Scarlet Snake

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Glenn Bartolotti

Is the Scarlet Snake right for you?

Species group:

Scientific name: Cemophora coccinea

The basics:
The Scarlet Snake (not to be confused with the Scarlet Kingsnake) might be an extremely popular pet but for its unusual food preferences (please see below). But the experienced snake keeper who can meet its needs could ask for no more brilliantly-colored or “well-mannered” North American serpent. Three Scarlet Snake subspecies range from the Pine Barrens region of southern New Jersey to Texas and the southern tip of Florida. Isolated populations in several states indicate that we may not yet know the full extent of its range. The Scarlet Snake spends much of its life below ground or within rotting logs, and only appears on the surface after dark or following heavy rains. It is limited to habitats with loose or sandy soil, such as pine forests, sand-hill scrub, cut-over woodlands and palmetto fields.

Appearance / health:
Slender in build, the Scarlet Snake averages 14-24 inches long, with a record length of just over 32 inches. It appears to be a Coral Snake mimic (as is the related and superficially-similar Scarlet Kingsnake), and is brightly-clad in alternating bands or blotches of red to scarlet, yellow, and black. A pointed snout assists in burrowing.

Behavior / temperament:
Scarlet Snakes are generally placid in demeanor. However, as with all snakes, they must be handled with care.

A single Scarlet Snake can be kept in a 10-20 gallon aquarium. Unlike most snakes, they do not fare well on newspapers, aspen shavings or similar substrates. Their terrarium should instead be furnished with a mixture of dead leaves, sand, and peat moss. Caves or cork bark slabs should be provided as shelters, but most individuals will prefer to burrow. Ambient temperature: 75-80 F; Basking temperature: 85-88 F

Droppings should be removed as they appear, and care must be taken to avoid damp conditions. Nearly all Scarlet Snakes offered for sale have been wild-caught, and therefore should be examined by a veterinarian.

Scarlet Snakes are powerful constrictors. Wild specimens have been recorded as feeding upon other snakes, skinks and nestling mice; frogs, young shrews and other creatures may also be taken, but field research is lacking. However, snake and lizard (and, perhaps, turtle) eggs are their preferred food. Pets often refuse all but reptile eggs. Small eggs are swallowed whole, while larger ones are slit by enlarged, specialized teeth and pressure from a single coil of the body. Successful keepers usually breed anoles, skinks, or house geckos, so as to have a ready supply of small eggs. Some pets consume the lizards as well as their eggs, and a rare few will accept pink mice. The contents of chicken, quail or finch eggs placed into empty snake or lizard eggshells sometimes induces feeding as well.

Captive breeding of these pretty little snakes is rare. Wild females produce 2-10 eggs, which are deposited within a dead log, below leaf-litter or in a shallow burrow. The slender hatchlings average a mere 5-7 inches in length. A short cooling off period and reduced light cycle may encourage pets to reproduce.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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