Before Buying A Milk Snake

Before buying a milk snake you should consider your reasons for wanting to own a snake.    If your primary reason is owning a snake that you can regularly handle, many milk snake subspecies may not be the best possible choice (see previous section on handling).   Snakes also have certain environmental and feeding requirements which need to be addressed prior to purchase.  There are many people who like snakes but cannot cope with the issue of feeding rodents.  Other reptiles would probably be a better choice for these individuals.  However, if you are looking for a beautiful, moderate-sized, relatively easily maintained and docile species of snake, few can be more highly recommended than the milk snakes with their shiny scales, clearly defined patterns and vivid colors.

It is not possible to be 100% sure of the health status of a snake or its adaptability to captive conditions.  However, by following certain steps in the initial selection of a snake, the probability for success will be considerably increased.

The following are recommended guidelines for selection:

1) Inspect the snake and pay attention to its apparent weight.  A healthy snake has a rounded tapering cylindrical body, with no outlines of the ribs or backbone clearly apparent.

2) Look at the skin.  It should be "full," clean, shiny, and with no wounds, bumps, blisters, or damp sticky areas.

3) Ask to handle the snake.  A healthy snake is active and gives a sense of muscular vigor when moving through a hand.  A limp-feeling snake is usually an unhealthy snake.

4) Let the snake crawl through your fingers.  Apply firm but gentle resistance to the snake's movement and feel for broken ribs or any irregular lumps or cavities in the body.

5) Examine the head area.  The eye caps should be clear and the pupils in both eyes should be the same.

6) Inspect around the eyes and between the chin scales for mites, and all over the body for ticks.

7) Gently open the mouth (using a blunt instrument) and look for discoloration, "cheesy" matter (sign of mouth rot), or any signs of infection or injury.    Look for excessive phlegm or bubbly mucus in the mouth.  If present, this symptom combined with others such as gaping or forced exhalations suggests the presence of respiratory disorders or infections.

8) Examine the underside of the snake.  Look for scars or discoloration of scales.    Closely examine the vent area for any signs of diarrhea, swelling, or crusty accumulations.  The anal plate of a healthy snake will lie flat against the body.

9) After replacing the snake in its cage, immediately inspect your hands for any crawling mites.

If the snake is a prospective purchase and there are any problems found, don't even consider buying the animal.  It is a good idea, before concluding a purchase, to ask the seller about the snake's habits, food preferences, date of last shed, and anything unusual about the snake.  If possible ask to watch the snake feed.  Remember that, as a general rule, a captive-hatched and/or raised snake maintained in a clean, sanitary environment will have a much better chance of establishing in captivity than a wild-caught snake.  If the snake is captive-hatched, ask if it is possible to see the parents.  To a significant degree, the characteristics of the parents will provide you with a good idea of what you can expect your snake to become.  If a decision is made to buy the snake, consider having a veterinarian check for internal parasites, particularly if it was wild-caught.

Is there an advantage to buying first clutch animals over second or third clutch hatchlings?  The answer is yes, but not for what is often suspected to be the reason.    Second or third clutch animals can be just as healthy, large, and vigorous as first clutch animals.  The time and season of purchase, however, can play a key role in determining how soon a captive-raised snake will be able to breed. The primary reason that first-clutch animals are preferable when available is that you will have more time to grow them, and thus, will be more likely to have them close to adult size by their second winter when they will be cooled for the first time prior to attempted breeding.    Second or third clutch snakes born late in the season will have fewer months of feeding and growth available prior to that initial cooling, two winters down the line.    However, purchasing later clutch animals this year is preferable to purchasing first clutch animals next year for the same reasons.  Because yearling snakes often will not feed their second winter and need to be hibernated, even if still small, it may take 2.5-3 years to grow and breed second or third clutch animals, but they should be larger and capable of producing more eggs with fewer risks than the next year's first clutch animals.

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