Material, placement, and size are three factors to consider when choosing perches for your chondro enclosure.
- Synthetic Perches
When working with synthetic materials you should always be sure your perches are non-toxic, mildew resistant, and easy to remove and clean. Popular synthetic perch materials include, plastic hangers, PVC, HDPE, FDA-approved Acetron GP, Insertworks, and fiberglass.
Plastic clothing hangers are a popular choice for younger chondros, from hatch until approximately 75-100 grams. They are inexpensive and easy to custom fit to tubs of different sizes. Hangers are readily available in two thicknesses, where thinner/lightweight are used for hatchlings and thicker heavy-duty hangers are used for sub yearlings as they approach 100 grams.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a common choice for GTP and other arboreal snakes. It is available in both hexagonal or circular shape, comes in many sizes, is easy to clean and disinfect, and is inexpensive. Many keepers do not like the sterile appearance of PVC so they scorch the surface using hand held propane torches. “Torching” PVC effectively burns the surface and produces colors ranging from golden yellow (more lightly heated areas) to black (more severely burnt areas). Gentle heating of a concentrated area also softens the material and enables twists to be added to the otherwise straight tube. Since the fumes released from burning PVC are toxic, torching should only be done outside in a well-ventilated area while using a respirator. Also, when making twists it is helpful to have a hose available to run cool water over the twisted area to set/harden the PVC into the desired shape. At the conclusion of torching it is also recommended to lightly scrub the entire PVC branch with steel wool.
If you decide to torch PVC, it is worth researching. The following information is available at http://www.healthybuilding.net/pvc/Thornton_Enviro_Impacts_of_PVC.pdf
“Because of its majority chlorine content, when PVC burns in fires two hazardous substances are formed which present acute and chronic hazards to fire fighters, building occupants, and the surrounding community. These are hydrogen chloride gas and dioxin. Hydrogenchloride is a corrosive, highly toxic gas that can cause skin burns and when comes into contact with the mucous lining of the respiratory tract creates hydrochloric acid, which can cause severe respiratory damage. Exposure to a single PVC fire can cause permanent respiratory disease.
Dioxin is an unintentional by-product of PVC combustion, and would most likely be left behind in ash and debris from a PVC fire. While only small amounts of dioxin may be formed as the result of burning PVC, it is one of the most toxic substances known to science. Dioxin is a known human carcinogen and has been linked to reproductive disorders, immune suppression, and endometriosis, and other diseases in laboratory animals.”
“PVC is one of the worst offenders when it comes to toxic substances. PVC can emit highly corrosive and toxic hydrogen chloride when burned. It is also is a source of dioxin and phosgene gas when burned at temperatures below complete combustion. Coincidentally, phosgene, an odorless gas that can damage the lungs, is one of the substances used in chemical warfare. Samples of soot taken from fires in PVC-containing buildings that have burned have been found to contain dioxins in very high concentrations. The soot, however, represents only a small part of the problem: more than 90 of the dioxins produced in a structural fire are found in the gaseous phase and escape into the atmosphere.”
High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is one of the most commonly used plastics in the US. It is USDA and FDA-approved plastic typically found in milk jugs, plastic bags and refillable plastic bottles (http://bearboardlumber.com/bearboard-plastic-advantage/what-is-hdpe.html).HDPE plastic is resistant to acids, bases, alcohol, and vegetable oils, and is impact resistant. It is also resistant to sustained heat of about 110 degrees Celsius (http://www.dynalabcorp.com/technical_info_hd_polyethylene.asp). As mentioned, this plastic is ultimately chemical resistant, meaning nothing will stick to it. So HDPE is very easy to clean.
Recently some cage manufacturers have switched to marine grade HDPE. It is designed for use in harsh marine environments and it is UV resistant. The plastic is 3/8” thick and more rigid than typical HDPE because it has 3 layers: a solid layer, a slightly expanded layer, and an additional solid layer to give it a plywood-like effect to resist sagging. It is also made of recycled plastic and is 35% lighter than standard HDPE plastic of the same thickness. Unfortunately, despite the improvements, 3/8” marine grade HDPE has still been shown to be susceptible to sagging.
Acetron GP is an FDA, USDA, NSF and Canada AG food compliant plastic which absorbs less than .001% of its own weight in water, and cannot out-gas or leak toxins until heated well over 635 degree’s F (http://www.emcoplastics.com/materials/acetal/acetron-gp/). It is dense and heavy and is perhaps one of the more ideal materials for synthetic perches. It is available in round, square, and hexagonal shapes in a variety of dimensions. It comes in white, black, and brown, and is far stronger and more easily tooled than PVC. At a cost of $2-6 a linear foot, depending on diameter/color, the cost of outfitting multiple cages with Acetron GP can easily run several hundred to over one thousand dollars.
Insertworks perches are hand sculpted and custom made inserts that create functional and realistic branch work for your snake’s habitat. Each perch or branch is made using environmentally safe epoxy that is extremely durable and easy to maintain. They do not absorb odor and are resistant to fungal growth or rotting. Insertworks perches are true works of art and the cost of these pieces is reflected in this fact. However, if price is not an issue or if you are outfitting only a few cages, they are well worth the money spent.
Fiberglass perches are similar to Insertsworks. They are custom fiberglass branches made to look like real branches and come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. They are made to look and feel like authentic wood, but are easy to clean and will not rot or harbor pests. They are non-toxic and resistant to damage from cleaning chemicals.
- Natural/Wood Perches
Some of the more popular natural perches used in GTP enclosures include hardwood dowels, cypress, crepe myrtle, maple, dried bamboo, American sycamore, and manzanita. If you choose wood perches be sure they are from a non-toxic tree that has not been treated with pesticides. Also, wood branches should be cleaned prior to use. Some keepers bake branches at low temp to kill insects that might be present.
One drawback with wood is that the bark, knots, and cracks can be hard to clean and sanitize. So some keepers will coat branches with non-toxic sealer, such as water-based polyurethane or Zoopoxy, in order to seal the wood and make it easier to clean. Water-based polyurethanes can be purchased at most home improvement/hardware stores, but in some cases they may not be very durable. Regardless, apply multiple (5-7) coats and let branches dry for several days before using them. Zoopoxy is an environmentally safe, non-toxic epoxy used for the creation of naturalistic, artificial environments in movies, theme parks, museums, aquariums, and zoos.
The #1618 Epoxy Coating is extremely clear and can be used for sealing or beautifying many surfaces. It will waterproof and protect against environmental exposure, animal waste and most cleaners and solvents. Some epoxy coatings are even flexible and can withstand thermal expansion and contraction. This product is a rather expensive at approximately $100 for a 1.5 gallon kit.
If you use natural perches and do not to seal them, make sure to clean and sanitize them well, and often. Since wood is naturally porous it can harbor many microorganisms. If your branches are growing fungus/mold, your cage probably isn’t drying enough between spraying, or you need to use a different type of wood.
When considering the placement of your perches, make sure at least one is directly under the heat source to allow your chondro to thermoregulate. As a general guideline, perches in adult cages can be situated about 4-6” below a RHP, with the thermostat probe about level with the perch. Regardless of perch placement, use judgment to prevent burns or overheating. And as mentioned, dial in your temperature settings prior to the arrival of your chondro. And while a perfectly horizontal perch is a common site, it is not a necessity. Providing perches with different angles and elevations may help promote movement and will also aid in thermoregulation. It will also create a more visually pleasing cage for the keeper.
As a general rule, perches should be approximately the same diameter as the thickest part of the snake itself. Many keepers will offer a variety of perch sizes and let the animal choose. In fact, some snakes prefer a much smaller perch than you might expect. Some keepers suggest that too large of a perch can lead to kinks, but data to support this is not readily available. Still, many keepers tend to err on the safe side and provide smaller perches as opposed to larger ones. As mentioned, neos up to about 6 months are typically given plastic coat hangers (about ¼” in diameter) or something similar in size. Depending upon size, adults often select perches in the 5/8” – ¾” range.
Chondros have extremely aggressive feeding responses, and falling or spinning perches could lead to injury. So most keepers securely fasten their perches to prevent injury. But mounting perches so that they are easily removed is highly recommended. This makes removing a chondro for taking pictures, cleaning cages, etc. much easier. It should also be noted that when removing a chondro from a perch, extreme caution and patience should be used to avoid injuries.