HOW TO MAKE A TERRARIUM HABITAT FOR SNAKES
In the world of pets, most people automatically think of dogs or cats. But snakes can be great pets too! They are easy to take care of, don’t need much exercise, groom themselves, and they love to be handled. They may not be furry or fuzzy or flamboyant, but they make great pets for families and singles alike.
Snakes are quiet, adaptable, interesting to watch, do not destroy homes or furniture, and are low-maintenance. If your idea of a pet is an animal you can handle every day, share with friends, and play with, a snake is not for you. It is important that owners have the correct temperament and personality to be great snake owners.
Ball pythons, corn snakes, boas, and garter snakes are very popular as reptile pets. Each breed will have different requirements for its environment, so there is much research to be done before you bring home a pet snake. Study each breed for its size, diet, temperature requirements, humidity requirements, and general, daily behaviors.
In order to give your snake a great life, it needs a great enclosure – the best terrarium you can build will give your snake comfort, necessary exercise, and an environment close to its natural habitat. There are many things to consider when building the ultimate snake lair: terrarium, bedding, lights and heating, humidity, and hiding spots.
Which terrarium you choose will depend entirely on the size and breed of your snake. Most owners start with a 20-gallon, clear terrarium (30x12x12 minimum). Make certain it comes with a secure lid, so your new friend doesn’t affect an escape. The lid should offer proper ventilation and have a latch to secure it. But remember, as your snake grows, it will need new, larger terrariums. Learning how to build the best environment for your pal the first time will help make upgrades easier.
The market for terrariums offers a wide variety. Exo Terra brand offers a starter terrarium of 12x12x12. This would be good for small snakes or baby snakes. It offers a secure door with lock and excellent ventilation.
Exo Terra’s 20-gallon terrarium (24x18x12), called the Outback Terrarium offers dual door security to avoid escapes, great ventilation, room for a substrate heater, closable inlets for wires or tubing, and a stainless steel mesh cover.
Exo Terra even offers a terrarium of 36 x18 ¼ x 27 3/4 with a terrarium cabinet – a great way to display your pet and keep supplies handy.
But Exo Terra isn’t the only player in terrariums. REPTIZOO offers a terrarium of 36x18x18 with double hinged doors, screen ventilation, and room for a substrate heater.
REPTIZOO also offers mini terrariums (8x8x12) for smaller snakes or as starter terrariums.
The keys to a good terrarium are securability, room for a substrate heater, closable inlets for wires or tubing, good ventilation, a waterproof floor, and room for things that your snake can climb on to get exercise.
Never underestimate how much a snake can grow! If your snake will eventually be larger than when you purchase it, make sure you buy a tank for its full, adult size.
Now that you have the terrarium, you must consider what type of bedding to provide for your snake. One thing to remember: although cedar chips are popular for other types of caged pets (hamsters, guinea pigs, mice), cedar chips are poisonous to all snakes. So, when you are buying bedding, don’t go on the cheap. Make sure the bedding you buy is not only safe for all snakes but suitable for your breed.
The best choices are coconut fiber, cypress mulch, or aspen mulch. What is important is that you do your research. You need to make certain the bedding you choose will not be too drying for your snake or soak up too much humidity.
There are multiple brands of coconut fiber available in the market. Reptichip offers a coconut substrate that absorbs odors and helps keep the humidity of the terrarium level.
Eco Earth offers a loose coconut fiber substrate for a more natural habitat, and it can be kept damp for tropical species.
Reptile Prime also has a loose coconut fiber bedding that is suitable for both tropical and desert breeds of snakes. It naturally absorbs order and breaks down waste. It retains humidity and is 100% organic.
Cypress mulch is offered by Forest Floor Bedding and gives you an all-natural green product.
Fluker’s Premium gives you a cypress bedding that is breeder recommended and contains tropical cypress.
Galapagos bedding gives humidity control and is made from sustainable timber.
Aspen mulch offered by Zoo Med is made from renewable resources and is 99.9% dust free.
Galapagos also has aspen mulch bedding with high absorbency of odors, is good for burrowing snakes, and is made from sustainable products.
Highly recommended Zilla aspen bedding has ultra-absorbent, laboratory grade chips, and is hypoallergenic.
LIGHTS AND HEATING
There seems to be a strong difference of opinion about snake lights among owners. While most snake owners used the same lighting schemes as those for amphibians for decades, it has been discovered that traditional lighting may not be necessary for most snake pets.
Snakes from temperate climates probably don’t need any lighting if your house is kept warm all year. The purpose of lights was originally to provide UVB rays that can affect a snake’s color and temperature. Now, heat lamps are the preferred choice to control the temperature of the terrarium and the snake.
The terrarium should never reach below 75 degrees, or the snake could be at risk. Additionally, you want to have a hot spot in the terrarium for basking. Giving your snake both hot and cooler environments allows them to control their temperature.
The options for heating have gone beyond lamps. Today, you can buy an under the tank heating pad as well as overhead lamps.
iPower offers a 6×8 eight-watt under the tank heating pad that gives you uniform heat and an adjustable thermostat.
Zoo Med also offers an under the tank heater that is 8×6 and ideal for tropical or temperate snakes.
REPTIZOO has a ceramic heat lamp for those who want to go the traditional route. It works with multiple voltages of infrared bulbs and imitates sunlight better than an under tank mat.
Zilla produces a heat fixture great for both desert and tropical reptile environments.
Zoo Med offers a great combo lamp that allows for multiple bulb types so you can switch from daytime to nighttime heating.
Keeping the environment of the terrarium at an appropriate temperature is critical for your snake’s health. Without a proper temperature, the snake could have digestion issues, lose its desire for activity, or even die.
While a snake may seem like a dry-skinned reptile, it requires a significant amount of moisture. However, each breed has a different humidity requirement. The humidity is based on breed and can vary from 30% all the way to 90%. So, it is crucial that you review a manual or do research on your breed to ensure proper humidity.
To maintain humidity in your terrarium, remember these tips: use deep bedding (at least three inches) that absorbs and releases humidity, mix the soil once a week, add moss, mist the terrarium often, monitor temperature, and add live plants.
Believe it or not, you can purchase moss commercially! There are multiple suppliers of moss specifically designed for terrariums.
Our friends at Zoo Med offer terrarium moss that is completely natural, with no dyes.
Exo Terra also has terrarium moss free from dyes and perfect for tropical snakes.
Galapagos makes their own, leafy green moss that is sustainably farmed and good for a tropical habitat.
If you also want to include misting to help with humidity, you can buy misting humidifiers from various makers.
Exo Terra’s Monsoon Misting system is programmable and has a flexible hose for even humidity dispersion.
Zoo Med’s ReptiRain mister is fully programmable and portable.
For a powerless option, Zeroyoyo makes a Natural Green Moisture Humidifier. Pet Reptile Terrarium Humidifier provides natural vaporization and is eco-friendly.
Live plants are a great option as well. But you need to make sure that the plants you use are safe for your snake. You can use spider plants, orchids, fiscus, and African violets. You can purchase these plants at home improvement stores or supermarkets.
In nature, snakes spend a lot of time curling up in holes, under logs, or in other convenient hiding places. They do so primarily to avoid predators. Even in a terrarium, their natural instinct will be to have hiding places. So, it is important for your snake’s health that you provide places for it to hide.
There are literally dozens of products available to give your pet a sneaky place to slither. They vary in size and weight, so make sure you choose something appropriate for your breed.
Exo Terra sells a Gecko Cave for Reptiles that is good for both snakes and amphibians. The sizes vary but can be easily used in either tropical or desert environments.
The Zilla Reptile Habitat Shale Rock Den offers your pet not only a hiding place but also a shelf to bask on.
Tinton Life’s Reptile Hideouts Box with Ceramic Sinks is a combination hide-out and humidity cave.
But hide-outs don’t come in just cave or rock formations. Snakes also enjoy hiding within plant structures.
Uxcell produces a Green Plastic Cactus Plant for Reptiles that your snake can wind and wiggle through.
Pen Plax offers a flexible climbing vine that can be bent to create hiding spots or straightened for climbing.
Sun Grow makes Natural Looking Reptile Plants have a realistic texture and can be bent and arranged to your pet’s liking.
It would be a good idea to have a mix of plants, vines, and hiding places that are similar to your breed’s natural environment.
If hunting down all this equipment just sounds like too much, there are complete, beginner terrarium kits available!
If you are a new snake owner and you’re concerned about gathering the necessary materials for your pet, there are multiple starter kits on the market that can help you get started. Some kits include the terrarium, lights, and hidey holes. Other kits are strictly bedding and décor.
Granted, these starter kits are convenient, but they may not have everything you need in them. Read the boxes carefully and choose a kit that works for the size and breed of your new pet.
Zilla’s Reptile Starter Kit is set up for the desert snake, including the terrarium, liner, humidity and temperature gauge, and light fixtures with bulbs.
Zoo Med’s Snake Starter Kit includes a 20-gallon tank, bedding, hiding place, and other general supplies.
Exo Terra also has a Desert Habitat Kit that comes with a substrate, decor, water dish, rock hiding spot, plant, hiding cave, and reptile care book.
The bedding and décor kits vary widely, but most include things like bedding, hiding spots, moss, and plants.
Galapagos offers a Terrarium Deco Starter Kit for Dry Environments that comes with four types of moss and decorative stones.
Zoo Med has a beginners kit that includes a Beginners Guide to Reptile Care, thermometer, aspen chip bedding, 10-20g under tank heat pad, extra-large hiding spot, and a large water dish.
xyzReptiles creates a Corn Snake Kit Starter Habitat Setup complete with aspen chips, thermometer, heating pad, water dish, and tree trunk hiding spot.
A combination of a terrarium starter kit and deco starter kit has the possibility of making the process much easier when you buy your first snake. But read labels carefully! You don’t want to miss something critical for the terrarium.
After you get your supplies home, how do you set up its home?
Now it’s time to bring together all the parts of your pet’s new home!
As you set up the terrarium, there are certain things you need to be cautious about: heat, hot rocks, soiled water, the wrong bedding and plants, and live prey.
It’s critical that you have done your research and have the proper level of heat for your snake. Each breed has optimum temperatures for day, night, and basking. For example, the Ball Python requires daytime temperatures of 77° – 85°F, evening temperatures of 69° – 75°F night, and the basking area should be around 90°F
It is also in your pet’s best interest to avoid hot rocks – rocks that remain heated. They can sometimes overheat your pet and cause harm to the skin or internal organs. Though not as common anymore, hot rocks are still available, but they aren’t a good idea for regulating basking time temperatures.
Water dishes are essential to maintaining your snake’s health, but reptiles do tend to defecate in their water. The water should be changed every day, if not twice a day, to optimize freshness and avoid soiled water that can grow bacteria.
Ensure that your terrarium has one of the types of bedding listed here (coconut, aspen, cypress) and avoid plants they can be poisonous to your pet.
When you have a pet snake, they prefer to eat live prey; however, live prey can also attack the snake and injure it. If you are feeding with live prey, monitor to ensure the snake is successful in taking down the prey and eating it.
Since it will take time for your pet to adjust to its new environment, keep the terrarium in a low-traffic area. People constantly walking past the terrarium would be stressful for the snake.
BUILDING THE TERRARIUM
Even though it may be tempting to put the terrarium together as quickly as possible, you must take care that the habitat is properly constructed to ensure your pet’s safety.
First, begin by unboxing and cleaning the terrarium. You may think cleaning isn’t necessary, but boxes contain dust particles that could harm your snake’s skin. Wash out the terrarium and dry with a clean cloth. Allow it to dry before the next step.
Next, prepare the substrate liner. Simply measure your tank and cut the appropriate size of liner. Zilla offers a substrate liner that is easy to cut and will not irritate a snake’s skin.
After the liner is in place, add the substrate of choice – coconut fiber, aspen chips, or cypress chips. The substrate should be at least three inches deep to allow your snake to burrow. If you have a breed that is especially fond of burrowing, you can add a bit more substrate.
Now it’s time to set up your heat and humidity tools. Read the instructions very carefully regarding placement in or on the terrarium. Make sure the heat lamps and humidity misters are not close together to avoid damaging either one.
Finally, it’s time for décor. Install any plants or vines, making sure your snake can climb the vines and wind through the plants. Add your moss and/or live plants. Add your water dish and basking rock, as well as any hiding spots.
Warm the tank to the correct temperature for your breed prior to putting the snake into its new environment. Once you have placed the snake, do not handle it excessively. It can take lots of time for your snake to adjust to this new environment. As the snake becomes more comfortable, you should be able to handle it at will.
MAINTAINING THE HABITAT
After your snake has become familiar and comfortable in its new home, it is critical to maintaining the habitat.
Check the temperatures frequently, both of the terrarium overall and the basking area. Make adjustments as needed to maintain a healthy pet.
Change the water daily. As we already said, sometimes snakes will defecate in their water dishes. Soiled water is a breeding ground for bacteria and can endanger the health of your snake.
Clean the terrarium once per week. Put your snake in a plastic tote with air holes in the lid. This will do for a temporary container. Make sure to snap the lid on tight to avoid escapes.
You will need to replace the substrate, wash the tank, clean the lamps and humidity misters, change bulbs as needed, wash the artificial plants and vines (always use green cleaners when washing to ensure safety for your pet), care for live plants, and possibly replace the liner. If you have a burrowing snake, they can burrow into the liner and tear it. Always have an extra liner on hand for such occasions.
Once you are finished with maintenance, reassemble the terrarium in the same way. Place everything back in its original position to make sure the snake doesn’t feel like it’s in a new environment.
If any part of the terrarium begins to break or become worn, it is time to build a new one. To keep your snake comfortable, when you replace the terrarium, buy as many of the exact same components as the original habitat. This will keep your snake comfortable and avoid a new adjustment period.
THE FINAL COIL
A snake can be an outstanding pet. They are generally sociable, like being handled but also tolerate a solitary life. Your terrarium is a substitute for the snake’s natural environment. The best way to show you care about your snake is to recreate that natural habitat as closely as possible in your terrarium.
As you consider buying a snake, don’t skimp on the research. Some breeds are better than others depending on how often you will be there to handle the snake, how long they can live, what they survive on, how large they will grow, and if you can leave them alone for extended periods of time.
While snakes are not as time consuming or high maintenance as dogs or cats, for the discerning animal lover, they can be a positive addition to your home and your life.
Thank you for taking some time to read this article. Please let me know below in the comments on how your terrarium came out. Read here about: SNAKE HEATING PADS – 6 OF THE BEST HEATING PADS FOR 2019