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Below The Surface

Monday, September 2, 2013

Care and Feeding of ECHO's Snakes


You’ve probably encountered finicky eaters in your lifetime, but did you know snakes can be finicky eaters as well?

In order to keep our animals in tiptop shape, we cater to their tastes which can often be a challenge. At ECHO, our serpentine animal ambassadors' dietary requirements are as unique as their color patterns.

A young garter snake peeks out.
The Eastern ratsnake has a simpler pallet and is content with a typical mouse. We purchase frozen mice, which must be thawed properly to ensure consumption without causing digestive distress. The mice cannot be over-thawed or they become harbingers of problematic pathogens. Yet the mice must be adequately thawed to the core or the snake might refuse it or worse, might consume it and then develop intestinal distress. No one wants a snake with intestinal issues.

The tiny milksnake with its beautiful tan and brown bands opts for more refined cuisine. It once dined on pieces of nightcrawlers, but began refusing these highly nutritious yet apparently increasingly mundane dietary morsels. The creative minds of animal care staff tried various alternatives until the milksnake accepted tiny fillets cut from the thighs of thawed mice.
A mature redbellied snake climbing the foliage.

Our geriatric redbellied snake remains a fan of small pieces of nightcrawlers, but caregivers must be sure  pieces are small enough for her to swallow. Though she, like all snakes can manipulate her lower jaw to ingest incredibly large food items, if pieces offered are too large, she refuses to eat. This old girl is probably around 8 or 9 years old. She has been with ECHO for over seven years and has been deemed by a local veterinarian as perhaps the oldest redbellied snake he’d ever heard of.

Our new garter snake, which is now on display in the upstairs animal care room, has quickly adapted to captivity.  The garter snake immediately began eagerly consuming night crawlers upon arrival.  After this new, little snake has time to acclimate to hundreds or thousands of guests each day, it will be relocated from upstairs animal care to a display in the "Land of Opportunity" area at ECHO. When the transfer takes place, we will carefully monitor behavior and food intake, as we do with all our animal ambassadors to ensure that while serving to further environmental stewardship in the Lake and the basin, they are comfortable in their new roles at ECHO.

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