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 Post subject: A Home-Made Fox Snake Hibernation Den in my basement:
PostPosted: April 29th, 2012, 11:55 am 
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Joined: June 27th, 2010, 9:07 am
Posts: 125
Location: Madelia, Minnesota
This is a partial update on the Nylon Mesh Erosion Control Snake Death Trap I posted back in 2010. For those of you who missed it, here's the original post regarding that tragic disaster:

viewtopic.php?f=2&t=2515

I'll be posting an update on that continuing situation soon. (For now it turned out to be not quite so bad as originally predicted)

Now here's the story about 2 Fox snakes that were rescued from the nylon mesh area:

On May 12, 2011 while snakes were still being strangled in the mesh, a large female Fox snake was found under a flat rock only a few yards away. It was decided by me and a fellow field colleague that it was OK to bring her home, for we were both convinced she would be dead within a few days.

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On May 28, a huge male was found crawling nearby where the female was found. I still haven't measured him yet, but it is the largest Fox sake I've ever seen! (5 ft plus at least)

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They were both set up in a large naturalistic terrarium here at home. (The female bit me 6 times while I was replacing the water bowl, the big male has been as tame as a piece of rope since the minute I picked him up!)

They both began eating soon after they settled in and did quite well all summer. I decided they were going to be long term captives (at least thru the winter) so I began building a hibernation box here in the basement. And yes... as you will plainly see... I had all the time in the world to make it all WAY more detailed then it needed to be!

Starting out with scrap plywood and plexi-glass.

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The plexi-glass is taped onto the bottom portion of the box to help keep the wood from rotting.

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The Shop.

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The bottom layer is filled with black dirt and leaves. The tree branch posts are there to prop up the second level.

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Particle board with holes for access and water bowl.

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Second level. Kasota Stone (Dolomite) limestone slabs and more supports. (These stones were collected along a railroad bed just outside of town. They are from the stone quarries in the Minnesota River Valley where the Fox snakes are from and comprise the bedrock where most of the populations find refuge below the frost line)

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Water bowl and moss.

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Third level.

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More rocks and supports. The smaller slabs are cemented in with rubber cement to help prevent the snakes from pushing them around and covering up the holes.

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More moss.

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Top level. After the woodworking was done, I moved the operation into the coldest part of the basement where they’d be spending the winter

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A nice new sheet of plexi-glass slides down over the front in 2 grooves along the edge. It worked for now but I’ll have to redesign that before next winter.

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A hinged portion of the top lid allowed me to slide the plexi-glass up (for keeping the water bowl clean) without lifting up the whole top.

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2 front doors keep out the light and help keep in the cool air.

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All ready for 2 sleepy snakes.

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Both snakes were put into the top level and they immediately crawled down into the bottom chambers. I only checked on them at night with all the basement lights turned off and used only a 25 watt red bulb so they wouldn’t be disturbed.

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Occasionally I used a flash to get a good clear photo.

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The female began crawling around the summer cage already during the first week of September (apparently looking for the underground area long before I had the box done) so she obtained a real nasty nose rub. I feel really bad about this, but I had no idea she would become so restless so early in the season.

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After a few days down in the lower portion she had packed her sore nose with black dirt. She finally cooled down enough to settle down and let that nose heal up.

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She spent the first few weeks down below the water container and actually vanished from view for days at a time.

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The big male started out down in the moist portion too, but he spent most of the winter high and dry in the upper levels.

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Early in January the female moved upstairs and stayed in the dry portion too. Thermometer down in the corner never got below 52 degrees F. Several times during this past crazy mild winter, I actually had to leave the basement window open during the day just to keep the temp below 58!

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I had 2 other small adult Fox snakes brumating in a 20 gallon long aquarium above the box. During early February the female began crawling around and losing weight. She started out the winter season with too little fat reserve. I tried to get her to eat as much as possible last fall but it just wasn’t enough. (She was the only one of this bunch that was cut loose from the mesh, so there may have been some stress involved due to her not eating enough) I tried warming her up and offering food but it was too late and she died. I then moved the smaller male down into the big box with the other 2 large ones. Now I think I may have made a mistake by keeping the smaller pair in a glass aquarium. Most of the enclosure ended up being too damp and it looked like the smaller male was losing weight too, but as soon as I put him into the big dry box, he almost immediately swelled up and did just fine.

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He’s the one on the left, a picture of health! (?) He was not actually cut from the netting either but was found too close to it and it was decided he should come home too for a while.

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During the first week of March (with record high temps for Minnesota!!) The snakes began spending all their time on the upper level, and actually began moving around… and began rubbing their noses on the roof !!!

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The original plan was to have a huge 6 foot long new enclosure all ready for them by the time they woke up (which here in southern Minnesota is usually sometime around the last week of April) but because they began to wake up early I had to quickly rebuild their old cage from last summer.

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Drilled a hole through the bottom of the old cage, through the table and into the top of the hibernation box.

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A piece of PVC pipe connected the two. (Someone was getting impatient!)

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The new habitat is all set up and the connector pipe in place.

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Checking out the new place.

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The big male spent the first 2 days up in the new place, but the female remained down below for a while. The Male went back down into the lower den box the first 2 nights, then stayed upstairs after that.

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The intensity of the basking spot depends on the conditions outside… Lights are off if it’s a cool, cloudy day. A 40 watt bulb is on from sun up to sundown if the daytime temps are 60-70 degrees. Just before feeding time… a 60 watt bulb is used to crank up the hot spot to 100 degrees. The 25 watt red bulb is on if it’s a warm night and also right after they eat. (Basically trying to re-create outside conditions)

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If the light is on… they spend all day right under it.

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First feeding of the season. Frozen thawed Mice. I didn’t record how much each one ate last summer but during June and July they both gobbled down at least a dozen large mice and small rats (each) to the point where I thought the female was becoming obese. The female stopped eating already during the last week of July and the big male had his last meal the first week of August! I was surprised they both stopped eating so early in the season and I was also taken by surprise that the female began looking for the underground hibernacula already in late August/early September.

(And this is the last time I feed them together too. The big guy always finishes first and then it’s a trick to keep him away from swiping the females lunch) I'll be keeping more detailed records on their feeding habits this year.

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Back under the light and waiting for the first shed of the season.

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There!!! Gonna post this quick and check over mistakes later... before I hit the wrong button again and delete everything!


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 Post subject: Re: A Home-Made Fox Snake Hibernation Den in my basement:
PostPosted: April 29th, 2012, 6:02 pm 

Joined: December 3rd, 2011, 10:07 pm
Posts: 14
Thats a really cool set-up for the winter that you came up with.


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 Post subject: Re: A Home-Made Fox Snake Hibernation Den in my basement:
PostPosted: April 29th, 2012, 6:11 pm 
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Joined: March 18th, 2012, 6:34 pm
Posts: 821
Location: Huffman (NE Houston), Texas
That is really quite a fantastic setup. I wish more people would do things like this. I hate seeing the set ups of a snake in a glass terrarium with nothing but cedar bark substrate and the small, inadequate hide. You know the snakes aren't happy in something like that. I'm willing to bet that your snakes are happy as larks and feel more like they are on a resort vacation than being someones captive!

Really great work :thumb:


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 Post subject: Re: A Home-Made Fox Snake Hibernation Den in my basement:
PostPosted: April 30th, 2012, 8:42 am 
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Joined: June 19th, 2010, 6:42 pm
Posts: 848
Location: New Yawk
Soopaman wrote:
That is really quite a fantastic setup. I wish more people would do things like this. I hate seeing the set ups of a snake in a glass terrarium with nothing but cedar bark substrate and the small, inadequate hide. You know the snakes aren't happy in something like that. I'm willing to bet that your snakes are happy as larks and feel more like they are on a resort vacation than being someones captive!

Really great work :thumb:


Not to be a pain, but I think that most snakes kept with traditional herpetoculture methods do just fine. Also, no one uses cedar anymore, its almost always aspen, or at the very least, kiln dried pine. To date, there haven't been any snake enrichment studies, although a turtle enrichment study suggested simply using a hide and substrate over newspaper reduced corticosterol levels in box turtles.

"The physiological and behavioural impacts of and preference for an enriched environment in the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)"

Abstract:

Quote:
The physiological and behavioural impact of, as well as preference for, enriched versus barren environments was determined for captive eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina). Thirty-eight box turtles were randomized to either barren (flat newspaper substrate) or enriched (cypress mulch substrate, shredded paper and a hide box) enclosures for a 1-month period. Complete blood counts, fecal corticosterone, and body weights were measured at the beginning and end of the test period. Activities performed within the two environments were also compared.

Turtles in enriched enclosures had a significantly lower heterophil to lymphocyte ratio (H/L) at the end of the treatment period (p=0.01). Enriched-housed turtles also spent significantly less time engaged in escape behaviour (p<0.01). There was no significant difference in fecal corticosterone or body weight change between the two treatment groups.

At the beginning of the study, each turtle was placed in a preference test system in which it could move freely between a barren and enriched environment. Relative-dwelling time (RDT) was determined for each environment. Turtles showed a distinct preference for the enriched environment (90.9% median RDT, p<0.01). After the 1-month housing experiment turtles were revaluated for preference to determine if previous housing experience affected choice. Turtles continued to prefer an enriched environment regardless of prior housing conditions (97.6% median RDT, p<0.01).

Results of this study demonstrate that the captive housing environment impacts the physiology and behaviour of box turtles, and suggest housing modifications that encourage typical species-specific behaviour should be provided.


Does a snake "know" the difference between a "natural" environment versus a simulated one? An interesting question, but one with little evidence so far.


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 Post subject: Re: A Home-Made Fox Snake Hibernation Den in my basement:
PostPosted: April 30th, 2012, 2:04 pm 
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Joined: June 14th, 2010, 8:58 am
Posts: 207
Location: kentucky: where snakes can be found
Amazing, do you know if this has ever been done befor in the method u chose?


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 Post subject: Re: A Home-Made Fox Snake Hibernation Den in my basement:
PostPosted: May 1st, 2012, 5:17 am 
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 7:31 am
Posts: 347
Location: A bunker near Mountainburg AR
very interesting post. I appreciate your attention to detail!


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 Post subject: Re: A Home-Made Fox Snake Hibernation Den in my basement:
PostPosted: May 5th, 2012, 7:10 am 
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Joined: June 27th, 2010, 9:07 am
Posts: 125
Location: Madelia, Minnesota
Thanks everyone. I did another project similiar to this with Lined Snakes from South Dakota:

viewtopic.php?f=5&t=2773

As for "....Does a snake "know" the difference between a "natural" environment versus a simulated one? An interesting question, but one with little evidence so far."

All I have to say about that is: Give the snake a choice between a Tupperware container with newspaper substrate, water bowl and a cereal box hide... and a large re-creation of its natural habitat... and see which one it chooses.


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 Post subject: Re: A Home-Made Fox Snake Hibernation Den in my basement:
PostPosted: May 5th, 2012, 8:02 am 
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 4:26 am
Posts: 3294
Location: Illinois
This was so cool, I applaud the effort. You're a cool dude that's for sure.


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 Post subject: Re: A Home-Made Fox Snake Hibernation Den in my basement:
PostPosted: May 5th, 2012, 9:04 am 
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Joined: June 19th, 2010, 6:42 pm
Posts: 848
Location: New Yawk
TeeJay wrote:
Thanks everyone. I did another project similiar to this with Lined Snakes from South Dakota:

viewtopic.php?f=5&t=2773

As for "....Does a snake "know" the difference between a "natural" environment versus a simulated one? An interesting question, but one with little evidence so far."

All I have to say about that is: Give the snake a choice between a Tupperware container with newspaper substrate, water bowl and a cereal box hide... and a large re-creation of its natural habitat... and see which one it chooses.



Oh, don't confuse my post with disdain for naturalistic tanks, I love them as well, and I really enjoy your setup. However, I really don't know if anyone has done that experiment. It would certainly be interesting to see the results. As long as a snake has proper hide spots and proper thermo/hyrdo regulatory options, I really don't know which side he would choose.


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 Post subject: Re: A Home-Made Fox Snake Hibernation Den in my basement:
PostPosted: May 6th, 2012, 7:47 am 
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 3:44 pm
Posts: 250
Location: Camden County, Missouri
Really like that setup! :thumb:

Looks like a lot of work and detail went into that project! Gave me some ideas.

And if the keeper is happy and satisfied the reptile has to be better off too. Just a believer in natural setups if possible.

Gary


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 Post subject: Re: A Home-Made Fox Snake Hibernation Den in my basement:
PostPosted: May 6th, 2012, 10:07 am 

Joined: August 7th, 2010, 2:48 pm
Posts: 309
Location: Tucson, AZ
Just an awesome job -- in helping those animals and in conveying the detail of the endeavor photo by photo. Sorry that the female was so bitey. She didn't mean it... much... ;)

Thanks for sharing your project!


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 Post subject: Re: A Home-Made Fox Snake Hibernation Den in my basement:
PostPosted: May 6th, 2012, 6:34 pm 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 11:13 pm
Posts: 1896
Location: A Sovereign TX Enclave in the Greater Kansas City Area
John Vanek wrote:
Not to be a pain, but I think that most snakes kept with traditional herpetoculture methods do just fine. Also, no one uses cedar anymore, its almost always aspen, or at the very least, kiln dried pine. To date, there haven't been any snake enrichment studies, although a turtle enrichment study suggested simply using a hide and substrate over newspaper reduced corticosterol levels in box turtles.

"The physiological and behavioural impacts of and preference for an enriched environment in the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)"


Case, 2006? Do you happen to know where I could download or purchase this?


Quote:
Results of this study demonstrate that the captive housing environment impacts the physiology and behaviour of box turtles, and suggest housing modifications that encourage typical species-specific behaviour should be provided.

Does a snake "know" the difference between a "natural" environment versus a simulated one? An interesting question, but one with little evidence so far.



I first heard of the Case et al. paper during a presentation at the KHS annual meeting in 2010. I think the presentation covered a new paper wherein the researchers compared different types of substrates to determine preference (again, in turtles--I think). If I'm not misremembering, there wasn't a clear preference for type of substrate, cover, etc., just that the presence of those items was A Good Thing, regardless of the actual materials used. I could be wrong, though; I'd have to look up the info on that project.


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 Post subject: Re: A Home-Made Fox Snake Hibernation Den in my basement:
PostPosted: May 6th, 2012, 9:47 pm 
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Joined: June 19th, 2010, 6:42 pm
Posts: 848
Location: New Yawk
Bingo.

http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=box ... as_sdtp=on

That should work.


Last edited by John Vanek on May 7th, 2012, 8:14 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: A Home-Made Fox Snake Hibernation Den in my basement:
PostPosted: May 7th, 2012, 5:52 am 
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Joined: June 10th, 2010, 3:28 pm
Posts: 2062
John, FYI your link doesn't seem to work (even when fixed to make the string complete).

Chris, I was curious to see the paper, too (thanks for posting about it, John!), so I dug it up. Check your e-mail for a pdf.

Gerry


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 Post subject: Re: A Home-Made Fox Snake Hibernation Den in my basement:
PostPosted: May 17th, 2012, 8:18 am 
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Joined: May 15th, 2012, 11:05 am
Posts: 16
Location: Alberta
Very neat setup. Fox snakes are amazing. The eastern species goes unsung for being if not one of the rarest, then certainly one of the most range-restricted herps in all North America.

Just my 2 cents on nose-rubbing - I did field research on bullsnakes, and would keep gravid females til they layed and release them. My initial attitude was, "this is a temporary enclosure, as long as it has an adequate nest box, it needn't be too large." Wrong assumption. They were very restless in a 3-foot by 18 inch enclosure, cruising and rubbing. I quickly moved them to a 7' by 24" enclosure and the settled right in like they were born there - no significant cruising, rubbing. I have since found that i almost never get damaged rostrals in captive snakes kept in large enclosures.


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