Western Coachwhip Snake

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Is the Western Coachwhip Snake right for you?

Species group:

Scientific name: Masticophis flagellum testaceous

The basics:
The Western Coachwhip Snake is at home in southwestern North America, where it ranges from New Mexico and Colorado through Texas and Oklahoma to northern Mexico. It favors mesquite prairies, thorn scrub, grasslands, pastures and other open, grassy habitats dotted with brushy thickets and other cover. Five additional subspecies live across much of the USA and in central Mexico. Coachwhip Snakes are active by day, when they wander widely in search of prey.

Appearance / health:
The Western Coachwhip Snake is one of the fleetest of all North American snakes, and does indeed seem to “whip” across the landscape. They are often compared to Racers, to which they are related. A slender build and the mistaken belief that they “whip” attackers also contribute to the common name. Western Coachwhip Snakes may reach 7 feet in length, but most top out at 4-5 feet. They are extremely variable in color with some being an un-marked black, brown or pinkish-red while others bear dark bars over light tan, pink, or olive scales.

Behavior / temperament:
Wild-caught Western Coachwhip 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 often 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.

Western Coachwhip 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. Ambient temperature: 80-85 F; Basking temperature: 88-90 F

Western Coachwhip 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, Coachwhips are gaining in popularity due to their alert demeanors. They seem to “notice” more than do other snakes, and quickly respond accordingly. With proper care, a Western Coachwhip may reach at least 15-18 years of age.

Western Coachwhips are sight-oriented hunters that actively chase-down kangaroo rats, pocket mice and other rodents, birds, lizards, and snakes. Smaller individuals also take grasshoppers and other large insects. They do not utilize constriction, but merely grab and swallow their victims (quite a feat, considering the biting power that most rodents pack!). Pets do well on a diet comprised of mice and rats, but wild-caught individuals may have very specific food preferences (i.e. lizards, pocket gophers). In time, however, most adjust. Western Coachwhip Snakes have fast metabolisms, and often need more food than typical pet snakes; this is especially true of youngsters.

A 2-3 month cooling period of 60-65 F will stimulate breeding. Pairs must be monitored carefully, as males may bite females during courtship. A typical clutch contains 6-18 eggs, which should be incubated in vermiculite at 80-82 F for 65-70 days.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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