Establishing wild-caught Mandarin ratsnakes...


Dear VPI,
I just purchased a pair of mandarin ratsnakes. I cannot find any info on them. All people tell me is that they will die. Is it worms, parasites or what? No one can say-all I hear is that they die. I cannot believe that with all the experience that supposedly experienced herpetoculturists have that is the best answer I can get. I went online, punched in mandarin rat snake--guess what? the first link was VPI. I should have known. You have always answered my questions. Would you please give me any help so these pretty snakes do not die. They are imports. Should I give them doses of panacure and flagyl? Thank you for the help you have given me in the past and hopefully in future. Thanks Mike      

Dear Mike,

Wild caught Mandarin ratsnakes are VERY difficult to keep alive. They are usually horribly mistreated before they make it over here and they suffer from so many problems that they just die, usually in a month or two. They come from the Chinese food trade, where they are collected and kept in boxes with thousands of other snakes. They are exposed to so many parasites and sick and dying snakes that they usually are doomed from the first. You cannot find any info on acclimating the species because it has almost never been accomplished. They die when the very best ratsnake keepers in the world are working with them (we don't count ourselves in that group.)

They are not frail snakes, captive-bred and captive-raised snakes are fairly hardy snakes, not beginner snakes, but they are "keepable." My point is that even though wild-caughts may look OK, they likely have a large assortment of protozoans, nematodes and other parasites, they have been severely heat-stressed and they probably are severely dehydrated and have kidney damage. All are psychologically damaged, severely stressed.

My own assessment of snakes like Mandarins is that the main danger to them is their stress--parasites and feeding are secondary matters. If I had them, I would put them in a well-ventilated cage in a dark, cool place. I'd see that they had fresh water and supply them with a damp-moss-filled hide-box and several other hide-boxes. I would not touch them or disturb them in any way. If I HAD to move them, I would handle them with a light snake hook, like one made of bent coat hanger wire and I would not touch them with my hands. I would do everything to make it quiet, cool and peaceful. After two weeks or maybe a month, if they were still alive, I would put a live fuzzy in the cage. Once they ate several times, then it's time to deal with the other problems.

You get them that far and we'll talk about de-parasitizing them. Good luck,  DGB