BY JENNIFER HIGGINS
Let’s face it: snakes get a bad rap. Whether in print, on the screen or live and in person, our slithering serpent friends don’t often elicit the same reaction that rabbits and ferrets do. But to a large portion of pet store patrons, this negative reputation is largely undeserved and may even, to some, be an enticing characteristic. In fact, snakes symbolize a variety of religious, cultural and/or mythical traits, characteristics, beliefs, messages and signs. They can also represent rebirth, fertility, guardianship and even medicine (poison).
California Zoological Supply’s Tarune “Ty” Dillon reports that, in his experience, “baby ball pythons, Colombian red tail boas, Kenyan sand boas, carpet pythons, garter snakes and corn snakes are the most popular.” He goes on to say, however, “there is a shortage of king’s milk snakes, which are popular, but a lot of breeders switched [to] breeding ball pythons over the years, so availability shrunk for those species.”
Here it seems supply and demand can, like anything else of consumer value, affect the pet retail industry.
Matt Thomas, general manager of Pet Kingdom in San Diego, California, discussed the current trends for new and hobby level snake ownership. According to Thomas, “there has been a growing popularity in ‘designer’ snakes.”
The genetic diversity of snakes has dictated the ease with which specific physical traits of these snakes can be
selected for and pinpointed to create snakes with any number of different patterns and colors. According to Thomas, ball pythons, western hognose snakes and corn snakes are among the top “genetic template” snake species from which the latest and greatest combinations can be produced. Much like the dog breeding community has come up with countless permutations of pug and poodle based lines of canine companions, snake breeders/suppliers, seasoned hobbyists and new owners are taking advantage of the diversity in the species’ genetic codes and mutations to design their own specimens of phenotypic artistry. He went so far as to liken this practice to that of “creating personalized jewelry.”
Even Thomas, who maintains a rich, eclectic and encyclopedic knowledge of and experience with a vast variety of herpetological creatures, couldn’t contain his amazement when talking about the colorful and intricately patterned snakes he has seen produced through the delicate—and often lengthy—process of selective breeding. He postulates that the availability of such a variety, “allows retailers to reach a broader audience.”
However, unlike many pieces of fine jewelry, keeping snakes is far less expensive; and, for that, snake hobbyists are thankful, for they can spend more of their money on more interesting species varieties or housing and habitat accoutrements. According to Thomas, “it costs as little as $10 to $15 per month to keep a snake. They do not have the same UVA/UVB requirements that other reptiles do and, because of this, can be kept at their required temperature with a simple heating pad under their tank.” This allows retail customers, Thomas pointed out, “to splurge on items like hide logs, decorative water bowls and artificial plants.”
Save on Care
At Pet Kingdom, there is no shortage of Zoo Med products for snakes. For example, Zoo Med’s ReptiTherm UTH Under Tank Heater, which comes in four different sizes and wattage, acts as a primary or secondary heat source and can be placed either under or on the side of a snake’s terrarium, adhering to the surface of the glass and creating a bond with minimal, if any, space between the terrarium outer surface and the heating element. This allows optimum heat transfer, while keeping everyone safe and using low wattage.
“While reptile keepers always seem to be looking for new, innovative reptile care products, most importantly, products (and the companies supplying those) must be reliable,” said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator for Zoo Med Labs, Inc. “Creating and maintaining suitable habitats is essential for the health and well-being of pet reptiles, and keepers understand that they must be able to count on our products to do so. For this reason, our ReptiTherm Under Tank Heaters are and have been the ‘go-to’ item for man
y snake keepers to keep pets warm.”
Some of the other, newer Zoo Med snake items include Repti Chips reptile bedding and its Angled Stainless-Steel Feeding Tongs. Repti Chips, according to a Zoo Med press release, are “laboratory grade heat treated Aspen wood chips for all types of adult desert lizards or snakes. Th is new form is now even easier to ‘scoop’ clean for a healthy habitat… are highly absorbent and free of shavings, slivers and excessive dust.”
Zoo Med’s new Angled Stainless Steel 10-Inch Feeding Tongs, meanwhile, “have a soft, coated tip to make tong feeding reptiles easier and more comfortable for animals and keepers alike. When feeding frozen/thawed food items, tongs can help position the food for snakes to easily grasp. The soft tips can help protect those more excited or less coordinated individuals from accidentally biting the hard steel tongs. These angled tongs also help make feeding in just about any enclosure easier for keepers.”
For retailers wanting to cater to those serpent soulmate lovers that want everything all-in-one
, Zilla has its 20-liter Snake Kit, now available with improved lighting and a new user-friendly screen cover. Th is kit has been upgraded to include two halogen mini domes with bulbs and a new screen cover with a lockable feeding door. Th e screen cover affords snake owners ease of access for feeding and cleaning without having to remove the entire screen. It also includes a locking pin to secure the reptile in the terrarium.
One of Zilla’s newest products to launch recently is its Rock Lairs, which are small snake “shelters” made of a non-porous material for easy cleaning and does not promote bacteria, which means healthier and fresher smelling terrariums. They are aquatic- and terrestrial-environment safe, have a realistic appearance, promote natural “hiding” behavior and have a raised platform area for basking and warming.
Get on the snake bandwagon if you haven’t already done so. Snakes are symbolic, historic, easy to maintain,
inexpensive to keep and, nowadays, can be “bred to order.” Just like the starry-eyed shoppers bent over the glass display case at a jewelry store, retail customers will be peering into terrariums at the latest and greatest, uniquely designed snake of their dreams