CORALLUS ANNULATUS * ANNULATED BOA * GERINGELTE HUNDSKOPFBOA
Perhaps we should think of these rare animals as the chameleons of the snake world. The brown annulatus in particular can change from a very light silver/beige to a deep, dark, chocolate brown colour. This colour change can be caused by their state of mind, food, surroundings etc. During the night and early morning the snakes are very often very lightly coloured. This may be because colour is not important in the dark, but no one knows for sure. During the morning they will become a bit darker while they rest in the branches and between leaves. Their darker colour, and the fact they lying still, will help to keep them better camouflaged in the day. Also, if the snake has eaten it will become darker. This seems logical to me. A darker animal can take in more warmth and therefore improve its digestion. Stress from incorrect husbandry, or having another snake in the same enclosure, can also influence the colour of the snake. Although the regular colour of these snakes is brown, spectacular orange and mixed colours can occur. Brown parents can have orange offspring, and the reverse is also possible. These colours are found in wild annulatus, with the orange phase being both beautiful and rare.
In the wild C. annulatus is found in south east Nicaragua, the east coast of Costa Rica and Panama, through Colombia in Ecuador and into Peru. Some have also been found on the east coast of Guatemala. This isolated population is possibly the remnant of a formerly tightly joined distribution area. The snakes are found at altitudes varying from sea level up to about 1200 meters. They are found in primary jungle, bordering secondary forests and plantations. They are sometimes even found in gardens! Although they are primarily arboreal in nature they can sometimes be found near the ground. During the day they prefer to hide themselves in hollow tree trunks, dense vegetation on tree branches, or closer to the ground in a range of hiding places. In the wild they are subject to high humidity and two rainy seasons each year. The rainy seasons stimulate breeding activity. The orange animals only occur in limited areas, as far as we know. They are also less common than the brown variant. This may be a consequence of inbreeding caused by natural barriers such as mountain ranges and rivers.
All our animals are kept separately. They are in terrariums made from glass, and measure 65 cm x 33 cm x 90 cm (D x W x H), with an internal volume of 193 litres. The terrariums have built with removable glass between them. This is taken out during the mating season to give terrariums of 386 litres. The enclosures each have two climbing frames made from 40 mm PVC tubing. This is not glued together, which allows for easy dismantling for cleaning and disinfecting. Cleaning is carried out in a 30 litre bucket using hot water and chlorine. The tubing is then rinsed well with clean water and replaced in the cage to dry. The open ends of the tubes are capped so the snakes cannot crawl into them. Each cage also has a piece of 125 mm PVC tubing which the snakes use to hide in. These tubes are very well used. Wooden cages are also possible, although they are less durable due to the high humidity needed for these snakes. We use peat as the substrate because it can hold a lot of moisture which it then slowly releases, raising the humidity. It is also slightly acidic, which means bacteria will less easily grow in the substrate and cleaning of urates and faeces is easily accomplished. If the snake accidentally swallows some of the peat while feeding it will pass it in its faeces with no problems. If a large amount of peat accidentally gets into the snake’s mouth when striking for food it is easily removed by holding the snake behind its head, which causes its mouth to open, then rinsing it with water.
Temperature and humidity.
The daytime temperature in our snake room is 24 C, dropping to 20 C at night. This is achieved using our central heating system. When we bought the new heating system for our house we chose one with a separate thermostat and independent heating for the snake room. In the terrariums we use an ordinary 25 watt reflector lamp, screened with wire mesh from the basket of a deep fat fryer! All the lamps are centrally controlled from a dimmer to give a temperature near the lamp of around 29 C. The lamps run at about 50% capacity, which extends their life span. This is relatively cheap to run, as the central heating costs less than electricity; at least it does in Holland! The air is humidified by an ultrasonic humidifier, which is controlled by a time switch. The humidifier switches on 5 times a day for 15 minutes at a time. This is increased in preparation for the mating season. The humidity could be controlled automatically, of course, but this would give constant levels rather than the varying levels which must occur in nature as the sun and wind affect the environment. The correct level of humidity is essential for the general health of these snakes, particularly with regard to them shedding properly. If extra heating is needed we use “Thermolux” green heating mats. As with all mats these must not be covered. This would reduce their effectiveness, could cause them to burn out or even short circuit with possibly dangerous consequences.
To stimulate these snakes to breed the climate must be manipulated. Changes must be made to reduce the number of daylight hours, raise humidity, lower temperature or, even better, all of these at once. A sudden change in atmospheric pressure can also be a positive stimulant, but is not one over which we have any influence. It can also help to have several males together during the breeding period. We reduce the temperature during November and December, and raise the humidity at the same time. The mating season is January, February and March. We place a female with a male, and not the other way around. The female therefore comes into the male’s territory and then, after 1 to 2 weeks, she is transferred to another male. The second male will always show interest as the female smells of the first male. Because of this the second male becomes very stimulated. If you have several females they can be circulated around the males. Females are best bred every other year. This produces larger babies with greater body weights. These better quality babies give less problems when it comes to getting them feeding. From brown parents you can get brown and orange babies. The brown babies are completely black at birth. Once the babies are born we put them in 1 litre plastic boxes with a perch inside for them to cling to. We prefer plastic to wood, as wood can easily rot. Keeping the babies separately to start with also makes it easier to maintain records of feeding and shedding, and to deal with any problems. If the babies eat well they are either sold or transferred to larger terrariums with several babies. Like the adults, they need to be able to climb and to have good hiding places. If a baby does not feed voluntarily it can be force fed. Be aware, though, that this is stressful for the snake and can do more harm than good. A fast way of force feeding is to use a fine tube and a small syringe filled with a suitable high nutrient food such as AD Feline cat food. This can be bought from most vets. By adding a tiny amount of water to the food it becomes very liquid and can easily be pushed through the syringe and down the tube into the snake. If carried out correctly this is a very fast process and keeps the stress to the snake (and the keeper!) to a minimum. The death of a baby is very normal. As snake keepers we want to keep everything alive. In nature, however, perhaps just one baby will survive to adulthood.