My Method for Feeding Baby Rhino Ratsnakes
Written by Sue Knight
Rhino's have an aversion or so it seems to swallowing large food items, hardly surprising when you look at the size of there neck. Below is the methods I use to feed my hatchlings, there isn't one tried and tested method, as each hatchling is individual, so what works for one may not work for another. The most effective method and the one that I have the most success with is what's known as strike feeding but with a little assistance.
Rhino Ratsnake hatchlings can be a little flighty making strike feeding in their enclosure a bit of a nightmare as they will generally flee. Your on to a good start if one stands its ground and shows a bit of attitude, these are usually the ones that present the least problems when attempting to feed them.
The first thing you need when feeding hatchling Rhino Ratsnakes is PATIENCE and lots of it, secondly the ability to sit or stand perfectly still.
To get started you want to cut the heads off defrosted pinkies and have them in a dish next to you, also a glass of water or beaten egg white to lubricate the pinkie head making it easier for the hatchling to swallow it. A pair of tweezers and get yourself comfortable.
I usually sit on the floor crossed legged and plug myself into an ipod, as this helps me to relax, the last thing you want to be is uptight.
In one hand have the tweezer/hemostats with the pinkie head in it, remembering to lubricate it.
Pick the hatchling up and let it crawl through your fingers, when at about mid body, halt it by gently restricting its movements, this usually elicits a defensive strike at which point you move the pinky head in front of it, generally resulting in it striking out again and biting into the pink. You don't want to pull or jerk when it strikes as most usually this results in it letting go. Once the hatchling has the pinkie in its mouth, you need to be very still, it will likely then begin to eat it ... although they can be very shy and hesitant about this, which is why I say make yourself comfortable, it can take up to 30 minutes for them to eat, but more usually they hesitate for a few minutes then begin swallowing, but very slowly and unsure. I also find that I have more success if you can manoeuvre the snake so its hanging upside down. I also have a feeding branch in the rep room and if I'm real careful can hook the snake on there, so I can then focus on the next one. If the snake lets go, then try this method again, it may take several attempts before it gets the idea to start eating.
After a few feeds of one pinkie head, you can then offer a couple, the second food item is generally taken alot easier and faster than the first. Once they have become accustomed to feeding in this way, you can try strike feeding from within their enclosure, offering the food item as soon as you lift the lid of their tub, this way they don't have the opportunity to flee.
The second method I use, is the same as the above, but for hatchlings that won't strike out when approached with the pinkie head, this method is called tease feeding. Whilst holding it mid body, gently tap it on the side of the mouth, this may take a few taps, before it strikes out and takes the pinkie or opens its mouth all defensively, at which point you pop the pinkie head in and act like a statue. Again hanging it upside down, seems to work better.
Thirdly, for real stubborn hatchlings, I'll assist feed. For this I use mouse tails that have been lubricated with beaten egg white. Holding the hatchling behind the head, I push against the mouth with the mouse tail, you want the mouse tail to be facing in the direction of the hairs, so there is no resistance when it takes it down. Pushing against the mouth (gently) usually has them open it, at which point you push the tail into the back of their throat, no further, then be still and they will begin taking it down. If pushing against the mouth with the tail doesn't work, I have long nails so use my middle finger nail to gently prise the mouth open and pop the pink in, but thats really a learnt manoeuvre. Using a credit/store card or blunt probe sideways on works well at opening the mouth too.
Pinkie heads can also be used to assist feed, but I've always found they are not taken down so readily, and the hatchling shakes it head to expel the pinkie, if you want to use pinkie heads and that's the reaction your getting, when you have popped the pink in the mouth, gently hold the mouth shut, so the teeth are forced into the food, anchoring it in there. The hatchling then has a longer time to think about eating.
With assist feeders, for their next feed I start with the first method, if that doesn't work then on to the second and lastly will assist feed again. Assist feeding doesn't 'teach' the snake to strike or feed for itself, it just gives it some nutrients to keep it alive.
Difficult feeders are frustrating and yes, they take extra time, but most will kick in feeding voluntarily after several feeds and progress on to whole pinkies. Don't give up with them, they are hardy little thing, despite their delicate appearance and as they grow your rewarded by the beautiful transformation from grey hatchling to green adult.
The above methods not only work for Rhino Ratsnakes, but for a variety of snakes.
I hope that by sharing my methods that it helps with those who are experiencing problems ... after every Euro show I get messages asking for help because they get them back to the UK and find they are not feeding.
If you have experience with feeding difficult Rhino Ratsnake babies, would love to hear about it, especially so if your methods differ from my own :)