Before and after your chondro arrives

BEFORE YOUR CHONDRO ARRIVES

Now that you’ve chosen a chondro, what’s the best way to prepare for its arrival? The most important step is to set up the enclosure and treat it as if your chondro is at home. You should have already chosen a good heat source and thermostat, and now is the time to dial in and monitor your temperatures. You will likely need to make slight changes to the thermostat probe placement until you feel comfortable that your basking spot and cooler side are holding appropriate temps. And don’t forget your perches. This is also a great time to dial in your misting schedule, a topic that will be covered more in just a bit. If you plan on providing extra ambient light, set that up as well. You will likely be using a timer to control the photoperiod (hours of light and dark) and using a timer is the best way to provide a consistent light cycle. Your main goal is to avoid any surprises when your new GTP arrives.

Useful Equipment

Other than the enclosure and its necessities (heat source, thermostat, perches, substrate, and lighting), there are several items that will be useful.

Rubber-Tipped Tongs or Hemostats

These tools are mainly used for feeding. Eight inch hemostats are commonly used for sub-yearlings, whereas longer hemostats help provide an extra buffer zone when feeding adult chondros. While some hemostats have locking mechanisms, many keepers prefer to file these off to prevent unwanted clamping on a rodent that has already been grabbed.  Some keepers prefer the protection of rubber tips, especially when feeding aggressive snakes. On the other hand, some prefer to remove the rubber tips as small teeth are prone to getting caught/snagged in this material. Experiment both with and without and decide what makes you most comfortable.

Snake hook 

A snake hook is recommended, especially when working with more aggressive animals. They are most helpful when it is necessary to remove a snake from its enclosure.

Spray bottle 

Used for misting in order to increase the humidity level.

IR Temp gun

Temp guns are useful for fine-tuning you enclosure. Temp guns read surface temps and provide a general idea of the temperature at different locations in the enclosure. They are especially useful when setting up your temperature gradient within the enclosure. Once your chondro has arrived, temp guns also enable you to monitor the temps of your animal.Some lower priced models are accurate only to within plus/minus 2ºF – 5ºF. Pay attention to the specifications as you shop for a temp gun and purchase the most accurate model that fits your budget. The Raytek MT4 or MT6 Mini Temp sell for around $50.00. The Fluke 62 Mini Infrared Thermometer will cost about $90.00 and both are good choices.

Chlorhexidine/Novalsen or Bleach

It is recommended to have a second, clearly marked spray bottle with a diluted disinfecting solution for cage cleanouts.

Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer should be used generously to avoid spreading disease from your animals to you, as well as from you to the animals in your collection.

A Local Exotics Veterinarian

It is better to locate a reputable veterinarian in your area in the event your snake needs medical attention. Issues like prolapse and RI’s often require immediate intervention, and having already located a trusted doctor is essential. Finding vets experienced with snakes can sometimes be challenging, but there are MVF members all over the US, so feel free to ask for recommendations.

 

AFTER YOUR CHONDRO ARRIVES

If your new GTP has been shipped via Delta airlines, Fedex or UPS, it will likely be thirsty so give it fresh water right away.Stress from shipping affects each snake differently. Most will not be affected too much, and won’t need more than a few days to settle in. But some might ground themselves, or refuse food. The process of learning to read your chondro begins immediately and you need to pay extra attention during this adjustment period. This can be as little as 1 day, to over a month. Try to disturb the animal as little as possible during this time. As difficult as it will be, try not to constantly peer in since this can increase stress. Covering the front of the enclosure can also give an extra sense of security.

When it arrives, you should quarantine your new chondro (more on this below). It isn’t necessary to offer food for the first few days, and a healthy snake will be fine if not fed for a week or more after arriving. But a strong feeding response is a great sign that it’s settling in. If it appears unsettled (jittery and frequently striking) you might want to delay feeding until it adjusts. Each animal responds differently, so again, read the signs you are given. A first meal is typically offered anywhere from 3-7 days after arriving.

Sleeping and hunting are also good indicators that your animal is settling in. During the day they should ignore minor disturbances. However, burying their head in their coils when peered at is a normal response. At night, they should be alert and either roaming the enclosure or in a hunting position- head down and possibly caudal luring. While a new keeper’s uncertainty about how well their chondro is settling in can be stressful, try not to worry. If the animal is healthy when it arrives and your enclosure is properly set up, it will just be a matter of time.

 

Quarantine 

Quarantining is the act of isolating an animal as a precaution to prevent spreading potentially contagious microorganisms.Whether shipped across the country or across town, the quarantine period for a new snake accomplishes some very important things. It allows the snake to adjust/acclimate to its new surroundings, and it allows the keeper to observe the snake, it’s feeding style, hunting positions, and nighttime behavior (cruising). The keeper can also visually inspect the snake for injuries, mites, illness or other abnormalities. As already mentioned, each animal is going to respond differently to being shipped. Some may adjust quickly, while others may take months to settle in. The stress from the move may be visible right away if the snake exhibits behaviors like grounding, frequent hissing and/or striking, or refuses to eat. Other times the stress from shipping and being moved may take some time to be evident.

Regardless of the origins/source of your chondro, you should institute a quarantine period. The duration should be long enough to obtain 3 negative fecal exams (for parasites) before being introduced to the main collection, especially if it is of unknown origin or known to be an import. A 3-6 month time frame is used by many keepers for quarantine, but some established breeders feel 10-12 months ensures maximum safeguards. Any animal with an obvious illness, such as blowing bubbles, strange movements, or mites should be quarantined regardless of fecal results. 

A positive test for parasites will require proper medication to treat. Avoid store-bought “deworming” medications, as they are unlikely to target all parasites. Your veterinarian will advise you on the proper meds and precautions to take during treatment. Since some parasites are easily spread, you should clean and disinfect the enclosure immediately after the snake defecates. It is also advised to work with quarantined animals last if you have other animals in your collection. In addition, it is recommended to use separate tools (hemostats, snake hooks, water bowls, etc.) for the quarantined animal to prevent spreading disease to the main collection. It is also good practice to use disposable latex or non-latex gloves. If you don’t, you should wash/sanitize your hands after working with quarantined animals. Practicing strict hygiene will prevent infecting your main collection with disease present in your quarantined animals.

Some common mistakes are not running fecal tests, prematurely introducing quarantined animals to the main collection, or pairing new animals with a breeding partner prior to being quarantined. While there are definitely cases where no health issues occur, not following proper quarantine procedures is like playing Russian Roulette.

Tracking Records

You should consider keeping records on your animals. Information typically recorded includes feedings, defecations, weights, sheds, and observed illnesses. If your animal becomes sick, tracking records are helpful for determining what may have caused the illness. If you purchased a neonate, most breeders will provide documentation of the first several months. Not as many keepers maintain records on sub-adults and adults. As mentioned, feeding and other records are a personal choice and generally do not indicate negligence. But it is recommended to record the above mentioned events since they can help pinpoint what may have caused health issues if your snake gets sick.

In addition to monitoring general health, records help you anticipate shed cycle frequency, monitor weight gains or losses, feeding cycles, and defecation cycles. This information will be helpful while getting to learn your snake’s habits. Finally, if you decide to sell your snake, maintaining records demonstrates good keeper practices and could aid in the sale.

Handling

There are several different thoughts about the general handling of chondros, ranging from those keepers who feel their animals are better left untouched, to those that handle their animals more frequently. The most important thing to consider is how each animal responds to “forced” interaction and this is one more case where learning to read your animal is crucial. Some chondros show signs of stress when being handled, such as repeatedly hissing, striking and biting. Other signs of stress include defecating while thrashing the tail, and burying of the head in their coils. In contrast, many chondros are content when being handled and will simply explore the world around them. These animals typically move in a slow but deliberate manner, and do not show any signs of being unsettled or skittish. But most experienced keepers even handle “calmer” chondros less frequently than they might handle pythons of other genera. This is because even a “calm” chondro’s stress level might be gradually increasing with frequent handling. And as stress becomes chronic, health begins to fail. How frequently you remove and handle your chondro will ultimately be determined by your comfort level and the constant evaluation of the overall health of your animal.

Another general rule about handling is simply to not handle chondros that are less than 100 grams. This is because young chondros have delicate vertebrae that are more prone to injury, and handling/ removing from a perch can lead to kinks and/or divots in the spine. If being able to handle your new chondro is important to you, you should consider purchasing an animal larger than 100 grams. In the event that a sub-100 gram GTP must be removed from the perch, it should be allowed to crawl off under its own will, with minimal to no manipulation by the keeper.

Fasting

The three primary causes of refusing to eat are stress, seasonal fasting by males, and illness. We have already discussed stress-induced fasting caused by shipping and acclimating to a new home. Seasonal fasting is also an important topic to understand.

Many new chondro owners may become alarmed if their snake refuses to eat or suddenly stops eating. Without knowing better, some will incorrectly assume their snake is sick and consider giving antibiotics. Others will take drastic measures in an attempt to persuade their snake to eat. Some examples are force feeding, changing the enclosure, or changing one or more aspects of their husbandry. Yet other times they might demand a refund from the seller. Unless there is an underlying infection, which is often accompanied by other symptoms, these reactions are unnecessary and can actually increase stress. All of these measures are therefore counterproductive.

If your snake goes off feed it is important to observe its behavior before panicking. It is recommended to speak with the seller to determine if he/she has had similar experiences with the animal. The majority of time it is just a “male being a male” or stress due to acclimation. Regardless, a healthy snake can go months without eating with little to no negative consequences. As unnerving as it might be to the keeper, it is just a normal part of working with chondros. The best recommendation is to offer a meal every 1-2 weeks until the animal resumes feeding as it had prior to fasting. Trying to persuade a fasting snake to eat different food items than it previously ate will prove hopeless. Patience is all that is required.

If a GTP becomes sick it is also likely to stop eating. The most common illness in chondros is bacterial respiratory infection. RI’s normally cause wheezing, gurgling, labored breathing, open-mouthed breathing, and mucous bubbles at the nose or mouth in extreme cases. If a chondro suddenly refuses food, it should be carefully monitored for any of these symptoms. While the absence of any symptom does not necessarily mean a mild RI is not present, food refusals are typically due to stress and/or seasonal fasting.

Determining Sex (“Sexing”) 

Sometimes a chondro is purchased unsexed. This typically applies to animals under one year of age and under 100 grams. Although you may be anxious to know the gender of your animal, sexing an animal less than 100 grams is potentially dangerous and not very accurate. The danger lies in how fragile the spine is, and probing an animal this size can lead to spinal kinks and/or divots. Popping should never be done on a baby chondro for the same reason. Spinal kinks and divots are often only cosmetic blemishes. However, more significant kinks/divots just above the cloaca can create problems with defecating, and egg deposition by a female. A seller has poor chondro knowledge if he/she has in fact sexed a neonate, and these vendors should be avoided. But if you purchase a USCB chondro from a reputable breeder, this is an issue you are unlikely to face.

There are several methods and general observations used to determine sex:

Body shape

Some experienced keepers feel they can determine sex of sub adults based on body shape. However, this is an unreliable method and should not be the basis of a purchasing decision. 

Popping

Popping is not recommended. Furthermore, avoid purchasing a chondro that has been popped. Not only is popping likely to cause structural damage, but popping demonstrates a lack of knowledge by the seller; if he/she is responsible for having popped the animal.

Going off feed 

Males typically go off feed during the breeding season, and this can be a good indicator of sex. However, in isolation it is not a guarantee. Some males never go off feed, and occasionally a female will fast as well. Males can begin seasonal fasting as early as 18 months, whereas 2 to 3 years is more typical. 

Nighttime Cruising 

This behavior is also generally associated with males and typically occurs together with seasonal fasting. Cruising is likely a male’s attempt to locate a suitable mate. As is the case with going off feed, in isolation this is not reliable for sexing a chondro because females will occasionally exhibit similar behavior during the breeding season.

Spurs 

Spurs are located on both sides of the cloaca and are used by males to “tickle” the female during courtship. Therefore, males tend to have significantly longer spurs than females. Most females have very small to almost nonvisible spurs, but some have larger spurs. Likewise, some males have smaller spurs. However, excessively large spurs are almost never seen on females. Therefore, an animal with very large spurs is almost definitely a male.

Probing

This is a more reliable and accepted method for determining sex. If unfamiliar with the process, it entails inserting a thin metal probe into the inner pocket of the cloaca. Because males have two inverted hemipenes, the probe will insert to a depth equal to that of the internal, elongated hemipene on each side of the cloaca. A hemipene’s depth is generally 6-13 caudal scales. On the other hand, females have a single narrow pocket that probes to a depth of 2-11 caudal scales. Probing is not always reliable due to the overlap of caudal scale depth of males and females. Generally speaking, very shallow or very deep pockets yield the most reliable results. 

Probing is easier with two people and should only be done if confident with your technique. Confidence is best gained by practicing on less fragile species such as Ball Pythons, Boas or colubrids. Probing without a second set of hands is best done using a restraining tube. Probing an uncooperative or aggressive snake is best done with two people. As stated, probing should not be performed on animals under 100 grams, and is more reliable as they gain size. 

The following are commonly reported probe depths:

Males- 13,10,7,8,6 caudal scales

Females-  11,10,8,7,5,4,3,2 caudal scales

“Sperm” Plugs

This is the most reliable way of determining sex. Males typically begin shedding plugs at about 15 months, while females begin at approximately 24 months. However, some males and females rarely shed plugs, and some will begin shedding plugs earlier or later than the above stated timelines.

Plugs can be observed on freshly shed skin and are located at the base of the cloaca. Male plugs are two distinctly elongated protrusions and are actually the shed inner linings of the hemipenes. Similarly, female plugs are the shed inner lining of the single, narrow internal pocket of the cloaca and resemble a butterfly. Remember that not all males routinely shed plugs, so the absence of sperm plugs does not indicate the snake is a female.