Care Guide for Snake Keepers
Keeping a snake as a pet is not an easy task, considering that some snakes can grow to a length as long as 25 ft and as heavy as 500 lbs like the anaconda. There are around 2500 species of snakes and some of them are really small at just about 4 inches. Whether big or small, snakes are very unusual and have a remarkably different handling requirement for various breeds. They can also live as long as 20 to 40 (even more years). So, if you plan to have one as a pet, you need to make sure that is thoroughly knowledgeable on the proper care and handling needed to make sure that your pet snake will not be a slithering sly that will cause you any harm.
To better prepare you on this aspect, read through this guide and give some thought on special aspects like housing, providing warmth and light, as well as other factors that may affect the way you need to handle and care for a pet snake. A better understanding of these crucial elements may help you in making that final choice.
Which is the right snake for you to own?
If this will be your first time to own a snake for a pet, you may want to consider one of the snakes below as they are the most commonly picked by hobbyists.
Corn snake. One popular snake breed among hobbyists is the Corn Snake. These snakes are native to southern New Jersey to Virginia. Their main range is from North Carolina to the Florida Keys and west to eastern Louisiana and southern Tennessee. They are normally found in and around old buildings and barns and usually enter people’s homes in search of their favorite food (rodents) as well as their secure hiding places.
Corn snakes are active throughout the day and also during the night. They do spend most of their time underground or beneath objects like logs, pieces of roofing, boards, and so on. They are also great climbers. These large yet slender snakes that can grow to about 4 to 6 ft and can easily be distinguished by their 27-40 squarish black-margined brown or reddish blotches. Their bellies are checkered with white and black markings that resemble a piano keyboard or Indian corn. Their bodies are usually colored orange, reddish brown, brown, or gray.
Here’s another well-favored snake for beginners — the Royal Python. It comes from sub-Saharan Africa. Records indicate that Cleopatra wore one around her wrist as a living accessory, hence its name.
This snake is also called a Ball Python because curls up into a ball when threatened. A ball python is generally timid and gentle, if taken care of well, it can live between 20 to 30 years (record indicates 47 as the oldest age range it can reach). It can grow to around 3 to 6 feet long and are quite heavily-bodied than corn snakes.
Other snakes that will best fit beginners include the California Kingsnake, Rosy Boa, and Gopher Snake.
Housing for your pet snake
You need to remember that a snake, like any other pets, will grow to its regular size no matter how small or big space you provide for it. As for snakes, they should be kept in a vivarium. This is a special enclosed cage or tank with glass doors. Make sure that it should be large enough so that your snake can roam around without restrictions inside its cage. However, you still have to make sure that your pet’s cage is escape-proof as the snake will make every effort to find and squeeze into any small gap within its housing.
Size of the vivarium
Bigger-sized or adult snakes would generally need a bigger space, while juvenile or younger snakes will feel more secure in smaller cages. You may consider these vivarium sizes designed for snake breeds identified below:
- 10 – 20 gallon — This will be just right for garter snakes, grass snakes
- 30 – 55 gallon — Kingsnakes, rat snakes, milk snakes, gopher snakes, other colubrids will find this vivarium size just the right fit for them.
- Custom-built enclosure — Snake breeds like boa constrictors and pythons will need custom-built cages where they can roam around safely.
For a Corn Snake, however, the best cage size will be one that is as long or wide as half to two-thirds its total length.
Decorations for your pet’s vivariumJust as any other reptiles, your pet snake is also vulnerable even inside its cage. Make sure to find a suitable substrate for the snake. Your options could include a hygienic aspen, or other manufactured types, as well as sand and earth as these substrates, provide a more similar habitat as its natural environment. Small branches and rocks will give your snake things to climb up or hide behind. You can also provide a small space where your snake can sneak into to sleep like a small shelter, piles of bark or a rock cave.
The temperature within the vivarium
Your snake will need to regulate its body temperature from outside heat and light source. You will need to provide a thermal gradient that has a warm side where it can bask. It should be warm enough as it can help maintain your snake’s overall health and help it in synthesizing the food that your snake eats. It should also have a cool side where the snake can go to when its body temperature has already reached the right temperature.
You will need a thermometer set on both ends of the cage as these will help you constantly monitor the thermal gradient within the vivarium.
Here are the temperature requirements for some popular pet snakes:
- Ball Python: 77° – 85°F day, 69° – 75°F night, 90°F basking area
- Milk Snake: 78° – 82°F day, 65° – 70°F night, 84° – 88°F basking area
- Amazon Tree Boa: 80° – 85°F day, 75° – 78°F night, 90°F basking area
- Red-Tailed Boa: 82° – 90°F day, 78° – 85°F night, 90° – 95°F basking area
- Corn snakes: 78° – 82 °F day, 70 °F night, 85 to 88 °F basking area
- Burmese Python: 85° – 88°F day, 78° – 80°F night, 90°F basking area
Heat mats, heat lamps, and other heat sources like Ceramic heat emitter (CHE), Radiant heat panel (RHP) or a Deep heat projector (DHP) can be used to maintain the right temperatures within your pet’s housing. When finding the right heat source for your Best Ball Python Enclosure, make sure never consider a heat rock as it is unreliable and can only endanger your pet’s life.
Keeping your pet’s vivarium cleanLike any other reptile, your pet snake can also be a carrier of diseases. You have to make sure that its cage and everything in it is always clean and properly sanitized, and the substrate changed when necessary.
Food for your pet snake
Snakes are carnivorous. They feed on mice, birds, insects, and other reptiles. The most popular choice of food is frozen rodents. You may want to use a pair of long tweezers when offering food to your snake. Take note also that different snake breeds will have different feeding requirements so it’s worth researching the eating habits of your pet snake.
Water for your snake.
Like all other animals, your pet snake will need water to drink. This will also help maintain the right humidity within its cage and will help ease its shedding. Make sure that your pet snake will always have access to fresh water.
Whatever snake breed you choose for a pet, you need to make sure that you are properly educated on how to care for and handle one. It takes a lot of commitment to keep one, so be prepared.