Drymarchon Caresheet

Drymarchon Caresheet

This caresheet is how we personally care for our Drymarchon. We aren’t saying it’s the only way, or the best way, as that is always a point of contention with all animal care and it’s somewhat subjective, but that it is our preferred way and has resulted in healthy and thriving animals.

Temps

Drymarchon do not appreciate nor tolerate heat. A hot spot of 80°F-84°F is the most they desire and an ambient temp of 74°F-76°F for the rest of the enclosure is best. Drymarchon can easily handle ambient temps in the low 70°F’s as long as they have a warm area in the low 80°F’s to utilize as needed.

Side Note:

     Wild specimens and ones kept in outdoor caging have been seen basking in 90°F but at least in captivity they seem to avoid that temperature. We have tried it on a few enclosures just to see if they would appreciate a small area at 90°F and the conclusion was that no, no they would not appreciate that. Also, it sort of cut their cage in half as it made the coolest spot in the heated half of the cage (6 foot cage) around 84°F so they just stopped going into that half of the cage unless they were just cruising. They wouldn’t stop and hang out for any amount of time on that side until we put it back to normal.

     We aren’t scientist. We aren’t making any claims with that anecdotal evidence. Drymarchon are strange snakes. They break stranger rules than this one. A diurnal snake that lives in deserts and tropical areas that hates 90°F temps does seem odd. This is a common new keeper mistake, but the facts are that they do avoid it. The danger with this issue is that heat stresses them out, so if a new keeper (New to Drymarchon, not reptiles in general) listens and keeps them in a small enclosure as a hatchling, but then cranks them to 90°F because “there’s no way, bro” and now the coolest spot in the whole tub is in the low 80°F’s, that baby will eventually stress itself to death or at least into bad shape. It will also burn through an insane amount of food as it cruises constantly plotting its escape. New keepers also aren’t very good at judging body shape and if they don’t notice the drop in mass, and therefor don’t increase food, then the animal will slowly starve even though it’s eating. Their metabolisms are insanely fast in normal temps when they don’t cruise constantly. It’s mind blowing in high heat. Just trust us, bro.

Enclosure

As adults they require larger enclosures than some expect when compared to other species of simliar length. a 6’x2′ enclosure, or around 12 square feet of floor space, is best as adults are very active and cruise quite a bit. Bigger is fine, just remember they will eventually touch every square inch of the cage with feces and you have to be able to clean it properly.

For juveniles it is the opposite. Hatchling Drymarchon require small cages such as v15 tubs from Vision in order to feel secure. If they feel insecure they will not eat. This is the most common issue when a new owner contacts us saying their new snake isn’t eating for them. Our first question is always “How big of an enclosure is it in now?” Drymarchon do not develop that famous appetite and confidence until they are around 8 months or older. Until then they are insecure and will absolutely refuse food if they don’t feel safe. 

Typically we keep them in v15 tubs for several months. Then v18 for a few more, and then v35. Once they outgrow that we move them into v70 tubs for about a year and then they graduate to their 6’x2′ enclosures. Time schedules are never firm, just an average. Each animal is unique and develops at its own pace.

Hides

Drymarchon require hides just like most snakes. We personally use large black hide boxes on one end of the cage, and a 28qt Rubbermaid on the other. The Rubbermaid container has a 2.5 inch hole cut out of the front and is filled with Sphagnum moss and kept damp at all times. The moss is disposed of and replaced as needed. Replacement time varies per animal as quite a few of them never soil their moss, a few use it like a litterbox, and most just have the occasional accident.

Or you may have one that likes to shove the moss out of the box, then poop in the box, and then crawl through all of the poop. She may then promptly head straight to the moss which covers it all in poop, for sure, but also has the added bonus of drying on the poop that is currently smeared all over the animal. Looking at you, Carmella. (One of our Yellowtail Cribos and the craziest snake we have ever worked with. She’s one of our favorites.)

Humidity

Drymarchon do well with 40%-60% humidity and a damp moss box. If it’s towards the lower side they will use the moss box more frequently. Don’t overthink it too much. They are very tolerant of various humidity levels in our experience. If it’s between those ranges and they have a humid moss box to use, then they will be just fine. 70-80% seems to be just fine as well but for us here in North East Texas 75% is the highest we really see and that’s only for rainy days.

Where we are located we only struggle to keep levels up during winter. We have a humidifier running all year to maintain a minimum, but during winter is when we burn through a lot of water. For long stretches of the year it barely turns on.

Substrate

This is a debated topic with most reptiles and Drymarchon are no different. Once again, this caresheet is how WE do it. It’s not us knocking anyone else’s method or saying this is the only way that works. Many people keep Drymarchon on various bedding and it works great for them. Cypress mulch, coco coir, aspen, etc… Spot clean as needed, and completely change as needed.

However, in our own experience with the sheer volume of liquid and runny waste Drymarchon produce, we personally never found spot cleaning to be sufficient and changing the entire 6 foot cage of bedding every 2-3 days is not only time consuming and exhausting, but expensive and wasteful. When things are time consuming and expensive eventually human nature rationalizes excuses to avoid doing them. Due to this we have found a paper substrate to be the cleanest environment we can offer our animals and due to the number of Drymarchon we work with we have found it to be the least time consuming method as well.

Some people worry the snake doesn’t feel natural, but we argue that bedding in a cage isn’t natural either and that when in the field herping we find the most snakes in, around, and under human trash. Snakes seem much less concerned with natural than humans are. Plus they have moss boxes to explore and dig around in as they see fit, and for a safe humid area to relax in during a shed. But yes, their substrate is paper. We have 1000 foot rolls of 2 foot wide Kraft paper in the room on a cutter stand and we simply tear off the proper sized piece as needed.

Cage Sanitation

We use food grade 12% Hydrogen Peroxide diluted to 6% in a spray bottle for all cleaning in our facility. This not only kills bacteria, and is totally safe for the animals, but it foams up on areas you may have not realized were dirty. Our favorite thing about it is how it foams up debris in corners of cages. Instead of fighting the corner we just foam it out and wipe it away.

Our complete process is to remove the animal and secure it. Remove hides and water bowl. Remove paper and throw it away. Spray down cage interior and wipe it down. Put the new paper in and then spray the hides and wipe them down as well. Check the moss box for feces or urates and make sure its damp and spray it down with water if it needs it. Fresh water and bowl and then we place everything back in the cage and return the animal.

Feeding

Drymarchon are famous for their insane appetites and wild feeding responses. Our tamest most sociable snakes will come flying out of the cage right at our faces during feeding time. And trust us, they KNOW when it’s feeding time. The fun part is that they often miss and then lash out at anything that catches their eye for the next second or two. Even water bowls. We recommend tongs when feeding.

While all of that is true, this doesn’t apply to babies. It kicks in the closer they get to a year old. Usually 8-10 months, sometimes earlier. Hatchling Drymarchon are shy and reclusive until then. They are small and vulnerable and they know this. Don’t expect your new hatchling Dry to be a beast. That time will come though.

When Eastern Indigos (Drymarchon couperi) hatch they rarely want rodents. Converting Eastern Indigos to rodents is a challenge and something we take care of here before they are allowed to leave. The rest of the Drymarchon species will typically eat frozen thawed pink mice as a first meal with no fuss. If they do fuss about it scenting with day old chicks or offering baby quail usually works. Or even a drop of tuna juice on the prey.

A varied diet is often mentioned for Drymarchon, and it’s true, you should vary their diet. However, with couperi we do not recommend doing this until they have developed a ravenous appetite, and don’t worry…they will. If you offer fish or something besides a ft pink to a hatchling Eastern that was already on pinks they very often decide they no longer want pinks and once that happens they have to be reconverted to eating them. So pinks only for Easterns until they are aggressive and greedy eaters. For us this is typically when two things are regularly occuring. One, they are waiting at the opening of their enclosure during feeding time. Two, they aggressively attack the prey while it’s still on the tongs. Once they will act like that you can feed them anything at any time.

We offer a staple of rodents and day old chicks to Drymarchon with the occasional fish, reptile, or even raw frog legs from the grocery store as treats. They go nuts for frog legs. As treats we’ll sometimes offer raw shrimp, crawfish, and chicken gizzards.

We feed an average of twice a week but this breaks down to 2-3 times a week during spring because their appetites are increased during this time and they are always at the door looking for food. Most of the year it’s twice a week, and during winter it’s once a week or less.

You will eventually learn your Drymarchon’s patterns and judge when to feed them. We keep a schedule for the room, but on a per animal basis it’s flexible. For example we know that Ixtla, a beautiful high red Guerrero phase Drymarchon m. rubidus, stops feeding before she goes blue for shedding. We know when she’s going to shed before her eyes blue over because of this. Most of them will eat while blue. Carmella, our favorite Yellowtail Cribo, won’t eat if we can see her. She’s very secretive for a Dry. So pay attention to your animal. Drymarchon have insanely fast metabolisms and while 3 times a week may seem like powerfeeding if you’re used to pythons, its completely normal in the Dry world. 

As far as size of prey it’s important to remember that Drymarchon cannot stretch around large prey. A huge male adult may or may not be able to eat a medium rat. Most of ours can only eat small rats as adults (with some brands they can eat mediums, but the brand we use most often for frozen rodents has beefy mediums and they are a bit too big) and due to this we feed them multiple small items per feeding. Such as two or three small rats, or 3 or 4 chicks at once.

Water

As with most animals, Drymarchon require access to fresh clean water at all times. Our rule is simple, if the cage is being cleaned its getting fresh water. Because Drymarchon rarely make it to a third day without soiling their cages this ensures a constant supply of fresh water. During winter when their metabolisms are slower we just make sure to change the water on everyone every 2 to 3 days.

Weight Maintenance

So with adults we rarely actually weigh them, its really just visual. There’s an on going debate as to the proper shape of Drymarchon. Round or triangular? We aren’t biologist, or scientist of any kind. So we don’t know, and aren’t going to base it on anything other than pictures of wild animals. We made that decision after reading argument after argument on various forums around the internet. After looking at as many wild pictures as possible, and still following Drymarchon on iNaturalist to this day, we settled on round. It seems to us that most wild Drymarchon lean to the round side and many are very round. Very few seem triangular which would lead us to believe that its not a healthy animal or maybe just laid eggs.

With that said, round is a bit subjective. If we keep them fat they will live short lives and die of liver or heart issues. As far as we can tell in wild snakes the average build is round up to the top of the spine. No smooth trench running the length of the spine where the side tissue rises higher than the peaks of the vertebrae. So we decided if our snakes looked like you could pour water down them and channel it to a cup than they are overweight and we simply feed less for awhile. It’s essentially a constant balancing act and we just interact with and visually inspect our animals multiple times a week. If they are leaning thin we bump it up and if they are leaning towards fat we slow it down. We want a nice firm and strong animal, not squishy. This species has been described for years as feeling like steel cable wrapped in snake leather and it’s accurate.

Handling

Drymarchon do extremely well with handling but do not like to sit still. They are powerful, quick, and inquisitive. When they are out you absolutely have to keep an eye on them. They can turn a whole backyard into a pinball machine, and you’re the paddles. This applies from hatchling to adult. I walk them in my large fenced backyard and redirect them with a hook to keep them going in safe directions.

Beyond that, once Dry’s are past their initial insecure hatchling phase they are very resistant to stress from basic proper handling. However, they have moods and you should know your snakes moods after several months. I have snakes that are always down to come out. I have some that are cage defensive and will absolutely box me if given the chance, but once calmly outed via hook they are puppies and handle just fine and go outside for “walks” with me. I also have snakes that are usually ready to come out and cruise but sometimes they are in a mood and lash out. I know them well enough by adult age that I just move on to the next one and don’t push the issue with them. They vary just like people. Learn their moods and handle them accordingly. Knowing their moods is also extremely beneficial in quickly noticing health issues.

Conclusion

We can ramble on all day about Drymarchon. They are complex and not enough studies have been done on them in their native region south of the border. The Eastern Indigo steals the show in captivity and usually wins the grants in the wild. There’s a lot left to learn. This caresheet was not intended to be a complete work on Drymarchon and just a quick care guide. If you see us at shows and want to dive deep just come talk to us.