One of the most important things to consider when you finally have your Snake is to set up a proper habitat for them. The conditions of this habitat should be likened from their natural one, ensuring that the Snake will flourish.
The natural habitat of Snakes is in the wild life mainly in the savannahs, grasslands, and sparsely wooded forests. They are terricolous creatures, which mean that they live on the ground. Indeed, Snakes have a tendency to seek out burrows and crevices and hide in dark spaces. More often than not, you will find them shying away, curling up into tight balls – a defense mechanism they use especially when stressed. They do know how to climb trees, though, and may do so when they fancy.
These are generally solitary creatures, like most snakes, and they are also nocturnal. They are most active on dusk and dawn. Snakes are carnivorous, and they have mobile upper and lower jaws. Being non-aggressive, they sit and wait to ambush prey instead of going head on. In the wild, they either swallow the prey alive or immobilize it through constriction.
Housing a Snake should take into account lighting, temperature, humidity, and the presence of ample foliage it can hide on or climb.
The Basics of Reptile Thermoregulation
Thermoregulation is the act by which an animal controls or regulates his body temperature. For warm blooded animals such as mammals and birds, this is done through a combination of internal processes and external factors. For reptiles such as snakes, however, thermoregulation is exclusively an external matter.
Snakes and other reptiles are classified as ectotherms, which mean that they have no internal means of regulating body heat or metabolic function – as opposed to endotherms like mammals and birds that rely partly on caloric intake for energy. Snakes rely entirely on external sources for means of regulating their body temperature – either to stay warm or to keep from overheating. This is why the environment you prepare for your Snake is crucial.
There are three ways by which snakes and reptiles regulate their body temperature:
- Gaining heat via radiation, such as sunlight
- Gaining heat via conduction, such as when the ground temperature is higher than its body temperature
- Losing heat via convection, or when the air temperature is lower than its body temperature
Recommended Hideouts & Basking Platforms
A Snake requires an enclosure that should not exceed one and a half times its length and should not be less than two thirds its length.
Any decent enclosure hoping to keep its charge in should have a tight-fitting lid or door, preferably with a lock. The enclosure you choose should be one made especially to keep snakes, animals which are known to be quite skilled in the art of escape, and Snakes are especially clever and sneaky when it comes to breaking out. There are glass tanks with the combination of fixed screen and hinged glass top. A good starter tank for a hatchling is a 10-gallon tank (roughly 20”L x 10”W [50 cm x 25 cm]). A young adult requires a 20-gallon tank, and full adult may require a 30-gallon tank (roughly 36” x 12”W [91 cm x 35 cm]). Such sizes will help accommodate a Snake’s normal behavior and exercise. The lid or other panels should be made of wire mesh to allow for good ventilation.
After you have bought your snake enclosure, the next step is to furnish it appropriately. Since Snakes like to burrow, there must be a hide box in the cage, into which the snake can comfortably retreat, like a hollow log. This could be made from a wide terra cotta flowerpot. Enlarge the drain hole with a chisel and file it to remove any sharp edges, and place the pot in the cage, with the drain hole side up. The Snake will most likely spend most of the daylight hours in the hide box.
Shredded cypress or fir bark, paper towels, and newspapers provide a good substrate. Do not use pine or aspen as they can become lodged in your snake’s mouth during feeding.
Additionally, your Snake should have a water bowl in the enclosure. Your snake will drink in it and soak itself in it, and sometimes, it may even defecate in it. Be sure to always check if it has been soiled and clean it up.
Temperatures in savannahs range from 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. To be able to replicate this in a cage means providing supplemental heating sources – either baseline or hot spot, or both. An example of the former are under tank heater, and an example of the latter are basic light bulbs, ceramic heat emitters, or heat panels. All Snakes are very susceptible to thermal burns. Due to this reason, it is not recommended that you use a hot rock.
Enclosures must allow for a proper thermal gradient that the Snake can use, with a hotspot on one end of the enclosure and a cool spot on the other. You should provide a basking spot temperature of 88 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit and an ambient temperature of 78 to 80 degrees. The ambient temperature should not fall below 75 degrees.
Be careful when you select regular incandescent bulbs as one of your heat sources as this will also impact the lighting and day and night control cycles. You might want to pick out a ceramic heater to substitute occasionally for the bulbs, rotating them as needed, which would also keep down the risks of electrical overheating or malfunctions.
All artificial heating sources should be kept outside of the cage so as to protect the Snake from being burned. Invest in a good thermostat that would measure your temperature while also regulating the actual temperature inside the cage by automatically turning your heat source on and off as needed. You might also want to double check this manually, checking the cage with a regular thermometer to confirm the readings on your thermostat – which can certainly sometimes fail. Even with a thermostat, it is always a good idea to use a gauge.
During a 24-hour period, snakes need at least 12 hours of light followed by 12 hours of darkness. A simple timer can help you regulate the lighting cycle.
Full-spectrum fluorescent lights will provide good lighting during the day. Unlike some reptiles, full spectrum lighting is not required for your Snake, though it still is recommended. The light can be slowly increased by 2 hours during summertime and decreased by 2 hours during wintertime.
Remember that you shouldn’t use regular light bulbs that you can buy from your hardware store. There are specialized lights for reptiles that you can purchase from pet stores. These are intended to provide your pet with UV light that will supply your pet with the proper amount of UVA and UVB rays that your Snake will use in regulating their metabolism, to synthesize vitamins and minerals, and to metabolize calcium and help keep their bones strong. These types of lightning sources are intended to mimic natural sunlight as much as possible.
This photoperiod of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness is important for snakes – particularly for nocturnal ones like the Snake. While you may be turning off the lights for your terrarium or snake cage for 12 hours, don’t forget that room lighting can have a significant impact on the snake. Once you have established your 12-12 hour cycle, try not to “shock” your pet by turning on the lights inside the room where they are kept during the 12 hours when it is supposed to be dark for them. This can lead to sleep deprivation, which can also lead to a number of other problems – whether it pertains to their health or temperament.
Be careful when choosing incandescent bulbs and the wattage they will consume. Higher wattage produces more heat, and this can significantly raise the temperatures within the enclosure.
A Snake’s enclosure should be kept at 50 percent humidity. If the humidity is extremely low, a daily misting will provide the higher humidity that aids in proper shedding. Snakes should not be kept in a damp environment since this can lead to skin infections and other problems in your pet.
Useful Tools and Devices
As long as the basic requirement for a proper habitat is met, taking care of your Snake will get relatively easier. The trickiest part would be keeping the temperature and humidity at their proper levels, but once that’s done, you won’t have to think too much about other details. Fortunately enough, there are a number of devices and gadgets that can help you monitor these pertinent environmental factors. Using these, you can make sure that your Snake’s habitat is the closest it can be to its natural requirements. A mistake in any of these – light, heat, or humidity – can cause various problems in your pet such as illnesses or diseases, behavioral changes, and sometimes even death – such as if temperature rises too high and causes them to dry out.
Some of the tools or gadgets you should perhaps invest in and familiarize yourself with include: