Pigmy Rattlesnake Motel: Notes From A Room Service Attendant
by Scott Bice

Let's face it there are hundreds of books out there. Like many people I read books left and right but have came to the conclusion they are written for profit in many cases. Not taking away from the good ones, but I would rather get my information from people who work with species I wish to own. People who are not writing a book to sell but rather freely giving information to help the animal and the keeper. This being said, on to the Bell Tail.

I have worked with Sistrurus miliarius barbouri “Dusky Pigmy Rattlesnakes” for going on 4 years now. I personally keep 12 specimens as of this time. They range in size from 14 inches to over 30 inches with a sex ratio of 5.7.0. I have observed this species both in captivity and in the wild. Most pigmy rattlers you will purchase have been wild caught. This has inherited problems that must be dealt with.

As with all newly acquired reptiles quarantine is a must. When I speak of quarantine I mean a room completely separate from the rest of your collection as to not introduce any unwanted pests or illnesses to your general collection. I personally use 90 day quarantine on any and all new arrivals.

First thing I do is in tank preparation I completely clean out the tank with bleach and water letting it stand for 15 minutes before rinsing it thoroughly after rinsing and drying I spray a heavy layer of "Provent A Mite" on the entire cage inside and out, paying special care to the rim at the upper inside of the tank. I let this stand for 20 minutes and then add cypress mulch for a substrate and then re-spray the tank again and allow to stand 15 minutes.One thing people overlook is the lid of the cage. Be sure to spray it as well. I repeat this procedure every 7 days thoughout quarantine.When you dispose of the substrate, spray the inside of the trash can and the trash bag itself as well just to insure no external parasites try to get away. I have never had a mite or tick problem since I started using this procedure.

Once they are out of quarantine I set up their standard housing cages with the same methods, only adding a permanent water dish and other cage decorations. For 12 to 18 inch pigmies a 10 gallon size cage is fine. For anything over that a 20 gallon long size is perfect and will easily work for their life with you. Substrate can very greatly. I use cypress mulch or shredded coconut. When I first started keeping Pigmies I put a hide box in but have found it is not needed. They seem to prefer to actually burrow out an area in the substrate and lay in it.

One interesting thing I have learned is pigmies are not completely terrestrial but in fact are arboreal as well. I have one that spends 90% of its time in a bush and even when feeding will strike its prey and hold on much like arboreal vipers in the Trimeresurus family would. In the wild I have actually seen numerous pigmies hanging out in branches up to 6 feet high.

Also a water dish is a must. I have another that spends a great part of its time day and night in the dish. Daily changing of the water is a must. I use a 40 watt full spectrum light in the 20 gallon size long cages and a 20 watt full spectrum in the smaller cages. I have found they prefer a day time heat range from 83 to 88 and a night time range from 72 to 83. They are active throughout the day with dawn and dusk being most active.

Feeding these little guys is a blast. I thought they would be like most rattlers and be an ambush predator, but have found that they actually will chase down a rodent. For pigmies from 12 to 18 inches large pinkies and fuzzies are perfect every 7 to 10 ten days. Animals from 19 to 24 inches, 2 hoppers every 7 to 10 days is fine and larger specimens can take large to ex breeder size mice with no problem at all every 14 days.

Daily maintenance is a must. Watering can be done very simply by using a clean oil funnel to add water. If you need to clean out defecation or clean the water dish ALWAYS remove the animal. Just because they are small thinking that you can get in and out safely is not smart and can be a very painful mistake. They will hunt down their prey and your finger is about the size of food. Have a bucket standing by with a lid.

Pigmies do not ride hooks well at all. I have tried the double hook method and found it doesn't work well either. I use 24 inch tweezers which appears to work well without causing them undue stress so long as you do not apply a great deal of pressure. Usually getting them about 2 inches behind the head works fine. Be ready for a wiggle though and to have to start over. They are a very nervous snake which will strike readily so be patent.

I have not yet bred them myself but have talked to several people who have. Normal matting occurs in early spring with birth in the later summer months. The average size of the litter is from 6 to 12 live young that are from 4 to 7 inches on average. Several of the people I have spoken to suggest putting 2 males with every female and allowing ritual combat to occur.

When purchasing a pigmy or any animal, contact people that keep the animal you want, ask those questions and listen to them. When you contact a seller some questions you might want to ask are:

1 Has the animal been feeding?
2 Is it a wild caught or captive born?
3 Has it been wormed?
4 How big is it?
5 If wild caught do you know the location of capture or general area?
6 Get them to take pictures with numbers next to the specimens to aid you in your purchase.
7 Ask them what their shipping method and terms are.

Keep in mind venomous may legally be shipped airport to airport only. I know a lot of people who sell them think they are only a 25 dollar pigmy but it is there responsibility to help you as much as possible, you are the buyer. It should not matter if it’s a 25 dollar pigmy or 1200 dollar king cobra a seller must be willing to speak to you and aid you in your purchase from them. What they forget is that 25 dollar snake might mean return business in the future for higher dollar animals. Keep in mind in the that venomous may only be shipped via air cargo such as Delta and the average box charge is 25 dollars. Shipping can be has high as 70 dollars. If a person wants to send it any other way DO NOT buy it.

Are pigmies a good beginner snake? I will let you decide on a scale of 1 to 10 in my experience 1 being easiest 10 being hardest or dangerous here is how I would rate it.

Aggression 9
Strike speed 8
Venom based on ld50 and confirmed bites 3
Handling with tools 7
Maintenance 5
Feeding 3
Antivenom availability "US" 1
Availability 3
Total out of 80 = 39

I hope this helps anyone who wishes to own these wonderful bell tails or just is curious about them. Scott Bice


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