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How it all started! 
I had always had an interested in wildlife and especially reptiles. As a boy I used to stay with my uncle in the Lake District during the school summer holidays. There I would catch common lizards and Slowworms in the slate pile of the adjacent builders yard. They fascinated me more than anything else and when my uncle showed me where to find Grass snakes, well, the die was cast.
 
Unfortunately puberty got in the way and reptiles were forgotten about for quite a while. To add insult to injury, when I realised that snakes were actually out there and available on the open market, it turned out my wife could not bare to even look at a snake on the television. So 15 years and a divorce later, my partner (now wife) knowing about my interest in reptiles, said she would not mind if I got a snake.
 
Reptile shops were few and far between, and the internet was a very scary mystery to me at that time. I read all the books I could find on snakes and their captive care and we went to see what was on offer. Looking back the choice was poor compared to today’s offerings. We reserved a Royal Python (which was probably wild caught and a live feeder!) and went home to build a suitable vivarium.
 
The rest as they say is history! Before very long we had “several” different species of snake and the unsuspecting wife suggested I convert part of the spare bedroom to house them so we could have the living room back.
She didn’t have to say it twice!!

Subocs – First contact
 
Some of the many books I bought contained pictures of the Trans-Pecos Rat snake, and in particular the blonde phase stood out for me. I did not (and still don’t) like “angry” looking snakes. The pictures in the books were the complete opposite. With their big “bug” eyes they looked so endearing, nearly like a cartoon drawing of a very friendly snake!
 
After making what limited enquiries I could, it appeared that there had been a swift down turn in the numbers of Subocs in the UK. Everybody had had them in the early 90`s but interest had waned and now there were few about.
 
In 1999 accompanied by my wife I attended my very first reptile show. After the initial shock at the amount of different species on offer I spotted some Subocs. I can still remember my excitement at seeing them “in the flesh” for the first time. The table belonged to Linda Bird and her husband, and contained many hatchling Subocs both blonde and “normal” phase. It appeared that trade had been poor as everyone was going out of Subocs for the “newer kids on the block”. The price tag was £60 each which was a lot of money to us at the time. I had £80 in my pocket and after walking away to discuss it with the other half we went back to the table. My first question was if I took a pair would they accept the £80 cash and a cheque for the rest? The answer I wanted came back without any hesitation.
 
I chose a pair of blonds (from different parents), and Mrs Bird popped them to check her initial sexing soon after hatching (October the year before) was correct.
There were also the adult pairs for sale as they too were getting out of Subocs! At £240 a pair they were way out of our price range, but how I coveted them.
On reflection, to say I was pleased with my new acquisitions of the day was an understatement in the extreme!
 
Finally – The captive care bit! 
On arrival home they were transferred into medium plastic “Tommy tanks” with well ventilated clip on lids, given a drink, a couple of toilet roll tube hides and left to settle in. (with the tub sat about a third onto a heat mat. You know the drill!)
 
Mrs Bird had said she only fed them on rat pups. I rang the shop where I bought my frozen rodents and they ordered me some in.
From the start the male would eat anything but the female only took rat pups, and that was on a very irregular basis. She would go for weeks without eating, and then only take one (which had to be very warm).
 
The male romped away and in no time was twice the size of the female, and now 9 years later he still is! At about 2 years old, the female had grown to roughly treble the size I acquired her at. All at once she started feeding every week but would not take anything but her usual rat pup. Once she had started to swallow you could pick her up and she would carry on eating her meal. Disturb her before she had taken it and it was all over until next week. On one occasion I had hold of her when she was half way down her feed, with the other hand I was drying off a small mouse for another snake. I gently followed the disappearing rat pup with the mouse and hey presto, she carried on swallowing. I had tried this before and failed miserably being re-presented with rat pup and all.
 
From that day on I followed the same feeding ritual for another 2 years before she finally started to take adult mice without the initial rat pup.
At last!
 
Breeding?
 Until this stage I had not given them a winter cooling. At five years old the female was nearly as big as she was going to get and had eaten quite well for the last year. So I decided this was it and next spring they were going to meet for the first time. The care they received had been just the same as the corns, kings, milks and house snakes in my collection, so were “put to bed” for a couple of months with the rest of them.
 
I have no provision to cool my snakes down below the room temperature but with the heating off and the window open on calm days it hangs at about 15 degrees C most of the time. I usually aim for around 8 weeks “brumation” but in some years it gets to 10 weeks before the heating is slowly raised to normal over a 2 week period. After the first slough of the year and several successful feeds they were introduced for the first time.
 
Note
I was unaware at this point how late in the year they actually mate, lay the eggs and the eggs hatch. None of the books had mentioned this and no one had told me!
 
By June of that year there had been no sign of mating, the female was as thin as ever and I had given up hope of any eggs. At the end of July she appeared to have put on weight but not enough to make me think she was actually gravid. At this point she gave up feeding and I began to think “maybe just maybe”! I gave her a large plastic container full of damp sphagnum moss with an entrance hole in the lid and both of them moved in directly. I toyed with removing the male but decided I was not sure enough to warrant it. The next time I cleaned them out I found a sloughed skin from the female stuck to the inside top of a hide. I had obviously missed it the week before. This again gave me more hope as most snakes tend to lay a couple of weeks after a pre-lay slough.
 
Three days later she was in the lay box on her own wrapped around a clump of 5 huge good looking eggs. Once the excitement had died down I got the box from the incubator I had prepared earlier. I carefully removed the eggs, set them on top of the damp vermiculite and covered them with a loose wad of damp sphagnum moss. The sphagnum catches any condensation drips that may form under the lid as I do not like these dropping onto the eggs (but that’s just me!). At this point I always offer any females a drink of fresh water and she had a good drink before I put her back into the sphagnum filled box to rest. Egg laying must dehydrate them as very few seem to refuse. After a few days rest she was out and about again and ate at the first offering.
 
Hatching
My incubator is basically a large wooden box with glass sliding doors and wire mesh shelves. It is heated by a 600mm long tubular heater in the bottom routed through a pulse stat.
I let the temperature fluctuate a little as long as it stays within the 25 – 30 degree C range. It does vary and is warmer nearer the top. After the standard 60 days (as for most corns etc) there was no sign of hatching. The eggs still looked good and had grown in size. At 10 weeks, still nothing, but then at last, at 12 weeks the first sign of piping. We were now well into November if my memory serves me right. All 5 had hatched, what little beauties!
 
They went straight in slough mode and shed in about 9 days. I left them a few more days and offered defrost pinkies and left them overnight. All 5 had eaten next morning.
The hatchlings fed well and all but one moved on to new homes. I have since read that in the wild they may stay underground and not feed until the following spring. The one I held back gave up eating for several weeks in the middle of winter and started again as soon as spring was in the air. So maybe this bares out that theory.
 
Conclusion
In my opinion (with limited experience of only two adults and several hatchlings) Subocs are one of the gentlest snakes you can own. Someone once said “they would not bite you if you bit them first” and I believe this to be true. I can offer mice to my large male and he will take them gently from my fingers. Even the wife says they are cute!
 
I am glad to see that since Dusty Rhoads released his book “The Complete Suboc” there has been a decided up turn in interest in the species. I could have sold this years hatchlings ten times over!
If you decide to try Subocs (and can find some) do not forget that they mate very late in the season. I missed two breeding seasons by separating them too early for one reason or another.
Now for the next challenge, I wonder if those Mandarin Rats are big enough to breed next year?
 

This article was first published in the January 2009 edition of Ratsnakes Digest.

This site has information on the following genera of Ratsnakes ... Spilotes, Spalerosophis, Ptyas, Zamenis, Elaphe, Rhinechis, Senticolis, Pseudelaphe, Pantherophis, Bogertophis, Orthriophis, Gonyosoma, Oreocryptophis, Oocatochus, Euprepiophis, Coelognathus, Archelaphe