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The Natural History and Captive Husbandry of the Taiwan Beauty Snake or Chinese Ratsnake, Orthriophis (formerly “Elaphe”) taeniurus friesei – Part II

Click: The Natural History and Captive Husbandry of the Taiwan Beauty Snake or Chinese Ratsnake, Orthriophis (formerly “Elaphe”) taeniurus friesei to read about the Natural History of the Taiwan Beauty Snake

Captive Husbandry
Taiwan Beauty SnakeSpace and Physical Requirements
Taiwan beauty snakes are quite active and require a larger cage than other similarly-sized snakes – they do not do well when cramped. A cage with sufficient height for climbing is a must – both for your pleasure in observing the animal, and for the snake’s well-being. A cage with the dimensions 3’(l) x 3’(w) x 5’(h) would be the minimum required by a 5 foot long individual.

The cage should be well perched with stout branches. Taiwan beauty snakes will also utilize vines, moving about them with a speed that leaves little doubt as to their abilities to capture squirrels, birds and other elusive prey. Hagen Bendable Vines interspersed among the branches will allow your pet to show off its natural behaviors to their best effect.

Taiwan beauty snake prefer an arboreal hideaway, and will readily take advantage of a forked branch hidden behind a screen of plants (Hagen Large Hanging Terrarium Plants are ideal). Particularly shy individuals will appreciate a piece of rolled cork bark wedged among the branches.

Light, Heat, Humidity
This species does not require a source of UVB light, but there is increasing evidence that UVA light is important in stimulating natural behavior and possibly in maintaining over-all good health. I suggest equipping your snake’s terrarium with a Coralife Reptile Bright Spotlight, which will supply both heat and UVA radiation.

A temperature of 80 F at the basking site will suffice – Taiwan beauty snakes do not seem to seek out the higher temperatures favored by some other tropical species. The ambient air temperature should fall 74 and 78 F.

Members of this genus favor slightly humid environments, but will suffer fungal and other skin disorders if not able to dry out as well. A light misting once or twice each day should suffice.

One Taiwan beauty snake that I kept invariably came to drink from the hose each morning when I misted her cage, but most will prefer a water bowl. The bowl should be large enough for soaking, as this species is prone to shedding difficulties if kept too dry. Be sure to spray the cage a bit more frequently at shedding time as well.

For arboreal snakes favoring humid environments, I use a substrate that holds moisture for awhile, but which dries out completely within a few hours after being misted. A mix of Keeper’s Choice Hardwood Bedding and Hagen Forest Bark Reptile Bedding works very well in this regard.

Feeding
Many arboreal snakes, such as the red-tailed ratsnake (Gonyosoma oxycephala), show a strong preference for feeding on birds, but I have not seen this with Taiwan beauty snakes. They do fine on a diet composed of mice and small rats.

Captive Longevity
Captives have lived in excess of 15 years.

Handling and Enrichment
Some individuals do adjust well to gentle handling, but in general this species is far better suited as an exhibit animal. Even well-habituated animals must be handled frequently, and starting from a young age, if they are to remain tractable. Taiwan beauty snakes do not take well to being grabbed and restrained, which complicate removal from the complex, branch-filled environments that suit them best.

Their high activity levels suit them well as subjects of observation, and in a large, naturalistic terrarium these snakes will provide you with fascinating glimpses into their lives. They appear much more alert than many species, and will investigate unusual movements around their cage. You can capitalize on this propensity by “scenting” their cage with novel odors – i.e. a snake or lizard shed, an egg – so that you can observe their reactions (in zoo circles, this is long-known practice is now termed “enrichment” and is currently very much in vogue).

Breeding
Taiwan beauty snakes may breed spontaneously, but consistent results have been obtained following a brumation (cooling-off) period of 3 months or so at 65-68 F. Most breeders chill their snakes between December and March, but this time period is likely not set in stone. Mating usually occurs within a month after the snakes are returned to optimal temperatures, with 6-10 eggs being deposited 40-60 days thereafter.

The eggs hatch in 55-62 days when incubated at 80-84 F and 95% humidity. The hatchlings average 12-16 inches long, and shed within their first 2 weeks. In contrast to many arboreal species, they do not prefer or need lizards or treefrogs, and will accept pink mice readily. Captives (this may vary in the wild) reach sexual maturity at approximately 18 months of age and 4.5 – 5 feet in length.

Taiwan beauty snakes require a bit of room and special care, but they are well worth the effort. Please write in for more information if you are considering giving this arboreal specialist a try. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

You can read more about the natural history and taxonomy of Asian ratsnakes at:

http://www.tigr.org/reptiles/species.php?genus=Orthriophis&species=taeniurus

 

The Natural History and Captive Husbandry of the Taiwan Beauty Snake or Chinese Ratsnake, Orthriophis (formerly “Elaphe”) taeniurus friesei

Introduction
Taiwan Beauty SnakeI’ve never quite understood why the aptly named Taiwan beauty snake did not soar in popularity as soon as it entered the pet trade. I was captivated by them from the moment I began looking after a group at the Bronx Zoo some 15 years ago, and added the species to the Staten Island Zoo’s collection when working on the reptile house renovation there. Today, these arboreal constrictors are beginning to receive some attention from hobbyists, and captive born young are frequently available.

NATURAL HISTORY

Classification
Taiwan beauty snakes are placed within the family Colubridae, and until recently were classified in the genus Elaphe, along with the corn, black rat and similar North American snakes that they superficially resemble. Eight to nine subspecies have been identified, but interbreeding where their ranges overlap complicates taxonomy. The group is often loosely referred to as the Asian ratsnakes.

Physical Description
The background color of these gorgeous snakes is yellowish tan/brown to olive, and a pair of joined black spots and smaller blotches mark the back. Along the last third of the body the color pattern abruptly changes – from here the snake is boldly marked with a band of yellow and 2 black stripes. Smaller blotches cross these, and a black stripe extends from the eye to the mouth’s corner. The ventral surface is creamy-white speckled with black.

The tail is highly prehensile, allowing for long strikes at fast-moving, arboreal prey.

This largest member of its genus averages 5-6 feet long, but occasionally approaches 9 feet in length.

Range
This subspecies is native to the island of Taiwan, but is possibly introduced to mainland China. Related subspecies range throughout much of India, China, Southeast Asia and Japan’s Ryukyu Islands.

This snake and its relatives, most of which are quite colorful, are sometimes kept in rural homes and barns for their rodent-catching abilities. This has resulted in range expansions for a number of beauty snake subspecies. As individuals are highly variable in appearance, and the subspecies readily interbreed, the taxonomy of the genus is unclear.

Habitat
Taiwan beauty snakes are quite adaptable, being found in forests, open woodlands, overgrown fields, swamps and suburban areas. If unmolested they will take up residence in barns, rural homes and agricultural fields. All beauty snakes are highly arboreal but will descend to the ground to hunt.

Status in the Wild
The wild status is largely unstudied, but it is known that the Taiwan beauty snake is hunted for the food, skin, pet and medicinal trade. However, it adapts well and may even benefit from some human presence, frequenting farms, trash dumps and abandoned buildings in search of rodents. Some range expansion has likely occurred via people who transport this snake (and related subspecies) from place to place as a rodent control measure.

Diet
Squirrels, rats, mice, bats and other small mammals, birds and their eggs; hatchlings feed largely upon treefrogs and lizards. Prey is overcome by constriction.

Reproduction
The 6-10 eggs are laid in May-June, but other than that reproduction in the wild is not well documented. Please see below for captive breeding information.

Miscellaneous
The Taiwan beauty snake’s threat display is very impressive – it compresses and inflates the first third of its body and rears up in an “S” shaped coil while facing the enemy and striking repeatedly.

Please check back Monday for information on the captive husbandry requirements of Beauty Snakes.

Image referenced from Wikipedia. First published by MSP. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Beautysnake.jpg

Flour Beetles (Confused or Rice Flour beetles, Tribolium confusum and Red Flour Beetles, T. castaneum) – a valuable food for small amphibians and reptiles

Introduction
Flour beetles of various types are serious pests in grain product storage facilities, and those discussed here are worldwide in distribution.  However, the traits that make them successful invaders also render them easy to culture in captivity.

The larvae, or grubs, of the beetles offer an easy way to add nutritional variety to the diets of tiny reptiles and amphibians, most of which must subsist on only a few food items in captivity.  The adult beetles release an irritating gas when disturbed, but are none-the-less consumed by some reptiles and amphibians.

Obtaining Flour Beetles
I was first introduced to flour beetles some 20 years ago by Bob Holland, an amphibian expert who was setting longevity records with poison frogs long before most zoos kept any at all.  In those days, we collected our founding stock by searching through old containers of dry dog food and cereal.  Today, cultures of confused and red flour beetles are available from private breeders and biological supply houses.

Culturing Flour Beetles
Although most beetle breeders advise keeping the animals in a mix of flour and yeast, Bob’s method of rearing them in dog biscuits has worked very well for me.  The problem with a flour mix is that the medium must be sifted through a fine net each time larvae are needed, which leaves one with unwanted beetles, pupae and shed skins.

Dog biscuits provide all the food, moisture and shelter needed by the beetles (be sure to crack open the biscuits to give the beetles easy access to the interior).  When larvae are needed, I simply tap a biscuit over a Petri dish.  The larvae can also be concentrated by tapping several biscuits over a separate container, into which only 1 biscuit has been placed.  All the grubs will eventually gravitate to the 1 biscuit, allowing you to collect many in a short time.

Using Flour Beetles
The adult beetles live for approximately 1 year, with the period from egg to adult being 4-6 weeks, depending upon temperature.  The larvae are 3/16th of an inch long when fully grown – an ideal size for poison frogs, harlequin frogs and newly morphed froglets of small species such as spring peepers.  I have also fed them to red-backed and red salamanders, the larvae of various newts and to small granite night lizards.

Please write in with your own experiences, tips and questions.  Thanks, until next time, Frank.

An article concerning the natural history and pest status of flour beetles is posted at:
http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&as_q=confused+flour+beetle&as_epq=&as_oq=&as_eq=&num=10&lr=&as_filetype=&ft=i&as_sitesearch=&as_qdr=all&as_rights=&as_occt=any&cr=&as_nlo=&as_nhi=&safe=images

An Accomplished Lizard Vocalist – the Tokay Gecko, Gekko gecko

Introduction
Tokay GeckoAlthough many lizards are quite vocal, perhaps none is so capable and well known as the Tokay gecko.  In fact, the species draws its common name from the loud cries of “Tokay! Tokay!, given (most often in the wee hours of the morning) by the extremely territorial males.  Ranging throughout much of south and Southeast Asia, and introduced to Hawaii, Florida and Martinique, the Tokay does not mind human company.  It is often more common in homes and other buildings than in more natural settings, even within such bustling cities as Hong Kong and Miami.

Rentable Geckos?
Tokay geckos are aggressive, 12 inch long predators, and do not hesitate to tackle small snakes, treefrogs, other lizards, nestling birds and mammals.  Roaches are, however, particularly favored – a dietary preference that often endears them to their human hosts, despite their noisy ways.  Some years ago a pet store in New York City began renting them to customers for just that reason.  However, the geckos’ propensity to proclaim their territory via “song”, most often at 4 AM, and their willingness to bite (and unwillingness to release their hold!) doomed the scheme to failure.

Early Morning Singers
I once released a group of Tokay geckoes into a large zoo exhibit as a roach control measure (well, to be honest, mainly because I liked to watch them go about their business at night – few lizards can keep up with roach reproduction!).  In those days I was often at the zoo until all hours of the night, dealing with emergencies and satisfying my curiosity about the nocturnal goings on there.  As has been reported by sleepless gecko hosts worldwide, the males did indeed call most frequently (and vigorously) between the hours of 2 and 4 AM.

Please write in with your own vocal lizard stories.  Thanks, until next time, Frank.

You can read more about the natural history of Tokay geckos and related species at:
http://www.tigr.org/reptiles/search.php?submit=Search&genus=Gekko

The Monitor Lizards (Family Varanidae) – Family Overview and Species Accounts, Part II

Click here: The Monitor Lizards (Family Varanidae) – Family Overview and Species Accounts, Part I, to read the first part of this article.

Monitor Intelligence
Monitor lizards exhibit an extraordinary degree of intelligence and retain what they have learned for long periods.  Gould’s monitors (V. gouldii) have been observed taking indirect routes when chasing rabbits.   Rather than running directly after the rabbit, they veer off in a direction that takes them away from the animal, but leaves the lizard in a position to intercept the rabbit at the mouth of its burrow!

Parentie monitors (V. giganteus) seeking animals hidden within burrows do not dig away at the burrow entrance (as would a foolish dog!) but rather sniff the ground several feet away.  Once they locate the underground position of their prey, they dig directly down to reach it, keeping an eye on the entrance as well.

An Experience with a Bright Monitor
I have often had the good fortune to observe monitor intelligence in action.  While working at the Bronx Zoo, I once looked up from a phone conversation to see a 6 foot long crocodile monitor (V. salvadorii) go shooting by, followed by an equally fast-moving coworker of mine.  We cornered the animal behind a large cage, where he remained as long as we were in view.  As soon as we moved off to either side, he cautiously peered around the cage and looked both right and left, to fix our new positions.  The lizard most definitely did not want either of us sneaking up on him, and made sure he saw both of us at all times.

Mangrove MonitorThe stout fellow was recaptured – with more wear and tear to us than he!  Monitors are incredibly strong – a 7 foot long water monitor (V. salvator) I worked with was able to move along with myself and 2 other strong men trying to pin him down – this despite being rather seriously ill.

Monitor Venom
In 2005, Dr. Bryan Frye and researchers at Australia’s Melbourne University discovered that several species of monitor lizards, including the Komodo dragon, V. komodoensis and the lace monitor V. varius, produce venoms of varying strengths.  Lace monitor venom was subsequently shown to cause the lizard’s prey to rapidly loss consciousness by affecting the blood’s pressure and clotting ability.

Until this discovery, bacteria in the mouth of the Komodo dragon were thought to be responsible for the quick onset of death seen in deer, goats and other large animals bitten by these lizards.  While such bacteria no doubt add to the trauma associated with a bite, it now seems certain that venom delivers the knockout blow.  A combination of venom and bacterial infection is also the likely source of the strong reaction often associated with bites inflicted by monitor lizards upon people.

The Bearded Dragon, Pagona vitticeps, a popular pet species not related to the monitor lizards, was also shown to produce mild venom – other members of the lizard family Agamidae are being studied.

Onto popular monitors, large and small, next time.  Until then, please write in with your questions and comments.  Thanks, Frank

An interesting article on Florida’s introduced Nile monitor lizards is posted at:
http://www.naherpetology.org/pdf_files/292.pdf

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