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Snakes - Colubrid

By Rick Axelson, DVM

Care & Wellness, Pet Services

The Colubridae comprises the largest family of snakes, with over one thousand species. The vast majority are harmless, although they can bite. Some colubrids are small insectivorous species while others can be larger (constrictor snakes such the racer and the indigo snake). Many are colorful and attractive. Colubrid snakes make good, relatively undemanding pets.

"Colubrid snakes make good, relatively undemanding pets."

Some of the more popular colubrid snakes are described below:

The Corn Snake

This readily available snake, Elaphe guttata, is a yellow to gray snake with a series of red to brown circumferential marks. The snake is easy to handle, generally docile, relatively low maintenance, a manageable size and adapts to captivity well. They make excellent pets. Mice should make up the majority of the diet and they should be housed at a temperature of 25 -30°C (77 -86°F), although they can withstand marginally cooler weather in winter. Corn snakes breed well in captivity, with around 10-15 eggs in a clutch. If incubated at 28°C (82°F), these hatch in around 70 days and, if big enough will take newborn pinky mice straight away. After 2-3 years they reach sexual maturity.

The Rat Snake

A number of subspecies of Elaphe obselata are available, ranging from the dark Texas Rat Snake, the jet black Black Rat Snake with its white chin, the slender Yellow Rat Snake and the orange Everglades Rat Snake which is a beautiful orange color. All these subspecies are generally easy to maintain snakes that take well to captivity. They are harmless but can be aggressive. They eat small rodents. Being arboreal, they require branches on which to climb and rest.

The King Snakesnakes_-_colubrid-1

These species, such as the common king snake Lampropeltis getulus, are well-marked with vibrant patterns on their skin and are robust animals. They require large cages kept at around 25-30°C (77-86°F) and although they rarely climb they do need hiding places. Their food in captivity should be mice, which they constrict and eat. King snakes have been known to eat other snakes. Large and small king snakes should not be housed together, for fear of ending up only with a smaller number of well-fed larger snakes!

snakes_-_colubrid-2The Milk Snakes

Lampropeltis triangulum is a tricolored snake with yellow, black and red circumferential rings. They resemble the poisonous coral snake but are differentiated from them by the arrangement of the 3 colors. Remember, "red and yellow kill a fellow, red and black venom lack".

"Remember, 'red and yellow kill a fellow, red and black venom lack.'"

It is generally felt that they are rather more delicate than other Lampropeltis species and since they come from quite a wide geographical range they need a similar variation in temperature. Northern species can be hibernated at 6 -10°C (42 -50°F) while more southern species only tolerate a drop of 5 -10°C (41 -50°F) from their normal temperature range. They are opportunistic eaters and eat a variety of animals but are kept well in captivity on a diet of rodents.

The Grass Snake

This olive green snake, Natrix natrix, is a native of Great Britain, but while it exists happily at temperatures found in the UK, some individuals do not adapt to captivity at all well. The snake requires a diet of fish and amphibians. It is not a good choice for inexperienced snake owners because of this tendency for poor adaptation.

The Garter Snakes

There are many species of the genus Thamnophis, the garter snake and generally they are easy to care for, respond well to handling and are active and diurnal, making them ideal snakes in captivity. Thamnophis marcianus, the Chequered Garter snake is a particularly attractive snake and while it may be found in dry regions of North and Central America it always requires water. Western subspecies are more terrestrial in habit than are the Eastern subspecies of the common garter snake. Garter snakes may eat slugs, insects, earthworms, lizards, amphibians (frogs), birds, fish and rodents.

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