Housing Your First Pet Snake: Part 1

dog-computer-150x150Getting a new pet can be exciting and wonderful. It can also be a little overwhelming, especially if you’re getting a new kind of animal that you haven’t kept before.

In this article, we’ll cover the basics for setting up proper housing for an average pet snake. The breed of your particular snake will determine the details of their habitat. Do as much research as you can into your snake’s specific needs. This article is meant to familiarize you with the general needs of snakes and will cover the first steps in getting your snake’s new home set up.

Step 1: Get a terrarium.

If you’re new on the reptile scene, you might be asking yourself what a terrarium is. You’re probably much more familiar with aquariums. While an aquarium is an enclosed environment for water life, a terrarium is an enclosed environment for land-based animals and plants. In other words, aqua=water, terra=earth. The container is typically the same: a rectangular glass or plastic box with an open or vented top. It’s what you put inside it that determines whether it’s a terrarium or aquarium.

The size of your terrarium should be determined by the average adult size of your pet snake. Sometimes snakes need room to stretch out. The ideal would be for your snake to be able to stretch out full length in its habitat. If that is not possible, try to allow at least enough room for them to stretch out to two thirds of their full, adult length. So if you have a snake that is three feet long, your terrarium should be at least two feet in length.

It is best to get a terrarium that has a secure lid that can clip or lock on in order to prevent snake escapes. While it needs to be secure, the lid must also allow plenty of ventilation.

Step 2: Set up the habitat.

The habitat or type of terrarium that you set up will depend on the type of snake you get. Aim to create an environment that closely matches the snake’s natural habitat. A desert snake will be happy in a dry, sandy set up while a tropical snake will be comfortable with wood chips and more vegetation.

The most basic level of the habitat is the substrate, or the flooring/bedding. The substrate serves multiple purposes: it absorbs reptile waste, it serves as comfortable padding and insulation, it provides material for burrowing, and it adds to the visual appeal of your terrarium. Typical substrates you’ll find in the pet store are sand or gravel, wood chips (be aware of what kind of chips you should use), specially prepared soil, and moss. Rubber mats (such as Dri-dek), newspaper, butcher paper, indoor/outdoor carpet, or paper towels are also possible substrates. If you’re trying out a material, watch to be sure that your snake is not ingesting it. If so, replace it with another option. Do your research and find out what the best substrate is for your snake’s needs. Be sure to get a good amount of extra substrate as it will need to be changed regularly to keep the snake’s home clean by removing waste and preventing the spread of bacteria.

Water source
Give your snake constant access to clean water. There are plenty of water dishes you could buy, some even are made to fit in to the theme of your terrarium (desert, jungle, etc.). The water dish should be removable so you can clean, sanitize, and refill it every other day. If your snake needs to or likes to soak in water, make sure the bowl is big enough for him to fit inside of it or provide another soaking spot.

Hiding place
Everyone, your snake included, needs privacy and alone time. Provide a place for your snake to take shelter and be in semi-darkness. Once again, pet stores carry natural or manufactured items that act as hiding places. Be sure the one you get is large enough for your snake when it grows to adulthood. Similar to a hiding place, your snake also will need a resting place, or a place to drape and show off his scales. Branches, rocks, or other shelf-like structures allow for this type of draping, climbing, and resting. An added benefit to these items is they provide a mildly abrasive surface for the snake to use when it is shedding.

See the next post for more…
So far we’ve talked about the terrarium enclosure (the exterior glass or plastic box), the substrate, water source, and hiding place. See the next post to learn more about heat, lighting, and humidity.



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