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Rat Snakes Part II

This is the second part in my Rat Snake series and will cover European Rat Snakes.

There is a great diversity of European Rat snake species that are suitable to keep in captivity. However they are less popular than American and Asian Rat snakes and therefore relatively few species are available. The Russian Rat Snake is the only European Rat Snake that I have seen for sale in South Africa. I will Discuss this species individually and will cover a few Rat Snakes  that occur in the Mediterranean.

Russian Rat Snake

This is a large  heavily built Rat Snake that grows to a maximum length of 1.5m. It is black in colouration with narrow white, cream or yellow cross-bands. This snakes originate from Eastern Siberia and portions of China, Korea and Mongolia. All these regions are relatively cool and therefore the Russian Rat Snake requires a maximum temperature of 25 degrees Celsius. A winter cooling period of three months at a temperature of 10-12 degrees is needed for breeding to take place. Russian Rat Snakes which are not intended for breeding do not need this winter cooling period and can be heated with a low wattage heat pad during winter to keep them active. A cage  measuring  90cm x 30cm x 30cm is required for a single adult, hatchlings and juveniles can be kept in plastic terrariums or secure glass tanks. A dry substrate such as corn cob bedding is needed along with a hide box, water bowl and cage decorations to provide visual barriers. Feed adults large mice or small rats. Hatchlings should feed on pinkie mice without problems.

Mediterranean Rat snakes

There are a several species of Rat snake living in the Mediterranean and Southern parts of Europe such as Italy, Spain, Sicily and surrounding islands. These can be big snakes that require a large cage with a dry substrate such as corn cob, a hide box, water bowl and cage decorations to provide visual barriers. As they come from Europe a heat pad is only necessary to heat the snakes during winter. They will feed on mice or rats and feeding hatchlings on pinkie mice  is not usually a problem. I have listed three species below. As far as I know none of these snakes are not available in South Africa at present.

Aesculapian Snake

Named after the Greek God of medicine and healing, whose symbol includes a snake coiled around a staff is a slender species growing to 1.5m-2m. It is olive brown with white speckles and has a brown band around the neck. Juveniles are more brightly colured than adults. Melanistic specimens have been reported. This snake is native to Central and Southern Europe but is absent in most of Spain and Portugal.

Four Lined Snake

This is a large and bulky Rat Snake that can exceed 2m in length. It has strongly keeled scales giving it a rough appearance and feel. The Four Lined Snake gets its name from the four dark stripes running along the body. A second dark stripe runs from the eye along the jaw. This Rat Snake is native to Italy, the Balkans and into Central Asia. There is a smaller subspecies that is found on certain Greek Islands. This is a large snake also has large thick bodied hatchlings that can start out at nearly half a meter and should not give problems feeding.

Ladder Snake

This is a large Rat Snake which is easy to care for but is aggressive. It can reach1.5m and unlike the Four Lined Snake has smooth scales. It is a brown snake with a pair of dark stripes running down the back. Hatchlings are yellow with dark crossbars forming a ladder pattern. Juveniles may be mistaken for a viper if seen amongst foliage or between rocks. This snake is native to Spain, Portugal and SW France. This is a species I would like to keep as a substitute to one of the North American Rat Snake species such as the Texas Rat Snake.

I hope that some of the large European Rat Snakes mentioned become available in South Africa in the near future.