Image Credit : Mickael Leger Photographie
Russian rat snakes are big, non venomous snakes that are active during the day. They live in vide variety of environments: forests, mountains, farmlands, swamps, riverbanks. While growing this species go through drastic color change, and although there are only 3 confirmed color variations they compensate it with great personalities.
These snakes are really easy to keep and are good for beginners. Russians are calm, but their active and curious attitude makes them perfect display snakes. Even the more experienced reptile keepers are often charmed by friendly disposition of this species.
- Scientific name : Elaphe schrenckii
- Distribution : China, Korea, Russia, Mongolia
- Average Size : 1.5 m (5 ft)
- Life Span : 15 years or more
- Difficulty : Beginner
We believe that as a really active species, they need big terrariums/vivariums. Hatchling can be kept in small tubs or racks as they are rather shy at the beginning (too big enclosure can stress them). You wants to make it really escape proof, as they are farely strong even as babies.
For adult pair you want at least 1,5 x 0.6 x 0.6 m (5 x 2 x 2 feet), but the bigger the better. They do well in vertical cages too, as they love to climb and will use all the space that you can provide. Climbing branches and changing the decoration once in a while are great ideas as it provides the means to explore “new” places.
Russian Rats are one of the species that can be kept in harems, or in groups of females. They are calm and don’t stress easily, so most of the breeders are keeping them in big, communal tanks. However keep in mind that it’s a controversial topic, so you should research about it before deciding if you want to keep your snakes together.
Although these snakes are very active and inquisitive they need a suitable hide box too. We provide at least two hides in each end of the enclosure, you can use boxes, flower pots (when they are young), a hollow tree trunk, anything that will be big enough for your snake. We prefer naturalistic looking vivariums, so we use tree trunks and fake plants for foliage.
Hatchlings are best kept on a paper towels as it’s easier to monitor their health on it. For juveniles and adults the two most popular substrates are shredded aspen bedding or coco-coir. They sometimes like to burrow and both these substrates allow them to do it. Coco-coir is best kept a little damp on the surface.
Lighting – Heating
Being a diurnal snake Elaphe schrenckii will benefit from having a full spectrum fluorescent tube on 12h cycle and will often bask under it.
Being from cooler part of the world they do well in a room temperature between 21°C (70°F) to 28°C (82°F). Providing a hot spot with 28°C (82°F) is needed for snakes to properly digest their food, but I noticed that adults don’t mind room temperature in whole enclosure. Summer heat, even around 35°C (95°F) is not dangerous for these snakes too.
You should brumate only adult individuals in good health in tubes with moss as a substrate (or other good material for burrows that will hold humidity well) in temperatures between 8-12°C (46-53°F) for around 2 to 3 months. Remember to check on your snakes every few days to make sure they are doing well during brumation and spray gently with water if the humidity drops too low.
They love to swim, and are really good swimmers, so you would like to provide a water bowl large enough for them to fit the whole body. We always try to arrange the water area big enough to allow swimming, so the bigger the better! You can use normal tap water, and remember to change it frequently.
We really don’t measure humidity, the room humidity and large water bowl are sufficient. Spraying the whole enclosure once in a few days helps too, but these are very hardy species, so if they are shedding well you don’t need to worry.
In nature they are eating rodents, fish and birds eggs. We feed our snakes all this things, the base being frozen/thawed rodents, and the treat being quail eggs and fishes (that are thiamine free!) once in a month or fewer. Hatchlings should eat once in every 3-4 days, as they are growing really fast, and adults once every 14 days. Adults do well on one medium rat or two adult mice.
Russian Rats are having really fast metabolism, and some individuals are having monstrous feeding response. Some individuals will also prefer smaller prey item, but in larger amounts. Some will also refuse feeding during the winter season, as in nature they would brumate during this time.
Before brumation you shouldn’t feed your snakes for two to three weeks and gradually lower the temperatures.
Russian Rats are incredibly inquisitive and love to explore. As a hatchlings and juveniles they can be a little shy and jumpy while handling, but with time they will realize that human is not a threat and will calm down. Adults will often try to climb on hands while the owner is changing the water or spot cleaning their tanks. As they are hardy species that thrive well in room temps they can be handled for a longer time than tropical snakes. If startled their first response is to run, not to bite, but most of the times they are more curious than scared. All that makes them really great pet snakes that don’t mind handling, most of them even likes it as a means to explore the world around.
These snakes are having really fast metabolism, so be ready to clean often. We spot clean every time we see the need for it (after every feeding at least once), and when the enclocure starts to look messy we are doing the big cleaning with changing the whole substrate, cleaning the walls etc.
You really don’t need to do anything special for them to shed properly. Water bowl large anough to allow soaking is all they need to shed perfectly.
Potential Health Problems
Russian Rat snakes are really hardy, the only problems we encountered were mites. For breeding females there is also risk of become egg-bound. Snakes kept in very poor conditions can develop mouth rot, scale rot or respiratory infection, but with this species it’s really hard to achieve. The most realistic problem beside mites is that your snake will become overweight as they love to eat, so you should watch their weight closely.
The information contained in this care sheet reflect the opinions and methods of the mentioned breeder, based on their expertise and long-established experience.