A Helpful Guide to Mandarin Rat Snake Care
The Mandarin rat snake is one of the most beautiful rat snakes in the world. Available for sale occasionally, they’re very tempting. Mandarin rat snakes need special care. Don’t worry, I’ll cover their needs in this article but I must say from the start that they’re not good for beginners.
The first point I want to make before we dive into this article is that the Mandarin rat snake isn’t a good snake for beginners. You’d much better off with a corn snake, or North American rat snake. There are a number of reasons why these snakes are challenging to keep.
What makes the Mandarin rat snake a challenging snake to keep?
First of all, these snakes need cooler temperatures. In most situations, they won’t require a hot spot unless you live in a climate that experiences long winters with freezing cold temperatures. Living in a state like Florida, room temperature in the 70s°F will suffice. If you keep them too warm, they won’t feed and will eventually perish.
Wait for a second, keep them at room temperature without a hot spot. That sounds easier, not harder, right?
Actually, no, we still have a long way to go.
Mandarin Rat Snake Facts
Here’s the catch. Mandarin rat snakes are nocturnal meaning they’re primarily active at night. These snakes stay close to the rain forest floor which gets much cooler at night.
They also like humidity but I’ll get more into that later. These snakes are rarely encountered in the wild since they are found close to the forest floor among dense, vegetation. They search for amphibians, small lizards, and sometimes even rodents to eat. In captivity, the idea is to get them feeding on rodents.
Mandarin rat snakes are extremely shy and secretive
Over the years, wild-caught specimens were imported to the United States and sold as pets. These field-collected specimens usually don’t fare well in captive conditions at all. This gave the Mandarin rat snake a reputation for being delicate and difficult to keep.
Besides being easily stressed, Mandarin rat snakes took from the wild also carry a heavy parasite load. Can you see where this is going? I think now you’re beginning to see what I meant earlier in the article. Wild-caught specimens also often come in extremely dehydrated and mortality rates are high.
As beautiful as Mandarin rat snakes are, they’d make a great breeding project
After all, working with captive-bred hatchlings has its advantages over wild-caught specimens, right? Well, yes and no, I recently read an article written by a gentleman who successfully breeds Mandarin rat snakes.
He claims captive-bred specimens are much hardier than their wild-caught counterparts and I believe him on that point. After all, they’re well hydrated and eating rodents. He also goes on to say how their reputation of being difficult to work with is undeserved (referring to captive-bred specimens). With that statement, I must disagree. They’re still not a good snake for beginners. Here’s why.
I have a pair of captive-bred Mandarin rat snakes that are thriving. They eat well and grow fast. But, they only take live pinkie mice and I doubt they’ll ever take frozen/thawed.
The guy I bought them from off an online classified ad assured me that they were taking frozen/thawed. Sorry but, no chance. These snakes are only interested in live pinkies.
If you offer them two or three pinkies at a time, they’ll gladly accept them all. This is a problem for some people. If you don’t mind driving to the pets shop for live rodents every week, or, better yet, if you breed rodents anyway, this isn’t a problem for you.
That’s one issue thoroughly tackled
I’m not saying that no specimens will take frozen/thawed, but the guy who sold me mine was deceitful. There’s just no way. Nevertheless, if you’re okay with this, acclimated hatchlings will take a pinkie mouse or two once a week.
Don’t overfeed them because they have a slow metabolism. While mine never regurgitated, I understand they do so easily when fed too much or when overstressed. Now that you’re aware of the fact that these snakes may not take frozen/thawed, let’s move on to the enclosure and setup.
One feeding trick for the Mandarin rat snake
If you get a new Mandarin rat snake that’s not feeding on anything, no matter what you try, brumate the snake for four to six weeks. Keep them in the 50°F. While I didn’t need to use this trick myself, I understand that such a brumation period triggers a food response once they come out of it.
They may actually start feeding voraciously after the event, just make sure you have them set up correctly with plenty of hiding spots and don’t over-handle them. In fact, don’t handle your Mandarin rat snake at all until you know for a fact it’s feeding regularly.
Enclosure and setup
The Mandarin rat snake isn’t like a corn snake. They are extremely shy, secretive, and stress easily. This is why you have to set them up correctly. These snakes do best in an enclosure kept at room temperature, generally in the 70s (°F). They need two hide boxes in their enclosure. First, they need a good hide box that’s kept dry.
Secondly, they need a humidity box kept with moist sphagnum moss. This will help with humidity needs. Make sure both boxes are big enough for the entire snake to fit in, but not with an excessive amount of extra room. They like tight quarters. Also, always keep a bowl of fresh water in the enclosure. Make sure it’s big enough for the entire snake to fit into.
What are the best substrates for the Mandarin rat snake?
The Mandarin rat snake does well in humid conditions. Just make sure their enclosure is well-ventilated for air exchange to prevent blisters and upper respiratory infection. You have many choices with which substrate to keep your Mandarin rat snake on. As I said earlier, keep moist sphagnum moss in the humidity box.
You can use dry sphagnum moss for the rest of the enclosure. Other suitable substrates which hold moisture well include wood chips, mulch, and coconut husk. Paper towels are another option. Avoid such bedding as pine and cedar. While many snake keepers use aspen, I don’t care for it, especially when it gets wet.
Temperament and handling the Mandarin rat snake
The temperament of these snakes is generally fair. Some are a little nippy but it’s not the temperament I’m concerned with here. I’m more concerned with the stress levels these snakes are able to handle. I wouldn’t recommend handling these snakes like you would other snakes such as corn snakes, North American rat snakes, boas, or pythons.
The reason is, they stress too easily and that can cause the snake to stop eating. While I’d like to tell you that they make good display animals like the Solomon Island ground boas, they’re not particularly fond of lights and choose to hide while they’re on. While I said earlier that some are nippy, I’ve yet to receive an actual bite from a Mandarin rat snake. There’s not much behind their bite, I think it’s more of an intimidation tactic.
Limit handling time
When keeping a Mandarin rat snake, limit handling time. They’re indeed a beautiful and fascinating snake to keep, they’re just not the kind you handle on a regular basis. Sort of like a tree boa, only the tree boa makes a better display animal. Also, they look hot but they’re not. In reptile lingo, hot refers to venomous. They look hot because of their incredible bright colors and patterning.
Take that into account with the fact that they’re from Southeast Asia would lead some to believe that these snakes have the potential of yielding a venomous bite. Not to worry, these snakes are completely harmless. They’re not even rear-fanged. They do, however, have a nasty smelling musk they use from time to time whenever they’re in the mood during a handling session. I can’t describe the smell but I actually think it’s not quite as bad as an Everglades or yellow rat snakes musk.
Mandarin rat snakes as pets
While it must seem by this point in the article that I’m down on the Mandarin rat snake, I’m actually not. I’m just saying that captive-bred specimens make a fascinating addition to your collection, they just need to be treated appropriately to keep them successfully.
You may not even realize that you’re stressing your Mandarin rat snake. If it stops feeding or doesn’t feed in the first place, there’s a chance it’s stressed. Just about all snakes go off feed at some point during the year, but these aren’t ball pythons. After a month of a break, assuming you’re not overwintering them, feeding should resume.
The Mandarin rat snake is a beautiful snake, no question about that. They do need special care and attention. Actually, they’re not a high maintenance snake to keep but you must understand where they’re coming from.
They’re shy, secretive, and should only be handled on occasion. Nonetheless, they’re still a fascinating and beautiful snake to keep. Just give them their space, have them set up the right way and they’ll thrive for you.
Do you have Mandarin rat snake care experience? Share your knowledge in the comments section below!