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Tropical Chicken Snake

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Is the Tropical Chicken Snake right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Tiger Ratsnake; Thunder Snake; Lightning Snake

Scientific name: Spilotes pullatus pullatus

The basics:
The Tropical Chicken Snake’s huge range stretches from southern Mexico and Tobago through Central America and across much of South America to northern Argentina. It seems absent from the Amazon Basin, but field surveys may prove otherwise. A habitat generalist, it may be found in rainforests, open woodlands, brushy grasslands and the margins of farms and villages. They are equally at home on the ground or high up in trees. Five subspecies have been described.

Appearance / health:
Large, active and brilliantly-colored, the Tropical Chicken Snake draws attention wherever it occurs. It is one of the longest snakes in the Western Hemisphere, with adults averaging 6-7 feet but commonly reaching 10 feet in length; 14-foot-long individuals have been recorded. These flashy beauties vary widely in coloration, from lemon-yellow with indigo blotches to solid black speckled with orange.

Behavior / temperament:
Individuals that have not been handled must be approached with caution. Many calm down in time, but they tend to move about when held, and can be difficult to control. Care must be exercised, as even well-habituated individuals may strike at nearby movements.

Housing:
Tropical Chicken Snakes are extremely active; an average adult requires a custom-built cage measuring at least 6 x 5 feet. Newspapers, cypress mulch, eucalyptus bark and similar materials may be used as substrates. Stout climbing branches are essential. Most individuals prefer a forked tree branch screened by plants to a typical hide box. Ambient temperature: 76-85 F; Basking temperature: 90 F

Large size and spectacular coloration draw snake enthusiasts to this impressive serpent, and the few that appear for sale are always quickly snatched-up. However, Tropical Chicken Snakes require more upkeep than similarly-sized species, and should not be purchased without forethought. They have fast metabolisms and produce copious amounts of fecal material. The enclosure should be misted daily and thoroughly cleaned each 2-4 weeks. Most are wild-caught, so newly-acquired pets should be examined by a veterinarian.

Diet:
Tropical Chicken Snakes actively search out a wide array of prey animals, which are killed by constriction. Rodents, possums, rabbits, birds and their eggs, lizards, frogs and other snakes are all taken with equal gusto. Populations living near people provide a service by consuming rats, but also earn their common name by “sampling” chickens. Pets do well on a diet comprised of mice and rats. Hungry individuals strike wildly, so always exercise caution at feeding time.

Breeding:
Captive breeding has occurred, but is not common. Pairs must be monitored carefully, as aggression may occur. However, once habituated, they can usually be housed together year-round. A typical clutch contains 10-14 eggs, which should be incubated in moist vermiculite at 80 F for 75-80 days.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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