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Common Egg-eating Snake (Dasypeltis scabra) Care Sheet

 

Refer to the General Snake Care Sheet for more information on the basic keeping of Common Egg-eaters before reading this section!

Common Egg-eater Picture

| Introduction & Description | Common Egg-eater Fact Sheet | Egg-eating Snakes As Pets | Obtaining Egg-eaters | Bare Minimum For Keeping Egg-eating Snakes | Captive Care Environment For Egg-eating Snakes | Handling Egg-eating Snakes | Egg-eating Snake Behaviour | Egg-eating Snake Food | Feeding Egg-eating Snakes | Force-feeding Egg-eating Snakes | Eggs | Egg-eating Snake Reproduction | Egg-eating Snake Books | Related Topics | References & Further Reading |
| Email This Page | Common Egg-eater Zoology |

Introduction & Description:

Egg-eating snakes are a small group of snakes which diet only consists of entire bird eggs. They are fascinating snakes of which most are naturally restricted to the African continent.

Common Egg-eating snakes (Dasypeltis scabra) are naturally restricted to most parts of southern Africa. They have slender bodies with heavy roughened keeled scales. The normal colouration of these snakes is grayish to grey-brown with darker rhombic (squarish) markings or blotches or chevrons (v-shapes) down the back. The underside is white, sometimes with dark spots or flecks. The inside of the mouth is black and there are no or reduced teeth present.

A uniform brown variation without any markings, apparently called the Brown Egg-eater, is commonly found in the southern parts of South Africa's Orange Free State. According to the literature these snakes are a bit smaller than Common Egg-eaters.

When a nervous Egg-eater is agitated it will most often coil and uncoil its body in a horse shoe-like conformation, causing the lateral scales to rub over each other. This will cause a hissing-like rasping sound, much like the true hissing sounds of more dangerous snakes. At the same time it will start to lift its head and attempt to attack by striking out viciously with an open mouth. The lining of the mouth is very dark and the teeth are reduced or totally absent (although the subfamily Dasypeltinae makes up the solid toothed colubrids). Egg-eaters are kept more for their remarkable feeding habits rather than for its appearance.

Because Egg-eaters are indigenous to South Africa and because they are at this stage more commonly caught from the wild instead of being captive bred (South Africa), please refer to the Common Egg-eater Zoology page for more information on wild Egg-eaters and Egg-eaters in their natural environment.

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Common Egg-eater Fact Sheet:

Common Name(s):

Common Egg-eater, African Egg-eater, Rhombic Egg-eater, Egg-eater, Egg-eating snake or "Gewone Eiervreter" & "Eiervreter" (Afrikaans).

Scientific Name: Dasypeltis scabra
Birth Size: 21 - 26 cm / 8 - 10 "
Mature Size: 45 - 75 cm / 18 - 30 " (max. 1.2 m / 4 ft - avg. 75 cm / 30 ")
Colour Morphs: Brown & Wild or Normal morphs are available.
Temperature: 22 - 30 C / 73 - 85 F during summer with a drop to non-heated room temperature during winter
Brumation (hibernation):

natural brumators

Danger To Man: none
Life Span: unknown
Captive Care Food: bird eggs
Supplementation: No supplementation is necessary, raw egg are all they need.
Temperament: aggressive (especially wild caught animals)
Similar Species:

The Brown Egg-eater (also Dasypeltis scabra). The Common egg-eater can be confused with the Rhombic Night adder (Causus rhombeatus). Other Dasypeltis species include D. medici, D. atra & D. inornata. The Indian Egg-eater (Elachistodon westermanni) also closely parallels the African types, with the same spinal adaptation for egg-sawing. The smaller male Western Hognose snake (Heterodon nasicus) might also appear similar to the untrained eye.

Other: -


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Egg-eating Snakes As Pets:

Pros
Egg-eaters are mainly held as pets for their fascinating feeding habits. Many people might also prefer them because they have reduced or no teeth and cannot cause painful bites. These snakes only reach a small mature size which makes them easy to handle and keep. If fed correctly they will only eat once a month or even less! Because of their exclusive egg diet, proper managed terrariums do not smell bad and faeces can be removed easily and effectively from preferred substrates.

Cons
Unfortunately the diet can also pose as a problem. Eggs can be hard to get hold off, especially outside the general avian breeding season. Although there are other ways to feed these snakes it is not an easy procedure and can take a bit of practice. In most South African provinces (excluding Kwazulu-Natal) one needs keeping and transport permits from Nature Conservation to own Egg-eaters. Refer to the About Reptile Permits page for more information on keeping and transport permits for indigenous Egg-eating snakes. Most Egg-eating snakes are somewhat aggressive by nature and can not be readily handled like other pet snakes. They are also nocturnal (night living).

All-and-all these snakes do not make very good or attractive pets, but hobbyists might want to keep them for the fascinating snakes they are.

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Obtaining Egg-eaters:

These snakes are abundant all over South Africa, and become even more abundant in urban areas during the start of the winter period. During these months it is not uncommon to hear of a few cases where a snake or two were discovered in a garage or even a house which ended up in a glass bottle (or sometimes killed by the dogs or their owners). At this stage in time it is only Kwazulu-Natal (KZN) residents who can legally catch and keep Egg-eaters as pets or collect their eggs from the wild.  Pet shops in this province are also allowed to trade with this indigenous species.

European and American literature also refers to these snakes, meaning they are still being-, or were exported to these countries in the past where they are available commercially today.

Although Common Egg-eaters are abundant all over South Africa, Gauteng residents need appropriate transport and keeping permits to have one of these sakes in their possession. These permits are only available from the Gauteng Nature Conservation via an approved herpetological association. Only registered professional "problem snake" removers with catching permits are allowed to transfer wild caught specimens onto a legal permit. Only permitted snakes are then allowed to be transported between members of the same herpetological association. Refer to the About Reptile Permits page for more information on keeping and transport permits for Egg-eaters.

A wild caught or newly introduced Egg-eating snake should be quarantined for at least 90 days before it should be introduced into an established snake collection. Refer to the General Animal Bio-security & Quarantine section for more information on how and why to quarantine Egg-eating snakes.

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The Bare Minimum For Keeping Egg-eating Snakes:

The minimum requirements for keeping Egg-eating snakes are listed below. Refer to the General Snake Care Sheet for more information on the basic keeping of snakes before reading this section:

  • a keeping permit (in South Africa)
  • aquarium / reptile cabinet
  • correct size eggs
  • small to medium hide-box
  • small to medium water bowl
  • warm room or heat pad / heat strip

Suitable substrates for Egg-eating snakes include newspaper, indoor-outdoor carpet and dry sand. Refer to the Suitable Substrates For Reptiles section for more information on these substrates.

Average (non-heated) room temperature in South African or tropical areas should be warm enough for these species. Cooler room temperatures (below 23 C / 73 F) will need extra heating equipment like a heat pad or heat strip to supply a warmer area on one side of the terrarium. Refer to the the Accessories & Other Stuff for Herptiles section for more information on adequate / recommended heating equipment.

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Captive Care Environment For Egg-eating Snakes:

Summer temperatures should be between 22 and 30 C / 73 and 85 F. A natural temperature gradient that exceeds both these temperatures should be maintained for thermoregulation. The correct temperature range in cooler areas can be obtained by installing a heat pad or heat strip on one side of the terrarium.

Washed and dried play sand or river sand can be used as a more natural and attractive looking substrate. When using this substrate, eggs should be clean and dry or served on a feeding platform to prevent sand from sticking to the shell and getting swallowed by the snake.

Common Egg-eating snakes are arboreal and like to climb. Tall enclosures with branches and artificial plants for climbing are excellent for enrichment. In nature these snakes will sometimes climb up trees and rob bird nests from their eggs. Old, empty fink / finch nests make good hiding for smaller specimens. Elevated old bird nests or small containers of similar shape and size with nesting material is often the preferred hiding for these snakes.

The rest of the environmental factors for captive snakes are discussed in the General Snake Care Sheet.

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Handling Egg-eating Snakes:

Because Egg-eaters are somewhat aggressive it is not recommended to handle them a lot. They might show aggressive behaviour when approached, but will most often not try to bite after handling commences. These snakes do not wrap snugly around an arm like pythons or kings. They tend to pick a direction and go for it. Though they are small in body mass, they are quite strong. Support the middle of the body and give free rein to the head. The head can be gently guided into a preferred direction. Many snakes are nervous when introduced into a new situation with new people and should be given a couple of days to settle down before letting new people handle them.

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Egg-eating Snake Behaviour:

Egg-eating snakes are nocturnal, spending most of the day hiding beneath rocks, under loose bark or in bird nests. They will sometimes climb up trees and rob bird nests of their eggs. Common Egg-eaters will often spend their winter in empty termite mounds to brumate during which they will not eat until its warm enough to come out again (seasonal anorexia). During the autumn months they are frequently found in- and around homes and around urban areas seeking shelter for the winter. In South Africa captive kept specimens can spend the winter months in temperatures similar to the outside.

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Egg-eating Snake Food:

These snakes have an exclusive egg diet. Entire, fresh, bird eggs are all they need. Under natural conditions it is speculated that hatchling Egg-eating snakes might also eat gecko, ant and probably any other small sized non-bird eggs. In captivity juveniles and young adults will consume one to up to a few small quail, budgie and pigeon eggs while adults will accept bantam fowl ("kapokkie") eggs and in some cases small to medium chicken eggs. Very large adults will easily consume regular sized chicken eggs. Refer to the Eggs section for more information on the size and contents of different bird eggs.

The correct size egg can sometimes be a problem to obtain. This is especially true for hatchling snakes and during the winter months. This problem can be alleviated by keeping laying birds or by having a bird breeder in your area. Some pet shops might also be able or generous enough to supply unwanted / unfertilized eggs.

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Feeding Egg-eating Snakes:

Snakes should be fed until they are full and then again only after it has defaecated. There should be no little meals in between. All the eggs should preferable be fed on the same day, but never more than two days apart. Sometimes a snake may prefer only to eat over a two day period. Adult Egg-eaters are known to gorge on a large number of eggs and then have a long fast (one to two months), even when offered eggs. The size of the eggs to be fed will be discussed in the eggs section below. Eggs can be placed on the floor of the container or under a hide box. It should be left alone for one to two days. Snakes will be more likely to eat during the night or with dark surroundings.

Fresh, clean, intact eggs with no cracks or chips should be used. Eggs should be fed at room temperature. Refrigerated eggs can be left for an hour or so outside to reach room temperature. Eggs should never be placed in the sun, under direct light or be microwaved.  Excessive temperatures will cause denaturation of the egg proteins and rotting of the rest of the content. Rotten eggs usually smell bad or it will float when placed in tap water. Fresh budgie or other small eggs will also float because of their weight : size relationship, but darker colouration is an indication for development. Fresh budgie eggs should almost be transparent where rotten eggs becomes more darker in colour. Rotten or developed eggs can kill snakes and should never be offered. Although Egg-eating snakes have the ability to detect bad eggs, their judgement to select should never be used as a reliable way to identify dangerous eggs.

Go to the Reptile & Amphibian Feeding Problems page to see what to try if an Egg-eater refuses to eat.

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Force Feeding Egg-eating Snakes:

Although hatchling snakes can take up to twelve months to die under experimental conditions, it is not recommended to let any Egg-eating snake without food for more than two months. Unfortunately these snakes will not drink or eat beaten egg from a bowl, so the only alternative is tube- or force feeding. Force-feeding should only be used in case of emergency and not as an easy way out of collecting eggs. Force-feeding should only be attempted under supervision of an experienced herper or veterinarian and is especially used to feed smaller snakes or hatchlings.

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Eggs:

A hungry Egg-eater can consume an egg with a diameter of up to ten times that of its own head! When feeding captive Egg-eaters the diameter should never be larger than four times the diameter of the head. When force feeding a snake, the equivalent quantity of two to five correct sized eggs should be fed. Rather feed less often than feeding small quantities at a time.  A snake can eat five and sometimes more eggs of the correct size and go without food for a few weeks.

The size, appearance and average contents of different eggs can be found on the Eggs page.


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Egg-eating Snake Reproduction:

Although wild Egg-eaters usually breed at the end of winter (after brumation), captive bred snakes may breed more or less any time of the year. Females are oviparous (egg-laying) and in the wild six to 25 (avg. ten) eggs are laid in summer. They apparently scatter their eggs rather than laying them as one clutch. Under natural conditions eggs will take two to three months to hatch. Eggs dimensions range from 27 - 46 by 15 - 20 mm / 1 - 1.8 by 0.6 - 0.8 ". In captivity a second clutch may be laid without further matings although fertility is usually low. Females are able to produce infertile eggs even if they were not mated by a male.

 

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"If you did not understand something or thought that I left a few things out, read the General Snake Care Sheet. If you think I should add more information to this section or think that something is incorrect, contact me and let me know. I would love to hear your ideas or methods you might use that is different than ours."

Last updated 6 May 2008 by Renier Delport

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"Always remember only to buy healthy animals from reputable pet shops and breeders. Make sure to buy animals that are captive bred in your own country and that it is not illegally imported or caught from the wild."

"If you've read something funny, or heard something that sounds out of place, use your common sense before applying. It is extremely important to do research from more than one source (before buying or accepting a new animal). Browse other internet pages, read related magazines and talk to experienced people."

Related Topics:

General Snake Care Sheet
Other Care Sheets
Common Egg-eater Zoology
Photoperiod & Brumation / Hibernation
General Animal Bio-security & Quarantine
Feeding Problems
Accessories & Other Stuff For Herptiles
Size, Appearance & Average Contents Of Different Eggs

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References & Further Reading:

Marais, Johan, 2004 A Complete Guide To The Snakes Of Southern Africa. Struik.

Bartlett, Patricia P., Grisworld, Billy, DVM & Bartlett, R.D., 2001 Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates - An Identification and Care Guide.

Marais, Johan, 1999 Snakes & Snake Bite in Southern Africa. Struik.

Miller, Stephan A. & Harley, John B., 1999 Zoology, Fourth Edition, WCB McGraw-Hill.

Mattison, Chris, 1998 Keeping & Breeding Snakes, Second Edition. Blandford.

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| Introduction & Description | Common Egg-eater Fact Sheet | Egg-eating Snakes As Pets | Obtaining Egg-eaters | Bare Minimum For Keeping Egg-eating Snakes | Captive Care Environment For Egg-eating Snakes | Handling Egg-eating Snakes | Egg-eating Snake Behaviour | Egg-eating Snake Food | Feeding Egg-eating Snakes | Force-feeding Egg-eating Snakes | Eggs | Egg-eating Snake Reproduction | Egg-eating Snake Books | Related Topics | References & Further Reading |
| Email This Page | Common Egg-eater Zoology |

 

 

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