Jansenii / Oxycephalum
by Freight Freitas
To involve oneself in the husbandry of the snakes in the genus Gonyosoma has long been considered by many to be a perilous journey into the unknown. For many unsuspecting keepers this has not been far from the truth. Success, with both Gonyosoma oxycephala (red tailed green ratsnake) and Gonyosoma janseni (Jansen’s ratsnake), has been both sparse and erratic at best, particularly in the United States. Wild caught individuals have presented a myriad of challenges to their keepers. Complications ranging from stress, acclimation, and feeding issues, to parasite, bacterial, fungal, and viral infections inevitably leading to sudden, and sometimes-unforeseeable deaths have all been experienced. It is no great wonder why these snakes are considered difficult, challenging, and not at all for the inexperienced keeper. Yet, despite the seemingly countless obstacles presented in the husbandry of Gonyosoma I am here to assure you that there is still a strong possibility of success.
For me, success with Gonyosoma has come in many forms. Initially I was fortunate to have acquired a few captive hatched and captive bred individuals of both species. I have since managed to acquire more captive hatched/bred animals, as well as a number of wild caught animals that have thrived in my care. I was also fortunate to meet Mr. Chris Harper who was gracious enough to share the wealth of knowledge he had personally acquired from both his own experience, as well as through his contacts with many Gonyosoma keepers across the world. I was also working as an assistant to one my two highly experienced reptile vets who helped me to develop an initial medical protocol for the treatment of wild caught individuals. Using the medical protocol that was already working for Chris Harper, we added in a few adjustments, as well as other medications that have proven invaluable when used for both fresh imports and extremely sick individuals. To date most of the wild caught individuals, as well as all of the captive hatched/bred individuals that I have taken on are still with me, and all are presently doing very well.
Amidst the process of learning how to keep these snakes alive came the challenge of creating housing in which the individuals would thrive. I am presently utilizing at least six different types of enclosures that are working effectively for Gonyosoma at different stages of development. Once I had established long term healthy individuals I began to pair them with mates, and soon after observed mating behavior, which inevitably led to eggs. Now came the next serious challenge with Gonyosoma! How do you artificially incubate their eggs? I assure you that if anything has ever added stress to my life with reptiles it has been these particular eggs. It just so happens that I’m writing this in the midst of hatching my third clutch of G. janseni! The incubation process can be quite precarious, particularly with eggs from captive breeding. To this day I am still working out some of the kinks, and yet despite the challenges, hurdles, and upset that I have encountered, I am proud to say I presently have over 30 individual snakes that were captive bred in house.
My intent with this website is somewhat multi-faceted. Initially I must admit that my present motivation in writing this website comes in the form of an independent senior project for college credit during my final semester at the University of New Hampshire. At the completion of the semester I will be graduating with my Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology. Aside from the project, I truly feel that the information in this site will prove invaluable over time to those individuals whom are either currently working with, or have a distinct interest in Gonyosoma. First and foremost I am a private rehabilitator of reptiles, as well as a specialist in reptile husbandry, and I always want the best for every animal in captivity. With Gonyosoma it can be very difficult to truly know what is the best simply because there is very little information available to guide individuals in the right direction. If you are lucky you might find someone willing to share what he or she knows, but there are not that many individuals working successfully with these snakes. Certainly I would never say that the information I present, nor the methods I use are the be-all/end-all of Gonyosoma husbandry. What I will say is that I have had a high degree of success in a relatively short period of time with G. oxycephala and G. janseni, and that I have very distinct and pertinent information that I feel it my obligation to share.
In the not so distant future I would like to see the survival rate of wild caught individuals increase dramatically, as well as an overall increase in successful captive husbandry. I also would like to see an end to the catching of wild Gonyosoma for importation, but that’s an issue far bigger than the scope of this site. I feel that I have made a special connection with these particular snakes, and am presently working diligently to collect as much information possible about their captive needs. I am hoping that this site will serve as the catalyst for profound success with these amazing creatures that are the snakes of the genus Gonyosoma.