Issue #9 - July 2020

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erpetoculture agazine Issue #9 -

An Interview with Brent Schulze of Venom Life Gear

Simple Home Enrichment For Reptiles! The Citrus Tiger Carpet Python!

July 2020

The Total Guide to Keeping Snapping Turtles The Mystery of Malagasy Leaf-Nosed Snakes

Mangrove Snakes: The Run Down!

Specializing in Morelia & Old World Ratsnakes.

This Issue... Pg. 3 Leaf Nosed Snakes

Pg. 7

Cover Photo By

Nathan Jordan Photography

Pg. 26

Product rEview: Zilla Micro Habitat

Pg. 27

Herping Arizona!

Home Enrichment for Reptiles

Pg. 12

Pg. 35

Industry Spotlight Brent Schulze

Morelia Spotlight: Citrus Tigers

Pg. 16

Pg. 37

Book Review: The Complete Suboc

Pg. 17

Keeping Mangrove Snakes

The Snapping Turtle Guide

Copyright Š 2020 by Herpetoculture Magazine all rights reserved. This publication or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. Ninth Edition

Publishers Note Whatever a “new normal” means... Well here we are a month later and just when we think things couldn’t get any crazier here in the U.S. they do! One thing that does continue to surprise me though is how adaptable this hobby is. Show came to a screeching halt but in no time “virtual” reptile expos have hit the scene and seem to be increasing as we go. I checked out one of these virtual herp gatherings recently since Billy and I would like to get the magazine involved some way or another. While it definitely isn’t the same, it is actually a pretty cool concept and offers pretty much anyone selling herps the opportunity to vend at a fraction of the cost of a real table at a traditional show. I’ve seen some posts online that sort of chastised these virtual shows , saying that they “take advantage of the COVID crisis” . A ludicrous statement. These shows are making the best of a bad situation and offering not only the show goers an alternative but also the breeders and vendors that rely so much on their show schedule to keep their businesses afloat. Whether these virtual shows will remain once we’ve gone back to “normal” life has yet to be determined . I’m of the opinion that, even with regular shows coming back , these virtual shows are a convenient option for weekends or areas that don’t have shows. If you haven’t yet , definitely take the time to check out at least of one the few virtual shows that are now going on regularly! We’re still early in the process of going to these and I think they really can become something even if they’re just a temporary option for the indefinite future. With that said, enjoy issue #9!

Justin Smith & Billy Hunt -Publishers-



Justin Smith - Publisher -

Billy Hunt - Publisher -

Phil Wolf - Executive Contributor -

Riley Jimison - Editor -

Bill Bradley - Contributor -

Jonathan Rheins - Contributor -

Lori Torrini - Contributor -

Brent Schulze - Contributor -

Eric Burke - Contributor -

Carley Jones - Contributor -

Nipper Read - Contributor -

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Nipper Read goes in-depth on these uncommonly kept Malagasy gems!

There are many beautiful and exotic looking colubrids, but Langaha must surely be the strangest looking of them all. These snakes are so unique in appearance that they were placed in their own genus, upon discovery by the famous naturalist Bonnaterre in 1790. The Langaha group is unique in having sexually dimorphic nasal appendages, the evolution of which is still not understood.


There are three species of Langaha currently described. All have specific nasal adaptations, specific to their particular species. These soft and flexible appendages are spear shaped in males, and are flattened and denticulate in females. Langaha are rear fanged or opisthoglyphous. They possess a mild venom, relatively harmless to humans, as long as there is no allergic reaction. Langaha are found exclusively on the island of Madagascar.

The most often encountered species of Langaha, both in the field and in the hobby, is Langaha madagascariensis. Males are an ochre brown colour with a vivid yellow underside, and as mentioned a spear shaped nasal adaptation. There is often a white stripe below the eye. Females are much more cryptic, being a mottled grey to light brown colour with the nasal appendage being much more intricate than the males. Males have orange irises and females mottled brown ones. It is very easy to tell male and female apart! Both male and female will attain lengths of around 100cm (3ft).

Langaha madagascariensis inhabit low altitude dry and wet forest, predominantly hunting one to two metres ( 3 – 6ft ) above the ground. Little field study has been done on this very cryptic genus, however Jessica Tingle, conducted some field research and observed that these snakes prefer shaded areas, rarely basking in direct sunlight. Tingle’s observations seem to suggest the snakes preferred to inhabit bushes with branches similar to the thickness of the snake itself. Langaha are strictly lizard and occasional frog eaters. They are ambush predators, and will remain motionless for great periods of time, awaiting the passing of a gecko, Phelsuma or chameleon. Langaha were also seen to occasionally hunt on the forest floor for skinks, but this appeared to be rare. As with all Langaha, madagascariensis, they are egg layers, with egg deposition occurring from August through September.

Langaha alluaudi was discovered in 1901 and named after the French entomologist Charles Alluaud. This species is slightly larger than madagascariensis, attaining lengths up to 110cm ( 3.6ft ). This species has different nasal appendages to madagascariensis as well as horn-like supraocular scales. The colour of both sexes is a mottled ash grey. Langaha alluaudi inhabits the dry forested areas of coastal Madagascar. Here, thorn bush makes up the predominant vegetation of the landscape.

Female (top) & male (bottom) madagascariensis

Langaha alluaudi

Langaha psuedoalluaudi The least encountered Langaha is Langaha pseudoalluaudi, discovered in 1988. This is the largest species in the genus, with specimens growing to 129 cm (4.2 ft) This species also possesses unique nasal appendages that differ from the other members of its genus. Again, in this species, we see the jutting horn like supraoculars. The snakes are a cryptic pattern of light bars and grey mottling. This species is known mainly from the extreme southern portion of the island, with a disjunct population on the east coast.


Keeping Langaha in Captivity. Langaha are rarely kept in the hobby. However, imports of wild caught animals are currently available. They have a reputation for being difficult to keep, similar to Ahaetulla nasuta. But if the husbandry requirements are met, they make hardy additions to any collection.

My Langaha are sprayed at first light, and as with most arboreal snakes, prefer to drink from the cage furnishings after misting. I also offer plastic arboreal water bowls, as used by Phelsuma keepers, to let the animals have plenty of options for hydration.

Wild caught Langaha need time to adjust. So I recommend keeping them in a large tub with plenty of plastic plants and small branches, sprayed daily, to allow for quarantine and rehydration.

Langaha ARE LIVE LIZARD FEEDERS ONLY! You simply will not get them to switch to rodents. Evolutionarily speaking, they are adapted to eat lizards. Forcing them to eat mammals will have a serious stress on them which will only lead to more health complications.

After acclimation, I keep my Langaha in 1:1 pairings, in 100cm x 50cm x 50 cm (40” x20”x20”) vivariums. The vivariums are heavily planted with a lot of thin branches and leaf cover. Substrate is course, large grade orchid bark.. A large water bowl maintains humidity and Langaha will soak prior to shedding.

I use live house geckos or anoles for feeding with geckos being preferred by the species. I keep the geckos for a while to ensure they have a diet of gut loaded crickets prior to feeding them to my Langaha. Every fourth feeding I will dust the geckos with Arcadia Pro Vitamins prior to introducing them to the pairs’ vivarium.

Temps are ambient, my snake building has a day time high of 84 degrees F in summer and 80 in winter with nighttime lows of 74 to 77 respectively. Lighting is provided by natural light in the snake building and an Arcadia Pro UV T5 unit on a timer. With this, the Langaha receive two one hour periods of UV daily.

Breeding Langaha in captivity has only been achieved once that I am aware of and is detailed in a paper by Kenneth Kryso.From what we know, courtship takes place arboreally and at night, with eggs being deposited in August and September. Clutch sizes are relatively large, averaging 11, 2.2 cm eggs. After 23 days at 28 degrees C (82.4 F) the hatchlings pipped. Hatchlings measured 13.4cm (5.5 inches)


Hatchlings can be set up identically to the adults. The hatchlings will display a strange behaviour in the form of hanging straight down from branches in an attempt to mimic the seed pods of the local vegetation. As mentioned, Langaha are rare in the hobby. Their husbandry is not difficult as long as a supply of live lizards can be established. I think this extra effort or cost is entirely worth it to maintain and observe these incredible colubrids and hope to be successful in breeding these snakes in the future. For more info check out Jessica Tingle’s paper on Langaha here - Tingle_2012.pdf

A male madagascariensis with a meal. Photo Credit: Jessica Tingle

Examples of the incredible camouflage of the genus!


When the Desert

Meets the Swamp Herping Arizona By Phil Wolf


My name is Phil Wolf, and I’m a herper. I don’t have an elaborate Instagram account, jam packed full of jaw-dropping herp stories, where I post new and crazy pictures from an everlasting iCloud account, sponsored by trust funds. I’m just a normal, blue collar dude who loves reptiles and happens to live in South Florida, a herper’s paradise. I try to get out to the Everglades as much as I can. And I can confidently say, I’ve seen every reptile south Florida has to offer. But just like all herpers, we want what we can’t have. The way we Americans stare and gawk at rare and exotic reptiles from Australia, is the same way that kids from Queensland look at our North American critters and say, “WOW, a real-life raccoon!” Now I probably shouldn’t tell you savages this, but I’m a bit of a Western movie buff. I spent years as a child being force-fed epic classics like, Red River, A Fistful of Dollars, and Blazing Saddles! (Let’s see how many grownups are reading this...) And after a while, as you grow up, you realize that cowboy life is awesome! I want to ride through gorgeous canyons on horseback, with a blood red sunset silhouetting

my bad-ass Stetson and Colt Peacemaker! So, as I grew older, and reptiles began to consume my life, aspirations of traversing the western frontier, in search of desert fauna was in the foreground of my mind. But how the hell was I going to make it to the south west? I don’t know anyone there, I’ve never been there. Hell, maybe I should just wing it? Well, that’s when Rachel Pikstein enters the story. See, for over a decade now, I’ve been hosting and mentoring a venomous handling program at Underground Reptiles, in Deerfield Beach, FL. Then one day, this pint sized, overly enthusiastic young lady walks into the shop eager to learn all she can. Rachel was a young biology major, who wanted to learn more about venomous reptiles and proper safe handling techniques. We soon became great friends. Her studies would take her abroad to places like Brazil, China, and the UK, doing ecological research for the University of Cambridge. Her education landed her a gig as Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. And now I have a venue to herp the wild west!


Some years go by and Rachel calls me to tell me about an ecological survey she wants to do with some undergrads on spring break. And she wants ME to help catch Desert reptiles! Hmm, YES PLEASE! My close friend of nearly 20 years, Brooke Sexton, is a predator expert from the Palm Beach Zoo, and was set to join us. Brooke can handle everything from Dolphins, to Komodo Dragons. If it has teeth, and eats meat, she’s worked with it! This was going to be a great trip! A bearded snake wrangler, a dirty-blonde tiger-hugger, and a pocketsized tegu junkie, all crawling around the cusp of the Sonoran! I had the forethought to ship my hooks, tongs and UV black lights to Rachel’s house days before the trip, to make air travel a bit easier. Fast forward through all the TSA blue tape and In-NOut burgers, my flight landed hours before Brooke’s.

The incredible camo of C. m. pyrrhus

So, Rachel’s boyfriend Joe and I decided to do a quick walk through some rocky hills close to their home in Phoenix. We walked for a few hundred yards and saw nothing. Just signs that teenage humans were near. So we headed back. And just then, Joe looks down at a shrub and says, “I think I see a snake.” I ran over to see, and sure as hell, there sat an adorable little Crotalus mitchellii pyrrhus, The White Speckled Rattlesnake! My whole life I’ve dreamed of seeing a white speckled insitu. And here it was, the first herp of the trip! Ok, I can go home now. We hopped back in the car and headed out to pick up Brooke from the airport. Before we knew it we found ourselves staring at the foothills of Tonto National Forest. Three million acres of pristine, rocky steppe lands, and rich, Saguaro studded desert! This was gonna suck for a fat guy from Boca Raton. Once we set up base camp, we hit the ranger station to gather maps and last minute essentials. Due to this area being a national forest, we couldn’t remove any wildlife, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to boop a few snoots! We allotted ourselves approximately 6-8 miles of hiking per day, providing we didn’t spend too much time with each specimen we found. The area ranged in elevation from a natural 1200ft to a steep 4800ft above sea level. It was March, so the temps were in the 50s at night and mid 80s during the day. Perfect weather for hiking, IF the local reptiles had come out of brumation by now. So with boots tied, and camelbacks filled, we started our first hike.

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We decided to stay low in elevation for our first day. The area was sandier with larger, lichen covered volcanic rocks protruding from below. We immediately started seeing Chuckwallas, Sauromalus ater and Greater Earless lizards, Cophosaurus texanus basking in the morning sun. You would think a bright neon blue lizard would stand out in the desert. Nope! Blended right in. Come noon there wasn’t a reptile in sight. A perfect time for lunch and a rest. A group of local older folks passed us on the main trail with ease. They warned us of a GIANT rattlesnake up and around the bend. Guess what, there was no snake. But you’ve got to take the tips when they’re given.

Two hours of walking on trail, and not a single scorpion in sight. And then, just before we called it a night. Brooke sees a little speck of light green deep inside a cactus. Our first scorpion! A juvenile Arizona Stripe Tail, Paravaejovis spinigerus. A fairly common species across the southwest. Mildly venomous, but not one you’d want to “play with.”

The evening proved uneventful. But as darkness set on the desert, my thirst for fluorescent arachnids intensified. There was a short, one-mile mountain bike trail nearby. We figured we could hunt for scorpions on the trail in total darkness and not need a map, it was one big loop. Scorpions possess a fluorescence in their exoskeleton. If shined with a UV blacklight, they glow bright green or pink. Very easy to spot in a pitch black desert. Or so we thought.

The next day we decided to try our luck a little higher in elevation. The morning led to more Earless lizards and a unique array of desert butterflies. Lame. And then, just as I’m about to sit down for a breather, Rachel yells out, “that rock just moved!” Sure as hell, she grabs a baby Regal Horned Lizard, Phrynosoma solare. This thing was cute as a button and the size of a large grape! It blended perfectly with the pebbles and stones of the trail. After some quick selfies with the spiky nugget, we started hiking again. Only to be stopped repeated by more and more Horned Lizards! We would walk, a pebble would move, It’d be another lizard, and we’d take another picture. It was a great afternoon.


Specializing in GTPs and arboreal boas

See our available animals at


@sj_reptile 10

A nearly invisible Regal Horned Lizard, Phrynosoma solare That night led to more black lighting. This time we knew what to look for. More and more scorpions emerged from their cactus dens as the night went on. And then, I saw my eight legged white whale. Centruroides sculpturatus, the Arizona Bark Scorpion, the most potent scorpion in North America. The venom of C. sculpturatus is agonizingly painful, but rarely causes fatalities. Symptoms of envenomation are, extreme pain at the sting site, foaming at the mouth, episodes of paralysis, and in some rare cases, a neuromotor syndrome that causes nerve convulsions similar to that of a seizure. Needless to say, I turned the headlamp on for this one! Day three, our last day in the field. The temperature had dropped dramatically that night and when we woke up at 6am, it was 43°F (6.1°C). The sunrise was so impressive over the mountains, I didn’t care if it was too cold to see reptiles. We packed up camp and headed out. The weather was perfect, but not a reptile in sight. We decided to hike higher, up to a bluff overlooking a nearby town. Brooke decides to sweep some sagebrush to see if anything is sleeping beneath it. And what does she find, a baby Morafka’s Desert Tortoise, Gopherus morafkai. Desert Tortoises are rare, but to see a wild baby, is a once in a lifetime thing! And with this amazing sighting, we decided to end on a great note and head back to camp. But sometimes, you just see a rock, a bush, or a good lookin piece of dead Cholla cacti that needs to get flipped over. So on our way out we got a cherry on top. A textbook specimen Western Banded


Gecko, Coleonyx variegatus! Now everyone knows I’m a snake guy, through and through. But I’m a total nerd for geckos. This made for an excellent last specimen of the trip. All in all, we did 4 days, and 28 miles of totally hiking. We never did find a snake as a group, but that’s just one more reason to go back and do it again!

Morafka’s Desert Tortoise, Gopherus morafkai

- Industry Spotlight Brent Schulze of Venom Life Gear

You’ve likely seen Brent Schulze and the Venom Life Gear brand at the big national shows like Daytona and Tinley. A man with hands in a lot of pots, he is not only the name and face behind VLG but also Get Hooked Snake Hooks and the public relations rep for the Asclepius Snakebite Foundation. 12

clothing and since Chris and I have always been on the side of “venoms also do good for people and that kind of education is what we want to promote, that not all snakes are bad” we now have the platform to spread that message. And then it transformed even more when we partnered with the Asclepius Snakebite Foundation (ASF) which I will elaborate on soon. Not only were we able to stimulate conversation about venomous animals (snakes) but we could educate more people about how venoms are used in medicines and create the actual antivenoms themselves to contribute and help both people and animals survive simultaneously.

HM: Were you involved with venomous species before starting the brand?

HM: How did the Venom Life brand come about? BS: Chris and I started together with Get Hooked snake hooks in 2014, we started vending expos and conferences in 2015, and grew it from one hook type to an unlimited amount of customized tools for working with these animals. We started (very jokingly at first) making mugs and cups with VenomLife on the in like 2016 and selling them from our Get Hooked booths at reptile expos. But then we noticed in 2018 that there were all these other brands popping up with the “Something” Life branding all over the place. We started to look at it a little more seriously then and started considering it as a possible “real” brand. We also were noticing that at most of the expos it was kind of the


same thing everywhere you went, black T-shirts with white logos or something along those lines, and everyone was kind of dressed the same. And too, the only shirts I had with anything remotely venom related were from conferences and there weren’t any real good “every day” apparel options out there for the industry, and this was even more true for venomous specific reptile enthusiasts. So we decided to do something about it!

HM: What was the motivation for starting the brand? BS: We wanted people in and across our industry from hobbyists and breeders, to professionals, Doctors, and Researchers, all to have a good everyday option to show who they are, their love and admiration for these animals. People could now express themselves with their

BS: I, like all other herpetologists, started my infatuation with reptiles and primarily snakes at the age of 6. I had always not only wanted to work with snakes specifically, but venomous ones. There was just something about the dangerous ones that drew me to them over all other animals. So I started volunteering in 2010 at the Denver Zoo just to be around them. I very quickly was brought in as an assistant keeper and intern into the venomous snake area, feeding, watering, and cage cleaning for the non-venomous ones in this area and doing exhibit design for the venomous ones. It was my drive and passion that allowed me to have this opportunity and before I had even considered a Degree or College of any kind. I worked on some research projects at this time for the zoo and

was pit tagging and tubing venomous because of my knowledge and a trust that was built quickly.

So I don’t know if it is harder, I mean it is expensive

During my 4 years at Fort Hays State University in Hays

you launch more than 6 lines of mens and womens

up front to start an apparel company, especially when

KS (2013-2016) I again did research every year and was

apparel all in the first year and add hats, beanies,

on herpetology grants finding, identifying, marking

lanyards, and everything else into the mix. I know

and measuring various reptiles on the projects but

people invest a lot of money into certain animals

always seeking and working with the venomous snakes

or gene types, but they don’t have to get 10 of every

as much as possible, and being the only one with

size imaginable in multiple colors just to test it and

real experience by this point I was kind of the “go-to”. In 2012 my buddy Curtis Schmidt and the Sternberg Museum of Natural History (where I also worked all

see if it is even something the people would like. Alternatively, I don’t have to feed, water, or clean

4 years I was in school) had launched a new exhibit

up after my inventory and if it sits in the sun all

featuring all 24 species of U.S. rattlesnakes which I

day in the back seat it doesn’t die so I think that

was proud to be a part of and cared for the animals,

each side for sure has its pros and cons for sure.

did education of venomous for various groups and tours, and was able to handle the animals for honing my skills with the hooks pretty much any time I wanted so that was huge for me. And I still to this day go around the US and help them acquire animals for the exhibit, which is rare because the animals rarely perish. Through an old business partnership, P.A.R.C. and Get Hooked we were able to do the “Venomous Snake Safety and Training Techniques” training video for the US Department of Defense (DoD) and worked with venomous snakes around the US to do this. During this time my business partner Chris “Woody” Woodcock was working at Reptile Discovery Center and Medtoxin labs with Carl Barden getting his hours for his Florida venomous license. And this was all before we even considered creating the brand!

HM: Would you say that starting an apparel brand in this industry is harder than breeding animals and that side of the hobby? First let me be clear that I am not a breeder, and used to keep but not sell, so it is hard to say because I hear some horror stories and that is one of the reasons why haha. Also I travel so much even outside of expos that I would have to hire a crew just to care for the animals.


HM: How does Venom Life help support the Asclepius Snakebite Foundation? BS: Right as we were preparing to launch the brand I had the pleasure of meeting Jordan Benjamin, Founder and Director of the Asclepius Snakebite Foundation (ASF). For those of you who are unfamiliar with the foundation “We are an international team of clinicians and scientists on a mission to reverse the cycle of tragic snakebite outcomes through a combination of innovative research, clinical medicine, and educationbased public health initiatives.” Jordan and I realized that through combined efforts we could reach and help even more people, and so we did exactly that. I was brought onto the foundation as Public Relations/Herpetologist and we give 10% to the ASF, so as VenomLife and ASF brands are both supported and promoted, more and more lives can be positively affected, and more lives and limbs can potentially be saved. So now VenomLife as a brand is kind of a “second face”, another avenue of bringing awareness to this neglected tropical disease we call snake bite ( deemed so by the World Health Organization in 2017) and help people worldwide through our efforts and sales.

HM: How did the VLG and Get Hooked partnership come about? BS: Since Chris and I both already co-owned Get Hooked when we started VenomLife together, we decided it didn’t really make sense to have 2 business licenses, 2 shopify stores, 2 brands to promote, so we just had VenomLife buy get hooked and have VLG offer all the Get Hooked snake hooks as a brand that we still own and manufacture. We were able to cut the amount of work in half as far as managing online presence etc, and drive more


“Jordan and I realized that through combined efforts we could reach and help even more people, and so we did exactly that.”

traffic to one website which made so much more sense to us. We kept the Get Hooked branding because it is already a well known and well respected brand and product and that is important to us. We want people to know when they get something from GH or VLG that it will be quality, that we care about the customer and fostering positive relationships with them, and that we stand behind our products all while being able to support a great cause through both brands.

HM: What are the future plans for VLG moving forward? BS: Now that Venom Life is officially one year old as of February 2020, our plans are to really lock down what styles and apparel people want and focus more on those products. We are also looking to bring in more wholesale/retail locations around the U.S. for both our Hooks and clothing. We want to be able to sponsor even more expos and conferences than we do now and keep growing our support for the reptile hobbyists and academics alike. One of the big things we would like to do is offer new products every year and continue to offer things exclusively, things that can only be found through us, not because we are greedy in any way, but we really like to stand out and be able to be the go-to place for certain things because when we sell something it is because it’s what we wear or use, not just

something that people may or may not want. We are going to start offering even more in 2020 from prints and photos from our art division which is launching soon to animal photo t-shirt lines and even a couple types of proprietary hook designs that we have personally worked on the research and development of and will be patented. So needless to say, the more support we get, the more sales we receive through the website, the faster we can grow and the more we can help people look and feel good while expressing themselves in our clothing, the more people we can help work safely with animals when they use our hooks, and most importantly the more people we can help in rural parts of the world with our partnership and involvement in the ASF and save life and limb from snakebite... the worst neglected tropical disease you’ve never heard of.

*Book Review*

”The Complete Suboc” By Dusty Rhodes Review by Carley Jones

The Complete Suboc was on my checklist of “The Complete” series by ECO Herpetological Publishing & Distribution. Before even cracking it open I was very excited to start reading just by the description on the back. This book promises to go in depth on all known color palettes/morphs as well as 25 specific localities of Trans-Pecos Rat Snake! Plus bonus chapters on the Baja, Western Green, and Bairds Rat snakes! I dare to say this is one of if not my favorite book that I’ve had the pleasure of reading in “The Complete’’ series. This is partly because of my first love of rat snakes and colubrids in general, but also largely in part to Dusty Rhoads’ beautiful writing, organization, and outside sources that make up The Complete Suboc. I must say that this book can certainly hold its own despite being 12 years old. Some books are just timeless like that! I became conscious of checking the year of publishing a few years ago when I dove into a book that was relatively recent, but not new by any means. It was published in 2012 and in it the information written about our beloved herps and their husbandry was ATROCIOUS. All us book lovers can forgive outdated information that sprinkles some of the titles in our library because the overall information is still pertinent today,

or they’re just too nostalgic of a book to move them onto another home. In my humble opinion The Complete Suboc is well worth the price and I will be enjoying it for years and years. Dusty Rhoads knocked it out of the park. There is a section on breeding by Dave and Tracy Barker and detailed chapters of the natural and captive history of subocs. There’s also a chapter on zoo enrichment (a buzzword these days depending on your audience) and one of my very favorite garnishes to all literature, a nice fat list of suggested reading! I hope my excitement shines through my review on The Complete Suboc. I truly loved this book. There’s a herping story at the end that is akin to the musings of Trumbower, and I think most of us patronizing this magazine have his titles on our bookshelves as well! Have a blast learning about these neat little snakes and enjoy looking into those endearing, charismatic, and some might say disturbingly enlarged eyeballs that people can’t help but become so infatuated with.


Tree Ninjas Acclimation and Husbandry of Malaysian Mangrove Snakes By Jonathan Rheins

Mangrove snakes, Boiga dendrophila ssp., are strikingly beautiful and notoriously defensive colubrids locally common throughout Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and adjacent island chains. Their gorgeous color scheme and impressive attitude have captivated even the most seasoned herpeteculturist. Despite being readily available and reasonably priced, very little has been published on the natural history and captive management of these snakes in the United States. Like many snake keepers, I have always been one to enjoy a challenge. After nearly 10 years of experience and experimentation with multiple Boiga species, it is through this channel that the results and culmination of these ventures will be shared with the herp community. This article is by no means intended to be an authoritative or scientific work in regards to B. dendrophila or related species. The information contained herein is an in depth account of tried and proven husbandry techniques and acclimation processes used by the author and colleagues.


Boiga, or cat-eyed snakes, is a genus of the family Colubridae and comprises more than 30 species. B. dendrophila is the species most commonly encountered in the pet trade, and is the focus of this article. Within the species dendrophilia there are between 8 and 10 recognized subspecies depending on taxonomist and publication. Some researchers have recommended elevating certain subspecies to the species level, while others feel that more sub specific delineation is warranted.


Identification of Boiga at the subspecific level can be daunting or nearly impossible without accurate data pertaining to the animals’ country of origin. Some generalizations can be made based on overall appearance and the number of yellow bands (when present), but these attributes should not be relied on for 100% accurate identification. In the United States we are fortunate to see a handful of subspecies enter the country, and in increasing cases, be bred in captivity. Of these, Boiga dendrophila dendrophila and Boiga dendrophila melanota are the most frequently encountered, with B. d. melanota being the most common and having the wider geographic range. B. d. dendrophila is restricted to the island of Java (Brongersma, 1934), and has a naturally occurring color variation containing white bands on a black base, as opposed to the

more common yellow or golden bands. It is unclear if other subspecies or geographic races can also exhibit white banding. A third subspecies that is occasionally available is Boiga dendrophila gemmicincta. Sometimes marketed as “Rainbow mangrove snakes,� these animals undergo a drastic ontogenetic color change

“It should be noted that all of the mangrove snakes in my collection become much more defensive and easily agitated after dark. Animals that are easily worked with during the day can be nearly impossible to approach after lights out without eliciting a series of defensive strikes.� as they mature. Neonates

are often brilliantly colored with numerous, closely-spaced yellow rings that become more red as they approach the caudal region. However, by the onset of sexual maturity these individuals will lose all banding and exhibit a striking, jet-black body. The husbandry guidelines outlined below will apply equally to any of the subspecies mentioned above, all of which I have personally worked with. Although I cannot state this with certainty, it is likely that the parameters described below will prove effective with other Boiga species as well.

Natural History

Mangrove snakes inhabit coastal lowland forests and adjacent mangrove swamps throughout their extensive tropical and subtropical range. They can be found near bodies of fresh or brackish water, and while primarily nocturnal, have been observed basking during daylight hours. These are highly arboreal species, often found high off the ground in wild encounters. This love of climbing is not lost among captive individuals, and their arboreal lifestyle should be taken into consideration when contemplating the captive care of these animals. After dusk is when Boiga are most active. It is during this time that they actively hunt, feed, and breed. It should be noted that all of the mangrove snakes in my collection become much more defensive and easily agitated after dark. Animals that are easily worked with during the day can be nearly impossible to approach after lights out without eliciting a series of defensive strikes.

Photo >> Nathan Jordan Photography


Venom and Envenomation

Mangrove snakes, as well as all other Boiga species, possess opisthoglyphous dentition; that is, they are rearfanged and possess a relatively mild venom. All rear-fanged snakes are found in the family Colubridae, and the venom of these animals varies from harmless to life-threatening. Opisthoglyphs are typically specialized feeders, and subdue prey by working it towards the back of the mouth where the specialized enlarged teeth work the venom into the prey. Rear-fanged snakes do not have an active venom delivery system like that of pit vipers or cobras. Rather than possessing a highly developed venom gland, duct system, and hollow fangs, mangrove snakes have slightly enlarged rear maxillary teeth that must puncture the skin and allow venom to passively enter the wound. This undeveloped and inefficient delivery system makes serious human envenomations rare. The Duvernoy’s gland is the structure responsible for the synthesis of venom among rear-fanged snakes. The gland’s secretions flow directly into the oral cavity of the snake, typically at the base of the upper posterior teeth. This function is very similar to that of human salivary glands. In fact, all snake venoms are nothing more than highly specialized digestive juices (saliva). Some authorities feel that the Duvernoy’s gland is an evolutionary precursor to the more developed venom glands of the familiar pit vipers and cobras. Other sources indicate that the form and function of the two structures are more significantly different, and should not be considered synonymous. The clinical effects of mangrove snake venom are poorly represented, mostly due to the low occurrence of reported envenomations outside of their native range. Furthermore, snake venom (or any natural toxin for that matter) will be tolerated differently by different people. The risk of serious allergic reaction is always a possibility with any venomous animal. It should be noted that there are no reported cases of a human fatality occurring as a result of a mangrove snake bite. The same is true, at least in the U.S., for hospitalizations resulting from severe envenomations. Local reactions including pain, swelling, and skin discoloration have been reported, and are the possible outcomes of a serious bite from a good sized animal. Boiga should be handled with care Any and treated with the respect they deserve.


Photo >> Vladimir Varfolomeev


The vast majority of mangrove snakes offered for sale in the United States are collected overseas in their native countries, and shipped to various outlets around the globe. This is not always a negative. Rather, it is just the necessary process for providing hobbyists with species that have proven difficult to reproduce in captivity. Without this supply of fresh bloodlines and new breeding stock, we could not continue to establish B. dendrophila in the U.S. herp trade. With mangrove snakes, special care and attention to detail during the initial acclimation process is crucial. In my experience, I have found them to be mostly trouble free snakes once they are acclimated to captivity and to the environment provided to them. Stress and subsequent anorexia are perhaps the biggest issues to overcome when establishing wild collected reptiles. Animals that feel secure and comfortable will begin feeding sooner and will be much less susceptible to secondary issues. Having an appropriate habitat prepared and ready to go before you obtain the animal is ideal. This will allow time to monitor temperature and humidity ranges over the course of a few days. Ensuring that all environmental parameters are within an acceptable range ahead of time will not only reduce stress for the snake, but for the keeper as well. As outlined below, a number of appropriate and secure

hiding spots must be provided to allow newly acquired snakes a range of shapes and sizes in which to conceal themselves. Feeling hidden and free of prying eyes will be crucial in allowing a mangrove snake to get used to a new situation. Frequent checking and inspection of the snake should be avoided. A quick once daily visual check of water bowl level, temps, humidity, and where the snake is spending its time should suffice. Hydration is very important to tropical herps, especially it seems for Boiga. These animals inhabit parts of the world that are subject to extreme and nearly constant levels of monsoonal moisture and humidity. If kept in an enclosure that is too dry, rapid dehydration can occur through respiration and cutaneous water loss. Based on personal observations, I believe that mangrove snakes are particularly susceptible to both chronic and acute dehydration. Newly acquired mangrove snakes should always have access to clean standing water, moving water multiple times a day (via misting with a spray bottle or dripper) and a 10-15 minute soak in chin-deep, warm water once every 5-7 days. Handling should be kept to a minimum until mangrove snakes are feeding readily and regularly. Even then, the defensive tendencies and potentially venomous bite would indicate that handling should be kept to minimum--ideally only during routine maintenance.


growing Boiga. When the snake’s size becomes detrimental to the plants in the enclosure, they should be moved to a larger, more utilitarian habitat to facilitate maintenance.

“Mangrove snakes can be housed in any type of secure, appropriately sized enclosure. Attention should be paid to both height and floor space when selecting a habitat.�


Mangrove snakes can be housed in any type of secure, appropriately sized enclosure. Attention should be paid to both height and floor space when selecting a habitat. These are large, active snakes that will utilize all of the space allotted to them. For this reason, rack units or sweater box-type enclosures are not recommended. Glass terrariums with locking screen lids are the most common cage choice; however, a large amount of heat and humidity will be lost through an open screen lid. Modification of the cage top with a piece of acrylic or other watertight material is recommended to ensure high levels of humidity are maintained within. I have successfully used polyethylene, molded plastic enclosures manufactured by Vision Products for all of my adult mangrove snakes. These cages are ideal for this species in many ways. They hold temperature and humidity better than any other, are easy to clean, and the opaque sides provide security for the animal. Enclosure access is through front sliding glass doors, which makes getting the animals in and out fairly simple. Planted living/bioactive vivaria are another acceptable method for housing smaller specimens. Contrary to the popular belief that vivariums are not appropriate for snakes, I have raised a number of younger mangrove snakes in such setups. The live plants, lush landscaping, and added humidity create an ideal environment for



There are as many opinions about the ideal snake substrate as there are snake keepers. That said, I firmly believe that one should use what works well and what is appropriate for the species being kept. This means there is no single “best� substrate--only one that is the best for a given situation. In the case of mangrove snakes, a bedding should be selected that is easy to clean, dust-free, holds moisture, and promotes humidity. I have been using fine to medium milled cypress mulch for my Boiga for a number of years, and have not once considered finding an alternative. Cypress mulch is naturally resistant to mold and fungus. It also holds moisture well, is aesthetically pleasing, and readily available. I whole heartily recommend using cypress for not only mangrove snakes, but for nearly all tropical herps. During the hottest months of the year, I add a deep layer of New Zealand sphagnum moss over the top of the cypress mulch in all cages. This cuts down the rate of evaporation from my base substrate. The moss acts like a sponge, absorbing moisture when misted, and then releasing it slowly into the air over the course of the day. Other acceptable alternatives are coconut husk beddings, either chipped or pulverized into a soil-like consistency. Orchid bark can be used as well, as can a mixture of any of the above. Time and experimentation will dictate what works best for you and your animals.

Habitat Design

The most important thing in a mangrove snake enclosure is hides. They must feel secure and hidden if expected to thrivel. A few hides of various sizes and locations within the habitat are recommended. One hide on the warmer side of the cage and one in the cooler area would be the minimum. Adding additional hides at various heights within the enclosure, as well as hides of varying materials seem to work the best. Habba Hut half-logs are my hide of choice, as they are easy to clean and lift off the animals for inspection. Large cork flats and cork rounds are another great choice, and are slightly more natural looking. Snakes are not particular about their hides, as long as they are numerous and snug. Utilitarian black plastic hides also work, and are among the easiest to clean and disinfect. A network of grapewood, vines, and both live and artificial plants are highly recommended, especially for newly acquired mangrove snakes. These structures provide exercise and enrichment, but also a sort of tactile security for them when they are exploring after lights out. Keep in mind these animals are accustomed to living in trees, bushes, and coastal mangroves. Re-creating the natural habitat as closely as possible has proven advantageous with this species, contrary to the typical minimalistic snake-keeping formula. Living plants should be incorporated into mangrove snake enclosures whenever possible. I have found that natural not only looks better, but the inclusion of living plants increases ambient humidity as well as providing multiple hiding opportunities. Large, hardy plants such as pothos (genus Epipremnum) and snake plants (genus Sansevieria) have worked well in my experience, and are easy to find. I typically rotate plants out of my enclosures every few months, as they become tattered by snake activity.


Photo >> Thanwan Singh

Mangrove snakes should be housed individually. Cannibalism is not unheard of; in fact, it is fairly common. Like most colubrids, conspecifics tolerate each others’ presence during courtship and breeding, but are best kept apart the remainder of the time. I have never observed cannibalism in action, but would hate to risk the loss of a valuable animal as a result of tempting fate.

Heating & Lighting

Being tropical reptiles, moderate to high temperatures should be maintained year round for Boiga. Halogen bulbs, ceramic heat emitters, heat panels, and under tank heating pads all work well, either alone or in conjunction with each other. Heating apparatus should be localized to one end of the habitat to provide a thermal gradient, allowing the animal to choose an area that is appropriate for its current physiological needs. An ambient air temperature between 84-88 F during the day is ideal. Temperatures can drop slightly at night, but never much below 78 F. The area directly adjacent to the primary heat source can be slightly warmer, approaching 95 F during the day and a few degrees cooler at night. I have observed my animals basking (usually after feeding) in an area over 100 F, with a body temperature of nearly 115 F. Light-emitting standard heat bulbs can be used as a primary heat source during daylight hours, but should always be shut off at night. A 24/7 daylight schedule is a sure fire way to confuse any herp and cause a myriad of secondary problems. As with most snakes, recent anecdotal and scientific evidence suggests that access to UVB light is beneficial. Boiga are often encountered basking during the day high in the forest canopy, and this behavior should be encouraged in the captive environment. A full spectrum fluorescent bulb with a low to medium UVB output can be placed on a timer and set to run 12-14 hours a day. This will also provide the snake with a steady photoperiod, which is helpful during the acclimation process and during any breeding efforts. Additional visible lighting may be warranted if live plants are being utilized.


Water & Humidity

As discussed in the acclimation section, keeping mangrove snakes properly hydrated is paramount to long-term health. The inclusion of a large water receptacle within each enclosure is a must. I often strive to provide water dishes that are big enough for the animal to comfortably soak. While I have never seen any of my Boiga soaking, this guideline still applies, as it serves as a good rule of thumb regardless. The larger surface area of a decent sized water container increases evaporation, and subsequently humidity. Proper caging and substrate will help with maintaining adequate humidity levels. All of my enclosures are misted heavily with room temperature water twice daily. I spray each enclosure long enough to saturate the top layer of substrate, or as long as the snakes continue to drink the running water. After morning spraying, humidity levels in my enclosures exceed 90%. By the time I spray again in the evening, the humidity will have dropped to around 60%. This cycle of highto-low-to-high humidity levels simulates nature, and prevents issues related to constantly warm, humid environments such as skin ailments or fungal infections.

to come across their meal. These animals are best fed in their enclosures until properly acclimated. The activity and stress associated with shifting them to a designated feeding container can deter them from eating entirely. I have found many newly acquired mangrove snakes to be very shy feeders. They can become startled or intimidated by prey that is too large, too active, or the wrong color. If the specimens you are feeding were collected from the wild, consider offering them brown or black rodents as opposed to the more typical white mice, to which they are not accustomed. In addition to color, prey size is another parameter to take into consideration. After weeks of failed feeding attempts with my first Boiga, I decided to try to replicate a bird’s nest scenario for my snakes. Being arboreal rearfanged snakes, it seemed likely that in the wild a nest full of baby birds would be irresistible to any mangrove snake. Unable to procure an abandoned bird’s nest in a reasonable amount of time, a 16oz. deli cup was utilized instead. I placed a few field-collected bird feathers and half a dozen live fuzzy mice in the bottom of the deli cup. The following morning, the fuzzies were gone.

Some of the mangrove snakes I have kept drink readily from a bowl. Others will ignore standing water completely, but will consume copious amounts of water from a pressurized misting bottle or dripper. Careful attention to the body condition of your snakes will help you determine if they are staying properly hydrated, and if any other watering methods are needed.

Feeding Mangrove snakes are touted as notoriously difficult to feed. This may be the case, as certain individuals or populations may have specific dietary preferences. However, before assuming that you have a stubborn feeder, ensure that all other environmental parameters are perfect. Oftentimes simple changes to temperature, substrate, or even time of day that food is offered makes all the difference. Always offer mangrove snakes food at night, preferably a few hours after all enclosure and ambient lights are off. This is when they are most active, and most likely


This process was repeated once a week until the snakes began to grow noticeably and have healthy, regular stools. From then on, the prey size was slowly increased each week, but only less active non-weaned rodents were used. When mouse fuzzies no longer seemed substantial enough, rat pups were offered instead. There was no change in feeding response transitioning from mice to rats. Eventually, barely weaned rats were offered at the rate of one rat per snake every 7 days. Once a regular feeding regimen was established, those animals continued to become more bold and aggressive feeders. Ultimately, they would readily accept medium to large sized pre-killed rats every 7-10 days. When multiple small, warm-blooded prey do not elicit a feeding response after a few consecutive attempts, other techniques may need to be considered. Occasionally mice or rats can be “scented� by rubbing a lizard, bird, or fish on it to transfer their scent to the rodent. In my experience mangrove snakes only occasionally fall for this ruse. Rather, it seems to be a combination of size, shape, smell, and movement that ultimately encourages them to feed. If all else fails, offering live frogs, fish, or small birds may be necessary. While rare, it is not unheard of to come across a Boiga that will steadily refuse all manner of prey until just the right flavor comes along. Although it is far from ideal, offering mangrove snakes prey that is inconvenient or difficult to procure is still preferable to the snake not eating at all. Many times, once a mangrove snake has had a series of 5-10 meals, it will become less finicky about its dietary preferences.

I will mention that it is extremely uncommon for any species of snake to fast until it dies of starvation. If the habitat is acceptable, and all other potential issues (both external and internal) have been ruled out, it is likely that given time and patience, the snake will begin to feed regularly.


In Closing...

Mangrove snakes have fascinated me since I first saw one in person over 20 years ago. The beautifully contrasting colors, brilliant iridescence, and the allure of owning a rear-fanged snake all contributed to what has become a long-term obsession. While not impossible, captive reproduction of this species remains sporadic. I sincerely hope that the information shared here will allow more individuals to become involved with these animals and strive to establish diverse breeding colonies. Mangrove snakes are certainly not the easiest snake to keep, and are by no means recommended for neophyte snake keepers. They present even the most experienced keeper with a unique set of challenges and fairly exacting requirements. However, if you are up for the challenge, I can assure you, it is well worth it.

Photo >> Nathan Jordan Photography

- Product Review Zilla Micro Habitats By Riley Jimison Today’s reptile hobby is highly focusing on improving keeping methodology and increasing what is available to make keeping more feasible. From proportional six channel thermostats to custom built enclosures, the reptile hobby has never seen so much progress and innovation as there exists today. Zilla has recently found a way to keep pushing the bar with a product designed for the little critters in our lives. They recently launched a new product line called the Micro Habitat enclosures that eliminate much of the common need to repurpose household Tupperware to securely house your small geckos, tarantulas, or most any other small critter. The Micro Habitat comes in both Terrestrial and Arboreal orientations and both in a Small and Large Size. The smalls for both Terrestrial and Arboreal are 4”x4”x8” and the larges measure in at 14”x8”x6” respectively. They come disassembled and take less than five minutes to peel the protective layer off each piece of acrylic, assemble them, and secure them with their provided durable rubber bands. The construction is that of a brilliant 3D puzzle of stability and structural integrity complete with a solid plastic basin that can hold plenty of substrate or even water should you choose. The wall panels come with pre-cut ventilation for proper cross ventilation. The final touch is their brilliant and unique locking mechanism that is easy to use and secure for any animal you choose to house. Zilla’s Micro Habitats are perfect for many Tarantula species, various invertebrates or isopods, geckos, frogs, small lizards, small snakes, you name it. These products fill a void that forced the keeper to get creative in other unconventional ways to build or construct secure housing for small animals. Although the creativity is fun, the visual appeal always leaves much to be desired when using deli containers. You never know how structurally sound a sandwich container

is until a nosy snake pushes a lid off when you’re not around and who wants that? Animals deserve to be displayed more prominently than the world’s best Philly Cheese Steak. As much as anyone loves a good Philly Cheese Steak, our animals are not food and if we want to display them proudly, we can do better. The Micro Habitats are an affordable and attractive way to properly house and display these smaller animals we love so much. They will have anyone admiring your collection even if they are not particularly fans of the animals you keep. There is just something about nice clean crisp acrylic that catches the eye and adds to the natural beauty of our beloved pets. inside. The result is an aesthetically appealing and crisp, clean looking acrylic enclosure for your tiny critters. If you have been looking for the right small and attractive enclosure for your little animals, but don’t consider yourself much of a builder or a handy individual, the Micro Habitats by Zilla are an appealing, affordable, and secure way to display your animals. They can be found in most pet stores that carry reptile products around the country and any of your local Zilla product carrying reptile shops.


Home Enrichment For Snakes & Other Reptiles By Lori Torrini



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Paper, cardboard boxes, tubes, tubs, baskets, rocks, branches, empty containers, scents, bedding, and dirt. Are those enrichments? They can be. Creating environmental novelty and complexity can be as simple as using items already found around the house, or repurposing items that would normally be thrown out as trash. Sure, enrichment can be more complicated and expensive, naturalistic or bioactive enclosures with furnishings to rival a forest, but it does not have to be. So, what exactly is enrichment?

commonly seen in snakes, for example, include nose rubbing, edging, glass surfing, pushing the nose against surfaces, excessive interaction with transparent boundaries or excessive exploration of the habitat. In cases where these behaviors cease to be reinforcing for the animal or fail to result in meaningful outcomes, learned helplessness may occur and the animal will show little to no activity, failing to express even simple natural behaviors, and may stop eating.

Think of enrichment as providing activity options and environmental stimulation. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) defines enrichment as: “a dynamic process for enhancing animal environments within the context of the animal’s behavioral biology and natural history. Environmental changes are made with the goal of increasing the animal’s behavioral choices and drawing out their speciesappropriate behaviors, thus enhancing animal welfare” (1999 AZA Behavior Scientific Advisory Group). What does that mean, what’s the purpose? The AZA care manual for the Eastern Indigo snake states: “Environmental enrichment, also called behavioral enrichment, refers to the practice of providing a variety of stimuli to the animal’s environment, or changing the environment itself to increase physical activity, stimulate cognition, and promote natural behaviors. Stimuli, including natural and artificial objects, scents, and sounds are presented in a safe way for the snakes to interact with”. The goal of enrichment is to provide animals under human care with mental and physical stimulation. This can be done by providing opportunities to express natural behaviors, but it can also mean giving them opportunities to experience new behaviors they wouldn’t necessarily perform in the wild. Enrichment can be anything that provides reptiles with an outlet for the physical and mental energy they would normally use for survival and reproduction in the wild. It is to help keep them mentally and physically fit, and to avoid the development of stereotypies. Stereotypies are repetitive behaviors without apparent practical function and may be caused by an animal’s repeated attempts to adapt to its environment, by stress, or by nervous system dysfunction. Stereotypies

Animals under human care, including snakes and other reptiles, no longer have to use 100% of their energy budget on survival and reproduction because they are being provided with everything they need to live without having to work for it. They now have time to fill and energy to burn and they will find other things to do with it. Of course, the amount of energy will vary by species, but we shouldn’t make assumptions about how much energy that might be. Observe the animals in your care during their active periods, if the species you work with is nocturnal and you can’t stay up to watch them, set up surveillance. This is the only way to truly know how active the animal is and discover if they are displaying any stereotypies.


For example, I am currently doing behavior research with a species purported to be terrestrial and sedentary. They were initially housed in white quarantine tubs with a paper towel for substrate, a water dish, and a hide. When observing the study animals during the day they rested in a hide or on the tub lip; however, at night they frantically moved around their tubs, striking at motion outside of the tubs, edging, pacing the walls incessantly, pushing their noses along the walls and lid, and displaying moderate to extreme stress. I moved them into quarantine tubs with a clear side, added a perch, a humidity hide, and multiple layers of paper towels; the stereotypies and stress behaviors ceased. They rested during the day as before; however, at night they moved around their enclosure in a relaxed and curious manner utilizing the simple items added. They spent time climbing and perching, draping on top of the humid hide or resting inside it, and curiously looking out the clear side with no striking. They also burrowed under the layers of paper towels in an exploratory fashion, not in a manner to indicate they were trying to hide. Without observing the animals at night, their stereotypies would not have been apparent. The addition of three simple items (a perch, a moss box, and additional paper towels) paired with a clear side to see out of the bin immediately changed their behavior. It is also worth pointing out that while providing opportunities for reptiles to express natural behaviors


under human care is a key component in optimal welfare, they are in captivity. They are not in a natural environment, so don’t limit your ideas for environmental stimulation to only those activities you think an animal would do in the wild. I have a Western Hognose snake that uses perches to climb and to get into an ambush position when she is really hungry. That is my clue it’s time to feed her. A colleague of mine has a Kenyan Sand Boa that spends a portion of each day climbing and who seeks time out in the open to explore the environment. Although I have not observed it myself, a few people have reported to me that their Carpet Pythons do some burrowing. These are a few examples of behaviors that may be observed outside the range of what would be natural for them to exhibit in the wild. As long as it is safe for the reptile, enrichment options outside the realm of presumed natural behaviors should not be ruled out.

A reptile that is both mentally and physically fit is going to have greater overall fitness, reproductive success, and longevity. Consider providing outlets for them to use their time and energy, whether it is a little or a lot, in healthy ways. Enrichment doesn’t have to be elaborate or complicated; be creative, anything safe can work. In general, there are five categories of enrichment to consider and they will overlap. These are cognitive, dietary (food), physical, sensory, and social. Some will be more relevant to certain species of reptiles than others. Social enrichment, for example, will not be as relevant to snakes as physical enrichment may be.

Types of Enrichment The following are some options for consideration within each of the five categories. While you can be extremely industrious and create complex enrichment for your animals, the options mentioned here will be simple, easy, inexpensive ideas that anyone should be able to do with common items. Remember that enrichment should be stimulating and not stressful. When introducing enrichment items to reptiles watch for any signs of moderate to severe stress. If the animal shows signs of moderate stress that diminishes quickly, that is a natural response to a novel item and is fine; however, if the moderate stress does not diminish or if it escalates to severe stress, remove the item or return the animal to a familiar environment where it feels safe. Cognitive enrichment is anything that stimulates the reptile mentally. Contrary to what many people believe, snakes and other reptiles have the ability to problem solve, learn, and adapt their behavior accordingly. They have not survived millions of years of evolution by just being lucky. Reptiles are not outliers when it comes to brain anatomy. They have the same basic brain plan as other vertebrates. The general brain regions found in mammals, including the cerebral cortex, have homologies in reptiles.* These include the forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain as well as a structure known as the dorsal ventricular ridge researchers believe is homologous to the mammalian neocortex.** To this point the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation (OCIC) makes cognitive enrichment a high priority stating “Behavioral enrichment and modes of learning for juvenile D. couperi will be essential in preparing snakes for reintroduction and may have important husbandry implications of all managed populations. The OCIC will create stimulating environments to increase

exercise and promote both psychological and physical fitness. These techniques will also increase the fitness of snakes scheduled for release by helping them develop hunting skills and enhancing their problem-solving aptitude. This is a new field of research that will explore the relationship of cognition to adaptation” (OCIC).*** For snakes under human care, cognitive enrichment can be as simple as placing novel items into your reptile’s enclosure for them to investigate, or placing your reptile in a novel environment to explore. You can also provide mental stimulation by providing puzzles for them to solve or mazes for them to figure out. Typically puzzles and mazes have food placed within them and the animals have to find it or figure out how to get to it. Sometimes placing a scent within the puzzle or maze is also enticing for them, and the objects themselves with nothing inside can stimulate curiosity. Some of the best things to use for this are empty boxes, empty paper sacks, empty plastic containers, paper or plastic cups, tubes made of plastic or cardboard, crumpled up paper, or anything safe for your reptile to climb through, in, around, or on. Boxes are extremely popular with my own snakes, especially a whole bunch of boxes in a pile. Boxes that arrive with deliveries or empty boxes that were to be thrown away, think empty cereal boxes for example, are fine to use. So many things come in boxes, why not let your reptiles use them for a while before tossing them out?

*Current Biology, The reptilian brain (2015), Robert K. Naumann, Janie M. Ondracek, Samuel Reiter, Mark Shein-Idelson, Maria Antonietta Tosches, Tracy M. Yamawaki, and Gilles Laurent ** Neuroanatomy and Neurological Diseases of Reptiles (1996), Dorcas O. Schaeffer and R. Mark Waters ***


For really industrious keepers or those who may also dabble in animal training, you can teach your reptiles to follow a target, go to a station, and respond to visual or other cues to perform specific behaviors. The training itself is cognitive enrichment for your reptile. This is done frequently with many lizards and crocodilians, but don’t underestimate the ability of other reptiles, such as snakes, to learn novel behaviors. In an amazing training study published in 2014, researchers were able to teach wild Burmese Pythons (Python bivitattus) to press a button, but only when it was illuminated, to open a door leading to food.* I have first-hand experience training snakes to do things I would not have thought possible just a few years ago. Be creative with your cognitive enrichment, anything that is safe and mentally engages your reptile will work. Hiding food inside boxes or empty plastic storage containers is a popular activity with my bull snakes and cornsnakes for example, and the activity can be set up inside or outside of their enclosure. Physical enrichment is simply encouraging your reptile to move. Physical exercise can be stimulated in part by the other enrichment categories cognitive, dietary, sensory, and social. Encouraging your reptiles to climb, burrow, balance, move from one location to another, swim, grip, grasp, etc. can be as simple as adding objects of various heights, sizes, shapes, and textures to the enclosure. Movement can also be encouraged by adding various temperature gradients that are far enough apart to stimulate travel between them. Adding scents to something inside the enclosure can stimulate curiosity, causing movement to the location of the scent. Encouraging reptiles to forage or hunt for their food is also a form of physical enrichment. This can be accomplished by hiding prey items, creating puzzle feeders, or placing food in mazes all of which means the reptile has to move around to get to their food. For terrestrial and climbing reptiles, it is easy to place containers inside habitats that reptiles can climb through, on, in, or around. Cylindrical objects, properly cleaned branches from outside, or even thick ropes encourage climbing, gripping, grasping, coiling, and balancing. * Emer, S.A., Mora, C.V., Harvey, M.T. et al. Predators in training: operant conditioning of novel behavior in wild Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivitattus). Anim Cogn 18, 269–278 (2015).


Laundry baskets are popular climbing areas for many of my snakes, as long as they can fit through the holes; and one of my pythons spent over an hour moving rectilinearly back and forth across a thick clothesline type rope one evening. For terrestrial or fossorial snakes who may burrow, providing substrate options is a great way to encourage movement from one location to another and allow physical burrowing. This can be accomplished by dividing the enclosure floor in half or into thirds and placing a different substrate type in each section. Substrates can also be placed into shallow boxes or inside tubs giving the snakes or other reptiles various locations they can move to and experience the difference (i.e. aspen in one, paper in one, mulch in one, eco-earth, moss, bark, coconut husk, or others). Some of these snakes may also utilize shallow pools of water, mud, or damp substrates. For aquatic or semi-aquatic reptiles, or even for those who just like to swim from time to time, consider providing a swimming pool separate from their drinking water. This can be accomplished with large bowls, or filling tubs or bins with water. Plain water can be made more environmentally stimulating by placing a rock or rocks in indoor or outdoor exercise space can encourage the bottom, or adding other items that are safe to get wet movement. This will also overlap with cognitive that the reptiles can climb on or grip onto while in the water. enrichment by providing mental stimulation in addition to the physical. This will not be appropriate Remember physical enrichment is likely going to be utilized for all animals or keepers; however, for those who are during an individual’s normal active periods which may not able to provide it, freedom outside of the enclosure necessarily coincide with when you are watching them. If becomes very reinforcing for some reptiles. This you only see your reptile during the day and its nocturnal, should be voluntary and not forced, remember the don’t expect to see much activity and don’t assume they are point is to benefit the animal, not cause it distress. sedentary. They are likely very active in the middle of the night while you are sound asleep. Your snake or other reptile may Sensory enrichment has been covered somewhat also be less active during an ecdysis cycle; and, you will likely in other sections but here are some specifics. notice changes in activity level right before or after a meal, Visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, and tactile during winter versus summer, or during reproductive cycles. stimulation are all forms of sensory enrichment. The importance of each will be species dependent as Give your reptile time to discover if the enrichment some reptiles have poor vision and will not be as item is something they will use or not, it may take enriched by visual stimuli as those with keen vision. several days or weeks. Just because they did not use it within the first day you gave it to them does not mean Research your reptile’s biology and natural history they won’t ever use it. Some reptiles are immediately to find out which sensory modalities are relevant curious and investigate novel items while others are to them and focus on those. Make sure sensory and cautious and may find new items reinforcing over time. other enrichment items are not able to be swallowed by your reptile and make sure they cannot injure Consider a change of locations to promote physical their teeth or themselves on them if they get excited. enrichment. Allowing the reptile to come out of their normal living space for supervised time in a designated 33

Visual enrichment can include novel objects, varying colors, varying contrasts, movement, light, target training, station training, and objects the reptiles can see moving around or cause to move, such as balls. Auditory stimulation can be any sound the reptile reacts to with interest and curiosity, avoid noises that induce stress or seem to cause agitation. You will have to research your particular reptile’s auditory range for this category. As with auditory, olfactory stimulation can be any scent the reptile responds to with interest and curiosity. For example, one of my Bredl’s Pythons spent several hours smelling a crumpled-up piece of paper that I had placed a few drops of lavender oil on. The same snake spent over a day engaged with a hide inside his enclosure that I placed a “fruity” smell on. Gustatory enrichment is anything the reptile can “taste”. For reptiles that have a developed sense of taste or for those whose sense of taste is strongly linked to their sense of smell, you can place small amounts of novel food items or scents on objects for them to taste or lick. Make sure that whatever is used would be safe for the reptile if they were to actually ingest or absorb any of the gustatory enrichment. Many reptiles, including some snakes, will lick water droplets off of glass or other smooth surfaces. Many of my snakes will spend time doing this if I spray the insides of their enclosure walls. Be creative and don’t be afraid to try things as long as they are safe for your animal. Tactile enrichment is perhaps one of the easiest. As long as

it is safe for the reptile you can give them access to any item of varied texture. Consider things like cardboard, plastic, ceramic, wood, logs, branches, leaves, any kind of safe substrates, cloth, stuffed animals, pillows, paper, rubber, etc. Tactile stimulation can include objects that are wet, moist, dry, squishy, hard, soft, rough, smooth, bumpy, cold, cool, warm, hot, or combinations of these things. Please remember that the objects must be appropriate for the species, make sure the animal doesn’t try to eat something it shouldn’t or get burned by something. Food enrichment is anything that makes the eating experience more involved than being fed in a bowl, on a plate, or with tongs. Encouraging the reptile to find their food through hunting or foraging enriches and prolongs the experience. This is easily done via mazes or puzzles which can be created with empty boxes or other containers, hiding food inside the enclosure or a separate space, presenting food as a reinforcer during training sessions, freezing food in ice cubes, placing food in water, creating movement of the food, or feeding live (if appropriate, safe, within your personal ethics, and allowed by law). Use only those options that are safe for the reptile and appropriate for the species. The behaviors you will observe are likely to vary between species. For example, when setting up foraging exercises for my bull snakes they are quick to find the prey, consume it, move on, and continue foraging. When my pythons participate

“Olfactory stimulation can be any scent the reptile responds to with interest and curiosity. For example, one of my Bredl’s Pythons spent several hours smelling a crumpled-up piece of paper that I had placed a few drops of lavender oil on.”


in this same exercise, they move with slow deliberation following the scent trail, cautiously approach the food item, watch and smell it for a while, and then consume it or do not consume it until I wiggle it first. Once they have eaten the food, they will remain in ambush posture in that same spot for several hours prior to moving on, and when given the opportunity will return to that same spot over and over again to take up an ambush position. Anything that extends the process of obtaining a meal, encourages physical movement, requires problem solving, and utilizes the senses, falls under food enrichment even as it overlaps with the other categories.

must be thoroughly researched for individual species and is not for the beginner keeper. Interaction with other species of animals, including humans can also be a form of social enrichment that some reptiles may benefit from. Seeing, touching, and smelling other animals can be intriguing for reptiles. Use caution to make sure any such interactions are supervised and done in a safe manner for all involved. This will not be appropriate for all reptiles and some get along better around certain species and not others. Do your research about inter-species interactions first before putting two animals in the vicinity of each other and if you are unsure how two species may react to one another, do not do it.

Social enrichment is just what it sounds like, interaction with others. Reptiles are typically thought to be nonsocial with a few exceptions; however, even those An example of interspecific interaction I can share species that are generally solitary may benefit from is that of a Bull Snake and Box Turtle at the AZA the mental excitement of encountering a conspecific. accredited Pueblo Zoo who share a habitat. Although they have multiple resources and options such as This can be done by placing enclosures near each other multiple hides, every time I have observed them, where they can see and smell one another, by placing sheds they were sharing the same hide together. I could from one animal in the enclosure of another, or by swapping speculate as to why, but the “why” is not as important an item from one animal’s enclosure into another’s. Obviously, as recognizing that they are choosing to do that. If these options will also be applicable to the sensory category they did not find value in the behavior, if it were not of enrichment because they involve smell. For reptiles not in some way reinforcing to them, they would not do it. known for combat or agonistic behaviors, or who are known to be social, it can be beneficially stimulating for them to be placed out in a large area together for supervised periods of time and later returned to their own habitats. In conclusion, enrichment for snakes and other reptiles should consider the natural history of the species, the This brings us to the often-controversial subject of personality and temperament of the individual animal, cohabitation. This may benefit some reptiles, under certain the reptile’s current environment, the skill and comfort conditions, when housed appropriately but is a complex level of the keeper when interacting with the animal, behavioral subject. It is very species specific, here is an the overall health of the animal, the safety of the example: the AZA Eastern Indigo Snake care manual* enrichment items, and the stress level of the animal. advises against cohabitation and social interactions for Enrichment experiences should be something of this species due to agonistic behavior and cannibalism, value that reptiles find meaningful to them and should while the AZA Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake care have a beneficial impact on their health or welfare. manual states this species may be “successfully housed in a variety of social configurations. Individual animals, * mixed sex, and single sex groups can be housed for indigosnakecaremanual_2011r.pdf long periods without apparent problems. These snakes appear to be very tolerant of conspecifics. Rattlesnakes ** are often communal hibernators and there are no known massasauga_rattlesnake_care_manual_2013.pdf reports of injurious interactions between animals”.**

Final Thoughts

Cohabitation is a complex form of social enrichment that may be appropriate for certain species. This


r e e a k t i g r i l T u h e ro t l i g itrusric B E C M p o The By


The Citrus Tiger is a line of tiger carpet that traces to Jason Baylin’s original line of tiger carpets. It was a pairing between an HCQ Tiger and an undocumented coastal carpet. Anthony Cappenetto picked up a tiger carpet from Jason in 2002. If you have ever visited AC Reptile’s website, then you have seen this snake. It has to be one of the nicest tigers that I have seen to date. He paired this with a High contrast Queensland (HCQ) that came direct from Dave Prada. This pairing produced some insanely bright yellow Tigers. Will Bird picked up a male from Anthony and wanted to continue to make brighter yellow Tigers. His male HCQ was the sire of the citrus tiger line.

The dam of the line was a snake that Brian Taylor, a.k.a. BT of Reptile Radio had picked up from Jane McPherson. She was sold to him as a reduced pattern jungle carpet. Jane sold the snake to Brian labeled as a reduced pattern jungle carpet python, but when Brian put pictures of her online, a lot of people told him that she was indeed a coastal carpet and not a jungle carpet. Brian was a purist and only worked with pure lines of jungle carpets, so he sold this snake to Will Bird. Will figured she would make an excellent addition to his HCQ tiger project. Will produced his first clutch and noticed that they had an orange type of color tone to them. So he called them Citrus Tigers. Will isn’t working with the line anymore, and only a handful of people are. There is a ton of potential with this line, but there is an issue with the undocumented female in the lineage for some. I would never label them as “pure” coastal carpet pythons because of the question marks in the line, but it still doesn’t change the fact that these snakes are stunning. To date, I have bred them into Albinos, Caramel zebra jags, Caramels, and granites. This is my main female that has produced all of my Citrus Tiger clutches.


The Famous AC male

The HCQ from David Prada that Anthony bred to the tiger above.

Dam of the CT line. Photo by Brian Taylor Photo by Eric Burke

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So You Want to Keep a Dinosaur? - A Guide to Keeping Snapping Turtles -

By Bill Bradley


Snapping Turtles are the largest turtles in the United States and some of the heaviest freshwater turtles in the world. They are ancient-looking ambush predators with powerful jaws and claws. They are also, for the dedicated keeper, wonderful captives. To start, there are two different types of Snapping Turtle that we will be discussing. The first is the Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina). There are two other species recognized in the Chelydra genus, Chelydra rossignonii and Chelydra acutirostris. They are native to Central and South America, respectively, but neither are common in the pet trade so they’ll not be discussed further in the article. The second


species we’ll be discussing is the Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii). Recent studies have shown that there are at least two species in the Macrochelys genus but for the purposes of the pet trade we will consider Alligator Snapping Turtles as a whole. Snapping Turtles of one species or the other are incredibly common throughout a huge portion of North America. Between the Common and Alligator Snapping Turtles, their ranges extend from Florida north throughout Canada and from the east coast of the United States to the edge of the Rocky Mountains. Both species are noted for traveling long distances over land to lay eggs and are frequently encountered by motorists. Indeed, car related deaths are a significant cause of mortality among these turtles and this has far reaching implications as the traveling turtles are most often females seeking nest sites. In their native ranges these turtles are a staple finding of children growing up in the outdoors and they have led many to a fascination with reptiles and dinosaurs alike. Hatchlings of both species are relatively small and quite similar in appearance. Both are very dark, have ridged shells, relatively long tails and what appear to be quite oversized heads. They are often quite active as hatchlings and are ready feeders, leading to many first time keepers enjoying these new found “pets” for the summer. Watching an armored little tank walk around the floor of an aquarium and eat anything that hits the waters surface can make for a quite entertaining captive. These qualities persist throughout the lives of these turtles, albeit with a slowing of the appetite in adult Alligator Snapping Turtles. That makes for an intriguing captive. They have ancient looking faces, highly effective camouflage, great appetites, a relative tolerance to cold and wonderfully long

lives. The reason for citing dedicated keepers at the start of this article is two-fold. The first is those wonderfully long lives and the second is the eventual size of an adult of either of these species. They get big!


Hatchlings and juveniles of both species are readily available in the pet trade and both species have similar care requirements until reaching adulthood. Hatchlings can easily be kept in small aquaria between 10 and 20 gallons but care should be taken to keep the water somewhat shallow. Snapping Turtles are not very accomplished swimmers and are more inclined to “walk” along the bottom of a tank and utilize their neck length to reach the surface, breathing through their nostrils while keeping their faces submerged. Water depth can come more distinctly into play when looking at the difference between the two species as the Common Snapping Turtle has an extremely long neck in comparison to body size whereas the Alligator Snapping Turtle is more bluntly and powerfully built. I strongly recommend adding structures to the water for your young turtles to climb on and work around. Snapping Turtles are adept diggers and Common Snapping Turtles are actually quite good at climbing with their powerful claws and tail. UV light and basking is something to seriously consider when talking about structures in the enclosure. For young turtles, I provide some sort of a basking platform where they can completely leave the water and dry off if they choose. This basking platform has both a heat source and a UV source. It is quite often debated whether Snapping Turtles “need” this type of heating and lighting but I have found that young turtles will readily use it if it is offered. Both species do grow out of this “phase”


and I have observed that juveniles and adults make no use of basking platforms. They also don’t seem to have a preference for UV availability or shade preference except in what appears to be “setting up” for camouflage purposes. That is to say, the turtles don’t appear to be basking underneath the UV source but rather using the light and shadows created within the enclosure structures to better ambush prey.

reason, I don’t use fake plants in their enclosures as I don’t want them to sample the décor and end up with plastic in their system. Snapping Turtles have been discovered to have eaten any manner of thing and are similar to sharks in the wild stories of items discovered in their bellies but I think we as keepers can do our part to minimize testing their digestive powers.

I keep nearly all species of turtle in enclosures with clean bottoms, no sand or rocks. I find that this makes cleaning enclosures much easier and also allows the heavy mechanical filtration to better do its job. Turtles of all species require serious cleaning, Snapping Turtles especially so. They are messy eaters! They are large, powerful predators and even as hatchlings they will go after prey items much larger than one would think. What doesn’t fit into their mouths on the initial bite is quickly torn into bite size chunks by those powerful claws. Snapping Turtles of both species are also omnivorous although Alligator Snappers are less so. For this


Housing adults is where the real fun begins and it’s due to the eventual size of adults. Common Snapping Turtles average 9-18” in carapace length and can weigh between 9-35 lbs. as adults. There are many records of adults over 20” in length and far higher than 35 lbs. in weight but it is widely accepted that these are very old males as these turtles continue to grow throughout their lives albeit at a significantly slower rate once reaching sexual maturity. An average adult, breeding Common Snapper is 11” in length and weighs ~13 lbs. One downside to captive keeping of Snapping Turtles is overfeeding so there are records of adults weighing in excess of 80 lbs.! Those numbers may sound high but Alligator Snapping Turtles are the true giants. Sexual maturity for this species is typically around 18 lbs. and 13” in length. They typically range in size from 13-31” in length with a weight anywhere from 20-175 lbs. Average size in wild breeding groups was found to be ~30 lbs. but there are zoological records of some true giants in excess of 200 lbs. with one unverified record of a wild caught individual in excess of 400 lbs.! These giants are very rare but it should be noted that these outliers exist because we’ve found that modern animal care is allowing us to achieve longer lifespans for our captives and it is precisely that longevity that leads to these truly gargantuan sizes. Some things just take a very long time!

So, how do you keep something that big? Well, in a pond is the simple answer. The vast majority of Snapping Turtle keepers live in climates where they can keep these animals outdoors year-round and they simply have ponds dug on their property to accommodate such large animals. I, however, am not one of those keepers. I live in Illinois and it gets far too cold for me to properly keep these animals outdoors. That’s not to say that they can’t survive the winters here but that I simply lack the available space to dig them a pond that would allow for their hibernation and survival.

That leaves me creating ponds in the basement of my shop. I use poly tanks or troughs for all of my turtles and they are most definitely in the basement of my facility. These animals are quite large and heavy but water is even heavier! I keep some juveniles in 60 and 100-gallon troughs but the majority of my Snapping Turtles are in 150-gallon poly tanks. Most troughs and tanks are oval shaped but the general floor size for my adults is 4’ long by 2’ wide. Floor space is much more important than water depth for these turtles as they’re not active swimmers. They are ambush predators by nature and really only travel when forced to by habitat disturbances or due to natural need such as egg laying. I keep the bottom of adult enclosures bare as with the smaller turtles and I again rely on heavy mechanical filtration. I prefer pond filters and pumps meant for large outdoor ponds. These typically have heavy duty components and are meant to be run for long periods of time. They are simple in construction and just require consistent cleaning. It’s nearly impossible to keep a clean-up crew stocked with Snapping Turtles unless they’re kept in a large pond with plenty of hiding places. Fish and invertebrates do provide for an enjoying experience when looking at aquatic enclosures and provide some benefit to cleanliness but, unfortunately, they nearly always end up as food items when it comes to Snapping Turtles. For individual turtles greater than 24” in length your options become severely limited unless you plan to build your own enclosure.

150-gallon poly tanks the author uses for a majority of his turtles

“ It’s nearly impossible to keep a clean-up crew stocked with Snapping Turtles unless they’re kept in a large pond with plenty of hiding places.”

My experience thus far has been limited to circular troughs available at some feed stores. Typically, a circular trough with a diameter of 6’ or 10’ is your option. A 6’ trough is 500-600 gallons depending on depth and a 10’ diameter trough is usually right at 1000 gallons. I’m giving you the gallon measurements on these enclosures because there is a serious concern for the weight of the water when housing these animals. A gallon of water weighs roughly 8 lbs. so we’re starting to talk about some serious weight even for the 60 to 100-gallon troughs and stock tanks let alone something that’s 10 times that size!



The Alligator Snapping Turtle is an entirely different hunter. Their necks are much shorter and their skulls and beaks are much larger. Their “Snap!” is the speed and power with which their jaws close. They also have a much different So, what do you feed a dinosaur that grows to 30” beak structure than their Common cousins. Common and 150+ lbs.? Just about anything that will fit down Snapping Turtle beaks are quite hard but flat and wide. their gullet is the answer the turtles would give you. Both species of Snapping Turtle are omnivorous but They close quickly like a trap at the end of that springliterature shows us that Alligator Snapping Turtles are loaded neck. Alligator Snapping Turtles have large, much closer to being obligate carnivores. Snapping pointed beaks with incredibly large skulls and jaw muscles Turtles are opportunistic feeders by nature and will behind them. They lie in wait while that vermiform tongue readily scavenge. Alligator Snapping Turtles are also wiggles invitingly. Their bite is meant to pierce and hold well known for having their lure-like tongue which they prey that gets too close and then their claws do the use as bait for unsuspecting fish. The feeding habits of rest of the work. They eventually grow to a significantly

these turtles really come down to what we mean when we say the word Snapping in their names. For each of these species that word means something different and it dictates both how they feed and what they feed on.

larger size compared to their Common cousins and, therefore, eat comparatively larger meals. They do have a diet high in fish content but have also been found to feed on molluscs, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. In one study, 79% of the gut contents of Alligator The Common Snapping Turtle can be thought of as Snapping Turtles was actually found to be other turtles! using that “Snap!” in the sense of speed. As in, their head snaps out on that long neck and scoops up So, what does that mean for our captive turtles? Well, a prey item. Common Snapping Turtles are active they need whole prey or a good proximity thereof. foragers and will go out in search of their food much I do use pelleted food for young turtles but quickly more readily than their larger cousins. They are eager transition to whole prey items and meat pieces for consumers of small invertebrates, tadpoles, frogs, juveniles and adults. Honestly, modern pelleted and fish and other reptiles. In other words, small, fast prepared diets have come a long way and I believe and slippery things. So, that “Snap!” is for that speed do provide adequate nutrition for your animals. of reaching out to get that quick little food item.


With that being said, adult Snapping Turtles eat a lot! I simply don’t feel like I could keep up with their appetites feeding solely pelleted food and I’m better able to provide for them using whole prey items and meat meant for human consumption. My turtles get lean meat, organ meat, bone, feathers, skin and intact whole prey items depending on the feed schedule at the time. I do offer greens to both Common and Alligator Snapping Turtles but I have only had Common Snapping Turtles accept any kind of vegetable matter.

Conclusion Snapping Turtles generally don’t make the “good pet” lists and I can see the reasons why. I’ve actually listed some of them here. They can get truly gigantic. Both species have been documented as living in excess of 100 years. They eat a lot. Their enclosures can weigh well over a ton and require filtration that you have to routinely clean out by hand, which is gross. BUT, those are also all reasons why Snapping Turtles make awesome captives and are on the “great pet” list for many intermediate and advanced keepers! They are eating machines as readily available hatchlings and juveniles. They provide a challenge for enclosure building and maintenance. They’re incredibly long lived, inquisitive and personable captives. They have proven to be both station and target training adept due to their food centric and curious nature. And they get gigantic if given enough time. I truly believe that they are the closest your average keeper can come to those lumbering dinosaurs. Real armored giants with that slow gait and inquisitive nature yet enough danger in the “Snap!” that you need to stay on your toes. Snapping Turtles really are wonderful captives. Except the filter cleaning. So gross.


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