This particular post will encompass feeder rodents in all their glory: where to buy them, how to humanely euthanize them, myths regarding them, and more. This is your one-stop shop for rodent information, basically.
Live vs F/T: The Great Debate
One of the biggest debates in the reptile community, especially in ball python groups, is whether or not feeding live is “safe” compared to feeding frozen/thawed. The fact of the matter is this: both methods have risks.
With live, your risk is bites. However, you can minimize bites by buying from an ethical rodent breeder, as well as treating your rodents well (that means don’t “stun” them, don’t “thump” them, if you don’t feed them off immediately then give them food and water, and don’t leave them with your snake for long periods of time unattended – no more than 30 minutes tops). Rodent breeders typically breed for temperament, and a well-bred, well-fed, well-hydrated mouse is not going to lose its mind and attack your snake in the time it takes your snake to decide if it wants to eat or not.
Why no stunning/thumping? Because… think about it. You are essentially attacking the mouse or rat. You are putting it on the defensive before you even put it in the enclosure. It is already afraid and going to react accordingly – versus placing it in the enclosure and letting your nature-evolved ambush predator do what ambush predators do best: catch its prey by surprise.
So live’s risk is out of the way… what about frozen/thawed?
Frozen/thawed has the risk of bags being “tainted.” This can be anything from a bad ratio of CO2 when the rodent was dispatched (or CO2 used instead of freezing in the case of pinkies), or the rodents thawing, being refrozen and thawing again. Tainted feeders cause more deaths than most people realize and, unlike the cases of bites from live, it’s typically every snake fed from one bag. There’s also no visual cue to know in most cases.
The “safest” method of feeding is freshly killed rodents.
In short: Feed what your snake will eat, that is readily accessible for you. If your snake will eat f/t and you want to feed f/t, do so. If your snake will only eat live, feed live. Both have risks.
Mice vs Rats vs ASFs
Often-times one of the biggest things touted in the ball python hobby is that “rats are more nutritious.” This originated from a combination of factors, one of which is that rats are just generally easier to breed and more convenient to feed; another is a skewed study that doesn’t include calcium values at all; the third is that a lot of people don’t bother to actually read those studies outright.
So here we will address them.
This is the chart most-often cited to defend rats as a better prey item (It actually came from the USDA, but their original link is no longer available). As before stated, this particular chart has a few flaws. The biggest one is that it doesn’t actually include calcium values (which are very important) in its study. The second is the N value. N in this study means observations. You will notice the mice have a much higher N value than the others: in other words, way more examples were taken from mice than rats, skewing the results.
Other charts – with calcium value – actually show that mice of equal size to immature rats have nearly double the calcium. This is because immature rats have a skeletal system that is not fully formed; they are, essentially, just crude fat, while mice of the same size are usually mature.
So are mice better than rats? That depends on your perspective. From an objective point of view: immature rats have higher fat and slightly higher protein, while mice have a much higher calcium value. The differences are a trade off. After you get to weaned rats, rats generally start pulling ahead, and do have the convenience of being able to have one feeder versus multiple, but there are no actual studies indicating that one large feeder vs multiple smaller at one time is somehow better or safer for the snake.
In short: it comes down to personal preference.
What about African Soft Furs, you ask? They fall pretty solidly in the middle of the spectrum somewhere between rats and mice. Many breeders will avoid them because live african soft furs were on the Lacey act (and so could not be transported across state lines) for years and are also illegal in several states. They are also called multimammate mice outside of the United States.
Which should you feed? Whichever is cheaper / more easily accessible / more convenient for you, that your snake will eat. All of them are perfectly fine feeders and your snake will be equally healthy on any of them.
Diverse Diets and “Stuck” on a Prey Item
Simply put: There’s actually no proven benefit to feeding ball pythons a “diverse” diet, such as adding in chicks, rabbit pinks, etc. If it’s a rodent, it can eat it, and yes, your ball python can also eat Reptilinks and chicks. They do not require or need these, but they are not dangerous for them as a periodic change of pace. They don’t necessarily do well on chicks as a permanent prey item, however, and they can have messy and smelly stool if you feed them too often.
There’s also a tendency ball pythons have to sometimes get “stuck” on a prey item. This is rare, but can happen: this usually refers to a ball refusing to eat anything but that specific prey item. Most of the time they aren’t truly stuck on one thing (IE, they seem to be “stuck” on mice, but actually just will eat anything but rats). For this reason, it’s usually a poor idea to offer feeders you will not have regular access to. We stopped feeding ASF rats years ago for this very reason. We had 3 snakes that seemed they would eat nothing else, and we sold them as ASF eaters.
Today I have one female that was sold to me as a mouse eater only. I can get her to eat a rat, but only if it’s given to her after feeding her a mouse first. Damn Snake!
There are only three ways that are AMVA approved for euthanasia of rodents – and anything else suggested in this group is subject to removal (as it denotes animal cruelty). Those methods of euthanasia are:
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – not to be used on pinky rodents under 10 days
- Cervical Dislocation (CD)
- Freezing (for use in pinky rodents 10 days and under ONLY)
For more information on these guidelines, visit the AMVA website: https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Documents/euthanasia.pdf
Frozen/Thawed: How to Thaw Correctly
When approaching the subject of thawing rodents, it’s best to consider them the same way you would a piece of meat – with one notable exception: you’re never going to want to throw a frozen rodent in the microwave (spoiler: they explode).
According to the USDA, the safest ways to thaw are the following:
Refrigerator Thawing (preferred method)
Planning ahead is the key to this method because of the lengthy time involved. A large frozen item like a turkey [rabbit] requires at least a day (24 hours) for every 5 pounds of weight. Even small amounts of frozen food — such as a pound of ground meat or boneless chicken breasts — require a full day to thaw. When thawing foods in the refrigerator, there are variables to take into account.
• Some areas of the appliance may keep food colder than other areas.
• Food will take longer to thaw in a refrigerator set at 35 ºF than one set at 40 ºF.
Food thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking, although there may be some loss of quality.
Cold Water Thawing
This method is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention. The food must be in a leakproof package or plastic bag. If the bag leaks, bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could be introduced into the food. Also, the meat tissue may absorb water, resulting in a watery product. The bag should be submerged in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes so it continues to thaw. Small packages of meat, poultry or seafood – about a pound – may thaw in an hour or less. A 3- to 4-pound package may take 2 to 3 hours. For whole turkeys [rabbits], estimate about 30 minutes per pound. Foods thawed by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing. [in other words, don’t refreeze].
Cold Water Thawing
The best advice to switch your snake to feeding on frozen/thawed is simply this: persistence. Don’t attempt to starve your snake, because starving your snake is not going to make it magically recognize a frozen feeder as a prey item (which is the reason most refuse frozen/thawed). Generally, the best way to get your snake to take frozen/thawed truly is to have your snake respond to food so quickly that they never realize the difference. So feed your snake – feed your snake well – and just persistently try.
Some never switch to frozen/thawed. Some that have been on frozen/thawed all their life will suddenly decide they need live to jumpstart feeding responses. Ball pythons are notorious for being a touch inconsistent with feeding frozen. Be patient, and above all else, never starve your snake in hopes of making it eat what you want.
Live rodents cannot be shipped without an astronomical charge. You will have to locate someone local to you. The best bet you have to find someone is in our sister group, Feeder Breeder Enthusiasts.Below are frozen/thawed specialists. Please note: RodentPro is not listed here for a reason – they have had too many scandals to be recommended here. If you’ve bought from them and had good luck, great! But we do not advise taking the risk.
Perfect Prey – http://www.perfectprey.com
Over-all fantastic packaging, great customer service, great quality rodents. Higher price tag, does not have a ‘stock’ shipping fee so the further from Florida you are, the higher that’s going to go. Generally they middle-range for their feeder sizes (so if it says between 20 and 30 grams, expect 25, for instance). They vacuum seal their bags so you’ll have to repack once you open. They offer smaller quantity options, and to my knowledge are the ONLY frozen place that does so.
American Rodent Supply – http://www.americanrodent.com
These guys are my choice on rodents. They often “stuff the bag” for mice, so you’ll get a few extras from time to time. They have more size options and even offer hairless options. They also have a stock box fee depending on the region you’re at. They are strictly bulk. They pack things in ziplocks rightly, not vacuumed sealed. They are generally the cheapest option.
Reptilinks – http://www.reptilinks.com
If you order over $200, they are the cheapest option *for rats*. They vacuum seal ziplocks – so you have a ziplock inside of a vacuum pack. This is my favorite packaging to date as a result. Their prices on rats are competitive, their prices on mice are high. They are always at least a week behind (so if you order, say, today – it wont go out Monday or Tuesday like the other places – it will go out in a couple weeks). Rodents are clean, sizes are nice. Good if you want to bulk order rats.
Layne Labs – http://www.laynelabs.com
Layne Labs is located on the west coast. Like PerfectPrey, they do not have a stock shipping fee and so are expensive depending on where you are located. Their reputation is top notch, however, and they have a wide variety of rodents.
Big Cheese Rodent Factory – http://www.bigcheeserodents.com
So Big Cheese here is a mixed bag. They have a very loyal customer base and for the most part, their rodents are clean (if a bit on the small side). They vacuum seal their rodents and have a stock shipping fee. However: one BPE admin received a bag of tainted feeders from this source and suffered fatalities as a result.
Coldblooded Cafe – http://www.coldbloodedcafe.com
For the most part, Coldblooded Cafe is a very good source. Not quite as clean as Reptilinks and PerfectPrey, but more so than ARS. They ship UPS ground but they package very well and their rodent sizes are extremely consistent; they also frequently run discounts and have a stock shipping fee of $30. They also have a very large variety of package sizing that differs from all of their competitors, giving the customer more options for sizing.