Elaphe are one of the larger groups of colubrid snakes and contain in addition some of the best and best-loved reptile pets.
Elaphe species can be characterised by slender bodies, heads that have no distinct join to the neck or body, and three (usually) longitudinal stripes, one along the back and one along each side. The body has been described as "loaf-shaped" in cross-section, ie with a rounded top and flat bottom. They are mostly fairly tolerant of a range of temperatures: if anything many of them should be prevented from getting too warm, rather than too cold. Temperament varies according to species: some become incredibly tame and docile (eg Elaphe guttata guttata, the Corn Snake) while others remain intractable and feisty (a few of the Asian species).
Elaphe as a group seem to be geared towards the lower end of the temperature gradient, although there are exceptions (ie those found in Mexico and the tropics of SE Asia). Many of the Asian species are found in the cooler parts of the continent (China, Korea, Central Asia, Siberia or Japan) and are subject to cold winters. It is important to note the distribution and origin of any snake that is to be a captive. Those from areas with cold winters will almost certainly need a period of hibernation, if only to stimulate breeding.
The genus is still in a state of flux to some degree, with some authorities splitting it up into smaller genera, although this does not generally appear to have gained acceptance. Nevertheless some if not all of the North American species may be placed in the genus Pantherophis, including the much-loved Corn Snake E. guttata guttata and its commonly kept relatives. These are indicated on this page by a [P.] between the genus and species names. The European and Asian ratsnakes have also been affected by these changes, as follows (abbreviations for this article given in ):
This site will possibly be updated again in the near future.
NAVIGATION: As this is a large page we have placed a couple of navigation links in each species box. Click on "B" to go to the Bibliography, or "I" to go back up to the index (Quick Links).
|E. [P.] bairdi, Baird's Rat Snake||E. [M.] bella, Baird's Rat Snake||E. bimaculata, Twin-Spotted Rat Snake|
|E. [Ort.] cantoris, Eastern Trinket Snake||E. carinata, Stinking Goddess||E. climacophora, Japanese Rat Snake|
|E. [Eu.] conspicillata, Red Japanese Rat Snake||E. davidi, Pere David's Rat Snake||E. dione, Steppes Rat Snake|
|E. [C.] enganensis, Rat Snake||E. [C.] erythura, Reddish Rat Snake/Philippine Rat Snake||E. [P.] flavirufa, Nightsnake|
|E. [C.] flavolineata, Black Copper Rat Snake/ Yellow-Striped Rat Snake||E. [Rha.] frenata, Assam Green Trinket Snake||E. [P.] g. guttata, Corn Snake|
|E. [P.] g. emoryi, Great Plains Ratsnake||E. [C.] helena, Common Trinket Snake||E. [Ort.] hodgsoni, Himalayan Trinket Snake|
|E. hohenackeri, Transcaucasian Rat Snake||E. japonica, Northern Japanese Rat Snake||E. leonardi, Burmese Rat Snake|
|E. [Z.] lineata, Striped/Italian Aesculapian Rat Snake||E. [Z.] longissima, Aesculapian Rat Snake||E. [Eu.] mandarina, Mandarin Rat Snake/ Jade Snake|
|E. [Ort.] moellendorffi, Red-Headed Rat Snake||E. [P.] obsoleta, American Rat Snake/ Rat Snake, Eastern Rat Snake, Common Rat Snake||E. [P.] o. obsoleta, Black Rat Snake/ Black Chicken Snake, Pilot Black Snake|
|E. [P.] o. deckerti, Deckert's Rat Snake||E. [P.] o. lindheimeri, Texas Rat Snake/ Lindheimer's Rat Snake||E. [P.] o. parallela, Eastern Rat Snake|
|E. [P.] o. quadrivittata, Yellow Rat Snake/ Chicken Snake, Banded Chicken Snake, Four-Banded Snake, Magnolia Snake, Deckert's Rat Snake, Keys Rat Snake||E. [P.] o. rossalleni, Everglades Rat Snake||E. [P.] o. spiloides, Gray Rat Snake Gray Chicken Snake, Live Oak Snake|
|E. [P.] o. williamsi, Gulf Hammock Rat Snake||E. [Eu.] perlacea, Szechwan Rat Snake||E. [Z.] persica, Persian Rat Snake|
|E. [Ore.] porphyracea, Black-Banded Trinket Snake||E. [Rha.] prasina, Green Trinket Snake||E. quadrivirgata, Japanese Four-Lined Rat Snake|
|E. quatuorlineata, Four-Lined Rat Snake||E. [C.] radiata, Radiated Rat Snake||E. rufodorsata, Chinese Garter Snake|
|E. [R.] scalaris, Ladder Rat Snake||E. schrencki, Amur Rat Snake/Russian Rat Snake||E. situla, Leopard Snake|
|E. subradiata, Sunda Rat Snake||E. taeniura, Stripe-Tailed Rat Snake Taiwan Beauty Snake, Striped Trinket Snake||E. vulpina, Fox Snake|| |
|Scientific Name||Common Name||Distribution||Size||Notes|
|E. [P.] bairdi
||Baird's Rat Snake||Texas, NE Mexico||5'||Very similar to the Texas Rat Snake E. obsoleta lindheimeri, with which it does hybridise in nature, and also resembles duller coloured Yellow Rat Snakes (E. o. quadrivittatus). The Baird's Rat Snake can be distinguished from the other rat snakes, however, by its saddles, which even at their fewest number no less than 44, in contrast to all E. obsoleta subspecies which have no more than 40 or less. The Bartletts describe its colouring as 'subtle': the dorsal surfaces are an overall brownish yellow with a very light violet effect and four lightly defined narrow dark bands, two on the back and one on each side. The ventral surfaces are orange-yellow. There now seem to be two colour morphs: the Texan, and the Mexican which differs by having a grey head and base colour of orange. The preferred habitat is dry rocky prairies and deserts, or lightly forested areas. Staszko and Walls seem rather dismissive of the Baird's, but the Bartletts recommend it for its attractive, hardiness and ease of handling.
|E. [M.] bella||China (Fujian and Yunnan); Myanmar, Vietnam?||According to the EMBL reptile database, this was assigned early on to the genus Oligodon before being reinstated as an Elaphe species. It is not listed for Myanmar or Vietnam in Zhao & Adler (1993), nor are the subspecies listed.|
|E. [M.] b. bella|
|E. [M.] b. chapaensis|
||Twin-Spotted Rat Snake||C China (E Sichuan to Jiangsu and north to Hebei)||39"||Small but attractive species with distinctive but variable patterning and sometimes very bright colouration. Overall colour is some shade of brown. The patterning is caused by two dorsal and two lateral rows of spots that range between red and brown in colouration: the dorsal spots may join laterally, while all the spots may join longitudinally to produce a striping effect. From photographs it would appear that the spots become more clearly defined and outlined in black towards the head, where eventually they form a 'spearpoint' effect on the head itself and across the eyes. The Bartletts note that there is a darker morph of this snake which could be more accurately be called the Four-Striped Rat Snake: in this phase, the spots join to become to two dorsal lines and there are two lateral lines in addition. Staszko and Walls warn of the dangers of confusing E. bimaculata with E. dione or, worse, E. rufodorsatus, since the latter has very different requirements in captivity. Coming from mountainous areas, E. bimaculata requires fairly low temperatures (Staszko and Walls recommend a general level of 68 deg F/20 deg C plus basking areas), plus three months' overwintering if breeding is to be undertaken. They also note the very short incubation period of 25 days. Click here for a page with pictures and brief description of E. bimaculata.
|E. [Ort.] cantoris||Eastern Trinket Snake||India (Sikkim, Assam), Nepal, N Myanmar||48-80"||Generally speaking a fairly plain snake, brownish dorsally and yellowish ventrally, with two dorsal rows of regular darkish smudges: any patterning tends to be more distinct in juveniles and fades with age. As it hails from the Himalayas, the temperatures should not be too high even in summer, and Staszko and Walls suggest a long overwintering period would be necessary to induce breeding.
|E. carinata||Stinking Goddess/
Chinese King Rat Snake, Taiwan Stink Snake
|E China, Taiwan, N Vietnam||60-80"||From the common names alone given for this snake one might deduce that it is not an easy captive, and in fact Staszko and Walls explicitly discourage any would-be keepers, pointing out (a) its habit of musking (b) its aggressive, almost violent behaviour, even as a long-term captive, and (c) its diet in the wild, which is almost exclusively snakes and lizards. Those who are determined to beat the odds should note that it is a montane species and hence needs milder temperatures and a definite overwintering period. Although it breeds easily, hatchlings often refuse mice for lizards. Colouring is variable but hatchlings start life as a pale olive colour and grow darker with age, either to dark olive or black, apart from the head scales, which remain yellow or olive but with a black rim around each scale (looking rather as if made by a marker pen). Black individuals usually have a bright yellow spot in the centre of each scale. The identification of E. carinata as a member of the Elaphe species has been cast into doubt recently owing to one or two anatomical unusualities, including the teardrop-shaped pupil (otherwise unknown for a rat snake).
|E. c. deqenensis|
|E. c. yonaguniensis||Japan (Ryukus Islands)|
||Japanese Rat Snake/
Aodaisho, Blue General
|Japan: Kunisir Island (Russian Arctic)||39-66"||A fairly common Japanese snake found both in fields and houses. It is tolerated and even welcomed by Japanese for its predation on mice and rats (Bartletts). In the Aodaisho phase, the adults are dorsally an olive gray colour with four (sometimes two) vague black longitudinal stripes: the head is darker and has a black band from behind the eye to the angle of the jaws. The Shirohebi phase, found in the vicinity of the city of Iwakuni, is albino, a pinkish-white with red eyes. This phase is heavily protected as a Japanese National Monument. However, the Bartletts note that there is evidence of considerable inbreeding in the albino phase, and Staszko and Walls, that mortality among albino hatchlings is high. As well as the normal rodent fare E. climacophora preys on birds and their eggs. The Bartletts note that their captives preferred cockatiel boxes set high up in a tall cage as hiding places. Click here for another picture of this snake.
|E. [Eu.] conspicillata
||Red Japanese Rat Snake||Japan south of Hokkaido, Russia (Kunasir)||32"||Small but attractive snake, dorsally red with black blotches and bars and ventrally white with similar black markings. Old adults may fade to an overall olive brown. The head markings consist of a black V shape whose prongs start on the frontal scale and pointing backwards to just behind the parietals, and two lateral stripes, one joining the eyes across the prefrontals and the forwardmost one running along the front of the internasals where they join the rostral.
||Pere David's Rat Snake||NE China, N Korea||30"||Little-known species: rarely seen outside of China. Overall colour is cream-tan, with brownish dorsal blotches outlined in black and smaller lateral blotches of the same colour. Staszko and Walls note that this snake is known to eat other snakes, while if I have understood the implications of the literature cited in the EMBL entry, then E. davidi also takes eggs in the wild.
||Steppes Rat Snake [D: Steppennatter, Dione-Natter]||S. Ukraine eastwards to the Pacific: not found in SE Caucasus or Transcaucasus||36"||Very widely distributed snake across Russia and Asia. Although preferring steppeland, it is also found up to 3,500 m high in the mountains. Diet is very catholic, with small mammals, birds, lizards, frogs, toads and snakes being taken: it will even enter the sea to catch fish. It resembles the African Egg-eating Snake Dasypeltis scabra in its method of crushing eggs, and like that snake has vertebral projections in its gullet. Colouring is usually a golden yellow with darker yellow-brown spotted stripes running down the back, but occasionally darker specimens are found. The top of the head is slightly darker with a dark band running from the eye to the angle of the jaw, and there is a somewhat rounded "spearpoint" marking that touches the parietals. When annoyed or afraid the Rat Snake vibrates its tail very rapidly. However it has a reputation for gentleness in captivity, and Staszko and Walls in particular recommend it. In the wild females lay 5-16 eggs in July-August, but in captivity they must be exposed to a considerably overwintering and cooling if they are to be bred: 120 days seems to be the minimum cited in literature, with Bartletts noting that some breeders suggest 150. Scalation details : 23 (sometimes 25) dorsal rows at midbody.
|E. [C.] enganensis
||Rat Snake||Engano in E Indonesia||50?"||Often considered a form of E. [C.] subradiata, but is distinguished from the latter by distinctive patterning and scalation. See E. [C.] subradiata.
|E. erythrura [C. erythrurus]||Reddish Rat Snake/
Philippine Rat Snake
|Philippines, Indonesia (Celebes=Sulawesi)||39-66"||This ratsnake is widespread throughout the Philippines and the Celebes, but for some reason is rarely seen in the pet trade. The body is slender and elongated, with a slender head distinct from the neck. The species is fairly simply in patterning and coloration, the dorsal surfaces being an orange-red or occasionally olive colour that darken from head to tail, the tail itself often being a distinctive shade. The ventral surface similarly starts off pale yellow at the head and darkens towards the tail. There may be two faint lines on the neck and spots lower on the sides. Staszko and Walls note the similarity between E. erythura and some of the Ptyas species, but point out that the loreal scale on this ratsnake is a single square one as opposed to two or three smaller ones in Ptyas snakes. They recommend keeping the Reddish Rat Snake in a manner similar to E. radiata and similar tropical rat snakes. Alcala says that the species will bite readily if provoked. In the wild it is found frequently in the lowlands, from sea level to 500m altitude, and often in or around human dwellings. It is an important animal in its range as it feeds heavily on rats [Alcala]. Scalation details [Alcala]: body scales keeled except outer rows, at least posteriorly: 23 rows at neck and 21 at midbody: 216-238 ventrals and 80-110 subcaudals. B I|
|E. e. erythrura [C. e. erythrurus]||All Philippines except the Palawan group||Red tail lighter than preceding part of body.|
|E. [C. ] e. celebensis||Indonesia (Celebes)||Snake darkens towards the rear of the body, including the tail, as in E. e. psephenoura, but also has blackish V shape on the nape of the neck.|
|E. e. manilliense [C. e. manillensis]||Philippines (Luzon, Mindoro)||Uniformly brown to reddish.|
|E. e. philippina [C. e. philippinus]||Philippines (Palawan, Balabac, Busuanga and Bongao)||Distinct pattern of white spots with black borders near the front of the body low on the sides: stripes near the eye.|
|E. [C.] e. psephenoura||Philippines (Cebu, Negros)||Snake darkens towards the rear of the body, including the tail.|
|E. [P.] flavirufa||Nightsnake
Mexican Corn Snake
|Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras||3-5'||A rarely seen snake in captivity that is nevertheless closely related to the much better known Corn Snake, E. g. guttata. Indeed, adult specimens in appearance do look somewhat like a washed out version of their better-known congeneric. The overall colour is a pale greyish-brown with darker brown/chocolate saddles outlined in black. The dorsal markings vary, indirectly related to the subspecies whose differentiation is somewhat uncertain: see either Staszko and Walls or Bartletts for a useful key. Hatchlings are paler, while old specimens can become quite dark. An unusual and distinctive feature of this snake is its large eyes with their white irises. It is worth noting that the E. f. matudai subspecies is based on an individual specimen found over 50 years ago! (Staszko and Walls). Staszko and Walls suggest that care is probably as for the Corn Snake, while the Bartletts suggest that meals should be small and not offered too often. They also note that once purged of endoparasites, this is a hardy snake. Scalation details: 9-10 supralabials; mid-dorsal scales keeled, with paired apical pits, in 27-31 midbody rows; ventral scales angulare; anal plate divided.
|E. f. flavirufa||Mexico, east coast from Tamaulipas south to Campeche|
|E. f. matudai||SE Mexico|
|E. f. pardalina||Mainland Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua|
|E. f. phaescens||Mexico (Yucatan peninsula)|
|E. f. polysticha||Bay islands, Honduras||Similar to E. f. pardalina in having a divided preocular and >260 ventrals, but differs from that subspecies in having a maximum of 34 (usually 33) scale rows and a posterior minimum of 23 scale rows [SOURCE: Smith & Williams]|
|E. flavolineata [Coleognathus flavolineatus]
||Black Copper Rat Snake/
Yellow-Striped Rat Snake
|Andaman & Nicobar Islands (India), Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia inc. Bornea and Celebes||5-7'||Another widely distributed but rarely seen in captivity snake. Its common name derives from the colour of the head and the striping on the back, which consists of two narrowly separated black stripes enclosing and area that is often yellow. The overall dorsal colour is a pale muddy brown, and there may also be indistinct vertical black stripes. The snake darkens in colour further down the body, causing whatever stripes it has to gradually merge into the overall colour. The ventral scales are a shade of white, often with black spots on the edges of the scales on the front half of the body. There is a short black bar below the eye and another running from behind the eye to the angle of the jaws. A third runs from the parietal scales diagonally acroos the neck to the belly. Diet is mainly birds and mammals. Staszko and Walls claim that this snake adapts well to captivity. One authority considered this a member of Orthriophis instead: see TIGR database entry.
|E. frenata [Rha. frenatum]
||Assam Green Trinket Snake||Assam (India), SE China, N Vietnam||2½'||Formerly considered to be a member of the genus Elaphe, then of Gonyosoma, and possibly still in older literature. It is an attractive snake, being an overall brightish green with paler sides. It can be distinguished from the similarly-coloured E. prasina by its black bar passing across the eye above the labial scales, which is lacking in E. prasina. Another distinguishing mark is the loreal scale which is fused to the prefrontal scale. It is not supposed to be widely distributed across its range, which is mainly mountainous, and physical and political obstacles further limit its availability. Staszko and Walls recommend a moderately heated terrarium with overwintering for reproductive purposes.
|E. [P.] g. guttata
|Corn Snake||USA E. of Mississippi, esp. SE.||3-6'||To most reptile enthusiasts the Corn Snake needs little or no introduction, having been successfully bred and raised in captivity for many years now: indeed it is to snake lovers what the Leopard Gecko, Eublepharis macularius, is to lizard aficionados. Part of its success may be attributed to its widespread distribution, but also its tameability and docility in human hands. So popular is this snake now that there is no need to take wild specimens, a practice that should be discouraged (temporary removal of a corn snake from the wild might be justified if to add some fresh diversity to a gene pool in breeding). In the wild there are colour variations of the Corn but the "normal" colour is a darkish orange with red dorsal saddles outlined in black (often faintly) and with a striking black and white chequered ventrum. There are now many colour variations, or "morphs", and in addition some interspecific breeding has been done with other North American colubrid snakes (the wisdom or otherwise of this course of action lays outside these notes!).
|E. [P.] g. emoryi||Great Plains Ratsnake
|C. USA W. of Mississippi||3-5'||Essentially a gray or light brown and somewhat smaller version of the Corn Snake. The patterning is otherwise similar, including the "spearpoint" marking on the head. Some experts claim this subspecies should be raised to the full species E. emoryi (Bartletts), but intergradation does occur with E. g. guttata in W. Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas (Staszko and Walls). The Bartletts recommend a winter cooling period with reduced photoperiod for 70-90 days for these snakes if breeding is intended. There do not appear to be any colour phases associated with this snake other than an albino version. See the EMBL entry for an alternative, species-level entry for this snake.
|E. [P.] g. rosacea
|Rosy Ratsnake||USA (Florida Lower Keys)||3-5'||There is still some disagreement over whether E. g. rosacea is a valid subspecies of E. g. guttata or merely a pattern and colour variant that has its own restricted range (it is only found in the Lower Keys of Florida). Whatever its exact status, it is a very attractive species: it should be noted however that the Lower Keys population is protected by law. Rosy Rat Snakes have a reduced amount of black colouring in their patterning, creating a brighter effect. According to the Bartletts, many snakes E. guttata snakes with this effect are also to be found in the Tampa Bay area.
|E. [C.] helena||Common Trinket Snake||India (inc. Assam and Himalayas), Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka||3-4', max. 5'3"||This is one of the Asian ratsnakes more commonly seen in captivity, at least in Europe, as I can personally testify. In the wild it is widely distributed and "moderately common" (Staszko and Walls) over most of its range, which is effectively most of the subcontinent. It is attractive, being coloured in a subtle shade of tan or pale yellow with darker brown crossbands, often flecked with white, that fade as they proceed towards the tail. Two longitudinal black stripes also start at the neck and fade as they progress backwards until they disappear into the background, while in addition there is often a black diagonal stripe low on the side of the neck. The head usually has one black stripe running from the back of the eye to the angle of the jaws, and there may be another below the eye (Staszko and Walls). The ventrum is paler (white or yello) and only lightly marked if at all. As in most case, the juveniles are more brightly marked. In the wild E. helena comes across as quite aggressive, but in captivity they apparently tame down and make quiet and undemanding captives. Both Staszko and Walls and Bartletts recommend a diet of mice and note that brumation (winter cooling) is not essential for breeding this species, although a couple of months at reduced temperatures may help. Staszko and Walls also recommend opportunities for captives to climb as this snake is apparently arboreal. In the wild they are usually found in or at the periphery of forests, and sometimes near human habitation [Daniel], mostly at elevations of 500-2000m, being rarer in the plains. In their natural habitat they do prefer mammalian prey. Scalation details: 25-29 rows at midbody: undivided anal: 2-3 labials touching eye. A good summary of this snake is found here.
|E. [C.] h. helena|
|E. [C.] h. monticollaris|
|E. [Ort.] hodgsoni
|Himalayan Trinket Snake||Himlayas: Assam (India)||5'||I am not sure how well known this ratsnake is in captive collections: it was discovered over 150 years ago, but I have only seen it mentioned in Staszko and Walls. The colouring is fairly simple, being olive dorsally and paler ventrally. The dorsal scales may be edged with black and the ventral ones with black spots. Staszko and Walls also note that the juveniles may have black crossbands which presumably fade with age.
|E. [Z.] hohenackeri||Transcaucasian Rat Snake||Turkey, Iran||2½'||One of Europe's smaller snakes, Hohenacker's Snake is found in a variety of microhabitats within its range. As much of this area is mountainous or elevated steppe it is unsurprisingly found at altitudes up to 2,500 m. It does not seem too fussy about humidity levels as it will favour either dry slopes or moist stream valleys, and can also be found within dense forests. Unusually it will also take up residence near human habitations, where it will shelter among stones or in stone walls. Colouring is a silver-grey with brown-red irregular spots outlined in black running across the back. Up to 7 eggs are laid in June-July: incubation takes about a month. As winters are harsh and somewhat long in this region, overwintering is required for reproductive and possibly health purposes: Staszko and Walls recommend at least four months. They also note that this is not an easy species to keep in captivity, and that few captive-bred specimens have been produced.
|E. h. taurica||S Turkey||The chief distinguishing mark of the only subspecies of E. hohenackeri is that the red-brown dorsal saddles are fused to form a sort of zig-zag pattern.|
|E. japonica||Northern Japanese Rat Snake||Hokkaido and Honshu Islands, N Japan, Kunashir Is in Kuriles (Russia)||28-35"||Little known rat snake, regarded by some as subspecies of E. conspicillata (as it indeed formerly was). Overall colour is red-brown dorsally with lighter sides and yellow ventrum. There is a black stripe running from behind the eye. Diet is presumably similar to that of E. conspicillata.
|E. leonardi||Burmese Rat Snake||N Myanmar, N Vietnam||33"||A little-known but impressively patterned snake, with earth brown dorsal coloration over which narrow black lines run laterally to give the impression of someone having drawn a series of large black squares down the body. The ventrum is white and checkered with black in a similar manner to the Corn Snake, E. guttata. A black stripe runs from behind the eye and is met by another rising diagonally from the base of the neck. On the head the frontal scale is outlined in black, forming a pattern which extends backwards across the parietals to form a "javelin tip" beyond, and likewise runs across the prefrontals. Staszko and Walls note that the Vietnamese subspecies also has crossbars, but caution that not enough is yet known about these snakes to make a firm judgement on variation. I am not sure of the natural habitat of E. leonardi, but much of Burma and Vietnam is mountain and forest, while the Vietnamese species according to EMBL hails from the Hong river. In the literature I have read only Staszko and Walls mention this species, and I have not seen any advertised in captivity.
|E. l. leonardi||N Myanmar|
|E. l. chapaensis||N Vietnam|
|E. [Z.] lineata||Italian Aesculapian Snake||S Italy, Sicily||Max TL 140cm||Similar to the Aesculapian Snake, which occurs immediately north of its range, but generally lighter and ventrally grey. Scalation details: 23 middorsal rows; 225-238 ventrals; 72-82 paired subcaudals. Coloration: lighter than E. longissima, lacks light blotch on side of neck. Narrow dark stripes may be present on back, in which case any white speckling on scales is confined to these stripes. Eye reddish. [SOURCE: Arnold]|
|E. longissima [Z. longissimus]||Aesculapian Rat Snake [E: Culebra de Esculapio]
|Iberian peninsula and W France east through S Europe and Germany into Balkans, N Turkey and N Iran to N Caspian sea||55-80"||The Aesculapian Rat Snake is not an outstandingly colourful snake but has the advantages of being docile and hardy. Hatchlings and juveniles look very similar in appearance to the young of the Grass Snake, Natrix natrix, with darkish blotches on a brown or green-gray background, but these fade with age and the adult snakes assume a rather monotone grey-green or brown dorsal colouring and a paler ventrum. E. longissima is somewhat arboreal, being a good climber, and will often rest inside a tree or on a shady branch. It is also quite active and hunts mainly during the afternoon. Prey is voles, mice, moles, lizards and nestling birds. Favoured habitats are warm wooded grasslands, small deciduous woods, rocky areas and often abandoned or broken buildings. On the Iberian peninsula it is also found in meadows between pine forests and oak plantations. Holm oaks and beech trees are favoured. Altitude varies from sea level to 1,000m. In Spain the species hibernates from October to March. Breeders may like to note that Staszko and Walls and Bartlett and Bartlett give slightly conflicting information about the incubation of eggs: Staszko and Walls suggest about 77 deg F (25 C), but the Bartletts suggest 79-82 deg F (26-28 C) and claim better success with 81-82 deg F (27-28 deg C). The Aesculapian Rat Snake has an interesting history in its relation with mankind. Aesculapius was the Greek god of medicine, with whom the Ancient Greeks associated the snake. In their absorption of Greek culture, similar to their own, the Romans thus ended taking some of these snakes to their own centres of civilisation in Switzerland and Germany, where the reptiles formed populations of their own. The snake wrapped around the medical symbol, or caduceus, is the Aesculapian Rat Snake. Scalation details [Salvador]: snout more or less flattened: rostral not placed between internasals. 1 preocular and 2 postoculars. Temporals 2x3. 8-9 supralabials, of which 4th & 5th contact the eye. Coloration: Salvador describes adults as a uniform light brown with small white spots and a yellowish or whitish ventrum. Four faded longitudinal stripes may be discernible, particular in specimens from Italy. A short black band runs from behind the eye to the angle of the jaws and there may be a faint yellow blotch below the eye. The young are greyish-brown with a series of pale spots on the back: a yellow spot on each side of the head is located next to these. Cases of both melanism and albinism have been reported. Reproduction: copulation takes place in May-June. The female lays a clutch of 5-15 eggs in June-July in a hole in a tree or stump. The young hatch in September and are about 4-5" long. B I|
|E. l. longissima||E. Spain across S Europe to NW Iran||This is normally the only subspecies of E. longissima available in the US (Bartletts), although this may have changed.|
|E. l. persica||N Iran||Now considered a full species: see separate entry.|
|E. l. rechingeri||Amorgos Is. (Aegean Sea)||This is something of a confused subspecies, since it has also been identified as E. quatorlineata rechingeri or as a full species, E. rechingeri. To confuse things further the colouring on the adults is variable: sometimes darker stripes may be present, or the snake may be unicoloured. The hatchlings and juveniles however are consistently paler than those of the other subspecies.|
|E. l. romana||S. Italy, Sicily||Variably striped or not at all (Bartletts, Staszko and Walls).|
|E. maculata||China||?"||Not listed in Zhao and Adler: see EMBL database listing.|
|E. [Eu.] mandarina||Mandarin Rat Snake/
|N Myanmar, S China, Vietnam||39-63"||A very beautiful rat snake with fairly constant patterning, ie there are few if any variations within this species, unlike many other rat snakes. The overall colour is brown or grey, and in addition there may be a red line on each scale (Staszko & Walls). The distinctive patterning is made up of 22-30 dorsal saddles, each consisting of a rough black diamond-cum-circle enclosing a large yellow centre. There is also the familiar Elaphe pattern of three black bands on the head, the third forming a "spearpoint": these are interspersed with a bright yellow which fades around the neck into the overall brown or grey colour. E. mandarina is typical of many Asian rat snakes in that it comes from an area of low temperatures and high humidity, in this case forested mountain slopes and plateaux (Bartletts). For this reason the Bartletts suggest vivarium temperatures in the fairly low range of mid 60s to mid seventies. They also note that their captives did not like basking under a lamp but would thermoregulate over a heat tape. Staszko & Walls suggest a dry terrarium. They also note that this species is docile but rather nervous and that it dislikes a lot of traffic past its cage.
|E. [Ort.] moellendorffi||Red-Headed Rat Snake||S China, N Vietnam||80"+||A distinctively-patterned but very delicate rat snake that is really one for the advanced keepers. The basic patterning is an overall shade of grey with dorsal saddles and lateral blotches outlined in black but otherwise a colour that could variously be described as red-brown, crimson or maroon. The colouring towards the tail becomes red and the saddles and blotches become rings. The Bartletts note that the saddles may have lighter centres, but usually do not. The belly is yellow-white and checked (Staszko & Walls). The natural habitat of the Red-Headed Rat Snake is lowland forest, and like many Asian rat snakes it prefers rather low temperatures with some humidity. Staszko & Walls recommend a heat range of 65-70 deg F, the Bartletts a slightly higher range within the low to mid 70s with an illuminated basking area. Regrettably the mortality rate of these snakes is incredibly high, almost 99% (Bartletts), making veterinary assessment and treatment absolutely necessary (ibid). Hopefully we may soon know more about the natural history and optimum conditions for these attractive snakes, but until then they are best left to experienced specialists and zoos. The Bartletts go so far as to urge that they no longer be collected from the wild.
|E. [P.] obsoleta||American Rat Snake/
Rat Snake, Eastern Rat Snake, Common Rat Snake
|E & Central USA as far south as Georgia and north to Great Lakes||?"||This Elaphe species is more usually considered by its subspecies, all of which are distinct in colouring and temperament.
|E. [P.] o. obsoleta||Black Rat Snake/
Black Chicken Snake, Pilot Black Snake
|E & Central USA as far south as Georgia and north to Great Lakes as far as southern Ontario, Canada||101"||This is the largest subspecies of E. obsoleta and the most northeastern in location (Bartlett & Bartlett). Its latin name, "dim" refers to the dark overall colouring of the snake, but the Bartletts point out that not all these snakes are black, some being brown. They state that as a rule the darkest snakes are the largest or those found in the northeast or the mountains of the southeast. However, the interstitial colouring (between the scales) is often lighter, a shade of either red or grey. The throat may be lighter, white or reddish, and this coloration may extend some way down the ventral surface. Staszko & Walls note also that the ventral surface of the tail is often grey. There are also two naturally occurring "morphs" or variants, one a white coloration with red saddles and eyes, the other "lavender to pale red" (Bartlett & Bartlett) with bright red saddles. Staszko & Walls assert that E. obsoleta is less commonly kept or traded as a pet because it seems more nervous or aggressive than the other subspecies.
|E. [P.] o. deckerti||Deckert's Rat Snake/Keys variant||S Florida (Lake Okeechobee southwards)||?"||No longer considered a subspecies by most but a phase of E. quadrivittata. Nevertheless the old subspecies name is included here for reference and because it may occur in older literature. The overall colour is dark orange-brown with stripes and blotches.
|E. [P.] o. lindheimeri
|Texas Rat Snake/
Lindheimer's Rat Snake
|Texas, Louisiana||86"||The Bartletts consider this subspecies belligerent, Staszko and Walls, vicious, although it is still harmless apart from the deep lacerations it may deliver to the skin. In colouring it is halfway between the Grey Rat Snake and the Black Rat Snake, ie darker than the former but lighter than the latter. The overall body colour is usually a rather dirty shade of yellow with brown saddles that may occasionally be connected by stripes. Red (Staszko and Walls) or yellow-orange (Bartletts) often shows between the sides of the scales and sometimes may tinge the edges of the scales (Staszko and Walls). The ventral surface is blotched. Some hybridisation occurs with E. bairdi, Baird's Rat Snake, in some counties of Texas where the ranges of both snakes overlap. Apparently the temperament and subdued colouring of this subspecies have made it less appealing as a captive.
|E. [P.] o. parallela
|Eastern Rat Snake, Outer Banks Rat Snake||Barrier Islands off North Carolina coast||26"||No longer considered a subspecies by most but the old subspecies name is included here for reference and because it may occur in older literature. Staszko and Walls claim that it is now believed to be a relict population of hybrids between the Black Rat Snake E. o. obsoleta and the Yellow Rat Snake E. o. quadrivittata that was left isolated on the islands during the last Ice Age. It is nevertheless distinct in appearance, being overall grey in colour with four indistinct dark longitudinal lines (as in E. o. quadrivittata) and a series of short dark bars across the middle of the back that connect the two dorsal lines.
|E. [P.] o. quadrivittata||Yellow Rat Snake/
Chicken Snake, Banded Chicken Snake, Four-Banded Snake, Magnolia Snake, Deckert's Rat Snake, Keys Rat Snake
|SE USA||62-72"||This is an understandably popular snake, given both its appearance and reasonable temperament. The overall coloration is a varying shade of yellow with four longitudinal dark stripes, two on the back and one low on each side. It should be noted that as with many snakes, the juveniles are almost completely different, being born grey with dark brown saddles or blotches. Like the other subspecies of E. obsoleta, the Yellow Rat Snake does intergrade at the edge of its range with other races. The Bartletts mention a "greenish rat snake" that is apparently fairly common in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee: this is an intergrade of E. o. obsoleta, the Black Rat Snake, and E. o. quadrivittata, the Yellow.
|E. [P.] o. rossalleni||Everglades Rat Snake||Florida (Everglades only)||?"||No longer considered a subspecies by some: in appearance a more colourful version of E. o. quadrivittata.
|E. [P.] o. spiloides||Grey Rat Snake
Gray Chicken Snake, Live Oak Snake
|Illinois-Kentucky border, Mississipi, Alabama||58"||Unlike most rat snakes, which lose their juvenile patterning and coloration in adulthood, the Grey Rat Snake retains its throughout life. The basic pattern is darker saddles on a grey-brown background, but the exact darkness may vary. There are two phases or morphs of the Grey Rat Snake: the darker "normal" phase, and the lighter "white oak" phase. The saddles in either phases may have dark or lighter centres. The head may have a variety of markings, often black, but these may be lost in adulthood. Other distinctive features found on the head are the labial scales which are white with black edges, the possible presence of two dark bands, one from the corner of the mouth to the eye and the other across the head in front of the eyes, and the silvery colour of the eye. The venter is white with grey flecks at the front of the body that merge to a solid grey towards the tail. Both the Bartletts and Staszko and Walls note that this is a highly arboreal snake, more often found in the branches of trees than anywhere else. Staszko and Walls say that it also has a reputation for raiding henhouses for eggs and young chicks.
|E. [P.] o. williamsi
|Gulf Hammock Rat Snake||NE Florida (Levy and Alachua counties)||?"||No longer considered a subspecies but an intergrade of E. o. spiloides x E. o. quadrivittata (Bartlett & Bartlett). The old subspecies name is included here for reference and because it may occur in older literature.
|E. [Eu.] perlacea||Szechwan Rat Snake||China (Szechwan)||46"||Extremely poorly known snake, identified from one adult individual many decades ago. It is nevertheless distinctive, with an overall gray-tan colour broken up by narrow black bands outlined in white. There are two normal black bands across the top of the head and two more that join together between the eyes to form an "arrow" arrangement. Unfortunately no more is known, even as to whether the species still exists.
|E. [Z.] persica||Persian Rat Snake||N Iran||This species can be distinguished from E. [Z.] longissima by its dark belly and the possible presence of a white stripe along the lower sides (Bartletts, Staszko & Walls).|
|E. [Ore.] porphyracea||Black-Banded Trinket Snake
Red Bamboo Racer, Red Mountain Racer
|China, India and SE Asia||?"||This is an easily identifiable and apparently docile snake which is not seen often in captivity, which in some ways is a pity as from its description it would appear to have good potential, unlike some other more readily available Asian rat snakes. E. porphyracea is easily distinguished by its overall reddish-brown colour on which are superimposed 9-16 rather broad brown bands outlined in black. The head markings are also distinct, with a black stripe reaching backwards from behind each eye to join the first brown band behind the neck and a third black line running from between the prenasals to just past the parietals. The ventrum is a cream-white colour. Diet is apparently birds and mammals: Staszko and Walls recommend a diet of pinkies and keeping the snake somewhat cooler than usual for a rat snake. I am particularly grateful to the EMBL database entry for the subspecies data on this snake which was mentioned nowhere else.
|E. [Ore.] p. porphyracea||India, Myanmar, Nepal, China|
|E. [Ore.] p. coxi||?|
|E. [Ore.] p. hainana||China (Hainan)|
|E. [Ore.] p. kawakamii||Taiwan|
|E. [Ore.] p. laticincta||?|
|E. [Ore.] p. nigrofasciata||Hong Kong, Taiwan, Laos, S China (east coast to Guizhou), N Vietnam|
|E. [Ore.] p. pulchra||China (type locality named as Yunnan, may occur elsewhere?)|
|E. [Ore.] p. vaillanti||NE Thailand|
|E. [Rha.] prasina||Green Trinket Snake||N India (Darjeeling, Assam), N Myanmar, SW China (Yunnan, Guizhou, Hainan), N Thailand, Laos, Vietnam: also isolated populations in Malaysia, Andaman Is.||?"||Like the other bright green rat snakes (E. frenata and Red-Tailed Rat Snake Gonysoma oxcephalum), the assignment of this snake to the genus Elaphe has been placed in doubt: Manthey and Grossmann placed it in the genus Gonyosoma instead in 1997. E. prasina can be distinguished from the aforementioned green snakes by the lack of black stripe running back from the eye: indeed this snake has no real patterning apart from the faintest narrow white smudge of a line running dorsally. The belly is a green-white colour. Natural habitat is cool montane forests at higher altitudes, where this species is difficult to detect owing to its cryptic coloration (much of its range is in the E Himalayas). E. prasina is arboreal. Staszko and Walls advise a cool terrarium with many branches and suggest that (a) captives may need higher humidity than most rat snakes, (b) that they might prefer birds to mammals, and (c) that the incubation period for the eggs will probably be fairly short. They also note that very little is known of its natural history.
|E. quadrivirgata||Japanese Four-Lined Rat Snake||Japan (southern islands inc. Ryukus)||?"||This Japanese snake is apparently rather similar in appearance to the other Japanese rat snakes, but is also variable in appearance, in some cases being almost entirely black apart from yellow on the lips and throats. For this reason Staszko and Walls recommend the use of scale counts to establish positive identification of an individual. The usual overall colour is a shade of grey or pale brown with four dark stripes along the body, two of which end above the vent. There may also be a dark stripe running from the eye to the corner of the mouth (a marking commonly seen in many rat snakes). The ventral surface may be a shade of yellow, grey or black. Juveniles may have dark bars, zig-zag lines or the adult striped pattern. Staszko and Walls recommend keeping this snake under the same conditions as E. climacophora, noting that some specimens take frogs. It is rarely seen in the pet trade, at least outside of Japan.
|E. quatuorlineata quatuorlineata||Four-Lined Snake||Italy, Sicily, Yugoslavia, Albania, S. Bulgaria, Greece, Cycades||6-7"||One of the larger European snakes and the largest European rat snakes, and very predatory: one captured specimen in Macedonia disgorged a turtledove, a magpie and a small tortoise, and others do not shy from hunting rats. Rodents form the main portion of this snake's diet, plus birds and their young and eggs. Four-Lined Snakes are found in steppeland, semi-arid and shrubbed areas, or on the edges of open deciduous woods. They are terrestrial but are good climbers. Shelter is usually taken in rodent burrows, deep crevices or piles of stones. Ironically, given their predatory nature, Four-Lined Snakes are not much bothered by disturbance and do not try to bite. They are not abundant over their range. In July-August females lay 6-16 eggs: the young hatch in September-October. The snake derives its name from the four narrow stripes running down its back, although this is replaced in E. q. sauromates by rows of spots. Ground colour varies from yellow to orange to brown: as usual the belly is always lighter. Like many reptiles, older species seem to lose colour contrast. There are three other subspecies but their ranges are extremely small and isolated. E. q. sauromates is now generally considered a full species. The Four-Lined Snake is very similar in appearance to the N. American Yellow Rat Snake, E. o. quadrivittata.
|E. q. muenteri||Aegean Islands|
|E. q. praemetura||Aegean island of Jos (Cyclades)|
|E. q. sauromates||Bulgaria to Caucasus, Asia Minor, Iran|
|E. [C.] radiata||Radiated Rat Snake, Copperhead Racer||S China inc. Hong Kong and Yunnan, India (Orissa, Bengal, Sikkim and E Himalayas), Indochina, Malaysia and Indonesia (Sumatra, Java and Borneo)||60-75"||E. radiata is an attractive and widely distributed snake with distinctive markings that reaches an impressive but not overly large size. What would probably deter most keepers is its defensive (read: aggressive) temperament, as it reacts angrily to the slightest disturbance. The overall colour is a pale brown that usually becomes rather red on top of the head (hence the common name "Copperhead Racer"). Unusually, the two thick black dorsal and two narrow lateral stripes start some distance back from the head: they run for some way down the body, fading until they disappear well before the tail (although in some cases the stripes continue right to the end of the tail). The other distinctive patterning is on the head: three dark stripes radiate from the eye, one downwards to the mouth, one backwards to the corner of the mouth, and one diagonally upwards and backwards to join a collar stripe of the same colour. In the wild it is a lowland species, preferring open country near jungles and fields, or gardens near villages. If making a defensive display, E. radiata rears up and inflates it throat, exposing the white skin between its scales (Bartletts, Staszko and Walls, Daniel). They can also be very fast moving , hence the "racer" nickname. According to Staszko and Walls, the young tend to be nocturnal and supposedly eat frogs, whereas adults shift to a diurnal behaviour and a diet of mammals and birds. However Daniel notes that Indian specimens in the wild feed exclusively on mammals, especially rodents. Staszko and Walls also note that large individuals of this snake are taken for food, medicine and other commercial uses, which may have restricted its availability in the West. Until recently it was not often seen for sale, but the Bartletts note that recently captive-bred specimens have become available. Staszko and Walls recommend a warm terrarium with climbing branches, half day lighting and a basking spot and suggest that hibernation for two months at reduced temperatures may be healthy. The Bartletts recommend sizeable and quiet quarters, and a varying of the diet offered to encourage wild-caught captives to feed. Scalation details [Daniel]: 19 rows at midbody, median rows keeled, anal undivided, ventrals 224-250, caudals 83-103. Reproduction: gravid females in India have been found April-July: clutch size in India usually 5-12?, but 23 once recorded.
|Chinese Garter Snake||Russia, Korea, Taiwan, NE China (west to Shaanxi, south to Hubei and Fujian)||?"||Although easily confused with E. bimaculata, the Chinese Garter Snake is in fact very different in its lifestyle, and most authorities believe its identification as an Elaphe species to be incorrect. As its common name implies, the Chinese Garter Snake lives much like one of the Thamnophis species of America, including a definite predilection for frogs and fish as prey and giving live birth instead of laying eggs. The Bartletts note that most if not all of these snakes are imported by accident, being mistaken for E. bimaculata, but that they are nevertheless reasonably hardy creatures.
|E. scalaris||Ladder Rat Snake||Spain, Portugal, S France||4-5'||The Ladder Snake derives its scientific and common name from the markings of its young, which in addition to the pair of dorsal stripes running down the back (found in adults) have dark bars running across their backs. These markings fade with age until adults only have two darker longitudinal lines, and these may be quite faint in old age. Apart from these lines the snake is usually a simple overall shade of brown or olive-yellow: the ventral surface is brighter but may be suffused with dark pigment (Bartlett & Bartlett). It inhabits both interior and coastal regions in its range, where it is usually found in sunny areas: stony slopes with some shrubs, deserted orchards, vineyards, open deciduous woods or dry rocks. It is diurnal, and shelters in rodent burrows, hollow trees or a pile of stones. Salvador describes it as common in Mediterranean forest land: it is also found in areas of abundant scrub. Prey is mainly rodents and nestling birds, the snake being a persistent climber of trees and walls in the search for nests. However, it also takes arthropods: a survey in Alicante found a higher proportion of these in the diet than birds [Salvador]. Hibernation takes place from October to March/April, but in southern Portugal the species is active all year round. For captivity, Staszko and Walls suggest a temperature range of 70-96 deg F. The Bartletts note that wild specimens can be quite savage, but that captive bred ones are much more malleable. Scalation details [Salvador]: pointed rostral is situated between internasals. 1 preocular and 2-3 postoculars. Temporals 2x3 or 2x4. Usually 7-8 supralabials, of which 4th & 5th or 5th & 6th contact the eye. Dorsal scales smooth, in 27 rows. 201-220 ventrals and 48-68 subcaudals. Coloration: dorsally light-brown to olive yellow with two dark longitudinal lines: young are brighter with the distinctive "ladder" pattern. Ventrally whitish or yellowish. Reproduction: mating takes place in May-June: 6-12 eggs are laid between late June and early August, and the young hatch in September-October. The young prey on lizards, frogs and insects as well as opportunistically on baby mammals or birds.
|E. schrencki||Amur Rat Snake
Russian Rat Snake
|Russia, China||4-5"||This is a good-natured and attractive snake that I have seen offered for sale in the UK and I understand also in North America. Adult specimens are dark, almost black, with pale crossbands, but one of the distinctive features is the bright yellow on the labial scales ("lips") and the chin. The ventrum is light but the patterning on it varies among individuals. They hail from an area with temperate summers and harsh winters, so do not need excessive heat but do require overwintering if breeding is intended. Bartlett & Bartlett suggest a standard three-month brumation.
|E. s. schrencki||Russia (Amur river basin in Siberia), Manchuria, NE Korea, China (Heilongjiang and Jilin)|
|E. s. anomala||W Korea, NE China (southward to Anhui and Hunan)|
|E. [Z.] situla||Leopard Snake||Greece, S Italy, S Balkans, some Med. islands, Asia Minor to western shore of Caspian.||26-40"||The beautiful Leopard Snake is strikingly similar to the well-known N. American Corn Snake, Elaphe guttata, but has not fared so well. Despite its wide range it is not abundant, and it may be that its conspicuous markings have made it an easy target for ophidophobes. Its egg-laying rate is also quite low compared to other colubrids (see below). Ironically it is more placid than many of the rat snakes listed here. Prey is small rodents, nestling birds and lizards. The Leopard Snake favours dry stony areas, deep shady valleys with flowing streams through the bottom and roadside ditches. It is very much a lowland snake, not being found above 600 m. Hibernation is November until mid-April. In June females lay 2-5 eggs in holes in the ground: the hatchlings measure about 12-13". Leopard Snakes have a distinguishing V-shaped mark on their heads and black-ringed red "saddles" along the back: those young which are born with stripes rather than spots usually see the stripes break up into spots by adulthood: adult striped specimens are rare. The overall colour is a pale tan to yellow. This snake is one of the most coveted among rat snake keepers but has a reputation for being delicate in captivity, often not feeding for long periods (Staszko and Walls). The Bartletts report that their captives fared best in solitary conditions in 20 gallon terraria with temperatures not higher than 82-85 deg F at the warm end and several degrees lower in the rest of the terrarium, temperatures being allowed to fall further by several degrees at night. They also noted that those Leopard Snakes which were reluctant to take domestic mice seemed to like small white-footed mice. Hibernation is another area where caution is necessary: the Bartletts kept their specimens in less humid hibernacula than usual and woke them up at fortnightly intervals or less for a substantial drink of water. Captive breeding of this snake should be a priority for any keepr interested in European reptiles.
|E. [P.] slowinskii||Slowinski's Cornsnake||USA (Louisiana and E Texas)||?"||Described in 2002 by Burbrink: see JCVI database entry.|
|E. [C.] subradiata||Sunda Rat Snake||Indonesia east of Bali||50-80"||This is a little-known rat snake rather similar in appearance to E. radiata (Staszko and Walls): the dorsal pattern is similar but the overall colour is more reddish and E. subradiata lacks the complex pattern on the head, having instead the normal rat snake pattern of one dark line extending from the eye to the corner of the mouth. The belly is yellow. Staszko and Walls suggest it would be kept in captivity in similar conditions to those for E. radiata and E. taeniura.
|E. taeniura [Ort. taeniurus]||Stripe-Tailed Rat Snake
Taiwan Beauty Snake, Striped Trinket Snake
|China as far north as Siberia, Assam, N Myanmar, SE Asia, Sumatra and Borneo||?"||This is a widely distributed snake that is both exploited by local people for its meat, skin and other body parts and now exported for the pet trade. In fact there is a great deal of confusion surrounding the common names and subspecific characteristics of E. taeniura, a fact not helped by the intergrading of some species in captivity. In general, however, it can be characterised as a rather active and sometimes aggressive snake. Some of the subspecies seem to have adapted to cave life, where they include bats in their diet: however, all of the various races of this snakes will happily live on a menu of rodents in captivity. The Bartletts advise keeping the snakes cooler rather than warm, with a temperature gradient of 70-76 deg F and a basking area of about 86 deg F: Staszko and Walls suggest a temperature gradient of 77-86 deg F with a temperature drop at night and branches for climbing. They note that in the wild the snakes are very catholic in their habitat, from cultivated fields to densely forested areas. The Bartletts consider these snakes not difficult to keep but problematic to breed: a pity, as they are quite attractive. It is hard to generalise on the appearance of the snake as there are so many subspecies, but all races are normally a varying shade of olive, yellow or green with blotches at the front of the body that change to stripes further towards the rear. One usually unwavering characterisation is that of a thick black stripe that runs from behind the eye straight backwards to just above the corner of the mouth, looking not unlike a smudge from a thick marker pen. I am indebted to both Staszko and Walls and Bartlett and Bartlett for the subspecific information below: both set of authors warn, however, that this information may be incomplete or in need of revision. For an excellent site on one of these snakes with a picture and links, click here.
|E. t. taeniura [Ort. t. taeniurus]||SE China, Burma, Thailand||This, the nominate subspecies, is fairly heavy-bodied, the blotching at the front of the body being replaced by stripes towards the rear (Bartlett & Bartlett). Overall colour: olive-buff to olive-yellow-green (ibid). Ventrals: 230-250.|
|E. [Ort.] t. friesei||Taiwan||Similar in appearance to E. t. friesei. Ventrals: 240-260.|
|E. [Ort.] t. grabowskyi||Borneo, Sumatra, Malaysia||Rather thin, racer-like and very lightly coloured, spotting being absent from the front of the body. This is one of the subspecies that seems to have shifted to living in caves. In the wild they may feed on bats. Ventrals: 275-290.|
|E. [Ort.] t. ridleyi||Thailand through to Sumatra||Similar in appearance to E. t. grabowskyi and also adapted to cave life. Mid-dorsal stripe is pearl in colour, at least to the rear of the body (Staszko and Walls). Ventrals: 280-295.|
|E. [Ort.] t. schmackeri||Ryuku Islands, S Japan||Ventrals: 250-260.|
|E. [Ort.] t. vaillanti
||N Vietnam, S China||Both names describe the same form. Ventrals: 220-260.|
|E. [Ort.] t. yunnanensis|
|E. [P.] vulpina||Fox Snake||NE USA (E Nebraska, Wisconsin, N Ohio and adj. Canada)||4'||In some ways this species can be considered the northern version of the E. guttata species (Staszko and Walls). Authorities differ over the origin of the common name but both Staszko and Walls and the Bartletts agree that the musk scent given off by the anal glands is fairly gamey and reminiscent of the red fox. When initially picked up they are quite eager to eject this foul smelling substance, but like many rat snakes will tame down with time. In fact they have a reputation for becoming fairly good pets. This makes it all the more strange that they are not often kept or bred in captivity. They are fairly attractive snakes, with an overall colour of buff, tan or light brown, with 28-51 much darker dorsal saddles . The Bartletts note that those taken from the wild may be reluctant feeders, especially if kept at unnaturally warm temperatures in the autumn when they would normally be preparing for hibernation. Staszko and Walls suggest keeping captive Fox Snakes much like the Corn Snake in captivity: both they and the Bartletts also advise a hibernation period of three months at 10-15 deg F for breeding purposes. Egg clutches average 20 eggs or more, so this would be an excellent candidate for breeding, especially in view of the somewhat threatened status of the Eastern Fox Snake.
|E. [P.] v. vulpina||Western Fox Snake||E Nebraska, adj. S Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, S Minnesota, N Illinois, NE Indiana, Missouri||46"||Found in agricultural areas, marshes and open woodland: more of a habitat generalist than E. v. gloydi (Bartlett & Bartlett).
|E. [P.] v. gloydi||Eastern Fox Snake||Shores of Lakes Huron and Erie (Michigan, Ohio and Canada)||?"||Inhabitant of marshlands: threatened in the wild by pollution and overdevelopment. Possibly slightly larger than Western Fox Snake. Now considered a full Pantherophis species by some authorities.
Collins Field Guide to Reptiles & Amphibians of Britain & Europe, E N Arnold, J A Burton and D W Ovenden, HarperCollins, London 1978. An invaluable guide, although a few of the taxonomic details are in need of revision. A 2003 updated edition has been published.
Reptiles and Amphibians of Europe, Walter Hellmich, Blandford Press, London 1962. Taxonomy is rather outdated but useful on details of appearance, habitat and subspecies.
Guide to Philippine Flora and Fauna. Volume X, Amphibians and Reptiles, Prof. Angel C Alcala, Natural Resources Management Centre, Ministry of Natural Resources and University of the Philippines, 1986. Very useful field guide to the herps of this area, which is usually under-represented in literature. One slight drawback is that the photographs are black-and-white and the descriptions of colour for many species are drawn from preserved specimens: otherwise this book is to be recommended if you can obtain a copy.
Guia de campo de los anfibios y reptiles de la peninsula iberica, islas baleares y canarias [Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Iberian Peninsula, Balearic and Canary Islands], Alfredo Salvador, Madrid. ISBN: 84-86238-07-2. Excellent book covering all reptiles and amphibians in the aforementioned areas. The one drawback for English speakers is that the text is Spanish. This book is unfortunately now out of print, but well worth purchasing if you can get a second hand copy. Although comparatively old, still has good details on the animals, from which I have taken details for those Elaphe species that occur on the Iberian peninsula.
Herpetology of China, Er-mi Zhao and Kraig Adler, Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, 1993.
Rat Snakes: A Hobbyist's Guide to Elaphe & Kin, Ray Staszko & Jerry G Walls, TFH 1994. A comprehensive hardback manual listing all the snakes currently identified within the Elaphe, Bogerta, Gonyosoma and Sentalis genera. It also includes a very handy key to the identification of snakes by such means as counting the scale rows and ventral scales, etc. I have come across some criticism of some of the material in the book, but it remains the only one in English that covers all the Elaphe species.
Recognising that the expense of this volume (about £30 in the UK) might deter many hobbyists, Staszko and Walls also produced a cut-down version in the normal TFH range which omitted quite a few of the species, especially some of the rarer Asian snakes. It is still worth buying if your funds don't stretch to the full version, or as a rat snake 'taster'.
Corn Snakes and Other Rat Snakes (Complete Pet Owner's Manual) by R D & P Bartlett, Barrons Pet Series 1996, is similar to the abridged version of Staszko and Walls, but contains more information page for page. In fact even compared to the bigger and more expensive book the husbandry information is at least as good, in my opinion, although Staszko and Walls do cover all the Elaphe species and their kin. One bonus of the Bartletts' book is that it has a section on those snakes which are often sold as "rat snakes" even though they are in fact not really related: the Spalerosophis, Spilotes and Pseustes species.
Useful information on the more popular rat snakes can also be found in Snakes: A Complete Pet Owner's Manual, by R D & P Bartlett, Barrons Pet Series. Again, if you are starting out with snakes in general and fancy a rat snake then this could be a good introduction.
The Book of Indian Reptiles and Amphibians, J C Daniel, Bombay Natural History Society, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002.
Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Maya World, Julian C Lee, Cornell University Press, 2000. Contains details for C. elegans elegans in the Yucatán area.
"The Ratsnake of the Bay Islands, Honduras", Hobart M Smith and Kenneth L Williams, Natural History Miscellanea, Chicago Academy of Sciences, December 28 1966. Describes Elaphe flavirufa polysticha.
Although I have not read it, the monograph by Klaus-Dieter Schulz, A Monograph of the Colubrid Snakes of the Genus Elaphe Fitzinger, 1996, is probably worth looking at, although of course the taxonomy may have changed since its publication. A later edition may be available.
Index of Elaphe articles (on this site).
The Bushmaster Breeding Centre in Germany specialise in breeding rat snakes, and their homepage has some outstanding photographs of various Elaphe and other species. There is also a link to the US site.
The Elaphe Information Page provides a very useful table of rat snake species names, common names, average sizes and photo links.
Likewise Mick Spencer has provided a very attractive table of the Elaphe, Bogertis and Sentalis species with their subspecies, common names and distribution.
A good selection of North American rat snake pictures can be found here.
If you are Korean or can read Korean, then you may find this Korean Rat Snake site useful. The first time you enter you are invited to download a character set to allow you to view the letters properly.
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