Reptile Myths Explained Part 2

Yeah but my friend said…Reptile Myths Explained Part 2

(and many other reptile myths explained, part 1)

Here we go again, another batch of reptile myths, rumors and urban legends I will be debunking.

Baby Rattlesnakes (insert other venomous snake) are more dangerous than adults

This is kind of tricky one, so let’s look at this logically. All venomous snakes are born that way, with venom glands and the venom that is produced in those glands is the exact same throughout their lives. When you see on a TV show that the babies hatch out, or come out as lethal as their parents it’s kind of a play on words. Technically yes, their venom is as potent as their parents so a drop of venom say from an inland taipan has the same LD50 whether or not it is 1 day old, or 1-year-old. That really isn’t the question however, it’s are they more dangerous?

Perhaps an inland taipan is not the best example of this as the babies carry more than enough venom to easily kill a person. Let’s look at the red pygmy rattlesnake. The lethal dose of venom is 12.6 mg/kg, a baby has a venom gland that carries about 12 mg of venom, while an adult carries about 36mg. Even if the baby were to inject all of its venom it wouldn’t kill you, whereas an adult would easily.  Keep in mind that results are obtained by injecting mice with the venom, and mice are not people. There is also the fact that results can vary from lab to lab so these numbers are really used as an example.  Although I have heard it said that a baby snake’s venom gland is a bb compared to a adult’s bullet there are other factors here that we aren’t immediately looking at.  While an adult snake can surely deliver a more fatal bite than most young snakes, younger snakes are smaller and less likely to be seen. As most snake bites are accidental caused by one stepping on a hidden animal, it can be said that a younger snake could more easily not be seen by a passerby.  If it is not an accident, and you are handling them, most keepers I have spoken to come to a general consensus that younger, smaller snakes are more ready to bite and are quicker when they do.  Mike Macdonald, the curator for the Maritime Reptile Zoo in Halifax NS said this “Smaller snakes are quicker and more likely to bite. Large snakes are a little slower and you have more time to react to avoid a bite, but if it connects its much worse of a bite.” So it can be said that even though babies may not pack enough heat to kill you, you might be in more danger handling them.  With all of these variables, the answer really is up in the air, are they more dangerous? Possibly, but their bite certainly does not pack the same punch an adult would given the amount of venom they have.

You have to feed in a separate enclosure

I am going to get flak for this, but hear me out. It is often been said that it’s better to feed a snake in a separate enclosures. Throughout my years keeping snakes, I have to say, not once have I fed outside the enclosure. There are many reasons I have heard from people, some having many more years experience than I do. One of the reasons is that the snake will associate you coming into its home with food. I am a bit up in the air with this point. I have had snakes that do not seem to really associate anything with food unless they actively smell food, while others will seemingly look like they are ready to eat when there is no food there. I have not actually tested to see whether or not they would think my hand is food nor do I want to test that (getting bit is not a rite of passage, nor a badge of honor). To avoid this behavior I use my trusty snake hook, give them a small hook or a light bop on the head and they snap out of this potential feeding response.

This works on anything from a carpet python to a large Burmese python. Don’t have a snake hook? The handle from broom has worked for me, or a branch from a tree equally as good. Another thing you may want to avoid when feeding is to feed using tongs and not by hand. I feed with tongs for the most part, and I have never gotten bitten as a result of a feeding response. People may also say that it avoids the snake ingesting harmful substrate. You are right, it does do this but I must ask what substrates are you using that the snake would ingest that is harmful.

Snakes are not domesticated animals; they have not evolved special dietary needs that come from being in captivity. In the wild they eat on loose ground, sand and other miscellaneous particulates that may be there. The method on which snakes eat usually prohibit substrates from getting ingested and they usually fall of when the snake pulls itself around its prey, so chances are this is a non issue to begin with. If a snake, however does ingest a little bit of aspen or what have you, don’t worry too much. If they are hydrated, not stressed they will either digest the substrate or pass it. We eat things we can’t digest all the time and just pass it through. If your snake eats a whole bunch of substrate, or something else like a heating pad (that should not be kept inside the tank anyway) or even a puppy training pad (I’ve seen that on a forum) than impaction and health issues may arise and a vet should be seen immediately. This is a rare occurrence and I would not expect that to happen regardless. These two reasons can be enough to make you want to feed outside the enclosure, but as stated before, they generally are not an issue if you know what to look for and are careful.

There are negative aspects of feeding outside the enclosure as well. Sometimes I have trouble eaters to begin with, stressing them out by moving them only adds to the issues and I can’t imagine them eating after being moved. There is also the trouble of moving the snake back into its home after it has eaten, many snakes stay in their feeding response for a while after eating and it’s not practical, or safe to move them in this mode, doing so may get you bit or the snake regurgitate its meal. Oh yeah, there is also the fact if you have a large constrictor it’s a real pain in the neck to move it time and time again. There are pros and cons to feeding outside the enclosure for sure, and this is one of those times where it really is up to you. We have looked at this from several different angles, and while you by all means don’t need to, it’s personal preference.

Snakes only grow to the size of their enclosures.

I really have no idea where this originated from. This is false, like creation false. Snakes grow to the size they are genetically programmed to. The speed by which they grow is tied directly into how often and how much they eat. This trait is also responsible for the term “power feeding” wherein keeps cram as much food into their animal as quickly and as much as they can in order for the snake to reach breeding size prematurely. This not only is cruel but detrimental to the snake’s health as it results in a fatty liver. This also leads people to believe they can safely stunt a snake’s growth by feeding it less. This is also bad as you are starving an animal.

You can however do what some call “slow grow” a snake, but feeding it a varied diet at more natural intervals, this of course has nothing to do with the size of the enclosure. People that subscribe to this myth will often have overweight, stressed animals that have shortened life spans and can act aggressively. The myth probably relates to the fact that some fish will have stunted growth due to small enclosures but this of course is a result from a mechanism in the fish biology that has nothing to do with any reptile.

Snakes are slimy

Oh boy, where to begin with this. All reptiles have scaly dry skin, as a result of an evolutionary advantage developed by their amphibian ancestors in the Carboniferous era about 330 million years ago. This allows them to live out their lives on dry land and has also allowed them to live in pretty much every climate on earth. Reptiles are not slimy, amphibians are.

There you have it, some more myths, legends and rumors explained. If you know of any more, please write in!

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