Choosing a snake as a pet may prove more difficult than it seems.
Almost everything and anything is available in the pet trade these days, and snakes are no exception.Common sense must prevail and it is important to make the right choice.
The following guidelines are primarily aimed at those of you out there who have decided to purchase your first snake.
It is also important to note that if you already own a snake, even a venomous one, it unfortunately does not make you an expert, and these guidelines may also assist you in re-evaluating your choice. I do not mean this in a derogatory sense, and if I offend anyone, I apologise.
I do not classify myself as an expert, even though I have several hundred snakes and other reptiles in my collection and have kept snakes for many years there is always something new to be learned.
Choosing the right species
The best advice that I can offer to anyone wishing to purchase their first snake is to keep it simple. Choose a "hardy" species. Something that will be easier to care for without too much fuss.
Do not, no matter how tempting it may be, decide on a species that requires specialised care or dietary requirements as your first choice.
This may be frustrating at first, especially if your best friend has a king cobra , but you will benefit from this in the long run.
Remember, you learn to crawl before you can walk, and learn to walk before you can run.
Choosing a snake that is "hardy" will give you the time to build up confidence and knowledge and also allow room for errors without affecting the wellbeing of the snake. Your first snake should ideally be one of the following species:
Your first snake should be one that you can handle with confidence.
Choosing a snake that you can handle is extremely important. Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but by being able to handle your pet snake routine chores like cleaning the enclosure or replacing the water bowl becomes easy and less stressful for both you and your pet.
Never purchase a snake that intimidates you. Remember that you are now responsible for the wellbeing and health of your snake.
Your first snake should be small and manageable.
This may sound silly, but the advantage of a small snake is that it allows you to "grow" with your new pet. By doing so you will pick up on certain behaviour traits, personality, and quirks, in other words you begin to build a relationship with your snake.
Size does matter
Your first priority when choosing a snake should be the wellbeing of your snake.
Do not purchase a baby python if you do not have the facility to care for it once it has reached adulthood.
Do your research before you buy.
Baby pythons may only need a mouse at first, but as adults they require more substantial prey items which may affect your budget.
Big snakes may well become a handful, and as a result often end up being neglected (or dumped) because their owners become intimidated by their sheer size. And where/how are you going to house a 4 metre python?
Someone once said that the only certainty in life is death and taxes. If you own a snake then the only certainty in life is death, taxes, and snakebite.
Be prepared, if you own a snake, or snakes,at some point you will get a bite.
That's a good thing! You'll learn a lot from that, and hopefully not make the same mistake twice.
Bear this in mind when choosing a snake. Some species are quite nippy at first but are easily habituated with the correct handling. Other species remain psychotic throughout their lives.
It is for this reason that I strongly advise a non-venomous species as opposed to venomous for any beginner or inexperienced snake owner.
By now you should have a clear indication whether a pet snake is the right option for you. If so, then let the journey begin!
Firstly, keeping snakes as pets is a responsibility.
I cannot emphasise the point enough.
I cannot count the times I have heard people that keep snakes say, "Snakes are low maintenance and easy to keep."
In reality keeping any pet, whether it's a Bengal tiger, dog, cat, or snake, will demand a certain amount of your time with regards for caring for that animal.
A very worthwhile investment to help you keep pick up any subtle changes in your animals' habits, which might indicate ill health or husbandry issues, is to find yourself really effective record keeping software designed for reptiles.
Despite good intentions caring for an animal comes with "great responsibility" (to quote Spiderman's uncle).
There are countless animals that end up at the SPCA that were purchased with "good intentions".
Do a little test.....
Next time you visit your local veterinarian ask him, or her, whether the majority of people that own pets should be allowed to do so in the first place.
According to our local vets (and these are only opinions) 80% of people that own animals as pets should not be allowed to do so.
I find that both shocking and extremely sad, especially for the animals!
Before purchasing any pet do your research.
Unfortunately you can't always rely on the advice of your local pet-store. Don't get me wrong, there are fantastic pet dealers out there that care equally for their animals and their clientele. (I know of one dealer who refused to sell a bearded dragon simply because he didn't get a good "vibe" from the prospective client.)
On the other hand, the first Green iguana (Malkovich) that we bought was purchased out of pity and not because we wanted a green iguana (we love him dearly). The pet-store had him in a 50cm x 30cm tank, without substrate, no water, and an apple. The pet-store owner was absolutely clueless, he couldn't understand why the animal was not eating!
So please do your own research before you embark on a life-long commitment.
Keeping snakes as pets, or any pet, must be mutually beneficial for both you the pet owner and your pet.
In the next couple of posts I will discuss various topics that hopefully will help you master the art of keeping snakes as pets.
Bear in mind that these pages are my own opinions based on personal experience, and many years of keeping snakes in captivity :).
And of course, if you are visiting our part of the world, travelling down here in Hazyview, you are welcome to ask us your questions in person!
This is Rick's account of his bite from a mamba, several years ago:
"So, you say, a black mamba bite! My wife insisted that I write this page describing the effects of my Black Mamba bite.
Whether this will prove of any interest to anyone is questionable, but you don't live with my wife....
The removal of so called "problem" reptiles is a free service that I offer to the community and surrounding areas. I have been doing so for several years and the service enables me to educate the public about snakes, reduce the risk of a snakebite, and more importantly it prevents yet another snake from being hacked into a thousand little tiny pieces.
Why do I make mention of this service?
Well firstly, it implies that this black mamba bite was not a random accident.
Secondly, it is because of this service that I found myself at that precise location on the morning of April 20th 2005 at 10:32am
I received the call from a rather frantic owner that the three metre snake had taken up residence in the roof of one of the chalets that was to be occupied by guests later that day. Needless to say shacking up with a black mamba was not listed in the brochure as one of the activities, and therefore it had to be removed.
Let me start by saying that receiving a black mamba bite has never been high on my list of priorities, nor any bite for that matter. I approach every situation with caution and follow strict procedures that will ensure the safe removal of any snake. That being said however things don't always work out quite the way you planned them.
It was clear from the start that this was not going to be an easy capture. The 10cm gap between the ceiling and the corrugated roof panels made it impossible for me to climb into the roof. The only way of getting to the snake was by removing the roof panels one by one until the snake was found.
Once on the roof, the first step was to remove all the screws that secured the roof panels to the woodwork. This was done by one of the gardeners.
The first rule when capturing a snake is never let an untrained person assist you. So, once all the screws had been removed I informed the gardener to move back whilst I personally removed the panels. By the time I removed the second panel about a third of the snake became visible. At this point the unthinkable happened....
The gardener, who had been standing well out of the way behind me, leapt in action without warning. To this day I have no idea what went through his mind to prompt him to tackle a three metre black mamba with his bare hands. In a flash he grabbed the snake's tail and began trying to pull it out. Instinctively I reached out to smack his hand away from the snake, and at that moment the snake,turning back on itself, lunged forward and bit me on the hand.
My initial reaction was that maybe I was lucky and received a "dry bite", and had not been envenomated. This proved to be a fleeting thought.
Within 30 seconds I began feeling a "tingling" sensation in my hand as the powerful neurotoxic venom began to take effect.
The following is a step-by-step account of the symptoms of my black mamba bite, and time frames within which they occured. I mentally documented these symptoms becuase I had recently met Dr Roger Blaylock, South Africa's leading venom expert, as well as Professor Graham Alexander of Wits university (currently involved in ground breaking research on the Southern African rock python). I knew that should I survive the black mamba bite, they would want all the "gory" details!
* Within two minutes the "tingling" sensation had spread throughout my arm.
* There was mild swelling at the bite site which was slightly painful when touched. This was more a reaction to the physical bite rather than the venom itself.
* Six minutes after the bite the "tingling" sensation had spread throughout my body. It feels like millions of insects crawling under your skin.
* Eight minutes into the bite I experienced increased salivation.
* I began sweating excessively.
* After about ten minutes I could "taste" the fillings in my teeth. I experienced a "coppery"taste.
* Twelve minutes after the black mamba bite I began feeling drowsy. It became difficult to keep my eyes open. It felt like someone had tied bricks to my eyelids which prevented me from opening them fully.
* After about a quarter of an hour my coordination began to falter. At this point I could still walk, but it felt as if I had punished a couple of bottles of tequilla (without the usual removal of clothing and singing Twistered Sister's "I wanna Rock!").
At this point help arrived to take me to hospital. I realised that my condition would deteriorate rapidly. The effects of a black mamba bite, or rather the neurotoxic venom, attacks the central nervous system which affects motorised coordination including speech. I knew at some point I would lose conciousness. I informed the lady assisting me that should I pass out that the medical staff inject 8 vials of antivenom, and have a respirator on hand should my breathing stop.
(I also informed her that should I "cash in my chips" she should tell my wife that I love her....what a woes! I'll never live that one down)
* Twenty minutes into the bite I begin to lose the ability to control my bodily functions and I experienced incontinence of faeces and urine. Not my finest hour!
* At this point I started developing chest pains, almost as if a sumo wrestler was sitting on my chest.
* After about twenty five minutes confusion and slight hallucinations begin taking over my system. (this probably explains the "how much I love my wife" bit. At least that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it).
* 30 minutes into the bite. Flacid paralysis sets in. I am unable to walk. My arms, legs and head hang limply. Although concious I am unable to respond. My speech is slurred and responses slow.
* After about 40 minutes the real pain sets in. I began trembling and muscular seizure begins to set in. It's like having a cramp in your calf muscle except in this case every muscle in my body cramps up.
* 45 minutes, I begin to have difficulty breathing. Fortunately this coincides with me fading in and out of conciusness.
This lasted for approximately two and a half hours with all of the above symptoms taking their turn at beating the living *** out of my system.
These are all classic symptoms of a black mamba bite and the effects of a neurotoxic venom.
The beauty of a neurotoxic venom is that unlike a cytotoxic venom, there is no residual effect. I was bitten on the Wednesday, Thursday I was out of hospital and catching snakes again.
Although I cannot say that I enjoyed the ordeal the whole experience has proved invaluable when lecturing and educating the public.
And what happened to the black mamba that bit me you ask......
A friend of mine went to catch it and brought him to the hospital later that afternoon so that we could be properly introduced. The next day I had to pose with the rascal for the local newspaper. The headline read "Black mamba bites its rescuer"...
Shortly after that he finally got the freedom and safety I had intended for him from the begining"
What differentiates Snakes from other reptiles?
A simple enough question which at first glance may seem ridiculous. Not so.
To simply state the obvious, that they are limbless reptiles, would only be half true. There are several species of legless lizards found worldwide along with a host of other limbless organisms that could be misidentified.
In order to answer this seemingly simple question, one would need to take other distinguishing factors into account before determining whether a particular species belongs to one group or the other.
Some distinguishing factors are quite visible, whilst others require a closer look at the anatomy and physical characteristics.
It is not so much the individual characteristics, but moreso the combination of several factors that can truly define Serpentes.
One of the easiest mistakes to make is confusing them withamphisbaenians.
Amphisbaenians (tropical worm lizards) are also vertebrates belonging to the same order (Squamata). Although close relatives, they are in fact quite different.
Internally, the right lung is reduced as opposed to the left lung being reduced in all true serpents.
The Skeletal structure too, is different. The head consists of one solid bone whereas in serpents the head consists of several individual bones connected via ligaments.
A more visible distinction in amphisbaenians is the arrangement of their scales into regular rings around the body as opposed to overlapping scales.
Apart from three species, all amphisbaenians are limbless.
The lack of visible ear openings is another factor which can lead to misidentifaction. One such species is theSilvery Legless Lizard (Anniella pulchra). Just like amphisbaenians these lizards possess no external ear openings. However, it does have moveable eyelids, which serpents lack.
Perhaps the most visual characteristic that differentiates serpents from lizards and amphisbaenians are theventral scales. In lizards, the ventral scales have various patterns, never a single row from head to tail as with snakes. Amphisbaenians, as mentioned earlier in this passage, have rows of scales arranged around the body.
One true serpent-like characteristic that does not apply to either lizards nor amphisbaenians is the separation of the lower jaw. In both lizards and amphisbaenians, the bottom jaw is one solid rigid bone. The bottom left and right jaw in serpents however is not fused. Instead a ligament connects the lower jaws to one another.
So what is the definition of a snake?
It is a limbless reptile with a reduced left lung, overlapping scales, without movable eyelids nor external ear openings.
It is always important to correctly identify a species prior to picking it up or handling it.
Many accidents have occured as a result of misidentification (personal experience included), and quite honestly......it's not worth the risk.
The fossilised remains of what has been described as the world's largest snake known to science were discovered at the Cerrajon Coal Mine in Colombia.
The layers of rock have yielded the remains of the aptly named Titanoboa cerrejonensis
Believed to be an ancient relative of today's boas, this giant snake lived in the rainforests of Colombia between 58 million to 60 million years ago.
Based on the evidence, paleontologists estimated the length of Titanoboa cerrjonensis to be around 13m(43ft). This giant weighed in at around 1.2 tons (2500lbs) and had a diameter of 1m!
Paleontologists beleive, that due to its size, Titanoboa cerrejonensis would have shared a similar aquatic lifestyle to that of today's Anaconda.
The discovery also implies that, due to snakes being ectotherms (cold-blooded), the climate would have had to be at least 6-8 degrees warmer in order for Titanoboa to thermo-regulate efficiently.
The previous record for the world's largest snake belonged to a creature that lived about 40 million years ago till as recently as 40 000 years ago named Gigantophis garstini.
Relics of Gigantophis have been found in Libya as well as Egypt.
Titanoboa breaks the record by about 3.3m (11ft).
We are excited to invite interested people from all walks of life, and of all ages, to join us in conserving our precious reptile heritage! For those of us who love, and understand, these secretive creatures it is difficult to imagine a world without them - yet for many people "the only good snake is a dead snake".
As a volunteer at Perry's Bridge Reptile Park, you will help us to change this mindset, one person, one family at at time. It is immensely rewarding, when you finish talking to someone, to hear them say "you have completely changed my understanding of these animals". We had a phone call from as far away as Johannesburg recently (400km away) from someone who visited us on holiday six months ago and watched our demonstration. He said "Victoria (the boa) is such a great ambassador for her kind - I have a snake in my garden, and I just want to know who I can call in our area to have it moved away safely. In the past, I would have just taken a shovel and chopped its head off, I can't even imagine hurting it now!" . Another lady, from a farm in outback Australia, told me that she had learned so much, she had always killed any snake that appeared and now she planned to let them go peacefully on their way, even the King Brown's. WOW!!!!!
You will be an integral part of our team, and involved in every aspect of the park, from feeding tortoises and lizards while presenting talks on these amazing creatures, assisting with day to day activities ranging from simple tasks such as cleaning water bowls and enclosures, and preparing food, to enrichment activities, to re-designing and re-building habitats, and assisting the curators on call outs.
Want to know more? Visit our volunteer information page, then if you have more questions, simply fill in our volunteer enquiry form with your questions!
Carolyn Budai, owner and passionate animal person.