Chinese Beauty Rat Snake Care

By Ben Team

The Chinese beauty snake (Orthriophis taeniurus taeniurus) is a slender, non-venomous colubrid found in Southeast Asia. There are nine recognized subspecies, but all share somewhat similar biology and life histories, so they can be cared for in much the same manner. Beauty snakes are hardy, often docile captives that can live 20 years if provided with quality care.

Enclosure

Most pet owners should begin with a captive-bred hatchling rather than a wild-caught adult. Beauty snake hatchlings usually measure 7 to 12 inches and can initially be kept in relatively small quarters. A 20-gallon aquarium or similarly sized commercial cage will provide a good habitat for the first year of life, but once your snake approaches 2 feet in length, it's time to transition to a larger cage. Adults are best housed in aquariums or cages measuring 4 feet by 2 feet. In all cases, the cage must be secure, lack sharp edges that can injure the animal and be easy to clean.

Heating and Lighting

Most snakes don't require special lighting to thrive, and ambient room lighting is often sufficient for their well-being. Beauty snakes do require supplemental heating via a heat pad, radiant panel or heat lamp. Place the heat source at one end of the enclosure to provide a thermal gradient so the snake can choose among a variety of temperatures. The hottest spot in the cage should be between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Provided that overnight temperatures don't drop below 65 degrees, supplemental heating at night isn't required.

Substrate

Beauty snakes can be maintained on a variety of substrates. Many professional keepers prefer newspaper for ease of maintenance, although aspen shavings, cypress mulch and commercial substrates are acceptable as well. Whatever you use, it must be kept clean and relatively dry to prevent bacterial growth.

Furnishings

Rat snakes are semi-arboreal and need places to climb. Provide several branches with long, horizontal stretches. It's also a good idea to place at least one branch under the heat source so your snake can bask in the warmth. Additionally, beauty snakes require at least one hiding spot. Hiding spots needn't be elaborate or decorative, just easy to clean and snug when the snake is inside. Inverted clay flower pots, plastic storage boxes or even upside-down dinner plates will do.

Water

Water must be available for a beauty snake at all times. Though the bowl needn't be large enough to contain the snake, a large container will allow the snake to soak when preparing to shed, which helps achieve clean, full sheds. The habitat must remain fairly dry, however, so the water dish must be wide enough to prevent tipping. Be sure to clean the water dish at least weekly, and periodically disinfect the bowl with a weak bleach solution.

Feeding

Beauty snakes of all ages and sizes can be fed a diet of frozen-thawed rodents. Rat pinkies or rat fuzzies are appropriate for young animals, and adults can be fed rats up to the same diameter as the snake. Young animals should be fed two to three times per week, while adults should be fed once every five to seven days. During shedding cycles or cool temperatures, the snakes may go off feed temporarily. This is generally no cause for concern, and the snake will usually accept food again when conditions return to normal.

Maintenance

Check cage temperatures frequently to ensure the snake is comfortable. Visually inspect the cage daily, and spot clean as necessary. At least once monthly, the cage should be completely emptied of substrate, disinfected and rinsed thoroughly. Cage props should be cleaned and disinfected before being replaced in the cage. Some keepers mist the cage with lukewarm water when shed cycles begin, but this isn't necessary in areas with high relative humidity. If you do mist the cage, be sure the habitat is allowed to dry before misting again, as the snakes will not thrive in a constantly wet environment.