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Coluber Snakes Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common NameMasticophis or Coluber Snakes
Scientific NameMasticophis flagellum
OriginThe southern United States, especially in the northern part of Mexico. Coastal plains and mountainous regions.
HabitatDry terrain usually in the deserts, scrublands, sandhill, prairies, juniper-grasslands, thorn-forests, creek valleys, farmlands and chaparral
DietSmall rodents, lizards, frogs, birds and birds eggs, spiders, almost all insects and small snakes including the venomous ones
Size and Weight5 to 8 feet; 1.2 to 1.8 kg (2.6 to 4.0 lb)
Life SpanWild: 13 years captivity: 16-20 years

Physical Description

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Masticophis flagellum is under the species of a colubrid snake, also referred to as a whip snake or a coachwhip. They are a thin-bloodied snake that is characterized by their large eyes and round pupils but with their small eyes. At first glance, their skin appears braided. Their colorations depend on where their range is.

For the snake species found in the eastern parts, they have colorations that are dark brown to black color that has a lighter color in the tail, while for the western parts, they have colorations of dark brown and yellowish to gray. Their belly part is lighter in color and for some with cross banding.

Where it is Seen?

Masticophis are seen throughout the southern United States, especially in the northern part of Mexico. Their species are spread out from coast to coast and from mountainous regions to coastal plains.

Habitat

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They usually stay in open and dry terrain, usually in the deserts, scrublands, sandhill, prairies, juniper-grasslands, thorn-forests, creek valleys, farmlands, and chaparral. They can also be seen in agricultural and vegetation areas. These types of snakes are terrestrial, with a home range of 56.2 hectares. During the breeding season, males fight with other snakes to defend a location with females within the area.

Species

There are six subspecies of Masticophis that were recognized by snake experts that are distributed in different countries with unique characteristics, and these are the: 

  • Sonoran coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum cingulum) – These are commonly seen in the USA mostly in Oaxaca, southwestern New Mexico, to the west-central parts of Arizona.
  • Eastern coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum) – They are usually seen from eastern Texas to eastern Kansas and in the North and West Florida to Carolina.
  • Lined coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum lineatulus) – These snakes are commonly found in extreme southern Arizona and mostly on the part of Mexico
  • Red coachwhip or Red racer ( Masticophis flagellum piceus) – This is seen throughout northwestern Nevada, southern California, Arizona, and in Nevada.
  • San Joaquin coachwhip ( Masticophis flagellum ruddocki) – Its habitat ranges in California, mostly from the Sacramento Valley throughout the San Joaquin Valley and the South Coast Ranges.

Behavior and Temperament

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This snake species is known as the fastest snake in the US continents with a maximum speed of about 5.9 kph making its prey hunting less complicated. They communicate with the happenings in the outside world by means of olfactory, visual, and motor stimulation through their Jacobson’s organ. They have a sensitive sense of smell because of their vomeronasal organs that allow them to process their perceptions through chemical signals.  

They can sense their predator by means of physical, auditory, and visual cues. If they are threatened, they coil up and attempt to scare their predator by means of vibrating. If they still have time to escape, they’ll move up the tree and attempt to evade their predators. Escaping is not hard for them because they have a speed that allows them to move fast. If their defensive mechanism didn’t work, they’d play dead as a last resort. There are some instances wherein this species attacks people, especially if they are disturbed; they tend to bite when they are handled. Even though they are nonvenomous, they have needle-sharp teeth that are capable of producing lacerations when they attack.

They can easily hunt their prey because their necks are equipped with skeletal muscle systems that are flexible enough, for it is elevated enough to see and capture their prey. During the summer season, they have the sit-and-wait strategy where some insects or reptiles would go into their burrows to freshen up and escape the high temperatures, the common reptile that would go into their burrows are some species of lizard, that would serve as an instant food for them. 

They are a diurnal species that are active during the daytime from 8 am to 11 am and from 1 pm to 4 pm. They have the ability to withstand hot temperatures, usually at around 33 degrees Celsius. When their body temperature lowers at around 17 degrees Celsius, that is already an indication to hibernate so that their energy will be conserved. They are a good climber and a swimmer, especially when they are actively in search of prey and during the mating season to search for a possible female.

Diet

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The Masticophis has good eyesight and body physique to locate for their prey. They eat a variety of prey from small insects to other types of reptiles and amphibians. Their diet includes small rodents, lizards, frogs, birds and birds eggs, spiders, almost all insects, and small snakes, including venomous ones. They use their speed to chase their prey, and instead of constricting their prey to death, they’ll prefer to swallow it alive.

Life Span

Research shows that eastern  Masticophis can live up to 16-20 years in captivity, and there approximate lifespan in the wild is up to 13 years. Their life span in captivity tends to be longer because you can control all factors if they are just in a tank compared to the wild, where they battle for their life from predation to destruction of their habitat.

Size and Weight

An adult Masticophis may reach more than 9 feet in length, but on average, their length ranges from about 5 to 8 feet while their average weight is at 1.2 to 1.8 kg (2.6 to 4.0 lb). Juveniles have an average length of about 2 to 3 feet. These snakes have an indeterminate growth wherein they continuously grow until they die.

Breeding and Reproduction

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During the courting process, the males show their aggressiveness to prove that they are dominant and to ensure that females don’t have a choice but to copulate with them. The courting period lasts for about 10 minutes to 90 minutes, while the main copulation process lasts for about 30 to ½ hours. The females are considered polyandrous, where they tend to copulate with several males during the breeding season. 

A particular male will fight with other snakes that the female has mated with to ensure that there will be no further copulations that will happen aside from them, to make this happen, during the mating season, the male guards a particular location to ensure that they are the only male within the vicinity. Masticophis breed only once a year from June to August. The males mature at the age of 1, but they can only be sexually active at the age of three, together with the females. 

It would take about 80 days for the female to lay 5-24 eggs that are oblong in shape and has a length of 35-48 mm and 18-27 mm in width, and it takes 6 to 12 weeks for these eggs to be incubated before it hatches. Females lay up to 24 eggs per clutch, although the average number of laid eggs is about 12. After an incubation period of 6 to 12 weeks, hatchlings are born in August or September.

Shedding

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Like other snakes, Masticophis shed occasionally as soon as they reach maturity until they die. Days before the actual shedding, expect that your snake’s appearance will change and that their temperament changes as well. Its eyes will turn blue, and its skin becomes duller. Avoid handling your snake in this stage because this is the phase where your pet will become grumpier.

Its original appearance would go back, and after 3-4 days, the actual shedding will take place. Your snake will shed its skin in a single piece that is fragile and can easily be torn. This shredded skin is usually moist or wet because while shedding your pet’s skin will excrete lymphatic fluid to aid in the shedding process.

If your snake sheds in patches, it means that there is something wrong with the environment. Make sure that the humidity level is at the optimum level, to help achieve the right humidity, spray water at the sides of their tank to help them attain the right moisture to shed properly.

Make sure that the skin is removed in one go, if it is shedding in patches, then there is something wrong with the snake’s ability to secrete fluid, or the environment is too dry. Remove this shredded skin from the tank as it may be a breeding ground for bacteria and might cause an unpleasant smell.

Common Illnesses/ Diseases

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Blister Disease

This is a condition that is seen in the underneath of the snake’s scales. It is most likely that your snake will get this disease if their place has already been a breeding ground for bacteria and other fungal infestations due to unsanitary place too much exposure to wet or damp housing. The most common thing that will happen to your snake’s skin is septicemia or lesions that are fatal.

Maintain a cleaning session where you can clean the tank to ensure that they too much damp substrate. Once you see blisters, it is already an indication to check for their environment. The possible root cause is the environment, so it should be the first factor to deal with. Take your snake to a veterinarian so that the blisters will be given first aid.

Anorexia

This disorder is not only common to humans, but snakes also experience it. It is when your snake doesn’t seem to have an appetite for food; this might be disturbing because usually, a snake is always hungry since you don’t feed them regularly. There are a couple of reasons why they don’t eat; maybe their bodies detect the cold environment brought about by winter season where they hibernate, or maybe they are about to shed. Snakes don’t have an appetite for food when they are about to shed.

You need to pay attention to your snake’s behavior when they don’t eat because there is a possibility that it could mean something serious. The food is their only source of energy, and it is the sole supplier for their nutrients. There is a possibility that you need to take it to your veterinarian if the condition goes on for weeks.

Mouth Rot

This happens when the mouth of the snake, specifically its gums are destroyed. You can say that the condition is still mild and can be treated if it can only be seen if the mouth of the snake is opened, but it is already considered a severe if the jaws of the snake have been misaligned due to swollen mouth and mucous membranes, this is the stage where the esophagus is also infected that is why it is impossible for the snake to swallow food. The number cause to mouth rot is due to bacterial infection.

Parasites Infestations

Your snake’s housing can be susceptible to pests infestations if there is even a small hole where they can enter. You may need to choose a closing lid that is totally secure that the air can only enter. These parasites can also be transmitted if you are handling your snake with dirty hands. An unhygienic environment and poor environment is a breeding ground for parasites such as mites, tapeworms, and roundworms. You can easily combat these infestations through proper cleaning of their tank and bathing them regularly.

Pneumonia and respiratory issues

This kind of illness is one of the most fatal because it causes difficulty in breathing. They don’t know how to handle nasal discharge; that is why it can sometimes block the air passageway. Being exposed in a too wet or damp environment is one of the causes of the respiratory issues to snakes. This usually happens if the temperature inside the tank is too hot or cold, together with the growth of some bacteria. If your snake does not have much immunity in its body to withstand the changing temperature and bacterial infections, them most likely, they’ll suffer from Pneumonia and respiratory issues.

Regurgitation

When your snake is stressed or is suffering from a health condition, it may have a hard time swallowing the food that is given. Regurgitation happens when they vomit the food that they eat because of difficulty digesting it. The food that they have vomited will still be eaten in a slow manner.  When your snake suffers this condition, foods that are hairy or feathery can be swallowed hardly. Breeders would usually remove all the hairs or feathers before giving it to the snakes. This is sometimes due to an inappropriate feeding schedule, that is why it is advisable to feed your pet in the same pattern as the same day and at the same time every week.

Egg binding

This is a disease that can affect the female snake during the birth process, where they have a hard time releasing the eggs due to its size. There are some instances where some eggs will be stocked, leading to sepsis that causes infections that may lead to death.

Preventing Illnesses

It is not only important to provide them with the things that they need to feel that they are on their natural environment but as a breeder, it is also your responsibility to make sure that their housing is clean at all times because if they stay in unhygienic conditions, it may cause health problems that may lead to extreme illness or death. Your attention is also needed, if you are not capable of giving regular attention to them, it is not advisable to take them into captivity because you would only know that your pet is having a problem if you will give them the right attention. As soon as you detect that there is something wrong, you need to determine the cause and effect to know the possible cure so as not to worsen their situation.

Captive Breeding

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Masticophis are quite complicated to take into captivity because of their aggressiveness and short ill-temper. They are known to readily bite even their handler; that is why it is important to have extreme knowledge on how to tame them. When they are placed in a tank, they will have a strong urge to escape bumping or rubbing their bodies against the walls of the tank leading to an injured nose. 

Availability-Where to Get One?

These snakes are not often available in a local pet store, but they are often seen in some pet collectors. You can look for them on the internet; there are even some snake collectors that proactively post snakes that are up for sale. It is advisable to get these types of snakes from a legitimate breeder because somehow their snakes are tamed and acclimated to stay in captivity. There are some countries where these snakes are endangered, so it is impossible from those countries such as in Illinois. 

How to Care Reptile as a Pet?

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Housing

You can place a pair of Masticophis in a terrarium with a gallon capacity of about 50 to 125. They are most likely to have an urge to escape and hurt themselves in a small tank, so it is best to give them quite large housing. It is advisable to make use of housing that is durable, easy to clean, and plenty of floor space. Their tank should consist of areas where they can do their activities such as basking, climbing, soaking. 

Substrate and Accessories

They prefer dry areas, so it is advisable to use substrates that promote heat and dry environments such as aspen chips, bark shards, dry cypress, and fir. Makes sure that they have sufficient substrate where they can burrow. You need to make sure that their housing becomes a habitat where their natural environment is mimic; that is why you need to place some logs, rocks, and branches where they can climb. They are quite an active animal that moves, so these accessories are important to divert their attention from escaping.

Food and Water

Masticophis are not a picky eater; they eat a variety of living creatures, but in captivity, rodents such as rats and mice are common. Make sure to be consistent in feeding your pet; they are usually fed at least twice or thrice a week depending on the amount of food given to them. Make sure to always place a bowl of fresh water to your snake’s tank for its hydration. Always clean this bowl of water regularly, especially when it has been soiled. 

Lighting and Temperature

The ideal temperature for Masticophis is at 75 degrees Fahrenheit at nightie and about 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day time. Although they are not fond of basking all the time, there should always be readily available basking area with lighting equipment that gives about 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit that is lit for several hours a day. They need to bask every after eating to help them digest their food.

Handling

Handling your pet once in a while will help you get along with them. This is also a way for you to check they’re well where you can observe the parts of their body clearly. Tongue flickering and actively moving around are the signs that your pet is healthy. If you observe something unusual or if it shows dull behavior, then don’t hesitate to visit a veterinarian. Before handling them, make sure to equip yourself with the proper way on how to hold them to deal with their aggressiveness.

Conservation Status

There are two reasons why their population is slowly decreasing; it is either habitat destruction or motor vehicle collisions. There are some places in the United States, such as in Illinois, where their population is already endangered; that is why there are some efforts to breed in captivity and release juveniles in the wild to help further increase their populations. There are already tactics provided to help protect or conserve their habitat.

Impact on the Environment and Humans

Masticophis prey on different kinds of pests that is harmful for vegetation, such as rodents, insects, and lizards balancing the ecosystem. However, due to their aggressiveness, biting humans cause their flesh to tear because they move their heads from side to side. If that is the case, there is a need for medical attention to attend to the wound properly.

FAQ Section

Are Coachwhips aggressive?

Coachwhips are considered as an aggressive reptile, although they are nonvenomous. when they are threatened, they show defensive mechanisms to their predator, but for humans, they tend to bite forcefully if they are threatened.

Why does Masticophis is known as a whip snake?

They are known as a whip snake because, as a defensive mechanism in front of their predator, they whip their tail to scare them off.

Can these snakes fart?

They do not have the ability to pass gas, but they have the ability to defecate and urinate, and sometimes, they do these to scare their predator. They also release a musk or scent glands that will pass by through their vents to make-believe their predators as well as the hunters that they are venomous.

Do Masticophis kill rattlesnakes?

They eat snakes that are smaller to them even though it possesses venom. Rattlesnakes are smaller than coachwhips, and since coachwhips are immune to the venom of rattlesnakes, they can definitely serve as a prey to this snake. Masticophis also eat their eggs.

Do Masticophis snakes make good pets?

Taking good care of Masticophis is not advisable to newbies and to those who do not have sufficient knowledge about this snake. They have a short span of patience that makes them aggressive, especially if they are not tamed. You need to place them in a large tank so that the urge to escape will be lessened.

Can a multiple Masticophis snake stay in one housing?

You can place two snakes in one tank, preferably one male and one female, especially if you are into breeding and reproduction; just be sure that it is large enough for them to move and as long as you can supply their daily needs. 

How do they kill their prey?

Unlike constrictor snakes, Masticophis kill their prey by means of swallowing it alive. They use their strong mouth to grab their prey; that is why they only eat animals that are smaller to them because just by grabbing through their mouths, the prey has possibilities of dying.

Do they take good care of their young?

Like other snakes, they only stay with their eggs as soon as it hatches. The juveniles live on their own from the day they come out from their eggs.

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