Home | Snakes | Non-venomous Snakes | The Natural History and Captive Care of the Red-Tailed Ratsnake (Red-Tailed Racer), Gonyosoma oxycephalum, and Jansen’s Ratsnake (Sulawesi Ratsnake, Black-Tailed Ratsnake) – G. jansenii – Part 2

The Natural History and Captive Care of the Red-Tailed Ratsnake (Red-Tailed Racer), Gonyosoma oxycephalum, and Jansen’s Ratsnake (Sulawesi Ratsnake, Black-Tailed Ratsnake) – G. jansenii – Part 2

Please see Part I of this article for further information.

Handling and Enrichment

Red-tailed ratsnakes are best suited as exhibit animals.  Most do not hesitate to bite when approached, and fight vigorously when restrained.  Some may become moderately tame, but such individuals must be watched closely and not allowed in the vicinity if one’s face or near children (or, obviously, your parakeet!).

Naturalistic terrariums suit red-tailed ratsnakes well, but it can be difficult to remove them from among vines and branches.  A tall cage that allows you to clean while the snakes remain safely overhead will go a long way in reducing stress on both the snakes and yourself (not to mention wear and tear on your skin!).

They are very alert – “scenting” the cage with novel odors – i.e. a snake or lizard shed, or an egg – will keep the snakes occupied and provide a peek into their foraging behaviors (in zoo circles, this long-known practice is now termed “enrichment” and is currently very much in vogue).


Red-tailed ratsnakes under my care and housed together in pairs have bred throughout the year without being subjected to a variation in temperature or humidity levels.  Others have bred after being subjected to a 3 month period at 70 F, during which time they had access to a basking site of 76 F.  Given their wide distribution in the wild, I suspect that these snakes are quite adaptable in this regard, or that populations vary in their breeding biology.

Most females that I have kept produced 2-3 clutches per year, with one female laying 3-4 times each year for a period of 8 years or so.  Gravid females seek secluded, moist sites in which to lay their eggs; damp sphagnum moss within a cave,  flower pot, or cork bark retreat is ideal.  Some individuals seem to prefer elevated nest sites; perhaps in the wild eggs are sometimes deposited in tree hollows and similar situations.

Please see “Reproduction” in Part I of this article for further details.

Jansen’s or Sulawesi Black-Tailed Ratsnake

The red-tailed ratsnake’s closest relative, and, per recent taxonomic changes, the only other member of the genus Oxycephala, is the Jansen’s ratsnake, also known as the Sulawesi black-tailed ratsnake, G. jansenii. 

Limited in distribution to Sulawesi, Indonesia and some small nearby islands, this gorgeous snake is variably colored in black-flecked olive or tan, and sports a black tail.  Those on Sulawesi are heavier-bodied than typical red-tailed ratsnakes, and are said to spend a good deal of time on the ground. Specimens from Salayar, an island south of Sulawesi in the Flores Sea, are pure black and quite striking in appearance.  Thinner in build than their relatives on Sulawesi, they are, like red-tailed ratsnakes, highly arboreal.

Although not widely available at this point, Jansen’s ratsnakes are prized by collectors and will likely become established in the trade in time.

Further Reading

An interesting review of the 55 snake species that inhabit Sulawesi is posted at http://www.seh-herpetology.org/files/bonnensis/035_DeLang.pdf.

The range of the Taiwan beauty snake overlaps with that of this species, and their husbandry needs are similar.  Please see my article The Natural History and Captive Care of the Taiwan Beauty Snake  for further information.


Image referenced from Wikipedia.

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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