Aquarium, vivarium, or cage?
Aquariums are often used for snakes simply because they are readily available and come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and styles. However, it is well worth investigating proper vivariums or reptile enclosures for snakes as these will offer better airflow, accessibility, and maybe more practical for the addition of equipment.
Plastic box style enclosures are also available, although it is important to check there is enough ventilation and they may not be suited to the addition of heating equipment. These bare type enclosures may be practical and provide a technically suitable snake environment, but they do not recreate a natural setting or visually impressive display, which should be the aim of any animal lover or pet snake keeper.
A long term environment for a snake should be spacious and preferably attractive enough to fit into the decor of the room if it is to be a display enclosure. If you cannot find something suitable try visiting a large aquarium store as they often have a wider range of cabinets that can be adapted to fit a vivarium rather than an aquarium.
Although not overly important, choosing a substrate does have an effect on the appearance of your snakes home, and on its maintenance. Most snake owners opt for sand, moss, bark chippings, or leaf-based substrate which can be landscaped with rocks, roots, and plants.
Although mainly for our viewing benefit, a natural day/night cycle will be beneficial for a snake as it recreates the natural environment. Fluorescent bulbs are the most readily available and a full-spectrum bulb is the best choice for a combination of showing off colors and providing natural light. Whilst a well-nourished snake may not need the addition of UVA and UVB light as much as other reptiles do, it is generally considered best to provide some of this type of light which recreates natural sunlight and can improve bone development and vitamin production. Always check the specification of the bulb as not all ‘full spectrum’ bulbs will produce UVA and UVB light.
Heating and cooling a snake home
Like all reptiles, snakes are ectothermic, which means their body temperature is dictated by their environment – unlike humans and other mammals which can to some degree provide their own methods of temperature regulation. Whilst preference varies from one species to another, a daytime warm spot of up to about 29C and a cooler area of around 25C is suitable for most tropical snakes. To provide this temperature gradient, which the snake can use to regulate its temperature, one end of the enclosure should have a ‘hot spot’. This is normally provided by the use of a heat mat, heat pad, or ceramic heat lamp.
How much water your snake needs depends on its natural habitat type – Desert or arid snakes will not require as much as forest species. Water can be easily provided with a simple water bowl that can be bought in various attractive designs, usually looking like a rock formation or something similar. When choosing a bowl you should look for one which cannot be tipped easily. For desert snakes, a small bowl will suffice. Forest snakes or those from humid environments may benefit from a larger bowl which will increase humidity and also serve as a ‘soaking dish’ which can help with skin shedding.
While hydration is important if some snakes are kept in a damp environment where they cannot dry they may be prone to developing skin problems and lesions. Even some species often called ‘water snakes’ actually spend most of their time out of the water and are only adapted to make use of a watery environment when required. Conversely, some snakes need a high humidity environment to prevent drying out and dehydration. Positioning a water bowl near the hotter areas of the enclosure will increase the air humidity whilst placing it in cooler spots and providing good ventilation will decrease humidity. Check the preferred conditions of your snake species and use a humidity gauge to monitor levels
Snake housing hiding Spots
Snakes are natural hiders and will need a suitable safe and secure space to hide. If they are forced to live out in the open without hiding spots they may develop unpredictable behavior, become stressed, stop feeding or become ill. Depending on the size of your snake, and your cage or vivarium, a number of snake ‘hides’ or caves are available from the reptile and aquatic suppliers. If you are feeling creative you can even make your own out of aquarium wood and artificial rocks. When using any sizeable decor, make sure it is fixed securely on the base of the enclosure and not on top of the substrate, where the snake may bury underneath it and become trapped. Whilst there are plenty of options for realistic or decorative snake hiding spots, from the snake’s point of view, a shallow cardboard box with a hole in will do just as well as anything else.
Natural snake environment
Like any animal, a good home for snakes is one that recreates a natural setting and gives the snake the option of displaying natural behavior. Providing logs, branches, and natural decoration will give your snake hiding spots, areas to wrap around and an environment that encourages good health. Natural or artificial decor can be used and most reptile suppliers will have a wide range of artificial vines, plants, branches, and caves suitable for a snake habitat. Backgrounds, bark, sand, leaves, and mosses all provide possibilities for an attractive display.