Beyond The Care Sheets with Gabby Nikolle & Emzotic | Ball Python Care | S1E3

Beyond The Care Sheets with Gabby Nikolle & Emzotic | Ball Python Care | S1E3

Check out the full episode right here!

Em:Hey Zen friends, and welcome back to another amazing episode of Beyond the Care Sheets. Today I'm going to be chatting to Gabby Nikolle, and I am so excited to have her on. I can see she's already joined us; I cannot wait to hear what she has to say about ball python care. We are here with the amazing Gabby Nicole. Gabby, are you there?


Em:Hi, Gabby. Thank you so much for joining us this evening.

Gabby:Of course. So happy to be here. I am here with TikTok.

Em:Oh, my goodness. I am such a huge TikTok fan, and I'm not talking about the app. I am talking about Gabby’s snake. TikTok is actually a rescue and has such a heartwarming and special story. Gabby, why don't you tell us a little bit about TikTok and then we'll talk about you as well.

Chip the Ball Python from Zen Habitats. Chip lives in a 4'x2'x2' Ball Python Enclosure by Zen Habitats.

Gabby:Sure. So TikTok was found abandoned in a local park and we got the call to go out and rescue her. And when we pulled her out, she was just covered in ticks, she was hiding in a little hole. I was expecting her to bite me and be defensive, and she did not bite me. She was like the sweetest thing ever. We pulled her out of the hole and you could just see her face was covered in like massive ticks. And then under every single scale, she had little ticks, so we hand like removed by hand over 150 of them. And then the rest of them just had to come off within a few weeks after she shed and after getting her medication and soaking her. So, yeah, her story actually went viral; The Dodo shared it. She got like millions of hits on the actual app, TikTok, which is why we named her TikTok. And yeah, she's just a sweetheart and she have lots of fans.

Em:Oh, I'm certainly one of her fans. I just felt so sorry for her when you first brought her in. And Gabby, that actually leads on so nicely to my next question, which is- please tell us a bit about yourself, because for those who are just joining in and those who are some of our Zen friends who might or might not be familiar with Gabby Nikolle and some of the rescue work that she does, please tell us a little bit about what you do.

Gabby:Sure. So, I've been involved in animal education and just rescue for about ten years now. And I moved to Florida four years ago from New York and that's really when I got super involved in rescuing animals. So, I do a lot of alligator rescue in Florida. And then I basically run an animal rescue from my house. So, we have rescued birds, a rescued pig, rescued snakes. So, we do just a lot of animal rehab, rescue, and education.

Em:That is so amazing. And I'm sure that there are plenty of animals that are so thankful for your efforts. I also know that you do a ton with alligator rescue, which is obviously a huge deal out in Florida. You do tons of amazing stuff as you’re a gator girl and you also work with Chris Gillette, so that's really exciting I can't thank you enough for being with us this evening. Well, please tell us what drew you, first of all, to ball pythons.

Gabby:I think that all pythons are some of the like the sweetest snakes, the best ambassador snakes. And I feel like they're overlooked a lot just because everybody has one, you know. So, a lot of people they just care about the morphs. There's so many different like beautiful ones, but I feel like the normals are just really overlooked. They make such great pets and such great education animals. That's why I love them.

Em:Oh, they're just absolutely amazing. I also have my ball python Kaa who I've had for about 15 years now, and she's just absolutely amazing. It's amazing how just how versatile and robust they are, they can withstand so much, which also means a lot of people not to realize that the snake is actually not thriving as well as they could be, so it's really great that we're having this chat. Just to answer a couple of questions that our viewers have in some of their queries; I would love to know what does a typical day in the day of the life of a ball python keeper look like?

Gabby:Honestly, once you get past the initial set up, they're pretty low maintenance if you have the temperature and the humidity levels correct. And that might be a reoccurring theme, but I'm so fortunate that I live in Florida, so it's humid here and it's hot, so I have it, I'm extremely lucky, I have it good here. In New York I know it's a little bit more difficult for reptiles. You have to be really on top of the temperature and the humidity, but I'm really lucky to live in Florida.

Em:Yeah, that's definitely a challenge that I've had since I moved to Colorado, is keeping the humidity up in a lot of my enclosures, but thankfully I have these Zen Habitats with the PVC material, so it's a lot easier to just keep track of the humidity, so that's definitely a good point that you made. I'm so jealous that you live in Florida and it's just so great for so many species.

Gabby:Yeah. And once you get, like I said, past the initial setup, it's just scooping poop once a week. You know, that's really all.

Em:That is just awesome to hear. Thank you so much for that. I also know that you do a little bit of work in different veterinary clinics and that you just started a new job. So, congratulations! And I'm sure that in your line of work, you do see probably most commonly the ball python when a snake is brought in. What are some of the most common ailments that you tend to see in your clinics?

ball python in wild. Gabby Nikole of Flordia Wildest talks ball pythons on a Zen Habitats show, Beyond The Care Sheets. Ball Python snake hanging from tree branch in the wild.

Gabby:So, ball pythons are very prone to respiratory infections and that's because of lack of humidity or improper humidity. If so, that's definitely something that we see a lot. And then if people really aren't paying attention or doing their research, I've seen quite a few ball pythons with just horrific shed. So, yeah.

Em:Oh, my goodness. Are we talking about stuck sheds here? Incomplete sheds?

Gabby:Yeah. No, stuck shed basically across like the full body. Like months and months' worth of shed. But I feel like you really have to try to not care for your animal for that to happen. But of course, respiratory infections, they happen. Even if you are trying your best they do happen. And that's why it's always important to have a vet that that you make a connection with, and that you know sees exotics because it can be very hard to find a vet that sees exotics. So, before you buy any exotic animal, I definitely recommend having a vet that you can call in an emergency, or if you have questions. Yeah.

Em:That is such a great tip. I don't think many people realize that not every vet will see exotic animals. So that is definitely a really, really great point to make. And then just going back to these stuck sheds; one of the most common questions that I was asked to ask you is what do you do when a ball python has a really bad stuck shed?

Gabby:Yeah. So, when we first got TikTok she was in a really rough shed, so we made sure her humidity levels were correct, then we would give her soaks. So, we would give her daily soaks, and that definitely helped her shed as well. But if your husbandry is correct, you wouldn’t be dealing with shedding problems that much. That happens once in a while, but nothing like I was talking about with the whole body. Also having a water dish that’s big enough for the snake to soak if they choose to.

Em:That's really, really great advice. Thank you so much for that. And just for my own curiosity, I know there are a few products out there on the market which claim to help with assisting with stuck sheds. Do you recommend any of these products or do you prefer the water method?

Gabby:You know, I've never actually used- I know there’s like ReptiEase and things like that. I would be interested actually if anyone has used it to see if they recommend that. But I've just always soaked my snakes and that has worked for me.

Em:Yeah. Anybody who is watching, if you feel free, feel free to share some of your comments down below. I can see a couple of you talking to each other. Zen Friend 1, hello. I see you just said hello to everybody, so thank you so much for joining us. Next up, we have another question from Parker Peaches and Parker Peaches asks, what kind of substrate would you recommend that is best for a ball python?

Gabby:So, I recently discovered from Josh's frogs, I believe it's called ABG Mix. It's like, yeah, that's what it's called, Atlanta botanical garden mix. And it's just like a mix of different moss, like peat moss, cypress. And I think it looks beautiful and it also holds the humidity so well, and it's great if you want to do bioactive and grow live plants. So that's what I have in TikTok's enclosure and I love it.

Em:That is so awesome. Over at Zen Habitats, we are huge fans of Josh's Frogs and we know that they've got really great selections of products as well. I haven't checked out that mix, I'll definitely have to do that. ABG mix, was that correct?

Gabby:That’s correct. All you have to do is add water. They have everything in their ready to go, so you just have to add water, mix it, put it in the enclosure. That's it.

Em:That is so great. And also, of course, that moss in there is just going to help so much with boosting the humidity, so that's a really great recommendation. Thank you so much for that, Gabby. Next up, we have a question from Zen Friend 2 and they ask, what are the essentials to have on hand as a first-time ball python keeper?

Gabby:Well, besides your basic enclosure and bowls and things like this, I feel like it's really important to do your research. That's the most important thing rather than just materials, it’s really doing your research. If you have like a snake hook handy, especially if you're not comfortable in the enclosure, definitely a snake hook.

Em:Snake hooks are so, so useful and versatile. I definitely have a little collection of them, I have a bit of a problem with collecting them, but that's really, really great advice. And just inserting my own opinion in here, what I keep Kaa in is the 4x2x2 PVC panel Zen Habitat enclosure, so if you wanted to check that out, feel free to go and do that. Gabby is one of our affiliates and you can certainly go and use her our affiliate link to go and make a purchase of that enclosure as well. And then you've mentioned with the snake hooks a little bit about handling; let's talk about handling. What are the differences between handling, say, a younger ball python and an older ball python?

Gabby:I mean, with all animals as you know, it depends on the individual. You know, we get that question a lot about alligators; is it better to handle a smaller one or a bigger one? It really depends on the individual. I know that sometimes they're younger, they're not as socialized, so they can be a little bit nippier. But I've never met a mean ball python, believe it or not. A lot of the time when I see people get bit, it's a feeding response.

Em:Oh, okay, that's all really great information to have on hand. And we also, we spoke a little bit about Tik Tok earlier in this interview, so if you're just joining in now, and you missed that, make sure that you come back for the full video, which will also be available on YouTube right after this segment. And I would love to talk a little bit about snake mites. Snake mites can be a huge problem, you know, they're a kind of mite/tick that affects mostly just the snakes. What's a good way to identify them and a good way to get rid of snake mites?

ball pythons in wild. Gabby Nikole of Flordia Wildest talks ball pythons on a Zen Habitats show, Beyond The Care Sheets. Zen Habitats makes 4'x2'x2' Ball Python enclosures. Ball python in the wild

Gabby:Well, I would say the best way to prevent them is definitely quarantine anything new coming in. And I know sometimes in bedding, in aspen bedding especially, mites can occur. We have had one breakout luckily, just one in all the years we've been keeping. We brought one snake in and somehow, they got into the snake room and that was a nightmare. But we just started putting them on paper towel, soaking them, applying over the counter things you can buy – MiteOFF, things like that. But the thing that's difficult about mites is they'll go in the heat pits and the eggs will stay there. They look like everything is normal and good and got rid of the mites and then those hatch out. So, it could be a nightmare, so the best thing is to try to prevent. By the way Em, I hope you can still see me. I was outside the lighting was so good when we started. Now it's just getting darker and darker.

Em:Yes, I can still see you. It’s definitely a little bit dimmer, but we can still see your lovely smile so.

Gabby:I'll go inside in here. We have TikTok’s enclosure right here.

Em:And it's a Zen Habitat, so bonus points! That's fantastic. Thank you for telling us a little bit about snake mites and handling a breakout of snake mites; definitely prevention is the best clause for keeping snake mites away. And also with snake mites, it can be really difficult to know that you've gotten rid of them for sure because they kind of hatch in cycles. So, you might not see them for a while and then suddenly they're everywhere. So, you definitely do want to quarantine all of your animals when you do bring them home, just so that you don't have to deal with that because they do spread like wildfire. And then just going on to our next question. We have a question by Zen Friend 3, and she asks, is a ball python a good first snake?

Gabby:I think they are good first snakes as long as you do your research. Any animal, though, like any animal can be like a great pet as you know what you're doing, you're getting yourself into. So, if you're prepared to be able to keep a ball python for the next 30 years then yeah, they can be a great pet. You know, if you have the space and the money to properly set up an enclosure, they can be fabulous. Like I said, they have a great temperament a ball python is one of my favorites of all of the education animals. So absolutely.

Em:Yeah, that's definitely one of the gentler species when you handle them with care and with some frequency. I can see a question down here, Zen Friend 4 asks, will there be any more Beyond the Care Sheets IG lives on the way? The answer is yes. We're going to have another one next week and we already have a whole bunch of other episodes. This is episode three, so there are two others that you can go and catch up on. I spoke to Tyler Rugge on the subject of the Crested Gecko, as well as Mariah from ReptiFiles, and that is all on the Zen Habitats YouTube channel, so if you missed those, you can definitely go and check out the full episodes right there. Next up, we have a question from Zen Friend 5 and they ask, is it better to house multiple ball pythons together or alone in a properly sized enclosure?

Gabby:It's definitely better to have them alone. [Unintelligible] This is something we see a lot of, as you know as well, at zoos and things like that, with solitary animals. People are like, “well, don’t they get lonely and want friends?” But it’s important to not project emotions in animals. So, if the animal is solitary [in the wild], it should really be solitary in captivity as well. So, definitely keep them alone.

Em:That's a really good point. I know a lot of people will place them together for breeding and that's one thing, but even that has to be carefully considered. But when you do have multiple snakes living together, then some species of snakes will predate on other snakes, including their own species, so you do have to be really careful about that. Feeding times can also get pretty messy and difficult when you are cohabiting snakes, so you definitely do want to just keep them separate, as Gabby did just mention. And then we're going to go on to a question from Zen Friend 6. And they ask, is there any way to get a ball python to eat more regularly? And then there's a little note saying that hers has been having some difficulty with having a regular feeding schedule.

Gabby:Yeah. So, this is another thing that we see a lot in the veterinary field, and the first thing the vets tell you is to make sure your husbandry is perfect. That's always the first step. So, make sure your temperatures are correct, your humidity levels are correct and I know ball pythons tend to be finicky eaters. Luckily TikTok does not miss a meal. We got very lucky with her. I know sometimes snakes like some of our other snakes will sometimes not eat for two or three months. So as long as their body condition looks okay and they don't look too skinny; remember in the wild they're going to eat irregularly as well. And just when they do eat, make sure you're feeding them the, like, proportionate, the right sized meal for their body. You don’t want it to be too small or too large.

Em:Mhm. That's a really, really great point for sure. I think some people when they first bring home especially their first snake, are a little bit confused as to what size prey, you know- would this, this yearling eats a rabbit, would it eat something the size of a gerbil? I think it can get a little bit difficult. Is there a general rule for what size prey one would feed a ball python?

Gabby:Yeah. So, when I was first starting to work with snakes, when you feed them, you want to see a little bit of a lump on the side, you know? So, you want it just a little thicker body.

Em:Awesome. Thank you so much for that. And there are two options. Some people like to feed live and some people like to feed frozen and thawed. I'm personally a big fan of Frozen Thawed because it's so much safer for the snake. But is there a difference nutritionally?

Gabby:I don't think so. You know, I'm not into keeping venomous, but I hear with venomous snakes it is important for them to eat live because their venom has to break down the organs. But as far as I know, nutritionally, frozen thawed for non-venomous snakes, verses live, it's pretty much the same. So, I, like you, I am a huge frozen thawed fan. All of our snakes eat frozen thawed, never had any problems, and like you mentioned, live animals, live mice and rats can hurt your snake.

Em:Oh absolutely. So, for me, it's just not worth the risk unless an animal is really on death's door and just is not acclimating properly to feeding frozen thawed, then sometimes you do have to make an exception. But again, lots of heavy supervision if you are ever feeding live. We have a question right here from someone who's watching this live, Zen Friend 6. What is the best way to familiarize and bond with a new snake?

Gabby:Well, if you just purchased any animal, I think it's important to let it settle first. So, either a couple of days or a couple weeks so the snake is comfortable, so you're not causing any stress. And then as far as handling, I was always taught just be the tree. So, you want the snake to feel comfortable you don't want to restrain it or anything, you want it to move freely. Like look how relaxed she is, you know. So, you really just want to just be the tree and let the snake come to you and slither all over you freely. You don't want to stress it out while you're interacting with it.

Em:Oh, for sure. And that is such a great, a great rhyme for those who are looking to bond with their snakes and who want to get them familiar. Be the tree. You need to get merch, like Florida’s Wildest merch with that, because that is so great. And then next up, we have a question from Zen Friend 7, who I know has joined us on multiple lives, so thank you so much for being such a great supporter of Beyond the Care Sheets. Can a ball python be fed chicken legs?

Gabby:I wouldn't recommend it. I would stick to Whole Prey.

Em:I guess that's, I think, a really good way to go. Although some people might get confused with that as well because now, we have on the market amazing Reptilinks, for example. But those, I would assume are nutritionally balanced with a lot of research behind them. But typically speaking, whereas some animals and some reptiles might take pieces of an animal, certainly the ball python wants whole prey. And they also need to be able to find the head of a rodent, so that would certainly, I think, confuse ball pythons. And I don't know about TikTok, who doesn't miss a meal but Kaa gets very easily confused about what is a head and what is a tail.

ball python in wild. Gabby Nikole of Flordia Wildest talks ball pythons on a Zen Habitats show, Beyond The Care Sheets

Gabby:I have videos of her on YouTube striking the air, but once she gets it, she takes it down like a champ.

Em:Oh, fantastic. Also, for anybody who has joined us live. Thank you so much. I can see a whole bunch of you down here who are joining and waving and sending hearts. Thank you so much. If you do have a specific ball python question for Gabby since she's right here taking time out of her lovely Floridian evening, feel free to ask and we'll see if we can get around to them. I can see that Zen Friend 8 has asked what is the healthy weight for a male ball python? Is there a specific weight or does it kind of go on body condition?

Gabby:Yeah, I mean, I think both are important. I don't have the numbers off the top of my head, but I'm sure if you just do a quick Google search it’s going to tell you right there. But body condition is important, just like all animals are different sizes. So, I've seen large females and very small females. So, it really depends, and as long as the body condition looks good, then you're pretty much set. I think that the specific weight is really important. So, if you're breeding you definitely you want to make sure the female that you're breeding is healthy enough to carry eggs and know it's not going to get her sick or anything.

Em:So, that's definitely something people have to be so well aware of when they are breeding their snakes. But I would honestly recommend anybody who is keeping any kind of reptile, not just ball pythons to invest in some really good gram scales, because that way you can really tell when an animal is gaining. Or also, just as importantly, losing weight as well. As we know, ball pythons are very notorious for going off their food for a couple of months every now and then. And that can scare a lot of new owners. But there's usually nothing to worry about as long as the snake is not losing weight, especially rapidly. And a good way to do that, since you can't always tell visually, is to have a good set of weighing scales as well. Zen Friend 9 has asked, what can I do to help stimulate and promote activity for my snake?

Gabby:That is actually a great question. So that goes into proper enclosure sizes, and I know, it’s kind of, every has their own opinion when it comes to what ball pythons should live in. And like you mentioned in the beginning, there’s definitely a difference between living and thriving. And you know some people like to keep their ball pythons in small racks, like breeders, personally I'm not a fan so I have the large, the PVC enclosure from Zen Habitats. I have a very natural background. I have multiple hides, multiple branches. And I have noticed her, even though that ball pythons are terrestrial, I’ve noticed her climbing on the wall, on those logs that I have attached to the wall. So that's great enrichment, it's great stimulation and also keeps her active.

Oh, for sure. And it's something that I've definitely maintained for a number of years. And as if you give them the space to use their bodies, then they will use their bodies. So, it's really great to hear that Tik Tok is now out of the wild where she doesn't belong, she's not a native, and in your care and able to still have a really great habitat to explore. We've had an interesting question from Zen Friend 10. I've heard that providing a varied diet for ball pythons is beneficial for their health. My ball python refuses to take rat, now that he's had whole chicks, should I be concerned?

Ball python snake on log in the wild. Zen Habitats show where we bring in reptile experts from around the world. This episode of beyond the care sheets we talked with Gabby Nikole of Flordia's Wildest to discuss Ball pythons

Gabby:I don't think so. As long as they're eating. Because remember in the wild they eat a varied diet, they're going to eat whatever they can find. I know that some are very picky. You know. So, some snakes prefer quail over rats. Personally, I feed rats, but I'm never going to say no, don't feed a varied diet as within captivity, we're always encouraging feeding a varied diet. So, if it works for your snake then more power to it.

Em:Amazing. I totally agree. Zen Friend 11 just asked, is there a certain brand of scale you would suggest? I don't know off the top of my head an actual brand, because what I do is I have a gram scale and then I put a bowl on top of it, I add the snake or whichever reptile goes into it, then I just subtract the weight of the bowl, and I do that a couple of times until I have an average, and that's what I use. Gabby, do you happen to know of a brand, or do you use a similar method?

Gabby:I don't. I actually have a very fancy, expensive bird scale with a perch, so that's what I use. I don't know the brand though, but I think I got it on Amazon, actually. I saw a lot pop up on Amazon, so any scale should work really.

Em:Mine was totally an Amazon Prime find as well. Zen Friend 12 has a more professional question for you Gabby, and that is- what is your profession, Gabby? How do you get to work with reptiles? I just got my degree in biology and I want to work with reptiles. Any career advice?

Gabby:Absolutely. So, a lot of people are very surprised that a lot of the work that I do is volunteer. I don't get paid for any of the alligator stuff. I don't get paid for basically anything you see on my YouTube or my Instagram. My profession is a veterinary technician, so that is my day job. I do mostly work with cats and dogs, but you can also work with exotics and I have in the past and then everything else is volunteer. So, I would not limit yourself to one specific reptile, I know a lot of people want to work with alligators and my advice is just start wherever you can. So even if that's volunteering at like a pet store cleaning enclosures and just working your way up. But a lot of the stuff I do is volunteer, but I wouldn't change it for the world.

Em:That is amazing. And you're doing such a great job with sharing that. I'm going to ask you in a bit to tell us a bit more about where our viewers can find you. But I did just see one more question, which is Zen Friend 13. And they've just said, can you use snake shed coat on other reptiles or just snakes? And I'm thinking what you're referring to is the sprays that we were mentioning about helping to shed. I'm not sure about actually using them because Gabby and I have never used them. But if you're having difficulties with shed, definitely check your humidity and bump it up. And with an enclosure like the Zen Habitat, they come with a humidity shield which helps to promote more humidity. So that's something you could look into as well if you're having like a chronic issue with maintaining humidity levels. Gabby, thank you so much. I have one more question, which is by Zen Friend 14 and it's to do with heating. What's best for heating; under tank heating, ceramic heating, or deep heat projectors? Do you have a preference?

Gabby:Well, since I’m in Florida, I'm very spoiled. I just use lights on top back. But whatever works for you. I know some people swear by heat mats and say that belly heat is important. As long as you're regulating properly with the thermostat, I don't see why that's a problem. [All are] okay, I don't really think it matters so much how you get there, so whatever works for you. Some people like a combination, but personally I use the overhead ceramic.

Em:I'm also fan of overhead ceramics, that's what I personally use. And also just make sure that if you are ever purchasing an enclosure where you're planning to use under heat heating- under tank heating technology that you check that that enclosure supports that because some wood panel enclosures do not support under tank heating for fire reasons, so you definitely want to check that before you actually use any heating in your enclosures that the heat source that you are choosing is an okay heat source to use for the enclosures that you have. But I also personally use ceramic heaters. Gabby, thank you so much for joining us this evening. You've shared so much just incredible information about the ball python. Where else can we find you to follow you on your adventures?

Gabby:Sure. So, this is my Instagram. I don't know if it pops up, but it's Gabby Nicole: G – A – B – B – Y – N – I – K – O – L – L – E. Same name on Facebook and TikTok. And then we do a lot of videos on YouTube and our channel is Florida’s Wildest, so make sure you check out there, and you can actually see Tiktok's entire story on so from the day that we got her to the entire rehab process to now.

Em:Awesome Gabby thank you so much. I'm going to let you go now but we can't thank you enough. Everybody make sure that if you aren’t already following Gabby Nicole that you are over here on Instagram and again following her over on her YouTube channel where you can follow all of Tiktok's adventures. And that is Florida's Wildest. Gabby, thank you so much for joining us.

Gabby:Thank you, Emma. Thank you so much to the Zen Habitats team. Thank you for everybody who tuned in. You guys are awesome.

Check Out The Full Series Right Here!

Beyond the care sheets, a Zen Habitats series where reptile experts and influencers chat on Instagram live.

Em:Thank you, Gabby, speak soon. And that is it for this season of, well, actually I've got one more episode next week, but that is it for this episode of Beyond the Care Sheets. We'll be back next week on Thursday again 7 p.m. Eastern Time, where we're going to have Gabby, Maria and Tyler all on together. So, it is going to be a wild party for sure. Be sure to go and show your gratitude to Gabby for sharing all this wonderful information and for all of the hard work that she does in rescuing and rehabilitating so many amazing creatures. Again, you can find her over on Florida’s Wildest on YouTube as well as right here on Instagram @Gabbynikolle. You can also find her on Tik Tok as well. Thank you all so much for joining in!

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