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Rubber Boas - Natural History and Captive Care Monitors and Play Behavior

J ULY 2004




Turtles and Turtle Watching


John Moriarty:


Our Guest Speaker for July:



Board of Directors President Randy Blasus

Vice President Tony Gamble

Recording Secretary Barb Buzicky

Membership Secretary Nancy Haig

Treasurer Liz Bosman

Newsletter Editor Bill Moss

Members at Large Heather Clayton Nancy Hakomaki Mike Bush Jodi L. Aherns


Bell Museum of Natural History, 10 Church Street Southeast, Minneapolis Minnesota 55455

The Minnesota S o c i

Herpetological e t y

MHS Webpage: http://www.mnher MHS Group Email: MHS Voice Mail: 612.624.7065 The Purpose of the Minnesota Herpetological Society is to: • Further the education of the membership and the general public in care and captive propagation of reptiles and amphibians; • Educate the members and the general public in the ecological role of reptiles and amphibians; • Promote the study and conservation of reptiles and amphibians. The Minnesota Herpetological Society is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. Membership is open to all individuals with an interest in amphibians and reptiles. The Minnesota Herpetological Society Newsletter is published monthly to provide its members with information concerning the society’s activities and a media for exchanging information, opinions and resources. General Meetings are held at Borlaug Hall, Room 335 on the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota, on the first Friday of each month (unless there is a holiday conflict). The meeting starts at 7:00pm and lasts about three hours. Please check the MHS Voice mail for changes in schedules or cancellations.

Adoption Sarah Richard Education Jan Larson Library Beth Girard Webmaster Anke Reinders

Herp Assistance Amphibians Greg Kvanbek John Meltzer

Submissions to the Newsletter Ads or Notices must be submitted no later than the night of the General Meeting to be included in the next issue. Longer articles will be printed as time and space allows and should be in electronic file format if possible. See inside back cover for ad rates. Submissions may be sent to: -orThe Minnesota Herpetological Society Bill Moss Attn: Newsletter Editor 75 Geranium Ave East Bell museum of Natural History Saint Paul, MN 55117 10 Church St. SE. -orMinneapolis, MN 55455.0104

Chameleons Vern & Laurie Crocodilians Jeff Lang Bill Moss Lizards Nancy Haig Large Boas, Pythons Tina Cisewski Other Snakes Jeff Leclere Aquatic Turtles John Levell John Moriarty Terrestrial Turtles Fred Bosman John Levell

Copyright 2004, Minnesota Herpetological Society. Except where noted, contents may be reproduced for nonprofit, non-commercial use only. All material must be reproduced without change. Proper credit will be given including the author/photographer and the MHS Newsletter citing: volume, number and date.

The Newsletter of the Minnesota Herpetological Society

The Vice-presidents report By Tony Gamble

July General Meeting Friday, July 9th, 2004, 7:00 PM Program:

Program: Turtles Turtle Watching


Guest Speaker:

John Moriarty "Turtles and Turtle Watching for the North Central States" is the new book written by John Moriarty for the Minnesota Nongame Wildlife

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turtle found in the book, including natural history information with an emphasis on basking habitats. He will also talk about how and where to view turtles in Minnesota. Additionally, John will highlight the current status and recent changes in the laws and rules that govern commercial turtle harvesting in Minnesota and continuing conservation concerns associated with that harvest. John Moriarty is a herpetologist and natural resources manager who has been studying and watching the reptiles, especially turtles, in Minnesota for twenty years. He is the co-author of "Amphibians and Reptiles Native to Minnesota" and editor of "Herp Circulars" pub-

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Raffle Donors - May and June A special thanks to he following people for donating to the MHS raffle Asra Halvorson “Growing Snakes”, stuffed croc and frog toys MHS Adoption Marilyn Blasus And the following two people who write in some sort of unidentified alien language ;)

Critter of the Month The following people brought animals to the May and June meetings: May -

Photo by Tony Gamble

Michael C?? American alligator Jodi Aherns Crested geckos Craig Rainier Fire salamander Joe Jacobs Taiwan beauty snakes Sarah Richard Cal King/Rat snake

Program. The book is in the final stages of production and should be out by the end of the summer. John's program will highlight the information about the 14 species of

June lished by the Society for the Study Jim Gerholdt of Amphibians and Reptiles. John C molassus, C scutulatus is a longtime member and former Jake president of the Minnesota Chuckwalla Herpetological Society. Donna Calander

Cover photo: © 2004 Steven Noyes Used with permission

Upcoming Meetings: August 6th, 2004 - TBA

Dumeril’s boa

Friday, Philip Bowen Brazell Burmese python Page 3

The Newsletter of the Minnesota Herpetological Society

July 2004

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News, Notes & Announcements Return to the R e n a i s s a n c e

Belly dancing & Arabian Horse show

by Nancy Hakomaki

Renaissance Festival is just around the corner which means it's time for you to dig out the tights, the codpieces, and the corsets for another fun-filled s e a s o n . Renfest is one of MHS's largest handson events reaching thousands of new and returning patrons every year. It's a fun venue and many volunteers are r e q u i r e d because of the length of the run (15 days.) Festival starts August 14th and runs every w e e k e n d t h r o u g h September 2 6 t h . Volunteers can sign up for one day or multiple days. Weekend themes this year: August 14 & 15 Highland Fling Heavy Games event, Highland Dance, shepherding demonstrations August 21 & 22 Mid-East Mirage Page 4

August 28 & 29 Irish Heritage Festival Free beer tasting, Traditional dancing, and Irish matchmaking contest

Wine Gala Wine tastings, grape stomp competition & charity wine auction September 24, 25 & 26 Chocolate and Romance Wooing & pie-eating contests An informational meeting out at Renfest will take place the week prior to festival opening. Any new participants will be expected to attend.

September 4,5 & 6 Italian Carnival Cooking demonstrations, garlic seminars, & mask making for kids September 11 & 12 Royal Ale Battle of the Bartenders, Wench Press, & Pub sing competition September 18 & 19

Participants are expected to be in period costume during your shift. MHS maintains a fairly large collection of costumes and will outfit you with everything but f o o t w a r e . Footware can be leather sandals or boots, provided they are of a style that would pass for period dress. If there are questions about what would constitute period style clothing, contact Nancy Hakomaki at (phone number deleted). There are many of us who have been at the faire for over ten year, some for fifteen - to do anything this long must mean it’s a fun thing to do - come out one day and try it! §

The Newsletter of the Minnesota Herpetological Society

June Speaker Review by Barbara Buzicky, MHS Recording Secretary

Guest Speaker: Barney Oldfield Program: New Mexico's Rattlesnakes Protection & Persecution Barney Oldfield has been with the Minnesota Herpetological Society for many years now, and he is living in New Mexico where he is actively involved in the preservation and conservation of rattlesnakes. His talk was about rattlesnake roundups, and he showed many slides of the species found in New Mexico. There currently are listed seven Viperidae species in New Mexico. There are six types of rattlesnakes and one Massasauga along with one Elapidae which is Micruroides Euryxanthus (Western Coral Snake). The rattlesnake species listed are: Crotalus Atrox (Western Diamondback Rattlesnake); Crotalus Lepidus (Rock Rattlesnake); Crotalus Molossus (Blacktail Rattlesnake); Crotalus Scutulatus (Mojave Rattlesnake); Crotalus Viridis (Western Rattlesnake); and Crotalus Willardi (Ridgenose Rattlesnake). The Massasauga is Sistrurus Catenatus. The total venomous population in New Mexico comes to eight. There are only two species that are protected in New Mexico at this time, and they are Crotalus Lepidus and Crotalus Willardi. The Crotalus Molossus or Blacktail Rattlesnake found in the Anderness Mountains of SW New Mexico are the most attractive and distinctly patterned according to Barney. The Crotalus

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Atrox or Western Diamondback Rattlesnake comes in are variety of colors including lavender, pink, unmarked, different shades of black and gray, and red. Some rattlesnakes can get very large six feet or so, and some others are smaller around eighteen inches. Rattlesnake Roundups are being held in many States including New Mexico, and they represent the cruelest treatment that an animal can get which very harmful for the snakes. The State of Texas is the most notorious for all their roundups, but New Mexico also has a large roundup called "The Alamogordo Roundup." Basically, rattlesnake roundups have been taking place since around the 1920's, and to this day, they are being held in the States of New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Alabama, and Pennsylvania. The New Mexico Alamogordo Roundup is held at the Otero County Fairgrounds. On the website home page for the Animal Protection of New Mexico, Inc., there is a very graphic eyewitness description written by Erika Stueck, a Wildlife Associate, of just how this particular roundup is being conducted. This article can be found at I read the piece, and it was very sickening. Something must be done. Also on this site, there is information for what you can do to participate in helping eliminate this cruelty and help preserve this beautiful creature. Not to go into too much graphic detail, but snake hunters collect the snakes, mistreat them with no food or water in large holding tanks until the event, then snake handlers "daredevils" do

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tricks with them in shows. After all this, they are killed and butchered to eat, and their skins, rattles, and heads, are processed into retail sale items to make big profits for the roundup. The propagation of fear and cruelty continues the myths about venomous snakes. They just need to be respected and avoided as they are much bet-

ter left alone to serve their ecological purpose in life. Here is a further recommended reading list regarding the roundups, Barney's published book, and an article by Dan Keyler and Barney Oldfield on Poachers in Minnesota. Fitzgerald, L.A. and C.W. Painter. 1994. A critical evaluation of rattlesnake commercialization: roundups and the rattlesnake trade. A final report submitted to World Wildlife Fund/TRAFFIC (USA) Oldfield, Barney. Ed. Moriarty, J. J. December, 1994. Amphibians and reptiles native to Minnesota. Hardback book 237 pgs, colour illustrations, colour maps. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN: 0816623848. Minnesota DNR Website: Field Notes - Rattlesnake Poachers. Published: MarchApril, 2004. ยง

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The Newsletter of the Minnesota Herpetological Society

July 2004

housed separately and each will have a large, clear water bowl. Animals should not be fed for two weeks prior to the fair, so they will be 'cleaned out' and thus less likely to make a mess in the display visitors don't need to see poop. Marilyn will accept the animals a day or two before the fair; arrangements will need to be made with her. Accordingly, the animals will need to be picked up the day after the fair.

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any problems do arise during the day, you will need to try to solve it or get a hold of the emergency contacts. If you are attending a concert / show in the grandstand for MHS is looking for volunteers and the evening, you shouldn't sign up animals to help in the DNR reptile for that day as you may need to be display at the MN State Fair from available at 9 PM. Before 9 PM, August 26 to September 6. check on the animals; if everyone Volunteers are needed to check has water and is clean, you are animals each day of the fair. Work done! If cleaning or maintenance is minimal, and the reward is a pair needs to be done, you will need to of FREE tickets into the fair. If you wait until they close the building at don't think you can make it, maybe 9 to complete any tasks. As it is your animal could. very disruptive to the flow of We need the following people, we are asked not to animals to fill the dismess with the animals when play inside the DNR the building is open, unless building. there is a serious problem. Snakes: Bull, All cleaning supplies, equipHognose, Fox, and ment, etc. will be behind the Garter snake. display. Any tasks should Turtles: Snapping, take no more than a few Painted, Wood, and minutes and you will be on Blanding's of a your way. Two of the snake small/medium size. cages will be filled with May consider other MN's venomous reptiles snakes and turtles if these will be locked and are we can't find what we not to be touched. If any need. The MHS display at the MN State Fair gets plenty of attention problems happen with them, there will be two 'hot' The reptiles need to just sit and We are looking for a herper (or two) emergency contacts to call. look 'pretty' as people view them. to volunteer per day - you will All animals need to be in good, receive a pair of free passes for the A meeting will be scheduled a day healthy condition. The prolonged fair. Parking is not provided. Total or two before the fair starts to meet display period in an uncontrolled time commitment is minimal, but with everyone who will be new to environment may be detrimental to volunteering involves being at the volunteering for the fair. This meetanimals not in prime condition. fair for a good portion of the day. ing will go over all details (where Sick animals will not be accepted Volunteers don't need to be there the sink is, etc.) and hand out free for this activity. The snakes should at opening, but it would be ideal if passes. Days are selected on a be full-grown (except the bull - for they were there before noon. The first call, first get basis, and the that we want a young adult) - this latest preferred arrival time would weekends go fast. way the onlookers can see them be early afternoon, as the animals easily in the display. As stated should be checked at midday to If you are interested or have any above, the turtles can be small (but insure they are weathering the tem- questions, get on the 'stick' (ha not baby size) to medium. We will perature OK. Duties during the day ha) and contact Marilyn (contact have two aquariums for separating consist of viewing the animals for information deleted). the different sizes. Snakes will be problems, maybe every 3 hours. If

More Bull than Bullsnake and More Milk than Milksnake

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The Newsletter of the Minnesota Herpetological Society

Rubber Boas From Scientific Name Genus: Charina - Derived from Greek “graceful.” Species: bottae – Named after Paolo Emilio Botta, an Italian explorer serving aboard the ship Heros as the doctor. He visited California in the1820’s, and published the book Observations on the Inhabitants of California.

Rubber Boa (Charina bottae)

Description Rubber boas are on of the smallest members of the boa family, and the northernmost ranging. Adults are generally a uniform color dorsally, ranging from tanned leather brown (southern populations are almost always light tan), olive brown, medium brown, to a dark chocolate brown. Their ventral surface is most often light yellow 0 sometimes with brown mottling. Babies are born pink and slightly transparent, and gradually darken with age. Color variations occur between and within each locality. In the Pacific Northwest, adult makes generally reach an average length of about 21 inches, with the females slightly longer – about 26 inches. Adults from different regions may vary slightly, such as the southern rubber boa (C. b. umbratica), the smallest subspecies, where males typically max out at 18 inches, and females at 22 inches.

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Habits Rubber boas are fossorial, or at least semi-fossorial. They spend a lot of time underground, and like other snakes, they primarily use existing rodent tunnels or rock fractures. They are also nocturnal/crepuscular, and therefore, usually not active during the day. They prefer to hide underground or under pieces surface cover, rather than bask in the open. Rubber boas hibernate during the winter months over their entire range, from mid-October to mid-March. During spring and fall they may be found under surface objects thermoregulating. During summer, when the weather is warm, rubber boas rarely are found on the ground surface and remain underground keeping cool and moist. However, given optimal conditions, they can be active in the summer, indicating that they do not avestate. Native Habitat Rubber boas can be found in a very wide range of different habitats from the open pockets in coniferous rainforests of the Pacific Northwest to the arid mountains of southern California. They generally are not as heat tolerant as many other snakes, and hide in warmer weather, seeking cooler surroundings and moisture. In all of these habitats rubber boas are not often found out in the open ground; they spend the vast majority of time under logs, rocks, or under ground in rock crevices or rodent burrows. Natural Prey

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lizard and snake eggs, and to a lesser extent, lizards, baby birds, baby bats — and there is one recorded instance of one eating another snake. My personal opinion is that the instance where another snake had been consumed was due to an accident, rather than on intent to eat another snake. Rubber boas have been observed constricting multiple prey items simultaneously Relatives The closest relative to the rubber boa is the rosy boa, also native to western North America. In the southernmost part of the rubber boa’s range, and the northernmost part of the rosy boa’s range, they Jive in the same mountain areas, although generally at differing elevations. There is at least one place I am aware of where a rosy boa and a rubber boa were found to be sympatric. Sand Boas also appear to be closely related to rubber and rosy boas. CAPTIVE CARE Cage As rubber boas are small, large cages are not necessary. A five or ten gallon aquarium with a very secure lid is generally adequate. Any small hole or crack in which the boa can get its head through is an easy escape route. I can’t stress enough that these snakes are excellent escape artists. I have conversed with numerous people who have caught one, only to find that it escaped within a day or two. The cage must be secure. Multiple boas may be kept together in a larger cage without any problems. As long as all individuals are healthy and sanitary conditions are maintained, it is unlikely that ill effects will occur. In fact, the snakes often ball up together as they would do when hibernating in the wild.

Rubber boas are slow, small snakes that primarily prey on nestling mammals (voles, shrews, deer mice, etc). When nestling rodents are encountered, the boa will eat the entire titter if possible, deflecting any attacks from the mother mouse with its blunt tail. Wild adult rubber boas often have extensive scarring on their tails. Although baby rodents are (boas ....continued on page 10) the preferred prey, these snakes will eat

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The Newsletter of the Minnesota Herpetological Society


bout six months ago, my savannah monitor, Nefer (which does not occupy a cage and considers the whole house her territory), came across a small furry ball that up to that point in time had been the exclusive property of my dog, Blythe. As I watched Nefer “attack” the ball, shake it, and attempt to crush it in her powerful jaws, I assumed that she must have mistaken the ball for a tasty new food item. And I’ll bet that an object that had been repeatedly slimed by dog’s mouth that had chewed on and eaten only God-knows-what has a certain culinary attraction, so it’s no surprise that Nefer was initially attracted to the ball — but that only explains part of her actions.

July 2004

way she chomped down on the ball and braced her front legs, but stopped as soon as I let go of the ball. This was hardly the expected response of a carnivore afraid of

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ing a handkerchief or notebook from the keeper’s pocket...playing tug-of-war with a soda can, interacting with objects such as empty cardboard boxes and pieces of clothing and scarves”(p. 99). The word “handkerchief” rattled my mental cage, recalling several passages from Walter Auffenberg’s book The Behavioral Ecology of the Komodo Monitor (1981, University of Florida Press). About field observations of wild KOmodo monitors, he states: “Number 34W entered the tent and rummaged about in our backpack He left, but returned and took Ishmael's shirt, shaking and tearing it as he carried it into the surrounding brush. At 1300 hours he returned and took a handkerchief that had been lying on the ground?’ Another individual “smelled my paper as I continued to write my notes and moved my pencil all about. His curiosity in the paper, the pencil, and my hand was truly surprising.” A third individual “came into the blind. I hit it on the head three times with my pencil, but it was not frightened off. It remained and flicked my tape recorder and my knife with its tongue.” (p. 317-318)


When she apparently tired of frying to disembowel the bat she held it high in the air and paraded around the room with it (a behavior which still mystifies me). I thought that she would surely realize sooner or later that the ball was not food and abandon it. But over the next few days the same scenario played again and again. And after a few weeks, I noticed that almost every lime she dropped the ball, she ran after it again. S I started to toss the ball in front of her and play tug-of-war with her — innocuous enough interactions if you’re a human playing with a dog, but not a monitor lizard. She responded in kind by chasing after the ball. And while playing tug-ofPage 8

by Shari Anderson

losing a meal. Even the dullest crayon in the box would have figured out after six months of always catching, but never ingesting, that this now familiar object was inedible. So is true play behavior at work here? That’s as far as I might have gone with those observations if I hadn’t found a recently published book that is a rich and rewarding read: Komodo Dragons: Biology and Conservation, edited by James B. Murphy, et al (2002) and published by the Smithsonian Institution Press. In a chapter entitled “Behavioral Complexity Behavioral Development and Play,” the authors discuss a six year old, captive-reared Komodo that “Exhibited playlike behavior, such as remov-

Now the point of sharing this with you is not to reveal that a pencil is an important defensive weapon when it comes to protecting yourself against wild Komodo Dragons, but that even monitors exhibit

The Newsletter of the Minnesota Herpetological Society

behaviors that suggest qualities such as curiosity and play. These behaviors may have important roles in the survival of less complexbrained animals.

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an authentic reason. And right now Nefer’s not talking.

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Florida’s Rocky “Flying” Turtle


Reprinted from “The Newsletter of Story based on – “Turtle flies into the Pacific Northwest Herp Society van windshield” on I-95 June, 2003 via “Notes from NOAH” 5/13/05 Stuart News, Indian River Up until a few decades ago, play Vol XXX No. 12 County: behavior was looked upon as the § sole provenance of mammal and A flying turtle crashed through the bird species. Play behavior required Godzilla turns 50 windshield of Ralph Glaister this a complex brain and the expendi- Godzilla, Worlds Most Famous afternoon on Interstate 95. ture of energy, which in ectotherms Reptile Celebrates 50th Birthday Glaister was heading north on I-95 is a valuable commodity. And if play With Two Week Run In New York of just south of Indrio Road in St. was chiefly thought to be an impor- Un-dubbed, Director’s Cut. From Lucie County when he noticed the tant mechanism to enhance skills reports of those who have seen turtle attempting to cross the interneed ed as an adult in a complex state. "I saw the turtle crossing the societal group, then of course reproad when it was slightly clipped by tiles need not apply. But animals the truck in front of me, which sent surprise us all the time. Not it flying into the air and through my because they change, but because windshield," he said. “it hit the glass humans ‘earn to look beyond on the passenger side, busted that assumptions. One only has to conout and landed next to me." sider the long- term study of chimps "It seemed like it happened in slow at Gombe by Jane Goodall or the motion." Glaister was more worried use of American Sign Language by about getting immediate help for Koko the gorilla and Washoe the the 1-foot-long turtle than fixing his chimp. Gordon M. Burghardt, princiwindshield after the crash. pal author of the c in the "It is amazing (the turtle) wasn't Smithsonian’s new book on injured," he said. "He came flying Komodo monitors ends that chapter through the windshield at 70 miles on Behavioral Complexity both the Godzilla of our youth and per hour. Luckily, both Glaister and Behavioral Development and Play the Director’s cut, it seems they are the cooter box turtle were not seriwith words that ring bright and true two dramatically different movies. ously injured. The turtle suffered to anyone who has had the good The original version of Godzilla was minor cuts to its tail and back legs, fortune to share their lives with mon- meant to be a serious meditation on but the shell was not damaged. itors: “It is necessary that long-term the aftermath of the use of atomic Glaister walked away without a studies be performed to gain a weapons using science fiction as a scratch. Glaister plans on releasing deeper understanding of their cogni- metaphor. Made nine years after the the turtle into a nearby pond. tive and emotional life, as well as U.S. dropped the bomb on Japan, (Editor: From the photo published the extent of individual differences.” U.S. distributors refused to release with the article, the turtle seems to (p. 117) the film without major cuts, over 20 have been a large Florida red-belSo, is Nefer really playing with her minutes, and then adding of addilied turtle (Pseudemys nelsoni). ball? *I had to buy another one for tional footage, (the Raymond Burr Blythe.) Well, in my only slightly scenes) severely de-emphasizing HerpDigest Vol 4, No 37 prejudiced opinion, I think she is. the director’s intent and turning it But no matter what label is attached into just another monster movie. to a specific behavior, that behavior is part of an animal’s repertoire for Herpdigest Vol 4 No 36 § Page 9

The Newsletter of the Minnesota Herpetological Society

(boas .... continued from page 7)

Heating If any one aspect of keeping of rubber boas must be stressed, it is that they must riot be kept too warm. Rubber boas do not require the warm conditions that many other snakes prefer. Room temperature is generally adequate. Normal cage temperatures should be kept in the low 70’s to low 80’s. Individuals can digest meals at temperatures as low as 60 degrees (not recommended), with closer to 80 degrees being optimal. They will seek to escape any basking spot reaching. When digesting a meal or carrying young, a low wattage light bulb or under-tank heater may be provided to create a heat gradient within the cage, so the snake can choose the proper temperature to bask at. Use a thermometer in the cage to be sure the temperature does not get above the high 70’s to mid 80’s. The cool end of the cage can range from 50 degrees at night, to 65 during the day. Depending on the ambient temperature and distance from the basking spot, different size bulbs may be necessary. If the snake is not digesting a meal or incubating young, it is best to drop the temperature to 75. Of course, this may be difficult in warm climates. Techniques to keep them cool in hot weather include: keeping them in air conditioned living space, placing the cage on a concrete floor, or keeping them in a room with the window open at night. If kept too warm, they may become agitated and musk when you pick them up — and they will be at risk of dehydration and excessive weight loss. It may seem strange to those who are used to keeping tropical snakes, but a rubber boa should feel cool to the touch (but not cold) when picked up. Hibernation is not necessary except in preparation for breeding. Hibernation should start around late October or early Page 10

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November, with temperatures dropping to 40-50 degrees, until March. They generally do not have any problems, as long as the temperature remains above freezing. Rubber boas have been found wandering their cages at temperatures as low as 40 degrees — although they are usually dormant at this temperature. Lighting Being primarily nocturnal and fossorial, rubber boas do not require any special lighting such as UV. Access to natural light from daytime sunshine entering the room is fine. Never place an aquarium where it will be exposed to direct sun light; temperatures can quickly reach dangerous levels to the snake, and it will have nowhere to escape the heat. If a light bulb is provided as heat source, it should be set to mimic daylight cycles and not interrupt normal nighttime activity. Tithe snakes are being kept in an area that is cold at night, a low wattage red light bulb may be used. A red light is not disruptive to nocturnal animals. Substrate As with other snakes, do not use cedar shavings, as they are toxic. Aspen or other small wood chips are suitable. Sand, artificial turf, sterile soil, and paper are all suitable alternatives. Small wood chips, reptile sand, or other absorbent materials are good in that feces may be easily scooped up and discarded. Paper is handy in providing an easy-to-dean cage lining, but does not provide a comfortable home similar to the snake’s natural surroundings. In choosing a substrate, consideration should be given to the possibility of accidental ingestion, which could cause an impaction in the digestive system. In the wild, small amounts of material (grass, dirt, etc.) are normally ingested when the snake eats. It becomes a problem when large pieces, sharp objects, or large quantities of substrate are ingested along with the prey item. This can cause damage to

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the snake resulting in death. If the substrate used is not appropriate for the snake to be eating on, move it to a clean location when feeding. Hiding Area A choice of hiding places should be provided. Rubber boas enjoy pieces of bark, moss, and hollow Jogs. Even an overturned dish or board propped up on a small rock will be appreciated by these snakes. Substrate deep enough to burrow in is recommended by some keepers, but not necessary if adequate hide boxes are provided. Much of their time will be spent hiding under items. Hiding spots are an important part of rubber boa housing. At times, I have even used a cut off leg of denim jeans as a hide for boas to climb in and under. A moist hide box may be provided by cutting a hole in the lid of a small rubbermaid container and placing moist paper towels or moss inside. Whatever is used as a hiding spot, it is preferable that it is snug. Feeding Live pinky or fuzzy mice are the best food source, although frozen / thawed are fine too. Larger females may eat hoppers or small adult mice. Only the largest of females can eat adult mice, which should NEVER be placed in the cage live. Rubber boas do not have high nutritional requirements, but care should be given to choose quality mice from a reputable breeder, or assure that your mouse colony receives a complete diet. Rubber boas show a significant preference for wild mice over lab mice. Wild caught boas, or babies that have never eaten lab mice, may be difficult to switch to lab mice — but it can be done. A rubber boa that is comfortable in its surroundings is generally not a finicky eater, but occasional reluctance to feed may be encountered. If you have difficulty, consider the following: - Newborns generally do not eat in the

The Newsletter of the Minnesota Herpetological Society

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lime period between birth and emer- until morning. gence from hibernation in March. Feeding Frequency - As with all snakes, smell is an imporPeriods of fasting, either by choice or cirtant part of eliciting a feeding response. cumstance, are common in rubber Try placing some mouse-nesting materiboas. Unlike larger snakes like kings al with the food to increase the intensity and corns, rubber boas are not able to of the smell. eat any mouse they encounter during - Another technique for getting snakes to daily activities. Rather, they must search eat is braining the food item. I find myself doing this often to entice a snake to feed. - If a frozen mouse is being offered, be sure it is warmer than room temperature, so that the snake can sense it, and it is giving off an aroma. A good way to do that is with warm water (As so many have found out, a microwave just does not work!) I place the mouse in a ziplock bag and submerge it in warm water. - Rubber boas really seem to like finding their food. A pinky put in their face may be ignored, but one tucked in the corner of the cage, under a piece of bark will be found — and is more likely to be consumed. - Some wild caught boas will eat right after capture, while others seem to want a period of time to settle in prior to eating. This time range can be from just a week to several months.

long and hard for a mouse nest with the right-sized babies. As such, they do not eat as often as many other commonly kept snake species. When born in the early fall, babies generally do not have a chance to eat before entering hibernation. Their first meal may not be eaten until nine months after birth. This is normal and easy for them to handle, as long as temperatures remain cool (low 70’s during active times, and 40-50 during hibernation). You ‘nay offer them pinkies, hut do not expect newborns to eat. Many people have had success starting newborns on brained pinkies. However, I would recommend that if a baby is obtained, it should be hibernated until March, at which time it may be fed newborn pinkies.

- A wild caught boa which has never eaten lab mice will rarely refuse baby microtus (voles) or pevomyscus (deer mice). If one can be obtained, or even some of their nesting material, it can be used for “scenting” a lab mouse pinky. Then a normal, unscented pinky can be chain fed right after that to introduce the snake to the new food item. Males fast during courtship and only - I have had great success in getting the rarely will eat between the time of emerfinickiest of eaters to take lab mice by gence from hibernation to the beginning first washing the pinky. To wash it, rinse of courtship. Once courting has begun, it in warm water, rub just a little bit of dish they will not eat until breeding season is washing soap (I use Ivory) on it, and over in late spring. This means that then rinse it off thoroughly. I also brain it males normally fast for six to seven conand place it in the snake’s cage secutive months each year (from start of overnight and do not disturb the snake

Number 7

hibernation until the end of breeding season). Keep in mind though; the temperatures are cool during most of this time. Except for late spring, daytime temperatures are almost always below 70 where they live, and energy reserves are not used up very quickly. If a male is kept at high temperatures (85) for extended periods during the spring after emerging from hibernation, his reserves will be unnecessarily used. Most of a male rubber boa’s food requirements for an entire year are met in feeding from June to August. Females will eat after coming out of hibernation, but if bred, will generally stop eating once ovulation takes place and will not eat again until the young are born in the fall. Those females from areas where food is plentiful may eat while gravid, but will likely regurgitate the meal within 24 hours. Females from other populations in marginal habitat, where food is scarce, seem to have developed the ability to digest food throughout most of their gestation period. When recently moved, or introduced to new surroundings, it may take several months before becoming used to a new home, and a rubber boa may not eat until it feels comfortable. Be patient and allow it time to adjust. It will likely refuse to eat until it has fully settled in. This may take one week, or several months. But when it needs to eat, it will. A healthy adult in captivity may go up to one year without eating if temperatures are kept low (70’s or lower). The higher the temperature, the quicker a lasting snake goes through its reserves. To mimic natural conditions, several pinkies or fuzzies should be offered at least monthly. Overfeeding is generally not a problem, and more frequent Page 11

The Newsletter of the Minnesota Herpetological Society

meals may be offered if desired. Allow the snake to eat all it wants at each feeding. Do not be concerned if your rubber boa decides to go without food for a couple months at a time (unless you are keeping it too warm). The Best Feeding Method The best feeding method for rubber boas is to place the mice in the cage near the snake, under a hiding spot (as if in a real nest), and leave it be. When I am feeding rubber boas, I place two, three, or four, or maybe even five baby mice (depending on the snake and prey size), and a little bit of nesting material out side of where the rubber boa is hiding. Then I cover the mice with a piece of bark, propped up board, or even just a piece of denim fabric. I will watch for several minutes as the snake will usually smell its prey, seek it out, and begin eating. If not, I leave the room and check back in 1/2 to one hour. If the snake is still not eating, but has eaten recently, I will go ahead and remove the prey to try again at a later date. If it has been several weeks since last feeding and the snake is not in a normal fasting period (such as winter, males in the spring, or females that are incubating babies), I will leave the mice in the cage with the snake all night. Usually they will be gone the next morning. Once a rubber boa has been in captivity for an extended period of time and has eaten regularly, it can be offered meal items and will usually take them immediately. Two females that I own have been in captivity for at least a decade each and they will eat mice right out of my hand without any hesitation. Yet, as long as my hands do not smell like food and they Page 12

July 2004

Volume 24

Number 7

are handled regularly, they do not Picking Up associate my hand with food, as Most rubber boas like to be picked some snakes might. up and handled. They enjoy the Water warmth of your hands. But sometimes when you first touch a rubber Clean water should be provided in a boa, it may be startled. It may react dish at all times. Rubber boas also as if being attacked by a mouse; flip enjoy soaking. In addition to a water its tail, hiss very quietly and quickly, dish, regular soakings are recomand perhaps even musk. Remember, mended. Each snake should be even though the snake may flip soaked once a month during hiberaround quickly, it will not strike as nation by placing it in a jar (with a part of defense. There are several secure lid that has ventilation holes) techniques that can be used to avoid and inch of cool tepid water to soak this natural defensive reaction. in for fifteen to thirty minutes. (This will not disrupt their hibernation. 1) First touch the snake with a light Females must be hibernated to steady pressure. Do not tap or grab breed, yet many years of this prac- it initially. Let it feel your warmth and tice has not adversely affected my realize you are not a danger. females’ ability to produce young. In 2) If possible, slide your fingers into the wild, rubber boas normally hiberthe substrate and under the snake nate in relatively moist conditions.) and pick it up from underneath. You must keep in mind that water that feels warm to your hand is prob- 3) Keep the snake at room temperaably somewhere above 90 degrees, ture or slightly lower; 75-78 degrees which is hot to a snake at 75 is a good temperature. If too warm, it degrees, and even hotter to a hiber- may become agitated and will not be nating snake. Soakings during active amdous to take advantage of your periods should be increased twice a warm skin. month. Do not soak the snake right Holding after it eats — wait until the meal has been passed to avoid ingestion of Rubber boas will likely want to wrap fecal matter that may be passed in around your hand or wrist and stay the water. (A nice warm bath is a put to enjoy your warmth. Wrap one quick way to get a snake to poop.) around your wrist and wear it like a When the snake is ready to shed, an bracelet. Once the snake warms up, additional soaking will help in the it may stay put, not wanting to move, removal of old skin. As well as pro- or more likely it will seek to crawl viding the snakes an Opportunity to around looking for a place to hide. § drink, soaking may aid in controlling mites. Damp hiding spots also aid in keeping them hydrated, but are not reprinted from Notes from NOAH absolutely necessary if water and Vol XXXL, No 7 soakings are regularly provided. The skin of a well-hydrated rubber boa simply looks so much better than one that is slightly dehydrated. I believe that most rubber boas in captivity are slightly dehydrated.

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Vol. 24 (2004), No. 7  
Vol. 24 (2004), No. 7  

Minnesota Herpetological Society Newsletter