FEEDING PROBLEMATIC HATCHLINGS | Back to Caresheet Index |

:: Feeding Problematic Hatchlings
including Grey banded Kingsnakes & Ruthven’s Kingsnake

:: INTRODUCTION

In the wild Grey banded & Ruthven’s Kingsnake hatchlings feed primarily on a diet of small lizards. As this is built into there genetic makeup it is sometimes difficult to start them feeding on pinkies in captivity. Neonate snakes generally do not accept there first meal until after there first shed. If a hatchling has refused pinkies for two weeks after this period it should be coaxed into feeding trying the methods below. Hatchlings should be housed separately in a small container and provided with a hide at both the cooler and hotter ends of its cage. Fresh drinking water should be made available at all times. The hatchling should be made to feel secure that means not disturbing it several times a day. Food should be left in the container for several hours preferably over night without being disturbed. Make sure the snake is not too hot or cold. If the hatchling is of a second clutch eg: hatched in September/October time it may be that its natural instincts are telling it to hibernate. If this is the case then hibernate it, as long as it looks healthy, snakes including hatchlings that are hibernated properly do not loose weight in hibernation.

If all the snakes’ requirements are met then try some or all of the following.


:: METHODS

1. Some hatchling will feed on live newborn mice. Place a live pinkie in the opening to the snake's favourite hiding place. If uneaten in a few hours, replace with a dead pinkie.

2. Wash the pinkie in soap and water; this will remove the mouse scent. Try a live one then a dead one.

3. Cut open the top of a defrosted pinkies head and smear the brains around the head and nose area, offer this to the hatchling. (Sounds disgusting but we have had many snakes start feeding this way)

4. Buy a small lizard (Uta Sceloporus or anole ). Wash a pinkie with soap and water then with a pair of tweezers rub the pinkie over the lizard. If you keep the shed skin from the lizard this can be wrapped around the pinkie.

5. There is a product from TREX called lizard maker, which essentially is essence of lizard this is smeared over a washed pinkie and offered to the snake. For more information on Lizard Maker see T-Rex Site .

6. Teasing is another method used to start hatchlings feeding. Pick the snake up and hold it gently but firmly behind the head supporting its body in the palm of your hand. Then tap it on the nose with a pinkie, several attempt may be needed before it strikes out and grabs the pinkie. Once it has got the pinkie be very still and it should continue to take it down. Make your self comfortable before trying this method as it could take up to 15 minutes for the snake to eat it. The snake should then be returned to its container and left undisturbed for a few days to digest its meal.

7. Assist feeding. Gently open the snake’s mouth and insert a pinkie then gently apply pressure to the top jaw so it closes its mouth on it, and give the pinkie a little pull so it gets stuck on the teeth. Slowly put the snake back into its container and with a bit of luck it will eat its prey.

If one of the above methods worked in starting your hatchling to feed, then what next? As you will not want to continue using these methods indefinitely.

Live pinkie feeders can be encouraged to take defrosted by simply offering them one in the entrance to there hide, or by wiggling the pinkie in front of them using tweezers

For those who accepted lizard-scented pinkies, reduce the amount of scent used on the pinkie over several weeks until it accepts an unscented one.

Teased snakes usually accept pinkies readily after a few weeks.

At approx 4 weeks (six weeks of age) after the snake has shed and it still has not eaten you may have to resort to the methods described below. Only experienced persons should administer the methods below as there is a risk of injuring the hatchling. Speak to your local reptile society for advice as one of there members may be able to help you with these tasks.
If all else fails you may have to resort to force feeding, gently pry the hatchlings mouth open and insert the head of the pinkie then with a blunt object gently push the pinkie down the snake
If you have several problem feeders it may be worth investing in a pinkie pump, this is a syringe like tool that minces the pinkie up as it is pushed up through a macerator and down a tube, which is inserted in, to the snake’s stomach through its mouth. The pinkie pump has a calibrator on it so you deliver just the right amount of pinkie puree. These are usually made of stainless steel and are quiet expensive (70-£100) but if it saves one hatchling it has paid for itself.


:: CONCLUSION

Most hatchlings will except pinkies within the first three weeks of hatching, but some like the Grey band Kingsnake, Ruthven’s Kingsnake & some locality Corn snakes naturally would take lizards as there first meal. These hatchlings need some encouragement and the above methods should be tried. The above methods are quiet safe to try on any snake species not just the ones listed above., Once your hatchling has started to feed regularly on defrosted pinkies, then the question of how often is asked. Generally for a newborn hatchling one pinkie every 3-7 days is sufficient. Feeding it every 3 days will increase its rate of growth, and every seven will maintain it on a steady growth rate. As it grows then the size and quantity of the food item must be increased accordingly…Good Luck.

NOTE: All hatchlings sold by Unusual Albinos will be established feeders on defrosted pinkies unless otherwise stated when purchased.

By Pete Quinlan, captive breeding representative of the Portsmouth Reptile & Amphibian Society and owner of Unusual Albinos. Pete has a great web site which featured recently as website of the month, well worth a visit.