Jonathan Crowe

Book reviewer, cat photographer, fanzine editor, map blogger, snake whisperer.

Tag: herpetoculture

It’s Simply the Wrong Time of Year for Unfertilized Corn Snake Eggs

So our 10-year-old female Okeetee corn snake, variously known as Little Miss Adorable, LMA and Ella Mae, started laying infertile eggs yesterday.

This is not unheard of — our female bullsnake, Lucy, and our leucistic Texas rat snake, Snowflake, have done this once or twice — so while we were surprised (February is really out of season for this sort of thing), we were not completely unprepared. Egg binding can be a thing, so we threw together a nesting box full of sphagnum and vermiculite, and then a larger box of sphagnum and vermiculite because her cagemate, Pretzel, wanted to curl up in there as well.

This does explain her recent behaviour: missing the last two or three meals (unheard of for a corn snake, except when gravid), restlessly pacing her cage and upending the furniture (much to the annoyance of Pretzel, who is twice her age and much more seclusive).

Five eggs so far, all infertile —  she’s never so much as shared a cage with a male snake, and for good reason: corn snakes are the second-friskiest snake species known to captive husbandry. This is much to the annoyance of the (aptly named) Trouser, the male corn snake who lives in the next cage, who I suspect has been slowly going nuts about living next to two female snakes for years. But when I kept Pretzel and Trouser in the same cage, she would hollow herself out laying eggs that turned out to be infertile. The only surefire way to keep corn snakes from breeding is to segregate them by sex.

All things considered, infertile eggs — or, in the case of live-bearing snakes like garter snakes, egg masses — are a pretty rare occurrence. Caught us off guard this time, it did.

Update, Feb. 17: As of yesterday, LMA has laid an additional six eggs, for a total of eleven. Her backside looks appropriately hollow and she’s entered her post-egg-laying shed cycle, so we can stand down with respect to the risk of egg binding. There’d been some worry about that for a while: at one point it looked like had an egg just above the vent that was not going to pass.

The Snake Lobby

Two years ago, in my Ottawa Citizen piece about the New Brunswick python incident (still ongoing; here’s the latest), I argued that snake keepers should be very careful not to imitate gun rights activists. “More than a decade ago,” I wrote then, “I saw people on reptile discussion websites compare exotic pet bylaws, which they found overly restrictive, to gun control legislation, which they also opposed. And I thought to myself: no, don’t make that argument. You won’t win that argument. Comparing snakes to guns will get reptiles banned in every large city in Canada.”

But as Slate‘s David Fleshler writes, reptile keepers have been doing that very thing—adopting the tactics of the gun lobby—in the United States, and getting results.

The reptile analogue of the NRA is USARK, the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (the Canadian equivalent is CanHerp), which amazingly has managed to portray itself as the defender of a multimilion-dollar industry and get a receptive hearing from politicians at the congressional and state levels—at least, it seems, right-wing politicians with a hate-on for government regulations, particularly of the environmental sort.

As a snake keeper on the centre-left of the political spectrum, I honestly don’t know what to make of this. I suspect the environmental threat posed by introduced giant constrictors is overstated but nonetheless real. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for venomous snake keeping, but enthusiastically support (and practise) the keeping of harmless, captive-bred snakes, and I get annoyed when harmless and dangerous snakes are conflated—by both sides.

I also believe that the dichotomy between domestic and exotic animals is largely a false one, particularly when you’re applying rules appropriate for smart animals with complex social lives to terrarium animals of very little brain. For a lot of people, I think, the ick factor gets in the way of properly evaluating the safety, ethical and environmental aspects of snake keeping.

But I’m not at all keen on political arguments and tactics that have very little to do with the animals themselves—arguments and tactics that, I fear, will do more harm than good to snake keeping in the long run.

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