Rainbow Snake

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Is the Rainbow Snake right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Eel Moccasin

Scientific name: Farancia erytrogramma erytrogramma

The basics:
The Rainbow Snake is, according to those who have seen one, the most attractively-colored of all North American serpents. Yet it remains relatively unknown in the pet trade, principally because of its odd dietary requirements. However, the enterprising snake enthusiast can easily get around this (please see below).

The Rainbow Snake ranges from southern Maryland to eastern Louisiana and central Florida. A subspecies, the Seminole Rainbow Snake (Farancia e. seminola), limited in range to Lake Okeechobee in Florida, may, sadly, be extinct. These largely-aquatic snakes favor cypress swamps, marshes, oxbow lakes and other sluggish bodies of water, and sometimes forage in nearby fields. Much of its time is spent among floating vegetation or, when on land, within shallow burrows.

Appearance / health:
Adult Rainbow Snakes average 3 to 4 feet in length, with a record of 5 feet, 6 inches. It is aptly-named, and stops even well-seasoned herpetologists in their tracks when first seen. 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 the coloration. The tail’s terminal scale is hard and somewhat sharp, leading some to mistakenly believe that the Rainbow Snake can “sting” its enemies.

Behavior / 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.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

An average 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, in common with North American watersnakes (Nerodia spp.) develop fungal skin disorders if unable to dry off. 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. The enclosure’s screen lid must be secured by cage clips. Ambient temperature: 75-80 F; Basking temperature: 85-88

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

Adult 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 (F. abacura), but field research is lacking. Most adult captives refuse all but freshwater eels. However, scenting minnows, shiners and other fishes with eels has resulted in acceptance. Small eels are also often available at bait stores, and adults can be purchased at food markets and frozen until needed for scenting. Young Rainbow Snakes are far easier to please than adults, and generally accept minnows, shiners, platies, 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.

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. Newborns measure 8 ½ - 11 inches in length.