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  1. #1
    BPnet Lifer Skiploder's Avatar
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    Zen and the Art of Snake Maintenance

    I grew up in a little town called Carnelian Bay. Look it up - it's on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. These were in the heady days when phones were all rotary, the pants were corduroy, the pant legs were belled, and the designer colors in most kitchens were orange and avocado formica and appliances.

    The internet really didn't exist until many years after I graduated from college.

    The street we lived on had maybe 30 houses on it - widely spaced apart and sparsely occupied. In fact, there were only 8 year-round residences on our street.

    Ours and our next door neighbor.

    Our next door neighbor was a biology professor at University of Nevada (Reno). He had a degree in herpetology and in the heady days of the 1970s - one of the most impressive collections of snakes I've ever seen.

    He was a single man, divorced with two kids that he rarely saw. When I was about 6, I took a keen interest in his hobby - snake keeping.

    He specialty was crotalids, but his travels and connections to south and central america allowed him to acquire a collection of various colubrids that were unmatched. In fact, there were animals in his collection that I have not since seen. He had examples of most north american lampropeltis and pituophis, along with rosy and rubber boas. I spent 12 years of my life going over to his house almost every day to assist him with his husbandry duties and I never tired of that group of animals.

    When he received a new and exotic species - maybe a drymarchon, maybe a clelia, perhaps a pseudoboa - he would politely leave a note on the door for me when I got home from school. I always marveled at each new and wonderful animal he introduced me to.

    In the 1970s, it seems my parents were none too worried about me spending time with a single middle aged man who lived by himself. While my parents were friendly with him and when his daughters came to visit, they would invariably end up at our house to play with my sister - they did not know a lot about him. Maybe it was the fact that my dad worked out of the area and was gone Sunday night through Friday night and my mom thought an adult male presence would do me good, or maybe the times were different - less suspicious and fearful.

    But I spent a lot of time over there. After I did my homework and my chores, I was allowed to go over before dinner. On the weekends, I spent hours over there.

    My time was spent assisting him with feeding, cleaning, measuring and weighing his animals. Moving snakes from QT (the barn) to the snake room (his car-less three car insulated and climate controlled garage), setting up glass tanks (yes, glass tanks) and moving frozen lab rodents from the freezer to the fridge to slowly thaw. He set me out in the woods behind our house to catch frogs and lizards for his finicky philodryas, and had me mixing cleaning solution in large yard sprayers. I swept and vacuumed both snake areas and moved pine shavings from a pallet on the side of the house to trash cans in the garage.

    All but the largest of snakes were kept in glass cages. Light bulbs were used as heat sources. Pine shavings as substrate. Appropriate species were kept in pairs and inappropriate species were kept separate. In short, all sorts of husbandry "don't" were followed and religiously adhered to.

    Other practices were also followed. Enclosures were cleaned every week. Disinfected, scrubbed and dried. Fresh substrate was put back in, the animal weighed and measured, the numbers recorded. The water bowls were likewise cleaned weekly with disinfectant.

    New arrivals were put in the barn, their mouths were swabbed, they were given prophylactic parasite treatments and their first poops were examined. There were two areas in the barn - one for arrivals in their first six months and a second for arrivals in their last six months. These two areas were separated by a wall and a door.

    Oftentimes colleagues would stop by the visit my neighbor, and while I cleaned and swept and kept to the husbandry routine, I would hear them swap husbandry tips. Without judgement and without the shadow of harsh opinion dominating the discussion.

    Now some smart ass may ask what these rambling comments and recollections have to do with snake maintenance......well, they have everything to do with it.

    Many, many years later, it became easier to share husbandry tips and build a consensus on common practices through the internet. Unfortunately, it also became easier to swap bad information and propagate baseless opinions. Experience has been easily and almost painlessly replaced by doing Google searches or asking for consensus on forums.

    Do not get me wrong, forums are wonderful things. But all of these self imposed rules, all of the baseless and easily gained false expertise is, I believe, making many people worse keepers.........and taking the zen out of this hobby.

    The exact definition of the word husbandry does not really apply to keeping exotics pets - at least I don't think it does. We use it nonetheless. We also - and I am guilty of this - refer to snake keeping as a hobby.

    Both terms do disservice to what it really is. If done right, if done with the right frame of mind, and if done with compassion and passion, it becomes a life long relationship with a group of animals. These none too intelligent animals take on personalities - their dispositions and special habits and preferences are learned.

    "Doing it correctly" means balancing what works for you with what works for the animal. Some animals prefer shavings, some paper. Some use hides, some don't. Some like white rats, some like dark rats.

    Some seem to look forward to handling sessions, while some remain irascible throughout their lives. Some are gentle, some seem downright possessed.

    When faced with a sickness or other health issue, the interaction increases more and I'll be damned if some of these "dim" animals seem to sense that you are trying to help them in their time of need and draw closer to you - even the possessed and irascible ones.

    Two nights ago, my big 12 pound blacktail cribo (Mojo) has two stuck eye caps. In 15 years of keeping him, he has never had a bad shed - but the AC has been running almost 24 hours in the snake house and it dries out the air. As I held his head and gently worked loose his retained caps, he did not fight and did not squirm. This is an animal who strikes the front of his enclosure when anyone other than me walks into the room. I marveled at what that might mean and how this simple gesture from what many consider an unintelligent animal made me feel so honored and special.

    I learned to "listen" to my snakes from my mentor. I learned early in my time in this "hobby" to balance what is easy for me with what the preference of the animal is. I learned to listen to each snake in my "collection".

    I also learned to enjoy my time with my animals. To take pleasure in simple tasks that could really be better described as chores.

    I feel that this"hobby" has transformed these chores into something akin to Zen. I am at peace when I am taking care of and interacting with my animals - be it scraping crap of the walls or vacuuming the floors.

    For anybody taking the time to read this rambling and aimless mess, I hope that you are not too embroiled in debating whether deserts can lay fertile eggs safely, concerned about whether a coral glow and a banana are one in the same, or about who is crashing what market or about raining your supreme judgment down on the idiot who uses pine shavings and glass cages.

    I hope that you find the zen in you animals and leave all the drama, judgment and pontificating to the self-proclaimed experts who learned at the knee of Apple or Intel. I hope that you learn to find your own way in this hobby, while finding what makes your snakes healthy and content.

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  3. #2
    BPnet Veteran Artemille's Avatar
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    I loved this. Snake keeping can really be akin to something typically considered zen, such as bonsai growing. Both take years of patience and small but important tasks to get the desired results. Bonsai is considered zen, but people can treat snakes like an action figure collection.

    I've been into fish, bonsai, vegetable gardening, orchids, etc. Snake keeping is extremely rewarding mentally and emotionally to me. I enjoy beginning and ending my days with the tasks of cleaning a tub soiled overnight, scrubbing water bowls, or feeding them. I like recording new information in the little notebooks I have for each snake and seeing them progress monthly.

    I love absorbing information to help in my care, even technical stuff like what chemicals disinfect what, and the range and accuracy of temp guns. Getting supplies in the mail; even a bulk order of tiny ceramic water bowls; is almost as fun to me as getting a new snake.

    Snake keeping is definitely the thing that keeps me happy at the end of the day.

    1.0 normal - Nibiru
    1.0 hypo pinstripe - Bellamy
    0.1 normal - Camila
    0.1 pewter - Penelope
    0.1 ivory - Veronie
    0.1 kenyan sand boa - Sanders
    1.0 anery stripe ksb - Cookies
    1.1 angolan pythons - William and Catherine
    1.0 western hognose - Clarence
    1.0 Mexican Black kingsnake - Ricardo
    0.1 Brazilian rainbow boa - Nijiko
    1.0 banana ball python - Tango
    2.1 ranitomeya imitator tarapoto - Lipstick and the boyfriends
    0.2 ornate uromastyx - Bennie and Millie

    Like me on Facebook!

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  5. #3
    BPnet Veteran Mephibosheth1's Avatar
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    Totally agree

    This is the reason why ALL pets should be bought...not because you think you need to learn responsibility; not because you're lonely; and definitely not because you want to be cool.

    Animals of all sorts (scaly and fuzzy) should be owned so that at the end of the day, you can look at your animal and honestly say to yourself: "I've made a positive impact on a beautiful animal's life".

    1.0 100% Het for Carmel Normal–Mycroft (P. regius)
    1.2 Manx, Scottish Fold, Tabby–Mocha, Precious, Kitty-Beau (F. domesticus)
    30.90 Breeder Mice (M. musculus)

    "It will all be okay in the end. If it's not okay, its not the end"
    –John Lennon//oo\\

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  7. #4
    No One of Consequence wilomn's Avatar
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    Thanks. I wish we lived closer.
    I may not be very smart, but what if I am?
    Stinky says, "Women should be obscene but not heard." Stinky is one smart man.

  8. #5
    BPnet Lifer Daybreaker's Avatar
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    Wonderful post Skip; I very much enjoyed it. I also agree that they seem to be able to tell when you're trying to help them and I always aim to get to "know" and as you said listen to each of the snakes in my collection.
    See my collection HERE

    4.15 Ball Pythons
    1.1 Angolan Pythons
    2.2 Cali Kings_______________________0.1 SSTP Black Blood
    1.1 T+ Argentine BCOs______________1.0 Snow Bull
    1.3 Colombian morph BCIs___________0.1 Coastal Carpet
    0.1 Hog Island BCI__________________0.1 Platinum Retic
    0.1 Het Anery BCL __________________0.1 Lavender Albino Citron Retic
    0.2 Central American morph BCIs_____1.0 Blonde/Caramel Retic
    0.1 Pokigron Suriname BCC__________0.1 Goldenchild Retic
    0.0.1 Corn

  9. #6
    BPnet Veteran satomi325's Avatar
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    In a galaxy far,far away.
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    Simply brilliant.

  10. #7
    BPnet Lifer Skiploder's Avatar
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    Re: Zen and the Art of Snake Maintenance

    Quote Originally Posted by wilomn View Post
    Thanks. I wish we lived closer.
    Me too.

  11. #8
    BPnet Senior Member I-KandyReptiles's Avatar
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    Zen and the Art of Snake Maintenance

    Skip and Wilomn are legit the 2 members id love to meet.

    :| all the knowledge

    0.1 Dog (Truffles)
    0.1 Naked Cat (Mercedes)
    1.0 Hamster (Pumpkin)
    1.1 Bumblebees (Satyana & Weedle)
    0.3 Normals (Shayla, Rita and Althea)
    0.1 100% Het Pied Ringer (Avalon)
    1.0 Pied (Monsieur Piederoff)
    1.0 Lesser 100% Het Albino poss het OG (Tinersons)
    0.1 Spider Albino (Ivy)
    0.1 Mojave Cinnamon (Morticia)
    1.1 Normal BCIs (Damon and Conga)
    0.1 Crested Gecko (Natasha)
    0.0.1 Rosehair Tarantula (Charlotte)
    0.0.1 P.Metallica
    0.0.1 A.Avicularia
    0.0.2 P.Irminia
    0.0.1 L.Parahybona
    0.0.1 N.Coloratovillosus
    ?.?.? ASFs

  12. #9
    BPnet Veteran gardenfiend138's Avatar
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    Re: Zen and the Art of Snake Maintenance

    That was nice to read. Now to go live it.

  13. #10
    Registered User jtipton's Avatar
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    Absolutely marvelous post. And just the way everyone should feel about any pet they keep.

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