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How Many Day Old Chicks Will my Reptile Eat?
Day Old chicks (DOC) are a tremendous source of convenient nutrition for your reptile. But reptile is such a generic word. Reptiles come in so many shapes and sizes, and have differing needs. Those that are carnivorous tend to be on large size end of the scale. Not Jurassic Park size, of course, but still hefty none the less. And how much of anything they eat will depend upon their size and age. In this guide, we will start with the needs of the smallest species that are popular pets and graduate to the largest.
As opposed to snakes, which are primarily carnivores, only 3.2 % of the world’s lizard species are meat eaters.
An increasingly popular lizard pet among experienced keepers is the venomous Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum). They grow to about about 20 inches in length, and are the largest lizards indigenous to the United States.
During warm weather the Gila monster feeds at night on small mammals, birds, and eggs. Fat stored in the tail and abdomen at this time is utilized during the winter months. The young ones can consume up to 50% of their body weight in just a single feeding while its 35% for the adults. They are about 4 pounds at maturity.
Feeding them every two weeks is recommended for adults. Although a diet consisting of day old chicks exclusively is not recommended for this species, they can eat a lot of chicks in a month’s time when using these items to supplement a diet of mostly mice. Since the weight of a DOC is 1.2 ounces, a keeper could feed this pet 10 chicks per month for adults and still leave plenty of room for rodent food items. Juveniles could eat as many as 12 per month.
The only other venomous lizard in the world comes from further south than the Gila Monster. Beaded lizards are a larger cousin that are also popular with experienced keepers. Since they can reach a weight of 6 pounds, they can consume more chicks per month without becoming obese. For adults, 15 chicks per month is not too many.
Both Beaded lizards and Gila monsters will tend to become obese if they are fed too many chicks and they are kept in an undersized habitat, so monitoring of weight is advised. Before hibernation, when they will want to pack extra weight into their tails, 2-3 more chicks per month can be added to the diet, as well as right after they cease brumation.
Cuvier’s Dwarf Caiman is another pet that thrives on the addition of chicks to their diet. Like all crocodilians, they have very small stomachs and so cannot handle large meals all and once. They also have to be fed more often than the lizards listed above. Keepers of adult caimans can feed their pets 3 chicks per week, but should be careful to offer other food items as well, such as fish.
Now we will address the most common carnivorous lizard pets, the Family Varanus, otherwise known as monitor lizards.
And what a varied family it is! From the smallest known monitor in the world, the Dampier Peninsula monitor (Varanus sparnus) of Australia weighing just over 16 grams, to the famous and dangerous Komodo Dragon at 300 pounds.
Chicks are not well suited for some of the smaller monitors such as the Ackies and Timor, but a fine choice for larger species. A mature Savannah Monitor will take chicks gladly, and can be fed two per week, along with the occasional mouse or even rat for balance. Once this species reaches 3 feet, they can consume around 10 chicks per month. At 3.5 feet or larger, they can be fed chicks as old as 10 days.
Dumeril’s or Rough-necked Monitors are less popular than Savies, but a beautiful pet that can get up to 5 feet long. Juveniles should only be offered insect protein, but sub-adults can be offered chicks 3 times a week in addition to other foods. Adults will need slightly less and will have a greater tendency toward obesity that the sub-adults, so feeding amounts may need to be tailored according to weight management needs. When feeding chicks frequently, sanitation needs to be considered. Dumerils are famous for shredding their live food all over the place and making a real mess. Keepers who plan to feed a lot of fluffy chick meals should keep their pet’s toenails well trimmed so that the enclosure doesn’t resemble a high school pillow fight. Adults of this species can be fed up to 15 chicks per month.
Asian Water Monitor
For the adventurous keeper who likes large pets, the Asian Water Monitor can be a fun choice. Weighing in at 50 pounds when fully grown, they can eat a lot of chicks. Subadults will need 2-3 chicks daily and adults will need 3-4 chicks every other day. This is approximate, because like all monitors, obesity can become a problem. An adult will consume a 25 count order of day old chicks per month. This is one species that can easily consume chicks 10-15 days old.
Just for fun, let’s assume that some really crazy keeper with a death wish wants to feed chicks to their new Komodo dragon pet. One might assume that such a huge beast at maturity starts out life rather large and strong as well. Not so, for hatchlings only weigh less than three times as much as the average day old chick. But give them a few weeks, and they will eat 5 chicks per day. At maturity at around 200-300 pounds, they would need 160 pounds of meat per month. That would amount to $2,080 chicks per year! Not a budget friendly pet.
As you might expect, how many chicks to feed snakes will depend on their size, age and species. Chicks are a better option than rodents, and should be on the menu for every snake keeper that supplies frozen rodents.
For instance, most small to medium sized snakes should not be offered chicks before 6 months of age. This rule of thumb will vary by species and gender.
A male Ball python should not be offered a chick before the age of one year. They grow more quickly than females, but only attain ½ the size of the ladies. Some big girls can be offered chicks at 6 months old but this is risky since the snake might possibly choke. By sexual maturity at 3 years, however, they will be eating twice as many as the fellas. As a rough guide to feeding chicks to your ball python:
- Hatchling-6 months old: no chicks
- 6-12 months old: no chicks for males
- 12-18 months old: every 10-14 days = one chick and one small rat
- 18-24 months old: every 2-3 weeks = two chicks and one medium rat
- 2-2.5 years old: every 2-3 weeks = two chicks and one medium rat
- 3+ years old: every 3-4 weeks = two chicks and 3 mice
Particularly large females may need 3 chicks and 3 mice monthly. Adult growth slows down dramatically after year 3, and feeding too many chicks can result in obesity.
Boa constrictors are a different matter. They are nearly twice the length of an average Ball python upon hatching and will grow to be twice the length or more of the average male Ball Python when reaching sexual maturity. Boas should be able to handle DOC easily at three months of age.
- 3-6 months: one DOC every 4 days
- 6-12 months: two chicks every 4 days
- 1-2 years: 3 chicks per week
- 2+ years: it depends
Red-tailed boas can live to the ripe old age of 25 or 30 with good care. During that time, your pet should attain a typical length of 7 to 8 feet. However, the animal’s eventual size is dictated by heredity and the amount he is fed. Boas that are fed minimally may only reach 5 feet in length. Aggressively “power fed” boas can end up 10 to 12 feet long.
Overfeeding this species in the sub-adult phase of their life causes the boa’s organs to grow and mature too rapidly to support the rest of him. Power feeding by doubling the number of chicks supplied at feeding time will cause tremendous growth, but shorten the pets life span to age 4 or 5. Adhering to the feeding schedule suggested above will prevent early demise.
Smaller snakes will take much less to feed. For instance, a sand boa will only need about 30 chicks per year, whereas a fully grown female Ball will need about 35, and a male Ball will need only 25. A red tail boa of average size will require about 120 per year. For this many chicks, it may behoove the boa keeper to raise some chicks to an older age, around 2 months of age or so, which a snake that size can easily handle. Or the keeper can offer their adult boa a rabbit once a month, and a couple of chicks as a snack and a way of including variety.
Snakes can be fed Live Chicks
For all species of snakes being feed rodents or rabbits, all offerings should be frozen and thawed. For chicks, safety of the pet is not a concern, and one or two (or more) live chicks can be placed in the enclosure at any time and left there without supervision. Slightly older chicks, 10 days or so, can also be placed in live. By three months, the chick is a 2.5 pound chicken and capable of escaping or fighting back, so the keeper will need to monitor the situation at feeding time.
Some keepers will be drawn to really large snakes. For these species, DOC are only practical for hatchlings and juveniles. For instance, an adult green anaconda will require as much as 150 lbs of food annually. That’s the equivalent of 4 adult chickens per month! Better than keeping a pet wolf, however, who requires 3,000 pounds of meat per year at a minimum. Your pet anaconda would need about as many chicks yearly as your average pet Komodo dragon, while your pet wolf would require about 39,000 DOC per year. Compared to the cost of feeding a wolf, the anaconda seems a very good deal after all.
Four species of semiaquatic South American boas go by the name of anaconda, only two of which are common in the pet trade. One is the green anaconda (Eunectes murinus), which occurs in countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Colombia, Venezuela and the island of Trinidad. This species does express consistent sexual dimorphism. Females are generally larger as adults, but adult size varies tremendously, and it is directly related to an individual’s genetic makeup, the quality of care it receives, and food availability.
Males often average 7 to 9 feet when raised on a sensible regimen of small prey items. However, when fed more frequently with larger prey items, captive males often reach 10 to 14 feet. Females average between 11 and 13 feet long when fed a balanced diet and not overfed. Some keepers claim Green Annies have slightly better personalities than Yellow Annies, others say there is very little difference. Despite being considered a non-aquatic species, they definitely love water when they get older, so the problem of drowning chicks may be an issue if they decide they simply must have their meal in a tub. Other than that consideration, keepers can feel free to begin to offer chicks at one week of age. They can be offered one every 14 days, while offering a rodent meal on the alternating weeks. This routine can be maintained until the snake is 18 months old. After that age, they will need larger food items weekly.
The other anaconda pet species is the yellow or Paraguayan anaconda. Yellow Annies are somewhat smaller than the green anaconda, but with an average size of between 11 and 14.5 feet, it’s still a massive snake. As with most pythons and boas, sexual dimorphism occurs and females are generally larger than males, with the capability of reaching 15.1 feet in length. They usually weigh between 55 to 77 pounds, although females 121 pounds have been observed in the wild when food is abundant or when power fed in captivity.
Yellow anacondas have amazing feed responses, and can be quite vicious to their live reptile food. They feed once a week to every 10 days. Most neonates, which are between 17 inches and 24 inches, start off being able to eat rat pups or weans and the occasional DOC, and from there you can judge the size of food your animal can eat based on its girth.
It is best and most economical to feed both species of anacondas rats, rabbits and full grown chickens as adults. But as hatchlings, DOC can be a very practical and advisable food choice. Both species will take DOC at 3 days of age. Especially for Yellow Annies, dropping in live food should be entertaining. Of the two species, these are the ones with an especially ferocious temperament, and as such are not suggested for inexperienced keepers. Despite their sketchy temperament, they are growing in popularity and hatchlings can be acquired between $400 and $500 from breeders. This rather vicious snake needs to be handled often as a juvenile, or when chicks are presented, even when dropped in, this pet may lunge for the hand that feeds it. One disadvantage of offering this snake live chicks is that as an aquatic specialist, they often prefer to take their meals in the water. This means an extra level of cruelty for the 6-8 chicks that will be fed weekly to juveniles as they thrash around in the water before the snake strikes. Keepers wishing to feed chicks to this species might want to empty the water pan first.
Hatchling Burmese pythons average a length of 22 inches (56 cm) and a weight of 4 ounces (113 grams). Female Burmese pythons grow to a larger size than their male counterparts, with the average length of a female Burmese python landing between 13 and 18 feet (4 -5.4 m), though there are reports of female Burmese reaching lengths of more than 19 feet.
The average length of a male Burmese python is still pretty large, between 8 and 14 feet (2.4 — 4.2 m), but can occasionally reach a length of 17 feet (5.1 m). In addition to being one of the largest species of snake, Burmese pythons are also among the heaviest of the giant snakes and a 17-18 foot Burmese can weigh more than 200 pounds.
As with the other very large species mentioned above, feeding chicks is best done while the snake is young.
- From hatchling to 4 feet (4 months old): Feed one then two every 3-4 days.
- At 4 feet switch to three chicks every 5-7 days, alternating with rodent items
- By 6 – 7 feet they will need 3-pound rabbits, every 7-10 days. Chicks only as an occasional live food treat.
This species is easier to feed chicks to. They will not want them placed in water and don’t tend to be quite as ‘strikey’ as anacondas. They do have a tremendous growth rate even when not power fed, and will quickly outgrow the size of DOC offerings. For this species, raising chicks to a greater weight is a good strategy. A keeper with a hatchling Burmese can expect to need about 150 DOC in the snake’s first year of life, even with the additional rodents.
Other species of snakes enjoy the occasional DOC. Gopher snakes, pine snakes and bullsnakes are becoming more popular as pets. Some are even being bred into attractive morphs. Although these snakes are all rodent specialists, they do enjoy the occasional DOC when they are big enough. These long, thin species cannot handle food the size of a chick until they are more than a year old. After that, they can be offered 2-3 chicks a month for the rest of their lives.
Some unusual individuals decide that having venomous snakes is a good idea. The Tiger Rattlesnake indigenous to the American southwest is kept as a pet more often than you would think at first. They do well on a diet of mainly rodents, but benefit from the occasional DOC when they are adults. Giving this snake about 2 chicks per month should keep them in good spirits, if one can say that about any individuals of the rattler family.
Summary for Chicks as Food
In conclusion, how many chicks a keeper will need to supply to his or her reptile pet will depend on a number of variables.
Small but fast growing species will do well with 2-4 chicks per month as adults. Huge, slow growing species can usually be offered DOC before the first month of life. Large females of the larger snake breeds may need as much as 1/3 more chicks every year than their male counterparts. Once really large snakes reach 18 months of age, feeding chicks is impractical except as an occasional live treat. DOC are a little more fattening than rats, so keepers wishing to power feed their pets once they are large enough to handle DOC items will want to provide 25% more each year until sexual maturity. At that point they will want to cut back because growth will slow appreciably and obesity will be a real risk. But chicks can be offered throughout the life of the smaller and mid-sized species.
An order of 25 per year should be enough for dietary supplementation for the behavioral enrichment and nutritional variety needed to keep medium sized snakes in maximum health. This same amount should suffice for Gila monster’s and beaded lizards, but larger lizards will outgrow the ability to utilize them economically except as an occasional snack, in which case an order of 25 per year should suffice. Baby chicks will grow quickly however. And if you're trying to preserve them, you can freeze your chicks to maintain their preferred size.