African soft fur rats (also known as natal rats), or ASF for short, are a small African species of rodent of interest to herpetologists as a source of food for Ball Pythons and other medium sized snakes. They are hailed as a "miracle food", responsible for getting picky eaters to eat, and for growing larger healthier snakes. Additionally they have a great propensity to reproduce themselves, often having litters of between 12 and 22 young at a time. They also produce less stink than any other kind of rodent.
- Caging requirements: ASF do best in chew proof enclosures the approximate size of a 20-gallon aquarium. Other containers with a similar sized footprint may be used but special attention must be given to making sure that the insides of any wood or plastic caging not offer any edges which a rat might be able to chew through. They are particularly good chewers.
- Cage Furniture: ASF need to be provided with a hide box of some kind that is large enough for the whole clan to fit under. A wheel for exorcise should be provided along with something to gnaw on. Pieces of non-toxic wood such as red alder, aspen or cherry work well for this.
- Food And Water: ASF need for approximately a third of their diet to consist of fresh fruits and vegetables. Offer a variety, (they like everything you might like and perhaps more.) The rest of their diet should consist of a commercial rodent chow such as "Mazuri Rodent Block" or similar. They also relish millet and other seeds such as sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds etc. Glass water bottles designed for use with rodents are the only way to go. They will quickly chew holes through any plastic bottle.
- Occupancy: ASF do extremely well in large groups, and in fact they seem to thrive best under these conditions. Newly introduced cage mates may fight for a day or two when first introduced. This is normal behavior for many rodent species and you should resist the urge to intervene as hierarchical status will soon be decided and the fighting will stop. Multiple males may be kept together along with mother and nursing young of different ages etc, all with no ill effect. Bites that occur in an established colony are usually an indication that the colony has grown too large and some of the ASF will need to be moved.
- Reproduction: ASF reach sexual maturity as early as 2 months of age (despite what the literature says) and can have litters of up to 22 babies at a time. Gestation lasts about 21 days. Once again, there is no need to separate mom and babies from the rest of the group. Temperatures of between 70 and 75 degrees have worked well for me. They don’t tolerate cold very well
- Handling: ASF do occasionally bite when they feel threatened, or ,more often, to protect their young. I have found their bites to be startling, however, usually very minor. Adult supervision is advisable. Individuals can become very tame very quickly and do have the potential to become pets.