Taiwan Beauty Snakes
Taiwan Beauty snakes have been known in herpetoculture since at least the late 1980’s according to the oldest documentation of how to keep them. Back then, they were known as part of the Elaphe sp. This genus was an all-inclusive place for what seems to be all Ratsnake species. Recently, taxonomists have moved them all into their own genus. When exactly this took place, I have yet been able to identify. Regardless, there are a total of nine confirmed species and one unconfirmed subspecies. This particular genre itself is now known as Orthriophis, and little information out there today on this species is credible. I have worked with many Ratsnake species and specifically Taiwan Beauty snakes Orthriophis taeniurus friesi.
I have found them to be curious and intelligent serpents. They are incredibly attractive snakes; hence the common name. I have found them to have a ground or background color of yellowish to olive with black paired spots running almost the entire length of the snake except for the last part where the bottom third or so changes to striping. Here these blotches are joined and the ground color divides the blackness, which is why they are also known commonly as Stripe Tailed Ratsnakes. Looking at the head, they have ocular stripes similar to Rattlesnakes Crotalus sp.These stripes start at the bottom rear of the eye and extend backwards to the corner of the mouth area.
For whatever reason this particular genus has seemingly never caught on as a big seller in the herp market; it’s like the Uromastyx being compared to the Bearded Dragon Pogona sp. Regardless of this, they are found for sale for in local pet shops and at conventions as well.
Captive Care of Taiwan Beauty Snakes
The Taiwan Beauty Snake O. t. friesi is in some ways a “typical” Ratsnake. They are a long and slender species, which are alert and capable of fast movement. This in itself has led some to believe that they are a “nervous” serpent. In my experience, this is far from the truth. All the Taiwan Beauty Snakes O. t. friesi that I have dealt with were not necessarily nervous, as they were inquisitive. If you are confident in handling snakes you should have no issues dealing with this species. When handled at least two to three times a week they settle down and are not as flighty as when they are first handled. They typically find a suitable spot on the handler; anchor themselves with their tail, allowing the head and the rest of the body to explore the surrounding area.
As with any rules this is one of the few exceptions to the general rules stated elsewhere in the Blog when it comes to size. Average size is anywhere from seven to eight feet in length and weighing about 3 pounds or so. Due to this size and especially their activity level, they need a large enclosure. Personally, I would not use anything less than a 100 Gallon Reptarium Habitat. Ideally, a 180-gallon enclosure would be the best. These measure out to be approximately 72” x 25” x 25”. It is not an issue whether or not you choose to use acrylic or glass when housing but the drawbacks to glass are the weight of the enclosure itself and it will not flex at as much as acrylic. Acrylic will scratch easy which can occur from an exuberant snake knocking over branches.
Taiwan Beauty Snakes O. t. friesi are found where the name implies, Taiwan. Therefore, as keepers we should try to replicate the area they come from. Most of what I have studied of their natural environment states it as being a forest type region. While they are primarily seen in forested areas, they also have been found in open woodlands, swamps, suburban areas, and even the rural countryside barns of their native homelands.
Given such a wide range of environments, it may be hard to decide which would be the best substrate. Personally, I have always gone with the old stand by. Groundcover bark from a home improvement center, quite a few consider this dangerous due to ingestion hazards etc, I have personally been using it for years and never once had any issues with mites, ingestion or any disease being introduced to my animals. It works just as well if not better than the pet store brands and is about half if not more than half the cost of the “reptile” barks.
As with many forest dwelling snakes they are arboreal but will go to ground when hunting.Their main sources of prey in the wild are rodents. They have also been known to take birds and their eggs as well. Hatchlings mainly feed on lizards and tree frogs. In captivity however, they do not in my experience retain such an exotic diet. Simply feed the appropriate sized frozen thawed mouse or rat accordingly and they will be happy.
Taiwan Beauty Snakes O. t. friesi seem to prefer smaller prey items so multiple smaller meals are advised. In other words instead of feeding 1 medium rat feed 2 small rats instead. When feeding, I highly advise you remove the snake from the enclosure and place it into another receptacle of some type. A trashcan, bucket with a lid, anything as long as you are not feeding in the enclosure. The reasoning behind this is that the snake could soon associate the opening of the enclosure with feeding and you will get a handful of teeth.
Temperatures for this snake are still quite debatable due to such little information about their habitat in the wild; in my personal experience, I have always given the Taiwan Beauty Snakes O. t. friesi I keep a gradient of at least 10 degrees between the cool and warm side. I usually shoot for a basking spot of about 85 and leave the cooler side at about 75. Most of the Taiwan Beauty Snakes O. t. friesi come from the western part of the island which is primarily wet and tropical. I keep the humidity in my enclosures at about 70% at all times. Daily misting early in the morning and allowing the enclosure to dry out during the day easily does this. Presuming most of the snakes purchased today are in fact wild caught snakes it is better to have them examined immediately after purchase by a veterinarian who is qualified to treat herps.
For lighting I use a regular fluorescent shop strip light, purchased from most hardware or home improvement stores. I place a ceramic heating element at one end of appropriate size that will maintain the 85-degree hotspot. Since the Taiwan Beauty Snakes O. t. friesi are a diurnal snake and very active during the day I like to provide them with a regular daylight and nighttime cycle that match the outside environment.
Decorating the Taiwan Beauty Snake O. t. friesi enclosure is not a huge undertaking in itself. You need a large water bowl that they can not knock over during their excursions. You must also provide hides meaning one on the cool side and one on the warm side. Being an arboreal snake, we definitely want to provide a lot of climbing apparatus to the enclosure. Personally, I use sandblasted grapevine and some of the rubber coated wire forms, made to look like vines. Place a lot of plastic plants throughout the enclosure to offer the snake a sense of security this will benefit their psychological behavior in the end. I don’t recommend trying live plants unless they are tree type plants as the snake will crush them through their daily wanderings.
Taiwan Beauty Snakes O. t. friesi can be a demanding reptile to house, but in my opinion they are also one of the more interesting snakes to own. They are constantly active and curious to discover things within their environment. So if you’re tired of owning the same old colubrid snakes then I would definitely suggest getting one of these snakes they will undoubtedly bring you many years of enjoyment.