Species group: Water Snakes
Other common names: Fishing Snake, Arawana Snake
Scientific name: Erpeton tentaculatum
The Tentacled Snake is arguably the most unusual of the world’s 3,450 snake species, and the only one to sport the fleshy head tentacles that so puzzled herpetologists for over a century (it was recently discovered that they assist in hunting by sensing water movements). It also has the distinction of being one of the only wholly-aquatic snakes available in the pet trade. Tentacled snakes are native to the coastal Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. They inhabit the still, heavily-vegetated waters of swamps, rice paddies and lake margins, and will burrow into the mud and aestivate when droughts leave them high and dry. Lacking the broad ventral scales of terrestrial species, Tentacled Snakes are virtually helpless on land.
Appearance / health:
Two distinct color phases are known – grey or brown with dark stripes travelling the length of the body and tan with reddish brown and black bars. The 2 scale-covered tentacles that lend this oddball its common name sprout from the edges of the mouth. The Tentacled Snake averages 18-24 inches in length, but may reach 36 inches, and is slender in build.
Behavior / temperament:
Tentacled Snakes are among the “least handle-able” of all reptiles. They instantly become rigid and immobile when removed from water…in fact, their Thai name translates to “Board-Like Snake”! Fish-specific venom is used to overcome prey. They rarely bite in self-defense and are not considered dangerous, but the possibility of an allergic reaction to their venom should be considered.
You’ll need to throw out most of what you know concerning snake housing when you take on this unusual aquatic creature...a background in fish or newt care would be more useful! A 20 gallon long-style aquarium will support a single adult, while 4-5 can be kept in a 55-75 gallon (they get along well in groups). Effective filtration is necessary, but strong currents must be avoided lest these weak swimmers become stressed. Under-gravel filters beneath a substrate of fine, dark-colored pebbles are ideal. Tentacled Snakes spend their time anchored via prehensile tails to sunken roots and branches, which they resemble to an uncanny degree. These should be positioned so that the snakes can reach the surface to breathe without needing to swim. Dense cover in the form of plants…live if possible – is essential. Lighting should be dim. Tentacled Snakes do best in chlorine-free, acidic water of pH 5.2-6.5 and low ammonia content. “Black water” preparations marketed for tropical fish are helpful in creating the proper environment. The tank’s screen lid must be secured by cage clips. Ambient temperature: 77-82 F; Basking temperature (bulb suspended over the water’s surface): 85 F.
Again, forget your snake experience! Weekly partial water changes are essential, and the gravel should be cleaned with a siphon-based washer monthly. Ammonia levels should be monitored with a tropical fish test kit. Many in the trade are wild-caught, so newly-acquired pets should be examined by a veterinarian. All work should be done without unduly disturbing the snakes, as they are easily stressed.
The natural diet is comprised entirely of fishes and tadpoles. Tentacled Snakes employ a unique hunting strategy that has only recently been fully described. Hungry individuals assume a characteristic “J-shaped” posture, with the head angled towards the body; they will not actively chase their prey. When a fish approaches, the snake sends out a ripple of water with its body. This disturbance causes the fish to initiate an instinctive escape maneuver known as the “C-Start”, which invariably, takes the unfortunate beast directly towards the waiting snake’s mouth! Pets should be fed a diet comprised of a wide variety fishes (avoid those protected by spines). Swordtails, minnows, platies, barbs, guppies, mollies and similar fishes are all readily accepted. A steady diet of goldfishes has been linked to health problems in other reptiles. Tentacled Snakes require comparatively more food than others, and do best when allowed to feed at will.
As captive breeding is rare, pet owners have a great opportunity to discover important new information; be sure to share what you learn! Like all aquatic species, Tentacled Snakes bear live young. The youngsters, averaging 5-8 inches in length and born in litters of 6-8, may appear year-round.
Written by Frank Indiviglio
An Amazing but Delicate Aquatic Snake
I first worked with tentacled snakes decades ago while employed by an animal importer, and instantly became hooked. In time, I kept them at home and in zoo exhibits. Among the world’s most unique serpents, these completely aquatic snakes have been luring – and frustrating – professional and private keepers for many years. They can be successfully kept and even bred, but they are quite sensitive, and wild-caught individuals invariably arrive in poor shape.
A background keeping delicate fish and a knowledge of water chemistry is helpful in keeping these wonderful creatures. Although only 12-15 inches in length, tentacles snakes require a large aquarium (at least 55 gallons, preferably larger) that is dimly-lit and heavily stocked with live plants, caves and driftwood, and they must be provided roots and branches upon which they can anchor their tails (in this manner they remain camouflaged and wait to ambush fish – they will not chase prey). They are very shy, and should be housed in a quiet room and not be handled at all. The water should be well-filtered (but without strong currents), and slightly acidic (black-water preparations used for tropical fish work well), and warmed to a range of 78-82 F.
Tentacled snakes are strict fish-eaters, and fare best on a varied diet comprised of live goldfish, shiners, swordtails, platies, mollies and other freshwater fishes. They should not be handled - when grabbed, they stiffen up and feign death; they can barely move on land, and are very stressed by removal from the water. Unfortunately, tentacled snakes are prone to a variety of fungal and bacterial infections that affect the skin. Salt baths and methylene blue treatments sometimes prove useful, but we still have a good deal to learn about their care..
From findiviglio Jan 23 2016 3:37PM