Snakes as Pets
Snakes Are Beautiful Creatures
In this article, you'll find information on keeping snakes, and some of my personal experiences with them. I'd also like to dispel the myth that snakes are slimy and horrible - they're not!
The picture is Snappy, one of my large-blotched pythons (Antaresia stimsoni). His bowl dried out one hot day, and he decided it was a great place to sleep!
Unless otherwise noted, all images here are my own.
I Don't Know Why I Like Snakes!
When I was a child, we had a grass snake which used to come and drink milk from a bowl outside our door. Pretty unusual behaviour for a snake, but that's what it did. Being brought up in the country, and always being interested in animals, I never learned to fear snakes. Of course, it helped to be in a country where there was little danger from the local reptiles!
As a teenager, much to the horror of my mother, I decided I wanted a pet snake. No way was that going to happen.
It took me over 40 years to finally be able to keep a snake of my own. Once I owned my first snake, a terrible discovery was made - Snakes are addictive! :-)
Now I own four, and would have more and also some bearded dragons if I had the space and the cash to look after them properly. I don't think it's going to happen though.
Python In A Fig Tree
Snake In Clover
Pythons as Pets
Pythons are not exactly everyone's idea of a pet, and many parents are shocked when their children ask for a pet reptile.
This is understandable, given that people are often brought up to fear and hate snakes. If they can overcome this idea, many find that snakes can be an extremely interesting pet.
If your child, or partner is interested in having a pet reptile, don't reject the idea out of hand. Do some research with them, go and look at pythons and other reptiles at the zoo, or your local reptile dealer. Touch them, if you get the chance. They really aren't wet and slimy at all, just cool and fairly smooth.
A friend of mine hated even the idea of snakes, but will now visit and even stroke the pythons. She says "They're not at all what I imagined!" You could surprise yourself too, once you've actually handled or touched a reptile.
Most pythons are easy to handle, especially if they are captive bred, and have been handled since hatching. There are always exceptions, but hopefully your partner or child will not purchase a reptile of this nature, and most animals come to trust their owner, which makes them easy to handle..
Cat Watching Python
Snakes and Other Pets - Do they get along?
Do snakes and other pets get along? In a word, "No"!
There doesn't seem to be much information around on this topic, but it should be addressed - many people have assorted pets in their homes.
As well as pythons, I have a cat, and some goldfish. The cat is fascinated by the snakes, and has been known to swat at them when the opportunity has arisen, although she is discouraged from this behaviour.
The three smaller pythons would be at great risk, if she was allowed in the room when they were free. Cats are great snake killers!
On the other hand, my Centralian python is now over eight feet (2.5 metres) in length, and has quite a large girth.
He can eat a rabbit, so could probably eat the cat, given the opportunity. We have to make sure they are not both around at the same time - this can be difficult. The cat appears to be psychic and always arrives when we let one of the snakes out.
Aside from cats, I have heard of pet birds and small dogs being python prey. I'm also sure that pet rodents would be a welcome menu item for snakes! Some snakes, such as keelbacks, also eat fish, but rarely come out of their cages, as they are quite shy.
Don't forget, if you have other pets, keep them well away from your snakes and other reptiles, and everyone will be happier, not to mention safer.
During Winter in the Southern Hemisphere, it is time to consider breeding snakes and other reptiles. In the past, I kept my pythons in separate cages, so that it would be more natural for the male when it became time to put him in with the females. If snakes are kept together, they are unlikely to breed.
Stimson's pythons, Antaresia stimsoni, are a little more difficult to breed than others in the Antaresia group. So far I've had no success, although the two females and the male I have are extremely compatible! Currently, I'm not even trying to breed them, as I don't need any more pythons, and the three of them now share a cage.
Three In A Cage
Although conventional herp keeping says each animal should have its own cage, this isn't always possible. So long as some care is taken, especially at feeding time, there should be no problems.
My snakes aren't fed in their cages, as I find it much easier to take them out to a special place, and feed them outside the cage. It also stops them from thinking food is being given when I put my hands into the cage to clean, or change water, etc.
Since being put in a cage together, the three pythons frequently curl up together in a log, or under a branch. They also each have a favoured spot. It's amazing how hard they can be to see, if they really get under something!
It's made a difference to the room also - I now only have two snake cages instead of four, and more space for the furniture and us!
Snakes Sometimes Bite !
If they do, it is most likely due to something stupid the owner has done.
I was really surprised when it happened to me, and my beautiful six year old, very placid, easy going Centralian python (Morelia bredli) bit me!
I guess it was my fault - no I'm sure it was; He was being cooled down for winter, but not sufficiently, in hindsight. He should have been down to 18C, and instead was a little over 20C. As well as this, he was very hungry, since it was a couple of months since he'd eaten. Snakes won't eat when they are too cool.
This particular day, I went to check him out, and thought he looked very aggressive. Since he's such a good snake, normally, I didn't bother about it, and opened his cage door and reached in to check the temperature gauge.
He didn't let me get very far towards it before he struck. It's amazing how fast snakes can strike. Fortunately, he released my hand straight away, and didn't try to kill it by constriction. It was quite painful, as pythons have lots of very sharp teeth. It took quite a while before it stopped bleeding.
It was completely my fault, not the snake's, and I immediately went out and bought him a couple of rats for dinner. He looked much happier after eating, especially with the heat turned up to help him digest the meal.
It just goes to show that a snake is never completely tame - they are a wild animal all the time, and it doesn't do to take them for granted, no matter how placid a pet they have been.
Another Bitey Tale
Any pet can surprise you.
Snappy, the first snake I acquired, is a very placid, happy little male, who never does anything bad.
Well, until I went to his cage and reached in to get him out for some exercise, and he promptly bit my forefinger.
My fault, I guess - my partner said I moved very quickly, and one shouldn't do that with snakes. It's best to move slowly and carefully. Just goes to show that even the most trusted pet can surprise you.
Most snake or pet bites, in my experience, and opinion, are caused by the owner, not the pet. Usually, they've done something to unsettle the animal, or have the scent of food on their hands. With reptiles, this is a sure-fire way to get bitten!
Don't blame or punish your pet if it bites you - think about the circumstances. Could you have moved too quickly, did you hurt the animal, is it unwell? Many times you'll find that the fault was yours. Treat your animal well, and take care, and you shouldn't have a problem.
Biting Snake 2
Bites Can Be Somewhat Of A Shock
One night in Summer it was really hot, and one of my little pythons was pretty active, so we had him out of the cage.
He was happily moving around the couch between us, when he must have thought my partner was a threat, and bit him on the inside of the elbow. There were two very distinct fang marks on the arm.
We thought he must have had a fright when my partner moved, so didn't put him away, and for about fifteen minutes after this, he was happily moving around, mostly on my lap.
Later he decided to climb up onto my shoulder and was flicking his tongue on the side of my face. Suddenly, I felt a pain in my eye - he'd struck at it, for some reason. Perhaps he saw the eyelid flicker, and thought it was prey; who knows.
He's never done anything like that before, and fortunately he didn't get the eyeball, just the eyelid. Once again, there are two fang marks on the upper eyelid, and in the morning, I had a beautiful black eye developing.
We don't know why this happened, as he isn't hungry, having been well fed a week ago, but one thing's for sure - none of the snakes are going to be trusted near our faces again!
Do you like snakes?
I guess unless you have a pet snake, you've never thought about feeding it, or the difficulties you may encounter in finding suitable food for it. Sometimes the stores just can't get stock. By the way, I don't live feed - all my snakes are fed frozen laboratory reared animals, after they have defrosted, of course.
My large-blotched pythons are fairly easy to feed, as they eat mice, young rats, or pinky rabbits. Usually these are easy to source, but in winter it's sometimes difficult to get them, as there are not many suppliers around my area.
The centralian python eats large rats, or medium sized rabbits. For him, mice are just an hors doevre, if he bothers to take them at all. He likes some substance to his food. He really prefers rabbits, but frozen rabbits are difficult to source. You can't use the rabbits from the butchers, as they are skinned, and snakes need the whole animal. There is a new local pet store which stocks different sized frozen rabbits, so hopefully the problem is solved.
Feeding Four Pythons
The image above is Simbi, my Bredl's python, curled up under his basking light.
Since the snakes hadn't eaten for about three months, and they had been warmed up for Spring, it was time for them to have a feed. I don't feed the snakes inside their cages, as they may get used to it, and could possibly bite my hand when I'm changing light bulbs or cleaning the cage out, thinking it was food.
The Bredl's python was first to be fed. As usual, as soon as he caught the scent of the warm rat (dead, of course!) his attention was all on getting out of his cage to the feeding mat as soon as possible. No problems feeding this one - we call him our garbage disposal unit! :-)
After him, there were three Antaresia stimsoni to feed. This is a little more of a problem, because they all have their individual likes and dislikes.
Snappy, the male, was no trouble at all, so he was first, and took his mouse without hesitation.
Next came Savage, the big female. She used to be a great eater, but I think she's getting old, and not feeling too secure out of the cage, as she won't take food outside it now. I usually feed her in a lidded bucket, so she can have her privacy. It works well for her.
Stormy, the small female used to like to eat in a box or a bucket, but now eats on the feeding mat along with the male Stimsoni. She has no problems eating a mouse or two.
......Snake refusing food
On occasion, surprisingly, a snake will refuse its food. This isn't usually something to worry about, but the last time the snakes were fed, she also refused to eat, although I put it down to an imminent shed. Snakes won't eat when a shed is close.
There appeared to be no reason for it, as she's not gravid (pregnant), and seems to be healthy. Perhaps she just didn't like the smell of the rat she was offered?
Since I know snakes can go for several months without feeding, it was best to take my own advice to others, and not worry about it. The snake is very active and happy, so it's probably only a temporary aberration, and she'll eat when she gets hungry enough.
Snake in the Grass
Snakes Like Warm Weather
With the warmer weather having started, the snakes are becoming much more active.
Early in Spring it's usually warm enough for them to go outside in their portable cage. The three stimsoni went first, whilst I cleaned out their cage, then the big centralian python. They can't all go out together, because he'd try to eat them all. He enjoyed some supervised freedom on the grass also, as you can see in the photo above.
Watching them, before I brought them inside again, it was clear they'd enjoyed the warm sun on their skin. It's good to give them some natural light and vitamin D on occasions, instead of keeping them inside in cages 100% of the time.
NB : If you put your snakes outside in a shadecloth cage, please ensure that they have some shade and a bowl of cool water. Reptiles can overheat and die, even though they use the sun's warmth to kick start themselves.
Although pythons don't actually hibernate, as they are from warmer climates, if the weather is cold in Winter, they will go into a state called brumation, a form of semi-hibernation. They will sleep a lot, and won't eat until the weather is warm enough to heat their bodies to a suitable temperature.
Keeping Snakes Warm
Make sure that any snake cages are heated to a temperature suitable for your reptile.
A snake needs to be warm to digest its food. A friend found that his coastal python had regurgitated its food, and he was really worried that it was unwell. It wasn't - someone had somehow turned of the heating in the cage, and the snake, unable to digest the meal, did the only thing it could, and ejected it.
Heating lamps in cages are a must in temperate areas, for tropical snakes. The drawback to having light-bulbs in cages is the danger of the reptiles burning themselves against the hot glass.
It's a good idea to put screens around the bulbs, so that the snakes are unable to wrap themselves around the globes. If they wrap around the screen cages, there is no harm done.
The image is the cage we build around the lights in one of our snake cages.
Shedding or Sloughing
Did you know that snakes regularly shed their skin? It's replaced with new skin from underneath several times a year.
If a snake is ill, or injured, they will shed more often. Young snakes grow much faster than adults, so they tend to shed more often also.
From the time a snake has a new skin, it slowly begins to grow darker. A bright, shiny, snake will become dull and very dark, and they it will become antisocial, and spend most of its time in a dark, quiet place.
If you have a snake, and you think it is close to a shed, please don't handle it, especially once the scales over the eyes have gone white, or opaque. It's very easy to damage the new skin underneath the old one at this stage.
A snake is very vulnerable when it's due to shed. Because the skin over its eyes is opaque,it has no vision. At this time, they will hide until the shed is imminent.
When the shed is due, the snake will rub its mouth over something rough to get the shed started, then the skin will roll over the snakes head as it rubs itself along the ground. A shed should only take a few minutes to half an hour to complete.
When the shed is complete the snake will often sleep for a while - it seems to be a tiring process.
If a shed is incomplete, and some of the old skin is left on the reptile, it can cause problems, even death. If you have a pet snake, please ensure that the shed is complete, including the spectacles, the small scales from over the eyes.
If there is old skin left on the animal, and you are uncertain of what to do, it is always best to visit a good reptile vet. Of course, problems are relatively rare, but knowing what to do could save your snake's life.
Even though they need heat to be active, it can bother your reptiles, and may even kill them. Many people think that because most pythons are tropical creatures, summer heat doesn't bother them. It does.
In Melbourne. where I live, the summer temperatures can reach over 40C, which is hotter than some of the tropical areas from which pythons originate. In the wild, snakes can find a cool spot to lie, often underground. In captivity, they are unable to take advantage of this, and are trapped in a small, often airless, cage.
Make sure your cages are well ventilated, with the ventilation grills not pushed up against walls. Air needs to circulate. Don't have a cage in front of a window that the sun shines directly on.
Ensure that your reptiles have plenty of cool water to drink. If possible, have a bowl large enough for the reptile to get into if it wishes. (Don't fill it more than halfway though, or the snake may make a mess if it gets in!) Most snakes won't bother to get in the water, but it's good for them to have the option.
Take them out of the cage for a little exercise in the cooler part of the day, if you can. My snakes enjoy a roam around the couch or the floor. Under supervision of course - no cats or dogs, please!
If you do these simple things, your reptiles will happily get through the hottest summer.
A Keelback, Hunting
This is a great shot of a keelback snake about to take a feeder fish. These snakes aren't the easiest to keep, as they are very shy and need access to water at all times.
For more information about these great little snakes, Please Click Here
My Big Boy May Be A Big Girl
Sexing snakes is very difficult!
Simbi is my over 8 foot Centralian Python, (Morelia bredli). When I bought him about 5-1/2 years ago, the dealer told me that he was probably a male, as females were usually held onto by the breeders.
Because of this, he's always been referred to as He, and has a male name. Simbi is a Haitian God/Loa, whose symbol is the serpent.
Anyway, recently I had some discussion with another snake owner, who had two sixteen year old Centralian pythons. Both of these snakes were only about two thirds the size of Simbi, who is only six years old! I'd been beginning to have my doubts about Simbi's masculinity, and these doubts have now grown a lot bigger - female pythons are usually much larger than the males.
If Simbi is a female, it could explain why there was absolutely no interest shown in mating when he was put with a known female snake last year. I had to find someone capable of probing him to find out the real sex. Probing is something which should only be done by an expert, because it can harm the snake.
Update: It's a BOY !
A Little Joke For A Change
Humour is good for you.
After the flood was over, and Noah lowered the ramp of the ark for all the animals to leave, he told the animals "Go forth and multiply."
All the animals left except two snakes who lay quietly in the corner of the ark.
"Why don't you go forth and multiply?" demanded Noah.
"We can't," answered the snakes. "We're adders."
Do Snakes Know Their Keeper?
And do they really care about you if they do?
I saw a question somewhere regarding whether snakes actually know their owner, so here's my opinion.
I think that they can actually recognise their owner or keeper, but not by sight. Snakes have very sensitive smelling organs, and they could know the scent of their keeper. I've also heard that they can recognise owners by their heat signature, as snakes, particularly pythons, use heat sensing, or infra-red vision.
As to snakes caring about their keepers, I don't think they have that capacity. They will trust you, as they become used to you, but that's about it.
I remember being asked once "Do snakes love people?"
My answer to that one is "No, we love them, but they don't love us".
If you want a pet that will come to you when it's called, and snuggle up to you lovingly, snakes and other reptiles are not for you!
If they are wrapping themselves around you, it's because
- You're warm and they want the heat
- They think you're a nice tree to climb on
- They think you're prey and are trying to constrict you.
Even so, I still love my snakes, and wouldn't give them up for anything - they're still some of my favourite animals!
When is a reptile fully grown?
The other day, someone asked me if one of my snakes was fully grown.
It's a good question - snakes and other reptiles become adult, but never actually stop growing. The older they are, the bigger they become.
A lot depends on food supplies and the health of the animal. The actual growth rate is very small, once the reptile has reached adulthood, and could be as little as a millimetre per year.