Moellendorff’s Ratsnake

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Is the Moellendorff’s Ratsnake right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Red-Headed Ratsnake, Flower Snake, 100 Flower Snake, Trinket Snake

Scientific name: Orthriophis (formerly Elaphe) moellendorffi

The basics:
The Moellendorff’s Ratsnake is considered by many snake enthusiasts to be the most beautiful of all ratsnakes, yet it gets little attention in the pet trade. Fortunately, a better understanding of its needs is changing that situation…look for this to be the next “break-out” species from Asia! This little-studied snake is limited in range to southeastern China and northern Vietnam. It is most frequently found in association with limestone caves on rocky hillsides and in nearby bamboo thickets. However, overgrown fields and riverside brush is also utilized, and further studies are expected to shed more light on its range and habitats. Over collection for the food trade is said to have placed this snake in jeopardy, but detailed field surveys are lacking.

Appearance / health:
The Chinese name for this striking creature - 100 Flower Snake - is most appropriate. The body is marked with a dazzling pattern of blotches which vary in color from rusty-red to black. Red or orange usually adorns the head, and re-appears along the lower third of the body. The eye is black encircled by brilliant orange. A seemingly-endless array of variations of this basic pattern is seen – in fact, those lucky enough to breed this snake cannot predict what the youngsters will look like! Adults reach 5-8 feet in length.

Behavior / temperament:
Individual tolerance of handling varies almost as much as does their color pattern. Wild-caught animals may remain defensive for quite some time, and their general demeanor is of a retiring snake that prefers to be left alone. However, captive-bred individuals usually adjust well to careful handling. As with all large snakes, caution must be exercised when they are being fed or handled.

Moellendorff’s Ratsnakes seem stressed by small enclosures, and should be provided with proportionally larger accommodations than their American counterparts. While a 55-75 gallon aquarium will suit small individual, larger adults are best provided custom-built cages measuring at least 6 x 4 feet. Cypress mulch, eucalyptus bark and similar materials may be used as substrates, and stout climbing branches should be provided. A dry shelter and another stocked with moist sphagnum moss should be provided, and a general humidity level of 50-60% maintained; skin ailments and difficulties in shedding are common in dry enclosures. However, dry basking areas must also be available. Moellendorff’s Ratsnakes seem adapted to cool, low-light conditions; in the wild, they shelter in caves and forage in the early morning and evenings. Captives should be kept relatively cool, by snake standards, and in subdued lighting. Ambient temperature: 70-77 F; Basking temperature: 78 F; a dip to 68 F at night may be beneficial. As many in the trade are wild-caught, a veterinarian should check all new arrivals to your collection.

Adult Moellendorff’s Rat Snakes are sizable creatures that produce copious amounts of fecal material which must be removed regularly. The enclosure should be misted daily and thoroughly cleaned each 2-4 weeks.

The natural diet of the Moellendorff’s Ratsnake has not been well-studied, but is assumed to contain ground squirrels, rats, bats and other small mammals, birds and, perhaps, lizards and frogs. Despite their large size, adults seem to prefer smaller food animals that similarly-sized snakes. A number of keepers report that digestive problems arise when adult rats are offered. Fuzzy rats, rat pups and pink to fuzzy mice are especially favored. Some individuals prefer chicks to rodents.

Captive breeding is infrequent but becoming more common. A 2-3 month cooling off period at 58-62 F will stimulate reproduction. Clutches generally contain 5-8 eggs, which should be incubated at 80-82 F for 80-90 days.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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