Home | Snakes (page 4)

Category Archives: Snakes

Feed Subscription

Contains articles and advice on a wide variety of snake species. Answers and addresses questions on species husbandry, captive status, breeding, news and conservation issues concerning snakes.

Savu Python Care: Keeping One of the World’s Smallest Pythons

Savu Python

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by TomVickers

Pythons are highly valued by snake enthusiasts, but most become too large for the average household, and cannot be safely handled by young or inexperienced keepers. But in the early 1990’s a “big python in a small package” appeared in the pet trade, and its popularity has since soared. Averaging only 3 ½ to 4 ½ feet in length, the Save or White-Eyed Python (Liasis savuensis) is beautifully iridescent and calm in demeanor. And, with a natural range that spans a mere 60 square miles, this interesting snake is also important from a conservation perspective.



The Savu Python was first described in 1956, at which time it was classified as a one of three subspecies of the Macklot’s Python. Today, there is disagreement as to its species status, and many herpetologists continue to list it as Liasis mackloti savuensis.


Savu Python Description

The Savu Python’s outstanding features include brilliant iridescence and its noticeably-white eyes. Hatchlings are reddish-brown to rich orange in color. They undergo a radical color change with maturity, by which time most are dark brown and bear rusty-orange spots on the belly and sides. Some adults, however, are nearly black in coloration, while the scales of others retain an orange tinge.  Few adults exceed 5 feet in length, with most topping out at 3.5 – 4.5 feet; only 3-4 of the world’s 40 python species are as small.


Range and Habitat

The Savu Python is found only on the 10 mile x 6 mile Indonesian island of Sawu (also known as Savu), off Australia’s northwestern coast. It has the smallest natural range of any python.


Liasis mackloti savuensis

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by TimVickers

Although this snake’s natural history has not been well-studied, reports indicate that it is a habitat generalist. Savu Pythons have been found in wooded grasslands, palm thickets, thorn scrub, and along the ocean shore.


The Terrarium

Hatchlings may be started-off in 10 gallon aquariums. Adults can be accommodated in a 30-55 gallon aquarium. Screen tops must be secured with clips and a hide box should always be available.



Newspapers and washable terrarium liners may be used as a substrate. As some keepers have reported that Savu Pythons seem prone to mouth irritations and infections, those kept on cypress chips http://bitly.com/Plr8BA or similar substrates are best moved to bare-bottomed enclosures at feeding time.



Pythons do not require UVB light, but may benefit from the provision of a UVA bulb.



The ambient temperature should range from 75-84 F. Incandescent bulbs can be used to create a basking site of 90 F. Ceramic heaters or red/black reptile “night bulbs” may be employed to provide heat after dark. If needed, under-tank heaters http://bitly.com/SRpr5g can be used to further warm the basking surface.


Provide your snake with the largest home possible, so that a thermal gradient (areas of different temperatures) can be established. Thermal gradients, critical to good health, allow reptiles to regulate their body temperature by moving between hot and cooler areas.



Little is known about the diet of wild Savu Pythons, but they likely prey upon small mammals and, perhaps, ground-dwelling birds and lizards. Small food items, such as mice or rat pups, are preferable to large, even for adults. Except for females being readied for b breeding and growing youngsters, Savu Pythons are best fed every 14 days.


Water should always be available. Bowls should be filled to a point where they will not overflow when the snake curls up within.



Savu Pythons are typically calm in disposition, and generally tolerate gentle handling. Like all snakes, however, care must be exercised when working around them.



Breeding activity is stimulated by a 2-3 month period of reduced temperatures (72 F by night, 82-85 F by day) initiated in late autumn. Clutches generally contain 5-10 eggs, which may be incubated in moist vermiculite at 88-90 F for 55-65 days. Hatchlings average 11-14 inches in length.




Further Reading


Python Eats Crocodile: Giant Snake Meals


Green Tree Python Care and Natural History

Venomous Snake Identification: the Best Online Guide for US Species


Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Geoff Gallice

As the weather warms, snake identification requests are becoming more common on my blog. Of most concern to those unfamiliar with reptiles is the possibility of encountering venomous species. Often, a fleeting glance is all that has been had, and identification proves very difficult. So today I’d like to direct folks to some useful online and published resources that are useful to review before a snake is sighted as well as after. Of course, please continue to post your questions and observations as well…some species are quite distinctive, and other times the location of the sighting or certain behaviors can be used to narrow down the possibilities.


I’ve been involved with snake bite response efforts through the Bronx Zoo and other organizations for most of my working life, and have learned that, in the USA, most bites occur when people disturb snakes or keep venomous species as “pets”. Worldwide, the situation is different, with an astonishing number of people being bitten, often fatally, in the course of their daily activities (please see the article linked under “Further Reading”). Please heed the cautions provided below.


Note: The following information should not be used to determine if a snake is safe to handle or approach, nor should any other printed guideline. Aberrations in color or pattern, injuries, hybridization and other factors – including the very real possibility of escaped non-native “pets” – can render identification impossible to all but a well-seasoned expert. Concerning exotic escapees, bear in mind that we still have much to learn…and that two prominent herpetologists were killed by snakes thought to be relatively harmless! Also, please note that the flood of both accurate and outright ridiculous information on the internet sometimes inspires a feeling of false confidence in the inexperienced, and gives credence to the old saying “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”!


Coral Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The primary resources listed here are based on Florida’s venomous snakes. However, Florida is home to representatives of each type native to the USA, and the state’s museums and universities have a long history of fine educational efforts in this area. Specifics as to species found in other parts of the country will vary…please see the notes on field guides, and post below if you would like a guide to the species present in your state or region.


University of Florida Website

Prepared by the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Dealing with Snakes – IS IT VENOMOUS? provides a great overview of the 4 general types of venomous snakes found in the USA – copperheads, rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and coral snakes.   The most easily-recognizable characteristics of each are highlighted, which makes it simpler for inexperienced observers to decide whether a harmless or venomous snake has passed their way.


You can also view individual pages on each of Florida’s venomous snakes. These include additional characteristics, habitat notes, photos, range maps and other useful details.


Timber rattlesnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Rkillcrazy

Florida Museum of Natural History Website

The FMNH Snake Identification Key is based on the detailed identification tools used by professional herpetologists and serious snake-watchers. However, it has been modified to focus on color and pattern only – those characteristics that tend to catch the average observer’s attention, and which are easier to recall than finer details. Once you’ve eliminated characteristics that do not fit the snake you’ve seen, and have made a tentative identification, you can click on a photo and see if it matches your observation.


Using keys to identify a snake can be fun, and it’s easy to turn the process into a game that children will enjoy and benefit from.


Field Guides

I’ve relied on the Peterson Field Guides and their predecessors since childhood, and they remain the gold standard for on-site reptile and amphibian (and other animal) identifications. There is also a “first field guide” series and a wonderful field guide coloring book for children. Please check here for further information on these.



Further Reading

Venomous Snakebites: My experiences and a New Study


Black Mamba Memories 


Rattlesnake Overview

Your First Pet Snake: A Checklist of Things to Consider

Honduran Milksnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Haplochromis

Snakes are almost mainstream pets these days, but I still see evidence that many people jump into snake ownership without fully considering all that is involved. In the course of my work as a reptile keeper at the Bronx Zoo, and now as a consultant for ThatFishPlace-ThatPetPlace, I’ve come-up with a list of important points that, if considered beforehand, will greatly improve life for both snake and snake owner. As always, please be sure to post any questions, or additional factors that you have found to be important, below. Please also see the articles linked below for my “best pet snake” recommendations.


Captive-Bred vs. Wild Caught: This is much easier to check today than in years past. Snakes born in captivity do not drain wild populations, are less likely to harbor parasites or diseases, and are generally easier to handle than are their wild relatives.


Handle-ability and other Pet Qualities: Snakes will not seek human companionship…as legendary snake expert Bill Haast put it “You can have a snake for 30 years, but leave the cage open, and it’s gone – and it won’t come back unless you have a mouse in your mouth”! Snakes definitely adjust to captivity, and some species accept handling better than others, but they should not be expected to be “friendly”.


The “It Doesn’t Do Anything” Factor: Ideally, the new snake owner will be interested in her or his pet for its own sake. But we also wish to see how it lives, what it does, and so on. Most snakes, especially well-fed pets, are about as active as the infamous “pet rock”!   If you want motion, consider a small species that actively forages for its food, and keep it in a large, naturalistic terrarium. A pair of Garter Snakes in a well-planted 55 gallon tank will provide you with infinitely more to observe than will a Burmese Python in a large zoo exhibit.


Western Garter Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Steve Jurvetson

Costs of Owning A Snake: Your pet’s initial purchase price is but one part of the cost of snake ownership, which also includes electricity use, veterinary care (as expensive as dog/cat care), food, enclosure, and so on. With some planning, you can easily limit costs. A Garter Snake needs only a 20 gallon aquarium with (in winter) a low-wattage basking bulb, and a diet of minnows and earthworms…much less expensive than a 6 foot-long Boa Constrictor kept in a custom-made cage heated year-round with powerful bulbs and feeding upon pre-killed rats.


Veterinary Reptile Care: Reptile-experienced veterinarians are difficult to find in many regions. Trust me – it is a grave mistake to embark on snake ownership before locating a veterinarian, or to imagine that even the hardiest of species will not require medical care.  Please post below if you need assistance in finding a reptile-experienced veterinarian in your area.


Safety: All snakes, even the shyest and smallest, will bite when threatened, and they may react to scents, vibrations and other cues that we cannot perceive. Even minor bites should be treated by a doctor, to avoid infection, tetanus and other complications. Large constrictors have killed their owners and venomous species, which should never be kept, are regularly offered for sale. While easily managed with proper hygiene, Salmonella, which is generally carried by all reptiles, presents grave risks to certain people. Please see the article linked below and contact your doctor for advice.


Space: While snakes can make due with less space than many other creatures, you’ll see more of interest if your pet has ample room to move about. Be sure to research (feel free to post below) your snake’s ultimate size and typical growth rate. And please remember – zoos will not accept unwanted pets and, even if native, they cannot be released into the wild!


African House Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Purplegerbil

Time Commitment: Depending upon the species and size of your pet, its care can range from a short, more-or-less weekly job (Kenyan Sand Boa) to a major, near-daily chore (Indigo Snake). Long term care should also be considered – Corn Snakes and other popular pets regularly live into their teens and twenties, while Ball Pythons may exceed 30, 40 or even 50 years of age!


Diet: Not everyone (or everyone’s significant others!) can accept a pet that consumes dead rodents. Unfortunately, Smooth Green Snakes and other insect-eaters usually refuse crickets and other readily-available foods (canned silkworms may be a useful alternative). The fish-eating Water Garter and Ribbon Snakes are a good option for many folks.

Considering a snake purchase is an important decision. If you need more time to consider the aspects of owning a snake, print out the following abbreviated check list:

Captive-Bred vs. Wild Caught: Captives tend to be easier to give care
Handle-ability and other Pet Qualities: Don’t expect them to be “Friendly”
The “It Doesn’t Do Anything” Factor: Small active species vs. larger docile species
Cost: Initial Purchase Price vs. Price of Ownership
Veterinary Care: Do you have access to a local veterinarian with reptile experience?
Safety: Properly treating bites and Salmonella and avoiding dangerous and poisonous species
Space: Consider your pet’s ultimate size and growth rate
Time Commitment: Ranging from species that require weekly care to ones that require daily attention, along with respect to their lifespans that can reach as high as 50 years
Diet: Ability to handle or accept that many reptiles eat or require dead rodents



Further Reading

The Five Best Pet Snakes

The Best Small Snake Pet

Preventing Salmonella Infections


The Best Small Snake Pet? Suprise! The Brown Snake

Northern Brown Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Westportchickenboy

The first wild snake I encountered as a child, on a dead-end street in the Bronx, measured a mere 10 inches long. However, it excited me as much as did the huge anacondas and pythons I visited regularly at the Bronx and Staten Island Zoos, and the American Museum of Natural History. That particular Northern Brown or DeKay’s Snake (Storeria dekayi dekayi) escaped, but you can bet I searched nonstop until I found another! Happily, this adaptable little serpent continues to hang on in the most unlikely habitats…each year I receive several in need of rehab, collected in busy Manhattan neighborhoods. This overlooked snake has much to offer reptile enthusiasts. It can be comfortably-housed in a 10 gallon tank, does not eat rodents, and it’s the young are produced alive, eliminating the hassle of egg-incubation. Brown Snakes are ideal candidates for naturalistic terrariums stocked with live plants, and when kept so they will exhibit a wider range of natural behaviors than can be expected from large snakes – it’s just far easier to provide them with all that they need. As a career herpetologist, I’ve gone on to care for and observe in the wild the same huge snakes that entranced me so long ago…yet I still maintain Brown Snakes, and watch them in my yard at every opportunity.


Brown Snake Description

Slender and graceful, the Brown Snake averages a mere 9-13 inches in length, although exceptionally-large individuals may reach 20 inches. The largest I recall handling measured 14.5 inches.


Most are clad in various shades of brown (no surprises there!) or tan, but some individuals sport an attractive reddish or yellow hue. Brown Snakes are often confused with Garter Snakes, but may be distinguished by the two lines of black spots that run along their backs.


Range and Habitat

The Brown Snake is one of North America’s most widespread and common snakes. The seven subspecies range from southern Canada through much of the USA through Mexico to Guatemala.


Northern Brown Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Maberlyn

Equally at home in fields, swamps, forest edges or suburban yards, the Brown Snake’s secretive ways also allow it to survive in parks and overgrown lots in urban areas. It is often the first (and, in NYC, the only!) snake to be found and brought home by curious children.


In undisturbed habitats, it shelters below leaf litter, fallen logs and rocks. Big city Brown Snakes utilize old tires, boards, sheet metal and other rubbish as hiding sites, and often do very well if left alone. Not long ago, I uncovered a very dense population sandwiched between a busy commercial area and a major roadway in Queens, NYC. I was once called to a busy Bronx street to remove one that was uncovered when a stoop was being demolished. Given the nature of the area, this individual likely spent most of its life within the concrete channels of that stairway! Amazingly, I’ve also found Red-backed Salamanders living in similar situations.


The Terrarium

A single Brown Snake will do fine in a 10 gallon aquarium; a 20 gallon will support 2-3 adults. The tank’s screen lid should be secured by cage clips.


Unlike most snakes, Brown Snakes do not fare well on newspapers, or in bare enclosures. Their terrarium should instead be furnished with a mixture of a rainforest-type reptile substrate (i.e. Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding) and coco-husk; I like to add dead leaves as well. Many individuals will shelter below the substrate, but caves, bark slabs and cork bark should also be provided.


Pothos, Chinese Evergreens and other hardy plants, or naturalistic plastic plants, will help your snakes to feel comfortable. Once they settle in, you can expect to see a wide variety of behaviors.


Light, Heat and Humidity

Heat bulbs or ceramic heaters should be used to maintain an ambient temperature of 72-78 F and a basking temperature of 83-85 F.


Both humid and dry areas should be provided. A cave stocked with moist sphagnum moss makes an ideal moist retreat.


Although UVB light is not essential, some experienced keepers believe UVA exposure, and low levels of UVB, may be beneficial for other diurnal, insectivorous snakes. The Zoo Med 2.0 would be a good choice if you wish to experiment.


Brown Snake Breeding

Well-adjusted Brown Snakes often delight their owners by reproducing. Five to thirty young are born alive at various times from spring through fall. Measuring only 3 to 4 ½ inches in length, newborns might easily be mistaken for earthworms were it not for their alert demeanor. A short cooling off period and reduced light cycle may encourage breeding, but this does not seem essential.


Consuming salamander

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bdempster


The natural diet includes earthworms, beetle grubs, slugs, caterpillars and other soft-bodied invertebrates. In some habitats, Red-Backed Salamanders and the young of other woodland species, and small or newly-transformed frogs, are taken as well (please see photo). Pets do fine on a diet of earthworms, waxworms, calci-worms and butterworms; mealworm pupae, housefly larvae, and canned silkworms are accepted by some individuals. I also collect and offer cutworms and other smooth caterpillars, beetle grubs and slugs (please see articles linked below).


While vertebrate prey is not needed, some believe that insectivorous snakes should be provided with calcium supplements. I’ve not found this necessary for individuals kept on a varied diet anchored with well-fed earthworms. For snakes fed a more limited diet, a once weekly dose of ZooMed Repti-Calcium, or a similar product, might be useful.


Brown Snakes do best when fed several small weekly meals. Allowing earthworms and other invertebrates to establish themselves in the terrarium will provide your pets with hunting opportunities, and yourself with much of interest to observe.



Shy and always on guard (they are on the menus of a great many predators!) these little snakes can rarely even be induced to bite. Stressed individuals may release musk, but most take short periods of gentle handling in stride. However, they are lightly-built and are best considered as a poet to observe rather than handle frequently.



Further Reading


Collecting Insects for Captive Reptiles


Garter Snake Care


The 5 Best Snake Pets

The World’s Most Colorful Snake: 100 Flower Rat Snake Care

Mandarin Ratsnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Papas2010

Although various American ratsnakes have long been pet trade staples, Asian species have received far less attention from snake enthusiasts.  Among them, however, we find a fantastic diversity of colorful, interesting species, some of which are now being bred in captivity.  My favorite is the magnificent Moellendorff’s Ratsnake or 100 Flower Snake (Orthriophis moellendorffi).  It’s other common names – Red-Headed Ratsnake, Flower Snake and Trinket Snake – are a testament to its striking coloration.  Considered by many to be the most beautiful of all ratsnakes (“designer morphs” included!), Moellendorff’s Ratsnake care is now fairly well-understood…and it may well become the next “break-out” species from Asia!


Please Note: Unfortunately, I had difficulty finding photos that would reproduce well for this article.  The youngster pictured below is not as colorful as are many.  The other ratsnake species pictured here will give you some idea of the beautiful colors and variations exhibited by this fascinating group.  Please click here to view other photos of the 100 Flower Snake.


Juvenile100 Flower Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Etienne Boncourt


The Chinese name for this striking creature – 100 Flower Snake – seems to me to be the most appropriate of all.  A dazzling variety of blotches, which vary in color from rust-red to black, mark the body.  Areas of red or orange usually adorn the head, and re-appear along the lower third of the body.  The jet black eye is encircled by brilliant orange.


Individual 100 Flower Snakes exhibit a mind-boggling array of variations to this basic pattern…even, it seems, within the same geographic area.   In fact, breeders are generally unable to predict what the youngsters will look like!  Adults reach 5-8 feet in length.


Natural History

Field studies are, lacking, but over-collection for the food trade is said to have placed this snake in jeopardy.  As far as is known, the 100 Flower Snake is limited in range to southeastern China and northern Vietnam.


Copper-Headed Ratsnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by steve kharmawphlang

It is most frequently found in and near limestone caves on rocky hillsides, and among nearby bamboo thickets.  Lightly-wooded fields and riverside brush are also utilized. Hopefully, further studies will shed more light on its range, habits and conservation needs.


Scant published observations indicate that the 100 Flower Snake preys upon ground squirrels, rats, bats and other small mammals, birds and, perhaps, lizards and frogs.


The Terrarium

100 Flower Snakes seem stressed by small enclosures, and should be provided with proportionally larger accommodations than their American counterparts.  While a 55-75 gallon aquarium will suit small individual, larger adults are best provided custom-built cages measuring at least 6 x 4 x 4 feet.  Stout climbing branches should be provided.


Cypress mulch is preferable to newspapers as a substrate.


Heat and Humidity

100 Flower Snakes seem adapted to cool conditions, and fare best at temperatures that are relatively low by snake standards; wild individuals shelter in caves and forage in the early morning and evenings. An ambient temperature of 70-77 F should be established, along with a basking temperature of 78 F; a dip to 68 F at night may be beneficial.


Some keepers indicate that their snakes show a decided preference for subdued lighting.


Shedding difficulties often occur in overly-dry environments.  A humidity level of 50-60% is ideal, but dry basking areas must also be available.  A hygrometer and small reptile mister may be useful in maintaining proper humidity levels. The need for dry and moist areas and a varying temperature gradient argues in favor of providing this species with the largest possible enclosure.


A dry cave or other shelter, and another stocked with moist sphagnum moss, should be provided.



Despite their size, adults should be fed smaller meals than would be offered to similarly-sized individuals of other species.  Although we still have much to learn, it seems that adult rats may cause digestive problems.  Fuzzy rats (“hoppers”), rat pups and pink or fuzzy mice are often favored.  Some individuals prefer chicks, but usually accept chick-scented rodents.



Captive breeding is infrequent but on the rise…this trend will undoubtedly continue as more snake enthusiasts become aware of this beautiful snake.  A 2-3 month cooling off period at 58-62 F seems to stimulate breeding behavior. Clutches generally contain 5-8 eggs, which should be incubated at 80-82 F for 80-90 days.



Individual tolerance of handling varies almost as much as does their color pattern!  As with most snakes, wild-caught animals may remain defensive for quite some time.  It appears that the 100 Flower Snake is a retiring species that prefers to be left alone.  However, captive-bred individuals usually adjust well to careful handling.  As with all snakes, caution must be exercised when they are being fed or handled.



Further Reading


Natural History and Captive Care of the Taiwan Beauty Snake


Keeping Red-Tailed and Jansen’s Ratsnakes

Scroll To Top