago, Tom gave me another female. She turned out to be the one to produce these first albinos. 
There are still more snakes to hatch and I can't wait to see what's inside. It's like Christmas!

Cool Video: Tortoise Knocking Down a Tree

Check out this fun video from of a tortoise knocking down a small tree.

Monday, August 30, 2010

First Out of the Egg

The first Honduran milk snake of 2010 is out of the egg and it is huge! I should have put a ruler down for comparison, but this snake looks to be at least 14 inches long. I've seen yearling Hondurans that aren't that big.
This one is going to make a great pet for someone. I can't wait to see what the rest of the clutch looks like!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Eggs Are Hatching

My first Honduran milk snake clutch of the year, laid on June 7, is finally starting to hatch. When I checked this morning I saw the first few slits in one of the eggs. No head poking out yet, but a tiny orange and black snake was moving inside. I'm still hoping to get some albinos from this clutch.
This clutch was incubated for 83 days. I'll post some pics as more of the snakes start to poke their heads out, or "pip."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Komodo Dragons Hatched at LA Zoo

Twenty-two baby Komodo dragons, the world's largest monitor lizard, began hatching on August 8th at the Los Angeles Zoo. This is the zoo's first successful attempt to breed these rare giants. Komodo dragons, which can grow to 9 feet in length and weigh 200 pounds, are native to a few small islands in Indonesia.
Read the full article here:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Blaze Goini x Hypo Brooks Project

Okay, I am totally stoked! While my friend Tom Stevens was out of town on vacation I kept an eye on his snakes, including several clutches of eggs that were due to hatch. While checking the eggs one day I was blown away by what I found: a bold, orange patternless hatchling. This snake is special. It is the result of a cross between two lines of Florida kingsnake, the blaze Apalachicola (goini) and hypo South Florida (brooksi) kingsnakes. However most of these crosses result in highly variable blotched, spotted or striped offspring (as in the first picture). This snake has no pattern. It appears to be displaying both the hypo and blaze traits, giving it a deep orange color.

Now here's where I get really excited: this snake will be in my collection very soon!
As soon as Tom got home I told him I wanted that snake and we worked out a price for the new hatchling patternless and the yearling female pictured above.
With any luck I should be able to breed them in two years and see what comes out.

Check out Tom's website for some sweet king snakes, milk snakes and Pituophis species.

Thanks, Tom, for the awesome snakes and for the use of the above picture.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Species Profile: Gray-banded King Snake

For years the gray-banded king snake, lampropeltis alterna, was considered one of the rarest of Texas' snakes. Originally described to science in 1901 from a specimen found in the Davis Mountains, a second specimen wasn't found until 37 years later. These small, very secretive snakes are, in fact, relatively common throughout their range in west Texas and northern Mexico.

The gray-banded king snake is highly variable in appearance. It's background color ranges from pale gray to almost black or even slate gray. There are two distinct color phases. The blairi phase generally displays a number of wide red or orange bands or saddles bordered by black bands which are edged in white. The alterna phase displays little or no orange between the black bands. Some specimens are speckled with black.
Unlike most other king snakes, it has a wide head, narrow neck and is somewhat bug-eyed.

Gray-banded kings live among limestone outcroppings and rocky hills. They are seldom seen except late at night after when they cross highways after thunderstorms.

24-36 inches, with a few individuals exceeding 4 feet.

Lizards, rodents and other snakes. Hatchlings in the wild prey solely on lizards.

In Captivity
Gray-banded king snakes make great pets with one caveat: hatchlings are very difficult to feed, often refusing all food except for tiny lizards (see below). Once they are well-started on mice, these boldly colored snakes are a joy to keep. They are moderate in size and tend to be very docile and calm.

Adults do well in 15-20 gallon aquariums or similarly-sized plastic tubs. Hatchlings should be kept in very small cages or plastic boxes. Provide plenty of places to hide.

Any typical substrate is fine, such as aspen, newspaper or cypress bark.

Water and Humidity
Humidity should be kept low. Provide water in a small container. If shedding problems arise, a deli cup filled with moist sphagnum moss may be placed in the cage to provide the snake an area of higher humidity.

Heat one end of the cage to 85-90 degrees while allowing the cooler end of the cage to remain around 70-75 degrees.

This is the stumbling block for many inexperienced hobbyists who try to keep this species. Hatchlings often refuse to feed on anything except for tiny lizards. There are tricks, however, to get them switched over to pinky mice. Generally this involves feeding a few lizards to the baby snake, then scenting a pre-killed pinky mouse by rubbing it with a lizard and/or de-scenting the mouse by washing it with unscented bar soap. Live pinkies may also be offered. For more on problem feeders, check out this post.
Once the snake accepts pinky mice, it will grow quickly and should be offered appropriately-sized rodents.

Gray-banded kings should be cooled for 3 months at 50-55 degrees. Clutches usually consist of 5-7 eggs which hatch after 55-60 days at 80-82 degrees. Hatchlings are 7-12 inches.

Where to buy
You aren't likely to find these in pet stores, but there are a number of reputable breeders who deal in gray-banded kings. is a good place to start.

Gray-banded kings are very popular among some keepers, many of whom keep and breed separate lines after the various locales where they are collected, such as Langtry, Juno Road, Loma Alta, River Road, Black Gap, Lajitas, Sanderson and the Christmas Mountains.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How Do You Keep a Snake?

Part 6: A Place to Hide

Reptiles, by nature, tend to be a secretive bunch. They aren't social the way cats and dogs are. Movement and vibrations from outside the cage can cause stress in reptiles which may lead to poor feeding and even illness. It's important for us to understand this and offer our scaly friends a safe place to hide.
A hide box can be decorative, like the ones sold in pet stores, or a very simple container from around the house. A hide box should be:
Just large enough for the snake to crawl inside
Snakes feel more secure when they can wedge themselves into tight spaces. 
Easy to clean
Hide boxes should be non-porous and simple enough to make them easy to clean. Porous cage furniture, such as wooden hides, can often harbor parasites and grow mold in humid environments. Resin hides can help avoid this problem.

Disposable Hides
Rather than permanent hide boxes I prefer to use small cardboard boxes such as empty food containers. The advantages are that they are free and don't have to be cleaned. Once they are soiled I just toss them.

An important thing to remember is that snakes don't care what their hide boxes look like. As long as they can wedge themselves inside and feel snug, they're fine. So the choice of aesthetics, cost and convenience is up to you.

Next time: Food

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Mice Direct Salmonella Recall

Mice Direct is now irradiating all its reptile food products in response to the recent discovery that some of the recent shipments may contain salmonella. This is the same process used on food for human consumption. Here is a link to their website with more information.
I wouldn't worry too much about salmonella in feeder rodents. It's not going to hurt your snakes and if you wash your hands with soap and water (and don't put mice in your mouth) you have virtually no chance of getting salmonella.
Learn more about salmonella at

Snake Bites

Part 2: Venomous Snakes

First things first: stay away from venomous snakes. If you aren't qualified to work with them, leave them alone. Most reported bites from venous snakes are the result of an attempt to catch or kill the snake. If you find a venomous snake in your home or yard (or if you don't know if it is venomous), call an animal removal expert.

The best medicine is prevention.
  • Wear long pants and boots when walking or working in areas with tall grass, brush, debris or anywhere else a snake might hide.
  • Make plenty of noise and take heavy steps.
  • Watch where you sit.
  • Never put your hands or feet where you can't see. Be careful stepping over logs or other obstacles.
  • If you see a snake and you are not absolutely sure it is non-venomous leave it alone! Give the snake a chance to escape or go around it.
With that said...

What should I do if a venomous snake bites me?
  • Remain calm. You don't want to elevate your heart rate.
  • Get away from the snake. 
  • Call 911 and request help. If you can identify the snake, tell the 911 operator.
  • Keep the area of the bite below the level of your heart.
  • Remove jewelry and constrictive clothing from the area of the bite to avoid tissue damage due to swelling.
  • Wash the bite area with soap and water.
  • Treat for shock if necessary.
  • If the snake is an elapid (the coral snake is the only elapid the naturally occurs in North America), apply a pressure bandage above the bite.
  • Do not cut and suck. Don't use store-bought snake bite kits.
  • If the snake is dead, show it to emergency personnel or take a picture. Be aware, though, that snakes may continue to move and can even bite hours after they are killed.

Is it going to hurt?

Yes. It's going to hurt alot.

What are the effects of a venomous snake bite?

Pit vipers (copperheads, cottonmouths, rattlesnakes, etc.) for the most part have a primarily hemotoxic venom. Envenomation causes intense pain, swelling and necrosis (tissue death), hemorrhaging, organ failure and breakdown of blood cells and vessels. Heart attack and difficulty breathing are possible.

Elapids (coral snakes, cobras, etc.) have a primarily neurotoxic venom that may or may not cause pain, swelling and necrosis. Difficulty breathing is common and respiratory failure may result. 

Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, vertigo, fainting, cold or clammy skin and accelerated heart rate.
Anaphylactic shock and infection are also possible.

How dangerous is a venomous snake bite?

Very few people in North America die from snake bites. Most fatalities occur in young children, elderly and people in poor health. All bites should be considered as serious, however, and treated as such. Even non-fatal bites usually leave some tissue damage and scarring, which may be very severe. Amputations are sometimes necessary.

Snake Bites

Part 1: Non-venomous

Quite a few people have asked me if snake bites hurt or if I've ever been bitten. Or they get confused when I tell them that a snake will bite, but that it isn't poisonous. Let's talk first about bites from non-venomous snakes. 
Why do snakes bite?
Snakes are not "mean." But, just like most animals, snakes will take action to defend themselves if they feel threatened. In most cases, this involves attempting to escape, various displays of aggression, excreting foul substances, and, finally, biting. 
Snakes also may bite if they are hungry. If you stick your hand into a hungry snake's cage, the warmth and movement may confuse the snake and trigger a feeding response, especially if your hand smells like food. Usually the snake will let go once it realizes it made a mistake. Sometimes they chew a little.
I've noticed one other type of bite: the "leave me alone" bite. Sometimes a snake will get tired of being handled, or not want to be handled at all and give a warning bite. These bites tend to be painless and usually don't even break the skin. It's the equivalent of shoving someone away who keeps poking at you.
Do all snakes bite?
Some snakes, such as the hognose snake, will NOT bite. It instead has a host of other tricks which I've discussed here before. Many snakes, though, make biting part of their repertoire of defense. It depends on the species, the temperament of the individual and even the individual's age (Honduran milk snakes and carpet pythons, for example, tend to be very nippy for the first several months of their lives. Once they have grown a bit, they tend to settle down).
Wild-caught snakes tend to bite much more often than captive-bred specimens, but this is not always the case. My brothers and I have caught a number of snakes over the years that were completely docile.
Does it hurt?
Not really. Sorta. It depends. Is it uncomfortable? Yes. But it's more like a little pinch. Does it bleed? Usually there is a small amount of blood, about the same as getting poked by a few tiny thorns (although thorns hurt more). It really depends on the size of the snake (and it's teeth!). A bite from a really big snake, such as a large python or boa, would hurt and may require medical attention. However, bites from most common non-poisonous snakes are inconsequential. They hurt much less than a bite from a dog or even a mouse! I've been bitten by a mouse and my wife has been bitten by a rat. Both were much worse than any snake bite we've ever had.
What should I do if a snake bites me?
For most bites, assuming the snake is non-venomous, there is little that can (or needs to be) done. 
Step 1: Clean the area with warm soapy water and/or anti-bacterial soap. 
Step 2: Forget you were ever bitten.
If you receive a nasty bite from a large snake and it continues to hurt and bleed, you might need to seek medical attention. Treat it as you would any other cut. Use your best judgement.
Have you ever been bitten?
Yes. Many, many times. I don't even flinch any more. The largest snake that ever bit me was a 4 or 5 foot rat snake. It hurt a little, but I've never had a bite that continued hurting after the snake let go. Sometimes they itch a little.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rat Recall

The FDA has issued a recall on certain batches of frozen mice and rats from Mice Direct due to a possibility of salmonella infection. If any of you order from this company you should click here and here for more information about the recall. I don't usually order from Mice Direct because I have a longstanding relationship with Rodent Pro, but they are a good company and I hope that they don't lose business due to this incident.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

ZooMed Repti Heat Cable

A Flexible Heating Alternative

About nine months ago I started experimenting with Zoo Med's Repti Heat Cable as an alternative to pads or lamps for heating some of my snake cages. Available in lengths of 11.5 to 50 feet, this water-resistant cable has proven to be a durable, more versatile solution. While it can be used inside of cages, my application involves running the cable in parallel lines on the back third of a set of metal shelves. The cable is easy to install on any smooth flat surface using standard electrician's tape. 
Other than some inconsistency in the temperature of the cable (some spots seem to get hotter than others), it has performed perfectly and has saved money compared to other heat sources. It's also much easier to remove and reconfigure. There are claims that a thermostat is not needed when using these heat cables, however I found it necessary when used on a shelf that didn't have adequate air flow.
Depending on your setup and the number of animals you keep, this may be the hot ticket (pun intended).
You can find Repti Heat Cable in most reptile-friendly pet stores and, of course, online. I like to shop at LLL Reptile and Pet Mountain.

Do a little homework. Here are the manufacturer's instructions for use.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

All You Can Eat

This is what feeding 20+ snakes looks like. It's about one week's worth. 
I buy frozen mice in bulk in several sizes from pinky (newborn) to XL adult. I also keep a stock of frozen rats for my pythons. The mice are left on a towel to thaw and then fed to the snakes according to size and appetite. Some of the snakes demand mice scented with a little blood or brain matter. Gross, right? The best feeders are the ones that will eat two or three (or more) mice at a time. I give the females all that they'll eat to keep them healthy for breeding. The males are fed all they'll eat until they reach adulthood. Then I cut them back a little to avoid obesity.
I spend $500-$1,000 per year on mice and rats, buying direct from RodentPro. The shipping for each box costs $48. That might sound expensive, and it is; but buying in bulk is the only way I can afford to keep so many snakes. Pet stores typically have a 400-1000% markup on feeder rodents, which is okay if you only have a few snakes. By the time you get to about five it's worth it to order a year's worth of mice at a time. I have, at any one time, up to 1,000 rodents in my freezer, and I order about 3-4 times a year. Mice...they're what's for dinner.


Here's a new project I want to keep you updated on.
This is a 3 year old female ghost Honduran milk snake. The ghost morph is a actually a combination of two other morphs: hypomelanistic (reduced black pigment) and anerythristic (lack of red pigment). It's a pretty common combination nowadays. What makes this snake different though is her condition. You may notice from the picture that she is tiny for her age and extremely thin. She weighs only 75 grams (I have a 2 year old Honduran that weighs over 500 grams) and shows signs of dehydration. She also hatched with some unusual lumps in her body which have remained.
Why is she in such poor condition? This snake is both a problem feeder and a chronic regurgitator. The previous owner had trouble getting her to feed and when she did, she often regurgitated. Throwing up a meal is very difficult on a snake's digestive system, draining the animal of fluids and bacteria necessary to properly break down food.
I received this snake from a friend who hatched her and eventually grew tired of working with her. Rather than euthanize the snake, he (and I) wanted to try and give her a chance. After all, the poor little thing has struggled for 3 years; it would be a shame to give up on her now.
This snake is known for accepting only live prey and she throws up anything that has hair! This prevents her from eating anything except pinkies (newborn mice and rats). A few days after I brought her home I offered her a pre-killed mouse (not a pinky). She ate the mouse! A few days later my heart sank when she threw up the mouse. I waited a week or so and tried again with the same results. At least she was eating...there was that.
After giving her a few more days to rest, I offered her a live pinky rat. She took it and kept it down. That brings us to today. A few minutes ago I placed two pinky mice in her cage and she ate them both. Let's hope they stay down.
I'll post periodic updates on her progress. Wish me luck.

Python and Boa Ban

We are all still in limbo with regards to the proposed ban on nine large species of constrictor snakes, including the ubiquitous boa constrictor. USARK has offered amendments to make the bill more acceptable, but the authors and supporters of the bill have not been receptive and are making every attempt to railroad this bill through the legislative process. The $3 billion pet reptile industry in the United States is expected to take a major hit if this bill becomes law. A number of professional breeders, some of which have been in business for over 30 years, will instantly lose their livelihoods. In addition, this will set the precedent for further bans, which are already being considered, on other popular pet reptiles, amphibians, fish and mammals.

Track actions relating to this bill here:

Join USARK here:

Friday, July 2, 2010

Lamentation for Lizards

As global temperatures rise, world's lizards are disappearing: 20 percent of all lizard species could be extinct by 2080

ScienceDaily (2010-05-13) -- After decades of surveying Sceloporus lizard populations in Mexico, an international research team has found that rising temperatures have driven 12 percent of the country's lizard populations to extinction. An extinction model based on this discovery also forecasts a grim future for these ecologically important critters, predicting that a full 20 percent of all lizard species could be extinct by the year 2080.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Latest News

It's been a busy month for us. Here's what's been happening:

We have three clutches of Honduran milk snake eggs (22 eggs total). The babies should include normals, albinos, anerythristics and ghosts. These babies will be for sale, so let me know if you're interested.

Gopher Snakes
We adopted a pair of San Diego gopher snakes last week. We plan to use these spirited snakes to add a little variety to our presentations.

Ghost Honduran
We also took in a very problematic ghost Honduran milk snake from a breeder friend of mine. The snake has some weird kinks in her body and is a chronic regurgitator. I'm going to try to work with her and get her healthy.

Texas Rat Snake
The Texas rat snake I rescued last month is doing well and showing no permanent damage from his unfortunate run-in with a car tire. He's eating well and is fairly easy-going.

Well, that's all, except for the usual feeding and cleaning.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Another Clutch

Last night one of my other Honduran females started laying. When I checked this morning she had dropped seven eggs.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Honduran Eggs

Last night and into the early hours this morning, one of my Honduran milk snakes laid eight eggs. They were so large that I had to use two egg boxes to hold them all. These pics show the first five eggs in the box and her laying the sixth egg.

Monday, June 7, 2010


We've got another clutch of eggs on the way, this time from one of our Honduran milk snakes. Some of you may remember her from the shows we did at Caraway and Spicewood Elementary schools. As I type this, she's working on her third egg. Here's a pic of her at science night, and I'll snap some egg pics a little later.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Austin Reptile Expo this weekend

The 12th Austin Reptile Expo is this weekend, May 29th and 30th at Dell Diamond. Interested in going? The details are at

More Comments and Questions

We have more comments and questions from Ms. Foux's second grade class. Take a look.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Oh Deer!

This has nothing to do with reptiles, but I thought I'd share anyway. One afternoon last week I stopped by Caraway Elementary and noticed Ms. GW and a few other people standing around her car looking at something underneath. Curious, as always, I went to investigate and discovered that a confused fawn was hiding under the car. After a few calls to local wildlife agencies and animal control, we decided to remove the baby deer. You're probably going to laugh at me, since I catch snakes bare handed, but I wasn't taking any chances with even a fawn. So I borrowed some gloves from a neighbor. Gently I pulled the little deer out. It flailed and cried out, but calmed after a few seconds. We released a few yards away in the woods on the school property where other deer have been sighted. After a few shaky steps, the fawn found its feet and bounded into the bushes.
One thing to note: be cautious around deer! They look all cute and cuddly, but adult deer sometimes attack humans and other animals if they feel threatened. There have even been a few fatal attacks, but these are very rare. You can bet I was keeping an eye out for the little guy's mama!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Science Night Pictures

Here's a pic of Kaylee and Mrs. Foux with Tiny and Titus and a picture of Smaug and me.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Science Night

Last Thursday night was Science Night at Caraway Elementary. We were invited to "headline" the event with ongoing reptile programs every half hour throughout the evening. There was a great turnout and several families brought their own exotic pets for all to see. The kids and their families enjoyed a number of fun and informative scientific exhibits including a Native Snakes of Texas exhibit (unfortunately for me, I didn't get to see that one).
We'd like to thank John and Mary Ann Fitch, as well as all our friends at Caraway, for inviting us to present our program!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Texas Rat Snake: A Second Chance

This nice little Texas rat snake was hit by a car yesterday and miraculously survived. I was driving near Spicewood Springs and saw the poor thing trying to cross the street. He was in my lane so I skillfully dodged and whipped into a parking lot. As I jumped out and made for the street I saw another car whiz by and the snake recoil suddenly. It looked as if the car had run him over. Suddenly he started toward the parking lot again. I intercepted him just as he was about to disappear under a parked car. As I picked up the snake I could tell he was disoriented.
I continued on my way holding the snake in my left hand and steering with the right. He was fairly calm and didn't even try to bite, but he seemed to have trouble breathing. His mouth was open and I could see a small string of blood inside. The ocular scale covering his right eye was also slightly damaged and they eye seemed to have suffered some trauma. As I arrived at my destination, he died. Or so I thought. I placed his body in an empty Sonic cup and brought it inside to show my wife. By the time I found her, the snake was moving around again and flicking his tongue. He must have just been terribly stunned or lost consciousness.
It's been over 24 hours and the snake seems to be doing fine. I haven't decided whether to relocate him (he can't go back to the neighborhood where I found him) or keep him to use in my educational programs. I think he'll make at least one show: Science Night at Caraway Elementary is tomorrow night.
This Texas rat snake is about 3 feet long and displays the typical coloration and pattern. They can grow to over 6 feet in length. Temperaments range from fairly docile to very aggressive. I've encountered both ends of the spectrum, but most seem to fall somewhere in between. Texas rat snakes are non-venomous and very beneficial to humans. They snakes are very common throughout their range and perform the vital service of consuming huge numbers of rodents that might otherwise spread out of control.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

We Need Your Pictures!

We're looking for pictures and video taken during any of our reptile presentations. We'd like to see whatever you have and (with your permission) post a few pictures to this blog. Please contact me by clicking on the Contact Me link in the right hand column on this page (Sorry, I can't post my e-mail address here or the Spambots will find it).

Thoughts from Mrs. Foux's Class

After the April 23rd show we received a number of comments and questions from Mrs. Foux's second grade class. We're going to post and answer as many as possible right here on the blog. If you sent us a comment or question, click on the comments link below this post to see if yours is here. It might take a few days for me to answer them all, so keep checking back.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Spicewood Elementary Reptile Presentation

Last Friday Mrs. Foux and I put on three presentations at Spicewood Elementary. These shows were a little different. The event was outdoors, the groups were larger, teachers and volunteers got hands-on experience and I had to get used to speaking into a mic.
This show also featured more animals than ever before! We had Titus, of course, as well as three geckos and eight snakes. Making their debut were a beautifully bright apricot Pueblan milk snake and Domino, a black and white California kingsnake.
Titus thrilled the kids when he started munching on their playground grass after finishing his tomatoes. And Smaug, the carpet python, tried to steal the show by wrapping his tail around my microphone stand.
We filled up each 55 minute presentation discussing reptiles in general and interesting facts about each species we looked at.
Thank you, Spicewood Elementary, for having us!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ball Python Care Sheet & Leopard Gecko Article

There's a great ball python care sheet on the Reptiles Magazine website for those who have or are thinking about getting one of these wonderful snakes. There are also some great morph pictures along with the care sheet. Check it out.
This month's issue of Reptiles features an article on Crested Geckos. For those of you who attended my recent reptile presentations, you know how cool these lizards are.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

First Eggs of the Season!

A nice surprise was waiting for me this morning! My female California king snake laid four eggs during the night. For the past several days she's been moving around her cage quite a bit and exploring the moss-filled laying box (an old whipped topping container). When she started to spend most of her time in the box I knew she was ready. 
Here are pictures of the mom and her eggs. You'll notice that in the incubation box three are grouped together and one is by itself. The reason is that the eggs quickly stick together and the lone egg was the only one I could separate without endangering the other eggs. Why separate? Because if one egg goes bad it can make the surrounding eggs also go bad.
The mother is what is called a blue-eyed blonde California king snake. This means that she displays a "morph"--a mutant trait--that alters her color from the normal brown and yellow coloring to the light beige and cream color that you see in the picture. It also changes her eye color from the normal silver-gray to a deep denim blue. Interestingly, none of the babies will look like their mother. They will all be either brown and yellow or black and white (like the father). Why? Because the blue-eyed blonde morph is a recessive genetic trait, which means both parents must carry the gene for the offspring to have a chance of displaying the trait. However, even though they appear normal, all the babies will be special because they will all carry the recessive gene.
Now the waiting begins!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Crested Gecko

We brought Greedo, our new crested gecko, to the presentations last week and he was a big hit! Everyone loved him and his acrobatic antics served to make the show more interesting. Thanks again to the family who donated him to our collection.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Shedding Skin

Why do snakes and lizards shed their skins?
This is one of the questions we discussed on Friday at the Caraway Elementary presentations. Snakes and lizards shed the outer layer of their skins to allow for growth and to help rid themselves of skin-borne parasites. They also sometimes shed to heal damaged skin. This shedding of skin is called ecdysis, and also takes place in insects and arthropods (such as spiders and crustaceans).
As a reptile grows, it becomes too large for the outer layer of it's skin. As the new layers of skin grow beneath, a thin layer of moisture develops between them and the old outer layer. The skin takes on a dull, often bluish appearance. In snakes, the eyes become cloudy and the snake becomes almost blind. This is because even a snake's eyes are covered with scales. After several days, the old skin starts to slough off, usually starting at the nose. Snakes crawl right out of their old skins, turning them inside-out like a sock. Lizards' skins come off in patches and some lizards even eat their old skins!


So I've decided I don't like crickets. It's not the crickets themselves. It's not that they're creepy-crawly. It's not even the chirping at night. What I don't like is the maintenance! The crickets are more work than the geckos I feed them to. If you only have one gecko, then you can buy crickets at your local pet store for just a few dollars a week. But with five hungry geckos, I go through a lot of crickets. I buy them in bulk from Ghann's Cricket Farm (usually 1,000 at a time). To take care of crickets you have to make sure they have food and a source of water. I use a commercial cricket diet to keep them well-fed and full of nutrients. For water I throw in fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen (crickets will drown in standing water). That's the easy part. The fun comes when it's time to clean the crickets' cage. Between the droppings, molted (shed) skins and dead crickets it's a smelly, dirty affair. Plus the live crickets are jumping all over the place. I'm going to invent a better way, I just haven't come up with it yet.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Animal Adventure Day

Friday morning I did my reptile presentations for the second grade classes at Caraway Elementary in Austin for their Animal Adventure Day. Mrs. Foux, pictured above with Smeagol, and Ms. Conine were there to lend a hand.
The students saw several snakes, two species of geckos and a sulcata tortoise, all while learning about the unique characteristics of reptiles and how they fit into their environments. Titus the tortoise was a big hit, as always, and spent some time munching on broccoli and tomatoes while we discussed the day to day life of a tortoise in the African desert. We also compared a hatchling Honduran milk snake to a fully grown individual. One of the highlights came during the fourth presentation when Smaug, the seven-and-a-half-foot carpet python, started to shed his skin right before our eyes. The show was a success with lots of participation and interest from the students.
This is my third year to bring my animals to Caraway and, as always, I want to thank all the students and staff for their warm welcome and the chance to talk about the animals I love. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Expert Witnesses Speak to House Subcommittee

Read a summary of the latest developments in the fight against restrictive reptile pet legislation. We finally have some positive news!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Crested Gecko

Last week we took in a crested gecko donated by a family who felt they could no longer devote the time necessary for his care.
This is our first crested and we hope to add him to our presentations if he calms down a bit (he likes to jump).
The crested gecko, Rhacodactylus ciliatus, is an endangered species native to New Caledonia, an island near Australia in the South Pacific. For years it was thought to be extinct until it's rediscovery in 1994. While it's survival in the wild is being threatened by a species of fire ant, which attacks the geckos and the insects on which they feed, the thriving pet trade among captive bred crested geckos will help insure that the species does not become extinct. Crested geckos are no longer exported from New Caledonia.
Named for the short, soft spines over their eyes and along the sides of their heads, these nocturnal lizards eat insects and fruit and can climb glass walls with unbelievable speed. Like most geckos, they can drop their tails when attacked to distract predators. Unlike other geckos, however, their tails do not grow back. Crested geckos come in a variety of colors and patterns and their skin has a unique texture, feeling like extremely soft suede.
In captivity, crested geckos are easy to keep. They feed readily on crickets and baby food or a special commercially made crested gecko diet. The specimen I have is still flighty, preferring to jump out of the hand onto whatever surface is nearby, be it a table or a person or a wall. I don't know if he will calm down or remain flighty, but he is a fun little creature all the same.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Man who staged capture of 14-foot python gets probation, admits mistake | Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Sarasota | 10 Connects

Man who staged capture of 14-foot python gets probation, admits mistake | Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Sarasota | 10 Connects

So if pythons are running rampant all over Florida, why does this guy have to intentionally let one go just so he can come in and "save the day", wasting taxpayer's money (911 call and law enforcement) and causing a media circus?
Make sure and look at the photos of this "dangerous" beast being handled and petted by a petite female reporter and some children.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Reptile Vocabulary: Brumation

Brumation is a period of reduced activity and slowed metabolism in reptiles that is similar to hybernation. Unlike hibernation, however, reptiles in brumation are not asleep for the entire time. They still move about occasionally and drink. Brumation is triggered by cool weather and shorter daylight hours. As the temperature cools and days grow shorter, reptiles eat less and finally stop eating before looking for a safe, secure place to retreat for the winter. Brumation serves to help protect reptiles from cold temperatures, keeps them from starving when food is in short supply and triggers breeding processes the following spring.
Most reptile breeders cool their animals for 2–3 months each year to simulate the natural brumation process.

67 Million-Year-Old Snake Fossil Found Eating Baby Dinosaurs

67 Million-Year-Old Snake Fossil Found Eating Baby Dinosaurs

Posted using ShareThis

Monday, March 1, 2010

How Do You Keep A Snake?

Part 5: Heat

Reptiles, being exothermic, or cold-blooded, depend on their environment to regulate their body temperature. For proper digestion, they must have an area of increased heat, while at other times they may prefer cooler temperatures. 

There are a number of suggested temperature "recipes" for keeping snakes. You can use specially made heat lamps, heat pads or heat cable to warm one end of the snake's enclosure. The idea is to give the snake a thermal gradient, allowing it to choose the temperature that best suits it at any given time. This is very important for the snakes health and digestion.

Here is what we use: We keep the room at an ambient temperature of around 71-72 degrees. Some fluctuation is acceptable. On one end of each snake's enclosure, we use a Zoo-Med Mini (4x5) undertank heating pad to achieve a warm spot of around 88-92 degrees. We do not use other brands of heating pads or heat lamps, and we don't use other sizes of heat pads for our snakes as they can get too hot. 

We are also experimenting with Zoo-Med heat cable, which looks almost like a thin extension cord with a plug on one end and a cap or terminal on the other. We've had great luck with this product so far. It is safer than many other heat sources, allows for custom installation and is the best value in my opinion.


It's important to get an accurate temperature reading of the floor of your snake's enclosure. Don't bother with stick-on type aquarium thermometers, as they will only give you a reading on the cage wall. There are a few solutions for monitoring temperatures. I recommend using a thermometer with a remote probe which can be placed inside the cage. These can be purchased at any pet store that deals in reptiles or online. I also recommend a temp gun. This is a small device about the size of a pack of gum that can be aimed at a spot to instantly tell the temperature of that area. These can be found online and in some finer pet stores and cost around $30. It is worth the investment.

Next time: A Place to Hide

On a Less Political Note...

Today I observed the first breeding activity of the season between a young pair of California kings. The male is a nice aberrant patterned black and white from Don Shores and the female is a blue-eyed blonde from Jim Sargent of Split Rock Reptiles. 
The blue-eyed blonde mutation is one of the rarest morphs in California kings. It is a simple recessive genetic trait that originated from a single male that was captured in an area known as Elfin Forest in San Diego just before bulldozers leveled the entire area to build a new neighborhood. It was bred with a number of females to produce heterozygous offspring to introduce the trait to the hobby. This mutation is believed to be a form of hypomelanism (reduced black pigment) that lightens the brown coloration of the coastal phase California king snake to a rich tan color and brightens the yellow bands. The eye color also changes from a dark ruby color in hatchlings to a beautiful denim color as the snake matures, hence the name, blue-eyed blonde. Jim has some better pics of the blue-eyed blond here.
Very few breeders work with this morph so I'm excited at the prospect of producing some heterozygous offspring (which will not display the morph, but will carry the recessive gene necessary to reproduce it).

Hunting Season?

I just discovered something interesting:

With all the rage over wild Burmese pythons in Florida you'd think they (the state, Fish & Wildlife, etc.) would be thrilled to have as many of them removed as possible. I thought the same thing. Wrong! As it turns out, there is a Burmese python hunting season, requiring a $26 management fee and a hunting license. If you take a Burmese python from the wild in Florida out of season or without a license you can be cited and fined, just as if you had taken a deer or other animal out of season.
It was never about the environment, people.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Less Than Glamorous

Some people, myself included, think keeping and breeding snakes is loads of fun...and it is. But it isn't all sunshine and rosie boas. Take today, for example: I just spent an hour cleaning snake cages...outside... in 30 degree weather. Fun! The plastic tubs, which I had left out overnight to soak, were covered with sheets of ice. While my hands are so frozen from the spray from the high pressure nozzle that I can barely type, my snakes are toasty-warm inside (I have two plastic tubs for each snake, so I can rotate them out for cleaning).
It's not fun, but it has to be done whether it's cold or hot or raining, whether I'm sick or busy with work or just in a lazy mood. It doesn't matter. Part of keeping any pet is responsible ownership and the larger the collection the more work there is. And I'm not done today with my snake-related chores. The plastic tubs need to dry, then I will line each one with newspaper or aspen shavings, clean and refill water bowls and put in new cardboard hide boxes. I'll switch the tubs out of the racks one at a time, moving each snake into a clean tub. Dirty tubs go outside to be cleaned for the next go-round. Later tonight I'll thaw some mice and rats for the 22 hungry mouths I have to feed...but that's a whole other story.