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How to Care for Your Rhino Rat Snake

How to Care for Your Rhino Rat Snake

Rhino rat snakes (Gonyosoma boulengeri) are medium-sized arboreal snakes native to north Vietnam and China. They prefer to live in forested areas close to a body of water and spend most of their time in the trees, although they are capable swimmers.

Rhino rat snakes have two very unique traits: 1) They experience drastic ontogenetic color change as they transition to adulthood, and 2) they have an elongated, pointy protuberance at the tip of their snout. Hatchling rhino rat snakes typically start out silver or gray-brown with a black, white, and/or yellow pattern; as they grow, they change into their olive or even lime green adult coloration over the course of 2-3 years. Other than these two distinctive attributes, rhino rat snakes can be identified by an elongated triangular head, slender build, and smooth glossy scales. They typically grow to 4-5’ long, with males sometimes growing longer.

Rhino rat snakes generally make hardy pets. Captive bred adults typically have a calm disposition, but they make better display animals than a pet you can handle regularly. With appropriate care, rhino rat snakes can live 15-20 years.

How much space do rhino rat snakes need?

Because rhino rat snakes are slender, many people think of them as smaller than they really are, keeping them in enclosures that are too small for them to stretch out fully and explore. The minimum for appropriately keeping one adult rhino rat snake is 5’L x 2.5’W x 2.5’H. This is just the minimum, so using larger dimensions (both taller and wider) is beneficial and will happily be used!

Cohabitation (keeping multiple rhino rat snakes in one enclosure) is not recommended. Although male-female pairs have been known to get along, males tend to harass and stress females.

Do rhino rat snakes need UVB?

They can survive without it, but it’s still best practice to provide UVB lighting for optimal health and wellbeing, especially since rhino rat snakes are known to be at least partially active during the day. UVB gives snakes all of the vitamin D that their bodies need, stimulates better appetite and activity, and generally allows them to be healthier than they would be without.

The best UVB bulbs for a rhino rat snakes housed in a 2.5’ tall enclosure are:

  • Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 5.0
  • Arcadia T5 HO Forest 6%

The bulb should be roughly half the length of the enclosure and installed in a high-quality reflective fixture by Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics. Place the UVB lamp so it overlaps with the heat lamp(s), about 9-11” above the basking branch with mesh between the lamp and the snake. UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so you can’t give your snake UVB by placing its terrarium in front of an open window. Also make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover.

Lights should be on for 13 hours/day during summer and 11 hours/day during winter. This helps encourage more natural hormonal rhythms and better health.

What basking temperatures do rhino rat snakes need?

Like other reptiles, rhino rat snakes are ectotherms, which means that they need a temperature gradient in their enclosure to help them regulate their metabolism and stay healthy.

Rhino rat snakes should have a basking temperature between 90-95°F. Ambient (air) temperature should be kept between 75-80°F. Heat lamps should be turned off at night and temperatures allowed to drop as low as 70°F. Temperatures should be measured with a couple of digital probe thermometers, with one probe placed on the basking branch and the other on the cool side of the setup. 

Provide heat for your snake by imitating the sun with a cluster of at least two incandescent heat bulbs placed on one side of the enclosure in a dual dome lamp, positioned over a sturdy basking branch or platform. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.

Start with 60w bulbs. If temperatures are too high, dial the lamp down with a lamp dimmer or rheostat. If temperatures are too low, you will need higher-wattage bulbs.

What humidity levels do rhino rat snakes need?

Rhino rat snakes prefer a humid environment. Humidity should be kept between 50-100%, with an average around 75%. Humidity levels should naturally fluctuate lower during the day and higher at night. Use a digital probe hygrometer with the probe placed in the middle of the enclosure to track humidity. 

Lightly mist your snake’s enclosure with a pressure sprayer 1-2x/day, with nighttime fogging via reptile humidifier. Reptile humidifiers should be used with distilled or reverse-osmosis water and disinfected frequently in order to avoid making your pet sick by accident.

Soaking

Rhino rat snakes are known to soak and swim as part of their natural behavior, so in addition to misting, your snake should have access to a tub or large bowl of water large enough for them to fully immerse themselves (at least 2” deep). If provided, they may appreciate a larger swimming area!

Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.

What substrate is good for rhino rat snakes?

Rhino rat snakes may be arboreal, but they do occasionally spend time on the ground, so it’s beneficial to provide a thin layer of appropriate substrate to cushion their bodies during terrestrial time. As an added perk, it also tends to make the enclosure more attractive.

Ideally, this substrate should resemble what rhino rat snakes naturally live on in the wild, which is going to be tropical soil and leaf litter. We recommend the following substrate products for rhino rat snakes:

  • Zoo Med Eco Earth
  • Zoo Med ReptiSoil
  • Zoo Med Forest Floor
  • Exo Terra Plantation Soil
  • Exo Terra Coco Husk
  • Zilla Jungle Mix

Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity and enhance the forest aesthetic. Substrate should be at least 2” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates immediately, along with contaminated substrate.

What décor can you use in a rhino rat snake terrarium?

It’s terribly boring (and more importantly, stressful) for a snake to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with. This is especially the case for arboreal species for which climbing is a routine part of their behavioral repertoire. 

Bare minimum requirements for décor are two hiding places, a sturdy branch for climbing, some live or artificial foliage to provide cover. However, these are the minimum requirements, and it’s MUCH better to go further. More (appropriate) décor increases the functionality of your enclosure and makes for a happier pet! Here are some ideas:

Note that larger plants are usually sturdier, which is one argument for using a taller enclosure than the minimum.

What do rhino rat snakes eat?

Like other snakes, rhino rat snakes are carnivores, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the nutrition that they need. Here is a basic feeding schedule based on snake size:

  • Hatchlings should be fed once every 5-7 days.
  • Juveniles should be fed once every 7-14 days.
  • Adults should be fed once every 14 days.

Prey items should be roughly equivalent to the width of the snake at its thickest point, although they should be smaller if you are offering more than one. If offering multiple feeders, the meal should be no more than 10% of the snake’s weight. Although live prey can be used, it’s safest and most humane to use frozen instead. Prey should be thawed in a plastic bag in warm water to approximately 100°F before offering with a pair of soft-tipped tweezers.

Remember, the key to great nutrition is variety! Aside from offering mice and rats, try quail and chicks as well to create nutritional variety in your pet’s diet.

Supplements

Rhino rat snakes can survive without vitamin or mineral supplements, but occasionally using them can help prevent nutritional deficiencies and optimize your snake’s health. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD.

Do rhino rat snakes like to be handled?

Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, and rhino rat snakes are generally better display animals than a pet that you can handle regularly. If you need to handle your snake, it’s best to let it come to you rather than to grab it. Be gentle, and pick up the snake from below rather than from above. Support as much of its body as possible, and NEVER pick up a snake by its tail!


*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species.


"Rhino rat snake 001" by lilevy122 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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