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Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
 Issue 5   
March, 2005
In this Issue


Sacrificing Feeders

"Sacrifice" is one term commonly used in place of "kill," and it's more accurate because we aren't killing rodents for fun but instead for a very specific purpose. The rodent's life is sacrificed as humanely as possible to provide nourishment to a snake, as nature intended. Some people don't want any part of doing this themselves, and that's fine. Frozen food animals can be purchased already conveniently prepackaged. But for those who wish to individually prekill one rodent just prior to feeding or sacrifice many at once to be frozen, the following standard methods are presented.

A rodent can be held by the tail, and the back of its head can be struck on a hard surface. If done properly, with good aim and sufficient force, death is immediate. Alternatively, a screwdriver handle can be used to strike the base of the rodent's skull. Either of these methods may produce a few drops of blood from the nose or ears of the animal. Some people flash freeze newborn rodents, and they succumb quickly, but this should not be done with older feeders because it's too slow.

When sacrificing numerous animals, the preferred method is to use a gas chamber with carbon dioxide. As you may remember from high school science class, CO2 is the gas that we breath out as a normal byproduct of our respiration. As the rodents are deprived of oxygen by the presence of carbon dioxide, the animals suffocate much like they would while being constricted by a snake. It is very quick, doesn't draw blood, and leaves behind no residual contamination of the food animals.

To build your own gas chamber you need a box of adequate size for the animals you want to sacrifice. It must have a lid and not be completely airtight because you need to be able to add the gas. You can currently purchase a CO2 tank with the proper release valve from a welding supply company for about $120. This will give you a small tank which can be refilled for $20 or so. It is important to note that this gas is under high pressure, and the proper regulator valve must be used to safely release it.

Run your CO2 tank hose into the chamber and keep the gas on long enough to ensure that the animals have expired and won't recover when exposed to fresh air. It may be useful to put wood chips or absorbent paper on the bottom of the gas chamber prior to using it because when the animals die it's normal for them to relax control of their bladders, which results in a small amount of leakage. This equipment is potentially dangerous, so you should keep it out of the reach of children.


Extract from "Snake Keeping - Proven Techniques Everyone Can Use" by Barry Neilsen

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SNAKE MITES - Detection and Prevention of Mites- Part

Detection of Snake Mites
There are many ways of checking for the presence of snake mites in a reptile collection. It is important to look for the parasitic (protonymph and adult) and free-living (egg, larva and deutronymph) stages in all tanks of the collection.

The reptiles themselves, their vivariums, hides, water bowls and recently shed skins should all be examined for the presence of mites. On the reptile, special attention should be paid to the areas around the eyes, the chin, the first two rows of scales on the sides of the body (in snakes) and any other crevices, for example ear holes and ‘arm pits’ in bearded dragons and other lizards, on the body or especially the head during inspection for mites. A hand lens should be used to examine any unusually reddened areas or gaps between scales on the animals to look for mites. Mites can be dislodged by swabbing the side of a snake’s body with gauze, this is a good precautionary measure to check for the presence of mites as even low level infestations, which you might otherwise not have noticed, can be discovered.

In the vivarium it is important to look closely at the inner surface of the lid or in the top corners of the vivarium where clusters of mite eggs, resting mites, and mite droppings can be found as small ashy-white flakes on the reptile’s skin. Objects in the vivarium such as corners of hide boxes, and bits of wood in the tank, should also be thoroughly examined. According to the website, engorged protonymphs are often found drowned in the water bowls in snake cages, often the first obvious sign of the presence of snake mites in the cage. The observant keeper will notice them sunk to the bottom of the bowl, looking like little flat pieces of pepper that, upon close inspection, are noticed to have legs. Any sample that the owner suspects of being a mite can be fixed in alcohol and examined for identification professionally (if needed) under a microscope.

Prevention of Mite Infestation
To ensure reptiles in a collection remain free of mites, the owner should make sure nobody or nothing can come into contact with the reptiles after handling anything that could potentially harbour snake mites. For example, after handling any reptile, like one at a reptile show or shop or one that belongs to another hobbyist, which they do not know the health of (i.e. whether it is free of mites or not), before coming into contact with your collection, the person should shower and change clothes to ensure they do not introduce mites into their collection.

Snake mites or eggs could be found living on anything which has been close to infested reptiles, for example substrate or feeder mice (which could harbour the mites) from a pet shop or especially a show as reptiles are coming in from all different sources and many sellers allow free handling. Anything that could potentially harbour mites should be sanitised (e.g. cage cleaning tools) or frozen below -20C for at least five days (e.g. feeder mice) as eggs can survive otherwise and then hatch out in the tank after the dormant stage.

Crickets in cricket boxes to feed to the animals may also carry mites if bought at a shop or a show where snake mites were present, so perhaps for this reason it is best to breed your own food to feed to lizards or snakes so you can be sure that they are completely free of mites and are of the highest quality and well gut-loaded too.

Any newly acquired reptiles should be quarantined for a minimum of three to four weeks. They should be isolated from the other reptiles and examined thoroughly for mites. Any equipment used with these animals should be sanitised before being used with the rest of the collection. If you have taken any of your animals to a reptile show, shop or exhibit, they should also be treated in this way. Any animal in the quarantine stage should be kept in a simple tank, which makes it easy to recognise mites: paper towel substrate, a water bowl and possibly a simple hide if the animal can get stressed easily. Materials used in the cage should be disposable and non-porous, and the cage and reptile should be checked thoroughly for the presence of mites.

A reptile suspected of having mites should be kept as far away from other reptiles as possible, isolated by a moat of water and treatment given if needed. If you are not sure whether the animal has mites or not, it should be kept as if it does until you can be sure. To prevent mites spreading, any waste materials from infested cages should be immediately removed from the house (or area where you keep your reptiles) and destroyed by being burned (incinerated), autoclaved (sterilised) or treated with an insecticide to kill any mites or eggs remaining.

Next Issue: SNAKE MITES - Treatments for Snake Mite.

Reproduced with permission from Ark Reptile Group. Original article by Chris Jordan

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Burmese Python Care

Recently one of the newsletter subscribers asked about the care of Burmese Pythons. My knowledge and understanding of these large snakes is limited and so I thought I would do some research.

There are a number of sites around that have care sheets on these magnificent snakes. Most recommend that you investigate this species fully before you purchase one due to their size (they can grow to 18 feet) and their longevity (25 years or more in captivity). They are a big animal and require a lot of care. They can be expensive to maintain.

I would not recommend this snake to people who are new to keeping herps or are not prepared to devote some time to learning about keeping your pet. You should always start with a smaller animal that is easier to keep and learn about keeping reptiles before you even consider one of these magnificent jungle beasts.

Burmese pythons are native to the forests of South-East Asia. They are listed as endangered and were hunted extensively for their skins by the fashion and textiles trade. Most sold these days are captive bred and you should try to ensure that you purchase captive bred. This is true of any herp. The trade in wild caught animals needs to be stopped as it has severe impacts on the environments from whic they come. Any snake or lizard is an integral part of the environment from which they come and removing that animal causes an imbalance in the environment.

Young Burmese pythons can temporarily live in a 20-gallon or larger aquarium until larger housing is constructed. Due to the massive size of this snake custom housing is usually the only option. Enclosures should be at least six to eight feet in length by two to four feet in width by three to four feet tall though larger enclosures are always encouraged to give the snake more room. It is not recommended to use unfinished wood, as it is hard to disinfect.

Adults should be fed less often in order to prevent obesity. It is recommended to use thawed previously killed frozen prey. The freezing process kills most parasites and eliminates the risk of injury to the snake by the prey. Wild prey is not recommended as it may contain unknown parasites or toxins that may illness in the snake. Adults will require rabbits. Young snakes can be fed one or two times per week.

Burmese pythons come from the tropical rain forests and need a fair amount of humidity. Too much humidity can lead to bacterial infections while too low of humidity may cause problems when shedding. A water container large enough for the snake to soak in should be provided, but you may find it necessary to remove it at night in order to control humidity levels. Hide areas should also be provided. As the snake grows larger the keeper often has to become more creative. Cutting a hole on one side large enough for the snake to enter through can modify large plastic bins or garbage cans to become excellent hide boxes

Daytime temperatures should be maintained at 85° to 90° F with a basking temperature of 90° to 93° F. Nighttime temperatures should be maintained at 75° to 80° F.

At this time UV light has not been proven to be required for snakes. A 10 to 12 hour photoperiod can be produced using a standard incandescent bulb. Using incandescent heat bulbs or ceramic emmiters can produce basking spots. Using under the tank heating pads can raise ambient temperature of the enclosure if necessary. Hot rocks should never be used under any circumstance since they can result in burns to animal. It is recommended if lighting is inside the enclosure in enclose the fixture in wire mesh to protect the snake from accidental burns.

Indoor/outdoor carpeting such as Astroturf™ can often provide an excellent substrate that is easy to clean and disinfect. Linoleum is also another excellent alternative. Other substrates such as newspaper, and aspen can also be used. Cedar is not to be used, as it is toxic. If the Burmese python is kept on wood shavings it is recommended to not feed it on that substrate as accidental ingestion of shavings can lead to intestinal blockages.

A good reference is:

''The General Care and Maintenance of Burmese Pythons'', De Vosjoli, Philippe, 1991, Advanced Vivarium Systems\

Like all keepers, it is important to arm yourself with knowledge to look after your valuable pet and maintain the optimal environment for their continued well being.


IGUANA CAGE PLANS COMING!! will be launching within the coming weeks.

The plans are made by Keith Van Zile, a recognized cage maker with many years experience and a wealth of knowledge about keeping Iguanas. It has taken some considerable time to develop Keith's Plans into an eBook and compile all of the necessary information. These cages are fabulous and could be easily adapted to large snakes, other lizards and arboreal species.

inddor iguana cage
indoor iguana cage


Tell Us What You Think!!

We would love to hear what you think of this 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! Just e-mail me at: Reptile-Cage-Plans



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