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How to Keep Snakes

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 3 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
How To Keep Snakes

Few animals have taken a single body design – little more than a long and relatively thin cylinder – and used it so well in such a wide range of habitats and lifestyles as the snakes.

Of the 3,000 or so species of snake in the world, aside of those that do fairly obviously snaky things on the ground, there are ones which climb, burrow, live all their lives at sea and ones which fly – well, glide if we’re being strictly accurate. Add to this the extraordinary colours, patterns and markings that many of them display, it’s easy to see the appeal of snakes as exotic pets.

You won’t be seeing any of the sea snakes at the local pet shop – just as well, since their venom is arguably the most lethal in the world – but many of their harmless cousins do make regular appearances. Although much of the care needed depends on the species – and a good exotic pet shop owner should be able to give you all the advice you need – there are some more general points which apply to most kinds you’re likely to see commonly being sold.

Housing Snakes

One thing to be aware of right from the start is that snakes are amongst the most gifted escapologists in the natural world; whatever type of container you intend to use, it simply has to have a secure lid. Even the smallest of them are surprisingly strong for their size – so light or ill-fitting tops will be quickly bulldozed out of the way.

For most species, housing usually involves a tank or terrarium, how big depending on the size of the snake and how tall on its natural liking for climbing. While snakes don’t need to be able to stretch out the whole of their body length along one side of the tank, they shouldn’t be condemned to being permanently cramped either.

The flooring material obviously depends on the nature of the animal and where it comes from; a generous layer of compost or sand for burrowing species and for other snakes, bark chippings – reptile-safe varieties can be bought from pet shops – or newspaper. Although the idea of keeping your snake on yesterday’s headlines may sound a little unattractive, it certainly helps with hygiene – and cleanliness is essential to avoid ill health.

Hiding places are important, one or two largish stones will help at skin-shedding time and tree-dwellers will appreciate some well positioned – and well anchored – branches to practice on. Whatever furnishings you do add to the tank, either buy items sold for the purpose from your pet shop or if not, make sure you clean them thoroughly to avoid giving bacteria and potential parasites somewhere to live.

Heaters And Heating

Most of the snakes commonly sold will need some form of supplementary heating – and in some cases quite high temperatures; your supplier should be able to advise you on the right size and type of heating for your tank and type of snake. The essential features are:

  • Establish a Good Thermal Gradient - Place the heater towards one end of the tank, so that the temperature varies in different parts of the snake’s home. This will allow your pet to regulate its own body heat by moving around to let itself warm up or cool down as necessary.
  • Separate Heat and Light Sources - A separate heater lets you maintain the right temperature when the lights are off, which means your pet gets a more natural cycle of day and night; snakes have no eyelids!
  • Use a Guard - A cool snake will often try to get far closer to the heat source than is good for it – and many snakes suffer serious burns as a result. A well fitting guard should avoid injuries.
  • Buy a Good Quality Thermostat - The thermostat is the only thing stopping your pet’s quarters becoming far too hot, or cooling down too much; get the best and most reliable kind you can find.

Food And Feeding

Most of the snakes sold as exotic pets are used to eating small dead baby mice – “pinkies” – which are readily available for the purpose. Larger species, such as pythons and boas will need proportionally larger meals, dead rats and day old-chickens being the usual fare.

Like any exotic pets, you can never find out too much about the particular kinds of snakes that you keep – and it’s obviously important to do a fair bit of research before a purchase to make sure you can provide all the right conditions that your new pet needs. Properly cared for, many kinds of snakes thrive – and happily breed – in captivity.

Snakes are a well established part of the whole exotic pet world – and given their fascinating way of life and their often beautiful skins, it’s not hard to see why.

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