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Husbandry and Basic Care General stuff about keeping and maintaining cornsnakes in captivity.

Aspen as a substrate = dangerous??
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Old 03-03-2007, 04:03 PM   #1
Aspen as a substrate = dangerous??

Okay, I know a lot of us were involved in the thread started by Waldo recently regarding a situation on another board with regards to aspen as a substrate. A long-time poster on that board has stated that he feels aspen is an "unnecessary risk" for snakes as tiny pieces or fragments of aspen can get stuck to the snakes vent and if pulled into the snakes body, will decay and cause infections of the cloaca which can be fatal. This is truly the first I have EVER heard of such a thing... and I am saying this as a person who considers myself to be this fellows friend.

The one "information source" that popped up in this discussion was from Melissa Kaplan's page. I am not sure how I feel about her as a credible source of information, but here it is:
Particulate substrates, even when made from "natural" or "biodegradable" products such as plant fibers, should not be used for any lizard who smells with its tongue. Particles become stuck to the tongue and are swallowed. Over time, they may build up in the gut causing a serious, even fatal, impaction.

Particulate substrates can be problematic for both snakes and lizards as it can become stuck to their hemipenes or everted cloacal tissues when they are defecating, being taken up into the cloaca when the tissue or hemipenes are retracted. This can cause injury and/or infection.
Source: Melissa Kaplan's Reptile Substrate Page

The thing about HER pages are that they contradict themselves. It seems like she thinks snakes should NOT be kept on ANY particulate substrates at all, but then later she says:
Aspen and pine shavings may be used for snakes and fossorial lizards. The shavings cannot be cleaned and so have to be removed and replaced with fresh shavings when soiled. At least once a month, all shavings should be removed and disposed of, and the entire enclosure cleaned and disinfected before new shavings are placed inside. Cedar shavings are toxic for all animals and should never be used in predator or prey enclosures. Cedar and redwood should not be used in constructing housing for any animal, nor in any furniture or paneling in a room in which any animals are housed.
So which is it??

It seems that the individual in question also claims that aspen is bad because no snake would naturally live on wood chips in the wild, but that seems silly if you advocating keeping snakes on reptile carpet. The dangers of reptiles carpet, to me, FAR outweigh any percieved benefit. It can be dangerous to animals with toe nails, it is difficult to clean, impossible to sanitize, and provides no burrowing opportunities (I know corns don't tend to burrow naturally, but mine seems to enjoy it).

Of all the option she lists BESIDES aspen, these seem the best.
Other Materials

Terry Cloth Towels
Terry cloth towels may be inexpensively obtained from thrift shops. They are easily cleaned and disinfected by machine washing in hot water, soap, and bleach. They are especially suited for reptiles in quarantine or with abdominal injuries.

Self-stick tiles may be inexpensively obtained from building supply stores. They may be grouted around the outside edges with aquarium silicone grout. Linoleum tiles are easily cleaned and disinfected and provide a durable flooring for large arboreal lizards and snakes.
But again, is it even worth the bother?? I think that many of us have significant others that would object to varying degrees to use using our family washing machines to launder our poopy snake towels. At least, I do.

In essence, this discussion has gotten me thinking in depth about substrate choices. I have considered going to aspen "sani-chips," as I have seen a high degree of variance in the aspen I currently purchase- some is well shredded and fine, and other packs are rather dusty and contain large and somewhat abrasive pieces.

What does everyone else think about this? Can anyone shed further light on the issue of cloacal infections due to pieces of wood fiber being brought up into the body during defecation?? I particularly am interested in the thoughts of long-term breeders, who, by sheer numbers have basically seen every problem that could possibly crop up.
Old 03-03-2007, 04:13 PM   #2
Why do people think snakes are so fragile ??,,I mean,inside normal parameters,,snakes are hardy creatures.I think we worry TOO much about these little guys know what I'm trying to say ?.
I have kept a lot of differant critters over the years.No problems...
Old 03-03-2007, 04:18 PM   #3
Melissa Kaplan is a known PETA supporter, and has been quoted to say that she wants to see reptiles banned completely as pets; and it is widely know how contradicting her information is.

I would not use terry cloth towels, the risk for a tooth getting caught on it while the snake is feeding and end up swallowing the substrate is just too high (it happened with newspaper or paper towels even, which have smoother surfaces then the cloth does). You also have to be careful with the glue on the self stick tiles, when heated up they can off-gas fumes which could be dangerous for the snake. The cloacak infections from deficating is highly unlikely, as nothing comes out that goes back in when they go to the bathroom. Breeding on aspen is another thing, but still I havent yet heard of anything happening other then the possibility of the shavings sticking to the male. Corns are highly natural burrowers, hatchlings will spend most of their time hidden as its often the difference between life and death in the wild (in the wild they would be under leaf and plant matter, which I've found aspen to simulate the closest too).
I have been using aspen shavings (both finely shredded and coarser shavings) for years with absolutely no problem, even when feeding on it. Baby snakes are kept on newspaper untill they're big enough to handle small pieces incase its ingested.
Old 03-03-2007, 05:22 PM   #4
I've tried:
1. Cage Carpeting (hated it....every time they poo you have to switch it out). I had two pieces so that each time I disinfected one, I could replace it with the other one.
2. Repti Bark (really liked this substrate. I used it for several years)
3. Aspen (tried this and hated it! It sticks to everything and dries out my enclosure. It dropped my humidity from 43% (no misting) to 35/36% (no misting). It sticks to everything, too! It does distribute the heat well but I prefer the higher humidity levels to the heat aspect.

I went back to Repti Bark and really like it. It makes my enclosure look more natural. I have a 260 gallon setup and really like the dark color of the Repti Bark. It's easy to clean and it keeps my humidity levels where I need them to be. It doesn't stick to my clothing like the Aspen did and that's a definite plus in my book as I always have my hands in the enclosure to clean, do temp readings/humidity readings, etc...
Old 03-03-2007, 05:23 PM   #5
PS..I never feed inside the enclosure. I always put Markey in a large feeder box that is made for reptiles. I don't put any type of substrate inside the feeder cage. Just Markey and the mouse...
Old 03-03-2007, 06:52 PM   #6
Personally, I think it's simple numbers: There are hundreds of people who use aspen as substrate for their snakes, absolutely love it, and have never had a problem. There are two (that I know of) who say it can cause serious problems and should never be used.
If someone were able to show me a case in which a licensed vet performed an autopsy and found with 99.99% certainty that the animal's death was due to an impaction (in an animal which had been fed in an empty container since day 1 to show that the snake "licked up" the substrate), or a report of an aspen shaving getting caught in the cloaca causing infection/other damage, I would be willing to reconsider. In general though, I think snakes are too "well-built" to have such an hazardous natural flaw. Going along with what Droptines said, these animals have been around longer than humans have. In their natural environment, there's pieces of wood, bark, and rocks everywhere. It just sounds WAY too improbable without some sort of evidence.
Old 03-03-2007, 07:35 PM   #7
After posting, I was reading through her pages, and I found a few things that just didn't sit right with me:

Once the animal is established, you can use more decorative ground cover such as commercially prepared shredded cypress or fir bark. Pine and aspen shavings should not be used as they can become lodged in the mouth while eating, causing respiratory and other problems.
Fir and cypress are okay, but aspen isn't?!?!

If one or both spectacles have been retained, bathe the snake again in warmish water for about ten minutes. Before returning it to the enclosure, place a dab of mineral oil on that eye with a cotton-tipped swab. The spectacle should come off within twenty-four hours. If it does not come off, wrap your four fingers with transparent tape, sticky side out. Gently rock your fingers from left to right (or, from nose to neck) across the eye; the spectacle should come off. If this does not removed the spectacle, then seek veterinary assistance.
I feel it's just plain irresponsible to tell someone new to snakes to use tape on their snake's eye. Tape could cause more damage than waiting for the eyecap to come off in the next shed.

To easily monitor temperature, inexpensive aquarium self-stick thermometers can be purchased and applied about an inch above the bottom of the tank on the warm side.
Remove the prey item from the freezer and allow to defrost at room temperature. When defrosted, use forceps or tongs to pick up the rodent by the tail, and hold the prey in front of the snake for the snake to strike at.
Also, on both of the pages I read, she recommended bathing the snake to force it to shed 24 hours after they eyes clear. To me, this just seems unnecessarily stressful to the animal (which is odd, considering she supports PETA in that having animals for pets is bad for them). To be completely honest, I found her website inconsistent and packed with questionable information.
Old 03-03-2007, 07:54 PM   #8
Jenni, if her information is not sitting well with you then find another source to get information from.
I guess I don't get what the issue is.....
If you want to use Aspen, use it. I really think that the substrates that are considered safe are safe. It's really a personal preference.
As for taping eyes, I think that's insane......
As far as shedding goes, my snake always sheds within a few days after her eyes clear up. Just make sure your humidity levels are higher than normal and give your snake something rough but safe to scrape against. My snake loves to shed in the vines. She will also crawl through her moss piles....I love watching her shed!
Everyone has their own opinions as to how things are supposed to be done. I've seen two reptile vets who told me completely different things about my snake. You have to take the information, process it, and spit out the stuff that doesn't relate to you or that you don't agree with.
In the end, you want what is best for your snake and that's great. I've heard some really bad stories about some that don't.
I would find another person to read up on....just my opinion though and I'm a newbie to this site myself so I don't know much myself. I have had my corn for several years now and have found that I learned more just from owning the snake than from any reading I ever did. :0)
Old 03-03-2007, 07:58 PM   #9
In her eyes, it must be an incredible miracle that these animals even survive in the wild at all, let alone have more than likely been on this planet far longer than us humans have. I'd like to test the odds and put her and a snake in the middle of a forest, desert or jungle and see who fares better
Old 03-03-2007, 08:15 PM   #10
LOL Dead....I think I know the answer to that one! :0)

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