This absolutely spectacular snake is a female MANDARIN RAT SNAKE, a species which is native to China but which can also be found in parts of Vietnam, Burma, north-east India and Thailand. Like all of my snakes this individual was bred in captivity here in the UK, in Enfield in greater London in fact, and she hatched on July 22nd 2009!
After purchasing her I decided to name her Mei-Ling (pronounced May-Ling) which is a Mandarin Chinese name meaning beautiful and delicate. I'm sure you'll agree that this name is perfect for her because as you can see she is truly a stunningly beautiful animal.
It is certainly not just me who thinks that Mei-Ling is beautiful and in the Autumn of 2011 I had the chance to introduce her to the fantastic Steve Backshall, from TV's Deadly 60 (amongst many other great shows!), who thought she was absolutely gorgeous!
Mei-Ling and Steve met during the BBC's Deadly Days Out tour, a series of amazing (and free!) whole-Sunday public events which took place all over the UK in conjunction with CBBC's brilliant Live 'n' Deadly show. I had the absolute privilege of being part of the animal encounters team at these events, working alongside lots of brilliant people including Steve, his lovely co-presenter Naomi Wilkinson & the fabulous (and very large!) BBC production team. Mei-Ling featured at several of the Deadly Days Out, wowing literally thousands of people with both her beauty and placid nature! The Live 'n' Deadly producers & camera crew also took a shine to her and she & I were filmed at one of the events, with a brief snippet of this footage later shown on the Live 'n' Deadly TV show itself on the BBC in November 2011!
Video footage courtesy of the BBC.
Mei-Ling has grey scales, each of which has a red stripe through the middle, then bright yellow diamond shapes bordered with black all the way down her back! I have admired this species of snake for many years and am so delighted to own one, especially one as richly coloured as Mei-Ling! You can see the wonderful grey/red scale colouration particularly well in these pictures:
As you can see from the pictures above and below Mei-Ling also has an extremely pretty head and the contrast of the black and bright yellow from above is especially attractive. You can also see a little bit of a 'rainbow' shimmer across the black scales of the head and neck area below:
Mandarin rat snakes don't like it nearly as hot as most of my other snakes, as they naturally live at higher altitudes and much cooler temperatures. The area of my animal room in which she lives is just the right temperature for Mei-Ling so I keep her in an enclosure which is not heated at all. Sadly for many years this wonderful species was considered to be very tricky to maintain in captivity due to being extremely shy and easily stressed. Many individuals did not live long at all due also to being very fussy feeders, often refusing to accept dead prey items.
Mei-Ling is a truly wonderful snake who has presented me with no problems at all in either department, in fact she never misses a meal and she is both very inquisitive of my activities in the animal room and extremely tolerant of handling and interaction!
Like all of my snakes she is fed on a diet of dead rodents, which are kept frozen until being defrosted thoroughly ready for feeding. In the wild mandarin rat snakes hunt for mice and other small mammals in their burrows, and spend much of their lives living underground in these same burrows! When I bought Mei-Ling in August 2010 she was quite a bit smaller than she is now, as you can see in these pictures taken in my garden! She has fed and grown exceptionally well from the moment she arrived here in my collection and she really is an absolute joy to own.
Like all rat snakes, but not all snakes, mandarin rat snakes hatch from eggs. Pictured below is Mei-Ling's mother shortly after laying her clutch of eggs in a moss-filled tub in the spring of 2009.
Photograph courtesy of Mark Vokins
Here is a picture of some of these eggs hatching in July 2009, as well as a couple of babies who are already fully emerged from the eggs! If you look at the eggs carefully you will see the noses of some of the babies poking through the slits they have made in their thick leathery shells! Baby snakes use a special tooth called an egg tooth to make a slit or hole in their egg before hatching!