problems & diseases

The End:
This original article was published in Litteratura Serpentium: Volume 26-4.
Litteratura Serpentium is the magazine of the European Snake Society; See links for details of this society

I have been repeatedly asked if snakes could tie themselves into a knot. After the experience described in this article, the answer wonít be always no. 


On September 10, 2004 my Corallus h. hortulanus gave birth to a litter of 14 healthy juveniles. After inspection the juveniles were separated from each other. Each one was put into a glass terrarium (size 20 * 20 * 35 centimetre). The lay out  of the terrariums is simple; a water bowl and a hiding place at a height of 30 centimetres, created with plastic leaves and branches. To keep the terrariums up to  temperature, they are all placed on a heating pad 
For the first few months the juveniles are kept relatively wet and I handle them as little as possible, until they eat naked mice spontaneously. 
Early October I found one of the snakes with a knot in his tail and a necrotic tail-end. I can only guess at whatever caused it. During inspection directly after birth nothing abnormal was noticed. A review of the photos made in September didnít show abnormalities either. The only explanation I could think of, was a paralysis in the last few centimetres of his tail, which I didnít noticed at birth. Paralysis enabled him to preserve his motions up to the end of his tail and this created the knot. The knot blocked flow to the tissue and caused the necrosis. I know that farmers used to dock the tails of their sheep by fitting a very tight elastic rope around the tail. This blocks the capillary refill of the tissue, creating necrosis and, in the end, the part of the tail behind the rope dropped off.

I decided to do nothing but wait until the tail end dropped of: Their was a clear marking between the healthy tissue and the necrosis and the necrotic part of the tail was drying up, 

In the next few weeks I kept a close eye on this juvenile. Nothing strange was noticed in his behaviour. He was just as alert as the others from this litter. He was not the only one who had not started eating but that did not concern me at all. It is our experience, that it may take up to a few months before Corallus h. hortulanus start eating. You have to be patient and keep them in the right conditions (temperature, humidity and hiding place)


In November I found this animal with an additional knot in his tail. There was no change of colour of the skin so I concluded that this was an extra knot and was created recently and the capillary refill was not endangered yet.

It didnít cost me too much effort to un-knot his tail. What I found was a tail with several dislocations.

I imagine that the tail, with itís knot, became stuck between the branches of the hiding place. The animal must have pulled himself free with force. By pulling himself free the vertebrae in his tail became dislocated in several places, causing paralyses and again a knot in another part of his tail. 


After 3,5 months, on Christmas day, he accepted his first prey (two naked mice). He didnít seem to be bothered by his paralysed tail and the necrotic tail end. 

History repeats itselfÖ. on December 31 I found the animal with another knot in his tail.  Again, un-knotting was not difficult at all and there was no discolouring of the skin. To give the animal and myself ďa happy endingĒ I decided to cut of the necrotic tail end. I restricted myself to the dried necrotic part making sure that some necroses was left near the undamaged skin. In total approximately  4 centimetres was cut of. The necrosis left on the tail dropped spontaneously after a few weeks, leaving a nicely healed tail tip. 

After this ďamputationĒ the tail never became knotted again. The animal gave no further problems and grew just as fast  as the other ones I kept from the same litter. 



Itís easy to be wise after the event..

After discovering the first knot I decided to wait. I think that was a right decision but I should have realised at the time, that the animal would be restricted in his motion and that becoming stuck between the branches of his hiding place was a possibility.  If I had altered the hiding place to, for example, a terracotta pot, further paralyses would have been prevented. 

Extra paralyses were a pity, especially if you see how nice the wound healed and how well the animal was doing from his first meal onwards.