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Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
 Issue 21   
October, 2005
What If My Snake Won't Eat?
In this Issue

by Richard Adams

Firstly let me say that most common species of snake will eat without hesitation and it's definately not my intention to do any scare-mongering.

However, no matter what you do, you may from time to time find your snake won't eat - so what should you do?

To start off with don't get too concerned if this in the first time and your snake has eaten recently.

Your snake may just not be hungry, or might be about to change it's skin. As this moulting process can be uncomfortable some reptiles (including many snakes) stop feeding a few days to a few weeks before the shed.

If your snake does shed, it does no harm at all to miss a normal feeding day then start again the next week.

Other reasons for your snake not eating for longer periods than one or two feeds could include that it is being kept at an incorrect temperature, that it is overly stressed such as from overhandling, repeated loud noises or other larger, more aggressive snakes in the vicinity.

Consider each of these in turn, trying to see if you've done anything different recently, that you can put right.


Have you installed a new heater or put a new stereo in the room with your snake for example?

Is the heater working at all, or has it stopped working?

Another reason could be an illness of some form so you should consider getting your snake checked out by a specialist reptile vet.

Some of these vets recommend a shot of vitmain k to help tempt snakes to resume feeding but not being a veterinarian myself I cannot offer guidance on this subject.

Lastly, the cause may be none of these, and may be far harder to try and investigate.

For example, some snakes will routinely go off their food in both the summer and winter, feeding mainly in spring and fall.

It's natural and so long as you don't see any serious deterioration in their health is nothing to worry about.

You see, some snakes for no obvious reason will simply go off their food. They're fit and healthy and their care is suitable.

So what can you do? Here are a few tips that may help to coax a fasting pet snake back onto it's food. Remember to have patience and consider using more than one of these techniques in combination if at first you don't succeed.

1) Try a different food - if you're feeding mice try baby rats. Also try different sizes and colors (I have known people whose snake would eat only white mice but not black or brown colored ones).

2) Try warming up the food before feeding to make it seem like a recently dead carcass and / or consider gently slitting open the belly of the animal to allow more scent to radiate round the cage or feeding area.

3) Try different light intensities. In general snakes seem happier to feed in subdued lighting or indeed total darkness that bright, glaring light.

4) Try adding one of the new liquids available which give off a strong smell of mouse or lizard to help tempt your snake to feed.

5) Rather than putting the food in the middle of the cage out in the open, try putting it somewhere more private - such as in an ice-cream tub with a hole cut in the lid for your snake to get through.

This extra "privacy" may be just what your need wants.

Lastly, if all else fails, remember to be patient and keep going. When your snake finally starts feeding again it'll all be worth it...


Richard is a keen herpetologist with many years experience with snakes, iguanas and bearded dragons amongst others. Richard currently runs two successful web sites, and These are great resources sites for and herp keeper.

Genetics of Reptiles - Simple Genetics Part 1

by Arno Naude

Before we get started with genetics there are a few terms which you must understand to make the rest easy to understand.

Albino - a snake with absent or deficient melanin also called amelanistic (having no melanin.)

HypomeJanistic - Less than normal amounts of black or brown pigment (melanin).

Anerythristic - having no red color. Eg Silver corn.

Axanthic - having no yellow color.

Xanthic - having more yellow color than wild-type. Eg Caramel corn

Leucistic - a pure white snake with dark eyes. Eg Texas ratsnakes

Melanistic - abnormally dark, due to increased melanin.

Mutation - an abnormal gene that can cause a reptile to be produced looking different to the normal wild-type.

Dominant genes - genes that cause the snake to look like a normal wild type specimen.

Co-dominant - a gene that causes the normal snake to look different to the wild-type in the first generation. Often found in Ball pythons and reticulated pythons.

Heterozygous - having two different genes for a given characteristic. Such a snake with one recessive, mutated gene looks normal, but it can pass the gene on through breeding. Also known as hets or heteros.

Double Heterozygous - Looks normal but is heterozygous for two different characteristic.

Recessive - a gene that does not affects a snake's appearance. A heterozygous snake carrying a mutated, recessive gene looks normal.

Snow - a snake that shows both albino and axanthic or (for some species) albino and anerythristic characteristics

Recessive Genes and How They Work

Each characteristic that an animal shows, such as color and pattern, is controlled by two genes. One of each of these genes are passed down from each parent. Dominant genes are those found in normal or wild type animals. Recessive genes are genes that, when paired with a matching recessive gene, will show that characteristic. If a recessive gene is paired up with a dominant gene, the dominant gene will "override" the recessive gene and the snake will look normal.
A simple example using corn snakes

If you take a corn snake the main colours are black and red. I know there is some yellow in it but we will get to that later.

If the snake is amelanistic there is no black and that is what makes the albinos look white with pink or reddish markings (and a little bit of yellow that shows later in life).

If the snake is anerythistic it has no red so the snake will look grey and black (with a bit of yellow later in life) and is known as a silver corn.

Taking one of these mutations and breeding them with a normal looking snake will produce babies that all look normal. They do however have the hidden or recessive possibilities in their genes. These heteros can then be bred to each other or back to the parent which shows the mutation ie the silver or the albino.

Crossing a brother and sister with each other should produce 75% normal looking babies and the other 25% looking like the mutated grandparent. The normal looking babies are divided into 25% normal and 50% heterozygous babies. Visually you cannot tell which are which and they are usually just sold off as normals although technically there is a 66 % possibility that they could be heteros.

Crossing a hetero daughter with the albino father will produce 50% albino babies and the other 50% will be definite heteros.

If you cross a silver with an albino you will have normal looking babies but they are known as double heteros as they carry both the parents mutated genes.

If you take these double heteros and breed them to each other you will get one snow corn, 3 silver corns, 3 albinos and 9 normal looking corns. That is if you have 16 eggs and the genes all work out perfectly. This is just a statistic so it could vary from year to year but on average this is what you will be left with. Except for one normal looking baby the others will all be hetero for something else as well.

With most pythons the same genes are applicable for albinos, granites (fine speckling), patternless,labyrinths (intricate patterning), piebalds and leucistics.

I am not aware of the piebald Black headed python ever being bred so whether this is genetic I do not know. Some piebald genes do not seem to be genetic and the loss in pattern often happens with age and not at hatching like the ball pythons. The granite Childrens pythons seem to be simple genetics although very little work has been done on this pattern mutation.

Email Q & A - New snake in poor condition and changing cages


I downloaded the building plans today (still printing!) and I'm sure they will be extremely helpful. I was looking through and found exactly the kind of cage that I was hoping to. . .the one that has two sliding glass doors on the front (upper and lower levels).

Now to get things built.

The boa that I acquired last Thursday has settled in, although is quite skinny. I'm in the process of trying to slowly fatten him up, but I'm finding that even with a heat lamp and a "Nite Glo" lamp that the inside of the aquarium isn't as warm as I had hoped. I also have an under tank heating pad, but I'm looking for some other way to increase the temp until I can get his new cage built.

I have a smaller cage that was given to me for my corn snakes (had to move them out of the 50 gallon aquarium to make room for the boa). It is a wooden enclosure with sliding front windows, is 36"l X 16"d X 13h. The base of this is the same size as the aquarium. . .would this be okay for the boa until I can build another one for him? I think this would be easier to keep warm and would be better for the snake.

Thanks for your help. Hope you don't mind the questions - it's easier to email you than it is to try to find someone with any sort of knowledge about boas around here. The guy I have was found on the reserve in early June in really poor shape. He spent the last several months at a local "exotic" vets where he was force fed for the first little while. Having shed several times he now looks wonderful, but he is extremely skinny. They told me that they had trouble getting him to eat - the first night I had him home (last Thursday) he ate two rats and last night he ate another one. I don't want to feed too much too often especially when the temp isn't where it should be.

Thanks for any help you can suggest.


Well he seems to be eating well. I think you are right in what you are doing regarding feeding. Let him digest that food for a week or or two before offering anymore I would think. Some people power feed their animals but it is not good for their health and can lead to problems later. In the wild they are opportunistic feeders and while they may eat three in a row, that would be a good week. Often my snakes in the cooler months do not eat for several weeks (I think I left them for five weeks at one stage last winter). He will put weight back on by the sounds of it. If he does not, you may have another sort of problem but it sounds like they didn't keep him in optimal conditions.

I agree, even thought the wooden tank is smaller it will be easier to keep warm. Glass loses heat very quickly. Wood has better insulation properties and retains the heat. Have you got some thermometers in the cage. Together will a thermostat, this will make it easier to get the temperature closer to what the requirements are. If you just do a search for Boa Care Sheet on Google or go to either or and you should be able to get some further information.

It's also possible that parasites are a reason for the snakes poor condition. Specifically roundworms or Ascarids (Ophiascaris and Polydelphis), which the snake can get by ingesting animals already infected with roundworms. These tend to use quite a bit of the animals available nutrition and can also create opportunties for secondary bacterial infections.

You can find out by doing a fecal flotation whereby you place feces in a glass vial and stir it vigorously (to do this properly you need a microscope, vial and coverslip). The feces should sink and the eggs will float to the top and may be visible. You may also see the worms in fecal matter the animal has passed.

If the snake does not put any weight on (you should weigh it over the next few weeks) then you probably need to see a VET or use Panacur® (fenbendazole) as a treatment over two or three weeks. You would need to read the dosage and directions but it would be about 25-50mg/kg (milligrams per kilogram of snake). I would recommend a VET if you suspect this and the snake is not putting any weight on.

This was an additional email sent to Susan

How to check for Parasites

If you still want to check for parasites you need a fresh sample and it should be refrigerated and air tight as possible to prevent the development of the parasite development. If you have someone that knows what to look for it would be simple enough.

1. You can do a direct smear onto a slide and use Lugol's solution to see any eggs or protozoa (not as effective for parasites).

2. Place a small amount of fecal matter into the bottom of a vial (raisin size). Fill it to about 2/3 with fecal flotation solutions eg Fecasol or Zinc Sulfate solution (specific gravity of 1.2) and stir it up to break the material up. Then you fill the vial to the brim so that any of the eggs and material you are looking for will be on the surface. Place a cover slip on it for about 10 minutes. Remove the slip and place it moisture side down on a microscope slide.

All of the above sounds like a bit of effort so if he is eating, looking well and gaining weight it may be a waste of time, but on the other hand, if you have access to the materials and someone with a bit of knowledge it would be reassuring.

Klingenberg, R.J. 1993 "Understanding Reptile Parasites"

In the News

This article was sent to me recently from a collegue in South Africa. It seems there is a few of invasive species. There already exists similar regulations in Australia and there was some discussion about regulations in Sout Carolina that have since been put on hold. It may be of interest to you as readers or it may not but I though I would pass it on so you could have
an understanding of what is happening in other parts of the world in the herp industry. Read on...

The draft list has been published by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, and is open for comment. You can contact me, go to their website or ignore it, as you wish.

I have condensed the recommendations as this would take up far too much space.

As far as reptiles and amphibians are concerned the following species are blacklisted. Prohibited list in terms of Section 67 of the Biodiversity Act (No 10, 2004)

Invasive Species Requiring Compulsory Control Restrictions and Controls Invasive species that require strict control. Only species where effective control is possible (including by individuals) are listed here.
1. May not import specimen into country (including from sea).
2. May not have in possession or exercise physical control over any Category 1a specimen.
3. May not grow, breed or in any other way propagate specimen, or cause it to multiply.
4. May not convey, move or otherwise translocate specimen.
5. May not sell, trade in, buy, receive, give, donate, accept as a gift, or in any other way acquire or dispose of a specimen.
6. May be prosecuted or served with directive if fail to comply.
7. Authorities may control species at owner's expense and risk.

Agama agama Agama, common
Ambystoma tigrinum Salamander, Tiger
Bufo bufo European toad
Bufo marinus Toad, marine / cane
Chelydra macroclemys Turtle, alligator snapper Macrochelys temminckii Turtle, snapper Boiga irregularis Tree snake, brown Trachemys scripta elegans Slider, Red-eared Hemidactylus garnotti Gecko, Indo-Pacific Hemidactylus turcicus Gecko, Mediterranean Hemidactylus frenatus Gecko, house Tarentola mauritanica Wall gecko, Moorish Litoria caerulea Treefrog, Whites Osteopilus septentrionalis Treefrog, Cuban Anolis distichus Anole, bark Anolis sagrei Anole, brown Basiliscus vittatus Basilisk Green Leiocephalus carinatus Lizard, Northern curlytail Eleutherodactylus coqui Coqui, Puerto Rican Eleutherodactylus planirostris Frog, Greenhouse Rana catesbeiana Bull frog, American.
Notophthalmus viridenscens viridescens Newt, Red-spotted

What this means is that if you have the above species you will be prosecuted. Your only legal recourse is to kill the animal. If not they can destroy all the animals which are invasive and give you the bill to pay, even if you only had one specimen.

Invasive Species Regulated by Activity

Invasive species that are permitted on a property, but for which certain activities are not permitted, e.g. sale no longer permitted; only zoological collections are permitted to have species.
1. May not import specimen into country (including from sea).
2. May not grow, breed or in any other way propagate specimen, or cause it to multiply.
3. May not convey, move or otherwise translocate specimen.
4. May not sell, trade in, buy, receive, give, donate, accept as a gift, or in any other way acquire or dispose of a specimen.

Gekko gecko, Gecko, Tokay
Iguana iguana, Iguana, green

What this means is that you cannot keep this animal however if you are not a zoological garden you may only kill it because you cannot even give it to the local zoo, because to get it there you have to transport it and even that is illegal.

Species Under Surveillance

Alien species that may be classified as listed invasives after due investigations, or extra-limital species that may be classified as listed extralimital species after due investigations.
1.The Minister may require that purchaser or recipient of land must be notified of the presence of Category 5 species on the land, if it is possible to know this.
2.Must notify purchaser of species itself that it is a Category 5 species.

Afroedura pondolia, Pondo flat gecko.
Afrogecko porphyreus Marbled leaf-toed gecko Bradypodion damaranum Damara dwarf chameleon.
Hemidactylus cf. mabouia Gecko, tropical house Bufo gutturalis, Guttural toad Hyperolius marmoratus, Painted Reed frog Agkistrodon contortrix Copperhead Agkistrodon piscivorous Cottonmouth Crotalus atrox Rattler, Western diamondbacked Elaphe guttata Snake, corn Elaphe obsoleta Snake, rat Eublepharus macularius Gecko, Leopard Lampropeltis getulus(ssp. californiae, nigritus, splendida) Kingsnake, Californian/Mexican/Desert Lampropeltis mexicana (ssp. Alterna) Kingsnake, Gray-banded Lampropeltis pyromelana Kingsnake, Arizona mountain Lampropeltis triangulum Snake, Mexican milk.
Morelia spilotes ssp Python, Carpet
Pituophis melanoleucus Snake, Gopher/Pine Pogona barbata Dragon, Bearded Ptyas mucosus Snake, Asian/Common rat Uromastyx acanthinurus Lizard, Black spiny-tailed Uromastyx aegypticus Lizard, Egyptian spiny-tailed

These are species that the authorities are looking into which can be upgraded quite easily and then they could fall into the above category. The first six are indigenous and permits will probably never be issued for keeping them as one or two specimens have been found outside their normal range. What is ironic is that the first gecko (Pondo Flat gecko) is regarded as under threat because of gecko number four displacing it (Tropical House gecko).

Mark my words, these species are going to be listed within no time and that will be the end of the reptile pet trade. As such you already have to notify anyone buying any of these species that it is under review and could be uplisted in future. If the new owner can prove you did not notify them and the species is listed higher then you will be held accountable and as such would have to pay reparations. Import of these species (even into other provinces) will also not be allowed at this time.

Some of the reasons for these animals being listed include:

Corn snake. Inhabits diverse habitats from wooded groves, rocky hillsides, meadowlands along water courses, around springs, woodlots, banyards and abandoned houses from sea level to 1900 m asl throughout South East USA and West and South to Texas and adjacent Mexico. Taxon originates from relatively similar climatic zone and general habitats than found in SA. Not known invader elsewhere but potential reproductive and niche competitor to SA Colubridae (several members)

Leopard gecko. A disjunct Southwest Asian distribution, including Iraq, Iran, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India. Taxon originates from similar climatic zone and inhabitats rocky outcrops in semi-desert and montane regions of the Middle East, from Iran to Pakistan - similar habitats to those found in SA. Potential reproductive and niche competitor to SA Gekkonidae. Many specimens in captivity in SA.

The Carpet python (although the species is actually the diamond python): Those Australian subspecies originating from similar climatic zones and general habitats than found in SA may pose an invasive threat in general python habitats in South Africa. A number in captivity in South Africa.

The Bearded dragon: Agamid lizards, with Pogona barbata found in wetter, wooded areas in Eastern Australia, including cleared areas. Large terrestrial and semiarboreal lizards, commonly seen in open woodlands, other species more semi-deserts to deserts, preferring arid climates. P. barbata common in recently-burned areas around Sydney. This taxon would be at home throughout most of SA and could be a reproductive and niche competitor to South African Agamidae. Bearded lizards are common garden fauna in suburban backyards in Australia. Not known to be invasive elsewhere but this taxon may pose a potential risk for invasion. (This species does not occur in South Africa in any case but they might realise they have the wrong species listed)

The Milksnake: Lampropeltis triangulum Snake, Mexican milk. At least 9 subspecies.Inhabits diverse habitats from semi-arid to damp coastalands to open deciduous woodland meadows, rocky hillsides, high plains, dunes, farmland and urban areas from SE Canada southwards through most of the USA, and especially south to Mexico from sea level to 2500 m asl. Taxon originates from relatively similar climatic zone and general habitats than found in SA. Not known invader elsewhere but potential reproductive and niche competitor to South African Colubridae (several
members) ( L. triangulum, the nominate species is not the Mexican milksnake either)

It is my opinion that the “experts” who drew up the lists are all from the Western Cape Nature Conservation, and as such does not say much as they cannot be considered experts in exotic reptiles. It seems as if they went to the list of invasive species of Florida, and South America, and spoke to somebody from Australia, looked in Bill Branches book, and that was as far as the research was undertaken. A quick look at a list of species applied for in the Cape was then included as well.

Not one exotic reptile or amphibian was listed as exempted from Risk Assessments i.e. they all have invasive potential until proven otherwise.

Now is the time to do something about it. I have done my share in the past and am not going to tackle this one as I am exempted from this because I have a zoo license. The ball is now in every amateur herper’s court to get together and take on the government and do what you have to, to halt or reverse this situation.

Feel free to post this on any other websites that may be interested.

For the original PDF files including mammals and birds you can mail me at

To help prevent this, please join us on for the discussion...

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Feedback and Updating

A minor review of the "How to build reptile enclosures" book was completed recently and the new book is uploaded.

Those of you who have purchased the book can download this newer version and any further updates as they occur free of charge and they will open automatically. If you have lost the download details, just email me and I will send them out to you.

I have added:

- How to make sliding doors
- Better waterproofing your cage
- Making artificial trees (also added to the site at

A number of minor amendments and additions

I would appreciate any feedback, good and bad about making your own reptile cages. I am looking for information, constructive criticism and ideas. These could include things like:

- What sort of additions would you like to see made eg making vivariums, wooden cages for Iguanas, making a cage stand etc ?
- How could the reptile cages be improved further?
- What are you particularly proud of?
- What worked well for you?
- What did not work well?
- What was difficult and how you got around it
- Requests and ideas for future reptile cage plans eg "How to make a reptile cage stand"

In particular I will soon be documenting the arboreal cage building process but I do intend to review as much as possible, hopefully based on user feedback as much as anything else.

I would also appreciate any pictures you have of your cages - using my plans or otherwise (we're all in this for fun and enjoyment so share away), so we can start to build a gallery of snake, iguana and other reptile cages of different varieties. This would be particularly useful as while many people like to show their pets in photos, not many pictures show the enclosures and I know that many people are interested in seeing how others have set up their reptile cages in order to get ideas.

I believe the collective pool of knowledge and skills we have can allow these plans to improve on a continuous basis.

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Tell Us What You Think!!

We would love to hear what you think of this (or any other) issue of Keeping Reptiles.

And of course, if you have any suggestions for upcoming issues that you'd like to share with us, please send those, too!

These could include:

  • Great herp web-sites
  • Why you pet reptile is fantastic
  • Funny things that happened
  • Dumb**s things that happened (like the one in this issue)
  • Images you'd like to share.

Remember - there are lots of people who would love to hear your stories. Just e-mail me at: Reptile-Cage-Plans

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