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RE: coluber foxi - problem feeding

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Posted by: 53kw at Tue May 10 17:31:42 2011  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by 53kw ]  

I've started about 20 baby black racers over the years, about a dozen baby blue racers, and kept perhaps the same number of adult racers plus several coachwhips. Racers and coachwhips are high-maintenance snakes and may take all your skills to establish in captivity.

To begin with, keeping racers in racks or un-ventilated tubs is almost a lost cause. They do best with plenty of ventilation and lots of light. I keep my baby racers in large Sterilites with large screened holes in the lids, and full-spectrum lights over the screens. Substrate is mixed dune sand, peat moss and clean organic topsoil, or decomposed hardwood mulch sold as forest mulch. Hiding place is a cupped piece of bark. Occasional wetting of the substrate provides critical substrate moisture and aids in preventing dessication. There is one view among collectors that racers are prone to skin infections and should be kept bone dry, but I don't agree with that. Their skin is more porous than many species and they can dry out quickly. Rather, keep a trace of moisture in their substrate and provide ample ventilation.

A basking spot is critical to success with racers and coachwhips. I don't use undertank heaters, heat strips or heat panels. I prefer to use a low-wattage incandescent bulb to provide radiant heat. In my "nursery" Sterilites, I pass a wire through the lid at one end and let a sealed lamp socket hang from the end of the wire. I put a 15-watt bulb in the socket and leave it hanging close to the bottom of the container so the snake has thermal options ranging from uncomfortably warm to just right depending on how close to the bulb it rests.

Without full-spectrum light, ample ventilation and a basking site where the snake can bring its body temps up into the mid-90s F, there is little likelihood it will eat.

Racers favor other snakes as prey, so if you have access to some appropriate-sized snakes, that's a good start. I've had racers refuse all sorts of food but accept snakes. I've used live snakes and also defrosted road kills, even parts of road kills. Another option is to offer a dead fuzzy mouse dipped in snake puree.

Live fence lizards, frogs and toads are also promising temptations for a fussy eater. In addition to these delectables, I've had many young racers and coachwhips accept brown anoles as food.

My first choice would be to offer a live or dead snake. If there are no snakes available, try a lizard or frog. If your racer accepts any of these items, continue feeding whatever food the snake likes for several meals. Then, try offering a live fuzzy mouse unscented. If the snake refuses the live mouse, try again a day later using a defrosted fuzzy mouse scented with whatever the snake was eating. In time the snake will probaby accept unscented mice.

Racers seldom learn to take dead food that is just left on the floor of the cage. Most prefer to have the food wiggled to trigger a feeding response. I suggest using long tongs to do this, rather than your fingers, which look every bit as tasty as defrosted food to a racer.

Racers need a lot of space to have any kind of decent life in captivity. A wild-caught racer was taken from a situation where it had the run of a large range, one of the largest ranges of any North American snake. Blue racers grow large as adults, and a cage six feet long, 30 inches deep and 15 inches high would be minimum for a single adult racer that had been hatched in captivity. I don't know if your wild-caught racer will ever be satisfied with captivity but a very large cage would help.

If possible, provide a large cage with fan-vented air flow. I make cages with axial fans at the heated end to pull warm air out of the cage and prevent heat from the basking bulb from overheating the entire cage. A vent on the opposite end of the cage allows air to flow in, creating a steady airflow across the cage. The snakes love it and thrive. I've had such good results with vented cages I don't bother trying to keep racers in un-vented cages any more.

The key factors are enough heat, enough space to escape the heat, enough ventilation, soil or mulch substrate (no shavings, no paper), good hiding place that provides a sense of security, a variety of food including natural prey like snakes, frogs and lizards.

If it works and your snake stabilizes, you will have a marvelous creature to care for, one that will deliver a very different experience from most other reptiles. Clever, emotional and spirited, racers will push the limits of your husbandry skills but they are worth it.


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