Why You Should Buy Captive Bred Snakes Over Wild Caught

When purchasing a snake, or any other kind of reptile, captive-bred specimens are the way to go. Several reasons bring me to why wild-caught specimens should only be purchased in certain situations. The following article analyzes the advantages of captive-bred snakes and when it’s necessary to buy wild-caught.

Growing up in the 1980s, keeping wild-caught reptiles was the norm. Even field-collected ball pythons were common. Very few keepers were captive breeding because information and resources were minimal. Captive-bred boas and pythons simply weren’t available.

Snake feeding problems solved

Today, field-collected reptiles are still sold, but captive-bred specimens continue to dominate the market. Even so, extensive inbreeding for designer morphs has led some breeders to once again rely on wild-caught specimens.

Stress

Common sense dictates that wild-caught snakes are more prone to stress than captive-bred. Often times, wild-caught specimens have a much harder time adjusting to captivity.

A snake accustomed to roaming the prairie or swimming an Amazon tributary find it harder to adjust to living in an enclosure. This leads to stress, the number one killer in keeping reptiles. Some snakes do adjust well to their new life inside walls while others languish, making them susceptible to health problems and other issues.

Feeding

Feeding wild-caught snakes versus captive-bred specimens are one of the most prevalent differences between the two. Wild-caught snakes often have a hard time switching over to frozen/thawed. Many insist on live prey even after years of captivity.

This is inconvenient, especially for those keeping many snakes. Feeding live prey is also risky because the snake could get injured by it’s supposed meal. In such a case, stun the rodent making it less likely to hurt the snake.

Live rodents and other intended prey items can carry parasites that transfer to the snake. Healthy snakes may carry a parasite load while not appearing to present any ill-effects. With the snakes immune system compromised, parasites become a serious issue.

Frozen rodents are convenient snake food.
Frozen rodents are more than just convenient.

This is one of the many advantages of feeding snakes frozen/thawed. Freezing temperatures kill any parasite present in food items. Make certain the frozen rodent is completely thawed before offering it to the snake.

Temperament

Without question, captive-bred snakes display better temperaments than wild-caught specimens. Interacting with your snake is part of the joy of keeping it. This is why temperament is vital to your collective relationship.

While certain snake species are more defensive than others, none are guaranteed to act a certain way. Each snake has its own unique personality and sometimes, even captive-bred subjects are nippy. In time, a snake and its keeper begin to understand each other. At least to some extent.

Handling limitations

This includes knowing how long an individual snake tolerates handling. I had a Colombian boa constrictor who was good for about 45 minutes of handling before she started acting out. She opened her mouth just enough to expose her teeth. With that, I knew it was time to put her back in the enclosure. Such subtle hints are important to pick up on and are easily recognizable.

Breeding

Captive bred snakes often breed easier than their wild-caught counterparts. Wild caught snakes need a more precise cooling period. Low-end target temperatures and proper duration are important for successful propagation. This is known as brumation.

As a generalization, captive bred snakes allow more wiggle room in this area. Either way, it’s always important to imitate the snake’s natural climate when attempting to breed.

Mites, ticks and other parasites

Wild-caught snakes can harbor both internal and external parasites. Depending on the origin of the snake determines what it’s infected with.

Ticks occasionally feed on snakes
Ticks are sometimes found on imported ball pythons.

For example, field-collected ball pythons are known carriers of ticks and mites. Sometimes they’re treated before being sold, but that’s not always the case.

Parasites come from almost anywhere

All snakes from any place can carry internal parasites. Often times, a healthy snake lives uneventfully with its internal parasites. On the other hand, internal parasites can also make your snake extremely ill. Probable parasitic infection symptoms include poor shedding, lack of appetite, regurgitation, runny stools, lethargy and eventually death.

Rubbed noses

Rubbed noses and other injuries are more possible when keeping wild-caught snakes. Especially when the snake is being kept in an enclosure that’s too small. Tank covers made from wire mesh are known as “cheese graters” in the ball python industry. Sometimes a snake rubs its nose completely raw causing permanent scarring. Infection often follows.

Make certain that a hide box is available for the snake to escape stressful traffic that may occur in a room. Also, make sure the size of the enclosure is adequate for the species you’re keeping. For example, bullsnakes need room to wander, especially wild-caught ones. They are prone to rub noses which is easily avoided by simply offering enough space.

Extinction of a species

Along with land development and habitat loss, the pet trade has taken its toll on many reptiles. Snakes, turtles, and lizards which were once common are now facing extinction.

For this reason, if a snake is readily available through captive breeding, there’s no reason to take them out of their natural environment. Doing so is also harmful to the natural ecosystem.

Captive bred vs wild caught
A wild-caught southern banded water snake.

When to buy wild-caught specimens

We live in a time with so many breeders across the United States and beyond, that there is no reason for passive keepers to take a corn snake or ball python out of the wild. While avoiding wild-caught specimens is usual protocol, certain situations do call for it.

Re-energizing a bloodline

Snake morphs fetch higher prices than normal specimens. This is the way it has always been and I don’t see an end coming any time soon. In such cases, mutations run their course and bloodlines eventually need re-energizing.

The only way to do this is to start over from the beginning. Bringing fresh blood into a breeding project increases prolificness. It also cuts back on deformities which are becoming more common in the industry.

A blue spiny lizard
The blue spiny lizard was once common in the pet trade. Now a call for captive breeding is necessary.

Starting a completely new breeding project

Some species of reptiles simply aren’t available on a captive-bred basis. This is usually because of low-cost and availability, but sometimes the opposite holds true. Once common species such as the blue spiny lizard, are now becoming uncommon. In cases like these, field collecting is necessary. 

New breeding projects are exciting and offer a feeling of accomplishment. This is no guarantee that such a breeding project will catch on with the rest of the industry. The reptiles industry is fickle and hard to predict. Someone gifted with second-sight would be a millionaire in such a case.

Treatment for wild-caught snakes and reptiles

It’s good practice to treat wild-caught snakes and other reptiles for internal parasites when first acquired. Take them to a reptile competent veterinarian who will properly treat them. Quarantine any new snakes brought into your collection for as long as it takes to make sure they’re clear of mites and other health problems.

The dangers of captive breeding

In a perfect world, this would close my article. However, I must mention some of the negative effects of captive breeding. Trying to score expensive morphs has a dark side. Extensive interbreeding with the primary goal of creating mutations comes with congenital deformities and other health issues. Especially defects of the spine and tail which have unfortunately become common.

Even two-headed snakes seem more common than twenty years ago although this might be due to the broadening of captive breeding. I know my opinion won’t change people’s actions, especially when it comes down to making money.

Conclusion

I feel I’ve made a pretty good case here.

If you agree, disagree, or have any other comments pertaining to this article, please feel free to add your thought in the comments section below. 

Why You Should Buy Captive Bred Snakes Over Wild Caught

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