Red Mountain Racer
Oreocryptophis porphyraceus coxi
Species: O. porphyraceus coxi
Conservation Status: This species of colubrid is widespread and appears to have stable populations throughout the region. Some sub-species with smaller natural ranges may be more susceptible to habitat loss, but the species is listed as 'least concern'.
Natural History: This stunning Asian rat snake has long graced the covers of reptile magazines, calendars and displayed prominently in various publications. The bright red base color with contrasting jet black stripes or bands makes for a truly impressive colubrid. Known under many common names such as red mountain racer, red bamboo snake, and black-banded trinket snake Oreocryptophis porphyraceus (formerly Elaphe) is an incredibly widespread monotypic species of colubrid. This snake is found across a huge natural range, from the seasonally dry tropical woodland in eastern India into tropical evergreen forests of southern China and in mid to higher elevation tropical hillsides of Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and even parts of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. O. porphyraceus is divided into six distinct sub-species including the nominate race and some geographical borders exist for each population, in other areas inter-grades occur regularly. The specific sub-species I work with are O. porphyraceus coxi, this sub-species is found in upper elevation tropical forests in northwestern Thailand. They prefer cool moist environments and typically spend the colder nights and hot mid-day hiding under debris along the forest floor. They will typically bask for very short periods in the early morning and early evening along exposed rocks and fallen trees and will hunt during low light hours. In the wild this species preys heavily on lizards but are truly generalized predators also taking amphibians, small mammals, fledgling birds, & small bird or reptile eggs. Like most colubrids they are active hunters, seeking out prey and relying more on persistence than ambush tactics. This is a small species of rat snakes, most large females measure less than 40” at adulthood and males can be even smaller.
Care in Captivity: This species is kept on a separate housing system than my other colubrid snakes, primarily because I keep them far cooler, (often times in the low to mid 70’s) than any of my other snake species. Size appropriate rack tubs, with good ventilation and a substrate that holds humidity and moisture goes a long way to keeping these snakes happy. I use cypress mulch for juveniles and adults, and layers of slightly moist (not wet) paper towels for hatchlings. Add a couple stacked hide boxes, a water bowl they can’t tip over and you’ve got a happy coxi. I place a low flat piece of a ceramic flower pot close to the substrate and another small hide box in the habitat, these snakes are shy but once they feel comfortable in their environment they can be voracious feeders. Animals of all sizes will, for the most part readily accept frozen/thawed rodents. Occasionally live prey is needed to get hatchlings started but once they recognize prey the feed aggressively. Care must be taken when offering prey, this species will attempt to feed on pretty much anything offered, and with small heads and light builds it is better to offer a few smaller prey items than attempt to feed a single large mouse. These beautiful Asian rats are fairly undemanding and as long as they are not exposed to dry environments, poor air circulation, and temperatures higher than low 80’s they thrive in captivity.
Captive Reproduction: Like many of the Asian rat snakes, these animals will produce readily in captivity. Some breeders even have success pairing the snakes throughout the year with little or no manipulation of temperature. I prefer to provide the animals with a brief brumation, allowing night time temperatures to plunge into the 40’s during our winter months of December through February but warming them up periodically during the day for a few hours and even offering prey once every two weeks or so to the more active individuals during periods of warmer temperatures. In mid-February I return the animals to a more normal cycle of temperatures and feeding, offering females prey every 2-3 days. Once into the second week post brumation adults are paired, these colubrids will usually pair and copulate quickly, there may be some thrashing but the males do not aggressively bite or hold the females in place like some North American colubrid snakes. I will continue to pair them every few days until their behavior convinces me the female is no longer receptive. A size appropriate Rubbermaid container is provided for nesting and is filled with lightly damp sphagnum moss. If the humidity is correct in the habitat some females will choose to lay inside their hide box so it pays to be vigilant with your daily checks. Most egg deposition occurs roughly 55 days after successful copulation. Clutch sizes can vary, but are typically in the 2-5 range. Most females will, with proper nutrition continue to lay throughout the season, with some females double or even triple clutching during a breeding season. For females that are allowed to lay multiple clutches a season, closely monitor her body weight between and after deposition. Exposing the female to temperature drops will often interrupt the fertilization cycle and can give her a chance to gain weight back after egg production.