Although care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of this site, the writer takes no responsibility as to the accuracy of the information contained herein and it shall at all times remain the responsibility of the reader to verify such information.

Bitis arietans - Puff Adder yearings

Husbandry

As opposed to changing this site so you can copy paste what you want, its easier just to provide files for download. These will be freely distributable, but please leave reference to ourselves and certainly do not sell it on. They will be free documents in the real meaning of the word, not the new internet version which is not so free… In the interim some basics are given below.

There have been a lot of changes from when I started, especially with snakes that is going to take a little time to compile and get up to date. Tortoises I am only really covering the Leopard Tortoise as this is the most common species kept, and to be honest, I have been out of tortoise keeping for too long to actually offer decent advice on keeping and if there are more modern methods and products available. I will mainly be editing things like scientific names where I know changes occurred and getting it into a form more suited to post 2000, as scary as that sounds.

Lizards and geckos I wont have any information, as I just don’t have the knowledge or specific information and will be well out of my wheelhouse. 

Ian

Basic Snake Husbandry

This is a guide to general husbandry. Information on the specific species you are planning to keep must be obtained to ensure that the specific needs of that specimen are met.

The first question is what snake you plan to keep. Some species are highly specialised and should be left to professional keepers. Choose a species you like the look of, but also one that you can properly care for. Caution should be taken with venomous snakes or large constrictors. They are both a major responsibility, and both can be potentially dangerous to your and others’ safety. If you are going to keep venomous snakes, ensure that you are correctly taught how to handle them and have the correct equipment. When things go wrong, it can be fatal, physically maiming and cause damage to the hobby.

From where should I obtain a snake?

Ensure that you have the cage set-up for the specific species you have chosen. It is preferable to obtain a specimen from a reptile breeder, rather than any ole pet shop. Obviously there are specialised pet shops out there and good pet shops. If the shop looks dodge, rather source it elsewhere where you can get correct information and a healthy specimen. The prices are not necessarily cheaper from breeders, but you are more likely to get a healthy specimen and be given previous feeding logs and information of the snake. It is beneficial to get a hatchling as you know how old the snake is. Buying adults can be risky, as you do not know it’s past.

If you can, it is beneficial to take someone with you who has knowledge on snakes to check that it is healthy. If you cant take someone with you there are some things to look for discussed later. If you are still unsure, take it to a vet, ideally specialised vet for a once over.

If you are going to keep indigenous snakes you must keep in mind the permits pending the province you are in. It is illegal to sell indigenous snakes in some provinces. Stay between the lines and check with local keepers and the provincial authority.

I have the cage & the snake, where to from here?

When you have bought the snake, take it home and place it in the cage & preferably leave it alone for a few days. Snakes generally stress quite easily, and should be left alone to acclimatise to their new surroundings. Yes I know its tough, but you will have time to enjoy your new baby.

What about feeding?

Hatchlings can be fed twice a week. You feed them suitably sized prey. As a rule of thumb the food should not be bigger than the widest part of the snake. It is ok to place live pinks into the cage and let the snake take it naturally, but rather get them on to frozen thawed as soon as possible. Wherever possible it is best to have your animals on pre-killed prey. This is for your snake and to be humane to the feeder animal.

One must never feed two snakes in the same cage. It is possible for both snakes to grab the same mouse and one will more than likely land up swallowing the other. In this case you have certainly lost one snake, but it is not uncommon for the other one to die as well.

As your snake grows you can feed bigger prey. As soon as the rodent has teeth it must be humanely pre-killed before feeding. This is to ensure that the rodent cannot inflict any harm on your snake, or even kill it. Many a vet has had to treat snakes with horrific wounds when the snake has not eaten its prey. If conditions are not right, your snake wont eat. As stated, also be humane to the feeder animal, they often know the threat from the snake. Its respectful to the feeder not to go through this. 

Snakes that are sub-adult to adult can be fed once a week instead, but fed larger prey, and possibly even a few rodents at a time. Our Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus) for example used to eat 3-4 adult mice a week.

Snakes like Burmese Pythons (Python bivittatus) will eventually need to be fed rabbits or similar food two or 3 times a month.

If you are feeding venomous snakes make sure you use tongs or long forceps to ensure your hand is not mistaken for food. This is especially applicable with pit vipers who will ‘see’ you hand as the bigger heat source.

There will be more covered under the blog/ articles, otherwise the revised site will never get posted.

Can I handle after feeding?

It is not recommended to handle the snake after it has eaten. You should leave it for a few days first so the snake can digest the meal. You can handle for short periods once the ‘bulge’ has reduced.  This is normally after 3-4 days  where you can handle the snake with less risk of regurgitation. In time you will learn based on what you have fed the animal.

What is regurgitation?

If the cage is too hot so the food actually rots before it gets digested, or the cage is too cold for the snake to digest the meal they will regurgitate the meal. They ‘throw-up’. Other factors that can cause this is excessive stress or handling before the meal is digested. It can also occur when too large meal is fed and they cannot digest the food. In this case they can selectively regurgitate part of the meal, e.g. one of the two mice fed. Parasites may also cause this and it should be monitored. 

One must clean this out as soon as possible. It does unfortunately smell terrible, but the longer you leave it the worse it gets for you and the more unhygienic for the snake. After regurgitation do not feed the snake for 10-14 days and then offer smaller food and ensure your cage temperatures are correct. There are products available on the market to assist in helping the snake recover by replacing lost nutrients. 

If the problem continues seek veterinary assistance or advice from more advanced keepers. 

There is also vomiting but we will cover this under the blog, along with dehydration. In short, also make sure your animal is hydrated.

The eyes have gone a different colour?

It is called going into the “blue”. As the snake grows it is required to shed it’s old skin. The greater the growth rate, the more they shed. When they are going to shed they will often refuse to eat but you can get those that will jus continue to eat… Normally the skin becomes darker and dull. Soon after this the eyes become opaque and have a blue tinge. A liquid develops between the new and old skin, which the old skin absorbs. This is to allow easy shedding. During this time you should not handle the snake and the humidity should be slightly higher than usual.

The eyes will then clear and normally within a few days the snake will shed. I like to boost the humidity a bit when the eyes clear with a light spray in the cage. In most snakes this will come off as one piece inside out. When the snake has shed you must check that the eye caps came off and the end piece of the tail. If not you must remove it, or seek the assistance of more experienced keepers. The large snakes wont always shed in one and may require soaking. If the snake has shed, or is in the process of shedding it is not a problem to assist the animal in shedding, and doesn’t hurt. Do no pull it off before this has started as it will hurt as the new skin is not ready. Removing old shed is a lot easier when the animal has been soaked and just sloughs off, nearly always without the animal even reacting.

When should I clean the cage?

Ideally the cage should be cleaned as soon as the snake defecates. The method varies depending on your chosen substrate. I am not covering bioactive as I do no have the knowledge on this subject. There are numerous sources on the likes of YouTube who discuss this and offer advice. What little I do know is with bigger specimens the main defecation still needs to be removed, but otherwise the bugs take care of the cage.

If you are using anything like newspaper or fibre-grass it is easier to remove everything, wash the cage down and replace with clean substrate. If you are using gravel wood chips, scoop out the defecation and any wet gravel and spray the area with a good disinfectant.

If you are keeping venomous snakes, take the snake out first and then clean, even if you are just scooping out defecation or changing a water bowl. Keeping more than 1 hot snake in a cage, mark it so you remember, or anyone else who may have to access the cage in an emergency, know how many are inside. Many a bite has occurred forgetting about the ‘other’ snake. Venomous shed fangs which may have venom and these should be removed with care.

What should I use to clean the cage?

You can use commercially available products if you choose. I use F10 in my cages, but there are numerous other products on the market. Alternatively you can use warm water with a 10% bleach solution. Once you have cleaned allow the cage to stand open for a while to remove any fumes.

How do I clean Cage Decorations?

If you are using plastic plants and smaller decorations, you can place them in a bucket with warm water & 10% bleach/ F10. Allow them to soak for at least 15-20 minutes, and ensure they are totally sub-merged. Some specialised products may have different contact times and you must follow their specific instructions. Take them out and rinse with water and leave them out to dry. Once dry replace them in the cage. Large decorations are a bit more problematic. If possible soak any logs or rocks in a pool for a few days, turning the logs to ensure all areas are covered with chlorine water. They can also be placed in an oven if they will fit. YouTube has various people who cover this subject. Typically I use F10.

I see little black things moving on the snake. What are they?

The parasites that you see are called mites. They are the reptile keepers nightmare. If you see any on a snake, the snake should be removed from the rest of your collection. Mite infestations spread rapidly.

Clean the cage out thoroughly with bleach solution water and throw away cage decorations, or soak them for a long time in a bleach solution.

There are numerous schools of thought to get rid of mites on your snake. The older method is to leave a small piece of Vapona in a cage for a few days, then remove it for a few days. You continue this for approximately a month to 6 weeks and the infestation should be gone. However you must place the Vapona in a container so the snake cannot touch the strip. Ensure the holes punched into the container are too small for the snake to get in it. When the Vapona is in the cage, remove the water bowl, and replace it when you remove the Vapona.

Another method is to wash the cage out as described, and then to spray “Front Line” onto a cloth and let the snake crawl through the damp cloth. NOTE: this product is not registered for this purpose and it is used at your own risk, never spay onto the snake or in the cage. Ensure that you cover the entire snake. Another product you can use that is not as rough is BioKill. Similarly it is not registered for it and used at your own risk. I use BioKill as the smell is less even though I need to apply it more often. Any new animal is treated on the assumption they have mites to ensure I don’t get mites in to the main collection. Mites generally hide under the scales and come out at night. As soon as they do, they will be killed. It is advisable to treat the snake once a week for 6 weeks to ensure that any of the eggs that were laid, have now hatched and have been killed before they were able to lay eggs.

There are other commercially available products for mite control as well as products that a vet can supply. Severe mite infestations can lead to your snakes death and it should never be left untreated. Speak to other keepers as there are many ways to resolve the issue, but the main thing is to resolve the issue, not to leave it.

In Conclusion

Keep your snake in a clean environment at temperatures that suit the species you have. Feed it regularly to ensure that it maintains its health and grows at a normal rate. The cage should be kept as clean as possible to reduce the risk of any parasites or diseases.

Make sure the snake has somewhere to hide, water is always available and there is adequate space for the specimen. Also ensure you have a log or rock in the cage to assist the snake in shedding if the hide wont double up for this purpose.

Any new snakes should be quarantined for a month or two to ensure you do not bring any parasites into your established collection, which can prove detrimental. I typically do a minimum of 4 months from known sources and potentially up to 12 months pending on how the animal is doing and if it is an unknown breeder/ source. Rather do longer than shorter/ be safe rather than sorry.

Before judging people on their keeping, there are many schools of thought out there. Rather look at the specimen and see what it looks like. A small snake in a huge cage can look terrible as a result of stress, poor temps, poor cleaning although the cage looks oh so pretty. On the opposite side you can have an animal in a plastic tub, basic substrate, minimum décor but it is a healthy weight and breeding.