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Elaphe Mandarina / Euprepiophis Mandarinus / Mandarin Rat Snake
Hello snake keepers.
Today I would like to introduce to you my personal experience with keeping this beautiful species of rat snake and give you some advice how to be a successful breeder. Before we start one thing needs to be said. Please never buy your Mandarin Rat Snake as a wild caught animal. this species has gained the reputation as a hard to keep animal due to the fact that when introduced to the pet market hundreds have been imported from the countries of origin and the mortality has been at 99%. They would not eat, suffer from high level of stress and refuse to breed. having said this let me tell you that this snake is perfectly OK to have even for a beginner when bought as a baby form a responsible breeder.
Appearance and size
The Mandarin Rat Snake is a medium size snake and maxes out in size at 150cm. Of course this should be considered as a maximum value and does not necessarily mean all snakes reach up to this length. My adult male is 138cm long and my female are 121cm. These snakes certainly belong to the most beautiful ones, the color and pattern can be found this way in wild nature and is not juts a result of breeding and crossing or a "paint-job" often seen at Ball Pythons (Python Regius). The body is slim and strong with a grayish background. The pattern has a black border with a shiny yellow fill. The pattern and the background are a bit different through the regions where they can be found in nature. There are 3 different appearances to be found in Vietnam, China and Sichuan. I would not go so far to decide which is the most pretty one as this is always a question of a personal opinion. The head has stripes and it is very easy to determine which one specimen you are looking at memorizing this.
Even if you buy babies from a breeder and have regular contact to the animals Mandarin Rat Snakes will never be as tame as a Ball Python. The are really shy and rarely even eat after given food into the enclosure. Never-less they are peaceful and never bite (Please keep in mind every animal which has teeth may potentially bite), they rather try to make a run for it and believe me, they now what they do and are surprisingly fast. Also pay attention setting up your enclosure as they are experts in escaping (Houdini would be a great name for your snake if you have a Mandarin Rat Snake). It is common to keep snakes separated in solo enclosures. This species can be kept in one big tank with more specimens. They are friendly to each other and like to curl together in the hiding places. of course you need to be careful when feeding to avoid the snakes hurt each other. I personally have never noticed any sign of aggression between them. What has been curious is that the male actually killed the prey but did not eat it, instead it has offered ti to the female.
Even though it is rather a big snake compared to for example heterodon, eryx and others, it rarely accepts big sized prey like adult mice. The Mandarin Rat Snake prefers small to medium size prey like pinkie mice in a bigger count.
The size of the tank you keep your snakes in is always important as you want to offer you pets the best possible environment to live in. The size I use for my breeding couple is 100cm x 50cm x 50cm. It is very good to provide a higher level of betting as the snakes love to burrow and hide. The temperatures should be kept lower with a maximum under the hot spot at 26C. It is also very good to let the temperature fall during the night to 20C. As they can be found in the wild nature in rice fields they need a big water bowl and a higher humidity, I strongly suggest to mist the enclosure daily and keep 3/4 of the betting moist all the time. A branch for climbing is fine but will be not used to often. What you may never forget is to provide at least 3 hiding places (how many hiding places to use = number of snakes + 1).
Breeding and Husbandry
To be successful as a breeder of Mandarin Rat Snakes you first of all need to have a couple. I know this may seem to be a unnecessary information but I would like to point out once more to buy your snakes from responsible breeders only. After you have a couple you can get ready for breeding. Let me describe how I do it. First of all I keep my snakes together during the year and feed them once a week. Make sure the female and the male are in good condition as only healthy animals should be introduced into the breeding season. In November I usually separate the male and the female and stop feeding them both. Don't forget it is absolutely necessary to provide water further on. In December I start to lower the temperature. The lowest acceptable temperature is 10C. End of February it is time to start ti increase the temperature again and during March I start to offer food. After the female has accepted a few meals I introduce the male into the enclosure. Normally they start mating a few minutes / hours afterwards and mate multiple times during the following weeks. Don't get scared. The mating seems to be a bit rough as the male delivers a neck bite. At some point the female stops to accept the males mating attempts. Here you can separate them again. My female usually continues to feed for 2-3 months afterwards. The eggs are laid during the night in a hiding place (needs to be moist). To be honest I have been really surprised how big the eggs in comparison to the snake size are. Usually you get 3-10 eggs, but normally 5 is a very good result. I remove the eggs and put them into a incubator (the best way is to buy a professional one to achieve the best results) at a temperature of 28C. After approximately 58 days the babies hatch. They are about 20-25cm long, very fast and as their parents shy. After the first shed they accept pinkie mice but wont eat until its dark and they feel safe.
Elaphe Mandarina is a great snake to keep as a pet if you follow the basic requirements and accept their specific behaviour. Though it is not a display snake you can really enjoy the moments they come out to search for prey. Enjoy keeping them and feel free to write me comments if you should need some help.