Cognizant Snakes and Ethical Reptile Breeding

Authored by Todd Cornwell Unique Birthday Party Parties for Kids & Reptile Rescue

Do snakes show cognizant thinking; will my snake bring me flowers?


Your dog wags his tail and comes running to the door when you come home. Your cat doesn’t seem to care, but will spend hours letting you rub her back and purr like a sports car. Your bird sings, but is it for you? You reptile friend? Sits there all day long…
I have long believed there can be a connection even with my cold-blooded friends. My Burmese python, will stretch out to me if I am close enough to her when being held by someone else.

But I believe there is something that makes a difference, let me explain.

As a rescue, I deal with all kinds of reptiles, most are either unwanted pets, or relocation of wandering gopher/rattlers who enter into people’s uncomfort zone. Some, require a little more care, and I end up taking more time/effort to get them healthy, a lot of these end up staying with me. By the time they are well, they are family.
My Burm for example, is a 16-year-old, albino Burmese python. She’s 7-8 feet long, and weighs a mere 20 lbs. As typically a female Burm reaches 15-18 feet, and upwards of 150 lbs, she is tiny. Why?

When I got her 8 years ago, she was 6 feet long and less than 8 lbs! She was so weak, she could hardly lift her head off the ground.

I swear she shows some affection, as I stated earlier, if I set her down, and walk away, she will follow me (after a few minutes of exploring). I had her out for some exercise and I went in to grab a glass of water, five minutes later I went out and she was at our garage door, trying to go into the garage (this is where my ‘zoo’ is located).
One of my cats knocked over a cage in the garage, Mikey, a western longnose snake escaped his enclosure unbeknownst to us. My son came home from a friend’s at 12:30, and here is Mikey, by my front door, seemingly asking to come in! (So he crawled out of the garage under the door, across the front of the house, up the steps, to wait patiently for us to open the door). Also, I have had snakes come in, bitten by rats before, so they would not eat for example a white rat. They recognized the color and associated it with bad things.
But my final nail, in this cognitive reasoning box I am building just happened this week. I do shows all over, I have a certain group of snakes who go with me. Friday I did an after school show an hour from my house. On the freeway, I had to slam on the brakes, a little critter keeper tipped over, and 2%, my Pueblan milk snake got out. When I got to the school I discovered this. I looked but couldn’t find him. So I did the show, went home, put everyone away, then tore my expedition apart to find him. He was nowhere. Saturday, I searched my truck again, Sunday, same thing, no snake. Monday I looked, but no snake. Tuesday night, when I went to turn off lights, and do a final check through, here he was, 6 feet up, curled up beside his cage, waiting to be put in. So he got out of my truck, got into a locked garage, climbed up to his home!
Now we all know horses can be trained to count to three, they have proven monitors can count, recognize colors, and be trained like mice and rats. But snakes? They have always been assumed to be instinctual creatures with no higher intellect. But I am here to say, I have been hugged by a python, and it has meant something to both of us.

“Have you hugged your python today?”

*Editor’s Note: The above are a few of the thousands of cases which cite anecdotal information in which reptiles may show cognizance and even emotional responses. We’d like to hear your experiences with either side of the discussion over at the Reptile Apartment Facebook Fan Page

We now come to the debatable topic of Ethical Reptile Breeding.

Survivalist Vs naturalist Drawing a Line on Reptile Breeding

In today’s social media, keyboard warrior, era we live in, there is a constant battle being waged.

  • Who is right?
  • Which way is best?

Most (not all, but most), breeders are in it for the money, this is how they make a living, producing reptiles. Whether it is corn snakes or corn on the cob. Minimize your expenses, you maximize your profits. This is standard business acumen. This is where the survivalist method springs from; meaning that most provide the minimum amount of space required for an animal to live and breed in.

On the other side is the naturalist. Who believe the only way to keep an animal is to provide a naturalistic environment. But most people cannot provide this, because of space, money, or patience to keep it up.

There should be, and can be a happy medium. The problem is, neither side wants to admit their failings, just their successes, which is normal human behavior.

Too many people, see the successful breeders facilities, on YouTube, company websites, etc., and hear how many babies are produced. Then they assume, and let themselves be convinced, this is great. On the other side, a naturalistic vivarium is a beautiful sight to behold, and there is nothing to match it.
Where is the middle ground? Your average keeper has approximately snakes four to five snakes, not two thousand five hundred snakes as some professional breeders keep. Can we provide a naturalistic terrarium for four snakes?

You bet, and we should try to provide a space for our pets to thrive, not just survive.

But should we expect a breeder to do the same thing? I don’t believe so. There is so much going on in breeding anything large-scale, most people don’t get. Should we expect quality care? Absolutely. But realistic expectations should be the normal state of affairs. You don’t want to pay $25.00 for a dozen eggs right? So we ignore, or overlook, how chickens are kept in facilities. Over the years, the care has improved, a few expose’s, and advances in technology, and care for chickens has improved (see Reptile Feeding Conundrums for more).

It’s the same thing for snakes and lizards. Increased knowledge, improvements in technology, and your average snake keeper has multiple options to provide quality care for their animals. Breeders are always going to be survivalists, no Facebook attack, or twitter war, is ever going to change that. It is the nature of business, decrease costs=increased profits. All the constant bickering does is provide the wedge for anti-reptile groups to divide us, and divided we fall, one state at a time. So we need to unite, all of us, in our common love, reptiles, and put the bickering behind us.

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