A garter snake update

Most of the recent news about our reptile collection revolves around garter snakes.

For the most part, the recalcitrant feeders are eating again, but most of the male garter snakes continue to be stubborn. I did not note differences in feeding enthusiasm in my article on the differences between male and female garter snakes, but I’m beginning to think that males might be more prone to go off their feed. Certainly there are Darwinian reasons for females to eat, eat, eat, eat; males can get by at a level much closer to subsistence. Piss-Boy, my male red-sided garter, went two months without eating in the fall of 2000 — he was too busy humping the female I’d just introduced him to. Priorities.

So we’ve begun taking steps to reset their appetite — we’ve offered nightcrawlers, which were eaten, and scented fuzzy mice with those same worms, which weren’t. Next up is fish fillet, which has worked well in the past. It’s going to be stinky for a while, what with the worm- and fish-based poo.

Piss-Boy has swapped quarters with his daughter. She’s 4½ years old, the last female still here from the June 2002 litter, and she’s bigger than he is. She was in a sweater box, he was in a 15-gallon tank; the opposite made more sense, so Jennifer switched them yesterday. I’ve had Piss-Boy since May 2000, and he was an adult then, so he’s at least eight or nine years old: he won’t get any bigger. His daughter, on the other hand, certainly will.

George, our male plains garter snake, has a lump on his back. Jennifer thought it was a kink in his spine, but those don’t occur spontaneously in adult snakes. It’s a subcutaneous lump that almost certainly represents a big roundworm in his system. George has been with us since February 2004 — nearly three years — and has had nothing but mice during that time. But he was an adult when we got him, and he’s almost certainly wild-caught (though possibly in captivity for some time before we got him), so he’s been exposed to parasite-laden food before. That it’s taken this long for it to be symptomatic probably means he’s been growing something huge in the meantime. I’m guessing that if he didn’t have a wild immune system he would have succumbed long ago.

It’s a good thing I haven’t followed through on vague ideas to house all the bachelor male garter snakes in one cage: they’d stink up the joint and infect one another.