The Mandarin Ratsnake is found in southern and central China, with a few specimens known from countries adjacent to this area. There they inhabit open forests and rocky scrubland. Originally thought to be a montane species, they are now also known to inhabit lower elevations in many parts of their range, often being found in agricultural areas. Adult and sub-adult specimens are frequently imported in large numbers for the pet trade. These specimens are heavily loaded with parasites, badly stressed and very nervous and the keeper who successfully acclimates one and gets it to feed is rare indeed. Avoid purchasing these animals - your financial support, will only further encourage the additional importation and resulting death of more specimens. Adequate captive-bred stocks are now present in US and European collections to insure the availability of quality specimens for all.
Approximately six to eight inches long at birth, they average four feet in length as adults. Occasional specimens may attain five feet in length, and there are a few records of six-foot specimens.
Mandarin Ratsnakes are nervous creatures, and if startled or roughly handled will attempt to bite. Disturbed specimens frequently 'musk', producing an annoying and clinging odor. Handle infrequently and gently, without pinching or squeezing, allowing the snake to move through your fingers. Do not allow the snake to dangle unsupported. We try to avoid handling our specimens, preferring instead to provide a secure hide box which can be lifted and moved in entirety, snake and all, to a new location.
Any ‘typical’ snake cage can be used, with a thirty-gallon aquarium being adequate for an adult. Hatchlings are very sensitive to dehydration and do best in small ‘Critter Keeper’ cages or plastic shoe boxes. Special attention must be paid to the humidity needs of this specie, and cages which provide excessive ventilation are best avoided.
A variety of substrates can be used. These snakes enjoy burrowing into the substrate, therefore a particle type such as Aspen bedding or Care Fresh should be used. Newspaper or paper towels should probably be avoided, as the lack of suitable burrowing medium promotes nervousness. 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.
Most Mandarin Ratsnakes will be fed a diet of mice throughout their lives. Many hatchlings 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. Many adult specimens maintain a distinct preference for smaller food items than would be expected. Frequently, adults will prefer to feed on several crawler or hopper mice rather than a single larger meal. Often stubborn hatchlings will require a pinkie scented with lizard smell (House Geckos are best) before accepting it. Sometimes, it will refuse anything but the lizard itself. After a few lizards, it will usually begin to feed on ‘scented’ pinkies, and then on to plain ones. Be patient. Often, hatchlings feel ‘lost’ or insecure when placed in a large cage. These animals will often feed readily if small shallow dish with a pinkie is buried in the substrate overnight with a folded paper towel placed over it. Apparently they stick their head under the paper towel during nocturnal forays and discover the pinky underneath. We have had specimens which refused all food types other than hatchling Leopard Geckos! Many hatchlings may refuse to feed until the following spring, and keepers may wish to place stubborn specimens in brumation as quickly as possible.
Provide clean water in a small dish. Humidity should be moderate, although a high humidity hiding area is a requirement. 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 retire to a very humid retreat, simulating the fossorial habits of this specie. Our specimens spend afternoons and nights in these retreats, emerging in the predawn hours and mornings to bask in warmer areas and hunt for food.
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 80-85F) at the warm end, and cooler temperatures (about 70-75F) at the cooler end. Provide suitable hiding areas at both warm and cool areas, so the snake can feel secure at any temperature. Temperatures above 90F should be avoided. No special lighting is required for these primarily subterranean animals.
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. Brumation (hibernation) is required to successfully breed this species, and is probably beneficial to the long-term maintenance of the species.. Typical clutches consist of three to eight eggs, although larger clutches are recorded. Incubation takes from 45 to 60 days, at an average temperature of 77F.
There is much variation in this species, particularly in the amount of black pigmentation present. Patterns may also vary somewhat, with some specimens being cleanly banded and others very speckled in appearance. Many specimens also exhibit red coloration on the centers of each scale, particularly along the sides, Hypomelanistic specimens are present in US collections.
While the ease of maintaining captive bred specimens is considerably greater than that of imported specimens, these snakes are still not recommended for beginning keepers.
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