In common with most zoos, the majority of Bristol’s snake collection consists of boas, pythons, and various North American colubrids. These snakes are about the easiest to maintain in captivity, as just about all of them either feed on rodents and other mammals in the wild or can be trained to east them in captivity. Maintaining the various specialist invertebrate, fish, or amphibian in captivity is much more time consuming, so people whose ideas of the potential variety of snake species and ecological specialisations are derived from zoo or pet snakes are often surprised at what snakes can do.
The other venomous snake that we have on show at Bristol is the first snake encountered as you enter the Reptile House, a fine specimen of the Mangrove or Gold-Ringed Cat Snake, Boiga dendrophila. Despite their English name, Mangrove snakes are more commonly found in lowland rain forest than in actual mangroves, but they certainly deserve their specific name, as they are highly arboreal. Unlike the rattlesnakes and cobras, they are classed as opisthoglyphous (“back-fanged” in common usage), as although they have venom instead of specialised fangs to inject it at the front of their mouths, They have up to 3 enlarged teeth further back in their mouths, and rely on chewing to introduce venom to their prey. Opisthoglyphous snakes are usually less venomous to humans, and for Mangrove snakes no human fatalities have been reported, but some people have more extreme reactions than others and snakes from different parts of their huge range in South East Asia probably vary in toxicity, so it is unwise to handle them without protection.
After a long break, the review of the various species held at Bristol continues with the snake collection. Bristol Zoos’ reptile department has bred several snake species over the years, but the main focus at present is on Asian turtles and amphibians.