Mangrove snakes are toted as be notoriously difficult to feed. This may be the case, as certain individuals or populations may have specific dietary preferences. However, before assuming that you have a stubborn feeder, ensure that all other environmental parameters are perfect. Often times simple changes to temperature, substrate, or even time of day that food is offered makes all the difference.
Always offer mangrove snakes food at night, preferably a few hours after all enclosure and ambient lights are off. This is when they are most active, and most likely to come across their meal. These animals are best fed in their enclosures until properly acclimated. The activity and stress associated with shifting them to a designated feeding container can deter them from eating entirely.
Mangrove snakes will bask after feeding and during cool weather or gravidity.
I have found many newly acquired mangrove snakes to be very shy feeders. They can become startled or intimidated by prey that is too large, too active, or the wrong color. If the specimens you are feeding were collected from the wild, consider offering them brown or black rodents as opposed to the more typical white mice, to which they are not accustomed.
In addition to color, prey size is another parameter to take into consideration. After weeks of failed feeding attempts with my first Boigas, I decided to try to replicate a bird’s nest scenario for my snakes. Being arboreal rear-fanged snakes, it seemed likely that in the wild a nest full of baby birds would be irresistible to any mangrove snake. Unable to procure an abandoned bird’s nest in a reasonable amount of time, a 16oz. deli cup was utilized instead. I placed a few field collected bird feathers and half a dozen fuzzy mice in the bottom of the deli cup. The following morning, the fuzzies were gone.
This process was repeated once a week until the snakes began to grow noticeably and have healthy, regular stools. From then on, the prey size was slowly increased each week, but only less active non-weaned rodents were used. When mouse fuzzies no longer seemed substantial enough, rat pups were offered instead. There was no change in feeding response transitioning from mice to rats. Eventually, barely weaned rats were offered at the rate of one rat per snake every 7 days. Once a regular feeding regimen was established, those animals continued to become more bold and aggressive feeders. They will now accept medium to large sized pre-killed rats every 7-10 days.
When multiple small, warm-blooded prey do not elicit a feeding response after a few consecutive attempts, other techniques may need to be considered. Occasionally mice or rats can be “scented” by rubbing a lizard, bird, or fish on it to transfer their scent to the rodent. In my experience mangrove snakes do not fall for this ruse. Rather, it seems to be a combination of size, shape, smell, and movement that ultimately encourages them to feed.
If all else fails, offering live frogs, fish, or small birds may be necessary. While rare, it is not unheard of to come across a Boiga that will steadily refuse all manner of prey until just the right flavor comes along. Although it is far from ideal, offering mangrove snakes prey that is inconvenient or difficult to procure is still preferable to the snake not eating at all. Many times, once a mangrove snake has had a series of 5-10 meals, it will become less finicky about its dietary preferences.
I will mention that it is extremely uncommon for any species of snake to fast until it dies of starvation. If the habitat is acceptable, and all other potential issues (both external and internal) have been ruled out, it is likely that given time and patience, the snake will begin to feed regularly.
Mangrove snakes have fascinated me since I first saw one in person nearly 15 years ago. The beautifully contrasting colors, brilliant iridescence, and the allure of owning a rear-fanged snake all contributed to what has become a long-term obsession. While not impossible, captive reproduction of this species is sporadic at best. I sincerely hope that the information shared here will allow more individuals to become involved with these animals and strive to establish diverse breeding colonies.
Mangrove snakes are certainly not the easiest snake to keep, and are by no means recommended for neophyte snake keepers. They present even the most experienced keeper with a unique set of challenges and fairly exacting requirements. However, if you are up for the challenge, I can assure you, it is well worth it.