Mandarin Rat Snakes are found mostly in the mountains of south China. They can also be found in the mountain forests of Burma, Vietnam, and Taiwan. They are arguably the most beautiful and most sought after snake kept in captivity. Just looking at these awesome beauties you get a sense of their prestige and mystique. Their facial markings resemble an oriental style painted porcelain mask. Even their name "Mandarin" commands honor; a Mandarin is a person of very high rank in the Chinese Empire. As little as 10 years ago, Mandarins were practically unheard of in the reptile hobby, but as each year passes they continue to get more and more popular with keepers. These majestic little snakes are the "crown jewel" of any collection.
Mandarins are shy, secretive snakes so their caging should be set up with this in mind. They do best when provided with ample hiding places and preferably some type of substrate which will provide for their tunneling habits. I use a 2-3 inch deep layer of aspen mulch. The aspen mulch holds the shape of their tunnels, unlike some of the other mulch products which the snakes literally have to crawl through. I've noticed mine just laying in their tunnels for large portions of the day. I also provide my Mandarins with a bowl filled with moist sphagnum moss. They lay in the moist moss bowls for hours at a time just about every day. In addition to the moist moss bowl, I also mist their cages with a spray bottle a few times a week.
2 types of set-up; one using aspen mulch for burrowing, the other using paper, which is cheap and easy to clean. With both set-ups, always offer a damp moss bowl (moss removed for photo on left), and when using mulch, use a feeding dish.
Mandarins have a reputation of being a cool/cold temperature species, earned mostly from the need to keep wild caught imports in the 65-75 degree range. The truth is captive born & bred mandarins do fine with temperatures into the low-mid 80's. I keep mine in my heated snake room which hits 85+ during the afternoon hours and 78-80 at night. If you're not using a whole room heated just for reptiles, then you can successfully keep them at room temperatures ranging from 70-80 degrees. They are said to be able to thrive at temperatures as low as 65 degrees!
I feed my Mandarins live food. There are two reasons why I do this. First, Mandarins are incredibly shy and most will not take frozen/thawed or fresh-killed food from forceps. Second, they seem to prefer small food items, and also feeders that don't run around, they will become intimidated and hide, refusing to eat. The perfect solution to these feeding quirks is to put one or more fuzzies or crawlers (which do not pose any threat of rodent bites to your snake) in a bowl and leave it in their cage overnight.
Breeding Mandarins is fairly basic, I approach them the same as I do for Corn Snakes. In the fall, about 2-3 weeks after ceasing their feeding, I start cooling them with their temperatures eventually reaching 50-60 degrees. I'll keep them at these temperatures for about 8-10 weeks at which point I'll start to slowly bring them back up to normal. Once they've reached normal temperatures I start feeding them. After about 4-6 feedings I put the males and females together and keep them together until I notice the females looking full of eggs ( I still separate & feed every week during this time). This may take 1-3 months depending on how soon after the initial introduction they start mating. They tend to mate in their hiding areas, not out in the open like many other colubrid species, which makes it a little difficult to monitor their breeding activities.
Once the eggs are laid (4-6 seems to be average) I incubate at my snake room temperatures of 80-84 daytime with a night time drop to 78-80. Anytime I have eggs incubating I keep the snake room temperatures from exceeding 84 degrees. Mandarins have fairly short incubation lengths, about 40-45 days. The babies are pretty thick-bodied and hardy. They'll usually feed on pinky mice after their first shed without hesitation.