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Safely Handling and Feeding Large constrictors

Hi I am going to try to tackle this subject with intent on giving some idea to novices about handling boid snakes, while not being to bad to read for experienced handlers. First let me say I believe in your right to own a large boid snake. I disagree with some of the legislation in cities to ban these animals because of the danger to human beings. I mean lets face it if you walked through a neighbors front yard and saw an escaped boid could you get away fom it? How about the neighbors escaped pit bull? Which would you rather face? In fact dogs are a much larger threat to humans than any escaped boid snake.

I do not however believe in your right to keep your boids in a bad situation that may also jeopardize my right to keeping my large constrictors. Many people however just do not understand snakes and the way they act before going out and purchasing a 10' burmese python. I can not tell you how many people came in to my pet store and asked "they won't bite their owners right?" This is the ignorance that us experienced keepers should stomp out. Instead of doing what a lot of experienced keepers do ignoring the novice, we need to help them because in the long run it will help us avoid negligence and undo deaths to un educated people. This will help us all.

CAGING I think this should be on the top of the list to educate would be, first time buyers of burmese, retics or other large constrictors. Never underestimate the power of the snake. Enclosures for adults should NOT be top opening as they will inevitably escape no matter how the top is closed. Snakes do have a level of intelligence which allows them to understand how to break out of the joint! Large constrictors should have front or side opening cages with thick glass so the door can not be broken by the snake pushing on it, or a quick unexpected strike, it does happen sometimes! I house my adult boids in 3/4" cabinet quality birch wood. With front opening doors made from 6" firing strips and 1/2" plexiglass screwed to it. The doors are closed using strong turn buttons that are securely screwed into the cage and tight fitting against the door. I also use for smaller specimens Neodesha enclosures. However I have found these enclosures to ilicit feeding responses in snakes when the sliding door is opened because of the sound it makes. It makes dealing with some of the snakes involved more difficult to handle because they will strike as soon as the door is open. Caging should be easy to clean and can be sealed with uerathane or similar products. Again NEVER underestimate the power of the snake to push out of its enclosure. If you think there is a possibility it can happen trust me it will!

FEEDING Another mistake by the novice snake keeper that may put their life or body in jeopardy is feeding time.NEVER offer food to a large constrictor with your hand, the result can be a terrible wound that would require stitches or worse, a large constrictor may miss the item and constrict you. I would not even suggest using tongs with certain snakes as that also can be just as dangerous. When a snake smells its food item everything you knew about that specimen usually goes out the window. They wil strike and constrict any warm moving object in front of them in a "feeding frenzy", including light bulbs, water bowls, cage doors[I almost got nailed by a 100 pound burmese but shut her door fast enough and she got her teeth stuck in the framing of the wood], carpet [I was almost also nailed by a retic in a feeding frenzy that jumped out of a waist high enclosure at me, luckily I was quick enough to get out of the way and the result was a snake that dive bombed, bit, and tried to constrict the carpeting! He got his teeth stuck in the carpet and it took us a half an hour to free him as he tried to constrict any part of our body touching him], and possibly you! I am extremely extremely careful when feeding my snakes but as you can see accidents can always happen so be warned. I never feed any of my large snakes with out another person standing right next to me. I will grab a rabbit or large guinea pig or whatever frozen prethawed rodent I am using and I will have my friend slowly open the cage door as to not get the snakes attention and I will toss in the item and the door shuts just as fast. We try to avoid getting the snakes attention while doing this so as not to train the snake that when the door is open the food is coming in. We try to be sneaky about it. I have heard suggestions on moving the snakes to a seperate enclosure so the snake expects food in that enclosure, and not its permanent enclosure. However, it seems that it would then be harder to extract the snake from that enclosure if it knows it will get food in it. How are you gonna move that big burmese out of that cage then?

Things to remember about feeding

Another misconception that novices have is that they are stronger than a large constrictor. First let me say the snakes that I consider too large to handle alone; adult Burmese Pythons, Reticulated Pythons, Anacondas, African Rock Pythons. Some of the larger snakes that are usually hard to hold alone that do not pose that much of a threat however, may wrap around your throat or other body part and be extremely hard to get off alone; Papuan pythons, Amethystine Pythons, and some of the Red-Tail Boas. There are many others that come to mind but are not often kept except by already experienced herpers. Never allow the snake to form a loop around your neck as they may accidentally choke you. Also they may wrap around and then not want to let go. As you try to pull real hard the snake may get aggitated and bam, you will take a bite to the face or the hand, so just avoid this all together. Never let a large constrictor near your face no matter how TAME you think it is. The last place you want to be bitten is on the face, so please keep them away even if handling a snake that has never bitten you, and for heavens sake do NOT give them kisses! I have seen this done many times and I can not stand when people do that! Always have an extra person helping when handling a large boid over 10'. When a snake is over 15', two or more people should be present not including you! When a snake is over 20', it should be held only when occasion permits and many people should be present, and avoid all the problems that may arise before handling the snake. Large constrictors do NOT like to be held behind the head and many may pull and thrash about before coiling up and constricting you. So if this is absolutely necessary make sure you have the appropriate help and avoid doing this. Also many adults do NOT like to be grabbed by the tail! If I grab my large retics by the tail they will snap it back and may turn around looking to defend itself against a predator. Do not do this! Do not pull it out by the tail! When taking out your large constrictor. ALWAYS use a type of a shield to cover your face and body and to shield the snakes head from your hand from an unexpected bite that may accidentally happen. This will also get the snake to expect they will be picked up when they see you with the sheild. Shield the snakes head and front part of the neck or have someone else do this and slowly pick up the snake off of the ground or enclosure this will also let the snake know its time to stay calm and come out peacefully. Avoid trying to pull the snake as they will usually go in the opposite direction. Also avoid handling the snake roughly as they may want to constrict to hang on so they feel secure. Support as much of the snake as possible do not drag them along the ground. If a snake coils around you do not panic! Slowly pull the coils gently off supporting the snake so it does not get scared and strike or coil tighter. Remember they want to feel secure so that is why they will coil. If a snake is constricting you to defend itself or in a feeding response always start tail first to uncoil the snake. To make a snake let go with its mouth first try to grab the snake behind the head and slowly push forward, this will release the curved teeth from your flesh. A large spatula may be used while pushing forward to push the snakes teeth and mouth on to prevent another bite on you. It may be necessary in extreme situations to pour alcohol in the form of liquor into its mouth, this will usually make the snake let go and the head can then be grabbed to avoid another bite. Isopropyl alcohol may be used but may harm the snake, but lets face it if your are attacked the first priority is you, however, you will not want to hurt the snake if possible. Do not do ridiculous things as trying to cut the snake or something like this. Again snakes usually only attack for two reasons, one is to defend itself which will usually be a bite and not a constriction, and the other is to eat. So if you avoid both of the activities that cause these you will be a safe and responsible owner and enjoy the beauty and size of an adult constrictor!