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Hello snake keepers.
I would like to to introduce Rhynchophis Boulengeri, the Rhino Rat Snake. Have you ever thought about having a unicorn as a pet, well I think this is as close as most of us, regular people, can get. This snake has been my dream pet for a couple of years, and finally last year I have been successful in acquiring a couple and additionally a single female as well to complete my breeding trio. Usually this species is not all to common in snake keepers collections as it does not belong to the top earning species and the sale price is rather low in comparison to Python Regius mutations. Still I think the hobby is not and definitely should not be just about money, but rather about the experience of the wonderful life of these exotic pets. They come from Vietnam and south China where they live in threes and bushes near to water. Occasionally also to be found in rice fields.
Appearance and size
The Vietnamese Long-nose Snake (as this is also one of the used synonyms) is thin bodied very fast moving animal. The most significant identifying sign of the little unicorns is for sure the long "nose". In reality it is not a real nose, but a evolutionarily changed couple of scales which form the nose-like form. This is not to be mistaken for a horn, as it is flexible and very soft. The head is an arrow shaped one with nice friendly eyes on the sides. The funny thing about these snakes is, that when you have a better look from the front it appears they are smiling at you, this I think is very cute and gives them a neat face.There is a huge difference between the babies and the adults as they undergo a tremendous color change. The only thing they have in common is the dark stripe going through the eyes. The belly is always a lighter color then the back. The young rhinos have a all grey body with black spots on the sides. With age they start to slowly change color which is the best visible when you have more specimens and some naturally grow faster and change faster. At an age of approximately 1 year they appear to be blueish green and even later on they continue to walk the way of change in direction to a almost fluorescent green with some blue shadowing in it. If incredible would be a color the adult rhinos would be the perfect match to describe the color. Having covered the head and body lets have a look on the tail, it is rather long and very very thin which makes it look very fragile. Actually the whole snake seems to be very gentle and fragile and you have the instant feeling you need to be extremely careful when handling not to hurt these little beauties. I would count these to the small to mid sized snakes as they max out at approximately 150cm even though there have been some reports about animals 200cm big. Usually they stay at a size of 130-140cm.
When still babies they seem to be always on guard and focus on every movement in their environment. It is quite funny how the point to your hand when you do anything in the enclosure. Still they rarely bite and if they do it is really not painful so don't worry. What could be dangerous for the snakes is when you keep them together and they get excited. At that point they tend to bite what moves and they could accidentally bite each other and eventually when a bite is delivered I have seen swallowing attempts to happen. They are really fast and you never should keep your eyes of them when you open an enclosure as they escape in no time. They love to spend their time on the climbing branches and in the water bowl. I keep my breeding trio in one tank as they enjoy the company and all tree curl together.
The feeding is a hard one with this species, at least in the beginning. The baby rhinos are so small that they won't be bale to eat pinkie mice. What the most keepers use to do, is that they weed them mice and rat feet or tails. My own experience is that a better way is to feed them guppies. You can start with gently putting live guppies into the tiny mouth of the snake and usually it start swallowing the prey immediately. What worked even better, I have provided my babies big water bowls in separate tanks and have put live guppies into the water, the movement stimulates the hunting instinct and they started feeding on their own. This is always a big step as from this moment you have less work and have the opportunity to observe their natural behaviour. Later on they start feeding on pinkie mice even though some are a bit difficult to make the change from fish to mice. Normally one or two feedings when you put the pinkie into the small mouth should be enough the successfully achieve the change if not you need to be patient and keep on trying. After the snakes are bigger they still will refuse to eat mice and this change will be probably the hardest one, as they really enjoy the pinkies.
Rhynchophis boulengeri moves around a lot and therefore a bigger terrarium is recommended if you want to have happy animals. Climbing branches and eventually hiding boxes should be provided. The boxes are to be positioned in the upper area of the tank. A water bowl or better to say a pool is absolutely necessary as they will spend a lot of time in water relaxing after feeding or before going into a shed. The temperature is not too important as they live in rather cool areas and a day temperature of 28C and night temperature of 24C is sufficient.
Breeding and Husbandry
The breeding is very simple, you just need to make sure to provide a hibernation period of at least 2 months to "activate" the breeding impulse. It is very similar to the breeding behaviour of the Mandarin Rat Snake. The females lay approximately 10 eggs from which the small babies hatch after about 48 days, depending on the incubation temperature. The babies should be kept in separate enclosures and should be fed regularly at least once a week, I recommend a feeding cycle of 4 days to get them going.
The Vietnamese Unicorn is an interesting snake which can be kept also by less experienced people as it will forgive many beginner mistakes. The coloration and life style make it to a perfect display snake which can be an eye-catcher in any lobby or bigger office or a very nice accessory to your living room. Still do not forget that this is a living animal and has a lot of requirements which should be followed and fulfilled, the best way is to provide an environment which simulates the nature as much as possible. Feel free to ask questions or comment below.