Leopard Ratsnake

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Is the Leopard Ratsnake right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: European Ratsnake, European Leopard Snake

Scientific name: Zamenis (formerly Elaphe) situla

The basics:
The Leopard Ratsnake, the most colorful and strikingly marked of all European snakes, has long been a popular pet in its native lands. Although relatively uncommon in the USA, American keepers are now taking notice of its beautiful coloration, manageable size and hardiness in captivity.

The huge range extends across much of southeastern Europe, from southern Croatia through Bosnia, southern Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, southern Bulgaria, Greece and Malta to Turkey and Ukraine; it also occurs in southern Italy and on Sicily. The Leopard Ratsnake adapts to a wide variety of habitats, including forest edges, riverside brush, marshes, over-grown fields, and rocky mountainsides. It is often quite common around rock walls, olive groves, vineyards and pastures, and in small villages and farms. The Leopard Ratsnake is largely terrestrial, but sometimes forages in low bushes.

Appearance / health:
Leopard Ratsnakes are striking creatures. The ground color is cream, gray, or tan, and black-bordered red or rust-colored blotches line the top of the body from head to tail. Small black spots, which alternate with the blotches, decorate the sides of the body, and 3 bold, black stripes extend from the eyes to the jaws and snout. In some populations, the red blotches are replaced by to red lines that run the length of the body. These 2 forms differ so markedly in appearance that they were once considered to be distinct subspecies. White, black and other color morphs have been produced by European breeders. Adults rarely exceed 3 feet in length.

Behavior / temperament:
Leopard Ratsnakes are shy, and have the reputation of being “nippy” and quick to release musk when handled. Youngsters are especially defensive, but with care and patience most tame down nicely.

Leopard Ratsnakes are rather active, but, due to their small size, may be kept in 20-30 gallon aquariums. Newspapers, cypress mulch, eucalyptus bark and similar materials may be used as substrates. A dry shelter and another stocked with moist sphagnum moss should be provided. Ambient temperature: 76-84 F; Basking temperature: 88 F.

Fecal material should be removed as it appears. The enclosure should be misted daily and thoroughly cleaned each 2-4 weeks.

Wild Leopard Ratsnakes consume mice, voles, lizards and, possibly, frogs. Some individuals tend to be picky eaters, but in time most accept mice. Youngsters likely feed upon lizards in the wild, and may refuse mice. Scenting a pink mouse with a skink may induce feeding.

A 3-4 month cooling-off period at 60-65 F prior to the breeding season will induce breeding behavior. Clutches are small, containing 2-8 eggs. At an incubation temperature of 82-85 F, they typically hatch within 60-70 days. Hatchling Leopard Ratsnakes measure 8-11 inches in length.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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