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Black Headed Catsnake, Boiga nigriceps

Black Headed Catsnake, Boiga nigricepsIntroductionThe Black-headed Cat Snake has a natural range from southern Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia to Borneo, Sumatra and Java.

Also known as the Red Cat Snake, they are most commonly found in primary and secondary lowland rain forest. They also inhabit abandoned buildings and can be found close to agricultural land. It is mainly arboreal and largely nocturnal, but will bask in the early morning. During the night, they will consume a variety of prey ranging from lizards and frogs to birds and mice.

Their body is reddish-brown to olive-grey. Juveniles often have faint darker flecks. The top of the head is dark grey or grey-brown and the throat and labials are cream in color. The ventral surface is pale. The species preys on a variety of vertebrates including lizards, frogs, birds and mice.

Acclimation and Quarantine Black Headed Catsnakes normally acclimate well to captivity. It is important to address any potential parasite load the snake may have. A heavy infestation can cause the snake's health to rapidly decline and may lead to death.

Fresh imports may also be severely dehydrated. Place the snake in a deli cup or other container filled to about one inch with lukewarm water. This method is very effective as the snake will often drink while they soak. A large water dish should be present in the cage at all times.

Acclimation and quarantine 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 bedding may be used as the substrate. A few branches or pieces of doweling can provide climbing opportunities. A dish for water should be available. A hide of some sort and foliage should also be incorporated into the quarantine enclosure as well. 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 well it may be put into a permanent cage. B. nigriceps don't require very long enclosures. However, ample vertical space is a necessity as these snakes are mostly arboreal in their habits and will require such room to climb. A cage that is about 36x12x24(LxWxH) is a minimum size for an individual or pair, but larger enclosures are usually better. See our "How To" article for tips on Vertically Orienting an Aquarium. Glass enclosures are commonly used. Plastic, wood and polyethylene cages are also available as well.

Furnishing the enclosure is of personal preference. Branches are very important in furnishing the enclosure as this snake rarely descends to the bottom of the cage. There should numerous branches located through out the enclosure to allow the snake access to any point in the cage. Arboreal hides should be placed in the branches to provide the snake with a sense of security. Place hide boxes at multiple levels to provide the snake with a thermal gradient. B. nigriceps generally prefer arboreal hides to those on the ground. Large amounts of foliage should be added to the cage to provide the snake with visual barriers and more places to hide.

For the substrate, aspen, soil, mulch, ground coconut, and sphagnum moss are all acceptable.

Heating and Lighting There should be a thermal gradient in the cage 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 85-90 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. At night there should be a slight drop in temperature, preferably of about ten degrees. Heat pads, cable, tape and basking lights are all great ways to provide heat.

Humidity Black Headed catsnakes thrive in high humidity environments. The ideal humidity range would be between 60-70%, but moments above and below this range are acceptable for short periods of time. If the appropriate humidity is not provided the snake may experience health problems. To achieve the necessary humidity simply spray the cage once or twice a day/evening with fresh water and provide a fresh bowl of water. When spraying the cage it is important to make sure that the substrate remains damp but not soggy. If too much moisture is present, the snake could develop scale or respiratory infections.

Feeding Feeding is straight forward. Prey should be an appropriate size relative to that of the snake you are feeding. Neonates should be fed frequently to ensure rapid growth. A pinky/fuzzy or two twice a week is a good regimen. For adults 2-3 mice or small rats once a week will suffice.

Feeding should be done in an enclosure other than what the snake lives in. By doing this you reduce the likely hood of an aggressive 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.

On occasion, neonates and wild caught animals may be difficult to initiate feeding, however once they accept their first meal they normally continue to feed well from then on. To entice a reluctant snake to feed try 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. Leave it alone for about 24 hours. See our "How To" section for additional tips on How to entice a reluctant snake to feed.

Water A dish of fresh water should always be available. Most catsnakes will not drink from a dish initially but will eventually. The most reliable way to get your snake to drink is to mist/spray the cage once or twice a day. This serves two purposes. The first is drinkable water and the second is to help maintain humidity. 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.

A Note On Venom Although very little is known about the venom's affect on humans, it is comparable to that of a death adder. Poorly evolved fangs and a poor delivery system make this snake's bite likely less than life threatening. Since they have a primitive means of venom delivery, they are not likely to pose a threat to a healthy adult.

Symptoms are normally limited to localized swelling and pain. Be aware of the possibility of an allergic reaction or anaphylactic shock. There are no known fatalities from a Black Headed catsnake They must be handled with respect and caution; proper handling tools (snake hooks/tongs etc.) should be used while working with this species.

When working with ANY VENOMOUS ANIMAL, ALWAYS HAVE A PREPARED BITE PROTOCOL THAT CAN BE PROVIDED TO EMERGENCY RESPONDERS AND DOCTORS! Many doctors, especially regarding exotic animals have little to no knowledge nor experience with the effects of venom and it's damage to the body; and most likely will not know how to treat you.