The third part of this series by James Coppen looks at the Central American genus, Pseudoelaphe, Bogertophis & Senticolis.
During the course of this series of articles I shall attempt to provide the reader with a basic guide to Ratsnakes, with notes on their captive care, my own observations and their breeding in the vivarium.
Ratsnakes are very widespread, many species being present in North America, a few
in India, some in Europe and a large number in Asia. I have kept and studied many different species and the aim of this article is to set down my experiences and the husbandry techniques that have enabled me to keep these beautiful serpents successfully.
The nightsnake is an absolutely amazing species that is becoming increasingly popular (although they remain relatively rare on breeders’ lists). This species hails from Northern Mexico and, reportedly has five subspecies: P. f. phaescens, P. f. matudai, P. f. pardalina, P. f. polysticha and, of course, P. f. flavirufus.
Pseudoelaphe flavirufus attains a length of about five and a half feet and is of similar build to the cornsnake, to which its captive care is identical. This species is a greyish colour with an intricate set of red dorsal diamond markings which are edged in black. One distinguishing feature of this shy animal are its very large and prominent blue eyes which make it instantly recognisable.
Unfortunately breeding data for this striking animal is scarce, but it is known to lay approximately 6 eggs which should hatch after an incubation period of around 60 days at a temperature of 82F.
TRANS PECOS RATSNAKE Bogertophis subocularis
This species was formerly included in the genus Elaphe, but was recently reclassified as Bogertophis. In my opinion the Trans-Pecos ratsnake must rate among the prettiest of all the ratsnakes. It is warm ochre in colour and has an intricate set of dark brown to black markings resembling the letter ‘H’ running along the length of the body. The head is well set off from the neck and the eyes are very large in comparison with the general size of the head.
Bogertophis subocularis hails from the desert and rocky regions of the Big-Bend of the USA and parts of Mexico. Its geographic location in the wild gives us some clues to its requirements in the vivarium. Firstly, it requires warm daytime temperatures (84-90F), also a reasonable amount of space (a vivarium of dimensions 48x12x12” would be suitable), lots of hiding places situated throughout the vivarium and, lastly and very importantly, no wet places within the cage. The water bowl should be small and sturdy so that it cannot be easily tipped over.
This species can be very variable in its ability to adapt to life in captivity and, for this reason, a captive-bred specimen should be considered if at all possible. They normally feed well on a variety of rodents. The temperament of this species can vary considerably between individuals.
In order to breed this species only a weak cooling period is necessary; reducing the temperature to around 60-70F for approximately two months should suffice. This snake is a late breeder and it may, therefore, be difficult to obtain a second clutch, even from a well-conditioned female, as is possible with so many other ratsnakes. The clutches are normally small, averaging just 2-9 eggs.
Note: A blonde-phase animal, considered by many to be the most attractive of all ratsnakes, exists. These animals are much paler in colouration than the “normal” Trans-Pecos and the markings along the body are lighter and reduced in size. Now captive-bred, this form originated from the lower Pecos river area. This colour phase is more expensive than the normal form but is, in my opinion, well worth the additional expense.
BAJA RATSNAKE Bogertophis rosaliae
Very little is known about this species, which hails from Baja California, either in the wild or in captivity. It is a very attractive snake and, unusually, the adults are unmarked with the uniform colouration being extremely variable, from pale orange, reddish-brown to olive. The head is large in comparison with the rather slender neck, unicoloured and has the prominent eyes so characteristic of Bogortophis subocularis. Although this species is still comparatively rare (it is probably the rarest of the North American ratsnakes) it is now being produced by a limited number of breeders in the USA. In years to come it should become more readily available in the UK and Europe.
GREEN RATSNAKES Senticolis triaspis
This species ranges from Arizona, through to Mexico and Costa Rica. This species is currently the subject of much speculation about the possible existence of three subspecies, S. t. triaspis, S. t. mutabilis and S. t. intermedia, this being largely based on differences in the adult colouration. The juveniles are blotched, unlike the adults which tend to be of uniform colouration, ranging from tan to light-brown, more rarely pale greenish. The juveniles of all three “subspecies” are superficially similar to a juvenile corn snake and it is only as the animal matures and the markings begin to fade that the differences in the adults are noticeable. Maximum size is around 60”.
This is generally thought of as one of the most difficult of the ratsnakes to keep in captivity. It is to be hoped that, as has happened with other new species in the past, herpetologists will work with this attractive animal to ensure that it be comes more readily available in the near future.
Baja Ratsnake: Don Sodenberg
Trans Pecos Ratsnake: Charles Thompson
Central American Ratsnake: Charles Thompson