Mandarin Ratsnake

Care Information for the Mandarin Ratsnake

(Elaphe mandarina)

By Randy Fedak

The following information is based on my experience keeping and breeding reptiles and amphibians for the past 35 years. I do not consider this information to the absolute definitive answer to success because quite frankly I learn new things everyday and not only do I learn from other reptile enthusiasts but also from the animals themselves. I encourage everyone to read as many texts on the topic as possible to gain different perspectives. It is also wise to check the credibility of your sources if at all possible. Not everything on the Internet is correct!


Mandarin Ratsnakes were a rarity in captive collections until large numbers of them started being imported in the late 80’s. As was the case for most other Asian species, new imports were heavily parasitized and did not adjust well to travel or captivity. It took several years before a few dedicated breeders were able to maintain wild caught animals long enough for successful reproduction. Much of the problems with early breeding success stemmed from a lack of husbandry knowledge of this very unique species.


The Mandarin Ratsnake is native to the mountain forests of northern Burma and Vietnam as well as much of southern China. Hatchlings are typically 6-9 inches and adults are typically around 39 inches with a maximum recorded size of 63 inches.


A typical housing setup that I use for this species should include a minimum floor space of 14” X 21” for adults and proportionally smaller quarters for hatchlings. Plastic sweater boxes and rack systems make ideal enclosures. The height of the enclosure is less important than the floor space. Mandarins are nocturnal snakes that enjoy darkness and quiet. I supply them with an inner hidebox that is filled with sphagnum moss that is lightly sprayed to increase the humidity of the enclosure. A medium sized water bowl should also be supplied. A piece of sterilized wood or rock to assist with shedding, and a secure fitting lid or slid rack completes the setup.


The substrate is probably one of the single most important aspects of proper Mandarin care. Mandarins need a substrate that allows them to dig and hide so it is important that they can be provided with a proper substrate that isn’t too dusty yet will allow for the correct amount of humidity especially during shedding. I like to have part of the bottom of the cage covered with sphagnum moss and the other part I cover with a product called CareFresh™. I usually moisten about a third of the floor space that is covered with CareFresh to avoid desiccation.


Water is extremely important to the overall well being of Mandarin Ratsnakes. It contributes to the humidity level of the enclosure and provides a soaking medium prior to shedding. The water bowl in the enclosure should never be allowed to go dry. Humidity levels should be maintained between 80-100%.


Mandarins are generalist carnivores and opportunistic feeders in the wild. They feed on fledgling birds, eggs, and rodents. The predominant food of hatchlings are pinky mice. Hatchlings typically will not feed soon after hatching like other ratsnakes. They usually will need to undergo a period of brumation from 6 to 8 weeks in order to encourage them to feed. Once started on mice they can be raised on them throughout the rest of their lives in captivity with careful attention paid to the size of the mouse fed and the frequency. Generally a single pinkie mouse fed once a week is sufficient. Snakes should not be fed until they have digested their previous meal. It is best not to feed pry items that are greater than 1.5 times the thickness of the snake. Smaller more frequent feedings are preferred over less frequent large meals. Once a regular feeding pattern has been established Mandarins will grow at a rapid rate.


Rodent diets provide the whole bodied nutrition that is necessary for normal growth and development in Mandarin Ratsnakes. There is no need for diet supplements. Some breeders have noted better hatch rates of their eggs when they feed their females freshly killed rodents that have been dusted with calcium powder.


Unlike other Ratsnakes that require significant floor heating, the complete opposite is the norm for Mandarins. They don’t like it warm and will do quite well if their enclosure is maintained at room temperature or around 75 degrees. Brumation periods in the 50’s are adequate. Floor heating is not necessary unless you live in a climate where the air temperature is in the 30’s.


I normally don’t include a section on handling for most of my snakes but for this species it is worth mentioning. As stated earlier, captive breeding of Mandarin Ratsnakes is a relatively new phenomenon relative to other species. As such, most of the Mandarins around are of the F2 or F3 generation which is not far removed from wild caught animals. Being a little more on the wild side, it is best to keep handling to a minimum and always avoid handling prior to feeding and after feeding.


Mandarins are nocturnal by nature and will usually spend daylight hours secluded inside their hide box. Normal room light is O.K. during the day as long as a hide box is provided.


If the general husbandry techniques that are listed above are provided Mandarin Ratsnakes are relatively easy snakes to keep. Respiratory problems can occur if they are wet conditions for long periods of time or they are exposed to substrates that contain fine dust. Remember, there is a difference between high humidity and wetness! Keeping track of simple behaviors such as feeding, defecating, and shedding can provide a sense of what is normal for a particular animal and it can provide clues to potential problems. The vast majority of illness involving captive bred individuals stems from some type of husbandry issue so whenever there is a problem then you should most definitely review how you are taking care of your snake and what has changed that may have caused the problem. Have there been temperature fluctuations? Drastic changes in humidity? Exposure to some new food item? Exposure to other species? Make sure you review your care practices and try to pinpoint the problem. Most illnesses will require treatment by a qualified veterinarian. The best way to locate a qualified veterinarian is to talk to other people in your area who care for reptiles. They should be able to help you. Try to locate a veterinarian that specializes in exotic animals and has experience handling reptiles. Do not delay in seeking veterinary care if your snake begins to show symptoms such as loss of appetite, wheezing, runny nose, mucous coming from the mouth, failure to thrive, obvious weight loss, constipation, or chronic watery foul smelling stools. Knowing the normal behavior of your snake will allow you to determine if something is wrong and it will also assist you in being able to provide your veterinarian with some clues as to what may be the problem. Be prepared to pay for standard laboratory exams which are often times used to determine bacterial infections and to determine the proper course of treatment. Don’t wait until your snake is extremely ill to take it to the veterinarian. Waiting will only cost you more money in the long run and sick snakes generally don’t recover without assistance. Try to isolate sick animals as soon as possible and always quarantine new animals before introducing them into established collections.

I hope this information will be helpful to you while caring for your new pet. If you have any questions or just want to run a situation or scenario by me don’t hesitate to email me with your questions. I can be contacted at: Good luck and happy herping!


Breeders Care Information