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Introduction

This article covers the basic care of Oreocryptophis porphyraceus coxi in captivity. Sections include Natural History, Captive Origins, Temperament, Temperature & Lighting requirements, Humidity, Substrate, Water, Hides, Feeding, Sloughing, Brumation, Breeding, Multiple Clutches, Egg Incubation & Rearing Hatchlings. It is based on the authors own observations with the species and references drawn from various internet forums, books and websites.

COMMON NAME: Thai Red Bamboo Ratsnake ... Thai Red Mountain Ratsnake/Racer
LATIN NAME: Oreocryptophis porphyraceus coxi ( Elaphe porphyracea coxi ... Schulz & Helfenberger, 1998)

  Thai Red Mountain RatsnakeThe Thai Red Mountain Ratsnake is arguably one of the most strikingly beautiful of all the Asian Ratsnakes. A blazing flame coloured body is branded with coal black doral stripes, these extend from behind the eyes down to the tip of the tail. The head its self has a sooty Bindi like marking. The ventral scales liken to glowing white embers, pure and brilliant. The flickering tongue is pink tipped by white. Oh Yes ... these babies are HOT !

The colour Orange represents enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation. Black is very formal, elegant, and a prestigious colour, together they are very powerful and a striking combination and I would say this snake invokes allot of these emotions in it's keeper.

Hatchlings are usually an exact miniature of their parents but it is also known for them to have from 1 - 6 dark bands between the stripes, or broken stripes as in the female in the photo to the left. The bands achromatize over time and the gaps between the stripes melanize, usually by the age of 18 - 24 months they have the patterning that is so typical of this ssp. An unusual looking two year old male is pictured at elaphe.info whose black pattern is a steely grey colour and diminished in the centre. (if you click through there gallery you will also see a very interesting Mandarin Ratsnake breeding photo)

One of the smaller ratsnake species they grow from an average hatchling size of 10 inches to an adult length of 30 - 36 inches. They grow at an incredible speed for such a small snake and can double there length in the first year and reach near on there adult size by the end of there second year. A slender spunky snake, that can be lightening quick and snappy if spooked, but generally laid back and tolerant of minimal disturbance. They are not a snake that enjoys or tolerates being handled excessively, they are though a pleasure to briefly hold with a feel and look to there scales of polished stone. Also when disturbed/handled this species can emits a very strong and foul smelling musk. This is more than likely a defence mechanism as the smell is repugnant and any predator would release the snake before any damage is done.

NATURAL HISTORY

Distribution: Northeast Thailand, In the Loei and Phuluang provinces
Habitat: Subtropical mountain areas over 800 m elevation. Medium moist semi-evergreen forests
 

 
 
Loei Average Months Temperature
 
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Year
°C 21.9 25.2 27.1 29.3 28.6 28.5 28.0 27.9 27.4 26.2 24.1 20.7 26.3
°F 71.4 77.4 80.8 84.7 83.5 83.3 82.4 82.2 81.3 79.2 75.4 69.3 79.3

Loei Average Months Rainfall
mm 6.9 14.3 47.2 86.0 188.4 158.4 141.2 195.1 250.3 101.2 13.3 4.2 1206.8
inches 0.3 0.6 1.9 3.4 7.4 6.2 5.6 7.7 9.9 4.0 0.5 0.2 47.5

Loei Average Months Relative humidity
%
62
60
59
62
75
77
77
79
82
79
74
69
71
                           
                           

CAPTIVE ORIGIN

It is commonly believed that at this time [ October 2005 ] that all captive bred specimens originated from one European Breeder. The original animals where collected from the Loei region of Thailand and imported into the USA, where they were then exported to a European breeder, of the 20 or so animals this breeder received, only a handful survived. He managed to successfully breed this species and incubate eggs it is these that are the source of all captive bred coxi both here in the UK, Europe and the USA.

TEMPERAMENT

The checkered flag goes down and you would be excused for thinking that the bright red blur was schumacher's ferrari. Nope ... Zero to One Hundred in 6 seconds, sporting some rather fetching racing stripes it's coxi !!
Thai Red Mountain Ratsnakes are quick, agile and will bite with no provication. When changing a water bowl recently, I was suprised to find I was now wearing a very beautiful and expensive snake thumb ring. From no where it had lunged several inches and attached it's self to the base of my thumb and fully wound it'self around it, cute, such a little thing actually managed to draw blood. One should always be aware of there lightening reflexes when working in there enclosure, doing so with slow and deliberate actions so as not to spook them. They are a shy secretive snake and should be treated as all snakes should be, with the uptmost respect.


TEMPERATURE & LIGHTING REQUIREMENTS

Originating from Northeast Thailand, in the provinces of Loei & Phu Luang these areas are known for there rich diversity of both fauna & flora. The Thai Red Mountain Ratsnake is to be found in the subtropical mountain areas over 800 m elevation, preferring the moist semi-evergreen forest areas.
In captivity they require a cool enclosure 74° F - 78° F. I achieve this by placing about one fifth of the cage on a heatmat which is wired to a matstat, this gives a gentle heat at one end should the snake wish to utilize it, the room temperature is 72° F so this gentle heat is all that is needed. I have noticed that the snakes seem to prefer the cooler regions available even after feeding when most species would seek a higher temperature to digest there meal.
( Interestingly turning the cage on the heatmat would see the snake move to another hide back in the cooler area, so feeling secure was not the reason. )

Temperatures over 82°F can be detrimental or even fatal to these snakes. Therefore in the summer months one must consider ways of keeping the temperature within there tolerance. An air conditioning unit would be the obvious choice but they remove both heat and humidity from a room so close monitoring of the snakes environment is important. No special lighting is required.

HUMIDITY

Humidity is vital to Oreocryptophis porphyraceus coxi as they can dehydrate very quickly. A hide filled with damp sphagnum moss is a must, especially so when the snake is approaching a slough. I use a substrate of peat moss which is kept moist with a loose pile of damp sphagnum moss on top of that capped by a chunk of cork bark at one end this gives a higher humidity level within the moss and a relative humidity of 65 - 75% throughout the cage. I use this method as it gives a more natural appearance to the cage which I prefer.

SUBSTRATE

My choice of substrate for this species is Sphagnum Peat Moss for the following reasons:

 

  • it is easily spot cleaned
  • cheap & readily available
  • it has beneficial properties including natural antibiotics
  • Peat moss hampers the growths of bacteria, which with a species that requires a high humidity that encourages the growth of bacteria is a real bonus!
  • Allows natural burrowing behaviour
Note: If you nuke your peat moss, either by microwaving it or baking in the oven, you will lose the beneficial properties of the substrate as this will kill all living organisms
Nematode death begins at a temperature of approx 130°F when sustained for a period of 30 minutes. When the temperature is raised to 160°F for a period of 30 minutes, all soil pathogens are also destroyed.


If your careful where you buy your peat from then nuking should not have to be an option. Good ol' Wilko's is a good source of handy sized sphagnum peat moss, whereas most garden centers store there substrates either outside or next to there display of house plants where nasty little buggies can invade it, they have there's on dry shelves and our store at least does not sell houseplants.

WATER

As with all species fresh drinking water should be made available at all times, a sturdy heavy bowl will prevent the snake from upturning it and if placed at the warmer end will help with increasing the humidity.

HIDES

Oreocryptophis porphyraceus coxi is a shy and secretive species that stresses quiet easily. Therefore several hides should be made available. These could be in the form of upturned clay flower pots, cork bark, commercially made hides or plastic plants. Whatever type of hide or combination of hides you choose they should be in the moist, dry, cool and warm areas of the cage. This will allow the snake to choose the temperature/humidity it needs and still feel secure. If the only hide made available is the "wet box" and this is the only place it can feel secure, you run the risk of the snake contracting a skin or respitory complaint by constantly being subjected to damp conditions.

FEEDING

Thai Red Mountain Ratsnakes of all ages will eat rodents. Hatchlings will start with a diet of one pinkie mouse per meal every four to five days, as they grow they can be offered two pinkies at a time. Captive bred snakes are usually excellent feeders and will accept defrost food items with no hesitation. Given there shy personalities the food is best offered at the entrance to the hide. Since my substrate is loose I lift the hide put the food on a sheet of kitchen towel and secure this by laying the hide back down on it. Once established on multiple pinkies they can be offered fuzzie mice. At this stage the feeding should be extended to every seven days. Coxi like small prey items and will continue to feed on fuzzies or rat pups and small mice even as adults.

   Thai Red Mountain Ratsnake in ShedSLOUGHING

Hatchlings that are eating regularly may shed as often as once a month. Shedding is preceded with a refusal to feed, a dusky appearance followed with milky coloured eyes, coxi can take on an incredible purple colour whilst blue eyed. Just before sloughing is undertaken they return to there normal colouration. When ready to discard it's old skin It will rub its mouth to loosen the skin then crawl out of it similar to us taking off a pair of stockings. Coxi will take full advantage of the wet box throughout the shedding cycle, spending most of the 7-10 day process curled up in it. It really is important especially at this time that the moss does not dry out or that the humidity levels are allowed to fall. As this could result in dysecdysis, an inability to shed with remedial solutions being stressful for the snake.

BRUMATION

Brumation has been reported to not be required for successful breeding, but a cooling period at 55 °F - 60°F is recommended.

To prepare your snake for brumation make sure it has had no food for three to four weeks prior to cooling and that the temperature is normal during this time allowing the snake to fully digest it's last meal and empty it's guts. It is essential that the snake is completely empty before cooling begins as any food left in the gut/intestines could produce toxins that could kill it. After this the temperature should be lowered gradually over a few weeks until its at the desired temperature ( 47° F - 55°F ) for brumation or ( 55 °F - 60°F ) if cooling . The snake should not be fed during this period but fresh drinking water should be available at all times. As long as you can maintain these lower temperatures your snake can be left in it's vivarium. A more common practice is to prepare a box with a well fitting lid that is well ventilated, and transfer the snake to this moving it to somewhere where the temperature is within the range they require. Perhaps a spare bedroom, or under the stairs, somewhere where it is easy to get to so as you can check the snake and change it's water regularly, but equally important some where quiet and out of bright light. After 12-16 weeks the snake can gradually be warmed up over a one to two week period and can then be offered food again.

Brumating / cooling coxi should have access to both dry and moist areas and fresh water at all times. My prefered option would be to hibernate rather than cool, as the lower tempertures will actually help to mainain there body weight. When a snake is active in a cooling period as it well might be at 60° F it will burn fat, when hibernated they become inactive with little or no weight loss.

BREEDING

Thai Red Mountain Ratsnakes have been reported to breed as young as 14 months of age, neither male or female in this instance had been hibernated on 27th Nov 2001 4 small (45 x 20 mm) but viable eggs were laid Ref: Pedersen, reptilia.dk


My female coxi was clearly ovulating at the age of 10 months ... Ref: Walt Deptula, Kingsnake.com Ratsnake Forum 2001

Other breeders have reported snakes producing viable eggs at 21 months of age. Mating is pretty straight forward and usually follows the females post brumation slough. A few breeders have commented on the fact that there is no tactile alignment when breeding, with male & females heads at opposite ends of the vivarium.

After brumation and once the female is feeding she can be introduced into the males cage When a successful breeding has been witnessed or the female looks more rounded (gravid) she should be returned to her own cage, to encourage the female to continue feeding throughout gestation small food items should be offered every four days. The female will enter a pre laying slough and once shed she will lay her eggs in the " wet box" or if you have put a laying container in her enclosure she may choose that to deposit her eggs.

My colubrid laying boxes are usally an old icecream container with a small hole cut into the top through which the snake can enter, not too pretty but serves it purpose and a reason to indulge oneself. Filled with a layer of damp peat moss / vermiculite mix and topped with a layer of damp sphagnum moss.

On average 3-4 eggs are laid for a first time breeder, more mature snakes have been known to produce up to 10 eggs.

MULTIPLE CLUTCHES

Multiple clutches of up to seven per season have been recorded for this species ! The first time I was aware of this was on a post on a forum and they likened the Thai Red Mountain Ratsnake breeding habits to that of a African Housesnake, I must say I just dismissed this as a madman's rambling. Since then I have been reliably informed that up to seven clutches can be achieved from a single female.

" double clutching is easy, triple clutching common, and we have gotten as many as 7 clutches from a female in one season. " Ref: Robyn ... Pro Exotics, Kingsnake.com Ratsnake Forum Oct 2005

Further research suggests that double clutching and triple clutches are usual and full clutch viable eggs can be produced without a need for reintroducing the male. Second and subsequent clutches as with all snakes are smaller than the first of the season, maybe only producing 1 or 2 eggs. There breeding habits certainly seem to be very much like that of there cousin The Trinket Snake Coelognathus helena who also produce several clutches per year .

A good feeding regime is essential to maintain a good body weight and keep her in tip top condition to cope with the stresses of gestation and egg laying thus preventing any complications.

EGG INCUBATION

There has been a lot of talk about egg incubation temperatures and whether they affect the sex of the hatchlings, my research has shown that in the earlier days of breeding coxi that the sex ratio's were always male heavy, hence reverse trio's being offered for sale, the only way you could obtain a female then was to buy two males with it. Now whether this was temperture related has not been proven.
Lack of experience with this species has seen eggs being incubated at temperatures 82° -84°F similar to cornsnakes. It has been documented that temperatures in this range have produced many dead in egg and birth defects. This would seem logical as it has been said that temperatures over 82° F can be detrimential to this species, so why not the eggs !!

Best results have been achieved with an incubation temperature of 77° - 80°F, the eggs would be expected to hatch around day 60-62.

Cooler incubation temperatures and a damp incubation medium generally result in stronger & healthier babies. Eggs that are incubated on too a wet medium may absorb more water and this subsequently can lead to lose of nutrients for the developing embryo resulting in weak hatchlings, too a wet incubation substrate can also lead to dead in egg, in the final stages of incubation the hatchling will absorb alot of moisture from the egg, thereby letting the egg shell become more pliable for pipping if the eggs have become water logged through too wet a substrate this can hinder this natural process. It is better to err on the side of slightly drier than too wet. If the eggs look dimpled then they are too dry. Do not spray eggs directly, just simply pour a little water around them, they will regain there shape within a day. Too high a temperature can result in kinked spines, congenital defects, internal organ failure, weird non genetic patterning of the snake or death.
it is always best to have your egg boxes ready in the incubator for when they are needed, this way the temperature of the vermiculite is right and you have had time to experiment with the right water / vermiculite water ratio, usually 1.1 by weight is right.

The eggs after they are laid, should be removed to another container preferably wearing a pair of latex gloves to stop the transfer of oils from the hand to the eggs. This tub is two thirds filled with damp vermiculite ( when a handful is squeezed in the palm of the hand only a minute amount of water should be produced. ). Vermiculite is a sterile medium that can be purchased from your local garden center. Don't unnecessarily handle the eggs and make sure the female has completely finished laying before removing them, as unduly distrurbing her whilst in the process of laying can result in her stressing and holding on to the remainder of the eggs (egg bound - dystocia). The incubation box should have a fitted lid, and the humidity inside should be near on 100%, some condensation will form on the lid but if this is too much and is dripping on the eggs, this means the incubation medium is too wet. Wipe the lid with some kitchen towel and sprinkle a little dry vermiculite over the surface of the eggs to take up the moisture. The eggs should be checked weekly removing the lid will give a good exchange of air, towards the end of the incubation period once every couple of days is advised. Developing eggs actually breathe they take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. If the carbon dioxide builds up to dangerous levels the eggs will fail. Also for this reason, egg boxes should not be over crowded, and ideally eggs should be laid in the box singularly not in a clump. A problem that coxi breeders do not encounter often as more than often they are laid singularly, not stuck together as other sp. of snakes are.

HATCHLINGS

Hatchlings are typically 9 to 12 inches in length and weigh approx 6 g. They should be removed from the incubation box and housed singularly. They will enter a post neonate shed within a few days of hatching and complete this by around day 10. There care is as outlined above, most hatchlings are aggressive feeders and will accept defrost pinkies almost immediately after there first shed.

Hibernated & Av. Temp
Date Laid
No Eggs & Av. Size
Incubation
Days
Hatch
4 months 55°F May 4      
    4   62 0.0.4
No 27.11.01 4 ( 4.5 x 2.0 cm )      
4 months av.54°F   4      
47-62°F 04.06.01 4 ( 6.05 x 2.06 cm ) 74 - 80° F 60 2.2
  09.03.02 5 ( 5.0 mm x 1.8 cm ) 78°F    
    4 ... 2 Infertile 79 - 80°F 58 0.0.1 + 1 DIS

As breeding data is quiet scarce on the internet for this species, I have put together what little I have found in a quick glance table. Most references are incomplete, but acts as some kind of record for this species


References
1. A Monograph of the colubrid Snakes ofthe Genus Elaphe FITZINGER by Klaus-Dieter Schultz. 1996
2. The Snakes of Thailand and their Husbandry by Merel J. Cox
3. WorldClimate.com
4. Elaphe.info
5. Reptilia.dk
6. Kingsnake.com Ratsnake Forum
7. Bushmaster.ch/HTML/porphy-start.htm
8. Coxi.nl

Previously published 2005 on porphyracea.co.uk (authors website) offline
Coronella Vol.1 No.1 2006 Pg. 18-25 (Journal for The Baltic Herpetological Society)
Reproduced on 'The Ratsnake Foundation' website by kind permission of the author
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