So you’re thinking about getting a pet snake. You’ve never had a snake before and you’re wondering where to start. Good job for starting with research. By reading up on snakes and their needs, you’re on the path to being a great snake owner. Fun as it might seem to run down to the pet store and buy your slithery friend right away, by making sure you prepare your snake’s home first, you’re saving yourself the surprise of waking up with a snake coiled up in your bed for warmth. Give him his own place first and he’ll stay out of yours!
In the last post we talked about choosing a terrarium enclosure. It should be big enough to accommodate your snake’s adult size. We also talked about building the habitat based on your snake’s breed and natural environment. A tropical snake has a different set of needs than a desert snake does. So far we’ve covered the different types of substrates that can be used in a snake terrarium. We discussed the need for a water source, a hiding place, and perches and sunning spots. In this post we’ll talk about heat sources, lighting, and humidity.
It’s common knowledge that reptiles are cold blooded, meaning they do not generate their own heat but rather they rely on their environment for the warmth that stimulates their digestion and organ functions. The best-case scenario would be to create ambient heat in which your snake can self-regulate it’s own temperature. Rather than creating a uniformly heated terrarium, it’s necessary to create a basking spot on one side of the enclosure where your snake can go to warm up. The other side of the environment would be cooler but still comfortable, allowing the snake to settle in at a temperature that it prefers. It’s possible to use two heating sources, one that controls the general level of heat and one that creates a basking spot. Be aware that some heat sources can overheat surfaces accessible to your pet, creating a hazardous situation for them and possibly for your home as well. Try to recreate the sun, with its ambient heat, rather than a campfire, with its very directional heat (the side away from the heat is still freezing!), or a frying pan, with its high surface heat. Buy two thermometers to place at opposite sides of the tank in order to see and regulate the heat gradation in your snake’s habitat. When your snake friend settles in to his home, pay attention to where he spends most of his time. If he’s pressed against the cooler side of the tank, things are probably a little to warm for him. If he’s curled under the heat source most of the time, you’ll want to bump the heat up a bit.
Whether they’re nocturnal or not, all snakes need a sense of daytime and nighttime. The natural cycles of light act as signals to the cycles of the body. As a general rule, snakes can use twelve hours of light and twelve hours of dark each day. Your lighting sources and heating sources should work in tandem with each other. Take care to not overheat your snake with the added heat of its light source. On the other hand, do not leave your snake in the cold by taking away too much heat when you turn off the light for its period of dark. Find out what the right combination of incandescent day and nocturnal bulbs and heating panels or mats will be for your snake.
In addition to ambient light, a snake also needs access to UVB and UVA light, which provides proper vitamin processing in the body.
A snake with the proper humidity is a happy snake. Know your snake’s target humidity and then regulate it with a hygrometer (like a thermometer, but for humidity). You can raise humidity by increasing the surface area of water in the terrarium. A large soaking spot can allow a snake to hydrate itself. You can also use foggers or misters to keep the environment comfortable.
It’s important to note that the more humid your terrarium is, the more at risk the environment is for unwanted bacteria growth. Humid terrariums should not have wood chips or other substrates that don’t hold up well in wetter weather. Terrarium cleanings should be vigorous and very regular to keep the habitat snake-friendly.
There you have it! A basic, first-steps intro to setting up a comfortable and happy home for your snake. Keep researching for your specific snake breed so you can be sure you’re meeting your slithery friend’s specific needs.