In the beginning of August, when the green female sulphureus in my care stopped eating and began spending a higher percentage of her time basking, I began to wonder if she might somehow be gravid.
It seemed unlikely in my mind. Prioritizing her health, I had decided to wait out the 2019 season and work on getting her better established before introducing her to a male, but it was still a possibility - snakes are known to occasionally retain sperm from past pairings, and they'll also lay infertile clutches from time to time, if they're in good health. Soon after, when she went into the blue, the likelihood grew even more that she was indeed gravid, but for some reason, I still had my doubts.
On the 20th of August, she shed her skin and ten days later I took her out to palpate her anterior half and identify if I could feel any eggs. Sure enough, as she glided through my hands there were several noticeable lumps, and any remaining doubt dissolved.
Unfortunately, the timing could not have been worse - I was due to leave the morning of the 2nd of September for a week-long family trip to Idaho, and given it had already been ten days since her pre-lay shed, there was little doubt she would lay the clutch while I was out of town. I quickly put together a nesting enclosure using one of of my quarantine tubs, with two nest boxes filled with sphagnum moss, one on each end of the temperature gradient, and left her in the care of my partner while I was away.
On September 5th, my partner texted me the following photo, revealing a clutch of clearly infertile eggs:
I posted the photo alongside an update on the Everything Spilotes Facebook page, and Jason Hood, perhaps the most experienced keeper working with puffing snakes, warned that I should confirm the snake had passed all the eggs as soon as I got home. I had a sinking feeling that would turn out to be prophetic.
I returned home on the evening of the 8th, and confirmed that was indeed the case, with at least one egg yet to be passed. Though a common ailment with snakes, I hadn't encountered dystocia before, so consulting a veterinarian seemed the logical next step. The following day involved a dozen calls to local veterinarians, trying to find someone qualified to take a look at her, as I learned my go-to vet was out of town. I finally found someone willing to look at her, but he was unable to do much beside suggest waiting it out.
I contacted Jason for advice and he recommended aspirating the egg with a large gauge needle, which could be purchased from a feed store. I watched some YouTube videos to get a better idea of what to do, and bought a couple of 16-gauge needles and syringes from the local feed store. With the help of my partner and a friend, we aspirated the egg that evening. It was a surprisingly gentle procedure, which produced no blood and seemingly minimal discomfort to the snake.
So would begin a long wait, during which the snake behaved quite normally, and ate twice. Thirteen days later, on the 22nd, I was relieved to find that the she had passed the egg, which was greatly reduced in size by the procedure:
Unfortunately, the ordeal was not yet over. A brief examination of the snake revealed there was still one last egg that had yet to be passed. I took another trip to the feed store to pick up a couple more needles, and decided that if she hadn't passed the egg within a few days, I'd aspirate this one as well.
On the morning of the 26th, I decided I'd aspirate the egg that evening to move along the process. However, the thought came to me that some exposure to natural sunlight and exercise might support the process by gentler means, so I took her outside and supervised her for thirty minutes as she wandered around the front yard. An hour after placing her back into the quarantine tub, I checked on her to find this:
A final examination later that afternoon confirmed that was the last of the eggs, and I couldn't be more relieved that the ordeal is over for the time being.
I wondered if exposure to humidity cycling might have influenced her to cycle an infertile clutch, but Jason also suggested that it could have been influenced by heavy feeding and seasonal rhythms in Suriname - where this snake was imported from. Whatever the case, it feels both a good sign that the snake was robust enough to produce eggs, and a bad sign that she was not in strong enough condition to easily pass them.
I am hopeful that she will now have the opportunity to put on some weight and get into improved condition before a potential pairing in 2020.