Care and Maintainence of the False Water Cobra Hydrodinastes Gigas

The False Water cobra is a member of the colubridea family. The Colubrids consist of some 305 Genera, and 1,858 species of snakes living today. If a snake does not fit into any other family exactly, it is thrown into the Colubrid family. The FWC is of the Hydrodynastes species and the sub-species is giggis. It can be found within the Rain Forests of South America living in close proximity to slow moving streams and lakes. In the past few years, the FWC has become very popular in the pet reptile trade. It is quite robust and can attain a length of up to eight feet and weigh almost ten pounds. Its coloring is suited for life in the rain forest, the base color is a satin black with a light olive green accent trim swirling along the bodies length. Its eyes are jet black and rather large, making this snake a formidable night hunter. Food consists of practically anything that will fit into its mouth. Mice, rats, birds and fish make up the bulk of its diet. The FWC is also considered to be cannibalistic, especially when in the growing stages of life. It is not a shy snake by any means, it will vigorously set upon any animal that crosses its path especially when it is searching for food and that is 80% of its waking hours. A native of Brazil, it is also called ” the Brazilian smooth snake.

There are three sub-species of FWC, giggis, bicinctus, and shultzi. Most of the FWC’s sold in the USA are sold as giggis, if however you take the time to research those sold in pet stores, you would find they are in fact bicinctus. The difference is subtle and realy makes no great difference unless you are selling the venom or are breeding them with a guarantee of lineage. Like most Colubridae, the FWC is ovivoviparous, (an egg layer) and deposits her eggs under decomposing vegetation or in hollow rotted logs in the wild. A clutch of eggs numbers from 8 to 16 but as little as 2 eggs can be laid in the late Spring. Gestation lasts for about 120 days and the young hatch with the yolk sack still attached. They will receive nourishment from the remaining yolk for about 7 to 10 days after hatching. They will shed soon after birth, until the first shed is complete, they will not seek out food. Once they have shed, their first meal will consist of large insects or small fish if available. During this delicate time frame, they are subject to becoming a meal of any larger carnivore, Owl’s, larger snakes, weasel’s, racoon’s and opossum’s are but a few of the wildlife species that feed on young FWC’s.

A FWC will grow fast if food is plentiful and luck is with it. Newborns average between 10 and 14 inches out of the egg, at the end of the first year, the average length is about three foot plus. A full grown FWC has very few predators to worry about. This species of snake is extremely muscular and has powerful jaws. It is considered venomous and should be given the respect due any other venomous snake. Its fang system is called “ophistoglyphous” meaning that it is rear fanged. A short fang, about 1/4 inch can be seen below each eye on the upper jaw. Unlike the true cobras (Elapids), the FWC’s fangs are not hollow and consist of a groove on the anterior side of the fang. Venom flows along the gum line and gravity forces the venom into the groove which allows it to travel downward into the wound caused by the fang. In Elapids the fangs are called “Proteroglyphous” meaning that the tooth is hollow like a hypodermic needle, and venom is forced directly into the wound. Elapids and Viperidae can strike, inject and move away very quickly but the FWC must hold on to its prey in order for its venom to work.

Unlike true cobras, the FWC’s hood is slim and extends below the base of the cervical spine. True cobras of Asia and Africa have short ,wide, hoods and remain within the cervical spine only. Though not as impressive, the FWC does get its point across when agitated or angry. To date, there has not been a fatal bite delivered to a human by a FWC but that does not mean that it will never happen. The venom affects the blood’s ability to clot and also destroys tissue near the bite site. It is considered to be a “proteolytic” type of venom similar to the venom of most vipers such as the rattlesnake in general. Its outward appearance presents itself with similarities akin to the Elapidae family making this a unique snake in deed.

The FWC’s in captivity are are usually the prize snake of most collections. They climb, and swim under water with ease. They are extremely smart and seem to recognise their care giver especially around meal time. Most are fed frozen, then thawed rodents. They are certainly capable of dispatching a large rat or mouse with out much problem however pre killed food items never bite and the snake is fine with that. Food is offered every 7 to 10 days and freshwater is always available. Spring water is best for this species of snake and it should be kept in a container large enough for the snake to bath in. It must be changed daily and the temperature should be in the high 70’s to mid 80’s. The enclosure should be at least as ling as 2/3’s the length of the snake it houses. Height is not as vital as length but it does enjoy climbing once in a while so if possible a tank with both lenght and height would be ideal. There must be a temperature gradient between one end of the tank and the other. The hot end should be in the high 80’s and the cool end in the low 80’s to mid 70’s. Water should be available at each end also. All snakes require seclusion a bulk of the time. FWC’s are no different. A hide box as it is called should be placed at each end of the tank. Its size should be relatively tight for the snake to fit into, a snake does not like to be exposed to anything that could allow a predator to jump it from behind. A tight fit gives it the security that it requires. Stress to a snake can be fatal! Anything that keeps a snake on edge, or in a position where it does not feel safe, opens the doorway to a short life. In a stressed environment, a snake will not eat or drink, it will not sleep and pneumonia usually sets in causing the animal to die a slow and very painful death. A thermometer and a humidity gauge should be at each end of the tank. The humidity is best kept at a 50% level most of the time but when the snake enters a shed cycle the humidity needs to be upped to about 75% and misting the enclosure should be done once a day. All heating sources must be applied from the out side of the tank. Never allow a snake to get close to a heat source, Burns are often fatal to reptiles and are truly painful. Heat pads under the tank are acceptable as are heat lamps kept above the tank. Heat lamps also serve as a basking spot that snakes utilize after a meal to aid in digestion. The floor of a tank should be covered with an absorbent material, this is called a “sub-streight”. It can be pine bark, news papers, beach sand ( Sterile ), astro turf or any other non scented material. I find white cotton folded towels to be the best. They are absorb-ant and you can see any waste material immediately and they do not get stuck to the food items which end up being swallowed by the snake. They are changed out quickly and hold warmth. The down side is they must be washed and dried and folded but other then that I find towels to be the best items available.

Handling a snake is always tempting for the owner but remember, a FWC can deliver a bad bite so use caution. When a snake is in a shed cycle, it should not be handled or fed. Doing either will cause the shed to come off in pieces versus one solid piece. Always examine the old shed to ensure the “Brill’s” (Eye caps) have came off with the rest of the shed. If they have remained behind, let it go for now but on the next shed cycle up the humidity to over 80%. If this does not do the trick, a visit to your vet might be in order. If you own any type of snake, a herp. Vet should be part of your set up. Also never allow inexperienced friends handle this or any other type of snake, being handled is very stressful in and of itself. A healthy FWC should live for over twenty years. This is a long term commitment and it should not be entered into lightly. Cleaning up after a large snake is very demanding and time consuming. Ask yourself if you are getting this animal to impress your friends or maybe you think it will make you popular? If these are even part of the reasons you are going to obtain a snake, forget it. Zoos, shelters, humane societies are always full of unwanted animals that people obtained because the wanted them for the wrong reasons and the snake is always the looser, DON”T DO IT!