Most snakes live on the land. Alternatively, some prefer the depths of the sea, riverbeds, and shallow lagoons.
Well, the Elephant Trunk Snake is just the type that prefers the water. In fact, it is a mostly aquatic species of snake.
The elephant trunk snake (Acrochordus Javanicus) is a species that that is found in South East Asia. Most commonly, it is native to the West Coast of Malaysia and the Northern islands of Indonesia (ie.Sumatra, Borneo, Java).
This non-venomous snake has also been reported to thrive in the waters of Singapore, Southern Thailand, and along the coastline of Cambodia.
The elephant trunk snake is aquatic and spends almost all its life in water. It prefers warm tropical waters and does not tolerate cold water well.
The elephant trunk has evolved to be very adaptable to a water environment; leaving the confines of the water can make it very difficult for the snake to support its body weight on land.
This aquatic serpent prefers shallow waters, lagoons, ponds, streams, and rivers along the coastline. They also prefer prefer the shallows because that is most often where they can find food. More on that later.
Additionally, this trunk-like snake is known to thrive in both brackish (salty) and freshwater. If you don’t know, brackish water is essentially inland salt water pools.
Often times, these snakes reside very close to the shoreline of streams, rivers, lagoons, and canals.
Very rarely will these snakes venture out into the deep sea. In fact, most elephant trunk snakes are found within depths of 10-100 meters. The shallow waters not only offer more food, they offer more shelter, too.
Unique Features of The Elephant Trunk Species
There are several figures described in the literature as to the size of the elephant trunk snake but this depends on whether the reptile is raised in captivity or the wild.
In captivity, the snake will grow anywhere from 5-6 feet; the females will usually be a few feet longer than the male but thinner.
In the wild, such as the ideal tropical waters of South East Asia, the size of the snake can be anywhere from 6-8 feet. The snake in the wild also tends to have a wider diameter.
The upper or dorsal surface of the snake is dark brownish whereas the belly or undersurface is light yellow.
The eyes and nostrils are located on top of the head and the reptile has a very short tail. The body is firm and muscular. The skin is loose and embedded with many small scales.
The elephant trunk snake can easily be mistaken for a boa because of similarities in physical appearance.
The way to tell them apart is that the boa has a much smaller head compared to the rest of the body, whereas the elephant trunk snake has a similar size head and body width.
So, How Do They Breathe, and How Long can They Stay Submerged?
The elephant trunk snake can stay underwater for 30-40 minutes.
That’s pretty long, especially for a snake.
When It needs to breathe, it will come up to the surface to obtain more air. It rarely stays above water for more than a minute.
Once it has acquired the air, it dives back into the deeper waters. The reason is that birds often prey on these reptiles.
The elephant trunk snake is an excellent hunter in the water. It can remain still for long periods while waiting for fish to swim by.
When the fish is near, it will exhibit a rapid strike and capture the fish. The snake then curls around the fish and strangulates it.
Because of the loose skin and rough scales on the reptile, the fish is usually not able to escape the grip. The elephant trunk snake is an efficient predator and plays an important role in maintaining the balance of fish and other water-based creatures in the ecosystem.
While the mature elephant trunk snake is an efficient killer of fish and frogs, the young snake also serves as a food source for birds and large fish.
Elephant Trunk Snake Lifespan. How Long do They Live?
In captivity, the elephant trunk snake may live anywhere from 12-15 years. But in the wild, its lifespan is much shorter because of water pollution, other predators, and urbanization.
These snakes have a far shorter lifespan than many other species. In fact, many snakes can live up to 25-30 years old in captivity.
So, why the big difference?
The key reason why the snake does not have a very long lifespan in captivity is because it is very difficult to reproduce the aquatic environment found in the tropical waters of SE Asia.
Additionally, when fully mature the elephant trunk snake will weigh about 20-25 pounds.
How They Reproduce
The elephant trunk snake is ovoviviparous, meaning that it produces the young through eggs that are hatched within the body of the parent (usually the female).
The eggs mature inside the reptile’s body until they are ready to hatch. After an incubation period of about 6 months, the mother will usually give birth to about 1-2 dozen babies.
Is This Species Dangerous?
Despite its fierce appearance, the elephant trunk snake is not dangerous to humans.
The snake is not venomous either.
In most cases, the snake will shy away from human encounters even in the water.
However, it does have small, sharp teeth that can puncture the human skin if it is handled roughly.
Overall, the snake has a shy demeanor and is not aggressive towards humans.
Do Elephant Trunk Snakes Make Good Pets?
The elephant trunk snake does not make an easy pet. Also, there are plenty of other better pet snakes out there. In any case, if you are absolutely dying to own one of these, here’s what you need to do.
It requires a large watery environment that should mimic the tropical waters. While the snake is not a finicky eater, the biggest challenge to having these reptiles as a pet is the housing.
First, one needs a decent size tank.
While a small 10-15 gallon tank may suffice for a 10- 20-inch snake, you will definitely need to have a 150-200 gallon water tank for the mature snake.
Failing to provide a large tank will lead to an unhealthy environment.
The other thing you need to consider is security. The elephant trunk snake is very agile and fast; if given the opportunity it will escape from the tank.
Hence, you need to have a secure screen top.
Remember this is an aquatic snake and if it comes out of the tank, it will not survive for long without water.
Also, the reptile’s skin can easily be broken by objects outside the tank, and this can lead to an infection and even death.
Tank Setup Recommendations
The tank should be filled with de-chlorinated water. Since the snake does come to the surface to breathe, only fill about 80% of the tank with water.
If you reside in the Northern part of the US where it is cold, you will need to insert a submersible water heater and maintain the water temperature between 84-86F (remember these are tropical snakes and will not tolerate low temperatures).
You may add a few rocks and stones to the tank bottom but avoid gravel or sand. Not only does not the reptile not need the sand, but it can be a real hassle cleaning the tank.
The pH of the water should be slightly acidic (5-6) and it should be regularly checked. To adjust the pH, simply add some tannic acid.
This acidic solution also causes the water to turn brown, which the snake prefers. The water will get murky and smelly after 5-10 days and hence it is recommended that you change at least 1/3rd of the tank water every week.
Diet of the Elephant Trunk Snake
This aquatic slithery fellow is most active at night. It is an agile swimmer and can cover vast distances with ease.
Like most reptiles, the elephant trunk snake is a carnivore. It primarily feeds on amphibians (frogs) and a variety of fish.
While the elephant trunk snake is not picky about the type of fish, some of them will only eat live fish, whereas others may be satisfied with dead fish.
If your snake prefers live fish, you may need live feeder fish in the tank to ensure that there is a constant supply of food. Frogs can be difficult to obtain and most snakes won’t miss them as long as they have fish.
Common fish available in North America that can serve as food for the snake include swordtails, guppies, tinfoil barbs, shiners, minnows, mollies, and comets.
The elephant trunk snake is a shy creature and will not eat in front of a human.
So after placing the fish in the water, either you remain very still or go away. In general, the small snake will eat only one fish/week but the mature snake may eat 2-4 fish every week.
Once the fish are placed in the tank, the reptile will come up to the surface to replenish the air supply and then hunt and kill the fish.
If you have a live feeder than you can have up to 10-12 fish in the tank at the same time. Once there are only 3-4 fish left, you can add more. It is important to place the right size fish into the tank or the fish can injure the snake.
General Best Practices of Ownership
If you want the snake to thrive, then make the enclosure safe.
Have the tank in a place which is quiet, away from human traffic, flashing lights, and noise (children, barking dogs).
If the snake feels afraid, it will attempt to hide, hence, place some objects like wood, ceramic pots, or rocks which offer the snake a hiding place when it senses danger.
Plus, these objects also allow the snake to bask. To enhance the aesthetics, you are free to add some fake aquatic plants.
To keep the day and night circadian rhythm, place a low-intensity UVB lamp about 12 inches above the tank. Set the lamp to a 12 hour on and off-cycle.
Where to Buy an Elephant Trunk Snake
Unfortunately buying an elephant trunk snake is not always easy in North America as most regular pet stores do not carry them.
Likely, you will have to search high and low to find a breeder that has this species of snake. Sometimes if you are lucky, you may be able to buy one at the reptile convention show.
Cyberspace is also a great place to buy an elephant trunk snake as long as the person or the website selling the reptile is located within the intercontinental USA.
The importation of snakes into the US is not permitted. The majority of elephant trunk snakes sold in the USA are either from Malaysia or Indonesia.
Unlike rattlesnake breeding farms in the US, elephant trunk snakes are not bred in the US. In rare cases, a pregnant female snake may have been brought to the US and delivered babies.
How Much does an Elephant Trunk Snake Cost?
While these snakes are incredibly hard to get in the US, they tend to not be that expensive when availble.
Mostly, well, because they aren’t the most visually appealing snakes. More unique looking fancy snakes like these hognose snake morphs tend to be the ones that cost more.
Typically, you can buy an Elephant Trunk Snake for around $75-200 dollars.
That is, if you can find one for sale.
What To Know when Buying One
It is also important to be aware that most elephant snakes brought into the US are very young, poorly treated, and stressed out.
So it is vital that you know how to tell a sick from a healthy snake before you buy one.
In some cases, the snake may have a mild fungal infection but this can be easily treated by simply changing the pH of the water.
Unfortunately, if the fungus does not respond to changes in water pH, it may die. You should also assess the snake’s mobility in water, alertness, and feeding. Healthy snakes tend to be alert and swim with ease.
Overall, the elephant trunk snake is not recommended for beginners because it is a complex snake to manage in captivity. To add, we also don’t recommend this as a pet snake in general. There are so many other species out there that make far better pets than this one.
The elephant trunk snake, like most water snakes, does not like to be held. It is also quite slippery and can become irritable and stressed when out of water.
Further, the snake’s skin can be injured if it is repeatedly taken out of the water, leading to abrasion, which can quickly become infected.
Potential Health Issues
Yes, they do. If the water pH is alkaline, they can develop a fungus, which can kill them if not treated.
These snakes are also easily stressed out so it is important to avoid noise and handling. Regularly check the snake for mobility, feeding, and alertness. Sometimes too much light exposure can cause lethargy and you may need to turn off the UVB light.
Is The Elephant Trunk Species Endangered?
No, the snake is not endangered.
But the number of elephant trunk snakes killed each year is very high.
There are three major reasons why these snakes are lost in huge numbers every year:
- First, this snake has a unique leathery texture. This causes the snake to be frequently poached. It’s skin popular among producers of leather products.
- Elephant Trunk Snakes are often hunted for food as well. In fact, they are considered a delicacy in parts of Indonesia.
- The third reason for the decline in numbers is the loss of habitat. The rapid urbanization of the waterways and pollution is killing fish and amphibians, without which the elephant trunk snake cannot survive. How long the numbers of elephant trunk snakes remain high is anyone’s guess but without conservation, the numbers will continue to decline.