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

 

 

Pet Toads: Best Choices for Kids or First Time Pet Owners

American toad

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bnski

I’ve kept toads at home and in zoos for over 50 years, yet I remain enamored of even the most common local species. Others of my generation, be they herpetologists or hobbyists, feel the same…it’s hard to dislike a toad!   As pets, toads are generally far more responsive and “aware” than are their frog cousins, and with proper care they may live into their 30’s and beyond. Perhaps because they “know” of the protection offered by powerful skin toxins, pets become quite bold, and readily feed from the hand…sounds odd, but their fearless attitudes remind me of another favorite but very different pet – the striped skunk! To date, 578 species of toads have been described (family Bufonidae), so I’m guessing that many readers will have their own “best pet” picks. Please be sure to post your choices below.

 

The American Toad and its Relatives

Each year, American Toads and several related species introduce scores of children to amphibian keeping. I can think of no better toad – or indeed amphibian – pet. Hardy enough for rank beginners, these stout little fellows also hold the attentions of experienced zookeepers – in fact, very few have ever been bred in captivity!

 

Southern toad

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Fice

Twenty-one similar species are classified with the American Toad in the genus Anaxyrus (formerly Bufo). Most are equally hardy and well suited to captivity, although the tiny Oak Toad (A. quercicus) may present some feeding difficulties due to the size of the insects required. Other good choices for the terrarium include Houston, Southern, Fowler’s and Great Plains Toads. Owners invariably describe each using words such as “charming”, “droll”, “friendly” and “engaging”. All are sometimes active by day in the wild; captives quickly adjust to their owners’ schedules, and will emerge from their shelters by day and night if a meal is in the offing.

 

Care

I’ve covered the care of American Toads and several other species in the articles linked below. Please also post any question you may have.

 

Just a quick note on hygiene and diet, which are the two aspects of care that most often give rise to problems (read more in the linked articles):

 

Black Toad

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Strageser

Toads have porous skin patches on the chest through which ammonia (released with their waste products) will be absorbed. As ammonia is extremely lethal, strict attention must be paid to terrarium and water cleanliness. Chlorine and chloramine must be removed from water used in toad terrariums. Liquid preparations are simple to use and very effective.

 

A highly-varied diet is essential. Crickets and mealworms alone, even if powdered with supplements, are not an adequate diet for any species. I have observed wild Marine Toads consuming over 2 dozen insect species in a very short time, and other researchers have documented a wider range of prey for other species. Pets should be offered crickets, earthworms (one of the best foods) roaches, sow bugs, waxworms, butterworms, silkworms, lab-reared houseflies, termites, flour beetle grubs, and wild-caught invertebrates (please see cautions in linked articles) such as aphids, “meadow plankton”, harvestmen, earwigs, ground beetles, grasshoppers, and moths.

 

Mexican Burrowing Toad

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Pstevendactylus

Expanding Your Collection

Once you have some experience with the American Toad and its relatives, you may wish to branch out into some of the less-commonly kept (in some cases very rarely kept!) toads. You have nearly 600 species to choose from, and some really break the “typical family mold” set by the American Toad. Spray Toads (not available in the trade) bear tiny live toadlets while Argentine Flame-Bellied Toads are as brilliant as any Dart Poison Frog. Huge lumbering Marine, Blomberg’s and Smooth-Sided Toads rival Horned Frogs in size, while the rarely-seen Mexican Burrowing Toad looks like some sort of amphibian space alien.

 

US toad fanciers are fortunate to have 35-40 species resident, many of which are overlooked by zoos and hobbyists alike. Some of my favorite US natives include the Narrow-Mouthed, Red-Spotted, Spadefoot, Sonoran Green and Marine Toads.

 

Handling

Toads learn very quickly where their meals lie, and will soon greet you as you approach their terrarium. They will even clamber up onto your hand to feed, but should not be held unnecessarily, or “petted”. In common with all amphibians, they are subject health problems once the skin’s mucus covering is removed. Handle them – carefully, and with clean, wet hands – only when necessary.

 

While toads make excellent pets for responsible children supervised by adults, they do secrete virulent skin toxins and must be treated with care. Always wash thoroughly after handling them, and never touch your mouth or eyes before doing so. Do not handle toads if you have a cut in your skin. Toads that are licked or swallowed by children or mammalian pets can cause life-threatening reactions.

 

All amphibians should be assumed to carry Salmonella. Infections are easy to avoid if proper hygiene measures are followed. Please see the CDC website and speak with your family doctor if you require further information.

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

 

American Toad Care and Natural History

 

Care of Common and Unusual Toads

 

Salmonella Prevention

Why Do We Need Insects? – Some Amazing Facts and Figures

WATER SCORPSome might answer “as food for our reptiles, amphibians and arachnids”, while others would perhaps offer the standard “pollination” reply. Legendary entomologist E.O. Wilson, however, simply states: “If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos”. He adds: “If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago”.

 

Yes, it is true – despite our technological advances, life would grind to a halt were insects to disappear. The reasons for this are staggering in both their simplicity and complexity. Today I’d like to highlight few fun facts that have surprised me – for example, can you believe that the weight of insects in typical central African rainforests exceeds that of all vertebrates combined? Think about that –taken together, these tiny creatures outweigh the total mass of all resident forest elephants, gorillas, birds, reptiles and other animals with backbones!

 

How Many Actually Trouble Us?

Estimated at 30 million species, insects comprise 80-95% of all living creatures. A single tree in Panama has yielded 163 beetle species, 100 of which were new to science, and their abundance is not limited to the tropics – an acre of Pennsylvania soil may hold 425 million individual insects. Barely 1% qualify as being harmful to people.

 

Robber fly

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jkadavoor

Helpful Roaches, Flies and Termites (Its True!)

Say “insect pest” to most urbanites and the word “cockroach” comes to mind. Yet only 12 of the 4,500+ known species – or 0.3% – are household pests. The rest are important pollinators, decomposers, predators, and prey. Roach research has led to advances in understanding human molecular and cell biology, neuron function, heredity, pharmacology, epidemiology and hormone activity.

 

Most people are displeased to learn that 1 in every 10 animal species is a fly, but most of the estimated 250,000 species are innocuous or even helpful. Hover flies are important pollinators, and their larvae are used in biological control measures against agricultural pests, while North America’s 1,000+ robber fly species prey upon injurious fellow-flies. Certain shore fly larvae live in the hot (112 F) waters of geysers, while others happily swim about in crude oil; their unbelievable adaptability may hold secrets of medicinal or industrial value.

 

Contrary to popular belief, not all termites spend their time eating our homes – only 10% of the world’s 4,000+ species attack wood structures. Others eat dead grass, lichens and leaves, and some actually “farm” fungi as a food source. In Australian savannas, termites limit the severity of fires by removing dead grass in quantities equal to that processed by grazing mammals elsewhere.

 

Weevil Trachelophorus giraffa

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by AxelStrauss

They May Eat Dung and Rotting Fruit, But…

We may be repulsed by the fact that the world’s 7,000 dung beetles feed upon feces, but by burying dung they render it unavailable as breeding site for disease-bearing flies. And they bury quite a lot – in Australia, a single beetle population can process 1 ton of cattle manure each day!

 

Fruit flies appear as different from people as can be, but a number of their genes correspond in form and function to ours. In fact, fruit fly studies led to the all-important discovery genes are located on chromosomes. This tiny insect has contributed immeasurably to our understanding of cancer, birth defects, cardiovascular disease, aging and other health concerns.

 

New Medicines and Promising Research

Insects produce compounds that kill cancer cells and viruses, prevent blood clots, and function in ways that cannot be mimicked by synthetic drugs. Cyclosporine, isolated from fungus that lives on beetles, prevents organ transplant rejection (I’ve used it for 20+ years on my cornea transplant), the defensive spray of cathedral termites contains novel antibacterial agents, and wasp venom shows promise in the treatment of degenerative neuronal disorders.

 

Tufted long-horned Beetle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Flickr upload bot

Drug resistant micro-organisms are being encountered with ever-increasing frequency, especially in hospitals. Medications modeled after the darkling beetle’s peptides may be effective in preventing the development of these “super germs”. Darkling beetle larvae, or mealworms, also have a long history as laboratory animals (and reptile food!).

 

The silkworm moth (Bombyx mori) is entirely dependent upon people for its survival…after 5,000+ years of captive breeding, it has lost the adaptations necessary for life in the wild. Each cocoon is comprised of a single silken thread measuring up to 3,000 feet in length. The moth’s value is not limited to silk production…genetic engineering techniques have yielded caterpillars that produce human medications instead of silk!

 

These tidbits of information do not even qualify as “scratching the surface” of this fascinating topic…please post your own favorites below!

 

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

Water Scorpion Care

Stag Beetle Conservation and Care

Insect Pets: Praying Mantis Care

 

 

 

American Museum of Natural History: A Visit to the Live Spider Exhibit

I’ve crisscrossed every inch of the American Museum of Natural History – unquestionably the world’s greatest – innumerable times since childhood (and once tried to scale its walls, to capture bats…long story!). Friends working there have kindly taken me behind-the-scenes in several departments, and my 6-year-old nephew is more familiar with the institution than are many adults. But despite having spent a lifetime working with animals at the Bronx Zoo, I am still thrilled each time a new, temporary live animal exhibit opens at AMNH – all are very well done, and perfect for adults and children alike. The current exhibit, Spiders Alive!, is no exception. Although I’ve collected and cared for hundreds of Arachnid species, and my little sidekick has also racked up some impressive experiences, we have visited several times so far, and enjoyed as much as did any novice!

 

spiderdisplay1The Displays

As with all similar AMNH exhibits, Spiders Alive! features interesting specimens in large, beautifully-designed exhibits along with state-of-the art graphics, huge photos, hands-on interactive opportunities and even a giant anatomically-correct spider sculpture for kids to swarm over (some held back…I guess it was very realistic to them!). Friendly, well-informed volunteers and staff are always on hand to answer questions and help with using the interactive displays. Entry is timed, so there are never crowds or long waits to see or use anything, and visitors are generally well-behaved and polite.

 

One display lets the visitor move a magnifier over a live spider to portray an enlarged view on an overhead screen; my nephew gave that one – and the very nice attending AMNH staffer – a workout! Happily for the budding artists among us (please see photos), spider hideaways and exhibit furnishings are arranged in a way that allows all exhibit specimens to be easily viewed.

 

Learning about Spiders

The species exhibited are used to highlight a number of topics, all of which are well-explained by the graphics. Most obvious is diversity, with arboreal, burrowing, local, exotic, desert-adapted, rainforest-dwelling and other spiders with varying lifestyles being on view now. Other aspects of Arachnid natural history that are illustrated include defense, anatomy, venom, and the uses and structure of silk.

 

scorpThe Animals

Following are notes on several of the spiders currently on exhibit. Spider relatives, such as scorpions and the bizarre vinagaroons and tailless whip scorpions, are also featured.

 

Fishing Spiders: these large running spiders are for some reason ignored by spider enthusiasts and zoos alike. The local species here in the NE USA, Dolomedes tenebrosus, is an impressive hunter of small fishes and tadpoles (please see photo of a female with eggs, currently in my collection). My nephew readily tackles snakes exceeding his own length, but when I asked him to swim under a dock and capture this spider, he quickly replied “No way, man”!

 

Goliath Bird-Eating Tarantula: perhaps the world’s largest spider, this species is a favorite of private and professional spider keepers. Field reports indicate that they prey upon small rodents, snakes, frogs, lizards and other vertebrates in addition to insects. Certainly, those under my care startled me with their voracious appetites.

 

Ornamental Tarantulas: Beautifully-colored but rather aggressive – and very fast moving, I can assure you! – these SE Asian spiders are highly arboreal.

 

Black Widow and Brown Recluse: known to many folks here in the USA, the habits of these two potentially-dangerous spiders are well-explained.

 

Orb Weavers: Several species are on view, each in the center of a large, intricately-woven web.

 

Funnel Web Spider: the species displayed is not the highly venomous Australian spider of the same name but rather a harmless and very common US native (Agelenopsis sp.). I’ve often kept these interesting spiders…but until now believed I was the only one to do so! Vertical “trip lines” knock flying insects onto a sheet-like web, whereupon the spider rushes out and drags its hapless victim down the funnel-shaped retreat. Always happy to demonstrate their talents to onlookers, I find funnel web spiders to be fascinating captives.

 

Several of the other species featured are well-known or common, but their habits are revealed in a way that cannot help but cause one to appreciate these maligned but fascinating little beasts. Some others that you can see include Mexican Red-Kneed Tarantulas, House Spiders, Trap-Door Spiders and Wolf Spiders.

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

Keeping the Fishing Spider

Spider Hunting Methods – Beyond Webs

 Spiders Alive!

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