Setting Up an Enclosure for a Snake
All pets require a pen of some sort, and a snake is no different. A small snake may be kept in a standard aquarium, but it will need a tight fitting lid and a few other amenities for comfort. If the snake is small because it is young, it will grow fast. It is a good idea to start with a larger aquarium if this is the case. A twenty to thirty gallon aquarium is big enough for an average corn snake or ball python, two of the species that are recommended for beginning snake owners. For larger snakes, a rule of thumb to follow is to allow at least 3/4 square foot of living space per foot of snake.
Snakes are cold blooded animals, which mean that they have no internal method of staying warm. Their body temperature is the same as the surrounding temperature. For this reason, it is important to have a warming system for your snake enclosure. One of the best methods for heating a snake enclosure is to buy a special warming pad that heats the aquarium from the bottom. A light can be used for heat, but only in the daytime, as snakes, like other animals, are happiest with a natural period of darkness.
It is best if only half of the aquarium is heated. Since snakes regulate their temperature by moving into an area where the surrounding air has the warmth they need, snakes are healthiest if they can choose the end of the pen that feels best to them at the time. They need cool places and warm places to hang out. There are ceramic heaters and heat lamps that can be used as well.
The floor of the aquarium must be covered with some sort of material, or "substrate." While kitty litter or wood shavings may seem to be a nice substrate, most snake experts discourage them because they tend to harbor germs. Simple newspaper seems to be the best choice for most snakes. Those species of snakes that typically burrow will need a different type of substrate, however. Potting soil or sand can be used for these snakes, but not plain garden dirt, because it contains bacteria and parasites.
There are other possible substrates, too, including terry cloth and carpet scraps. Pet stores carry a carpet called reptile carpet that is similar to Astroturf and is good for lining the floor of the enclosure. This carpet can be taken out and washed, sometimes even in the washing machine. Aquarium gravel can be used, but there is the danger of the snake swallowing a bit when it feeds. The gravel has to be rinsed and dried when the enclosure is set up.
A low aquarium is fine for a burrowing or naturally ground dwelling species, but the ones that like to climb trees will do better in a taller enclosure. Tree branches gathered from the outdoors can introduce harmful bacteria to the enclosure, so it is generally recommended that you buy these accessories from a pet store.
If money is no object, there are beautiful acrylic snake cages that are ready to move into. Some snake keepers build their own from wood and clear acrylic or glass. The important thing to remember if building one is to make sure it will be escape proof. If money is an object, some snake keepers have used plastic totes for snake habitats. The translucent type from Rubbermaid can be used, but they need to have ventilation holes drilled in at least two sides.
All snakes need a dish of water for drinking and soaking. This dish needs to be heavy enough to not tip over, and is best filled only one-third full. Heavy pet food dishes, such as those made of pottery, can be used. Some pet food dishes made of plastic are hollow around the sides. If a hole is made in the outside of the bowl, it can double as a hiding spot for the snake. Place the water bowl in the unheated end of the aquarium.
Snakes are private animals and each should have an entire enclosure to itself. In addition to this privacy, they will appreciate having several hiding spots. These can be made from any sort of opaque container with a hole or two made in the side for an entrance. Snakes like to curl up in small areas, so don't choose too large of containers for hiding spots. Try to have at least one on the warm side and one on the cool side of the aquarium. If you can create a mid-temperature area in the middle, and equip it with a hiding place, too, so much the better.
Snakes need a consistent level of humidity for the health of their skin. Too little humidity causes them to not be able to shed their skins. Too much can cause problems, too, such as blisters and breathing problems. Different species need different levels of humidity, since desert snakes will need less moisture than snakes from the rain forest. In many cases, the water dish alone will provide enough humidity to keep the snake healthy. The dish needs to be kept clean and not be allowed to completely dry out.
A snake enclosure should have at least one thermometer in it, and one on each end to be sure the entire enclosure is in the proper range is better. The desired temperature, like the humidity, depends on the species of snake. A gauge for keeping track of the humidity is also a valuable addition to the snake set up.
One of the most important parts of getting the enclosure ready for a new pet snake is to be sure it is absolutely escape-proof. The lid must be able to be locked on securely. Any doors need to fit tightly when closed. If the door can be pushed open a little bit, a snake is likely to keep trying to get out until it succeeds. Screen and ventilated plastic lids are good for keeping the humidity from building up.
By creating a suitable habitat for your pet snake, you will be taking the first step in guarding its health. While there is more to owning a snake than just setting up its enclosure, designing your pet a good home is a step in the right direction.