The Elephant Trunk Snake is a challenging snake to care for and as such, their care is best left to advanced reptile caretakers. As aquatic snakes, they require an aquarium. Also, they are not to be held.
They dislike it, and regular handling stresses them. Taking them out of water is bad for them and can cause serious injuries. However, they are excellent display pets and are wonderful to keep and care for.
Table of Contents
Elephant Trunk Snake Facts and Information
- Experience Level: Advanced
- Family: Acrochordidae
- Scientific Name: Acrochordus javanicus
- Average Adult Size: 5 to 8 feet (152 to 244 cm)
- Lifespan: 4 -6 years
- Clutch Size: 20 to 30 offspring
- Food: Live fish
- Enclosure Measurement: 120-gallon aquarium
- Average Temperature: 85°
- UVB Lighting: Optional
- Average Price Range: $75 to $130
- Conservation Status: Least Concern on the IUCN Red List
The elephant trunk snake is endemic to East Asia. The first wild population can be found in north and central Sumatra and on Malaysia’s west coast which also includes the islands of Penang and Langkawi as well as Sarawak (a state in Malaysia).
Other wild populations can be found in Thailand (south Thailand all the way to Bangkok), and in Indonesia (Kalimantan, Java). They occur up to depths of 150 m.
The binomial name of the elephant trunk snake is Acrochordus javanicus. The snake belongs to the genus Acrochordus, which is native to Australasia and contains 3 aquatic snakes namely the Arafura file snake, little wart snake, and the elephant trunk snake. The genus belongs to the family Acrochordidae. As a monogeneric family, only the 3 species already mentioned belong to the family.
As an entirely aquatic snake, the elephant trunk snakes spend all their time underwater, only coming up to breathe. Even with that, the snake sticks only the nostrils out of water.
They do not like to be handled and are best kept as display pets. They can grow to long lengths. Males can grow up to five feet while females can grow up eight feet.
The A. javanicus has baggy skin which makes it look as if the skin is too big for the body. This, however, allows them to comfortably remain underwater. The skin has small scales that do not overlap. The top of the snake is brown while the sides and belly are yellow. Their head is flat and broad.
The elephant trunk snake is fully adapted to an aquatic habitat, leaving the water can cause injuries as they find it problematic to support their weight out of water.
Elephant Trunk Snake Care Sheet
Elephant Trunk Snake Habitat
Although they can found in freshwater, they usually inhabit brackish water. They prefer to live in rivers, streams, and estuaries. Additionally, they may be found in rice paddies and peat swamps.
As aquatic snakes, they need an aquatic set up. As usual, the size of the enclosure depends on the size of the snake. For individuals that are 20 inches or less, a 10 to 15-gallon aquatic tank will do.
For larger specimens such as adults, a 50-gallons aquatic tank will do, although I recommend a 150-gallon tank. The tank should be three-fourth full of dechlorinated water. Change about a third of the water in the aquarium every week.
Unlike other aquatic species, the elephant trunk snake’s tank needs a secure screen top as they will try to escape without one. Since they do not do well outside of water, escaping the tank can be detrimental to their well-being.
The water needs to be filtered. An ideal filtration system is the Penn Plax Undergravel Filter – Premium Aquarium. These work well and keep the tank clean. Additionally, you need to install a sump (submersible pump) that is adequate for the volume of water in the aquarium.
Install sponge pre-filters such as the BCP Pre-Filter Foam on the return pumps of the sump. A canister filter is also a good investment as it filters the water properly and ensures the snake is comfortable. This is essential to their health. I recommend the Polar Aurora.
The elephant trunk snake prefers a pH level of 5.5. Try and keep the water at this level. Since 5.5 is slightly acidic, you can buffer the pH level when needed. You can test the pH level using the API TEST STRIPS. Adding tannic acid not only helps adjust the pH level, but it gives the water a brownish color that the snake likes.
Security is absolutely important to the health of the elephant trunk snake. To provide this security, ensure there are many hiding spots. Tannic acid powder murks the water, which is good.
Other objects to consider include cork bark such as Zoo Med Natural Cork, Mopani wood, and aquatic plants. Also, provide a hide box. This hide box should be heavy so it sinks. Ceramic pots and heavy commercial snake hides work well.
While there are several substrate choices available but it is best to go with no substrate at all. Gravel and sand can be used but these can be tough to clean. Other choices that are aesthetically pleasing include coral rubble (which helps buffer pH levels), GloFish Aquarium Gravel and Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel. Also, consider ornament turf such as Anleo Artificial Aquarium Ornament Turf.
Avoid DA Aquasoil or Tahitian Moon Sand.
The water needs a submersible water heater such as the Hygger Saltwater Tank Titanium Tube Submersible Pinpoint Aquarium Heater or the ISTA In-Line External Aquarium Heater to keep the temperature between 84 to 86 F.
Creating a temperature gradient in such a small tank is not possible, so it’s best to keep the water at a comfortable temperature. Use a thermometer such as the Zacro LCD Digital Aquarium Thermometer to check the temperature at all times. Getting an external heat controller is advisable.
This species doesn’t like light as they are nocturnal creatures. Regardless, provide 12 hours of light every day. This helps the snake maintains a circadian rhythm.
Access to indirect sunlight is good enough for the snake. Similarly, you can use a compact fluorescent tube to provide the needed light. UV light is beneficial especially if you have live plants in the tank. For snakes that are refusing to feed, reduce the number of hours the aquarium receives light.
Feeding the Elephant Trunk Snake
In the wild, the elephant trunk snake feeds on fish and other aquatic animals including frogs. The snake is strictly carnivorous. Because of their slack skin, they don’t bulge after eating.
Feeding the elephant trunk snake shouldn’t be problematic as they accept all sorts of fish. They may accept dead fish. If your elephant trunk snake accepts dead fish that is good news as it simplifies feeding and reduces the risk of injury.
As they shy away from human contact, you need to place the fish in the water and leave. The snake will eat when it is hungry. Foods commonly fed to the elephant trunk snake includes tinfoil barbs, swordtails, mollies, guppies, minnows, shiners, and comets.
Add two or three fish every week and see the snake’s response to the food. Once the fish is placed in the aquarium, the elephant trunk snake would spend about 5 minutes replenishing its air supply before it hunts and locates the fish.
It usually takes about 10 minutes for the snake to locate and eat the first fish. However, it may take hours before it eats the second and third fish. Because they shy from humans, elephant trunk snake would usually not feed in the presence of a human. If you want to watch them feed, then you have to be very still.
You can have up to 12 fish in the tank at a time. Once there are about 3 fish left, you can then add more fish until you have about 12 fish in the tank. The fish fed the snake should weigh about 20 g, and about 40 g max. Large preys can injure the snake after the snake has eaten them as they swallow their food whole and alive.
Juveniles and hatchlings enjoy minnows and can eat a lot of them in a single go.
Live feeder fish can be found at pet shops and bait stores.
Elephant Trunk Snake’s Temperament & Handling
The elephant trunk snakes retreat from human but once they are used to you, they may swim towards you once you move the screen top. (Most likely expecting food.)
Because of the built of the snake, it cannot survive out of water. When out of water, it can easily sustain fatal injuries since it cannot support its bodyweight out of water. Lifting the snake even once is enough to cause serious injuries that can kill the snake.
Elephant Trunk Snake’s Lifespan
Although they are long-lived snakes, their care is difficult. Stressed elephant trunk snakes die easily, they need to be kept comfortable. For that to happen, they need a lot of hiding spots and murky water.
Even with all the proper husbandry, the snake easily gets stressed. For all you know, they may be stressed out by loud music, dogs that bark incessantly, and even curious children.
Knowing what exactly stresses them can be difficult to pinpoint. In captivity, the average lifespan is about 5 years although they are known to live up to 15 years.
Common Health Concerns
When taken good care of, these snakes have no health problems. The main health problem they face is the white spot fungus. This is what kills most captive elephant trunk snakes.
White spot fungus appears as white spots on the snake. Because breeding is nonexistent, elephant trunk snakes available as pets are wild-caught. Due to the poor condition in which most are kept before being traded, they are often in poor condition and are usually very stressed.
To prevent white spot fungus, proper husbandry is a must. The water needs to be kept at the right temperature and filtered at all times. The aquarium needs a lot of hiding spots and needs to be slightly acidic. With the right conditions, the fungal disease should disappear after the snake sheds.
Pricing and Availability
This snake species is rare on the pet trade market. The best places to find them include specialty reptile stores, from breeders and online. Most of them are imported from Indonesia.
Because of the rough treatment and poor conditions, most arrive in bad condition (often afflicted with white spot fungus disease). The price of a specimen usually ranges from $75 to $130 depending on their size.
The main threat to A. javanicus is the commercial tannery industry. This is because their skin is used to produce leather. For instance, in 2005-2006, about 330,000 wild specimens were collected for the tannery industry. They are also collected for the pet trade.
There are no known conservation measures set in place for the A. javanicus. They are not listed by the CITES. However, in Thailand, the exportation of the snake is prohibited.
Despite, the collection of specimens for the tannery industry, the A. javanicus is listed as of ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List. They are widely distributed and the species’ current population trend is stable, although there is a decline of mature individuals.
The elephant trunk snake is a difficult snake to care and its care should be left to experienced snake keepers. Since captive breeding is nonexistent, most are imported from Asia where they are kept under poor conditions and are riddled with white spot fungus disease.
They are also easily stressed by disturbance and sudden changes (such as change in water temperature). If you are able to acquire a health specimen, ensure you keep it in the right conditions if you wish to have them for many years.