The Captive Breeding of Colubrid Snakes:
This document, written by Steven T. Osborne, was originally published as a
4 part series in the 1982 edition ( Volume 4: Number 3,4,7, & 9 ) of the
San Diego Herpetological Society Newsletter.
Part IV. Raising of Hatchlings to Adult Breeding Size
This article concludes the series pertaining to the husbandry and captive
breeding of the genera Elaphe, Pituophis, and Lampropeltis. This article
is intended to indicate some of the techniques developed in recent years
for successful raising of hatchlings to adult size in a relatively short
period of time.
In the last 3-4 years, it has been found that the reproductive capability
of these genera is a function of size and not age. It was thought by
several leading herpetologists in the field that it required a minimum of
3-4 years of age before these snakes became reproductively active.
However, due to recent methods of advanced husbandry, it has been
determined that males can be successfully mating as early as 9 months of
age and females as early as 18 months of age with viable offspring
resulting from these matings. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to
maintain a STRICT feeding schedule in addition to various feeding
techniques for various species. For rapid growth it is necessary for a
continuous feeding schedule-as often as the snake will eat. Increasingly
large food items should be offered as the snake can handle them.
Generally, this schedule requires pinkies or fuzzy mice every 2 days for
the first 5-6 months and to be interrupted only by the shed phase. Since
there is very little or no fur on the feed items, they are rapidly
digested. From 6 months to adult size, feedings can be every 4-7 days with
more food items per feeding. A good indication that the snake is growing
rapidly is that skins are shed every 21 -30 days.
|It takes approximately 80-100 individual feedings and about 14 months to
reach adult size in females following this method. Males can successfully
breed at much smaller sizes and may only require 8-10 months of this
feeding schedule to reach breeding size. Whether or not the breeder
desires to rapidly raise his hatchlings is a matter of choice. It requires
a good deal of work and a substantial rodent colony. || |
click to enlarge
There has been some
suggestion that "forcing" snakes in captivity to grow more rapidly than in
the wild may cause detrimental health problems. However, there is no
indication in the literature or among captive breeders of these snakes that
this is true. At any rate, the following techniques could prove useful for
anyone wishing to raise hatchlings. |
The set-up that seems to be the most successful is to provide each
hatchling with the following:
- A plastic shoe box (available in various department stores) with several
1/8-inch holes drilled through the top. The lid needs to be secured using
heavy tape, etc. Most shoe boxes measure 12"L x 6 1/2"W x 3 1/2"H. This
serves as the cage for the hatchling until about 12 months of age when it
can be moved to a larger permanent cage. The main reason that plastic shoe
boxes are used is that it provides easy access to the hatchling; a small
confined area for the snake and its live food items; easy heating using a
heat tape; and an inexpensive, compact cage source.
- A FLEXIBLE Heat Tape (Wrap-on Heat Tape Brand is available through
plumbing stores) that can be wired through a dimmer switch and will allow
the spot where it passes under the plastic shoe box to maintain a
temperature of 80-90°F. A shelf can be used to place the shoe boxes with
the heat tape running under the back 1/3 section of each of the boxes.
- A suitable substrate in the shoe box such as-a sheet of newspaper,
non-toxic pine shavings, sand, or gravel.
- A butter dish with a hole cut in the top (or other small hide box) that
can be placed in the shoe box directly over the spot where the heat tape
runs under the box. This is of primary importance as the snake needs to
spend most of its time directly over the heat tape area in order to rapidly
The type of substrate that is optimum in the butter dish will be discussed
in the species accounts below. Many of the species require constant
humidity or moisture in the butter dish to inhibit water loss from the
hatchling. Some specimens go for several months without drinking from a
water dish under this set-up.
- A water dish that can't be tipped over. It is important to keep the
shoe box substrate relatively DRY.
Various feeding preferences of different species have proven to be a
challenge in some cases. The ideal food item for most keepers is usually
laboratory mice or rats and that will be assumed here. Listed below by
species are some of the feeding preferences of hatchlings, some methods of
switching hatchlings over to lab mice or rats, and some ways of stimulating
a stronger feeding response:
- Pituophis melanoleucus, Elaphe guttata and E. obsoleta: Increase size of
live mice in early growth (pinkies to fuzzies to full grown mice) and later
switch to rats when adult size is attained. Use MOIST peat or sphagnum
moss in a butter dish for the first 6-8 months, then dry substrate after 8
- Lampropeltis getulus and L. calligaster: Increase size of live mice
throughout growth from hatchling to adult size. Maintain dry substrate in
the butter dish from birth to adult.
- Lampropeltis triangulum ssp. (south of United States border): Increase
size of live mice throughout growth. Use MOIST peat or sphagnum moss in
the butter dish for the first 8-10 months, then dry substrate after 10
- Lampropeltis mexicana, L. pyromelana, L. zonata, and L. triangulum
(north of Mexican border): These can be the most challenging hatchlings to
raise. Typically the natural food source in the wild is lizards in the
genera Sceloporus and Uta. L. m. mexicana, L. m. greeri, and L. m.
thayeri seem to show a stronger tendency toward starting on mice in
captivity than do L. m. blairi and L. m. alterna. Hatchlings that will
start on live mice should be given increasingly large live mice throughout
growth. If a hatchling refuses mice, then the following can be tried in
order of listing:
A.) Rub or scent a pinkie on a sceloporine lizard before offering it to the
B.) Offer a sceloporine lizard in whole or part following it with a pinkie
as the snake is swallowing the lizard. Eventually the snake may pick up on
either a scented mouse or unscented mouse.
C.) Offer the hatchling a wild-type pinkie ( i.e. Paramyscus ) following it
with a lab mouse pinkie.
D.) Raise the hatchling to adult size solely on lizards.
Methods "a" and "b" will usually work within the first 4-6 months and will
completely switch the hatchling to lab mice. The best thing to do is to
continually offer the hatchling a lab mouse in the event that it may decide
to take it. All of the hatchlings in group 4 should be provided with MOIST
peat or sphagnum moss in the butter dish for the first 8-10 months, then
dry substrate after 10 months.
The main point to emphasize in raising hatchlings is to have the plastic
shoe box-heat tape-butter dish set-up that will facilitate getting heat to
the hatchling for food digestion. Once a snake is eating mice that are
capable of harming it by biting, it is best to feed only pre-killed food.
The hatchlings seem to prefer live pinkies and fuzzies as opposed to dead.
If rapid growth is desired, then an abundant food source is necessary. If
one method of feeding doesn't work on the more difficult species, then
don't hesitate to try something else. Most of the methods presented in
this article were derived by trial and error. There is the potential for
even better husbandry approaches in the raising of hatchlings yet to be
All photos and text courtesy Steven T. Osborne - Professional Breeders
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