Hatchling Snake Care Guide

One of the most rewarding aspects of reptile keeping would have to be raising up your own from a baby. We could not call ourselves ophidiophiles if we did not lose our minds over every adorable baby snake face. Here, we will look over the process of bringing home a hatchling snake, along with tips and tricks to help your new legless friend settle into their new home.

First things first…

If you have yet to bring home your new snake, it would be helpful to know that helping it transition to your home in stages can be beneficial. Upon bringing the box or container indoors, let the snake sit in its container to acclimatize to the ambient temp of the room first. Not necessary if you live in the same native habitat of your species, but it definitely can be a necessity when you live in colder climates. Here in Canada, during our winters, we let our incoming animals sit for at least 30-60 mins on a table before placing them in their enclosures.  You are almost ready to introduce your hatchling snake to its habitat.

Is this my new home?

Baby animals are just starting to learn about their environments. Thus, each and every lesson is valuable. The same for hatchling snakes that are learning the ways of being a pet snake. Before we get ready to place them in their enclosure, it never hurts to check your husbandry parameters and equipment again, i.e. temperature gradients, humidity, probe and hide placement, full water dish etc. Once you are ready, you can decide if you’d like to have a quick, handling session while you have the chance to. Because, after this point, we highly recommend not disturbing your new pet for 6-7 days. Keep handling to a minimum during this time, but utilize this period to look over your new friend and make sure everything looks healthy. Look for issues like stuck sheds, or any injuries, or obvious illness. The latter of the two should not be a concern if you chose to acquire your new friend from a reputable pet store or breeder. Once given the quick health-check clearance, you can introduce your scaled friend into its habitat.

Patience is a virtue

Now that you have your new hatchling snake in its enclosure, all you will want to do is sit and stare. This is a great time to observe your new friend and watch how they behave as they take in their environment. Though some snakes may choose to hide almost immediately, the more confident species will take the time to explore their new home. Do not get too concerned if your new friend only chooses to hide for the first while. In fact, hatchling snakes tend to be more fearful when younger. The world can be a scary place for a tiny baby snake. Some understanding and patience during this process will only help you build trust and a sense of security with your snake. Keep your interactions to a minimum. Preferably, only to remove feces or fill up their water bowl. 6-7 days seems to be the healthy timeline for many species.

What do I do now?

This week-long period of settling in is a great chance for you to observe how your snake is using its temperature gradient (hot and cold sides). Does it prefer one hide over another? Is it using any climbing apparatus or perches? Any adjustments to be made should be done during this period. When the feeding trials begin, these adjustments could stress your baby out too much. The stress could result in regurgitated food so we definitely want to avoid this situation.

FEED me!

If you have acquired a healthy snake, usually after a week-long period of settling in, you should start seeing foraging behavior. Your pet snake might be constantly searching for food, now that it feels secure. A constantly moving snake could also be a sign of distress. When in doubt, check your husbandry settings again and ensure it has a place to hide. If everything looks good, it’s time to feed! Feeding your snake for the first time can be a daunting task but with some care and caution, it can be the most fun and rewarding part of keeping snakes. Just ask my kingsnakes. 😉

Choose to feed on a day when your hatchling is not in a shed cycle. Especially for the first time. Babies learn fast and you want the first interaction to be a positive one for them. Wait until they have shed, if that is the case.  When they are ready, choose an appropriately sized food item following your breeder’s recommendation for size. Sometimes, choosing a size smaller can be better for the first feed. It helps build confidence as they learn to tackle larger prey as they grow. Remember how fearful babies can be? We do not want to overwhelm your hatchling snake during its first exposure to feed.

Use feeding tongs to keep the scent of you away from the food item. Locate your snake in its enclosure and slowly present the food item, moving it towards its direction. We find that pointing the nose of the prey to the baby helps them latch on a bit easier, depending on the size of the prey. If your snake is hungry, you should notice the eye movements in your direction and some tongue flicks as well. Watch how your snake responds to the food. Does it look afraid of it? Is it moving closer to it? Or better yet, has it already snatched the prey out of your tongs like a meat tornado?! That’s what we call our Florida kingsnakes around here! If your snake is acting more fearful or has not approached the food item at all, it may be still feeling unsure. Leaving the food item in a small dish overnight allows them to eat when they feel most secure. Placing the food dish closer to a place where they typically hide helps as well. Check the dish in the morning and dispose of uneaten food if needed.

My snake is not eating

What happens if your first attempt at feeding your baby snake fails? In our experience, depending on the species, 1 in 4 baby snakes do not eat their first meals in their new homes. Not an actual statistic but an observation based on the various colubrid species we produce annually. So, do not fret. Your new friend just needs a bit more time. The first attempt to feed was not a complete waste as there is still some learning that happened in that tiny hatchling snake brain. Wait 3-4 more days before attempting another feed. Doing it sooner can reinforce the fear that your hatchling felt previously. Give it some time. Remember, patience. As you learn about your new baby, it also learns about you and your ways. If your hatchling turns down food after 2 more attempts, it might be time to look at other things that might be affecting this process. Approaching your breeder or pet store during this time can be a huge asset as they are usually more than happy to share insights and help troubleshoot with you. If you would like to try troubleshooting yourself, here are some places to start.

  • Basking temperature
  • Access to hydration and hides
  • Substrate choice
  • Food/Prey choice
  • Feeding method
  • Seasonal feeding cycle (in the case of some montane kings)

If you are starting to see signs of weight loss, change of appearance, or weakness, consult your reptile veterinarian. A healthy baby should eventually start feeding after 3-4 weeks. Anything longer than that can be a cause for concern as hatchling metabolisms are faster than adult snakes and they can lose weight quicker. This timeline is more accurate for most colubrid species with pythons and boas being able to go slightly longer without food.

Now can I handle it?

After your snake has had its meal, it’s recommended to not handle or disturb it for 48 hours roughly. This timeline can be up to 3-4 days for larger species of boas and pythons. Digesting a meal is a taxing process on the snake’s body and its resources. During this time, your pet snake will choose to stay safe and hidden. Harassing your pet during this time can result in regurgitation of its meal. This can be very stressful on the snake and in neglected cases, lead to death. We cannot repeat this enough times. After feeding your snake, leave them alone.

Once you are in the clear, and your snake has digested its meal, you can start beginning to handle your snake. Do keep in mind that being very young snakes, they need to feel secure all the time. Baby snakes can be very quick when startled. Some baby snakes will also expel urea or feces during their attempts at getting away. These are all defense mechanisms and it just means that your snake is working in good order. What it also means is that your baby snake is stressed. Slow down the rate of handling and your breathing. Slowing down your breathing also slows down your heart rate. Creating a sense of calm for yourself can help create that same sense of calm and security with your snake as well. How we move and handle things can depend on our mindset, so being aware of this can be very helpful in developing your relationship with your pet snake. The duration of each handling session is purely dependent on the behavior of your baby. Do not force a snake to be handled during this stage as the stress can affect other aspects like feeding. Once the feeding regiment is more established, you can try longer sessions.

You’re well on your way

Congrats! When feeding is regular and handling is being tolerated (species dependent), you have now overcome the hardest part of reptile keeping! The acclimatization process. Always stay observant and be sure to reach out for help along the way. Stay tuned for more hatchling care info!

 

 

 

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