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Originally published in Litteratura Serpentium 24(3) September 2004:104-111.

A new solution to a series of old problems
the best water containers yet for snake cages.

Raymond Hoser
488 Park Road
Park Orchards, Victoria, 3114, Australia.

Abstract

This paper details a new and inexpensive method of making unspillable and easily cleaned water containers for use in all types of snake cages. It involves using plastic containers as disposable moulds to make cement casts which hold a plastic container which in effect is a holder into which the actual (identical) water container is inserted. The latter fits tight and is held by the cast/holder. This method overcomes almost all problems that arise using more conventional water containers and methods.

Introduction

In terms of keeping snakes, one of the most difficult issues for keepers is water bowls and how best to keep them clean.

Numerous bowls have been tested and used by keepers and almost all have certain problems.

The problems relate to the need for captive snakes to have clean water at all times, the need to keep water in one place (as in not be spilt), ease of cleaning the water bowl and the need to prevent spread of water borne diseases, which include most reptile ailments such as viruses, bacteria and so on.

The new method outlined in this paper solves all known problems at once.

The best solutions to date.

Most keepers have tended to rely on large heavy water bowls in their cages. Typical are heavy Ceramic 'dog bowls' which by virtue of their outward leaning lower edges are not easily spilt. Their size and more importantly weight also makes them hard to tip over even if a snake sits on one of the upper lips.

If and when the water itself is soiled, the container is removed and cleaned.

While rinsing under a tap is the preferred method of cleaning, sometimes a cloth must be used. This is because over time a layer of slime will form on the sides and bottom.

This is effectively unavoidable.

Regardless of cleaning medium used, the fact remains that viral and other infections may be spread when cleaning more than one water container.

No other water container is as good as the unspillable 'dog bowl' design and hence these are the receptacle of choice by most snake keepers as of early 2004 and what are sold by most herpetological suppliers.

Another means to stop the problem of snakes moving about their water bowls is to immerse them in the cage's substrate.

This stops the bowl being tipped over and water spilt, but makes it harder to clean if soiled.

In such a situation, the water must be removed and then the bowl wiped, which is a difficult process.

Alternatively the substrate must be moved to enable the water bowl to be removed.

Again this may present problems.

THE IDEA OF A WATER BOWL HOLDER

In the 1970's one cage in my collection of snakes suffered an outbreak of Amoebic dysentery, believed to be caused by Entamoeba invadens or similar protozoan. The first infected pythons died and the others in the same cage were successfully treated with Flagyl.

Since then, my keeping method has relied upon the importance of not mixing water sources for snakes in separate cages so as to quarantine unseen infectious diseases.

This mindset has merit.

In 2003 there was an outbreak of a previously unknown reovirus (initially presumptively diagnosed as Paramyxovirus) that ultimately infected more than ten collections in Australia having been traced to a single infected Taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus) shipped from a NSW Zoo to a Victorian collection (see Hoser 2003 and Lancaster 2003 for details).

This virus caused many deaths in mainly neonate elapids, with most other snakes either showing slight or no detectable signs of infection, even though many evidently were infected and were thus carriers.

In terms of all collections that spread the virus (either within or to other collections through trading snakes), the primary means of transmission was when water bowls were washed out or wiped clean with a cloth.

Two collections also spread the virus through mite infestations.

My own collection was unique among those infected in that my water bowl cleaning regime prevented virus spread, (quarantine in my case partially broke down due to use of shared feeding implements).

Most cages in my collection have a plastic container sunk into the substrate for the water bowl. This is typically of the sort used by take-away food outlets to hold foods and salads.

For snakes of about 30-90 cm, such as Death Adders (Acanthophis spp.), I use the circular Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) Potato and Gravy Containers which measure 6 cm diameter at the bottom, 7 cm diameter at the top and have a depth of 5 cm.

These are embedded into a hard substrate and are therefore held firm.

Inside these are placed an identical container, which fits like a glove. The main feature of note is that the upper lip protrudes slightly, making for easy removal. This second container is the one into which water is placed.

The cage's substrate usually runs flush to the top of the lower (holding) container, meaning that the water container's upper lip protrudes above ground level and therefore tends not to have debris pushed into it. If such is a problem, the water container is embedded on a mound, so that debris will naturally fall away from the water container.

The water bowl and holder as described therefore has several benefits in that:

    1. It is held firm as if embedded into the substrate
    2. It is easily removed from the holder and cleaned or replaced with another identical container.
    3. Due the minimal cost of the plastic containers (often acquired for free from cast away food serves), they can be thrown away instead of washed and hence no risk of virus transmission.
    4. Due to the ease with which spares can be obtained and stored (inside one another as a pile), washed containers can be left dry for more than four weeks before being reused. Such a time frame will cause most virus particles and other disease to die off.

The success of the above method reflects in several ways including:

    1. The need to clean out soiled water containers is rare, in most occasions the containers merely need topping up.
    2. The relative depth of the containers means that they need only be topped up occasionally, in many cases only every few weeks, hence reducing maintenance time in a large collection.
    3. Water in most cages remains crystal clear, which is a fact noted by many other keepers who have visited my collection more than once. (This is usually after it becomes obvious that the water is not being cleaned in anticipation of a visit).

THE NEWEST METHOD FOR PROVIDING WATER TO SNAKES

The above method works fine provided that the cage has a substrate of depth into which the holding container can be placed. However many keepers use minimal or no substrate for their snakes. In this class are those who also rely on newspaper to cover their cage floors.

It is in these set-ups that the heavy porcelean 'Dog bowls' have until now been the preferred style of water bowl.

Because of my preference for the newspaper, other paper or no substrate methods of setting up cages I had to devise another method to gain the benefits of my non-spilling water bowl holders.

To get the best of all previously used methods I devised a new method of creating water container holders to cater for cages without a substrate. It is amazingly simple and in hindsight I am surprised that no one has thought of it before.

This is particularly in light of the minimal cost to make large quantities of suitable water container holders.

Using a large circular plastic Chinese Food container as a disposable mould (measuring 9 cm diameter at the bottom X 11.5 cm diameter at the top X 6.5 cm deep), I placed a smaller container inside (the KFC container) measuring 6 cm diameter at the bottom X 7 cm diameter at the top and a depth of 5 cm.

The smaller container was placed face down inside the other one.

Holding the smaller container down and in the centre of the larger one, I filled the container up with cement.

Due to the nature of cement in terms of the way wet cement settles, the smaller container is held in place by the cement, without a need to weight it down.

Hence the area inside the smaller container remains cement free.

The cement at the top of the container that's been filled is rendered smooth with the plastic lid of the container that comes with it from the take-away food outlet, or if unavailable, any other flat object.

After a week, when the cement dries and hardens, the larger container, (which has been used as a mould) is cut away with a knife.

When the cement mould is upturned it forms a hard and inexpensive 'dog bowl' style water container.

The inserted (smaller) plastic container is not however the water bowl. It is rather merely the mould into which another identical plastic container is inserted.

The end result is an easily changeable water container that will sit firm in a cage and never be spilt by a snake.

The example just given in terms of sizes is that I use for most snakes.

In my situation, these are (Death Adders), which average about 60-65 cm in length as adults. However the same method can be used for smaller and larger snakes and I have created similar water bowl holders for small neonate snakes and also large pythons.

For small neonate snakes (such as 15 cm long Death Adders), I use the KFC container measuring 6 cm diameter at the bottom, 7 cm diameter at the top and a depth of 5 cm as the large one for the mould.

Into that I place a circular Tartare Sauce container measuring 3 cm diameter at the base X 4 cm diameter at the top and 3.8 cm deep, upturned.

This becomes the water bowl holder for an identical container.

For pythons I use a plastic pot (such as those plants are sold in by nurseries as a mould) and place inside these upturned plastic Chinese Restaurant containers measuring 9 cm diameter at the bottom X 11 cm diameter at the top X 9 cm deep.

The same methods are used to create the final water bowl holders.

The finished products should be left for a week or more to dry and set properly and then should be washed several times to remove any lime or other toxic chemicals that may remain on the holders as a residue.

In rare cases some cement will seep under the lip of the inserted plastic container (the upturned one) and this is easily scraped away with a knife so as to keep the holder smooth on the inside to allow for a tight fit of the water container.

This scraping (if necessary) is best done as soon as possible after the plastic cast is cut away from the newly dried cement.

The ease with which the water bowl holders as described can be moved about mean that they can be placed effortlessly in any cage and hassles cleaning water bowls will then become a thing of the past.

These water bowl holders have all the advantages of the embedded holders as described earlier, as well as the following:

    1. The weight and shape of the cast is optimal and hence spillage by tipping is effectively impossible.
    2. While they can be embedded into a cage's substrate if desired, they are particularly useful in that they can be placed over a substrate and hence there is usually no need to design a cage's substrate to accommodate the needs of a water container. This adds to the simplicity of furnishing and designing cages, which is a continual concern of people with larger collections.

I have tested the water bowl container holders in all kinds of situation and now regard the method just described as the preferred means to provide water to captive snakes in most situations.

In other words, dirty, spilt, or frequently soiled water bowls in snake cages should now be a thing of the past.

REFERENCES CITED

Hoser, R. T. 2003. OPMV in Australian Reptile Collections. Macarthur Herpetological Society Newsletter, June 2003. 38:2-8.

Lancaster, M. 2003. Snake Necropsy AC-3. Victorian Institute of Animal Science, Attwood, Victoria, Australia. 2 pp.

Click here for a published paper on how to successfully treat the reovirus (initially thought to have been OPMV).

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