Breeding Malpolon monspessulanus monspessulanus (Montpellier snake)

By Cesare Colli

Originally published in Litteratura Serpentium, Volume 27: 2 (2007). page 69-73.

The species

There are three subspecies of Malpolon monspessulanus: fuscus that lives in the Balkan Peninsula, in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Turkey and the Caspian region; insignitus in northern Africa from Morocco to Egypt; and monspessulanus from Liguria (Italy) to the Iberian Peninsula and the western part of Morocco (1).
M. monspessulanus usually lives in sunny biotopes and on dry substrate, but in Italy is often found near the banks of dry rivers. This species prefers to eat lizards but also eats mice, rats, young rabbits and little birds.

The Montpellier snake is a back fanged snake that kills the prey with its venom. The venom is not dangerous for men but may cause nausea and local swelling. In my experience the few bites that I received didnt give me any problem.

In the terrarium

Malpolon is an intelligent snake that spends a lot of time with the head erect like a periscope to look for possible prey. It is not a colorful snake but for me it is very interesting to see all its movements in the terrarium. M. monspessulanus has a typical behavior after eating and after thermoregulation, in fact it rubs a liquid substance, produced by a nasal gland, onto its ventral scales.
When I appear near the terrarium it often hisses loudly.

My snakes

The male was captured in Spain and when I got him, he was about 2 years old and 70 cm. long, weighing 83 grams. At the end of the year he was 125 grams.

Photo above: the female, three years before the breeding.

Every year I hibernated the snakes at 10-15C from November to January, while during the other part of the year the temperature in the terrarium was 26-32C during the day and 20-22C by night. The photoperiod was according to the real season.
The male at the end of the third year was 105 cm and 260 g; after 4 years 128 cm (92 + 36 for the tail) and 480 g; the 5th year 145 cm and 650 g; the 7th year 155 cm and 780 g.
The female was from near Madrid (Spain). At 4 year she was 109 cm (82+27 for the tail) and 244g.
Males grow faster than females: sexual dimorphism is in this respect evident,  and also the colours are different (2).

Photo above: the male

The two snakes lived in two terrariums: 80x40x40cm for the male, 70x40x35 for the female. As a substrate I used newspapers. The light was provided for by one white spot of 40 W for the male and one white spot + one neon (UV) for the female. I dont know if the UV-lamp was very important to successfull breeding.
Food consisted in adult mice (20/30g), but the male also accepted strips of meal and of pigs heart. The biggest prey eaten was a frozen (of course defrosted) young rabbit (75g).

Mating and egg laying

I put the pair together in the males terrarium during their 8th year in March, after the female's first shedding. I saw a copulation but when the female laid 6 eggs on 21 of May, they were infertile.
One year later the male was 950g and the female 350g; I put them together in March. I didnt see a copulation but after the female's second shedding I left her alone and I put in her terrarium a plastic box with a little hole and wet paper towel, for laying eggs. She passed all day long in this box.
During the night of 13April (12 days after shedding) she laid 9 eggs about mm 40 x 20mm.
One was infertile, but in the other I saw the little veins so I understood that they were fertile.

Female and eggs

Female and eggs

Incubation and hatching

I put the eggs in a plastic box with 1/1 vermiculite/water; I kept this at 28/31C and I left only a very little hole to ventilate.
After 55 days I opened an egg and I saw a little male (dead). From 15 June I saw the seven snakes emerge (first 4 females, than 3 males), the last hatching on 19 June. The length of the hatchlings varied from 28 to 32 cm.
I separated all the neonates and after the first shedding (about 8/9 after hatching), I offered them tails of mice. Two females ate without problem but I had to help the other little snakes to eat.
After two months all ate frozen pinkies by themselves.
I noticed that like in all M. monspessulanus males grow faster than females.

The first little female


Two newborn Montpellier snake



(1) There have been taxonomical changes since this article was written.
(2) For more details about sexual dimorphism, coloration etc., see the in depth study of C.C. de Haan (De Haan 1999).

Male (the year after successful breeding)