Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Most of the ball python care sheets I've read, like this one, this one, and this one, recommend humidity levels within the snake's enclosure ranging from 50% to 60%, spiking up to 70% when the snake is getting ready to shed.  Of course with my luck running the way it does, Scales's and Lucy's tubs started out at 53% empty and once I put the snakes in they have been running more like 64 - 67% humidity.  No, I don't know what causes this outside of the mere presence of the snakes and their respiration, so I asked the folks at BP.net if this was problematic.  Eventually I learned that this level of humidity level tends to be part and parcel of keeping snakes in central Florida, but prior to that being pointed out to me one person suggested that the snake might have, erm, "done a doodle" which tends to be the culprit when one experiences unexplained humidity spikes.

I didn't think this was the issue, because I've been checking their tubs as carefully and subtly as I can (the snakes are still settling in and I don't want to disturb them needlessly), and there has been nothing in them that I didn't put there with my own two hands.  But it never hurts to check so I knew I'd be doing a very thorough inspection of their tubs this evening. When I arrived home, it was to find Lucy's tank still parked at 64% whereas Scales's tank had spiked up to 70%.

Guess who had a gift for Mommy?

So at any rate, now I have experienced my first ball python poo and it wasn't a horrible experience.  It didn't even reek, unlike the foul little gifts our resident felines tend to leave in the litter box!  I think I can live with this.  Good thing, too, because if Scales is any indication, Lucy (whose substrate was still completely dry at last check) should be delivering her own present to me within the next few hours.

Edited on Wednesday, November 28th to add:
Well, forget using humidity as a sign someone has done something foul in his or her tub.  This morning they were both up around 70% humidity and both of them had bone dry substrate.  Last night Lucy passed urates at least, but we're still waiting for the other to appear.  I give!  I just don't want to drive my poor baby snakes nuts.  I'm such a paranoid snake mom :P

Monday, November 26, 2012

Settling In

The snakes are settling in, and I'm settling in to being the keeper of four snakes.  I've had to bump up our central heat to get their ambient temps where I'd like them with this cold snap we've got going on, and my next mission is to figure out how to raise their ambient temps without jacking my power bill up sky-high.

Regarding the stressed-out relatives and random community members, I've decided this is just not something I'm going to worry about.  People are going to feel the way they're going to feel, and it's nothing personal.  We're not being persecuted for owning snakes; all is well.  I'm going to instead concentrate on why I threw myself into this so wholeheartedly:  my son.  When I first started researching snakes and snake ownership I came across You Tube channels like Steven Tillis's Rep Tillis Herps and Brian Gundy's For Goodness Snakes.  What I came away with, and what I choose to focus on, is that snake keeping is a great interest to facilitate in a child.  It fosters responsibility, knowledge about animal husbandry, increases awareness of genetics... I really don't see a thing wrong with it.  And I'll approach it like that with others.

I fully respect people's concerns and fears and have zero intention of "pushing" snakes on anyone, and would never think it was funny or cool to startle someone with one of our animals.  But that said, I'm also not going to run my household in fear of what others may say.  My home was already essentially a zoo.  The snakes merely brought the animal count to double that of the humans.  The only folks I ask to live with it aren't complaining.

Well, in the case of the teenager he's made a few comments, but he also admits he can be bought.  So I'm not too worried about him.  Heh.

Oh, and from my husband the other day, "So where do you plan to put your big snake?"  I thought he meant Lucy at first (as opposed to Sarah), and I said she was either moving into GZ's room after quarantine ends or is staying in our room.  He clarified he meant my eventual boa constrictor, so it looks like that's a go if I decide to go that route someday.  Yay!  But I did tell him that isn't something I'm looking at moving toward in the near future at all.  We have all the snakes we need for the moment, and I need to concentrate on getting Scales and Lucy through quarantine and fully established.  Also, although I keep looking for a boa that won't get over six feet, what I'm finding is that most seem to top out between 8 and 13 feet.  Right now, I think that's a bit too much snake for me.

Knowing my limits = a good thing :)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Setup and the Snakes!

I started this entry Friday night because I was so excited we finally had their vivariums set up.  Here is the shelving unit in its entirety.  The Herpstat (thermostat for reptile enclosures) is on the top shelf to the left.  My snake's enclosure is on the next shelf down, and the Gum Zombie's snake is on the bottom shelf.

Now that the snakes are in the tubs they're both fastened with luggage straps across the long sides and clips on the short sides, just for security's sake.  Yes, there are stuffed animals and random toys at the base.  Yes, that is an American Girl doll.  You're right, I have no daughters.  She's mine.  Brent made her bed for me.  She also has a wardrobe.  And my brother thinks the snakes are my midlife crisis? 

Ahem.  Anyway, next is Scales's enclosure.  The black boxes are "hides" for the snake.  There is a hide on the warm side (right) and the cooler side (left).  The water bowl pictured was a temporary solution -- I purchased some but they just didn't fit.  This morning I found something a bit more appropriate before we headed over to pick up the snakes.  Lucy's enclosure is identical.

The hides themselves might be a bit large, but the small hides are only half the size so I'll admit I'm kind of at a loss for what to do there.  I do own the smaller hides so we'll see if the snakes would prefer those should the need arise.

And here is my thermometer/ hygrometer.  I love the fact that I was able to just pick this up at Wally World.  Twelve bucks, and easily the cheapest piece of technology I've purchased in quite some time.  Its actual purpose is to measure indoor and outdoor temperatures and humidity, but as you can see it's easily converted to measure warm side/ ambient side temperatures along with enclosure humidity.

The readings you're seeing were early; the numbers are now 90 on the hot spot, 78 ambient, and 60% humidity.  I like that better than the 53% from last night!

And finally, because what good is this entry without the snakes, here's Scales, before being put into his enclosure:

And here's Lucy:

And they will all, hopefully, live happily ever after.  I'll keep you posted :)

Friday, November 23, 2012


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Not that anyone's reading this particular blog (except my husband, who's contractually obligated)  Oh well, this would be why I split it off from my other blog.  Most people, I'm learning, either aren't enthralled with reptiles or are actively repulsed by them.  I guess I've been pretty sheltered because although I knew there were folks who didn't like snakes or were scared of them, I never understood just how intense those feelings were.  My brother and sister-in-law came in our house yesterday to pick up their six-year-old (we were babysitting him for a couple of hours) and it was clear they're uneasy about the idea of snakes.  They're okay-ish with the sand boas, due to their small size, but the sand boas are babies and the ball pythons... well, they don't know they're incoming.

My brother said if we got snakes that were going to reach three or four feet in length he'd never come over again.  I didn't have the heart to tell him that we've kind of already passed that threshold, and I don't know how to handle this, really, other than to reiterate that the snakes are well-secured in their vivariums and to make certain he knows we're not going to be hauling the snakes out at random family gatherings.  Or at any family gatherings at all, for that matter.  Forced exposure is never a good thing -- for other people, or for the snakes.

So my hope is that the whole "out of sight, out of mind" theory will work, because the snakes are coming.  We're adjusting the thermostat levels as I type.  Scales and Lucy will be here tomorrow, just in time for holiday insanity.

I mean, I understand misconceptions -- I've had some myself.  One reason I initially wrote off ball pythons as an option was because I thought if they escaped they could prove to be a danger to our other animals; that's simply not the case.  Ball pythons are the pinheads of the boid world.  Seriously, Google images of "ball python" and look at their heads.  They're itty bitty, especially compared to the rest of the snake's body size!  The dog and the cats are too big to ever be considered reasonable prey for a ball python, and BPs are such retiring animals that their instinct upon finding themselves free of the vivarium and out in the big, bad world would be to find the nearest dark, safe place and hide.  They wouldn't be hunting; they'd be looking for security.  They're reptiles.  Instinct drives them.

Unfortunately, the same human tendency to anthropomorphize our furry pets can also lead to an innate distrust of reptiles.  A dog or cat's body language is part of common lore, and easily understood.  Wagging tails, purrs, open canine mouths, feline head rubbing... all these things are comprehended and seen as signs of happiness and contentment.  Snakes, though, can't smile.  They don't even want to smile.  And a "tail wag" from a snake is a warning sign.  They're the antithesis of everything we've been taught to want in a pet.  Snakes are not warm, fuzzy, or loving.  They don't get excited to see us.  They don't purr with contentment in our arms.

In fact, the only positive a snake experiences when being removed from its enclosure is a warm perch on its keeper.

And even so, some people choose to have them in their homes.  I choose to have them in my home.  My child's happiness is everything to me, and just seeing the look of happiness when he's holding Slither tells me I've made the right choice.  I hope that my family will understand that we're not going to make them "bond" with the snakes or anything ridiculous like that, but in the case of some relatives I'm just not holding my breath.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Definitions and Conventions

It occurred to me that although my vocabulary and knowledge have grown by leaps and bounds in the past month (herptile? diurnal? anery?  what in the...???? and how has it only been a month?), not everyone has been following along at home.  Ergo, I thought it might be helpful to explain a few things here rather than endlessly break into blog entries to explain what in the world I'm talking about.

Please bear in mind that this entry is by no means static; my intention is that I will come back and add to it when the need arises.  Also note that when I have lifted a definition from another site, I have hyperlinked the word I'm defining directly to that site to ensure proper attribution.

On to the meat of the matter.

If you look over on my sidebar under "The Zoo" heading, you'll see various number strings directly below each snake's name.  These are standard gender/ quantity annotations within the herptile community.  For example, Sither's number is 1.0; this means he's a male and there's one of him.  Sarah's number is 0.1; this means she's a female and there's one of her.

In actual practice the designation would be 1.1 Kenyan sand boas, which would mean one male (the number before the decimal) and one female (the number after the decimal), but I was going for what would make the most sense to any folks outside the reptile world and would simultaneously fit into my limited sidebar space.

Okay, I was also going for cute :P

Anyway, the same applies to Scales and Lucy.  Formally, their gender/quantity would be indicated as 1.1 cinnamon ball pythons.

Sometimes we don't know the gender of an animal, and in that instance there is a third numerical slot.  If Slither and Sarah produced a litter* a few years down the road, their progeny prior to sexing could be described as 0.0.15 baby sand boas.  Or if some genders were obvious while others weren't (it can happen with very young sand boas), it could look something like 4.3.8, meaning 4 verified males, 3 verified females, and 8 unsexed offspring.

Definitions and Abbreviations
Anerythristic - often shortened to anery; a mutation that keeps the animal from producing erythrin, the red pigment.

Diurnal - active chiefly in the daytime.  This describes none of our current snakes.  They are not exciting pets on a "let's sit here and observe the snakes this afternoon" level.

Feeding Time at the Zoo - Thursday nights.  God help me.

F/T - frozen/ thawed; refers to reptile food, generally rodents of an appropriate size.  Also referred to as "mousicles", "mousesicles", or "ratsicles" depending on the individual and origin of the food.  The mousicles are shipped in a container filled with dry ice, already frozen, and I just thaw the appropriate amount on feeding day.  Consider it a small, poo-filled chicken.

Herptile - denoting, relating to, or characterizing both reptiles and amphibians.

Nocturnal - actively chiefly during the night.  This would describe our animals, not only the snakes but also the cats.

Sexually Dimorphic - where the two sexes have different shapes, sizes, etc. from each other.  This is the case with Kenyan sand boas.  If you'll look at the picture of Slither and Sarah on my first entry and note their tails, you can see that Slither's tail is a bit more slender and gradually tapered, whereas Sarah's is a bit more "chunky" looking and has much less gradual taper.

Zombie Mouse/ Rat Dance - the dangling of an appropriately sized f/t rodent in front of the snake in a manner meant to convince the animal that its food is alive.  The sand boas don't need much convincing.  We'll see how this works with the ball pythons.

*Doubtful as the genetics likely won't play to their favor.  The anery gene is recessive, so I'd end up with a ton of little orange sand boas, all heterozygous for anery with Dodoma genetics wandering around in there.  I'm still new to this, but unless I'm planning to breed several generations out I don't see the benefit to that pairing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Why? For the Love of God Amanda, Why Snakes?

Good question :)  TL;DR version located below at the quadruple asterisk mark.  For the full version, read on.

Like most of us, I didn't grow up keeping reptiles.  I did, however, grow up being fascinated by them.  My grandmother completely aided and abetted me in this.  She actually loved lizards most, and in fact built up an entire outside world on her patio called "Lizardsville" which was populated by little rubber lizards, spiders, frogs, and (you guessed it) snakes.

As I grew older I came to understand that Lizardsville didn't exist while we were gone, but was instead carefully reconstructed each time we came to visit my grandmother.  It didn't take away the magic of her creation.  The woman crocheted a spider web for Lizardsville's resident rubber arachnid for Pete's sake.  I mean, talk about dedication.

But my grandmother wasn't only a fan of rubber reptiles and frogs; she loved the real thing.  Snakes also fascinated her, although only the smaller ones, and I believe she took more of a guilty pleasure in them than anything.  She hated how they ate (one poor blacksnake lost its life at the hands of her mother due to it having the bad taste to dine upon a giant toad they'd befriended), but even so she thought they were just the most interesting and compelling animals.  I remember several occasions when she'd quietly summon me, "Amanda, come here!  Shhhh!!!" and she'd show me a garter snake lazing in the hibiscus bush.  She'd point out how it balanced itself, how it used its body to hold on to the branches, and how its little tongue would flick out to see what we were.

As a small child, it was simply amazing to me.

We were never without some sort of household animal at any time throughout my growing-up years:  a dog, a fish tank full of black mollies and guppies, numerous hamsters, another dog, more hamsters.  There were no cats, because my father was allergic.  No birds, because they were messy and loud (although we did babysit a parakeet for some friends of the family when they'd go on vacation).  No snakes, because my mother had pet mice and rats as a child and the mere thought of feeding one to a snake filled her with horror.*

And you know, that was okay.  I don't feel like I suffered as a child because I couldn't have a snake.  I went on to grow up just fine with the fish and otherwise strictly fuzzy pets.

Any time I had a chance to touch or hold a snake, though, I would.

Flash forward about thirty years or so, and I'd managed to produce my own children (and also to populate my house with a dog and three -- yes three -- cats).  My older son was happy with this arrangement.  My younger son, known in the blog world as The Gum Zombie, was not.  About six months ago, he started lobbying for a snake.



"Because they're cool, and I like them."

Hmmmph.  "I don't think we need a snake, sweetie.  Snakes are happier outside."

"Actually, if they're bred in captivity they don't know what outside is.**  So really, we'd be doing the snake a favor.  I can give it a good home!  I can be a good snake daddy!"  And then the lip trembling commenced.


Still, I wasn't sold.  I mean, if I gave in every time that child's lip trembled I'd have an entire house full of Legos, herps, stuffed animals, and... oh never mind.  The point is, I didn't just cave immediately.  Then a local business associate came into the office and was chatting with everyone (folks here have known this guy over 40 years) when he mentioned he was trying to find a home for some snakes.  It seems his college-aged daughter's corn snakes had managed to produce at least two generations of offspring and he and his wife were starting to think that perhaps 30+ snakes were a bit much to continue to house.  Believe me, this man was selling the idea of taking home a snake, but I resisted.

That said, he also made an impression.

Add to him my co-worker who owns a ball python and a red-tailed boa, and who also started casually mentioning how great his snakes were, how much his kids loved them, all that stuff.  Oh, and his snakes didn't eat live, perish the thought!  They ate frozen/ thawed mice.  It was safer overall, and he wouldn't have a snake that insisted on eating live.


Bear in mind, I'd told none of these people about the Gum Zombie's newest preoccupation.  It was just that the world had decided to inundate me with snakes.  Fine.  Fine!!  So when that same co-worker sent me an email alerting me to a big reptile show down here, I started researching snakes as pets in earnest.  Not because we were absolutely going to get one, oh dear no (oh dear yes, because my fascination had been well and truly piqued again), but because I needed to at least be fair to the child and consider his current passion.

So off we went to visit all the scaly creatures, and what an experience it was.  Now before we went I'd pretty much decided on a king snake of some sort.  From what I'd read they were voracious eaters, had zero problems converting to frozen/ thawed food, and their housing requirements weren't too stressful (room temperature, no problem!), so to me they seemed ideal outside of a nasty little escape artist tendency.  But on the plus side they'd be too small to eat the cats even if they did get out so I figured we were set.

In we walked, and the first table we hit was the sand boa table.  The boy was hooked.  I didn't even have time to guide him to my snake of choice; he wanted a little anery sand boa.  When the lady at the table first put The Snake That Would Be Slither into his hand he jumped and it's only because I was on point that I managed to scoop the little creature out of his hands and hold it in mine. Needless to say, we came home with him, and once the Gum Zombie got over his jumpiness (which took all of 30 seconds), he totally hogged that little snake.  So when we went back the next day, ostensibly to see all of the exhibits we missed on our first visit due to someone's desire to get home with his precious cargo (and with my husband's blessing saying "Knock yourself out, baby -- but no birds")*, I ended up with Sarah.

For the record, sand boas are totally a "gateway snake". Shortly after we had them established, we started wanting something with a little more heft to it.  My initial plan was to hold off for at least a year.  Obviously that didn't work out so well; witness the soon-to-be entrance of Scales and Lucy.

I think I'm going to have to wait a little on that Dumeril's boa I want, if only for my husband's sake...

Because some folks have asked me, a large part of the appeal lies in the fact that snakes are very basic animals.  They want nothing from you, literally, other than food and somewhere warm to hang out.  That warm place can be their habitat, or around your arm, but they couldn't possibly care less which it is.

They're not needy.  They won't sit at your feet and meow at you imperiously when they've got a clean litter box, fresh food and water, and have already been petted for 15 minutes straight causing a sneezing fit of epic proportions (guess who inherited her father's cat allergy?).  They won't bark at you incessantly because a squirrel has invaded the back yard and they must go guard the trees at all costs.  They don't ask you for more Legos (or Pokemon cards -- gah!!!!).  They just... are.  There's no hidden meaning to a snake's actions.  If they bite you it's either a feeding response (hungry snake!  careless keeper!) or they're defending themselves (threatened snake!  careless keeper!).  It's nothing personal, they're just snakes.

Simple is good.  And snakes, for me, are fantastic.

*I can't say I blame her -- we feed the Kenyan sand boas frozen/ thawed mice, and my intent is to do the same with the ball pythons.  Tiny poo-filled chickens are awesome (okay, and disgusting, but still).  The only potential issue is that ball pythons can be picky eaters and transitioning them from live to frozen/ thawed could be... erm... problematic.  Sigh.  But overall it's considered safer to feed frozen/ thawed (or freshly humanely euthanized) because a dead meal doesn't bite back, so we're going to do our best.  Do! Not! Want! To! Feed! Live!!!!

**This is a child who does his homework and will research things in the library so he has his point-by-point refutations ready.  He's nine.  Yes, I'm scared too. 

***The bird prohibition was for the same reason as my parents:  too loud and messy.  Fortunately I agree with all of them.  Even I have my limits (I'm sure Brent will be grateful to note that!).

****And now, at last, the TL;DR Version: 
I think snakes are cool. My younger son thinks snakes are cool.  This gave me an excuse to get a snake.  Or four.  Maybe five someday.  So I did :P

Monday, November 19, 2012

Where Are We Going and Why Are We in This Handbasket?

I have a regular blog (It's All About the Walls) where I babble on endlessly about my kids, my weight, what I'm eating/ not eating, bellydance... you name it, it's fair game for the blog.


Most of my usual readers (all six of them) aren't too much into the slithery things that have recently entered my life, to wit:

these scaly little beasties.  Say hi to Slither and Sarah.  They're baby Kenyan Sand boas, and are 5 and 4 months old respectively.  Slither, a male, will reach 2 feet max as an adult.  Females on the other hand, like Sarah, can grow up to 3 feet in length and have significantly more "heft" (girth) for purposes of reproduction.

Anyway, two relatively small, colorful* snakes.  Shouldn't be too much for people, right?  Well, that may be the case (and I don't want to sell my readers short), but we're taking things a bit further now.

Also entering the picture would be Scales

and Lucy,

both of whom are baby ball pythons and will be coming home to join us the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Can we say snakefest, boys and girls?  I thought we could!

So. I figured my regular readers (bless them) would appreciate not being assaulted by pictures of my snakes every time the little critters manage to twist themselves into a pretty pattern or something; hence the new blog.  Also, I kind of have a feeling that reading my description of their eating habits might be a bit disquieting for those who didn't sign on to hear me refer to mousicles (which are the pre-killed frozen rodents currently occupying the bottom bin in my garage freezer); or for that matter, people who could have happily lived their entire lives without ever knowing what a mousicle is.

Oh well.

Hang on, kids.  It's gonna be a heck of a ride.

* Color-wise, Slither is an anery which means he lacks the orange/ red pigment erythrin.  Sarah's coloration is normal, but she's a Dodoma cross which means half of her genetics come from a snake with a bloodline from the Dodoma valley of Tanzania.  Sand boas from that region tend to have almost patternless heads, more crisp patterns, and develop less "speckling" as they age, so we'll see how she develops.