Pretzel puts herself through it again


Say hello, again, to Pretzel, our oldest female corn snake and the first snake I bought when I got back into snake-keeping in 1999. (She was at least a young adult back then, so she’s at least 13 or 14 now, and probably older than that.)

You may remember that we stopped breeding Pretzel a few years ago because she was putting everything into egg production. After she laid her clutch, she’d be extremely gaunt, and needed lots of feeding up before she looked normal again. This is one thing when baby snakes are part of the bargain, quite another when some or all of the eggs fail to hatch. She was putting her body through all that for nothing, so we got her away from her mate, Trouser, and kept her by herself (or, as now, with another female corn snake).

Anyway, after a few years of feeding her up and keeping her away from any and all corn snake males, she seems to have gone and ovulated again: she’s fat and squishy at the back end and has been refusing meals. The eggs are almost certainly not fertile, unless her cagemate is a secret male or she’s been retaining sperm for three years, which means she’s putting her body through all this for nothing. Again.

In the wild, snakes only reproduce during good years: if times are lean and the hunting is poor, females simply don’t ovulate; they retain the sperm until the following year, if necessary. It seems that, beyond a certain point, excess nutrition is put into egg production regardless of whether the snake has mated. Not every snake in my care has done this, but a few have: Big Momma, my original female red-sided garter snake, dropped slugs in her first year with us, and Lucy the bullsnake once dropped infertile eggs before being introduced to a male.

But it’s really annoying when Pretzel does it, because she leaves nothing behind for herself — and if you feed her up too much afterward, she’ll simply put it back into egg production. No wonder she’s as small as she is, even at her age.

Previously: Pretzel’s bad eggs; Pretzel lays 17 eggs; More evidence of an early mating season; Snakes in autumn; Mites, eggs and hibernation plans.