Care of Hatchlings

Care of captive bred young differs very little from adults. A shoebox makes an appropriately sized enclosure. Temperatures should be maintained in the same range as described for adults. Fresh water should be present at all times as the young snakes dehydrate easily. Small, one (1) oz souffle cups half filled with water make excellent waters bowl. Filled with moist sphagnum, they also make great hiding spots. Some keepers have utilized closed deli cups as water bowls. A small entranced cut in the lid provides access to a "spill proof" container. It also provides access to a death trap. Rarely do the lightweight hatchlings generate enough torque to tip a water bowl anyway (especially a heavy culture dish), so the risk fars outweighs any benefits to this system.

In nature, lizards appear to make up the staple diet for pyromelana, zonata and mexicana . While acclimated or captive bred adults readily feed on laboratory mice (most of the time), hatching mountain kingsnakes display a definite preference for their natural saurian prey items. Some hatchlings greedily take pinks out of hand from the start; others do not. For those individuals, care becomes a test of patience for the keeper. He repeatedly encourages young animals to feed, and just when he has been pushed to the breaking point, the young kingsnake finally accepts a mouse in the quiet and still of the night.

In the process, the keeper resorts to various techinques to induce the hatchling to feed. The most useful trick, scenting, transfers the natural odor of a lizard onto a pink mouse. This can be accomplished by rubbing a source lizard against a pink mouse that has previously been washed of its own scent. Another variation uses a piece of lizard epidermis that has been attached to the mouse. This stratagey takes advantage of a snake's heavy reliance on chemoreception. The hatchling mountain kingsnake "smells" a lizard, but in reality has been fooled into consuming a mouse. Over time, the amount of scenting should be reduced until the pink mouse barely contains any lizard trace at all. At this point, the kingsnake begins to recognize a pink mouse as an acceptable prey item. Before long, the hatchling has begun to feed voluntarily on unscented pink mice. Lizards should not be offered even as an occasional treat once a mountain kingsnake has accepted a diet of laboratory mice, lest it revert to its old habits. Another technique, called braining, works well with mountain kingsnakes. In this approach, the keeper offers the hatchling a pink which has had its head split open. A bizzare and gruesome idea, it works for unknown reasons. For a more in depth workshop on feeding stubborn hatchlings, visit the section on: But those damned hatchlings still refuse to feed...

Hatchling kingsnakes should be offered food every five (5) to six (6) days. Increasing the frequency of feeding above this may cause refusal and or regurgitation. Klingenberg noted such behavior as especially prominent in Lampropeltis z. agalma. Even if the animal continues to feed and digest normally, this power-feeding practive may have long term implications down the road. It has been suggested that pushing snakes to adult size too quickly may decrease longevity, but no concrete evidence exists yet. Since mountain kingsnakes should not be bred at ages younger than three (3) or preferentially four (4) years, there seems no reason to force the snakes into rapid growth. Rather, to their own benefit, the hatchling kingsnakes should be allotted reasonable time for growth and maturation.

The majority of enthusiasts keep hatchlings warmed and feeding through their first winter and in some cases even the second. Personal experience has shown that hatchlings can be safely wintered through their first year with no drawbacks. Weight loss compares to that of adults, proportionately. First year brumation approaches a more naturalistic husbandry scheme and allows the young animals to synchronize and stabilize their reproductive cycles at an earlier age.

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