Wednesday, August 1, 2007

They're Not Venomous and MAN Are They Cool!

When any rare or odd snake becomes available in the trade, my whole being yells, "I've got to have one"! Such was the case when I started seeing photos of the Vietnamese Rhino Rat Snake (Rhynchophis boulengeri).

Originally described by science in 1994, this beautiful snake is still uncommon in collections. So, when I was finally able to stumble across a well started pair in late 2005, I jumped at the chance to own these rare gems.

Horror stories about getting newly hatched babies to feed were the prevalent topics of conversation when I sought out information on the species. And since they naturally occur in the mountainous rainforests of north Vietnam and south China, the semi-tropical climate of Brownsville seemed to pose another challenge. Regardless, I poured food to them through the winter, bound and determined I would be successful in the husbandry of these magnificent animals.

Winter (what we have of it) came and went and by late March, I felt I had put enough size on both animals to attempt breeding. Within minutes of placing them together, the male began courting the female. Copulation was observed a short time later and actually continued over a period of nearly 5 days. 59 days later, 10 perfect eggs were laid in a nest box full of sphagnum moss I had placed in the female's cage. I carefully placed each egg in an airtight container with moist Perlite and waited IMPATIENTLY! It had been my past experience that kingsnake and rat snake eggs typically hatch between 60 and 70 days at room temperature. But these weren't just any rat snakes. I had been raising venomous snakes and it had been years since I actually incubated snake eggs. But right on schedule, the first head emerged on day 65!

Day 64! You can clearly see striations in the top egg, indicating the baby is trying to slice through the egg shell.

First peek into the new world! The egg tooth is still visible.

Several babies out and ready to take on the world!

Now came the challenge of trying to get the babies to feed. I had been told by one keeper the babies would readily accept guppies placed in their water bowl. Did that mean they were aquatic? I was told by another keeper to avoid fish at all cost and offer them pink parts. What gives? So began the tedious task of trying to feed these strange looking creatures (they looked nothing like their parents). Like some of our native rat snakes, baby "rhino rats" lack the adult coloration and are actually an ugly grey-brown at birth. And this whole fish thing had me thinking. If they WERE aquatic and fish eaters for a period of their life, WHY? I was discussing this whole issue one night with our friend, Leo Garrett (happens to be the smartest guy I know, MENSA, the whole genius thing) and he matter of factly stated, "It has to be the monsoons". Now, working for the National Weather Service, you might think I would have thought of that. It made perfect sense. Still, I was reluctant to start them on fish. Instead, I began offering them f/t (frozen/thawed) pink parts to see what happened. To my surprise (and joy), 5 of the 10 readily accepted the split pinks. The other 5 ate the parts with only a little assistance for the first month or so. By fall, all 10 babies were readily taking f/t pinks or pink parts from forceps with little or no teasing.

Not only do "rhino rats" make great display animals, they also make good pets. Granted, a rather expensive pet. Hatchling pairs still command between $1200 and $1400 when you can find them but lone males are sometimes available at a fair price. So, if you're looking for that "hard to come by" animal or you just want something different, I highly recommend this gentle emerald of the Vietnamese rainforest. By the way, our second clutch of eggs is incubating and due to hatch this month!

A year after hatching, one of our hold-back females beginning the onotgenetic color change.


darlene said...

Wow! This is one impressive article! The photos and the content are definitely book material! I am married to such a talented man =)


XXXX said...

Fantastic stuff!! Congrats, and the pictures are awesome!

Michelle said...

I'd love to see them when babies. You'll have to let me know when they hatch.
Oh and Jason wants to know if they are venomous. ;)

Beth&Leo said...


We laid in bed this morning and read your blog on the cell phone. (Ain't technology grand)

You wrote a very nice article. It flowed nicely and the pictures you used illustrated your text. And I am going to put out the URL for others to read.

And the fact that you mentioned "theMan" didn't hurt.

I almost wanted to call you and see if we could raise these critters in a RV. (I did say "almost.")

Love Beth and Leo

York said...

Hey Jim. Nice article! The hatching photos are greatness. You've been busy on this whole blog thing, eh? I'll have to remember to stop by more often. Thanks for the tickler.

btw, don't you think now that you have grandchildren IN SCHOOL, you are gettin' too old to be playin' with critters all the time? Ha!

Anonymous said...

Looks great man...SEE I do care.

gb said...

You are one of the most intelligent "snakeologist" I know. Matter of fact, you are the only one I know. Seriously, very interesting I will make an appointment to visit with my son, Joseph, very soon. I will be more attentive to your blog and continue to learn. The most I ever learned about snakes was from Steve Irwin's (RIP) T.V. show. Now I can learn hands on and appreciate snakes more from a co-workers and friend. WoW!

LaVibora - Jim Campbell said...

Thanks for the kind comments everyone (you too Mike)!

Aggie92 said...

I agree...this was an impressive article and the pics were great too!
Everything looks very professional. Congratulations!

Dawn Oestreich said...

What gorgeous snakes! Zachary and I read your blog and admired the pics, and I had to tell Zack that he CANNOT have one (Vietnamese Rhino Snake)! It's fun to learn about the different animals you blog about, and the pictures are so vivid and detailed. On that note, why should we worry about acquiring snakes when we can just enjoy yours! And we don't have to feed them! What a deal.

Thanks Jim!
Dawn & Zachary