Snake Keeping Questions

This is probably the most common question I get asked by both newbies and experienced keepers. My reply is the three things you need to get right are temperature, temperature and temperature! Get this right and 99% of the time there will be no problem – with health, with feeding, with anything.

Make sure you are taking the temperature of the snake. Often keepers have the temperature probe located incorrectly so say 50mm above the snake is the right temp but the actual snake is too cold. If you watch your snake it will indicate if all is well. If it is always chasing the heat your cage is too cold! If its always at the cold end your cage is too hot.  When checking temperatures do it at the coldest and hottest time in the day, normally before sunrise and about midday. If the temperature is wrong, you don’t want your snake to eat, because if it’s too cold it won’t digest the food properly and it can just rot in the snakes’ gut. Check out my other articles for more info on snake temperature gradient.

Apart from the temperature of the snake, the other important aspect is the temperature of the food item being offered. Most snakes will feed better if the food is warm- about 35°C. I thaw my feed in hot tap water straight from the tap which should be about 50°C. If the water is too hot the food item guts are likely to expload. Once the thawed food is soft it can be offerred to the snake, a bit of extra water is no problem and makes it easier to swallow particularly if the fur is long like on frozen rabbits.

Sometimes the failure to feed can be caused by just general stress. With a new snake it has come from a different location. Our snakes live in dedicated snake rooms with other snakes and are visited maybe an hour a day. When you take your new snake to the average home, it has new noises, smells, and disturbances to get used to. The main one from newbies is too much handling, so give your new snake time to settle in. Limit handling to say 5 minutes in the hour.

If you have a difficult feeder, feed variety can get them going. In the wild, most snakes eat other reptiles or birds, so scenting a rodent with lizard scent or bird scent can turn the snake on. This is done by putting a rodent in the same container as a lizard or by putting the snake in the old lizard container without the lizard and the scent may trigger hunting mode. To scent with bird, the easiest is to pluck a few feathers and stick them on the wet rodent.Rodent Farm has reliable supplies of  frozen chickens and frozen quail so you can chose to just feed birds if that is what your snake prefers. I have found frozen pinkie rabbitsparticularly useful in encouraging stubborn Carpets to feed.

Finally, don’t worry if you snake doesn’t feed often. In the wild they are oportunistic feeders and so its feast or famine. Ten feeds a year will probably keep a snake going although growth is directly related to feed consumption and temperature, so to maximise growth, weekly feeding and access to optimum temperatures is required.

Generally speaking all pythons have similar cage requirements which end up as a compromise between what is ideal for the snake and what is good for the keeper. In providing a home for you new snake temperature is the most important consideration as it determines the rate of metabolism which influences digestion of snake food and consequent growth rates.

The aim is to provide a variety of temperature gradients so the snake can select the temperature it wants. This is normally done by providing a temperature gradient with the hottest temperature from an artificial heat source at one end of the cage, and the coolest temperature (normally room temperature) at the other.

Heat can be provided from a variety of souces including heat bulbs and ceramics, heat mats and cords. Bulbs and ceramics provide radiant heat and so the heat travels through the air to the snake and some heat is lost along the way. It is harder to provide a gradient this way, particularly in a small cage as over time all the cage air heats up and so the cool area becomes hot.

Heat mats and cords normally rely upon fairly direct contact with the snake so the heat is tranferred by conduction similar to a snake lying on a warm road or rock in the wild. This is a more efficient way to heat as the road or rock provides thermal mass to store the heat. In a cage a ceramic tile is often placed on top of the heat mat or cord to spread the heat and to provide thermal storage. Matts and cords have a virtually indefinite life and handle switching on and off better than a bulb, which is generally related to how often it is turned on and off. Bulbs will last longer if they remain on or are only dimmed instead of being turned totally off ,which requires particular types of thermostats.

You can improve the temperature gradient by installing a baffle wall between the hot and cold area of your cage. For our large snakes we actually use two separate cages joined with a porthole so the snake can move from the cold cage to the warm cage. It is surprising how much time the big olives spend in the cool end. I believe this is because their body weight offers thermal mass to store heat whilst they ruise the cage.

One of the main questions that I get asked is what size food item should I feed and how often should I feed. And before you answer that, you really need to know why are you feeding. Are you feeding to achieve maximum growth, or are you feeding just to keep the animal alive, or are you conditioning the animal for breeding? In which case, is it a male or is it a female? Because the requirements are different.

So, firstly, I’ll address the issue of feeding for survival. Now, for survival, the theorists will tell you need 20% of the animal’s body weight. And that’s probably true. But the other thing that will influence the requirements is the temperature at which the animal is kept. Because temperature will determine the rate of metabolic activity or the rate of digestion. So assuming you are keeping your animal at optimum temperatures, and for pythons in Australia, that’s ball-park 30 degrees celsius. They need access to that – that needs to be their body temperature. Well then 20% is probably a maintenance requirement. It’ll keep the animal alive but it’s not going to grow excessively quickly. It’ll just poke along nicely.

If you feed it 30% or 35%, which is probably feeding it to refusal, the animal will grow at it’s maximum rate.  If you are trying to utilise genetic potential in that animal because you’ve got a you-beaut, fancy looking snake and you want it to breed as soon as possible. Well then, your aim may be to bring it to breeding age as quick as possible.

But if you’ve just got a run-of-the-mill, pretty pet python, I think it’s best to feed it so that it achieves an average growth rate. Which normally means that in captivity, it will reach it’s adult size by about three or four years old.

The first question I get asked is what kind of snake should I get as a beginner. There’s two different classes of snake to choose from – there’s the Morellia or the Carpet Python and they achieve an ultimate size of about a couple of meters long or as thick as your wrist. And then there’s what’s known as Anteresia or Childrens Pythons, and they’re normally about a meter long when they’re adults and a bit thicker than a broomstick. So this difference in size will obviously determine the amount of space you’ll need to keep them.

For Anteresia you need to have a cage thats probably about 1m x 0.5m, whereas for Morellia, you need to have something that’s about double that size –  maybe about 1.2m by 600mm x 600mm.

Storage life depends upon the quality of the storage.

I used to be involved in the export of meat for human consumption to Europe. The cut-off there was 2 years, but meat was always stored at -18c or less.

If you are worried about how long your order will last perhaps you can get a few reptile keepers together and place an order together… Our boxes hold about 6 kilos of product which is what we have found is the minimum thermal mass to maintain temperature during transport.

Delivery Questions

All orders received by Friday are shipped on the following Tuesday and should arrive Wednesday morning (excluding products on backorder or special order items). We will send you an email and an sms when your order has been dispatched and it should arrive the morning after that email or sms is received. To sign up to receive sms, simply check the box for this on when you enter the checkout.

We are constantly working to improve our service. We always love to hear from our customer – let us know how your order arrives via our Customer Feedback Form.

There is a 2kg order minimum for local delivery and road freight orders to achieve the thermal mass required to maintain our quality of product throughout shipping.

Rodent Farm aims to keep your freight costs to a minimum. To assist with this we deliver only once to your street front address. We cannot guarantee that we will deliver to a person as we have no way of identifying the recipient, and so our couriers will leave at the street front if no-one is home. You receive an email from us (and an sms if you opt in for mobile notifications at the checkout too) letting you know that your order has been dispatched and is expected to arrive the following morning. We endeavour for the majority of our deliveries to be dispatched on Tuesday nights for arrival on Wednesday mornings. By ordering it is deemed that you agree to us leaving your order at an unattended address.

Rodent Farm product is produced at four farms throughout Australia and is consolidated and distributed from our online store distribution centre. The inventory levels shown on our site are what is “in-store” at the time and so what we can delivery within the 10-day timeframe, normally the next tuesday after orderring. If an item is shown as not in stock, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have it, it’s more likely that it is being transported to our distribution centre. If an item you are ordering is shown as ‘not in stock’, please allow a bit more time for your order to arrive than our standard 10-day delivery. As a general rule, we like to ship all online orders within 21 days of payment. We will call you if it’s going to be longer than 21 days.

If you aren’t in a rush for product, why not take advantage of our 10-10 offer – where we deliver within 10 weeks and you get 10% off your entire order!

At Rodent Farm, we really value the presentation and quality of our product and work hard to maintain this right to your door. We have sourced special, medical-grade polystyrene boxes to use for long distance shipping. These boxes come in two sizes and hold 6kg or 14kg of product. To provide the thermal mass required, we have a 6kg order minimum for long distance orders. Whilst of course, we can ship any quantity 6kg or more, our freight charges are per order so in your best interest to fill the box where possible. To optimise your freight charges, we recommend you place an order with a weight of 6kg, 12kg,14kg, 20kg, 26kg,.. (or any combination of the two box sizes). We’ll generally ring you if there is a lot of surplus space and suggest the amount of product required to fill the box.

Storage Questions

We often get comments that our clients don’t have sufficient storage to order larger quantities. At Rodent Farm, we have been working hard to reduce our shipping rates, so that people can afford to place smaller orders more often. However, if you require Long Distance Shipping, or even Regional Shipping, it would probably be more cost effective for you to invest in some more storage space and place larger orders less often.

Discount department stores sell the standard ‘bar’ freezer for about $250. Or you might be able to find a second hand tucker box on Gumtree (these would hold approximately $1000 of product). If you fill a bar freezer once you will more than pay for it in one bulk order.