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Snake Care

Housing: As a general rule, snakes require relatively little space because of their limited and nonexertional activity. Generally speaking, the size of the enclosure should allow inclusion of certain required items (discussed below) and still allow the snake adequate space to stretch out and move about. Snakes will use both the horizontal and vertical space within their enclosure if provisions are made for this activity. Aquaria or other similar glass or Plexiglas-lined enclosures are usually most suitable because they allow optimum visualization of and safety for the occupant(s), and help to maintain desirable environmental temperatures and generally high relative humidity levels. Wire-lined enclosures may afford adequate visualization of the snake but certainly cannot contribute to the maintenance of desirable environmental temperature and humidity levels. Further, such enclosures promote injuries to the rostrum (nose and surrounding tissues) as snakes repeatedly attempt to "escape" through the wire mesh. Any enclosure used must have a secure top and be escape-proof. All hinges and locks should be secure. All snakes are potential "escape artists" and many (especially the California King snakes) can escape form almost any apparently secure enclosure.

Floor Coverings and Enclosure Items: Unprinted newsprint, butcher paper, paper towels, terrycloth towels and indoor-outdoor carpeting are the most suitable materials for covering the bottom of a snake's enclosure. In fact, the first 2 materials mentioned can be cut to size and placed many layers think on to the floor of the enclosure. When the top layer(s) are soiled, they can be easily removed, leaving clean, dry paper. This makes cleaning of the enclosure very quick and efficient. If indoor-outdoor carpeting is used, it is best to have 2-3 pieces cut to the correct dimensions. This way, replacements can be used while the soiled piece is cleaned and disinfected. Under no circumstances should pea gravel, kitty litter, crushed corncob material or wood shavings be used. These are unquestionable more visually aesthetic than most of the materials mentioned above; however, they are unsuitable because they trap moisture and filth, provide unlimited "hiding places" for external parasites, and make enclosures very difficult to clean. Furthermore, these types of particulate matter are easily and inadvertently eaten while the snake is feeding. This can cause mechanical injury to or obstruction of the digestive tract. Various objects should be included within a snake's enclosure that occupies its vertical area. These include sturdy branches of various hardwood trees or those fabricated from artificial materials, driftwood, grapevine, hanging ropes, and shelves situated along the sides of the enclosure.

Visual Security: It is very important to provide some privacy for a captive snake. Many snakes will not feed without the privacy afforded by some degree of visual security. This can be accomplished by providing a "hide box" into which the snake can retreat when it feeds or at other times when privacy is desired. Visual security can also be provided by the use and strategic placement of silk artificial plants (and trees if the enclosure is large enough to accommodate them). Silk plants are visually pleasing and easy to clean and disinfect. They require minimal maintenance, help to augment the relative humidity level of the enclosure if the foliage is frequently misted, and can complement a snake's ability to camouflage itself, thereby providing visual security.

Climatic Considerations: Tropical snakes kept in captivity (boa constrictors, pythons, etc) require relatively warm temperatures and high relative humidity. Daytime temperatures should range between 80 and 85° F. Nighttime temperatures can fall between 70-75 F without creating problems for most snakes. Native American snakes do well when maintained at 70-80° F. Relatively large enclosures can be supplied with heat lamps or heaters equipped with thermostats, whereas small enclosures may be adequately heated by placing a heating pad directly underneath them. Exposed heat sources must be shielded to protect snakes from serious burns as they attempt to warm themselves by coiling next to them. Large and small enclosures should also provide the snake a focal (spot) source of warmth. Small snakes should be offered a hot rock. Large snakes can use one or more well-protected and waterproofed heating pads. These appliances allow the snake direct, but safe, contact with the heat source, which helps to raise their body temperature. This allows the snake to be more active and increases the rate of digestion. Check these appliances frequently for malfunction and periodically check the snake for evidence of burns because snakes generally do not move away from heat-generating appliances even if they are being severely burned.

Lighting: Ideally, it would be advantageous for all captive reptiles to be housed in such a way that they could be exposed to and benefit form direct, unfiltered sunlight during the daylight hours every day. This represents the healthiest and most natural situation. Unfortunately, hobbyists can rarely fulfill this set of circumstances because it is neither practical nor possible. The next best solution is to use an artificial ultraviolet light source rather than fluorescent or incandescent light bulbs. One or more Vitalites (Duro-Lite Lamps, Duro-Test Copr, Lyndhurst, NJ 07071) should be used to illuminate the enclosure during the daylight hours. To approximate a natural photo-period, it is best to supply 1-12 hours of daylight and 12-14 hours of darkness each day, with a gradual increase in the number of hours of light in spring and a gradual decrease in the fall and winter months.

Water: should be provided at all times. Most snakes drink infrequently but use a suitable sized container for immersing themselves and soaking. Another advantage for including a relatively large water container is that water evaporation contributes to the relative humidity of the enclosure. This is especially true if the enclosure is glass or Plexiglas-lined. The water container should be roomy enough to allow adequate soaking and heavy enough so it can not be easily overturned. Water containers must be thoroughly and regularly cleaned. Failure to do so encourages bacterial proliferation. Snakes drinking and soaking in the water soon become ill. Use Rocall-D (Winthrop Veterinary, NY, NY 10016) to disinfect the snake's enclosure and furnishings at least once every 2-4 weeks.