Common Name: Thai Red mountain Ratsnake/Racer
Widely accepted Scientific Name: Oreocryptophis porphyraceus coxi (Schulz & Helfenberger, 1998)
Previous Scientific Name: Elaphe porphyracea coxi
Greek: oreo meaning Mountain
Greek: kryptos meaning hidden or secretive
Greek: ophis meaning Snake
Greek: porphyra means Purple, Red
acea: suffix denoting orders and classes in zoology, belonging to, of the nature of
Named after Merel J. Cox, herpetologist and author including: Snakes of Thailand and Their Husbandry
Ventral Scale Count: 213
The front cover of "A Monograph of the Colubrid Snakes of the Genus Elaphe Fitzinger by Klaus-Dieter Schultz (commonly referred to as 'The Ratsnake Bible') has a beautiful specimen depicted on the front cover and was responsible for creating a huge "buzz" within the hobby at the time of it's release. It was THE snake that every Ratsnake enthusiast at that time dreamt of having in their collection. Nearly 15 years later andThe Thai Red Mountain Ratsnake is still a very sought after species, which is becoming more readily available and affordable.
There are several subspecies of the Red mountain Ratsnake as listed below, O. p. coxi is unique amongst these, as it is the only one that is born striped, and does not undergo an ontenogenic pattern/colour change. although as they mature they will loose a little of the juvenile brighness.
Four of the porphyraceus subspecies are being bred in captivity with some regularity at present these being, coxi, latincincta, pulchra and vaillanti . The nominate species O.p.p has been bred on a few occasions.
Brief Taxonomic History
Thai Red Mountain Ratsnakes belong to the family Colubridae, which resides in the subfamily Colubrinae, they further belong to the genus Oreocryptophis , species porphyraceus and subspecies (trinominal name) coxi . The species porphyraceus has eight subspecies of which seven are recognized, the subspecies nigrofasciata has been denoted as synomoumous with O. p. vaillanti
First described in 1998 by Schulz & Helfenberger, this species has formerly been known by two other names; Elaphe porphyracea coxi and Oreophis porphyraceus coxi.
In 2002 Utiger, Schätti, Helfenberger and colleagues demonstrated that along with some other Asiatic ‘Elaphe’ species that the Thai Red Mountain Ratsnakes were not closely related to other species in the former encompass all Elaphe genus, and moved all of the subspecies into their own genus. The generic name of “Oreophis ” was proposed but this was in error as this is preoccupied by Oreophis boulengeri DUGÈS 1897, a synonym of Lampropeltis mexicana .
Such name changes are common, as studies into Ratsnake systematics shed more light on the understanding of the relationship (phylogeny) between them and subsequently their evolution from a single common ancestor (monophyletic relationship or paraphyletic relationship if not all of the descendants are represented in a particular lineage).
The proposal above is readily accepted by those who wish to differentiate between Asiatic ‘Racer-like Ratsnakes’ and their more Elaphe -like Ratsnake cousins e.g. E. schrencki, (Russian Ratsnake) E. dione, (Dione Ratsnake) E. climacophora (Japanese ratsnake).
Red Mountain Ratsnake - O. p. porphyraceus (Cantor, 1839)
Thai Red Mountain Ratsnake - O. p. coxi (Schulz & Helfenberger, 1998)
Yunnan Mountain Ratsnake - O. p. pulchra (Schmidt, 1925)
Hainan Bamboo Ratsnake - O. p. hainana (MELL, 1929)
Taiwan Bamboo Ratsnake - O. p. kawakamii (Oshima, 1911)
Chinese Bamboo Ratsnake - O. p. vaillanti (Sauvage, 1876)
Broad Banded Mountain Ratsnake - O. p. laticinctus (Schulz & Helfenberger, 1998)
Red Bamboo Snake - O. p. nigrofasciata (Cantor, 1839)
Thai Red Mountain Ratsnakes live in the damp undergrowth of sub-tropical semi evergreen mountain forests, at altitudes over 800 meters in the provinces of Loei and Petchaban in Northeast Thailand. To date they have only been found in the Dong Phaya Yen Mountains, once known as Dong Phaya Fai or 'Jungle of the Fire Lord' because the area was once a vast forest where malaria was rife. Due to deforestation in the early 20th century, its name was changed to Dong Phaya Yen ' the wild forest has been tamed'. The forests are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site which will help conserve it from the building of luxury hotels and golf courses for the tourist trade.
It is commonly believed that at this time that all captive bred specimens originated from one European Breeder, Klaus-Dieter Schulz. The original animals where collected from the Loei region of Thailand in 1994 and imported into the USA, where they were then exported to Klaus. From the group of animals he received, only a few survived. He successfully bred this species in the late 90's and it is these that are the source of all captive bred O. p. coxi worldwide. Some of the first hatchlings from this breeding were exported to the Pro Exotics in the USA who have been successful in breeding and supplying hobbyists there since the year 2000.
One of the smaller Ratsnake species, emerging from their eggs at an average hatchling size of 10" (25cm). They grow at an incredible speed and can double their size in the first year. Adults on average attain lengths of 30-36" (76-91cm).
Thai Red Mountain Ratsnakes are a shy species that react with surprising speed, agility and defensiveness to disturbances in their enclosure. This is particularly true of juveniles and simply entering there enclosure will see them darting at lightening speed past you in a bid for freedom. When disturbed if flight is not an option they will stand there ground and defend themselves. Often they get so agitated that they somersault when attempting to strike. Some subtle signs to look out for is their head raised off the substrate and the tail which will often curl into a spiral when they get nervous.
The temperament of adult snakes can be quite variable with some calming down, but as a rule all remain nervous to some degree. Very much a flight or fight species.
This is not a species to handle recreationally, and doing so may stress the animal into refusing food. The warmth of our hands is another consideration, which for a species that likes cool temperatures, must feel very uncomfortable if handled for any extended length of time.
One other note on behavioural traits is how occasionally they are found resting totally upside down under a hide with their pearly white belly upper-most. This can be worrying for those who first witness this behaviour, which has also been noted in at least one other species (Gonyosoma prasinus ). The reason why they do this has not really been researched but might be related to body temperature regulation.
In captivity O. p. coxi will readily accept a diet of rodents. They have a marked preference for smaller food items and larger items may be ignored or constricted and left. Therefore it is recommended to offer several smaller food items rather than one larger one. Both sexes have voracious appetites and it is easy to over feed, which can result in fatty deposits being laid down near the vent and around the internal organs which can lead to premature death.
Hatchlings will readily accept small pinkies as their first meal, with a feeding regime of approximately every five to seven days for the first six months with the size and quantity of food being increased as they grow. Stubborn feeders maybe enticed into eating by offering multi mammate mice which they seem to be particularly fond of.
A feeding regime of approx every 5 days for breeding females is advised, for the males or non producing females every 10-14 days is adequate to maintain good body weight and meet nutritional needs. The intense feeding schedule for breeding females is essential to maintain good body weight because of there prolific breeding abilities. Reducing this food intake after a clutch, may successfully reduce the rate at which they reproduce, with a view to a more sensible regime for curtailing the rate at which they are physically capable of reproduction.
As a general guide when feeding snakes the meal you offer them should only just be seen in the stomach, if the scales are stretched around the stomach after you have fed a food item next time offer something smaller, like wise if you can't see that the snake has eaten then increase the size or quantity of the next meal.
Food items should be thoroughly defrosted before being offered and slightly warmed through, some keepers defrost there snakes food in a plastic bag in a bowl of warm water, changing the water when it chills this helps to warm the mouse all the way through. Others will defrost the food naturally at room temperature and then warm it through by placing it on a heat mat or localizing heat with the aid of a hairdryer. Defrosting prey items directly in warm water is not recommended because some vitamins and minerals can be lost in this process, with them being leached into the water.
Never defrost your snake’s dinner in the microwave, at the worst it will explode and at best, the extremities will be cooked!
All snakes periodically slough (shed, ecdysis) their outer layer of skin, how often mainly depends on the growth of the snake, hatchlings can slough as often as every four to six weeks but there is no set time pattern for this. Adults will shed less often maybe only 5 times a year.
At the onset of a shedding cycle your snakes’ appearance will become somewhat duller, the usual black markings may take on a more grey appearance and the overall appearance is muted. What is happening is that a milky secretion is separating the outer layer from the inner layers of skin, loosening the outer layer ready for it to be discarded. This opaque appearance will affect the eyes too and they will take on a blue appearance, you may hear other keepers say my snake is in the blue, this is what they are referring to. At this point the snakes eyesight is very poor and the skin quiet delicate, you should not handle your snake until they have finished the shedding process completely. They may become aggressive whilst in shed; this is due to their restricted eye sight and subsequent uneasiness. Food should not be offered whilst a snake is in shed as the bulge in its tummy can hamper the shedding process and the discarding skin can act as a tourniquet. Also, energy is used in the sloughing process that may otherwise have been used to digest the meal, putting further unwanted effort into the process.
The eyes will remain milky for approximately three days and then gradually clear, this is because the secretion has been absorbed into the top layer now making it pliable and easily removed. The snake will look more or less normal now but within 2-3 days it will find a suitable rough object in the vivarium to rub its snout on, breaking the skin free away from the jaw lines, it will crawl out of it’s old skin. This process may only take 5-10 minutes and many keepers miss this unique experience. The whole sloughing process from start to finish lasts approximately 10 days.
Healthy snakes usually have little or no difficulty with shedding and tend to shed their skins in one entire piece. Exceptions to this include snakes with injuries and those housed in enclosures with suboptimal temperatures and/or humidity levels.
Thai Red mountain Ratsnake are especially prone to sloughing problems and dehydration if not provided with the correct humidity requirements as set out below.
Hatchlings can be raised in 3 litre well ventilated containers heated by thermostatically controlled heat mats (these should be placed under the tank and not cover more than one third of the tank). This set-up will be fine for the first few months, progressing to larger tubs as they grow.
A 24 x 18 x 18" well ventilated viviarium or similar sized container is suitable for an adult. Too large an enclosure is likely to stress this species. Heating wise a thermostatically controlled heat mat is the best option, as ceramic bulbs tend to dry the air too much, making the proper humidity hard to maintain, which, may lead to dehydration, and related problems such as bad sloughs and respiratory infections.
Males and females should be housed separately and only introduced for breeding attempts. Failure to keep them separate can result in the female becoming gravid too young which can lead to complications. The prolific nature of this species also presents additional problems when housed together (Also see Breeding Section )
Temperature and Humidity:
The Thai Red Mountain Ratsnake as mentioned before live in altitudes of 800m and above, at these altitudes the temperature is lower than those recorded for most parts of Northeastern Thailand. Therefore in captivity they require a cool environment with temperatures between 73-77°F. (23-25°C). A night time drop to 64-68°F(18-20°C) is also beneficial.
Temperatures over 82°F can be detrimental or even fatal to this species, and during the summer months may need a cooling devise to lower the temperatures such as an air conditioning unit.
Humidity is vital to Oreocryptophis porphyraceus coxi as they can dehydrate very quickly. Relative humidity should be 65 - 75% , one or more humidity boxes should also be offered throughout the cage. In addition areas of the substrate should be kept moist (see section on Substrate below). Adequate ventilation is also a must to stop the air inside the vivarium becoming stale and to stop fungi and bacteria growing. We suggest a vivarium with at least two ventilation grills, one high up and one lower down at opposite ends of the vivarium, this will allow a good air flow through the enclosure, while also helping to achieve a thermal gradient and a good exchange of fresh air.
Snakes are poikilothermic, also often referred to as ectothermic and as such, rely on an external heat source to maintain their preferred body temperature. Ectothermic means that they use external environmental conditions to control their body temperature, poikilothermic means that their internal temperatures vary while performing different bodily functions, such as shedding, feeding etc. and again this is largely achieved via external environmental conditions.
A reptile’s ability to digest food, use energy and its ability to protect itself from disease, are dependent upon reaching the correct body temperature. Snakes can change their body temperature by moving back and forth from a warmer part of the cage to a cooler part and vice versa. If snakes are kept in temperatures which are too warm or too cold, this places stress on their immune system and can lead to problems.
Loei Average Months Temperature
Loei Average Months Rainfall
Loei Average Months Relative humidity
Weather Station approx 150m above sea level, which is much warmer than the 800+m altitude that O. p. coxi originate from
A deep substrate of 2"(5cm) plus is appreciated by this burrowing species. Two methods are generally used, the first of which is providing half of the enclosure with a damp area this should be kept moist but not water logged. The second is keeping the underneath of the substrate damp but the top dry. Both work equally well, the first mentioned may be a little easier to maintain as the dampness of the substrate can be assessed by looking at it, by its obvious darker colouration.
If the substrate is too wet this may cause scale rot or other bacterial skin problems. With such a moist environment, as mentioned above, good ventilation is essential, otherwise it won't be long before the substrate and other cage furnishing are covered by mould; the spores of which can cause respiratory problems.
Suitable substrates include sphagnum peat moss, coconut coir, eco-earth, cypress mulch, orchid bark or forest bedding or a mix of two or more of these.
Cedar shavings should never be used for any reptile as they are toxic and cause respiratory problems, acting as a skin irritant.
Thai Red mountain Ratsnakes despite being a burrowing species may also make use of branches if they are supplied. These should be secured to the sides of the vivarium to prevent any accidents. Reptile branches can be bought from most reptile shops. If you are going to find your own branch, perhaps from your garden then be aware that some woods are toxic to snakes, willow, birch, beech and fruit trees are non-toxic and therefore safe to use. It is also important to sterilize the branch first before using it, to kill any bugs that may be lurking in the bark.
Other additions to the cage could be plants, plastic are easier to clean than silk and for a more naturalistic setup live plants can be used such as sub-tropical ferns that will thrive in the cool moist conditions.
Large rocks that cannot be upturned, not only serve as an interesting addition to the cage furniture to explore but also gives the snake a solid rough object to begin the sloughing process on.
Hides: Hides are a very important part of this shy and secretive species decor to make them feel secure. Thai Red Mountain Ratsnakes require one or more humid hides, this can be a simple plastic container filled with damp sphagnum moss or a commercially bought more aesthetically pleasing one. It is also important to offer them somewhere dry to hide if they wish. The hides should be changed at least once a month or more if they become soiled and the container disinfected and rinsed well. Being a burrowing species subterranean hides may also be offered either filled with loose damp moss or left empty, plastic plumbing pipes serves this purpose well; there are also several subterranean hides commercially manufactured specifically for reptiles. Flat hides are most appreciated, as naturally they would hide in the leaf litter or under fallen logs.
Do not let the substrate or humid hides dry out as this can lead to the snake quickly becoming dehydrated.
Water: Fresh water should be available at all times and presented in a sturdy water container, that isn’t easily turned over causing spillages and large enough for them to soak in if they want. Thai Red Mountain Ratsnakes are not renowed for soaking and prolonged soaking may be an indication that the cage is too warm or not humid enough. There are other reasons why a snake may soak, including during its sloughing period and because it has external parasites such as mites.
To prepare your snake for brumation make sure it has had no food for three to four weeks prior to cooling and that the temperature is normal during this time allowing the snake to fully digest it's last meal and empty it's guts. It is essential that the snake is completely empty before cooling begins as any food left in the gut/intestines could produce toxins that could kill it. After this the temperature should be lowered gradually over a few weeks until its at the desired temperature ( 47-55°F ) for brumation or 55-60°F if cooling . The snake should not be fed during this period but fresh drinking water should be available at all times. As long as you can maintain these lower temperatures your snake can be left in it's vivarium. A more common practice is to prepare a box with a well fitting lid that is well ventilated, and transfer the snake to this moving it to somewhere where the temperature is within the range they require. Perhaps a spare bedroom, or under the stairs, somewhere where it is easy to get to so as you can check the snake and change it's water regularly, but equally important some where quiet and out of bright light. After 10-12 weeks the snake can gradually be warmed up over a one to two week period and can then be offered food again.
Brumating / cooling coxi should have access to both dry and moist areas and fresh water at all times.
Brumation has been reported to not be required for successful breeding, but a cooling period at 55-60°F is recommended. The lower temperatures of a brumation period will help to maintain there body weight better and can help in ensuring a higher fertility rate for the breeding season.
One thing that must be noted here is, females because of there prolific breeding ability may actually be producing eggs when entering into brumation. For this reason it would be wise to give females access to some form of heating during brumation, perhaps a heat strip at one end of the enclosure which they can utilize if they wish, to avoid any complications.
Thai Red Mountain Ratsnakes can mature at an early age and females have been reported to have ovulated at under one year of age and lay their first clutch at 14 months of age. However it is advised that females should be at least 70cm before any breeding attempts are tried. It is not unusal for a virgin female to lay an inferile clutch without being with a male. Breeding a female too young can result in early death and a few breeders have lost females by being too eager. As mentioned above 70cm would be a minimum to breed from but as well as the length they should have some girth to them.
Thai Red Mountain Ratsnakes are a prolific breeders and may produce several clutches in a season. Typically 4-6 eggs are produced in the first clutch of the season and generally less in subsequent clutches. Young adults first clutches may be smaller and consist of 2-4 eggs. As many as seven clutches have been recorded for this species in one season. The females will store sperm (Amphigonia retarda) and 3-4 fertile clutches can be achieved from one mating, although pairing every second clutch may be more successful in insuring the fertility of the clutches.
After brumation and the females post brumation slough, they can be introduced to one another. Males will sometimes not eat at this time being more interested in breeding than eating. Once several copulations have been witnessed or the female looks fatter in the mid body introductions should be stopped. The female should be fed regularly, as often as every five days is advised. If she refuses food in her early days of pregnancy try enticing her to eat with much smaller food items than usual, she may as her pregnancy progresses refuse food all together, this is normal. The most important thing for a gravid snake is a stress free environment.
Males and females should be housed separately and only introduced for breeding attempts for a few days at a time until it is obvious that she is gravid. Failure to keep them separate can result in the death of either one, the males being more interested in breeding, will not eat and will put all their energies into reproduction at the cost of their health. The females receiving all this attention will get stressed, likely refuse food, loose body condition and become egg bound.
Copulation can be a lengthy affair with pairs hooked up for 14 hours, often with there heads at opposing ends of the cage.
The gestation period isn't known but generally the first clutch is laid approx 2 months from introducing the pair, subsequent clutches are typically laid 6 weeks or more apart. Females don't always follow a set pattern for laying either and this can occur any time after her pre-laying slough from 1-14 days and in some instances whilst she is blue. As a humid hide is a permanent feature of their enclosure and areas of the cage kept damp, she will seek out one of these places to lay her eggs.
It is always best to have your egg boxes ready in the incubator for when they are needed, this way the temperature of the incubation substrate is right and you have had time to experiment with the right water / substrate ratio, usually 1.1 by weight is right for most colubrid species including The Thai Red Mountain Ratsnake.
Female Thai Red Mountain Ratsnake will typically lay between 2-10 eggs. These should be removed from the laying box to the incubation box preferably wearing a pair of latex gloves to stop the transfer of oils from the hand to the eggs, which could impede the oxygen/carbon dioxide transfer through the shell during incubation.
One method of incubation (there are several that have successfully been used) is to fill a plastic container two thirds full with damp vermiculite (when a handful is squeezed in the palm of the hand, it clumps together and only no water should be produced). Vermiculite is a sterile medium that can be purchased from your local garden centre. Don't unnecessarily handle the eggs and make sure the female has completely finished laying before removing them, as unduly disturbing her whilst in the process of laying can result in her stressing and holding on to the remainder of the eggs (resulting in her becoming egg bound - dystocia). The incubation box should have a fitted lid, and the humidity inside should be between 95- 100%, some condensation will form on the lid but if this is too much and is dripping on the eggs, this means the incubation medium is too wet. Wipe the lid with some kitchen towel and sprinkle a little dry vermiculite over the surface of the eggs to take up the moisture.
The eggs should be checked weekly removing the lid will give a good exchange of air, towards the end of the incubation period once every couple of days is advised. Developing eggs actually breathe they take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. If the carbon dioxide builds up to dangerous levels, then the eggs will fail. Also for this reason, egg boxes should not be over crowded and ideally eggs should be laid in the box singularly not in a clump. Although this isn't usually a problem with coxi eggs as they don't tend to lay them in a clump, if the eggs have adhered to each other it is advised that no attempt is made to separate them, as damage can be caused in doing so.
For best results coxi eggs should be incubated between 73-80F (23-27C), expect them to hatch after 54-80 days. Typically eggs incubated at 80F (27C) will begin pipping after 58 days. With cooler incubation temperatures the eggs will take longer to hatch.
Eggs hatched at temperatures over 82F (28C) have been reported to fail or result in hatchlings with kinked spines, congenital defects, internal organ failure and weird non genetic patterning.
In the earlier days of hobbyists incubating coxi eggs, those that were incubated at 82F (28C) a male heavy clutch was reported, when temperatures where lowered as more was learnt about their reproductive biology and egg care, then the clutches were more even in the sex ratio.
The cooler temperatures are generally favoured by breeders which result in stronger, healthier babies. Eggs can be incubated at room temperature with out the need for an incubator as long as room temperatures are within the range above.
Eggs that are incubated on too a wet medium may absorb more water and this subsequently can lead to lose of nutrients for the developing embryo resulting in weak hatchlings, too wet an incubation substrate can also lead to dead in egg, in the final stages of incubation the hatchling will absorb a lot of moisture from the egg, thereby letting the egg shell become more pliable for piping if the eggs have become water logged through too wet a substrate this can hinder this natural process. It is better to err on the side of caution aiming for slightly drier than too wet, as this is easier to rectify. If the eggs look dimpled then they are too dry (eggs however do dimple towards the end of incubation as they are getting ready to hatch). Do not spray eggs directly, just simply pour a little water around them, they will regain their shape within a day.
The first and often only purpose of a quarantine is to protect your established collection from unwanted diseases and parasites that may possibly be carried by newly acquired animals. All new snakes and reptiles that you bring into your home where there are others, need to be quarantined for at least three months or the maximum time known for the incubation of diseases that affect the species you are keeping. This should be regardless of whether it is a captive bred specimen or wild caught animal. The most commonly seen parasite is the snake mite, these can be seen as tiny black crawling bugs on your snake or in the enclosure, these need to be dealt with as quickly as possible to stop the spread to other snakes in your collection and to stop them multiplying to a stage where they pose a serious risk to your snake. There are many products available from reptile stores especially for eradicating these mites, please read the instructions carefully or take advice from your vet. It is not within the scope of this guide to give advice on treatments of parasites and diseases but just to make you aware that there are some and how important the quarantine period is to monitor the health or your new snake.
Captive bred snakes however are usually disease and parasite free, but why take the risk of infecting other animals when a period of solitude away from others can prevent the spread?
During quarantine, you should not share water bowls or any other cage equipment between vivaria, including feeding tongs. Don’t handle established stock on the same day as dealing with your new snake or if you have to, deal with the established stock first then the new snake. Always shower and change your clothes after dealing with a snake in quarantine before tending to your established stock.
This really is an important step in keeping your collection healthy, disease and parasite free and we strongly suggest that you read more about it.
There are no known genetic morphs of The Thai Red Mountain Ratsnake being bred in captivity at this present time
Various variations of the 'normal' striped pattern have occured including thick striped, pin stripe, missing pattern, black back and various degrees of blotches between the stripes.
With line breeding these traits can have a better chance of reoccurring within a clutch, it has been reported that blotched coxi when bred together have produced more blotched babies in some instances with up to 10 blotches along there backs, more usually its between 1 and 5. These markings however fade as the snake matures and in most instances disappear altogether. Missing pattern specimens keep this anomaly into adulthood and when bred to like have produced more. The black back baby that was hatched by Stephen & Kelli Hammack, matured into a very interesting, dark specimen with a webbed or net like pattern down the centre of his back, breeding trials in the future will likely determine if there is any mode of inheritance.
Record keeping is a good way of monitoring your snakes health, and events such as feeding, sloughs, weight and lengths can then be looked back on if there is ever a problem with your snake.
References & Further Reading
1. Schulz, K.-D. & Helfenberger, N. (1998): Eine Revision des Unterarten-Komplexes der Roten Bambusnatter Elaphe porphyracea ( Cantor , 1839), Sauria, Berlin, 1: 25-45
2. Cox, Merel J. The Snakes of Thailand and their Husbandry
4. Porhymania - http://Bushmaster.ch/HTML/porphy-start.htm
5. Schulz, K.-D. (1996) A Monograph of the colubrid Snakes of the Genus Elaphe FITZINGER
6. Schulz, K.-D. (2000): Haltung und Zucht von Elaphe porphyracea coxi ( Schulz & Helfenberger , 1998) und Elaphe porphyracea vaillanti ( Sauvage , 1876), Sauria, Berlin, 3: 11-16
7. H.I.S.S - http://www.brittneygougeon.com/kellih/hiss/snakecollection.html (Black Back)
Author: Sue Knight
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