Home | Snakes

Category Archives: Snakes

Feed Subscription

Contains articles and advice on a wide variety of snake species. Answers and addresses questions on species husbandry, captive status, breeding, news and conservation issues concerning snakes.

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

Russian Ratsnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Rvanbeusichem

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

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Snowmanradio

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

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Grapetonix

Breeding

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.

 

Diet

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.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

Further Reading

Black Ratsnake Care

Keeping the Red-Tailed Ratsnake

Working with Spitting Cobras…and Getting Snake Venom in My Eyes!

Black-necked Spitting Cobra

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Warren Klein

Working with Spitting Cobras has been a fascinating, if sometimes un-nerving, experience. In addition to being able to deliver venom via biting or ejection through the air, Spitting Cobras also have the alertness and speed that is typical of nearly all the world’s 353 Elapid species. On two occasions, I’ve had to re-capture a total of 6 escaped Red Spitting Cobras (Naja pallida) – once because a man helped his little son to kick in the glass of an exhibit at the Bronx Zoo! (please see article linked below) But despite these incidents, and decades of working closely with related species, the only venom to wind up in my eyes came not from a Spitter, but rather courtesy of a species that “cannot spit” – the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox).

 

 

Illegal Rattlesnakes: Live and Cooked

Most of the obvious risks associated with venomous snake care are easy to avoid (in a reputable zoo, that is…one cannot properly prepare for a bite delivered by a snake in a private collection). When working with Spitting Cobras, for example, safety glasses are always worn. Emergencies occur, of course, and then you must sometimes make do without. In the escape mentioned earlier, for example, I arrived on the scene not knowing that Red Spitting Cobras were involved, and I had to immediately evacuate visitors, many of whom were children, from the area.

 

Western Diamondback rattlesnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Gary Stolz

But, as in most fields, the greatest dangers arise from unexpected situations – those that we don’t imagine or believe can happen. This was the case one day when I was in a Bronx Zoo holding area, checking on some newly-arrived Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes. The snakes had been confiscated the night before, in a store in NYC, of all places. Several police officers had entered following a report of a burglary, and found snakes instead of criminals. The snakes, mainly Western Diamondbacks, were being held in a variety of slip-shod containers; several dead individuals were in cooking pots, alcoholic drinks, and “medicines”. As usual, the Bronx Zoo was summoned.

 

“Hey…Rattlesnakes Can’t Spit”

Co-workers and I had installed the snakes in screen-topped aquariums in an isolation room at the zoo’s Reptile House. As is dictated by protocol (and common sense!), I was careful not to lean on any screen tops as I checked the animals. All were highly agitated. Unable to see one individual clearly through the tank’s glass side, I peered down into the screen top. The snake struck at the top, and I instantly felt a splash of liquid in both eyes.

 

Javan Spitting Cobra

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Department of Sustainability & Environment

The standard wisdom is that only Spitting Cobra venom can cause eye damage. In the rare event that another type of venom enters the eye, it needs merely to be washed out; a follow-up with a doctor, to assure that an infection does not take hold, should follow. But this incident was unique for two reasons. First, the force of the snake’s strike against the screening had propelled the venom into my eyes. Second, I had just returned to work following a cornea transplant. There were numerous stitches in my eye, and they were not all that stable.

 

I felt a stinging sensation (which is not typical for other than Spitting Cobra venom) and thought that perhaps the venom had seeped under my cornea through the stitches. I wondered if the transplant could be ruined, and if I might suffer a typical envenomation as well, once the venom moved further along in my body.

 

Just When You Thought You Had Seen Everything…

The Bronx Zoo’s snakebite protocol relies upon the NYC Police Department for transport to the hospital. Fortunately, several NYPD Officers are always on the grounds. I was on friendly terms with all – one, in fact, was a former BZ animal keeper, and all were top-notch. It’s hard to surprise an officer who’s spent some time in the Bronx, but I did a good job that day! In less time than I could imagine, I was at Jacobi Hospital being attended to by a young doctor who, after some time in a busy Bronx emergency room, thought he had seen it all!

 

All went smoothly, and I suffered no symptoms of envenomation. It would have been interesting to learn if the venom had entered my body via a cornea stitch, but in those years Bronx hospitals were unbelievably busy (often with unbelievable, at least to me, cases) and there was no time for speculation or experimentation – I was shuttled out as quickly as I’d arrived!

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

A Close Call with a King Cobra

Snake Escapes!

 

Pet Snakes That Don’t Eat Rodents: Insect-Eating Snake Care

Snail eating snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by ShareAlike 2.5

Snakes that feed solely upon insects, earthworms, spiders, snails and other invertebrates are a great choice for folks who would rather not handle rats and mice. They also have other attractive characteristics, including small size, inoffensive natures, and adaptability to naturalistic terrariums containing live plants. What’s more, most receive scant attention as captives, and so offer us the opportunity to record new facts about their needs and habits. Several invertebrate-eaters, such as Brown Snakes (Storeria) and Ring-Necked Snakes (Diadophis), thrive in the hearts of large cities, while others, including the Worm Snakes (Carphophis), Black-Headed Snakes (Tantilla), Snail-Eating Snakes (Sibon), Red-Bellied Snakes (Storeria), Pine Woods Snakes (Rhadinae) and Flower Pot Snakes (Rhamphotyphlops), are sometimes collected and offered for sale. Today I’ll introduce this fascinating but over-looked group. Please see the articles linked below to read about others that can do without rodents, including Garter, Ribbon and Green Snakes.

 

Note: There are thousands of snake species that fit within this general category…please post your own experiences below, thanks, Frank

 

Eastern Worm Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Greg Schechter

Description

Most invertebrate-eating snakes are shy and secretive, and measure less than 12 inches in length when fully grown (Garter and Ribbon Snakes, covered elsewhere, are an exception). Many, such as Brown and Worm Snakes, are well-camouflaged by their somber coloration, while Ring-Necked and Red-Bellied Snakes flash bright warning colors when disturbed.

 

Range

Invertebrate specialists occur from southern Canada to southern South America and in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia – everywhere that “typical” snakes dwell.

 

Nearly all spend most of their time below leaf litter, decaying logs, rocks, or other cover that offers protection and access to grubs, earthworms, slugs and other prey. Some, such as the Eastern Worm Snake, have pointed heads that assist in burrowing, and rarely appear above-ground. However, the lifestyles of these interesting snakes are as varied as the habitats they occupy. Garter Snakes, for example, actively forage on land and in water, while Rough Green Snakes spend most of their time in bushes, hunting caterpillars.

 

Habitat

Insect-eating snakes of one type or another may be found in rainforests, cities, farms, arid scrubland, swamps, grasslands, deserts, montane cloud forests and many other environments.

 

Flowerpot Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Eugene van der Pijll

The aptly-named Flowerpot Snake, a native of India, has been shipped worldwide as a stowaway among plant roots, and is now established in greenhouses and gardens in Florida and elsewhere. Brown Snakes are still to be found in Manhattan, while Ring-Necked and Red-Bellied Snakes frequent gardens, farms, and suburban parks.

 

Care and Feeding

Note: Husbandry details may vary widely from these general guidelines. Please post below for information about the species in which you are interested.

 

Depending upon the snake in question, the natural diet may include earthworms, beetle grubs, slugs, grasshoppers, caterpillars, termites, and a wide variety of other invertebrates. The most commonly-kept species accept soft-bodied foods such as earthworms, waxworms, silkworms and butterworms; crickets and mealworms are often rejected. Specialists, such as the Cloudy Snail Eater or the Red-Bellied Snake (which favors slugs) can be difficult to keep unless their natural foods are available. Fascinating snakes that specialize in hunting centipedes, spiders, fish and frog eggs and other unusual prey items are also known, but these are rarely kept as pets.

 

Ring-necked Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Greg Schechter

A single adult of most species will do fine in a 10 gallon aquarium. Unlike more commonly-kept snakes, they do not fare well on newspapers, aspen shavings or similar substrates. The terrarium should instead be furnished with a mixture of dead leaves and coco-husk. Many will shelter below the substrate, but a dark cave stocked with moist sphagnum moss should also be provided. Due to their small size, insect-eating snakes make ideal inhabitants of naturalistic terrariums provisioned with live plants.

 

On the menus of predators ranging from frogs and tarantulas to crows and skunks, most insect-eating snakes are shy and retiring. Brown, Worm, and Ring-Necked Snakes can rarely even be induced to bite, but stressed individuals may release musk. Many take short periods of gentle handling in stride.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Brown Snake Care (the Best Small Snake Pet?)

Garter Snake Care & Natural History

Keeping Rough & Smooth Green Snakes

Rainbow Snake Care: Keeping a Colorful but Difficult Aquatic Snake

Rainbow Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Alan Garrett

Once seen, the beautiful and aptly named Rainbow Snake (Farancia erytrogramma erytrogramma) is not easily forgotten. Yet it remains relatively unknown in the pet trade, principally because of its odd dietary requirements. However, some enterprising snake enthusiasts have found ways to surmount these difficulties, and there have even been a few breeding successes. In my opinion, these unique US natives deserve much more attention, and have great potential as fascinating additions to the collections of experienced snake keepers.

 

Description

Rainbow Snakes average 3 to 4 feet in length, with a record of 5 feet, 6 inches. Even after a lifetime of snake-keeping, the first I saw stopped me in my tracks. Vivid red and yellow stripes line the blue-black body, while the underside is orange to red in color.   Smooth, glossy scales add to the brilliance of these colors. The tail’s terminal scale is hard and somewhat sharp, leading some to mistakenly believe that the Rainbow Snake can “sting” its enemies.

 

Mud Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by John Sullivan

Its closest relative appears to be the Mud Snake, F. abacura (please see photo). Similar in appearance and habits, the Mud Snake is also largely ignored by hobbyists and zoos.

 

Range

Known in some locales as the Eel Moccasin, the Rainbow Snake may be found from southern Maryland to eastern Louisiana and central Florida.

 

A subspecies, the Seminole or South Florida Rainbow Snake (Farancia e. seminola), is limited in range to Lake Okeechobee in Florida. It is known from only 3 specimens, and has not been seen since 1952. Some fear that the Seminole Rainbow Snake is extinct, but I hold out hope that its secretive habits (and lack of interest!) are responsible for the lack of recent sightings.

 

Rainbow Snake habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Kej605

Habitat

These largely-aquatic snakes favor cypress swamps, marshes, oxbow lakes and other sluggish bodies of water, but sometimes forage in nearby fields. Much of its time is spent among floating vegetation or, when on land, within shallow burrows.

 

Terrarium

An average-sized adult Rainbow Snake can be kept in a 55 – 75 gallon aquarium. They are not comfortable unless able to burrow, so cypress mulch, eucalyptus bark and similar materials should be used as substrates. Despite their aquatic tendencies, Rainbow Snakes may develop fungal skin disorders if unable to dry off; we see this in North America’s watersnakes (Nerodia spp.) as well. The substrate may be kept slightly moist, but dry surfaces (i.e. bark slabs) must be available.

 

A large water bowl, filled to a point where it will not overflow when the snake enters, will suit their needs. If the snake seems ill-at-ease, floating plastic plants should be placed in the water so that it can shelter below.

An ambient temperature of 75-80 F and a basking temperature of 85-88 F should be established.

 

Diet

Wild Rainbow Snakes seem to feed almost exclusively upon American Eels.   Other fishes, and aquatic salamanders such as amphiumas and sirens, may also be taken (as is the case for the related Mud Snake), but field research is lacking.

 

Most adult captives refuse all food except American eels. However, scenting minnows, shiners and other fishes with eels has resulted in acceptance. Another option is to search for small eels at bait stores; adult eels can be purchased at food markets and frozen until needed for scenting or use as a meal.

 

Young American Eels

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Uwe Kils

Young Rainbow Snakes are easier to please than adults, and generally accept minnows, shiners, and a variety of other small freshwater fishes. Tadpoles are said to be the preferred food of smaller individuals in the wild; frogs and salamanders are also consumed.

 

General Care

In common with other fish-eaters, Rainbow Snakes produce copious, watery waste products and require more upkeep than similarly-sized rodent-eating snakes. As nearly all individuals encountered in the trade are wild-caught, new arrivals should be seen by a veterinarian.

 

Breeding

Captive breeding is rare, although this seems due more to a lack of interest than any inherent difficulties. A slight drop in temperature (68 F by night, 72-80 F by day) may stimulate breeding. Pairs must be monitored carefully, as biting may occur during courtship.

 

Rainbow Snakes produce unusually large clutches, which range in size from 20 to over 50 eggs. As the eggs are deposited below cover or within shallow burrows, a large nesting box should be provided to gravid females. Hatchlings measure 8 ½ – 11 inches in length.

 

Temperament

Rainbow Snakes are rather inoffensive, although like all snakes they may bite and should be handled with care. Their first line of defense is usually to thrash about while pressing the hard, terminal scale of the tail against one’s flesh. This can do no harm, but folks who are unprepared may drop the snake in response. This defense mechanism has resulted in their being dubbed “stinging snakes” in some regions.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

 

Watersnake Care

 

Tentacled Snake Care

 

Corn Snake or Ball Python? Choosing the Best Snake Pet

Corn Snakes and Ball Pythons are close competitors for the title of the world’s most popular snake pet. Among the first species to be commercially bred in huge numbers, either makes an excellent choice for most snake owners, new or experienced.  I’ve kept hundreds of species during my long career as a zookeeper, but a Corn Snake terrarium occupies center stage in my living room!  In the following article I’ll compare the care needs of Corn Snakes and Ball Pythons, so that you’ll be able to plan ahead and maximize your pet-keeping experience and your new snake’s quality of life. Detailed care information is provided in the articles linked under “Further Reading”; as always, please also post any questions or observations you may have, and let me know which species gets your vote.

 

snakeHandle-ability

Although individual personalities vary, both adapt well to gentle handling and are not stressed by human contact. Corn Snakes are more likely to move about when being handled, compared to Ball Pythons, but this is offset by their lighter body weight.  As with any snake, care and adult supervision must be exercised, and the animal’s head should never be allowed near one’s face.

 

Folks who want a “big snake in a small package” generally prefer Ball Pythons. Thick-bodied and muscular, they can average 4 feet in length, but their girth would greatly exceed that of a similarly-sized Corn Snake.

 

Activity Levels

Neither is overly active, but Corn Snakes regularly move between basking sites and shelters, and are more likely to wander about the cage when hungry.

 

Ball Pythons, native to harsh habitats, are extremely efficient at conserving energy and tend to move only when necessary.

 

Young Corn Snke

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Invertzoo

Life Span

A Ball Python at the Philadelphia Zoo lived for a record 47.6 years, and there are anecdotal reports of a 51 year-old individual. Pets regularly survive into their 30’s.

 

The published longevity for a Corn Snake is 32 years, and many can approach and exceed age 20.

 

Breeding Potential

Both species breed reliably, and make an excellent introduction to that fascinating aspect of reptile-keeping. Each species is available in a wide variety of interesting (and even bizarre!) color morphs…at least 25 in the case of the Corn Snake. Corn Snake hybrids with King, Gopher and various Rat Snakes have also been produced. Please see the articles linked below for detailed breeding information.

 

Ball python

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Izzysworldofherps

Cost

The purchase price for a normally-colored individual is similar for both snakes. Prices increase for rare or unusual color morphs. This is especially true for Ball Pythons. Expenses for terrariums, supplies and electricity are similar:

 

Terrarium Size (single adult)

Corn Snake: 20-55 gallon

Ball Python: 30-55 gallon

 

Temperature

Corn Snake: 75-82 F, with a basking site of 90 F

Ball Python: 80-85 F, with a basking site of 90 F

 

Corn snake eatng pinkie

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dustin Miller

Diet

Food intake will vary among individuals and in tune with temperature, season, life cycle stage, and other factors. While Ball pythons are much heavier than Corn Snakes and take larger meals, their habit of fasting tends to even-out food cost differences.

 

Ball Pythons have evolved to survive in habitats where food may be plentiful for short periods and scarce or absent at other times. Consequently, they seem predisposed to feed heavily and then to fast for weeks or even months. This can happen at any time of the year, and may be tied to circadian, or internal, rhythms. Long fasting periods may be very disconcerting to novice owners; if you prefer a regular feeder, choose a Corn Snake. Feeding preferences can change as well, with a formerly favored food, such as mice, being rejected for no apparent reason (well, none that we can discern…the snakes “know” why they do it!). When in a feed cycle, adult Ball Pythons will take 2-3 mice or 1 small rat each 10-14 days; individual intake will vary greatly, however. Please see the article linked below for more on this topic.

 

Corn Snakes in good health are almost always reliable feeders. Depending upon the size of the snake, they do well on 1-2 small to medium sized mice each 7-10 days.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Corn Snake Care

Ball Python Care

 

 

Scroll To Top