pit viper in captivity
are various attributes and statements that have been used to decribe
Wagler's viper in captivity: docile snake, lethargic, beautiful but
difficult to keep and feed, problems with lung infection, constipation
of these potential problems may arise, or not, depending on how one
generally approaches husbandry of this snake. This snake, with exception
to adult females, is primarily a lizard eater. Those who have ever
experienced the speed with which this viper strikes at geckos (even
following the prey if necessary) know its true nature.
ecological pecularities like preference for certain food items and
other things have to be considered right from the beginning if one
wishes to be successful in keeping this snake healthy. Wagler's viper
reacts very sensitive to alterations of climatic conditions. However,
once these are taken care of properly, it can be kept healthy for
many years. Then, the snakes may also breed regularly.
go right into the matter and name the three most
important points which have been cited by others,
but are too often ignored by snake lovers:
Tropidolaemus wagleri requires high
humidity, 80% and up. Of course, not constant rain showers
or wet resting places.
- This snake needs to drink water regularly. Drinking here means not just some drops at the wall of the container, but providing water as long as the animal wants to drink (by spraying droplets on the body and let the snake drink it, or applying water directly to the mouth using a pipette). Offering water in a shallow bowl may be accepted by some animals, but most don't!! Therefore, it is necessary to spend as much time as possible watering the snakes. This point is neglected by most keepers. Not doing so will result in digestive problems, ultimately clogging the intestine by dehydrated and hardened undigested matter. In the worst case, the intestinal tissue can stick to the fecal pellet. Wagler's viper needs a lot of water to discharge uric acid effectively. It is a myth that Wagler's viper cannot digest hairy prey: they just need enough water to digest it!
Lots of fresh air, for instance
by means of small electric fans (like the ones used to cool computers)
installed in a large container, or by continuous operation of an
air-pump (as used for the aquarium) in a small container. Electric fans should be time-controlled running for a few minutes each hour. Negligence
of these facts results, sooner or later, to lung infections which
are often due to the common soil bacterium Pseudomonas
aeruginosa. As we discuss in the 'health' section, this
still needs not be of much concern as it can be cured by putting
an affected animal under the right environmental conditions. When
bacteria reach other parts of the body, however, antibiotic treatment
may be inevitable to save the animal.
fans, installed in ventilation slots or shafts of a container,
and controlled by a timer, improve climatic conditions
T. wagleri is a lowland tropical rainforest inhabitant, temperatures
of 28-32° C during the day are fine, and dropping down
to 24-25° C at night (although this is by no means a rule in all
habitats in the wild). However, keeping the snake constantly at 23-24°C,
which has been recommended already, does certainly not reflect the
natural situation. This may be suitable for animals from higher altitudes,
however, then one should know the snake's exact geographic origin.
to 'adapt' Wagler's vipers to any given condition is not a successful
approach. Rather doing the opposite, fitting conditions to the particluar
snake by especially maintaining a suitable climate (the two basic
points!) is of prime importance. This includes constant checks on
ventilation (and readiness to make immediate alterations if necessary)
and daily observation of the behavior of the animal. A healthy Wagleri
is usually recognized by an S-shaped resting position, being highly
alert during night to movements or changes in temperature which are
detected with its heat sensors hidden in the loreal pits.
male from Sulawesi drinking water droplets attached to the wall
of the container
Spraying the (preferably dense) vegetation and the snake itself with
water is highly recommended. The best time to do that is in the late afternoon
or evening, shortly before or after the light has been switched off.
Wagler's pit vipers do not like to become confronted with a beam of
fine water droplets (then they shake their heads, a sign of distress).
They prefer larger drops of water like in nature. Humidity can be kept high by using appropriate filling materials for the bottom of a container that retain water; e.g. porous clay or coconut shell.
stimulates the animals to drink. They turn their heads towards the
body, and start drinking water droplets attached to it. Do not expect
a Wagleri to move to and drink from a small container filled with
water nearby, they usually don't do that. It is advisable to replenish
water as long as the animal is drinking. This may be a time-consuming
activity. Be prepared of doing that for hours, depending on the size
of your snake collection. How often a Wagleri drinks depends on seasonal
factors, its health status, and whether or not is has to digest prey.
Clearly, the snakes need more water when digesting prey and when they
are ill. A healthy Wagleri may not drink much for several weeks, just
to change that habit instantly, requiring large amounts of water.
is a convenient (for the snake keeper) and a healthy (for the snake)
approach to keep a Wagleri in an aqua-terrarium. The water level should
be quite low, about 5-10 cm, and branches of wood or stones should
provide easily accessible resting sites. Water temperatures of about
25-30 °C are fine, and a strong air-pump should agitate the water
providing fresh air. A large water body keeps humidity at the required
high level (controlled by water temperature and ventilation), reducing
the need of extensive spraying. This type of container is also advantageous
because the snakes can take a bath which Wagleris actually do occasionally,
especially after shedding skin. Once a snake enters the water it usually
starts defecating. Wagleris that are kept under such conditions do
not show constipation. This setup also reflects the natural situation,
as the snake is often found close to streams or in mangroves. Of course,
such a setting requires an easily accessible water container, as regular
changes of water are necessary.
This beautifully coloured female is kept in a well arranged aqua-terrarium.
Note that the snake is just resting above the water surface.
of a cage suitable for large temple vipers (terrarium of Ewald Toenjes). Note
the dense vegetation, the horizontically arranged branches and that the floor is covered with porous clay balls, which aid in maintaining high humidity. Containers like this one require additional
ventilation by small fans, as air-flow may become stagnant
under plants or in other places providing suitable conditions
for pathogenic bacteria to grow. Needless to say that regular
removal of decaying plant matter or snakes' feces is mandatory.
Dense vegetation that prevents visual contact among vipers is helpful to avoid stress induced by territorial behaviour.
Laboratory-bred mice or rats are the most convenient food items for feeding snakes. Most Wagler's vipers accept
rodents right away, or can be adapted to that diet. However, some adult male and juvenile temple vipers notoriously reject rodents.
If there are no lizards available, it must be clear that some specimens
need regular forced or assisted-feeding sessions.
More on that in the 'breeding' chapter. This is the point, where this
poisonous snake cannot be recommended
to an inexperienced person. Although lizards or frogs may be highly accepted by the snakes, wild-caught prey poses a health threat as it could contain pathogens. We have experienced losses due
to infections acquired through geckos.
Adult males can be tricked to accept food items by provoking a bite. Warm up a dead mouse or rat in front of a light source, and tip the snake with this on the tail. After some time, the viper will strike, eventually keeping hold of the prey. Checking this out requires time. Patience is necessary. Needless to say that these activities are only successful during night time, or shortly after the light has been switched off.
feeding: one way to raise
juveniles and feed adults in captivity. A piece of a newborn
mouse (usually a leg or a tail) is gently placed into a
juvenile's mouth, hoping that the animal starts swallowing
by its own. Well, this is often not the case, then you have
to repeat the whole thing. Once juveniles grow larger they
start to accept this procedure by becoming less resistant.
Be especially patient with males!
feeding, i.e. massaging
whole pieces down to
the stomach, is not recommended. Better, a mouse is chopped
up into pieces using a pinky pump and the resulting pulp
is inoculated into the snake's oesophagus using a very soft
adult females are usually good rodent eaters, but tend to become overfed.
Offering a mouse or small rat every 3 or 4 weeks (or even longer periods)
is sufficient, given the highly sedentary lifestyle of this snake.
Birds are also well accepted, and probably reflect the natural diet of adult females. Females can keep feces for months (up tp 6 months may be possible).
Then, certain measures should be taken to stimulate defecation.
Placing the snake into a shallow water bath for some hours may help
(aqua-terraria provide this opportunity every day). If the snake still
refuses to release feces, a gentle massage towards the cloaca should
do the job.
size of the container also influences the constipation problem: Wagleris
should be given ample space, meaning
that once these rarely moving snakes actually become active they like
to wander around which often triggers defecation. Small containers
(e.g. equal to or shorter than the snake's head-to-tail length) clearly
limit this ability. Males behave differently, as they usually defecate
after each meal.
to the wide distribution of this species, populations
differ considerably with regard to food preference and general
behavior (because they probably represent different species; see
chapter 'Taxonomy'). However, the two main climatic requirements
mentioned above usually apply to all of them. Philippine (Luzon)
male and female vipers and juveniles readily accept mice and are
quite agressive during day and night. This is also true for animals
from some locations in Borneo. Vipers from the Malayan peninsular,
in contrast, are usually quite docile (at daylight only!) and reflect
much of the 'typical Wagleri' known by the reptile hobbyist community.
Sumatran populations are similar in coloration to the Malayan form,
but are usually more aggressive than the latter. Anyhow, when the
right prey is in sight and climatic conditions are favourable, any
Wagler's viper stikes with enormous speed and power.