Should I Feed My Snake Rats or Mice?

Did you know that most pet snakes eat rodents in captivity? Depending on the size and species of snake, it could be eating mice, rats, or even rabbits!

Because there are several options when it comes to feeding your own pet snake, you might be wondering which option works best nutritionally for your own snake. Well, look no further! This blog article is dedicated to discussing the benefits and drawbacks to each type of feeder rodent and will help you make an educated and informed decision when it comes to making sure your own precious slithering snake friend receives the best diet.

In this blog article, we’ll answer questions such as:

What is the difference between feeding your snake mice or rats? 
What size feeder rodent should I be giving my pet snake?
Should I feed my snake frozen or live feeder rodents?
Can I feed my pet snake food other than rodents?
Where can I buy feeder rodents for my pet snake?

pearl island boa eating
This Pearl Island boa is eating a live mouse rather than a frozen/thawed one because it is a picky eater. Not all snakes will accept frozen mice or rats as food.

Rats Versus Mice as Feeders

What is the difference between feeding your snake mice or rats?

There is much debate as to whether or not your pet snake should eat mice or rats. And honestly, there are nutritional differences, but the bottom line is that is comes down to personal preference of the snake’s owner as well as what species of snake you are feeding.

First of all, the most significant difference in nutritional value between rats and mice is that mice contain more fat than rats. Rats are leaner and higher in protein value. Both rodents are overall pretty comparable in terms of vitamins and minerals.

Keep in mind that different species of snake will also fare better on different types of feeders. The general consensus amongst reptile enthusiasts is that heftier bodied snakes such as pythons and boas benefit greatly from consuming rats on a regular basis. More slender species of snakes that are commonly kept as pets such as king snakes, corn snakes, and milk snakes are usually better off eating mice.

Because rats are higher in protein, this tends to mean that larger snakes with slower metabolisms (i.e. pythons and boas) can digest them more efficiently. They will overall receive more nutrients from any given meal and will ultimately require fewer feeding sessions.

Mice are great options for snakes that are more active such as the “slim” species we listed above. Due to their fat content, mice provide more immediate fuel that snakes with quick acting metabolisms can utilize and put to good use.

That isn’t to say that various species of snakes are unable to eat both types of rodent. Whether you opt for mice or rats, your snake should be getting everything it needs nutritionally, provided you feed it on a proper schedule.

What size feeder rodent should I be giving my pet snake?

Obviously, the size mouse or rat you feed your snake should change depending on the size of the snake being fed. You wouldn’t want to feed a hatchling corn snake a full-grown rat, nor would it make sense to give a full-grown ball python pinkie mice!

So then, what is the appropriate size rodent to give a snake?

The general rule of thumb that most snake owners follow is that you should feed your snake a rodent that is approximately the size of the thickest or most girthy part of your snake. Anything larger and you risk impaction or choking. Anything smaller and you risk underfeeding.

We’d like to point out that although you can certainly feed your snake rodents that are smaller than the thickest portion of the snake’s body, if you are doing so, you should probably be feeding the snake more than one rodent at a time. So, you can choose to feed several smaller rodents or one larger rodent in a single feeding session. Most snake owners would opt for a single larger rodent just for the sake of convenience, although both methods will ensure your snake doesn’t go hungry.

The only species of snakes that might need to eat feeder animals larger than adult rats would be Burmese pythons, anacondas, and/or reticulated pythons. These species of snakes can actually get large enough to eat rabbits!

leucistic ball python
Ball pythons are a hefty bodied snake. This means that they do very well digesting rats which contain more protein and less fat than mice.

Should I feed my snake frozen or live feeder rodents?

For the sake of safety and convenience, if you can feed your snake frozen/thawed rodents, we highly recommend doing so. Picky eaters excluded, all the snakes at the Backwater Reptiles facility that eat rodents are fed a diet of frozen/thawed mice.

Frozen rodents are easier to store. Rather than make a trip to the pet store to pick up a live mouse or rat every week or every other week, depending on the age of your snake, you can keep a supply of frozen rodents in your freezer at all times. Snake hungry? Thaw your rodent and you’re ready to go.

Because frozen rodents aren’t alive, it also means that you don’t have to worry about your snake being injured or bitten by the rodent during the feeding process. Not all snakes have the greatest aim and often times live rodents that can move out of striking range can be missed or awkwardly grabbed, resulting in the rodent being able to bite and claw your snake.

But again, we’d like to stress that some snakes are picky eaters and won’t even eat rodents that have been previously frozen. So, if your snake denies frozen rodents, it does become necessary to feed it using living rodents and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We just recommend sticking around for the entire feeding process and making sure that your snake isn’t in any danger.

Can I feed my pet snake food other than rodents?

Not all snakes eat rodents. In fact, many species eat other small vertebrates. There are even some very, very small species of snake that eat invertebrates!

Feeder fish such as minnows and goldfish are an option for certain snake species. Amphibians such as frogs and toads are also often consumed by species such as garter snakes, ribbon snakes, and water snakes.

red bellied water snake
Some species of snake, like this red bellied water snake, don’t generally eat rodents in the wild. This means that they will have a different diet in captivity.

Very small snake species such as ringnecks and Bimini blind snakes are too tiny to eat even normal sized invertebrates. In captivity, they often eat earthworms and other appropriately sized prey.

However, most species of snake that are kept as pets do eat rodents, so in general, it’s safe to assume that you won’t have to feed your own pet snake anything other than mice or rats.

Where can I buy feeder rodents for my pet snake?

Luckily, most commercial pet stores do sell both frozen feeder rodents and living feeder rodents.

Ultimately, the best place to buy your feeder rodents if you own just a single snake is probably your local pet store. Purchasing one live rodent at a time or several frozen ones to keep in your freezer is usually sufficient for most normal herp hobbyists.

If you own many snakes or if you breed them or plan on starting a breeding project, it could definitely be beneficial to buy frozen rodents online in bulk. Backwater Reptiles does sell frozen feeder rats and mice in various sizes, however they are sold in large quantities rather than being available to purchase individually like they are in most pet stores.

Conclusion

As we’ve already mentioned before, it is very much a personal preference as to what type of rodent you feed your own pet snake. Many snakes thrive on feeder mice their entire lives and there are no negative consequences to feeding one over the other.

There is no “right” diet for any given snake. In fact, some snakes are such picky eaters that as an owner, you might have no choice but to feed your snake a single prey item its entire life. The information provided in this article is simply meant to serve as a guideline, answer some commonly asked questions, and hopefully inform potential snake owners what to expect in terms of feeding their new herp friend.

How To Set Up Rack Systems for Reptiles

If you only own a single reptile of any sort, and you’re not a reptile collector, odds are you might not have even heard of a rack system. So, we’re going to preface this article by explaining exactly what a rack system is…just in case you’re unfamiliar.

When reptile enthusiasts and hobbyists speak of rack systems, they are referring to what is essentially a shelf filled with reptile “cubby” habitats in the simplest of terms. It is a specially designed shelf lined with bins that are heated to support reptile thermoregulatory habits and tend to be most useful to breeders or hobbyists who keep many reptiles.

How To Set Up a Leopard Gecko Rack System

First, we’ll tell you a little about using a rack system when breeding leopard geckos. We’ll outline what you need, how to set it up, and even include a brief video tutorial to explain how to set up our rack systems for leopard geckos at Backwater Reptiles.

leopard gecko rack system
Leopard geckos like this super snow morph, thrive in rack system set ups.

Items needed for a leopard gecko rack system set up
Plastic bins or tubs. These are used to house individual animals within your shelving unit. They function as lidless mini “cages.”
Shelving system to stack bins. Obviously you’ll need the shelf system in order to accommodate the bins your leopard geckos are living in. These units can be purchased online from specialty retailers or, if you’re handy, you can build your own.
Heat tape. Rather than hook up many pesky individual heat pads and wind up with a bunch of bulky electrical cords and ultimately, an electrical hazard, you should use heat tape to make sure the temperatures within your leopard gecko’s bin stays within the proper range.
Appropriate substrate. Just like with any other enclosure, your leopard gecko rack system bins will each require an appropriate substrate. You can use sand, paper towels, or any other substrate suitable for leopard geckos.
Water dish, food dish, and vitamin dish. Leopard geckos will need three kinds of dishes within each bin. Each dish’s purpose is pretty obvious based on what it will hold.
Egg laying bin or box/Hide space. Because most people using a rack system with leopard geckos intend to breed them, it’s necessary to have a hide space with dirt inside so that the females can lay their eggs when the time is right. The egg laying box also functions as a hide space for when your geckos feel like being secretive.
Drill. Each individual bin will need to have air holes drilled into the sides to allow for proper ventilation and moisture retention. You will only need the drill to poke holes in the sides of the plastic bins.

How to set up a leopard gecko rack system

As we’ve already established, a rack system will house numerous bins with various geckos living separately in each bin. The best strategy for success is to make each bin the same. In other words, follow the instructions below and replicate for however many number of bins you have in your shelving unit.

Step one – Drill holes in each leopard gecko bin. This is fairly straight forward. You should have at least ten to fifteen holes on each side of each bin. Spread these holes out evenly.

Step two – Hook up your heat tape. You’ll want to make sure that each bin that will have animals in it is properly heated. If you need some guidance using heat tape or setting it up, we’ve got an entire blog article dedicated to this process.

Step three – Line your bins with substrate. As we’ve mentioned prior, there are several substrates known to be appropriate for leopard geckos. Simply choose your favorite and line the bottom of each bin.

Step four -Set up your leopard gecko’s hide box. We use plastic shoe boxes with lids. You’ll want to put organic, chemically untreated soil inside and cut a round hole in the top so that the geckos can exit and enter easily.

Step five – Prepare your leopard gecko’s dishes. You will need three dishes, as previously mentioned above. The largest dish should be used for water. The mid-sized dish should contain mealworms, reptiworms, or whatever type of insect you will be feeding to your gecko. And lastly, the small dish should contain vitamin powder.

Voila! You’ve set up bin number one! Now all you need to do is repeat the process for each breeding pair of geckos you wish to house.

Leopard gecko rack system video tutorial

In the video below, we show you a physical example of how we set up our leopard gecko bins that we use within our rack systems.

How To Set Up a Snake Rack System

Items needed for a snake rack system set up
Plastic bins or tubs. Again, these bins or tubs will be home to a single snake. They will be “cages” without lids.
Shelving system to stack bins. As we discussed with leopard gecko rack systems, you will need a shelving unit to organize your snake bins. Shelving units can be purchased from specialty retailers or you can always make your own if you prefer.
Heat tape. This is the alternative method used to heat rack systems as it’s much too cluttered and unsafe to use individual reptile heating pads when working with so many animals.
Appropriate substrate. The preferred substrate for most species of snake (but not all!) is aspen bedding. You can use whatever substrate works best for your particular species, but always avoid cedar bedding as the fumes given off are toxic to snakes.
Water dish. Unlike leopard gecko bins, which require three dishes, a snake’s bin will only need a single water dish. We recommend one that is sturdy enough that the snake can’t tip it over.
Two hides. Ideally, snakes should have two hide spaces available to them, no matter what type of cage they are housed in. One hide should be on the warmer side of the cage and the other hide should be on the cooler side of the cage. This allows the snake to thermoregulate while still feeling safe and secure.

How to set up a snake rack system

snake rack system
Snakes such as ball pythons do quite well in rack systems.

Just like with the leopard gecko bins, once you’ve set up one snake bin, all you need to do is replicate the process for the remainder of the bins. Uniformity works well when it comes to rack systems.

Step one – Drill holes in each snake bin. Just like with leopard gecko bins, snake bins will require “breathing” holes. These holes aren’t so that the snakes can breathe, but rather so that their miniature ecosystems can. The holes will allow moisture to exit and will allow air to circulate better. As with leopard gecko bins, ten to fifteen holes per side should suffice, unless you are housing very large snakes in very large bins. Use common sense and space the holes evenly for best results.

Step two – Hook up the heat tape. Again, this process should be exactly the same as with the leopard gecko bins. Although we’ve already given you this link above, just so you don’t have to scroll back, here’s the link to the article we wrote discussing the ins and outs of how to set up reptile heat tape.

Step three – Place your chosen substates within the bottom of the bin. A thin layer is fine. Don’t overfill the tub/bin. You should have just enough to absorb any spilled or collected moisture and snake waste.

Step four – Set up a hide box on each side of the snake’s bin. One should go on the cooler side and one on the heated side.

Step five – Place the snake’s water dish inside the bin. It’s not really that important where you put it, but be aware that if you place it above the heated side, you will create more moisture in the environment due to more rapid evaporation. If your snake likes humidity, this is great, but if you have a species that prefers a more arid, dry climate, then it’s probably best to put the water dish on the unheated side of the bin.

Guess what? Your snake bin set up is now complete! All you need to do is repeat the process for each pet snake you have and finally…add snakes!

Setting up a snake rack system video tutorial

In the video below, we walk you through how we set up our individual snake bins used in the rack systems at Backwater Reptiles.

Reptile Rack System Frequently Asked Questions

-How do I heat a rack system?

Hopefully if you’re invested in reptiles enough to need a rack system, you’re aware that they need a source of warmth in order to thermoregulate. But because rack systems are not set up like normal cages and you can’t place a heat lamp on top of the cage or attach a heat mat to the bottom of the cage, how then, do you provide heat to all the individual bins?

The answer is simple really. At Backwater Reptiles, we use reptile heat tape. This allows us to control temperature and is also safe and convenient for both humans and animals alike.

As we’ve previously indicated, we actually have an entire blog article tutorial complete with video instructions on how to set up heat tape. Click here to read the entire article.

-Do I need UV lights when using a rack system?

Luckily, most of the species that thrive in rack system set ups (i.e. leopard geckos, corn snakes, ball pythons, etc.) don’t require UV lighting.

You can always take each animal out individually or in groups and expose them to natural UV light by taking them outdoors, but due to the way rack systems are set up, there’s really no way to provide a consistent source of UV lighting.

Ultimately, this means that reptiles that require UV light in order to process vitamins and maintain healthy bones and immune systems cannot be housed in rack systems. So do your research before your invest in a rack system for any particular species.

-How many animals can live in each bin?

This is a question with variable answers. In reality, the answer will depend on the species you are housing as well as how large your individual bins are.

With leopard geckos, generally a breeding pair or trio is acceptable. A single male with one or two females tend to get along just fine in the amount of space provided in a single bin within a standard sized rack system.

We don’t recommend keeping more than a single snake of any species within a single bin. The bins are just too small and the snakes will end up feeling stressed and competing for resources.

-Don’t the animals escape since there are no lids or screens?

The short answer to this question is yes, the animals can escape due to the more open nature of the rack system.

Because the plastic tubs or bins that house individual animals don’t usually have lids, some more tenacious and stubborn reptiles can and will find ways to climb over the edges of the bins and out into the real world.

There really is no guaranteed way to avoid this other than keeping a close eye on your animals and making sure that all their needs are met so they have little to no reason to seek outside stimulus.

We recommend checking each bin at least twice daily if not more. And as you learn the personalities of your individual animals, you will learn to watch out for the trickier ones who might be more inclined to be escape artists.

Conclusion

Rack systems are efficient for serious reptile hobbyists who intend to keep many animals or start breeding projects of their own. They take up less space than keeping multiple large cages would and they give convenient and easy access to the animals all in one place.

We hope this tutorial on setting up reptile rack systems has proved helpful. If there’s anything we didn’t cover or if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments!

How To Help Your Snake Shed Its Skin

Every snake owner knows that as their pet grows it will shed its skin. Normally, this process is accomplished quickly, easily, and without any issues. However, some snake species are prone to “bad” sheds or problem sheds where the entire skin does not come off in one neat, tubular piece.

Because incomplete sheds can become a health issue for a pet snake of any species, we’re dedicating this article to explaining what we do to remedy this problem at the Backwater Reptiles facility.

The Ideal Shedding Process

A normal shed occurs when a snake’s skin comes off in one single, tubular, opaque piece. It’s a very cool process and when your pet snake has completed a shed successfully, you actually have a really cool souvenir.

When a snake sheds its skin normally, the process is referred to as ecdysis. When the process doesn’t go smoothly and the skin sheds in flakes, pieces, or fails to come off properly in any way, the proper term becomes dysecdysis.

black blood python
Healthy snakes with proper husbandry and humidity in their enclosure should shed their skin in one solid piece.

You can tell your pet snake is preparing to shed its skin because not only will its behavior change, its physical appearance will also change.

Many snakes will go into hiding prior to shedding. They will retreat into their hide box and tend to stay pretty immobile most of the time. They might also become aggressive or refuse food if you offer it. But don’t worry. If you notice your snake has become lethargic, you can also detect changes in its physical appearance that will tell you that your pet is not ill, but just preparing to shed.

Prior to shedding, snakes will develop grey, cloudy looking eyes. You will also notice that their skin appears duller in nature. For instance, many snakes have shiny, iridescent scales. You will be able to see them become less brilliant in color and the iridescence may disappear altogether.

Side note: When you notice the signs that your snake is preparing to shed, you should handle it as little as possible. You also should avoid feeding as odds are the snake won’t eat the food being offered anyway.

Often times, your pet snake will shed without you even being aware of the process. You might notice a change in behavior and appearance one day, go to sleep, and wake up the next morning with a clean tube of snake skin waiting for you in the cage.

Solution Number One – Giving Your Pet Snake a Bath

If you do notice that your snake has shed some skin but not cleanly, the first solution we’d recommend would be to provide a large soaking dish within your snake’s cage if there is not already one provided. Often times problem sheds are caused by lack of humidity, so providing a bowl or water dish where your snake can go to naturally remedy the problem is a good place to start.

But what if you have an arboreal snake that doesn’t necessarily enjoy a good soak? Well, then you may just have to help the snake by giving it a bath or confining it to a sealed container with water for a time.

We recommend manually giving the snake a bath only if you know your snake has a pleasant temperament. You don’t want to try bathing and removing stuck skin on a grumpy snake.

If your snake is small enough, calm enough, and receptive enough to a manual bath, then fill a bowl or basin with lukewarm water. You want to be careful the water is not too cold or too hot as you don’t want to shock the snake’s system. Carefully immerse the snake in the water while making sure its head doesn’t get submerged. Many small snakes will let you hold them and dip them in the water. You can also dribble water over the snake while holding it if your snake doesn’t enjoy being in the water fully.

While manually bathing, it’s also useful to massage the snake’s body where the problem skin resides. Generally, once the skin has moistened, it will loosen naturally and you can gently rub it off.

If your snake is too large for the manual bath method or gets grumpy easily, then obtain a container with a lid that is large enough to hold your snake. Fill the container with enough lukewarm water so that your snake is submerged as much as possible but does not have to swim. You don’t want your snake to drown!

Once your container holds the appropriate amount of water, it can be helpful to place a rough object in the pool with the snake. This is because the snake will rub against it, either intentionally or unintentionally, and this will help remove the remaining skin. We’d recommend a textured rock or brick – just be sure there are no sharp edges for the snake to injure itself on.

The final step is obviously to place your snake in the container and shut the lid so that it has no choice but to hydrate. We always recommend standing by or placing the container somewhere it is always visible. It is never wise to leave a soaking reptile of any kind unattended, despite taking all the proper precautions.

If all goes well with the confined soak, you should be able to gently slough off any remaining skin pieces very easily after about fifteen to thirty minutes without harming the snake.

Solution Number Two – Putting a Rough or Coarse Object in the Snake’s Enclosure

Sometimes all a snake needs in order to complete a tough shed is something rough to rub itself against.

If you’ve noticed your snake soaking itself, placing a rough object in the cage is probably the easiest and most low maintenance solution.

Just like with the manual bath/soak method, a textured stone or a piece of brick can work wonders. As previously mentioned, please be sure that even though the object is rough that there are no sharp edges for the snake to cut itself on.

Once the object is in the cage, keep a close eye on the progress of the snake. If the problem skin still isn’t fully coming off, you can always try a confined soak or manual bath to finish off the process.

Solution Number Three – Use a Commercial Shed Aid 

If all else fails, there are actually commercially produced reptile shed aid solutions that can assist your snake through a tough shed.

These products are essentially “snake conditioners” and can be used in conjunction with the soak/bath method.

You can use the products by adding them to the snake’s bath itself, or you can lightly coat your snake after it has had a bath to help remove any remaining skin pieces.

We’d like to make note that we prefer the natural method of lukewarm water because nine times out of ten, this method will eliminate any stuck pieces of skin.

Troublesome Eye Caps

One aspect of problematic sheds that we’d like to touch upon specifically is what to do when your snake doesn’t properly shed its eye caps. Just for reference, the eye caps, or spectacles as some like to call them, are the scales that cover the snake’s eyes. Because snakes lack eyelids, they have a special scale to protect and keep their eyes moist. This scale can often stay put during problem sheds and can require special tactics to remove safely.

Retained eye caps can occur with both normal and problematic sheds. If you notice after any kind of shedding that your snake’s eyes are still cloudy, you might have to intervene and remove the eye caps yourself.

Because your snake’s vision will be impaired, sometimes it will make the necessary efforts to remove the retained spectacle itself. You may have to do nothing at all. We recommend making sure there are rough surfaces for the snake to rub on within its enclosure and waiting a day or two after noticing the problem. If the eye cap is still present, then you should make efforts to remove it manually.

bull snake pre-shed
Although this bull snake is only in pre-shed mode, a retained eye cap will look cloudy and grey like this snake’s eyes. It may also appear somewhat wrinkled.

Make sure that you are confident and comfortable handling your pet snake before you attempt to remove retained eye caps by yourself. It requires patience, confidence, and a knowledge of your snake’s mannerisms and temperament.

The first thing you should do is to moisten the eye cap. Because snakes don’t like to have their heads submerged under water, we recommend dribbling lukewarm water onto the affected eye cap and allowing it to sink in as much as possible. Next, gently rub the eye cap with a q-tip or fingertip. Make sure you have a light touch. This is simply to attempt to begin the process as you will usually need tweezers to completely remove the eye cap.

After you’ve softly rubbed the retained cap enough that you can see an edge, very carefully  grip the loosened edge with your blunt tweezers. Please don’t use sharp or pointy tweezers because if your snake jerks or moves, it could spell disaster. Very slowly remove the retained spectacle using the tweezers. Don’t pry – if it is not coming off with gentle manipulation, it needs to be moistened more or your snake might need to make a trip to the vet.

Make sure to monitor your snake’s behavior closely during this entire process. Many snakes will sit calmly through the process, but others will not like you being that close to their head and may start to show signs of aggression, even if they are normally well-behaved.

It will take some time and lots of patience, but with proper moistening and effort, you should be able to remove the eye cap safely.

Side note: If your snake has several layers of unshed eye caps (usually only happens with poor husbandry habits), or if it is known for being aggressive, it’s probably best to take the snake to your local veterinarian. They will be able to properly anesthetize the animal and remove the eye caps during that time.

Preventing Future Problematic Sheds

The number one reason why snakes have issues with shedding is that their enclosure is not humid enough. Although different species from different habitats will obviously require different humidity levels, most species tend to need anywhere from fifty to seventy percent humidity.

Once you have determined the proper humidity level that is required for your species of snake, there are several things you can do to maintain this humidity.

The number one thing is to make sure your snake has a water dish! This should be common sense as snakes do actually drink water, but having water present in the snake’s immediate environment is key. You can also place an under the tank heating mat directly underneath the water source to help speed evaporation and therefore increase humidity within the cage.

Another option is to include a moisture box in your snake’s home. What this usually entails is creating a separate hide box and filling it with a substrate that retains moisture well such as sphagnum moss or moist paper towels. Be sure to check your moisture box frequently for mold though as you don’t want to unintentionally create a toxic environment for your snake.

And lastly, instead of altering the humidity levels within the snake’s cage, you can actually change the humidity within the room itself. Just go to any drug store or big box retailer and buy a humidifier. A hygrometer can help you measure the humidity in the room to make sure it is at the proper level for your snake.

Helping Large or Temperamental Snakes Through Problem Sheds

If your snake is very large, or if it has a bad temper, it might simply be wisest to take the snake to the vet to assist with an incomplete shed. This is particularly true if you are having trouble with retained eye caps.

However, this is pretty much going to be up to the discretion of the owner. Most snakes will put up with a certain level of handling, even if they do have a testy disposition.

We would however recommend that you wear leather gloves or some other form of protection if you know that your snake is prone to biting.

Conclusion

Snakes make wonderful pets, but like all reptiles, it’s very possible that you will have to deal with an incomplete or problem shed at some point during your snake’s life.

This article is intended to help out should your own pet snake encounter this issue as well as help prevent this issue from occurring in the first place.

If you have any other tips or suggestions for how you’ve helped your own snake through a difficult shed, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

 

Boas, Pythons, and Anacondas in Captivity

Boas, pythons, and anacondas are all fascinating species of constrictor snakes. But do you know what makes them similar? What about what makes them different from one another?

In this article, we’ll discuss pythons, boas, and anacondas. We’ll cover what defines each as a species, how to care for each in captivity, and hopefully help you make an informed decision as to which species would work best as a pet in your own household.

Boas

 

Common Attributes and Traits of Boas

The group of snakes commonly referred to as boas all hail from the family Boidae. This family includes approximately fifty plus species of snakes that attain medium to large lengths.

The Boidae family is further divided into three subfamilies – the true boas (subfamily Boinae), the sand boas (subfamily Erycinae), and the dwarf boas (subfamily Ungaliophiinae). Each of these subfamilies possesses its own unique set of characteristics that sets it apart from the other subfamilies.

Boas are considered “primitive” snakes, meaning that they still retain a number of vestigial anatomical features.

Vestigial features of boas include the remnants of a pelvic girdle and vestigial legs, or cloacal “spurs” as they are more accurately described. The pelvic girdle in most animals consists of the hip bones and supports and attaches the legs, however most non-primitive species of snakes have evolved beyond  this adaptation since obviously snakes have no use for it due to their lack of limbs.

Cloacal spurs are essentially the remnants of rear limbs. As you can surmise from the naming of this vestigial appendage, the spurs are located on either side of the snake’s vent or cloaca. They actually attach to the remnants of the vestigial pelvic girdle and thus are also commonly referred to as vestigial “limbs” although they are far from normal legs in terms of physical appearance.

clocal spurs
Pictured are the cloacal spurs of a ball python. They appear much the same in boas.

Cloacal spurs can actually be used to help determine a boa’s gender. Males tend to have larger cloacal spurs than females.

Most species of boa are ovoviviparous, which means that they give birth to live young rather than lay eggs that hatch at a later date. This also distinguishes them from most species of snakes which tend to reproduce by laying eggs.

Keeping Boas in Captivity as Pets

Boas are very common pet reptiles with the most well-known species being the common boa constrictor (Boa c. imperator). They are known for their generally docile demeanors and they tend to acclimate well to human interaction.

Not all species of boas attain large sizes, however the common boa constrictor and other popular species can grow to be up to ten feet long. They also live for twenty to thirty years on average, so please be sure that you are able to care for such a snake before purchasing one.

dumerils boa
Dumeril’s boas (Boa dumerili) don’t usually exceed six feet in length and are widely considered to be one of the most docile species of boa.

The housing needs of most boa species are relatively simple. First and foremost, you’ll need to be sure that the enclosure is large enough, particularly if you are not caring for a juvenile snake. You will also need a hide space, a water/soaking dish, appropriate substrate, and reliable heating source(s).

Like most snakes, nearly all species of boas kept as pets should be fed appropriately-sized mice or rats. Rodents can be purchased from pet stores and we prefer to feed our snakes frozen/thawed over live mice. It’s much simpler and safer for the snake as well.

Did You Know…?

-The Boidae family includes the largest species of snake in the world – anacondas. We’ve dedicated an entire section of this article to anacondas. Read on to find out more!

-All boas are nonvenomous. Rather than develop venom to paralyze or incapacitate their prey, they kill their food by constriction.

-Boas can be found worldwide in tropical and sub-tropical climates, however they are not present in Australia.

-Boas eat a wide range of food depending on the species. The most common diet in the wild for the majority of species includes small mammals (i.e. rats, mice, rabbits, squirrels, etc.), but they are also avid eaters of frogs, smaller snakes, and even lizards.

Pythons

Common Attributes and Traits of Pythons

Like boas, pythons are constrictors. They tend to be ambush predators who wait for a prey item to come along, lunge, and then perform their signature constriction.

Also similar to boas, pythons possess vestigial cloacal spurs (AKA vestigial limbs) and the remnants of a pelvic girdle. Feel free to refer to the above section on boa characteristics to refresh your memory on what purpose these vestigial organs serve.

Pythons tend to have slightly different frames than boas do. They have stocky, bulky bodies regardless of their length and size. Their heads are triangular in shape and they have serrated, backward-pointing teeth that aid in gripping prey. They also possess heat sensing labial pits that allow them to detect and capture prey more efficiently.

Another interesting trait of the python family is that snakes in this family have two lungs. This seems normal to us, but in reality, it is considered primitive as far as snakes are concerned because most snake species have evolved to only have a single lung.

We’ve established that boas give birth to live babies, but pythons do not. Pythons are oviparous, which means that the females lay eggs in order to reproduce. And pythons are actually pretty good mothers…at least until the babies are born. Once she’s laid her eggs, the female will coil around them to protect them, maintain proper temperature levels, and can even “shiver” in order to generate heat for her clutch if necessary. However, once the hatchlings have emerged from their eggs, the mother python will provide no further care.

Keeping Pythons in Captivity

Like most snakes kept as pets, pythons don’t require a lot of maintenance in order to stay healthy and happy. As with all large snakes, probably the most important aspect of their care is to be sure that the snake has a big enough enclosure that allows it to move about properly as well as feel secure and safe.

Some pythons are arboreal, while others are more terrestrial. Do your research when purchasing an enclosure for your own python and be sure that if you have a terrestrial python you are providing enough floor space. The opposite is also true if you have an arboreal python – you will need to provide more vertical space and items to climb on and wrap around.

leucistic ball python
Ball pythons like this blue-eyed leucistic ball python make excellent pet snakes. They are docile and due to captive breeding efforts, they have become quite accustomed to living with people.

Pythons are pretty clean snakes, particularly ball pythons, so as long as you provide a good substrate, you should only need to spot clean as the animal defecates. A thorough cage cleaning should only be necessary once per month or every six weeks.

Just like boas, pythons will eat mice or rats in captivity. No vitamin dusting is necessary. But keep in mind that pythons can be pickier eaters than boas. Because they can be shy and secretive, you might have to feed your python live rodents instead of frozen ones. This will depend on the personality of your snake as well as what species you own.

Did You Know…?

-The reticulated python (Python reticulatus) can grow to exceed twenty feet in length. This is the largest species of python.

-The anthill python, also known as Australia’s pygmy python, is the smallest documented species of python. It usually doesn’t grow larger than three feet long.

-There are approximately forty documented python species all within the family Pythonidae. Also included in the python family are Mexican burrowing pythons (Lococemidae) and sunbeam snakes (Xenopeltidae).

-Burmese pythons are another very large species of snake that can exceed twenty feet in length. Due to being released into the wild in Florida, they have actually come to be considered an invasive species. They are a top predator and can even consume alligators!

Anacondas

Common Attributes and Traits of Anacondas

Anacondas are actually members of the boa family (family Boidae) and belong to the genus Eunectes.

There are four known species of anaconda – the green anaconda (Eunectes murinus), the yellow anaconda (Eunectes notaeus), the Bolivian anaconda (Eunectes beniensis), and the dark-spotted anaconda (Eunectes deschauenseei).

Anacondas spend most of their time in and around bodies of water where they ambush prey and constrict to kill it like boas and pythons.

Like boas, anacondas give birth to live young and are considered “primitive” snakes because they possess vestigial cloacal spurs and the remnants of a pelvic girdle.

Keeping Anacondas in Captivity

Because they can grow to such massive sizes, anacondas do not make great pets for most people. It takes dedication, space, patience, and knowledge to be able to successfully and safely keep a pet anaconda. We only recommend these snakes for experienced herp hobbyists who understand the extensive care requirements of these large snakes.

green anaconda
Although anacondas are “cool” snakes to own due in part to hype from the media, they are definitely not for beginners. Be sure to check your local laws to make sure it is legal to own one in your region before purchasing.

It is actually illegal to purchase and/or own a pet anaconda in many areas of the United States, so please do your research before buying an anaconda of any species. If you’re unsure of your state’s laws, be sure to check with your local fish and wildlife department.

If you are fully prepared to tackle a pet anaconda, we recommend starting off with a juvenile. Young snakes tend to have fewer parasites and more docile temperaments. Plus if you start handling your anaconda and training it to be accustomed to human interaction, it will grow up to be a more tame and manageable pet.

Be aware that anacondas have long life spans and we can’t stress enough that they grow to be enormous animals that will need to eat enormous food. Be prepared not only to provide a large enclosure for your pet anaconda, but large prey items as well. A large, captive anaconda will eat anything from rabbits to chickens, so a strong stomach is required.

Did You Know…?

-The green anaconda (Eunectes murinus) is the most well-known species of anaconda. It can grow to surpass twenty-five feet in length and weigh over five hundred pounds, although more commonly documented weights are between one hundred fifty and two hundred pounds.

-Because anacondas are so heavy and can consume such large meals, wild snakes may not need to eat for an entire month after consuming a good-sized meal.

-There is much debate on whether or not the anaconda can be labelled as a “man-eater.” While they can certainly grow large enough to eat a human being and they do eat deer, pigs, and other large animals in the wild, tales of anacondas consuming people are few and far between and most likely exaggerated. In reality, the natural habitats of man and anaconda don’t overlap too much so the possibility of an anaconda eating a human is pretty low.

Conclusion

While boas, pythons, and anacondas are very similar in terms of care requirements, temperament, and even morphology, they don’t all make equally good pets.

Many species of boa can grow quite large, while many species of python can get quite heavy. Do your research and keep in mind that constrictor snakes don’t stay small for long. Like any pet, you’ll want to be sure that you can commit to both the time and maintenance required to keep the animal healthy for the duration of its life.

And please remember, although anacondas are extremely cool snakes and many people would be thrilled to show one off as a pet, these large predators are best suited for experienced reptile enthusiasts with plenty of space. Anacondas are strong, hefty snakes and they have the potential to be deadly, so they must be respected and anyone who owns one must be prepared to accept the responsibility of caring for one.

What To Do If Your Pet Reptile Or Amphibian Escapes

You might not be aware of this, but many reptiles, amphibians, and even pet invertebrates are known to be escape artists! If you accidentally leave their cage unlatched or the screen door slightly ajar, they can and will take advantage of the opportunity to take themselves out for a stroll around your house.

Often times, good owners who keep a regular eye on their pets will notice their missing critter right away and no harm will come to the animal. However, because there is always the possibility that a loose lizard, snake, or tarantula could injure itself or another family member (human or non-human), we wanted to take the time to write this article that will hopefully help you out should you ever find yourself in this sticky situation.

What to do if your pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate escapes its enclosure

The first thing we’d like to say is don’t panic! This is not an uncommon occurrence and odds are your missing pet will turn up safe and sound. They can only journey so far within your home and with patience and the proper “hunting” tactics, you’ll likely locate him or her in a timely manner.

what to do if your reptile escapes
Snakes are notorious escape artists. They can be sneaky and they are rather skilled at pushing up screens and squeezing through small spaces.

The first step we recommend taking before any other is to close all doors and windows in your home. This will prevent the animal from venturing outdoors and into more extreme danger.

Nearly all reptiles, amphibians, and inverts don’t need to be fed on a daily basis like other animals do because their metabolisms are much slower than that of a mammal. So as long as they’re not missing for an extended period of time, they won’t starve to death. In fact, odds are they’ll pop up when they do get hungry since they tend to know where their meals come from.

The only time we’d say that time is of the essence when trying to locate a missing animal is when there is a possibility that your pet has ventured outdoors. Because there are many more threats outside including predators, weather, and the ability to travel farther, we’d say that if you are at all concerned your pet has gotten outside, you should search in earnest until you locate him or her.

Getting the proper cage to prevent escape

The number one thing you can do as a responsible pet owner in order to prevent escape is to make sure you have the proper enclosure. This means secure cage latches, doors, and screens with no small holes to squeeze through.

Snakes

Although many snakes can be housed just fine using rack systems with open tops, they can be fairly energetic. In order to prevent escape, we recommend a cage with a secure lid and/or door. If you have a glass tank with a screen top, make sure the screen slides securely into place each time you close it.

If you have a very curious and active snake, we don’t recommend a glass tank with a screen top that fits over the entire top of the cage. We’d say go with the kind that slides into place on a track and clicks into place when it’s locked.

Glass tanks with doors that open in the front are also commonly used to house snakes and these are also great options to help prevent escape. Just make sure that the doors get shut securely each time you open them as snakes are strong and can push open a mesh door that is not latched.

Frogs and Other Amphibians

Pet frogs don’t usually bother to escape as they tend to feel safer in their enclosures. However, we do still recommend that pet frogs be kept in glass tanks with secure tops, especially if your frog happens to be an arboreal species such as a tree frog.

Salamanders are known to be burrowers and newts are aquatic, so odds are your pet salamander or newt won’t attempt to escape simply because the environment outside their enclosure is not appealing to them.

Lizards

Because there are so many species of lizards that require all different kinds of habitats, there’s not really a wrong kind of cage for a lizard. However, we would like to mention that bored lizards can get sneaky and will actively attempt escape. Large lizards such as monitors and iguanas will sometimes try to get out if they feel confined to their cage for too long, so our remedy for this issue is to make sure you interact with your pet frequently and give it exercise outside the cage so that this desire is curbed.

eco terra terrarium
Pictured is an Exo Terra terrarium. Notice that it has a set of front access doors. In order to prevent escape, always remember to latch these doors as reptiles can be stronger than they appear. Pushing open a door that is ajar is not unheard of.

As with all other species of reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates, we do recommend that all lizard cages have secure latches and doors. Be mindful of your lizard’s size and climbing habits and make sure that there are no gaps in the seams of the doors or screen that could allow the lizard to squeeze through. Small geckos are notorious for squeezing through tiny cracks and crevices, so we recommend sealing these with a strong tape if need be.

Turtles and Tortoises

Non-aquatic turtles and tortoises (i.e. box turtles and sulcata tortoises) are often kept in outdoor spaces. This means that you’ll need to be especially careful about maintaining strong borders, especially if the species you own happens to be a digger. Turtles and tortoises will wander naturally and you’ll just want to be sure that the bounds of their outdoor enclosure are robust and secure enough to keep the animal within its boundaries.

Indoor turtle and tortoise enclosures are fairly simple. Non-aquatic turtles and tortoises can usually live in containers without lids provided the walls are high enough. You also don’t want to provide any tall cage furniture that allows them to climb out over the rim. This is particularly important not only to prevent escape but for the safety of the animal itself. If your turtle or tortoise accidentally climbs out and in the process lands upside down, it can actually die very quickly.

And although many aquatic turtle enclosure don’t have lids, we still recommend that your tank have at least a screen topper that fits over the entire cage. Aquatic turtles can be quite active and explorative and it’s not unheard of for them to escape.

Invertebrates (Spiders & Scorpions)

Because most pet invertebrates like tarantulas and scorpions are ground-dwelling animals, they don’t generally escape all that often. Like any other pet that lives in a cage, we do still recommend that all enclosures have secure access points. This is particularly important if your arachnid is very small since spiderlings can easily squeeze through small openings.

secure tarantula cage
Pictured is a tarantula cage set up suitable for spiderlings. It includes everything the spider will require and also has no cracks, holes, or crevices that will allow the small spider to escape.

Backwater Reptiles actually sells some very secure and aesthetically pleasing spiderling cages. We highly recommend them. Check them out here.

Animals that are the least likely to be escape artists

If you want a pet that is less active and therefore less likely to be an escape artist, we can make several recommendations, although there are plenty of animals not discussed below that are also great options.

Salamanders make great pets and aren’t likely to escape or go missing. Because they like to hide and burrow, they’re not likely to try to climb the walls of a smooth enclosure made of glass or plastic. They’d much rather shelter under their substrate or inside their hide box. You’ll likely only see your salamander emerge when it’s feeding time.

Newts are also very unlikely to escape due to their aquatic nature. The only time your newt is likely to emerge completely from the water is to bask. They are not known to be climbers and their fingers won’t allow them to grip glass and crawl out.

adult bearded dragon
Bearded dragons are so tame that they’re not usually at risk for escaping. They tend to get a lot of attention from their owners due to their affinity for people and are out of their cages enough for escape to rarely be a problem.

Non-arboreal lizards such as blue tongue skinks (Tiliqua sp.), leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius), and bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) are also not usually particularly adventurous. Blueys have stocky bodies and can’t really climb due to their short limbs. Leopard geckos have been kept in captivity long enough to be extremely docile and therefore it’s not really in their nature to try to escape. And finally, although beardies are very active lizards, because they interact with people quite a lot and tend to get plenty of time outside of their cages, they are not really prone to trying to climb out of their cage.

How to draw out a missing animal

If you’ve searched your entire home top to bottom and still can’t seem to locate your missing pet, we recommend trying to draw it out using food as bait.

Obviously, this tactic won’t work on animals that eat live insects such as many species of lizards and invertebrates. It also probably won’t be effective to use with snakes since they eat rodents and also really only eat on a weekly basis.

The food-as-bait method will work best on animals that really enjoy feeding time and eat daily or every other day. For example, putting out fresh vegetation to entice an iguana or a uromastyx lizard out into the open would certainly be a good idea, but it would have no effect on a tarantula.

Because many pets will emerge at night time when there is less commotion and the house is quiet, you can actually set “traps” to alert you if the animal makes an appearance. Try lining the floors with grocery store plastic bags that make noise when crinkled. Even if you’re sleeping, the crinkling should hopefully make enough noise to signal you as to the whereabouts of your pet.

Places to search for a missing animals

The first thing you should do when searching for a missing pet is to try to think like a reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate. They all tend to prefer secrecy and hiding places, so the first places you should search should be hiding places – under the bed, in a shoe box in your closet, behind the TV, etc.

Warmer areas are also popular places to end up – near vents, close to appliances that create heat, and near lights. Potted plants near windows would also be good hiding places.

Take into consideration if your animal is arboreal or ground-dwelling. Ground-dwelling animals will tend to hide in places that are easily accessible from the ground such as low cupboards, in closets, behind toilets, underneath furniture, etc.

Arboreal pets on the other hand will likely climb somewhere seeking security.  We’d recommend searching all cupboards regardless of height, on curtains and curtain rods, in the clothing hanging in your closet, and even in laundry bins. However, just because an animal is arboreal by nature doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll find it up high. You should also check all the places you’d search for a ground-dwelling animal.

Conclusion

It’s never fun to know your pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate has gone missing. But, the good news is that most animals will be recovered shortly within the home and they will recover from their adventure with no issues.

Keep in mind that preventing the animal from escaping in the first place is the best remedy to this problem. We can’t stress enough that all lids and latches should be tightly secured. All cracks and crevices should be sealed or better yet, nonexistent.

And lastly, don’t panic. If you keep your eyes peeled, odds are your pet will resurface in no time.

How Do Snakes Eat?

Even if you’ve never owned a pet snake or seen one up close in real life, we bet you’re aware that snakes can swallow food that is much larger than their head in a single bite. How cool is that? But, how do snakes eat other animals?

As humans, we not only cut up our food into manageable portions, we also chew it until it is the proper consistency to be swallowed. It’s hard to imagine trying to swallow an entire cow or even an entire carrot whole, but that’s what snakes do.

How do snakes eat?

So, how are snakes able to eat this way without choking? What unique adaptations do they possess that allow them to eat so efficiently? Well, if you’re curious about this topic at all, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’ll cover topics from how a snake’s jaw is built to other special traits they have in order to be such powerhouse eating machines.

how do snakes eat
Snakes are able to eat food that is literally larger than their own head. They have special jaws that give them an enhanced range of movement. This photo shows a Hog Island Boa (Boa c. imperator) consuming a mouse. This particular snake is a picky eater and therefore had to be fed a live mouse rather than one that had been frozen.

What do wild snakes eat?

As is the case with many wild animals, snakes are opportunistic eaters and usually will eat a variety of food based on what types of prey can be found in their vicinity. Keep in mind that all snakes are carnivores though, so there are no species that eat plants or vegetable matter.

Most mid-size snakes will eat small vertebrates, usually mammals. Ground-dwelling rodents such as mice, shrews, voles, rats, and even moles are all excellent meals for snakes in the wild. However, mid-size snakes are also not afraid to indulge in appropriately-sized vertebrates such as frogs, toads, small birds, and even other snakes!

Larger snakes can obviously eat larger food. North American species that don’t grow to extremely large sizes will eat chickens, lizards, rabbits, and other large rodents.

Some of the larger snake species (i.e. boas, pythons, and anacondas) can eat large game animals such as deer, boar, and even goats. However, this is usually reserved for jungle-dwelling species that eat wild game animals.

green anaconda
Snake species such as this green anaconda (Eunectes murinus) will grow so large that in time they will eat small game animals!

We’ve covered what large snakes eat in the wild. But, what do tiny snakes such as ringneck snakes and blind snakes eat in the wild? What prey items are small enough for these nearly earthworm-sized reptiles to consume?

Well, many will eat small invertebrates in place of vertebrates. Small insects like cockroaches, crickets, and even worms are all on the menu for these itty bitty snake species.

Notice anything in particular about this list of prey items? All of them are listed as “prey” and not “food.” This is because snakes actually won’t eat dead matter. They will only eat living food, or in the case of snakes we keep as pets, food that they perceive to be living prey.

How does a snake’s jaw work?

The jaw of a snake is very different from the jaw on mammals and other reptiles such as lizards and tortoises. Most mammals and reptiles that are not snakes have a skull and a lower jaw bone called a mandible.

These two main bones are generally fused together and unable to perform too broad of a range of movement other than opening and closing and perhaps a little shifting from side to side.

Snakes have jaws that are much more flexible and capable of a broad range of movement. This is because instead of two pieces that are fused together, the jaws of a snake are comprised of three pieces that are held together by much more flexible tendons, muscles, and ligaments.

Snakes have a top skull bone and two bottom jaw pieces that are actually not fused together at the chin. Instead, these two bottom jaw pieces are held together by muscle allowing each side of the jaw to move independently of each other.

Getting into the nitty gritty anatomy of a snake’s jaw, the upper bone and lower bones are connected via the quadrate bone. This special bone behaves like a hinge and allows for the snake’s jaw to open 150 degrees!

This means that any snake can open its mouth to swallow food that for all intents and purposes appears too large for it to eat.

snake jaw
This diagram shows the inner workings of a snake’s jaw. Notice the quadrate bone and how it behaves like a hinge allowing the snake to open its jaws to such a wide angle.

One myth that we’d like to clear up regarding a snake’s jaw bones is that a snake’s jaw can actually come unhinged or detached. This is not true. Snakes don’t detach their jaw bones on command.

As we’ve already discussed, they simply have special adaptations that make their jaws extremely flexible and this makes it appear that the jaw detaches.

If you’ve ever witnessed a snake eating, you’ll know that although you’d think it would be a very slow and tedious process, most snakes eat very quickly and will consume their prey in under five minutes.

This is because once the jaws have opened over the prey, the snake’s curved teeth grab the prey and make sure it doesn’t slip forward and out of the snake’s wide open mouth.

The snake then secretes a lot of saliva and lubricates the food while “walking” its jaws forward over the prey one side at a time. The digestive muscles then take over the remainder of the process and push the food further down the digestive tract and proper digestion begins.

How do snakes catch their prey?

If snakes have no arms, legs, or even claws of any sort to catch prey, how then do they capture food to eat? What special abilities do they have to make up for their lack of arms and legs?

As we’re sure you’re aware, some species of snakes are venomous. They have long, hollow, front fangs that grab prey and inject them with venom that allows the snake to eat the prey item at its leisure.

Examples of venomous snakes that most Americans are familiar with are vipers, coral snakes, and rattle snakes.

Did you know that each species of snake actually possesses its own special venom type? The effects of the venom can vary by species, but there are three main types – neurotoxins, cardiotoxins, and hemotoxins.

Neurotoxins affect the nervous system and generally cause respiratory function to cease. Cardiotoxins affect the prey’s heart, causing the muscles to deteriorate and eventually make the heart stop beating.

Hemotoxins cause blood vessels to rupture which results in widespread internal bleeding.

Boa dumerili
This Dumerils Boa (Boa dumerili) is a typical constrictor. It will suffocate its prey before eating it and does not possess fangs like venomous snakes.

When a venomous snake is not biting something, its hollow fangs fold back into the snake’s mouth. This is because if the fangs didn’t lie flat, the snake would either be incapable of closing its mouth or its teeth would puncture through the bottom of its own face.

Most other non-venomous snakes are constrictors, meaning that once they lunge and grab their prey, they begin to squeeze the animal until it has suffocated to death allowing the snake to eat freely. Each time the prey inhales, the snake’s coils tighten and the prey is unable to take another breath.

So, whether the snake injects venom or squeezes its food to death, it’s clear that lacking limbs poses no problems for these reptiles when it comes to grabbing a meal.

How should I feed my snake in captivity?

Snakes are usually not hard to feed in captivity. Most smaller species will happily eat mice their entire life, while the larger constrictor species will eventually move onto rats.

If you’re squeamish about feeding a living rodent to your pet snake, luckily most snakes will eat pre-killed frozen rodents. All you need to do is keep the frozen rodent in your freezer until it’s meal time for your snake and then you de-thaw it.

We usually allow our frozen mice to thaw in warm water, but you can also just allow them to sit out until they’ve completely thawed. Just be sure to NEVER put a frozen rodent in the microwave!

You will have disastrous and rather messy results and end up with a snake that goes hungry.

Sometimes, snakes can be picky eaters. This is usually only true of the ones that are wild-caught. Captive bred snakes will generally accept frozen/thawed rodents with no issue.

If you do end up with a picky eater, you can certainly feed it living rodents. Pet stores sell feeder mice specifically for this very reason. There will be a few extra steps to the feeding process though.

First of all, we don’t recommend throwing a live mouse in with your snake in its normal enclosure. No matter if you’re feeding a live rodent or a frozen one to your snake, we highly recommend transferring your snake to a new enclosure for the feeding process.

This helps your snake to associate being moved to a specific area with feeding time and helps develop a schedule. It also trains your snake to recognize that not every time the cage opens means feeding time and will help minimize accidental striking and biting.

So, the first step when feeding a live rodent is to transfer your snake to a separate feeding container. Once you’ve done this, we recommend stunning your live rodent. This process is certainly not for the faint hearted.

There are many ways to stun a rodent, but many snake owners will strike the mouse against a hard surface to knock it unconscious. The rodent should be stunned because like any animal, it will fight for its life and this means that if your snake doesn’t consume the rodent immediately, the rodent could actually gnaw on your snake and inflict wounds that will get infected.

If you are simply unable to stun your snake’s dinner, then always stick around for the entire feeding process and make sure that the mouse or rat is not injuring the snake in any way.

If your snake turns out to not have an appetite, which can happen often if the snake is preparing to shed, then always remove the rodent from the enclosure and return your snake to its normal enclosure. Never leave the rodent around assuming the snake will eventually eat it.

There are also specific species of snakes such as egg eating snakes, water snakes, and tiny snakes like ringneck snakes that don’t eat mice. Obviously, egg eating snakes eat eggs.

They’re specialized eaters and won’t eat rodents no matter how hungry they are. Water snakes might eat rodents, but usually they eat small reptiles and amphibians in the wild, so we recommend offering feeder frogs and even feeder fish.

green water snake
Specialized snake species such as this green water snake probably won’t eat rodents like a “traditional” pet snake. We recommend doing your research before you purchase any species of snake to be sure that you can properly address its food requirements.

If you ever happen to end up with a snake that proves to be a troublesome eater, we actually wrote an entire blog article dedicated to offering tips and tricks to get them to eat. You can find that particular article here.

Conclusion – How do snakes eat?

Snakes are fascinating reptiles and watching your pet snake eat is usually quite a spectacle. Most snake owners genuinely enjoy observing the feeding process and it’s a huge reason many reptile hobbyists choose to care for snakes.

We hope that this “How do snakes eat?” article has taught you some things about how snakes have evolved to be able to eat food that is much larger than their own head. We think it’s a really cool adaptation and we never grow tired of feeding the snakes we keep at Backwater Reptiles.

 

 

Endangered Reptiles Hobbyists Wish They Could Have as Pets

Many species of reptiles kept as pets are commonly bred in captivity. Many are easy to care for because they are hardy animals both in captivity and in their natural habitats. There is no shortage of these critters either in captivity or in the wild.

However, just like there are endangered mammals and birds, there are also endangered reptiles. Although we’d never keep a critically endangered species as a pet or encourage trade in these animals, we can always fantasize about how cool it would be to keep some as pets in a perfect world.

In this blog article, we’ll name some of the critically endangered reptiles that we think would make amazing pets for one reason or another. Since we’ve never kept or seen these reptiles in real life (except for maybe at a zoo if we’re lucky!), this article won’t focus on care tips or handling techniques.

Instead, we’ll discuss why these endangered species are unique and what makes us so interested in them. Perhaps we’ll even raise some awareness and inspire conservation efforts to protect them.

Gharial/Gavial (Gavialis gangeticus)

The gharial or gavial is a crocodilian known for its very unique snout and appearance. Unlike typical crocodiles and alligators, the gavial’s mouth and nose are long and narrow rather than triangular in shape.

The narrowness of the mouth combined with sharp teeth that lace together in an interlocking pattern makes it perfectly suited to catch fish, which just happen to make up this reptile’s main diet.

Topping off the long mouth is a bulbous snout which is said to resemble an earthenware pot known as a ghara in Hindi. This is where the gharial’s common name is derived. It’s believed that this nose bulb is used in mating behaviors such as bubbling water to attract a mate and as a visual indicator of gender.

gavial
This photo very clearly shows the prominent bulb on the gavial’s nose. It also lets you see that the gavial’s mouth is longer, more tapered, and more pointy than any other crocodilian’s. And although those teeth protrude and look quite fierce, the gavial’s primary diet is fish, which means that it’s less likely to view you as an appetizer.

The gavial is native to India. While this fascinating creature used to inhabit nearly all the major rivers in India, it can now only be found in two percent of these waterways. The numbers of the gavial have been declining largely due to hunting for trophies, indigenous medicine, and consumption of the reptile’s eggs.

We think the gavial would make a cool pet because of its very particular mouth and nose. Unlike a croc or gator, the gavial actually doesn’t possess a whole lot of jaw strength. This means that although we’re not sure we’d recommend it, you could probably hold a gavial with much less fear of being bitten.

We’re sure that a gavial’s bite would still be pretty painful, but probably not nearly as bad as that of a reptile with as much jaw strength and ferocity as a crocodile.

Cayman Island Blue Iguana (Cyclura lewisi)

As its name suggests, the Cayman Island blue iguana is a lizard with a stunning color palate. At rest, these iguanas have a grayish complexion, but when breeding season hits, or when the iguana becomes agitated or excited, it transforms into a brilliant azure blue color.

The Cayman Island blue iguana is endemic to the Cayman Islands and is actually considered to be one of the most endangered lizards alive today. Back in 1940 when this reptile was originally described taxonomically, it was considered to be on the brink of extinction, and with human interference, whether accidental or intentional, its numbers have dwindled even further. In fact, in 2002, the population of these lizards remaining in the wild was estimated to be a mere ten to twenty-five animals!

cayman island blue iguana
This photo captures the true azure blue coloration of the Cayman Island blue iguana. Who wouldn’t be proud to show off such a beautiful lizard to family and friends?

Efforts to preserve the species have definitely been ongoing. As recently as 2004, a wildlife conservation group released hundreds of animals back into the wild. Additionally, at least five separate nonprofit organizations are working with the Grand Cayman government with the hope of preserving this colorful iguana.

Considered to be the largest native land animal living on Grand Cayman, the Cayman Island blue iguana maxes out around twenty to thirty inches in body length with a tail that is usually around the same length, putting the average animal anywhere between forty to sixty inches in total length. Despite this large size, the iguana is still preyed upon by non-native, invasive species such as feral cats and dogs.

While there are certainly blue iguanas available to reptile hobbyists nowadays, these are just variants of the very common green iguana and are still of the genus and species Iguana iguana. We think it would be beyond rewarding to be able to keep a breeding population of these “true” blue iguanas and be able to help contribute to the conservation efforts as well as enjoy the beauty of such a flashy lizard.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)

We admit, having a pelagic reptile of any kind as a pet seems no easy feat. But, in a perfect world, wouldn’t it be cool to have a salt water aquarium full of tropical fish and a sea turtle or two?

Like all sea turtle species, hawksbill turtles are endangered due to human interference. Believe it or not, people eat sea turtle eggs and mature sea turtles around the world, despite the protected status of these majestic ocean reptiles. Hawksbills in particular also have very beautifully designed shells which people love to collect. The fishing industry is also a factor in the endangered status of the hawksbill. Often times, these turtles will become accidentally entangled in fishing nets which can lead to drowning.

hawksbill sea turtle
The scutes or hard, bony plates that make up the hawksbill’s carapace are visible in this photo. People hunt the turtle to keep the beautifully patterned shell as a trophy.

Out of all the sea turtle species, the hawksbill turtle is one of the smaller species. Adults will grow to be around forty-five inches long and weigh around 150 pounds.

Hatchling hawksbill sea turtles have heart-shaped carapaces which eventually elongate. When mature, the shells have overlapping serrated scutes, or bony plates. They also have unusually sharp points on their nose/mouth area that resemble a bird of prey’s beak, which is how they received their common name. And yet another characteristic feature of the hawksbill is a pair of claws that adorn each flipper. Overall, the hawksbill sea turtle is a very visually striking reptile.

As reptile lovers, many of us are familiar with the struggle infant sea turtles of all species must undergo when it comes to safely making their first journey to the sea. The mother turtles lay their eggs in a hole dug into a sandy beach and some months later, baby turtles emerge. Because sea turtles make mass migrations to beaches to lay their eggs, the baby turtles tend to all hatch around the same time, meaning that tons of baby sea turtles end up crawling out of the sand and into the ocean.

Because there are so many, they wind up being easy prey targets for predatory animals, namely birds and crabs. In addition, due to human encroachment and installation of street lights and hotel lights along beach fronts, baby sea turtles often wind up crawling towards civilization instead of their true home, which also has an impact on the wild populations.

We’d truly enjoy raising a baby hawksbill sea turtle and watching it grow into a regal adult. But we’ve got to admit that “Finding Nemo” has us a little biased towards that idea. Can’t you just picture them swimming around and speaking in surfer lingo?

Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus)

What makes the tuatara so fascinating to scientists and reptile enthusiasts alike is that this animal is part of its own distinct lineage – the order Rhynchocephalia. This means that although the tuatara very much resembles a lizard, it is in fact, not a lizard!

From a scientific stand point, the closest living ancestor of the tuatara is the squamates, which of course are lizards and snakes. Scientists study the tuatara in order to learn more about the history and appearance of early reptiles called diapsids.

Tuataras are endemic to New Zealand. Because they are so isolated geographically coupled with the fact that they take many years to reproduce, the population of these reptiles has dwindled placing them on the endangered species list.

tuatara
Although it resembles a common lizard such as an iguana, the tuatara is in a family all its own.

Quite possibly one of the coolest things about the tuatara is that it possesses a third eye! This third eye appears in the middle of the reptile’s forehead and is called a parietal eye. Just like normal eyes used for seeing, the tuatara’s parietal eye has its own lens, cornea, retina with rod-like structures, and is connected to the brain via a degenerated nerve.

When tuataras are babies, the parietal eye appears as a translucent spot in the middle of the animal’s head, but sadly, as tuataras mature, the eye becomes covered with scales and pigment. This is why you don’t see photos of adult tuataras with three eyes, although we think that would be pretty freaky!

As far as function is concerned, scientists have deduced that the purpose of the parietal eye is to help with absorption of UV rays to help the tuatara produce vitamin D. It’s also been postulated that the eye helps with thermoregulation as well as determining light and dark/day and night cycles.

Unlike other reptiles, tuataras thrive in much lower temperatures. They can be active in temperatures as low as forty-one degrees Fahrenheit and temperatures over eighty-two degrees Fahrenheit can actually be fatal to them. This unique animal has the lowest resting body temperature of any reptile. This also means they have a particularly slow metabolism.

Tuataras have unusually long life spans. In captivity, they are estimated to be able to live up to two hundred years old! In fact, Henry the tuatara, who lives in the New Zealand Zoo, became a father at the ripe old age of one hundred and eleven!

Since they have such low metabolic rates (as we already mentioned), tuataras take a long time to reach sexual maturity and a long time to reproduce. Tuataras aren’t ready to mate until they are ten or twenty years old! From start to finish, the entire reproductive cycle can take two to five years, which is the longest of any reptile.

So, if the abundance of weird factoids and cool tidbits of knowledge about this “living fossil” reptile hasn’t convinced you that a tuatara would make a fascinating pet, we’re not sure you’re reading the right blog!

Conclusion

We have already mentioned that this a purely hypothetical blog article. As reptile lovers, we are definitely not endorsing capturing any of the endangered species, exporting them, and/or keeping them as pets for our own entertainment and pleasure.

We are fully aware that these reptiles are in need of serious help and this article is written from a place of wishful thinking. In a perfect world, these wonderful and rare species wouldn’t need our help to survive in the wild and we wouldn’t have to feel bad about having them be a part of our families as pets.

But alas, all we can do for now is discuss how neat it would be to care for these reptiles and hope that this article inspires people to try and help with conservation efforts.

If you want to help preserve these magnificent animals, we recommend donating to a conservationist group. There are multitudes of organizations that focus on protecting specific species as well as plenty of groups that specialize in general endangered species preservation efforts.

Rather than have us tell you who we donate to, we feel you should do your research and find a group whose goals, morals, and standards are in line with your own.

Misrepresentations of Snakes in Movies

Welcome to our ultimate guide to snakes in movies. We’re a reptile company, so naturally we have a better perspective on the subject than your average Joe.

It’s a given that we all love reptiles at Backwater Reptiles, so it also makes sense that we love seeing some of our favorite scaly, slithering snakes on the big screen in movies. Don’t you?

However, one thing that kind of bugs us is when the critters we love get misrepresented in cinema. For instance, being snake fanatics, we know that often times non-venomous species of snakes are depicted as venomous in order to create a sense of danger because non-snake folks don’t know any better.

So, in this blog article, we’ll discuss some common tropes associated with snakes in film and why their incorrect portrayal of our scaly companions can sometimes be annoying.

snakes in movies
We’re always happy to see snakes in movies, but they do tend to be misrepresented or stereotyped.

Snakes in Movies – The Ultimate list

Oversized or Giant Monster Snakes in Movies

It’s common knowledge that members of the boidae and pythonidae families (boas, pythons, and anacondas) are the largest species of snakes in the world.

However, often times, these snakes will be depicted on screen as enormous, monster, killer snakes. If you’re going to put a snake in a movie, why not use a huge one, right?

There are a few SyFy channel original movies starring killer giant snakes such as “Piranhaconda,” “Mega Snake,” and “Boa Vs. Python.” However, although these films are relevant to this discussion, we’re intentionally leaving them out due to their intended gimmicky nature and the fact that they played on television and not in movie theaters.

Probably the best example of an oversized killer snake within recent memory is the 1997 flick “Anaconda” starring Jennifer Lopez, Jon Voight, and Ice Cube. While this movie does in fact place the anaconda in the correct native habitat, the snake itself is depicted as larger than life.

In reality, the largest reported anaconda was twenty eight feet long and had a recorded girth of forty-four inches. This is obviously a huge snake, but the killer snake represented in “Anaconda” was large enough to consume Jon Voight’s character whole in one bite with no trouble or resistance.

While anacondas can eat large prey items like deer and pigs, it’s highly unlikely one would get big enough to accomplish this feat so easily.

anaconda movie poster
It’s clear from the tagline of this movie poster that “Anaconda” is a movie where a giant snake is out to “get you.”

We’d also like to mention that a snake so large would most likely not be as energetic or active as the anaconda in the film. Sure, anacondas are quick to strike, but they are not typically considered speedy.

Perhaps in water they are nimble, but overall, these heavy animals lie in wait for their prey and don’t tend to seek it out or chase after it.

The bottom line is that oversized, gigantic and monstrous snakes in movies can be fun but they are also misleading. People who don’t know better might actually think that anacondas commonly grow to the proportions shown in the film, which is just not true.

And because we sell snakes to the public and believe in educating our customers, it can be annoying to have incorrect portrayals of the creatures we love so much in the media.

Overly Bad Tempered Snakes in Movies

While it’s clearly not a film meant to be taken seriously, “Snakes on a Plane” is an epic misrepresentation of the temperament of snakes as a whole. No matter the species of snake, the ones on Samuel L. Jackson’s plane are mean and out for vengeance which is a completely inaccurate picture of the disposition of snakes in general.

Whether they’re attacking people in the lavatory or actively chasing potential victims down the crowded aisles of the plane, the snakes in this film are certainly overly aggressive. Even in real life, venomous snakes don’t chase people or seek out ways in which to harm them, no matter how small the space they are in.

While there might not be too many other films specifically dedicated to multitudes of snakes murdering people in confined spaces, we feel that it’s safe to say that in general, snakes cast as the “bad guy” or meant to be a threat to a character in some way or other are nearly always shown as being unrealistically bad tempered.

Because we handle snakes on a regular basis at the Backwater Reptiles facility, we know that in real life, most snakes prefer to hide and be left to their own devices.

Some species don’t mind interacting with people, but many snake species that are not bred in captivity will only bite as a last resort. They will usually choose to try and escape from you rather than seek you out and come after you.

The bottom line is that snakes chasing down humans – whether the snakes are normal-sized like those in “Snakes on a Plane” or monstrous like the previously discussed killer snake in “Anaconda” – is a myth.

While we know the truth about how to handle snakes of different dispositions ranging from grumpy to docile, not everyone does. We think portrayals of snakes with bad tempers gives people the wrong idea and more reason to vilify these already misunderstood animals.

Snakes as Comic Relief in Movies

There are several instances where snakes are cast as comic relief in films. Have you seen “City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold”? There is one scene in particular in this comedy where a character believes he has been bitten on the rear end by a rattlesnake, when in reality, he just sat on a cactus. Clearly, the rattlesnake is the butt of the joke so to speak in this scenario.

If you’ve seen any of the original Indiana Jones flicks, you’ll remember that our hero Indie has quite a dislike for our slithering pals, and there’s an epic snake pit involved (full of snakes that have no business being in Egypt, by the way).

While the actual snakes present in the film never do anything that makes them seem funny or silly, their screen time is met with a laugh from the audience due to how they make Indiana Jones so uncomfortable.

The sentiment behind the joke being that such a masculine, virile, explorer who can tackle life threatening situations daily can’t handle a few serpents makes the snakes funny.

In our opinion, this is one of the few snake-related jokes in a movie series that’s okay by us. Because we handle, feed, and ship out snakes on a daily basis, it’s old hat for us to be around snakes of all personality types.

While we know that many people do have a phobia of snakes, we can’t say we understand it since we love these animals so much. It’s hard for us to sympathize with anyone, let alone an action hero, who is afraid of these amazing reptiles.

Another more well-known instance in which snakes are cast in a humorous light is in Disney animated films. We’ve all seen “The Jungle Book” and know of the snake Kaa’s scenes with Mowgli. Kaa’s attempts to hypnotize Mowgli and eat him are met with disapproval and ultimately humiliation.

Another animated Disney snake of note is Sir Hiss from “Robin Hood.” Sir Hiss is the henchman of Prince John and as a rule of thumb, henchmen tend to be silly, stupid, or foolish characters in cartoon movies. Sir Hiss is no exception as his attempts to warn Price John are always met with temper tantrums and punishment.

sir hiss
This screen capture from Disney’s “Robin Hood” shows that Sir Hiss is definitely cast as comic relief in this scene.

Granted, Disney animated cartoons with anthropomorphic critter characters are obviously not meant to be taken as serious representations of what animals are really like, but these caricatures are usually based on stereotypes.

Although it might be entertaining to cast snakes as nitwitted characters that always over-pronounce their “S” sounds in their speech, we think it’s a definite over simplification of the true nature of these fascinating animals.

Snakes have personalities just like other pets, plus they should definitely be respected regardless of whether or not they are a non-venomous constrictor or a dangerous black mamba.

While casting them as comic relief doesn’t cause them to be misunderstood in the same manner that casting them as villains does, we still think it’s an unjust, albeit far more pleasant role for them to play in film.

Snakes as Villains in Movies

The most well-known, recent example we can think of where snakes are credited as being villainous is the Harry Potter series. Obviously these movies were books first, but the representation of snakes as evil or wicked remains true in both the novels and the films.

In the second Harry Potter film, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” a giant snake called a basilisk is running rampant throughout Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The entirety of the film is spent trying to locate the “monster” that resides within the Chamber and save the students from being killed or petrified. This is an example of two common snake tropes in action – both the gigantic snake and the villainous snake are at play in the character of the basilisk.

Although there is no such animal in real life, the mythical basilisk is known for being able to kill with a single glance, which is also true in the Harry Potter film. What could possibly be more malevolent than a creature that kills you before you can even see it coming?

harry potter basilisk
Harry Potter is battling the evil basilisk in this scene.

Aside from the basilisk, the all time worst villain in the Harry Potter series, Lord Voldemort, keeps a “pet” snake that he actually instills with part of himself. This snake is akin to Voldemort’s “familiar” and actually helped him be reborn and ascend back into power by giving its venom to sustain and feed him when he was weak.

And while we’re on the subject, Lord Voldemort himself can speak Parseltongue, which is the language of serpents. And it is a well-known fact within the wizarding community that the ability to speak to snakes tends to mark one as being a practitioner of dark magic.

In addition, Voldemort’s dark mark that he brands all of his followers with is the image of a snake intertwined with a skull. And the crest of one of the four houses of Hogwarts, Slytherin, that is reputed to have produced all the wizards who ultimately end up siding with Voldemort and practicing the dark arts, also features a snake as its center piece.

While we’re fully aware that Harry Potter is clearly a work of fiction and fantasy, there is no doubt that snakes are a symbol and representation of all that is evil in this particular series of movies. They have no redeeming qualities or facets. Snakes in movies don’t get much love, do they?

Aside from Harry Potter, snakes are often cast as villains in films where massive amounts of them are out to get the often unsuspecting and otherwise innocent human beings. A few examples of this are the aforementioned “Snakes of a Plane,” “Snake Island” (2002), and “Rattlers” (1976). All of these movies feature large groups of snakes that for some weird reason just want to kill people.

While we’re not incredibly alarmed by snakes being depicted as villains in either fantasy or science fiction films, we would like to reiterate that real snakes would much rather flee from humans than seek them out and murder them.

Again, these wonderful animals are being shown in a bad light and we just wish there were more instances in film where snakes are not mean or malicious.

Rattlesnakes in the Western Genre

It’s pretty much a given that any movie in the Western genre will have a rattlesnake in it at some point or other. We have no real problem with this trope as it’s not necessarily untrue, but we do think that rattlesnakes in Westerns has gotten sort of cliche.

In most dramatic Westerns, whether they are more recent or from thirty plus years ago, rattlesnakes are simply part of the terrain. A character will often encounter one in some capacity or another.

Sometimes the hero will interact with the snake by either killing it, eating it, or being bitten by it. Nothing too alarming about that, although we still think that more often than not, rattlesnakes would rather hide from cowboys than bother them.

A good example of a snake character that utilizes nearly all the tropes listed above is Rattlesnake Jake from the 2011 animated film “Rango.” We’re a fan of this movie not only because it’s funny and appropriate for many ages and audiences, but also because many of the main characters are cartoon reptiles!

rattlesnake jake
Rattlesnake Jake clearly looks pretty villainous despite being an animated character.

Rattlesnake Jake is of course initially depicted as the villain in “Rango,” although it later comes to light that he is not as evil as some other characters, so that takes care of the “snake as villain” trope.

Jake is also comic relief at times, although we’d say “Rango” is a comedy in general, so nearly all the characters have humorous moments on screen. Jake also has a bad temper, although he doesn’t set out to hunt down innocent bystanders like many other ferocious snakes in cinema.

Conclusion – Snakes in Movies

Overall, we’re happy to see snakes in movies at all and therefore we can’t complain too much when they are easily type cast and tropes are over utilized.

However, we do think it would be nice to see snakes cast in a more positive light from time to time. What do you think? Are you happy with the way snakes are often seen in movies? What would you change? Can you name any films where snakes are portrayed as more dynamic entities?

 

How to Care for Your Sunbeam Snake (Xenopeltis unicolor)

If you are unfamiliar with the sunbeam snake (Xenopeltis unicolor), you’re not alone. Because these prismatic snakes have pretty specific care requirements, they’re actually not very popular in the reptile world.

Truth be told, there’s also not a lot of information online explaining how to best care for the sunbeam snake. Therefore, in this blog article, we’ll detail how we care for our sunbeams and hopefully help out anyone thinking about investing in one of these gorgeous animals.

Sunbeam Snake Description

The most striking feature of the sunbeam snake is its unmistakable iridescence. In fact, this brilliant rainbow hue is how this snake got its common name. Other snakes such as the rainbow boa might also be iridescent, but when the sunbeam snake’s scales interact with the sun’s rays, the result is unbelievable. Other snakes just can’t compete!

sunbeam snake care
Sunbeams snakes are known for their iridescent scales.

Aside from shimmering scales, sunbeam snakes are fairly monochromatic. Their dorsal sides are dark, deep brown or even black. Their under bellies are cream-colored or whitish. They have small eyes and pointy heads with little neck demarcation.

Sunbeam Snake Habitat & Housing

The first thing that is important to know when keeping a sunbeam snake is that these reptiles are burrowers. They live in Asian rice paddies in the wild where there is lots of moisture, humidity, and plenty of places to hide. Therefore, sunbeam snakes spend lots of time underground.

Because sunbeams are burrowers, it is of utmost importance that you provide your snake with a substrate that accommodates this behavior as well as retains moisture. Cypress mulch, moss, and loose reptile bark all work well. Be sure that the substrate is damp, but not dripping wet.

sunbeam snake
Sunbeam snakes have specific care requirements. We recommend doing your research and making sure this species is suitable for you before you purchase.

Humidity levels need to stay between 80 to 100% at all times. This might seem a bit high, but keep in mind that rice paddies are nearly always flood lands and sunbeams are used to this type of environment. One of the worst things an owner can do for a sunbeam snake is to allow its home to dry out.

The hot end of your sunbeam snake’s enclosure should stay between 85 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit, while the cooler side should be in between 75 to 80 degrees. We recommend a heating pad to regulate temperature, but you can also use a lamp that doesn’t give off light. Sunbeams aren’t nocturnal or afraid of light, but they do spend most of their time underground, so there is no real need for UV lighting.

Sunbeam Snake Disposition

As we’ve already mentioned, sunbeam snakes are burrowers. They spend most of their time underground and usually only emerge to catch prey and eat. This means they are solitary, secretive animals that appreciate privacy.

Sunbeam snakes are not aggressive, but they don’t really enjoy being handled too frequently. In fact, it rather stresses them out. If you want a hands on pet snake, we don’t recommend that you get a sunbeam. Sunbeam snakes should be handled minimally and left to their own devices when possible.

handling your sunbeam snake
Sunbeams are shy snakes that definitely prefer to be left alone. However, when you have to clean their cage or remove them for any other reason, they are not aggressive and can be handled like any other species of snake.

One thing that you should also be aware of is that sunbeam snakes can excrete a very nasty musk when stressed. So, unless you want to shower, we highly recommend not poking, prodding, holding, or otherwise making your sunbeam feel threatened.

Feeding Your Sunbeam Snake

Many people are surprised at how quickly sunbeam snakes eat. They lunge for prey very speedily, constrict, and swallow it nearly as rapidly.

In the wild, sunbeams are known to consume frogs, shrews, moles, lizards, and other small vertebrates. In captivity, they will strike at anything that disturbs their substrate, so we recommend using tongs and offering them appropriately sized frozen/thawed mice.

Conclusion

Although sunbeam snakes are absolutely stunning animals with brilliantly shiny rainbow scales, we don’t recommend them to everyone. These snakes are best suited to owners who understand that sunbeams enjoy solitude and like being left alone.

Keep in mind that sunbeam snakes have four basic requirements in captivity to stay happy and healthy: solitude, humidity, a place to burrow, and warmth. If you are ready to provide these things to a pet sunbeam snake of your very own, Backwater Reptiles does sell them.

The 3 Most Popular Pet Boas

Of all the snake species commonly kept as pets, boas are one of the most reputable among hobbyists. These constrictor snakes can attain considerable sizes and are very well-known for being interactive pet snakes.

In this article, we will list our most popular pet boas and touch upon what makes each species unique and special.

Most Popular Pet Boas

Boa Constrictor (Boa c. imperator & Boa c.constrictor)

For the purposes of this list, we have lumped together two very closely related species of boas into a single category since they have exactly the same care requirements and are very similar in appearance as well. If you wish to know all the differences between these two boa constrictor species, we did devote an entire blog article to it that you can find here.

Herp enthusiasts know that when people think of a boa constrictor snake, these two species are the animal they picture. In other words, these boas are what we would think of as a “classic” boa.

most popular pet boas
This is a Central American Boa Constrictor (Boa c. constrictor).

Boa constrictors have been captive bred for many generations. This means that they are very healthy animals free of parasites, are fairly used to human handling, and also come in a variety of color morphs. All of these factors play into this snake’s popularity within the world of pet reptiles.

A typical boa constrictor will grow to be anywhere from five to seven feet long. Females are generally larger than males. You can expect your pet boa to live anywhere from twenty to thirty years, although there have been recorded cases of boas living to beyond forty years old!

It’s common to keep a boa constrictor in a glass tank with a screen top lid. Be sure that the cage is appropriately-sized for the animal. Young snakes do not require a large enclosure, but full-grown animals should have homes that are at least four feet long and two feet wide.

Brazilian Rainbow Boa (Epicrates cenchria)

The Brazilian rainbow boa is very aptly named. It has often times been dubbed “the most beautiful snake in the world” due to its unique color scheme. These boas tend to be a rusty orange or red color with dark black accent rings and spots. But what really turns heads and gives this snake so many admirers is its iridescent, rainbow sheen. Brazilian rainbow boas are just gorgeous to look at, especially if you take one outside and allow the sun to reflect off its scales.

brazilian rainbow boa
Notice the iridescent sheen on the scales of this baby Brazilian rainbow boa.

Brazilian rainbow boas are moderately-sized animals. Babies start out around  eight to twelve inches long. Adult snakes will grow to be anywhere between five and six feet long. Females tend to be larger than males. You can expect your pet Brazilian rainbow boa to live between ten and twenty years.

Rainbow boas are primarily nocturnal animals, so it’s important to provide a day/night cycle. And in order to get your boa’s iridescence to really shine through, we recommend placing a low-wattage incandescent light on one side of the cage. This will really bring out the shine in its scales.

Kenyan Sand Boa (Eryx c. loveridgei

Kenyan sand boas are the smallest of the boa species on this list. They will only attain lengths of approximately two feet at most. As is the case with most boa species, the females tend to be larger than the males, who rarely surpass twenty inches in length.

This species of boa is a burrower and is known for being shy and secretive. However, we’d like to mention that although they prefer to hide, they are overall a very docile species that takes well to human interaction.

kenyan sand boa
This is a standard morph Kenyan sand boa, but these snakes are available in a multitude of different color morphs, including black and white.

When considering a Kenyan sand boa as a pet, you need to think long term. Although this is a fairly small species with minimal care requirements, they do live for a very long time. With proper care and husbandry, a typical sand boa will live for around twenty years, although there have been reports of snakes living well into their thirties!

Conclusion – Most Popular Pet Boas

Any of the three species of boas listed in this article would make a great addition to any snake fan’s collection. They are all very interactive snakes with generally good dispositions. We would recommend them for both beginners and experienced herpers alike.

If you are interested in a pet boa constrictor, Brazilian rainbow boa, or Kenyan sand boa, Backwater Reptiles has got you covered! We hope you are more informed about the most popular pet boas in the world, and feel confident making a decision upon which species is  right for you.