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Feeding Corn Snakes

Corn snakes are one of the most popular pet reptiles kept by hobbyists today.

Like all snakes, they are carnivores, capturing and eating whatever they can fit into their mouths. This means, as a pet owner, that you must be willing to feed your corn snake on other animals; sadly a corn snake isn’t likely to find a juicy salad or a tub of houmous quite as appealing as a still-warm mouse!

In this article we’ll discuss the basics of feeding corn snakes from the perspective of the pet owner, aiming to answer all the more common questions, and by the end you should be an expert on how to feed your own corn snake.  

What Do Corn Snakes Eat?

corn snake photo

Corn snakes are so-called because they are most commonly-encountered in the wild around agricultural areas, particularly corn fields and storage barns. As you might imagine, there’s a pretty obvious reason: corn snakes like to prey on the small rodents who themselves are trying to fatten up on the glut of grain such habitats provide.

There’s a further hint as to the diet of corn snakes when you consider that they belong to a large and success group of snakes collectively known as “rat snakes”. Yep – corn snakes aren’t just carnivores – they’re specialist feeders of small rodents.

Due to the size of corn snakes, this usually means mice of different sizes, though small rats may occasionally fall prey to this beautiful and popular pet snake.

In captivity, it is most common to feed corn snakes on mice of varying sizes. Fortunately, these are freely available from most reptile shops, where they vary in size from tiny newborn mice (often known as “pinks” or “pinkies” as they lack fur), through to large “jumbo” mice.

Is Dead or Live Food Better?

snake mouse photo

In the wild, corn snakes will of course capture live rodents to eat. However, in captivity this poses a number of potential issues. Firstly, it’s not the most pleasant thing to observe, and indeed in some countries feeding live rodents to snakes is deemed illegal.

Just as importantly, however, in the confines of a cage a rodent has the potential to “fight back”. They may succeed in wounding your snake by biting it out of fear; something that isn’t ideal for your pet.

Lastly, the practicalities of keeping a selection of live mice of varying sizes, and then presenting them to your snake, generally makes this rather inconvenient.

Instead, snake owners generally rely on dead mice. These are bought frozen from a reptile shop, and are thawed out as necessary before feeding them to your snake. Surprisingly, most snakes will quickly take to eating dead mice in this way, which makes feeding corn snakes a far simpler job.

How Do You Thaw Out Frozen Rodents?

There are two common ways to thaw out the frozen rodents bought from reptile stores. The first is simply to leave the mouse or rat out on the side to thaw naturally. This process can take some hours for larger rodents, so many reptile enthusiasts rely on an alternative…

The other option is to place the rodent into a plastic bag, and then suspend this in warm water. The warm water not only helps to thaw the mouse out quicker – ideal if you’re strapped for time – but also heats up the mouse.

Most reptile keepers find that giving their snake a warm mouse, as opposed to a cool one, improves the feeding response and makes them more appealing to reptiles. This is likely because the scent is rather stronger, drawing in the reptile.   

Can I Feed Wild Rodents to My Snake?

pinkie snake photo

Whilst corn snakes in the wild will eat whatever they can find, it is generally not considered a good idea to feed wild rodents to captive snakes.

The frozen rodents available in the pet trade have been specially bred for the purpose and should be disease-free. Wild rodents, however, may carry diseases which could affect your corn snake if you are unlucky.

Are Corn Snakes Venomous?

Corn snakes are not venomous. Instead, they are “constrictors”. This means that they capture live prey such as rodents or birds, then surround them with coils from their body. The coils are gently tightened, slowly suffocating and crushing the prey item before it is eaten.

This means that corn snakes pose no serious threat to humans. Indeed, even if a corn snake tries to “constrict” your arm, it is unlikely to be a painful experience.

How Often Should I Feed My Corn Snake?

corn snake feeding photo

Generally speaking smaller corn snakes are fed more frequently than adults. Most experts recommend feeding hatchling corn snakes every 5-7 days, whilst adults are more often fed every 7-10 days.

As a general rule of thumb, think of feeding your corn snake once every week or so, though the odd delay here or there is unlikely to be a problem.

It is also worth remembering that as corn snakes grow, so too will the size of prey items they accept. As you move up from one size of rodent to the next you may want to temporarily reduce the feeding frequency of your snake, in order to allow them to properly digest their new larger meals.

What Size Food Will My Corn Snake Eat?

corn snake feeding photo

Hatchling corn snakes will normally start out on newborn mice. These are often known as “pinks” or “pinkies” because they are so young that they have not yet started to grow hair. As your corn snake grows, so the size of prey items provided can be increased. Most adult corn snakes will eat adult mice without issue.

As a general rule, snakes will successfully eat a prey item that is as fat as the largest part of its body.

Don’t be worried about how tiny your corn snake’s head looks; snakes can dislocate their jaw to swallow prey items much larger than you might think possible. Indeed, observing your snake while they guzzle that giant meal can be one of the most fascinating parts of keeping snakes as pets.

How Do You Feed a Corn Snake?

corn snake feeding photo

Corn snakes are known to be good feeders, in contrast to some other snake species like Ball Pythons, which may go off their food for months on end. As a result, most corn snakes will eat readily, and no fancy system in normally required.

Personally I thaw out the required number and type of rodents that my snakes will eat. Ensuring that these are gently warm (not scalding hot) I simply place the relevant rodent into my corn snake’s cage.

The snakes are then left alone in peace and quiet to find, swallow and digest their meal.

Some keepers like to “tempt” their corn snake by holding the dead mouse in a long pair of forceps infront of their snake, however I have never found this to be necessary. Generally speaking your snake will soon smell the fresh mouse, and will come out to find it.

I find that feeding my snakes in the evening tends to work best, as they are most active then. If the food item remains uneaten the following morning it is removed and disposed of. I do not refreeze uneaten food to prevent the risk of them spoiling.

What Should I Do If My Corn Snake Doesn’t Eat?

corn snake photo

As discussed, corn snakes are normally very reliable feeders, so most food will be consumed without incident. On the odd occasion, however, you may find the mouse still sitting in the cage the following morning.

The most common reasons for your corn snake not eating are that it wasn’t hungry (you’re feeding too much) or it felt stressed (was there too much noise around, or is this a new snake still getting used to it’s surroundings?). The third and most common cause is that your corn snake is coming up to slough its skin.

Generally speaking there is little to worry about if a snake refuses its food once or twice. Simply take out the rodent and dispose of it, keeping a note of which snake didn’t feed. Then just try it again the following week.

Assuming your corn snake looks in good health and isn’t losing too much weight then a week or two without feeding is unlikely to do them any harm.   

Can I Handle My Snake After Feeding?

corn snake photo

After it has eaten, your snake needs time to rest and digest its meal. Stressing out your snake soon after it has fed can result in the rodent being regurgitated; hardly what either you or the snake want.

As a result, it is best to leave your snake along for some 48 hours or so after it has eaten, at which point you can resume handling if desirable.

Photos c/o angela n., highlander411, amarette., Clevergrrl & kthypryn

Praying Mantis Food & Feeding

Praying mantis are carnivorous predators.

In the wild praying mantis will eat almost anything they can safely capture. Being diurnal predators (active by day) that primarily use their powerful sense of vision to capture prey their most common foodstuffs are invertebrates of varying types.

Small vertebrates may also be eaten when the opportunity arises, including small lizards and amphibians. There are even videos recording praying mantis successfully catching and eating hummingbirds at a feeder or goldfish from a bowl.

That said, praying mantis are surprisingly smart about what they can and cannot eat. Praying mantis soon learn what size of prey they can subdue, and also learn to identify those invertebrates – such as some beetles – that are either unpalatable or toxic.

Praying Mantis Food in Captivity

praying mantis photo

As pets, it is most common to feed praying mantis on a range of feeder insects freely available from breeders. Generally speaking the size of the prey item should correspond to the body length of the praying mantis; smaller mantids eat comparatively smaller insect prey.

Praying Mantis Food for Hatchlings

Baby praying mantis are tiny when they hatch; often only a centimetre or so in overall length. They therefore require tiny insect prey to start them off, with bigger insects being accepted as they begin to grow.

For hatchling praying mantis two foods are likely to be the most effective:

Pinhead Crickets 

crickets photo

So-called because of their diminutive size, pinhead crickets are freshly-hatched brown or black crickets that have recently emerged from their egg. Measuring just a millimetre or two in length, they are an ideal size for praying mantis.

There are, however, a number of weaknesses to pinhead crickets as food for baby mantis. The first of these is that pinhead crickets have a nasty habit of becoming dehydrated and dying early.

Buy a tub of pinhead crickets from a pet store, and most of them will have died within days. This can be remedied by the provision of moisture-rich food such as slices of carrot, potato or apple, but adds to the effort of keeping the livefood going long enough to get your money’s worth.

The second, and arguably larger issue, is that pinhead crickets tend to spend the majority of their time on the floor of the cage, while the young praying mantis will spend most of their time up high, away from the floor.

For this reason, your baby praying mantis may not notice the tiny crickets dashing around the floor of their cage. Unless you’re lucky, your mantis will also have to pluck up the courage to come and pick these crickets off the floor of the cage one-by one.  

Fruit Flies 

drosophila photo

Fruit flies are a similar size to pinhead crickets, but tend to have rather longer lives. It is simplicity itself to buy a “fruitfly culture” from most good reptile shops. Within a week or so of bringing it home, you should find that dozens – even hundreds – of fruit flies should start to hatch within the culture. These can then be fed to your baby mantis.

Unlike crickets, fruit flies are far more likely to climb or fly up to the top of the cage – putting them pleasantly within striking distance of your baby mantis. When combined with the ease of breeding fruit flies, this makes them my personal preference for the basis on my praying mantids’ diets.

Indeed, while I offer pinhead crickets occasionally to add variety, I tend to purchase these tubs when my fruit fly cultures are running dry – and I know I may have to wait some weeks before the next batch of flies become available.

How to Handle Tiny Insects

drosophila photo

It is worth mentioning at this juncture that handling tiny insects as food for your praying mantis is far from easy. How do you control a buzzing swarm of fruit flies, ensuring that they make it into your praying mantis cage rather than simply flitting off around your home? Here there are three possible options…

Refrigeration – The first option is to gently chill the feeder insects in your refrigerator. Pop the tub into the fridge for 10 minutes or so and you’ll find that the livefood becomes much slower and easier to handle. Of course, as they warm back up so their speed of movement will increase so this is only a temporary situation. It is not ideal if you have plenty of mantis to feed, or if your family dislike the idea of sticking crickets in the fridge.

A Pooter – A pooter is a simple device consisting of two plastic tubes, with a clear plastic vessel between them. A filter is placed over one of the tubes. To use the pooter, put one tube over the top of the hapless feeder insect you’d like to catch, then suck hard on the other. The insects will find themselves vacuumed up into the collection pot, safely protecting your mouth from the insects by the filter.

From here, it is quite simple to open the collection pot and tip the insects into your praying mantis cages.

I have found that pooters can work with fruit flies, but tend to be particularly effective for pinhead crickets. In a single “suck” you can dump dozens of crickets into the collecting pot, then tip a handful into each of your praying mantis cages.

Larger Rearing Cages & Stealth – Possibly the easiest method of all, and the one I use to rear whole egg cases (ootheca), is to keep the baby praying mantis together until they reach a more manageable size.

In truth, such a method will always result in the loss of some mantids, as the youngsters are just as keen to eat one another as they are the fruit flies or crickets lovingly provided for them.

As a result, I would not recommend this method for keepers buying a small number of hatchling mantids. Instead is a technique for keepers that have successfully bred their mantis, and are trying to rear the contents of a whole ootheca.

In this manner, I fill a large cage with hundreds of tiny twigs, giving a three-dimensional climbing frame, allowing the baby mantids to avoid each other as much as is possible. Every so often, I take a fruit fly culture and bang it firmly on a table to knock the flies to the bottom. Before the flies have a chance to respond I then unscrew the lid, open up the baby mantis cage and shake the fruit fly culture over the top.

Dozens – even hundreds – of flies will tumble into the cage before the lid is replaced. In this way, my baby mantids have an almost non-stop supply of flies which simply needs to be topped up from time to time.

Of course, as time goes on, so will the number of mantis you lose, so I try to only use this method until the babies reach a more manageable size of 2-3cm before splitting them into individual cages.

Praying Mantis Food for Juveniles and Adult Mantis

drosophila photo

As praying mantis grow, so they become ever-easier to feed. The reason is simple; not only are larger praying mantis more resilient and easier to keep themselves, but larger insect prey is also much easier to handle. As your praying mantis grows you’ll find it simpler to grab a cricket or two than it was to fuss about with a cloud of rapidly-moving fruit flies!

Here are some of the more common feeder insects suitable for praying mantis, though once again you should take care to select insects of a suitable size for your mantis.

Crickets 

Crickets come in a range of different types, including brown, black and silent crickets. Within these types, it is normal possible to buy crickets of varying sizes – from youngsters right up to the huge adults of black crickets. The nice thing about feeding crickets, therefore, is that irrespective of what size your mantis is, there’s likely to be a corresponding size of cricket ready to become dinner!

While crickets are possibly the most popular food item for larger mantis, as stated earlier, they do have a nasty habit of staying on the ground rather than obligingly climbing up towards your waiting mantis.

Personally speaking, I also find the chirp of the adult male crickets thoroughly irritating too; especially on those occasions when an escapee successfully wedges itself behind the fridge or a heavy piece of furniture on a hot summer night. The chirping soon sends me round the bend! For this reason, I personally am less likely to feed crickets to my mantis than other prey types listed below.

Locusts

locust photo

One of my favorite feeder insects for my mantis are locusts. These are available in a wide range of sizes once again, but do not produce the noise that crickets can. Of course, locusts can also grow considerably larger than crickets, helping to make a really “meaty” meal for larger species of praying mantis.

Just as importantly, I have found that locusts are far more likely to climb up the sides of the praying mantis cage, or to rest in the twigs that I provide each of my mantis as a perch. They therefore come into far more regular contact with the mantis, and are more easily picked off.

Lastly, in my experience locusts are much easier to handle. While crickets often jump and move very quickly, locusts are on the whole much slower and jump less regularly. If you’re going to be picking up feeder insects by hand (as I do then) then locusts tend to be much easier to work with.

Waxworms

Waxworms are the caterpillars of wax moths; they’re fat and juicy and loved by praying mantis. Just as good, when the caterpillars themselves pupate they turn into fluttery moths; perfect for your praying mantis to catch from way up on their perch.

Mealworms

mealworms photo

Mealworms aren’t worms at all – they’re the larval stage of the Tenebrio beetle. Studies suggest that mealworms aren’t as rich in nutrients as many other types of feeder insect. They are, however, very simple to look after and to handle.

They can therefore make a handy change from crickets or locusts on occasion. Indeed, it is quite simple to breed these insects at home, so for anyone worried about running out of insect prey, they are an easy “plan b” to keep on hand at all times to fill in any gaps in your supply of locusts or crickets.

Blow Flies

For mid-sized praying mantis blowflies are one of my favorite prey items. Be sure to buy the maggots (or “gentles”) from a pet supplier – not from a fishing shop where they may contain chemicals.

The maggots can be left to pupate in a small pot lined with sawdust, then the pupae can be sprinkled into your praying mantis cages. As the flies hatch they’ll find themselves restricted to the cage, making a perfect flying food for your younger mantids.

These flies are arguably the easiest livefood of all to deal with, as the pupae are inert, so there is no chance of them escaping – by the time the adult flies actually hatch out they’ll be confined to the mantis cage, ready to become a juicy snack!  

Feeding Praying Mantis

mealworms photo

It is next to impossible to overfeed a praying mantis; they’ll eat as much as they need, but won’t get “overweight”. If anything, feeding your praying mantis plenty of food will enable them to grow that much faster, reaching maturity in less time than a similar mantis on a stricter diet.

Generally speaking I like to try and keep livefood in the cages of my baby mantis at all time, assuming that the mantis can effectively escape from the prey item, by resting on a twig or hanging from the roof of the cage.

Once my mantis are big enough to be housed individually I maintain careful feeding charts, in order to monitor how often the mantis are eating and when moults are likely arising. Uneaten food is removed the following day, before trying again the day after. Over time you’ll develop your own routine, though I find that most praying mantis will eat almost daily.

The only warning sign to look out for is a mantis that suddenly goes off it’s food after having eaten heartily for some weeks. This is especially so if the mantis looks “fat” to the eye. Such a praying mantis is likely coming up to change it’s skin.

When a praying mantis changes its skin, it suspends itself from a twig, splits open the old skin, and slides out to inflate its new coat of armour. Hanging from just two legs, while your skin is soft and pliable is fraught with danger, and mantids have been known to fall or be knocked down by larger prey items still in the cage.

As a result, when I find a mantis that goes off it’s food I like to make a note, then withhold food until a few days after their impending moult is successfully completed. In this way I avoid any annoyance to my mantis, and ensure that they are able to moult successfully.    

Photos c/o JR Guillaumin, treegrow, Tadamasa Sawada, tillwe & velacreations

Cheapest Pet Tarantulas

Pet tarantulas can vary widely in cost, with more expensive species costing many times that of the cheapest pet tarantulas. When you consider the other initial start-up costs, such as a tarantula cage and heater, finding a cheap pet tarantula ensures you can afford the whole setup – especially if you’re on a tight budget.

But where do you find pet tarantulas that don’t cost the earth?

Cheapest Tarantula Species

There are a number of reasonably-priced tarantulas that you’re likely to stumble across in your search. Typically some of cheapest species of tarantula are as follows…

Chilean Rose Hair

grammastola rosea photo

Possibly the cheapest tarantula of all, the Rose Hair has been a mainstay of the exotic pet hobby for over a decade. Docile in nature, and achieving a respectable legspan of some 5-6”, the Chilean Rose Hair is an ideal starter species. Almost all exotic pet shops will have at least one specimen, which will likely be considerably cheaper than most other species available – even as adults.

Click here to learn more about the Chilean Rose Hair.

Curly Haired Tarantula

honduran tarantula photo

The second most-commonly encountered cheap tarantula is the Honduran Curly Hair. Initially resembling the Chilean Rose Hair in many ways, a closer inspection will reveal that this species is covered in lighter curly hairs presented in a brown background.

Another docile and slow-moving species, the Curly Hair makes another ideal starter species, not least for the fact that it is often available as an adult at very competitive prices.

Click here to learn more about Curly Hair Tarantulas.

Salmon Pink Birdeaters

lasiodora photo

Salmon Pink Birdeaters are some of the largest tarantulas available on the market, and may grow to almost twice the size of Rose Hairs or Curly Hairs. They are therefore perhaps better thought of as a spider for keepers willing to give it the additional space that it deserves.

For those willing to invest in a slightly larger cage, however, the Salmon Pink is a stunning spider, covered in pinkish hairs. Their size also factors into their appearance, making them truly impressive beasts.

Salmon Pinks are very fast growing, easy to breed, and produce a large number of youngsters. As a result, the species is regularly bred in captivity, and specimens of all sizes are commonly available very cheaply indeed.

Click here to learn more about Salmon Pink Birdeating Spiders.

Where to Find Cheap Tarantulas

tarantula photo

While the above species may typically be the cheapest commonly-available species there are of course a range of other ways to save money on your first tarantula. These additional tips can either help you to land one of the above species for even less money, or can sometimes help you secure a more exotic species for a similar price to the above common species.

Wild Caught vs. Captive Bred

Captive bred tarantulas tend to be more expensive than wild caught specimens. The reason is quite simple: the breeder has to put far more effort and money into producing captive bred specimens. In contrast, wild caught tarantulas can simply be imported as adults and then put up for sale. The costs involved can be far smaller, especially when tarantulas are imported in bulk.

That said, before you go out and select a wild caught specimen based purely on price, there are other factors to consider. For one, with an adult wild caught specimen you have no idea how old they really are – and therefore how long they will live.

You also can’t be sure if they have any parasites which might shorten their lifespan, or cause problems for any other tarantulas in your collection.

Lastly, and arguably most importantly, you also need to consider how you feel about removing specimens from the wild unnecessarily, potentially depleting wild populations, just to feed your hobby. In contrast captive bred specimens have none of these potential issues, and so I always recommend tarantula keepers try to focus their attention on captive bred specimens if at all possible.

Consider Tarantula Size

tarantula spiderling photo

In general, smaller (younger) tarantulas cost less than larger specimens. There are a number of reasons for this, but most important is the amount of care and feeding that a captive bred tarantula has received before sale.

It is often possible to save money when buying a tarantula by choosing a smaller specimen than you might ideally like. That spiderling or juvenile specimen will soon grow into a large adult with enough love and care – the only difference is that buying a smaller specimen will require some patience on your part.

Indeed, while I occasionally buy the odd adult specimen, the vast majority of my current collection is made up of spiders of varying sizes, all of which were bought as youngsters and then carefully reared up towards adulthood. Such a policy has the very real potential to save you a load of money – or to enable you to buy several tarantulas for the price you would have paid for a single specimen.

Breeders vs. Pet Stores

We exotic pet hobbyists should do all we can to support our local reptiles shops, but they’re often a very expensive way to buy a tarantula. The reason is that many reptile stores buy their stock from breeders and reptile shows before marking them up considerably.

It is often cheaper, therefore, to buy your first tarantula from a breeder. You can meet these at reptile shows, or via the Internet. Unlike a pet store, however, there is less redress if anything goes wrong – so choose your breeder carefully to ensure you receive the level of support and customer service needed alongside competitive pricing.

Rescue Opportunities

Lastly, be aware that exotic pet owners have an unfortunate habit of putting their pets up for adoption when the novelty wears off. While most experienced tarantula keepers know that their specimens have inherent value, many newer keepers simply want to get rid of their tarantula as soon as possible – frequently offering them for a very low cost, or even for free.

A great way to save money on tarantulas is therefore to keep an eye on your local newspaper, and visit local pet rehoming shelters. There are also many local Facebook groups for exotic pet keepers, as well as websites like Gumtree and Preloved, where exotic pet owners attempt to adopt out unwanted animals.

If you’re able to be patient in order to pick up a bargain then keeping an eye open for rehoming opportunities can often be your very best source of free or low cost tarantulas.

In Closing

As you can see, there are lots of cheap tarantulas available if you know where to look, and what to look for.

That said, it would be remiss of me not to point out the importance of having a proper budget to provide all the equipment that owning pet tarantulas requires. While there is nothing wrong with trying to save money, it is also important to have enough of a budget for cages, heaters, substrate and so on – as well as ongoing maintenance costs such as buying feeder insects regularly.

Photos c/o The Reptilarium & wwarby

Bosc Monitor Care Sheet (Varanus exanthematicus)

Bosc monitors are one of the best larger pet lizards that can be kept in captivity. This care sheet reveals how to look after Bosc monitors - a perfect read for all reptile enthusiasts, or those looking for a pet lizard. Bosc monitors are one of the more popular large lizard species kept in captivity. Hailing from Eastern and Northern Africa, the bosc monitor is capable of growing up to five feet (150cm) in length, though in reality most specimens top out at a more modest three to four feet in length (90-120cm).

While these certainly aren’t the biggest lizards available to reptile keepers, they’re certainly a far larger and more impressive species than the more commonly-kept bearded dragon or leopard gecko.

Together with their impressive dimensions, be aware that their teeth and claws are also in proportion of their body. A scratch or a bite from a bosc monitor is therefore likely to be much more uncomfortable than from a Green Anole! That said, a properly-tamed bosc monitor can become silly tame, posing no major risk for their owner.

Their potential size, combined with a fearsome arsenal of tooth and claw – not to mention a powerful tail – therefore mean that the bosc monitor is generally not a good pet lizard for beginners.

For reptile keepers with some experience, however, looking to upgrade to something a little bit different to the usual species seen in reptile stores, the bosc monitor can make an ideal introduction into the larger and more impressive lizards.

In this bosc monitor care sheet we’ll discuss everything you need to know in order to safely house, feed and care for your first pet bosc monitor…

Wild Habitat

Hailing from the arid regions of Northern and Eastern Africa, bosc monitors may be found across a wide range, including Ghana, Senegal and Ethiopia.

They are typically ground-dwelling lizards, though may occasionally climb when the desire arises. Far more commonly, bosc monitors use their sharp, elongated claws to dig. In doing so they may create a hole in which to hide, or may unearth potential prey.

Bosc monitors are carnivorous lizards, naturally hunting throughout the day where they feed on whatever live prey they can capture. With their forked tongues, they prowl the wild areas of Africa, looking almost like small komodo dragons, tasting the air for any tasty morsels. In the wild this is likely to consist primarily of a wide range of life invertebrates, supplemented with the occasional rodent or eggs from ground-nesting birds.

When it comes to bosc monitor care the best solution is to try and mimic this natural lifestyle as far as is possible in captivity. This means that a large cage will be required to enable these active lizards to explore and hunt.

A very hot basking area is also recommended, to help mimic the effects of the sun’s rays warming the earth. A drier environment is also preferable to more humid atmospheres, which can lead to health problems in bosc monitors.

Lastly, giving your monitor the opportunity to dig around in their substrate, and even to take a nice long bath, will also help to add interest and to foster more natural behaviour in their captive environment.  

Housing Bosc Monitors

Many people are taken in by how cute (and relatively inexpensive) baby bosc monitors are. They can often be purchased for similar prices to bearded dragons, and being less than a foot in length the chunky babies can be very appealing indeed. It is important, however, to appreciate just what you’re getting yourself into before buying a baby bosc monitor.

While young bosc monitors will be happy in a traditional wooden vivarium or large Exo Terra tank, adult specimens will require a far more roomy enclosure. Youngsters can be successfully housed in a tank measuring roughly three feet (90cm) in length, and eighteen inches (45cm) in depth.

Appreciate, however, that baby monitors can double in size in a matter of months when well cared-for, so it is often to start off with a larger cage of 120cm or more. This means that such a cage can be used for a longer period of time before rehousing is necessary.

Such a plan helps to save you money rather than needing to buy a new cage every few months. In the meantime, of course, your baby monitor will be able to get plenty of exercise, exploring their oversized cage until they grow into it.

Adult bosc monitors require considerably larger enclosures, which can be difficult to source from standard reptile stores. A cage of some six feet (180cm) in length, with a height and depth of three feet (90cm) is recommended as a minimum for adults. Due to the excessive size it may be necessary to build your own vivarium as your monitor reaches maturity (and process that can take just 2-3 years), or to order an over-sized vivarium from a specialist tank builder.

As bosc monitors like a hot and dry environment wooden vivariums are often the best option. These successfully hold in the heat, while making it easy to attach the various electrical appliances you’ll need. The wood also won’t rot in the otherwise dry environment. Cheap to buy “off the shelf” or to build yourself, this is often the most practical and cost-effective solution.

Heating & Temperatures

To mimic their wild environment, bosc monitors need a hot enclosure. As with other reptiles, it is recommended that one end be heated while the other end of the cage is allowed to remain slightly cooler. Under such conditions your monitor will be able to choose their preferred area; warming up under their heat lamp and then going off to explore the cooler areas of their cage once they have reached their optimum temperature.

A recommended temperature at the hot end is some 28-32’C, though this can drop during the night. This should be monitored continually with a reptile thermometer such as a digital thermometer or heat gun.

There are a number of ways to provide this level of heat. The first of these, and arguably the most popular solution, is to use a heat lamp. Alternatively ceramic heaters may be used. Ceramics don’t provide light; just heat, so some bosc monitor owners find them more practical as they can be run safely during the “night” without upsetting your bosc monitor’s natural circadian rythmns.

Note that both heat lamps and ceramic heaters can get very hot indeed. Not only do such heaters risk overheating the cage, but lizards can receive hefty burns if they’re unlucky enough to come into direct contact with the heating element. As a result, a number of precautions are essential for the health of your pet…

Firstly, any heating element should be safely protected with a bulb cover to eliminate any chance of your monitor coming into contact with it. Additionally, such powerful heaters should only ever be used with a thermostat.

There are a range of thermostats designed specially for reptiles, and they help to keep temperatures within acceptable levels. On colder days, the thermostat can gently increase the power of the bulb to maintain a suitable environment, while on hotter days it will be automatically turned down to prevent overheating.

Depending on how well-insulated your chosen bosc monitor cage is, and it’s overall size, it may be necessary to add supplemental “background” warmth to take the edge off the cooler end. This can be easily, cheaply and safely achieved through the use of one or more heat mats.

The best guide to heating your bosc monitor cage will be your lizard itself. Pay attention to his or her behaviour to see if changes are necessary. A monitor that only rarely ventures away from the basking spot could likely do with the temperature increasing further. In contrast, of course, a monitor that rarely goes anywhere near their hotspot, but instead lurks at the cold end may be finding their enclosure too hot.

By modifying the temperature of your bosc monitor’s cage in response to their behaviour you should quickly be able to find the optimum conditions for your pet.

Ultraviolet Lighting

Lighting your bosc monitor cage is a point of great contention. Veterinarians and reptile keepers alike are aware that some lizards – such as green iguanas – positively must have artificial lighting. Without the provision of UV light, such lizards are unable to effectively metabolize calcium, which can lead to weak bones, swollen joints, paralysis (particularly of the rear end) and sometimes even death.

It has been claimed by some authorities, however, that bosc monitor’s do not require UV light and can live perfectly happy and healthy lives without. Some keepers have even successfully bred boscs without the provision of artificial lighting.

That said, it does seem like an unnecessary risk when the reptile community is so divided. As a result, I recommend the use of a suitable UV bulb, placed as close to your lizard’s basking spot as possible. Ideally, the distance between lizard and tube should be no more than 30-45cm or so.

To maximize the volume of ultraviolet light available to your monitor use a reflector behind the bulb. Also be aware that most bulbs require changing every six months or so. Even if the visible light appears bright, the UV portion (invisible to our eyes) drops away over a period of months. If in doubt, a handheld UV monitor can be used to check the output of your chosen bulb.

Also, in cases where you opt to provide a UV light, your monitor should have ample opportunities to escape the glare. This means providing light in just one area of the enclosure, while also providing hides and artificial plants, where your bosc monitor can retire if desirable.

Water & Humidity

Bosc monitors may come from arid areas of Africa, but it is still considered a good idea to provide fresh water at all times. This should be provided in a heavy ceramic bowl, to prevent these powerful lizards from tipping over their water.

Like many other monitor lizards, it seems that bosc monitors often appreciate a nice soak in their water bowl. Selecting a bowl that will accommodate your bosc monitor safely can therefore be a wise idea. Note that monitors have an unfortunate habit of defecating in their water, so you’ll want to scrub the bowl and change the water regularly to keep it hygienic.

Normal household humidities are perfectly acceptable for bosc monitors, with no additional spraying generally being required.

Tank Decor

The first consideration when setting up your bosc monitor cage is the substrate which goes on the floor, and here there is much disagreement. Some keepers use orchid bark or beech chippings, though it is generally accepted that potting soil may be the best solution. Be certain that the compost you choose does not have any nasty chemicals added to it, such as the artificial fertilizer granules found in some brands.

Mixing this compost with some children’s play sand then creates the perfect environment for digging. In larger vivariums it can be a good idea to offer a healthy depth of substrate, and to pack it well. This enables your bosc monitor to dig naturally in the substrate as they might in the wild.

Bosc monitors are large, powerful lizards capable of digging and climbing. As a result, a beautifully-landscaped vivarium may not stay so for very long. Instead, tank decor elements should be sturdy, and ideally fixed in place with screws or reptile-safe silicone sealant. The use of large branches and pieces of cork bark, combined with artificial plants, can be put to use to create an appealing and varied environment for your monitor.

Lastly, don’t forget to provide your bosc monitor with somewhere suitable to hide away from prying eyes. There are a huge range of potential reptile hides, but the size of an adult monitor means that a very large piece of curved cork bark may be the easiest solution. For youngsters reson caves or curved wooden hides can also work well.  

Feeding Bosc Monitors

Learning how to feed your pet is a critical aspect of bosc monitor care. The reason is that bosc monitors can be prone to laziness and, as a result, may become obese over time. Over feeding your bosc monitor, or providing it with the wrong food can therefore lead to an overweight lizard which will, in all likelihood, shorten it’s lifespan.

Young bosc monitors are best fed every day or two, on a wide and varied selection of livefood, including crickets, locusts, mealworms and even earthworms. All livefood should either be dusted with a suitable mineral supplement, or gut-loaded before feeding. Doing so maximizes the mineral content of the food, helping to keep your monitor in the best of health.

As your lizard grows, so the feeding frequency can drop. Alongside this, the size of prey items provided can increase. Many experienced bosc monitor keepers offer dead mice to their pet roughly twice a week (every three days or so). This rodent prey can be supplemented with further invertebrate prey as desirable.

Bosc monitors are one of the best larger pet lizards that can be kept in captivity. This care sheet reveals how to look after Bosc monitors - a perfect read for all reptile enthusiasts, or those looking for a pet lizard.

Corn Snake Enclosures

Corn snakes are one of the most popular pet snakes due to their docile nature, ease of care and low cost of purchase.

Like all snakes, however, the key to a long and healthy life for your pet is in the provision of a suitable enclosure.

A corn snake enclosure should meet all of the following requirements:

Security / Escape-Proof – Corn snakes are natural escape artists, and are capable of squeezing through the tiniest of gaps. A suitable corn snake enclosure should therefore address this situation, ensuring that there is no way that your pet can escape. This is particularly important as corn snakes tend to be nocturnal, so they are likely to be most active (and therefore to escape) while you’re tucked up in bed. By the following morning trying to track them down can be a frustrating experience.

Just as important as preventing your corn snake from escaping, however, is preventing unauthorized access to your snake from outside. This doesn’t just apply to other people in your home, but also other domestic pets. Cats can be a particular nuisance, so ensure there is no way for your cat to open the cage door or to sneak a paw into the enclosure.  

Suitable Environmental Conditions – One of the key differences between keeping exotic pets like corn snakes and other more traditional pets is that they are far more affected by their environment. Temperature and light levels should be suitably controlled to ensure maximum comfort. At the same time, your corn snake should have continual access to fresh water, somewhere snug to hide away from prying eyes, and should enough space to move around.

Cleanliness and Hygiene – Corn snakes are surprisingly clean animals. While they may eat dead rodents and birds, these are normally swallowed whole, leaving little or no residue in their cage. Eating only occasionally, snakes also tend to defecate only irregularly, and this often dried quite quickly in the confines of a warm cage.

Cleaning tends to be a reasonably simple affair as a result, but is important all the same. Drinking water should of course be changed daily, the cage should be spot-cleaned as necessary and the whole thing emptied, scrubbed with reptile-safe disinfectant and set up again on a regular basis.

Visibility – Lastly, of course, you should be able to see and enjoy your pet from afar. A corn snake enclosure with a clear plastic or glass front ensures that you can get the most from owning a snake, and can observe your snake’s everyday activities without interfering unnecessarily.

Corn Snake Cage Size

corn snakes photo

Unlike more timid snakes such as ball pythons, corn snakes can be surprisingly active, especially around dawn and dusk. They willingly explore their cage, looking for suitable prey (and, some people might argue, opportunities for escape!). Growing to an adult length of around 120cm (4’) corn snakes therefore appreciate a reasonable amount of space.

Cage Sizes for Adult Corn Snakes

Opinions vary as to the optimum but a good rule of thumb for adult corn snakes is a cage measuring no less than 90cm (3’) in length with a depth of 40cm (15”). Of course, as with other active snakes, if you’re able to provide a larger cage then all the better. A corn snake kept in a four foot long (120cm) cage with a depth of eighteen inches (45cm) will all the happier.

Cage Sizes for Hatchling Corn Snakes

Of course, a pencil-sized baby corn snake would soon get lost in a large enclosure, which would also make maintaining your snake rather more problematic. Ideally corn snakes should be housed in a cage where you can easily lay eyes on them at any time, in order to ensure they are in full health.

Many baby corn snakes are kept in clear plastic containers measuring little more than 18” long by 8-10” deep. Such a container is suitable for the smallest of hatchlings, but of course over time your snake will need to be rehoused as it grows.

Types of Corn Snake Enclosures

corn snakes photo

In theory, any container which effectively meets the guidelines provided earlier can make a suitable corn snake enclosure. In reality, there are a limited number of “tried-and-tested” cages which tend to work best for corn snakes in captivity…

Glass Aquariums with a Suitable Lid

One of the more popular corn snake enclosures is a suitably-sized glass aquarium. Such a cage provides excellent visibility of your pet and is both easy to source and to clean. There are, however, downsides. Firstly, of course, glass aquariums can be heavy to get home and to move around.

Secondly, it is critical to purchase a suitable reptile-safe lid. This lid should not only prevent escape of your pet, but should also prevent too much heat from escaping in colder months. Increasingly, a small range of specialist glass tanks are being made available to reptile keepers, complete with a specially-made lid which offers the maximum in security.

Wooden Vivariums

Possibly the most popular option of all for housing larger corn snakes is a wooden vivarium. These tanks are available online or from most good pet stores, and often for rather less than an aquarium.

With their ventilated sides for air movement, and the sliding glass doors at the front, wooden snake vivariums offer all the practicality needed with an attractive design and easy access.

The solid sides and roof also offer other benefits; not only do they allow your corn snake to feel rather more secure than having glass on all sides, but they also help to hold the heat on cold winter days. As a result, keeping your corn snake warm and comfortable becomes easier and cheaper.

Lastly, note that the wooden construction can make it easier to affix the electrical components necessary. It is simplicity itself to drill a small hole in the side, in order to feed through a heater, light or thermostat cable; something that is far more challenging in a solid glass tank.

For these reasons, my own personal preference when keeping corn snakes is for one of the reasonably-priced, highly practical wooden vivariums.

Glass Exo Terra Cages

For smaller corn snakes glass Exo Terra cages can work very well; offering a compromise between wooden vivariums and glass tanks. The Exo Terra is of all-glass construction but offers a number of carefully-designed benefits.

For one thing, the lockable front-opening doors make accessing your snake very simple. The raised glass floor also makes fitting a heater beneath very simple indeed. Exo Terras also come with built-in cable holes, which can be closed easily, making it easy to install any electrical equipment required.

Lastly, if you opt to provide artificial lighting for your snake, or heat the cage from above, then Exo Terra also offer custom-designed cage hoods, complete with bulb fittings, into which your chosen lighting solution can be fitted.  

Exo Terras come in a wide range of sizes, making them ideal for corn snakes of many sizes, from tiny hatchlings right up to full-grown adults.

Faunariums

A faunarium is a low-cost corn snake enclosure, suitable for smaller specimens. It is made of rigid clear plastic, with a closely-attaching ventilated plastic lid. Larger models tend to also have a “trapdoor” in the middle of the lid, to enable access to the enclosure without removing the entire lid.

To me, these are a solid solution for smaller snakes. Indeed, you may see some reptile shops placing multiple faunariums into one single large vivariums, with each one containing a baby snake.

Due to the size that your corn snake should achieve, however, these are unlikely to be suitable for larger snakes, however they can be a cheap solution while you’re waiting for your corn snake to reach a suitable size for their own wooden vivarium or Exo Terra.

Really Useful Boxes

Other escape-proof plastic containers have also become popular among exotic pet owners over the years. Of these, arguably the Really Useful Box (or “RUB” for short) is the most popular. These sturdy, stackable boxes have the distinct benefit of offering a “locking” lid thanks to two blue devices which “click” over the lid, preventing escape.

RUBs are also quite cheap to buy, and due to their solid design it is very simple to drill some air holes in the side using an electric drill. These are arguably the most practical enclosure of all for very small snakes.

What is the Best Corn Snake Enclosure?

One of the more common questions I receive through my contact form is what the best corn snake enclosure really is. Of course, with the wide range of cages available there is no easy answer to this question. Some are far more practical than others, while prices can vary considerably between the different options.

My own personal preference is to opt for one of the smaller Exo Terras if I’m buying just a single baby snake. The appearance and practicality of these cages is, I think, exceptional. Of course, if you’re keeping a number of baby snakes then these can quickly become expensive, in which case you may opt for something less visually appealing but far cheaper – such as a suitably-sized RUB.

For adult corn snakes I think the best enclosure is a wooden vivarium. These come in a range of different colors, look fantastic, and offer both security and practicality for you – especially if combined with a low-cost cage lock.

That said, I would encourage you to consider your budget, and the size of the snake you’re planning to buy, to decide what the optimum compromise is for you regarding price, size, practicality and appearance.

Siting Your Corn Snake Enclosure

snake vivarium photo

Alongside buying a suitable corn snake enclosure another critical aspect relating to corn snake enclosures is where to place the cage in your home. Like other reptiles, corn snakes are sensitive to noise and vibrations, as well as to a range of common household chemicals.

In terms of which room to place your corn snake enclosure in, the kitchen and bathroom are therefore best avoided. The best option is a quiet bedroom or office where your snake won’t be regularly disturbed. The enclosure may alternatively be placed in your living room, assuming you won’t have children running around and causing stress to the snake.

Being sensitive to noise, it is best to place your corn snake enclosure away from such sources – ideally they should be housed away from TVs, stereo systems and washing machines for example.

Being cold blooded creatures, requiring artificial heating in all but the warmest weather, also think about drafts or areas of your home where temperatures may fluctuate excessively. Don’t, for example, place your corn snake enclosure near an outside door, or against a radiator that may warm up rapidly in winter.

Lastly, be aware that direct sunlight can rapidly heat up a glass cage, leading to dangerous temperatures inside your corn snake enclosure. Keeping tanks away from windows – especially those facing south – is therefore also recommended.

While this may sound like a long list of requirements, it is normally quite easily achieved in most homes. A dimly-lit spare bedroom away from a radiator, for example, is a perfect site for your corn snake’s cage, where they will be away from noise, vibrations and fluctuating temperatures.

Gooty Sapphire (Poecilotheria metallica) Care Sheet

The Gooty Sapphire Tarantula (Poecilotheria metallica) is one of the world's most beautiful tarantulas, and one of the most popular pet species with keepers. Discover all about the natural history of the species, together with advice on caring for this stunning blue tarantula in captivity.Poecilotheria metallica goes by a variety of different common names; the Gooty Ornamental, Gooty Sapphire, and Peacock Parachute Spider to name just three.

Peocilotheria metallica is considered one of the most beautiful tarantulas in the world, combining the intricate patterning of other Poecilotheria species with a metallic blue sheen.

Interestingly, the Gooty Sapphire was originally discovered in 1899 by arachnologist Pocock, but was then “lost” to science having not been seen in years. Finally, in 2013 it was rediscovered, alive and well. Poecilotheria metallica may be one of the most beautiful tarantulas known to science, but it is also considered one of the most endangered.

Pressure arises both from it’s tiny home range, plus the obvious appeal to exotic pet owners. The species is now classed as Critically Endangered, with no export of the species allowed.

This rarity makes Poecilotheria metallica one of the most expensive tarantulas currently available on the market, with even juveniles selling for more than most adult spiders.

While this is undoubtedly a stunning tarantula, its also one that is reserved only really for the serious tarantula keeper with large amounts of cash to blow.

poecilotheria metallica photo

Wild Habitat

Very little is known about the Gooty Sapphire in the wild. The original specimen used to describe this species (the “type”) was found in the town of Gooty in India, hence the common name.

poecilotheria metallica photoWhen the spider was rediscovered, however, it was found in the Chittoor and Kadapah districts of Andhra Pradesh.

It has been suggested that as the original site of discovery is so far from it’s current stronghold, the first Poecilotheria metallica to be discovered may actually have been inadvertantly moved on a train, to the area where it was found.

Today, the Gooty Sapphire is believed to be restricted to just one tiny area of less than 100 sq km in size. According to the IUCN, “the habitat where the species occurs is completely degraded due to lopping for firewood and cutting for timber. The habitat is under intense pressure from the surrounding villages as well as from insurgents who use forest resources for their existence and operations”.

Like other Poecilotheria species, the Gooty Sapphire is an arboreal (tree dwelling) tarantula, which uses tree holes and crevices to hide away during daylight hours. At night, it comes out to hunt any prey that is small enough to be subdued.

The predominant habitat found in this area is described as tropical deciduous forest, enjoying a comfortable average temperature of around 25’C and humidity ranging between 70 and 80%.

Caging

While the Gooty Sapphire may be jaw-droppingly unusual in appearance, the captive care of this species is very similar to that of other Poecilotheria. As an arboreal spider, specially adapted to live on tree trunks a tall cage which accurately mimics this tends to work well.

Thus, a cage some 18″ or so in height works well for Poecilotheria metallica, especially when combined with a range of vertical hides such as curved pieces of cork bark. In this manner your spider can live out a reasonably normal life, taking refuge behind the bark when it desires.

As a group, tarantulas are known for their exceptional abilities of escape. This is arguably even more impressive among the arboreal spiders, thanks to their lighter bodies and more athletic abilities.

Security should therefore be paramount, to prevent your spider being able to slip unnoticed out of any gaps in the cage. A tight-fitting lid, which is either fastened shut or heavy enough not to be moved, should be considered essential with this species.

Glass or plastic cages can work equally well, so long as make for ease of maintenance and offer suitable ventilation. Maintenance is an important topic as Poecilothera species are well-known for not just their potential speed, but also the strength of their venom.

Several bites from Poecilotheria tarantulas are considered medically relevant, so great care should be taken when keeping this species to avoid being bitten. Larger cages arguably make this easier, as they afford you more time to close the cage safely should your Gooty Sapphire try to make a break for freedom.

While this species seems to do well at higher humidities, air movement should still be considered a critical aspect of their care. Stale or stagnant air, especially when warm, can be a breeding ground for fungi and other microbes.

Suitable ventilation should therefore be provided to avert this risk. Some cages offer a piece of metal gauze as part of their design, helping with ventilation. In others, especially plastic cages, it may be necessary to create ventilation holes, such through the use of an electric drill or soldering iron.

In brief, therefore, a glass or plastic cage of suitable dimensions is the required caging for this species. The cage itself should be secure, and offer suitable ventilation.

As this is such an expensive (and impressive) tarantula, it’s worth spending the extra money to buy a really beautiful cage. Not only does this present your pride and joy in the best possible manner, but such cages can also offer practical benefits too.

I make extensive use of Exo Terra cages for my tarantula collection.

These glass tanks come complete with a mesh lid for ventilation, are easy to heat and clean, and also offer the benefit of front-opening doors which lock shut when not in use. For fast-moving arboreal species in particular these doors can make routine maintenance easier and safer.

Exo Terra currently sell a range of different sized cages, with their 18″ tall and 24″ tall models being particularly suitable for Poecilotheria.

poecilotheria metallica photo

Tank Decor

The goal of an exotic pet keeper should always to try and mimic the wild habitat of their captives as much as is possible. Such an attitude not only encourages us to learn more about their natural habitats, but also affords them the most suitable care possible.

As described, the Gooty Sapphire is a tree-dwelling spider from deciduous tropical forests. The first piece of tank decor should therefore be one or more vertical hides.

Curved pieces of cork bark, of a dimension that your spider can clamber behind, tend to work best. These should be laid on end to create a vertical environment.

They may also be firmly attached to the tank – or to one another – using aquarium-safe silicon sealant. This therefore reduces the risk of the bark falling over when your spider is out exploring.

Ideally, try to provide multiple hides in the cage so that your specimen can choose the one that suits them best.

In terms of substrate to line the base of the cage, all the standard media used in the tarantula keeping trade are suitable, such as potting compost or coir fibre.

The Gooty Sapphire is not a burrowing tarantula, so only a modest depth is necessary. Just a few centimetres should be enough to aid with moisture control.

It is considered best practise, particularly with larger spiders, to include an open water dish. This should be shallow-enough to prevent drowning, and should be thoroughly scrubbed on a regular basis, before refilling with fresh water. While your tarantula may only drink from it occasionally, its’ like having insurance on your car – it’s there just in case it’s needed.

Lastly, as this is such an expensive and beautiful species, deserving to be the highlight of your collection, some keepers opt to “landscape” their Gooty Ornamental cage.

Artificial plants have come on leaps and bounds in recent years, and a range of very life-like plants can be bought. Adding a few plants not only gives the cage more visual interest, but also provides more hiding places for your Gooty Sapphire.

Heating & Temperature

As stated, the Gooty Ornamental has evolved to live in tropical forest, meaning that artificial heating with be required in captivity. A temperature of around 25’C works well, but a thermal gradient should always be present in order to allow your tarantula to move to cooler areas if desired.

Heating of your Poecilotheria is most easily and cost-effectively arranged with a reptile heat mat attached to a thermostat (“matstat”). These two items ensure that suitable temperature is provided at all times, and that the heater is gently turned down in warmer weather to prevent overheating.

Such heaters cost just a few pence each day to run, meaning that the ongoing running costs of heating your tarantula are minimal.

As these are tree-dwelling spiders, heating the base of the cage (by placing the tank on top of the heat mat) is rarely as effective as attaching it to the side of the cage. Simply peel off the covering to the adhesive side and then stick it to the outer side of the vivarium.

If you opted to use an Exo Terra cage then inserting the probe of the thermostat into the cage becomes simplicity itself; these cages have special closeable holes designed to accommodate electrical cables neatly.

The probe should be placed inside the cage, right next to the heat mat. In this way one side of the cage will receive additional heat, while the other will remain comparatively cooler. This creates the necessary gradient, allowing your tarantula to pick and choose the area (and hide) that is most comfortable for them.

Water & Humidity

poecilotheria metallica photoA humidity of 70-80% works well for the Gooty Ornamental. This is most easily provided by regularly spraying the cage with a houseplant spray gun.

These can be purchased very cheaply online or from garden centres, and should be reserved specifically for your tarantula. In this way you can be certain that they haven’t been contaminated with any harmful chemicals. Spray the cage once or twice a week, allowing it to dry out gently in between.

Particular attention should be paid when you know that a moult is coming up. This is the most critical time in the life of a tarantula, where a bad moult can lead to a malformed exoskeleton or, in extreme cases, death.

As a result, ensure that humidity is kept within the agreed limits around these times to ensure a successful moult.

Feeding

Like all Poecilotheria, the Gooty Sapphire is a fast growing species with a healthy appetite.

Youngsters may reach adulthood in as little as 18 months, and can eat on an almost daily basis. If you’re purchasing a younger specimen (which is likely with such a premium-priced species) then feel free to feed it generously and prepare to be surprised by just how quickly it attains adult size.

Any live insects will be taken, assuming they are of a suitable size. That said, insect prey which climbs tends to be more effective, while ground-based feeder items may not receive quite as much attention.

For my own collection of Poecilotheria my preference is for locusts – these climb well, are easy to handle and attain a good size as adults. They are available in a range of different sizes, suitable for almost any size of Gooty Ornemtnals. Alternatively, standard fare like roaches and crickets may also be fed.

Some Poecilotheria may even be willing to take small dead mice, as sold for snakes. Some keepers claim that feeding a picky or fluffy every few weeks speeds up growth, though be aware that such a meal can also create a fair amount of mess in the cage.

Handling

Super-expensive, fast moving, aggressive and with potent venom this is not a species suitable for handling. Take great care when carrying out routine maintenance to avoid the risk of getting bitten.

If your Gooty Sapphire needs to be removed from their cage for some reason it is wise to take precautions to avoid risk to you or the spider. Place the tank into a bathtub. Then gently place a clear plastic tub over the top of the spider, before sliding the lid underneath tends to be the safest and easiest option. The holding tub can then be safely removed and tank maintenance carried out.

When your cleaning has been completed, the tub can be placed back into the cage and the lid gently loosened/removed. There is no need to poke the spider out; just leave the container and the spider will make its own way out over night.

The Gooty Sapphire Tarantula (Poecilotheria metallica) is one of the world's most beautiful tarantulas, and one of the most popular pet species with keepers. Discover all about the natural history of the species, together with advice on caring for this stunning blue tarantula in captivity.

Images c/o DJANDYW.COM & DJANDYW.TV AKA ANDREW WILLARD & snakecollector

Praying Mantis Cages & Housing

Praying mantis are still quite an unusual pet, so you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that you local pet store is unlikely to sell specialist praying mantis cages.

Instead, the praying mantis keeper must be willing to think creatively, and to reuse other containers to create a suitable cage for their mantids.

In this article, therefore, we’re going to look at some of the better cages for praying mantis that can be ordered online or found in your local pet store.

Whatever option you choose, arguably the most important element of all will be the dimensions of the cage you select. Mantis experts recommend a cage at least three times as tall as your mantis is long, and at least twice as long as their body length. So think 3x mantis tall, and 2x mantis wide and deep.

Lastly, before we talk about the best cages for praying mantis, it can be wise to consider how large your mantis will grow in time.

Buying an adult or subadult should present very few problems. However, if you’re buying a youngster that is set to grow considerably larger then you may want to plan ahead.

Doing so means you can select a cage that will fit your mantis comfortably for months to come, rather than continually having to upgrade as your mantis moults.

mantis photo

The Best Mantis Cages for Adult Praying Mantids

Let’s start with a discussion on the best cages for large mantids as these are typically the easiest to accommodate and can also make the most attractive displays.

Exo Terras

Exo Terras have revolutionized the housing of many exotic pet species. These cages may not be the cheapest option, but they do manage to combine both seriously good looks with a large dose of practicality.

Exo Terras are available in a wide range of different sizes, including tall cages like this one which are perfect for an adult mantis. The front-opening glass doors make feeding and cleaning much easier, while these can be securely locked shut the rest of the time.

Lighting hoods can even be bought for Exo Terras, which can help to create a truly mesmerizing display and/or to heat the cage in the coldest of weather.

For my money, these are the best option, especially when I want to create an eye-catching display of my mantis.

Faunariums

A range of similar cages are sold under a range of different names. In brief, they are clear plastic containers, with a removable grilled lid. This lid allows plenty of air flow; some mantids may even use the lid as a perch to hang from.

While these cages are typically cheaper than Exo Terras, you do need to be careful to ensure that you select a model tall enough for your pet. Sadly, the majority of models seen for sale are the “low and long” variety rather than a more practical “tall and slim” shape.

Also, with so much air movement these cages can be more challenging to heat effectively in cooler months, and tend not to lend themselves to attractive displays as the Exo Terra does.

In warmer weather, however, these can provide a low-cost alternative to the Exo Terra.

Small Fish Tanks

Glass fish tanks can be purchased in a range of different sizes. The smaller models may sometimes be used successfully to house praying mantis, though once again carefully consider the height of the cage.

Another consideration is the security of such a cage; you’ll want to be sure to select a tank with a tight-fitting escape-proof lid, though these aren’t always the easiest to find.

As fish tanks tend to be “sealed units” ventilation in such cages can also be poor, so it may be necessary to bore some holes into the lid of the tank, or to cut out a section and replace this with metal gauze.

Mesh Cages

A growing number of mesh cages are available to entomologists and reptile-keepers. Traditionally these are used by those keeping and breeding butterflies, and are also excellent housing for chameleons. They can, however, also make good housing for praying mantis.

The fact that many taller mesh cages can be found also helps to make them an appealing option.

If there is a downside to such a cage it is of course all the ventilation. Such cages can be quite difficult to heat using a traditional heat mat, and instead generally require the use of a heat lamp. Such lamps can be far more expensive to buy, especially as you’ll need all the mounting for the lamp, as well as a thermostat to prevent it overheating.

As a result, while mesh cages can make excellent cages for mantis, in colder weather they are rarely the best solution, requiring some considerable thought (and often investment) to heat suitably.

In the summer months, however, they can serve as an excellent “back up” if you suddenly find yourself in need of a few spare cages, and can be bought very cheaply indeed.

Upcycled Household Containers

For the creatively-minded a range of glass or plastic household items can make suitable cages for praying mantis. Anything from tall tupperware boxes intended for pasta, to sweet jars, through to glass vases may all potentially be used.

Assuming they can be securely sealed to prevent escape, can be heated without too much difficulty and are of the right dimensions as discussed above then almost anything may be used.

Sometimes it can be quite fun to surf Amazon or visit your local cookery or hardware store to look at all the various tubs, containers and jars on offer, and find some that can make perfect;y-acceptable mantis cages.

The Best Mantis Cages for Hatchlings & Youngsters

Smaller praying mantis require extra care. The younger a mantis is, the more fragile it tends to be.

Additionally, of course, extra care must be taken to ensure that a tiny mantis cannot escape through any tiny holes or gaps. Equally, placing a tiny mantis into a giant cages can make keeping an eye on him or her more challenging, and can make life harder for your pet when it comes to locating their food.

Small Exo Terras

For smaller mantis, there are also smaller Exo Terras. The much-loved Exo Terra Nano, for example, is perfect for many species of mantids as they are growing. With great visibility, the mesh grill on top for ventilation and being easily heated these can be one of the best praying mantis cages for young mantis.

Upcycled Household Containers

As with adult mantis, a range of household items may be used to house smaller mantids. Many people use plastic deli cups and suchlike for the tiniest hatchlings. A piece of muslin, or net curtain material, may be cut to size and secured over the top with an elastic band.

Another technique that I have had great success with is to use old cricket tubs. The floor of the tub is lined with kitchen paper, before the tub itself is placed on its end. The kitchen towelling then becomes more of a “wall” than a “floor”, allowing the mantis to grip successfully to the vertical plastic sides of the tub.

Such a container costs nothing (thanks to all the crickets I get through) and provides a suitable home for many species of mantis.

As with adults, the key is to think creatively. Ensure heating, ventilation and dimensions are met, then select the best-looking or most cost-effective solution you can find. With imagination, all sorts of containers can make great praying mantis cages.

What do you like to use to house your mantids? Why not leave your experiences in the comments section below to help other people…?

Fringed Ornamental (Poecilothera ornata) Care Sheet

At first glance, some might mistake the Poecilotheria ornata for it’s cousin Poecilotheria regalis, but look more closely and you’ll find a whole host of differences.

Firstly, the colour is subtly different; Poecilothera ornata may have a greenish or even purplish hue in some specimens.

Then there’s the size. Poecilotheria ornata, commonly known as the Fringed Ornamental, is considered to be the second-largest species of Indian ornamentals (Poecilotheria genus) and may routinely grow to a legspan of 9-10″ across. Second only to Poecilotheria rufililata, this is an epic tarantula both in patterning and dimensions…

Wild Habitat

indian ornamental photoOriginally described in 1899 by Pocock, Poecilotheria ornata has one of the widest ranges of common names seen in the pet trade.

It may be known variously as the Yellow Legged Ornamental, the Ornate Tiger Spider and even the Ornate Parachute spider.

Like all Poecilotheria, the Fringed Ornamental is confined to the Indian sub-continent.

Poecilotheria ornata is a tree-dwelling specialist from Sri Lanka, where the country experiences wide ranging temperatures throughout the year (19-34’C) and two different monsoon seasons, one from May to July, and the second from November to January. It is interesting to note that the average humidity in Sri Lanka is perhaps rather lower than one might expect, hovering around the 50% mark.

One assessment of the distribution of Indian ornamental tarantulas claimed that Poecilother ornata as been found in “Udamaliboda, Deraniyagala, one from the Kitulgala forest reserve and three from the Sinharaja World Heritage Site”.

The same study also examined the wild habitat of Poecilotheria ornata, and recorded exactly where specimens were located. The scientists claim that most specimens were found hiding in tree holes or behind pieces of loose bark.

Interestingly, Poecilotheria ornata is one of the few species to be reported living communally with tiny frogs. The frog, Latin name Ramanella nagaoi, has been found sharing tree holes with the Fringed Ornamental.

It has been suggested that this may be a form of “mutualism” where both species benefit; the frog is protected by the spider, and therefore does not fall prey. The spider, on the other hand, benefits because the tiny microhylid frog protects the tarantulas eggs from parasitic infection, feeding on any tiny invertebrates that make their way into the hole.

Caging

Poecilotheria‘s large adult size, arboreal nature and speed of movement has a large impact on their housing.

While this species does not require as much humidity as some other members of the genus, it is important that their cage is suitably-sized and makes for ease of maintenance. You will not want a full-grown Poecilotheria ornata getting out in your home, especially as the bites of Poecilotheria are considered “medically relevant“.

A cage no smaller than 18″ tall is therefore recommended, and a 24″ tall cage would be even more suitable for an adult.

While the length and depth of the cage are of less importance for tree-dwelling spiders, for such a sizeable captive it does make sense to ensure that the tank is at least 12″ long and deep.

The ideal dimensions would be 24″ tall by 18″ wide and 18” deep, which provides plenty of space for your Poecilotheria ornata to move around. Just as importantly, it makes your life easier with feeding and routine maintenance, giving you a fighting chance of your tarantula tries to make a break for freedom.

While these are fast-moving tarantulas, they seem more prone to running in a vertical dimension; they’re more likely to run up the side of the cage than across the bottom. As a result, cages with a front that opens can be rather more practical than one which involves taking off the lid continually.

Exo Terras work well for this species, offering both suitable dimensions and the locking, front-opening door mechanism.

Smaller specimens can be kept in a range of other containers, from unused plastic sweet jars to specially-built tarantula tanks. Irrespective of the option chosen, it should provide suitable ventilation to prevent the build up of moisture and, by extension, the growth of mould or fungus.

Once again, the Exo Terra performs strongly here as it comes complete with a close-fitting metal gauze lid.

Tank Decor

Keeping tarantulas like the “Orange Bitey Thing“, the Cobalt Blue or the Fringed Ornamental requires thought. These spiders are all fast-moving and are considered to have particularly toxic venom. You’ll therefore want to marry the comfort of your tarantula with the practicalities of maintenance to avoid the risk of an escape, or even a bite.

The first consideration should be in the provision of suitable hides. For Poecilotheria ornata, rolls of cork bark tend to work best. These mimic the loose bark that Fringed Ornamentals would conceal themselves behind in nature.

Be sure to select pieces which have dimension which allows your tarantula to get inside, and of a length that there is space at the end for entry and exit.

The cork bark should then be positioned vertically, giving the impression of a tree trunk. Your spider will be able to hide away inside this bark, accessing it from the top, and then during nighttime hours will come out to hunt. Your specimens may well be found resting gently on the bark in the evening.

I have personally found that the provision of suitable hides like this can make tank maintenance a much easier and less stressful event.

Most Poecilotheria will produce copious amounts of web within the hide to protect themselves, and will stay in there for long periods of time. Tank maintenance can therefore be carried out with relative ease if a careful eye is kept on the hide to ensure your spider remains within.

With patience and, let’s be honest, a little bravery, these hides can also make tank cleaning easier. The whole hide can be gently removed, with spider inside, and placed into a new cage if required. This prevents the potential fun of doing battle with a 10″ rapidly-moving spider and trying to coral it from one cage to another.

Second to the importance of hide provision is the use of a suitable tarantula substrate. Full guidance is given here, but in general you should aim to line the base of the tank with a few centimetres of substrate to help moderate humidity in the cage.

Coconut fibre is arguably one of the best possible solutions, and can be bought from most reptile shops in neat, condensed blocks. Simply soak a block in water for a few minutes and it expands to many times it’s original size. Being highly absorbent, this substrate is perfect for use with tarantulas and also looks fantastic.

Heating & Temperature

A base temperature of around 25’C, provided by a heat mat or heat cable controlled with a thermostat, works well for this species.

As we discussed above, however, Poecilotheria ornata often deals with temperatures considerably higher than this. As a result, this may be one species that appreciates slightly warmer temperatures on occasion; certainly one area of the cage reaching 28’C is unlikely to cause problems, though as always a thermal gradient should be provided.

In this way your spider can easily move away from the hottest part of the cage if it starts to become uncomfortable for him or her.

Water & Humidity

It is considered best practise to provide a water bowl for all species of tarantula, even if they rarely seem to drink from it. At least under these circumstances you can feel confident that your spider will not become dehydrated.

All the same, care must be taken with this species, and the front-opening door of an Exo Terra makes removing and cleaning the water bowl rather easier than top-opening tanks. If you need to reach down 18-24″ to remove the water bowl a long pair of forceps can be used if desirable. These are available up to 12″ in length, helping to make maintenance much simpler (and safer).

Just as importantly as the water bowl, the tank should be sprayed one or twice a week with lukewarm water. This will temporarily raise the humidity in the cage, and allow your spider to drink from the droplets that condense on the walls of the cage. Care should be taken to allow the substrate to dry out partially between spraying, to prevent an unhealthy soggy environment for your spider.

Feeding

Like the other members of the genus, Poecilotheria ornata is a fast growing species with an appetite to match.

If you’ve kept slower-growing species in the past like the Mexican Red Knee or Chilean Rose you could be in for a surprise here. I have had specimens in the past that would eat almost every day, given the option, and would tackle prey items considerably larger than what other species of a similar size might.

Youngsters will thrive on a diet of black or brown crickets, smaller roaches and half-sized locusts. Adults will happily take adult locusts and roaches, and some may even take the odd dead mouse. Specimens of all sizes tend to be reliable feeders, only generally going off food a week or two before moulting.

As tarantulas cannot really be overfed, feel free to feed your specimen as much and as often as they will eat, which will maximize their growth rates. Under such conditions Poecilotheria ornata may reach sexual maturity in just 18 months or so – quite an impressive rate of growth for any tarantula!

Handling

Poecilotheria ornata is definitely not a tarantula to handle, having potent venom combined with a skittish and fast-moving attitude.

As described earlier, possibly the best method of moving this spider when necessary is simply to transport it within it’s hide; moving the whole thing from one cage to another.

In cases where this is impossible or undesirable I find that the use of clear plastic containers can work well. The container should be roughly the same length as your tarantula’s legspan. When the spider is out exploring the cage, the tub can be gently but firmly clamped over the top of the spider.

Be sure not to trap or damage any limbs, which is simple enough when a clear container is used. When you’re happy that the spider is trapped safely, the lid of the tub can be gently slid underneath. The tarantula will step over the lid, essentially sealing it into the tub. Click the lid on firmly and remove the tub, complete with tarantula.

When it comes to releasing the tarantula there is no need to poke and prod him to get him or her out of the tub. Far easier is to gently loosen the lid, then place the whole tub into the new cage. Remove the loosened lid completely and leave the tarantula to make their way out in due course. The now-empty tub can then be removed the following day.

Note that for routine maintenance some long forceps can be handy. Personally mine are 12″ long, allowing me to remove uneaten food, water bowls or sloughed skins without having to get my hands too close to Poecilotheria ornata. While they’re not cheap, such an investment can make your tank maintenance easier and safer for years to come.

Image c/o Chris Parker2012

Feeding Ball Pythons

Feeding advice for ball python owners. As you know, ball pythons can be fussy feeders, but this guide reveals all you need to know to feed pet ball pythons the right way from the beginning.When I first started to keep reptiles in the 1990’s ball pythons were still seen as something very unusual and exotic.

Any mention of a “python” drew awe from other people, and with their stout, chunky bodies they really were something totally different to the corn snakes and garter snakes that were prevalent at that time.

They also developed a bad reputation for going off food for long periods of time and for generally being fussy eaters. At the time, some keepers were advocating not handling ball pythons at all, as they believed the stress was one factor in their refusal to eat.

Of course, that was a long time ago. Largely wild-caught adult pythons have been replaced by a mind-blowing array of captive bred specimens in an almost infinite array of colors and patterns.

These captive bred specimens tend to adapt to captivity much better, generally being calmer and less prone to stress.

In addition, we as hobbyists have learned much about these pythons. We know, for example, that it is reasonably normal for ball pythons to go off their food in the winter months, and that adult males seem particularly prone to this.

We also known from past experience that so long as your python isn’t losing condition that this extended fast likely isn’t anything to worry about.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning, in case you’re just planning to get your very first ball python…

ball python photo

What Do Ball Pythons Eat?

Ball pythons are carnivores, and need to be fed meat on a regular basis.

Based on the size of the python and the ease of finding food, this tends to mean rodents in captivity; the vast majority of ball pythons are fed on either rats or mice of a suitable size.

How Often Should I Feed My Ball Python?

Ball pythons can grow surprisingly quickly when they are well fed. At the same time, ball pythons can be lazy, and some specimens do seem to get a little overweight.

While each keeper has their own routine, personally I feed my youngsters twice a week initially, slowly increasing the time between feedings to roughly once a week for my adults.

Note that these timings aren’t “fixed”; some pythons will eat far more regularly than others, while moving your snake from one type of food to another can also affect the feeding regime.

One of the best things you can do is to start a feeding chart for your ball python.

Keep records of what food was offered on what dates, and whether it was accepted. Combine this with regular health checks and weigh-ins and you’ll be in the perfect place to assess your ball pythons health and appetite.

If you are unlucky enough to find your ball python suffers from any health issues in the future, such a chart can also be of great interest to your vet, allowing them to spot anything obviously wrong.

What Size Food Should I Give My Ball Python?

When selecting a prey item for your snake, the easiest process is to think of the circumeference of the item. This should be no larger than the fattest part of your snake. Thus a hatchling may need tiny mice, while larger adults may eat adult rats.

Be aware, however, that there is a lot of flexibility in this. I have found that my ball pythons are far more likely to eat smaller prey than larger items, so if your snake seems to turn it’s nose up at the food offered you may want to try feeding something a little smaller.

Pro Tip: Speak to the breeder or pet shop when you actually buy your ball python. Ask them about what they’ve been feeding, and how often, to give you a good starting point. If they have been keeping feeding charts – as many people do – then all the better.

At least in this way you can start off feeding your snake in the manner to which it has become accustomed. Changes can then be made slowly over time.

How to Move Up Food Items

Baby pythons will probably start off on very small rodents.

As the python grows, however, so they’ll need more and more food. Consider both the size of the prey item given and the frequency.

These two combine to provide your snake’s total calorie intake.

As you increase the size of the prey item given, so you might want to increase the time between feeds. This time drops slowly over time until your snake is ready to move up to the next size of prey and so on.

An alternative solution is to keep feeding frequency the same, but increase the number of items being given.

If your ball python is eating large mice, and you think he or she may be ready to move up to something larger then try them on two mice – either fed together or one day after the other.

After a few weeks like this you can feel confident that your snake now has the appetite to eat their new prey source.

ball python photo

Should I Feed Rats or Mice?

Whether to feed rats or mice is a contentious issue in ball python circles. In truth, for small pythons it can be easier to feed very small mice.

Rats obviously aren’t available quite as small, and can be rather more expensive. An adult ball python, however, will probably require something bulkier than even the largest mouse; feeding rats of varying sizes therefore makes sense (and can be cheaper than feeding multiple mice).

The problem is that some ball pythons can become fixated on mice if fed them for long periods of time, and seem to find rats far less appealing. If you’re not careful you can end up with a large python that is eating you out of house-and-home each month, downing armfuls of adult mice while turning it’s nose up at the cheaper and more practical option of rats.

In my experience, given enough patience, even hardened mouse-eaters will eventually get used to eating rats – though the process may take some patience.

My advice would therefore be to start off with rats if they are available in a suitable size for your snake.

If you can only find small mice that your snake can consume then this is certainly better than nothing, though your goal should be to gently “convert” your ball python to eating rats as soon as possible.

Doing so will increase the growth rate of your snake, and make feeding them as an adult much more cost effective.

Frozen Vs Live Food for Ball Pythons

There are two traditional ways to feed a ball python; either giving them live rodents to catch and kill, or providing dead animals that are bought frozen.

Some keepers like to feed live rodents, believing it is more “natural” and secretly enjoying the “hunt”.

Others claim that feeding live rodents elicits a better feeding response; ideal for those snakes that go off their food for a period of time.

The flipside of course is that a rat or house has the potential to do some serious damage to your snake; cases exist where snakes have had chunks bitten out of them by a rodent trying to escape becoming dinner.

The act of watching a snake catch and eat a live rodent is also more than many people can stomach, while in many parts of the world feeding live rodents is actually illegal.

Frozen food is, in my opinion, the way to go. Its cheap and easy to buy, and can be stored for some time in the freezer. When it’s feeding time the food can just be thawed out and fed.

There’s no worry about your snake getting damaged, no mess left in the cage from a live rodent fouling it and no awkward conversations with pet shop owners when buying another “pet” mouse from them.

What About Uneaten Food?

Uneaten food is bad news. A live rodent, as discussed, can bite and nip at your snake. But even frozen food left in the cage for long periods isn’t good news; it can quickly go off in the warmth of a ball python cages and smalls rancid!

Leftover food should therefore be removed from the cage promptly. Quite what “promptly” means depends on the snake.

Some of my pythons are voracious feeders and grab their prey within moments of being presented with it. If it is left untouched for more than a few minutes then I know there’s little interest and remove it.

Another python of mine is surprisingly shy, and tends to prefer eating at night long after I’ve gone to bed. He therefore is left with his prey until the following morning, by which time he’s normally finished it off.

Some keepers will refreeze uneaten food, assuming it hasn’t been left in the cage for too long, but I personally do not. I worry that thawing and refreezing the food may cause stomach upsets, so each item is presented once and then thrown away if not eaten.

For keepers with more than one ball python, an alternative solution is to feed them on different days. If snake number one won’rt eat their food, it is then presented to snake number two, who will hopefully eat it.

This eliminates waste and, so long as you’re keeping feeding charts, can be an efficient way to make feeding your snakes as cost-effective as possible.

ball pythons photo

How Should I Actually Feed My Ball Python?

Once you’ve selected a suitable prey item, next you need to actually feed it to your ball python. Here’s the process I use…

Firstly, I boil the kettle.

Next, I fill a plastic tupperware container with water; roughly 50% boiling and 50% lukewarm.

The snake’s food is then placed into a plastic bag (a sandwich bag tends to work well) and suspend it in the tub. The lid is then placed into the tub to keep the heat in. This speeds up the process of thawing out the mouse or rat, which makes feeding a quicker experience.

The key, as I have discovered, is to use moderately warm water.

If the water is too hot then the rodent thaws out too quickly, which often ends in the stomach bursting. This is not a pleasant smell, rest assured.

Once the rodent is thawed I then repeat the process with the water. The reason for this is that ball pythons have heat-sensitive pits above their mouths. As a result, a warm prey item is more appealing than a cold one.

This second process serves to gently warm the mouse to around body temperature. This time around you only need to suspend the rodent for a few minutes.

The warm rodent can then be gently placed into your ball python cage.

Many of my pythons grab the rodent almost before it touches the ground. Others are rather more bashful, and prefer to wait until I’m gone. Either way, I aim to feed in the evening (when your ball python will naturally be waking up anyway), to keep the light levels low and to keep noise to an absolute minimum. In short, my pythons get peace and quiet while eating.

The snakes are checked again a few hours later, and any uneaten food is removed, together with any “spillage” from the carcass.

A few additional notes on feeding your ball python…

Firstly, some people like to move their snake to a different “feeding cage”. They claim that this reduces the chances of your snake mistaking you for food at a later date, as they only eat in one specific place. Personally, I’ve never had any issues with feeding my pythons in their cages.

Secondly, while I tend to just throw the rodent into the cage, some keepers like to actually feed the snake by holding the rodent in long tongs and waving it around infront of the snakes face. Once again, I haven’t found this necessary and my snakes continue eating without issue.

Where To Buy Snake Food

As reptiles have gained in popularity, so the number of places selling frozen snake food has ballooned.

These days most cities have a reptile shop selling such items.

Even better, there are almost places where frozen rodents can be ordered online and delivered to your home. They typically come carefully packed, in a well-insulated box together with packs of dry ice.

I have personally found that the prices online tend to be far more reasonable, and with a hectic schedule the opportunity to have the rodents mailed to my home also makes my life easier.

Feeding advice for ball python owners. As you know, ball pythons can be fussy feeders, but this guide reveals all you need to know to feed pet ball pythons the right way from the beginning.

Images c/o The Reptilarium, snakecollector & brian.gratwicke

How to Breed Leaf Insects

Leaf insects can be surprisingly expensive pets to buy due to their ongoing rarity in the hobby. They’re also quite short-lived, rarely living for more than a year between hatching and death.

This means that breeding leaf insects should be considered a vital part of keeping these stunning insects. Done properly, you will soon be able to expand your collection, ensuring that your colony never dies out, and helping other hobbyists to enter the wonderful world of leaf insect care.

phyllium photo

Sexing Leaf Insects

Leaf insects are relatively easy to sex, as the males and females have entirely different body shapes from an early age. As adults these differences are even more obvious. Females are broad and considerably larger than the more delicate-looking males. The adult males, in contrast, are narrow and have long, fragile-looking wings.

Identifying adult pairs is therefore very easy itself; you’re just looking for fully-winged individuals, some of whom are broad (females) and some of whom are narrow (males).

One potential problem when breeding leaf insects is that males tend to mature faster than females. As they are smaller at adulthood, they also need fewer moults to achieve adult size. As they may only live for a few months after reaching maturity, it is not unheard of for the males of a colony to due of old age before the females actually mature.

If you plan to breed leaf insects it therefore makes sense to either (a) start with purchasing mature specimens of both sexes from a breeder, or (b) to start with a large number of eggs/youngsters. In this way you maximize your odds of having at least one adult of each sex maturing at the same time.

Rest assured, a single mated female can produce an astonishing numbers of eggs and guarantee the survival of your colony into the future.

phyllium photo

The Breeding Cage

Breeding leaf insects is reasonably simple, as rarely do they need any encouragement. Simply having a number of adult pairs in a single cage will normally be enough to start the breeding process.

Leaf insects are not aggressive or possessive towards one another so a large cage can house dozens of adults. Typically you will start to observe matings soon enough, as the males climb on top of the females, and gently wrap their abdomen around to connect with the female’s.

Soon afterwards, eggs should start to be deposited.

While the process of getting your leaf insects to mate is unlikely to be problematic, collecting the eggs can become so. Eggs left in the cage rarely hatch as well as those that have been carefully collected and incubated properly.

As a result the following system starts to work well. It starts with a large mesh cage, which minimizes any problems with mould or bacteria. Cuttings of the chosen food plant (typically bramble) are placed densely into a old jam jar filled with water. This jar is then placed into the cage, and the leaf insects individually released onto the foliage.

In time the adult females will simply start to drop fertilized eggs out of their abdomens, which fall to the floor.

On a weekly basis the jam jar is removed, the water removed and the jar scrubbed. Fresh foodplants and water are added to it. The base of the mesh cage will then consist of just three things. Firstly, you’ll find tiny dry dots – the faeces of your leaf insects. Secondly you’ll find the eggs that your females have laid. And typically there’ll also be a few corners of leaves that have fallen off the food plants.

The eggs are easily picked out, therefore, as they’re so different to anything else in the cage. This is in contrast to some keepers who use a thick layer of substrate, where locating and identifying the eggs is not always easy.

The eggs are removed to be incubated, the remaining litter is disposed of and the cage is set up once again.

This process, carried out every week or so, as the food plants start to wilt, is all that is necessary of you to successfully breed these wonderfully cryptic insects.

phyllium photo

Incubating Eggs

In a good-sized colony you will be literally over-run with eggs. Some of my colonies have produced literally thousands of eggs in a single season, so be prepared for the forthcoming hatching!

The incubation process typically takes some three months or more, however. Generally speaking I find that the adults have mostly died of old age before their youngsters begin to hatch.

This brief period between the end of one colon and the start of another can be a good time to thoroughly clean your equipment, replace anything that is a little worn and to prepare for the excitement of new life in your collection.

Incubating the eggs involves three core principles:

  • Keep the eggs warm (ideally 25’C works well)
  • Keep the eggs humid (this helps with hatching)
  • Prevent the eggs getting mouldy

Over the years I have tried a range of solutions and what follows is what I have found to be the simplest yet most effective solution.

It starts with scattering the eggs into a plastic tray of some form. An old cricket tub with the lid removed, for example. To reduce the build-up of mould the eggs shouldn’t be packed too tightly. Ideally a little air should be able to move between them.

This tray is then placed into a larger, sealed container such as an old fishtank with a lid. The floor of the fish tank is lined with kitchen towel, which is subsequently moistened with water. The cage is then placed onto a heat mat to warm it to the required temperature.

Ongoing maintenance involves removing the seed trays each week, replacing the paper towel from the fish tank, and adding more water. This will keep things hygienic, and ensure that your eggs have enough moisture in the air at all times.

Over time, as the eggs absorb moisture they will change in appearance. Starting off like smooth seeds, they will start to develop fringes and flanges. This is normal – and should be considered a good thing.

As many colonies will produce hundreds, if not thousands of eggs, it can also be a good idea to segregate the eggs being incubated into time periods. This way you will know when a specific tray in likely to hatch in relation to the others. As eggs may be incubated for three months or more before hatching it helps to know which eggs to focus your attention on.

You’ll want to keep an eye on the incubator regularly, just to see if any of the tiny brown ant-like babies have hatched. Despite having kept leaf insects for years I still get a thrill every year as the latest batch of babies starts to emerge – the wonder of nature happening right in your home.

When the youngsters hatch your mission has been completed and the colony can start life all over again.

Images c/o berniedup & zleng

Trinidad Chevron (Psalmopoeus cambridgei) Care Sheet

Possessing a subtle beauty, the Trinidad Chevron (Latin name Psalmopoeus cambridgei) is one of the “original” pet tarantulas, having been kept and bred for decades.

Unlike many other tarantula species that we’ve covered recently this is an arboreal (tree-dwelling) spider, being mainly olive green in color with bright orange markings on the legs.

Originally described by well-known arachnologist Pocock as early as 1895, these are fast-moving, medium-sized tarantulas that tend to achieve a legspan of around 5″, though some specimens may be slightly larger.

This might not be a “showy” tarantula species, but its one that every keeper should try sooner or later…

Psalmopoeus cambridgei photo

Wild Habitat

As the name suggests, this species hails from the balmy island of Trinidad, where it is to be found hiding in tree holes and behind loose bark.

As with so much of the Caribbean, the seasons are marked more by differences in rainfall than by severe temperature fluctuations. The island tends to rest comfortably between 25-30’C throughout the year, though temperatures may fall slightly in hillier areas.

In terms of rainfall – and therefore humidity – the year is evenly split into a wet season between June and December, and a dry season running from January to May.

These elements of course impact the cage of these spiders in captivity. Firstly, a warm and humid environment is required consistently.

Secondly, consideration should be given to their arboreal nature, allowing opportunities to climb on vertical objects and hide away from bright sunlight.

Caging

Arboreal tarantulas like Psalmopoeus cambridgei are generally best kept in cages which offer considerable height. A healthy height is around 18″ tall for an adult specimen, though of course youngsters may be kept in correspondingly smaller cages.

A footprint of 8-12″ in length and depth tends to work well, and provides enough space for your Trinidad Chevron to move around and hunt.

When selecting a suitable cage, thought needs to be given to the aspect of humidity.

While a humid environment is recommended for this species, stale or stagnant air should always be avoided for tarantulas. This is because such an atmosphere tends to encourage the growth of bacteria or fungi, which can be detrimental to the health of your spider. In extreme cases an overly moist cage can be fatal for spiders.

In light of this, a cage with decent ventilation should be considered essential. It is better to choose a cage with too much ventilation, which can then be reduced if necessary by covering parts of the grill, than it is to choose a solid tank that prevents air movement.

Any glass or plastic container of suitable dimensions and ventilation will work. For smaller specimens tupperware containers and sweet jars may be used, so long as ventilation holes have been added.

Typically the easiest way to achieve this is with a soldering iron, used in a well-ventilated area, to gently melt holes. Alternatively an electric drill can accomplish the same task, or alternatively a section may be cut out with a saw, and mesh glued over the gap. Ensure that the container is dry and has been aired before setting it up for your spider.

Adults do well in cages such as the Exo Terra, which comes complete with a metal grill in the lid for ventilation.

Exo Terras offer a range of practical benefits, such as the front-opening doors which make routine maintenance and feeding simple, and excellent all-round visibility of your spider. They also come with built-in (yet closeable) holes for wires, which can make adding digital thermometers and hygrometers simplicity itself.

As with all spiders, your Trinidad Chevron cage should be placed out of direct sunlight, which could otherwise rapidly increase the internal temperature of the cage to uncomfortable levels. Placing the cage away from draughts such as windows or outside doors is also wise. A shady corner of a room tends to work well.

Psalmopoeus cambridgei photo

Tank Decor

The floor of your Trinidad Chevron cage should be lined with a suitable substrate. This not only creates a more natural-looking environment, but also helps to moderate moisture in the cage (see “Water & Humidity” below).

A range of different tarantula substrates are available, though for tropical species like this two of the best are coconut fibre or peat-free potting compost. As Psalmopoeus cambridgei tends not to dig burrows, but instead rests off the ground, there is no need to provide a large depth of substrate. Just a couple of centimetres should be sufficient.

For larger specimens it can be wise to add an open water dish. This does not need to be large, but should be regularly cleaned, and the water replenished, so that your spider has fresh drinking water at all times.

For arboreal tarantulas like the Trinidad Chevron arguably the most important element of tank decor is the provision of vertical hides. These mimic the tress that Psalmopoeus cambridgei would naturally rest on, and hide within.

Possibly the best option here are chunks of cork bark. This is a lightweight and sustainable material, which can be bought by weight. Simply try to select pieces of a suitable length to match the overall height of your cage. If necessary these can easily be trimmed down using a handsaw.

These hides can then be placed vertically in the cage, giving your spider somewhere off the ground to rest. Note that it is wise to offer at least two hide if there is space in your cage, so that your Trinidad Chevron can choose the area they find most agreeable.

Furthermore, give consideration to hiding places. Inserting rolls of cork bark that are slightly shorter than the cage is all allows the spider to clamber to the top and down into the middle of the hide.

Here they may spin a web, and rest in darkness during the day before coming out to hunt or explore at night.

trinidad chevron photo

Heating & Temperature

A temperature of around 25’C (plus or minus a few degrees) tends to work well for Psalmopoeus cambridgei.

There are a range of ways this can be provided in captivity, depending on your current setup. For experienced tarantula keepers with a range of existing specimens a heating cable or heat strip may be used, so that a group of tanks can be heated using the same device.

If this is your first tarantula then the best option is likely to be a low-wattage heat mat. These cost just pennies per day to run, and provide a comfortable gentle heat.

Whichever heater you choose, it is wise to create a “heat gradient” so that some parts of the cage are warmer than others. In this way your cold-blooded tarantula will be able to move around and find the temperature that suits them best.

If you opt to place the heater under your tarantula cage, therefore, only 1/3 to 1/2 of the floor space should be heated. Alternatively the heater may be attached to the back or one of the walls. Many new heat mats now come with an adhesive side, which makes this process simpler. Just peel off the protective cover and firmly attach it to the outside of the cage.

Especially when setting up a new tank, or using a new heater, it makes sense to carefully monitor the temperature to ensure that it meets the recommended guidelines. Here a range of options exist, including low-cost dial thermometers, or my personal preference of a digital thermometer.

Lastly, it is recommended that any heater for exotic pets should be used in conjunction with a thermostat. As most cheaper heaters do not come with a thermostat built in, adding one to your setup affords you extra control over the tank.

You can then be certain that the tarantula cage remains as warm as possible during winter, but as spring approaches the temperature is gently dialled back.

The same can be said for houses where the heating turns on and off during the day, presenting temperature fluctuations. A well-built thermostat will help to even out these fluctuations, ensuring a comfortable temperature at all times.

Water & Humidity

Humidity in Trinidad tends to sit at around 80% throughout the year. Depending on where you live it can therefore make sense to monitor the humidity in your Psalmopoeus cambridgei cage.

If the humidity gets too low this can be easily increased in one of two ways. Firstly, a small amount of water can be gently tipped onto the substrate. Here it will be rapidly absorbed. The warmth of the cage environment will cause it to gently evaporate, thus increasing the humidity in the cage.

The second option is to mist the tank every few days with a houseplant spray gun. The smaller water droplets can mean more rapid evaporation – and hence changes to the relative humidity. That said, try to avoid your spider when misting, as a sudden shower of water can send spiders running.

Humidity can easily be monitored using a hygrometer, and many modern units allow you to measure both temperature and humidity in one device.

Note that the most dangerous time in a tarantulas life is moulting. A tarantula that cannot get out of its old skin is often doomed; they either end up malformed or due trying to escape the old skin.

As a result, when your tarantula approaches a moult it can be smart to increase the humidity to ensure a smooth transition.

Feeding

As with so many tarantulas from more tropical areas of the world, Trinidad Chevrons tend to have a healthy appetite, and to grow rapidly in response to that. They very rarely go off their food (except before a moult) so can be fed liberally.

That said, as with other tarantula species, uneaten livefood should not be left in the cage for long periods of time or the insects may stress your pet. It is better to feed smaller amounts more regularly, ensuring that any uneaten feeder insects are removed the following morning.

Psalmopoeus cambridgei will eat almost anything it can catch, no doubt including small lizards in the wild. In captivity a broad range of insects may be fed, including crickets and locusts. As these are tree-dwelling spiders they often prefer to hunt from a height, rather than coming down to the floor.

Insects that don’t climb, such as mealworms and waxworms, are therefore best avoided.

It can be wise to offer a range of insects over time, cycling through different types, to maximize the range of nutrients your pet is receiving. For adults, a routine of feeding once or twice a week tends to work well, though you will soon set your own pace.

A spider that always seems hungry can be fed more frequently, while those who pay little interest to your offerings can be fed less often.

Handling

The Trinidad Chevron is not the most aggressive tarantula available, but it is also not considered a docile species.

Into the bargain, it is important to remember that this is a very fast-moving spider, capable of astonishing bursts of speed especially when surprised. It is therefore not really a tarantula to be recommended for handling.

Like the Poecilotherias, this is really more of a spider to observe than to handle.

Images c/o snakecollector & B a y L e e ‘ s 8 Legged Art

The Best Tarantula Heaters

Tarantulas are cold-blooded invertebrates that hail from the warmer parts of the world.

For most of us, therefore, some form of artificial heating will be required to keep your spider in good health.

While it always pays to seek out specific information on the type of tarantula you plan to keep, as a rough guide a temperature of around 24’C tends to work well for most species.

Fortunately, heating tarantula cages is both simple and cheap, thanks to a range of reliable and low-cost alternatives on the market. So let’s get started with choosing and setting up the heating that your tarantula needs…

tarantula photo

The Best Heaters for Tarantulas

While big breeders may heat an entire room of their house to a comfortable 20+’C throughout the year, most of us will rely on heating only our tarantula’s cage itself.

Here there are three popular and effective options…

Heat Mats

A heat mat can be considered the “standard” among tarantula keepers. Resembling a flat, black piece of plastic, these heaters produce very gentle background warmth.

Even when running at full-pelt, they feel only comfortable to the touch, rather than unpleasantly hot. This makes them quite safe. The low power they produce also makes them cheap to run.

Heat mats come in a wide range of different sizes, depending on the size of your spider’s cage. They are freely available from most specialist reptile shops, and even some traditional pet shops.

It’s always worth checking out prices on sites like Amazon, where the prices can be considerably lower than in some pet stores.

Heat Strips

A heat strip can be thought of as a long, thin heat mat. The reason that they have these dimensions is simple; the can then be used to heat a number of invertebrate cages at the same time.

Should you decide to purchase a handful of different tarantulas at the same time (or long to expand your collection in the near future) then a heat strip might just be the answer to your needs.

Heating Cables

Lastly, an even more extreme form of heating comes in the form of heating cables.

These are often sold as “soil warming cables”, intended for use by gardeners. Looking like a thick flex of electrical cabling, they can be used to heat dozens of tarantulas, mantids, leaf insects and more all at the same time.

Really only therefore suitable for the hardcore invertebrate keeper, if you have a range of exotic pets then a heating cable can work out to be the most practical and cost-effective way to heat a multitude of different cages.

How to Heat a Tarantula Cage

tarantula photo

Tarantulas require what is known as a “thermal gradient”. This is a fancy way of saying that one part of the tarantula tank should be warmer than the other.

Typically one end (or one side) of the cage is heated using a heat mat, while the other is left unheated. This creates a range of different temperatures within the cage. Should your tarantula feel cold, it can then move towards the warmer end. Equally, if they’re getting too hot they can then move towards the cooler end of the cage.

A gradient like this can also be a handy tool for checking that your tarantula’s cage is an appropriate temperature.

For example, if your spider rarely ever seems to leave the warmest part of the cage, then it may pay to raise the temperature a little bit. Equally, if your spider is repeatedly found cowering in the coolest part of the cage then it may be time to reduce the heat overall.

There are two traditional ways to use all the tarantula heaters outlined above. Each is used outside the cage rather than inside. The first method is to place your tarantula tank ontop of the heater, ensuring that only 1/3 to 1/2 of the cage floor is actually heated. The other half is left without heat.

tarantula photoThe alternative method is to attach the heater to the side of the cage.

So why are there two ways to fit a heater to a tarantula cage, and which is the best option?

Placing your tarantula tank ontop of the heater was what tarantula keepers of old used to do. It was the “traditional” way to heat a tarantula tank. However, a number of concerns were raised over the years about this method.

Firstly, it can greatly increase the humidity in the cage, pushing it past acceptable limits.

Secondly, as tarantulas normally burrow down to escape the hottest conditions, it might seem odd for your tarantula to find it actually gets hotter the more they burrow down.

Lastly, many tarantula substrates aren’t very good conductors of heat. Placing the heater under a thick layer of substrate therefore reduces the heat getting up to your spider, and can even lead to heaters getting too hot. In extreme circumstances the glass of cages has split before thanks to overheating.

It is therefore understandable that attaching the heater to the side of the cage gained in popularity. It maximizes the heat that can get into the cage, without the risk of overheating.

It creates a more “natural” environment, warming the air rather than just the substrate, and is also ideal for arboreal species that spend very little time at ground level. This is made all the easier by the fact that many heat mats today come with a self-adhesive side. Simply peel off the plastic covering and glue it to the outside wall of the cage.

Thermotstats for Tarantulas

Manufacturers of heat mats generally recommend that even these low-powered heaters should be used in conjunction with a thermostat. Such a device controls the heat provided, ensuring that your tarantula doesn’t overheat in warmer weather, or that any issues with the heater don’t end with a roasted tarantula.

While some keepers still shun the extra cost of buying a thermostat (and thus take risks with their pet) the good news it that thermostats designed to control heat mats are actually quite cheap to buy. This isn’t always the case, as thermostats for more powerful heaters can be surprisingly expensive.

My own personal recommendation is therefore to grab both a heat mat and a matstat together, then sleep easy knowing that you’ve got all eventualities covered, no matter what the weather does.

Thermometers for Tarantulas

Lastly in this article I recommend that you keep a manual eye on the temperature of your tarantula tank on occasion. This is of particular importance when you first set up your tarantula tank, just to make sure that your thermostat is set up and working correctly.

Possibly the most effective option here (and my own preference) is one of the digital thermometers with a heat-sensing probe. This can easily be fitted to most tarantula tanks. Alternatively, dial thermometers may be used, though I have found their accuracy to not be quite as great as their digital equivalents.

So that’s it. Depending on how many tarantulas you’re planning on buying, buy a suitable heater and thermostat. Set them up as described above, monitor the temperature carefully for a day and or two and you should be all ready to go.

Following such a process your tarantula tank should be heated effectively, allowing your pet tarantula to live out a long and healthy life in your care.