Feeding Our Rare Ball Python Snakes
There are many variations of feeding, husbandry, and breeding methods for ball python snakes and rare ball python morphs. At Roussis Reptiles, these are the protocols that have helped us successfully maintain and reproduce these rare ball python snakes in various rare ball python morphs. You can check out the variety in our collection.
BALL PYTHON NUTRITION
Caring for our rare ball python snakes begins with nutrition. Starting 3-4 weeks after birth or following the first ecdysis (shed), they’re fed mouse hoppers or fuzzy rats. Adult snakes are fed live and frozen medium rodents or large mice. Of course, fresh water is always available and replaced weekly.
Temperature and Humidity Requirements
MAINTAINING AMBIENT CAGE TEMPERATURE
Ambient cage temperatures are essential in caring for our rare ball python snakes. In the spring and summer, temperatures are kept mid-high 80s in the day and mid-high 70s at night. For optimal temperature maintenance, we provide a hide box and hot spot using Flexwatt heat tape under 1/3 of the enclosure reaching 90-100 degrees.
Underfloor heating and any reliable thermostat will also enable optimal temperatures, such as Ranco thermostats. However, there are many other industry-specific, easily programmable thermostats. It’s also preferred to keep the rear of the cage where the hide box and hot spot are damp or humid. This prevents heat from drying out the enclosure.
BREEDING BALL PYTHONS
We have reproduced rare ball python snakes and evolve the available ball python morphs every year since 1994 and can confirm, they’re a joy to breed! To ensure successful reproduction, we find they tune into outdoor environmental cues, despite manipulating the indoor environment. So. instead, we find it best to play along with Mother Nature.
Instead of choosing a yearly date for cooling, we wait for the weather outside to tell us when to change inside temperatures. When the first fall chill hits the air and days are shortening, this is our cue. Temps are dropped from summer to fall temperatures of low 80s in the day and high 70s at night. We also turn off the heat tape during this period. If you don’t have complete control, use heat tape to achieve and maintain these temperatures.
Schedule and Requirements
BALL PYTHON BREEDING SCHEDULE
Successful reproduction of rare ball python morphs begins with the environment. Although not necessary, it’s beneficial to have as many environmental cues as possible to aid in “cycling in” for breeding rare ball python snakes. For example, windows in our facility allow for a natural shortening of daylight hours. Humidity is maintained from 55% to 65% a drop from 75% to 85% in the summer.
Food is also offered frequently during this period. Adult females will readily accept large frozen thawed rats during this time. This increase in the ball python’s appetite signals that the females are preparing for reproduction.
PAIRING RARE BALL PYTHON SNAKES
We usually start pairing male ball pythons to females by the end of December early January. Pairing continues through April or when ovulations cease, and males show no further desire for mating. Males are typically introduced into the female’s cages on 3 days on 2 days off schedule. We have experimented with longer breeding trials with successfully using stronger more sexually active males. However, it’s important to remember each snake is different and requires more rest time!
SIZE AND WEIGHT REQUIREMENTS
Male snakes are not just chosen by their rare ball python morph in particular for breeding. Males are typically 18 months old and a minimum 800 grams when introduced into a breeding program. However, there are exceptions. For instance, it’s possible for a 4-month-old 450-gram male to sire clutches successfully. Although, this often comes with risks and is not recommended. It’s also possible for males to take 2 ½ to 3 years to breed or take every other season off.
Female rare ball pythons are typically 1500 grams & 3 ½ years old. Some females produce at 18 months and others take 4 years or more. Sexual maturity comes with age and, as always, patience is a virtue. Slow and steady growth almost always wins over power-feeding and accelerated growth rate.
Roussis Reptiles is one of the first in breeding of rare ball python snakes to use an ultrasound machine. However, we’ve had years of successful breeding without it. Occasionally, we admit we make use of these nifty machines to satisfy our scientific curiosities!
Many believe mating must take place when follicles are 20mm. Although this is the optimal, it’s not the only time. We have multiple records supporting sperm retention for 6 months or more! In rare instances, we’ve even discovered sperm retention from prior breeding seasons. However, this often results in multiple sire clutches or clutches of weak or disfigured babies.
ESSENTIAL BREEDING SEASON
When breeding from January through April, we are in the window of time in which most females ovulate. Sperm can also be stored throughout this period awaiting ovulation. If you wish to preserve a male or reserve him only for “fertile” females with follicles in the 20-25 mm range, then using an ultrasound machine or palpating can prove beneficial.
As day lengths and outside temperatures increase around March or April, we gradually raise ambient temperatures. By the summer months, temperatures in our facility are increased to the highs 80s. Interestingly we receive early fertile clutches during the month of February and continue to through the months of June and July, sometimes even August!
If your cage can maintain humidity above 75% and ambient of high 80s a female ball python snake can successfully incubate eggs. Although we’ve successfully experimented with this, we give mom a break and incubate artificially.
BLUE TONGUE SKINK DIET
The Northern Blue Tongue Skink and Eastern Blue Tongue Skink are some of the easiest reptiles to keep. Though there are many ways to house, heat and feed skinks with multiple arguments for each, the goal is the same. Blue tongues thrive in captivity if the basic requirements are met, such as proper temperature, humidity, substrate, and diet.
Blue tongue skinks are omnivorous and can be maintained on a variety of diets. This is a huge topic that comes with much debate. Some people prepare their skink’s meals from scratch and others reach for commercially prepared options. An aspect that makes skinks such easy reptiles to keep is that they thrive on commercial cat and dog food.
OUR FEEDING PROTOCOL
For our blue tongue skinks, we’ve experimented with many self-prepared diets. This included commercial cat and dog foods both wet and dry supplemented with calcium and D3 and without varying results. It’s all a matter of ease of preparation and personal preference. There are some great skink specific diets available such as Repashy that requires no supplementing. Our adults are fed twice weekly with both and enjoy the many different flavors Repashy has to offer.
Baby skinks are fed the same food as adults. However, they are fed three times a week. If all needs are met a healthy blue tongue skink can live for 20 years or more.
TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY REQUIREMENTS
We were the first to house and successfully breed blue tongues in commercial tub and rack systems without overhead lighting. As long as blue tongue skinks have a hot spot from 95 to 115 degrees F and a cool side between 68 to 85 degrees F, they will thrive. Some breeders use overhead lighting and others underbelly heat via heat tape such as Flexwatt heat tape.
There is also debate about the need for UV lighting. However, there is currently enough evidence to support that with a properly balanced diet of calcium and D3, UV lighting is unnecessary.
Enclosure options are endless, ranging from glass terrariums to homemade cages and rack systems. We recommend a minimum of 30” x 18” of floor space for adult skinks. This is long and wide enough to provide a heat gradient and for the animal to easily turn around.
For bedding, there are multiple options. We’ve experimented with several, including cypress mulch, aspen, coco coir chips, bark chips, wood pellets, compressed paper, and a few others. They all have pros and cons and except for newspaper, no bedding option is suitable for every skink. Some of our blue tongue skinks do well on all types of bedding while others do better on one in particular.
Regardless of which type of bedding you choose; a common characteristic is that it shouldn’t contain excessive amounts of moisture or dust. Either one can cause a host of problems for blue tongue skinks.
We find that aspen, cypress and newspaper tend to be the safest choices because we can avoid moisture or too much dust. These choices also allow the skinks to have a few inches of bedding for burrowing and covering themselves. Burrowing is an essential daily activity for blue tongue skinks, and also helps with shedding. With enough bedding and avoiding wet, damp, or stagnant substrate, blue tongue skinks can tolerate a wide variety of humidity settings.
Breeding the Blue Tongue Skink
Breeding the Northern Blue Tongue Skink ( Tiliqua Intermedia), and Eastern Blue Tongue Skink ( Tiliqua S. Scincoides}
Under proper conditions, healthy blue tongue skinks breed readily in captivity. Since 2009, we have successfully reproduced both the Northern and Eastern blue tongue skinks. Although many of the breeding principles do not differ that much from other reptile species, the pairing process does require close supervision.
As with other reptiles, the best results are experienced if the skinks are exposed to a hibernation or brumation period. On occasion we have successfully reproduced both sub-species without cooling them. However, we have our blue tongue skinks on a hibernation/brumation schedule. Though natural processes, cooling and mating puts a lot of stress on the skinks. Because of this, only skinks in peak condition are considered for breeding.
Skink’s breeding cycles are synced with the seasonal cues in our geographic area as much as possible. Between breeding seasons, blue tongue skinks brumate for a short period. To assist in this natural process, we cool our skinks sometime in November or December by lowering the internal ambient temperature. Around February or March, we raise the temperatures to allow the skinks to wake up from brumation. This process starts when we stop offering food for two weeks. Stopping feeding lets the skinks empty their bowels before cooling. However, we offer water during and throughout the entire cooling period.
This period is accompanied by a gradual decrease in temperature and natural day light lengths. By the end of the second week, hot spots are turned off and both day and night ambient temperatures are decreased to 55 degrees. During brumation skinks are very sedentary. Most will burrow beneath the bedding or remain in their hide box.
We don’t handle or disturb the blue tongue skinks during brumation. Enclosures are opened only to replace water and to make certain there are no signs of weight loss or illness. In February we gradually warm our skinks up over a two-week period to normal day time temperatures and offer food. Once the skinks are eating well and display normal levels of activity, we begin pairing. However, simply put, the breeding process is dangerous and comes with risks.
It’s an accepted fact that blue tongue skinks can get injured during mating trials. For example, toes, tails, hands and feet can come off even under even closely supervised breeding. Because of this, we pair skinks one at a time for short intervals. To avoid injuries, skinks are separated when they show no interest, or signs of aggression within ten minutes. Signs of aggression can be an open mouth with body arching, biting of the head, hands, feet or tail tip.
If copulation occurs, it’s usually within the first five minutes for a very short time, a mere 20 to 90 seconds. We continue to pair the skinks for a several weeks, or until copulation ceases.