A mythical creature comes to light.
Dragon snakes are fascinating reptiles to study and try to understand. They have remained shrouded in mystery since their discovery in the 19th century.
While their dragon-like appearance might make them seem like ferocious beasts, they are incredibly delicate creatures. They do not make easy pets.
Wild-caught dragon snakes are the only ones on the market right now and come with a wealth of health issues from parasites to enormous stress factors.
There are a handful of breeders that are attempting to successfully breed captive-bred dragon snakes for the herp community.
|Common Name:||Dragon snake, Dragonsnake, Dragons, Javan mud snake, Rough back litter snake|
|Scientific Name:||Xenodermus javanicus|
|Natural Habitat:||Southeast Asia|
|Adult Size:||2 feet|
|Lifespan:||Possibly 10 years|
|Diet:||Fish, Frogs, and Tadpoles|
|Experience Level:||Absolute advanced|
|Enclosure Size:||2 feet X 1 foot X 1 foot|
The dragon snake is an anomalous reptile in the snake world and is the only member of the Xenodermus species. Very little is known about this species because it has been ridiculously difficult to keep alive in captivity.
Only a handful of expert breeders and snake owners have successfully kept their wild-caught dragon snakes alive. Therefore, we would 100% suggest waiting until captive-bred specimens are on the market before spending money on a wild-caught snake that will wither within days.
It is important to note that these snakes are listed as least concern on the IUCN list. However, their wild numbers will dwindle rapidly if they are caught en masse by inexperienced breeders who cannot keep them alive.
However, if you are an expert and want to get in on the historical movement to breed captive-bred dragon snakes then we wish you every success.
The dragon snake’s middle name is Stress.
These snakes are quite shy and are very easily stressed. Excessive handling will trigger a stress response.
If they are exposed to excessive amounts of light then they will become stressed.
They do not readily bite when they are handled. Instead, when they feel threatened, they stiffen up as if they have turned to stone or a stick.
If your dragon snake is consistently highly stressed it will starve itself or simply succumb to death.
Dragon snakes are completely nocturnal and require very little light during the daytime hours to regulate their cycles. This means that they are not display or handling snakes.
Viewing them is difficult because any light at night will cause them stress as will excessive handling.
They are semi-fossorial which means that they burrow and like to explore places that offer complete darkness and high humidity. They will live most of their lives under their substrate and in their hideaways so make sure this is all quality reptile grade and it is kept clean.
They are nonvenomous and actively hunt their aquatic prey at night.
Since they are nocturnal and like their hideaways, not much else is known about their behavior in captivity.
Their lifespan has been noted at roughly 10 years.
However, with so few wild-caught specimens making it in captivity this is a rough estimate and will vary depending on stress levels and overall health.
These are fascinating creatures to look at. They have a rounded oblong-shaped head that has small scales, even around the mouth. Their rostral scales are also quite small in comparison to their large nostril size.
They have large black eyes that look like they stick out on either side of their heads. Their head attaches to an incredibly thin neck and body and looks almost comical.
Their defining dragon-like features are the three rows of raised scales that run down the length of the snake. It is unknown why they evolved to have these keeled scales in the first place, but we are not complaining, they look insanely cool!
They are dark grey on the top of their bodies and have a white belly. Some snakes are known to have a slight red/rusty tinge to their dorsal scales in the light.
The females are slightly longer and thicker than the males with a shorter and thinner tail. Males on the other hand have a long tail with a noticeable hemipenial bulge by their cloaca vent.
The average length of the snake is 2 feet with some specimens measuring 2.5 to 3 feet. It is unknown if these snakes can grow larger in captivity at this time.
The enclosure size is important. It needs to be big enough that your dragon snake is able to move around and hunt its prey but not too big to cause unnecessary stress.
Our suggestion is a glass or plexiglass enclosure that measures 2 ft X 1 ft X 1 ft. Your enclosure must have a secure lid or lockable door.
These snakes have highly specialized needs and if they get loose in your house they will die.
We suggest that you only have the front-facing wall of the enclosure open and cover the sides and rear to enhance the darkness at night and limit natural daylight.
We do not suggest a wooden enclosure because these snakes require very high humidity and a wooden enclosure will grow mold and rot over time which will make your snake sick.
Provide your dragon snake with lots of hideaways to take shelter under. It does not need much open space in the enclosure to move around so make the “terrain” of the enclosure an interesting place for them to explore with lots of little crevices and hidey-holes.
The hideaways can be anything from upturned plastic tubs to rock like structures as long as they provide complete darkness. Make sure that these hideaways are kept clean and free of mold.
Dragon snakes are semi-fossorial so you need to take this into consideration when you pick your substrate and when you decide on the amount of substrate to put in, there needs to be enough depth to allow your dragon snake to dig in.
Your substrate also needs to hold moisture well and not dry out the humidity in the enclosure.
We suggest you use a substrate like a coconut fiber or sphagnum moss because they drain nicely and hold moisture well.
Galápagos Terrarium Sphagnum Moss
These snakes need expert level care and so do their enclosures. The enclosure needs a drainage level in the substrate to remove excess moisture to prevent water from pooling and becoming stagnant.
Their enclosure care is another reason these snakes do not do well in captivity. The slightest mistake can result in death for the snake.
It is so important that your snake’s enclosure remains at a constant 75°F to 72°F gradient to prevent death. Install a quality thermometer on either side of the tank.
Zoo Med Labs Digital Hygrometer and Thermometer
We suggest using a heat-emitting ceramic bulb on the outside of the enclosure or under-tank heating pad under one-third of the tank that is controlled by a quality thermostat.
VIVOSUN Reptile Heat Mat with Digital Thermostat
Make sure to provide the right temperature ahead of your dragon’s homecoming.
Fiddling with the heat settings when your dragon snake is in the enclosure can be fatal.
72°F is cool enough for the snake on the coolest side of the enclosure to function well. Make sure the enclosure has a hideaway in the coolest spot so your snake can feel safe while regulating its body temperature.
The enclosure should never be warmer than 75°F. Make sure that there is a hideaway on this side of the enclosure too.
We recommend that you put their water bowl partially under this hideaway.
Your dragon snake does not need a basking spot. Temperatures higher than 80°F will kill the snake within an hour.
Your snake does not require special lighting or any lighting at all. It would be best not to have any lighting inside the tank at all and only allow a small amount of natural light to reach the enclosure during daylight hours.
Your snake requires 100% darkness at night to function properly. So do not keep the enclosure in a room when the light will be going on and off.
If you want to view your snake in its nocturnal behavior then sit tight at night and let your eyes adjust rather than stressing them with artificial light.
Your dragon snake comes from an incredibly humid natural climate for Southeast Asia and you need to mimic this as closely as possible. A range of 85-95% humidity needs to be maintained.
We suggest you install a set of misters in the enclosure that are on timers. For this purpose we are using Zilla Digital Timer and REPTI ZOO Reptile Mister. This will ensure the enclosure does not dry out and that there is minimal contact with the snake.
When introducing a new substrate, give it a soak and squeeze it out before putting it in the enclosure. Any large drop or increase in the humidity levels will cause your snake stress.
Install a quality hygrometer in the enclosure to monitor the humidity levels closely.
Due to the humid requirements of the dragon snake, we do not suggest you use natural wood hideaways because they tend to grow mold very easily. Moldy enclosures cause sick snakes.
Keep a water bowl in the enclosure and replace the water daily with fresh water. The bowl must be leak-proof to not alter the humidity levels.
Your dragon snake will drink lots of water and enjoy a good soak every now and then so make sure the water bowl is large and stable enough for a swim.
Make sure that the water will not spill over the side when the snake soaks in it and will prevent any prey items from jumping out.
We suggest placing half the water bowl under one of the hideaways so your dragon snake feels completely secure while it is drinking or soaking.
Dragon snakes are fussy eaters and will voluntarily starve themselves if they are stressed or the right prey item is not offered.
Unfortunately, these snakes require live food. It is possible that this will change as captive-bred snakes become more adapted to captive life.
We recommend that you start your snake off with feeder fish that do not have high levels of thiaminase. High levels of thiaminase will prove fatal to your snake.
Safe feeder fish include Guppies, Mosquito fish, and Platies. You can include tadpoles in your snake’s diet to offer nutrient variation.
We recommend 3 to 5 tadpoles, or a medium to large feeder fish every 7 days. If your snake is on the larger side then you can feed them two fish or developed frogs, African Reed Frogs are the current go-to for dragon snake owners.
Put the prey item in the water bowl at the end of the day or the beginning of the night because your dragon snake is a nocturnal hunter. It is important that your snake is minimally stressed by this process so make sure the water bowl is in an easily accessible place for you.
The day after your snake has fed, scrub out the water bowl completely. You do not want your snake to get sick because of contaminated water.
Dragon snakes are not the snake for handling. Avoid handling your snake until absolutely necessary.
Taking them to the vet or performing your own health checks, cleaning the enclosure, and changing enclosures are the only times you should handle your dragon snake.
These snakes stress easily and handling them will make them go off of food and can stress them enough that they can die. They are also very fragile snakes so incorrect handling can easily break bones and cause scale damage.
It is not understood exactly why the snakes turn into stiff little branches when they are threatened, but you do need to be extra careful if you are handling them and they do this. Any attempt at bending or manipulating their bodies when they are like this will result in injury.
Potential Health Issues
Connect with expert keepers who own dragon snakes so that you can contact them if you think your snake might be ill but do not want to cause it stress by a trip to the vet.
These snakes are only available as wild-caught specimens right now. Therefore, they need to be treated for internal and external parasites as soon as you get them.
Get in touch with a herpetological vet, preferably someone who has experience with wild-caught snakes and/or dragon snakes. Have the vet on call when you first receive your snake so they can check the snake over for internal and external parasites and provide a treatment plan where appropriate.
Dragon snakes are opportunistic feeders and will readily accept food even if they are not hungry so stick to their feeding schedule to avoid obesity.
A fat snake is not a funny snake. Obesity puts stress on the snake’s heart and liver and is fatal if left untreated.
Scale and Mouth Rot
If the enclosure is too humid or it is not being drained appropriately then your snake can develop scale and mouth rot. They need urgent medical attention if this is the case.
You will also need to do a thorough decontamination of their enclosure and provide them with new substrate more regularly.
Dragon snakes do not handle stress well. Stress can come from being in a new environment, enclosures that are not set up right, incorrect prey items, and excessive handling.
Sometimes the process of being caught and imported is just too much for the snake and it will die within the week of you receiving it.
Very little is known about the process of breeding dragon snakes because there are no captive-bred specimens available. However, if you are trying to breed your dragon snakes we suggest that you try to mimic their natural habitat as far as possible.
These snakes must be kept in separate enclosures until you want to attempt breeding. They can stress each other out and become aggressive and attack each other.
In the wild, they breed during the monsoon season (June to September.) There are several things you can do to try to mimic this as much as possible.
- Increase the number of times your misters go off to mimic rainfall.
- You can slowly reduce the air pressure in the room to mimic what would happen naturally.
Keep this up for a month and then introduce your male to the female and leave them together for a week at a time. Remove the male to feed them both.
It is unknown if female dragon snakes go off food when they are gravid (pregnant) so watch out for that and act appropriately.
If you notice that the female is gravid, remove the male. If you are unsure then leave the male with her until the end of September.
At the end of September, you can slowly bring the enclosure conditions back to normal.
It is unknown exactly how long it will take for the female to lay her eggs but it should happen between October and February. Provide her with a nesting box that is lined with sphagnum moss and large enough for her to fit in.
Dragon snakes reproduce by laying eggs. Unfortunately, dragon snakes have low fecundity for a reptile.
The female will only lay 2 to 4 eggs at a time.
Advanced breeders and snake owners are still figuring out the best way to keep these creatures so proceed with caution. You do not want to buy a snake that will die before you get to feed them their first guppy.
If you are in the market for one of these fantastic beasts, we suggest that you wait a couple of years so that you can purchase a healthy captive-bred juvenile.
We wish you luck on your new journey and “herp” you have absolute success.