20+ Astonishing Japanese Rat Snake Facts

Table of Contents

1. Does the Japanese rat snake have any other names?

The Japanese rat snake is also known as aodaisho (pronounced ‘ah-oh-dy-sho’) in Japanese, translating to ‘blue general’ in English.

2. What is the Japanese rat snake’s species name?

The species name (also called the specific name) of the Japanese rat snake is Elaphe climacophora, a Latin term which is pronounced ‘ella-pay klyma-ko-fora’.

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3. What type of snake is a Japanese rat snake?

There are more than 50 different species of rat snake. The Japanese rat snake is a member of the colubrid family of snakes, which is by far the largest of the 24 different types of snake family. Within the colubrid family are 249 genera, one of which is the genus elaphe. The Japanese rat snake is one of the 16 distinct species within the elaphe genus.

4. What colors are Japanese rat snakes?

Japanese rat snakelets have a brown stripe pattern that mimics the appearance of the venomous mamushi snake and helps deter predators. As they mature, Japanese rat snakes develop a blotched pattern and take on a range of colors from a lighter yellow-green through an olive-gray to a dark blue or turquoise. An albino variant is known as the Iwakuni white snake after the southern Japanese town near which they are particularly prevalent.

5. How does a Japanese rat snake move?

The Japanese rat snake propels itself by using the classic serpentine s-shaped side-to-side movement. To move, it grabs the ground or tree trunk with the curved scales on its underside and pushes backward.

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6. How big is a Japanese rat snake?

Elaphe climacophora, Japanese Rat Snake
Elaphe climacophora, Japanese Rat Snake

Japanese rat snakes are one of the larger types of snake. Sturdy and with a very flat underside, they can grow as long as 78 inches (2 meters) in length and 2 inches (5 centimeters) in girth.

7. What is special about the Japanese rat snake’s mouth?

Unlike many other snakes, the Japanese rat snake has small, smooth and slightly curved teeth in its upper jaw that are used to keep a hold on prey. The angle of the teeth is such that the more the captured animal struggles, the worse it is trapped.

Another feature the Japanese rat snake has that is not common to all snakes is the existence of Duvernoy’s gland, an organ that secretes chemicals that help with salivation and digestion.

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8. What is the lifespan of a Japanese rat snake?

The lifespan of a Japanese rat snake is affected by environmental conditions including climate and the prevalence of predators and prey, but in optimum conditions it will live for 15 years.

9. Where in the world does the Japanese rat snake live?

The Japanese rat snake is found throughout the 6,852 islands of Japan as well as Kunashir Island, a territory in the region administered by Russia. They are the most common snake in Japanese urban areas.

10. What type of habitat does the Japanese rat snake prefer?

The Japanese rat snake tends to prefer being in bushes or trees but will sometimes spend time on the ground on rocks heated by the sun when it perceives the risk of being attacked is low. They have also adapted to the presence of humans to an extent, occasionally spending time in barns, bamboo thickets and even the ceiling spaces of houses.

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11. When does the Japanese rat snake hibernate?

Like all snakes, Japanese rat snakes are cold-blooded. This means the surrounding environment dictates their temperature, and during colder months, they retain energy by hibernating. As they will have no defense against frost should they be exposed to it, the snakes need to take care to find a spot offering sufficient shelter.

This may be a crevice in a rock, a space in a tree trunk or around its roots, or if they are lucky, a disused well or old barn. Japanese rat snakes hibernate from October to April, after which time they mate as soon as climatic conditions are favorable.

12. How does the Japanese rat snake mate?

The Japanese rat snake reaches sexual maturity at two years, although in some cases, it can be as early as 18 months. Mating usually occurs in late April or early May, with local weather conditions affecting the exact timing. The male snake uses pheromones to attract females passing through their territory.

When this is successful, the male holds the female by coiling himself around her and restricting her movement with his mouth. When their bodies are lined up correctly, he expels a hemipenis into her cloaca, a process that can take anything from a few minutes to several hours.

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13. How does the Japanese rat snake reproduce?

After gestating for around six weeks, the Japanese rat snake lays between seven and 20 eggs, although it can be as many as 30. The female is careful in choosing where to lay the eggs and ensures the location offers the right temperature, humidity, and level of protection from predators.

Once the site, usually sandy soil under a rock or the inside of a rotten log, has been selected, the mother covers the eggs with sand or soil. It is there, and then the offspring have enjoyed the last of the parental nurturing they will receive.

The snakelets continue developing for another eight weeks until they are ready to hatch, at which time they break through the shell using a specialized scale on their nose called the egg tooth.

14. Is the Japanese rat snake diurnal or nocturnal?

The Japanese rat snake is diurnal and is most active in the early morning and evening.

15. What does the Japanese rat snake eat?

Juvenile Japanese rat snakes eat small mice, lizards, and tree frogs. Once adults, they graduate to rats, larger lizards and frogs, birds’ eggs, and even birds. In particular, people welcome the snakes for the effect they have on limiting rat populations.

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16. What eats the Japanese rat snake?

The Japanese rat snake is preyed upon by Japanese raccoon dogs (which, somewhat confusingly are a type of fox) and eagles.

17. How does a Japanese rat snake hunt?

The Japanese rat snake uses its tongue and Jacobson’s organ in conjunction to locate and track prey. Once that has been achieved, it will remain motionless whilst the prey continues about its business, oblivious to its fate. Should the target stray within range, the snake strikes and bites with speed and precision.

Maintaining its grip, the serpent then coils around the prey and constricts progressively until the incredible pressure prevents effective circulation and leads to cardiac arrest. Once the unfortunate animal has died, the snake swallows it whole.

18. How does the Japanese rat snake’s venom disable its prey?

It doesn’t! The Japanese rat snake kills by constriction not envenomation.

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19. How does the Japanese rat snake defend itself?

Compared with other snake species, the Japanese rat snake is shy, meaning when threatened, they are more likely to freeze in position than strike. If the threat persists, they adopt a two-stage defense strategy – warnings first, engagement second.

The initial behavior involves displays intended to intimidate their foe, one of the most common being vibrating their tails in an attempt to imitate the much more dangerous rattlesnake. If that fails to deter the adversary, the Japanese rat snake will smear them with a musk imbued with a foul smell derived from its intestine and anal gland.

It is only those who continue attacking despite that smell who face the prospect of being bitten.

20. How does a Japanese rat snake sense its environment?

Japanese rat snakes have better vision than many other snake species, an advantage they use in evading predators and capturing prey. Brills protect their eyes, protective ‘goggles’ formed of special transparent skin. They do not have eyelids.

Ears are formed by a single bone that connects to the jaw bone, an arrangement that allows the snake to pick up low-frequency sounds that travel long distances through the ground. Smells are processed using the forked tongue to pull chemicals from the air or terrain and place them on Jacobson’s organ in the palate.

This impressive array of perceptual tools have allowed the Japanese rat snake to thrive despite the encroachment of human developed into their environment.

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21. Is the Japanese rat snake dangerous to humans?

Not particularly. Whilst they can deliver a painful bite, they are very unlikely to do so unless they feel under threat and perceive they have no means of escape. Bites do not cause fatalities in humans.

22. Does a Japanese rat snake make a good pet?

Yes. Whilst possessing the customary grace and beauty you would expect of a snake, they are less aggressive than many of their relatives. Their docility and adaptability make caring for them easy for the attentive owner. Their vivarium should be wooden as it insulates heat better than glass and should be at least 34 inches (86 centimeters) in length to allow the snake sufficient space.

To cater to their needs, maintain a temperature of 85 to 90 degrees F (29 to 32 degrees C) and use a heat mat to achieve a slightly lower temperature of 80 degrees F (27 degrees C).

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