Snakes

Information on a large number of snakes.

Ball Python (Python regius)

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Ball Python (Python regius)

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Pythonidae
Genus: Python
Species:
P. regius

The ball python (Python regius), also called the royal python, is a python species native to West and Central Africa, where it lives in grasslands, shrublands and open forests. This nonvenomous constrictor is the smallest of the African pythons, growing to a maximum length of 182 cm (72 in).[2] The name "ball python" refers to its tendency to curl into a ball when stressed or frightened.[3]


The ball python is black, or albino and dark brown with light brown blotches on the back and sides. Its white or cream belly is scattered with black markings. It is a stocky snake with a relatively small head and smooth scales.[3] It reaches a maximum adult length of 182 cm (6 ft 0 in). Males typically measure eight to ten subcaudal scales, and females typically measure two to four subcaudal scales.[7] Females reach an average snout-to-vent length of 116.2 cm (45+3⁄4 in), a 44.3 mm (1+3⁄4 in) long jaw, an 8.7 cm (3+7⁄16 in) long tail and a maximum weight of 1.635 kg (3 lb 9.7 oz). Males are smaller with an average snout-to-vent length of 111.3 cm (43+13⁄16 in), a 43.6 mm (1+23⁄32 in) long jaw, an 8.6 cm (3+3⁄8 in) long tail and a maximum weight of 1.561 kg (3 lb 7.1 oz).[8] Both sexes have pelvic spurs on both sides of the vent. During copulation, males use these spurs for gripping females.[9] Males tend to have larger spurs, and sex is best determined by manual eversion of the male hemipenes or inserting a probe into the cloaca to check the presence of an inverted hemipenis.[10]

Taxonomy

Boa regia was the scientific name proposed by George Shaw in 1802 for a pale variegated python from an indistinct place in Africa.[4] The generic name Python was proposed by François Marie Daudin in 1803 for non-venomous flecked snakes.[5] Between 1830 and 1849, several generic names were proposed for the same zoological specimen described by Shaw, including Enygrus by Johann Georg WaglerCenchris and Hertulia by John Edward Gray. Gray also described four specimens that were collected in Gambia and were preserved in spirits and fluid.[6]

Distribution and habitat

The ball python is native to west Sub Saharan Africa from SenegalMaliGuinea-BissauGuineaSierra LeoneLiberiaIvory CoastGhanaBenin, and Nigeria through CameroonChad, and the Central African Republic to Sudan and Uganda.[1] It prefers grasslands, savannas, and sparsely wooded areas.[3]

Behaviour and ecology

Ball pythons are typically nocturnal or crepuscular, meaning they are active during dusk, dawn, and/or nighttime.[11] This species is known for its defense strategy that involves coiling into a tight ball when threatened, with its head and neck tucked away in the middle. This defense behavior is typically employed in lieu of biting, which makes this species easy for humans to handle and has contributed to their popularity as a pet.[3]

In the wild, ball pythons favor mammal burrows and other underground hiding places, where they also aestivate. Males tend to display more semi-arboreal behaviors, whilst females tend towards terrestrial behaviors.[12]

Diet

The diet of the ball python in the wild consists mostly of small mammals and birds. Young ball pythons of less than 70 cm (28 in) prey foremost on small birds. Ball pythons longer than 100 cm (39 in) prey foremost on small mammals. Males prey more frequently on birds, and females more frequently on mammals.[12] Rodents make up a large percentage of the diet; Gambian pouched ratsblack ratsrufous-nosed ratsshaggy rats, and striped grass mice are among the species consumed.[13]

Threats

The Ball python is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List; it experiences a high level of exploitation and the population is believed to be in decline in most of West Africa.[1] The ball python is primarily threatened by poaching for the international exotic pet trade. It is also hunted for its skin, meat and use in traditional medicine. Other threats include habitat loss as a result of intensified agriculture and pesticide use.[1] Rural hunters in Togo collect gravid females and egg clutches, which they sell to snake ranches. In 2019 alone, 58 interviewed hunters had collected 3,000 live ball pythons and 5,000 eggs.[14]

In captivity

Ball pythons are the most popular pet snake and the second most popular pet reptile after the bearded dragon.[15] According to the IUCN Red List, while captive bred animals are widely available in the pet trade, capture of wild specimens for sale continues to cause significant damage to wild populations.[1] Wild-caught specimens have greater difficulty adapting to a captive environment, which can result in refusal to feed, and they generally carry internal or external parasites.[citation needed] This species can do quite well in captivity, regularly living for 15-30 years with good care.[16] The oldest recorded ball python in captivity is 62 years, 59 of those at the Saint Louis Zoo.[17]

Breeding

Captive ball pythons are often bred for specific patterns that do not occur in the wild, called "morphs."[18] Breeders are continuously creating new designer morphs, and over 7,500 different morphs currently exist.[19][20] Most morphs are considered solely cosmetic with no harm or benefit to the individual animal. However, the "spider" morph gene has been linked to neurological disease, specifically related to the snake's sense of balance.[21] Due to the ethical concerns associated with intentionally breeding a color pattern linked to genetic disease, the International Herpetological Society banned the sale of spider morphs at their events beginning in 2018.[22]

Florida Kingsnake

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Florida Kingsnake

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Colubridae
Genus: Lampropeltis
Species:
Subspecies:
L. g. floridana

Like other kingsnakes, this species is relatively easy to care for. They should be housed in a 20-40 gallon aquarium with aspen shavings for them to burrow in. Pine shavings are toxic to reptiles. The temperature should be around 84-90 degrees during the day and Nighttime temperatures should range between 68 and 75 degrees. Like other snakes, they should feed on pinkie or fuzzie mice as babies, then gradually increase in size until the snake reaches adulthood, which by then they should be eating large mice.[1]

Terrarium Size

When it comes to choosing a terrarium for pet reptiles, keep in mind that larger is always better! Florida kingsnakes need plenty of room to stretch out and explore, and they are likely to quickly get bored in small or sparse enclosures, particularly if your snake is a male. The minimum enclosure size recommended for housing one Florida kingsnake is 48” L x 24” W x 24” H, but larger is recommended if you have the space for it!

Because kingsnakes are snake-eaters, multiple kingsnakes should not be housed in the same enclosure.

Lighting

Florida kingsnakes are primarily diurnal (active during the day), so it’s particularly beneficial to provide plenty of light during the daytime to help support their mental health. Although they are capable of surviving without UVB lighting, it’s best practice to include it as part of the snake’s setup so it can still reap the benefits. Our goal as good reptile keepers is not to simply allow our pets to survive — it is to do everything in our power to enable them to thrive. And there is mounting scientific evidence that UVB is, in fact, beneficial to kingsnakes and other species.

Therefore we recommend installing an Arcadia T5 HO Forest 6% or Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0 in a reflective fixture, long enough to cover about 1/2 of the enclosure’s length and placed next to the heat lamps. So for a 48” long enclosure, you will want a bulb about 22” long. Do not use other brands — when it comes to UVB, brand matters!

If your enclosure has a mesh top, it’s best to install the UVB fixture on top of the enclosure. If it does not, it’s best to also install a mesh lamp guard such as the Arcadia LampGuardPro over it so the snake can’t come in direct contact with the bulb. The closest distance between a Florida kingsnake and its UVB lamp (basking distance) should be between 9-11”, as UVB intensity varies with distance from the bulb.

Heating

Because kingsnakes are reptiles, they need a range of temperatures within their enclosure so they can regulate their own body temperature as needed. Areas of heat speed up their metabolism and promote activities like digestion and healing. Cool areas slow the metabolism and promote activities like rest and energy conservation.

Your Florida kingsnake’s basking area should be around 90°F, and the cool side should be between 75-84°F. Create a basking area by placing a platform or sturdy log below the lamps. Heating equipment should be turned off at night so temperatures can drop during this time.

Many kingsnake keepers will recommend using heat pads as the snake’s primary source of heat, but heat pads don’t work well in a bioactive enclosure.  Instead, use a couple of heat bulbs like the 50w Arcadia Halogen Basking Spot in small dome heat lamps. Plug each heat lamp into a lamp dimmer or dimming thermostat so you can control them if they get too hot.

To monitor the temperatures in your snake’s enclosure, place on digital probe thermometer in the basking area, and another on the floor of the cool end.

Humidity

Florida kingsnakes prefer a moist, tropical habitat, so they need humid conditions within their enclosure to enjoy optimal health. Shoot for average humidity levels between 70-80%, ranging lower during the day and higher at night. You can maintain proper humidity by spraying the enclosure 2x/a day. If needed, run a reptile humidifier in the enclosure at night.

Your kingsnake should also have access to a humid hideout at all times. This hide should be placed on the cool half of the enclosure and lined with moistened sphagnum moss or substrate.

Don’t forget to water your plants as needed! Fortunately, having a bioactive setup makes it easier to maintain humidity levels that are appropriate to a Florida kingsnake’s needs.

Substrate

To create a Florida kingsnake vivarium, you will need a bioactive-compatible substrate. That means things like aspen shavings or bark chips aren’t going to work. You need a soil-like mix that mimics the conditions of your snake’s natural habitat. You can make your own with a base of 60% plain topsoil and 40% coconut fiber mixed with sphagnum moss, leaf litter, and Bio Dude Bio Shot soil inoculant.

Alternatively, you can let The Bio Dude do the work for you with the Terra Fauna Bioactive Kit!

Finally, in order to make the substrate functional, make sure to add tropical CUC organisms like powder blue/orange isopods and springtails. You can also add other species like super worms, earthworms, and even a small millipede!

Decorating the Enclosure

Enclosure décor is more than just making your setup look nice. It’s also an important part of providing environmental enrichment to your kingsnake, which enhances your pet’s quality of life by providing opportunities to express natural behaviors, explore, and exercise. In other words, décor is not optional — it’s just as important as the other equipment mentioned in this care sheet for creating a functional reptile enclosure!

Here are some ideas for ways that you can decorate and enrich your kingsnake’s bioactive enclosure:

  • hollow logs
  • bark flats
  • hides/caves
  • plants
  • sheet moss
  • décor

Florida kingsnakes like to hide in plant litter, so it’s a good idea to give them a thick layer of leaf litter and/or hay on top of the substrate to burrow around in.

Feeding Your Florida Kingsnake

Kingsnakes are obligate carnivores, which means that they must eat whole animals to get the nutrition they need. There is no replacement. Here is a rough sketch of how much and how often you should be feeding your snake, based on age: 

  • Hatchlings should be fed once every 5-7 days.
  • Juveniles should be fed once every 7-10 days.
  • Adults should be fed once every 10-14 days.

An appropriately-sized meal should be slightly larger than the snake at its widest point, or about 10% of its weight.

Always feed your snake inside its enclosure, not outside. Contrary to the myth, feeding inside does not make snakes more aggressive. However, use feeding tweezers to offer the prey, not your hand, to prevent accidental bites.

Variety is essential to complete nutrition. Aside from the usual mice and rats, you can add variety to your snake’s diet with hamsters, gerbils, chicks, quail, anoles, house geckos, and Reptilinks. If you have the opportunity to offer your kingsnake an appropriately-sized, captive-bred snake as a feeder, do it! However, do not offer live prey if it can be avoided. Frozen feeders should be completely thawed to 75-100°F before offering.

Handling Tips

After bringing your new pet home, do not handle it until it is eaten regularly. This can take anywhere from two weeks to two months, so be patient and use this time to make sure your husbandry is on point. Once your snake is ready for handling, handle it at least 1-2x weekly to keep it accustomed to you, but no more than once daily. Handling is also a good way to encourage your snake to exercise and provide additional enrichment!

Wash Your Hands First

Before you pick up your snake, first wash your hands with soap or hand sanitizer. This removes potentially harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites from your hands, as well as makes your hands smell distinctly inedible. Kingsnakes are very enthusiastic predators, so if your hand smells like food, it might get treated like food.

How to Pick Up a Snake

Next, use a paper towel roll to tap its head (gently). This sets expectations by letting the snake know that it’s time for handling, not food. Pick it up with two hands, one behind the head and one supporting the rest of the body. NEVER pick up a snake by its tail — this can really hurt their spine!

Safety with Snakes

Always supervise children closely when they are handling a pet snake (or any kind of pet, frankly). This is as much for the snake’s safety as it is for the child’s. Keep the snake’s head away from your face, and always wash your hands and arms with soap or hand sanitizer after handling.

DO NOT Handle If…

Don’t handle your snake within 48 hours of a meal, as this can stress them out and lead to regurgitation, which is a traumatic experience that can actually lead to death. Also do not handle if your pet’s eyes have turned opaque or cloudy. This means that the snake is preparing to shed and can’t see well, making them more jumpy than usual and more likely to bite out of self-defense.

Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttatus)

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Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttatus)

Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Colubridae
Genus: Pantherophis
Species:
P. guttatus

The corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus), sometimes called red rat snake, is a species of North American rat snake in the family Colubridae. The species subdues its small prey by constriction.[4][5] It is found throughout the southeastern and central United States. Though superficially resembling the venomous copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) and often killed as a result of this mistaken identity, the corn snake lacks functional venom and is harmless. The corn snake is beneficial to humans[6] because it helps to control populations of wild rodent pests that damage crops and spread disease.[7]

The corn snake is named for the species' regular presence near grain stores, where it preys on mice and rats that eat harvested corn (maize).[8] The Oxford English Dictionary cites this usage as far back as 1675, whilst other sources maintain that the corn snake is so-named because the distinctive, nearly-checkered pattern of the snake's belly scales resembles the kernels of variegated corn.[9][10]

The corn snake is also referred to as a red rat snake.[11]

Description

As an adult the corn snake may have a total length (including tail) of 61–182 cm (2.00–5.97 ft).[12] In the wild, it usually lives around ten to fifteen years, but in captivity can live to an age of 23 years or more.[13] The record for the oldest corn snake in captivity was 32 years and 3 months.[14] The natural corn snake is usually orange or brown bodied with large red blotches outlined in black down their backs.[15] The belly has distinctive rows of alternating black and white marks.[16] This black and white checker pattern is similar to Indian corn which is where the name corn snake may have come from.[17] The corn snake can be distinguished from a copperhead by the corn snake's brighter colors, slender build, slim head, round pupils, and lack of heat-sensing pits.[18]

Taxonomy

Until 2002, the corn snake was considered to have two subspecies: the nominate subspecies (P. g. guttatus) described here and the Great Plains rat snake (P. g. emoryi). The latter has since been split off as its own species (P. emoryi), but is still occasionally treated as a subspecies of the corn snake by hobbyists.

P. guttatus has been suggested to be split into three species: the corn snake (P. guttatus), the Great Plains rat snake (P. emoryi, corresponding with the subspecies P. g. emoryi), and Slowinski's corn snake (P. slowinskii, occurring in western Louisiana and adjacent Texas).[19]

P. guttatus was previously placed in the genus Elaphe, but Elaphe was found to be paraphyletic by Utiger et al., leading to placement of this species in the genus Pantherophis.[20] The placement of P. guttatus and several related species in Pantherophis rather than in Elaphe has been confirmed by further phylogenetic studies.[21][22] Many reference materials still use the synonym Elaphe guttata.[23] Molecular data have shown that the corn snake is actually more closely related to kingsnakes (genus Lampropeltis) than it is to the Old World rat snakes (genus Elaphe) with which it was formerly classified. The corn snake has even been bred in captivity with the California kingsnake (Lampropeltis californiae) to produce fertile hybrids known as "jungle corn snakes".[24]

Range

Natural habitat

In the wild, the corn snake prefers habitats such as overgrown fields, forest openings, trees, palmetto flatwoods, and abandoned or seldom-used buildings and farms, from sea level to as high as 6,000 ft (1,800 m). Typically, the corn snake remains on the ground until the age of four months but can ascend trees, cliffs, and other elevated surfaces.[25] It can be found in the Southeastern United States ranging from New Jersey to the Florida Keys.

In colder regions, the corn snake brumates during winter. However, in the more temperate climate along the coast, it shelters in rock crevices and logs during cold weather. It also can find shelter in small, closed spaces, such as under a house, and come out on warm days to soak up the heat of the sun. During cold weather, the corn snake is less active so it hunts less.[26][27]

Introduced range

Often called the "American corn snake", P. guttatus is a proscribed pest in much of Australia. There are active extermination campaigns and advice for the public in Victoria,[28] New South Wales,[29] and Queensland.[30]

Reproduction

It has been found that corn snakes (along with other colubrids) reach sexual maturity by means of size, as opposed to age. [31]

Young Okeetee Phase corn snake
Baby corn snakes hatching from their eggs

Corn snakes are relatively easy to breed. Although not necessary, they are usually put through a cooling (also known as brumation) period that takes 60–90 days to get them ready for breeding. Corn snakes brumate around 10 to 16 °C (50 to 61 °F) in a place where they cannot be disturbed and with little sunlight.[citation needed]

Corn snakes usually breed shortly after the winter cooling. The male courts the female primarily with tactile and chemical cues, then everts one of his hemipenes, inserts it into the female, and ejaculates his sperm. If the female is ovulating, the eggs will be fertilized and she will begin sequestering nutrients into the eggs, then secreting a shell.[citation needed]

Egg-laying occurs slightly more than a month after mating, with 12–24 eggs deposited into a warm, moist, hidden location. Once laid, the adult snake abandons the eggs and does not return to them. The eggs are oblong with leathery, flexible shells. About 10 weeks after laying, the young snakes use a specialized scale called an egg tooth to slice slits in the egg shell, from which they emerge at about 5 in (13 cm) long.[32]

Reproduction in captivity has to be done correctly so the clutch's mortality rate decreases. This includes accurate sexing, establishing proper pre-breeding conditioning, and timely pairing of adults. Corn snakes are temperate zone colubrids, and share a reproductive pattern where females increase their feeding during summer and fall. This only applies to corn snakes that are sexually mature, which typically indicates the snake is around 75 cm (30 inches) in length or weight 250 g.[33]

Diet

Captive corn snake eating young mouse

Like all snakes, corn snakes are carnivorous and, in the wild, they eat every few days. While most corn snakes eat small rodents, such as the white-footed mouse, they may also eat other reptiles, or amphibians, or climb trees to find unguarded bird eggs.[34]

Seasons play a large role in the thermal regulation patterns of corn snakes, which is the main mechanism of digestion for snakes. During fall, corn snakes maintain a body temperature approximately 3 degrees Celsius higher than the surrounding environment after consuming a meal,[35] while corn snakes in the winter are not seen to thermoregulate after digestion. Captive snakes do this by using heat mats as an underneath heat source replicates their natural conditions. Corn snakes demonstrate nocturnal patterns, and use the warm ground at night to thermoregulate, therefore heat mats replicate this source.[citation needed]

American "rat snakes", such as P. guttatus, had venomous ancestors, which lost their venom after they evolved constriction as a means of prey capture.[citation needed]

Intelligence and behavior

Like many species of the Colubridae, corn snakes exhibit defensive tail vibration behavior.[36] Behavioral / chemosensory studies with corn snakes suggest that odor cues are of primary importance for prey detection, whereas visual cues are of secondary importance.[37][38]

However; a study conducted by Dr. David Holzman of the University of Rochester in 1999 found that snakes' cognitive abilities (in specific regards to spatial learning) actually rival that of birds and rodents.[39] Holzman challenged the typical testing method that was being used by biologists to examine snakes' navigational abilities, claiming the structure of the arena itself was biologically in favor of rodents. He hypothesized that if the typical arena being used to test the animals was modified to cater to snake's innate biologically driven goals, thus providing them with problem sets that they would likely encounter in their natural environment, this would give a more accurate view of their intelligence.

The study involved testing 24 captive-bred corn snakes, placing them in a wide-open tub with walls too high for them to climb out. Eight holes were cut out underneath, with one hole leading to a shelter. An intense light was positioned to shine directly on the arena, exploiting the snake's natural aversion to bright open spaces. This provided a biologically meaningful objective for the snakes: to seek out cozy dark shelter.

Not only did they find that, when given proper incentive, the snakes exhibited an acute ability to learn and navigate their surroundings, they also found snakes rely on their sense of vision much more than many herpetologists had previously assumed. They did, however, find that younger snakes were able to more quickly locate the holes than older snakes, as the younger snakes were more resourceful in their application of senses – where the older snakes more heavily relied on their sense of sight.[40]

In captivity

Corn snakes are one of the most popular types of snakes to keep in captivity or as pets, second only to the ball python. They are the most popular pet snake in Brazil.[citation needed] Their size, calm temperament, and ease of care contribute to this popularity. Captive corn snakes tolerate being handled by their owners, even for extended periods.[41]

Variations

A docile young corn snake (an introduced species) captured from the wild on the island of Nevis, West Indies, in 2009

After many generations of selective breeding, captive bred corn snakes are found in a wide variety of different colors and patterns. These result from recombining the dominant and recessive genes that code for proteins involved in chromatophore development, maintenance, or function. New variations, or morphs, become available every year as breeders gain a better understanding of the genetics involved.

Color morphs

An anerythristic corn snake

Pattern morphs

Amelanistic striped corn snake

Compound morphs

There are tens of thousands of possible compound morphs. Some of the most popular ones are listed here.

Opal corn snake

Scale mutations

Hybrids

Hybrids between corn snakes and any other snake is very common in captivity, but rarely occurs in the wild. Hybrids within the genera PantherophisLampropeltis, or Pituophis so far have been proven to be completely fertile.

Many different corn snake hybrids are bred in captivity. A few common examples include:

When hybrids of corn snakes are found in the wild, they have usually hybridized with other Pantherophis species whose ranges overlap with corn snakes.