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Ornate Whip Snake

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Is the Ornate Whip Snake right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Central Texas Whip Snake

Scientific name: Masticophis taeniatus ornatus

The basics:
The Ornate Whip Snake is found only in central Texas, in the southwestern USA. It favors mesquite prairies, thorn scrub, brushy grasslands and rocky hillsides. Another subspecies, the Striped Whip Snake, ranges from Oregon to central Mexico. The Ornate Whip Snake is active by day and largely terrestrial, but will climb low shrubs to bask or prey upon nestling birds.

Appearance / health:
The Ornate Whip Snake truly does seem to “whip” across the landscape. It is often compared to the related Racers and Coachwhip Snakes in appearance and habits. A slender build and the mistaken belief that they “whip” attackers also contribute to the common name. Ornate Whip Snakes may reach 6 feet in length, but most top out at 4-5 feet. Their extremely variable colors range from glossy black to reddish or pink-hued brown, with the underside of the tail being pink. Indistinct white crossbars mark some individuals.

Behavior / temperament:
Wild-caught Ornate Whip Snakes can test the patience of even the most-skilled snake keeper! Alert and high-strung, many resist all attempts at handling with lightning-quick strikes, and are best considered as pets to be observed only. However, some calm down in time, and good results are sometimes achieved with captive-bred individuals. All become very excited when food is scented, so care should be exercised at feeding time or when handling hungry (and they are often hungry!) snakes.

Housing:
Ornate Whip Snakes are quite active and do not take well to small enclosures. An adult requires a custom-built cage measuring at least 6 x 4 feet, although captive-born animals may adjust to less space. The cage must be well-ventilated and dry. Cypress mulch, eucalyptus bark and similar materials are preferable to newspapers as substrates. As they tend to be high-strung, numerous shelters should be provided, and the cage should be located in a quiet area of the home. Ambient temperature: 80-85 F; Basking temperature: 88-90 F

Ornate Whip Snakes produce watery waste products at frequent intervals, and require more upkeep than similarly-sized snakes. Newly-acquired individuals should be disturbed as little as possible during routine cleaning. As many in the trade are wild-caught, a veterinarian should check new arrivals to your collection. Although not commonly kept as pets, Ornate Whip Snakes are gaining in popularity due to their alert demeanors. They seem to “notice” more than do other snakes, and quickly respond accordingly.

Diet:
Ornate Whip Snakes are diurnal, sight-oriented hunters that search for prey with the head held high above the ground. They actively pursue kangaroo rats, pocket mice and other rodents, ground-dwelling birds, lizards, and snakes, including venomous species. Smaller individuals also take grasshoppers and other large insects. They do not utilize constriction, but merely grab and swallow their victims. Pets do well on a diet comprised of mice and rats, but wild-caught individuals may be picky feeders. In time, however, most adjust. Ornate Whip Snakes have fast metabolisms, and often need more food than typical pet snakes; this is especially true of youngsters.

Breeding:
Captive breeding is not common. A 2-3 month cooling period of 65 F by night with a daytime basking temperature of 78-80 may stimulate breeding behavior. Pairs must be monitored carefully, as males may bite females during courtship. A typical clutch contains 6-15 eggs, which should be incubated in vermiculite at 80-82 F for 65-70 days.

Written by Frank Indiviglio