Snakes

Erica Livingston, CVT
Edited by Susan Horton, DVM

Natural History

Amazon tree boas, also known as common tree boas, garden tree boas, and Ammies are found throughout South America in the rainforests.  This species is highly arboreal preferring to drape on branches and exercise between tree limbs.  Despite their preference for arboreal living amongst the thick and lush foliage of the rainforest, they are quite common in the fruit orchards caused by deforestation.  The majority of Amazons are imported from areas surrounding Colombia and Suriname .

Description

Amazons are a medium size nocturnal snake generally reaching 5-7 feet in length but with a rather thin sleek body.  Despite their length and large heads, these snakes only weigh between 400 and 800 grams and are slow growers.  One thing to consider with these boas is their long reach and defensive striking habit and continue to do so for the 20 plus years of their lifespan.  These snakes are meant to eat avian prey with their large triangular heads, long teeth, and bulging eyes.

Amazon tree boas are not quite as diverse in the color region as some species of snakes such as ball pythons but they still have a natural ranges of color that are beautiful.  There are two color phases the garden phase (black, browns, and greys) and the colored phase (reds, oranges, and yellows).  Each phase can be pattern less, speckled, banded, or saddled in appearance making this snake naturally diverse looking.  There are morphs available in the pet trade including candy canes, tigers, leopards, Halloweens, and paradoxs.

Feeding

Neonates are fed mouse pinkies and fuzzies every week until they reach one to two years old.  Amazons should be upgraded to fuzzies as soon as possible due to the better nutrition offered.  Once they are one year old they are upgraded to small mice if they can handle the size once every one to two weeks.  As adults, Amazons can be maintained on medium to large mice every two weeks as well.

Imported Amazons can be incredibly finicky in their eating habits.  The same feeding schedule can be utilized but the prey changes. Imported snakes have a primary diet of avian prey when they are adults and frogs and lizards when they are young.  Converting younger snakes to frozen thawed rodents is easier than converting adults generally.  Young snakes can be tempted into eating rodents by rubbing the body of the rodent on a frog that has been frozen and defrosted for such an occasion.  Adults can be introduced to mammalian prey by wetting the mice and rolling them in natural feathers (not the dyed ones from craft stores).  Feathers can be obtained from a local butcher usually.

All prey should be offered during the evening hours due to nocturnal hunting.  The size of the prey should be no larger than the width of their head.  It is recommended that adult rodents be used to feed whenever possible as they are the most nutritionally complete.   Avoid feeding obese animals as this can cause obesity in snakes that do not receive enough exercise due to sparse caging or lack of interest in excercising.  A good rule of thumb for snakes (although there are always exceptions to the rules such as emerald tree boas) is it is okay to feed again once they have defecated.  For this reason it is recommended to soak Amazons a few days after being fed once the “lump” from the food disappears.

Enclosure

Neonates can be kept in an enclosure the size of a 10-gallon aquarium.  Neonates alternatively can be housed in a Rubbermaid container which will hold the humidity around the higher end of humidity spectrum for the first year.  This allows these young babies to feel secure and safe. Adults are best kept in an enclosure roughly the size of a 30-gallon to 50-gallon aquarium.   Aquariums are not the best housing for these snakes however but work well for temporary housing.  Amazons are best kept in specialty arboreal cages such as Neodesha Vision cages.  These cages can be a bit pricey but they are an excellent investment.  Keepers looking to create or purchase specialty cages should consider a cage at least 32” long, 32” high, and 24” deep.  The higher the cage the better it is for exercise and temperature gradients.  These size enclosures are not always feasible but the more room they have the better the snake will do.  The general rule for the height of Amazon cages is that the height be at least 2/3 of the snakes body length.

Despite their nocturnal habits a regular light cycle is required of 12 hours of daylight to 12 hours of night.  Although most keepers and breeders do not utilize UVB lights for their snakes it does not hurt to have a ReptiSun 5.0 UVB on during the twelve hours of daylight.  These lights do not provide heat but mimic natural daylight which promotes natural behaviors.  A 15-watt incandescent bulb can be used during day light hours.

Substrate

Newspaper is effective, inexpensive, and easy to clean.  It also allows direct visualization of feces.  Newspaper however is not very exciting to look at and does not hold humidity well.  Paper towels are another option that is inexpensive and more aesthetically pleasing as well as easy to clean.  Paper towel starts to break apart when saturated and should be changed daily.  Aspen is an excellent snake bedding as it holds in humidity well, is pleasant to look at in the cage, and does not cause respiratory tract irritation like pine and cedar does.  Daily spot cleaning is required to remove soiled and wet bedding and weekly full substrate changes are required.  Watch the substrate for mold especially under the water dish.  The use of particulate bedding such as aspen can be ingested during feeding.  Although this is not so much a problem with Amazons since they eat upside down from the branch it is still recommended to exercise caution and perhaps utilize a small feeding cage without substrate or remove substrate from the main cage prior to feeding.  Again, the ingestion of bedding is not common in this species but still should be considered.

Temperature and Humidity

Amazons fare best when the ambient temperature in the cage between 75 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit with the preferred zone being between 80 and 82 degrees for most individuals in the middle of the enclosure.  The lower level of the enclosure should be around the high to mid 70’s.  This species rarely basks but gravid females have been documented basking under heat bulbs bringing the temperature up to 90—92 degrees. Since this species is nocturnal it is a good idea to use a ceramic heat emitter or moonlight bulb for.  At night the temperatures should drop between 75 and 77 degrees.  Another alternative for heating is to utilize radiant heat panels.  Care must be used that the snake cannot make direct contact with them!

Daily misting is required to keep humidity levels between 60 and 80% or the use of a humidifier or reptile fogger is effective also.  The higher end of the range should be used during shedding.   A hygrometer is required for proper monitoring of relative cage humidity.  A fogger system attached to a hygrometer is the best option.  Misting allows the snake to drink droplets off its body which is ideal for imported individuals who may be reluctant to explore their cage for the water dish.

Cage Accessories

Horizontal perches of varying widths are a must!  The smallest branch should be as thick as the snake.  Amazons prefer to sit in “V” shaped branches rather than drape over a single branch like the emerald tree boa.  This allows for proper perching.  Some perches should be placed at slight angles to facilitate exercise along with true horizontal perches.  Branches should be made of various woods avoiding pine and cedar which can have aromatic oils that irritate the respiratory tract of the snake.  Cork board is an excellent shelf as it is extremely resistant to mold growth.

Hiding spots, referred to as hides, are required for the well being of this species.  Amazons will still seek out ground hides created from half of a flower pot, simple wooden box with an access hole, or other customizable objects such as large cat litter boxes turned upside with an entry hole.  An arboreal hide should be offered to Amazons as well.  Again, wooden boxes with an entry hole are excellent as well as a corner shelf large enough for the snake to lay on with heavy foliage covering it.

Plants can be either fake or real but fake plants are easier to clean and maintain.  Fake plants can be bought from pet stores, craft stores, and even the local dollar store.  The creative options for a vivarium utilizing fake plants is endless! An excellent idea to utilize both a hide spot and plants is to use a plastic coated mesh basket and place moss in it with leaves all around it.

Sexing

Probing is the only definitive way to sex Amazon tree boas.  This procedure should be performed by an experienced breeder or a veterinary professional.  There is another method of sexing that is employed by some keepers and breeders called “popping”.  This is the practice of everting the hemipenes but it is potentially dangerous to the snake and complications have frequently been reported especially in adults.

Reproduction

Breeding generally takes place between December and March with the male and female entwining themselves together.  Amazons bear live young and their gestation is 7-10 months long because of it.  4-10 young (occasionally 14) are born between September and November.  The young will shed around 2-3 weeks old and then are ready to accept food generally.  Gravid females may not accept food especially late in the gestation period but food should still be offered every two weeks.

Handling

This species of snake is renowned for its aggression towards keepers.  Some are docile but most fall into the aggressive to very aggressive category.  These snakes have a long striking range and most will bite readily.  Daily handling from a young age helps prevent some of this aggression.  Amazons from the wild are more prone to very aggressive behavior.  Snake hooks and pair of leather gloves are recommended to prevent minor injuries.  Hooks allow the keeper to maneuver the snake appropriately from a distance without placing extremities in the striking distance.  A word of caution, these snakes tend to strike at the face.

Imported snakes are generally stressed, irritable, and have a hard time settling into their new enclosures.  These Amazons generally need a few weeks before handling is attempted.  Domestically bred Amazons should also be allowed an acclimation period prior to handling of around a week.

Properly hooking the snake requires a bit of skill but most snakes will balance themselves on the end of the snake hook.  It is recommended to have an experienced snake keeper demonstrate how to properly hook a snake or ask one of the professionals at Chicago Exotics Animal Hospitalfor instruction.  For overly aggressive individuals it is recommended to utilize snake tongs which can also be demonstrated by an experienced keeper or staff member.  Amazons are more visualization snakes than tactile snakes for the comfort of the animal and the safety of the keeper.

Resources and Suggested Reading

The Guide to Owning Tree Boas and Tree Pythons, Tom Mazorlig
Kaleidoscopic Tree Boas: The Genus Corallus of Tropical America, Peter J. Stafford and Robert W. Henderson
Neotropical Treeboas: Natural History of the Corallus hortulanus Complex , Robert W. Henderson
Living Snakes of the World in Color , John M. Mehrtens
Snakes of the WorldManuel Areste and Rafael Cebrian

An educational handout concerning reptiles and Salmonella is available through the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians.  Please ask your veterinarian for a copy.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

by Erica Mede, CVT
Photos and health by Susan Horton, DV
Select photos by Melissa Borden

Description

Due to the moderate size and relatively easy going temperament of this species, the Ball python also called the Royal python, has become one of the most popular snakes, if not reptiles, in the pet industry. The variation of color and pattern (called, morphs) created by selective breeding in the reptile industry has only helped to rocket their popularity. Ball pythons typically grow between 2-5 feet (6 feet is not uncommon anymore) in length and live 20-30 years with good husbandry. This slender necked but stocky bodied snake is generally identified as tan blobs on a dark brown or black background with white. Typically, the belly is white with or without darker speckled patterns. This is normal for “wild” coloration or “normal”. Even though these snakes are technically considered part of the “giant snake” category they are an exceptional snake for those that want the all the features of a python but without the intimidating length.

Natural History​

Ball pythons are found throughout western and central Africa with most of the populations concentrated in Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Togo. Generally, these snakes are found in the savannah grasslands and termite mounds (where they frequently hide to shed and escape oppressive heat). Cultivated areas also house large amounts of these harmless serpents as the rodent population is generally large. In its natural territory they are both revered as deities and slaughtered on sight as “venomous” snakes. In Ghana, this serpent is worshiped and even protected. Throughout its natural habitat, these snakes are captured for the meat trade, the pet trade, and even the leather industry.

Enclosure

There are many different ways to keep Ball pythons, as with any snake. These primarily terrestrial snakes require more floor space in their cages. Adults can be housed in Neodesha, large plastic containers, and vision cages. Vision cages are the best for monitoring, humidity support, and ample room for maneuvering.Adults can also be kept in a minimum 30 gallon tank but larger is always better with these snakes. Custom enclosures are encouraged and should be at least 3 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 18 inches high. Hatchlings and very young snakes tend to do better in smaller areas such as 10-20 gallon tanks or plastic shoe/sweater boxes with appropriate ventilation. Ventilation can be added to plastic enclosures via a soldering iron or a drill.

Substrate​

Ball pythons can be housed on newspaper, butcher paper, paper towel, or reptile carpet for ease of cleaning. Aspen can also be used as long as the aspen is large in size, agitated daily and bedding is changed weekly. However, if a particulate bedding is used it is advisable to feed in a separate container to avoid accidental ingestion of bedding. Never use pine or cedar shavings as the aromatic oils are irritating to snakes.

Cleaning​

Dilute bleach water (1:30) is a useful disinfectant for cages and artificial turf. All organic matter needs to be washed away prior to using the dilute bleach. The bleach solution should be left on for 10 minutes before washing off.

Temperature and Humidity​

The ambient temperature in the enclosure is more consistent with what people believe to be a temperate snake than a tropical snake. The temperatures should range from 82-88 °F with a basking spot maintained at 88-92°F. Any higher than 92°F and these snakes develop serious health issues and can die. These temperatures should be maintained with a thermostat and monitored with two thermometers ideally. One thermometer should be placed on the warm end an inch above the substrate and the other an inch above the substrate on the cool end of the enclosure. Under tank heaters, heat cable (outside the enclosure not in the enclosure), heat tape, and ceramic heat emitters can all be utilized to maintain air temperature.Humidity should be maintained at 50-60% to keep this species healthy as they do poorly in low humidity. Ball pythons in shed should be offered a higher humidity around 70% to ensure that the shed is complete and the spectacles are not retained.

Accessories​

Cage accessories should consist of at least one hide box in the enclosure. Hides can be as simple as a half a flower pot, half log, or as complicated as a rock structure (make sure it’s well anchored). Low branches for climbing are encouraged for this species especially when they are young and are wonderful for enrichment. The addition of hay or dried leaves offers new scents for the snake to explore. Also, adjusting the cage furnishings once in a while is recommended for enrichment.LightingBall pythons are nocturnal by nature and do not require intense lighting despite their natural habitat during the day. However, it is recommended that a 5.0 ReptiSun UVB bulb be offered during the day light portion of the light cycle but is not essential to the keeping of these reptiles. All snakes can absorb the calcium from their whole prey for their own use but a UVB bulb still offers some health benefits as well as promotion of natural behaviors from the UVA being emitted.

Feeding​

In the wild, these snakes feed primarily on small rodents especially Spiny mice. In captivity however, most are fed mice and smaller rats although the largest of them have been known to eat large rats. The prey should be humanely euthanized using acceptable methods. Frozen prey should be used within six months of freezing. A separate feeding cage is recommended so the snake associates the cage with feeding and not your hand. Ball pythons are nighttime feeders.  It is highly recommended to feed only pre-killed prey as live prey can severely injure or kill a snake. Chicago Exotics recommends feeding properly thawed frozen rodents.Young snakes are generally fed semi adult mice to small young rats (“crawlers”) every 5-7 days. Generally, they should be fed prey items no larger than their girth at mid-body. Juveniles should be fed the appropriate sized rodent (s) weekly. As they reach adulthood it is acceptable to decrease the feeding interval to every 10-14 days.  Adults are fed small to large rats every 7-14 days to maintain a healthy weight. These snakes can become obese if their intake isn’t monitored.

Reproduction​

Sexing can easily be accomplished by probing. Juveniles may be sexed also by manual eversion of the hemipenes. Either technique should be performed by an experienced person or reptile veterinarian, since poor technique may result in injury. Generally, females probe a distance of 2-4 subcaudal scales and males 8 or more. Males have larger cloacal spurs and longer tails than females. Sexual maturity occurs between 2 and 4 years of age, if appropriately fed and maintained.Breeders begin cycling in either mid-September through mid-November. Eggs are usually laid from mid-February through beginning of April. Ball Pythons are not fed for two weeks prior to cooling. The temperature is gradually decreased to 75 F. Some breeders keep the snakes at their preferred daytime high temperature during this period, but drop the nighttime low to 75 F. It is possible to utilize a combination of these two techniques. Monitor the snakes carefully for evidence of respiratory disease. Respiratory infection is most likely if the snakes are not provided a basking spot in their preferred temperature range for at least part of the day and, because of this, the first technique is not recommended. Depending upon the breeder, males are introduced to females either at the beginning of, during, or after cycling. Active courtship precedes copulation. Eggs are usually laid in burrows or well placed sweater boxes with moistened vermiculite and peat moss inside. Usual clutch size is six or seven eggs. Incubation time is about three months.

Medical Problems​

Good husbandry is the best way to prevent many problems. Ball Pythons should be quarantines for at least three to six months before being added to an established collection.Respiratory tract disease is very common in captive snakes. Difficulty breathing, discharge from the mouth, and wheezing are common signs associated with respiratory tract disease.  Pictured to the left is a snake with horrible stomatitis and pneumonia.  You can see the inflammatory debris crusted in his mouth.  The head up, open mouth position is typical for a severely compromised patient.  This snake needs help ASAP.Vomiting/regurgitation is a common sign of many problems. Inadequate temperature, excessive feeding, and handling after feeding are common causes. There are many medical causes for vomiting/regurgitation and a reptile veterinarian should be sought.

Snake mites are very common external parasites. The mites may cause significant disease and distress to an infested snake.

Many Ball Pythons are wild caught and usually harbor significant internal parasite loads. An annual fecal exam by an experienced reptile veterinarian is recommended.

Other common signs of problems include loss of appetite, loose stools, difficulty shedding, and lumps/bumps. A competent reptile veterinarian should be sought out to diagnose and treat any of the disorders that may affect your python.  Pictured below is a serious burn along the ventrum of the snake.  Heat pads used without thermostatic control often lead to this problem.  Seek immediate help if you find this problem with your snake!

Speak with your reptile veterinarian about Salmonella and what measures are recommended to limit the risk or transmission to people.

Sources and Recommended Reading​

The Art of Keeping Snakes, Philippe De Vosjoli
The New Encyclopedia of Snakes, Christopher Mattison
Living Snakes of the World, John M. Merirtens
Ball Pythons: Habitat, Care, and Breeding, Stefan Broghammer
The Complete Ball Python: A Comprehensive Guide to Care, Breeding, and Genetic Mutations, Kevin McCurley
Ball Pythons: A Complete Guide to Regius, Colette Sutherland

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

Erica Mede, CVT

Description 

Black Rat snakes are also called the Pilot snake since this species was thought to lead Timber rattlesnakes and Copperhead snakes to their winter dens.  These three species were often found together in winter dens.  Less common aliases include Black Chicken snake, Cow snake, Sleepy John, and White Throated racer.  Generally, these snakes are a glossy black color with white underbellies and chins.  Juveniles, however, have brown blotches on a gray background which makes them look like a Fox snake.  Juveniles are hatched around 8-16 inches long and grow quickly.  Generally, these snakes are very docile and curious reaching lengths of 3-6 feet.

Rat snakes are a hardy species and generally live 15-20 years.  Rat snakes are both diurnal and terrestrial, sporting the classic round pupils that most people associate with “safe” snakes.  When startled, these snakes will often mimic rattling by vibrating their tail quickly and when all else fails, musk their captors.

Natural History

These diurnal snakes are found throughout the eastern and central United States and Canada.  This species prefers heavily wooded terrains where they can utilize their excellent climbing skills.  This species is also a very competent swimmer, although, not all will take happily to water.

Enclosure

Adults are easily kept in a 30-40 gallon glass aquarium with a screen lid.  The larger the cage and the taller the cage the better!  These snakes are incredibly curious and will search every inch of their enclosure.  Taller enclosures allow for more exercise and fulfill this species urge to climb.  Custom designed enclosures can be created but aren’t commonly utilized in the pet industry.  However, custom enclosures created with a little ingenuity and imagination can offer supreme naturalistic set-ups.  Hatchlings can be kept in 10-20 gallon aquariums.

Substrate 

Substrate should be easy to clean and dry.  Newspaper, reptile carpet, and paper towel are favorites for hatchlings and new individuals to help monitor fecal output.  Most established individuals can be maintained happily on the above or aspen shavings as long as it is agitated frequently and changed every 7-14 days.  Never use pine or cedar shavings which have aromatic oils that can cause irritation and respiratory issues in snakes.  Enrichment can be provided by placing hay, straw, or even dried leaves in the cage for the snake to explore and navigate through.

Temperature and Humidity 

Rat snakes require an ambient temperature of 80-85°F which is easily provided with under tank heaters, heat tape, heat cable (on the outside of the cage not the inside).   The temperatures can be controlled easily with a thermostat and monitored with the use of three thermometers.  One thermometer placed on the warm end an inch above the substrate, one placed at the level of the basking site, and another placed an inch above the substrate on the cooler end.  A basking site should be 85-88°F.  At night, the temperature can drop as low as 75°F.

Humidity should be moderate, 35-60%, with the higher end utilized during shedding.  Humidity can be monitored with a hygrometer and increased with the use of a large water bowl, fogger, mister, or daily spraying.

Accessories 

Branches for climbing should be offered to Rat snakes which naturally excel at climbing on low to medium height branches.  Natural and fake foliage can be placed in the cage to increase hiding locations.  Hide boxes in the form of half logs, PVC pipes, and half flower pots can be utilized.  Rocks can be added especially for basking areas if they are placed over a heat source and under the basking light to warm the rock.  A large water bowl is highly recommended to allow the snake to soak at will.  A water dish large enough to swim in is always encouraged.

Reproduction 

Mating season for Rat snakes begins late May and early June.  Successful mating will result in the female laying eggs two months later.  Rat snakes lay 12-20 eggs.  Hatchlings are tiny, generally 8-16 inches long and emerge in late August to early October (about 65-70 days after eggs are laid).

Feeding 

In the wild, these snakes feed primarily on rodents such as (mice, voles, and rats), frogs, lizards, chipmunks, juvenile rabbits, juvenile opossums, and the occasional bird egg.  In captivity, these snakes are fed primarily mice and small rats.  It is recommended that only pre-killed prey be offered as live prey has the potential of severely injuring or killing captive snakes, especially those unaccustomed to live prey.  Chicago Exotics recommends feeding properly thawed frozen rodents.  Hatchlings can be fed every 5-7 days.  Juveniles should be offered food every 7-10 days and adults fed every 10-14 days.

Sources and Recommended Reading 

The New Encyclopedia of Snakes, Christopher Mattison
Living Snakes of the World, John M. Merirtens
Corn and Rat Snakes, Philip Purser
Good Snakekeeping, Philip Purser

​If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

By Robert Nathan DVM
Pictures by Susan Horton, DVM
Barberton Veterinary Clinic, 4873 Richland Ave. Norton , OH 44203 USA Provided by ARAV.org

Enclosure

Boas should be housed individually, except during breeding attempts.  Enclosures for juvenile boas should be at least 61 cm (24 in) long and 38 to 61 cm (15 to 24 in) high.  Adult boas should be housed in enclosures at least 1.8 m (6 ft) long, 61 cm (24 in) wide, and at least 61 cm (24 in) high.  Larger cages provide better opportunities for establishing a proper thermal gradient.

Temperature and Humidity

Providing the proper thermal gradient is critical to the well being of the snake.  The preferred optimal temperature zone during the day is between 27-29 C (80-85F), with a basking spot up to 35C (95F).  Night time lows can be between 21-27C (70-80F).  Thermostatically controlled fiberglass heat mats are an excellent way to provide the proper thermal environment. The mats are mounted ventrally and should be no larger  than 25 to 30% of the surface area of the cage.  Flexwatt and plumbing heat tape may also be used, however both require some wiring and should be assembled with a rheostat (thermostat).

Humidity is also important to enable normal ecdysis (shedding) and respiratory function.  Relative humidity should be at least 50 to 70%.  Hide boxes that contain moistened sphagnum moss are an excellent way to provide an area of locally increased humidity.  Pictured above is a Brazilian Rainbow boa having difficulty shedding.

Substrate

Newspaper or butcher paper is the preferred substrate since it is inexpensive and easy to change when it becomes soiled.  Each also has the added benefit of allowing direct visualization of the feces and urates.  Artificial turf, mulches, and various wood shavings may also be used, but lack some of the beneficial qualities of newspaper.  Mulches and wood shavings may inadvertently be ingested while feeding.

Cleaning

Dilute bleach water ( 1:30 )  is a useful disinfectant for cages and artificial turfs.  All organic matter needs to be washed away prior to using the dilute bleach.  The bleach solution should be left on for ten minutes before washing off.

FeedingGenerally, boas should be fed prey items no larger than their girth at mid-body. Juvenile boas should be fed the appropriate sized rodent (s) weekly.  As boas reach adulthood, it is acceptable to decrease the feeding interval to every ten to fourteen days.  Adult boas can be maintained on either adult rats or appropriately sized rabbits.  Either frozen and thawed (warmed to body temperature) of freshly killed prey is recommended.  The prey should be humanely euthanized using acceptable methods.  Frozen prey should be used within six months of freezing.

Reproduction

​Sexing boas can easily be accomplished by probing.  Juvenile boas may be sexed also by manual eversion “popping” of the hemipenis.  Either technique should be performed by an experienced person or reptile veterinarian, since poor technique may result in injury.  Generally, females probe a distance of two to four sub caudal scales and male boas probe eight or more. Male boids have larger cloacal spurs and thicker tails than females.  Sexual maturity occurs between three and five years of age, if appropriately fed and maintained.

Boa breeders begin cycling in either November of December.  Boas are not fed for two weeks prior to cooling.  The temperature is gradually decreased to 21- 24C (70-75F).  Some breeders keep the snakes at their preferred daytime high temperature, but drop the nighttime low to 21-24C (70-75F).  It is possible to utilize a combination of these two techniques.  Monitor the snakes carefully for any evidence of respiratory disease.  Respiratory infection is most likely if the snakes are not provided a basking spot in their preferred temperature range for at least part of the day and, because of this, the first technique is not recommended.  Depending on the breeder, males are introduced to females either at the beginning of, during, or after cycling. Active courtship preceded copulation.  Gravid females require access to adequate basking temperatures for proper fetal development.  Litter sizes range from 6 to 64, with 25 being typical.

Medical Problems

Good husbandry is the best way to prevent many problems.  Boas should be quarantined for at least three to six months before being added to an established collection.

Respiratory tract disease is very common in captive boas.  Difficulty breathing, discharges from the mouth, and wheezing are common signs associated with respiratory tract disease.

​Vomiting/regurgitating is a common sign of many problems.  Inadequate temperature, excessive feeding, and handling after feeding are common causes.  There are many medical causes for vomiting/regurgitating and an able reptile veterinarian should be sought.

Snake mites are very common external parasites.  The mites may cause significant disease and distress to the infested snake.  They also spread diseases such as IBD.Inclusion body disease (IBD) is one of the most significant diseases affecting boas today.  It is thought to be caused by a retrovirus.  Snakes affected by IBD may have neurologic signs, regurgitation, pneumonia, various cancers, and other disorders.  Currently no therapy is available for affected snakes and euthanasia is recommended to prevent transmission to other snakes.

Other common signs of problems include loss of appetite, loose stools, difficulty shedding, and lumps/bumps.  Pictured above is a very complex eye problem involving fluid accumulation under the eye scale.  A competent reptile veterinarian should be sought out to diagnose and treat any of the disorders that may affect your boa.

Speak with your reptile veterinarian about Salmonella and what measures are recommended to limit the risk of transmission to people.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

Erica Mede, CVT

Description 

Perhaps one of the most stunning snakes in the reptile hobby.  The iridescent sheen given off during the day light hours is breath taking on these nocturnal snakes.  Rainbows typically grow between 3.5 and 6 feet in length and live 20-25 years with good husbandry.  There are 9 different subspecies of this snake known today.  This slender bodied snake is generally a maroon or light red color with brightly colored patterns surrounded by dark borders.  An excellent boa for those who want the length of a big snake without the overwhelming girth.

Natural History 

Rainbows are found  throughout Costa Rica down through central South America .  Generally, these snakes are found in the forests, grass lands, and swamps of this region both in the trees and on the ground.

Sexing 

Females are generally longer than the males.  Probing is an excellent way to determine gender but should be done by a confident snake keeper or veterinarian as damage to the snake can occur.

Enclosure 

There are many different ways to keep Rainbow boas, as with any snake.  These semi-arboreal snakes require vertical space in the cages as well as large amounts of floor space to suit their active lifestyles.  Adults can be housed in Neodesha, large plastic containers, and vision cages.  Vision cages are the best for monitoring, humidity support, and ample room for maneuvering.  Adults can also be kept in a minimum 50 gallon tank but larger is always better with these snakes.  Custom enclosures are encouraged and should be at least 4 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 2 feet high.  Hatchlings and very young snakes tend to do better in smaller areas such as 10 gallon tanks or plastic shoe/sweater boxes with appropriate ventilation.  Ventilation can be added to plastic enclosures via a soldering iron or a drill.

Substrate 

Rainbow boas can be housed on newspaper, butcher paper, paper towel, or reptile carpet for ease of cleaning.  Aspen and Care Fresh can also be used as long as the aspen is agitated daily and bedding is changed weekly.  Never use pine or cedar shavings as the aromatic oils are irritating to snakes.

Temperature and Humidity 

The ambient temperature in the enclosure is more consistent with what people believe to be a temperate snake than a tropical snake.  The temperatures should range from 72 to 80F° with a basking spot maintained at 85F°.  Any higher than 90F° and these snakes develop serious health issues and can die.  These temperatures should be maintained with a thermostat and monitored with two thermometers ideally.  One thermometer should be placed on the warm end an inch above the substrate and the other an inch above the substrate on the cool end of the enclosure.  Under tank heaters, heat cable (outside the enclosure not in the enclosure), heat tape, and ceramic heat emitters can all be utilized to maintain air temperature.

Humidity should be maintained at 70-80% to keep this species healthy as they do poorly in low humidity.  Prolonged periods of low humidity (under 50%) results in death.

Accessories 

Cage accessories should consist of at least one hide box in the enclosure.  Hides can be as simple as a half a flower pot, half log, or as complicated as a rock structure (make sure it’s well anchored).  Branches for climbing are encouraged and necessary for this species and are wonderful for enrichment.  The addition of hay or dried leaves offers new scents for the snake to explore.  Also, adjusting the cage furnishings once in a while is recommended for enrichment as well.

Lighting 

Rainbow boas are nocturnal by nature and do not require intense lighting despite their desert habitats.  However, it is recommended that a 5.0 ReptiSun UVB bulb be offered during the day light portion of the light cycle.  All snakes can absorb the calcium from their whole prey for their own use but a UVB bulb still offers some health benefits as well as promotion of natural behaviors from the UVA being emitted.
Feeding

In the wild, these snakes feed primarily on birds, lizards, and rodents.  In captivity however, most are fed mice and small rats although the largest of them have been known to eat large rats.  It is highly recommended to feed only pre-killed prey as live prey can severely injure or kill a snake.  Chicago Exotics recommends feeding properly thawed frozen rodents.

Young snakes are generally fed mice to small young rats every 7-10 days.  Adults are fed small to large rats every 14-21 days to maintain a healthy weight.  These snakes can become obese!

Sources and Recommended Reading

The Art of Keeping Snakes, Philippe De Vosjoli
Boas, Doug Wagner
The New Encyclopedia of Snakes, Christopher Mattison
Living Snakes of the World, John M. Merirtens

An educational handout concerning reptiles and Salmonella is available through the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians.  Please ask your veterinarian for a copy.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

Erica Mede, CVT
Photos and edited by Susan Horton, DVM

Burmese pythons have become one of the most popular large snakes kept in captivity due to their impressive size and excellent temperament.  With daily handling, Burmese python (also called, Burms or Burmese Rock pythons) hatchling and juveniles can be transformed from defensive nippy snakes into calm pets.  However, the power of this species should never be underestimated!  These snakes are large in maturity and can cause severe injury if not properly handled and respected.  Burms, although well tempered, are given up frequently due to their massive size and food requirements.  This is at least a 20 year commitment and a hefty financial investment as well.

Natural History

Burmese pythons are diurnal, rainforest dwelling snakes that are excellent climbers, especially when they are still young, and they are swimmers.  These snakes are indigenous to south-east Asia from India to southern China includingBurma, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia.  Currently, Burmese pythons have been classified as Endangered by IUCN and Threatened Appendix II of CITES.  Captive breeding has become a successful and even lucrative business in the United States as well as Europe especially for collectors seeking different morphs or color variations.

Description​

Generally, these snakes will grow up to 17-18 feet in length and 200 pounds or more.  The average lifespan is 15-20 years in captivity sometimes living until 25 years of age.  Their heavy body has a net like pattern on the back with solid colored belly scales.  Depending on what morph you have the colors will vary.  However, a normal Burmese python will have tan or dark brown outlined in yellow and black markings with a white or cream colored underside.  These pythons, like all pythons and boas (boids) have heat sensing pits on what would be considered their upper lip for tracking and identifying prey.

Sexing

​Typically, the female of the species is larger than the male.  Females generally reach 17-20 feet in length while males reach 10-15 feet in length.  The males however, have longer spurs (vestigial remnants of hind limbs on either side of the cloaca or vent) than the females do.  Pictured to the left is a male.  A Chicago Exotics’ veterinarian can sex the snake as well using a probe.  It is not recommended for inexperienced keepers to probe their own snakes as severe damage can be caused to the genitalia of the snake.

Enclosures

A hatchling (around 22” long) can be housed in a 55-gallon aquarium comfortably.  These snakes grow exceedingly quickly and it is recommended to use the largest size possible when housing them.  A hatchling housed in a 20-gallon aquarium will quickly out grow it within 1-2 months!  As Burms grow larger they will require larger accommodations.  Many keepers build their own custom enclosures from wood, glass, and Plexi glass.  There are also companies that offer to build custom enclosures for a nominal fee.  Chicago Exotics’ recommends the use of Cages by Design for your large cage requirements.  Other keepers have converted sections of rooms into enclosures to accommodate their pets.  A 200 pound snake is going to require an enclosure at least 4 feet by 8 feet wide.  The height of the enclosure is not as important as the floor space.  When in doubt, go wider rather than taller.

The most important aspect of any enclosure is safety.  Always make sure that the enclosure is both escape proof and child resistant.

Small vents can be placed on the side of enclosures or a portion of the screened top can be covered to allow the humidity to remain around 50-60%.  Humidity is important to the hydration level of the snake as well as the skin’s condition and is especially important while shedding.

A photoperiod (light cycle) of 10-12 hours of light with 10-12 hours of darkness is essential to normal behavior and the overall health of the animal.  A snake with the lights always left on will become overly stressed and possibly fall ill or experience temperament changes.

The day time ambient (temperature of the air) temperature should be around 85-88 degrees Fahrenheit on the warm end, and 80-84 degrees on the cool side of the enclosure.  A basking area should be provided and should be around 90-93 degrees.  At night temperatures should not fall below 75 degrees to maintain proper digestive activity.  At least two thermometers should be installed in the enclosure one inch above the floor on both the cool end and the warm end of the cage.  It is recommended to also have a third thermometer above the basking area.

Fresh, clean water should be offered daily to Burms and ideally will be large enough for the snake to soak.  Of course as these snakes grow it may become necessary to find more creative methods of soaking them including using a bath tub in a secure bathroom.  If a bathtub is used, disinfect the tub after use with a 10% bleach solution and rinse thoroughly and allow the tube to dry before human use.

Substrates are best kept simple as these snakes can be messy.  Daily spot cleaning and monthly whole enclosure cleanings are made easier when the décor is kept to the basics.  Newspaper is an old favorite of many reptile keepers as it is both cheap and easy to clean.  However, it is not very absorbent and may need to be layered thickly.  Towels are not recommended unless advised by your veterinarian.  Chicago Exotics’ does not suggest you use any form of bark product as some contain harmful oils (cedar and pine) while others retain water and can lead to the growth of harmful mold and bacteria (fir and aspen).
If a bark product must be used, aspen changed at least once a week is the best choice.  Reptile carpet substrate of choice for typical enclosures as it is easily washed and replaced.  Keepers of large specimens and custom enclosures sometimes use linoleum on the floor and up a portion of the sides of the enclosure as it is easy to clean.  Remember, all enclosures must be dry before placing returning the snake to it.

​A hide box is essential for providing added humidity and security for this species.  A half log, card board box, commercial hide box, or an upside down plastic container that the snake cannot see through are all good choices.  Larger animals will require more creative hide boxes including litter pans, garbage cans, or custom made ones.

Common Medical Problems

Good husbandry is the best way to prevent many problems.  Burmese pythons should be quarantined for at least three to six months before being added to an established collection.

IBD (Inclusion Body Disease) affects boas and pythons and is fatal to Burms.  This disease can take several months to manifest and does not require snake-to-snake contact to transmit.  Loss of appetite, regurgitation, infection, contorted body position, and star-gazing (the snake stretches up and appears to be admiring the ceiling) should be reported to your Chicago Exotics’ veterinarian immediately!

Respiratory tract disease, such as pneumonia, is very common in captive snakes.  Difficulty breathing, discharge from the mouth, and wheezing are common signs associated with respiratory tract disease.

Vomiting/Regurgitating are common signs of many problems. Inadequate temperature, excessive feeding, and handling after feeding are common causes. There are many medical causes for vomiting/regurgitation and an appointment with Chicago Exotics’ should be made.

Snake Mites are very common external parasites.  The mites can cause significant disease and distress to a snake and can be transferred to other snakes in the collection.

Internal parasites can be tested for with a fecal reading by a Chicago Exotics’ veterinary professional.  This is recommended at least yearly.

Other common signs of problems include loss of appetite, loose stools, difficulty shedding, and lumps/bumps. Please make an appointment with your veterinarian to diagnose and treat any of these problems.

​Speak with your Chicago Exotics’ veterinarian or technician about Salmonella and what measures are recommended to limit the risk or transmission to people.

Sources and Suggested Reading

The General Care and Maintenance of Burmese Pythons, Philippe de Vosjoli (1990)
The Snake: An Owner’s Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet, Lenny Flank
Burmese Pythons, John Coburn (1994)
Snakes of the World, Scott Weidensaul (1991)
Burmese Python – www.anapsid.org
NERD Herpetocultural Library – www.newenglandreptile.com
Burmese Python Care by Chris M. Jones – www.ezinearticles.com
The Burmese Python: Making it a Home in your Home from Reptiles Magazine, Bob Clark

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

​Special thanks to Dustin Dorgan, CVT for allowing us to photograph his beautiful albino burm!

Erica Mede, CVT

The California kingsnake is a diurnal snakes found throughout the Western United States and down through Mexico.  During the hot summers they become more nocturnal and during the cold winter months they will brumate to conserve energy. There are reports that this species has established itself as an invasive species in Gran Carnaria , Spain .  This moderately sized snake grows between 2.5-3.5 feet long.  These secretive snakes tend to be found along the edge of the desert, in woodlands, farmland, grasslands, hardwood and pine forests as well as residential areas.  A truly versatile species!  A defensive snake will often shake the end of its tail very similar to a rattlesnake despite having no rattle.

Despite popular belief, kingsnakes are not immune to the venom of native rattlesnakes, but they are resistant to it.  Also, these snakes are not necessarily predators of venomous snakes.  They are opportunistic feeders and will consume them when available but they do not seek them out.

Feeding 

In the wild, these snakes are opportunistic feeding on rodents, snakes, lizards, birds, and frogs.  In captivity, these snakes are fed primarily mice.  It is recommended that only pre-killed prey be offered as live prey has the potential of severely injuring or killing captive snakes, especially those unaccustomed to live prey.  Variety is always encouraged.  Feeder anoles and chicks are available commercially.  Hatchlings can be fed every 5-7 days.  Juveniles should be offered food every 7-10 days and adults fed every 10-14 days.

These snakes tend to go off food during fall and will become restless.  Wild caught individuals may require a “cool down” or brumation period to stimulate an appetite again but most will start to eat again without a problem.

Enclosure 

Adults are easily kept in a 20-30 gallon glass aquarium with a screen lid.  The larger the enclosure the better, a 4 foot snake will likely feel more at home in a 40 gallon breeder tank.  Some people have even utilized modified sweater boxes for keeping these snakes especially hatchlings and wild caught specimens which can be quite flighty.  Hatchlings can be kept in 10 gallon aquariums.

Substrate 

Substrate should ideally be easy to clean.  Newspaper, artificial turf such as Reptile Carpet, and paper towel are favorites for hatchlings and new individuals to help monitor fecal output.  Most established individuals can be maintained happily on the above or aspen bedding as long as it is agitated frequently and changed every 7-14 days.  Never use pine or cedar shavings as the aromatic oils can cause irritation and respiratory issues in your snake.  Enrichment can be provided by placing hay, straw, or even dried leaves in the cage for the snake to explore and navigate through.  The addition of novel scents and textures is always recommended for their well being.

Temperature Kingsnakes require an ambient temperature of 80-84°F which is easily provided with under tank heaters, heat tape, heat cable (on the outside of the cage not the inside).   The temperatures can be controlled easily with a thermostat and monitored with the use of three thermometers.  One thermometer placed on the warm end an inch above the substrate, one placed at the level of the basking site, and another placed an inch above the substrate on the cooler end.  A basking site should be 85-88°F but should never exceed 90 °F  as they suffer easily from prolonged heat stress.  At night, the temperature can drop as low as 75°F.

Humidity 

Humidity should be moderate, 35-60%, with the higher end utilized during shedding.  Humidity can be monitored with a hygrometer and increased with the use of a large water bowl, fogger, mister, or daily spraying.

Lighting 

Although these snakes do not require UVB lighting due to their whole prey diet it is still recommended to offer a ReptiSun 5.0.  Avoid keeping your snake by the window as this is not a source of UVB and can result in the death of reptiles due to accidental over heating.

Accessories 

Horizontally positioned branches should be offered for climbing as this species enjoys climbing on low level branches in the wild.  Natural and artificial foliage can be placed in the cage to increase hiding locations.  Hide boxes in the form of half logs, PVC pipes, and half flower pots can be utilized.  Rocks can be added texture and for basking areas if they are placed over a heat source and under the basking light to warm the rock.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

Erica Mede, CVT
Photos and edited by Susan Horton, DVM

Description

Cornsnakes are also called the Red Rat snake and were named originally for their wild counterpart’s resemblance to maize.  Generally, these snakes are orange and yellow with large red splotches on the back.  The belly of Corns is typically white and black in a checkered belly.  Generally, these snakes are very docile and curious reaching lengths of 3-4.5 feet long.  The most common morphs are amelanistic, Snow, and Okettee.

Corns are a hardy species and generally live 15-20 years.  These are one of the most available snakes that are not in the boa or python family.  Cornsnakes are both diurnal and terrestrial sporting the classic round pupils that most people associate with “safe” snakes.  When startled, these snakes will often mimic rattling by vibrating their tail quickly.

Natural History

These diurnal snakes are found as south as Florida , as north as New Jersey and as west as Tennessee .  Cornsnakes frequent cultivated areas such as farms and live on the edges of forests, and prairies in their natural habitat.  Throughout their range, this species is known to hibernate but this practice is not necessary in captivity.

Enclosure

Adults are easily kept in a 20-30 gallon glass aquarium with a screen lid.  Some people have even utilized modified sweater boxes for keeping these snakes especially hatchlings and wild caught specimens which can be quite flighty.  Hatchlings can be kept in 10 gallon aquariums.

Substrate

Substrate should be easy to clean.  Newspaper, reptile carpet, and paper towel are favorites for hatchlings and new individuals to help monitor fecal output.  Most established individuals can be maintained happily on the above or aspen bedding as long as it is agitated frequently and changed every 7-14 days.  Never used pine or cedar shavings as the aromatic oils can cause irritation and respiratory issues in your snake.  Enrichment can be provided by placing hay, straw, or even dried leaves in the cage for the snake to explore and navigate through.

Temperature and Humidity

Corns require an ambient temperature of 80-85F° which is easily provided with under tank heaters, heat tape, heat cable (on the outside of the cage not the inside).   The temperatures can be controlled easily with a thermostat and monitored with the use of three thermometers.  One thermometer placed on the warm end an inch above the substrate, one placed at the level of the basking site, and another placed an inch above the substrate on the cooler end.  A basking site should be 85-88F°.  At night, the temperature can drop as low as 75F°.
Humidity should be moderate, 35-60%, with the higher end utilized during shedding.  Humidity can be monitored with a hygrometer and increased with the use of a large water bowl, fogger, mister, or daily spraying.

Accessories

Branches for climbing should be offered as this species enjoys climbing on low level branches.  Natural and fake foliage can be placed in the cage to increase hiding locations.  Hide boxes in the form of half logs, PVC pipes, and half flower pots can be utilized.  Rocks can be added especially for basking areas if they are placed over a heat source and under the basking light to warm the rock.

Reproduction

Mating season for Cornsnakes begins in June typically.  Successful mating will result in the female laying eggs two months after.  Cornsnakes lay 8-20 eggs with an average of 10-12 being laid.  Hatchlings are tiny, generally 8 inches or so long.

Feeding

In the wild, these snakes feed primarily on rodents such as mice, voles, and moles.  In captivity, these snakes are fed primarily mice.  It is recommended that only pre-killed prey be offered as live prey has the potential of severely injuring or killing captive snakes, especially those unaccustomed to live prey.  Chicago Exotics recommends feeding properly thawed frozen mice.  Hatchlings can be fed every 5-7 days.  Juveniles should be offered food every 7-10 days and adults fed every 10-14 days.

This is how Bull snakes make their load roar.  Their tracheas have a special adaptation across the middle.  The noise is quite disturbing!

Preventative Health Care and Diseases

It is critical that you learn as much as possible about any reptile pet before obtaining one.  Research the specific needs of cornsnakes using periodicals, books, on-line resources, and the advice of experienced reptile breeders and veterinarians.  A qualified reptile veterinarian should perform a post-purchase  health exam shortly after your new pet arrives.  This office visit should include a thorough physical exam, a fecal analysis to check for internal parasites, and counseling on proper husbandry and diet.  Having your veterinarian perform an annual physical examination throughput your snake’s life can aid in the early detection and correction of both husbandry and medical problems.

Careful attention to environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity will help minimize the risk of your pet becoming sick.  Seek the assistance of a veterinarian skilled in reptile care if any of the following  symptoms are observed:

  • Refusal to feed for two or more consecutive scheduled feedings
  • Failure to produce stool within seven to ten days after feeding
  • Difficulty shedding, retained spectacles “eye caps”
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Regurgitation (vomiting)
  • Diarrhea or foul smelling stool; straining to pass stool
  • Open-mouth breathing, difficulty breathing
  • Discharge from the eyes, nostrils, or mouth
  • Weakness, lethargy, depression, or inactivity
  • Lumps, bumps, or cuts on the skin
  • Reproductive problems; egg binding, infected hemipenes, impacted hemipenes

This is a picture of swollen hemipenes.  In this case, they were infected and responded well to antibiotics.  It is a common problem among older rat snakes, though it is a bull snake pictured.

This is an egg bound rat snake.

Here is a rat snake soaking in warm water.  The eggs become mummified in the uterus.  Antibiotics are needed to help heal the infection within the uterus.  Sometimes we can loosen them and remove them manually; sometimes surgery is needed.

Here the mummified eggs are pictured.

Don’t wait this long.  This is a severe prolapse. Seek veterinary help if you suspect any of the above conditions!

Sources and Recommended Reading

The New Encyclopedia of Snakes, Christopher Mattison 
Living Snakes of the World, John M. Merirtens 
Cornsnakes, Kathy Love, Billy Love 
Corn and Rat Snakes, Philip Purser 
Cornsnakes in Captivity, Don Soderberg

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

Erica Mede, CVT

Description

Dumeril’s boas are thick bodied snakes that reach 4-7 feet in length with males being the smaller of the genders.  Different morphs have kept this snake in popularity lately as does their slow growth (up to 5 years to reach adult length).  These snakes with good husbandry can reach 20 years in captivity although most live only 10-15 years.  The wild Dumeril’s are typically a pastel color or tan with dark blotches and a Rainbow boa like iridescence.

Natural History

These snakes are found only along the floor of dry forests in Madagascar .  There is a ban against the exportation of this particular species.  This species is listed as Cites Appendix 1 labeling this species as threatened with extinction.  The popularity and availability of this species in the reptile industry solely lies in the hands of breeders.

Sexing

Typically, the female of the species is larger than the male.  A veterinarian or experienced reptile keeper or breeder can sex the snake as well using a probe.  It is not recommended for inexperienced keepers to probe their own snakes as severe damage can be caused to the genitalia of the snake.  These snakes are not sexually mature until 3-5 years old.

Enclosures

Neonates can be maintained in a 10 or 20 gallon aquarium or similarly sized enclosure. Juveniles should be kept in enclosures that measure at least 2 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 14 inches tall.  Adults will require much larger enclosures with a 5 foot long, 3 foot long wide, by 2 feet tall but larger is definitely preferred especially in younger individuals who are curious. Enclosures can be custom made or ordered to size.  There are several internet companies that can ship pre-constructed cages or “assembly required” cages right to an owners door.  Glass aquariums are harder to maintain these snakes in as the size of the snake can be restrictive. Some owners opt for creative caging ideas such as large Rubbermaid containers for their growing snakes as well.  If modified correctly these can be good housing options.

Lighting

A photoperiod (light cycle) of 10-12 hours of light with 10-12 hours of darkness is essential to normal behavior and the overall health of the animal.  A snake with the lights always left on will become overly stressed and possibly fall ill or experience temperament changes.

Temperature and Humidity

The day time ambient (temperature of the air) temperature should be around 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit on the cool end, and 80-84 degrees on the warm side of the enclosure.  A basking area should be provided and should be around 86-90 degrees.  At night temperatures should not fall below 75 degrees to maintain proper digestive activity.  At least two thermometers should be installed in the enclosure one inch above the floor on both the cool end and the warm end of the cage.  It is recommended to also have a third thermometer above the basking area.  Humidity should be maintained at 40-60% with the higher range being used during shedding.

Substrate

Substrate is always a controversial discussion.  Owners wanting to create a more naturalistic enclosure for their pets are encouraged to use non-particulate bedding when possible and frequently change substrate (weekly preferred) to prevent excess moisture build up as well as mold.  However, a naturalistic environment can still be created with the use of aspen or even indoor/outdoor carpet with some creative furnishings.  Newspaper and butcher paper as acceptable substrates although some owners find them to be rather dull.  The advantage of paper substrate especially for new individuals is the direct observation of fecal and urate output.

Enrichment

A hide box is essential for providing added humidity and security for this species.  A half log, card board box, commercial hide box, or an upside down plastic container that the snake cannot see through are all good choices.  Larger animals will require more creative hide boxes including litter pans, garbage cans, or custom made ones.  Natural and faux foliage is an excellent addition to any cage.  Dry leaves during the autumn season that have not been sprayed with insecticides offers snakes a new series of scents and textures to explore.

Feeding

Neonatal snakes can be maintained well on hopper mice or rat pups depending on the size of the snake.  Adults will be maintained on rats, quail, and in the case of large adults, rabbits.  Neonates are fed once every 7 days ideally and adults are fed every 14 days.  Frozen thawed prey items appropriately defrosted are the ideal food source.

Sources and Suggested Reading

The Snake: An Owner’s Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet, Lenny Flank
Snakes of the World, Scott Weidensaul (1991)
Red Tailed Boas and Relatives, R.D. Bartlett and Patricia Bartlett
The Biology Husbandry and Health Care of Reptiles Vol. 2Lowell Ackerman

​​
If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

Erica Mede, CVT

Description

Kings are a hardy species and generally live 15-20 years.  These are one of the most available snakes that are not in the boa or python family.  Kingsnakes are both diurnal and terrestrial sporting the classic round pupils that most people associate with “safe” snakes.  When startled, these snakes will often mimic rattling by vibrating their tail quickly.

Natural History

These diurnal snakes are found as south as Florida, as north as New Jersey and as west as Tennessee.  Kingsnakes frequent cultivated areas such as farms and live on the edges of forests, and prairies in their natural habitat.  Throughout their range, this species is known to hibernate but this practice is not necessary in captivity.

Enclosure

Adults are easily kept in a 20-30 gallon glass aquarium with a screen lid.  Some people have even utilized modified sweater boxes for keeping these snakes especially hatchlings and wild caught specimens which can be quite flighty.  Hatchlings can be kept in 10 gallon aquariums.

Substrate

Substrate should be easy to clean.  Newspaper, reptile carpet, and paper towel are favorites for hatchlings and new individuals to help monitor fecal output.  Most established individuals can be maintained happily on the above or aspen bedding as long as it is agitated frequently and changed every 7-14 days.  Never used pine or cedar shavings as the aromatic oils can cause irritation and respiratory issues in your snake. Enrichment can be provided by placing hay, straw, or even dried leaves in the cage for the snake to explore and navigate through.

Temperature and Humidity

Kings require an ambient temperature of 80-85°F which is easily provided with under tank heaters, heat tape, heat cable (on the outside of the cage not the inside).   The temperatures can be controlled easily with a thermostat and monitored with the use of three thermometers.  One thermometer placed on the warm end an inch above the substrate, one placed at the level of the basking site, and another placed an inch above the substrate on the cooler end.  A basking site should be 85-88°F.  At night, the temperature can drop as low as 75°F.

Humidity should be moderate, 35-60%, with the higher end utilized during shedding.  Humidity can be monitored with a hygrometer and increased with the use of a large water bowl, fogger, mister, or daily spraying.

Accessories

Branches for climbing should be offered as this species enjoys climbing on low level branches.  Natural and fake foliage can be placed in the cage to increase hiding locations.  Hide boxes in the form of half logs, PVC pipes, and half flower pots can be utilized.  Rocks can be added especially for basking areas if they are placed over a heat source and under the basking light to warm the rock.

Reproduction

Mating season for Kingsnakes begins in June typically.  Successful mating will result in the female laying eggs two months after.  Kingsnakes lay 8-20 eggs with an average of 10-12 being laid.  Hatchlings are tiny, generally 8 inches or so long.

Feeding

​In the wild, these snakes feed primarily on rodents such as mice, voles, and moles.  In captivity, these snakes are fed primarily mice.  It is recommended that only pre-killed prey be offered as live prey has the potential of severely injuring or killing captive snakes, especially those unaccustomed to live prey.  Chicago Exotics recommends feeding properly thawed frozen mice.  Hatchlings can be fed every 5-7 days.  Juveniles should be offered food every 7-10 days and adults fed every 10-14 days.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

Erica Mede, CVT
Pictures and Editing By Susan Horton, DVM

Description

Emerald Tree boas are also called Emeralds, Emerald boas, or Green Tree boas (not to be confused with Green Tree pythons).  This species of nocturnal, arboreal constrictors reaches lengths of around 5-6.5 feet typically although they are very slow growers.  As implied by their latin name, C. caninus, this snake has highly developed front teeth (the alleged canines) that are very large and can inflict a nasty bite.  Emeralds also have a prehensile tail which helps them to anchor themselves to tree branches.  Their vertical pupils are an indication of their nocturnal habits.  Along their upper jaw (or “lip”) this species of snake has deep pits used for heat detection.  Both genders will have spurs on either side of their cloaca as well.

The Emeralds have a background color of green with irregular white stripes that sometimes resemble lightning bolts.  Their belly is a plain yellow color.  Juveniles, however, are typically an orange or brick red coloration but they are never yellow!  Yellow juveniles are Green Tree pythons, a different species all together but still stunning.  The adult colors will overtake the juvenile coloration at 9 months to a year old.

Natural History

Emeralds are found primarily in the rainforests of Suriname and the Amazon Basin .  Amazon Basin specimens are slightly gentler (allegedly) and a slightly darker green than their Suriname counterparts.  Amazon specimens are the most common found in the pet trade.

Enclosure

The enclosure for Emerald Tree boas should be completely arboreal, these snakes even eat with their heads hanging down from the branches!  Most of their time will be spent coiled over a branch with their head resting in the middle (during the day) or draped down during the night when the snake is most likely to be active.  Aquariums can be utilized but a custom enclosure or enclosure specially created for arboreal use is highly recommended.

A 20-30 gallon aquarium can be used for young snakes but larger enclosures are preferred especially with the focus being primarily on vertical spacing.  A partial or full screen enclosure is an excellent habitat although keeping high humidity is difficult and requires diligence and some creative solutions.  The draw to a partial or full screen cage is the ventilation although a ceiling fan or small computer fan can be rigged to keep the air circulating as long as the humidity is monitored closely.  Boaphile makes an excellent arboreal caging system that can be modified and customized.  There are other excellent arboreal enclosure systems that are readily available as well.  Any custom cage created should be waterproof and well ventilated!

Lighting

This species is primarily nocturnal but still benefit from the use of UVB bulbs during the day light portion of their light cycle.  Ultraviolet B radiation is not necessarily required for calcium absorption in snakes as they are able to use the calcium from their whole prey however, the UVB lights still offer health and psychological benefits.  A 5.0 ReptiSun bulb is an excellent addition to any enclosure, especially for growing hatchlings, wild caught individuals, and pregnant females.

Temperature

The ambient (air) temperature should be kept around 80-82F° with the basking spot at 85F°.  Higher temperatures can cause regurgitation especially in wild caught individuals.  Temperatures at night can go as low as 75F° without ill effects.  The temperature in the cage should be controlled with a thermostat and monitored with two different thermometers, preferably three.  One thermometer should be placed at the height of the basking spot, one midway in the cage, and another preferably on the floor of the cage.  Under tank heaters, heat cable (used on the outside of the cage only!), heat tape, and heat bulbs can all be utilized for heating the enclosures.  Heat panels are another wonderful way to heat a large enclosure although these can be expensive.  Ceramic heat emitters can also be used especially at night as they do not emit any light to throw off the light cycle of the animal.

Humidity

The humidity in the cage is vitally important and needs remain between 80 and 90% to mimic its rainforest habitat.  The humidity, depending on the cage size, can be maintained using live vegetation, mister systems, fogger systems, large water dishes, or room humidifiers.  Spraying the cage can be utilized for small enclosures as well.  Hygrometers must be used to monitor humidity levels.

Substrate

With such a high level of humidity in the enclosure, it is important to monitor and change the substrate frequently to prevent mold.  Some owners keep their pets in natural vivariums with live plants and natural drainage systems.  These enclosures do require some degree of diligence and maintenance.  Newspaper replaced daily or reptile carpet can be used as it does not mold quickly.  Wood shavings (not cedar or pine) such as orchid bark can be utilized but must be agitated daily and changed weekly.

Accessories

Caging accessories should include heavy vegetation to provide some hide areas, especially for young snakes.  Vertically inclined branches should be offered for enrichment and exercise but a few branches should be completely horizontal and thick enough for the snake to drape over them and be supported.  Branches or perches can be natural wood or PVC piping.  Other creative versions of perches have been created such as wrapping fake vines over PVC piping.  Waterfalls can be added to the enclosure as well as other decorations.

Reproduction

Males are sexually mature around 3-4 years old and females are mature around 4-5 years old.  Once these snakes are successfully mated, they will produce 6-14 young in 6-7 months.


Feeding

This species is a slow growing species with a peculiar feeding habit of hanging downward with its prey from a coiled position on a tree branch.  This species does have a problem with regurgitation in high temperatures.  Also, most Emeralds will not defecate after every meal but after every second or third meal.  In the wild, these snakes consume small mammals, small birds, lizards, and frogs.  However, in captivity, most are offered mice, rats, and pheasant chicks.  All prey is recommended to be pre-killed as live prey can cause severe injuries to snakes.  Frozen prey that has been properly thawed is highly recommended by Chicago Exotics.  Ideally, hatchlings and juveniles should be fed every 10-12 days while adults are fed 1-2 times a month.

Sources and Recommended Reading
The Green Tree Python and Emerald Tree Boa, Ron Kivit, Stephen Wiseman, and Andreas Kirschner
Boas, Doug Wagner
The Art of Keeping Snakes, Phillippe De Vosjoli
Living Snakes of the World, John H. Mertens
The New Encyclopedia of Snakes, Christopher Mattison

An educational handout concerning reptiles and Salmonella is available through the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians.  Please ask your veterinarian for a copy.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

Erica Mede, CVT

Description

Garter snakes are shy snakes reaching lengths of 2-3 feet.  With a life span of 10-12 years, these snakes are common in captivity and are exceptional escape artists.  There are various species of Garter snake available in the reptile industry and a plethora of morphs (color variations) as well!  Hatchlings are about 4-5 inches long.  These snakes are generally patterned with full length stripes starting behind the head and progressing down the body with large round eyes and slender bodies.  Garter snakes are diurnal and terrestrial, sporting the classic round pupils that most people associate with “safe” snakes.  When startled, these snakes will often mimic rattling by vibrating their tail quickly and when all else fails, musk their captors with a fluid that leaves the captor smelling unpleasant.  These snakes are great swimmers as well and agile low level branch climbers.

Natural History

These diurnal, terrestrial semi-aquatic snakes are found throughout the United States and portions of Canada in fields, forests, wetlands, marshes, and residential areas.  This species of snake does brumate during the winter months in large masses.  Generally, before exiting the brumation den, these snakes will breed.

Enclosure

Up to three adults can easily be kept in a 20-30 gallon glass aquarium with a screen lid.  It is recommended to house they animals alone for the best monitoring capabilities but if a group housing situation is desired, two females and a male or all females is acceptable.  The larger the cage and the wider the cage the better!  Wider enclosures allow for more exercise and fulfill this species urge to explore.  Custom designed enclosures can be created but are not commonly utilized in the pet industry.  However, custom enclosures created with a little ingenuity and imagination can offer supreme naturalistic set-ups.  Hatchlings can be kept in 10 gallon aquariums.

Substrate

Substrate should be easy to clean and dry.  Newspaper, reptile carpet, and paper towel are favorites for hatchlings and new individuals to help monitor fecal output.  Most established individuals can be maintained happily on the above or aspen shavings as long as it is agitated frequently and changed every 7-14 days.  Never use pine or cedar shavings which have aromatic oils that can cause irritation and respiratory issues in snakes.  Enrichment can be provided by placing hay, straw, or even dried leaves in the cage for the snake to explore and navigate through.

Temperature and Humidity

Garter snakes require an ambient temperature of 75-85F° which is easily provided with under tank heaters, heat tape, heat cable (on the outside of the cage not the inside).   The temperatures can be controlled easily with a thermostat and monitored with the use of three thermometers.  One thermometer placed on the warm end an inch above the substrate, one placed at the level of the basking site, and another placed an inch above the substrate on the cooler end.  A basking site should be 85-88F°.  At night, the temperature can drop as low as 72F°.

Humidity should be moderate, 35-60%, with the higher end utilized during shedding.  Humidity can be monitored with a hygrometer and increased with the use of a large water bowl, fogger, mister, or daily spraying.

Enrichment

Low branches for climbing should be offered to Garter snakes for exercise and increased basking sites.  Garter snakes will climb low branches but are not excellent climbers so it is important not to have the branches at severe angles.  Natural and artificial foliage can be placed in the cage to increase hiding locations.  Hide boxes in the form of half logs, PVC pipes, and half flower pots can be utilized.  Rocks can be added especially for basking areas if they are placed over a heat source and under the basking light to warm the rock.  A large water bowl is highly recommended to allow the snake to soak at will and swim.  Small plastic storage containers make excellent “swimming pools” for this species and does not require a heater.  If a custom enclosure is created with a custom pond situation then a filter system and heating element may be needed.

Feeding

In the wild, these snakes feed primarily on small rodents, fish, earthworms, and slugs.  In captivity, these snakes are fed primarily earth worms, fish, and/or mice.  It should be noted that snakes fed primarily earthworms must be fed more at least two times a week while fish eaters and mice eaters should be fed every 7 days.  It is recommended that only pre-killed prey be offered as live prey has the potential of severely injuring or killing captive snakes in the case of mice and can transmit parasites in the case of fish.  Chicago Exotics recommends feeding properly thawed frozen rodents.  Hatchlings can be fed every 3-5 days depending on diet offered.  Juveniles and adults every 4-7 days depending on diet offered.  A word of caution against feeding night crawlers from bait shops, these large powerful worms are very difficult for these snakes to eat.  If night crawlers are to be offered, it is strongly recommended to cut these worms into pieces first.

Owners wishing to feed mice to their Garter snakes may find it frustrating when some individuals simply refuse to eat them.  Not all will.  Scenting mice by rubbing them on fish or earthworms seems to help but is not always successful.  Very small snakes should be fed pinky mouse parts as they cannot eat a whole mouse.  Adult snakes typically can eat hopper mice or fuzzies.

Sources and Recommended Reading

Garter and Ribbon Snakes, R. D. Bartlett and Patricia Bartlett
The General Care and Maintenance of Gater Snakes and Water Snakes, David Perlowin
The Garter Snakes: Evolution and Ecology, D. Rossman, N.B. Ford, R.A. Siegel 

An educational handout concerning reptiles and Salmonella is available through the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians.  Please ask your veterinarian for a copy.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

Erica Mede, CVT

Natural History The Green tree python is a beautiful, eye catching snake from New Guinea, the islands of Indonesia, and the Cape York peninsula in Australia in the lush rainforests.  These snakes are frequently confused with Emerald tree boas which are native to South America.  Green trees are a relatively slim bodied snake with a large head and long tail well suited for their arboreal life style.  Depending on the region and the gender (females are larger typically) these beautiful snakes can reach 5-7 feet and live 15-20 years.

The babies are often a red to yellow color and will change color and pattern as they mature which takes around 3 years.  Although these snakes are stunning they are more of an ornamental species for most reptile keepers.  Depending on the origin of the blood line, this species is labeled as “Sorong”, “Biak”, “Merauke”, and “Aru” although most casual keepers refer to them simply as Green trees.

Enclosure The enclosure for Green tree pythons should be completely arboreal, these snakes even eat with their heads hanging down from the branches!  Most of their time will be spent curled up on branches or draped down during the night when the snake is most likely to be active.  Aquariums can be utilized but a custom enclosure or enclosure specially created for arboreal use is highly recommended.

A 20-30 gallon aquarium can be used for young snakes but larger enclosures are preferred especially with the focus primarily on vertical spacing.  A partial or full screen enclosure is an excellent habitat although keeping high humidity is difficult and requires diligence and some creative solutions.  The draw to a partial or full screen cage is the ventilation although a ceiling fan or small computer fan can be rigged to keep the air circulating as long as the humidity is monitored closely.  Boaphile makes excellent arboreal caging systems that can be modified and customized.  There are other excellent arboreal enclosure systems that are readily available as well.  Any custom cage created should be waterproof and well ventilated!  Adults will typically need a 3′ x 2′ x 2′ enclosure to accommodate their nocturnal hunting habits.

Lighting This species is primarily nocturnal but still benefit from the use of UVB bulbs during the day light portion of their light cycle.  Ultraviolet B radiation is not necessarily required for calcium absorption in snakes as they are able to use the calcium from their whole prey however, the UVB lights still offer health and psychological benefits.  A 5.0 ReptiSun bulb is an excellent addition to any enclosure, especially for growing hatchlings, wild caught individuals, and pregnant females.

Temperature The ambient (air) temperature should be kept around 84-88°F with the basking spot at no higher than 92°F as this species suffers from heat stress.  Higher temperatures can cause regurgitation especially in wild caught individuals.  Temperatures at night can go as low as 75°F without ill effects.  The temperature in the cage should be controlled with a thermostat and monitored with two different thermometers, preferably three.  One thermometer should be placed at the height of the basking spot, one midway in the cage, and another preferably on the floor of the cage.  Under tank heaters, heat cable (used on the outside of the cage only!), heat tape, and heat bulbs can all be utilized for heating the enclosures.  Heat panels are another wonderful way to heat a large enclosure although these can be expensive.  Ceramic heat emitters can also be used especially at night as they do not emit any light to throw off the light cycle of the animal.

HumidityThe humidity in the cage is vitally important and needs remain between 50 and 70% to mimic their natural habitat.  The humidity, depending on the cage size, can be maintained using live vegetation, mister systems, fogger systems, large water dishes, or room humidifiers.  Spraying the cage can be utilized for small enclosures as well.  Hygrometers must be used to monitor humidity levels.

Substrate With such a high level of humidity in the enclosure, it is important to monitor and change the substrate frequently to prevent mold.  Some owners keep their pets in natural vivariums with live plants and natural drainage systems.  These enclosures do require some degree of diligence and maintenance.  Newspaper replaced daily or reptile carpet can be used as it does not mold quickly.  Wood shavings (not cedar or pine) such as orchid bark can be utilized but must be agitated daily and changed weekly.

Accessories
Caging accessories should include heavy vegetation to provide some hide areas, especially for young snakes.  Vertically inclined branches should be offered for enrichment and exercise but a few branches should be completely horizontal and thick enough for the snake to drape over them and be supported.  Branches or perches can be natural wood or PVC piping.  Other creative versions of perches have been created such as wrapping fake vines over PVC piping.  Waterfalls can be added to the enclosure as well as other decorations.

Feeding This species is a slow growing species but they are aggressive hunters!  This species does have a problem with regurgitation in high temperatures.  Also, most Green tree pythons will not defecate after every meal but after every second or third meal.  In the wild, these snakes consume small mammals, small birds, lizards, and frogs.  However, in captivity, most are offered mice, rats, and pheasant chicks.  All prey is recommended to be pre-killed as live prey can cause severe injuries to snakes.  Frozen prey that has been properly thawed is highly recommended by Chicago Exotics.  Ideally, hatchlings and juveniles should be fed every 7-10 days while adults are fed roughly every two weeks.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

Erica Mede, CVT

Natural History 

The Mexican Black kingsnake, a subspecies of the Common (Eastern) kingsnake, is a very popular snake in the reptile pet industry due to their beauty, modest size and rather tractable temperament.  This species is one of the first kingsnakes to be bred regularly for the sole purpose of pets!  Mexican Black kingsnakes grow between 3 and 4 feet and often live 15-20 years in captivity with excellent care.  Native to the rocky, semi desert and grassy areas of Mexico up through portions of Arizona this species displays versatility being an opportunistic burrower as well as an excellent swimmer.

Despite popular belief, kingsnakes are not immune to the venom of native Rattlesnakes but they are resistant to it.  Also, these snakes are not necessarily predators of venomous snakes.  They are opportunistic feeders and will consume them when available but they do not seek them out.

Feeding 

In the wild, these snakes feed primarily on rodents, snakes, eggs, and lizards.  In captivity, these snakes are fed primarily mice.  It is recommended that only pre-killed prey be offered as live prey has the potential of severely injuring or killing captive snakes, especially those unaccustomed to live prey.  Variety is always encouraged.  Feeder anoles and chicks are available.  Most turtle keepers will have eggs at one point or another and these can be utilized if they are stored properly and the turtle is healthy.  Button quail keepers on occasion have eggs as well.  Hatchlings can be fed every 5-7 days.  Juveniles should be offered food every 7-10 days and adults fed every 10-14 days.

These snakes tend to go off food during fall and will become restless.  Wild caught individuals may require a “cool down” or brumation period to stimulate an appetite again but most will start to eat again without a problem.

Enclosure 

Adults are easily kept in a 20-30 gallon glass aquarium with a screen lid.  The larger the enclosure the better, a 4 foot snake will likely feel more at home in a 40 gallon breeder tank.  Some people have even utilized modified sweater boxes for keeping these snakes especially hatchlings and wild caught specimens which can be quite flighty.  Hatchlings can be kept in 10 gallon aquariums.  As these snakes are adept at burrowing under substrate and climbing on low branches it is advised to have a little more height to an enclosure.

Substrate 

Substrate should ideally be easy to clean.  Newspaper, artificial turf such as Reptile Carpet, and paper towel are favorites for hatchlings and new individuals to help monitor fecal output.  Most established individuals can be maintained happily on the above or aspen bedding as long as it is agitated frequently and changed every 7-14 days.  Never use pine or cedar shavings as the aromatic oils can cause irritation and respiratory issues in your snake.  Enrichment can be provided by placing hay, straw, or even dried leaves in the cage for the snake to explore and navigate through.  The addition of novel scents and textures is always recommended for their well being.

Temperature 

Kingsnakes require an ambient temperature of 77-84°F which is easily provided with under tank heaters, heat tape, heat cable (on the outside of the cage not the inside).   The temperatures can be controlled easily with a thermostat and monitored with the use of three thermometers.  One thermometer placed on the warm end an inch above the substrate, one placed at the level of the basking site, and another placed an inch above the substrate on the cooler end.  A basking site should be 85-90°F.  At night, the temperature can drop as low as 75°F.

Humidity 

Humidity should be moderate, 40-60%, with the higher end utilized during shedding.  Humidity can be monitored with a hygrometer and increased with the use of a large water bowl, fogger, mister, or daily spraying.

Lighting

Although these snakes do not require UVB lighting due to their whole prey diet it is still recommended to offer a ReptiSun 5.0.  Avoid keeping your snake by the window as this is not a source of UVB and can result in the death of reptiles due to accidental over heating.

Accessories

Horizontally positioned branches should be offered for climbing as this species enjoys climbing on low level branches in the wild.  Natural and artificial foliage can be placed in the cage to increase hiding locations.  Hide boxes in the form of half logs, PVC pipes, and half flower pots can be utilized.  Rocks can be added texture and for basking areas if they are placed over a heat source and under the basking light to warm the rock.  A water dish large enough to swim in is also recommended.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

Erica Mede, CVT

Description

This docile, slow moving, medium sized snake reaches lengths of 2-3 feet and live for over 25 years in captivity.  Rosys are rarely prone to biting, preferring to ball up rather than attack.  With a stout body and blunt tail this snake makes a great pet and is popular in the pet trade due to the morphs (colors and patterns) that can be created through selective breeding.  Generally, Rosys have a rose or salmon color on the belly and dark orange spots (thus the name).  The back of the snake is usually a dark gray, yellow, or tannish color.  Rosys have three characteristic stripes that extend the length of the body and are naturally found in oranges, brownish reds, browns, and black.  These snakes have small eyes with vertical pupils due to their nocturnal nature.  There are several subspecies based on location of the animal.

Natural History

Rosys are found throughout the south western United States and parts of northern Mexico .  Generally, these snakes are found in rocks and rocky crevices seeming to favor granite outcroppings where available.  These nocturnal snakes are found in the hottest and driest deserts in the United States and Mexico near intermittent water or desert springs.

Sexing

Females are generally longer than the males.  Males, however, have pronounced anal spurs on either side of the vent while females will have either no spurs or greatly reduced ones.  Probing is an excellent way to determine gender but should be done by a confident snake keeper or veterinarian as damage to the snake can occur.

Reproduction

This species gives birth to 2-10 babies with the average female only having 2-5 at a time.  Birth occurs about 4 months after successful mating.  Rosy mating season is typically in early to late spring.  When Rosys are born, they are generally 6-9 inches long.

Enclosure

There are many different ways to keep Rosy boas, as with any snake.  A 10-20 gallon tank is a good size to keep a juvenile and a 20-30 gallon tank being better for adults.  The larger the enclosure the better.  Custom enclosures can be made and sweater boxes can be utilized as well for young and shy individuals.  Floor space is much more important than vertical space in this species, strive to offer the most.  Ventilation is important in this species especially since excessive moisture is poorly tolerated in Rosys.

Substrate

Rosy boas prefer to burrow in their substrate, especially during the day light hours.  If newspaper or reptile carpet is being used it is recommended to shred newspaper on top to promote burrowing behavior and to prevent undue stress on the animal.  Aspen and Care Fresh can also be used as long as the aspen is agitated daily and bedding is changed weekly.  Never use pine or cedar shavings as the aromatic oils are irritating to snakes.

Temperature and Humidity

The cool end of the enclosure should be 77-80F° and the warm end should be 90-92F°.  These temperatures should be maintained with a thermostat and monitored with two thermometers ideally.  One thermometer should be placed on the warm end an inch above the substrate and the other an inch above the substrate on the cool end of the enclosure.  Under tank heaters, heat cable (outside the enclosure not in the enclosure), heat tape, and ceramic heat emitters can all be utilized to maintain air temperature.

Humidity should be maintained under 50% to keep this species healthy as they do poorly in high humidity.  No special techniques are needed to keep the humidity low, just proper ventilation and placement of the water bowl on the cool side of the enclosure.

Accessories

Cage accessories should consist of at least one hide box near the middle of the cage or two hide boxes one on each end of the enclosure.  Hides can be as simple as a half a flower pot, half log, or as complicated as a rock structure (make sure it’s well anchored).  Branches for climbing are encouraged and are wonderful for enrichment.  Rocks added into the enclosure are appreciated by most Rosys as well.  If rocks are being used, place them over a heat source and under an over head heat source to provide a warm basking area.  A cold rock will leech body heat from a snake.

Lighting

Rosys are nocturnal by nature and do not require intense lighting despite their desert habitats.  However, it is recommended that a 2.0 ReptiSun UVB bulb be offered during the day light portion of the light cycle.  All snakes can absorb the calcium from their whole prey for their own use but a UVB bulb still offers some health benefits as well as promotion of natural behaviors from the UVA being emitted.

Feeding

In the wild, these snakes feed primarily on birds, lizards, pack rats, baby rabbits, deer mice, and kangaroo rats.  In captivity however, most are fed mice and small rats in some cases.  It is highly recommended to feed only pre-killed prey as live prey can severely injure or kill a snake.  Chicago Exotics recommends feeding properly thawed frozen rodents.

These snakes are aggressive feeders despite their slow moving nature.  Hatchlings are typically fed pinkies to hopper size mice and adults are fed adult mice or small rats.  Smaller meals fed on a more frequent basis is recommended.  Depending on the size of the meal, it is recommended to feed hatchlings every 5-7 days and adults every 10-14 days.

Sources and Recommended Reading

Boas: Rosy and Ground, Jerry Walls
Rosy Boas: Patterns in Time, Bob Montoya, Gerold Merker, Randy Limburg
The Art of Keeping Snakes, Philippe De Vosjoli
Boas, Doug Wagner
The New Encyclopedia of Snakes, Christopher Mattison
Living Snakes of the World, John M. Merirtens
Rosy, Rubber, and Sand Boas, R.D. Bartlett

An educational handout concerning reptiles and Salmonella is available through the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians.  Please ask your veterinarian for a copy.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

Erica Mede, CVT

Description

This docile, slow moving, stout bodied snake reaches lengths of 2-3 feet and live for 15-20 years in captivity although longer has been documented.  Sand boas are rarely bite, preferring to ball up or escape rather than attack.  With a stout body and blunt tail this snake makes a great pet and is popular in the pet trade due to the morphs (colors and patterns) that can be created through selective breeding.  There are 15 different species of Sand boa with several being well represented in the pet industry.  These snakes have small eyes and heads that are ill defined against their body.  By two years of age, females of the species will be significantly larger than males.

Natural History

Sand boas are found throughout south and south east Europe , Asia Minor , Africa , Arabia , central and southwestern Asia , India , Sri Lanka , western United States and northern Mexico depending on the species.  These snakes are exceptional at burrowing and in captivity can be found with just their heads sticking out of the substrate.  These nocturnal snakes are found in dry areas with only partially sandy soil not sand alone.

Sexing

Females are generally longer than the males by two years of age.  Probing is an excellent way to determine gender but should be done by a confident snake keeper or veterinarian as damage to the snake can occur.

Enclosure

There are many different ways to keep Sand boas, as with any snake.  A 10-20 gallon tank is a good size to keep this snake in.  The larger the enclosure the better.  Custom enclosures can be made and sweater boxes can be utilized as well and seem to work exceptionally well in this species as the opacity of the walls offers a more secure feeling.  Floor space is much more important than vertical space in this species, strive to offer the most.  Ventilation is important.  Plastic enclosures such as sweater boxes can have ventilation holes created using a soldering iron or a drill.  Vision cages are an excellent option but the substrate depth is rather limited due to front sliding doors.

Substrate

Sand boas prefer to burrow in their substrate, especially during the day light hours.  If newspaper, paper towel, or reptile carpet is being used it is recommended to shred newspaper on top to promote burrowing behavior and to prevent undue stress on the animal.   Aspen can also be used as long as the aspen is agitated daily and bedding is changed weekly.  The aspen must be kept around 2-4 inches deep to offer the appropriate burrowing behavior.  Never use pine or cedar shavings as the aromatic oils are irritating to snakes.  Although these snakes are called “sand” boas, they are not native to all sand terrains.  Sand boas will burrow in sand but the risks are greater than the advantages including impaction from ingestion and abrasions from inappropriately sized sand particles.  If a naturalistic set-up is to be created, a 60-70% top soil to 40-30% play sand mixture should be utilized and monitored carefully.

Temperature and Humidity

The enclosure, regardless of type, should have a gradient of 75-85F° with the warmest spot no more than 90F°.  These temperatures should be maintained with a thermostat and monitored with two thermometers ideally.  One thermometer should be placed on the warm end an inch above the substrate and the other an inch above the substrate on the cool end of the enclosure.  Under tank heaters, heat cable (outside the enclosure not in the enclosure), heat tape are the most appropriate to warm the substrate.

Humidity should be maintained under 50% to keep this species healthy as they do poorly in high humidity.  No special techniques are needed to keep the humidity low, just proper ventilation and placement of the water bowl on the cool side of the enclosure.

Accessories

Cage accessories should consist of two hide boxes with one on the warm side and one on the cooler side of the enclosure if burrowing substrate is not provided.  Hides can be as simple as a half a flower pot, half log, or as complicated as a rock structure (make sure it’s well anchored).  Rocks added into the enclosure offers enrichment and some variation in the enclosure.

Lighting

Sand boas are nocturnal by nature and do not require intense lighting despite their desert habitats.  However, it is recommended that a 5.0 ReptiSun UVB bulb be offered during the day light portion of the light cycle.  All snakes can absorb the calcium from their whole prey for their own use but a UVB bulb still offers some health benefits as well as promotion of natural behaviors from the UVA being emitted.

Feeding

In the wild, these snakes feed primarily on rodents, lizards, and small birds that pass by.  In captivity however, most are fed mice with a penchant for smaller rodent prey than what their size could ingest.  These snakes seem to relish nestling mice the most and feed well after dusk!  It is highly recommended to feed only pre-killed prey as live prey can severely injure or kill a snake.  Chicago Exotics recommends feeding properly thawed frozen rodents.

These snakes are aggressive feeders despite their slow moving nature.  Hatchlings are typically fed pinkies or in the cases of the smaller species, pinky mice parts.  Adults can eat small mice but tend to prefer hopper mice.  Hatchlings should be fed every 5-7 days and adults fed every 7-10 days small meals.

Sources and Recommended Reading

Boas: Rosy and Ground, Jerry Walls
The Art of Keeping Snakes, Philippe De Vosjoli
Boas, Doug Wagner
The New Encyclopedia of Snakes, Christopher Mattison
Living Snakes of the World, John M. Merirtens
Rosy, Rubber, and Sand Boas, R.D. Bartlett

An educational handout concerning reptiles and Salmonella is available through the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians.  Please ask your veterinarian for a copy.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

Erica Mede, CVT

Description

Western Fox snakes are shy snakes reaching lengths of 3-5 feet.  Males are typically larger than females.  With a life span of 10-12 years, these rather sluggish snakes not the most common snake kept in captivity.  Adults are yellow to dark brown with red-brown blotches along the back.  The belly scales are yellow with black marks but the head of adults remain bronze and unpatterned.  Adults also have rings around their short tails.  Hatchlings are about 8-12 inches long and their head has a distinct black line going from the eye to the jaw and across the head between the eyes.  Fox snake hatchlings typically have grayish coloration with blackish blotches along the back.

Western Fox snakes are a hardy species and are both diurnal and terrestrial, sporting the classic round pupils that most people associate with “safe” snakes.  This species is frequently mistaken for Pine snakes and occasionally young Bull snakes.  A very unfortunate confusion occurs between adult Fox snakes and Massasauga rattlesnakes.  When startled, these snakes will often mimic rattling by vibrating their tail quickly and when all else fails, musk their captors with a fluid that smells curiously like fox musk.

Natural History

These diurnal snakes are found throughout the western and central United Statesespecially in western Michigan , Wisconsin , Minnesota , Illinois , Iowa , and South Dakota black soil prairies.  This species of snake does hibernate during the winter months.

Enclosure

Adults are easily kept in a 20-30 gallon glass aquarium with a screen lid.  The larger the cage and the wider the cage the better!  Wider enclosures allow for more exercise and fulfill this species urge to explore.  Custom designed enclosures can be created but aren’t commonly utilized in the pet industry.  However, custom enclosures created with a little ingenuity and imagination can offer supreme naturalistic set-ups.  Hatchlings can be kept in 10 gallon aquariums.

Substrate

​Substrate should be easy to clean and dry.  Newspaper, reptile carpet, and paper towel are favorites for hatchlings and new individuals to help monitor fecal output.  Most established individuals can be maintained happily on the above or aspen shavings as long as it is agitated frequently and changed every 7-14 days.  Never use pine or cedar shavings which have aromatic oils that can cause irritation and respiratory issues in snakes.  Enrichment can be provided by placing hay, straw, or even dried leaves in the cage for the snake to explore and navigate through.

Temperature and Humidity

Western Fox snakes require an ambient temperature of 80-85°F which is easily provided with under tank heaters, heat tape, heat cable (on the outside of the cage not the inside).   The temperatures can be controlled easily with a thermostat and monitored with the use of three thermometers.  One thermometer placed on the warm end an inch above the substrate, one placed at the level of the basking site, and another placed an inch above the substrate on the cooler end.  A basking site should be 85-88°F.  At night, the temperature can drop as low as 75°F.

Humidity should be moderate, 35-60%, with the higher end utilized during shedding. Humidity can be monitored with a hygrometer and increased with the use of a large water bowl, fogger, mister, or daily spraying.

Accessories

Branches for climbing should be offered to Fox snakes for exercise and increased basking areas.  Fox snakes will climb low branches but are not excellent climbers.  Natural and fake foliage can be placed in the cage to increase hiding locations.  Hide boxes in the form of half logs, PVC pipes, and half flower pots can be utilized.  Rocks can be added especially for basking areas if they are placed over a heat source and under the basking light to warm the rock.  A large water bowl is highly recommended to allow the snake to soak at will.

Reproduction

Mating season for Fox snakes begins in late spring and early summer.  Successful mating will result in the female laying eggs two months after.  Rat snakes lay 15-20 eggs. Hatchlings are tiny, generally 8-12 inches long and emerge in late August to early October (about 65-70 days after eggs are laid).

Feeding

​In the wild, these snakes feed primarily on rodents such as mice and voles.  In captivity, these snakes are fed primarily mice.  It is recommended that only pre-killed prey be offered as live prey has the potential of severely injuring or killing captive snakes, especially those unaccustomed to live prey.  Chicago Exotics recommends feeding properly thawed frozen rodents.  Hatchlings can be fed every 5-7 days.  Juveniles should be offered food every 7-10 days and adults fed every 10-14 days.

Sources and Recommended Reading

The New Encyclopedia of Snakes, Christopher Mattison
Living Snakes of the World, John M. Merirtens
Good SnakekeepingPhilip Purser

Ratsnakefoundation.org

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

Other

Paul Gibbons, DVM  ABVP Avian and Reptile

One of the most important aspects of reptile care is temperature maintenance. Although reptiles are commonly thought to be “cold blooded”, a study of iguanas in the South American rain forest found that daily body temperatures often exceed 100 degrees. These lizards climb trees to bask in the heat of the sun and warm their bodies.  Every reptile species, however, encounters a unique temperature gradient in nature. For proper health in captivity, that gradient must be artificially simulated. Start by learning the specific needs of a species by purchasing books from the pet store, searching the Internet, or consulting with a reptile professional.  Then, get at least two accurate thermometers to measure your environmental temperature gradient.  Finally, set up a system that supplies the proper heat for your conditions.

Many options are now available to provide heat for reptiles. No single device is perfect, and I recommend different ones in different situations. Use one of the thermometers to monitor the coolest part of the enclosure. A primary heat source should heat the whole enclosure to the lower end of the species preferred range. Then, if needed, a secondary heat source may be used to raise the temperature of the basking spot.   Use thermostats to regulate each heating source.

Primary heating devices include heat tape, under-the-tank mats, incandescent bulbs, ceramic heat emitters, flood lamps, and space heaters. These heat sources can be dangerous if used incorrectly, and the manufacturer’s recommendations must be followed. For example, light bulbs larger than 60 watts require a porcelain based fixture.   Similarly, under-tank-heaters cannot be placed inside the tank, or they will cause severe burns.  For extremely large enclosures such as closets, rooms, and greenhouses, radiant or forced air space heaters may be needed.  If the heater uses gas, it is essential to monitor carbon monoxide levels. Rock heaters (“hot rocks” or “sizzle stones”) are not appropriate for use inside reptile enclosures.  These devices do not adequately heat the air around them, and frequently inflict severe burns in the animals they were keeping warm.

Heating the entire enclosure may be difficult unless the whole room is warm enough.  Often, a heat source is rated by how many degrees it can heat the enclosure above ambient temperature.  The primary heat source must respond to changes that occur in the home with varying seasons.  A change in the wattage of a bulb, use of a rheostat, or incorporation of a thermostat may be necessary to maintain the low end of a reptile’s safe range.

A secondary heat source might be needed to provide the upper end of the temperature gradient. The basking site provides heat necessary to activate digestive enzymes and stimulate the immune system. Most herpetoculturists use some type of overhead system, imitating the sun.  Use the second thermometer at this site to ensure adequate and safe temperatures.

Timers are useful to regulate the secondary heat source. If an incandescent bulb that emits bright light is used, the timer allows shutoff for darkness.  A basking spot may not be necessary at night for some species, since in the wild, temperatures can drop dramatically after sundown.  However, if secondary heat is still needed during darkness, a blue, red, or ceramic bulb may be used.

Every setup is different, so the devices used to provide heat will vary according to the size of the enclosure, the species of animal, and the ambient room temperature. Be prepared to fine-tune your system as the seasons change. Constant monitoring is needed to ensure that the heat sources are providing your reptile with its preferred optimum temperature gradient.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

​Stephanie H Moy, DVM

As the pet industry has grown, snakes have become a popular pet.  However, with the growth of their popularity there is an important illness that can have a startling affect on many snakes in the boa and python family.  This illness is called Inclusion body disease (IBD).  It is caused by arenavirus.  However, there are great strides to find improvement in diagnosing and treating this disease.IBD was first identified as a disease in the United States in the 1970s.  This disease is characterized by the formation of intracytoplasmic inclusions.  In other words, there are abnormal protein materials within a normal cell.  The virus itself was isolated in 2013.

The clinical signs generally seen primarily involve the central nervous system.  The most common clinical signs are listed below.

  1. Torticollis (“wry neck”,”head-tilt): This can involve just the head or majority of the body.  We have personally seen snakes with their upper half of the body turned 180°.
  2. Disequilibrium: The snakes do not seem to be steady.  When handled, the movements can be erratic.
  3. Inability to right itself. Generally you will see a snake on its back and unable to right itself.  This can be due to many factors.  Since the nerves are affected it can be due to lack of proprioception (knowledge of knowing body position) or weakness (lack of nerve communication).
  4. Flaccid Paralysis: This is the generally weakness of muscles most likely due to the nerves not firing properly
  5. Regurgitation of food: This can happen after several days post eating.
  6. Secondary bacterial infection: Generally mouth and respiratory infections.

However, besides IBD, we have to take into consideration other disease processes that can cause these neurological signs.

  • Nutrition: If an animal is not given the proper diet a lack of certain vitamins and minerals can cause neurological signs.
  • Trauma: Any trauma to the head or spine.
  • Gout: When the kidneys are not functioning properly, crystallization of uric acid can occur onto the nerves.
  • Toxins: The improper use of pesticides (to kill mites), medications, and environmental agents (i.e.: wood shavings with high resin content).
  • Parasites, bacterial, or viral infection of the nervous system.

At Chicago Exotics we recommend bloodwork and radiographs to be performed to see if there are other underlying disease processes. A qPCR for arenavirus can be run on swabs, tissues, and blood.

Bloodwork consist of a complete blood count (CBC) and biochemistry.  A CBC informs us if there are any infections, inflammation, or anemia.  Any changes to the CBC need to be addressed to allow the snake to improve.  Biochemistry allows us to help evaluate the function of the organs.  If the biochemistry indicates certain organs are not functionally well, it can help us determine if there are other disease processes affecting the snake.  Radiographs help us evaluate the bone density as well as evaluate the spine.

At this time the best way to diagnose IBD is taking biopsies, or taking small pieces of tissues.  These biopsies are considered a surgical procedure and the snake needs be under anesthesia.  In most cases, a flexible endoscope with a biopsy device is used to biopsy the esophageal tonsils which are generally well developed in boid snakes.  However, if the tonsils are not seen, then an incision is made over the liver to take some tissue.  Through qPCR and special staining, we may see lymphoid cells or mucous epithelial cells with intracytoplasmic inclusions as well as get a confirmation of the virus’ presence.  Unfortunately, if the testing is positive, there is no cure for IBD.

At this time the cause and the route of transmission are not known.  Many of the snakes, but not all, identified with IBD have been also affected by a virus.  IBD may represent a protein-storage diseased induced by a viral infection or mutation within the protein to act inappropriately.  The route of transmission is not determined but it is suspected that direct contact is needed.  Historically, when there has been an outbreak in snake colonies, the snake mites were present.  It is possible the transmission occurs when mites bite one snake and then another snake.  It is also possible IBD can be passed down from the mother to young.

The best way to reduce your risk of IBD is to buy from a well-established breeder.  Ask questions about how the snake was hatched and the environment it was kept.  A low price does not mean you will get a healthy pet.

​Quarantining new snakes are important especially if several snakes are already in the house.  The minimal quarantine time is 90 days.  This long quarantine time is due to the slow metabolism of the snake and the length in which sickness can occur.  Also, by quarantining, you can monitor the appetite, fecal output, and behavior of your new pet.  You should have your snaked evaluated by your veterinarian at the beginning of the quarantine and ideally at the end of quarantine.

Here is a link to a great new publication on this virus:Identification, Characterization, and In Vitro Culture of Highly Divergent Arenaviruses from Boa Constrictors and Annulated Tree Boas: Candidate Etiological Agents for Snake Inclusion Body Disease
        Mark D. StengleinChris SandersAmy L. KistlerJ. Graham RubyJessica Y. FrancoDrury R. ReavillFreeland Dunker, and Joseph L. DeRisiReferences

  1. Reptile Medicine and Surgery, 2nd edition.  Mader, Douglas R.
  2. Inclusion Body Disease, A Worldwide Infectious Disease of Boid Snakes: A review.  Chang, Li-Wen BVM and Jacobson, Elliott R. DVM, PhD, Dip. ACZM

An educational handout concerning reptiles and Salmonella is available through the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians.  Please ask your veterinarian for a copy.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

If your snake looks like the ones pictured below, you need to call us!

Pictured below are two beautiful Retics we saw recently.

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