Asian Vine Snake Care Sheet
Ahaetulla is a small genus of arboreal colubrids.
Photo by Greg Hume/Wikimedia
Ahaetulla is a small genus of arboreal colubrids commonly referred to as Asian vine snakes or whip snakes. They are mildly venomous and opisthoglyphous, meaning they have enlarged teeth located in the rear of the upper jaw (also known as rear-fanged). Unlike the fangs of other venomous snakes, vine snake fangs are not hollow, but grooved. This allows venom to flow down the teeth from their venom glands and into their prey. Venom is chewed in, so to speak.
Asian vine snakes have a vast native range from Southeast Asia to Indo-China. Distributed throughout Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and West Malaysia, Ahaetulla inhabit humid tropical lowland forests and woodland, as well as dense swamps and jungle. They are also commonly encountered near human development and agricultural land that borders ideal habitat.When vine snakes sense danger, they will remain motionless, but if there is a breeze, they will sway back and forth with the foliage to add to their camouflage. At other times, for reasons yet unclear, if there is a threat, they will remain motionless with their tongue extended for minutes at a time.
Largely diurnal, the main prey of Ahaetulla are lizards and, on occasion, small rodents and birds. The eyes are more forward than on many other species, and their pupils are horizontal. The unique spear shape of the head combined with their unique pupils gives them the ability to make distinctions between shapes, detect movements and provides them with excellent depth perception. These traits make Ahaetulla skillful hunters, and they are amazing ambush predators.
Being highly arboreal, their slender green bodies allow them to blend in among the dense jungle foliage. As previously mentioned, when hunting, they will sway back and forth with the foliage in the wind until the movement of a lizard is detected. Upon seeing the lizard, the snake will make a series of short lurches until its head is poised directly above the target. With a lightning-quick strike, the vine snake will grab the lizard by the neck and chew its venomous cocktail into the wounds inflicted by the long rear fangs. The prey quickly succumbs to the snake’s venom and is consumed.
Asian Vine Snake Taxonomy is Not Well Documented
The taxonomy of Ahaetulla isn’t well-documented and literature is scarce. Depending on the taxonomic trends at a given time, there are normally eight acknowledged species of Ahaetulla, some of which have several subspecies. They are A. dispar, A. fasciolata, A. fronticincta, A. mycterizans, A. nasuta, A. perroteti, A. prasina and A. pulverulenta.
All species of Ahaetulla are remarkably thin, generally not any thicker than the diameter of a penny! Ahaetulla pulverulenta and A. perroteti are brownish gray and a dull green, respectively. The rest of the species are a brilliant green that will display shades of blue, black and white. This article will focus on A. prasina and A. nasuta, as they are the most commonly encountered species of the genus in the reptile trade. The captive husbandry for one species, however, will also apply to any of the others.
Ahaetulla prasina is the largest species in the genus, able to reach lengths of 6 feet, though 4- to 5-foot specimens are much more common. Ahaetulla nasuta tend to mature slightly smaller, maxing out at around 5 feet but averaging 4.
Asian vine snakes, largely due to their lizard diet and the stigma that comes with being rear-fanged, are not often available at pet stores, but you can sometimes find them at reptile expos. The vast majority in the United States are still wild caught and imported. On rare occasions, captive-hatched specimens are available, but these are even more rare. If the opportunity should arise, always go with captive-bred or hatched animals. Captive-bred and hatched animals are usually not exposed to the array of intestinal parasites of their wild-caught counterparts, nor have they experienced the stress of capture and shipping that wild-caught animals have, which can lead to illness. Well-cared-for Ahaetulla have been recorded to live for as many as 10 to12 years.
Asian Vine Snake Quarantine
After purchasing an Asian vine snake, allow an acclimation and quarantine period. During this time, it’s important to address any potential parasite load that the snake is likely to have. Due to a diet that consists largely of lizards, there is a substantial chance of a sizable parasite load, both internal and external. Gut flukes and worms are common, as are lung worms. Mites and ticks are not as common on imports, but they should still be addressed appropriately. A heavy infestation of any parasite can cause a specimen’s health to quickly decline and may lead to death. As with any imported reptile, proper quarantine and a visit to a qualified veterinarian is a must to address these issues.
New imports may also be severely dehydrated. To aid in re-hydration, place the animal in a deli cup or bucket containing about 1 inch of lukewarm water for about 30 minutes a day for two to three days in a row. Do this as quickly and stress-free as possible. Avoid rough or prolonged handling; get the snake straight from the enclosure to the water as efficiently as possible. Once the snake is in the water, give it some privacy and quiet. The snake will often drink while it soaks. Be sure to remove the snake from the water container immediately if it fouls the water.
Acclimation and quarantine enclosures do not need to be elaborate. They should be sterile and easy to clean. Rubbermaid containers are often used for this purpose, as they’re easy to clean, come in a variety of sizes and will provide the security needed. Paper towels, newspapers or other easily replaced materials may be used as a liner. White butcher paper or printer paper is a personal favorite; both allow an easy view and inspection of feces, and the presence of potetial mites is very apparent against the white paper. A hide box large enough for the snake to coil into comfortably, but small enough to provide a sense of confinement, will provide additional security. Space permitting, place a hide box at both ends of the temperature.
A clean water dish should always be available, but it is also important to mist Ahaetulla regularly to ensure hydration. This is because vine snakes generally do not drink from standing water. An air pump with tubing placed into the water dish to roil the water’s surface may help elicit a drinking response.
Once your vine snake snake feeds regularly and appears healthy, then it can be moved to its permanent enclosure.
Asian Vine Snake Enclosure
Asian vine snakes are arboreal and do best in a vertically oriented enclosure. A 55- to 75-gallon aquarium stood on end works well, with a removable screened top (now on the side) to provide easy access. A strip of Plexiglas siliconed across the bottom several inches of the side opening will create a wall to allow for a deeper substrate bed, and a thin sheet of Plexiglas secured to the inside frame of the screen top will aid in maintaining humidity, as well as keep the snake from rubbing its nose against the screen. Drill a number of small holes into the Plexiglas for ventilation.
Other cage options include pre-formed plastic polyethylene cages with screened tops and hinged front panels. These are for sale commercially and are available in an assortment of sizes.
Branches are very important, as Asian vine snakes rarely descend to the bottom of their enclosures. Secure numerous branches inside the enclosure using aquarium silicone to create a beautiful natural display. Remember to clean and disinfect the branches periodically. An alternative to wooden branches, and much easier to clean, would be various diameters of PVC, which can be easily sprayed, wiped down and disinfected. It can also be painted and wrapped in artificial plants to give it a more natural look.
Vine snakes generally prefer arboreal hides to those on the ground. Secure hide boxes within the branches, at multiple levels so the snake can thermoregulate within them. Appropriately sized bird houses work well. Add large amounts of foliage, live or artificial, to provide the snake with visual barriers and additional places to hide for security.
A 3:2:2 ratio of peat moss, cypress mulch and sphagnum moss will provide a substrate that is absorbent, retains moisture and is resistant to mold. Spot-clean substrate frequently, and completely replace it every four to six months. Remove feces as soon as possible to avoid mold, fungal and bacterial growth, as a vine snake enclosure’s high humidity and heat provides the perfect environment for these to grow and thrive, posing a potential health risk to the snake.
Provide a vertical thermal gradient, with an average air temperature toward the top of the cage between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the cooler lower regions between 75 and 80 degrees. Use a heat pad adhered to the outside, top or back of the enclosure, controlled by a thermostat, to provide an arboreal hotspot of 95 to 100 degrees. By maintaining warmer temperatures at the top and cooler temperatures at the bottom of the enclosure, you will be mimicking the snake’s natural habitat in the forest canopy, where it’s cooler under the canopy and where arboreal snakes must climb for good basking spots. There should be a slight drop in temperature at night, preferably about 10 degrees.
Asian vine snakes benefit from a basking light. It doesn’t need to be ultraviolet, but that wouldn’t hurt, either. A photoperiod of 14 hours of light and 10 hours of darkness will provide a good day/night cycle.
Asian vine snakes thrive in humid environments. An ideal humidity range is between 80 to 90 percent, though brief occasions above and below this range are suitable. Use a hygrometer to keep track, because if the proper humidity isn’t provided, ill health may result.
To achieve the necessary humidity, spray the enclosure with fresh water once during the day and once in the evening. When spraying your snake’s cage, make sure the substrate remains moist, but not soggy. If too much moisture remains in the enclosure, the snake could develop scale or respiratory infections.
Placing a water dish above a heat pad is a great way to increase humidity without adding moisture to the substrate. As mentioned, restriciting airflow by partially covering the screened opening will also increase humidity.
Asian Vine Snakes Diet of Lizards
Before purchasing a vine snake, you must be able to guarantee a reliable food source, and that food is lizards (though A. fronticincta feeds almost exclusively on fish). Lizards such as anoles and geckos can be expensive to provide regularly, and sometimes they’re not available at all, so be certain that food for your snake will be easily obtainable. Prey items should be an appropriate size relative to the snake that’s being fed; avoid offering lizards that are more than twice the width of your snake’s head.
Ahaetulla have a moderately fast metabolism and should be fed a minimum of three to four days a week to ensure good body weight. I offer my snakes, regardless of species, two smaller meals rather than one larger meal. Several feeder lizards can be put in the snake’s cage at once, as they pose no threat to the snake. Lizards can even be left in the snake enclosure if they are not eaten immediately.
Although Ahaetulla’s most common, natural prey are lizards, they will also take small birds and mammals on occasion. You can try to offer small rodents, but while pinky and fuzzy mice may be offered, some Asian vine snakes may never accept them. There is little question that rodents are far more abundant as food items than lizards are, and it makes perfect sense to try to acclimate a vine snake to such a diet. Live pinkies and fuzzies will be the most enticing, as vine snakes are alert to movement. If rodents are offered, it’s important to only offer pinky and fuzzy mice, as even juvenile rodents are capable of injuring the snake.
It is possible to coax a vine snake to accept a different type of prey by transferring the scent of its natural, common prey to the desired food. To properly transfer the scent of a lizard to a pinky or fuzzy mouse, gently wash the rodent with lukewarm water and a paper towel or cloth to reduce its scent. Once the rodent has been well-rinsed and mostly dried, place it in a deli cup with the lizard. A little bit of moisture will aid in the transfer of scent from one animal to the other. Feel free to rub the two together. Many reptiles have an extraordinary sense of smell, so the transfer should not take long and requires minimal effort. After a few minutes, introduce the scented pinky or fuzzy to your vine snake.It’s always good to gut-load prey items to provide additional nutrients to pet reptiles, and feeder lizards are no exception. Gut-load both the lizards, as well as the crickets you feed them.
Asian Vine Snake Hydration
The most reliable way to get vine snakes to drink water is to mist their cages once or twice a day. This serves two purposes: it provides drinkable water and helps maintain humidity. Most arboreal snakes will readily drink droplets that accumulate on their body and surroundings before they will drink from a bowl of standing water (but a dish of fresh water should always be available). Most Asian vine snakes will not drink from a dish initially, but will eventually.
Take Precautions With Your Asian Vine Snake
Although little is known about Ahaetulla venom’s affect on humans, envenomation is possible. Given their primitive means of venom delivery, they are not likely to pose a threat to a healthy adult. There are no known fatalities. Symptoms are normally limited to localized swelling and pain. Be aware of the possibility of an allergic reaction or anaphylaxis.
Even imports tend to be docile. Rarely do they make threat displays. When they do, they gape their mouths and puff up, but almost never strike. However, this is no excuse to deny the fact that Ahaetulla are venomous. Handle them with respect and caution; always use proper handling tools, such as hooks/tongs, etc. A thick pair of gloves should offer ideal protection. People familiar with this species will often, with caution, handle them as they would any kingsnake.
It’s important to learn everything possible about a species before a purchase. With proper acclimation and husbandry, Asian vine snakes make rewarding captives for experienced keepers (not beginners). If you’re looking for a unique snake, consider a captivating Asian vine snake. REPTILES
Bill Rosser has worked with herps for 20 years and is the owner of ReptAquatics, focusing on conservation through education and captive breeding. Reptaquatics.com features herps and tropical fish, with plans to include carnivorous plants as well as plants of the genus Amorphophallus.He can be contacted via reptaquatics.com.http://reptaquatics.com