Issue #19 - May 2021

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erpetoculture agazine Issue #19 - May 2021

The Tri-Color Hognose! A new Book With Dr. Messenger In Pursuit of Old World Rat Snakes with R&B Reptiles Readers' Herp Tattoos!

Reptiles & Skin Color

Palmetto Coast



-- On the Cover -Unquestionable Zac HerrQuality Colubrids - Chondros - & More

This Issue... Page 5

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Page 11 Page 23 Page 12 Page 13

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Copyright © 2021 by Herpetoculture Magazine all rights reserved. This publication or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. Nineteenth Edition Herpetoculture Magazine

Contributors Justin Smith - Publisher -

Billy Hunt - Publisher -

Phil Wolf - Executive Contributor -

Nipper Read - Executive Contributor -

Paul Donovan - Contributor -

Kris Painschab - Contributor -

Kevin Messenger - Contributor -

Roy A. Blodgett - Contributor -

Dallas & Amanda Rua - Contributors -


R&B Reptiles - Contributors -

Don Miller - Contributor -

From The Publishers’ Desk It’s that time again. Another edition of HM and we hope everyone is having a great year and breeding season. It’s funny how the internet can bring people together that otherwise would’ve likely never met. Dr. Kevin Messenger, our industry spotlight for this issue, is a great example for me personally. We invited him to come on the Herpetoculture Podcast and after that he and I continue to talk fairly regularly. It is so cool to know that getting in touch with personal influences or people we look up to is as easy as an email or message on Facebook. The fact that I can talk to Paul Donovan, Scott Eipper, Nipper Read, and so many others I consider friends from across the globe blows my mind. They’re all just a click away. For all of the internets’ faults, it does still have some redeeming qualities and I can confidently say there are a lot of friends that I would have never had in my circle if it weren’t for social media. While the internet is global, it has also made the world a lot smaller. Especially in this hobby we call herpetoculture. Enjoy issue #19! - Justin

Justin Smith & Billy Hunt -Publishers-

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Top Quality, Smooth Action Racks


Do you cut your eggs?

“Let them be, unless there’s an issue” - Stuart Chase

“I don't cut because of survival of the fittest. But I'm not out for production or need to hit that odd. I just want quality animals that should establish well. Even then it can be hit and miss. Not everything is meant to survive” - Brandon Millichamp

“Cut em! We keep snakes in boxes not nature! give ‘em a little help. (A little cut, not to rip them out)” - Dan Colgan

“If there is an egg that has not pipped on its own after all the rest have I will give it a slice but other than that, I let them do their own thing” - Dr. Travis Wyman

Herpetoculture Magazine


Captive Husbandry of

Xenodon pulcher

by Roy Arthur Blodgett


Disclaimer It is important to begin by disclosing that what follows is largely a work of opinion, primarily informed by the author’s experiences and secondarily by those of other keepers who have generously shared their successes and failures. As with all endeavors, there are many ways of achieving success working with animals in captivity - and just as many ways of determining what qualifies as success. Herpetoculture at its best is not prescriptive, but rather attentive and responsive. As such, what I’ve written here is a living document and is sure to adapt and change with continued learning and observation of the animals in my care. I want to be clear that I don’t claim to know the best way, and I have no intention of offering the only way. My aim herein is simply to offer what I have observed and what has worked for me, backed by the best evidence I can find, with the driving intention of exploring how to provide the quality of care and attention which I feel all captive animals profoundly deserve. The keeping of animals in captivity is a complicated and often paradoxical prospect, and something that I do not expect to entirely reconcile. One thing is clear to me though: if I am to be responsible for the well being of a life which is not my own, then I intend to undertake that responsibility with as much care and sensitivity as I can muster. In my journey with herpetoculture, the privilege of this undertaking and arrangement has come with an ample share of gratitude, and has been punctuated at times with regret at mistakes I have made. My primary commitment is to continue learning from both ends of that spectrum and to continue progressing as a keeper.

Introduction and Natural History Xenodon pulcher, commonly known as the tricolor or banded hognose snake, is a small, fossorial dipsadid snake native to the Gran Chaco region of the South American continent. Mature adults of the species measure 24 to 30 inches in length on average, and are distinctly clad in smooth scales patterned in red (or orange), black, and white (or yellow) bands. Aberrancy in pattern is not uncommon and bicolor specimens lacking red or white are occasionally encountered. The species is easily identified and differentiated from other tricolor snakes with which it is sympatric by its distinctive upturned rostral scale, an adaptation which aids in the subterranean behavior for which this snake and its relatives are known. The tricolor hognose snake, like other nonvenomous tricolor snakes in its range, is thought to mimic the highly venomous coral snake (Micrurus pyrrhocryptus).

Widespread in their native range, tricolor hognose snakes are strongly associated with the Chaco bioregion, from eastern Bolivia, southern Paraguay, and southwestern Brazil in the north, south through central Argentina. This region has a relatively mild, temperate climate, with average daytime highs in the mid-80s F dropping into the mid-60s F at night through the warmer months. Winter temperatures average with daytime highs in the mid60s F and nighttime lows in the mid-40s F. Rainfall begins in spring and peaks in the summer months, while the winters remain relatively dry. Photoperiod peaks at approximately 14 hours in the summer months, and gradually reduces to 10 hours of sunlight in the depths of winter.

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These patterns drastically influence the activity patterns of Xenodon pulcher, with a strong spike in observations of the species occurring in the spring, corresponding with the onset of heavy rain and increased amphibian activity. Often described as psammophilous (having a preference for sand), Xenodon pulcher is a denizen of grassland, savannah, shrubland, and occasionally woodland habitats with sandy soils, where it preys primarily upon amphibians, lizards, and squamate eggs. The species is opisthoglyphous, possessing enlarged rear fangs and venom which aids in immobilizing prey. Though there are no confirmed human fatalities attributed to them, envenomations have been documented on occasion by captive keepers who have reported mild symptoms including swelling, edema, and nausea, subsiding within hours to days after the bite. Usually such bites are related to a feeding response and the species is not inclined to bite defensively in my experience, but will occasionally resort to a defensive display of dorsal flattening, bluff striking, and fast, erratic movements intended to dissuade potential predators or other threats - interestingly, such behaviors are also common in coral snakes.

Housing Given their modest size, tricolor hognose snakes can be suitably housed in a number of different styles of enclosure - from glass tanks, to wooden enclosures, to modern PVC setups. I recommend housing adults individually (except for breeding purposes) in enclosures of approximate dimensions of 36” by 18” by 18” (or larger, if possible), with a substrate depth of at least 3 inches to adequately allow for burrowing behavior. Due to their activity level, these snakes will make use of whatever space they are afforded, and despite common claims that they hide all the time, I have found that when given the opportunity to express natural behaviors such as basking and climbing, they will not hesitate to do so. Given their fossorial nature, substrate is an important component in the care of tricolor hognose snakes. A number of options are commercially available and suitable for the burrowing needs of the species, and keepers have successfully used materials as disparate as aspen bedding and coconut coir fiber. Substrates with very fine clay or dust particles should be avoided, as such fine materials are prone to adhering to the snakes’ scales, particularly around the eyes and nostrils.


For substrates that don’t retain humidity well, it is recommended to provide a humid hide filled with a moisture retaining material such as long fiber sphagnum moss. For the snakes in my care, I try to emulate their native soil as well as I can, and provide a mixture of play sand, peat moss, decomposed granite, and leaf litter, which allows for extensive burrowing without fine particles adhering to the snakes’ scales. This mixture also finely accommodates the needs of live grasses native to the Gran Chaco which I have included in the vivariums of my tricolors for cover, and is suitable for microfauna such as springtails and isopods, which can be employed to assist in vivarium maintenance as a clean up crew to consume residual waste that is missed from spot cleaning. To provide a moisture gradient in the substrate, I occasionally overfill the water bowl that I provide the snakes for drinking water, which is kept on the opposite end of the enclosure as the heat elements. This provides a wide gradient in moisture levels in the substrate, with the cool end remaining quite cool and moist, while the warm end stays dry. Vivarium decor, such as rocks and branches, provides cover and can be used to improve opportunities for the snakes to perform natural behaviors. I have found that tricolors will readily climb if provided the opportunity in the form of branches or other structures. Rocks provide hiding opportunities, and, when used in conjunction with overhead heat sources emitting IR-A and IR-B, also retain heat in the form of thermal mass, which the snakes will readily utilize for thermoregulation. Cover in the form of leaf litter and live or artificial plants is also beneficial, providing security and allowing for behaviors such as cryptic basking, in which a snake might bask with only part of its body exposed. Witnessing such behaviors emerge in a captive setting is a consistently gratifying experience for me as a keeper.

Heating and Lighting When I first began keeping tricolor hognose snakes, I kept them as most keepers do, using under tank heat tape as the primary source of infrared, with ambient lighting providing a photoperiod. However, after learning more in recent years about the spectrum of infrared radiation, I’ve moved away from viewing such methods as adequate sources of long term heat, and have instead moved to prioritize overhead heating and lighting, as I do with all of my other reptiles. To achieve this, I use PAR38 halogen bulbs, which emit infrared radiation rich in IR-A and IR-B wavelengths, and supplementally provide IR-C by heating rocks and other enclosure decor. Since making this transition, I have frequently observed the snakes in my care exhibit a broad range of basking behavior from burying themselves in the substrate just below the beam of light, to basking openly on branches just below the lamp. In terms of temperatures, surfaces within the wide beam of the lamp can reach the mid-90s F, while ambients on the warmer side of the enclosure average in the low to mid-80s F, gradually decreasing to the low 70s F on the cool end. I don’t provide supplemental nighttime heat, and nighttime temperatures drop on average into the mid-60s during the summer months, and cooler in the winter. For lighting, I use a combination of LEDs, for visual light and optimal plant growth, and T5HO UVB bulbs for all the added health benefits that such bulbs provide. I aim to maintain a UVI gradient of 1.5 - 3.5, with the highest UVB readings at the basking area nearest the bulb. This combination of LEDs, T5HO bulbs, and halogens also recreates a photoperiod for the snakes, with the halogens dimming on and off each morning and night to simulate sunrise and sunset. After the halogens have reached full brightness, they are followed by the LEDs, which are followed by the T5HO bulbs at the peak light intensity of the day. I adjust the timing of the bulbs on a biweekly basis to reproduce the seasonal change in photoperiod which the snakes would experience in their native range, and because the halogens are their primary source of heat, this also helps to reproduce the changes in seasonal temperatures. These rhythms are also key elements to successfully breeding this species.

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Diet and Nutrition Within their native range, tricolor hognose snakes and their relatives feed primarily on amphibians, lizards, and squamate eggs. In the scant literature I’ve been able to find describing the diet of the species and its relatives, there has been no recorded evidence of mammalian prey. Despite this, and largely out of convenience, the vast majority of reptile keepers and breeders working with tricolors have fed the species a diet primarily consisting of rodents, which they will often eagerly accept as prey. I have my doubts that this is a sustainable diet for them, though, as I’ve encountered numerous accounts of early death in the species from fatty liver disease - an ailment which in herpetofauna is usually correlated to feeding animals too rich a diet. This is also likely due in part to feeding the species too frequently, particularly as adults. Accordingly, I prefer to feed the adult pulcher in my care a primarily non-rodent diet consisting of small quail and cased links composed of ground (whole-prey) frog and/or lizard. I also aim to keep the adult specimens in my care quite lean, avoiding an overweight body condition often expressed by obvious scale separation. This usually corresponds to feeding the adults in my care every 10 - 14 days during their active seasons, and it is not uncommon for my adult male to refuse food for weeks at a time, thereby setting his own feeding schedule to some degree. For adult snakes that have been on rodents, which don’t at first accept links or quail as prey, I have found that chain feeding is a helpful method for encouraging them to switch. This method involves offering the snake a prey item it is certain to accept, and while it is swallowing that prey item, sneaking in the second prey item as the snake moves its jaws to consume the first. In my experience, this only has to be performed once or twice before the snake will begin recognizing the second offering as prey and accepting it outright, usually with zeal. For neonates, I alternate offering extra small pinky mice and button quail heads on a weekly basis, both of which have been eagerly accepted in my experience when drop-fed overnight. As soon as juveniles are large enough to accept whole button quail, I offer them and cased links of frog and/or lizard exclusively, gradually increasing prey size as the snakes grow. Most tricolors are ravenous feeders, but this is particularly true of female specimens in peak season which are prone to strike at almost anything that moves in hopes of securing a meal. This can be a precarious situation for the unsuspecting keeper who


needs to change the water, do a bit of spot cleaning, or handle the snake for a brief inspection. To address this, I have taken to alerting the snakes of my presence by bumping them gently with a small snake hook before proceeding with vivarium maintenance. The snakes quickly associate this cue as being unrelated to feeding, and since employing this method, I’ve yet to suffer a single bite from my tricolors.

Brumation and Breeding Xenodon pulcher, like most reptiles adapted to a temperate environment, is resigned to a period of relative inactivity and torpor in the depths of the winter months called brumation. This period is an important process in the life cycle of the species, key to normal spermatogenesis in male snakes and egg development in females. As such, for optimal breeding success, it must be reproduced for snakes in captivity. Achieving this is a relatively simple process of altering photoperiod and ambient temperatures, as has been alluded to already. In my circumstances, because I live in a temperate region and maintain my snakes in my basement (which has relatively stable year-round temperatures), it is only a matter of reducing the photoperiod I provide for my snakes in the winter months. As a result, their activity level decreases dramatically and they begin to show less interest in food (particularly in males), only occasionally emerging from the substrate to bask or drink from their water bowls. With increasing temperatures and day length in spring, I begin offering food regularly again, in anticipation of pairing the snakes in early summer. Tricolor hognose snakes are vigorous breeders and pairings usually lead to copulation within a matter of minutes or hours, in my experience. The courtship process involves the male snake pursuing the female, riding across her back in undulating,

serpentine motions, and tongue flicking intently, all while attempting to align himself and lift the females tail. If the female is receptive she will lift her tail, allowing the male access to the cloaca. Copulation itself lasts for up to four hours in my observations. If a female is unreceptive, she will flee the male’s advances and wrestle to avoid lifting her tail. In such cases I simply remove the male and try again after a few days. It’s important to supervise pairing and avoid cohabiting for longer than a day or two, as eager males can cause considerable stress on females with their amorous advances. If copulation is ultimately successful, females will lay their first clutch of the season as soon as five weeks after mating, and if well fed, will continue to produce consecutive clutches every five to six weeks until photoperiod and temperatures begin to arc toward brumation. In my experience, the female will shed three to five days before oviposition. With my snakes, clutch sizes have ranged between 5 and 9 eggs, but larger clutches are not uncommon. I opt for incubating the eggs at 78 F with a nightly drop to 76 F and humidity of 80%, which results in hatching approximately 105-110 days after oviposition. Warmer temperatures may result in shorter incubation times, but also correspond to smaller, less vigorous neonates. So far, I’ve had excellent results with incubating at these temperatures, with neonates hatching at an average weight of 5 grams, and accepting their first meals just a few days following their initial shed.

Conclusion In my opinion, Xenodon pulcher is a fantastic species for the novice to intermediate herpetoculturist. The combination of their stunning beauty and modest size gives them excellent potential for average keepers and single-pet households, who might have too limited space or resources to commit to a larger species. They are also durable snakes, forgiving of most beginner mistakes - a fact that has unfortunately contributed to them enduring substandard husbandry practices in the mainstream. When kept with care and regard for their capacity to exhibit natural behaviors, they are rewarding and engaging snakes, which will hopefully continue to increase in popularity for years to come. There is still much to learn from this captivating little gem of the Gran Chaco. - Reference Materials and Recommended Reading Annual activity patterns of snakes from central Argentina (Cordoba province)

Reptilia, Colubridae, Xenodontinae, Lystrophis dorbignyi, Lystrophis pulcher, and Lystrophis semicinctus: Distribution extension, new provinces records in Argentina Natural history of Xenodon matogrossensis (Scrocchi and Cruz, 1993) (Serpentes, Dipsadidae) in the Brazilian Pantanal Weatherspark: Cordoba, Argentina iNaturalist: Banded Hognose Snake (Xenodon pulcher)

Herpetoculture Magazine


Book Review: The Asian Ratsnakes and Kin of Greater China By Dr. Kevin Messenger China is typically not the first place herpers think of as a “mecca”. In fact, much of the country's herps haven’t been studied nearly as much as their Southeast Asian neighbors. There is, however, one American who is currently trying to fix that, Doctor Kevin Messenger. A few months ago he released a new book, The Asian Ratsnakes and Kin of Greater China. The book is meant to be a field guide crossed with a reference book of sorts and highlights the array of rat snakes that China has to offer. Some of these colubrids are familiar to most of us in the hobby and some are rarely seen in captive collections at all. In my opinion, this book is a must-have for anyone interested in old-world rat snakes as it covers all the bases be it Beauty Snakes, Bamboo Rats, Gonyosoma, Elaphe, and more! Group by group, Dr. Messenger gives general care information as it pertains to each genus, scales counts, distribution maps, photos of both the species and the habitat they are found in (something I really liked). Overall, it was a straightforward read. The paragraphs of text have both english and chinese to make the literature easy and accessible to the people living in the same space as some of these species. Even in the short time of me buying a copy and finally getting my hands on some Elaphe bimaculata I was using the book as a reference for care info before I got the snakes! What better resource for info like climate and general habitat than a book that speaks about the species specifically? Another part of this book helps outline all the different bamboo rat snakes. I’m sure I speak for others and myself when I say that group can be confusing especially with so many crosses in the hobby, known or unknown. Messenger gives a nice, detailed map showing the various species, their range, and where the taxonomic problems may lie. I highly recommend this book and check out our interview with Kevin in this issue! Review by Justin Smith


Top Five Herp Room Must-Haves

With Kris Painschab of Badlands Herpetoculture Disposable gloves


The first item on my list of reptile room necessities is probably the one that is the most indicative to me. In my many years of reptile keeping, I have found that I have a severe allergy to not only aspen and pine beddings – but also to mice and rats. It is assumed that this is derivative of the beddings they are most commonly kept on. For my own comfort I have found that regularly wearing disposable gloves while working with my snakes has made things easily bearable. I use the “extra strong” type – but just about any will work. I have also found that being able to remove and replace on the fly is an easy way to manage cross contamination between different groups of animals – specifically animals in quarantine.

Service Cart The number one item that I use the absolute most is my plastic service cart. It has rolling and locking casters on the model I have. This is just the most amazing work station I can imagine. The model that I have is big enough to hold an 18 X 18 X 24 gecko terrarium and move around to do a full clean on it. I use this for everything from working with baby snakes that are being stubborn feeders to full break downs on rack systems. Get one that can hold a decent amount of weight and will hold up to being tossed around. I’ve even used mine to cart snakes around my house for picture taking outside or moving to the brumation closet. Having a mobile operations base is just endlessly valuable. Be sure to keep it clean and sanitize often. Also I would suggest getting the biggest one you can fit into your reptile room and still have room to work around.


3. Temp gun

I’m sure this is a staple in most reptile rooms – but it just can not be overlooked. Being able to check temperatures on the fly is just vital to consistency in your room. I am a strong proponent of keeping records of temperatures and light cycles. The more knowledge you have of your room – the stronger you will be as a keeper and breeder.

Bath & Body Works Wallflower

Do you know how bad Pituophis stink? It’s bad. Why would anybody want a room full of these things? I needed to find a way to overcome the smell – and even though I clean every day – some poop is bound to happen while I’m at work or god forbid sleeping. My reptile room is just about in the middle of my house – if it smells bad – the whole house smells bad. I absolutely hate bad smells and my wife is the same way. I have found that, for my size room, the Bath & Body Works wallflowers work amazingly. It's killer the amount of pleasant smells you will get out of these simple items. Your olfactory receptors will thank you. Your significant other will thank you. Your house guests will thank you. Nothing will ever beat proper cleaning – you need to keep up with that for your hygiene as well as your animals. You cannot replace that. But if you want to keep the “pet shop” smell to a minimum – I would try one or two of these. Shout out to Oahu-Coconut sunset and Beach Day – these smell great.


5. Amazon Echo

In almost every single situation I need my jams! Being able to put on music and podcasts without using your hands is just the best. Mental clarity while working is pivotal to keeping up motivation. A lot of keepers that make the move to “breeders” or are to the size of having a whole reptile room, are going to be spending a lot of time with their animals. Burnout is real – almost everyone that gets invested in this hobby will feel it. Keeping your motivation up and constantly having fun keep you moving forward. It will always promote positivity.

Herpetoculture Magazine 12

Skin Colour in Nature By Paul Donovan


Why That Colour? Colouration is used for many purposes in the animal world. For example, birds use it for courtship, where males are often vibrantly coloured, and when combined with often elaborate dances, is used to court females. In a similar approach, some species of lizards like Agamas, it can also be used for the same purpose. During the breeding season, males may develop brightly coloured heads and bodies, and when included with various behaviours such as head bobbing or ‘push ups’, signals to females in the area he is ready to mate. It can also be used to counter unwanted rivalry from other males. In snakes, colouration is used primarily for camouflage as, unlike many species of lizards, they do not engage in courtship rituals associated with colouration.

Not all as it seems When we look at reptiles or amphibians, one of the features which sticks out are the multitude of colours they exhibit. But colouration in the animal world is a strange thing. Let’s take a green snake as an example. As we look at it, to our eyes it’s a green snake. But the strange thing is, green (and blue) pigment does not exist in the reptile world. But if we see them as green or blue, what are we actually seeing, then? Blue and green is not a pigment per say in reptiles, but is created by reflection of blue light coming through an over-layer of yellow pigmentation due to iridophores, sometimes also called guanophores. These are coloured cells located in the upper part of the dermis which contain a semi-crystalline substance called guanine. Think of guanine as millions of tiny mirrors in the skin. As light hits the guanine, they refract it by dividing it at its surface. As light moves at different speeds through the crystals, they cause it to be separated into different wavelengths; a phenomena known as Tyndall, or Rayleigh scattering. By joining with the cells containing melanin (melanophores), guanophores produce blue colouration which, when combined with the yellow lipohores, then give rise to green colouration. It is the guanophores which are responsible for the iridescence we see in many snakes such as the Rainbow boa, Epicrates cenchria. By refracting light at its various wavelengths, the snake shimmers all colours of the rainbow. We can see how pigment is not a molecular component of the reptilian skin by the fact that, when the skin is shed, it is colourless. If the pigment was integrated into the skin structure at a molecular level, the shed skin would also be colourful.


Specializing in Morelia & Old World Ratsnakes.

15 @uwabamireptiles

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Pigment Cells As well as guanophores, reptile and amphibian skin also gets its colour from pigmentation, and within pigmentation, there are several factors which influence the skin's colour. Possibly the one having the greatest impact is melanin, for this is responsible for the dark colours we see, such as black and brown. Most dark pigmentation is derived from melanin which is synthesised through the oxidation of the amino acid tyrosine, and is the most common pigmentation in the animal world. Melanin evolves from several forms, the three most common being:

Eumelanin - This is the most widespread type as it forms the foundation for black, brown and grey pigmentation. Eumelanin is contained in vesicles called melanophores which are distributed throughout the cell. Eumelanin is generated from tyrosine, the key element of which to enable its synthesis is Tyrosinase. Where this is not present, no melanin can be produced, thus leading to varying degrees of albinism.

Pheomelanin - This pigment is what gives rise to a reddish or beige tinge.

Neuromelanin - A pigment found in the brain of higher life forms (humans and primates) but is less seen in lower animals. Although there may be well defined differences in terms of colour variation between these forms of melanin, all are usually present in dark individuals. It may seem strange, but although melanin is the most widely known pigment in the animal world, and much studied, we still know very little about it. The main reason for this is that when it is removed from the tissue, it basically turns into a ‘blob’ and reacts differently, making analysis of how it functions extremely difficult.

subdivisions according to the colour they are based on under a neutral white light; xanthophores (yellow), erythrophores (red/orange [carotenoids]), leucophores (white), melanophores (black/brown), cyanophores (blue) and iridophores (iridescence).

Xanthophores & Erythrophores A word about xanthophores and erythrophores. Although xanthophores contain yellow pteridine pigments, and erythrophores red/orange carotenoids, both of pigments can sometimes be found within the same cell, and the ratio of yellow to red/orange will influence the skin's colour. Because of this, many scientists consider the distinction between the two somewhat subjective. While pteridine is synthesised from guanosine triphosphate, carotenoids are metabolised from the animal’s diet and transferred to the erythrophores. As carotenoids are directly metabolised from what many lizards and frogs eat, if this is lacking in their diet, green colour will be suppressed in favour of blue. In other words, if you bought a wild caught frog which was green, and fed it a diet of crickets which had not been fed any form of food which contained carotenoid pigmentation, eventually you will end up with a frog which has turned blue, because cyanophora will become the dominant pigment. This is one reason why feeder crickets should also be fed a varied diet prior to being offered as food. Much emphasis is placed on sprinkling, or gut loading feeder insects with a calcium/mineral supplement to ensure that the lizard/amphibian gets an adequate intake to ensure good bone density, but an acceptable intake of metabolised pigment is also important for some species if colour is to be retained. Some amphibians suchs as this Grey tree frog, Chiromantis xerampelina can change colour.

Chromatophores Within the reptile and amphibians’ skin, as well as melanophores, are colour cells called chromatophores. These are arranged in three layers and are responsible for generating skin and eye colour in cold-blooded animals. The upper layer of skin contains xanthophores; iridophores below that, and melanophores at the very bottom. These chromatophores have


Background Adaptation Colouration, being so important to reptiles and amphibians as a means of courtship and camouflage, has also seen a number of species evolve the ability to change their colour in response to changes in their background. This type of response is called ‘background adaptation’ and there are some prime species which employ this technique. It is not so widely practiced in amphibians as it is in reptiles, but I have experience of one frog which practices it here in Botswana. The Grey Foam-Nest Frog, Chiromantis xerampelina is, in its normal guise, a grey colour, but when it ventures onto a white surface, turns pure white. In the reptile world, although a number of lizard species have the ability to practice background adaptation, such as Anoles, by far the most famous exponent of this are the chameleons. Chameleons have the ability to generate a lot of different colours within seconds in response to background demands. The difference between chameleons changing colour and other background adaptives, is that chameleons can change colour due to other stimuli such as stress levels, moods, and temperature, whereas other background adaptives use it more for camouflage purposes, and it is therefore a visually based need. But what is the process which enables such rapid colour changes? Well, it is all down to those iridophore cells. Unlike other animals such as squid, cuttlefish and octopus which change colour by dispersing pigments within the skin cells, colour changing lizards have adopted a different approach. They rely on physical changes, either through a relaxed state or excited state that shape how light reflects off their skin. Their skin encompasses two layers of iridophores cells which contain nanocrystals of varying shapes, sizes and grouping in the cells. By relaxing the upper layer of skin, the arrangement of cells in that layer changes structurally. The nanocrystals in iridophores cells in that layer suddenly gather close together which causes them to reflect specific short wavelengths of light, particularly blue. In an excited state, these nanocrystals begin to space themselves out, so that each iridophore reflects longer wavelengths of light such as red, orange and yellows. As the skin also contains yellow pigment, mix these different wavelengths of light and pigment together, and we get the varying array of colours which chameleons are so renowned for.


Various stimuli can stimulate back ground adaptation in chameleons. A green snake is not green through pigmentation, but light refraction. Below: Bothriechis bicolor

Colour In Morphs So, it is with the amalgamation of all these different types of pigmentation that results in the colours displayed by a reptile or amphibian, and these are pretty uniform across the range of species. There are, of course, throwbacks in which pigments can manifest in ‘abnormalities’. By this I mean an individual which does not exhibit its ‘normal’ range of pigmentation, but something quite different. These in the reptile world are known as ‘colour morphs’. Such individuals show colouration or patterns of colouration which some people consider more desirable than the typical colour, and are prepared to pay handsomely for. These morphs are often specifically bred for these colour strains.

Albinism - Typically, albinism is the total lack of any

pigmentation in the skin and eyes giving the individual a white or yellow appearance. Take the humble corn snake as an example. Its natural colour is an amalgamation of reds, browns, oranges and black. In an individual lacking melanin, the skin takes on a pinkish-white colour. This is because the three primary pigment cells (chromatophores) in the skin are affected; these being melanophores which contain the brown/ black pigment melanin; xanthophores which contain red and yellow pigment, and iridophores containing light reflecting crystals. As these three primary pigments can also be affected by genetic influence, numerous colour morph throwbacks are possible.

Leucism - Leucism is the partial loss of pigmentation resulting

in a white, or pale individual. It may occur over the entire body, or in patches. Often confused with albinism, leucistic snakes retain normal eye colouration, and not the pink as seen in true albinos. As with albino snakes, in the wild, leucistic snakes are more vulnerable to predators.

Melanism - Melanism in some species is a natural colour form, but can be a throwback in others. Classically, an excess of brown or black pigmentation results is a pure black or brown individual. The eyes are also dark due to the presence of melanocytes in the RPE. In the wild, such individuals would have the same survival rate as the atypically coloured individuals in terms of predation, though may suffer from heat related problems, as black absorbs heat, whereas lighter colours reflect it.

True albinos also have complete lack of pigmentation in the eyes, giving the eyes a pink colour. A pure white individual, but with normal coloured eyes, is not a true albino. Generally in the wild, albinos would not survive for very long, as they become more conspicuous to predators. Also, the loss of eye pigmentation makes the eyes much more sensitive to light, and therefore can affect the individuals’ vision. In captivity, it is wise to reduce the amount of light an albino is exposed to, so as to avoid eye damage. Pigmentation in both the reptile and amphibian world is far from being a simple case of having a set pigment to define a colour. As By way of interest, eye colouration in animals is also influenced we have seen, a green snake is not green through pigmentation, by the amount of melanin present. Those with black or brown but light refraction. Furthermore, the absence of certain pigments eyes have higher amounts of melanin than those with lighter through genetic abnormalities, or selective breeding, can lead to coloured eyes such as blue. In albinos, melanin is absent from colour morphs. Still further, the lack of certain pigments in prey the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE), or the iris, and the animals can affect a frog’s colour. Colour, then, in all its wonderful redness of the eyes is due to the underlying blood vessels entirety, is not as straightforward as we first assume. Irrespective showing through. Albinism is hereditary; the gene which of how it is generated, though, few could dispute reptiles and causes it, inhibits the body from making sufficient amounts of amphibians are some of the most colourful of all living animals. melanin to give it colouration.


Herpetoculture Magazine


R&B Reptiles & the Pursuit of Old World Rat Snakes

By Ryan Goodman and Ben Levin 19


o you ever see an animal in a book or magazine and think “I’d really love to work with an amazing creature like that!”? I mean, think back, really think back to a time when you saw a picture or video of an animal that really got your blood pumping and made that little flame of passion inside of you start blazing…We had that moment several years ago. R&B Reptiles is owned and operated by a pair of funny blokes named Ryan Goodman and Ben Levin. It all started for us when Ryan nearly tricked Ben into starting a reptile business by getting him to go to one of the larger reptile expos in the US. After Ben got a small glimpse into this crazy but fascinating industry, he was hooked. Like a lot of people, we started off with a couple of boas and a handful of ball pythons. As our friend David Levinson always says “Ball Pythons are the gateway drug into the reptile hobby.” He was right and it was all downhill after that. After a few years, we wanted to start expanding our collection by getting into Blue Tongue Skinks, Pygmy Pythons, insects, and Asian rat snakes. Ryan had been looking at countless species of snakes in the herpetocultural world. But it wasn’t until a trip to BHB Reptiles, to visit Brian Barczyk, that we got our first up close look at a pair of Rhino Rat Snakes (Gonyosoma boulengeri). We were instantly hooked. After seeing these cool looking snakes in books and in old magazines, we got to hold them and found out first hand why people loved working with them. Of course, we bought a pair of babies. Did you know the easiest way to start baby Rhino Rat Snakes out feeding, is to buy a few small live rosy red minnows and put them in their water dish? They actually go hunt for the fish. It is so neat! Once you get them eating, you put a frozen/thawed, day old mouse pink in the water at each feeding. After they start eating the mouse pink along with their fish, you start only putting the mouse pink in the water. Eventually, you don’t have to put the F/T mouse pink in their water dish any more and they will even start feeding right off of the tongs. What a fun species!

Herpetoculture Magazine


As they started to grow, we wanted to get into all of the old world Asian rat snakes that we could find. We ended up making friends with a great guy named Matthew Most. He runs Sarpamitra LLC and works with a ton of rare rat snakes, pythons, and a myriad of other really interesting species; too many to list. Naturally, we had to pick up a bunch of babies Matt produced. He got us into 3 species of Bamboo Rat Snakes (Oreocryptophis porphyraceus), Japanese Forest Rat Snakes (Euprepiophis conspicillata), Mandarin Rat Snakes (Euprepiophis mandarinus), and more Rhino Rat Snakes (Gonyosoma boulengeri). Funny story, Matt talked Ben into a group of Rhino Rat Snakes at a Tinley Expo at 1AM after Ryan went to bed and thought we had already bought enough animals on that trip. Ryan wasn’t too pleased the next morning. Note to self: don’t let Matt Most know you are awake at a reptile expo that he is attending. He’ll send you fancy pictures and make you offers you can’t refuse… All that being said, we found ourselves learning the best ways to work with each of these species. They all seem to respond well to being kept pretty much the same, though we strongly suggest watching how each individual animal reacts to slight changes in their husbandry. We find there could be little tweaks that make big differences with specific animals, even of the same species. Here is the run-down of how we keep them:

- Rack system 28qt tubs with plenty of substrate to borrow in (ProCoco) - Room temperature (70-75 degrees Fahrenheit) - 65% Humidity - Try to keep the tubs well ventilated if possible - Feeding on F/T Mice and Rats When we are breeding them, we like to introduce the males into the female’s enclosure around the February timeframe. We keep them paired in the same enclosure full time, separating them only when feeding. Once the female goes off food and looks gravid, we stop pairing them and wait for eggs. After the first clutch is laid, we feed the females heavy for a few weeks. Then we put the male back in with her. Rinse and repeat for 3 clutches a year. Some species will only do two clutches a year and some more. Our good friend Robyn Markland from Redline Science, formerly from ProExotics, had a healthy female Coxi lay 6 clutches in one year! Unbelievable.


Incubating the eggs is easy as pie. We keep the eggs in an egg box (just a plastic shoe box sized container with a snap shut top) with Press’n Seal between the container and the lid to hold the moisture in. We put very damp vermiculite in the bottom of the container then use a piece of a plastic light diffuser suspended over the vermiculite by way of a few 2oz deli cups acting as feet. The light diffuser separates the eggs from the damp vermiculite. This will ensure you can keep as much moisture as you want in the incubation box without the eggs sitting in water themselves. We incubate the eggs at 72 degrees. The incubation time varies from species to species, but they will all hatch. You must be careful not to allow the eggs to get much warmer than 73 degrees or you run the risk of defects such as tail kinks. Once you hatch out your first few old world rats, we highly suggest you take a ton of pictures and blast them all over social media. This may seem funny, but nothing is cuter than baby animals and we truly want to help ignite the passions for rarer species in the hearts of all of your friends and families. Gotta spread the love, my friend! Once you start keeping a few of these cool rat snakes, you’ll constantly be on the hunt for new species. It’s kind of like Pokemon, you’ll end up wanting to collect them all. There are 6 subspecies of porphyraceus, more than 4 localities of conspicillata, a bunch of variations of Mandarins, and the list goes on and on. This can be as expensive and rewarding as you want it to be. But in the end, you can say you don’t just look at the pictures in the books, you actually get to experience true passion each and every day.

- Product Review The Ironton Utility Cart from Northern Tool Review by Justin Smith If you are like me and don’t have a spacious herp room, then you are very likely to know my pain when I have to rearrange my entire room to get the most space out of it. A few months ago I ditched my table for a rolling cart. After doing some googling, I came across the Ironton 500 lb utility cart via Northern Tool. Before you run to your local Northern Tool, double check their website as they usually have these carts on sale. Mine set me back about $150 but it has been a worthwhile investment. After an easy assembly, I rolled my cart into my room and got it organized on the top and bottom shelf with my usual tools, tubs, and hardware. I really love that this cart has a lip to keep any snakes that go on unapproved strolls contained for at least a few extra seconds until I can get them back in their tubs. The cart dimensions are 46” W x 25” D x 32” H. This isn’t a small cart by any means but for storage and workspace it’s a perfect fit for me. Other features are the handful of cups and trays the cart has which has come to be incredibly convenient for smaller stuff that typically goes missing like my pens, syringes, twist ties, and more. The entire unit is made out of polypropylene structural foam which means this sucker won’t break unless you’re really trying, in addition to being easy to clean and disinfect! On top of all this it has rounded corners and wheels which don’t do me many favors since I’m on carpet in that room but hey, I can still move it around if necessary.

A little before (above) and after (below)

It is entirely possible that you could find a similar model from a different brand that is cheaper in price but from all the searching/shopping I did, this model fit the bill for me in terms of size and price point. At the end of the day these all do the same thing. These carts simply make life and organization easier than a stand alone table!

Herpetoculture Magazine


p r e H k n I ht g i l t h g i H Dallas & Amanda Rua of Wiregrass Exotics


Donald Miller 23

- Dallas Rua 2-Headed Corn Snake "In this piece the upside-down triangle with a horizontal line through the bottom symbolizes earth in alchemy. The mountains are included because Amanda and I took our honeymoon in the mountains in NC. I added lilies because I have a daughter named Lily and the other exotic plants/bromeliads because they are beautiful, and remind me of my oldest daughter. Lastly, a 2-headed corn snake to symbolize good vs evil, and because it was a single pair of corn snakes that started our journey into the hobby. I had a friend of mine draw it, and Stephanie H. at Dinosaur Tattoo Co. did the work."

- Amanda Rua Rat Snake "Amanda has an adornment and absolute love of rat snakes as well as a love for that traditional style of ink work. The original art was done by the incredibly talented, Donovan Winterberg."


- Don Miller -

P. ornata tattoo - left thigh "This tattoo was done by Guy Arnold at Flesh Tattoo Company in Harford county, MD. With this tattoo, I was hoping to go as realistic as possible. The tattoo took two sessions, about 6 hours in total. The tattoo is around 8 inches, since this tarantula species is one of the largest of all the arboreal tarantulas. At the time of the tattoo, I had a relatively large collection of tarantula species. I still keep a smaller collection."

Green Tree Python right rib cage "I was impressed with some of the previous tattoo work I had done by Guy Arnold at Flesh Tattoo Company, so it seemed like a good fit to have him take on this green tree python tattoo with so much detail. The ribs are definitely a painful spot! This tattoo was done over 4 shorter sessions, about 8 hours in total. Green tree pythons are my favorite non-venomous snake and I currently keep two of them."


Cobra and Caiman half sleeve right forearm

" I have been a big fan of the show Ink Master since it came out in 2012; I watched every season.

Watching season 12 in 2019, I

learned of "Creepy Jason" from House of Madness in Hampstead, Maryland. I was enamored by his work, and with him being in my home state of Maryland, I knew I had to get some work done by him. It was even cooler that he was a top 3 finalist on the show. I decided to go with a couple of animals that I am absolutely fascinated by, but will likely never have the capacity to own: a cobra and a caiman. about 7 hours total.

The tattoo was split into 2 sessions and took "Creepy Jason" is a very quick tattooer."

Got some herp tattoos of your own to show off? Message the Herpetoculture Magazine FB page to be featured!



Industry Spotlight

A New Frontier: China herps with Kevin Messenger


HM: Who are you and what do you do? KM: My name is Kevin Messenger and I am a professor at Nanjing Forestry University in China. I grew up in Charlotte, NC and have had a love for snakes since I was about 3 years old when I was exposed to my first snake. My dad, an emergency vet, brought home an Indian python with a respiratory infection, which we rehabbed - that was the first snake I can remember, and I remember falling in love with snakes ever since. HM: What inspired you to write the book on chinese rat snakes in particular? KM: Rat Snakes have always been a favorite group of mine. I had several rat snakes species growing up. The local species for me were black rats, which I still love to find. A nice, solid black, 6 foot black rat…. great animals. In my younger years, I kept a lot of captives, nowadays, not as many. But I remember rat snakes were among the top - one of the reasons was because unlike kingsnakes, I knew I could safely keep two animals in the same cage. Kingsnakes were maybe my second favorite genus, second to “Elaphe.” With regard to the Asian rat snake book in particular. I do recall having some Taiwan Beauties as a kid, and marveling at Blue Beauties and their size. And I had a Russian rat, Elaphe Schrenckii (I liked how they reminded me of eastern kings). As for the Asian rat snake book specifically, since about 2014, I’ve been working on a book on Asian snakes. When I was awarded my position in 2017 as a professor at Nanjing Forestry University, one of the stipulations was that I publish a book. “Great, no problem!” I thought to myself, as I had already been working on a book since 2014. As my contract neared its end in October 2020, I was thinking: “hmmmm…. there’s still so much work and effort I want to put into this book, I can’t complete it by October 2020.” - So I tried to think of other species and groups that I was interested in. I love ratsnakes and there’s tons of awesome rat snakes in China, so I thought maybe I would write a book on them. And at the time my thought was “Oh, there’s only 19 species, I can knock this book out in a couple of weeks'' (my thought process was based on my focus at the time). We were in the middle of a pandemic, and I didn’t have to worry about my standard duties at the university since I was stuck in the US. So I thought I could knock out a book on 19 species fairly quickly. Man was I wrong. I’ve quickly come to learn that the first 75% of doing a book is easy, the next 20% is decent to hard work, and the last 5% is very hard. Regardless, my estimate of getting my rat snake book done by the end of October did not happen. Instead, it wasn’t until the end of February that the book was truly complete.


HM: Have you always had a particular interest in the herps in that part of the world? KM: No. Growing up, most of my interest was in North American herps. My interest in Asian herps didn’t actually come into play until my last year of undergraduate at NC State University. I was in my final year. Dr. Heatwole (my advisor - immense in the field of herpetology) had received an email from another professor in California asking for a student to come to the mountains of central China to conduct the first ever herp survey of those mountains. I’m an Eagle Scout, camping, hiking, herping, etc, is in my blood, so I immediately applied. It was a nationwide application though. However, by some crazy luck, I was the finalist and got the position. So, with that acceptance, I studied my ass off on Chinese language and Chinese herps. I grabbed any and all books I had that involved species from the region and began creating my own personal book, from an amalgamation of all of the resources I had. It was extremely frustrating because there were no proper herp books on the herps of China written in English at least. The last major book was from 1935, Pope’s “The Reptiles of China'' and as an undergraduate, such a book at $300+ was way out of my league. So I created my own “pamphlet” of the herps of Hubei province (the province I’d be working out of). This research is what began my interest in Asia.

HM: Was the process of writing the book difficult? KM: Compared to doing a Master’s or a Ph.D., no, writing a book is WAY easier! I actually want to write more books and less papers due to how much easier and less stressful they are. Writing books is fun, writing a paper…. meh, sometimes it can be fun, but sometimes not. More often than not, I find myself putting my scientific papers on the back burner while I edit various pages of future books (or what I hope will be future books). The most difficult part was the design and the formatting. My friend in China helped me translate the text and that took a long time because the scientific terms in English are not well studied in Chinese - so he had to look up a lot of the terms and consult with various Chinese herpetologists to make sure the translation was accurate. I think most people that write books usually have a design person assist with the layout, or an editor. I was doing everything myself and it was quite time consuming. Another issue was that we had to go through 3 different Chinese fonts to find one that was visually appealing, and then once we found the perfect font we realized that the English and the Chinese didn’t match very well if the English was mixed in one of the Chinese sentences.


For example, if you had a Chinese sentence and the referenced someone’s name (Heatwole for example), the English through off the spacing of the lines, so we eventually had to go in and change all of the English within the Chinese text to 10.5 font and all of the normal English sections at 12 font. It was just very tedious and time consuming, having to deal with two separate fonts and two separate font sizes, instead of just making everything the same font and the same size. And changing the Chinese fonts affected the layout of the images, and it just went on and on. English text wise, I was pretty much done around 3 months prior to the book finally getting published. I also had to produce all the range maps myself.

remembered he kept a lot of species. So I figured even though the data wouldn’t be “wild” - it would still be more informative than just having that section blank. I prefer books that are as comprehensive as possible, not only talking about the natural history of a species, but how to care for a species as well. So I contacted Matt Most and asked him if he’d be willing to contribute to some of the writing. He was quite excited about the idea and very willing to help out. His contributions I think significantly improved the book. Plus he had tons of photographs of several species I didn’t have, or at least knew of other people with said photos if he, himself, didn’t have the pictures.

HM: How did you recruit help from the private sector for the book and do you think the focused hobbyist is an overlooked resource? KM: Initially, my plan was to try and do as much of the book myself, write the whole thing myself, only use my photographs (or ones from very close friends). After I got the primary draft done (approximately 75% complete, the easy part), I looked at the finished product and realized I was massively short/ sparse on the reproduction side of the data. And that’s because the natural history of most of these species has barely been studied in China. Most herpetologists in China don’t study the natural history of the various species. They are usually too busy describing new species and still trying to determine what all they have in the country, still cataloging mountain ranges and national parks, doing bio blitzes, etc. So, I had this massive gap in the reproduction and sometimes the diet section. I remembered Matt Most had contacted me a few years back, expressing interest in writing up a captive husbandry note on Elaphe davidi. And from what I recalled, I


"King rats are among my favorite to catch in the wild. They are huge and impressive snakes."

HM: What's your favorite species from the book? KM: Hmmmm, it’s so hard to pick a favorite. King rats are among my favorite to catch in the wild. They are huge and impressive snakes. Mandarin rats are among the most beautiful I think. Ah, I know the answer to the question - and this developed as I was writing the book - Oreocryptophis porphyraceus, the bamboo rat snakes became a special interest group. I like to try and figure out puzzles and as I was collecting images and distribution maps of this complex, they intrigued me more and more as the writing continued. I’m now planning on doing a massive study on the complex in order to try and tease out the details of it. HM: This one is for Billy but how do the king rats in their natural range compare to the ones you’ve seen in captivity? KM: Appearance wise, about the same. I have seen a few very beautiful specimens produced in captivity, but many I see look like the wild type. Attitude wise? Mixed. Some captives are semi-chilled out, others are still quite pissy and nervous (which is how all wild specimens I’ve encountered have been). HM: Finally, How can the hobby be better with the taxonomic mess that has become bamboo ratsnakes? KM: Ha! Well, for one, I think it would be much better if the complex wasn’t mixed (intergrades and hybrids), because that just makes things that much more muddled. If people were to keep and breed locality specific bloodlines, I think we could learn a lot more about the complex. But when bloodlines are crossed, all bets are off with trying to learn anything “natural” about the species, or how that interaction of those bloodlines will affect pattern or color.


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In The Incubator...

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