The usefulness of brumation
On July 8th, 2009 my three-year-old San Francisco garter snake (T. sirtalis tetrataenia) gave birth to of 22 perfect, live young and one dead, two-headed young.
The father of the young was 3 years old.
The 22 baby snakes were placed in two groups of 11 specimen in relatively small terrariums. Most of the 22 juveniles ate perfectly in a week. A few of hem waited two weeks before they accepted food. In those days I initially offered my offspring garter snakes only smelt. I placed these fish, cut into bite-sized pieces, in a dish in a thin layer of water. When smelt is not accepted you can always switch to other, less accessible food items.
The latter was necessary for six snakes that did not want to eat. These six were housed in a separate enclosure, along with two food-refusing Guatemala garter gnakes (Thamnophis fulvus) which were born on June 26, 2009; the ten others from the fulvus litter ate well.
These six “misfits” were offered the following: live guppies, earthworms, small slugs, chicken fillet, chicken hearts, chicken stomach, chicken liver and smelt.
Two of the six San Francisco garter snakes almost immediately ate pieces of smelt and chicken heart. The other four (as also the two Guatemala garter snakes) refused to eat this food.
I left the two eating T. s. tetrataenia in the same terrarium as the non–eaters to encourage them to eat, but this gave no result.
On August 12, 2009 both non-eating fulvus were found dead in the terrarium. The four non-eating San Francisco garter snakes still looked in good health and were active. The two eating specimen grew well and weighed four times their birth-weight. They were almost as large as their brothers and sisters that were eating perfectly from the beginning. I placed the two in the terrarium with them.
Because I was afraid the four non-eating snakes would die I started to force-feed them with tails of smelt. The food was not regurgitated and the snakes stayed quite active. I force-fed them once a week and also kept offering them all kinds of food every 3th or 4th day.
After four times force-feeding them I stopped doing this because, in the end, this is useless. The only thing achieved is that they do stay alive, but they do not, or hardly, grow because of the stress they get from the force-feeding.
From mid-September to mid-October I offered them food 1 – 2 times per week, but they would not eat anything!
I decided to euthanize them. They each weighed 2 – 3 grams and had not grown in length since they were born.
In comparison, their brothers and sisters who ate well were at that time around 30 cm long and weighed ten times their birth weight.
When I took the little ones out of their terrarium I noticed they reacted still fairly alert, but were pretty lean.
Because of their alertness I came back on my decision to euthanize them and instead, I placed them in a plastic box (in which you buy crickets) with moist sawdust and placed this in our refrigerator in the kitchen.
I now and than heard of snakes that were not (or poor) eating that started eating after brumating them. So why not experiment with four “doomed to die” snakes.
I placed them in the refrigerator on September 22, 2009 (temperature: 6-7 degrees Celsius) and took them out again on October 11, 2009. I placed them back in their heated terrarium and 5 days later I placed small dish with 4 small smelts (4 cm) on it. One hour later there were 4 tiny San Francisco garter snakes, with filled belly’s, lying under the warmth lamp. The dish was empty.
Since than they ate every 3-4 days and started to grow. Two of them were sold about a year later (and are still doing well as far as I know) and the two others are part of my breeding group and in perfect health.
Conclusion: the 21 days in the refrigerator were a great stimulus for the four, non-eating garter snakes to start eating without problems.