Python Prisons: Glass Tanks

Arguably the biggest mistake Ball Python owners make…

Anyone who’s spent any time perusing the reptile department of any pet store has seen something like this: 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, even the employees at pet stores might tell you that this type of enclosure is suitable for your shiny new ball python. In fact, I know at least two pet store employees that keep their ball pythons in glass terrariums.

Why does this matter?

Ball pythons (Python regius) are naturally found in West Africa. They are most commonly found in abandoned termite mounds and rodent burrows. They are naturally shy animals, and tend to prefer their solitude and darkness most of the time. There’s a saying in the world of BP ownership, “A hiding ball python is a happy ball python.” Generally, if your BP is highly active in its tank very often, it’s either hungry or distressed (or both).

The humidity requirement for BPs is between 50-60% (adjusted slightly higher during sheds). The temperature gradient required for BPs is 88-96 degrees in the “hot spot” and an ambient temperature of 78-80 degrees. The temperature should NEVER fall below 75 degrees, as this could lead to significant health issues. 

Glass enclosures with screen tops do NOT allow these parameters to occur for snakes without extreme modification of the tank by the keeper. The glass itself is problematic for reasons of conductivity and security. It is very difficult to consistently and accurate regulate temperature in a glass tank. Additionally, as stated previously, BPs like hiding and being very secure.

What NOT to do for a ball python.

Yes you can provide hides within a glass tank, but they still don’t provide optimum security for your snake. The screen top of this type of enclosure is the worst offender. We’ve all learned that heat rises. That means the warmth you’re trying to provide your cold-blooded critter is escaping through the lid. Additionally, almost every bit of humidity that your snake needs is being allowed to escape as well. This is especially true if you’re using a heat lamp, as they will sap all the humidity out of your snake’s air.

I have a glass tank! What do I do??

Never fear. I was in this situation when I got my first BP. It’s a tough thing to come to terms with when you realize you just dropped a wad of cash on things the pet store said was correct, only to find out they were wrong and you have to start over. You will have to purchase a new enclosure eventually. Hard plastic enclosures like those from Animal Plastics are great for BPs (I have the T8). Unfortunately that’s a lot of money to spend, especially if you’ve recently spent a ton on your glass tank.

What you can do in the meantime is…

  1. Cover 80% of the screen top of the tank with something non-permeable. I personally used a layer of aluminum foil covered with black duct tape (for aesthetic purposes). This will keep the heat and humidity where it’s supposed to be.
  2. Use bedding that will retain humidity. Aspen shavings will NOT. Use reptibark or coconut bark. Both are widely available at pet stores. 
  3. Keep the water bowl full, and sitting on top of the under tank heater or under the heat lamp.
  4. Use construction paper on the back wall of the tank as well as the sides. This will give your snake a sense of security that the glass doesn’t provide.
  5. Follow proper husbandry guidelines to a T. Make sure there are two identical hides, one on each side of the tank (hot/cold). Make sure you’re feeding rats and not mice, etc…

Having the incorrect tank isn’t the end of the world. It can be rigged to function temporarily. Eventually, you’re going to have to switch to a tub/plastic enclosure, so be saving up for that now.

Because you’re here, you’re obviously taking the initiative! Best of luck with your snake(s) and feel free to comment with any questions.

-Liz

Dog Friendly Activities in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

As most of you know by my dozens of social media posts, I adopted a dog in mid-October of 2016. His name is Archer and he’s an American Bulldog and Dalmatian mix (we think).

Manderson Landing

This post was spurred by a really positive encounter I had with one of my fellow tenants at my apartment complex. We aren’t allowed to walk dogs off-leash here, and this person was doing so anyway. I politely asked him to leash his dog and explained why. He and the (super cute) pup were just playing fetch in the courtyard; he said he was just trying to give her a little exercise.

That conversation spurred the idea in my mind to share with my fellow tenants

UA Arboretum Trail

and my website the plethora of places in Tuscaloosa that are dog-friendly. I am absolutely of the mindset that where I go, Archer goes. This list will help others be able to do the same!

I’m absolutely open to edits, so if you read this and notice some of your favorite dog-friendly places aren’t on the list, please don’t hesitate to comment and I’ll add on!

Dog-Friendly Activities Around Tuscaloosa

Exercise

Manderson Landing  on Jack Warner Parkway
Hurricane Creek Park on Old Birmingham Highway
UA Arboretum at 4081 Arboretum Way
Snow Hinton Park on McFarland Blvd
Will May Dog Park at 5901 Watermelon Rd in Northport
Capitol Park at the end of University Blvd

Activities

Buffalo Phil’s
Heat Pizza
Innisfree
Black Warrior Brewing
Copper Top
Loosa Brews
Billy’s (Northport)
301 Bistro & Beer Garden
Alcove
Avenue Pub
Steamer’s
Jim N Nick’s
Maki Fresh
Mellow Mushroom
Don Tonio’s
Holler and Dash
Druid City Brewing
BurgerFi
Taco Mama
Levee Bar & Grill
Five Bar
Band of Brothers
Glory Bound
Edelweiss
Home Depot
Gander Mountain

The DON’Ts of First-Time Ball Python Ownership

how dope would it be if we got a snake…

The chillest of the captive-bred snakes. Look at that face.
The chillest of the captive-bred snakes. Look at that face.

Today’s topic is one of the absolute most frustrating things I deal with. I either watch or hear about situations where people by ball pythons from the pet store on a whim at LEAST 2 or 3 times a month. This is so incredibly frustrating to me! To be quite honest, it’s rarely entirely the new snake owner’s fault. Granted, I feel that doing as much prior research as you possibly can is imperative to getting any pet, even a “normal” one like a cat or dog. That being said, when you walk into a pet store, you assume the advice you get from the employees you interact with will be credible and that following that advice will cause your new pet to live a long and happy life right? This is SO wrong, especially for reptiles and fish (be on the lookout for a ranty fish post in the future).

I’m sure the occurrence of spontaneous ball python (and every other pet) purchases that I see is higher due to the fact that I’m in a college town. I hope that’s the case, at least. The folks I got Darwin from straight up admitted to me that they just got a ball python because they thought people would think it was cool; that they did almost no research beforehand. Additionally, in class the other day, I learned a fraternity on campus currently has BP as a “house pet” and that they feed him live mice on their pool table for their own amusement.

That being said, here is a quick list of things you should NOT do if you want your ball to live a long and happy life…

  1. Do NOT listen to a pet store employee (or anyone else) that says that ball pythons make great first reptiles. BPs have very specific needs when it comes to temperature gradients, humidity levels, and feeding. This can be tricky to obtain/maintain, especially for a first time snake owner! Additionally, BPs are notorious for “going off feed” where they will literally just not eat for months on end. This can be frustrating and again, is something an inexperienced reptile owner might not be prepared for.
  2. Do NOT purchase a “snake starter kit” like the one pictured, even fked-up-snake-starter-kitthough it does have a ball python’s image on the packaging. This is incredibly misleading advertising, and this is what I mean when I say it’s not always the pet owner’s fault they make lousy choices at the pet store. It looks like that setup is for a BP, right?! Wrong. Honestly ZooMed should know better than this. So what’s wrong with this setup? The bedding and enclosure type won’t allow for correct humidity, there’s only one thermometer that doesn’t have a probe, no hygrometer, and there’s only one “hide” which I use lightly because it isn’t even an adequate one. Read on for more info about why these are problems.
  3. Do NOT use a glass terrarium with a screen lid or aspen bedding for your ball python. These two are due to humidity concerns. Screen lids on glass terrariums can work for ball pythons, but it’s going to involve effectively taping/sealing off most of the mesh lid to keep in the humidity and heat. Aspen bedding is notorious for being very dry, and should you attempt to mist it to keep your BP nice and humid, it will become a breeding ground for mold VERY fast.
  4. Do NOT use half log hides for your BP, or any reptile for that matter. Most
    I highly recommend the Reptile Basics hides.
    I highly recommend the Reptile Basics hides.

    reptiles, but ESPECIALLY ball pythons, want to be completely hidden and snug in their hides. I use the Reptile Basics plastic hides for both my snakes because they make them feel very safe and secure. With the half log hides, the snake can be seen from both sides and will never feel secure. Additionally, two hides will always be necessary, one on each side of the tank, cool and hot. BPs spend their days in the wild hiding underground. A hiding ball python is a happy ball python! 

  5. Do NOT, please, do not feed your ball python live prey, and especially not live
    This guy should be eating a rat instead of this mouse, and his humidity is obviously far too low since his shed skin is stuck to his neck.
    This guy should be eating a rat instead of this mouse, and his humidity is obviously far too low since his shed skin is stuck to his neck.

    mice. This is sort of a two-in-one point. Ball pythons, as hatchlings, can and should eat rat pups. Mice are not wholly nutritious for BPs, and are sort of like a treat to them. Once a BP is fully grown it will need to be eating large rats and that transition will be very difficult if you’ve been feeding it mice treats as a hatchling and into it’s juvenile years. Additionally, do not feed your BP (or any snake) live ANYTHING. BPs are gentle, fairly slow moving dudes. An adult mouse or rat can and will injure your snake with its very sharp teeth and claws if the snake doesn’t eat it right away. This can lead to infection or loss of eyes, worst case scenario.

  6. Last point y’all, we’re at the end I swear. Do NOT get a ball python if you aren’t ready to make the commitment to care for him for a few decades. These are long-lived animals when they’re properly cared for, and yet I see them changing hands online all the time when people get bored with them. If you aren’t prepared to make the commitment of 30 years, vet visits, financial responsibility, and educating yourself on what it takes to care for one of these cool little dudes, PLEASE don’t get one.
BPs come in hundreds of color morps! Pied morphs like this one are some of my favorites.
BPs come in hundreds of color morps! Pied morphs like this one are some of my favorites.

If you want a ball python, do the research, please. They’re such gentle and wonderful pets to have! Owning Darwin and seeing him turn into the big handsome dude he is now has been so very rewarding. Once you fall in love with this species like I have, it becomes easy to understand how angry it can make you to see so many balls treated as disposable or short-term pets. Don’t let your learning curve about a pet happen while that pet is under your care! It’s not fair to them and will be more expensive for you in the long run when you have to correct your mistakes. Pet-own responsibly, my friends.



Cloacal Prolapse in Juvenile Corn Snakes: Scarlett

Cloacas! A cloaca (sometimes called a vent) is what is sometimes referred to as an “all-purpose hole”. Snakes, as well as many other reptiles and some birds, have cloacas. According to Dictionary.Com , a cloaca is…

the common cavity into which the intestinal, urinary, and generative canals open in birds, reptiles, amphibians, many fishes,and certain mammals.”  

Several (maybe 6) months after I received my sweet Scarlett from BHB Reptiles, I noticed something that made my heart completely sink. She had a pink, wet-looking, bulge of tissue protruding from her cloaca. I was completely mortified. As I’ve said in previous posts, Scarlett was my first pet as a college student. She’s solely reliant on me for care and this was hiccup number one in our journey.

I first noticed the issue fairly late at night. I did my best to frantically contact vets in the area. Issue #1: Everywhere was closed. Issue #2: The places that were open didn’t treat reptiles. I followed what very scant information I found on the internet and after a thick sugar soak wasn’t helpful in shrinking the tissues, I just added petroleum jelly to keep it moist and kept her on damp paper towels until I could get her to a vet.

I, unfortunately, can’t find any pictures from my ordeal with Ms. Scarlett’s prolapses. Luckily this picture from GlowleyReptiles really well demonstrates what exactly I was working with.

Corn Snake Prolapse from GlowleyReptiles.
Corn Snake Prolapse from GlowleyReptiles.

Scarlett and I would up with Dr. Campbell at Riverview Animal Clinic in Birmingham, off 280. They were so kind and accommodating considering I was living an hour away at the time.

Initial Treatment

Surgeries: Scarlett underwent surgery with Dr. Campbell twice. The first and second time were the same surgery, basically. Dr. Campbell placed stitches on each side of her vent (cloaca). Both times that this happened, within a few days, the stitches tore through the skin on the sides of the vent, effectively just making the vent even larger and easier to prolapse (which it did repeatedly). Medication: The first surgery was accompanied by an oral antibiotic that I gave Scarlett every day at home. This was done on the theory that she might have a bacterial infection that was causing the issues. Scarlett was such an angel during this. I used my driver’s license (the thinnest card I have) to gently pry open her mouth, then inserted the syringe of antibiotics. The second surgery was accompanied by a different medicine, intended to kill any potential intestinal parasites. This medication was given through injections. I felt wholly unqualified to be giving a snake (or anything else) an injection. It wasn’t difficult though, in the long run. Again, Scarlett was so well-behaved and gentle. I gave her the shots by gently lifting up a scale with the needle, then injecting straight into the muscle.

Success!

The third time that I took Scarlett to the vet, I was basically planning her funeral. We had already tried what we could and I was under the impression there wasn’t much left to be done. This time, however, I worked with Dr. Atlas. He’s an older gentleman who had a different plan. He suggested that he suture the end of her intestines to the wall of her belly. Theoretically, this would keep the intestines from slipping down as she strained to defecate. Dr. Atlas and I agreed that this was basically our last option before looking at putting Scarlett down.

I’m so SO thrilled to say that the third surgery worked and Scarlett has been healthy and happy for months now. I was so incredibly frustrated at the time that all this was going on. I was watching her hurt and struggle and had no idea what to do about it. There were hardly any articles online to help me with this, unfortunately. I felt so lost because usually there’s such a wealth of information online about reptile care, especially something as basic/beginner as a corn snake! The only piece of advice I could find (and it was great advice!) was to keep the prolapse wet and as clean as possible.

Pocket Scarlett, happy and prolapse-free.
Pocket Scarlett, happy and prolapse-free.

In the end, I’m thrilled that everything worked out. I hope, more than anything, that this can serve as a reference to other people who might struggle with this issue with their young corns.

-Additional Reading on Prolapsed Cloacas-

Iguana Prolapse Treatment

Bearded Dragon Prolapse Treatment

Juvenile Ball Python Reddit Advice



Reptile Mites; the money, the misery, the mischievous

The actual devil.
The actual devil.

Ophionyssus natricis – a parasitic mite most commonly found on snakes, but also occurring on captive lizards, turtles, crocodiles and other reptiles.The parasites feed on snakes, which cause the bodies of the mites to be engorged with blood and fluids from the snake. Once the mites feed by puncturing through the snake skin, the snake usually shows symptoms of irritation and discomfort. – Wikipedia 

When I went to pick up Darwin (see his “rescue” story here), one of the first things I noticed was that his skin was incredibly dry. There was white flakiness around his snout and there were a few very very small, very shiny black bugs on him. I addressed his owners at the time about this and they responded that it was fine, they kept them under control by spraying mite killing spray ON DARWIN and on his bedding periodically.

At that time, I knew basically nothing about mites on reptiles. Had I done any extensive research on the mites before taking Darwin home, I’m honestly not sure I would have gone through with getting him! It took me months to get all of the mites gone. During those months Scarlett also contracted the mites and I purchased new tanks, new decor, chemicals and treatments, and TONS of paper towels. It was fiscally, emotionally, and physically exhausting.

You’ve got mites! What next?!

When I got home and began to research what exactly I had gotten myself into, I was a little overwhelmed, but still hopeful! It took some trial and error for me, but below are the steps that proved to be most effective for getting rid of Darwin’s (and Scarlett’s) mites.

  1. Purchase delousing spray. I purchased a Walgreens-brand, permethrin-based lice-spray-mitesspray myself (see here). Any spray that is predominately permethrin will work wonders. The most important thing to remember when using this spray is that it is a NEUROTOXIN to snakes when in liquid form. In order to use this spray effectively and safely, spray the tank and clean paper towels (to use as bedding) and let them dry outside or in a very well-ventilated area. Once the spray is completely dry and leaves a powdery residue, it won’t harm your snake. Tanks and paper towel tank lining that is powdered with dry permethrin works very effectively to rid your pet and its enclosure of mites. dealing-with-mites
  2. Baths! I’m lucky that my Darwin seems to enjoy taking baths every once in a
    while. While I was treating him for mites, in addition to the permethrin, I also used a mite killing spray from the pet store once a week. For this, I just followed the instructions on the bottle. I coated Darwin in the spray (avoiding his eyes), let it sit for 5-10 minutes, then gave him a room-temperature bath. The bath is important to rehydrate your snakes skin, as the mite spray kills mites by dehydrating them.
  3. Repetition. During this time that I was dealing with the mites, I kept only paper towels coated in permethrin powder and a disposable hide (usually made from an old 12 pack soda box), and a dishwasher-safe container (for use as a water bowl) in his tank. Every 5 days to a week, I would move Darwin to the plastic Critter Keeper that I had on hand and completely overhaul his tank. I threw away all of the paper towels in the tank, the disposable hide, and I washed the water bowl in the dish waster on hot. I cleaned the tank thoroughly as I would when maintaining a tank usually, then coated it in the lice spray and let it dry COMPLETELY outside. Once it was dry, I would return Darwin to his tank with fresh paper towels, hides, and a clean new water bowl. During the days that I wasn’t working with his main tank, I did the same treatment to the Critter Keeper holding “tank”.
  4. Heat. Any decor in the tank that is wooden isn’t completely lost if you notice you have mites. Wooden decor can be baked in an oven on 200°-250°F for 2-3 hours depending on the thickness of the item.
Success
darwin-derp
Such a derpy little dude.

The key to all of this was repetition. Making sure that I was consistent with the treatment is, I feel, what finally took care of everything. I tried to take the easy way out and I hoped that just putting him in a new tank and throwing out his half-log hide would suffice. It ended up taking SO much more than that. It was a very labor-intensive process, but I’m so thrilled that Darwin ended up with me. I’m not entirely sure that anybody else in that situation would want to spend the time/money/energy dealing with the issue. His former owners certainly didn’t.

Helpful Links/Sources

so you think you can ball python: Darwin

How many snakes do I need in my life? N+1, with N being the number of current snakes. That’s how many.

When I purchased Scarlett (see post about that here), I got her as a hatchling. She

Such a sweet and social little dude.
Such a sweet and social little dude.

was probably around 11 inches long and the width of a pencil. As horrible as it sounds, the novelty of having my first snake wore off pretty quickly. Within a few months of getting Scarlett, I started researching ball pythons. Their size and relaxed demeanor won me over pretty quickly. I came to own Darwin in quite a different way than I got Scarlett.

Being the crazy animal lover that I am, I am a member of a few different animal Facebook pages. I was perusing one of these in the fall of 2015, not planning to get a new animal. At this point I had not yet met a ball python, but I had done quite a bit of research. When I saw the ball python currently known as Darwin up for sale on the page, I was immediately concerned. He was in a 10 gallon tank (not immediately alarming), with a screen lid (being held on with heavy books sitting on it), aspen bedding, a water bowl, a half log hide, and a heat lamp with no timer. Darwin himself looked malnourished, incredibly dehydrated, and frightened.

Frightened derp.
Frightened derp.

I was very concerned when I first came across this post. I contacted the person who posted it and set up a time to meet. When I finally got to meet Darwin, it was even worse than the pictures suggested. His owners suggested he would try to bite me but I could attempt to pick him up if I wanted to. I picked him up and he was so gentle and didn’t show any aggression at all. Unfortunately he was covered in reptile mites which took months to deal with, not before passing on to Scarlett. I took him home immediately.

 

Poor little guy was so dehydrated and small.
Poor little guy was so dehydrated and small.

A whirlwind few months followed. Lots of time, money, and energy later and my sweet Darwin is chunky, hydrated, adequately nourished, and happy (I hope). I plan on making separate posts about my experience dealing with reptile mites and what it took to get Darwin healthy again.

 

 

 

 

 

 



my first reptile owning experience: Ms. Scarlett

In December of 2014, I had the opportunity (through my job) to meet Blondie. Blondie belongs to my university’s biology department and is a big sweetheart. After meeting this pretty girl along with some of her smaller scaly friends, I decided it was time for a snake to call my own.

Blondie the Snake
Blondie the Snake, winter 2014

My first step was to do as much research as I possibly could about what species of snake I wanted, care, maintenance, temperament, absolutely everything.

I wound up deciding on a corn snake as my first reptile for a few reasons.

 

 

  1. Corn snakes are native to the American Southeast (my location). This was helpful because it meant that temperature and humidity requirements would not be such a hassle to get set correctly.
  2. Corns are notorious for being great tempered. They are the not so distant cousin of rat snakes, which are found all over the country. Both rats and corns that I have come across in the wild have been docile enough that I can easily pick them up and say hello.
  3. Color range! This one might be a bit selfish on my part, but corn snakes come in an incredibly wide range of color morphs. Everything from black and grey to an almost lavender hue.
  4. Size and ease of housing were also very important to me. As a college student, my apartment wasn’t (and isn’t) huge. I needed something I would be able to happily and realistically house. Corns can get upwards of 5 feet. They’re thin snakes though, which makes them slightly more manageable. Hatchlings and juveniles are perfectly happy in 10 gallon terrariums while adults will be pleased throughout their lives in a 20 gallon long terrarium (this is a minimum, more space for adults is always preferred).
  5. Finally, ease of feeding was up there on my list of importance. Corn snakes are known to be voracious eaters and my girl is no exception. She’s never refused or regurgitated a meal. Additionally, she will live her entire life on different sizes of mice (infants up to fully grown mice). The food she requires is readily available in frozen packaging in most pet stores. A+ for convenience on this one.
Sweet little one.
Sweet little one. Hatchlings and juveniles tend to be more arboreal (preferring trees and perches) than adults.

After doing all the aforementioned research, I then worked to decide where I would get my new friend. I ended up landing on BHB Reptiles as the go-to place. After placing my order for this sweet little girl and spending crazy amounts on shipping to overnight her to me, on January 10, 2015 I became a snake mom. Everything I read before this stated so clearly, do NOT handle your snake for a few days. Let her settle in! So naturally I held her. The little one attempted to bite me on my wrist (I probably would have done the same thing after 24 hours in UPS trucks). Because she was so tiny, she didn’t even break the skin. Since that day, she has never shown me any aggression or defensive behavior. She’s the most gentile, mild-mannered little thing I’ve met. Granted, I’ve had her from a hatchling and I make an effort to hold her a couple times a week to keep her used to it. Still though, I have to believe she’s just an inherently sweet natured pet.

hatchling-scarlett

Some of the links that helped me decide that a corn snake was right for me as well as teach me what I needed to know about their care are listed below!

Reptiles Magazine 

Herp Care Collection

Pet MD