The Humble House Snake – April 2013

By Jennifer Greene

An extremely underrated but fantastic pet snake to keep is the African House Snake.  There are several different species referred to as House Snakes that originate from Africa, with the most common in the US pet trade being Lamprophis fuliginosus..  As I said, there are numerous species which all can be called House Snakes, but my article will focus on the care for the most commonly available species, also referred to as the Brown House Snake.

This House Snake is comfortable in her owner’s hands

The Brown House Snake is a bit of a misnomer in that this highly variable snake can range in coloration from a dark brown, almost black color, to a golden brown and a wide selection of colors in-between.  Some of the more attractively colored varieties have red tones to them, and selective breeding has resulted in some extremely high red individuals.  All house snakes have a gorgeous iridescence to their scales, comparable to that of rainbow boas and sunbeam snakes.

Most also have a pale tan or gold stripe running along their eyes, which may or may not extend down the length of the body.  Due to the range of colors, it is extremely easy to selectively breed animals to create your own lines of attractive, captive bred house snakes.  In addition, albino snakes are available from time to time, and this one simple mutation combined with the multitude of naturally occurring variance in the species holds great promise for morphs in the future.

If you couldn’t guess from the name, African House Snakes originate from the continent of Africa.  They are one of the most widespread species of snakes found there, and range across the entire continent below the Saharan Desert.  Their common name comes from their habit of hanging around human dwellings, where they aid in rodent control.  Extremely adaptable, they are found in nearly every type of habitat in Africa, only eschewing outright desert areas.

This natural sturdiness is part of what makes them excellent beginner snakes, as they thrive in a wide range of conditions and will withstand nearly any mistake a beginner is likely to make.

House snakes do not get very large; while some females can reach lengths as great as 5 feet, it is much more common for them to remain under 4 feet as adults.  Males mature much smaller than females, often 2 – 2.5 feet in length, meaning that when you have mature, breeding adults they are clearly sexually dimorphic in size.

Fortunately, even large females remain slender, never needing feeders larger than an adult mouse.  House snakes are voracious feeders, and care must be taken to ensure your snake does not become too fat.

I have never seen a house snake turn down a meal, not even babies!  They will eat daily if you offer them food, but they do not need to eat any more often than every 5 to 7 days.  Don’t let those eager little faces fool you – these little piglets of snakes don’t need more food!

Due to their extreme sturdiness, they are among the easiest of species to keep.  Adults rarely need a cage larger than a Vision cage model V211, although a 20 gallon long (30” x 12” x 12”) is also a suitable size enclosure for most adults.

Babies can be kept in smaller enclosures, such as a 10 gallon tank or 12” x 12” x 12” front-opening terrarium. Setting up the enclosure is simple, and can be as plain or elaborate as you desire.  I prefer to use orchid bark as the substrate, as with occasional misting it holds enough water to allow for perfect, full sheds.  While House Snakes do not necessarily require excessive care taken with humidity, when they are entering a shed cycle it can be beneficial to provide them with a humid hide or to mist the enclosure daily until they have shed.  While they are not prone to respiratory infections at extremely low humidity levels (like some tropical species) they do seem to require an extra bump of humidity while preparing to shed.  Other acceptable substrates include shredded aspencypress mulch, and sani chips – all of which we have used here at LLL with success.  House Snakes are extremely adaptable, so as long as you can provide that humid hiding spot during shed cycles, use whichever bedding you like best!

Temperature requirements for the African House Snake are nothing extraordinary; simply provide them with a warm side or basking area of about 90 degrees, and a cool side of 80 degrees or lower.  Depending on your setup, you can utilize either a heat pad or a basking light to provide your snake with its preferred warm side temperature.  When using a basking light, I recommend either using a red bulb (which can be left on all the time) or a red bulb at night in combination with a daylight blue or basking bulb during the day.  For the best looking display, I highly recommend using a bulb during the day that produces a white light (such as the daylight or basking bulbs) to best view your snake.  Adding a 5.0 compact fluorescent is not necessary for your snake to grow and thrive, but it does highlight the beautiful rainbow iridescence of their scales when you display them in a nicely set up cage.  Make sure that at night, your snake has an alternate source of heat beyond the white light producing bulbs; they do best when provided with a dark period of time to sleep in.

Setting up the décor in the cage is a matter of personal preference.  Your House Snake needs at least 2 hiding places: one at the warm side and one at the cool side.  Brancheslogscork flatscork rounds, and bamboo hollows all make excellent climbing and hiding options for your snake.  You can also add fake caves or natural looking rock outcrops for a naturalistic appearance, but the plain and simple Black Hide Boxes work just as well.  I prefer to include foliage in the form of fake plants as well as a variety of branches and wood for the snakes to climb on for exercise.  Having a terrarium full of branches and decorations is not only aesthetically pleasing to us as keepers, but highly beneficial for the snake as well, providing cover and hiding places as well as exercise as they cruise through their cage.

Now that you have your snake all set up and a feeding schedule prepared, you get to enjoy the pleasure of handling and interacting with your pet!  While their feeding response can be quite strong (so make sure to wash your hands before picking yours up!), once they realize there isn’t anything edible to be had they are extremely mellow and laid back snakes.  They will leisurely cruise around when being handled, and often curl up around a wrist or neck to hang out and relax.  In my experience, they almost seem to enjoy regular interaction, thriving even when handled daily.

Not only are they a pleasure to handle, but they are extremely inquisitive and nosy, coming out to see what is happening around them when there are people in the room their cage is in.

With their extreme ease of care, solid and easy to engage feeding response, and entertaining personalities, I highly recommend African House Snakes as a great first pet snake.

They’re off the beaten path, and not nearly as common as Kingsnakes or Cornsnakes as pets, but that’s no reason for you to avoid keeping them yourself!

It is worth waiting for them to become available to get your hands on these cute little snakes, as they are not as consistently available as the other commonly kept pet snake species.  I hope reading this article has helped you to decide to try something other than the average pet snake, and to go out and find yourself an awesome little House Snake to keep as a pet!

Inside the Reptile Industry with Loren Leigh – April 2013

TANZANIA, UNSURPASSED AFRICA

THE LAND OF KILIMANJARO,ZANZIBAR AND THE SERENGETI

 by Loren Leigh

If there is one place that should be on the top of any field herper’s list it is Africa, but more specifically, Tanzania.  An amazing country officially known as the United Republic of Tanzania is located on the East Coast of Africa, south of Kenya, and the country’s shore lines are the Indian Ocean.   Tanzania has some of the most diverse wildlife on earth and on my visit here in 2005, along with friends Donald Schultz and Jeff Lemm, we saw it all.

Loren and Donald in an African village 

Tanzania is the world’s 31st-largest country.  It is mountainous in the northeast, where Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, is situated. To the north and west are the Great Lakes of Africa: Lake Victoria (Africa’s largest lake), Lake Tanganyika (the continent’s deepest lake), and to the southwest lies Lake Nyasa. Central Tanzania comprises a large plateau with plains and arable land. The eastern shore is hot and humid, with the island of Zanzibar lying just offshore.

Tanzania contains many large and ecologically significant wildlife parks, including the famous Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti National Park in the north, the Selous Game Reserve, Mikumi National Park in the south, and the Gombe National Park in the west.  The Gombe National Park was made famous as the site of Dr. Jane Goodall’s studies of chimpanzee behavior.

Black Spitting Cobra seen on the trip.

My adventure began in South Africa in December of 2005.  I meet friends Donald and Jeff, whom had already been herping in Northeastern South Africa, at the airport and we headed off to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  We arrived in the early evening and began organize our trip.  Time moves very slow in this region of Africa and in a country with power issues, bad phones, no computers getting a car organized and moving throughout the country can prove itself to be very difficult.

Mornings in this part of Africa start early with Mosques playing morning prayers at dawn all over this capitol, no need to bring alarms to this capitol.  But this was a delightful wake up call for us as we were off to make are way across the country.  I trip consisted of a Northwest course across the country from Dar es Salaam to Ngorongoro Crater, and along the way visiting Amani Forest Reserve (Usambara Mountains), Mount Meru, Mt Kilminjaro foothills, Arousha and finally the Ngorongoro crater conservation area.

Deremensis Chameleon

Our first stop was the Amani Forest Reserve.  There are many rare types of chameleon, lizards, snakes and amphibians within this reserve.  Our focus was Reptiles and on this leg of our trip we discovered African Giant Black Millipedes (Archispirostreptus gigas), Giant Land Snails (Achatina species), Gaboon Viper (Bitis gabonica), and Lots of Amani Forest (Big Eye) Tree Frogs (leptopelis vermiculatus).  This area is very lush sitting almost on the Equator and the frog diversity within just this park was truly amazing.

Loren and Donald with a Black Mamba

Our next stop was Mount Meru and Kilminjaro region.  We did not climb Kilminjaro this a trek in itself taking days and also time to acclimatize but spent our time around the region.  We started in Mt Meru.  On our way up to Mt Meru or guide got a call that a local village had a Black Spitting Cobra (Naja nigricollis)in their village.  Knowing we were on a herp expedition we were quick to go check it out.  In this Village we did have a opportunity to see this snake, and to the amazement of the local village people.  We spent a few days walking the river beds around this area looking for Black Mambas (Dendroaspis polylepis), no luck but did come across some Tanzanian Centipedes (Sometimes referred to as a Electric Blue Centipede) Scolopendra sp,  and some amazing Red Headed Rock Agama lizards (Agama agama).

Gaboon Viper

As we headed out Mt Meru our next stop was to visit a well known reptile keeper and wildlife park owned by Joseph Beraducci.  He, in his many years in Arusha,  has captive produced and assembled the largest collection of Tanzanian Chameleons, Lizards,  Tortoises and many other species.  Of my own particular interest was the amazing amount of Chameleons he was working with.  Rudis, Fishers, Jacksons, Taveta, Giant Monkey Tails, Dwarf just to name a few. 

Fischer’s Chameleon! 

The final leg of ourtrip was to Ngorongoro Crater to see the big game that is on display within the park.  No trip to Africa is complete without seeing Elephants, Lions, Cheetahs, and the many other exotic animals that can be found in the big game parks.  This particular park is unique in that these animals all reside within the caldera at 2000-4000 feet.  Once a volcano, it blew its top 2-3 million years ago and today has a population of approximately 25,000 large animals and has the highest density of mammalian predators in Africa.

Lion at Ngorongoro Crater

Africa is an amazing place, with the diversity of ethnic people, amazing food and most of all incredible sights and animals.  Our 1000 mile adventure was full of amazing times and will always be on the top of my list of places that are a must-see in the world.  Remember the hardest part of a herping adventure is to put it on the calendar and go for it, so get out there and see the amazing herpetofauna the world has to offer.

Loren and some Giant Land Snails

Can Snakes Hear? Sound Detection in Serpents – August 2013

by Jennifer Greene 
All photos by author unless otherwise noted

Can Snakes Hear?

If you keep one snake or one hundred snakes, chances are you have some opinion on whether or not your scaly friends can hear you.  Some keepers are aware that studies have shown that snakes can most certainly detect vibrations in the ground, helping them determine if there is prey or a potential predator nearby.  Snakes lack an outer ear, leading some to believe that snakes are completely deaf to airborne sounds.   While the lack of a visible external ear likely limits the snake’s ability to hear airborne sounds, they do have a system of hearing that includes an inner ear.  Their hearing system is, in its own way, both simpler and more complex than our own, and by no means is it out of the question that a snake can hear airborne sounds.   Mostreptile keepers have their own opinions and knowledge of the seeming simplicity of a snake’s hearing abilities, but the reality of their sense of hearing is that it involves a wider range of the sense than our own.  They may not be able to hear the range of audible frequencies that we can, but they can sense sound in a way that is alien to us.

Anecdotally, it is not difficult to find keepers that swear their snakes can hear them.  Walking through a reptile show and asking various reptile enthusiasts if their snakes can hear them will give you the full gamut of stories about the phenomenon.  You will hear everything from someone assuring you their snake knows its name and comes when it’s called to others, assuredly too professional and experienced for such nonsense, confidently assuring you that snakes are deaf and cannot hear a word you’re saying.

Studying snake hearing and being able to provide definitive proof one way or the other ultimately requires more than the average keeper’s call for supper or similar, haphazard and informal tests.  Older experimental methods tracked electrical activity in the brains of snakes in several families when sounds at various frequencies were played; a more recent (and less invasive) study looked at the reactions of one rattlesnake species to sounds played at various levels.  Interestingly, the older experiments show that snakes have two sensory systems that detect both sound and vibration, and note that while each system detects primarily one or the other, the range for each overlaps (Hartline 1970).

Before moving forward, a quick overview of sound and hearing may help you, the reader, to better understand how snakes are capable of hearing even without an external ear, and why it is relevant that a snake’s hearing includes both airborne sound and vibrations.  First, let’s look at sound:  sound is a pressure wave through a medium, caused by vibrations.  Everything vibrates slightly at a molecular level, however, those tiny vibrations are usually too quiet for us to hear.  What we usually perceive as sound to our ears is a sound wave within a certain frequency – a vibration happening at a certain speed through the air.

Human ears perceive sound within a specific range based on what the bones in our ears can pick up and then translate to vibrations within the deepest part of our inner ear.  The cochlea is the spiral tube within our ear, and the microscopic hairs within the cochlea pick up specific frequencies of sound – each hair correlating to a different frequency.  All of that translates to our ability to hear a wide range of audible sound, typically 20 to 20,000 hertz (the measurement of the specific frequency of a sound wave).  Snakes hear not just what we consider audible sound; their entire body acts as an organ to pick up vibrations – and their brain processes these vibrations in a similar part as audible sound, creating a sense of hearing considerably different than what we experience as mammals. (Hartline, 1970) It is not as wide as our own, but it is experienced in a much, much different way.

Continuing, if airborne sound such as speech is nothing more than vibrations in the air, it stands to reason that snakes may actually be able to hear it.  In fact, experiments show that snakes are capable of hearing airborne sound within the mid to lower ranges of normal human speech.  (Hartline 1970) While snakes are much more limited than humans and other mammals in their range of perceivable sound, they are capable of hearing sounds in the ranges of 150 Hz to 600 Hz. (Hartline 1970)

Human speech falls almost exactly within that range, even with wide variance in frequency due to age and/or gender.   Baby cries can be up to 500 Hz, while children’s voices are anywhere from 250 to 400 Hz, and men and women ranging from 125 to 200 Hz on average, respectively.  (www.ncvs.org)

With snakes having this almost alien method of picking up sound, and both of their sound detection systems overlapping in terms of detecting both airborne and physical vibrations, it makes it hard to conduct experiments to determine if snakes are not just perceiving airborne sounds but also capable of understanding and reacting to them.  A recent study has found that snakes can perceive and react to airborne sound by using a soundproof enclosure and a specially designed hanging basket to minimize vibrations from the surface.  Using the notoriously cranky Western Diamondback Rattlesnake as the test subjects, the experimenters found that 92% of the time, the snakes reacted in one or more ways to airborne sounds.  (Young and Aguiar, 2002)  Their testing methods were not able to determine if the snakes could identify the direction of the sound, but did conclusively show a reaction to purely airborne sounds.  Another study compliments this information with the observation that another crotalid species, the Saharan Sand Viper, utilizes its sense of vibration to determine the direction of an object that is causing sound, providing “evidence that snakes are capable of hearing, albeit, perhaps, in a unique sense of that term.” (Young and Morain, 2001)

All of this information culminates in the conclusive statement that YES, snakes can in fact hear airborne sounds in addition to sensing vibrations in solid objects.  Their sense of hearing, while limited in frequency, does encompass a wider range of potential stimuli to help a snake understand what is going on in its environment.  While they are not quite adapted to understand speech, the ringing of a dinnerbell, or similar acoustic triggers, they are capable of hearing that these things are taking place.  When considering if a snake’s lack of understanding that you are speaking to it makes it lacking in intelligence, do also consider that there is no reason for a snake to understand human speech.  Everything in its sensory arsenal is to identify what is happening around it, and help it to determine if there is prey, predator, or something to ignore happening around it.  A snake lives a much simpler life than the average mammal, and what they do with their complex array of senses reflects this.  Just because a snake doesn’t react to you talking doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t hear you; chances are, it just wasn’t something the snake considered worth reacting to.

Sources/Works Cited

Young, B.A. , Aguiar, A. (June 27th, 2002) Response of western diamond back rattlesnakesCrotalus atrox to airborne sounds
The Journal of Experimental Biology, 205, 3087 – 3092

Young, B.A., Morain, M. (December 10th, 2001) The use of ground-borne vibrations for prey localization in the Saharan sand viper (Cerastes)
The Journal of Experimental Biology, 205, 661-665

Hartline, P.H. (August 18th, 1970) Physiological Basis for Detection of Sound and Vibration in Snakes
The Journal of Experimental Biology, 54, 349-371

Factors Influencing Fundamental Frequency, retrieved July 18th, 2013 fromhttp://www.ncvs.org/ncvs/tutorials/voiceprod/tutorial/influence.html

The Basking Spot: Magnetic Ledges – April 2013

by Jennifer Greene

Magnetic Ledges

One of my favorite products for just about any cage is a magnetic ledge.  We carry a range of sizes, shapes, and textures that should suit nearly any cage type and style, and the lightweight foam material is easy to clean and maintain.  The magnets within them are extremely strong, which can be a bit difficult to pry off the packaging and/or cage, but the strength of the magnets is perfect for holding up to the weight of the average pet reptile.

The cork ledges are brown, and textured to look like a piece of cork bark or wood sticking out of the side of the cage.  Even if not using the ledges as a perch for your reptile, they can make it easy to prop up wood or other cage décor, creating ramps for your reptiles to climb on.

The fake rock ledges are nice and thick, and can be an excellent addition to desert terrariums.  The largest size fits an adult bearded dragon perfectly, and with the foam material that makes up the ledge, you don’t have to worry about the ledge heating up too much and burning your dragon.

In addition to plain ledges, there are also feeding ledges that have convenient niches built in to allow you to put disposable mealworm dishes into the ledge.

These come in two sizes, and make it extremely easy to offer your reptilesmealworms without the worms escaping into the bedding.  Elevating the mealworm cups can also make it easy to offer more arboreal reptiles a more varied diet, such as with pet chameleons.  A ledge ¾ of the way up the cage makes it easy for your chameleon to see its worms and hunt them down!

Magnetic ledges are an excellent addition to any cage, with a variety of colors and sizes to suit any need.  Definitely consider them to add perching sites and visual interest to your cage for any of your reptiles!