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Posted by Chris Harper on September 30, 1999 at 09:40:56:
I hope I can be of help to those of you interested in keeping Coluber and Masitcophis species. I have kept a couple of dozen specimens over the years, about three forms of Coluber and about four forms of Masticophis. I think the best available literature is the Rossi & Rossi two volume set, The Snakes of United States and Canada-Keeping Them Healthy in Captivity. I have about twenty feet of shelving space dedicated to my herp library and I think this is one of the better books I have read. I disagree with Rossi on two key points of keeping these snakes. First he gives a nice rating system to different snakes, with "1's" being easiest to keep and "5's" being the most difficult. They give Masticophis a rating of 4 and Coluber a rating of 3. I would put it the other way. Every Masticophis I have kept has been easier to keep except for one individual Racer I kept. The other point they make is that these species should have water available at all times. I'm not so sure I agree. I read somewhere many years ago that in captivity they may drink too much and will be susceptible to bacterial infections and should only be offered water a couple of times per week. This was the protocol I followed for a number of years before reading Rossi's book. It is also similar to recommendations for some desert dwelling venomous species I have worked with. One of these days I'll try to contact Rossi about it but feel I should first track down the source I read so many years ago.
I think more important is caging. The key is size and ventilation. I have used 2'X4'X2' with good success but it is not ideal. Even sub-adult racers can brace themselves across the width of the cage and exert enoumous pressure on their snouts, causing considerable damage. The "perfect" cage would probably be a large tube. There would be no corners for them to brace themselves against and it would be tall enough that they would not be able to put pressure on the top of the cage. Not a very feasable design however. My experience is that they can damage their noses wether there is screen or not so use plenty to keep ventilation high.
As far as feeding goes, nestling sized mice or rats are great for getting Racers and Coachwhips to eat. Almost all of the individuals I kept eventually switched to defrosted mice with little problem. Some Coluber seem to like Bufo spp. for food so keeping one in the freezer to rub on washed pinkies is a good idea.
Well I need to run. I could type more but feel free to e-mail me with any questions. Good luck. Sorry for any typos, I wrote this in a hurry.