Japanese name: Jimuguri

Scientific name: Elaphe conspicillata

Description: A long snake, growing from 70 to 100 cm (and up to 120 cm), it comes in a variety of different colors, from plain brown, to rust-colored, with yellow-edged black markings, to red. The head often has V-shaped markings.

Where to find them: All snakes prefer to stay away from humans, but the burrowing rat snake is particularly elusive. Also known as the forest rat snake, it lives in woodland and mountain areas from Kyushu to Hokkaido. "Jimuguri" means "burrowing," but while it doesn't actually dig burrows, it happily lives in the abandoned burrows of mammals. There are several species of rat snake in Japan, and this one is most active from April through June, and October through early November. On a daily basis they are active in the mornings and evenings. Inevitably, habitat-loss because of human development has impacted on the numbers of burrowing rat snakes.

Food: Rats and mice (rat snakes are well-named). Also lizards, frogs, birds and birds' eggs. Like many snakes, rat snakes can dislocate their jaws to allow entry for large food items, but once they've eaten they can go for long periods — months, and even up to a year — without eating again.

Special features: Reptiles have lower "running costs" than mammals. Their low respiratory rate and cold-bloodedness means they use little energy, which allows them to hibernate and to survive long periods without food. They do need energy to mate and to reproduce, however. In July they mate and lay up to 20 eggs, so the female needs to be in good condition. Eggs take 50 to 60 days to hatch, and the bigger the egg, the bigger the baby snake. Little is known about the sexual habits of this elusive snake, but in other snakes an egg clutch is fathered by several different males, so it is probably safe to assume that female forest rat snakes "mate around." The snakes are not venomous. PHOTO COURTESY OF BIO-IMAGE NET