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By: Jeff Moniz
First Described: CANTOR, 1842
The Mandarin Ratsnake (Euprepiophis mandarinus) has been found to have a broad range. They are native to China and have also been recorded in Buma, India, Taiwan, & Vietnam.
Originally thought to be a montane species, they are now known to live at elevations below 500 meters in some parts of its range. Most commonly found at elevations of 2000-2500 meters, they have also been recorded at as high as 3000 meters in Tibet.
Mandarin ratsnake Habitats are varied including rain forests to open farmland, rice fields, rocky scrubland, areas with dense vegetation and grassy fields.
SIZE & DESCRIPTION
Hatchlings average approximately 6”-8” Adults average 4’ with some although not common exceeding 5’. Best described as a small to medium sized snake. They are stoutly built with a short head barely distinct from its neck with a round snout. The tail is also short and stout.
Dorso-lateral ventral pattern can be quite varied. The dorsal colouration is predominately grey often found with red centres on the scales. The back and tail have yellow blotches bordered with black. There is a great degree of variability in the structure of the blotches. Most specimens have blotches on their backs that widen on the lateral portion of their body. Some have shallow saddle blotches with additional lateral blotches. The head has a V pattern and a band connecting the eyes in black.
HANDLING & TEMPERAMENT
Mandarin ratsnakes are a shy species. They can be quite nervous especially as babies. Although they rarely try to bite they do hot hesitate to musk if startled. Babies do not care to be handled much and should be left alone as much as possible in the first year of its life. I have found that adults tolerate handling much better and if not startled and handled gently will not musk. Hiding places for this species are a must.HOUSING:Most any type of typical snake housing will do. I keep mine in Rubbermaid bins in a rack system. A glass aquarium, PVC enclosure, or even a homemade wooden terrarium will do. Size appropriate of course with areas to hide.
Mandarin ratsnakes enjoy burrowing and as such my preference is aspen. A thick layer of 3’” or so covering the bottom of the enclosure. I am sure other substrates could be used but I have found the aspen to work very well. It provides a great hiding area for them that is often used as they burrow under and through it. Paper is not a suitable substrate for these snakes.
I also provide a humid hide half filled with damp sphagnum moss that is enjoyed for hours at a time on daily basis. I have had no shedding problems with this set up.
WATER & HUMIDITY
A water bowl with fresh water should always be provided. It doesn’t need to be large, as I have never observed my Mandarins soaking in it.
Humidity should be moderate, with a high humid hide also being provided.
TEMPERATURE & LIGHTING
Mandarin ratsnakes come from cooler climates and need to be kept cooler than many other colubrids. They like their temperature much the same as we do. Mid 70’s is ideal. A gradiant is not required. This means that they are fine in most any room in the average house with no heat provided.
No special lighting is required. These snakes are known to be secretive and spend a great deal of time in subterranean burrows looking for food. I do however have a window in the room that they are kept in that provides a normal light cycle.FEEDING & DIETFirst off it should be stressed here that as these snakes thrive in a cooler environment they digest at a slower rate and need to be fed smaller meals. Many snakes eat larger meals that leave a significant bulge in them after ingestion. This should not be the case with Mandarin ratsnakes. Metabolically they are slower without the added heat source to aid in the digestion. Food items should not exceed the girth of their body.
I feed mine a mouse or rat once every 7 days. The exception to this regiment is when they a visibly in shed or when in brumation.
For adults a full sized mouse or a rat pup is simply left in a dish anywhere in the enclosure. Although they don’t eat readily in frontof me the food item is almost always gone when I check back in 20 minutes.
Hatchlings tend to be a bit more hesitant to eat. I have found that a small dish buried in the substrate containing a pinky and covered with a piece of paper towel over it left overnight works well. This discovery during a nocturnal foray simulates quite nicely the natural behaviour, a newborn rodent found in a subterranean burrow.
I implement a brumation period of approximately 3 months. In late November I gradually bring the temperature down slowly. I use an area under my basement staircase that is insulated, has a concrete floor and 1 exterior wall. Depending on the outside temperatures I get temperatures from 70 degrees at the door to 50 degrees at the exterior wall. I gradually move them back towards the exterior wall when brumation starts and back toward the door starting in the beginning of March. The majority of that time is right at the back wall with temperatures between 45-55 degrees.
Fresh water is provided during brumation. No food is offer during this time. I am always sure to provide a thick layer of substrate for them to burrow in during this period.BREEDING & REPRODUCTIONMost Mandarins are ready to breed after 2 winters. Breeding is done after the brumation period. I begin feeding in around the second week of March. Temperatures at this time are in the high 60’s. (Yes they will eat at these temperatures and it sure is impressive). Around mid May males are introduced to the females. Females are not always receptive and will let it be known by thrashing their tail about, hissing, and even exhibit a threat display. Should this happen remove the male and try again in a few days.
Some minimal noise is to be expected, as there is some chasing around and neck biting during copulation. Getting a picture or 2 during copulation is not an easy task, as they tend to take care of business deep within the aspen shavings. Copulation usually lasts a day or 2. I do not remove the male until they are separated and doing their own thing.
Mating usually happens in the month of May but can take place as late as June. When you notice the female’s eyes clouding up and her getting ready for her pre-lay shed, provide a moist lay bin/hide. My preference here is sphagnum moss. Once the female has shed she will deposit her eggs in the lay bin in a period of 1-3 weeks. 2-9 eggs are laid
You should expect to find her eggs deposited sometime in the month of June. Eggs should be removed and prepared for incubation. For this I use small food saver Tupperware I get from the local dollar store. Small holes, 4 of them in total, are drilled into the corners of the container. The bottom of the container then needs to have a incubation medium placed. I use either vermiculite or perlite, both work well. Eggs are placed partially buried within the medium and loosely covered with lightly moistened sphagnum moss. Eggs are then incubated at 80-81 degrees. The eggs will begin to hatch in about 7 weeks give or take.
In a nutshell, Mandarins are a great snake. Highly sought after for so many reasons like their vibrant colours, incredible pattern, lack of special heating or lighting requirements, and manageable size. They are easy to care for. Clean up is a breeze with their small meals, and are inexpensive to keep. They are AWESOME!
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