Feeding Hatchling Snakes
©1995 Maryann Jazbec, Notes from NOAH, XXII(10):3-4
Now that it is nearing the time for snake eggs to start hatching, here are some general guidelines for getting baby snakes to start eating.
Be sure to keep the snake warm and dry.
Place the snake in a small enough container [deli cup, paper bag, cloth sack] so that it will readily encounter the intended meal.
Whenever possible, keep the hatchlings in separate containers so as to avoid having two animals grab the same food item. This also prevents any shy snakes from being intimidated by a more aggressive cagemate. [Note: Depending upon the species, hatchlings may be housed together and just separated at feeding time.]
Provide a shelter or other place for the snake to hide itself.
Keep the food items small. Small items are more easily digested than larger items. A general guideline would be to offer a single mouse of about the same girth as the snake.
Some hatchlings may feed as soon as they emerge from the egg, but most probably will not. Do not feel compelled to try to feed the snakes until after they've shed for the first time, which will be about a week or two after hatching.
Snakes should start feeding within a month or so of hatching. Starvation probably will not occur for several more weeks, but it is best to have the snakes feeding as soon as possible. How long the hatchlings can survive without starving depends upon how much yolk reserve the snake has at the time of hatching, the temperature the snake is kept at, and how active the snake is.
A percentage of hatchling snakes will begin eating newborn mice without any problems and once started will generally continue to feed without problem. However, many snakes will be reluctant to start feeding. Here is a list of steps to use to start the hatchlings feeding:
Place a live pinky mouse in with the snake for a few hours. If uneaten, replace for awhile with a dead pinky.
Wash the pinky in soap and water, rinse and dry. Then present to the snake. Try a live, then a dead, one. Washing will remove some scent that can inhibit eating by some hatchlings.
Rub a pinky with a small lizard such as an anole, swift, or fence lizard, to transfer some of the scent. Place a moistened section of a skin or shed skin from a lizard on the head and back of a pre-killed pinky.
Offer a small lizard or a frog. Every effort should be made to get the snakes to switch to mice as soon as possible, as lizards and frogs are not as readily available as mice, nor as cheap.
If the different techniques to get a hatchling snake feeding on its own fail, force feeding can be resorted to but is not recommended as it is highly stressful to an already weakened snake.
Reference: KEEPING AND BREEDING SNAKES, Michael J. McEachern.
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