The following article is writen by That Reptile Blog Guest Blogger Joseph See and contains information that may be of interest to our readers.
Hello all, I am Joseph See. As a college student working towards a degree in biology, I thought I would write about a very underrated group of snakes, which also happen to be the first snakes I kept and bred. When I was younger I kept all the manner of creatures around the house, except snakes, which my parents disliked. But upon moving out in college I decided to try my hand at one species that I read much about and always fascinated me.
Egg-eating Snakes (Dasypeltis) are fascinating, highly specialized colubrids that are featured in almost any book on snakes, due to their bizarre feeding habits. Egg-eating Snakes feed solely on bird eggs, and can swallow eggs several times the size of their heads. They are also undemanding and easy to keep, as long as you start with established specimens.
The 5 species of the genus Dasypeltis live in Africa, usually in forested areas. Baby egg-eaters presumably feed on the eggs of small finches and weaverbirds before taking progressively larger fare like chicken eggs! Without functional teeth, egg-eaters are defenseless and thus have evolved colors and behavior to mimic the venomous vipers found alongside them. By rasping their scales together they can produce a hissing noise in the same way as some vipers, and they will frequently flatten their necks or heads to more resemble a venomous snake.
Egg-eaters in Captivity
Egg-eaters are not often kept, but wild caught imports are occasionally available. The Rhombic Egg-eater (Dasypeltis scabra) and the East African Egg-eater(Dasypeltis medici medici) are the most frequently imported. Their care is similar to other small colubrids (such as African house snakes).
The main difficulty keepers of these snakes encounter is acquiring eggs to feed them. Most egg-eaters are too small to take regularly available chicken eggs. Depending on the size of your snake you may feed eggs from pigeons, Coturnix quail, doves, Button quail, or finch. Generally speaking, Coturnix quail eggs (the quail egg eaten as a delicacy) are the easiest to obtain, whether it be from ethnic food markets, feed stores, or local bird breeders. These eggs are cheap to obtain and suit most large egg-eaters. Button quail (Coturnix chinensis) eggs are smaller and also easily obtained for smaller specimens. Other eggs can be obtained from local petstores, bird breeders, etc. (often for free). A final note: while small egg-eaters cannot eat overly large eggs, large egg-eaters have no qualms on taking small ones. Eggs should be stored in the refrigerator until they are used (and should keep for a month or so).
Probably the most common problem reported in keeping egg-eaters is simply that they refuse to eat. This is especially the case for freshly wild-caught imports. Of course, you should make sure the snake is well hydrated and in a comfortable environment. Here are a few tips for getting stubborn egg-eaters to eat.
Make sure the eggs you are offering are the appropriate size and fresh. Scenting the eggs (by refrigerating them, freezing and thawing them, rubbing on a birds breast or placing in a bird’s nest etc.), may help. Some prick the shell with a pin and smear some of the contents on the egg. Egg-eaters can go for many months without food, so be patient. However, if a snake is losing weight, tube feeding several milliliters (the approximate amount in an egg the snake would otherwise eat) of whipped egg with a syringe and catheter tubing may be required. I would highly recommend consulting an experienced keeper or veterinarian to demonstrate the procedure before trying, if done incorrectly one could force fluid into the lungs, which is usually fatal. Egg-eaters have actually been raised almost solely by this method, since it is hard to find enough finch eggs for a whole clutch of babies, being fed once every two weeks or so.
Hope this article piques your interest in perhaps trying your hand at these oft read of-but seldom kept snakes!
Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally published by Dawson.