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Tiger Rat snake, Spilotes pullatus

Tiger rat spilotes pullatusIntroduction The Tiger Rat snake is a large, arboreal species of snake, native to South and Central America. They are common among heavily forested tracts of land, but are also known to occur near rivers and agricultural land. They are primarily diurnal, and are often observed basking on large branches during the day. Tiger Rat snakes have been known to grow over seven feet in length and are one of the largest colubrids on the American continent. They are superb predators of birds, small mammals, reptiles, and frogs, generally catching their prey and swallowing it alive, very similar to that of an Indigo snake. Generally, most imported specimens are fast and aggressive. Their powerful jaws ensure a painful bite. Eventually they settle into captivity but tend to remain on edge and flighty.

Acclimation and Quarantine Tiger Rats normally take to captivity pretty easy. The stress of capture and importation into the country is great on many wild caught snakes. Most will require patience before they start to feed and feel comfortable. A major problem has to do with the fact that wild-caught snakes are loaded with internal parasites, which, in a natural environment, are easily dealt with by the snake. Wild caught snakes should therefore be treated for parasites as soon as possible after purchase. Fresh imports are also severely dehydrated. Place the snake in a deli cup or other enclosed space filled to about one inch with lukewarm water. This method is very effective as the snakes will often drink during these sessions. One can also place the snake in a container with moist sphagnum moss. A large water dish should be present in the cage at all times. Quarantine and acclimation enclosures need not be elaborate, but rather sterile and easy to clean. Plastic storage bins are often used for such enclosures as they are easy to clean, come in a variety of sizes, and most provide the security needed for a freshly imported snake. Paper towels, newspapers, or other easily cleaned materials may be used as the substrate. A few simple branches or pieces of doweling can provide climbing opportunities, and a small plastic container could be used as the water bowl. A hide of some sort, and foliage should also be incorporated into the quarantine enclosure. This setup should be used until the snake is feeding regularly and appears to be in good health.

Housing Once the snake is acclimated and feeding it may be put into a permanent cage. For their large size, Tiger Rat Snakes don’t require very large enclosures. However, ample vertical space is a necessity as these snakes have arboreal tendencies and require such room to climb. A cage that is about 36” by 24” by 24” (L x W x H) is a minimum size for an individual or pair, but larger enclosures are usually better. Glass enclosures can be used, but are not the best choice for this species. To ensure that the snake is secure, a cage with at least five opaque sides is recommended. Wooden cages are a better alternative than glass cages because of the heightened security, but the high humidity needed for these snakes can wear on wooden cages after a while. By far, the best cages for this species are those made of polyethylene or controlled density PVC. These cages usually have only one transparent side and can also withstand the high humidity needed within the habitat. Such cages are also usually inexpensive and attractive. Now comes the fun part; furnishing the enclosure. Branches are very important in furnishing the enclosure, and there should be a lot of them in the cage. My rule is that the snakes should be able to access any point in the cage by way of the branches. Manzanita, liana vines, and cork are my favorite types of branches to use because they are natural, attractive, and will not mold in the high humidity of the environment. Cork rounds can be placed in the branches to create arboreal hides, and they should be placed at multiple levels to provide the snake with a thermal gradient. In my experience Tiger Rat snakes greatly prefer arboreal hides to those on the ground, so I highly recommend arboreal hides. Large amounts of foliage should be added to the cage to provide the snake with more places to hide. Live plants, such as ficus and pothos, may also be used. For substrate, soil, mulch, ground coconut, and sphagnum moss are all acceptable. I prefer to use a mixture of sphagnum peat moss, and cypress mulch. As with all snakes, a water bowl and fresh water is a necessity.

Lighting and Heating Provide your Tiger Rats with a thermal gradient that reflects their natural climate of South America so that the snake may choose the area of the cage where it is most comfortable. The warmest extreme of the cage should be between 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit, while the cooler side of the cage should be between 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit. It is extremely important that the snake is provided with this thermal gradient so they can escape the heat, if it is not provided, your pet may suffer from heat exhaustion and possibly die! At night there should be a slight drop in temperature, preferably of about ten degrees. This will help promote certain natural behaviors for the snake, and will also help to recreate the natural drop in temperature that the snake would experience in the wild. A ceramic heat emitter is the perfect way to provide heat at night and during the day because it does not produce light but rather emits a radiant heat. Still, I prefer to use a fluorescent or incandescent bulb during the day to provide light.

Feeding Feeding is straight forward. Rodents of an appropriate size should make up most of the diet, however most Tigers relish small chicks and quail and can be offered periodically. The size of the prey item should be relative to that of the snake you are feeding. You should feed hatchlings frequently to ensure rapid growth. A pinky or two twice a week is a good regimen. For adults 1 or 2 mice once a week will suffice. We recommend feeding be done in an enclosure other than what the snake lives in. By doing this you reduce the likely hood of an aggresive feeding response when you open it's cage. The feeding container can be bear bottom to ensure that the snake only swallows it's food and not any bedding which can lead to a mouth infection or an impaction in the stomach. Wild caught snakes acclimate to captivity and will start feeding with little effort on behalf of the keeper. With that said, there are always exceptions. If you happen to get an exception you can try the following to get it to feed. To entice a reluctant animal to feed I recommend placing the animal in a restricted container such as a deli dish in order to keep the food and it's scent in close proximity to the snake and leave it alone for about 24 hours. As mentioned above, chicks and quail are relished by these snakes and if your specimen refuses to feed on rodent prey, perhaps you should change the menu. Tease feeding is some what effective as well. Tiger rats are normally easy to tease feed as they have a short temper. With a pair of long tongs or forceps, grasp a prey item and simply irritate the snake with it causing it to strike and bite the food. Most of the time when the snake bites the food, a feeding instinct takes over and the snake will hopefully decide to eat what it has just bit. If this does not work you can also try a more grisly method in which the skull cap of a frozen thawed prey item is cut open exposing the brain matter and juices. This works with surprising results and most problem feeders cannot resist the smell of brains.

Water A dish of fresh water should always be available. Most Tigers will not initially drink from a dish, however the water bowl will help to raise the humidity in the cage. After several months in captivity, mine did eventually learn to drink from a water dish and now can be found spending a portion of their day soaking in it. The most reliable way to get your snake to drink is to mist/spray the cage once or twice a day (be sure that the substrate is not soaked, but rather damp as soaked cages lead to disease.) This serves two purposes. The first is humidity and the second is drinkable water for your pet. Most arboreal snakes will readily drink the droplets that accumulate on it's body and surroundings before they will drink from a bowl of standing water.