Jun 2009

An open response to the Orlando Sentinel

The Orlando Sentinel recently ran an opinion piece on the “Burmese pythons in the everglades” issue.  The article can be found here.  My response (posted on their “comments” page) follows below.

This op-ed is embarrassingly shortsighted.  For someone apparently so concerned about the environment, the author certainly fails to consider the dozens of reptile and amphibian species that still EXIST thanks to responsible captive propagation in the private sector.  Hog Island boas, an insular variety of Boa constrictor imperator for example, are almost certainly extinct in the wild save for the hundreds of enthusiasts who continue to breed them -- privately and responsibly -- in captivity every year.

Or what about the dozens of Australian python species whose numbers continue to dwindle lower and lower thanks to human habitat encroachment and fragmentation?  Australia's laws are so restrictive that one cannot even RESCUE an injured reptile from the road, let alone keep native species without a costly permit.  The author laughs at the prospect of the US goverment kicking down doors to confiscate a gerbil, yet these types of tactics, unannounced inspections and the like, are common obstacles for  Australian reptile keepers and breeders.  With barriers like these, it's no wonder Australia's wildlife is disappearing!

It's captive keeping and breeding -- by thousands of individuals nationwide who collectively work harder and spend more on their projects than any one zoo ever could -- who will ensure the long term survival of endangered species like the Australian woma or blackheaded python; species this bill would ban people from breeding, species this author apparently hasn't given two seconds to consider before launching into his or her poorly-thought out and typically unscientific diatribe.

Arguments using the snakehead fish or the Asian carp as invasive species analogies doesn't even begin to hold water when discussing herpetofauna.  The vast majority of reptiles are NOT ecological generalists; as ectotherms they require a very narrow range of temperatures, most survive only in specific climates with specific rainfalls, relative humidity, and elevations.  Although burmese pythons are an unusual case at the very southern tip of Florida, there are a sorry few examples of invasive reptile species, and to my knowledge the brown snake in Guam, which the author cites, is the ONLY other example of an invasive snake species that has caused widespread ecological damage on record.

The author also takes the all-too-common collectivist approach to his or her economic risk-assessment.  Even if it WERE true that the U.S. pet industry would not collapse (and the author cites no study, offers no evidence that this is the case), there are still THOUSANDS of small hobby breeders, family men and women, students and researchers like myself, who would lose a significant portion (if not their entire source) of income with the passing of this bill.  What about them?  I have to wonder if the author would feel the same way, standing face to faces with those thousands he or she has smugly dismissed as a meaningless fraction of the US pet industry.  I would URGE congressmen and CERTAINLY the media (ahem, Orlando Sentinel) to take a ruthlessly scientific approach to these considerations, not to react so impulsively and emotionally.  The life work and careers of thousands of dedicated individuals is at stake.

Brad Waffa

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Q: I am considering having my snakes microchipped. Has anyone done this? Anyone else considering it?

Q: Just curious if this is something others have done or are considering doing. I have been thinking about it for a while now. My snakes mean the world to me and if somehow they escaped and were found, getting them home would be a lot easier if they were chipped. Shedding would concern me though. Please... share your thoughts.

A: From my understanding, the rationale behind microchipping snakes is a little different than that behind chipping other pets, like your dog.  There's -- as Nick mentions -- a legal requirement in certain states (like FL) for certain large (potentially "injurious") species to be chipped.  In the event that an escaped burmese or retic is found, the owner can be identified and slapped with a nasty fine.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, certain big-name breeders have talked about microchipping their snakes so that there would always be some digital record on the animal that PROVES the animal came from their stock.  Never again would you have to go on someone's word when you bought an animal online that it WAS in fact from VPI.  It would come with a microchip and a certificate proving so.  I've heard talk that some of those big-name breeders may begin to offer it as an option for an additional fee.  You can imagine how handy this might be if you're re-selling the snake down the road and want to make sure to get your money's worth...

Tagging your animals in case they got lost though is really just up to you...  Personally, I have my doubts that the animal would ever make it back to you.  It would have to survive long enough outside to be found in an environment that is, unless you keep native species, dramatically different than what it requires.  It would have to evade foreign predators like hawks, dogs, cats, cars, etc.  And then it would have to be found.  And not just found, but found by one of the few people who wouldn't seek to kill it outright, and also by someone with the foresight to wonder if its microchipped, take the snake to a vet or animal shelter, have it scanned (assuming they even know where to scan on a snake), and then contact you to get it home.  It's certainly something that could be done, as Nick said, to the tune of about $35 a snake.  But in my personal opinion, ensuring that your snakes never escape to begin with is a more sensible and economical option. - BJW

Source: http://www.iherp.com/Answers/ReptileProblem.aspx?Id=6565

Q: Cooking Cage Items - Specifically Wood

Q: I am tired of googling this and not finding an answer, so I'm asking you iherpers! I purchased a piece of mopani wood from Petco to place in the new boas bin. I've not cleaned or 'cooked' stuff before so I'm needing to know how to do it. Do you wrap it in foil, what temps, and for how long in the oven.

Much appreciated!

A: Some like their wood well-done.  I usually leave mine in the cooker at 250-300 ºF for anywhere from 15 mins to several hours; it really depends on the size of the log.  Think of it like a big wooden steak.  You want to cook it all the way through to kill any potential pathogen.  If it's a really thick piece and you cook it at 400º (for example), chances are you're going to char the piece or catch your house on fire before the middle of the wood has been adequately heated.  In these cases I cook at a lower temperature for a longer period of time.  Unless you're working in a lab under sterile conditions, near autoclaving your cage furniture is not really necessary.  But baking it for a bit is a good way to stave off any unwanted introductions into your collection!

Source: http://www.iherp.com/Answers/ReptileProblem.aspx?Id=6541

Q: Ball Python Anal Plate Opening Up

Q: I have only had Mojo for three months, (unsexed but I refer to it as male) so I am new to experiencing many things.  With the nice weather, I took Mojo out a few times to be in the sun.  The last two times I noticed his (what I gather to be) anal plate openng up and closing.  

I have not seen this action happen while holding him inside and while outside, he would open and close it.  He did it before he deficated and also a couple days afterwards.  He is a regular weekly eater who recently went to F/T adult mice.  He was eating one hopper before that, but they went down fast and the adults are no larger than his girth.

He moves around fine, has no problem being handled, has no other signs of anything being abnormal.  When it was opened up, there were no signs of anything looking inflamed or infected, and when closed it looks like it always has.. nice and flat and no discoloration.

So, is this a common action or response?

Thank you for any insights!

PS.. I tried to take a photo while it was opened up but it came out blurry due to his moving around.

A: I don't think "he" is pooping (you're not seeing poop) and farting is rarely observed in snakes, usually indicating some sort of gastric distress.  As for the "airing it out" theory...  well...  last time I saw that it was a bum in New York, and the NYPD quickly escorted him away.  But hey, to each his own.

I'm not convinced that Mojo is male...  What you've described sounds a lot like a phenomenon called cloacal dragging (I've heard it called more amusing things, but this isn't the appropriate forum).  This is a breeding-related behavior that many snake species exhibit, though it's particularly pronounced in the pythons; it's usually restricted to females of reproductive age.  Cloacal dragging is both a visual and hormonal indicator to males that a female snake is ready to mate; as she drags herself over the ground she leaves a trail of pheremones that draw nearby males to her.  She's also exposing herself to whatever rogue hemipenis is in the vicinity.  Pheremones, by the way, are the  logic behind the new traps that Florida is proposing for use in the everglades -- pheremone scent traps should, theoretically, draw snakes into them.

Why your ball python would be cloacal dragging outdoors only is beyond me.  Perhaps some combination of light, heat, and humidity put her in the mood?  Perhaps she's detecting pheremones from other snakes?  Get her probed by an experienced vet or keeper in your area.  My bet is that your boy is a "she," and that she is -- at worst -- just a little lonely. - BJW

Follow up: you mention it is done to indicate they are ready to breed.  My question is would or could this happen to one that is probably just over a year old?

A: Yes, females frequently exhibit this behavior as an indicator that they're physically ready to breed.  But that deserves some qualification...  Just because a female is physically capable of breeding does NOT mean that she is "ready."  There's a human parallel to be drawn here but I'll let you go down that road on your own...  Breeding is EXTREMELY taxing on the body.  If you don't believe me, ask your mother.  Calcium is literally leeched from the female's bones and reallocated into the developing eggshells and skeletal architecture of the offspring.  Energy reserves from months of eating and resting are completely depleted as they go to fund the developing fetuses.  Let's not even get into the stretching involved in egg production and laying (here the ovoviviparous snakes may have it comparatively easy)...  You get the idea, right?  Producing a new generation of offspring is taxing on a female snake; she must be well-equipped and well-prepared to face the challenges of those months post-breeding, or major complications are likely to ensue.  Female snakes that are pushed to breed too early typically produce a higher number of "slugs" (eggs that are infertile or which are terminally damaged during oviposition) and are much more likely to egg-bind, a frequently fatal condition in which eggs become impacted in the female...

This might have included more details than you bargained for but I hope it illustrates, if only in an elementary way, how important it is to wait until the female is physically well-equipped to breed before embarking on that next step. - BJW

Source: http://www.iherp.com/Answers/ReptileProblem.aspx?Id=6438

Q: I need help to ID a snake?

Q: Hello, I live in SW Florida and found this cute little fellow in my pool this morning. I think I know what he is but I wanted to check with the experts. Thanks for your help.


A: That's Storeria dekayi victa, the Florida Brown Snake -- and a very nice specimen at that.  Good work! - BJW

Source: http://www.iherp.com/Answers/ReptileProblem.aspx?Id=6425

Q: Wtf? Vita-Lite?

Q: Ok, so I've been doing some lighting research for day geckos and I've been seeing a lot of literature pointing me in the direction of these "Vita-Lites". I have never personally used them, and in fact I've never HEARD of them until yesterday. I want a good full spectrum light for my geckos and frogs- these things are supposedly supposed to be SO close to natural daylight that they give off UVA AND UVB as well as the growth spectrum for plants. Sounds too good to be true, imo. So MY question is this:

1) Has anyone ever used these things? What were your results?
2) Are they really that effective? I don't want to pay 15 bucks a bulb and find out my plants are dying and my animals aren't getting enough UV...
3) Am I better off just using an aquarium light for my plants, plus a heat lamp (one that gives off UVB)?
4) If you HAVE day geckos, can you tell me what kind of lights YOU'RE using? I would assuming anything that gives off UVA would suffice, but I'm seeing a lot of emphasis on full spectrum lighting....

Unfortunately, little to no research has been done on these lights that I've found. I just see a lot of people advertising them for anything from office, medical use,  to birds and reptiles.

Anyone's input would be GREATLY appreciated :D

A: You're right to be a tad suspiscious -- a "vita-lite" sounds a little misleading from an advertising perspective.  These bulbs don't "beam" vitamins any more than I can shoot lasers out of my eyes.  The "vitamins" are synthesized from within your reptile by energy they derive, not exclusively from heat, but largely from the light spectra they experience while basking.  This, by the way, is why lighting requirements are less fastidious for most snakes (nocturnal animals have little need for sunlight).  For diurnal lizards though, basking in direct sunlight, or under bulbs that mimic the important parts of the daylight spectrum is extremely important.  Without access to these wavelengths, lizards will slowly (or sometimes rapidly!) deteriorate and eventually die from malnutrition or secondary immunosuppression.  Do some research and find out what kind of lighting is most important for your day geckos, and find a bulb that satisfies those requirements.  Remember: simulating the daylight spectrum is probably more than sufficient, so expensive designer pet bulbs are likely a waste of money.  I just bought an ECOlux daylight spectrum bulb at Wal-Mart the other day for under $15 -- and it was for a 4' bulb! - BJW

Source: http://www.iherp.com/Answers/ReptileProblem.aspx?Id=6411