Baird's Ratsnake

(Pantherophis [Elaphe] bairdi)

Native Range:

The Baird's Ratsnake (E. bairdi) is found in a limited portion of the southwestern United States, in the hill country and big bend region of Texas. There they inhabit rocky forested regions. Another form, known as the Mexican Baird's Ratsnake (E. bairdi) is found south of the Rio Grande River in northern Mexico. It is similar in appearance, most easily distinguished by the reddish coloration of the head. It has not been described as a distinct subspecies, but is unique enough to maintain in pure bloodlines by many hobbyists. The taxonomic status of E. bairdi is a subject of much debate. Many authors doubt the validity of this species, instead claiming it to be a subspecies of E. obsoleta. A similarly colored subspecies (E. o .lindheimeri) can be found nearby and specimens intermediate to the two forms have been found in areas where the ranges overlap.

Size:

Approximately ten to twelve inches long at birth, they average four to five feet in length as adults. Occasional specimens may exceed six in length.

Handling:

Adult Baird's Ratsnakes rarely attempt to bite, although they may do so if restrained or startled. Handle gently, without pinching or squeezing, allowing the snake to move through your fingers. Do not allow the snake to dangle unsupported. Hatchlings often spend considerable energy defensively bluffing, often hissing and striking repeatedly, although actual bites are not common. With gentle handling, these habits disappear rapidly and the resulting calm snake makes an excellent pet.

Caging:

Any ‘typical’ snake cage can be used, with a thirty-gallon aquarium being adequate for an adult. Hatchlings are sensitive to dehydration and do best in small ‘Critter Keeper’ cages or plastic shoe boxes.

Substrate:

A variety of substrates can be used. Aspen bedding, newspaper, and Care Fresh are popular with many keepers. Paper towels may be used for lining baby cages. Keep the substrate clean and dry at all times. As with all reptiles, do NOT use cedar or pine shavings. These items are toxic to reptiles.

Food:

Virtually all Baird's Ratsnakes will be fed a diet of mice throughout their lives. Hatchlings readily feed readily on newborn ‘pinkie’ mice, and should be fed about every five to seven days. Increase the size of the meal as the snake grows. Two or three adult mice are sufficient every ten or fourteen days to maintain even the largest adult.

Humidity & Water:

Provide clean water in a small dish. Humidity should be kept low, or respiratory problems can result. Due to the variance in cages and home environments, some snakes may experience shedding problems, particularly the tail tip. If this is noticed, provide a small plastic container with lid (cut an access hole in the side) filled with damp sphagnum moss. This will allow the animal to shed properly. Stuck sheds may harden and constrict the blood flow to the tail, causing loss of the tail tip. Many shedding problems can be rectified if noticed quickly simply by placing the snake in a small deli cup overnight with a wet paper towel. Place the cup in a suitable location in the cage.

Heating & Lighting:

Provide a thermal gradient by placing a heat pad under one end of the cage. This should allow the snake to choose from higher temperatures (about 90-95F) at the warm end, and cooler temperatures (about 78-83F) at the cooler end. Provide suitable hiding areas at both warm and cool areas, so the snake can feel secure at any temperature. Temperatures below 75F should be avoided. No special lighting is required for these nocturnal animals.

Reproduction:

Although examining the shape of the tail can sometimes determine sex, many adult snakes can only be accurately sexed by ‘probing’. Hatchlings can be sexed by manually everting the hemipenes (a process known as ‘popping’). Probing or popping should only be performed by an experienced individual, as improper technique may result in severe damage or even death. Most specimens will require brumation (hibernation) to breed, but Baird's Ratsnakes have reproduced under normal conditions. Typical clutches consist of about six to twelve eggs, although larger clutches are recorded. Incubation takes from 60 to 75 days, at an average temperature of 81F. This species is remarkably easy to breed, producing large durable and easy to hatch eggs, therefore we recommend them highly for the beginning breeder.

Color and Pattern Phases:

There is wide variation in appearance throughout the range of this species, particularly in northern Mexico. Additionally, there is at least one form of albinism present in captive collections.

© 2001 VMS Professional Herpetoculture (http://www.vmsherp.com)