4. Feeding Neonates
a stubborn neonate is a learned art. It involves a lot of trial and error, and even
more patience. As a new chondro owner, it is strongly recommended to purchase a
well-established neonate without feeding issues. But even well-established neos
can begin refusing food when shipped or moved to a new environment. By copying
the breeder’s/previous owner’s exact environmental conditions a neo will feel
more secure and comfortable and is more likely to resume normal feeding habits. That
being said, what works for one clutch, or one individual, might be a complete
failure for another. So you may have to go through a list of tricks to find
what works best. The following are some suggested methods that might help get
your non-eater eating again. Before
you attempt to feed problem feeders, make sure you will not be interrupted or
distracted during feeding time. Have a beer, glass of wine, put on relaxing
muxic, or do whatever it takes to be calm and relaxed before you start.
Patience is the key!
· - Make sure the size and conditions of the enclosure are the same as the one from which they came.
· - Don’t try too often; wait at least 3 days between feeding attempts.
· - Cover the cage with a towel while the animal settles in. This will increase its sense of security.
· - Try feeding right after a shed.
· - Try to feed about an hour before lights out.
· - Try a mid day feeding, or an early morning feeding.
· - Leave thawed pinkies/fuzzies in the tub or on the perch overnight.
· - Be mindful of the temp of your food; some like it very warm some may like it at room temp.
· - You can also offer them a pink head, which is hard to drop once grabbed.
· - Try placing the pink in their coils, if they tighten up around the pink, try to leave as slowly as possible or just sit there very still.
· - Try not to let them see you; let them see only the food offering.
Sometimes neonates need to be stimulated to induce striking. When you can elicit strikes, you’re half way home to successful feedings. Some neos will require more aggressive teasing than others. For example, some neos will only strike after subtle pinching, prodding, slapping, or poking with the food item. However, neos have very fragile backbones and injuries (kinks or divots) can result if your technique is too aggressive. There is a grey area between too gentle and too aggressive, but confidence will be gained with experience.
There are a few locations on a neo’s body that trigger strikes when tapped with the pinky or tongs. The areas on the sides of the neck just beyond the head are usually the most sensitive, and firmly "bopping" this location will usually elicit a strike. For particularly stubborn neos, alternating bops from left side to right side can be helpful. The tip of the tail is also very sensitive and can help encourage striking. When neos repeatedly strike and drop, be persistent. Giving up too early can be the difference between frustration and a snake with a full belly. Also, it’s not unusual for neos to repeatedly spit pinkies out/drop them and it may require several strikes before they hold and swallow. Many times the pinkie will be dropped if it isn’t grabbed by the head. So focus on how the pinkie is presented to increase the chances it’s grabbed by the head. When a strike results in a pinkie’s nose being lodged in the back of the snake’s mouth, it is much more likely to hold and swallow. If there is no interest and a neo keeps running away, stop after about 5-10 minutes and try another day.
Alternative Food Items
The following food items have been used with varying degrees of success. It should be noted there are different schools of thought about wild food items like frogs and lizards. Some feel that neos should never be fed wild food items due to the potential to become infected with foreign bacteria or parasites. Others feel that the potential risk is worth the reward that may come from a successful feeding. If you do resort to lizards, frogs, or other wild food item, be sure to have periodic fecal tests run by your veterinarian. The following is a list of alternative food sources sometimes used by breeders:
· - Brained pinkies
· - Gerbil and hamster pinkies
· - Scented pinkies (see below)
· - Small frogs such as cricket or tree frogs
· - House geckos, anoles, skinks, baby crested geckos
· - Raw chicken strips
· - Crickets/grasshoppers
Transferring the scent of an alternative prey onto a pinkie is often preferred to directly feeding the alternative item. Scenting involves simply rubbing a pinkie on whatever scent (frog, anole, etc.) you are trying to transfer to the pink. The scent item can be live or frozen, but should not be reused after the feeding session. After the GTP routinely eats the scented pinkie, less and less scent is added until they regularly eat unscented pinkies. The time frame this takes will vary from snake to snake. The following are a few commonly used scenting options:
· - Chick down
· - Adult mouse or rat fur
· - Gerbil or hamster fur
· - Frog scent
· - Lizard scent (such as shed)
· - Egg yolk
· - Canned tuna juice
· - Chicken or beef liver juice
· - Raw chicken juice
The following is a list of some issues that can influence how successfully your snake feeds:Too Much Light - Some neos feel exposed and uncomfortable if there is too much light. Covering the tub with a dark cloth or moving them to an opaque tub might be helpful.
· Too Much Movement - Do your best to open tubs with as little disturbance as possible. Some neos will strike, wrap and hold a pinkie only to immediately drop it upon sensing the slightest movement by you. Some are so sensitive that you may have to sit perfectly still until they finish eating. However, most will continue to swallow once they have begun doing so. The best idea is to take notes on each neo’s feeding habits to better prepare for success with each feeding attempt.
· Pinkie size - Some neos will drop pinkies that they find to be too heavy or too large. Others might be encouraged to wrap and swallow a heavier prey item. So experiment with different prey sizes with stubborn feeders. Small neos are usually started with XS or 1-day-old pinks. But the goal should be switching them to large pinkies as soon as possible; aim for around the 4th or 5th meal. Larger pinks have more nutrition, but they can be difficult for some neos to get used to. Again, learning to read what your chondro is telling you is crucial for cracking stubborn feeders.
Runners are often the most difficult neonates to establish. The typical behavior of runners includes flailing, fleeing, and lunging out of the tub. With neos that initially strike but then quickly begin running, in the short term you may be better off backing down and trying again another day. Also, changing the time of day you attempt to feed a runner might prove successful. Some keepers have had success feeding runners on the ground. This involves closing the tub once the animal is grounded, waiting 20 -30 seconds, and then promptly opening the tub and using teasing techniques to elicit a strike. By coaxing the chondros into a defensive mode, you can sometimes encourage it to start striking. Repeat this technique several times until you are convinced you are no longer making progress, or you win the battle.
Some neos respond better to very little physical teasing once on the ground. Tapping on the tub, or just the motion of pulling the tub out is enough to elicit a strike. Often with this type of neo, excessive physical contact will set them running again. This technique requires patience and may need to be repeated several times to be successful. Then again it may never work. The time you spend with this technique is ultimately up to you, but don’t wait too long before moving on to the next step.
you are just not able to elicit strikes, you might choose to offer a live prey,
such as pinkies, lizards, or frogs. The best and least stressful approach is to
leave the prey in the enclosure over night as opposed to presenting with tongs.
The natural movements of the prey may trigger the hunting/ eating response more
effectively than the simulated movements of a dead item on tongs. If
successful, after a few live meals they can be transitioned from live prey to
scented pinks, and then to unscented pinks. If none of these methods proves
successful, you will need to consider assist feeding. The amount of time before
resorting to assist feeding will depend on things like the appearance of the
animal, the size at birth, how much yolk (if any) was left behind in the egg.
These neos are generally shy and need to be provoked to un-tuck their heads and begin tongue flicking. Feeding during the day sometimes works well, as does attempting to mimic something crawling across the snake’s body. Opening and closing the tongs with the tips gently contacting the snake’s body is another effective technique to encourage a shy neo to un-tuck its head. At times, shy neos turn into “runners.”
The Grab & Drop Neonate
Some neos will exhibit overly aggressive behavior, and will repetitively grab and throw pinks. One way to counteract this is to offer only a pink head. When the snake strikes, try to position the pink head in the snake’s mouth as far back into the throat as possible. With a bit of practice you’ll be able to lodge the head, and after a few unsuccessful attempts to dislodge it, the snake will give up and swallow the meal. You need to be extra cautious with this type of neo since their aggressive behavior can cause injuries, like spinal kinks.
If you can’t successfully establish a neonate it will eventually starve itself to death. About five to six weeks is as long as you should wait before moving to assist feeding a pink head. After 5-6 weeks, they will start becoming too weak to work with and you may miss your window of opportunity. Also, as their energy levels drop they will stop drinking and quickly become dehydrated.
Assist feeding is used when all of the above methods have failed. There is a difference between "force feeding" and "assist feeding.” Assist feeding can be as simple as getting the pink head wedged in the mouth during a strike. This would be considered an assist feed because the animal does not wrap the prey, but rather swallows only after giving up its attempts to dislodge the pink from its mouth. There is a clear difference in behavior for a stuck pink, and a pink that the snake intends to eat. When assist feeding, do not force the pink head down the snake’s throat. Instead, simply try to lodge the pink head in a way that it can't be spit out. When done correctly (which will likely take many attempts) the snake will eventually swallow. A mouse leg or tail can also be used in place of a head. But you might need to move it into the throat a bit deeper than you would a pink head. It should also be noted that mouse and rat tails are not very nutritious but do provide some much needed calcium. If you do resort to assist feeding you might consider alternating between rat/mouse tails and pink heads.
Force feeding should always be the last resort. Many feel that if the animal gets to this stage, they just were not meant to live. Ultimately you will have to make that decision. Force feeding a gtp neo involves gently coaxing a food item all the way down the snake’s throat. In other words, the snake does not swallow on its own. If the meal isn’t moved far enough down the throat, the snake will likely regurgitate, or try to regurgitate it.
Small to medium rat tails are a good choice for force feeding since they seem to be less stressful on the neo. As mentioned above, they don’t offer much nutrition, but it can be enough to keep their weight from dropping. Most neos being fed this way will swallow on their own once the end of the tail gets to the end of the snakes nose. Each one will have a different point at which they will swallow on their own. This method is useful because you can gradually decrease the amount of tail you need to coax down the throat, and the snake gradually learns the swallowing motion. Therefore the goal is to move from force feeding, to assist feeding.