The Malagasy Cat Eyed snake (Madagascarophis colubrinus) is a relative newcomer to the pet reptile hobby. After a few generations of successful captive breeding, we are now seeing hardy animals that thrive in private homes. A smaller-sized snake, staying around 3 feet, they have a shortened snout and elliptical pupils for their nocturnal activities. Ranging down rainforests of the east coast of Madagascar, Malagasy Cat Eyes are semi-arboreal as well. Three color phases are being recognized currently. The wildtype (brown), silvers (grey/white), and gold (yellow) can all be found in various private collections. More research needs to be done before ascertaining if those color phases are genetic morphs.
We recommend hatchling and juvenile M. colubrinus to be reared in an 18″x18″x18″ Exo Terra cage or an enclosure with equivalent floor space especially. This will allow your young animal the space to still have room to grow into before moving into an adult enclosure. Hatchlings and juveniles should have some perches or climbing opportunities offered in the form of branches or similar sterilized options. Water should always be available in a dish. Providing a hide will also help your snake adjust to its new surroundings by offering a retreat. Substrate choices can vary but be sure to not allow for too much humidity build-up due to the substrate. We have found that using a dry hardwood chip keeps the bacteria levels down while the humid hide we offer allows that option for increased humidity as well. We recommend a 3’x2’x2′ cage or enclosure with equivalent square footage to house 1-2 adults safely.
While some care guides recommend a warm basking spot of 82-84F, we have found this species to benefit from a slightly higher increase in temperature, especially during the summer months. Providing a warm end of 85-87F to thermoregulate, we have found them to be more active and responsive without acting stressed at all. They also express a slight change in the shade of color during the warmer nocturnal months. Silver phase animals especially, lighten up so much during this temperature-responsive behavior. African House snakes are also known to go through a similar color change during the warmer nocturnal evenings. An ambient temperature of 75-78F is desirable. In our experience with a few African colubrids, cold temperatures can result in respiratory infections and refusal of meals. Ambient temperatures of 72F and lower are to be avoided for prolonged periods.
Malagasy Cat Eyed snakes do best when the humidity is in the range of 60-70%. We provide a humid hide at all times to alleviate higher humidity requirements during a shed cycle. We have found humidity levels of 80% and higher to be unnecessary for this species and also allow the increased potential for bacterial buildup in their enclosure. A weekly misting helps with maintaining those levels during the drier winter months as well.
While the importance of UV lighting may be questionable, the presence of a daylight cycle is still a necessity. This helps all animals with their circadian rhythm that can affect everything from eating habits to mating behavior. We provide a light cycle that simulates our Canadian climate with increased daylight in the summers (14 hours) to a reduction (10 hours) in the winter. We do this to cycle all our colubrids at the same time. A mean annual daylight length of 12 hours is enough if you are not creating a climate cycle. Climate cycling might be necessary to stimulate breeding behavior, however. We will cover aspects of their reproduction at another time, in a separate article. If you would like to peek at some snake breeding basics, here’s a link to a video we made about it. Snake Breeding
We currently house our breeding animals on dry hardwood chips (providing a humid hide to increase humidity) but have used orchid bark mulch, peat moss, and coir when we housed some of them in a bioactive setup. Be sure to allow for dry areas for your snake to move around on so as to prevent scale rot. Scale rot is a bacterial infection that can be caused by soiled and damp substrates. Ensure that whichever substrate you choose does not stay soaking wet for longer than 24 hours.
M. colubrinus has a varied diet in the wild. Juveniles will prey on lizards and amphibians while the larger adults are able to overpower small mammals and birds. In our collection, we start our hatchlings on live pinky mice for their first meals. Occasionally, one would encounter a hatchling that requires more coaxing. We have used frog legs to scent frozen-thawed pinks offered in a dish and have had success. Assist feeding a pinky head is also a quick way in teaching a nervous hatchling how to eat. Being quick chewers, they very readily start chewing on pinky heads. The smaller-sized meal seems to kickstart their digestive process and they seem to act hungrier sooner, than if left alone. Usually, 2-3 assisted feeds seems to get them on their way. Once established on food, hatchling Malagasy Cat Eyed snakes do not stop. They become very consistent feeders quickly. We feed our adult animals a varied diet that is primarily composed of 2 types of rodents (Mus musculus & Praomys natalensis), chicks, quail eggs, and pieces of fish and frog.
Adults are on a weekly or bi-weekly feeding schedule depending on which part of their breeding cycle. Non-breeding adults can be maintained on either a weekly or bi-weekly schedule. We prefer a weekly schedule and choose our prey items accordingly. Male animals are known to go off food for a few months at a time. The imported male that we have had for 5 years, still takes 2-3 mths off a year. When this happens, we reduce the frequency of offering food until fully stopping after 3 failed attempts. Males tend to reduce activity levels during this time. If you find your adult male is starting to get more active after a period of food refusal, it could be time to start offering food again. Our female animals have always been like clockwork with their feed schedules with gravidity being the only exception.
There should be at least two options to hide within your enclosure. One on the hot side and one on the cool side. Snakes enjoy hiding, so if there is only one hide on a side of the enclosure that is either too hot/cold and uncomfortable, it is unlikely that the snake will not leave the security of its hide. This can cause stress and refusal of meals along with other problems to your snake’s comfort and wellbeing. Water bowls (of course) are also required and expected to be cleaned and replaced with fresh water frequently. Water bowls should be big enough for your snake to sit and relax in. This will both help the shedding process while providing more humidity. Malagasy Cat Eyed snakes are a semi-arboreal species and do appreciate climbing or perching areas in their enclosure. While it may be tempting to add more decor to aid the security and comfort of your snake, keep in mind that it can be tricky to check in on a non-visible animal.
A well-adjusted M. colubrinus is an active but calm animal. Even hatchlings prefer to curl up in your hands than flee. We have not seen too much defensive behavior amongst our animals. When nervous they will flatten their heads to mimic a viper. If further provoked, some individuals will strike and bite. We have found this to be a rare occurrence with most of our animals not acting defensively when being checked over. Keep in mind that Malagasy Cat Eyed snakes are an opisthoglyphous colubrid. Although somewhat resembling Asian Cat Eyed snakes (Boiga sp.) their venom toxicity renders them relatively harmless and comparable to the Western Hognose snake (Heterodon nasicus). Add this to their less evolved venom delivery system, one would have to allow the snake to bite and chew to see any effects at all. Thankfully, Malagasy Cat Eyes are typically placid animals that can tolerate handling. For more information on bringing your first hatchling snake home, click here.
The Malagasy Cat Eyed snake is fast becoming a popular choice for enthusiasts and keepers that like something a bit more uncommon, while still being hardy and having manageable husbandry needs. Being a smaller snake species makes this a less intimidating choice for younger keepers as well. With export quotas from Madagascar being volatile as they have been, there is an urgent need to reproduce this species in captivity and retain wild populations. The future is bright for this elliptical-eyed, diminutive species in our hobby.