by Freight Freitas
I have read many accounts of wild caught Gonyosoma feeding nightmares, where nothing seemed to work to entice certain snakes to eat. Some would only consume birds, while others only responded to having food literally thrown by them, as if a bird was flying by. In my own experience with w/c Gonyos I have had little to no issues with feeding. Only one of the many w/c Gonyos in my care has ever taken food off tongs (tease feeding), where all the rest have willingly accepted frozen/thawed mice or rats. In general, oxycephala, Salayar black janseni, and male Sulawesi black tailed janseni will most likely never require food larger than jumbo mice. There are occasional reports of exceptionally large oxycephala females in the 7-7.5ft range that could easily feed on small rats, but they are an exception to the rule. Many Sulawesi black tailed janseni females get very large 7-7.5ft, and being much more heavy bodied than oxycephala they have the ability to consume medium sized rats at 1-2 rats per feeding.
Male Gonyos tend to eat less than females, and many w/c snakes will only accept one food item per feeding regardless of rodent size. I have also found that some of my c/b males that have stolen extra food from their female mates do not have the ability to digest very large meals and either pass very runny stool that is not fully digested, or regurgitate part of the meal within 1-2 days after consumption. On the other hand, many of the oxy-jansen hybrids will readily consume three appropriately sized food items at one feeding with no issues at all. The bottom line is that food and feeding preferences are highly individual, and it will take time learn exactly what your snakes prefer.
I use a number of different feeding techniques with my Gonyosoma depending on individual preferences, cage setup, and where each particular snake is within the cage at feeding time. Snakes that will readily feed on f/t rodents that are left in the cage for them are either fed a rodent/s on a small plastic dish that is placed near the snake, or the rodent/s are placed in a butter tub with a window cut out in the side that is simply slid under the bath towel and up close to the snake wherever its hiding. The nice thing about the butter tub is that it tents up the towel and provides some space for the snake to locate its food without being disturbed from its hide spot. It is imperative, particularly with w/c Gonyos, to disturb them as little as possible at feeding time. Wild caught Gonyos can be agitated very easily, which can ultimately lead to skipping a meal, and that’s why I never clean them on the days that they are fed, because it diminishes feeding success dramatically.
Snakes that are tong feeders are simply offered a rodent with a very long set of tongs. Some prefer that the rodent be kept quite still, where others like some action. Shaking a well-heated rodent in front of some snakes is all it takes, and others respond to either stroking, or taping the snake with the rodent. I have one male that likes to see the rodent coming from within the vines, so I shake the rodent in the leaves, while slowly approaching the snake as an enticement. Some of my big c/h janseni females will accept rats either off tongues, or left in the cage near them depending on their mood during that particular feeding, but caution is necessary either way, as they can get very excited during feeding and latch onto each other, or me, as opposed to the rat! A difficult situation either way when dealing with 7.5+ft janseni! I also have three c/b black jansnei that were started on live pinkies, converted to f/t, and now feed in small feeding boxes. For Sulawesi janseni pairs I usually feed only mice to the males, and only rats to the females, which gets each sex used to a different food type. This usually helps to alleviate any potential feeding disasters, although I do have a couple of female janseni that will accept both mice and rats regardless.
Feeding babies has been an entirely different issue altogether. The first baby I ever hatched was Zoxxy, a male oxy-jansen hybrid. I attempted both live and f/t pinkies, tease feeding, feed boxes, leaving food with him overnight, etc., and nothing worked. I then resorted to force-feeding, which after a few months gave way to assist feeding, and at 5mo old he finally ate for the first time by himself right in my hands. The next clutch took less time to come around to tease feeding, and while there are always reluctant participants here and there, my tease feeding technique got better and appeared to be what worked best. I simply put the snake into a small Critter Keeper clear plastic cage with the colored lid and a little trap door in the top, and proceed to wiggle a mouse on tongs in front of the snake. These boxes are nice, because you can work with the snake without worrying about escape, as the trap door is small, but just big enough to allow a decent line of sight to follow the snake with the mouse. Simply holding a hot pinky/fuzzy up to the snakes nose can sometimes be all the enticement necessary, but with others it is necessary to resort to chasing and whacking the snake with the mouse repeatedly until they begin to respond.
I have used the tease feeding technique described above for over two years with very good success in feeding hybrids, but when I began to produce both oxycephala and Sulawesi black tailed janseni things got a bit more difficult. My first two clutches of janseni are truly violent little critters, but even with such a ferocious demeanor they were still difficult to get feeding, as they seemed to be very high stress snakes. On the other hand, my baby oxycephala have extremely calm and placid demeanors, and showed no inclination to strike, bite, or feed whatsoever. So, thinking back to my original hybrid experience I began with force-feeding, which with the oxies gave way to assist feeding, and with the janseni eventually gave way to tease feeding. Since I was seeing such a reluctance to feed by so many babies all at the same time I began to rethink my technique a bit, although it still works extremely well with hybrids. Go figure!
Over the past two months I have been using a feeding box technique, where I perforate small air holes into butter tubs, and simply put each snake into a butter tub with a pinky/fuzzy mouse. Much to my surprise the oxies, and most recent 3rd clutch janseni have responded extremely well to this technique, and are fed this way weekly. Any snakes that are not in shed, and do not eat in the box are switched to the tease feeding chamber, which does occasionally work as a backup for reluctant feeders. I have also been attempting to get my latest clutch of hybrids to feed with this technique, but success is sporadic, and I usually have to resort to the tease technique with at least half the clutch. I personally believe the feed box technique should be the first attempt at feeding baby Gonyos, as its a lot less confrontational than tease feeding. I have been wondering if aggression will be curbed by avoiding tease feeding where possible, but considering that not all my tease feeders are outwardly aggressive all the time its difficult to say.
As far as feeding schedules are concerned, I usually feed babies once weekly for their first year or so, and all adults are fed once every 10 days during the spring and summer, and every 2 weeks during the fall and winter. I live in a climate that has four typical seasons, and I have found that all of my animals react to the chilling effects of winter, regardless of indoor conditions. As a result their feeding response tends to diminish a bit during the cooler months, so I stretch the feeding interval a bit to keep them feeding, while diminishing wasted food. I make the switch in feeding intervals when the snakes become more active in the warmer months, and slow down in the cooler months. If a Gonyo goes off feed for longer than four weeks there is more than likely reason for concern, and that individual may be best separated and quarantined, and watched closely for any signs of illness. Last year I had three Sulawesi janseni males stop eating around the same time, and shortly after they all began to show signs of skin infections. Within a couple of months they all died from a yeast infection of unknown origin.