Augustine, L., Baskir, E., Kozlowski, C. P. 2022. Investigating welfare metrics for snakes at the Saint Louis zoo. Animals 12(3), 373.
Modern herpetoculture has seen a rise in welfare-related habitat modifications, although ethologically-informed enclosure design and evidence-based husbandry are lacking. The diversity that exists within snakes complicates standardizing snake welfare assessment tools and evaluation techniques. Utilizing behavioral indicators in conjunction with physiological measures, such as fecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations, could aid in the validation of evidence-based metrics for evaluating snake welfare. We increased habitat cleaning, to identify behavioral or physiological indicators that might indicate heightened arousal in snakes as a response to the disturbance. While glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations increased significantly during a period of increased disturbance, this increase was not associated with a significant increase in tongue-flicking, a behavior previously associated with arousal in snakes. Locomotion behavior and the proportion of time spent exposed were also not affected by more frequent habitat cleaning. These results demonstrate the need to further investigate the behavioral and physiological responses of snakes to different aspects of animal care at a species and individual level. They also highlight the need to collect baseline behavioral and physiological data for animals, in order to make meaningful comparisons when evaluating changes in animal care.