Red-bellies, a stunning yet underrated elapid
Updated: Aug 7
#redbelliedblacksnake #australianelapid #elapid #beginerelapid #simplebeauty #venomoussnake #keepingredbellyblacksnakes #venomoussnakehusbandry #australianelapid #breedingredbelliedblacksnakes #redbellyvenom #snake #reptile #pseudechisporphyriacus The Red-bellied black snake is a great species of starter elapid for those wanting to get into the keeping of venomous snakes. This is because of the toxicity of the venom combined with the fact that Red-bellied black snakes are less inclined to bite defensively. We at Nature 4 You do not endorse the keeping of venomous snakes without suitable experience and only when you have the appropriate permits and facilities to care for the animal properly.
COMMON NAMES: Red-bellied Black Snake, Common Black Snake
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Pseudechis porphyriacus
PRONUNCIATION: sude-eck-is por-fie-ree-ah-kus
ETYMOLOGY: Pseudechis - false adder, porphyriacus - russet coloured
ADULT SIZE: 220cms
ADULT WEIGHT: 3.5+kg
LIFE EXPENTANCY: Red-bellies have been known to live over 25yrs in captivity.
The Red-bellied Black Snake is native to Australia, found from the Adelaide Hills, South Australia, into southern Queensland. They are mainly found along the Great Dividing Range and south into Gippsland, Victoria. They penetrate quite a distance inland along river systems. Three separate populations occur in Queensland - one in the South East, a second further north around Mackay to Proserpine and the third from Townsville to Cooktown. Red-bellied Black Snakes are found in all but arid conditions, but are most commonly seen along watercourses such as creeks, dams and rivers, sheltering under rocks, logs, grass tussocks and man made debris. They are quite commonly encountered in yards where water is close by. In the wild they are opportunists - they will feed on just about anything. They have been recorded eating tadpoles, frogs, fish, dragons, skinks, legless lizards, geckos, mammals, blind snakes, other elapids and also colubrids. They are also cannibalistic. Red-bellied Black snakes are a stunning snake to look at, black above with the lower flanks cream to purple, but usually red. The brilliant markings are on the first half of each of the lowest two rows of mid-body scales. The underneath is equally distinctive, but is usually pale pink to cream. The trailing edge of the ventral scales is black to grey and the lower sides of the head and snout may be jet black, reddish brown or white. Red-bellied Black Snakes are dangerously venomous. The venom has strong coagulants, with cytotoxins and haemolytic activity. Their venom also contains neurotoxins, but these are quite weak. Red-bellies are quite commonly kept in captivity and readily available.
A Red-belly Black Snake, Pseudechis porphyriacus in situ.
A single Red-bellied Black Snake needs a terrestrial enclosure at least 600mm wide X 1200mm Long X 450mm High. If you have the room to go bigger, we highly recommend it, as it will be utilized. The housing of juveniles is best done by housing them in plastic style enclosures with ventilation holes either drilled or melted with a soldiering iron. This plastic tub can be placed inside the larger enclosure. Plastic tubs are often utilised for small snakes as they are cheap, easy to clean and seal very well. This is important as a small snake is able to escape through very small gaps, which are often present in timber enclosures. Juveniles can be kept in smaller conditions but should be kept by themselves. Not only can cage-mates turn on each other, the unpredictability of their nature combined with the toxicity of their venom makes one snake per cage a lot easier and safer to deal with. We house our juveniles singularly in plastic tubs. These tubs have clips on the side to lock the lids in place, are readily available and easy to modify. We start our hatchling Red-bellies in 7L tubs measuring 32cms L x 21cms W x 12cms H and move them up to appropriately sized caging as they grow. We use paper towel on the bottom of these tubs as it is easy to clean - simply remove the soiled paper towel and replace with new.
The adult cage can have a variety of substrates ranging from bark to paper. We personally use either a kitty litter made of recycled paper – it helps absorb some of the smell and clumping “deposits” or newspaper or butcher’s paper as its easily cleaned. Other effective substrates include synthetic grass mats, bark chips and paper towel. If using the bark chips for a more natural look make sure no fertilizers or chemicals have been added by reading the bags and try to avoid as much dust in the enclosure as possible. If using synthetic grass, you should have 2 pieces cut to size so when one gets soiled the other can be put in while other gets washed. Pet shops sell a variety of suitable substrates as well as the synthetic grass and bark chips that are available from hardware shops.
Red-bellies need cover in which they can hide. This can be provided by a hollow log or a rock near the back wall, leaf litter etc. Pet shops have an ample range of naturalist looking hides readily available also. At least one hide should be in the warm end and one in the cool end of the cage. The use of trap boxes as hides is an excellent idea with this species.
The cage also needs to be well ventilated. A series of cupboard vents cut into
both the front and back of an adult enclosure work well allowing the air to flow though. In housing for younger animals the holes should be placed in both the lid and around the sides of the plastic containers.
The water bowl should large enough for the snake to soak in. This is invaluable in the hottest parts of summer and also for sloughing. This should be situated in the cool end of the cage. The water bowl should be washed when clean water is added, not just topped up. Not washing the bowl and continually topping up the water can lead to illness in the animal and a green water bowl.
The cage should be cleaned out at least once a week to prevent the build-up of germs etc. Cleaning out weekly will also allow you to check the animal over whilst removing them from the cage. This is when you will pick up things you may miss from just looking at the animal in the enclosure. However, traces of faeces and urine should be cleaned as soon as it’s noticed.
All heating should be placed at one end of the cage and controlled by a thermostat. This creates a thermal gradient. This is vital for the survival of the occupants. If the cage is either too hot or to cool the snake has a place to retreat to. Excessive heat will kill your snake very quickly - ideal temperatures for the Red-bellied Black Snake are approximately 32 degrees Celsius at the warm end of the cage and 28 degrees at the cool end of the cage.
Ways of heating include light bulb(s) placed at one end of the cage connected to a thermostat. A light makes viewing easier as well as heating. A heat mat or heat cord at one end, or both the light bulb and the heat mat/cord. Any light globes inside the enclosure should be placed in such a way that the snake is unable to come in contact with them. A mesh type globe cover is ideal as it prevents the snake coming in direct contact with the globe but the allows the heat generated from the light to escape. Uncovered light bulbs usually result in nasty burns to the snake. Heat cord under the enclosure is another way to heat the cage effectively. Heat rocks are commercially available, however we do not recommend using heat rocks with any animal as they are not reliable and may cause fire. We use heat cord in a rack system for our younger animals and for our older Inland taipans in cages we run heat cord under tiles on the bottom of the enclosure.
If heating the cage with a globe set up, the cage should have dark coloured globes
such as green or blue. This will then not interrupt its photoperiod. The Red-bellied Black Snake is mainly diurnal (active during the day), but may be out at night on extremely warm days. Thus the photoperiod of 14 hours light to 8 dark in summer and 12 hours light and 12 dark in winter is acceptable.
Cooling allows for the males sperm to be produced and the in the females ova to be made. The temperature of cooling should drop to about room temperature. However this drop should not be sudden, by turning on the heat for 4 hours in the morning for 4 weeks either side of the cooling period (1-month) this will allow the snake to gently go into torpor. (In Australia most reptiles don't truly go into hibernation.) Red-bellies should be cooled from early May. While being cooled the animal should not be handled or fed. If fed, the food may kill the snake, as it may not be digested properly and may just sit and rot within its stomach as heat also plays a role in digestion. You SHOULD NOT cool juveniles, gravid (pregnant), sick or under weight individuals as this can lead to the death of the lizard. When your Red-bellied Black Snake is an adult (over 100cms Snout to Vent (S.V.L.)) its should be cooled in the winter months.
Your snake should be feeding on mice or small rats. The size of the prey item and the amount of them is dependant on the snake in question. As juveniles, they should be fed weekly, but once at adult size this can be reduced to once every fortnight. A suitable feed for the snake is a meal that will cause a slight bulge in the snake’s mid body. Red-bellied Black Snakes will also readily take day old chicks, quail and young rabbits. Food should generally not be offered while the snake is coming into or having a slough. If you have a problem snake scenting might be needed to get the juveniles to eat. Like all species of Black Snake, once they start eating they are generally great feeders.
Red-bellies are quiet enthusiastic feeders. They won't think twice about meeting you halfway to get their dinner!
Male introductions should be from August - November. The males can be removed in and out of the females enclosures, allowing them time to rest. Red-bellies are live bearers. The young should be separated as soon as possible due to cannibalistic tendencies. Litter sizes range from 5 - 23 young with an average of 12 young. Gestation ranges from 149 - 176 days
Red-bellied Black Snake, Pseudechis porphyriacus, in the embryonic sac.
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References and recommended reading:
Ehmann H. 1992 Encyclopedia of Australian Animals - Reptiles, Angus & Robertson, Pymble
Eipper S.C 2012 A Guide to Australian Snakes in Captivity - Elapids & Colubrids, Reptile Keeper Publications, Burleigh Heads
Eipper S.C & Eipper T 2019 A Naturalist's Guide to the Snakes of Australia, John Beaufoy Publishing, Oxfor