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Arafuran Filesnake
Caresheet





Intro

This Caresheet is based upon 32 yrs Herping experience, the Available Literature, Conversations with Successful Keepers and My Experience with this single animal. As I learn and grow, and work with more A. arafurae and A. javanicus--the information here may change.

The 4 1/2ft Male that I have arrived as a wild-caught, imported adult with 2 healing scars and one patch of the "White spot" fungus on its head. The white spot came off with its first shed and has not reappeared. The only treatment given this animal was: Security, Security, Security!
No Salt. No Ointments. No Antibiotics.
Just simple Straight forward: Security.

Be sure to check the Blogs and click the links within the text below for Pix and added information.



Security

Hidebox
When one thinks about how and where these snakes live--Security becomes a very important factor in these snakes lives. The setups that I have seen for these snakes are based so much more on Aesthetics than Security.
Which is Backwards.
These snakes spend much of their day hiding in Pandanus Tree roots (Pandanus Tree Pix), Grass mats and vegetation overhanging the water (not just OVERhanging, but hanging over INTO the water).
One of the best pieces of advice that I was given was to use a Hidebox. A simple hidebox just like one for any other snake. The Hidebox that I use (HideboxPix) is simple, straight forward and extremely Functional.

Prior to adding rocks inside the hidebox--the arafura would lie twisted among the pots. This behavior gave me the understanding of their need for multi-directional contact security.
The snakes total change after adding the rocks inside the hidebox just confirms what was wrong and what the snake needs to feel secure: Multi-directional Contact Security and a means to anchor its tail.

Plants and Top-Coverage
I have kept Aquariums, Terrariums and Vivariums on and off for over 30yrs. But like many people--I have always avoided the LIVE plant situation. Thinking as many do that they are just more hassle than they are worth.
Not True at all!
With the acquisition of this Arafura I am now deep into the whole Aquatic/Pond plant thing and still cannot believe my loss in understanding over all these years. Plants are in large part the final stage in nature's filtering/water quality cycle. In additional to water quality: Live plants provide natural contact security and top-coverage that the Arafurae need. Currently I am using both Frobit and Anachris plants for top-coverage (Top-Coverage Pix), and Java Moss that I tied to some rocks with fishing line for more filtration and bottom coverage for when the snake is moving around. I cannot emphasize the importance of live plants and top-coverage enough.

White Spot Fungus
"White Spot" is the dreaded disease that kills most of these snakes in Captivity. Its Prevention is the Key. As noted above, My Arafura arrived with a white spot on its head. When these snakes shed--the white spots disappear, but rapidly come right back. The white spot on My Arafura disappeared with its first shed and no white spot has returned. I believe in prevention--not cure. I have provided well thought out Security for this snake--and it appears to be working--time will tell.
However, in the event that white spot does appear and continues to appear---there are several things that people have tried: Salt baths; Human, mammal and aquatic ointments; Antibiotics, Antifunguals, etc, etc, etc. All without sucess (More Info Here). At this point the only cure that I am aware of that has a direct claim of working is: Australian Tea Tree Oil (Kingsnake.com-Tea Tree Oil Thread). MelaFix 5% directly onto the wound(s), and/or Triple the dosage (1%) and add it directly to the water and again at every weekly 50% water change (Kingsnake.com-Dosage Post). In the end, Melafix doesn't seem to have any better benefits than salt.

Additionally, Shedding seems to be a VERY stressful time for Acrochordus snakes. Prior to shedding You may begin to see an outbreak of the dreaded White Spot--Don't freak out. It will disappear with the shed, and if everything is in order: will not reappear until the next shed. Even if the Arafura looks clean and clear the entire time--You will find at least a few white spots on the shed skin. Its Normal, in captivity, from what I can tell, and affects all 3 species of Acrochordus.

(More Information on "Treatments" and "Treatment" Products).



Housing

Cage
This 4 1/2ft Male Arafura is currently housed alone in a Standard 55 gal. aquarium on an iron stand with plexiglass cut to fit each side of the top and bricks for weight in the event of an escape attempt. There is a 50 watt Rena Cal Submersible Heater which currently does a fine job. He seems prefectly content and there is no sign of the white spot returning.

Filtration
Currently, the Aquarium is filtered with a 29gal. Refugium, a Rena Filstar xp3 Canister Filter (350gph) and an Undergravel Filter with 2 Peguin 1140 Powerheads set for Reverse-Flow. The intake of the canister filter and each of the powerheads has a sponge intake filter (Canister Sponge Pre-fliters), (Powerhead Sponge Pre-fliters), for reduced flow and added mechanical and biological filtration. One of the things that I really like about the Rena xp3 Canister filter is the spray bar. It allows the filter to put the water back into the aquarium without a lot of water distrubance. Same goes for the powerheads in reverse-flow and the reverse-flow also helps push the "dirt" up out of the gravel to be filtered out by the canister filter. Not a perfect setup, but very functional. The long and short of it is: I have plenty of surface area for mechanical and biological filtration, and only the amount of beneficial bacteria needed is going to hang around anyway. Too much surface area? What's that? I do not use any type of chemical filtration, and in the canister filter I use one each of the 30ppi grade and 20ppi grade sponge filters and a whole basket of good ol' filter floss (100% polyester Fiber for stuffing pillows in the sewing section of walmart). You don't need ceramic rings, bioballs, carbon or any of the other stuff. Also, Carbon filters out the Black Water Extract. Finally, that one item that brings the filtration system together is the LIVE PLANTS!
Can't say enough about those.

Water "Quality"
Water "Quality" covers many different things. The water in their natural environment seems to be the basic Black Water Biotope: Very Soft Acidic Water--pH 5.5-6.5, Gh 3-5, Kh 2-4. Most Successful keepers shoot for this range. However, the successful keepers that I have conferred with don't think that it matters much--From My Experiences: It Does Matter. Lower/Acidic pH retards Bacterial and Parasitic Growth offering Antiseptic Qualities--Think about it. The Black Water Biotope is also loaded with Humic Acids and Tannins (hence the "Black" Water...). These are Toxic substances at High levels, but in nature they are everywhere and also offer Antiseptic qualities. I use Kent's Black Water Expert and Kent's Botanica Humic combined: Each at 1/2 dose, so combined they equal 1 dose (2.5ml/10g Black Water Expert + 2.5ml/10g Bontanica Humic = 5ml/10g Combined Total).
With the plants and plant food--nitrites stay at zero and nitrates stay at about 40ppm (Still in the safe zone by aquarium standards). I think the main thing is not to "shock" your system with sudden drastic changes.
I currently use Tetra's Aquasafe water conditioner, Kent's Black Water Expert, and Flourish and Flourish Excel (1/4-1/3 strength on both) for the plants. Adding these "fertilizers" for the plants may or may not be a good idea, but right now there doesn't seem to be any harm.
In their natural environment water clarity varies seasonally, with Secchi Disk readings of 6-40 cm late in the dry-season (winter) but improving to 1-2 m after the onset of the wet-season (summer).
I do water changes every 2-4 wks at about 75%.

Temperature
The 78-82F (25.5-27.7C) that is passed around by unsucessful keepers is Wrong!
Telemetry indicates that snakes body temperatures during the dry season (July-August-winter) range about 75.2-83.3F (24.0-28.5C) and during the wet season (February-March-summer) about 80.9-95F (27.2-35.0C). Within a day, a snake's body temperature varies no more than about 1.5 C.
Keeping these snakes at 78-82F (25.5-27.7C) is the same as keeping them in winter all year long!
I am currently keeping this Arafura at a range of 85-87F (29.4-30.5C), and the tank has reached 88F (31.1C). I will probably lower the temp down to 80-82F (26.6-27.7C) this winter for 2-3 months, but the rest of the year it will be in the 86F (30C) range. Additionally, I make sure that the water during water changes is within a couple of degrees of the water that's in the tank.

Photoperiod
In their natural environment the photoperiod is 12 hrs of daylight and 12 hrs of darkness. I am currently giving this arafura 10 hrs (8am-6pm) of Flourescent light with about 1 hour of indirect light (dusk level) in the moring and 2-3 hrs of indirect light (dusk level) in the evening. I originally started out with the aquarium hoods which was fine by the snake. I then removed those and added 3 48" double-bulb flourescent strip lights for the plants-12hrs on/12 hrs off. He didn't care for that very much. I reduced the light to 1 double-bulb strip, reduced the photoperiod to 8on/16off and received more plants all at about the same time. He was much happier. Everything is the same now, except I have since started using 2 double-bulb strips and moved up to a 10on/14off photoperiod. He seems fine. These snake spend their day hiding and will actually shift their position to stay in the shadows as the sun moves throughout the day.
An Australian keeper (Blog Entry) "Cracked" one of her 2 Arafura's non-feeding by reducing the lights to 2 hrs/day.
They don't like light. It is dangerous for them. Enter, again, the value of Top-Coverage.

Water Level
Literature, Conversations and Experience all indicate that the water level of the aquarium should be 25% or less of the snakes body length. They should not have to swim across open water (Large fish and Crocodiles). They are very leary of predators from above (Sea Eagles). And they should not have to swim to get air. They should not have to leave their "Hide" in order to get air. However, That said, Literature also says that setups for juvies should be set up "the same as for adults." Go figure.
If in doubt---reduce the water level.
My current opinion is that when acclimating a new animal the water level probably should not be more than about 15% of the snake's total body length for the first couple of months, and then can slowly be raised 1/2"-1" per water change.

Substrate
In their natural environment Arafura Filesnakes are generally offered a sandy, muddy bottom. From My Experience and Conversations with others--it doesn't really seem to matter much. Some are housed with glass bottoms, sand, gravel, etc. Without knowing for sure, I will offer this: If everything else is in order (security, temps, water quality, etc) I really don't think that the type or lack of substrate really matters. I started this one on a glass bottom and then decided to add gravel and an undergravel filter with the reverse flow powerheads--So far it is not a decision that I regret.

Snails
With Live Plants---You will get snails. The snails are not a problem. They are actually very beneficial cleaners. However, in regular aquaria they sometimes get "overpopulated". The size of a snail population is directly dependent upon how much you OVER-feed your fish. They eat the excess food and multiply and grow. Too many snails? Feed less.
Currently the only fish in the aquarium with my arafura are food. And they don't last long. So, I add flake fish food specifically for the snail population. At this point I want them to multiply and grow.
A side note: if you want to purchase snails to add to the tank, remember--some types of snails are voracious plant eaters. Be careful on which species are purchased. With a little bit of patience--the purchase of snails is unnecessary.



Feeding



General
furas don't seem very particular about the type of fish that they will accept as food. Mine has eaten Shiners, Comets and a 5"-6" Tinfoil barb. Others have fed minnows, guppies, mollies, swordtails.
Some keepers keep the tank stocked with a supply of fish and then just "Top-off" the fish supply as needed. I tried that and didn't like it very much--Too many fish dying off at the higher temps, a constant food supply doesn't help elicit a strong feed response and way too much hassle to do constant head counts to determine if the snake is even eating at all.
So, my current regime is to add fish every week or so. A good rule of thumb is to add 2-3 fish and see what the response is. My arafura will spend about the first 5-10 minutes refreshing its air supply and then start hunting. He has located and ate the first fish in as little as 8 minutes. Now he even hunts and eats during the day with the lights on. Whenever I move one of the plexiglass tops he will come to the front of his hidebox and start flicking his tounge. When I add fish--it doesn't take him long to smell them and get into gear. After he consumes a fish it is generally a minimum of 10 minutes before he shows any real interest in capturing another and sometimes an hour or more. The fish are still alive when they reach the stomach, so smaller prey is better. Watersnakes have been known to suffer injuries, even fatal injuries, from large prey after it has been consumed.
One of the best places to buy feeder fish is the bait store. The fish that I get are bigger, cheaper and healthier than anything I can find in local pet stores. Comets are very hardy, Shiners are not. The last 2 dozen comets contained fish from (1) 6g to (1) 38g, with an average of 20.6g. I keep a 10 gallon holding tank for the feeder fish that I call "Death Row".
Fura's use more than one technique to capture fish. I have seen mine press a fish up against the glass with its body to secure it while it reaches around with its head to grab a hold of it, and then it will grab it with its mouth while wrapping part of its body around the fish. I have also seen him outright grab a fish with its mouth and hang onto it while it wraps its body around it to secure the fish---then "GULP" and its gone. Arafura's are said to "Constrict" their prey, but that's not quite true. They do not "constrict" their prey in order to kill it in the same sense that boas, pythons and many other snakes do. They simply wrap their body around it to secure it. Often times My Arafura will grab the fish by its head with its mouth then wrap around it once and inhale it! Literally! When this occurs feeding takes about 6 seconds from Grab to gone. If the Arafura happens to grab the fish by the body then the same sequence occurs, except time is spent locating the fishes' head.

Cork Bark
This Animal was purchased from Ben Seigel Reptiles. The ad claimed that the addition of Cork Bark helps elicit a Good feed response. How true this is-I don't know. But I had Ben send me some Cork Bark with the snake and have included it in its setup from day one. Can't hurt--might help. Just a thought to pass along.



Shedding
This Arafura went into shed a few days or a week after I received it. It was apparently so stressed out that it just didn't shed. I've seen this on rare occassions with terrestrial snakes. About a month later it went into shed again and then finally shed on the night of July 3, 2005. A nice, beautiful one piece shed. It had stopped eating, so I had stopped trying to feed it. Once it finally shed---feeding resumed with vigor. It has shed again on August 22, 2005 (60 days in between sheds).
Two days prior to the shed the snake started behaving strangly by being completely outside of its hidebox all day and all night--something that would seem very contrary to its most basic survival instincts. After its shed, it went into its hidebox as usual and everything seems back to normal. Its appears that for this snake at least, shedding is a very uncomfortable process. The snake was ready to shed a couple of days before its skin was---LOL.
This Arafura stops eating prior to shed. Some snakes overcome this in time and some don't. As uncomfortable of a process as shedding seems to be for this animal---I'm assuming that he will continue to stop feeding for the shedding process. Time will tell.



Handling

One Word: DON'T.

If you need a pet that can be handled---then Filesnakes are not for You. This is a very serious issue. Their muscle and bone structure is similar to a shark in the sense that they are not designed to be lifted and made to support their own body weight. They are specifically designed for life in the water.
I have not handled this Arafura AT ALL! When I received this package, I opened the box and then the bag that the Arafura was in. I then gently "dumped" the snake into a buck of water for further examination and then from the bucket--gently--into his new home. At no time has this animal been "Held" while in my care. I have not had to remove this snake from it enclosure yet for any reason. When I do, I will follow the advice of a long-term keeper and use a "tray" of some sort. The kitty litter pan hide box doesn't have a bottom to it, but a suitable hibebox that's enclosed completely would be a good option. I just haven't found anything that covers all of the variables well.
Handling?
I will leave this with the same word:
DON'T.



Reproduction

Reproduction in captivity has occurred, but sadly at this point in time we do not understand the necessary triggers that cause it to happen. So, this section is based upon literature and some of mine own thoughts.
The largest snout-vent length for a male was 47" (120 cm) and for a female 64" (164 cm). Filesnakes are sexually dimorphic with the female having a larger head, shorter tail and larger overall size.
Males appear to reach maturity at 32-35" (82-90cm) and Females appear to reach maturity at 45" (115cm).
In the Top End of the Northern Territory where most of the ecological work on this species has been done, mating has been observed in the late dry season (August). Gravid females occur between the end of the dry season and the middle of the wet season (October and February). Females collected in copulation and maintained in a water temperature about 30 C, gave birth in the equivalent of the late wet season (March-April). And wild-caught gravid females gave birth in the middle to late wet season (February, April). Birth in the middle to late wet season coincides with the period of peak fish reproduction. In captivity, gravid females have been noted to refuse to feed. Courtship and mating has been observed in captivity. The male apparently coils and uncoils his tail around the tail of the female. Sexually mature males appear to be able to reproduce every year. How often a female reproduces appears to be driven somewhat by the length of the rainy season preceding the reproductive season. If the rainy season is prolonged as many as 59 percent of the females reproduce, implying that under optimal conditions individual females can reproduce every other year. However, if the preceding rainy season is short, then no female may reproduce, implying that under poor conditions, individual females might reproduce no more frequently than every third year. Litter size ranges from 11-25 and in captivity, neonates may eat as early as 20 days after birth.



Disclaimer

This Caresheet is offered on the Arafuran Filesnake-Acrochordus arafurae as is. This Caresheet is not offered in reference to any snake other than the Arafuran Filesnake-Acrochordus arafurae and even so--use at You Own Risk!

This general information should be transferable to the Java Wart Snake-Acrochordus javanicus, but I offer no guarantees of any kind.

Additionally, this caresheet is obviously based upon admittedly limited experience! It is not intend to be a receipe of do this, do this, do this---Bam! You have a cake. It's intent is to offer more of a conceptual understanding of these fascinating creatures and their apparent needs both in the wild and in captivity.




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