I have kept this species since 2007 and my experiences are based on maintaining 7 different adults in that time and approximately 800 juveniles. I purchased my first falsie from a reptile shop in Essex as a grown on juvenile, and within a few months I knew that this was a species that I was going to dedicate a great deal of my reptile keeping life to.
I purchased my second falsie from the breeder David Richards a couple of months later, then acquired several more females from him. A year or so later I then acquired a couple of large adult females from a gentleman on the south coast who was selling them as sexed pair (I was overjoyed that they were missexed). I then sold some of the younger females off as they were surplus to requirements. The animals currently in my collection were either bred by myself or came from these aforementioned sources.
I don’t really know what it was about this species that inspired me so much, probably because Ive never kept any other species of colubrid that is quite as switched on to its surroundings. This is probably just a feature of them being diurnal and very food oriented more than a sign of intelligence however!
I personally house this species as adults in either 4 by 2 or 5 by 2 enclosures. There is a school of thought that this species requires damp conditions, this is certainly not the case. I have actually noted scale rot in this species when kept on damp orchid bark in the past. I have used various different substrates over the years, but currently I use lignocel, as it is a good compromise between price and aesthetics.
This species will occasionally soak in the waterbowl for short periods, however if they exhibit this behaviour frequently it is likely that they are infact being kept too warm. This appears to be the most frequent error keepers make with this species. Just because they are south American they do not require overly warm conditions. I keep them with a hot spot of around 29-30c. Any more than that and I find that they tend to go off food, and exhibit signs of heatstress. I have also been informed of the death of a specimen in another collection that died following a short period of time kept at too high a temperature. Like all reptiles, too high a temperature is much more dangerous than too low.
Now this is a contentious issue. Some people seem to regard this species as being very hazardous due to them being rearfanged. While I would not advise anyone how to handle this species, personally Ive always treated them as I would any other colubrid with one simple exception. I always remove this species from the vivarium using a hook, as touching them can very easily trigger a feeding response. Other than that I simply handle them normally.
I feel I should add however, that I have probably sustained approximately 100 bites from adults and juveniles of this species with no ill effects. Although that being said I have never allowed them to get a good chew and engage their rear fangs, I always have quickly removed the snakes from the body part they were attaching themselves to.
This species will readily consume fish and rodents of appropriate size. I have found that the juveniles often require fish (or fish scent) for the first couple of feeds.
A lot of people talk about the ‘phenomenal feeding response’ of this species and claim that they will eat anything. Personally I have found that individual snakes can actually be rather fussy. I have some that will eat chicks and rodents and fish, but I also have others that will only eat rodents.
The main mistake I have seen people make with this species is keeping them too hot or too cold. They seem to be happiest with a hot spot around 85f with the rest of the enclosure around 75-80f. Keeping them like most other popular species with a 95f hotspot results in them feeding poorly and can cause heat stress and eventually death. Keeping them too cold results in them not breeding and not feeding well.
The babies of this species are particularly sensitive, especially when compared to other commonly kept species such as royals. If you do not keep them pretty much immaculately they will consume their own faeces, I have noted that this can then result in the death of that individual. I find that when I have a clutch of them I often end up cleaning them all out a couple of time a week.
Following various trials and experiments, the ideal temperature which I have found for incubating eggs of this species is 27c. This is the only temperature where I have achieved a 100% hatch rate. The incubation period at this temperature is near enough 75 days usually. I always incubate in tubs using damp vermiculite as you would for royal python eggs or similar python species which most people are familiar with in the UK reptile hobby.
Recognized False Water Cobra Morphs: PART 1
UK Hypos/Orange Hypos/UKline Hypos
These are the 3 broadly used terms for this morph. This is a proven recessive trait. The actual originator of this morph is not known, however the first time I saw any being sold as hypos was by the English breeder David Richards in around 2007 and also by coast-to-coast exotics possibly a couple of years earlier. False Water Cobras came into the UK reptile trade in around 1990 (as verified by rep-tech), and odd brown/orange individuals have cropped up from time to time in breedings many times between 1990 and now. The reason that this mutation has cropped up so often is probably due to the very small genetic variation in the UK false water cobra population. The general likelihood is that most UK bred false water cobras are in fact carrying this trait. I know that personally I have sold all of my 100% hets as normals (probably in the region of 300 individuals), so just from me alone there is going to be a lot of animals out there that will throw hypos when bred together. I have spoken to various people who bred them in the past at UK reptile shows Doncaster and Kempton Park. Two people have some up to me in the last 4 years selling hypos on my stall and said “oh, we used to get a few like that when we bred them in the 1990s”. This morph is further confused by the fact that the adults are not as easy to differentiate as the juveniles.
Image showing normal animal at top and hypo below at age 1 week.
Image to show male hypo mating to normal (het) female.
As you can see from the above image, the colouring does not stay as vibrant as the animals age. Basically they become brown and white animals as opposed to the black white and green animals that are mostly seen in the uk.
Now I bet there are a lot of people out there reading this thinking they have animals that look like that (and you do). Before ‘morphs’ were such a big deal, people didn’t care about slight differences, so chances are you have a hypo as well!
This morph is now considered proven in so much as 100% het animals have been bred to visual hypos, and produced mostly visual hypo offspring in the kind of genetic outcome percentages that would occur from that kind of breeding in other species. As I type I am in fact looking at an adult visual pair locked together (which is what prompted me to write this article). I am not sure exactly how many hypos I have produced now but it must be around 50+, so it is certainly a genetically heritable trait.
The UKline Hypos are also the line of hypo that exists in Europe, as I know personally that I have sent animals to Ireland, Slovakia, Germany and Holland, as have undoubtedly other breeders.
There have recently been ‘lavender’ morph false water cobras produced in Italy by two breeders (Simon Tiberi and Enrico Marconato). The original animals were announced as being produced in 2014, with the morph announced as ‘proven out’ in 2015.
These animals are very impressive and if they breed one of the animals they have produced back to each other we will know for sure whether this gene breeds true or not.
Personally I think that it will prove out, however I do not really think that ‘lavender albino’ is a very good description of the morph, as they do not even appear to have red eyes like most albinos. They appear to me to be some form of axanthic or ghost, which is obviously just as exiting to me as it is still a new morph for false water cobras.
I have met Enrico at a few of the Hamm shows and he seems a very nice guy, but unfortunately he was not very forthcoming with information (this may well have been caused by the language barrier as I do not speak Italian, and he does not appear to speak fluent English).
This is the morph which I am currently most excited about (although I am biased). I recently was given the opportunity to purchase a group of ‘weird’ adults and babies from a friend who also was a breeder of false water cobras. The adult male appeared to be a new morph (very light coloured, but not hypo), and surprisingly he also produced similar coloured babies! The other breeder had kept 3 of the babies which I also purchased to grow on. This morph is not technically proven out until I have managed to breed one of the babies back to either a sibling or the original male (which will take about 5 years), but from the percentages of ‘king’ offspring being produced I would assume at this point that this is a co-dominant mutation.
This is pretty exciting as it will be pretty easy to mix into the hypo gene if that is the case (as almost all UK Line false water cobra are het for hypo).
This year I have tried to breed this male to my largest female, but at this point I still do not know whether it will turn out to be properly genetic or not. It could well turn out to just be a form of line bred trait, much like the colours of amazon tree boas.
False water cobra morphs are really not very well established in captivity yet, which in my opinion is a mixed blessing. When a species starts to have lots of morphs available it usually starts to become much more popular, but unfortunately it also often attracts the wrong sorts of people (investors etc).
At the present time there isn’t exactly mega bucks in breeding false water cobras in the UK. With the crash of the ball python market people are looking for new species to invest in, and while it would be nice to think that false water cobras could be one of those species, in my opinion they are simply not a suitable animal for most reptile keepers, so should not achieve mainstream levels of popularity. They also grow too large for racking systems which also further limits their commercial viability.
The amount of False water cobras that I refuse to sell every year is staggering, a great deal of idiots appear attracted to this species unfortunately (the name cobra often attracts the wrong kind of people). However I also still do manage to pretty much sell out of them every year, so if you are interested In this species please do not hesitate to get in touch.