Please note: the following has been kindly provided by Dr. Murdoch as an educational resource associated with his lecture, "care and breeding of green tree pythons" to the Philadelphia Herpetological Society on 25 July 97. It is not republishable without his consent.
Click here for a Chrondro photo by the author on a digital camera (Rec'd 16 Jan 1998.)

Winslow W. Murdoch, M.D.

1450 Boot Rd., #300A

West Chester, Pa., 19380

Ph. 610-692-4700 or 792-0460 {Sean Jacobs}

Fax. 610-993-9947

WEB SITE ADDRESS; HTTP://WWW.INTERSPHERE.COM/PHELSUMA/

INTRODUCTION

In 1983, I bought a pair of baby green tree pythons (from the first clutch produced at the Harford Reptile Breeding Center). They bred successfully in 1986, initiating my full-fledged CHONDROMANIA. Since then, I have compiled a collection of 22 spectacularly colored animals, with a passion for specimens with highly contrasting blue patterns (my "NATURES' MARVELS"). Adult coloration is highly variable, and quite different from the babies who can hatch fluorescent yellow, brick red, or chocolate brown all in the same clutch. Some adults appear painted in pastels of green, blue, yellow, and beige, with other areas of pure black and white, all in one animal! Others may have deeply contrasting rich color tones. I have observed that similar looking animals, with desirable color traits, often "breed true". As a result, breeding projects are just now creating captive born animals with unbelievable colors and patterns on a consistent basis. Personalities are variable but never boring! Thick prehistoric heads harbor an impressive set of teeth demanding respect, but their big eyes and deep heat sensory grooves give them an aura of extraterrestrial intelligence. Some are dog tame, while others are "psycho-killers." Most are very workable with experience, education, and the proper equipment. Being highly arboreal, green tree pythons tend to be extremely clean animals. If proper precautions are taken, they do not need to be moved to change water, remove feces or change substrate materials. Animals only reach an adult size of four to five feet, have a slow metabolism, and do not require much space to live. The time spent on general husbandry (for established animals) takes a fraction of what is necessary for most other herptiles. Larger collection size is therefore possible (for those with discretionary income). The information below is a summary of several breeder's current experiences, and will always be a work In progress. This is the first part of a series of articles that will be appearing in upcoming issues of the MONITOR magazine, and at our web site. This information is copyrighted by the author, and can not be copied without the written permission of the author, Winslow W. Murdoch, M.D., or the MONITOR magazine. The express purpose of this information is to help customers of NATURES MARVELS have excellent results after buying our baby green tree pythons. Other techniques may also work well, but the systems discussed have proven useful to us in over fifteen years of work with these pythons. These are truly beautiful animals as babies and adults, and hopefully others future successes with this species will generate even more incredible color variations of this extremely variable python. Further information about green tree pythons, and NATURES MARVELS can be obtained by contacting us on the web at http://www.intersphere.com/phelsuma/ or by E-mail at wmurdoch@bellatlantic.net and Sean Jacobs at phelsuma@erols.com

CARE OF OUR BABIES

If you have one of our babies, it was born in our facility, and is very well established. It will have the original care card attached. At a minimum, all our animals will have shed twice, and eaten five times unless otherwise specified. The bulk of the information below will therefore be just for your reading pleasure. It is critical, however, that you read this information carefully so that you will have the best chance for a problem free experience. We recommend that before receipt of our babies, you set up a small aquarium habitat with water on the bottom as substrate, to individually house each baby. Temperature gradients, and perches at various levels within the enclosure will be needed. You may enjoy putting Pathos plant clippings into the cage. Their cut ends should sit in the water, and the vine can be draped over the perches. Alternatively, plastic aquarium plants can achieve a similar purpose. These provide several secluded resting areas on the perches, between some leaves. Placing the habitat partially on a heating element can help to maintain high humidity, and a stable temperature of between 78F- 86F (preferably with a gradient that achieves this goal). Once in their pre-established and stable temperature regulated environment, the babies should be left alone for five to seven days before any feeding, or contact of any kind should be attempted. If the animal is resisting attempts at feeding with the above system, I suggest returning them to a shoe box like environment, as outlined below, to re-establish them in their new home.

 

CAGE REQUIREMENTS

Babies should be housed individually, in small well-ventilated cages. Rubbermaid shoeboxes, with numerous small drilled vent holes around the upper side walls are fine. Perches, the diameter of their girth, are placed an inch or two above the floor. PVC, plastic, and well-cured polyurethane coated bamboo, or wooden dowels, are all easy to clean and will not grow mold. An easy way to set up the perch system in a Rubbermaid container is to set four perches up in a tick tack toe fashion. The ends of one set of parallel perches rest on the inner flange portion of the container, at about the perfect height. The other set of perches can then be fastened to these supported perpendicular perches with a plastic locking cable tie, enabling the entire unit to be anchored, and moved as one piece (Walder, R.). A 1/4" of standing water works well as a substrate for the first week, preventing bad sheds, which are devastating to neonates. High humidity is always important before and during subsequent shedding cycles. Cleaning and fine misting (coarse sprays will panic baby Chondros) are done twice a week. Keep temperatures in the low 80s. A rack system, with dimmed heat cable under the back of the shoe boxes, is ideal for whole clutches. After the initial shed, the substrate can be changed to paper. A water bowel can be rotated to the back of the cage (over the heat), to boost the humidity as needed (pre-sheds, etc.), but maintenance humidity should not be kept too high as "scale-rot" may result (pers. obs.). To read more about juvenile and adult set ups, read the upcoming issues of the VIVARIUM, or check our web site for future postings. FEEDING After the first shed, regularly try (using long non-locking forceps) feeding warmed thawed pinkies, brained pinks, or tease feed with live just fuzzed mice. Pinkies; dipped in yolk, tipped with chick (quail and chicken) feathers, scented with skink, anole, gecko, frog (meat not skin), or dipped in the cavity of a fresh killed warm bird, are sometimes also needed. All animals should eventually eat, but in Trooper Walsh's experience with almost 500 neonates, "it can be, and usually is, a lot of fuss to get all specimens of a given litter to take first meals. Rarely you may get a clutch where all, or most babies will eat at the first trial. I would say on average 2/3 eat unscented first meals after several hours of tedious work. The last 1/3 may take several dozen hours, over days or weeks, using an arsenal of tricks. Small skinks and lizards are their natural prey (based on field studies) and tricking them into accepting unnatural prey may take some convincing. In recent years I have had much better success in feeding trials by day than at night. Perhaps at night their senses are on full alert and hatchlings in particular tend to be very defensive. In the day when awakened, you have the option of choosing the senses you stimulate with the food (sight, touch, smell, and infrared). Specimens are less on guard." With dim background light, present the head of the warmed food 1/4" in front of the baby's mouth, and slowly move it back and forth (Walder, R.). If the food is not quickly grabbed, "Touch tease" the tail, neck, or snout of the perched snake. Try anchoring and elevating the perch, preventing it from spinning around when the baby strikes, and enabling the animal to hang by its prehensile tail unobstructed by the floor while constricting and eating. Eliciting a strike constrict response is the goal. If the baby has the prey by the head, and has it in a constriction coil, it will usually instinctively start the lock-on jaw walking motion. Move away slowly, and repeat with re-warmed food until the animal eats. The "ZEN of Chondro" keeps you from crushing the neonates pretty little head, when it repeatedly drops the food. If the animal is acting afraid (crawling away or striking repeatedly without constricting) try again later. Keep at it! The sooner the babies eat, the better. When all else fails 8-12 weeks after the shed, (or sooner if the baby looks wrinkled, not due to dehydration or a bad shed, was a small neonate, or acts at all weak), I would try appropriate sized live food (fuzzies, lizards (anole, gecko, or skink), or? Froglets). Leave the food overnight in a small deli cup, with a perch for the baby snake. Rotate prey every few nights for a week or two, and mist the baby daily. More aggressive feeding techniques (that require manipulation of the neonates) are needed when babies fail all the above tactics, and become weak from anorexia, or lose 30% of their hatchling weight (Walder, R., pers. comm.). This is best done by someone with experience in Chondro neonate care, not by a first time breeder. Always avoid pulling a baby less than one year old off its perch. This can easily cause traction spine injuries ("kinky-tail syndrome"), which may not be noticeable for many months. (Walsh, T., pers. comm.). If you have to move a baby (or for that matter an adult), use its perch, or lift a forward coil with a hook (coat hangers for babies) and touch their rear end with another object to "chase" them up onto the hook. Once on the perch or hook, Chondros go up, so you can usually influence their behavior by adjusting the angle of your prop. Babies are more prone than adults to leap from their hook so be careful they are being held over a counter to break their fall (pers. obs.). Tube feeding (Barker, D., pers. comm.) consists of coaxing the animal up into a clear plastic tube slightly larger in diameter than the babies head, and 2/3-3/4 their length (this technique is also perfect for working with adult animals that need probing, medicating, manual shedding or restraint of any kind, but be sure their girth fits too). Once almost all the way up, a pinkie is inserted with forceps down the top of the tube, teasing a bite. To crawl through, it will have to eat the meal. You may have to hold still for 45 minutes, TV or radio is a must! If this fails, try using a thawed adult mouse tail. Cut off the tail on a bias at its base, and lubricate the cut end with a few drops of vegetable oil. Use the beveled base to pry the neonates mouth open, and gently insert the tail into the esophagus. The snake should instinctively begin eating after a few unsuccessful attempts at "throwing" the tail. It may be possible to slip a pinkie into the baby's mouth as the tip of the tail is disappearing, or sew a pinkie to the tail tip with gut suture material. As a final resort, use a pinkie pump. Ideally this is done by two people. Use the aid of the plastic tube described, and lubricate the insertion tip of the pump with vegetable oil prior to attempting each forced feeding. Handling and sex determination of babies should be kept to a minimum for the first year (or until babies are about 24 inches long and well established, which may occur as early as six months in some aggressively fed hatchlings), avoiding traction spine injury (Walsh, T.). Trials using hatchling weights to determine sexes have been less than perfect. Care cards are invaluable to keep meticulous track of each animal's progress; parent information, hatchling weight (avg. 6-11 grams), defecation, feeding, and shedding records.

FINAL REMARKS

Captive born are always a more desirable acquisition when starting a breeding colony. A new market for properly sexed captive born yearlings with spectacular markings will keep a niche open for high priced animals. The market is being increasingly supplied with wild baby and adult animals (often stressed, parasitized, with high mortality, Walsh,T., pers. comm.); they are more affordable, but buyer beware. Also, wild adult Indonesian female pythons breed inconsistently, unless obtained as properly deparasitized juveniles (Barker, D., pers. comm.). "Locality specific" traits are confusing. Several "types" may coexist in the same location (Walsh, T., & Molt, H., pers. comm.). Terms such as Aru, Biak, Sorong, Jayapura, Merauke, and Timika are often used by importers as marketing tools for animals of unknown true origin, based on characteristic color, pattern, eye color, and temperament. Locality specific traits do exist, and similar phenotypes (look alikes) may still "breed true," but there is no 100% guarantee (Walsh, T., pers. comm.). Future breeding trials may provide some answers. If others have more, or better information about this species, please contact me, as my success is still less than perfect. Also, I am always looking for drop dead gorgeous animals, so if you have any you could part with, I would be happy to hear from you. PS Thanks to all who contributed to my knowledge in these and related topics, specifically; Trooper Walsh (NATIONAL ZOO), Al Zulich (HARFORD REPTILES), Tracy & David Barker(VPIPYTHONS), Eugene Bessett (OPHIDIOLOGICAL SERVICES, Gary and Robin Braddock (INTELLIGENT PROPAGATIONS), Joseph Bredl, Sr., Hank Molt, Richard Ross, M.D., Marc Spataro (CHONDRO INC), Jim Vargin (EXCELLENCE IN CHONDROS), Rico Walder (SIGNAL HERPETOCULTURE), Fred Wilson (EXOTICS UNLIMITED) I would also like to thank the Frazier Zoo (610-644-4492) pet store for providing food and supplies at their cost to help further our efforts. Finally, special thanks go to Sean Jacobs, who has been working with the collection for four years, supplying time labor and insight, from almost a decade of experience in professional herpetoculture BIOGRAPHY OF AUTHOR Dr. Winslow W. Murdoch is a thirty-seven year old family physician who lives with his spouse and three children in Malvern, Pa.. In 1989, he founded Goshen Family Practice, which now employs four doctors, a Physician Assistant, a Nurse Practitioner, and a staff of fifteen. He has been involved with reptile husbandry since early childhood, and has been breeding pythons since 1983. In his copious free time the good doctor maintains a collection of 35 breeder snakes (Dumeril boas, Brazilian rainbow boas, and Diamond Carpet crosses) specializing in Morelia? (Python) viridis. Sean Jacobs has been with the facility (and also several other collections) for four years and has helped tremendously with the maintenance and care of the adults and babies. Sean also manages the sale of any surplus offspring in an attempt to offset maintenance costs, creating (hopefully in the near future) a cash neutral hobby. NATURES MARVELS was created out of this arrangement.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

"Chondropython Owners Manual" By Rico Walder 1994

"HUSBANDRY OF LONG-TERM CAPTIVE POPULATIONS OF BOID SNAKES" BY TROOPER WALSH 1994 NATIONAL ZOOLOGICAL PARK, DEPT. OF HERPETOLOGY

"REPRODUCTION OF CHONDROPYTHON VIRIDIS" REPTILE HUSBANDRY AND BREEDING SYMPOSIUM JULY 28-31, 1982L.H.S. VANMIEROP, M.D., D.L. MARCELLINI, PH.D., T. WALSH

"Green Tree Python" REPTILE AND AMPHIBIAN Mag.,1990 (Sept-Oct): 2-6, Zulich, Al

THE REPRODUCTIVE HUSBANDRY OF PYTHONS AND BOAS Ross and Marzec 1990

"Green Tree Python" CAPTIVE BREEDING July 1993 Vol 1 No.4 Eric Rundquist

"Green Tree Pythons" REPTILES Mag., Dec. 1994 Vol.2 No.2 Dick Bartlett

"The Green Tree Python (Chondropython viridis) VIVARIUM Mag., Vol.3 1993 Blake, H

"Still Green Under Any Name: What Happened To Chondropython?" REPTILE HOBBYIST April, 1997 Jerry G. Walls

Copyright 1997 Winslow W. Murdoch, All rights reserved


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