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Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
 Issue 19  
September, 2005
Handling Snakes for the Nervous Folk
In this Issue

by Mark Chapple

I was watching my daughter to today with one of her friends. She wanted to show Holly her pet snake but she is fearful of getting them out of the cage - one bit her once when she put her hand in and she will not repeat doing it. Once the snake is outside she handles it with confidence and no fear, she just doesn't like getting it out of the cage.

I got the two small pythons out for her but her friend was very frightened of them and reacted with fear, backing off quickly with a minor squeal. She would not even go near them. So we just handled the snakes gently and showed her they were quite tame, not agitated nor prone to striking, in fact not scary at all.

Gradually my daughter, Briana, encourage Holly to touch the snake. She said no at first but with a bit of persuasion she finally said OK, but only near the tail. She touched the snake and recoiled, like some people do (many do not). But she did come back and gradually she began to touch it more. It took a few attempts from the first time but she was slowly beginning to gather her courage.

Then Bri said to her, "How about put your hands under the middle, while I hold the rest?"

Reluctantly Holly put both hands out and supported the middle of the snake. She was still quite scared but the head was nowhere near her and she could just hold her hands underneath the snake and get a feel for its weight and the feel of its body (sensual beasts really). This was quite comforting to her, holding but not really holding and hence not having the full responsibility of handling the snake.

Gradually Holly became more confident and held a bit more and then a bit more. After about 10-15 minutes I noticed that Holly had the whole snake. I was quite impressed. I didn't really notice the transition from support - to holding more - to holding fully but she obviously gained more confidence as time went by. I later asked Bri what she did and she told me she just took her hands away, first the tail end, and then the head end, while Holly continued holding the middle.

Holly had gone from someone who had a fear and would not touch the snake, who said it was slimy and felt funny, to someone who was handling it and letting it move about her. And enjoying the experience. She was looking at it carefully and just letting it wander about, while managing to move it around her arms and hands.

I think I was just as impressed by the way my daughter introduced it to her and gradually gave her the confidence and then the responsibility. By letting her get used to it gradually and doing everything in a slow and gentle manner, Holly was able to overcome her fears and begin to trust the snake and her ability to handle it.

It took quite a while for this whole process but I think there is a lesson there for anyone who handles snakes and introduces them to new people and unfamiliar surroundings.

Taking it slowly and gently, letting both the snake and the new person become comfortable with each other so both are then at ease. Holly was confident the snake was not going to hurt her and the snake was not agitated or fearful but rather relaxed and easy going.

I didn't really give this much thought at the time, I was just an observer. It was only after reflection that I realized now how well my daughter had handled this. Much of it revolved around trust. Trust by Holly, the reptile and my daughter but it was a salient lesson for me and I think other reptile owners as well.

The care and breeding of Childrens Pythons (Antarasia childreni) - Part 1

by Justin Julander, Australian Addiction Reptiles

Introduction

Children's pythons come from the North of Australia and on some offshore islands (Barker and Barker, 1994). John Grey named this python after his former mentor and supervisor, John Children. They are also called the faded python due to the reduction of pattern as they mature. Children's pythons start out as vividly patterned snakes, which in time becomes reduced as they mature. They inhabit many different habitats, and because of this adaptability are well suited to do well in captivity. In the wild, children's pythons feed on lizards and frogs when young, and may include some mammalian prey as adults.

Care

These small pythons are easy to maintain if basic needs are met. These, as well as all pythons, need a thermal gradient so that they may choose from a range of temperatures, which temperature they need to do a certain job. These jobs include digestion of food, reproductive cycling, energy conservation, and many others. No one temperature will suffice and a range of temperatures must be provided. I keep my children's pythons in cages with stacked hides below a basking light. This allows different levels of heat at the different levels of hide boxes. The snakes can therefore choose which level they want to get a certain temperature. The use of an infrared temperature gun makes this job of temp monitoring an easy task. These tools are very useful and I recommend getting a thermal temp gun to anyone that is keeping reptiles. Temperatures are everything with reptiles, so be sure you know what temps your captives are allowed to use.

I keep pairs or trios in a spacious terrarium with sand as a substrate. The sand is replaced when needed, and spot cleaned weekly. Care must be taken when housing multiple snakes together that they do not attack each other during misguided feeding responses. Water is provided in a bowl that can not be easily tipped over. In addition to the dry leveled heated hides, I also provide a moist hide filled with slightly damp green moss. This allows the pythons to choose a more humid environment when needed. If these basic needs are met, little problems will arise.

The most important aspect of keeping reptiles is observation. As all setups and methods of keeping animals vary, there is no one way. The snakes know best what they need, and their needs must come over any care sheet. For example, if you read a care page that says a snake needs a constant 80 degree heat spot and you follow that advice and the snake is always under the heat lamp out in the open, this is telling you the snake is not getting high enough temperatures. This is where you must understand what the snake is telling you and adjust your care appropriately. Many are under the misconception that if they follow exactly the methods of someone who has had success with an animal, they they will also have success. This couldn't be more wrong, and the only useful information is gleaned from the animals themselves. Watch and listen to what your snakes are telling you, and only then will you be successful.

Feeding

Hatchlings are sometimes reluctant to take pink mice as a first meal. If the needs are met, then starting hatchlings on mice will be much easier. I once had a hatchling that refused mice. One day, the heating went on the fritz and the room became lethally hot. Many of my adult breeder snakes that were close to the heat source died, but one picky hatchling that would not eat, began feeding after the high temperature surge. When I have a group of hatchlings, I will first make sure they have the proper thermal gradient (70-100 degrees Fahrenheit) and then will try live pinks straight out of the nest. Some will feed on the normal pinks, but for the others I will wash the pinks and give these "unscented" to the snakes. If they still are reluctant I will use some shed skin from some of my Australian knob-tailed geckos to trick the hatchlings into thinking it is a lizard. This usually works for all my pythons.

Adults will take full grown adult mice their whole lives. They are small enough that a few adult mice makes a good meal. There is no set regimen and I usually feed breeder snakes heavily before and after breeding season. They can be ravenous, and I have even had females that were incubating a clutch of eggs eat mice during incubation. Snakes must be well fed and heavy bodied to be ready for a reproductive event.

 

Justin is excited about his animals and loves to share his enthusiasm and experience. Justin has been keeping reptiles for over 20 years and breeding them for the last 6 years. Justin's collection includes children's pythons, womas, knob tailed and eyelash geckos, frilled lizards, snake necked turtles, green tree pythons and spotted pythons. Justin also runs a website called "Australian Addiction Reptiles"


How to catch Apalone spinifera (Spiny Shoftshell Turtles)

by Michelle T. Nash

This is an edited extact of a letter Michelle sent about one of her recent herping expeditions with family and friends.

Thought I'd send those pics because this little turtle was just so cute! It was just a days old hatchling and you can see the umbilical stump still on the belly. There was a purpose to catching them. A friend of mine, his name is Mike, had heard through herp-loving friends of ours that there was a small nature museum nearby hoping to replace their larger softshell turtle with a very small one(s). Since Mike knew where he could find some we decided to give it a try - to help them out AND have fun. We went out three times. The first two times we found one each time. We were using a proven method but not having much luck. It seems they prefer to burrow into sandy banks just under the water and when they have recently done so you can see the disturbance pattern in the sand so you just scoop into the sand and pull them out. At this size they can't do you much harm. They were about 4 x 5cm. The problem was that the area he knew of had recently changed from sandy shallow banks to sand mixed with lots of small rocks, making it tons harder to burrow into, for us and the turtles.

spiny softshell hatchling belly Aug 2005 spiny softshell hatchling Aug 2005

There was an area about 20m long that was good loose sand but we weren't finding any disturbances to dig into. Finally, the third time out we were getting a bit crazed after having no luck and decided almost jokingly that we would just start digging all about and we'd have to find one. Surprisingly, that's just what happened! We discovered that if we raked our fingers through the sand about 4cm deep starting about 40 cm from the waters edge and pulling our hands towards the shore we were scooping up babies at a rate of 6 in about 30 minutes!

So on a later date we set out to see if the nature center wanted one or all 8 and to ask them if they knew any other nature museums that might be interested in a few of those collected since they were so small and harmless at this size they make good tank mates for other turtles on exhibit. They were quite excited and were happy to call around. If there aren't homes for the rest they will call Mike back and he will release the rest where found. They are really fascinating!

They are very common thought the state of Illinois in rivers, ponds, lakes etc. They are highly carnivorous throughout their life and once they are 3 or 4 inches can deliver a nasty cutting bite! They can get to be 10+ inches - as big as a dinner plate with a very sharp jaw under their fleshy mouth.

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Letters to the Editor

This letter was received as a response to Jen Swoffords article in Editions 16 & 17

Hello Mark,

I just wanted to make a quick comment on the keeping reptiles august 2005 edition, specifically the article on causes of early death for iguanas.

Overall I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that iguanas should be given better care. However, a "fact" quoted in the article I find to be a little misleading, and I feel it important to point this out to you because these sorts of "facts" are often used to justify the political position that almost no one can properly care for iguanas and that iguanas and other reptiles and exotic pets should not be kept by regular members of the public. In other words, you and me, the readers of this newsletter and anyone else.

Sadly, this political position to restrict ownership of all herps is one endorsed by many of the Iguana gurus found on the net. Ordinarily I would just let such comments slide, but when published in a newsletter format such as yours, I feel I have some responsibility to point out where I disagree, or feel I have no right to complain when the day arrives that none of us are allowed to keep herps.

This is the statement I disagree with:

"Almost none live more than ten years, and many don't live more than 2.
(Their lifespan is 20+ years!!)"

OK, I wholeheartedly agree with the statement that many don't live more than 2. In fact, most do not, and that is a sad, sad statement in and of itself.

However, the 20+ year lifespan is highly speculative and often repeated.
Studies have shown that wild iguanas almost never live to see age 8.. By that age the survival rate is virtually nil. Similar to captive iguanas, but for much better and more natural reasons, very few wild iguanas live to see age 2. Of those that do, a significant percentage die each year until none are left by around year 8. In captivity where disease and predation *should* be less of a factor iguanas can regularly live
10-15 years. Anything over 10 could be considered a normal lifespan and the owner of such an iguana certainly has nothing to be ashamed of when his or her pet passes away.

There are claims out there of iguanas living over 20 years. They are very few and very far between, and IMO should be treated with considerable suspicion.

For example, in terry reed's iguana care book, he shows a picture of an iguana that supposedly lived well past 20. One look at the iguana will show that if true, it certainly had very little to do with the care the poor iguana received. The iguana in the photo is extremely dwarfed and appears to be mildly deformed.

The only "proof" of the claim is a picture of the owner as a kid holding an iguana, and then as an adult, holding the poor creature he claims to be a 20 something year old iguana. Maybe it's true, maybe it isn't. If so, it's appearance reflects less than excellent husbandry and casts doubts about the owner being responsible for its extreme lifespan. Some people live to be well over 100 after all, but most will die in their 70s. Doesn't make 100 the only acceptable lifespan.

Common sense says acceptable lifespan should be approached with the same expectations dog and cat lifespans are approached, not by extreme examples.

Where are the 20+ year old green iguanas in zoological parks, which at least in theory should be some of the best cared for iguanas on the planet?

Anyway, that's all I wanted to say. Not trying to stir up trouble, just take it for what it's worth. I just didn't feel comfortable letting it slide without saying anything, because this idea of extreme lifespan is often stated as a fact in order to promote the idea that no one is qualified to keep these lizards and other herps.

I completely agree with the premise of the article; that iguanas should be given far better care by the general public.

Thank you again,
Scott

The article was written by Jen Swofford and are her opinions only, as you point out and not necessarily 'facts'. In fact, I'm curious as to whether a survey as to the lifespan of imported and captive bred iguanas has ever been undertaken.

I think your points are extremely valid regarding lifespans of animals and captivity and in the wild and, as you rightfully say, anyone whose pet does reach an age of 10-15 years has certainly had it's welfare and dietary needs met.
Ed

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