Feeding Snakes

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Feeding Snakes

Post by Phil on Mon Mar 14, 2011 6:17 am

From time to time and quite a lot lately i hear of snakes reaching mammoth proportions at extremely young ages! I have heard of year old corn snakes at a weight of 500g!!!!,year old male royals at 600g!! and 2 year old female boas at 6ft!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I used to struggle to get female corns up to a breeding weight of 300grams in 2 years. Male royals i aimed for 500 grams in 2 years and female boas i would expect to be touching 6ft or near enough at 3 years. Of course every animal is different and if these animals aren't up to the desired weight/size in the time you would like then your going to have to bloody wait!

I think sometimes,as we are ourselves mammals and we are all used to the daily feeding of our pet mammals such as dogs,cats etc that when we turn to reptiles as pets and snakes specifically we tend to apply mammal ethics of care to them. Although this maybe understandable it is in my opinion inexcusable. With the multitude of info available through books and the internet the excuse of "i didn't know" doesn't really wash anymore .When formulating my own feeding regimes i always turn to those around the world who have been sucessfully keeping and breeding snakes for decades.The Vin russos, Sutherlands and Rentfro's of the hobby usually have all the info you need on their sites and are usually easily contactable through emails.We also have forums such as this one which are invaluable for the collective knowlege of so many keepers.

So with this easily accessible information,WHY DO WE STILL OVER FEED OUR SNAKES?

We are told time and time again that over feeding snakes WILL shorten their lives.A boa that lives for 10 years has only lived for a 1/3 or maybe 1/4 of its possible lifespan.

Im not saying my feeding regimes are perfect, even though i do my upmost to keep my animals lean and healthy some would say that with an every 7 day regime i over feed, and they maybe right! I am only learning, but i am at present having good results and my animals seem to be healthy. The general guide is that you should feed snakes every 7-10 days, but this is just a guide and not to be adhered to religiously. I often see overweight snakes and when i point out the animal is overweight the person says "i only feed it once a week" If the snake is over weight then it is over weight, it doesn't matter how often you are feeding it, you need to slow its feeding down or adjust the size of its meals.

I have also heard of a certain shop telling people that snakes including boas! should be fed every 5 days for life. I can only think that they know they will sell these people more food if they are feeding their animals more /too often. If anyone has been given this advice then you have been given extremely bad advice.

I did feed newly hatched corns every 4 days, i did this as they where on pinky mice which have still to form bones, these pinky mice are extremly easy and quick to digest. Once my corns where on anything larger their feeding was slowed to once per week. Ofcource always watching the snake and adjusting feeding acordingly. Once a week i found was a good regime for growing corns and i have used the same regime for all the species i have kept. Of course always keeping a close eye on each animal to make sure it is not getting over weight or growing to quickly, if so the regime is altered to suit that perticular animal. We also have to remember that when reptiles are growing, just like ourselves they need more food. Once they are reaching adult size and their groth rate slows you need to also slow their feeding.

For an example (and it would be great if others would add their feeding regimes for other species) earlier today i checked my feeding records for some of my adult boas, these are animals that i am breeding and have successfully bred for me in consecutive years.

I feed my adult female boas once per week BUT these are breeders so are subjected to a breeding regime that involves 3 months wintering when they are given no food at all and 2 weeks either side of wintering which adds to 4 months.You also have to take into account they will usually go off their food for somtimes 4-5 weeks near the end of gestation, and of course they don't usually feed when in shed. When i counted up how many meals a year they where actually getting, going back 2-3 years it averaged out at about 18 meals a year!

I feed adult males every 3-4 weeks BUT they are also subjected to the same breeding regime and when i counted up their feeds they added up to around 10 feeds per year. These are lean healthy animals that repeatedly produce large healthy litters, i have no skinny snakes and i rarely have to visit the vet.

All snakes after producing eggs or live young will look a little thin but if the animal is healthy and has been fed at the proper rate it should be restored to perfect health after only maybe 2 or 3 feeds. If a snake is "pushed" it may produce 1 bad litter or maybe not breed at all. In my opinion overfeeding snakes for whatever reason is counter productive.

When formulating a feeding regime the only thing that should be taken into account is the health and longevity of the animal in question.


Last edited by Phil on Mon Mar 14, 2011 4:20 pm; edited 5 times in total
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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by St3ve76 on Mon Mar 14, 2011 8:20 am


Great piece Phil.
Have to agree too many people aren't actually taking advice or only care about getting their rep up to breeding size as soon as possible.
Beardies are a prime example for lizards most people I hear have beardies fully grown by 6-9 months and then the owner wonders why the lizard dies only 2 year old.

Slow and steady is deffo better.

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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by jonty on Mon Mar 14, 2011 8:42 am

When I got my first snake I found it hard to believe that you would only feed something once a week, I couldn't really get my head round it, but I took the advice. It's taken me a while to get used to it all and at times I have been guilty of not stepping some of the snakes up to the next prey size quickly enough, but it doesn't seem to have done any of them any harm as they all seem about the right size and weight for their age.

I have heard of people over feeding their snakes to get them up to breeding size quicker but this seems pointless as you've said Phil the snake might not even breed due to being over weight any way, plus it does shorten the snakes lifespan. I have fed mine every 7 to 10 days and have reduced the feeding to every 14 days there after and it seems to have done the trick, if I thought that any of them were looking a bit over weight I would miss feeding them the odd week.
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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by hudsy13 on Mon Mar 14, 2011 11:34 am

any snake i have over 3 is fed every 13-16days on the apporiately size rat....
befor 3 is roughly 5-10 days no set day just wat ever day im about todo so as in the wild they dont get a rat every tuesday...they may not get one in 3weeks so my feedings are mainely random between 5-10 days....
(younger closer to 5-7 older 7-10)
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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by Rezin8er on Mon Mar 14, 2011 3:25 pm

Fantastic post Phil with some great advice .

Steve hit the the nail on the head " Slow and Steady "

When I first started keeping corns I was eager to get them to size .
Now over the years my feeding regime has change alot .
I have perfectly healthy fit animal in my collect that have only had 15 less even feeds in a year .
I also have what I would call slighty overweight animal in my collect that have only had 15 feeds in the year and they are females .

I have heard the line , " but he was cruising about looking feed " so many time .
Just because a snake is capable of taking a feed doesn,t mean it should be feed .

Cornsnakes shouldn,t look like big fat sausages .



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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by chappers on Mon Mar 14, 2011 4:35 pm

All my snakes have been fed every 2-3weeks from there about 3months on,
the female salmon is now 3 n couple months old n is 6ft altho shes jus startin to fill out nicely now on this regime, the retic is 7ft hes bin fed on this since i got him at 3n half foot. He could easily b fed more often but to be honest im happy hes getting enough to keep him growing steadily.
The only time iv fed differently is the hog island female n thats only because shes breeding.
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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by lisafay on Mon Mar 14, 2011 4:54 pm

Great topic. I completely agree. I am constantly told by certain people what I 'should' be feeding my snakes and how often - female retics 'should' be a particular size by a certain age etc etc.
Says who? The breeders?

HOwever, I do think the frequency and size of food will depend a lot upon the species, as well as whether the particular animals breed regularly or not.

I have to say, I feed my young retics and royals at weekly - 10 day intervals. This is generally until until retics move onto larger foodsizes. When they move up to rabbits, frequency of feeding slows down dramatically. But I do think they need regular feeding at under a yr old, and frequency of feeding should be reduced as the natural growth rate slows down and becomes more steady.

Boas are different, they don't grow in the same manner as retics - if you feed them too regularly they will get fat!

Royals are something I feed when they are feeding, as without fail every single royal that has passed through the doors of this house has gone off their food for periods of time. When they will feed, I give it to them regularly. when they won't, I don't worry about it. Feeding in this manner, I have 09 royal females at 400g and at 1500g! Royals like to dictate their own feeding routine.

Common sense really does come into it, and individual requirements of the animal in question. I have an adult male bci who is purely a pet, and is fed sporadically, yet is in super condition. The jungle adult male is being fed weekly now on large rats, as he does not feed at all for months throughout breeding season.

I think there should be a difference between growth and maintenance diets - but the growth period should not be a race. And there will be a difference in how breeders/non breeders are fed. Boas are slow growing, retics are not. I think burms are regularly fed more than they need.

Had a really interesting chat with James at RV a few months ago about this. He has 3 yr old green anacondas there that look like hatchlings. He is partaking in a study, replicating the diet they would naturally have in the wild, and how (not) fast they grow in their natural environment.

I've read a lot about sulcata tortoises in captivity reaching adult sizes in half the time it takes in their natural environment, and there is a wealth of data available on the ill effects of this - which directly influences how I keep my sulcata.
Hopefully we will have more access to research in this area regarding snakes in the near future - I know there is some out there already, but it is almost always regarding boas!

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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by Phil on Mon Mar 14, 2011 5:32 pm

excellent posts with great info dudes,keep it comming.
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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by morelia on Mon Mar 14, 2011 7:49 pm

Great thread Phil! I think most people have seen overweight snakes or lizards and its such a sad sight. You can kill most animals with kindness.....and its doubly true for cold-blooded animals as their metabolism works so differently to ours - and to 'more usual' pets such as dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits, parrots etc.

I was lucky in that the first animals I ever kept were inverts and amphibians, keeping birds and mammals came a good bit later, so for me having to feed an animal every day was something I had to adjust to! For a lot of people its the other way around and it takes time for their psychology to accept the differences in husbandry between warm- and cold-blooded animals.

Deliberately power-feeding is just shameful....theres more than enough info out there in books, on the net and enough peeps to take good advice from, to warrant it never happening....but some people can be impatient. Good things really do come to those who wait, and those good things are healthy and long-lived exotics.

Thats interesting you mention about the Green Annies Lisa....I owned a male Green Annie for several years and he was around the 4.5ft mark when he left me at around 3 years of age. Loads of people told me he was tiny for his age and looked at me as if I was daft....but I fed him sporadically and let him grow slowly. I'd love to know where he is now and what size he is....last I saw of him was in Dublin a year after I moved him on, and he was around the 7ft mark LOL.

I feed all my snakes sporadically - sometimes they get fed once a week, sometimes they go without for a month....and thats even for hatchlings (provided they are well started of course). They are all in perfect health, lean, strong, bright-eyed and have brilliant feeding responses. There are no hesitant feeders here. I am actually convinced that in 90% of cases where a snake 'has a bad feeding response' or 'won't feed', its because its just not hungry. Very young snakes and Royals are of course the obvious exceptions here. Most reptiles are masters of energy economy and so over-feeding leads very easily to obese, lethargic, flaccid animals with poor (or no) feeding responses.

Regarding the 'pacing the viv' comment thats becoming more and more common, thats another myth IMO......snakes are often quite active when they are well fed, and can travel considerable distances in the wild in search of new den sites, mates etc., not just to find food.

I know that when Darwin, my big male Coastal carpet, hasn't been fed all winter and starts pacing in the spring that he's got other things on his mind besides food. I've had Cali Kings and Corns do the same thing during late summer when most would have been paired and bred. My Bredl's pythons paired for me in mid-summer last year and many people, even seasoned carpet keepers, told me they were 'late'. Its a pity no-one told my Bredl's!

The golden rule is to learn how to read your own animals and let them tell you whats best for them. Being largely devoid of expressions, it can be tricky to do this at first but there are lots of clues there to observe..... look at their muscle tone; feel how tight their muscles are; watch their daily routines and how they change seasonally; watch how their activity patterns and behaviours change over time and how they use their viv space. If you learn how to interpret their behaviour then you will have an easy ride - for example I've never 'cooled' snakes for breeding, I have just learned to watch them and let them tell me what mode they are in and when they are ready to breed.

Besides, feeding heavly doesn't just do damage to your animals - it damages your wallet unnecessarily too!

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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by jonty on Tue Mar 15, 2011 2:52 am

Would I be right in saying that sexual maturity comes with age as opposed to size?

For example if you got a female snake up to size to breed in 2 years she wouldn't be sexually mature for at least another year, right?
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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by morelia on Tue Mar 15, 2011 3:53 am

I think it depends on the species to some extent Marty - for example dwarf boa females won't breed until at least 3 years old, and with some of the Aussie pythons sexual maturity is similarly age-related......which makes power feeding all the more ridiculous as the impatient breeder has to wait regardless! Males can usually start breeding at least a year earlier than most females, even earlier in some colubrids and boas (corns, BCIs etc.)

For a lot of species there will be a general 'rule of thumb'...so for female corns for example there is an old rule of 3 years before first breeding. This ensures she is old enough and has some good size on her to take the weight-loss of laying a good-sized clutch.

Another reason to wait and breed later rather than sooner is clutch / litter viability and size. As a general rule the older and bulkier a female snake is, the bigger and healthier her clutch / litter will be (although first-timers usually lay smaller than normal clutches or litters). For this reason I have always waited until my female is showing signs of being ready for breeding, and then waited another year before breeding her. The extra weight, size and maturity means that whatever she produces will have as good a start in life as it can.

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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by jonty on Tue Mar 15, 2011 4:07 am

You have validated what I was thinking Karl, the 3 years was just an example. The point I was trying to get across is how much more ridiculous it is for breeders to power feed their snakes to get them up to size quicker which you noted in your post
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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by Phil on Tue Mar 15, 2011 4:24 am

morelia wrote: I am actually convinced that in 90% of cases where a snake 'has a bad feeding response' or 'won't feed', its because its just not hungry.
excellent post karl,some good points and totally agree with the above post.Obviously there are a lot of reasons for snakes to go off their food. In my opinion the most common reason is over feeding.My sister has a little male royal python,she had never kept snakes before she had this little guy.She only ever fed him once a month from he was very young.When i asked her why her answer was simple"if i try to feed him anymore he misses feeds".


jonty wrote:Would I be right in saying that sexual maturity comes with age as opposed to size?

For example if you got a female snake up to size to breed in 2 years she wouldn't be sexually mature for at least another year, right?

Right on the botton Marty.I expect female boas to breed at 4 years of age,this means i have 4 years to get this boa upto adult size.There really is no need to push her at all.If she is at "breeding size" at 3 years i will try to breed her but i have found,specially with CA localities that even if they are upto size in 3 years they still won't breed untill they they are 4.
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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by trunx on Tue Mar 15, 2011 4:39 am

wit adults i had(royals,macks etc) every 7 days for younglings, every 10ish for juvies then every 14 for adult females and 21 for adult males seemed to do good.

we have young atb's that go every 7, young dunns go the same, a pair of 2 and 3 year old jcp that do best on 14 and adult sd retics that go ever 14 - 21.

this kind of regime has suited the stuff i am interested in, any boas we have/had i more or less leave to shifty to deal with, so i cant say much on boa regimes................
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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by Buddy on Tue Mar 15, 2011 6:03 am

The age over weight debate will always go on....I know for different species things can alter a little but one of the best arguements I ever read was this.....

"If a snake is big enough and ready it will breed.....in the wild do you think the males ask to see if she is old enough??"

Many will disagree with this and everyone is entitled to their own opinions, as with all aspects of the hobby.

I follow weekly feeding for young uns and fortnightly-3 week feeds for adults. I often also give fast periods occasionally of 2 -3 weeks for all of them as they don't fall across food weekly in the wild so little "starvation" periods are not detrimental to their development I feel.


Last edited by Buddy on Tue Mar 15, 2011 6:04 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : can't spell, lol)
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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by Phil on Tue Mar 15, 2011 6:26 am

Buddy wrote:
"If a snake is big enough and ready it will breed.....in the wild do you think the males ask to see if she is old enough??"

I have heard this statment and it is correct.The thing is if a male snake comes across a female snake in the wild and this female is to young to breed then she will not breed! This female does not power feed herself so that she is in threoy large enough to breed before she is sexually mature!



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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by jonty on Tue Mar 15, 2011 7:18 am

At the end of the day female snakes, when they reach sexual maturity in the wild they will produce pheromones, this would attract the male to mate her. In the wild physical condition is controlled by nature, snakes will generally not feed during the winter due to temperature drops and also there is the issue of availability of food, this regulates the snakes weight naturally. If a snake is at sexual maturity in the wild and isn't in great condition weight wise, they will still breed but the female and perhaps her litter would suffer the consequences. In captivity it is down to us to regulate the snakes weight and also to ensure that they are in good physical condition before we even consider breeding them.
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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by Buddy on Tue Mar 15, 2011 7:24 am

That I definately will agree with.......not a fan of fast growth by overfeeding and absolutely detest power feeding !!
Bad habits that appear to be passing into the hobby from a few of the money hungry large breeders, mainly stateside , atm....
How often have you seen pics online of overtly obese retics and burms, heh Mr Carrot ??........and to try and put size on early in the first year solely to breed them earlier or to have the largest of a species is sad. For the latter...if you're so competitive then start playing a sport ( and if you've been a powerfeeder, preferably one where you will get hurt..badly !!)

Our best example here is our massive female hoggy that was imported from the states and who has been on a strict diet since we received her and is now slowly regaining a much more natural physique and hopefully a healthier one at that !

I will admit that I will use size and willingness as a factor when breeding over age with many species though and though this may be frowned upon by many it has always worked for me
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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by jonty on Tue Mar 15, 2011 7:47 am

I don't think that should be frowned upon by anyone Buddy size and condition is important to be honest, as I said if a female is not sexually mature she will not breed anyway all you are basically doing is putting them together if they look in good enough condition and giving them a try, rather than hammering food down their neck to get them there quicker.

One thing that you mentioned there is larger species, which brings me to another feeding issue that we have not mentioned yet, under feeding a larger species such as a burm or retic to keep them smaller, surely this would also have an adverse effect on a snakes health as much as power feeding.
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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by lisafay on Tue Mar 15, 2011 9:04 am

[quote="Buddy"]That I definately will agree with.......not a fan of fast growth by overfeeding and absolutely detest power feeding !!
Bad habits that appear to be passing into the hobby from a few of the money hungry large breeders, mainly stateside , atm....
How often have you seen pics online of overtly obese retics and burms, heh Mr Carrot ??........and to try and put size on early in the first year solely to breed them earlier or to have the largest of a species is sad. For the latter...if you're so competitive then start playing a sport ( and if you've been a powerfeeder, preferably one where you will get hurt..badly !!)

Did you hear Carrot's excuse for why he feeds so heavily when growing on animals? Because in the wild they eat when they can get it.

Yes, but in the wild, they don't have a giant rabbit dangled in front of them every five days throughout 12 months of the yr!

On the other extreme, you're right Marty, and underfeeding these snakes can be problematic also. Using another example from carrot, we bought some 'grown on' retics from him last yr that had obviously been fed a minimalist diet to inhibit growth, as they did not factor into his breeding plans. I swapped one particular retic for a sibling from the same litter as I had been given the wrong snake in the first place, and the new snake was half the size of the one I had been feeding (and certainly not overfeeding), and had a number of stuck sheds that needed removing.
Saying that, those retics are growing well now, I don't believe it will have an adverse effect on them as they are still young and they are resilient animals. But obviously I don't know for sure, and certainly would not recommend it!

I have no doubt that underfeeding can seriously stunt growth though. I've seen it myself with initial non feeders, such as a tiny lemon pastel female we've had for a few yrs, and a madagascan tree boa who will be two this summer, but is not much bigger than a neonate! I think these two will probably always be on the small side.

The biggest problem i see with people who buy snakes from petshops, is not knowing to move the animals up a food size and the amount of people I've seen still feeding animals on fluffs a yr later is rather scary.

Obviously a balance has to be found. This will vary from species to species and from animal to animal. Lots of the time snakes will guide you in the right direction.

Retics can be different. Mine would eat three times a week if I offered it to them...


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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by pacman on Tue Mar 15, 2011 1:09 pm

Great info I used to panick when a snake didn't feed, but with reading the books Phil talked about and having a few different snakes over the years , I've stop worrying well somewhat anyway I feed every 10 days or so I don't feed them when I notice they are in shed until they shed ,then I try them if they don't feed I will leave them til the next feed so they miss a feed this is something I picked up From talking to people who breed snakes. Each boa I have feeding is different that's why I keep a note of feeds , sheds, refused fed, ect as it gives me a detailed account of each snake ,

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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by Buddy on Tue Mar 15, 2011 1:51 pm

from lisa's post...

"Retics can be different. Mine would eat three times a week if I offered it to them..."

I must admit to overfeeding our first two after their arrival as they were constantly "on the hunt" and thought they must be starving....with lisa's help on a previous thread and a bit of time spent with this species now I realise that's just what tics do,lol....

They now get every 10 days with occasional fasts like anyone else of their age and they are still doing great and shedding regularly !!
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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by matt on Tue Mar 15, 2011 2:10 pm

Great post Phil, this is the kind of practical thread i love to see; a topic that actually matters, and one that deserves to be addressed. I haven't read the replies yet, but I will go back through them later.

As for how I feed my boas (constrictors)

Smaller stuff I will feed every 7 - 10 days, usually trying to miss-feed every fourth or so feed. I think a lot of the time the natural shedding cycles may allow for a miss-feed to occur naturally without having to do it yourself.. These smaller boas (18 months or younger) would not get 'Wintered' for as long. Two boas in my collection only got wintered for 4-5 weeks last year.

With any boas I have that are eating say, a medium adult rat or larger, (basically something that would be considered a nice substantial feed) I will tend to feed at a minimum of every 10 days, with 2 week gaps not being uncommon. And if I look to my records and see that there has been a good few feeds with only a ten day gap in between, I will maybe miss feed for 2, 2 and a half weeks sometimes.

But as you said Phil, some people might think you're regime is over-feeding! The same could be said about mine by some people! There is no mathematical formula to keeping snakes in good condition, and it is as much down to observing the snakes and deciding what is best for the animal. I think you summed that up when you referred to the overweight snake that was apparently still fed appropriately; it didn't change the fact that it was overweight!!

I cycled some of my boas for 3 months this winter, maybe a week or two more actually, and their appetites I have to say, have only improved, especially one of them who now eats far better than ever before. Two of my boas (The Nics) went through two shed cycles during last year's off feed/wintering period, clearly showing that even with a long break from the food, that good development/growth was occurring, that is, if we assume that shed cycles are directly linked to growth rate. All I know is, they look great now that they are back on feed


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Re: Feeding Snakes

Post by Phil on Wed Mar 16, 2011 9:37 am

Buddy wrote:from lisa's post...

"Retics can be different. Mine would eat three times a week if I offered it to them..."

I must admit to overfeeding our first two after their arrival as they were constantly "on the hunt" and thought they must be starving....with lisa's help on a previous thread and a bit of time spent with this species now I realise that's just what tics do,lol....

They now get every 10 days with occasional fasts like anyone else of their age and they are still doing great and shedding regularly !!

As far as i can tell from this post you did everything right,you searched,used and took heed of the "easily available information" to put your animals on the correct feeding regime.

I think everyone is guilty of maybe giving a new animal a bit to much to eat.The people that go"oops I better slow her feeding down a little" are responsable hobbists.

I didn't just pull these figures out of a hat,these are actual cases.( I have heard of year old corn snakes at a weight of 500g, year old male royals at 600g and 2 year old female boas at 6ft).
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