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Juvenile Puffadders in a cage
Bitis arietans - Puff Adder yearings


The aim of this guide is to assist snake keepers with general husbandry practices actively. However, to ensure the specific needs of the species are met, obtaining species-specific information is essential. When selecting a species, one must choose an appealing species that can be cared for, avoiding highly specialized species that require professional expertise. 

Large constrictors and venomous snakes are significant responsibilities and can be potentially hazardous. Those who choose to keep them must receive proper training and equipment to handle them safely. It is advisable to purchase healthy hatchlings from reptile breeders rather than pet shops. If you unsure about the snake’s health, take it to a specialized vet for a check-up. 

Once the snake is at home, it is crucial to allow it to adjust to its new surroundings for a few days before feeding. Feeding hatchlings a day or so after each defecation is what I generally go on. Some people opt to go on a more regular feeding, but keep in mind power feeding does significantly shorten the lifespan of your snake. This can be up to 50%. 

It is not recommended to feed two snakes in the same cage as one may swallow the other, leading to the death of one or both specimens. Sub-adult to adult snakes can be fed larger prey, but again around body diameter to 1.5 times diameter. 

Venomous snakes should be fed using tongs or long forceps to avoid being mistaken for food. Avoid handling the snake immediately after feeding to prevent regurgitation, which can occur due to several factors, including excessive stress or handling before digestion, feeding too large a meal, parasites, or unsuitable cage temperature. Cleaning up any regurgitation as soon as possible is crucial.


Basic Snake Husbandry

The eyes have gone a different colour?

Snakes experience a shedding process, commonly referred to as “going into the blue,” as they grow. Shedding frequency increases with growth rate, and some snakes may stop eating before shedding. Other specimens may continue to eat. These specimens I usually feed smaller meals to reduce risk or regurgitation. 

The skin darkens and dulls, and the eyes become opaque and acquire a blue tinge. During this time, it is crucial to maintain slightly higher humidity levels and avoid handling the snake. Shedding is facilitated by a liquid that forms between the old and new skin. Once the eyes clear, shedding typically occurs within a few days. Boosting the humidity in the cage with a light spray can aid the process. 

Shedding usually occurs as a single piece, but it is crucial to check for retained eye caps or the end of the tail. For larger snakes, soaking may be necessary, and assisting the shedding process is easier after soaking. It is important not to prematurely remove old shed as the new skin is not yet ready, and doing so may harm the snake. Having this process work out regularly your age husbandry is most likely in order. If smaller specimens are having shedding problems then the chances are your husbandry is not correct.

When should I clean the cage?

For good husbandry it is crucial to promptly clean the snake’s cage after defecation to maintain optimal hygiene. The cleaning technique will depend on the chosen substrate. If using substrate such as newspaper or fibre-grass, it is advisable to replace everything with fresh substrate. However, for gravel or wood chips, it is necessary to remove the waste and any moist substrate and disinfect the area, also known as spot cleaning.

If the snake is venomous, it is important to remove it from the enclosure before cleaning, even for simple tasks such as changing water or removing waste. If multiple venomous snakes are housed in one enclosure, it is recommended to mark the cage to indicate the number of snakes within. Additionally, it is necessary to carefully remove any shed fangs as they may contain venom.

What should I use to clean the cage?

To clean the cages, one can use commercially available products like F10 or warm water with a 10% bleach solution. After cleaning, it is crucial to leave the cage open for some time to eliminate any lingering fumes.

How do I clean Cage Decorations?

To clean plastic plants and smaller decorations, immerse them in a bucket of warm water and a 10% bleach/F10 solution. Submerge the items completely and let them soak for at least 15-20 minutes or as specified in the product instructions. Rinse the items thoroughly with water and allow them to dry completely before placing them back into the cage.

Cleaning larger decorations such as logs or rocks can be more challenging. Soak them in a pool of chlorine water for several days, rotating the logs to ensure all areas are covered. Alternatively, if they fit, place them in an oven. Numerous YouTube videos offer resources on this topic. When cleaning these items, it is recommended to use F10.

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

Reptile keepers must take immediate action to prevent infestation of mites, which can become a nightmare. If a snake has mites, they should isolate it from other snakes and clean the cage thoroughly with a bleach solution. They should discard any infested cage decorations or soak them in a bleach solution for an extended period. There are various methods for eradicating mites from a snake.

One traditional approach involves leaving a small piece of Vapona in the cage for a few days. Repeating this cycle for about six weeks until the infestation is gone. It is critical to keep the Vapona in a container that the snake cannot access. Remove the water while the Vapona is in the cage and replace water when the Vapona is removed. 

Another option is to clean the cage and then apply a cloth dampened with “Front Line” to the snake, covering the entire snake. Keep in mind that this product is not registered for this purpose, and it is used at your own risk. BioKill is another product that can be used. It is similarly not registered for this use and should be used at your own risk.

To prevent introducing mites to the main collection, treat new animals as if they have mites and switch to a newspaper substrate. Coming back from shows or other collections don’t go into your own collection. You may be carrying mites from the venue unknowingly. Shower and change to reduce risk. Mites typically hide under the scales and come out at night. Treat the infected snake once a week for six weeks to ensure that all hatched eggs have been killed before the mites can lay more eggs. 

It is recommended to isolate the infected snake immediately from other snakes. Consult other keepers, commercially available products, and veterinary prescriptions for mite control. Severe mite infestations can lead to the snake’s death, so take immediate action and seek advice from other keepers to resolve the problem as soon as possible.

In Conclusion

Keeping the snake’s cage clean and maintaining appropriate temperatures for its species are crucial for optimal health and growth. You must also regularly feed the snake and provide it with hiding spots, enough space, and access to water. Additionally, including a log or rock in the cage can facilitate shedding if the hide is insufficient. These are the core principles of husbandry.

To prevent parasites from entering your collection, you should quarantine any new snakes for at least a month. If the source is unknown, it is advisable to quarantine for up to 12 months for safety reasons.

There is no need to judge people‘s husbandry techniques; rather, the focus should be on evaluating the condition of the snake. Even if the cage appears visually pleasing, an unsuitable environment can lead to an unhealthy or stressed snake. On the other hand, a snake can still thrive in a simple setup with basic substrate and minimal décor if it is maintaining a healthy weight and successfully breeding.