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Reflecting on Five Years of Keeping Reptiles....

Posted by Sonja K. at 3/16/2012 1:28:21 AM

Five years ago, March 15th, 2007, was the official beginning to my personal reptile experience... 

It was the day my first Boa Constrictor arrived - actually, I had two arrive that day, my Ivory Boa, "Mystic" and a DH Sunglow, "Phoenix". Although I no longer have Phoenix, he was lost in the Memorial Day incident, I do thankfully still have my Mystic. She is a very special girl to me - not only because she was one of my first, but she is also one of those that seems to always want to come out and hang out with me, and she will even follow me around the yard... just trying to get to me to climb back up in my lap and chill with me. Smile

I have very few pictures of her, simply because she won't stay far enough away from me for me to get any. Last summer I was determined to get a few of her outside, though... I'm sure my neighbors had a good laugh as I backpedaled away from her around and around in my front yard as fast as I could trying to get some. Laughing

Mama.... Where are you going???

You need to come back here.... Why are you running away from me? Okay.... I'll come to you....

Hi Mama.... 

Reflecting back, I can say with all certainty that the past 5 years have been filled with so many wonderful highs and unfortunately, some not so wonderful lows, too... one of which, as many of you may recall was of incredible, heartbreaking proportions - one of every keeper's worst nightmares - but, to which with the support of friends, the reptile community, and the passion I feel for these animals, one I have come back from.

Anybody that has looked at my collection, can probably tell that I enjoy keeping a large and quite varied collection.

The other day, as I was reflecting back on my experiences with reptiles to date, I decided to sit down and make a list of the species I am currently keeping or I have kept in my 5 years... it ended up being a pretty incredible (and long) list.

This is what I came up with:

The Boas:

Boa constrictor imperator...

(Including... Columbian Boas, Hog Island Boas, Hypo Hog / Sunset Boas, Costa Rican Boas,Panamanian Boas, Nicaraguan Boas, Corn Island Boas, Sonoran Desert Boas, Caulker Cay Boas, Blood Boas (El Salvador), Central American Boas, and Honduran Firebelly Boas)

Boa constrictor constrictor:

 (Including: Guyana Boas and Suriname Boas)

Boa constrictor amarali (Bolivian Boas)

Boa constrictor longicauda (Peruvian Long-Tail Boas)

Acrantophis dumerili  (Dumeril's Boas)

Sanzinia madagascariensis  (Madagascar Tree Boas) - Green and Mandarin Phases

Epicrates angulifer (Cuban Boas) 

Epicrates striatus  (Haitian Boa)

Epicrates cenchria gaigei (Peruvian Rainbow Boas)

Epicrates cenchria cenchria (Brazilian Rainbow Boa) 

Epicrates striatus strigilatus (Bahamian Boa)

Epicrates cenchria maurus (Columbian Rainbow Boa)

Epicrates cenchria alvarezi (Argentine Rainbow Boa)

Corallus Hortulaus (Amazon Tree Boas)

Gongylophis colubrinus (Kenyan Sand Boas)

Charina bottae (Rubber Boa)

The Pythons

Python regius (Ball Pythons)

Python anchietae (Angolan Pythons)

Liasis olivaceus (Olive Pythons)

Liasis fuscus (Water Pythons)

Liasis mackloti (Macklot's Pythons)

Liasis mackloti savuensis (Savu Python)

Antaresia stimsoni (Stimson's Pythons)

Antaresia maculosa (Spotted Pythons)

Antaresia childreni (Children's Python)

Aspidites ramsayi (Woma Pythons)

Aspidites melanocephalus (Blackheaded Pythons)

Leiopython albertisii (White-Lipped Pythons) - Northern and Southern Phases

Morelia nauta  (Tanimbar Scrub Pythons)

Morelia viridis (Green Tree Pythons)

Morelia bredli (Bredl's Pythons)

Morelia spilota cheynei (Jungle Carpet Pythons)

Morelia spilota harrisoni (Irian Jaya Pythons)

Python timoriensis (Timor / Lesser Sundas Pythons)


Rhamphiophis rubropunctatus (Red-Headed Beaked Snake)

Rhamphiophis oxyrhynchus rostratus (Rufous Beaked Snakes)

Cyclophiops major (Chinese Green Snakes)

Elaphe guttata guttata (Corn Snakes)

Orthriophis taeniurus ridleyi (Cave Dwelling Rat Snake)

Elaphe climacophora (Japanese Rat Snake)

Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia (White-Lipped / Herald's Snake)

Leptodeira annulata (Banded Cat-Eye Snake)

Telescopus dhara (Arabian Cat Snake)

Telescopus semiannulatus (Eastern Tiger Snake)

Boiga nigriceps (Blackheaded Cat Snake)

Ahaetulla prasina (Asian Vine Snake)

Langaha madagascariensis (Madagascan Leaf-Nose Snakes)

Lamprophis fuliginosus (Brown House Snakes)

Lamprophis inornatus (Black House Snakes)

Thamnodynastes pallidus (Mock Vipers)

Philodryas baroni (Baron's Racers)

Dipsadoboa flavida (Cross-Barred Tree Snake)

 Leptophis ahaetulla (Parrot Snakes)

Xenopeltis unicolor  (Sunbeam Snakes)

Rhynchophis boulengeri (Rhino Rat Snakes)

Lampropeltis getula brooksi (Brooks Kingsnakes)

Lampropeltis getula nigrita (Mexican Black Kingsnake)

Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis (Eastern US Garter Snakes)

Storeria occipitomaculata (Northern Redbelly Snake)


Gekko ulikovski  (Golden Geckos)

Tiliqua scincoides scincoides (Eastern Blue Tongue Skink)

Riopa fernandi  (African Fire Skink)

Iguana iguana  (Green Iguana)

Pogona vitticeps (Bearded Dragon)


Testudo horsfieldii (Russian Tortoise)


Ambystoma tigrinum (Tiger Salamanders)

Ambystoma laterale (Blue-Spotted Salamander)



Next, I reflected upon the successes I've had in breeding:

Breeding Season One - 2009/2010:

A litter of Anery (Columbian) Boas (Bci)



A litter of Dumeril's Boas

This particular baby's picture ended up getting published in Reptiles magazine, too.



2 Clutches of Ball Pythons




A clutch of New Guinea Water Pythons


Breeding Season Two - 2010/2011:

This was looking to be a banner year. Prior to the heat up, I had:

A litter of Hypo Hogs / Sunset Boas


A litter of Anery Boas


A litter of Hypo / Normal Boas Het Albino

A litter of Longicauda Boas



A Clutch of New Guinea Water Pythons


A Clutch of Macklot's Pythons

.... with several other gravid animals due to give birth / lay their clutches in the coming weeks.

(For those that are newer to iHerp, or unaware of what I am referring to when I refer to the heat up incident, you can read my blog dated May 31st, 2011 here .)

It's hard to describe the incredible impact that event had on my life. There was the loss of so many animals - my pets, the financial impact, and the loss of so many dreams - Another aspect was the anxiety that the hot summer temps. brought, the sound of the furnace starting up and running - those were definite triggers that brought me back to that horrific night. It took months and months for me to get beyond that.

The final tally... 174 (including multiple gravid females) of the 190 animals in that building at the time lost their lives due to that incident; along with 15 eggs in the incubator that were less than 2 weeks form hatching.

There really are not words to sum it up, but I know I wouldn't wish something like that on my worst enemy.

A positive from that... and yes, I have managed to find something... was the realization of the incredible amount of support that there is out there - from my friends and so many within the reptile community. It came in the form of animals donated or discounted to help me rebuild and the amazing emotional support that came my way, as well, was simply overwhelming. I don't know if I could have managed as well as I did without it all. I thank you all!

The Rebuilding:

There was never a doubt that I would rebuild in some capacity... I had to. I feel such a passion for these animals, and at the end of the day, simply, they are my sanity savers.

As animals came back in, certain species brought comfort, almost like they were a long missing piece to the puzzle. I also branched out to species I hadn't previously kept, which has been good for me and enabled me to grow as a keeper.

Honestly, the Bci were tough for me - My previous collection was heavy on the Bci side, and counting the 4 litters of Boas that had been born to that point - 110 of those animals lost were Bci.

Over the past 10 months, there has been a lot of reflecting and thought that has gone into the choices I have made to this point in my rebuilding... So far, I have good feelings about how things have gone.


I wanted to share one thing that brought some much needed joy to my life this past summer... It was that I successfully hatched a clutch of Painted Turtle eggs.

One evening while two of my boys were at baseball practice and I was watching the other on the playground, I noticed some activity in the distance. The playground, which is typically filled with children was empty except for a handful of children due to the rain that had just recently ceased. Anyhow, upon approaching, I realized it was a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) in the process of laying her clutch. I was entranced by the process, yet puzzled by the location she had chose to lay them in. With the reality that they would likely be destroyed by the heavy traffic in the playground or dug up and eaten by something, I decided to dig them up and put my then empty incubator to use.

There were 8 eggs in total and on August 8th, all 8 hatched successfully.

I released all 8...

Some immediately went to eating:

Some swam and then rested while the soaked up some rays:

Slowly but surely they ventured out into the world...

Goodbye Little One....

I am currently in the midst of my third season of breeding:

I have a few pairings in the works and some are looking like they will be successful, and I have already hatched some Parrot Snake eggs that came from an imported gravid female.

Honestly at the point of the heat up, a little over 10 months ago, I never imagined I'd be where I am today.... and life is looking up...

I will close now with a few pictures my boys took this evening of me and a couple of my favorite ladies...

First with Mystic, as you may recall way back at the start of this blog, arrived 5 years ago...

(Too bad she's in the midst of a shed cycle)

And then me with my dear Olive Oyl, who also made it through that heat up... thank goodness....


I look forward to celebrating and sharing many more years together with them. These animals and this hobby are amazing! I can't imagine my life without them.







 Comments: View Oldest First  

Jeff ,
Posted At: 3/16/2012 4:10:52 AM  

Wow some of this brings back wonderful memories. Love the photos and thats quite the list you have. You definitely have more patience than I do to write all that down lol. Congratulations on all the successes you've had and I wish you the best moving forward. I've always been happy for you Sonja and always will. Now what are you getting next? lol

Sonja ,
Posted At: 3/16/2012 7:22:47 AM  

I really enjoyed reading this blog.  What a cool and impressive list of animals you have kept!   Your resilience after the heat up and enthusiasm in moving forward are a testament to your passion for the hobby.  Seeing the little litter of Longicaudas chocked me up a bit as I was hoping one of them could be mine.  The turtle release pics are priceless.  Here's to many more years!

Brett Nation,
Posted At: 3/16/2012 8:52:58 AM  

Heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. I am deeply sorry to read about this horrific event of 2011 and have no idea how I missed that news? However, I am so happy to see you bounce back and move forward. Obviously you have a great passion for Reptiles and it shows! Thanks for the updates and hope to see more in the future!

Chris McIntosh,
Posted At: 3/16/2012 9:02:25 AM  

That is an impressive list of animals that you've kept!  I've been keeping snakes for a little bit longer then you have and I can't even touch that list lol.  Great looking Boa and Olive Python! 

Joe Farah,
Posted At: 3/16/2012 9:32:13 AM  
I agree, that is one impressive list! I wish you lived around here so I could come over and hang out with you :-) Do you happen to have pics of the bahaman boas? I would love to see those. Thanks for sharing your experiences

Posted At: 3/16/2012 10:07:12 AM  

I never got a chance to read that blog and didn't know about the heat up, but it started to bring tears to my eyes.  I can't imagine what you went through and I'm truly sorry you had to go through that.

This is a great blog and I wish you many more great years =)

Paul White,
Posted At: 3/16/2012 10:14:17 AM  

Olive Oil is impressive as heck! Sorry about your fire. It seems I've known too many herpers that lost animals to fire.

Aaron ,
Posted At: 3/16/2012 10:44:05 AM  

Always loved your collection and choice of snakes - the Madagascar Tree Boas, White-Lipped Pythons and Scrub Pythons especially.

The boa clutch pics make me super excited (and rather nervous) - looking forward to when I breed my two, so many snakes to care for but I'll make sure I'm set up well before I begin breeding.

Mystic is gorgeous and I love how clingy boas can be - Loki is the same, loves his Daddy and follows me around

The way you came back from the memorial day tragedy is amazing - pretty sure something like that would break my heart.

Sam Fredericks,
Posted At: 3/16/2012 11:09:50 AM  
Wow i cant wait till i can start to breed

Emily Milton,
Posted At: 3/16/2012 11:30:09 AM  

Wow - I had no idea of the backstory regarding the heat.  You are strong as hell - and I feel sure your scaley babies helped you through that difficult time.

Thank you for yet another amazing blog with precious snakes.  A fantastic read - just what I needed today.  

Mystic is just too cute for words.  

Posted At: 3/16/2012 1:03:50 PM  

Happy herping anniversary, Sonja! I know I speak for everyone when I say that I am delighted that you stuck with the hobby after the tragedy.

Mystic is a real charmer!

Sonja K. ,
Posted At: 3/16/2012 1:23:40 PM  

Thanks all!

Sonja... I agree... it was difficult to look at the pics of those litters, too. My holdbacks jumped right out at me. And, I couldn't bare to post the picture I had of Harley with her litter... I still miss that girl... like no other!

Paul... It wasn't a fire, but a heat up - the T-Stats in the room were reading 118F.

I'm glad I stayed, too. So many people told me they didn't think they would have been able to continue on, let alone rebuild... and in some aspects, it probably would have been "easier" on a number of levels to close up shop... but I really didn't feel I had a choice but to continue... how could I deny myself of the incredible joy that I get from working with these animals?!

Joe... Here is a pic of my female Bahamian Boa. It's about a year old now and she has at least doubled in girth now that she switched to rodents. I will have to take an updated pic. 

April Yohn,
Posted At: 3/16/2012 2:04:37 PM  

that was beautiful

Michael ,
Posted At: 3/16/2012 4:17:42 PM  

My favorit  is still that picture  from Tinley( I think )   with the Kid Biting the head off the snake in the background  LOL..  Put that one back up Sonja

Aimee ,
Posted At: 3/16/2012 4:38:24 PM  

nice, Sonja! what a lovely perspective!

Sonja K. ,
Posted At: 3/16/2012 5:13:59 PM  

Thanks Aimee and April!

For you Doom...

Michael ,
Posted At: 3/16/2012 5:25:36 PM  

That is such a fuuny picture !!

Mellisa Carey,
Posted At: 3/16/2012 7:23:23 PM  

Wow! Great pictures and an incredible story! You've done some amazing things with some fabulous animals! I just read the blog about your overheat and it made me cry. I can't even wrap my brain around a loss of that magnitude. I think it's awesome you're rebuilding and I'm glad the herp community has been so supportive! Good luck and keep producing beautiful animals!

Adam ,
Posted At: 3/16/2012 10:22:30 PM  

Very cool. And with all those species under your belt, you have certainly accumulated a wealth of knowledge for yourself.

Ché Kinnard,
Posted At: 3/20/2012 12:29:11 AM  

I love your resilliency. Stay strong BKA_Mama!

Patrick Malloy,
Posted At: 3/23/2012 10:19:12 AM  

love watching Al Gore play with Bubba its quite a sight

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