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Rat Snake Care: the Russian Ratsnake – Large, Bold and Beautiful

Russian Ratsnake

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Powerful and boldly-marked, the Russian Ratsnake (Elaphe schrencki)  is one of the largest of the robust constrictors commonly known as ratsnakes. Even those with a lifetime of snake experience (myself included), are awed by their first encounter with this impressive beast. To me, it’s always seemed somehow fitting that such spectacular creatures as the Siberian Tiger and Amur Leopard share the Russian Ratsnake’s range. Also known as the Amur Ratsnake, Siberian Ratsnake, and Manchurian Watersnake, it has long been hard to come by, but European and American snake enthusiasts are now producing captive bred animals regularly.


Rat Snake Description

An indigo to black background marked with bright yellow or white cross-bars renders the Russian Ratsnake a most striking creature. One of the longest snakes in northern Asia, it may reach or slightly exceed 6 feet in length.


Japanese Ratsnake

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A number of interesting color morphs, such as all-black, white-blotched, striped, and high-gold, as well as hybrids with Japanese Ratsnakes (E. climacophora; please see photo), have been developed by breeders.

Range and Habitat

The Russian Ratsnake’s range is centered in Siberia’s Amur River Basin, and radiates out to eastern Mongolia, northern and central China and Korea. An introduced population is established in Elder, the Netherlands (I almost instinctively typed “Florida”!). This group apparently originated from animals that escaped local greenhouses, where they are kept as a rodent-control measure. The government is studying their effects on local wildlife and eradication possibilities.


Russian Ratsnakes are usually found near a water source, and adapt to temperate forests, alpine woodlands, marshes, overgrown fields, brushy scrub, agricultural areas and a variety of other habitats. Like Texas Ratsnakes and other American species, Russian Ratsnakes often colonize farms, where they are alternately valued as rat-killers and reviled as chicken thieves. Excellent climbers, they seem equally at home on the ground or in trees.

The Terrarium

Those experienced with Corn Snakes and related species will find Russian Ratsnakes to be more active than their American counterparts. They should be provided with proportionally larger accommodations. While a 55-75 gallon aquarium will suit small adult, larger individuals are best housed in custom-built cages measuring at least 6 x 5 x 5 feet. Ample cage height and stout climbing branches will be appreciated.


Cypress mulch, eucalyptus bark and similar materials may be used as a substrate. In common with Indigo Snakes and other active, robust reptiles, Russian Ratsnakes tend to make a mess of the old snake substrate standby, newspapers. A dry shelter and another stocked with moist sphagnum moss should be provided.


Ambient temperatures should be maintained in the range of 70-76 F, with a basking site of 82 F.


Habitat type

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Captive breeding, although far from regular in the past, is becoming more common. A 3-4 month cooling off period at 50-52 F will stimulate reproduction.


Clutches range from 6-30 eggs in size, and are usually deposited in June-July. As an adaptation to the short summers in their native range, female Russian Ratsnakes retain their eggs for a time, and deposit them in a well-advanced state. At an incubation temperature of 82 F, they typically hatch within 40 days.


The hatchlings measure 11-15 inches in length and differ markedly from adults, being light gray in color and sporting black specks and reddish blotches.



The Russian Ratsnake’s appetite knows no bounds. Wild individuals take squirrels, rabbits, bats, gerbils, birds and their eggs, voles, chipmunks, and many other creatures with equal gusto. Pets do well on a diet comprised of mice and rats; large adults will accept guinea pigs and weanling rabbits as well.


Temperament: Most individuals are quite calm in demeanor once accustomed to their surroundings. However, as with all large snakes, one must exercise appropriate caution when they are handled.



Further Reading

Black Ratsnake Care

Keeping the Red-Tailed Ratsnake


  1. avatar

    Hello, Frank, thanks for that article! Very interesting read, I admire very much this beautiful snake.

    Just a thing, though: the place in the Netherlands where a group has acclimatized themselves is Eelde, not Elder. It’s a city in the northern part of the country with an important flower and horticultural business.

    • avatar

      Hello Irene,

      Thanks for the kind words and info re the city. Such an interesting phenomenon…we are accustomed to exotics established in warmer regions (Florida in the USA has more introduced species than anywhere else in the world), but not so much in northern Europe; the circumstances are also unique. Best regards, Frank

  2. avatar

    great article Frank! Back in 1985 I bought my first pet snake, a RussianRat snake- beautiful animal. Black with goldenrod stripes and bright yellow and black belly. It grew to about 6 feet. Sam, my snake, had a lovely temperament, was never aggressive and would rattle his tail if spooked. A fantastic pet and your article brought back many fond memories!

  3. avatar

    Good information. I was wondering in your studies can a Russian rat snake be rear-fanged? I have read mixed opinions on this.

    • avatar

      Thanks, Maggie. Many colubrids are being shown to produce venom that may act on specific prey animals, but I have not seen anything to indicate that this species is rear-fanged, in terms of having teeth adapted to direct venom into prey. Please let me know if you find further information, best, Frank

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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