The Intermediate Keeper Series: Edition Two – Tiger Rat Snakes
The purpose of the Intermediate Keeper Series of articles is to provide a brief introduction to certain snake species that require slightly more advanced care than the absolute most common species. These are not meant to be care sheets, but a brief overview of natural history, care, and most importantly: What makes these animals interesting captives for the intermediate keeper.
Spilotes pullatus pullatus is a colubrid with an identity crisis. By that I mean there are several accepted common names. The most common is “Tiger Rat Snake” (even though they are not really rat snakes, but more closely related to Indigos and Cribos). I have also heard them called “Mexican Rat Snake”, “Tropical Rat Snake”, “Tropical Chicken Snake”, and “Thunder and Lightning Snake”. We tend to just call them Spilotes, because they are monotypic (ie: the only snake in that genus is S. pullatus and its subspecies).
Spilotes range as far north as Mexico and as far south as northern Argentina, extending pretty much throughout Central and South America. Most naturalists I have spoken with who have found these in the wild tell me that they are pretty much always in trees when they are found, leading to their classification as highly arboreal. In captivity, we find that they seem to spend equal time on the ground and in the branches.
These snakes are large and impressive, with a record size of 14 feet long. Average adult size is near 10 feet for males and 8 feet for females. These potential sizes make this the largest colubrid in the western hemisphere. Due to their large size, huge caging requirements, and tendency to be quite territorial, they qualify as intermediate species. I highly recommend using a good hook to get them out of their cage, or you will most likely lose some blood. Once they are out, however, they are usually pretty handleable. They should be handled with care though as they can be quite flighty both in hand and when disappearing out of the enclosure. "Aww... what a pretty... Hey, where'd it go?!?"
So what makes these worth the extra effort? Behavior! The first thing people who are not used to this species tend to comment on is the long, slow tongue flick. They extend their tongue fully and slowly flick it up and down several times. It is so very different than the lightning fast flicks of most species that it will take you by surprise. After you have observed them for a while, some other unique characteristics will stand out: When threatened, they will rattle their tail and flatten their neck like a cobra, but sideways. It is really impressive to witness. Their courting ritual is also… bizarre… but hey, I could go for pages talking about nothing but their behavior!
Care in 200 words or less.
We keep our pair of adults together all year in a 4’ long x 2’ wide x 3’ tall enclosure with newspaper as a substrate and lots of branches to climb. We keep them paired in the same enclosure because we have found that they need to establish territory to breed. Maintain a daytime temperature of 88-90 with a night time drop to around 75 – 77. Keep the humidity at around 55 – 65%. They will drink from a water dish, but they seem to prefer to drink droplets from misting them and the enclosure. These snakes have a lightning fast metabolism and will defecate 2-3 days after feeding. We feed 2-3 appropriately sized prey items every 5 days for juveniles and every 7 days for adults.
I would recommend Spilotes to Boa people… People who have kept boas and know how to do it properly will probably do pretty well with Spilotes. The hard part is always the temperature and humidity. Get that right and they are really rewarding, hardy captives.
This article was written by and is property of Donnie “Morti” Smith and PrimaReptilia. Any reuse of all or part of this article without express written permission is prohibited. All photographs in this article are also property of PrimaReptilia. All Rights Reserved. PrimaReptilia - 2007.