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Viper Boa Care (Candoia aspera aspera)
Viper Boas are a wonderful species of snake to see. They are very strong, with strong ‘bare’ scales and an arrow like head. They are usually a fairly dull brown, although they can be a gorgeous red or bright orange. However, they change color with the seasons, temperature and perhaps mood swings. I have had wonderful orange specimens that turn a dark brown over time. Almost all Boat Vipers are wild caught, in fact, I have not heard of any successful breeders who have bred and raised these. Gravid females are often imported and have their young in captivity. However, most of them die within 6 months for little or no apparent reason. In time, we can hopefully learn more about this species and successfully breed it in captivity. Viper Boas are fairly calm snakes, but when handled incorrectly they can slither from side to side at lightning speed. Although they are not poisonous, they have a pretty nasty bite. Adult females can reach 80 cm; males are less than half the size.
When keeping any snake as a pet, you generally want to be able to view the snake from outside its enclosure, in the most natural environment you can provide. This will be more aesthetically pleasing and will also help the snake’s general condition. If the snake likes its surroundings, it will have a better feeding response and generally grow faster. A larger vivarium also provides more interest in the snake’s life, and by adding branches and other natural products you will improve the snake’s quality of life and stop it from becoming lethargic and overweight. Also, being stronger should have more resistance to any viral infections or any other problems you may encounter later in life.
For an adult Viper Boa, a vivarium 60cm Length x 45cm Width x 45cm Height is sufficient. This is a shy species; many specimens when purchased in captivity can go for many months without feeding. It is important that this transitional period is as stress-free as possible. A small, enclosed enclosure, without additional lighting, away from human ‘traffic’ may be needed. Once the boa is fed regularly, a larger vivarium with lighting can be provided.
Snake enclosures can be made from a variety of materials. The most commonly used is a melamine-coated wood covering all sides except the front, which has sliding glass doors. Aquariums can also be used for Viper Boas, although a specialized cover must be purchased or made rather than the original aquarium cover. It is essential when considering what type of closure to use that you think about these 6 ‘SSSHHH’ factors:
1) Safety – Can the snake or the owner injure themselves from the enclosure or any equipment kept inside?
2) Safe – Can the snake escape through any small hole or cavity?
3) Size – Will the enclosure be the right size?
4) Heating – Is the enclosure able to properly regulate temperature?
5) Moisture – Will the seal last well in wet conditions? Is there sufficient ventilation for moisture to escape?
6) Hygienic – Will the seal collect a lot of bacteria in small cavities? Is it easy to clean?
By following the steps above, you can have a suitable enclosure made from a variety of materials.
The decor in your tank serves two purposes. Firstly by being extra cover for your snake and secondly, allowing for a more natural and flattering look. When choosing decor, think about the safety of the snake. Make sure that whatever you decide to use is securely fastened and that no rocks, wood or other heavy objects can fall and injure or even kill the snake. You should also make sure that everything used is parasite free. If something is imported, or originally came from the outside, such as cork bark, you should either boil it or place it in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 30 minutes. Freezing works for some parasites, however others are known to survive for months in freezing conditions. Some parasites that are found in English conditions spend winters at minus temperatures, so it is not completely effective.
Once all your decor is vermin free then it is safe to place inside your enclosure. As a general rule, if you can put pressure on an item to knock it over, a Viper Boa is certainly capable of doing so. When placing stones or heavy objects, make sure they are completely secure. If it’s still not snug, screw or use super glue to fix it. If it is not possible, the rule is simple: Do not put the item in the vivarium!
If you decide to go for a larger enclosure, you should provide plenty of areas of cover and concealment. A hiding place can be anything from a tupperware box with a hole cut out to a naturalistic piece of cork bark. There are many brands of fake plants and decorations you can use that are safe for the pet and pleasing to the eye. Cork bark is available in almost every pet shop for reptiles in the UK and can be ordered if they don’t have it in stock. This is an excellent cover for any reptile and is 100% natural. One thing to keep in mind when thinking about vivarium size is the bigger you go, the more hiding areas you need to provide. I recommend at least one stash per foot the length of the enclosure.
NOTE: Never use duct tape on an enclosure; this is an accident waiting to happen. Believe me; removing duct tape from any snake is no easy task!
Viper Boas are found in dense forest floors and are exposed to a fairly constant air temperature. They don’t bask in the sun and so it’s not as important to provide them with a dedicated hot spot. Instead, having a fairly constant air temperature of 85-90ºF during the day and 80-85ºF at night is fine. A large bowl of water should be provided for the snake to fully submerge if required. If your viper does this constantly, the vivarium is most likely too hot and needs to be cooled down a bit.
In my opinion, the ideal way to heat the enclosure of a Viper Boa is to use a hotplate. This is a small thin square plate, about 25 mm thick which is screwed to the top of the vivarium. It does not need to be protected, as there is no way for a snake to catch it. It is almost invisible to the eye as it simply sits on the ceiling of the vivarium. The only brand available in the UK is the HabiStat Reptile Radiator; is 75 Watts and is sufficient for any vivarium up to 4 feet tall and possibly larger. It does not produce light and therefore in a vivarium you will also need some form of lighting. An electric hotplate must be used in conjunction with a HabiStat proportional pulse thermostat, which will stop power from reaching the hotplate once the temperature goes above the setting and turn it back on once it’s too cold. This is one of the most accurate thermostats on the market today.
Ceramic heaters, spot lamps and heat mats are also ways to heat a vivarium. All of these have their advantages and disadvantages, but in my opinion, none weigh as well as an electric hob.
Viper Boas are primarily nocturnal, meaning they come out in the dark of night. This is when their top predators are sleeping, and their prey is awake. Lighting for this species is not important. However, having artificial light in a vivarium is aesthetically pleasing to the owner and is a good addition to a snake’s enclosure. They will use this as a photo period and their regular clock will generally adjust to the settings you have your light set to.
They do not require any form of special lighting, such as a D3 ultraviolet light commonly used for diurnal species. An Arcadia Natural Sunlight Fluorescent Lamp is a good form of lighting. This comes in lengths from 12″ to 48″ and I suggest using the largest size that can fit inside your vivarium.
Viper Boas occur in most of New Guinea and the surrounding islands and are therefore exposed to high humidity. This should be repeated in captivity to help the overall health and well-being of your snake. A humidity range of 80-90% will allow snakes to clean their skin properly and become less prone to any problems such as respiratory infections.
Juveniles or males should be offered fuzzy or small mice, and as they grow older mice or mice should become larger. An adult female boa must feed on smaller mice. One of these every 2 weeks is enough. An adult male can take fuzzy mice or large mice. Juveniles should be fed regularly, every 7 days is ideal. Their metabolic rate is higher than adults and as they grow, they need a lot more food to keep them going. Viper Boas have a low metabolism compared to many snakes, they move very little and do not require the same amount of food as many other species. Snakes have the ability to build up a large reserve of fat and get fat very easily. However, losing weight is a much more difficult task. Fat snakes will not live as long as a healthy snake because of liver and kidney problems. If you are unsure of your snake’s weight, check with a reptile veterinarian.
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