How to Establish Dragon Snakes (Xenodermus javanicus)

Family: Xenodermidae
Scientific Name: Xenodermus javanicus
Lifespan: 8-10+ years
Size: Average 2 - 2 1/2 feet
Habitat and Distribution: Southeast Asia; inhabiting swamps, marshes and rice paddies

Xenodermus javanicus, or the Dragon snake, is a small and unique species of Colubrid snake renowned for its unusual but fascinating appearance, especially in their dorsal scalation. With three rows of keeled scales, the Dragon Snake takes on the features of a dragon, from which their name originates.

They can also exhibit a particularly interesting behavior when handled: they will stiffen their entire body, as if they were turned into stone! While they have a more reclusive nature, they are incredible to observe when they come out during the night to hunt and explore.

Disclaimer

Dragon Snakes are not yet established in captivity, thus all available specimens are currently wild caught imports. If you are interested in keeping this species, it is highly recommended that you have at least some experience establishing wild caught imports. While a small handful of people have been successful in keeping Dragon snakes, due to their current status in captivity, this species is best suited for advanced keepers until established captive bred specimens are more readily available.

Enclosure

Due to their small size, Dragon Snakes do not require elaborately large enclosures. I have been keeping smaller Dragon snakes in 15qt. Sterilite locking tubs, and larger snakes in 32qt. tubs; however, I am currently experimenting with naturalistic palladiums that will mimic their wild environment, with future plans to include a running water feature. I provide them with a few hides, a bit of artificial foliage for extra cover, and a water dish buried up to the rim with substrate. When first establishing Dragon Snakes, I highly suggest keeping the water dish under their hide, as this allows them to feel more secure while hunting. Over time however, your Dragon Snake should begin to feel more comfortable with their surroundings and venture outside of their hide(s). Patience is key when keeping this species.

Substrate and Humidity

Dragons snakes require consistently high humidity at all times and often spend a majority of their time underground. In order to satisfy their semi-fossorial (burrowing) nature and maintain humidity levels of 90%+, I prefer to use an organic potting soil and vermiculite blend for substrate. It is crucial that you are not using a substrate that you must constantly modify by adding water to maintain humidity levels, as minimal interaction with this species is best to avoid additional stress. I add two cups of water upon initially placing my substrate and then only mist once every week or two for a few seconds each time. Dragon Snakes are more vulnerable to skin diseases, thus it is important to keep the environment as sanitary as possible. Adding a drainage layer to allow for a more even distribution of moisture through the substrate is highly recommended to help maintain humidity.

Heating

Dragon snakes do not require external heat and should ideally be kept in a temperature-controlled room between 75-77°F. High temperatures are detrimental to this species, so do not overheat them! If your house is kept cool and you are unable to maintain a room temperature within this threshold, you can mount a 60W CHE (ceramic heat emitter) ABOVE the enclosure to meet their heating requirements. You will have to calibrate the temperatures by adjusting the height from the CHE to the enclosure, starting from the farthest distance and gradually moving closer as necessary. Always use a thermostat with any and all heat sources.

Diet and Feeding

Feeding Dragon snakes is very straight-forward as long as they have settled in well. In the wild, their diet primarily consists of tadpoles, frogs and small fish. I have had the most success feeding mosquito fish, tree frogs/tadpoles and even frog-blend Reptilinks. It is important to know that certain species of fish contain an enzyme called thiaminase, which breaks down thiamin (vitamin B1). Thiamin is a crucial vitamin that all living things need to metabolize in order to function and grow. Mosquito fish (Gambusia affinis), Guppies (Poecilia reticulata) and Platies (Xiphophorus maculatus) are all species of fish considered safe feed in regards to their thiaminase content.

I formerly avoided feeding fish that contained thiaminase, but I have now developed a method for supplementing thiamin into my Dragon Snake’s diet. You can find feeder fish and tree frog tadpoles from various suppliers on eBay. Smaller imports will be of size to take medium - large sized tree frog tadpoles or small feeder fish, which are easily offered by placing around 5-10 tadpoles or fish in the water dish every five days. When offering fish or tadpoles, I use Tupperware dishes filled with 5 parts fresh water and 1 part tank water*. Simply bury the water dish up to the rim with substrate and place in a dark, covered area where they will feel comfortable hunting their prey.

Larger imports should be fed developed tree frogs, large feeder fish or frog-blend Reptilinks if you are successful in feeding them. Being that they are significantly more nutritious, I recommend switching over to one or the other as your Dragon snake approaches adulthood.

*Your feeder tank should be kept pristine at all times. I do 25% water changes twice a week to keep ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels at 0ppm. If you are not experienced in fish keeping, I strongly recommend using the API Freshwater Master Kit to test your water parameters so that you may become familiar with how to keep a healthy, happy feeder fish colony. You will want to set up and cycle your tank one month before adding any fish.

Additionally, while these fish may be feeders, all life deserves to be treated with respect and given the best quality of possible. I offer plenty of hides, plants and enrichment for my feeder fish and feed them high-quality food such as brine shrimp and New Life Spectrum. Your colony will not only breed better this way, but the more they are happy and thriving, the more healthy and nutritious they are for your Dragon Snake.

Treating for Parasites

One of the biggest concerns that comes with all wild caught snakes is the potential parasite load they often bring. External parasites are easy to detect and relatively simple to treat, and there are various online resources on how to treat them – but the same cannot be said for internal parasites. Many inexperienced keepers that acquire a wild caught import believe the best course of action is to rush them to their veterinarian for an in-depth examination. Unfortunately, the stress they are put through as a result of the veterinary visit is often a major cause for decline and eventually death . When keeping wild caught snakes, it is crucial to avoid stressing them as much as possible, and this includes being poked, prodded and excessively handled by a vet. This is where experience comes into play. Knowing how to examine and identify potential issues with your snake and how to treat them without rushing them to the vet is extremely helpful in assuring the survival of such sensitive animals. In order to do so, I highly suggest establishing a good relationship with your herp veterinarian . I am able to treat all snakes for parasites at home because my veterinarian prescribes the medication via Telemedicine, allowing me to receive the necessary medication for my wild caught imports without having to put them through the stress of a long drive and physical examination.

Treatment for internal parasites includes an oral administration of Metronidazole (0.04mg/g) given once within the first week of arrival and then once more 2 weeks after the first dose. This medication is also effective against many strains of bacteria, and will also treat certain illnesses such as a respiratory infection. Since Metronidazole is typically prescribed in a 250mg tablet, it must first be dissolved in water to be administered to your snake. Your veterinarian can help you find the correct ratio in which you will dissolve the medication in, which will depend on the weight of your snake and dosage information provided above. For reference, dissolving one 250mg tablet of Metronidazole in 10ml of water would be administered at 0.04ml for a 25g Dragon snake.

I also treat each group of tadpoles and fish for parasites a week prior to feeding them off. You can use Metronidazole for treating your feeders. I add 12 grams of Metronidazole per every 5 cups of water they are in. After crushing the tablet, use a high precision scale that measures in milligrams to measure out the correct ratio. Please reach out to your veterinarian if you are unsure on how to calculate the proper ratio.

Sexing Dragon Snakes

Sexing Dragon Snakes is relatively simple if you know what to look for. You do not want to pop or probe these snakes as they are very thin and fragile, and the risk of hurting them is too great. Instead, tail sexing is a much easier and less invasive method of sexing your snake. Females can be distinguished from males as they are heavier-bodied, have a more slender tail, and lack a hemipenial bulge. Males on the other hand are more slim-bodied, have a thicker tail and a distinct hemipenial bulge. See the image below for reference.

Sexing Xenodermus javanicus1

Breeding Dragon Snakes

Very few keepers have been successful in breeding and hatching Dragon snakes in captivity. Sergey Kudryavtsev and Vasyliy Latyshev were able to breed and produce a clutch of five eggs from X. javanicus, but a fault in conditions during incubation had hatched unviable young that passed within two days of hatching. Breeding attempts for X. javanicus are currently in the works with my group of 3.4 (three males, four females). Dragon snakes breed during the monsoon season (November through March), thus to replicate optimal breeding conditions, we have introduced two new aspects of husbandry for the best chance of success: a timed misting system to replicate rain, and a gradual reduction in the air pressure of the room to simulate the pressure system during the monsoon season. If breeding attempts are successful and a clutch is produced, we will be incubating them at room temperature in damp vegetation to closely mimic conditions in the wild.

Additional Information

As with most wild caught imports, it is important to limit handling to only when medically necessary. I rarely handle my Dragon snakes for interaction or personal benefit. While this may change when captive bred status is obtained, for now it is best to avoid putting these snakes through any unnecessary stress. They are particularly fragile and will quickly decline under stress.

I also recommend keeping them in a dark or dimly lit room. I allow a small amount of natural light to peek indirectly through a window to provide a natural daylight cycle. Absolutely no artificial light sources; this is a semi-fossorial nocturnal species, and light should only be provided through natural means to help them regulate.

In summary, Dragon snakes are a fascinating species to keep for those who are capable of doing so. While they are best suited for advanced keepers due to their current status in captivity, I hope the information provided in this guide will help the small community of those who keep them in assuring they thrive in their care. With the persistent efforts of dedicated keepers, perhaps we will see more captive bred hatchlings in the future.

My artistic rendition of the Dragon Snake, which serves as our beloved mascot!

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Such a bootiful snake :heart_eyes: thanks for all the information and the lovely picture. Never heard much less seen one of these fellas before.

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Thank you, I am happy to share! They are a very intriguing species, and we have a good feeling about captive breeding attempts in the near future.

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Man when I first got into reptiles these things drew me in like no other snake out there. I hope that captive bred specimens can be made, as taking them out of the wild when they are already endangered is worsening their chances.

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I share the same concern. I do wish the sale of this species was more selective on the seller’s behalf. I have seen far too many keepers aquire them without enough experience to care for them properly; excessive handling, inadequate husbandry, and rushed trips to a (usually unqualified) veterinarian being a few of the mistakes made when keeping them. This species is very fragile – even for a wild caught import – which leaves very little room for mistakes. While I do foresee them being a pleasure to keep once captive bred specimens are available, for the time being, Xenodermus javanicus should be left to those who are accustomed to establishing them so that we can one day enjoy their precious existence in captivity.

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What cool snakes. How many of them do you have? How long have they been in your care?

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I currently have a group of 3.4 (three males, four females), with the longest captives being a little over two years old and thriving well.

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I thought I would update this thread in regards to sexing Dragon snakes. I took these photos today to compare male and female X. javanicus by the ventral side of the tail.

Females - More slender tail, no hemipenial bulge; thicker bodied

Males - Thicker tail, hemipenial bulge, more slender bodied

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It is definitely not a hognose :wink:

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Not sure if its considered wrong to bump older threads so apologies…Since its educational and them Dragon Snakes are a dream animal I think its cool to get more info out about them such as what we see in this thread.

Thanks for the tips…Love the thread.

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Nope I love bumps, eaglereptiles sometimes will bump things too. Ps I love this thread too :heart:

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I’m glad it was bumped, I had a few updates to add to the care for these guys! :slight_smile:

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Good old Flagil. Also good for flagellates as I remember. Hence the brand name I am familiar with I guess. Its good to read i am not out of date with this medication that I used to use for some reptile conditions in wild caught many years ago.
I even was prescribed it for myself recently as an powerful antibiotic. Sucks that you cant drink with it though.
Thanks for the update.

Good luck with your project, It would be good if dragon snakes were not so elusive in the hobby,
Hows things progressing>?

Edit: Used to use it for my wild caught mandarins and a few others back in the day. i did find there was a risk of eliminating the animals gut bacteria with it if you were not prescribed the dosage perfectly. Its powerful stuff. I would not recommend it without expert reptile veterinary advice.

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