Venomous Reptiles and the Private Keeper

Venomous reptiles and the private keeper

(Photo courtesy: Beanie Villermin) Photo demonstrates a "lock-box" which is a safe method of containing this black mamba inside of its enclosure

(Photo courtesy: Beanie Villermin)
Photo demonstrates a “lock-box” which is a safe method of containing this black mamba inside of its enclosure

A very “hot” topic in the world of reptile keepers, are the captive husbandry and collection of venomous reptiles by the private sector. As more and more regulation of the private sector continues to emerge, venomous reptile keepers tend to be almost always first to be added to the chopping block. Let’s face facts, even of those of the general public who are okay with non-venomous reptiles, venomous reptiles tend to still create some unease. The reason for this is simple…many venomous reptiles are capable of delivering a single bite, which can result in death of the recipient. That thought process creates a deep-seated fear in many people, which results in theirwillingness to support bans of their private possession. In their minds, it only makes sense. However, these individuals fail to understand the whole picture. Their fear enables them to only look at the scenario with a narrow scope of vision.

It must be said, first and foremost, that private keeping of venomous reptiles should not be a decision to be taken lightly by anyone considering the task. It requires at the very least, advanced knowledge of reptile husbandry and handling to adequately prepare you for the behavior of the venomous reptile in question. In addition to the prerequisite experience, it also requires access to proper tools (hooks, tongs, shields, and securely lockable caging), secure building/room as a secondary barrier to prevent escape, and a contingency plan for the unfortunate event of getting bit. Part of that contingency plan means knowing which hospital carries the antivenom for the species you’re keeping, as well as having access to a proper bite treatment protocol drafted by a medical professional well versed in toxicology and animal venoms.

While the above listed necessities of venomous reptile keepers don’t necessarily come easily or quickly to everyone, there are those who CAN and DO possess them. Of course, this brings those who do not have said experience or even an interest, to question why someone would want to keep venomous reptiles in the first place. The answer to that is likely a little different for everyone. While it comes as no surprise that there are some who jump into keeping venomous reptiles for the “thrill”, there are many who truly have an intense interest and appreciation for them. For some, a snake is a snake. For others, venomous reptiles represent a new level of beauty and biological genius. However, there’s another element to be considered.

Venoms of different organisms from around the globe have been found to provide a number of medicinal benefits. For instance, a protein found in the venom of the Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius barbouri), has been used for well over a decade in a heart attack response medication known as Eptifibatide. This is far from being the only example, but the point remains that venoms have proven effective in treating a fairly sizeable number of human afflictions. The question that now begs to be answered is, how does one come across acquiring venom to use in medical research? Well, that’s where all of the “oddballs” who enjoy keeping and working with venomous reptiles come into play. Many think that zoos would be the primary contributors for this purpose. The truth of the matter is that most zoos do not have wide enough species availability nor the quantity needed in order to provide sufficient venom quantities to laboratories. The focus of zoos are for species conservation and research. Aside from a sample from a rare species, they do not have the manpower, housing space or the desire to subject their keepers to the risk of being bitten for this line of work.  The researchers themselves rarely house specimens of their own, as most of them are purely researchers and are not well versed or experienced in either reptile husbandry or safe venomous reptile handling.

While it’s true that not all venomous reptile keepers help provide venom to laboratories (that requires a whole new level of housing facility and equipment), many do still provide captive bred specimens to some of these milking facilities. Some of these facilities breed their own as well, but where do you expect that these individuals gained the experience and knowledge of captive production of these animals, had they not been able to work with them on a private basis?  There are no colleges that teach venomous reptile husbandry and handling. While there are some training courses sparingly available, most of them are operated by private keepers with many years of experience and the facilities to maintain them. Some zoological institutions may send their employees to professional seminars designed to teach venomous reptile handling and safety, yet these only serve zoo purposes which as we stated above usually don’t contribute a great deal to medical science in regards to large quantities of venom.

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Photo courtesy of Tim Cole of Austin Reptile Service displaying proper caging standards of venomous reptiles.

Again, we are back to the private keeper. No industry is perfect. Mistakes can be made, but for the majority of venomous reptile keepers, their responsibilities are taken seriously and precautions are taken to ensure that their charges are maintained as safely and professional as humanly possible. Venomous reptiles do not have any magical powers. They’re not really capable of any amazing feats that others snakes aren’t capable of. They don’t teleport, they don’t breathe fire and they won’t huff and puff and blow your house down. They can still be maintained securely using many of the same cages that non-venomous reptiles can. However, as a safety precaution, venomous reptile keeps keep their charges in LOCKED cages so that only they may have access to them and the enclosures are built from solid, not easily broken materials to ensure the animal cannot exploit weaknesses in the structure to escape.

Just as you would very angrily protest being banned from driving your automobile due to the actions of another driver, banning responsible private venomous reptile keepers due to the actions of a couple irresponsible keepers is wrong.  The responsible keepers may very well help contribute to ensuring that your loved ones may receive access to a life-saving medication that their animals may help to develop. Again, we don’t encourage rushing into keeping venomous reptiles for the average keeper.  In the wrong hands, they can be dangerous…but primarily to the keeper themselves. In the right hands, they can be valuable and life-saving animals. Do you want to be the person who decides that the next potential person providing valuable to medical research laboratories is not fit to keep these animals because of your personal fear? Is it worth it to potentially impact the future of medical science, simply because others don’t have the same appreciation for these animals as another? That is truly what this boils down to. While we make no claim that everyone involved in keeping venomous reptiles does so because of their interest in venom production, it is not our place to make that judgment call. Those who make mistakes and put others at risk should be held accountable, no different than if they had performed the deed themselves. Until that time, freedom should always win.

As a recap, these are the measures taken by any responsible venomous reptile keeper:

  • Secure, escape proof room or building that is locked to prevent access to people who shouldn’t have access.
  • Each enclosure containing a venomous reptile should have signage stating that a venomous reptile is contained within the enclosure and what species it is. Also, the type of antivenom used for treatment is a recommended thing to include on the information tag.
  • Each handler should have a secondary containment system for housing the animals while they perform enclosure maintenance (cleaning, providing fresh water, changing heat bulbs, etc.) that is escape proof and easy to manipulate the animal in. A lock-top trash can works fine and is commonly used in AZA accredited zoological institutions.
  • The keeper should have knowledge of where their closest source of antivenom for the species they are keeping is located, as well as a bite treatment protocol designed for the individual species in question. Sometimes, these treatments and antivenoms used can be “polyvalents” which treat multiple species. Much like Crofab does for native US rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and copperheads.

For an idea of what actual venom extraction laboratories do, check out two of the largest extraction laboratories in the nation: The Kentucky Reptile Zoo in Slade, KY and the Reptile Discovery Center in DeLand, FL.

A response to, “The snake lobby defends your right to own a spitting cobra”

Cleopatra image 1050x350

 

In an article written by David Fleshler (reporter for the long-known, heavily biased, Sun-sentinel news) on December 7th, 2015, titled “The snake lobby defends your right to own a spitting cobra” there have been yet another long list of exaggerations, blatant lies, and intentional manipulations of interview responses.  Of course, we certainly don’t expect much different, but the inaccuracies and lies within this article should be addressed so that those who don’t wish to simply base their opinions off of one source of information have the ability to have a balanced perspective.

First issue to consider, is why are we captive producing reptiles in the first place? Truthfully, captive breeding science has intrigued many who have ventured into reptile keeping. Many species are quite difficult to produce in a captive setting. It’s not the same as cats and dogs, going into heat and then just feeling compelled to “do the deed”. For many species, there are times of year that must be calculated, temperature fluctuations, misting at specific intervals, day/night cycle adjustments and more that have to be considered in order to induce mating behavior in a wide range of species. As such, proponents for restrictive legislation making claims against unnatural housing conditions begin to fall apart for this very reason. In order to successfully get these animals to breed, they must be of the proper age and weight, as well as given the proper environmental conditions in order to induce mating behavior. Weight is a vitally important part of the equation as it ensures the proper health of the female so that she can ensure a healthy, viable litter/clutch. You only get an animal up to proper weight if they are eating sufficiently, and they only eat sufficiently if they feel secure and content in their captive surroundings. Animals that are not content, usually refuse to eat at all or will eat sparingly. Females subjected to these conditions will often times refuse to breed or, if they do pair, will retain sperm until laying conditions are ideal. Remember, breeding is a very metabolically expensive activity for any animal.

The animals used in educational outreach would not be possible without the hard work of reptile breeders for healthy, quality animals.

The animals used in educational outreach would not be possible without the hard work of reptile breeders for healthy, quality animals.

The next issue to factor in is regarding the “stacked housing” concerns. Many reptile breeders use what are called “racks” in which thick, plastic containers are stored in a sliding system which make for easier and quicker maintenance of their charges. Further, this also helps to maintain more sanitary conditions and quicker cleaning capability when maintaining a larger number of animals. Each compartment is equipped with water source, bedding, and usually a hide box of some assortment. In the wild, despite all of the pretty scenery in which these animals have practically zero appreciation for, that is their primary concern. Shelter, food, water and temperature control are their specific needs and essentially what their biological functions allow for. Reptiles are the ultimate of the energy conservationists. They eat sparingly in the wild compared to most mammals, they move into the open only at times when they need to in order to adjust their body temperature, eat, drink, or mate. The remainder of their time is spent hidden, as they most commonly fall prey to larger predators. One only needs to spend some time in the field studying these animals to see how they normally behave in the wild. Their activity is very calculated and only when necessary.

In a captive setting, simpler setups may not be pretty, but they are functional. They ensure that cleaning is quicker and more efficient, and allow keepers to better track their daily activities. If you compare housing conditions for these animals compared to the chicken that most of you put on your plates for your family to consume…they are living quite well. They aren’t overstocked together (nor should they be) and they are not (and should not) be subjected to walking around in excessive bodily waste and places where the keeper has to wear a respirator just to service them unlike factory farm workers do with your food. Responsible keepers ensure that they have their own enclosure, are given their own food and water source, as well as their own hide source. They only share those environments when breeding is set to occur. Once breeding is completed, they are again given their own space.

The buildings or rooms where the animals are kept are maintained at a specific base temperature to ensure that all of the charges within the facility/room are given the correct temperature ranges so that they may thermoregulate (adjust their body temperature as needed) with the help of additional heat sources specifically given to the individual animal in question. These heat sources are usually overhead heat lamps or underbelly heating pads so they may lay on a warmer portion of their enclosure. Again, keepers are mimicking the exact behaviors that they would use in the wild. Further, the drawer systems (racks) used for these animals provide a much needed sense of security as multiple sides are blocked in around them. This is essential for the psychological wellbeing of the animals, and certain species cannot be kept in captivity without this need fulfilled. This is also especially helpful when rearing newborns since this sense of security is imperative to ensuring they are started in life properly and eat their first meals sooner.

Another issue brought up are the safety concerns of keeping such reptiles as large constricting snakes and venomous snakes. Not every type of animal is good for every keeper. This is just common knowledge. Just as a certain breeds of dogs aren’t necessarily a good fit for some owners, nor is a large and powerful constrictor or venomous snake. Another example of this is with horses.  A horse may not be necessarily a good animal to own for just anyone. However, for the person with the knowledge, space, and experience, a horse is absolutely wonderful to have. Horses are large, powerful animals which have taken many human lives annually and most of them had no malicious intent when doing so. It was just mere reaction to something they didn’t like which carried with it deadly consequences for the owner/rider. Additionally, each day we get into our motor vehicles, which claimed over 32,000 lives in 2014. Yet we do so without thinking twice about our personal safety. Owning and driving a motor vehicle come with inherent risks that we willingly accept every time we sit in the driver’s seat. While there are motorists who take every precaution, you can’t always control what other drivers will do and responsible drivers are not held accountable for the reckless actions of a few. Owning a large snake, venomous snake, or any snake is no different. How can most people be comfortable with driving a motor vehicle, but consider snake ownership a safety concern?

“…dogs and cats have been bred over millennia to be our friends. Pythons have not, as several surprised snake owners realized in their final moments. Dogs need us. Pythons don’t.”

The above is a direct quote from the article, driving hard at making a point…and failing miserably. It’s correct, that dogs and cats have been bred for many years by people in an effort to make them more personable as pets and companions. Yet that hasn’t stopped 38 dogs from killing people in 2012 (latest statistic available at this time) and yet nobody thinks twice about getting a puppy for their kid for Christmas. We also don’t encourage anyone to NOT consider purchasing a dog. Dogs are great. But they are animals and have the potential to bite if not conditioned correctly by the owner. Dogs and cats have personalities, and their conditioning while they are raised can very well be an influence as to their ability to be suitable as your pet. Snakes on the other hand, are instinctual. Keepers know what they’re capable of and can handle them accordingly.  As such, for the RIGHT owner, they make a much more reliable or manageable pet than a dog. Add to that the reduced concerns for dander allergies and they simply are a much better choice in some respects. Further, the average snake bite (from a non-venomous snake) is MUCH less damaging than the bite from even some small breed dogs. Cat bites are notorious for resulting in severe infections. This doesn’t even include the damage that can result from their claws.

Cat bites quite often result in serious infection and requiring medical treatment, even when cleaned out at home. (Image courtesy of Google Images)

Cat bites quite often result in serious infection and requiring medical treatment, even when cleaned out at home.
(Image courtesy of Google Images)

Venomous reptiles are in a league of their own. Yes, the inherent risks of keeping venomous reptiles are much greater than most non-venomous reptiles. However, this doesn’t make them any less reasonable for the right keeper than others. Every day human lives are saved with the use of medicines that were developed using the venom of reptiles and other creatures. Venom doesn’t just grow itself inside of test tubes for scientific study. It must be extracted and it requires experienced and skilled venomous reptile keepers and handlers to do that. Zoos do not offer this service in most cases and even when they do, they have limited numbers to work with. Venomous reptile breeders are the primary source of venom production and while there are specific labs in which the extractions take place, the species variability often comes from the private breeding sector. With that being said, we certainly do not recommend anyone to just jump into keeping venomous reptiles.  Those considering venomous reptile husbandry should ensure that they have proper containment, secondary containment and an escape proof room in which to ensure that they never escape the facility premises. Beyond that, all other risk is to the keeper themselves which is the business of them and them alone.

Issues are often raised about the food sources for reptiles, which in most cases are rodents. Claims are made that they are housed in large numbers with cramped conditions. While this may happen from time to time, again we get to compare this to chickens and cattle which are housed for the purpose of human consumption. Yet, we don’t see too many regulations being passed to ban factory farming for poultry or beef. Further, as opposed to chickens and cattle, rodents live naturally in colonies, many times which can be quite sizeable in numbers. The large numbers that the rodents are housed in are only temporary as the rodents are culled (ideally in the most humane manner possible) and then packaged and frozen for sale. Every single carnivorous animal, in most cases and ourselves included, ingests meat that was harvested in a very similar manner. Yet when rodents are maintained in the same manner (if not arguably better) it becomes an issue.

Rodent breeding racks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, all with the same principle in mind. Rodents are fed a high quality diet developed specifically for rodents with a steady supply of fresh water at all times.

Rodent breeding racks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, all with the same principle in mind. Rodents are fed a high quality diet developed specifically for rodents with a steady supply of fresh water at all times. (Photo courtesy of Freedom Breeder)

The above is written to help the reader to understand the methods to the “madness” of keeping reptiles as reporters most often fail at trying to help their readers see both sides of the story while working to paint a picture of their own personal biases. While this article does not address all points, for further information you are welcomed to read our other articles here to help you better understand the many misconceptions of reptile keepers and the reptile industry. We will not lie and state that there have not been and will not be bad actors in our industry which paint all of us in a negative light. However, they are the exception and not the rule. Our community strives to improve standards of keeping and maintaining these animals as better science and practices continue to surface and we will continue to do so.

The Value of Reptiles as Pets

The Value of Reptiles as Pets

By BioFauna Exotics- Chris Law & Abby Malvestuto

You can download a PDF version of this article HERE 

There was a time in this Country when the idea of owning reptiles, especially snakes, would have resulted in being viewed as “weird”, associated with witchcraft, satanic rituals and a myriad of other things. Historically, folklore, religious writings, and other texts have been a vehicle for false information which fuel the distaste of these animals for the common person. In some respects, Hollywood is much to thank for this as they have often placed snakes into a variety of movies or TV shows where they were kept by villains or served as the villains themselves. Snakes especially have incredibly undeserved reputations, and stories about them are often passed down through generations where unfortunate conflicts with them were made out to be far more sinister than they ever were in reality. It is for this reason why reptile keepers have struggled to build a rapport with local, state and Federal governments, as well as to build a credible reputation with our fellow citizens. However, despite our best efforts we know the vast majority of people will ask, “What is the point in having reptiles as pets? What is wrong with just having common pets like dogs or cats”? These are the questions we dedicate our professional lives to answering.

The animals used in educational outreach would not be possible without the hard work of reptile breeders for healthy, quality animals.

The animals used in educational outreach would not be possible without the hard work of reptile breeders for healthy, quality animals.

There’s nothing wrong with dogs or cats as pets and many reptile keepers have them as companions as well. However, the world as we know it is getting smaller and smaller. Habitat loss from development and destruction from oil spills, expanding farming operations and more has resulted in species across the globe being threatened and faced with extinction. The issue, however, seems to be with gaining interest in what’s going on around the world beyond our own front doors. Most people do not make themselves aware of what is going on in other parts of the globe which don’t affect them directly and even if they do, it’s usually in such a small manner that it typically goes unnoticed and thus ignored in its importance. This is where our reptile and amphibian pets (or any exotic pet) come into play.

girl-with-frog2Since the beginning of time, humans have kept animals for the purposes of work, food, and companionship. Humans are by far the most successful animal in existence. Our success as a species has resulted in many other species being negatively affected. Their homes have been destroyed to build our own homes, stores, shopping centers, etc. What little is left of their habitats are often polluted or physically damaged by activities from human beings seeking recreational activities. Even some activities meant to bring people and nature closer together, often result in displacing wildlife from their homes as many have failed to educate themselves on proper etiquette around nature.

Every species of reptile is different. Each inhabit different ecological niches and have different biological traits which enable them to thrive in those habitats. This is where the value of having reptiles as pets comes into play. Before the acquisition of some reptiles as pets, most had no knowledge of the biological needs of so many species of wildlife, and how the needs of one can affect the needs of many. Understanding the captive care needs of their pets helps to open their minds about the plights of assorted animals around the globe. This is the basis for something called the “Trophic Scale”. For many, wiping out assorted species of insects seems like a great idea because they are seen as pests, but to those who have insectivorous reptiles which rely on them for their own survival, those people view them a little differently. Reptiles and amphibians provide an essential ecological niche as both predator and prey, and without proper understanding of that delicate balance the entire pyramid can fall.

Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

Most captive snakes feed on captive bred and humanely euthanized rodents as their source of sustenance. This enlightens people about the common snakes they find in their yards and their necessity to control rodent populations. Various species of tortoises are strictly vegetarian and rely on the health of forests, savannahs, or even limited desert vegetation in order to survive. Global climate issues are also taken into consideration once you contemplate issues surrounding temperature-based sex determination in animals such as crocodilians and some turtles; meaning temperature is a major contender in determining how many males and females are hatched out each year. Too high of a population of males with a lack of females can absolutely be detrimental to a population’s long-term survivability. Of course, our understanding of temperature-based sex determination came from captive breeding efforts. The captive care of aquatic species provides an understanding of the importance of water quality. There are many species of salamanders, fish, frogs, newts, toads and more in captivity which are sensitive to pollutants in the water. These same pollutants can very well end up in your very own drinking water. If not that, they can seep into the water supplies for farming industries and others which provide food for people.

The preservation of wildlife and protection of their habitats is about more than just the wildlife, it’s about people, too. However, people have been well divorced from the natural environment. We have created concrete jungles, eat food provided by farms where it is processed and provided to you through people whom we will never meet and through methods which we will never be previewed to.  Our abilities to comprehend our role in the environment and our dependency on it has grown complacent. Yet, there is a way we can reconnect. There is a way that we can find that appreciation and understanding once again. Through our pets.

Captive maintenance of various species of reptiles has opened doors to many children so that they may see, feel, understand and appreciate the value of these animals. These animals have helped to break fears of people of all ages and enabled their protection in the micro-habitat of a backyard to be ensured. These captive animals are representatives. They are “spokesmen” for their species. They are important ambassadors which offer humanity a peek into their mysterious world at the minimal cost of providing them with their needs in a captive setting. While it is true that many of the first specimens were wild caught and many unfortunately suffered due to misunderstanding of their captive needs, herpetoculture (the private study and keeping of reptiles and amphibians) has come a LONG way. Our understanding of captive husbandry has improved by leaps and bounds, and as such, we have the ability to reproduce these species in captivity as well as ensure proper health and longevity beyond what they would ever experience in the wild.

 The Brazilian Amazon rainforest had 5.850 km2 of its legal area deforested from August 2009 to April 2010, according to INPE- Instituto de Pesquisas Espaciais. Brazil. 23/08/2010


The Brazilian Amazon rainforest had 5.850 km2 of its legal area deforested from August 2009 to April 2010, according to INPE- Instituto de Pesquisas Espaciais. Brazil. 23/08/2010

 

The ability to reproduce each of these species in captivity helps to reduce pressure on the wild populations from wild collection. Many cultures, globally, still capture/kill many of these animals for a plethora of purposes from food and medicinal use, to the skin trade and commodity. While there will most likely always be some form of wild collection (which helps to ensure healthy captive populations and reduce/prevent inbreeding), it will be much less prolific due to the sale of healthy, captive bred specimens. Captive bred animals help ensure success for both animal and owner in keeping their charges happy and healthy throughout their lives. The connections formed between animal, owner, and the lives these animals and owners will inevitably bring everyone closer to a world which they may otherwise never have seen or experienced for themselves and will ultimately, through love and experience, choose to protect.

That said, there are unscrupulous people in the industry of reptile breeding/sale, but these same types of people can be found in ANY industry and not just this one. This is an issue which can only be dealt with from within. Excessive legislation punishing even the truly passionate and dedicated of keepers does not resolve the issues, but instead further negatively impact conservation efforts globally. Money earned from many breeding operations is often placed into conservation initiatives in various parts of the globe. Wildlife needs all of the help it can get. Funding from multiple sources and organizations is crucial and not always will their opinions on politics align. However, conservation efforts world-wide are about more than personal opinions and drama. It is a very real concern which requires our attention today…not tomorrow after we’ve wasted a great deal of money determining which organization/group has the most political influence. While people are wasting precious time, resources and money campaigning for their personal belief systems…wildlife is losing. Daily.

Understanding the roles of wildlife in captivity as pets, in zoological institutions, and other settings is paramount. Is it a “perfect” solution? Perhaps not…but we live in an imperfect world where we are forced to do the best we can with the tools presented. Captive breeding of wildlife is a tool and a useful one at that. Instead of being hesitant about your neighbor’s pet snake, instead ask them some questions about it. Get to know them and find out why that animal is so important not just in its native habitat, but to them personally. Break your fears of them through compassion and understanding, and spread that knowledge so that others, too, may learn to accept and respect animals that otherwise are struggling to hold on to the little bit of “home” they have left.

 

Below is a short list of example organizations which are operated by and/or funded by the herpetological community and reptile industry:

Herpetological Conservation International – www.herpconservation.org

Amphibian Survival Alliance – www.amphibians.org

Turtle and Tortoise Preservation Group – www.ttpg.org

International Reptile Conservation Foundation – www.ircf.org

Crocodilian Specialist Group – www.iucncsg.org

Chopsticks for Salamanders – http://amphibianrescue.org/tag/chopsticks-for-salamanders/

Josh’s Frogs and Mitsinjo: Saving frogs for the future – http://www.joshsfrogs.com/catalog/blog/2014/12/joshs-frogs-mitsinjo-saving-frogs-future/

Tom Crutchfield Reptiles and San Salvador Iguana Conservation – http://medicine.llu.edu/research/department-earth-and-biological-sciences/news-events/new-bahama-iguana-conservation-center

Turtle Survival Alliance – http://www.turtlesurvival.org/

Eastern Diamondback Conservation Foundation – http://www.savethebuzztails.org/

BioFauna Exotics has conservation aid initiatives in the works and soon to be announced!

The Wonderful World of Amazon Tree Boas- An Introduction to the Jewels of the Rainforest

The Wonderful World of Amazon Tree Boas:
An Introduction to the Jewels of the Rainforest

(You can download a PDF version of this article here)

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Calico Jack, male Canopy Cane line red Calico.

If you’ve made it here it’s probably because you’ve been bitten by the Amazon Tree Boa (ATB) bug and you are eager to learn more! You are certainly amongst friends and thanks to their wide variety of colors and patterns, you can never really have just one. This guide will walk you through some of the basics of Amazon care and terminology so that you can better understand what they are, what they’re like, and what they’ll need in order to shine as the jewels amongst your collection. We will not go into breeding in this guide for this version, but should you be interested in that information, you are more than welcome to contact us at any time! We will be adding that section to the guide in the near future. Please note: Amazon Tree Boas are an advanced-level animal in terms of experience and husbandry needs, so this guide tries to be as thorough as possible and may seem somewhat lengthy. If you are not willing to read this guide in its entirety, you may want to rethink your level of commitment to this delicate and demanding species!

History/Appearance:

Amazon Tree Boas (Corallus hortulanus) have actually been in the hobby for quite some time but as more and more people are looking for exciting (or challenging) new ventures outside of the usual colubrids and constrictors, Amazons have been popping up as prominent members of the “other” category. Native to Columbia, Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana, Peru, Brazil, and most of the Amazonian River Territory, they are readily imported and becoming more widespread in captivity. They are relatively easy to breed, are beginner friendly/ forgiving for those new to arboreals, and are on the smaller side in comparison to other widely kept arboreals.

Adult specimens on average reach about 6ft in length, but unlike their heavy bodied distant relatives, the boa constrictor, or even their close cousins the Emerald Tree Boa, they remain very thin in comparison which allows them to be perfectly at home and agile in the trees. Other physical adaptations that aid in their arboreal lifestyle include heat sensing pits and very large eyes. As a result, once the lights go out these snakes become an entirely different animal that relies on pure instinct to survive and it’s those survival skills that make them so reactive, so aggressive, and so incredible to own.

Unlike most other snakes, and what makes Amazons so highly prized, they have the ability to come in a wide variety of naturally occurring color and pattern mutations which only adds to their excitement and mystery for both keepers and breeders alike. These color mutations are referred to as “phases” instead of “morphs” because they are naturally occurring and there is no true method of inheritance. In fact, red, orange, and yellow specimens are still referred to as “normal” unless they carry a true morph gene.

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At this point in herpetoculture, there is still no way to predict the outcome of each litter. Two yellow parents may result in red, orange, yellow, or even “garden phase” (brown or grey) babies. Same with red x red, or garden x colored. The same two animals paired consecutively could also result in different colored offspring year to year! They even have variability in eye color with specimens known to have varying degrees of yellow, orange, red, green, brown, or almost black.

All that said, there ARE true morphs within this species. The true morphs available for ATBs at this time are as follows:

Angry Orchard

Tiger (dominant)

Ming

Leopard (recessive)

Tomahawk_Male_Hypo

Yellow Hypo (co-dominant)
Photo courtesy of Amazon Eden

Rasalhague_Lucy

Blue Eyed Leucistic (super form of Yellow Hypo)
Photo courtesy of Amazon Eden

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Orange Hypo (dominant for now, super form unknown)
Photo courtesy of Billy Leonard

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Calico (many types, colors, and lines, all dominant)

 

Temperament:

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably heard quite a few things about the “personality” of Amazons- all of which are true. Like most arboreal species, these guys are highly reactive and usually turn into a different animal when the sun goes down. They are almost strictly nocturnal, very defensive, incredibly aggressive, and will not hesitate to bite. To them, biting first solves all of their problems: Either you’re food, or you’re foe. While a small number of specimens can be tamed, and an even smaller number of specimens start out tame, the vast majority will possess a temperament of typical arboreal fashion.

This is a key factor that must be remembered when owning an Amazon! It is entirely possible that through rigorous training and handling your Amazon may one day be considered “calm”, but you should always recognize the limits of each individual animal and understand that not all specimens can be tamed and efforts to persuade particularly reluctant animals usually result in unhealthy amounts of stress. Despite being a somewhat hardier species, Amazons are still arboreal (read: fragile) and can succumb to stress faster than their terrestrial counterparts. So for the health and wellness of the animal, some should simply NOT be messed with and instead left to be a “look but don’t touch”, yet breathtaking display animal.

Selecting Your Amazon:

A Note about WC vs CBB

There are two ways to acquire an ATB. 1) Import/WC and 2) CBB. There are still a large number of Amazons that are imported in large numbers every week, so finding one is relatively easy, HOWEVER, we at Biofauna want to outline the pros and cons surrounding your Amazon purchase in an effort to make sure everyone can make an informed decision.

Wild Caught:

Pros

  • Easy to find
  • Cheap
  • Fresh blood for bloodlines
  • Not a bad option for experienced ATB keepers
  • LTC (Long Term Captive) specimens offer a “best of both worlds” between CBB and WC. These animals have been in captivity long enough that their previous owners can give you their history and can (read: should) be able to guarantee that the animal is free of internal/external parasites and pathogens. LTC specimens have been stateside and eating REGULARLY for a minimum of 3mo.

Cons

  • No history on this animal!! This means you have no idea how old it is (although you can guess), what it is eating (you can ask, but be prepared to transition from live if necessary), or worse, if it is sick due to the stress of being packed with hundreds of other animals and shipped overseas.
  • Potential risk of infection to your existing collection!! These are wild caught animals, and most of them arrive riddled with parasites or illnesses invisible to the naked eye. These animals will have to undergo EXTENSIVE periods of quarantine and will require medications and vet visits to ensure that they survive quarantine and don’t spread any of their pathogens to your healthy animals. Remember: These are illnesses that can potentially spread to ANY snake, not just other Amazons!
  • Fragility! When reading around the web you may notice a wide range of temperature and humidity parameters for this species and that’s due to the large number of imported specimens. WC animals arrive sick, incredibly stressed out, and very fragile as opposed to CBB specimens that were born and raised in captivity. They will require a very delicate hand and strict care regimen to ensure their long term success! This is something that should only be attempted by experienced ATB keepers!
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Calico litter 11/22/14 showing 3 types of calico.

Captive Born & Bred:

Pros

  • In most cases, CBB specimens are much more hardy and tolerant of a wider range of temperature and humidity values. This makes their long term success easier to achieve
  • In most cases, the complete history of the animal you are purchasing is known, and any breeder worth their salt will be able to tell you when it was born, what it is feeding on, and how best to approach the animal’s care in order to ensure that it lives to adulthood.
  •  As a general rule, these animals are much healthier than their freshly imported counterparts.

Cons

  • More expensive. If you want a healthy, quality ATB (esp when you are looking at true morphs), you will have to be willing to pay for one. Breeders of this species go through a LOT of trouble getting neonates ready for new homes which is the basis behind CBB prices. This species is NOTORIOUS for difficult to raise neonates. However, if it is worth it for you to ensure that your Amazon is healthy, eating regularly, free of sicknesses that can spread, and has the best chance of survival to adulthood, then CBB is your best bet.

Once you have decided which route you would like to take in order to acquire your ATB, it is time to look for your new snake! If at all possible, it is best to purchase a snake that you can see and hold in person. Pictures are worth a thousand words, but nothing can compare to seeing the animal for yourself and determining the animal’s health and quality. Additionally, it is also important to meet the person with whom you are doing business!! When selecting a snake in person, you are looking for a vibrant animal on all accounts. When picked up, determine the following:

  • Is the tongue actively flicking? Searching?
  • Are the eyes alert? Clear? If the animal is in shed, this may be harder to notice since it is normal for the eyes to become cloudy/blue (hence the term “going blue”), but be sure that the eyes are clear of “debri” (stuck shed on eyecaps) and that they are not sunken in (the animal is dehydrated).
  • Is the animal holding its head/body naturally? The boa should be able to hold its head and body with ease and grace. If you see wobbling/jerking/abnormal posture (upside down), this can be a sign of life threatening birth defects or contagious illnesses that could potentially affect your entire collection!
  • What is the body condition of the snake? While Amazons are naturally thin, excessive visibility of the spine and ribs is cause for concern. Additionally, the high humidity requirements can result in stuck sheds and other issues if these needs aren’t met. It is essential that your snake is not wheezing, whistling, has any stuck shed, or is missing the tip of the tail (stuck sheds that have resulted in loss of circulation and necrosis). The snake should not appear to be gurgling, drooling, bubbling, or open mouth breathing. These are signs of potentially fatal and/or contagious illnesses.

Lastly, before you purchase your new boa, always ask the following questions from the seller. This is exponentially important if you don’t have the opportunity to see the snake in person (i.e. you found an ad online):

  1. Is this snake CB or WC?
    1. As stated above, the differences between the two could be costly and life threatening. You should always know what you are getting yourself into before you make the purchase to ensure the longevity of your new snake and the health of your existing collection.
  2. Probably most important for this species- What is this snake eating and when did it last eat?
    1. This information is INVALUABLE! The best breeders/importers will not only be able to provide this information, but they will be able to give you a complete copy of their “cage card” with all activity on that animal prior to the date of sale. This will ensure that your new snake is already an established feeder in captivity (with the best case scenario being f/t prey items). While it is certainly not a requirement for your potential new snake to be eating frozen/thawed, if you are not experienced in transitioning snakes from live to frozen, this can be an issue. Live food can do significant harm to your snake in its natural defense to fight back.
    2. Knowing when the snake last ate can tell you how reliably the snake is eating. If the seller claims that the snake is eating frozen mouse hoppers, but hasn’t eaten for a month, something is wrong. Either the snake is underfed, or the snake is refusing food for some reason- and it’s not YOUR job to spend hundreds of dollars to play detective.
  3. How long have you owned the snake?
    1. Knowing how long the seller has owned the snake will give you a good idea on the husbandry parameters for that animal. If the seller has had the animal since birth, or for an extended period of time (6mo+), they will be able to provide you with the temperatures and humidity levels the animal would be transitioning from, which would allow you to set your cage up properly in preparation for its arrival.
    2. If the animal is CB, it is important to know how long the seller has owned the animal to determine, if possible, where it came from. If it’s CB and they’ve owned it for years it is safe to note their specifications regarding their care. If not, it will be important to track down the original breeder/owner in order to make sure the animal is housed, fed, and cared for properly.
    3. If the animal is WC and has only been stateside for a few weeks, you will need to prepare for full quarantine procedure and make sure that it is eating regularly in captivity.
    4. In the case of LTC specimens, how long has the snake been in captivity and has it been treated for internal/external parasites? Has it been vet checked? While it may not be necessary to have a vet screen the animal before it is sold, it certainly builds
  4. How old is this snake?
    1. While this may be only an educated guess with WC specimens, you need to know how old the snake is in order to judge if it is being fed properly and, most importantly, if the snake is eating regular meals. Underfed or improperly fed Amazons will be thin and much smaller than their age should allow. For example, if you’re purchasing a yearling ATB and it is still eating mouse pinkies that should be a red flag (perhaps it is a picky eater? Late starter? Previous health issues?).
    2. You need to know how old the snake is if you intend to breed it.
    3. If the seller produced the snake and doesn’t know the snake’s DOB, they are not a trustworthy breeder. Top quality breeders have extensive and meticulous records for all animals produced by them every year.
  5. Where did the snake come from?
    1. It is preferable to purchase an ATB directly from the original breeder/importer, but if that is not the case, the seller should know who they bought it from. Knowing the original breeder/importer can help you determine the quality of the boa without even holding it in your hands. Certain breeders/importers are, unfortunately, notorious for unjust selling practices like selling sick animals, so you can save yourself a lot of heartache by knowing in advance.
    2. Knowing the original breeder/importer can also give you more insight into the snake than the seller himself might be able to provide. Some sellers simply don’t know if the animal is CB or WC because they never cared or thought to ask. Also, knowing this could mean an increase or a decrease in value for your ATB. Certain lineages are valued differently because of the quality of the colors, patterns, or morphs they will inevitably produce.

Housing/Husbandry:

As an arboreal species, it is very important to make sure they have an ample amount of vertical space to utilize. Most adults require a minimum of a 2ft tall enclosure for them to be comfortable. Amazons adapt well to naturalistic and display type cage setups, but you will need to pay particular attention to your perches to make sure your snake will actually use them. ATBs require “Y-formations” for them to feel secure with a perch. They need 3 points of contact on their bodies from a perch or they tend to not use it (literally the shape of a Y or triangle). Most people who keep larger numbers of amazons have transitioned into using elevated ledges or hammocks with hides situated on the ground and above the resting areas to provided added security. The more secure your Amazon feels, the more you will see it, the faster it will feel safe, the better it will eat/thrive.

Substrate varies by location. Those in drier climates may opt for cypress mulch or a mixture of peat moss and coco bark for more naturalistic setups. These organic substrates can be seeded with tropical isopods and springtails to keep the substrate clean and smelling fresh, requiring less maintenance. Others opt for newspaper or paper towels. Keep in mind you may need to mist 1-2 times daily depending on your substrate choice, but again, because you set up your cage in advance, you will know exactly how to handle your humidity situation before your Amazon arrives. Right? Right.

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Calypso, male confetti calico.

On that note, it is incredibly important that you purchase the caging for your snake BEFORE you purchase your snake! This will allow you to do a “test run” with your bells and whistles to make sure that your temperature and humidity levels are optimal for keeping these snakes. Your success as a reptile keeper for *any* species relies almost entirely on the environment you are creating for your pet. ATBs are no different!

Our Amazon Tree Boas are kept at an ambient temperature between 78-82 degrees Fahrenheit with a basking spot of about 90. Amazons should be maintained with a relative humidity of around 80% to ensure optimum shedding conditions. If temperature and humidity levels are not met, this *will* result in health issues for your snake including, but not limited to, upper respiratory infections and problems shedding or digesting meals. So again, having your caging set up prior to the arrival of your new boa will ensure a transition into your home with the least amount of stress for you AND your snake.

It is important to note that you will see a lot of variability when it comes to husbandry with this species. This is due to the large number of specimens that have been imported, and the fact that imported animals are more often than not fighting off illnesses that would require higher temps. I have seen some “old school” keepers that have kept Amazons in excess of 90 degrees AMBIENT. These animals do NOT need these extremely high temperatures and in fact, some CBB specimens may perish under the heat stress!! What works for one person in one region of the USA with one animal may not work for another person with another animal. This is why it is very important to have as much background information on the animal you intend to purchase as possible to make that animal’s transition to your collection as smooth as possible. We own several WC, LTC, and CBB specimens and they are all kept at the same, lower parameters mentioned above (and are even breeding) successfully.

Based on the above husbandry conditions, we at BioFauna Exotics STRONGLY argue against the use of glass aquarium tanks for your Amazon! It is very hard to maintain the proper levels of heat and humidity in an aquarium, and more often than not, they do not allow enough vertical space for the snake to roam. Purchasing PVC cages, the largest Exo Terra cages (and modifying it for humidity retention) or building a cage of your own are the best options for these snakes to make sure they are happy throughout their lives. Most adult Amazons are usually kept in 2’ x 2’ x 2’ enclosures to be comfortable. Heating can be supplied using Flexwatt, or radiant heat panels (RHPs). If building your own cage, ensure that your snake cannot burn itself! To prevent this, heat sources SHOULD NOT be used without a Rheostat (similar to a dimmer) or a thermostat. Again, having your cage set up in advance allows you to make these adjustments before endangering your snake. This can prevent dangerous thermal burns which could potentially kill your pet! It goes without saying that heat bulbs should not be placed on the interior of an enclosure housing arboreal species, especially.

As tempting as it can be, we STRONGLY advise against housing more than one boa together in the same enclosure unless they are breeding. There are countless stories of boas consuming each other or harming each other. Additionally, you want to be able to keep track of each snake’s day to day activities to know if they are acting abnormally. If you constantly house more than one snake together, and you notice blood in your cage, you want to immediately know which animal it came from and why. Furthermore, it will make feeding your animals significantly easier since you NEVER want to feed more than one animal in the same enclosure at the same time!

Feeding Your Amazon Tree Boa:

There is a lot of debate surrounding how often to feed and how large of a meal that should be fed. BioFauna Exotics will tell you how WE feed our animals, why we feed this way, and allow you to be the judge for yourself based on the quality of our animals if this is the route you wish to take.

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male yellow tiger

We like to feed our animals 1 frozen/thawed prey item that is slightly bigger than the thickest part of the snake’s body every 7-10 days. For babies, we may feed every 3-5 days until we are satisfied that they are eating readily and are ready for new homes. Despite the small size of their heads and their insanely skinny necks, Amazons are completely capable of taking down and swallowing prey at LEAST as thick as the thickest part of their body. We have met several individuals that feed their Amazons according to the width of their heads and necks, and they wonder why they aren’t thriving. Like other arboreal snakes, these guys have a HUGE bite width. They can open their mouths to an almost complete 180 degrees which allows their long, slender teeth to get maximum grip. They can handle it, you need to trust them! We have never had a regurge as a result of prey items being too big by feeding with this method, and our babies are rock star feeders by the time they are ready for new homes.

Also, by feeding smaller meals on a weekly schedule we will know instantly if something is causing our animals to stop eating. For example, if an animal is only being fed a large prey item every 2-3 weeks and stops eating for 2 meals, that animal has gone almost 6 weeks without food and medical attention. If an animal that is otherwise healthy (and not sexually mature) and that is fed weekly decides to miss two meals, that animal has only gone 2 weeks without food and we can immediately seek medical attention knowing that this particular behavior is NOT normal for that particular animal. Again, the key here is that we are feeding smaller meals more frequently as opposed to larger meals less frequently. While this is less of a concern for arboreals, this is a practice we observe with every snake in our collection from Ball Pythons to BCC to Spilotes.

Sexing your Amazon Tree Boa:

This is probably the second most frequently asked question following closely behind “what morph is this?”. The truth is it’s insanely difficult to sex arboreal snakes and with ATBs, the only way to be 100% sure is to either see hemipenes or throw them together when they are ready to breed. It is this reason why Amazons are usually sold as male or “probable female”. The trick is to be able to become proficient at both probing and popping in order to have more than one way to confirm sex. In our experience, which method you choose (or are proficient with) will determine how soon you will be able to sex. We choose to use both methods to sex our Amazons so we can have much more certainty when they are sold.

ATBs will probe just like any other snake, but the difficulty lies in their prehensile tails and fragile frame as neonates. We generally wait until our neonates are at least 6mo of age before we attempt to probe and we almost always use two sets of hands because they are master contortionists that love to make it impossible to keep their tails straight for any decent length of time (another reason why we wait until they’re a little older).

With the popping method we usually wait until after they have had a few meals in them to make sure they are eating regularly and the stress of handling doesn’t deter them from eating. Amazons are notorious for their attitudes and how ridiculously hard it is to get neonates started on food, and the last thing we want is to give them another excuse to delay that process!

There is also a third, somewhat unreliable (by itself) method that veterans sometimes use to sex adults. As with most arboreals, once Amazons reach a certain age it is virtually impossible to do anything productive south of the border. They have highly refined muscle control in their tails that causes males to probe like females (if you can even get the probe in sometimes) and popping is almost out of the question since 1) They have too much control over those muscles at this age 2) We don’t like running the risk of causing irreparable damage to sexual organs if they have issues getting everything back in place. So the third method involves visual identification via the length and width of the tails. When comparing males to females, males will have longer, thinner tails starting at the cloaca. Females tend to have shorter, stubbier tails. Again, this method isn’t the most reliable, and should either be followed up with one of the previous two methods, OR the cloaca can be inspected when they musk (which they tend to do quite often, thankfully?), OR you can simply pair with a member of a known sex to see what happens.

In the case of two sexually mature males that are put together in the same enclosure during breeding season, we have witnessed “aggression” in the form of chasing, necking, and general bullying wherein one male will not rest until the other male is either gone from the area or (in the case of smaller cages) he has retreated to the bottom of the cage. Two females will do nothing, but you should give them some time. An adult, sexually mature pair should lock within 5 days of being introduced if all other conditions are met. If no activity is seen within 5 days, the “pair” should be separated and another attempt can be made after their next feeding day.

Thank you for taking the time and making a concerted effort to becoming a responsible reptile keeper! BioFauna Exotics thanks you, your animals thank you, and your hobby thanks you!

If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact us directly at info@biofaunaexotics.com

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Chris & Abby Law
Owners

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merlot x Jim Beam

Merlot-Jim Beam Pairing

SOLD OUT Dam: “Merlot”, Sire: “Jim Beam” Litter resulted in 9 offspring, 5 Calicos, 4 Calico siblings (3 red, 1 orange)

 

Available from this pairing

 

“Southern Comfort” – Yellow Calico Sibling born on 11/22/14. NFS

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“Nitro” – Red Calico Sibling born on 11/22/14. Feeding on f/t hoppers. $600.00 plus shipping from Baton Rouge. SOLD!!

“Dragon Heart”, red male Calico, NFS

“Calypso”, male confetti calico, NFS

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The “twins”, “Flame Eater” and “Wild Flame”. Unsexed red calicos. NFS.

Merlot x Captain Morgan 2015

Merlot-CM Pairing

FINALLY!!! After 138 days POS, Merlot finally gave us the litter we had been waiting for. Born 11/29/15. Litter consisted of 5 live, 3 still, 2 slugs. 1x Red Calico (still), 2x  Orange calico (1 still), 2x Garden calico sibs (1 poss calico), 1x Patternless Orange calico sib (still), 2x Patterned Orange calico sibs. Some animals will be ready for deposits on 12/24/15- NO prices will be listed until then!! Please remember to review our Sales Policies & Terms  if you are interested in any of these babies!

If you are interested in any of these babies and would like more info or pics, please feel free to email us at info@biofuanaexotics.com with the animal(s) ID#. Prices do not include shipping.

15MxCM01 Unsexed Orange Patterned Calico Sibling

15MxCM01
Probable Female Orange Patterned Calico Sibling $350- *SOLD*

15MxCM02 Male Garden calico sib

15MxCM02
Male Garden Phase Calico Sibling
$250- **SOLD**

 

 

15MxCM03 Unsexed patterned orange calico sib

15MxCM03
Male Patterned Orange Calico Sib
$400- *SOLD*

15MxCM04 Poss calico garden

15MxCM04
Male Garden Phase Poss Calico
$275- *SOLD*

 

15MxCM05 Orange Calico

15MxCM05
Probable Female Orange Calico
NFS