Basics of Snake Keeping
Author: Scarlett Nightshade
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Before welcoming your slithery companion home, it is important to know the fundamentals of caring for a snake. While care will vary greatly per species, there are a few basic elements to be aware of that are crucial for just about all snakes.
All snakes should be kept in a secure enclosure that is large enough to compensate for their size. Be sure your enclosure is escape-proof! Heavy duty lid locks work great for tanks. Many stand-alone tubs have secure clips on the tub itself. Investing in security is crucial to keeping your snake in the enclosure. Regarding enclosure size, you should know how big your snake is currently and about how big it will get in the future so that you are able to properly house and upgrade the enclosure for your snake as it grows. The specific size and type of enclosure you use will vary depending on both the species and the individual snake itself. Some snakes may not follow a general “rule of thumb” and may prefer a smaller or larger enclosure than others. Observing your snake’s behaviors and how they react to their environment is key to discovering the surroundings your snake thrives best in.
Snakes are ectothermic, which means they do not internally regulate their body temperature as humans do. Instead, they must rely on their environment in order to maintain thermal equilibrium and perform other bodily functions, such as digestion. This means you must provide an external heat source for them to do so. There are a variety of heat sources available, all of which are covered later in this unit. The type of heating element you use will vary depending on the species and setup, but they all serve the same purpose of providing your snake with the ability to regulate their temperature in order to survive.
Humidity is another crucial aspect of husbandry in order to keep your snake happy and healthy. While many species of snake are content in your standard household humidity, other species such as the Ball Python have higher humidity needs that must be met for them to thrive. For many new keepers, maintaining the correct humidity levels is often a difficult task. Therefore, it is important to have your enclosure established with the correct husbandry (environmental requirements) prior to bringing your snake home to avoid any potential complications.
Diet and Feeding
Providing a healthy diet for your snake is essential. While most snakes feed primarily on whole prey such as rodents, some species have a specialized diet and may require supplemental prey or completely different prey items altogether. That said, you should assure the type of prey your snake eats is easily accessible and that you are able to feed it. This includes snakes that take live feeders vs. frozen/thawed. Many people struggle with feeding off a live animal to their snake, and while they can be switched to frozen/thawed prey, some will absolutely refuse anything else. You must be prepared in the event that your snake will only eat live food. Another crucial element to feeding is the size of the prey item you feed. For most juvenile snakes, you will want to feed prey that is 10-15% of your snake’s body weight in grams. However, for some subadult and adult snakes, this rule does not accurately apply. In this case, feed prey that is no larger than 1.5x the diameter of your snake.* You will also need to monitor the frequency in which you feed your snake. It is important to avoid overfeeding your snake as they are exceptionally prone to obesity, which dramatically reduces their lifespan. The prey size and feeding frequency will vary greatly among different species, so be sure to research what diet and feeding schedule is recommended for your snake. Keep in mind that each individual snake is different regardless of species, and what works best for one snake may not work for another. For this reason, you should be observant of any changes in your snake’s weight and body condition to determine what is best for your snake.
Cost and Maintenance
Lastly, properly caring for your snake will take time and money. While they may not be as high maintenance as a dog, they do require immersive research and their necessities are not always cheap. There is a lot of equipment involved such as thermostats, hygrometers, heating elements, temperature guns, water dishes, hides, etc. that add up quickly in cost. If you are looking for a cheap and easy pet, snakes may not be the best animal for you. However, they do make fantastic family companions for those willing to put in the initial investment and effort! Overall, snakes are very gentle, interactive animals that have a lot to offer to those who gladly open their homes and hearts to them.