Case Histories

The following are six case histories which are the production records of six individual milk snakes. While I have many records to choose from, most of my milk snakes are still young and actively producing each year, so their "histories" aren't really complete yet.  My personal favorite milk snakes, and the ones I have kept the longest, are the Pueblan milk snake and the Mexican milk snake.  I have selected six of the older ones which are some of the more interesting ones to present.  When you see Ltc #1 that means that it is Lampropeltis triangulum campbelli and that it is the first I have kept (either hatched here or purchased elsewhere) to raise as a breeder.    When you see Ltc #9064, it means I have retained the numbering system of the person it was purchased from, and that it was an adult when it was obtained.

The accompanying charts show the following:

  1. The dates in years the snake has been in possession.
  2. The weight of a female just after being removed from hibernation (usually taken about the first of March each year and before any meals).
  3. The date of egg laying.
  4. The number of eggs and the weight of the clutch.
  5. The weight of the female after egg laying but before any meals.
  6. The date the clutch hatched (if they come out over a period of a few days I use the middle day as hatch date).
  7. The number and sex ratio of the hatchlings. All weights are in grams and a triple beam balance was used to weigh them.

CASE HISTORY #1:  LTA #3 MEXICAN MILK SNAKE
The story of "Patch-head."  Not wanting to sound like I anthropomorphize my animals, her official title was Lta #3 (Lampropeltis triangulum annulata), but because of an easily recognizable "patch" of color extending forward out of her narrow yellow/orange head band, she was nicknamed "Patch-head."  Her story illustrates a problem with the "system", and is a shining example of what captive breeding is all about.

Many years ago a friend in Texas, and I in California, shared a common problem with our respective state Fish and Game wildlife regulation agencies.  The State of Texas was about to protect and prohibit the selling of the offspring of the Mexican milk snake, and the State of California was going even further with the California mountain kingsnake.    They were going to protect it, prohibit the selling of any offspring, confiscate animals, and arrest the possessor of any of these animals after a certain date.   We were both a bit disgusted with this development.  My California mountain kingsnake colony represented three generations (two produced in captivity) and several years of work.  His colony of Mexican milk snakes were long-term captives and had been producing offspring regularly.

I will jump over the negotiations part, but the result was that I traded a colony of California mountain kingsnakes for a colony of Mexican milk snakes, and we beat the legal deadline by several months!  This is how I acquired "Patch-head."  She had been wild caught in Texas and had been in captivity "a few years."  She had produced several clutches of eggs for my friend.  On arrival she weighted 175.7 grams and appeared relatively young, probably four to five years old.  I was told she was a small adult when captured.  She turned out to be my best producing Mexican milk snake.  The following chart will show you what she did.

Year # Day eggs laid #Eggs(Weight) Female Wt. Day Hatch # # Wt. out of
hibernation
1 6-29 9 (101.2) 148.4 8-27 4.5 172.6
2 5-17 7 (93.8) 148.7 7-21 2.5 182.4
2 7-31 6 (71.2) 163.1 9-25 2.3 ..
3 5-1 8 (98.5) 168.9 7-7 1.7 253.1
3 7-13 6 (77.3) 154.7 9-7 3.3 ..
4 4-27 7 (99.9) 176.7 7-1 5.2 234.3
4 7-12 7 (69.5) 163.7 9-8 3.4 ..
5 5-7 6 (88.2) ?? 7-9 4.2 231.4
5 7-5 7 (85.2) 169.2 9-4 5.2 ..
6 4-27 8 (105.5) 176.3 7-6 4.4 251.2
6 6-15 7 (76.0) 173.3 8-17 2.5 ..
7 5-10 10 (146.2) 215.0 7-21 5.5 289.2
7 7-7 7 (96.0) 192.5 9-13 4.3 ..
8 5.5 9 (130.2) 214.5 7-13 7.2 286.0
8 6-25 6 (83.8) 184.2 8-29 3.2 ..
9 5-1 11 (146.9) 202.0 7-8 4.7 317.2
9 6-29 5 (44.8) 198.2 All eggs bad. .. ..

Total Eggs 126    119 Total hatched 58 males, 61 females
Averaged 13+ offspring per year.

What an exceptional 9-year career!  In all, except her first year with me, she had two clutches of eggs.  She laid a total of 126 eggs of which 119 hatched.  The sex ratio of the babies was almost half and half.  Take away that last clutch of 5 bad eggs and the hatching of 119 out of 121 (over 98%) is even more incredible.    After her 9th year second clutch she either refused meals altogether or regurgitated very small meals.  She lost significant weight very rapidly and became very dehydrated.  It was obvious she wasn't going to live so on August 14 (her 9th year with me) she was euthanized.

What a contribution she made.  There are 119 of her "children" out there to fill 119 voids or needs that could have been filled with animals taken from the wild.    Did she "save" 119 wild snakes from being collected?  Probably not, but I am sure she saved some.  "Patch-head," what a snake!!!  She will be missed.

CASE HISTORY #2: LTC #9064 PUEBLAN MILK SNAKE
This female Pueblan milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum campbelli) was purchased in 1984 as a five year old adult.  She weighed in at 486.0 grams.  She had been labeled "Best Breeder" of the colony purchased from the previous owner.    She was reported to be captive-hatched in 1979.  In 1986, doing a routine sperm check after mating, I discovered strongylid worm larvae in her stool sample, along with a few Trichomonas.  I treated her with Telemin PM wormer.  In 1987 I couldn't locate any Trichomonas in a fecal sample, but the worms were still present.   (The opposite of what I expected!)  These worms caused me to doubt the report that she was captive-hatched, but later these worm larvae were found in animals I know to have been captive-hatched and raised alone. Since the worms and few Trichomonas found in her stools in 1987 didn't seem to have any adverse affects, she was not treated for either, fearing disruption of egg production.   Later, after some "eye opening" experiences and losses with some other species, I declared war on any and all parasites. In 1989 she was treated with FlagylŪ at a dose of 50 mg/kg to kill the Trichomonas.  On 7-13-1990 she was very underweight after her second clutch of eggs.   1990 was a year I had to be at work on an island eight days in a row every two weeks, so my snakes were not fed properly, nor enough to allow them to regain pre-egg laying condition.  Her sample revealed the presence of the "trich" and the worm larvae.  On 7-13 she was treated with PanacurŪ and on 7-15 she was dead in her cage.  I feel badly about the loss of this snake.  It is one reason why I strongly recommend that you take valuable snakes to veterinarians instead of trying home treatment.  I don't feel it was "her time to die," but that she was over stressed by lack of sufficient food and her prolific egg production.  The following chart shows her production for the 7 years in my collection. Some of the eggs laid were obviously infertile when laid, but were included in the counts and weights.

Year # Day eggs laid #Eggs(Weight) Female Wt. Day Hatch # # Wt. out of
hibernation
1984 4-22 9 (164.8) 302.2 6-30 6.3 446.0
1984 6-12 8 (102.8) 254.5 8-17 6.1 +1 escaped
1984 7-31 9 (78.5) 262.2 10-10 1.0 ..
1985 5-11 12 (166.2) 311.7 7-17 5.5 487.7
1985 6-26 9 (98.4) 276.9 9-1 4.2 ..
1985 8-19 8 (91.5) 304.8 10-28 4.2 ..
1986 5-3 11 (149.3) 306.7 7-17 5.1 468.2
1986 6-24 9 (93.1) 283.2 9-4 5.1 ..
1987 5-3 9 (98.9) 378.3 7-26 4.0 515.4
1987 6-26 11 (147.0) 275.3 9-6 3.7 ..
1987 8-15 7 (93.0) 265.6 10-27 3.2 ..
1988 5-11 12 (170.8) 314.0 7-25 7.5 458.7
1988 7-11 12 (129.5) 228.0 9-19 7.4 ..
1989 4-29 13 (210.6) 325.5 7-16 7.6 535.7
1989 7-3 11 (137.5) 280.2 9-9 5.5 ..
1990 5-10 10 (154.4) 356.6 7-14 4.6 552.7
1990 7-6 12 (132.6) 305.9 9-14 6.4 ..

Total eggs produced 172, total hatched 137 (79%). 82 males, 54 females, 1 escaped from the incubator, or was eaten by another species hatchling sharing the incubator before I could locate it or sex it.  She averaged over 19 hatchlings per year.  The chart does demonstrate that the earliest clutches are not always the largest by number or weight.  Not all my Pueblans show this high a ratio of male to female hatchlings.    Copulatory times vary greatly between the subspecies of milk snakes.   The Pueblans are one of the "quickies" averaging about 10-12 minutes per copulation. The Mexican milk snakes are much slower, averaging over two hours per copulation.

CASE HISTORY #3: LTC #1 PUEBLAN MILK SNAKE
This animal was hatched in October of 1981 from eggs laid by a female collected in the wild earlier that year.  This female produced her first clutch before she was two years old.  She had a good growth rate, with no more than average egg production.    She died in 1990 at the age of 9 years. The lack of proper feeding in 1990 probably contributed to her early death, although I missed the fact that she should have had a pre-egg laying shed, again because I was required to be on the island.  The shed dried on her, she had major problems trying to lay her last clutch of eggs, and she died two weeks later.  Here is her record.

Year # Day eggs laid #Eggs(Weight) Female Wt. Day Hatch # # Wt. out of
hibernation
1983 6-3 7 (103.8) 170.8 8-12 2.4 236.6
1984 5-27 9 (115.3) 164.8 8-1 4.5 267.5
1985 5-30 10 (129.1) 191.5 8-5 5.5 328.7
1985 9-31 All infertile eggs eaten by male cage mate.
1986 5-23 10 (112.4) 183.1 8-5 5.4 243.9
1987 5-5 12 (162.9) 228.5 7-20 6.5 399.0
1987 7-4 9 (105.0) 196.9 9-18 2.6 ..
1988 5-17 11 (117.4) 267.0 All bad .. 403.1
1988 7-13 10 (??) 226.8 9-22 6.2 ..
1989 5-8 13 (132.1) 265.4 7-24 1.3 348.5
1989 7-10 11 (126.7) 214.5 9-16 5.6 ..
1990 5-10 13 (170.0) 248.3 7-20 8.4 436.2
1990 7-7 thru 7-12 9 infertile (195.8) All bad .. .. ..

She laid 115 eggs (not counting the last bad clutch) and hatched 88 (76%).  Half of the babies were males (44), half were females.  Not all Pueblan milk snakes triple clutch, although she certainly was large enough to be able to support the effort.    Even with only a few successful double clutches she had a respectable average of 11 offspring per year.  Sometimes, as in 9-31-95, when second or third clutches are infertile, the signs of impending egg laying aren't as obvious as with good clutches.    They do have a pre-egg laying shed, but when you don't see the obvious swelling it is hard to tell if it is a normal shed or really means something!  She laid unexpectedly and caught me with the male still in her cage.  No matter, they wouldn't have been good anyway, but if the slight swelling had been "ripe" follicles, the male needed to be there for fertilization.  When the female is about to lay a good clutch, it is obvious, but difficult to describe.  She is much more "full" and expanded in the rear third of her body.  You must observe your snakes closely and regularly.

CASE HISTORY #4: LTC #2 PUEBLAN MILK SNAKE
This female is a sibling of Ltc #1 (Case History #3).  She never really ate voraciously and never attained full size.  This example could be used to support the wisdom of not breeding 2 year old animals.  However, I could point to many successful 2 year old snakes being bred and going on to a productive future.  I would prefer to interpret these results as there would be wisdom in not breeding an undersized snake, but who is to say this snake would have grown larger and done better if held back until her third year?  Here is her record.

Year # Day eggs laid #Eggs(Weight) Female Wt. Day Hatch # # Wt. out of
hibernation
1983 6-22 6 (81.9) 120.0 8.29 4.2 170.3
1984 6-4 5 (79.2) 139.5 8-10 1.4 206.3
1985 No eggs .. .. .. .. 162.1
1986 5-26 7 (109.2) 142.5 8-4 2.3 204.8
1987 8-7 5 (74.1) 143.0 10-19 1.4 ..
1988 5-21 9 (111.0) 147.8 8-5 3.4 213.3
1988 7-27 7 (84.0) 128.1 10-6 1.6 ..
1989 5-15 7 (??) 173.5 All infertile .. 246.3
1989 7-12 5 (60.8) 151.4 9-16 3.2 ..
1990 5-31 7 (107.7) 152.7 8-7 3.4 237.1

This animal seemed to be dominated by cage mates (she was caged with Ltc #1).    After the 1985 results she was given a cage by herself and there was some improvement in her growth.  She died 7-31-90.  As explained earlier 1990 was a bad year for my collection. I was unable to properly feed the collection.  I was able to provide a "maintenance" level diet, but did not offer the additional feedings needed to replenish the egg producers.  Consequently a number of my best producers either died or were under weight at the end of the 1990 season and didn't produce well the following season.  There are many ups and downs in this business, it isn't "easy money."  I can't emphasize how important proper feeding is to the snake-breeding business.

CASE HISTORY #5: LTC #9067 PUEBLAN MILK SNAKE
This female was probably my worst-producing Pueblan milk snake.  She was purchased in late 1983 as a 3 year old.  She weighed 458.7 grams.  She was put in quarantine for 3-4 months, then, on 3-19-84, she was moved to one of the breeding rooms.    She was not hibernated at my place, but had been cooled for part of October through mid-December before I received her.  She was caged alone, but on 4-16-84 she laid 7 eggs (97 g.).  The eggs looked yellow, and although they were large enough to be good, I believed them to be infertile.  I incubated them anyway and on 6-25-84, 1.1 (1 male, 1 female) juveniles hatched!  I believe this to be a record of sperm retained from the previous season, fertilizing 2 of the 7 eggs.  The other 5 slowly went bad over the incubation period and were tossed out after being cut open.  There was nothing visible developing in them.  She never produced eggs well, even though externally she looked to be in great shape. Despite her heavy weight she was diagnosed as having large numbers of Trichomonas and strongyle worms.  She was treated with PanacurŪ and FlagylŪ, but her fertility did not improve.  In late 1988 she was sold as a pet (I gave up) to make room for other breeders.  Here is her record of (non) production.

Year # Day eggs laid #Eggs(Weight) Female Wt. Day Hatch # # Wt. out of
hibernation
1984 4-16 7 (97.0) 340.5 6-25 1.1 458.7
1984 5-31 5 (63.4) 297.8 8-7 2.1 ..
1984 7-17 6 all infertile .. .. .. ..
1985 4-28 9 (72.7) 394.1 7-10 1.1 503.3
1985 6-8 9 (124.0) 314.2 8-16 2.2 ..
1985 8-1 4 all infertile .. .. .. ..
1986 4-28 5 all infertile .. .. .. 455.1
1986 6-10 8 (102.2) 289.1 8-19 3.2 ..
1987 5-4 9 (145.8) 374.5 7-21 1.5 570.2
1987 6-14 8 all infertile 342.8 .. .. ..
1988 4-27 5 (50.8) 421.2 All bad .. ..
1988 6-16 4 (32.6) 393.1 All bad .. ..
1988 7-23 5 all infertile .. .. .. ..

84 eggs produced, 22 hatched (10.12) for a 26% hatch rate.  As far as we know, there have been approximately 30 live Pueblan milk snakes taken from the wilds of Puebla, Mexico.  The four female Pueblan Case History snakes produced 301 hatchlings.    Ten times the known wild population!  Only an idiot couldn't see the positive conservation effects for the snake and its natural habitat.  Because of captive breeding (probably over 1000 produced in the USA in 1991) the Pueblan milk snake is no longer rare, no longer expensive, and more importantly, is now available to thousands of people who do not have to make that perilous journey to Mexico to rape and pillage the environment to get one of their own.  Parasite-free ones are available.

CASE HISTORY #6: LTC #3 PUEBLAN MILK SNAKE
This male Pueblan was hatched 8-7-82.  His hatch weight was 11.2 g.  He was kept warm and fed several times each month until hibernated in November of 1983, when he had grown to 261.5 g. However, on May 2, 1983 he bred with female Ltc #1, and on May 16, 1983 it bred with female Ltc #2.  He successfully fathered two clutches of eggs at nine months of age and had good sperm count with no hibernation!  It gets better!    After his first hibernation, from November of 1983 until March of 1984, no sperm could be found in his 1984 mating samples.  However, after a second winter hibernation, at the end of 1984, he successfully fathered clutches with good sperm from 1985 through 1987, when he was sold as a breeder to another herpetoculturist where he also did well.  Do males need to be hibernated to produce sperm?  This data confuses that issue, but I would recommend it for more consistent results.

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