Records

A very important and surprisingly useful aspect of herpetoculture is record keeping.    Every snake should have an individual record card.  Five inch by eight inch file cards have proven to be a convenient size.  Each card should have the snake's sex, the common and scientific name, the source of origination, and a description of any distinguishing marks.  Feeding and shedding data should also be recorded on the card.   This information can be stored in a relatively small space. The weight of each snake when hatched, along with before and after hibernation, can also be recorded on the card.

On the reverse side, record any disease/parasite problems and dates of treatment.    For the males record dates of copulation, females copulated with, sperm check, and any other noteworthy observations.  For females record copulation date and which male, sperm check results, date of egg laying, number of eggs that look "good," weight of the egg clutch, weight of the female, date and number of eggs hatching, and the sex ratio of the hatchlings.

Some information on the cards is of general interest and can be referred to from time to time, but other information can be of a critical and timely nature.  What is "critical" information?  Which snakes need to be bred, which are due for their pre-egg laying shed, and which cages have snakes due to lay eggs.

To keep track of which snakes need to be bred, make a diagram of your collection and place it above their cages.  In each "cage" on the diagram put the sex and subspecies (example: Lth = Lampropeltis triangulum hondurensis).  When mating is observed, circle the female and put a check under the male.  As the season progresses you can quickly glance at this diagram and spot any unmated female that may require special attention.

Once the females have bred and are gravid, it then becomes important to know when they will lay eggs.  To solve this dilemma, I use a wall-mounted chalk board.  On it are drawn three columns of boxes.  Fortunately, the milk snakes can be depended upon to shed their skin a predetermined number of days before actually laying eggs.  The number of days between the shed and the egg laying varies with the subspecies, but is fairly consistent within each subspecies.  Eggs which are laid before are after the expected time are usually infertile or otherwise not going to hatch.  If you observe an opaque snake that is gravid, put the cage number and her number in column one.    When she sheds put that date in column two, remove any cage mates (yes, some milk snakes will eat the fresh eggs of others of their kind), and place an egg-laying container in the cage.  Column three is for the date and number of eggs laid.  A glance at the board will tell which cages need to be checked for sheds or eggs.  A second glance at the diagram will tell who "needs a boyfriend." Locate one and bring them together.  All of this didn't require sorting through a single individual record card!

There are other variables worth recording which may prove to be valuable sources of information in the future.  In addition to the above, I also record the ambient room temperatures, both highs and lows (use a high/low thermometer), on a two week cycle.    This seemingly insignificant bit of information helped me solve persistent fertility problems in Arizona mountain kingsnakes (Lampropeltis pyromelana) and Durango mountain kingsnakes (Lampropeltis mexicana greeri).

With records such as these you can calculate your cost in mice in raising an individual snake, compare results with different management techniques, see results when comparing the breeding of different sized animals, determine the smallest sizes to safely breed (or hold back and grow one more season), growth rates, egg clutch sizes, sex ratios on hatchlings, incubation times at various temperatures, etc.  You can also formulate lost of graphs and charts to use for formal presentations.  You may not use much of this information when things are routine and going well, but if there ever is a problem, this type of information will often help you or others determine what that problem is.    Over time through the use of records, the trends of individual specimens will show up as different from others of their subspecies and will allow you to adapt your husbandry to their special needs.  Remember, with nature all rules are general and there are often exceptions.  I don't care what "the book says," snakes can't read.   Expect exceptions.

If you are a professional snake breeder, there will also be other types of records that you will have to maintain such as those pesky business and IRS records, but the title of this book is NOT "How to Make a Million Bucks Raising Snakes."  Those types of records should be established between you and your tax attorney.

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