If a herper is involved with snakes long enough, sooner or later he or she will find themselves keeping a species that is very reluctant to feed as a hatchling. Whether it be Mountain Kings, Greybands or some other variety of picky serpent, it is a very stressful and trying experience for even the most dedicated keepers. I recently found myself to be the proud poppa of a large clutch of Yellow Tail Cribo hatchlings (Drymarchon corais corais). Having raised other subspecies of Drymarchon such as the Eastern Indigo (D. c. couperi) and Texas Indigos (D. c. erebennus) I didn’t think the YT’s would be any problem. First mistake! Never assume anything when dealing with hatchlings, especially Drymarchon.
About ten days or so after hatching, the beautiful little babies went through their first shed and I figured at least half would be ready to take their first meal. Imagine my disappointment when only one out of twenty babies took a frozen thawed pink. After several weeks of continued failure and wasting pinks, I tried a few live pinks. This met with the same failure rate. It was time to break out the bag of tricks. The following is a synopsis of the different methods applied to trick the young into feeding.
First up was the old flopping goldfish trick. Most Eastern Indigos’ first meal consists of a cold-blooded fish, so there was no reason to think their distant relative would be any different. Preparing for the onslaught of feeding frenzy, I placed each hatchling in its own small, opaque deli cup with a nice, plump flopping goldfish. After an hour or so, I checked back and once again was amazed that none of the snakes had eaten. Fine, I can deal with that, I’ll outlast them I thought. I waited another five days and tried the same method. Nothing. Five more days ....... nothing. Okay, so they don’t like fish.
Second trick up the sleeve was a dead snake I had in the freezer. (Doesn’t every herper keep an assortment of dead critters in their freezer?) I cut up parts of its tail and scented a couple of frozen thawed pinks with the blood, then even wrapped the skin around another pink and placed them in the deli cups again. Nothing.
This was getting frustrating ......
Third trick was scenting with an assortment of other cold blooded animals I either found or had. For the next several weeks I rubbed dead pinks on toads, tree frogs, and even a bearded dragon. Nothing, nothing and nothing! Now it was about two and a half months since hatching and I only had one baby feeding. This was getting beyond frustrating, not to mention the fact that I was acting like an insane person, rubbing dead pinks on anything that walked crawled or hopped.
After speaking with some other keepers and brainstorming with Dean Alessandrini, I thought I’d try some invertebrate scenting. I tried cricket guts on a pink, crickets by themselves, mealworms, even a nightcrawler. Nothing again. This was really beginning to bruise my ego.
Refusing to give in, I tried scenting frozen thawed pinks with dead chicks. I split the chicks and dipped the pinks in some of the viscera exposed, and placed them all in their little deli cups once more. After a very long and suspenseful two hours, I checked the cups and ...
Eureka!.......five babies had eaten! Only fourteen more to go.
In a very fortunate twist of fate, I just happened to be visiting Jim Harrison’s Kentucky Reptile Zoo one weekend and discussed the matter with him. Jim suggested the cribo’s were probably lizard feeders and that I try some baby leopard geckoes he had sitting in his freezer. (I told you all true herpers keep frozen critters in their freezer). I anxiously returned home clutching my bag of frozen lizards like a child with a newly prized possession. No sooner had I gotten home when I tried placing thawed geckos in deli cups with several of the snakes. SUCCESS! All but three of the remaining snakes fed!
For the next several weeks, I tried some more suggestions, including smearing frozen thawed pinks with fish oil, but no tricks seemed to work on the three unfeeding snakes and they eventually succumbed, even after force feeding them pinky heads. I tried to justify my failure by thinking that perhaps even in nature, these animals would not have survived due to some possible imperfection in their make-up, but it was still a disheartening experience.
Finally, after several months of scenting pinks with lizard and chick viscera, I am happy to report that all the hatchlings are now eating unscented frozen thawed fuzzies. There are many ways to trick stubborn hatchlings into feeding. Finding the right food item and scent can be a long tedious procedure, but it is just step that must be taken in successful herpetoculture.
- Thanks to the author and The GREATER CINCINNATI HERPETOLOGICAL SOCIETY for allowing us to reprint this article which was originally published in their newsletter The Forked Tongue in December 2003.