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Boa Constrictor

Common Name: Boa Constrictor

Latin name: Boa Constrictor

Native to: Mexico through South America, including the surrounding islands.

Size: Boa constrictors are a large snake, reaching lengths of 8 to 12 feet and weighing up to 30 to 60 pounds. Females tend to be larger than males.

Life span: If properly cared for boa constrictors usually live 20 to 30 years.

General appearance: Due to the vast variety of subspecies and different genetic morphs, exact description is difficult. Generally boas exhibit saddle like patterns running the length of the body to a red tail. Coloration can vary from grays to browns with younger snakes being lighter in color than adults.

Housing requirements:

Enclosure: Hatchling boa constrictors can be housed in a 20-gallon aquarium, but they will soon out grow this enclosure. Usually only custom-built cages are the only suitable enclosures for adult specimens. Cages should at a minimum be 8 feet long by 2 to 3 feet wide by 4 feet tall. When constructing cages it is important to not use unfinished wood or other porous materials since these are difficult to clean and can harbor disease.

Temperature: Daytime temperatures should be 80 to 85 F with a basking temperature of 95 F. Night time temperatures should be 75 to 80 F.

Heat/Light: Boa constrictors do well with a 12-hour photo period. This may need to be adjusted if you wish to breed. UV light is not necessarily needed. Ambient cage temperatures and basking spots can be maintained with the use of under-the-tank heaters, basking bulbs, or ceramic emitters. Be careful to not use large wattage bulbs greater than 100 watts or hot rocks because these may cause burns to the boa.

Substrate: Newspaper, indoor/outdoor carpeting, and shavings can all be used. Cedar is not to be used because it is toxic to animals. Aspen shavings can provide and excellent substrate. If using shavings or mulch, it is not recommended to feed on the substrate since ingestion of the shavings could cause impaction.

Environment: Hide boxes and limbs and shelves for climbing should be provided for climbing and basking. A large water dish suitable for soaking should also be provided with fresh water daily.

Diet: Appropriate sized small mammals should be offered. Young boa constrictors may be offered fuzzy mice, while large adults may be fed 3 adult rats or a small rabbit once every 2 to 3 weeks. Younger snakes should be offered food weekly to encourage proper growth.

Maintenance: The enclosure should be spot checked for feces daily. It is recommended to change the substrate and disinfect the enclosure with a 5% bleach solution on a regular basis. Be sure to rinse the enclosure thoroughly after cleaning with the bleach solution. Commercial cleansers like Lysol or Pine-Sol are not recommended because they may leave a residue that is toxic to the boa. It is always recommended to wash your hands thoroughly after handling the snake or cleaning the cage and cage accessories.



Common Name: Ball Python or Royal Python

Latin name: Python regius

Native to: Central and Western Africa

Size: Adult ball pythons average in size from three to five feet

Life span: Ball pythons are one of the longest-lived snakes. It is not unusual for these pythons to live 20 - 30 years in captivity. One specimen lived for 47 years at the Philadelphia Zoo.

General appearance: Ball pythons are named for their defense behavior of rolling into a tight ball with their head in the middle. Like all other pythons, ball pythons have spurs at their vents. There are many different color morphs and patterns available today in captive bred specimens. The "standard" ball python has large chocolate brown markings with lighter medium-brown spots interspersed between the darker spots. The belly is generally off-white or a pale gray.

Housing requirements:

Enclosure: Remember that all snakes are escape artists and when designing an enclosure it is of the utmost importance that whatever enclosure is used is made as escape-proof as possible. Generally an adult ball python should be kept is a 30-gallon sized enclosure (12 inches x 36 inches).

Temperature: Daytime temperatures should be maintained at 80 - 85 F with a basking temperature of 90 - 95 F. Nighttime temperatures should be 75 - 80 F.

Heat/Light: There has been no evidence to suggest that photo periods affect the keeping of ball pythons. If a regular photo period is provided it is recommended to use fluorescent bulbs in order to minimize the extra heat generated by incandescent bulbs.

When providing heat, do NOT use hot rocks. Hot rocks are notoriously unpredictable and can cause serious burn injuries to your animal. Red basking bulbs or ceramic emitters can be used to generate basking spots. Under the tank heating pads can also be used to help raise the ambient temperature of the enclosure. It is recommended to routinely check the temperatures of the enclosure with thermometers.

Substrate: Newspaper and newsprint make excellent substrate even though it is not very attractive. It is easy to clean and is excellent to use when acclimating new ball pythons to their enclosure. Wood shavings can also be used, though cedar should never be used and some pine can also cause health problems as well. Aspen shavings are usually an excellent choice if using wood shavings. If keeping the snake on wood shavings, care should be taken when feeding the snake to avoid shavings becoming lodged in the snake's mouth.

Environment: Like all snakes, ball pythons are strictly carnivorous. Adult ball pythons can be fed two to three adult mice per week. Hatchlings and juvenile animals can be fed one appropriately sized prey item per week (i.e fuzzies for hatchlings, hoppers for slightly older animals).

It is important to note here that ball pythons are notorious for not eating on a regular schedule. This is especially true of wild caught specimens. Whenever possible try to obtain captive bred snakes that have already fed to minimize problems eating. If your new ball python does not eat immediately it is important to not panic. Ball pythons have been known to go months without eating and there are records of ball pythons of not eating for 22 months. Often a variety of foods may need to be offered in order to get the snake to eat and often many will only eat live food. If you are experience difficulty getting your ball python to eat you may need to consult several more in-depth texts on the subject. One excellent resource is The Ball Python Manual (see references below).

Diet: Hatchlings can be started off feeding on pinkie mice. Juveniles and adults can gradually take larger prey of fuzzy mice, adult mice or young rats. Young snakes can be fed 1 - 2 times a week. Thawed frozen rodents are the easiest and safest way to feed snakes. A supply can be kept in your freezer and there are no problems from live mice biting your snake. Water should be provided in a bowl. The snake will drink from it and may soak itself before it sheds.

Maintenance: Fresh water should be offered daily. If using newsprint then clean as needed. Wood shavings should be spot cleaned as needed. Periodically, the enclosure should be disinfected. A 5% bleach solution makes an excellent disinfectant. Be sure to rinse the enclosure thoroughly after disinfecting. As always, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling your ball python or any cage accessories.





Native to: Southeastern Canada to northern South America

Size: From 6" to 28" for L. t. elapsoides, the Scarlet Kingsnake to 16" to 48" for L. t. gaigeae the Black Milk Snake and L. t. hondurensis, the Honduran Milk Snake.

Life span: 20+ years, average is 15 years.

General appearance: Milk snakes are represented by three general pattern types: tri-colored in which the snake possesses bold rings of white/yellow, black, and red/orange, which may or may not extend onto the belly and completely encircle the snake. The other commonly encountered pattern type for this species is that of a light tan, gray or cream background color with darker red, russet or brown dorsal and lateral blotches. The last pattern type belongs only to the black milk snake L. t. gaigeae. This snake starts out tri-colored but turns into a completely patternless black snake by two years of age.

Depending on the sub-species, milk snakes can be either heavy bodied (Pueblan, Black and Mexican) or slim (Sinaloan, Nelson's and Scarlet Kingsnake).

Housing requirements:

Enclosure: Milk snakes are secretive animals that prefer to conceal themselves. Because of their desire to squeeze into the tiniest of cracks and crevices, they are also born escape artists. Their enclosure should reflect these characteristics. The length of a milk snake's cage should be at least 2/3's of the snake's body length and should possess multiple hiding areas. Baby milk snakes will do well in either plastic shoe box containers or small glass aquaria, 2 to 5 gallons. Adults can be successfully maintained in 16" by 24" plastic sweater boxes or larger glass aquaria, 20 to 30-gallon long tanks. In all cases, the opening to the enclosure must be secure or the snake will escape.

Temperature: Being a temperate to a sub-tropical species, milk snakes will do well with daytime ambient air temperatures ranging from 78 to 82 F. The air temperature may be allowed to drop to 65 to 70 F. at night.

Unless they are being brumated (hibernated) milk snakes should always have access to warmer localized temperatures to aid in digestion, immune function and metabolism. These higher temperatures are most easily achieved by placing a heat pad underneath to 1/3 of the enclosure and either set to the low setting or adjusted with a rheostat (dimmer switch) and monitored to make sure it stays within the appropriate range of 84 - 88 F. This thermal gradient will allow the snake to choose the temperature that suits its immediate needs.

Heat/Light: Added light is not necessary if temperatures can be maintained within the desired ranges with a heat pad. Milk snakes are crepuscular, meaning they come out during the subdued lighting of dawn and dusk. They do not like bright light.

If lighting proves to be necessary in order to maintain adequate temperatures, keepers should either use blue, red or black colored lights to reduce the brightness within the tank. If no other option is available, low wattage incandescent "white" lights can be used as long as the snake has adequate hiding areas and the lights are turned off in the evening. As with the other heat sources, temperatures should be monitored with an accurate thermometer.

Substrate: Being secretive, milk snakes will thrive in particulate substrates that they can bury themselves in. Acceptable choices are pine and aspen shavings as well as cypress mulch for larger specimens. Other acceptable substrates include newspaper, butcher paper, paper towel and indoor - outdoor carpeting (astro-turf). Never use cedar shavings as they exude compounds that can be irritable to the snake's mucus membranes.

Environment: The enclosure of a milk snake should always be dry. It should contain multiple hiding areas and a sturdy bowl for drinking. Water should be changed at least once a week.

Diet: In nature, milk snakes feed on a number of small vertebrates, including frogs, small rodents, other snakes and lizards. In captivity, most milk snakes will eagerly feed on domestically bred, pre-killed mice. Snakes should be well started on rodents prior to sale in a retail outlet. Never feed your milk snake foods procured from the wild, as they will transmit harmful internal parasites. As the snake grows it should be given proportionately larger food items. Babies with start on pre-killed pink mice, while adults of most sub-species can handle pre-killed sub-adult mice. A good rule of thumb when feeding any captive snake is that the food item should not be larger than 1 times the girth of the snake at its widest point.

Maintenance: If kept in a dry cage with a sturdy water bowl, milk snakes can be very easy to maintain. The cage should be spot cleaned for feces daily if particulate substrates are used (mulch, shavings etc.) If paper substrates are used they should also be changed as they are soiled. The entire cage should be cleaned with an antibacterial dish detergent at least monthly. As stated earlier, the water bowl should be disinfected with antibacterial soap and changed at least weekly.





Common Name: Corn Snake, Red Rat Snake

Latin name: Elaphe guttata guttata

Native to: Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States (from the Pine Barrens of New Jersey to the upper Keys of Florida).

Size: Hatchling corn snakes range in size from 9 - 14 inches in length. Adult corn snakes reach anywhere from 2 to five feet. Males tend to achieve a larger size than females.

Life span: 12 - 15 years, the captive record is 21 years.

General appearance: Corn snakes are a slender snake with black bordered, irregular red or rust colored dorsal blotches. Background color can range from brilliant orange to silvery gray. The belly is white with a black checkerboard pattern. The body scales are smooth to weakly keeled and the sub-caudal scales are divided.

*Note - because of the trend to strive for odd color and pattern morphs in captivity, many strains of captive produced corn snakes vary in appearance from the above described traits. For example, blood red corns lack the checkerboard ventral pattern and striped corns possess dorsal stripes instead of blotches.

Housing requirements:

Enclosure: From a 12" x 6" plastic "shoe box" or five gallon tank for hatchlings and juveniles to a 16" x 24" "sweater box" or 30 gallon fish tank for adults.

Temperature: Ambient air temperature should range between 78 - 82F during the day and may drop to 65 - 70F at night. Temperatures at the basking area should provide the snake with a constant hot spot of 85 - 90F.

*Note - Many sub-adult and adult corn snakes will voluntarily cease feeding during the cool winter months. This coincides with their natural winter dormant period. If the snake refuses food for two to three weeks during the winter and appears otherwise healthy, the temperature in the enclosure may be allowed to drop to the mid 60's F for one to three months. If breeding is desired, this dormant period appears to increase fertile egg production.

Heat/Light: As stated earlier, corn snakes require a supplemental hot spot to adequately digest food and remain active. They should be provided with a heat pad or overhead incandescent light that will provide an area of about 1/3 of the enclosure that achieves a temperature of 85 - 90 F. Hot rocks are unstable and often get far too hot, therefore unless they are connected to a rheostat, which will control the temperature, they are not recommended.

Substrate: Newspaper, butcher paper, paper towel, indoor/outdoor carpeting, aspen shavings and cypress mulch (for larger individuals). Avoid any cedar based wood shavings, as they exude irritating and possibly toxic vapors.

Environment: Natural open wood and grasslands. Common around farms where this species helps to control potentially damaging rodent populations. In captivity, corn snakes should be provided with a warm, dry enclosure and should always have clean, fresh water provided in an easily accessible bowl. Animals will become stressed if they are not provided with a shelter where they can conceal themselves from view.

Diet: Corn snakes of all ages will feed on captive produced laboratory rodents (mice and rats). It is highly recommended that keepers feed their animals only humanely pre-killed food items to eliminate the risk of injury to the snake from the bite of a rat or mouse and prevent unnecessary suffering of the food animal. Never leave live rodents with snakes unattended. If live food is offered and not eaten within 30 minutes, remove it. Never feed captive snakes food procured from the wild. Wild animals possess potentially harmful internal parasites that can build up to debilitating numbers in captivity. Baby corn snakes should be voluntarily feeding on pink or fuzzy mice prior to their sale in a retail outlet. As they grow corn snakes should be fed appropriately larger food items. A good rule of thumb for feeding all captive snakes is that the food item should not be larger than 1 and times the girth of the snake at its thickest point. Adult corn snakes can be adequately maintained on 2 to 3 adult mice or one small rat a week.

Maintenance: Enclosures should be spot checked for fecal matter daily. It is recommended that carpet substrates be removed and washed at least weekly. Paper substrates should also be changed weekly. If conscientiously spot cleaned, wood based substrates can be replaced every 2 to 3 weeks. Water bowls should be cleaned and replaced at least weekly and any uneaten dead food should be removed after 2 - 3 hours.



Bearded Dragon

Common Name: Bearded Dragon

Latin name: Pogona vitticeps

Native to: Australia

Size: 6 - 24 inches

Life span: 5 - 15 years

General appearance: Medium sized lizard with a large triangular shaped bead, flattened body and a tail measuring half the length of the animal. Gray, brown or reddish brown color with small spiny scales covering the body with longer scales from the back of the head. When threatened a bearded dragon will puff out its throat resembling a spiky beard. There are many different designer phases of bearded dragons available that can produce different coloration

Housing requirements:

Enclosure: Hatchling bearded dragons can be kept in a 20-gallon aquarium for a few months. Adult bearded dragons will need a 50-gallon aquarium or larger sized cage if more than one bearded dragon is housed. Branches and rocks are needed for climbing and basking. A screen top is needed for ventilation. Do not house two adult male bearded dragons together. You can also use a screened enclosure or custom built enclosure.

Temperature: Day: 80 - 85 F.
Night: 68 - 75 F
Basking: 95 - 105 F.

A heat lamp should be positioned over one end of the tank to produce the basking spot. Use thermometers or temperature gun to measure temperature.

Heat/Light: Incandescent bulbs, ceramic emitter, or heat panels can be used for the basking spot. Full spectrum lighting should be provided using one of the fluorescent bulbs made for reptiles that produce both UVA and UVB wavelengths. A mercury vapor bulb which provides heat and light may also be used. Twelve hours of daylight can be provided through the use of timers.

Substrate: Caribbean play sand is cheap, fairly easy to clean and creates a desert looking environment. However, use caution with hatchlings as some people feel it may cause impaction. Newspaper, Astroturf, paper towels, alfalfa pellets, and vitamin sand can also be used.

Environment: Desert habitat

Diet: Bearded dragons are omnivores. They need both animal and plant material in their diet. Crickets, locusts, cockroaches, mealworms, wax worms, silkworms, butter worms, red worms, earthworms, super worms with an occasional pinky will all be relished by your bearded dragon. You should use caution NOT to feed fireflys as they are toxic to Bearded Dragons. Vegetables that you can offer included greens (turnip, kale, romaine, dandelion, endive, escarole, mustard, and collard), green beans, squash, peas, sweet potato, chicory, watercress, red bell pepper, and cilantro. Fruits can be offered about 1-2 time a week (too much can cause diarrhea) such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cantaloupe, mango, kiwi, and grapes. Commercially made food is also available for your bearded dragon. Fresh water should always be provided. Some bearded dragons like to be misted and lap up the water that way. Powdered vitamin/mineral supplement may be offered 1-2 times a week.

Maintenance: Fresh water should be offered daily. If using newsprint then clean as needed. Wood shavings should be spot cleaned as needed. Periodically, the enclosure should be disinfected. A 5% bleach solution makes an excellent disinfectant. Be sure to rinse the enclosure thoroughly after disinfecting. As always, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling your bearded dragon or any cage accessories.