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  • nippy baby

    I recently bought Kaa, a hypo RTB (BCC i think) from a reptile specific store. She is roughly 16 inches in length. I have had one RTB in the past that I sadly had to re home after joining the US Army. My parents also had one when I was about 10 that got to be quite large. Needless to say they both had awesome personalities and were very beautiful snakes. Now that I am out of the military and in a stable environment I decided it was time to reconnect with a RTB. Combined with endless research on forums and books plus my previous exp. I thought it would be no problem. I understand that baby snakes can be and usually are nippy and with good reason. Although a nippy baby isn't a big issue and can be quite common I am concerned I might go about solving the nippiness the wrong way and end up with a large snake that still bites. My last RTB never struck at me even when it was a baby, just luck I guess. Well when I first brought Kaa home everything was great. I slid her right out of the bag slowly onto my hand and she was fairly calm. I held her for about 10 min and then introduced her to her new home. The next day I decided to stick my hand in her cage to she how she would respond to me after just a day in her new home and she was very calm and allowed me to pick her up and hold her for a little bit. The next day same thing no problems. Then it was feeding day. The reptile store fed her live prey because she wouldn't accept frozen thawed easily so i decided to stay with what she is used to. I separated her from her cage and placed her into a large tub and placed the mouse inside and she ate right away. after about 25 min i attempted to transition her back to her cage but she began to strike at every movement, i assumed it was because she was still in kill mode (for lack of better terms). i placed my hat over the top of her and got her back into her cage. she struck at the glass as i backed away and then eventually went inside of her hide. after a day and a half i decided to attempt to handle her and as soon as i opened the cage she went into a defensive stance. i placed the hat over the top of her again and scooped her up slowly from underneath. She went right under the hat and bit my arm. it didn't hurt but it startled me pretty good. i returned her back to her cage and she began hissing. I decided that was enough for one night and left her alone. the next day i tried again without the hat and just decided to take a hit if she struck since it is pretty painless but she actually let me hold her. ill admit I was very hesitant when reaching in the cage because although painless each strike scared the crap out of me. i think she could sense my fear but still allowed me to scoop her up. After a few seconds she began striking towards the ground and then started striking at my other hand repeatedly. i returned her back to her cage and this time no hissing. I was beginning to worry that daily attempts to handle may be a bit much but after reading many threads on and not allowing time to adjust to a new home. about 50% said daily handling to "tame"a snake is good and 50% said not a good idea. so i decided to give it one last chance and if she began to strike i would leave her alone for a couple of days and try again. I put on some thin soft gardening gloves (just a slight boost of confidence for me) and gave her a slight tap on her side to let her know i was going to handle her and i scooped her up slowly with no problem. i held her for 10 min with no problems at all. there were times where she stopped and took up a defensive position while staring right into my eyes but eventually eased up and was back to exploring again. I returned her to her cage and she hung out and explored her cage for a bit and then went back to her hide. FINALLY a good handling session.

    BTW I am going to switch to frozen thawed rats from now on after reading more about the benefits.

    My concerns are that the gloves masked my scent so she was calm and that i may have "scarred" her by using the hat to cover her in attempt to not be bitten so every time she sees me or picks up my sent she will become aggressive. maybe i'm just thinking to hard into this and just accept the fact that most babies are nippy LOL. am i going about this the right way? is it important to feed her in a separate space?

    thank you for anyone who read this, i know it was a bit long but i want to be through and make sure i give Kaa the best life she can possibly have in captivity
    Last edited by natieb; 04-04-2016, 09:22 AM. Reason: Moved to Feeding forum for visibility

  • #2
    Re: nippy baby

    It is best to leave them alone for 7-10 days after bringing them home. After that period, then you feed and wait over 48 hours to let the food settle. Then you can attempt the first real handling. Others say longer and others say shorter. This is a good medium as it is really down to the snake. You may want to look into getting a snake hook. Snake hooks aren't warm like us so she will be less likely to go into a defensive stance when you lightly rub her back with it to let you know you are about to pick her up. The first few handlings should be done slowly and gently. A good example would be to hold her in a towel on your lap while you watch TV every now and then checking to see how she is positioned and hasn't escaped. Let her do the exploring first. As she gets more comfortable you can handle her more.

    Look for body language. If she is tense and not moving and breathing fast, she is stressed and scared. If she is actively trying to run away, she is scared. These situations should be minimised if she is to trust you. If she bites you, do not return her to her cage. That would be positive reinforcement for a negative behavior. Scared snakes only want to be left alone and if you leave them alone because they bit you then you just gave them what they wanted. Boas can be in feed mode for between 10 minutes to 2 days. It is best to leave them alone when they are in feed mode after they fed. If she strikes the glass often, put a towel over the glass so she doesn't see your movement. When they are in feed mode their eyes dilate and all they are looking for is movement. If she goes into feed mode and she hasn't been fed and you aren't going to feed her but you need to handle her, you can lightly rub her sides or back with a snake hook until she loses interest. A light spritz of water can also help but I don't like doing that to any animal.

    No shame in safety gloves, just don't rely on them. Some people who I follow who have used safety gloves too much with their baby monitor lizards ended up with adult monitor lizards who love to scratch so you can't handle them without welding gear.

    Thank you for switching her to F/T food. Boas think they are black holes so F/T is pretty easy to switch to. Warm it up to 96-98 degrees and wiggle it a little and she should take it no problem. They will also take more than they need so try not to feed her just because she looks hungry. lol They love to beg if they know it means they will be fed.


    • #3
      Re: nippy baby

      Thank you for switching to F/T prey...that often helps a snake to calm down some, at least in time. (also best to double-space a "wall of text" in the future, LOL!)

      Snakes, especially the big boas & pythons, DO stay in "feed mode" for hours or even days after feeding...that's why they should only be fed IN their normal enclosure (IMO) gets risky to be handling them as they
      size up, especially since they also "seem to know" when prey is about to be delivered, ie. if it's anywhere in the house. You'll want to be staying out of their way, & use feed tongs of the necessary length.

      For best results: realize that baby snakes are PREY...& anything that picks them up is normally a realize they are biting mostly out of fear...or rarely, confusion about 'food' (our hands are warm & wiggling!)

      For best results: do not handle a new snake (of any age) for a couple weeks+ while it settles in. How would YOU feel if "abducted by aliens"? And BEFORE any handling, the snake should be feeding easily and have fed
      several times* & allowed to digest...*typically a small meal for a neonate might be offered about once a week, so again, you are giving the snake weeks to settle in before "handling". There is no rush...snakes grow slowly!

      Remember how BIG we are, compared to that tiny snake you are wanting to hold....don't over-do the gentle about it...and take your time! Sit with her for a while...give her time to feel SAFE with you.

      Another thing to keep in mind is that while our snakes appreciate some warmth, WE (at roughly 98.6*) may over-heat them IF you are handling a snake for a little while and they seem to want to
      get away from you, remember that it might not be personal, only a need to thermo-regulate to a preferred cooler temperature. Learn to 'read' what your snake is saying. They read our intentions by how we touch
      them (hopefully NOT like a predator!?) and they recognize us mostly by scent, not sight. That's why you may have "better luck" cuddling a snake close to you (they love to hide) than at a little distance where we
      are just a "looming predator" that in their confusion they feel they must defend against. Keep your hands "under" the snake at first...they also don't know your "other hand" isn't another threat heading toward them.

      And welcome here!


      • #4
        Re: nippy baby

        Originally posted by acephantom903 View Post
        ...If she bites you, do not return her to her cage. That would be positive reinforcement for a negative behavior. Scared snakes only want to be left alone and if you leave them alone because they bit you then you just gave them what they wanted....

        ....A light spritz of water can also help but I don't like doing that to any animal.

        ....They love to beg if they know it means they will be fed.
        I liked (& thanked) your post because I mostly agree...except for the parts quoted above. While I don't believe snakes are as dumb as many people do, I also don't believe they have the awareness to manipulate us
        with respect to positive & negative reinforcement. If a snake is really freaking out, you'd do better to put it back in the cage to rest & calm down, in part because like any other creature, they can have a heart attack
        or other adverse physical reaction to the extreme stress. Stress just isn't good for any of us, and there's no reason to let their panic escalate. Move on, pick another day..."this too shall pass".

        Regarding a light spritz of water in the face of a snake: Real snakes get rained on! A light water spray is very effective for letting a snake know that you are not dinner heading their amounts to hitting their
        "reset" button, but pay attention to their body language, as not all snakes get the message with the first spritz. Used correctly, you'd rarely be using this technique, but it's a safe & harmless way to signal your snake,
        much like the "hook training" that many here advocate. Depending on what kind of snakes you keep, many are also repelled by our scent (as in "Ewww! THAT'S NOT what I ordered!")...just another option to try.

        "Begging" is your interpretation of the intense stare we get from a hungry snake...they are interested in our motions as possible prey heading their way, but you must remember that snakes do NOT use vision to identify
        things so logically it follows that they are also not asking us for anything -only hoping that we are food which they cannot yet smell to verify. And don't take it personal: as I said before, if you give them your scent (by
        blowing air across your hand in their direction) they know right away that you're not what they're looking for & most quickly back down....again, depending on individual snake personalities or their immediate level of
        I will add that compared to many other kinds of snakes (such as colubrids* & rattlesnakes) the large boids are far less responsive to (ie. repelled by) our scent...keep in mind that in the wild, they may hunt near the
        "water hole" and subdue whatever creature they can for dinner...put another way, they are "less-picky" eaters...maybe because of their size they cannot afford to be picky, but also, remember that water covers the
        scent of prey, so the typical large boid reacts more to "warm & wiggling" than to scent. (*king snakes are more like boids...most kinds commonly kept as pets are among the least 'picky' about food, and not only won't
        they turn down a finger, I've actually had one that tried to eat her own tail! A real genius!)


        • #5
          Re: nippy baby

          Positive interaction vs feeding. Get yourself a snake hook, and get into Kaa's cage every day. A good way to do this is by changing water, and cleaning messes. I don't worrying about "handling" a boa till they are a year old, but I use a snake hook and rearrange their enclosure about weekly through maintenance. Like has been said above, feed in the enclosure it is gonna save you a headache down the road and will help with your aggression issue. NOW, after you feed, don't go into the cage and rearrange right away, watch your snake when they are comfortable moving around the cage again proceed with normal operations, this can be a day for some snakes and a week or longer for others. By following a normal operation vs feeding schedule, you condition the snake to expect certain things at certain times. When I use the snake hook, I either use it to "push" the snake aside or pull a coil to one side or the other of the enclosure. After awhile, you just put it near their head and they move away. When I want to pick up or move the snake to a new enclosure, I just rub the center of the body with the hook, hold the nook .25" over the head, pick up the center of the snakes' body with my off-hand, set down the hook, and bring my other hand under the snake to support the body .


          • #6
            Re: nippy baby

            I think walla2GSP brings up a good point: if you want to avoid a bite when approaching your snake, it helps to move them a little (mid-body) using a hook...that seems to jog their memory of "handling time"...
            it's another way of "hitting their reset button". The large BCI I kept was reliably sweet to handle, but rarely, she'd not wish to be approached & would sit there hissing up a storm. A large BCI doing this certainly
            "gets your attention", but it was as if "she forgot she knew me", because I found that by just stroking her coils "from behind" (not approaching her face), she did NOT turn to try to bite and in a few minutes, she'd
            always calm down and I could then pick her up as if it never happened, and with never a bite! It was as if she "remembered" she knew me...?

            And bringing your hands under the snake helps...when we just approach them "head-on" it's scary for them...can't blame them for defending themselves. A pet store that I used to deal with (I supplied rodents)
            sometimes asked me about their unapproachable snakes that they had trouble handling to show...they'd always get bit & the customers would lose interest. I slid my hand in under the hide-box to gently pick up
            their snake from underneath & it never tried to bite me...they'd been taking off the hide-box & just scaring the daylights out of them. You really just have to think about how the snake feels...they are shy, & we
            are big & scary to them visually. They feel cornered when approached the wrong way, and so would we.

            Another technique is to put a small towel over a feisty snake & enclose them in the towel as you pick them up...then sit with them for a while so they learn to feel safe with your touch & scent, before they have
            to 'process' seeing you. That's how I communicated 'safety' to that BCI when I first got her: she was a yearling that had changed hands multiple times because she bit everyone & they gave up on her. I didn't.
            It took about 2 months for her to calm down...I didn't let her look out of the towel for most of that time, as she was panicked & ready to bite. Because I was patient, I never got even one bite from her...ever.