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[Naturalist Notebook] Snakes Awake!

I’ve had my Rosy Boa Isis and my two Rubber Boas for several years now. Amongst the other thousand reasons that I love spring, these three slithery friends give me one more reason: they wake up from their winter sleep.

My three boas hibernate during winter, even though I have their heat lamps on at all times. Their internal clocks just know when it’s time to rest and right around August or September, they’ll all lose interest in eating and start slowing down. The two Rubber Boas will bury themselves into the wood chips and hardly emerge for more than six months. The Rosy Boa, however, doesn’t dig down or curl up in her hideout: she likes to lay right out in the open on the cold side of the tank and snooze. Every few weeks she’ll rouse herself for some water and a quick bask under the heat lamp, but then she’s right back to rest.

Any offer of food during winter is duly ignored, so I get really excited for that first meal of the year. This year, the Rosy started to get more active in early March, while the two Rubbers didn’t appear until the end of March.

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The last time I moved, I needed somewhere safe to keep my giant Sugar Pine cone so I put it in the tank thinking at least it would be safe til I arrived at my new place. Turns out the Rubbers love climbing all over it and sleeping on it, so, well, it lives in their tank forever now.

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There was a full bowl of fresh, clean water in the tank but they apparently preferred slurping it off the walls after I sprayed the tank to raise the humidity a bit. Which seems weird, but I suppose I’m not one to judge weird.

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The Rubbers readily take pinkies by hand now, which is spectacular because it’s much easier to keep track of how many each snake eats when you’re giving them food individually. If I ever had to leave food in the tank overnight for them to eat, I had no way of knowing which one ate all the grub. These two happily each took three pinkies without hesitation. The male (pictured in the back, with the darker skin color) seemed a little confused as to how to find them and kept trying to eat my hand, but that’s pretty typical for him. The female (lighter color, up front) eagerly snatched her mice and wolfed them down faster than the male.

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Here’s a great shot of her jaws stretching wide and her using her coils to push the mouse into her mouth.

Usually the male is the feistier of the two when it comes to being handled – he’s musked me countless times (and it smells TERRIBLE). This time around, the male didn’t put up much of a fight (maybe he’s still sleepy) and the female was the one to get testy after eating. Understandable, since they hadn’t eaten in close to nine months, I’d be testy too!

Once I put her back in the tank, she actually coiled up into the typical Rubber Boa defense pose: the tail, which resembles the head but has a bony plate to protect it from jabs and pokes, sticks up above the coils to mimic the head while the head is protected beneath the whole body. Rubbers will sometimes even wiggle the end of the tail to confuse predators. She’s slowly coming out of the posture in the pic, but I wanted to share it with you guys anyway since it’s a neat one.

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They’ve grown so much! The female is finally noticeably larger than the male and they’ve both developed their individual colors, with the male being a darker olive brown and the female being a paler, sandier brown. (Their faces actually look quite different too!)

I didn’t take any pics of the Rosy eating this time around because I get worried about disturbing her too much with the first meal (the Rubbers were both on their third pinky by the time I took these shots), but if you want to check out pics of her eating you can go here! If you like reading about these guys, you can see some baby pics here and here too.

How do you feel about snakes? Do these pictures freak you out? I hope not – these boas are incredibly gentle, amazing creatures, and they play such an important role in the ecosystem that humans would be in a bad way without them! :)

Thanks for reading!

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[Naturalist Notebook] Rosy Boa’s First Meal at Home

Mmmm, mouse.

This is the Rosy Boa’s first meal since I brought her home, and she didn’t think twice about nabbing it. (It was dead, I can’t do the live mouse thing.) The Rubber Boa wolfed down four pinkies the same evening (she’s tapping on the glass right now and I think I hear the muffled yelling of something like “Hey human, let’s go, I’m still hungry! You feed the dog twice a day, I SEE YOU DO IT”).

Since snakes are sans thumbs, they’ve evolved some pretty cool ways of eating handless. For one, their jaws disengage from one another to allow their mouths to open wider. Their skin is elastic, allowing for a large blob to enter the body without tearing the dermis (usually; I’ve seen some images of reticulated pythons splitting some skin after eating, oh, like, AN ANTELOPE). Also, they have tiny sharp teeth on either side of those jaws and they “walk” them along the mouse, pulling it in side by side.

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Streeeetch!

 

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Now THAT’S a dinner baby.

 

Read about the Rubber Boas here and about the Rosy Boa here

 

[Naturalist Notebook] Rubber Boas Arrive

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The bouncing babies arrived yesterday afternoon, pretty chilled. They seem to have recuperated now and are quite active, especially when exposed to human skin (ie delicious mammal body heat).

Rubber boas are nocturnal, live-bearing members of the boa constrictor family. They don’t get much longer than about two feet and they’re pretty much the most non-aggressive snakes in the world. When threatened, they curl up, and tuck their heads beneath their bodies. They then expose their little blunt tails, which look exactly like their heads, to the threat. A bony plate in the tail protects their delicate insides from mouse bites, bird beak jabs, and other small traumas. (You can see a pic of one of these guys doing the display here) The second pic may give you an idea of why they’re called “rubber” boas; their extra skin curves into rolls where they twist!

Rubber Boas specialize in nest-raiding. They’re small and great at burrowing, so they easily get into rodent nests to pilfer babies. They’ve also adapted to survive long periods without tons of food because it’s not always easy to come across nests or itty bitty rodents. In captivity, they retain their instinct to raid nests and sometimes enjoy “finding” hidden pinkies. I found this rabbit toy and decided it looked like a nest to me, so next time I feed, I’m going to put the pinkies in here and see if the snakes go for it.

I’m really excited about these little critters, but I have to find a secure tank for them – rubber boas are master escape artists!

You can bet your bottoms you’ll be hearing more about these little guys in the future. In fact, they need names. I have a male and a female.

Any suggestions? :)

(See more here!)