Monday, November 25, 2013

Getting Your Snake Through the Winter

Here on the Eastern Seaboard we're getting our first true bout of cold air. Just like last year, this lends itself to a new set of challenges. Here are a few tips at getting your pet through the cold months.


So one thing that comes to mind if you keep colubrid snakes (not boas or pythons) is whether or not to brumate your animals. First of all, what is brumation? Well in the winter many colubrid snakes go through this process in the wild where they cease feeding, slow their movements, and retire to a den until the weather is more suitable. It is similar to hibernation, however the animal will remain more active and alert to threats. 

In captivity, brumation is extremely important for breeding. However, if you aren't planning on breeding your animal then you don't need to brumate your snakes. Still, a resting animal means you don't have to worry about keeping temperatures up or feeding for a few months. It also means not interacting with your pet until spring. If you're interested in trying this, simply google the proper method for brumating your specific species of snake, and if you take this route be entirely sure that your animal is healthy enough to undergo this taxing process

Maintaining Temperatures

Okay, so you've decided not to put your animal down for the winter. That's totally fine! Here are a few tips for keeping your animals warm

Increase your heat

Your house will naturally drop in temperature over the winter. To combat this you can do a few things:

Heat your entire home

This method is a bit excessive, but if you don't adjust your thermostat in the winter, your home should maintain the same temperature it always has, and you shouldn't have to supplement cage heat. Keep in mind that heating is drying, which may mean you'll need to mist your cage more often. Keep your eye on that hydrometer, especially around shed time

Supplement Cage Heat

All of my snakes have different methods of heating. One has an under tank heater hooked up to a thermostat. I generally don't have to worry about her, her heat has adjusted automatically. Another has an infrared light hooked up to a dimmer. I changed the dimmer and increased the heat with no problem. My largest cage has been the largest issue. It has a ceramic heat emitter which simply isn't cranking out the level of heat necessary. I'm trying to insulate my room better, but at the end of the day the cage temperatures are about 5-10 degrees short of my ideal range. It's not the end of the world, but I will likely need to simply buy a more powerful heat source.

In smaller cages I have in the past simply added a weak, inexpensive supplementary heat source to tanks 40 gallons or less. Be prepared for supplementary heat, and the extra costs that will be associated. 

Use Common Sense

If you have a snake that cannot drop below a specific temperature, ensure that your thermostat is at least set to that range. You wouldn't want your heat source to fail and come home to an ill snake. 

Check your thermometers daily. If you're like me, many of your heat sources do not emit light. If they fail, you won't know until you check the temps. Cold snaps can be very dangerous for some animals, so you want to be on the lookout for failed equipment

Power Outages Happen

Have a game plan for what to do to keep your snakes warm when your power fails. If you don't have radiators or a generator your animals may need to be moved - know which friends will take in your animals. If you keep local animals, the temperatures are not exceedingly low, insulate the tanks quickly to ensure a gradual drop in temperatures. Mostly, just have a plan and know your animal. Some snakes can only handle low temperatures for hours, others are completely content for quite some time (if a bit sluggish). 

Winter is coming, be prepared for just about anything. 

Happy Holidays, and as always -
Keep Flying,

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Reptiles: Cheap pets for a Bad Economy?

Welcome to my blog. If you were attracted by the title of this piece you're likely an angry herper or an animal lover looking to save some cash, either way: welcome.

Let's start by answering the above question - NO. Well, yes and no. Reptiles are far less expensive than a dog or a cat, however it is a pretty sizable investment compared to most other "tank" animals. The details of that investment are the big points of today's conversation

The Animal Itself is the Cheapest Park

This is true of most animals, but the disparity can be huge with reptiles. Most "starter" reptiles range from $4-$100, depending on a variety of factors including who's selling the animal, the animal's age, and the species in question.

Let's break down some costs, to do this we're going to make a few assumptions:

  1. You're buying a Corn Snake, a pretty standard starter animal.
  2. You're buying everything you need at once from a pet shop (including the snake) at market price.

The snake itself is $40, something most people can handle. However that corn snake needs a lot to live a good, happy life.

There are a few ways you can buy a tank. You can either buy a made-for-reptiles vivarium, with better ventilation and a locking lid, or you can buy a fish tank with a screen top and clips. If you go with a vivarium it will run you about $100. A tank will cost you $45, the lid will be another $20, clips $10

So snake and tank puts you at least into $115

Now that tank needs to be furnished with a few things
Substrate (most people use aspen): $15 for your first bag
Water Bowl: $5 for a small one, but it will have to grow with your reptile as snakes like to soak in their water
Digital Gauges: $10 for temperature, and $10 for humidity
Hides: $10 for two cheap starter hides, one on each side

That's $165

Then comes heating. You can choose to use a light source with a dimmer, or a heating pad with a thermostat. The light source would be a 50 watt red bulb and a lamp with a built in dimmer. Altogether about $25 or a 20 gallon sized heating pad with a thermostat, about $80. We'll assume you take the cheaper light for now, however long term the heating pad uses far less power and will save you money.

That puts us at $190.

Throw in a $6 pack of mice, plus taxes and you've just racked up a $200+ bill on a starter reptile. Keep these things in mind too:
Finding frozen mice for reptiles can be challenging. You can usually find them at a high markup in the petstore you got the snake from, but freezer space is limited they will run out of the size you need

While snakes don't need UV lighting, most reptiles do. That may double your lighting/heating cost both upfront, and in terms of power usage.

Yes, you reptile should receive vet care and can get sick.

Cleanliness is important, you will need to buy safe, vet quality cleaner.

A corn snake lives about 20 years on average. This is short by reptile standards, reptiles are long term commitments. Turtles and Tortoises may outlive you depending on their species. Can you provide food, heat, and light for them throughout their lives? If there is a chance the animal will outlive you, do you know someone who can provide for it?

I don't want to scare people away. I keep 3 snakes myself, and I've made mistakes, but I understand what my commitment to them is. That's really what's important here. If you aren't willing to invest in the care of your animal, simply don't get one.

River, a kingsnake, is the animal I've had the longest, in the past year she's needed 3 different tanks (the first one was damaged, she outgrew the second), has required vet treatment, has used both methods of heating, and is now is a pretty advanced tank, oh and she eats like a champ. If I've spent less than $400 on her care alone since getting her, I'd be shocked. That's nothing compared to what dog and cat owners pay, however it is still a sizable investment, and she's not even 2 yet.

Reptiles are not cheap, disposable pets. They are long-lived, rather expensive animals. If you cannot care for it, it's unlikely you know someone who will, even your local shelter may not take it in. Be prepared for the commitment you're making, and only once you're sure a reptile is something you can handle, do you dive in.

Keep Flying,

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Quickie: Media and Reptiles

Whenever snakes make it on to the news, the media never fails to make it sound more dangerous than it is. For instance, read this story, for those of you who can't it's a story about 40 pythons found in a hotel room. To the average reader 40 pythons means 40 massive, dangerous snakes. 

To keep 40 full grown burmese pythons in a small room could be highly irresponsible, even dangerous and in many places illegal. That's not what this story is about, this person kept 40 ball pythons in a single room, which for a breeder might actually be a pretty small collection

Terrifying, I know
Ball pythons are arguably the most popular pet in the pet trade, they are at the very least somewhere in the top 3 (Ball Pythons, Boa Constrictors, Corn Snakes), and many people breed them. Large breeders may breed them by the thousands, but 50 in a home breeding collection is not uncommon. This article says the reptiles were not being properly cared for, and if that's true then that's terrible. However, it's also possible these reptiles were being kept in what's know as a "rack system", which is a perfectly acceptable way to maintain a large number of reptiles. While I don't personally use this style of housing, I only keep 3 snakes, and it is simply unnecessary. 

I say all this to say that ignorance about reptiles hurts all of us. There are dozens of species of python that range from 1.5 feet (Male Children's Pythons) to a record 21 feet (Female Reticulated Python). Some are slender, some a heavy bodied, some are quite docile, some are known to have a temper. When you see an article about reptiles, read deeper. 40 ball pythons in a room isn't something that should be news, it's pretty common. More now that breeding season just ended not long ago for most breeders. 

One final thing to keep in mind, many articles like this tend to focus on the number of animals kept as something dangerous. Keep in mind, snakes are not pack hunters and they cannot rip and tear their food to share it. It doesn't matter how many snakes are in the group, if none of the snakes can kill you individually, you are in no more danger regardless of how many snakes are present. The more you know about these amazing reptiles, the less you have to fear. 

That's all for now,
Keep flying,

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Could your snake kill you?!

Hello lovely people,
I'm sure many of you have noticed that the housekeeping isn't quite done around here. Continue to excuse the dust while I make this place nice and pretty for all of you. In the meantime I want to address a nearly constant concern for those outside of reptile community: how dangerous are our snakes?

You see, when most people picture snakes, they see this

But, as my readers already know, most pet snakes are more along the lines of this:

People being afraid of snakes is nothing new. Ophidiophobia, the irrational fear of snakes, is one of the most common phobias around the world. People fear being attacked or killed by snakes, or that the eco system around them will be decimated by invasive species, so I thought I'd take the time to compare snakes to some other common pets and see how they measure up. 

Let's start with man's best friend, the dog

There are 72 million pet dogs in America, which cause on average 31 human deaths per year. This puts your chances of being killed by someone's pet dog at about .0005% chance every year. Obviously this level of risk is acceptable, considering how many households own dogs.

Alternatively, there are 2 million pet snakes in America, which cause on average .4 deaths per year. This puts your chances of being killed by someone's pet snake at about .00025% chance every year, half the "acceptable" limit that has been made standard by dogs. 

Despite this, several snakes have been deemed injurious on a federal level by Fish & Wildlife. No such federal restrictions exist for dogs. In addition, while certain breeds of dogs face county, city, and private restrictions, there are no state level restrictions on dog ownership. Snakes, alternatively, face restrictions in numerous states in addition to the federal legislation. 

Of course the argument is made that snake species can become invasive. However there are two major flaws with this argument. The first is that for many species of snake, and specifically the ones banned on a federal level the threat of the species becoming a problem is limited to a specific climate, and many would die outside of Southern Florida. 

The second argument is much cuter;

Feral cats are an invasive species all over the country. While they are rarely a serious threat to people, they actually tend to kill quite a lot of other things, including many of the same things killed by snakes

Cats and dogs are loved by a great number of people. Proposing a ban on them, especially one reaching a federal level for a state problem, would seem silly and would likely fail. Snakes are different, not because they cause more damage, but because people fear them. This is why reptile keepers like me do educational shows, post pictures of our snakes, and write about how sweet they are. A fear of these scaled creatures gives lawmakers the power to take them away from those of us who care for them. 

The truth is, our snakes are no more a threat to people than your dogs, no more a threat to wildlife than your cats. We work just as hard to care for them, and we love them the same as you. Our pets fit the way we live, and we want to keep them in our lives. We understand that you won't always get that, but we ask that you stand with us as people try to take our pets away, as we would stand with you if they came for yours. Let your representatives know that our snakes are not injurious and if they want to treat them as such then they need to prove it

I grew up with severe allergies and built a lifestyle that simply cannot handle a demanding pet. Snakes have been a passion of mine because they work in my life. I watch tv with them, I take walks with them and I see them just as I would any other pet. Athena is my first python, and while my kingsnakes River & Deadpool don't face much of a threat, there has been talk of extending our python ban. Since adopting Athena I've cared for her relentlessly, and she is now the picture of health, and I want a chance for her to live out her life in my home. She's not a monster, she's my pet, so I hope you'll click the link above & send a short email to help me keep her, as i would for you. 

Snakes are pets, no different than dogs or cats, and the numbers show that they are actually less dangerous. Even if you don't let your representative know this, don't forget it. Maybe one day your roommate will bring a snake home, or your child will want to adopt one. Maybe you'll come across a wild snake in your yard, just think about how you would react to a cat or dog in the same situation. If even one person reading this gives a person a chance to own and love a reptile, or lets a snake continue to move across their yard instead of killing it, then someone has been educated, and that is always a good thing. 

That's all for now,
Keep your eye on all the changes coming!

Dom, River, Deadpool, & Athena

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Excuse the Dust!

Reel family,
Changes are coming. Expect a new look, new name, and new me coming soon! It's about time I gave this place some new life. I'll try to make the posts more scheduled and regular, and will over all just be giving this place some TLC.

While I'm gone, go check out, it's a new blog by my best friend about all the things she can do that I totally suck at! Plus she's awesome, so there's that. 

Also, here's a picture of Jenny Owen Youngs, who isn't my best friend, but is also awesome, in spite of that.

Keep Flying & I'll see you soon

Monday, July 22, 2013

6 Things To Know Before Getting Your First Snake

These days I find myself talking a lot about snakes and their care. Since getting River last year I’ve done educational shows, incorporated how I work with my animals on this blog, and maintain a presence on a few forums. I know that getting your very first snake can be confusing, so here are some tips on how to prepare

#6: You don’t have to feed live rodents (but be prepared to)

One of the reasons most people don’t want to get snakes is because they don’t want to see it kill. Every species of snake is carnivorous, so yes, your snake will have to eat whole animals. However, these animals do not have to be alive at the time. Many places sell frozen feeder rodents, and within the hobby it’s generally considered more acceptable to feed frozen prey if you can. This is because it is safer for the snake, which does not have the full advantage of its camouflage in captivity. I found this out about a year before getting River, my first snake, and the moment I read it was the moment I decided to keep a snake. That being said if you have an animal that refuses to feed for an extended period of time, you MAY have to feed them live to get them interested in food again. If feeding live, even for a short period, is an absolute deal breaker, then perhaps consider a different pet.

#5: It doesn't have to live like a lab rat (but it can)

I’ve already done a piece on naturalistic vivaria, and I’ll actually be updating that in the future to include my work on bioactive enclosures and on enriching your pet’s life. A lot of people keep their snakes in very simple enclosures, with a hide, a bowl, and some substrate. Let me start by saying there is nothing wrong with this, for many people this setup works. However, I have found that using naturalistic setups really lets your pet display their behavior. Kingsnakes, for instance, naturally burrow, climb, swim, etc., and if I give them the option to do so I often find that I will see all of this behavior displayed. Plus, you never have to do more than spot clean a properly set up bioactive tank, and long term it will save you money. However, for young, sick, or quarantined animals you’ll find a simple setup works best. It’s all about figuring out what works best for your pet.

#4: No, your local pet store won’t always give the best advice

I’ll admit, at times you can find a very knowledgeable person in a pet shop, however more often than not, this is a dangerous gamble. The job of a pet store employee is to sell the snakes, and usually this means telling you whatever they have to in order to make the sale. Instead of asking the pet shop employees, I would recommend taking to the internet to find your answers. Personally I use most frequently, but there are caresheets and opinions all over the internet, use them to make the best decisions.

#3: You will probably get bitten eventually (but it’s no big deal)

Your snake will be with your family for a long time (more on that later), and the fact is you’ll probably get bitten eventually. What’s important to note is that a bite from a snake isn’t all that bad. Many people know that snakes swallow their food whole, but most people don’t realize there is a reason for that: snakes can’t rip and tear their food. This means that unlike a bite from a rat, gerbil, or mouse, a snake isn’t going to take a chunk of you with them. Instead, their teeth will puncture your skin, and then the snake will release, and that will be the end of it. I’d also like to reiterate that this isn’t because snakes bite a lot, most are actually quite friendly, but with their longevity, combined with the fact that most people end up keeping more than one snake, it’s just something that will likely happen overtime

#2: You will make mistakes

Plain and simple, everyone messes up. Your snake will get sick, have a bad shed, get injured. Yes, it happens to everyone, yes it always makes you feel like a terrible owner. Don’t think just because you messed up it’s time to hang up your snake hook. Every mistake is a learning experience; it’s a chance to update your skill set to make sure that whatever happened never happens again. With that in mind, know that your local vet may not treat snakes, so before you get a snake at least locate a vet that you can access easily in case something happens. If you have trouble finding one then ask whoever you’re buying the animal from, and if they don’t know where to find a snake vet, then you shouldn’t be buying a snake from them, anyway.

#1: You have a long term companion

Colubrid snakes, like corn & king snakes, regularly live 20+ years, boas & pythons regularly live 30+ years. When you buy a snake, that is the commitment you’ve just made. In that time you may find a partner, will they accept a snake in their home? Owning a snake makes it harder to find apartments and/or roommates, can you deal with that? If you already have a roommate, are they willing to have freezer space for mice? 20 years is a long time, think about where you were 20 years ago (I believe I was still learning to make sentences) and how much has changed.

This is no small commitment. Snakes are the #1 thing Americans are afraid of, fear of snakes is the most common phobia in the world, so you’re going to have trouble finding someone to watch them on vacation, people are not going to want them near their children no matter how docile they may be, and some of your friends may actually be unwilling to enter your home. If you ever want to move across state lines, there may be legal complications with the species you keep, and speaking of legal complications, snake bans come up all the time, a major python ban just passed last year. You have to be prepared for all of these things, I don’t say this to scare you, I keep three snakes and I love every second of it, but as someone who just had to find a new place to live I can say it took far longer than it would have had I not had the snakes. I want to see the hobby grow, I want to see you keep a snake, but I want you to do it properly and give that animal a good life, for its entire life.

Snakes have been on this planet for at least 67 million years, they deserve our respect. If you can keep one, that’s amazing. They can be rewarding pets and are excellent with kids, people with busy lifestyles, or people with allergies. If you can’t keep a snake in your home, that’s ok, I hope this article helped you learn a bit about them anyway. I hope you continue to educate yourself, and one day I hope to see snakes not be so feared around the world because people like you learned that one does not need to fear snakes to respect their place in our world.

Feel free to ask any questions you have in the comments, and thanks for reading!

Keep flying,


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My Snakes, River, Deadpool, and Athena

So I've talked about snakes in general, and now I'm gonna talk specifically of my snakes and how I care for them. I'd like to open by saying that this is solely what works for me after a lot of trial and error, and accounting for their personal quirks (which snakes do have).

Mexican Black Kingsnake (Lampropeltis Getula Nigrita)
Sex unknown (assumed female)
Hatched Feb 2012
Purchased from a Petco in Brooklyn, NY

River is the snake I've had the longest, she's also the best with people. She got me hooked on kingsnakes and I imagine I'll always keep some. Kings are some of the most hardy snakes out there, and as such they can adapt pretty well to changing conditions. However, try to keep their hot spot around 85, and no higher than 90. Their humidity doesn't need any special consideration beyond a water bowl. I keep River on a bio-active substrate complete with live plants, however this isn't necessary and they will fare just fine on aspen or paper towels. The trick is to make sure that the substrate is never wet. Kings can handle humidity pretty well if necessary, but they need to keep their bodies dry. Mexican Black kings are, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful non-venomous snakes available on the market. She's a glossy black and her scales have a serious iridescence to them. These snakes are crepsecular, which means they are active at dawn and dusk. While some of this is timed in, if you want to see your snake out a bit more often keep the tank out of direct light and they'll feel more comfortable.

Apalachicola Kingsnake (Lampropeltis Getula Meansi)
Hatched Dec 2012
Purchased from Reptmart.

Deadpool has been pretty true to his name since I got him. He's somewhat of a psycho, and the only snake in the collection that has actually bitten me. This type of kingsnake is also known as Goini or Blotched in the hobby, and mine happens to be striped. Their coloration tends to include a lot of red and yellow blushing, and there is actually a high red/orange color morph known as the "blaze phase". His care is identical to that of River, in fact you can really keep all kingsnakes in the same way. However I do keep him on Lizard Litter, which is just chipped aspen, because he's been a bit hard to handle and I want to have better access to him in order to work with him, which means no burrowing. One thing about kings that Deadpool reminds me of is that with kingsnakes, docility comes with age and size. After minimal work Deadpool is no longer a biter, but I still get peed on pretty regularly, but as he gets bigger a lot of that will die down as long as I work with him.

Irian Jaya Carpet Python (Morelia Spilota Harrisoni)
Hatched 2007
Adopted Locally

Athena here is the newest addition to the group, she's also gonna be my last snake for awhile. 3 is about my limit in my current living situation. Athena is also the only adoption, although I imagine that from now on most of my snakes will be adopted. Athena is by far the largest snake in the collection, over 4 feet long and very heavy bodied. I don't have a scale here but she's likely 10-15 pounds. I haven't figured out all her care quirks just yet, but I keep her a lot like my kingsnakes, just in a bigger cage. The great thing about carpet pythons is that they spend most of their time out in the open. Given branches and perches most come to feel secure outside, and are great display animals. I really love having such a cool snake, and I'll likely be getting more Australian pythons as my space increases

So there you have it, a little about the snakes I keep and how I manage it. I think snakes make great pets for a lot of reasons, but their ease of care and cool personalities definitely tops the list. If you're interested in a snake like River or Deadpool I say go for it, kings are great for beginners. If you're looking for a snake more like Athena and you're just starting out, I'd say maybe try a children's or spotted python first. Basically the same animal but somewhat smaller. Of course, as I've said in the past, I'm a big believer that if you do your research you can certainly start with a more advanced snake. Before you get into the reptile hobby remember to local a source of food that you can afford, find a local vet, and have the housing for an adult sized animal lined up. snakes grow fast, River was around 10 inches when I got her, not even a year later she's 3 feet and still not full grown. Finally, consider adoption when looking into your first snake. Reptile Rescues are a great way to get a well established snake that needs a home for a good price, and the places are generally flooded with tame ball pythons and boas.

Feel free to post any questions in the comments,

Keep Flying,