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Rat hats, Jericho and tortoise trunks. Not for faint hearted! AMA

(57 Posts)
FraggleShingleBellRock Wed 06-Jan-21 19:36:12

I've been asked to start a thread after a few of my comments totally derailed a thread about a royal python escaping. I've been heavily involved with exotic animals all my life and it seems people want to know more about it all.

I will try and link the Python thread so you can catch up on exactly why you need to see a Chick to a rat, how dangerous a horse penis can be and how an echidna ejaculates.

I hope I don't regret this 😂

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Nikhedonia Wed 06-Jan-21 19:42:37

Fraggle you are an absolute QUEEN 👑 for starting this thread.

I need to know the full story about how the horse situation happened and also what on earth the Dr's at A&E said.

Could you also please tells me more about getting snakes to mate? I heard that you have to 'milk' a snake, is that true?

Also, any further stories you can provide on the providing Frankenstein animals to snakes would be much appreciated.

drinkingwineoutofamug Wed 06-Jan-21 20:26:14

Does the mum snake look after the babies or does she leave them to it?

FraggleShingleBellRock Wed 06-Jan-21 20:33:01


The horse situation. Basically they were a small stud and while trying to collect the sample into the sleeve, something happened to startle the horse. If you know anything about horses then you will know that ANYTHING can startle a horse, or even nothing at all. As my friend over reached, the horse moved sideways and she got caught in the face as the horses penis swung back towards her. She doesnt remember anything after that apart from being in AandE. She was very lucky that she wasn't more seriously injured by trampling etc. She had to have surgery on her jaw and thank god the scar is not overly noticable because honestly..... would you really want to keep explaining that story? I know I wouldn't !

Related to the studd story, horse repoduction has really become more scientific over the last 15 years. it is now possible to use the very best mares and impregnate them with the very best sperm. Then after conception the vet will rinse out the uterus before the egg implants and its so large its visible to the human eye. Like a little tiny marble. They then introduce the blastocyst into the uterus of a "normal" horse and allow her to be the surrogate. The reasoning is that the top genetic female can have this process done several times a year at no harm to her but if she was allowed to get pregnant she could only produce one baby compared to 4-6 through surrogacy in the same time period. Means more top quality horses and ££££ for the breeders.

You cant milk a snake. Some people can be lucky and a male and female will just breed but if you are running a serious hobby then you introduce fake seasonal changes to encourage the natural response. Depends on the species but could be longer/shorter days, more rain, lower/higher temperatures. Using the country of origins weather and seasonal patterns helps but even so it can still be very hard. Then you introduce the male to the female and they lock together. Can be half and hour or 24 hours. he pumps his semen into her and they may do this 2-3 times. Some species, the male will literally breed himself to death so its important to watch condition etc. Then you remove him and watch the female. Good signs of being gravid in royal python is lying on their back and wrapping around the water bowl. When eggs are laid you remove them and incubate them as the mother will refuse food and survival rates from maternal incubation are low in captivity. I used an old freezer with the cooling stuff removed and a heat cale and a stat to hold the temperature.

OP’s posts: |
FraggleShingleBellRock Wed 06-Jan-21 20:56:02


In the wild it depends on the species. The babies fend for themselves as soon as they hatch. A baby cobra, for example, hatches and has a supply of venom ready to go. A python can hunt from hatching too. Some snakes will incubate their eggs by wrapping their coils around them and shivering to produce heat. But I am sure there must be some species that live in constant temperatures that lay the eggs and leave.

But, not all snakes lay eggs. Snakes that lay eggs are oviparous and the babies develop in the egg after laying. Snakes that develop babies inside them are called viviparous and give borth to live babies, Boas do this. Ovoviviparous animals make eggs, and the babies develop within the eggs, within the parent body. Rattlensakes and garter snakes and also some sharks and rays fall into this category.

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percheron67 Wed 06-Jan-21 20:59:33

I am concerned about the poor little tortoises! Would really love a pair of my own.

EspressoExpresso Wed 06-Jan-21 21:05:21

What do you do for a living?

FraggleShingleBellRock Wed 06-Jan-21 21:07:52


I love tortoises, they are what got me interested in reptiles. One of my youngest memories was seeing a great aunt at her house and her husband took me into the greenhouse to look at the tomatoes and strawberrys etc. I remember seeing a tortoise and thinking it was a rock and then it moved. Blew my mind. I was obsessed straight away and by age 7 I had tortoise everything. pjs, toys, nan even dot the bus to the other side of the town that did white chocolate tortoises because I said they tasted better than mice.

I have three tortoises at the moment. Two Iberas and an indian star. One of the Iberas was given to me as alost cause. He had been found in the garden after hibernating himself and he was very ill. With lots of TLC he bounced back and now rules over our garden in the summer. We were then given his friend, a female. She is much gentler than him and doesnt really appreciate his attentions so hides a lot. The indian star I bought a long time ago as a pair but the male choked on a large stone last year and died. Oddly, with indian stars ( and like pythons), the male is often very small in comparison to the female.

I have also kept and bred many species of tortoise over the years. All have very different needs. My favourite by far has been the pancake tortoise. They are soft shelled and have sacrficed their armour to gain speed. They are mega quick! and they use their legs to wedge into rocky crevices to avoid predation. I also have kept hermans, horsfields, redfoots, leopards, egyptians and sulcattas.

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FraggleShingleBellRock Wed 06-Jan-21 21:13:08


At the moment nothing. I became seriously ill about ten years ago and had to really scale back on what i could do physically. I did a BA and an MA . I was about to start teacher training when corona happened as I am CEV I had to defer. Now I am waiting for several surgerys so god knows what will happen next. I have written and presented for several very niche journals , magazines and publications over the years though.

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Nikhedonia Wed 06-Jan-21 21:33:58

** Thank you for your previous reply. I still can't quite believe a horse's dick broke her jaw. It's unbelievable, really.

Snakes that develop babies inside them are called viviparous and give borth to live babies, Boas do this.

Have you ever seen a snake give birth? Do they seem in any pain or distress?

FraggleShingleBellRock Wed 06-Jan-21 21:52:39


I have seen several boas give birth. When you know they are due they get put into the biggest plastic tubs you can find, like 1m2, as boa birth is VERY messy. In a normal wood/laminate viv the viv would be unusable as it would blow and distort. Plus, the smell of babies may agitate the mum. I have noticed a pattern, along woth afew friends that bred boas that they tend to like giving birth during bad weather. They like the pressure fronts from rain etc. When it's not raining, a friend notced that hoovering in the reptile room seemed to coincide with birthing and he thinks its the change is pressure combined with the vinrations etc. There is a fair amount of anecdotal evidence to back it up too. As for the process, its quick and I can only describe it as several hushes, much like when you have the runs. But each push delivers babies, stringy mucuous with veins and lots of liquid. its a giant tangle. I've attached a picture, but it is not mine.

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Nikhedonia Wed 06-Jan-21 22:15:19

Wow, that is fascinating and disgusting in equal measure! shock

Nikhedonia Wed 06-Jan-21 22:16:28

How many baby snakes on average are born per gestation?

FraggleShingleBellRock Wed 06-Jan-21 22:28:06


In a decent sized female boa she can typically produce 20-30 per clutch but very big locales or especially large females there have been reports of 60-70. When breeding in captivity if a female is in good condition you can breed 2-3 years on the run and then give them a break to regain condition.

In pythons a royal can produce an average clutch of 4-7 but 13/14 has happened before. My biggest clutch was 10. A large burmese python is much bigger than a royal and can produce huge clutches or 90-100 eggs but with 30-70 being quite common.

I also bred several locale of egg eaters. They lay repeated clutches from a singular breeding and if kept together will breed to death. Each clutch of eggs, the fertility rate deteriorates. i typically had 8-12 eggs for the first and second clutch with a 90-100% fertility rate. the 2nd and3rd clutches would drop to 6-9 eggs with a 60-70% fertility and the 5th would typically be full of slug eggs with just 1 or 2 that were viable.

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Nikhedonia Wed 06-Jan-21 22:33:11

60-70 shockshockshock

When you say breed to death... do you mean they literally shag to death?

This is fascinating, thank you.

FraggleShingleBellRock Wed 06-Jan-21 22:47:28


yes, the male will die from the stress of producing sperm and not eating. Females, especially ones that lay muptile clutches from one mating, will loose condition quickly and then they can't survive as all their reserves, especially calcium, will be depleted. Lots of snake species, the males go off food in breeding season as the only thing on their mind is females. In royals, I had a few males that would only eat for 6-8 months of the year and then would not touch anything until after breeding again.

In response to a question I missed, I have never wotnessed a pain response in a snake. They do not show signs of pain. But that doesnt mean they do not feel it. I once had a baby royal broght to me that only had a bare light bulb for heat. It was such a poor heat source that he actually wrapped himself around it and ended up with horrific thermal burns on 70% of his stomach. When injured they go into a rapid skin shedding stage to try and get healed as quickly as possible but this puts them under stress. We had to assist feed him as he refused food and it took 7 months but he recovered. It was down to excellent cage hygiene, lots of aloe vera and antibiotics that had to be injected. He was left with a scar that was obvious but looked quite normal to the normal eyes. I have attached a picture of something similar.

I also had a leopard tortoise that survived a shed fire with shocking shell trauma but again, with lots of care from her owner she did surviv but with long term dissabilities and a very wonky shell.

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FraggleShingleBellRock Wed 06-Jan-21 22:51:05

and on that photo that is the burn, under the brown is raw and partially cooked tissue. that has to be slowly debrided with soaking and regular aloe vera and other topical treatments. Once healed the white belly scales will be there but with dimplingand some malformation. The photo on this one is about 70% healed.

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SEE123 Wed 06-Jan-21 23:25:50

This is an amazing thread, thank you OP.
Regarding the injured snake from the light bulb: some people really are morons. You shouldn't be allowed to buy animals without proving you have the correct equipment!
Your job/hobby is fascinating.

Nikhedonia Wed 06-Jan-21 23:32:39

So what kind of kit does a snake need?

A light bulb seems like an odd choice of heat source as, well, it seems like more of an obvious light source grin

FraggleShingleBellRock Wed 06-Jan-21 23:33:28


You would be surprised at just how awful some petshops are at advising people what to buy with their pet. The internet has been great for hobby groups and the like getting their message across about the right husbandry etc. Before the internet it was very niche and you had to rely on magazines and word of mouth to find breeders meetings and hobby groups. Now people google "how to look after a snake" and actually do a bit of proper research. Forums like RFUK have been ground breaking in moving the hobby forward and increasing awareness.

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Nikhedonia Wed 06-Jan-21 23:43:02

I can't believe some snakes shag to death.

FraggleShingleBellRock Wed 06-Jan-21 23:46:23


It really depends on the snake, if you want 1 or ten and what your long term aim is.

For a single pet royal python you can either go with a heat mat or a ceramic heat lamp in a cage. Both must be connected to a thermostat and that is a whole other thing. Some species require a drop in temperature at night, some require constant temperature. recent research has suggested that even nocturnal snakes can benefit from UVB so a tube light and starter. then you need to think about the floor. If you want plain newspaper thats fine, but you could use a wood based shred like aubiose that is absorbent. recent trends are for bioactive enclosures and they are great, they add a whole new dimension to the hoibby as its not just snake care. You need a soil/loam base and to introduce an insect clean up crew to help break down waste. You want natural planting to creat microclimates and provide envirronmental enrichment. So "just" a snake quickly becomes insects and flora too. Chameleons really benefit from this sort of set up.

But snakes, if you want ten of them and plan to breed very often a rack system is used. Like a really deep book case with shelves and then tightly fitting plastic drawers with vents cut in. The heat comes from the mats on the shelves and you just line the trays, add hides/water/moss and then hook the whole unit up the same stat. So great for maintaining multiple examples of one species but hardly an interesting focal point like a nice organic planted enclosure could be . Interestingly, within royals, the do like to have a mooch and sure, the bioactive system is nice and closer to "real life" but these animals are typically captive bred so are as at home in one as the other. They like to come out, have a mooch and go back to their hide.

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Nikhedonia Thu 07-Jan-21 00:12:17

Is there enough space in the bookcase style ones for them to move about or are they only in there for [ahem] coitus?

Do they ever bite you? Have you ever been bitten by one?

Also, do you ever feed them anything live?

FraggleShingleBellRock Thu 07-Jan-21 09:55:27


For royal pythons the largest rack systems are fine. They are a very lazy species and bask and then hide. They like to come out once/twice a week and then eat and laze.

I have been bitten by plenty of animals. Royal pythons teeth are more like sharp Velcro than true fangs. They can hurt but it's more likely to look like a love bite and Ooze a little blood. A bit from a larger species of python like a burn can be very painful as it's a huge amount of energy coiled up in a 6-12 stone spring. The impact can really bruise and the teeth are similar but larger. If they latch on, It's important not to pull away as you can pull all of their teeth out and also tear your flesh. So you need to grab the neck firmly and push into their mouth to unhook the teeth. Bleeding can be profuse 😬. I've handled Venemous rear fanged but never been bitten. Never been interested in handling venemous as they terrify me.

I have feed live but only in very serious situations. In this country it's illegal to feed live unless it's 100% necessary. I was dumped a batch of 20 non feeding imported hatchlings and they were 6-8 weeks old, full of parasites and not eaten. They were like string. They refused all offers of frozen. 6 of them accepted assist feeding where you gently stuff the mouse down its throat until instinct kicks in. 10 has 1-3 live feeds and then swapped to defrost and the rest didn't make it.

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TheABC Thu 07-Jan-21 10:50:19

This is fascinating! I enjoy handling snakes, but I have always been put off keeping one as I have been concerned about the level of care they need and messing it up (DH has a large tropical tank and it's been an education in water quality and filtration).

What is the largest pet snake you have seen in household captivity? Do snakes benefit from enriched environments, such as the bioactive enclosures. They may not exhibit pain, but can you tell if they are content/happy?

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