Snakes can be great pets too!
When you mention pets, most people automatically think of dogs or cats, but they are so many other great pets out there. Like snakes!
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. But they do require some care. Do not think you can just put a snake in a box and basically forget about it.
And much of the work of owning a snake comes before you ever even bring it home.
Snakes are fairly sensitive to environmental changes, so you need to set up a habitat for your new pet that mimics its natural environment. Only then will it feel comfortable in its new home.
This can seem like a daunting task, but we’re here to help. We will teach you how to make a terrarium habitat for snakes. By the time you get to the end of this article, you will know everything you need to properly welcome your new pet home.
Table of Contents
- 1 How To Make A Terrarium Habitat For Snakes
- 2 Setting Up Your Snake’s Habitat
- 3 Creating A Snake Habitat: Final Thoughts
How To Make A Terrarium Habitat For Snakes
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 (30 x 12 x 12 inch minimum).
Make certain it comes with a secure lid, so your new friend doesn’t 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. Or you could just get a larger enclosure to start with.
The market for terrariums offers a wide variety. We reviewed the best snake terrariums to help you find the right one.
Exo Terra is one of our favorite brands and they offer a lot of options. They have a starter terrarium of 12 x 12 x 12 inches. 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 (24 x 18 x 12), 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.
But Exo Terra isn’t the only player in terrariums. Carolina Custom Cages is our favorite brand and they have a ton of options. Most of them are larger, but they do have a great 36 x 18 x 18 inch terrarium with double hinged doors, screen ventilation, and room for a substrate heater.
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, or understand that you will need to upgrade later.
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), they are poisonous to all snakes.
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 bedding 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 on the market. Reptichip offers our favorite, a coconut substrate that absorbs odors and helps keep the humidity of the terrarium level.
Reptile Prime also has a good 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. We prefer Reptichip’s bedding, but this is a good second option.
Our favorite cypress mulch is offered by Forest Floor Bedding. Theirs is an all-natural green product. Another great option comes from Galapagos. Their bedding gives humidity control and is made from sustainable timber.
Our favorite Aspen mulch is offered by Zoo Med. It is made from renewable resources and is 99.9% dust free. Unfortunately, it is often sold out. If that is the case, there are two other good options.
Galapagos also has aspen mulch bedding with high absorbency of odors, is good for burrowing snakes, and is made from sustainable products. Also highly recommended is Zilla aspen bedding, with ultra-absorbent, laboratory grade chips. It is hypoallergenic.
Lights And Heating
There seems to be a strong difference of opinion about snake lights among owners. For decades, most snake owners used the same lighting schemes as are used for amphibians. But it turns out that traditional lighting may not be necessary at all for most snakes.
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 dip 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 it to control its temperature.
The options for heating have gone beyond lamps. Nowadays, you can buy an under-the-tank heating pad, instead of using overhead lamps.
iPower offers an under-the-tank heating pad that gives you uniform heat and an adjustable thermostat. It comes in multiple sizes, from a 4 watt, 4 x 7 inch pad, up to a 24 watt, 8 x 18 inch pad. There are other heat mats, but they are all pretty similar.
When it comes to heat lamps, the options differ quite a bit more.
Repti Zoo 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. It does not give off any visible light.
Zilla produces a heat fixture that is great for both desert and tropical reptile environments. It also emits UV-B light, which is great for your snakes well-being.
Zoo Med offers a great combo lamp that has room for two bulbs, which gives you more options. You can give your snake two bulb types at once, like a UV and an IR bulb. Or you can have a daytime and a nighttime bulb in the fixture and simply turn one off and the other on when day or night start.
Keeping the environment in 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 snakes may seem like dry-skinned reptiles, they need a significant amount of moisture. However, each breed has a different humidity requirement. It can vary from 30% all the way to 90%. It is crucial that you do research on your breed to make sure you know the 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.
The best version comes from Galapagos. They make a leafy green moss that is sustainably farmed and good for a tropical habitat. It is highly absorbent,which helps it controls humidity.
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 hide. 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.
There are hideouts that are basically just plastic boxes with an entry hole, there are ones that resemble rock caves, ones that resemble logs, and really, ones that resemble almost anything. Here are some of our favorite snake hideouts.
You want to give your snake at least two of these hides, with one positioned in the hot spot of the enclosure and the other on the cooler end. This way your pet can regulate its temperature, while hiding, which makes it feel more secure and comfortable.
Other options for hiding places are bushes, branches and vines. They are not as good as hiding spots, so you’ll want to still have at least two of the above type of hides, but bushes and vines add a bit of extra hiding space.
Just as importantly, they offer your snake the chance to climb. This is especially important for arboreal snakes. Here are some of the best branches and vines for snakes.
It is best to have a mix of plants, vines, and hiding places. And ideally, they should resemble the natural environment from which your breed of snake comes.
That was a long list of accessories for your snake. If hunting down all this equipment just sounds like too much, there are complete terrarium kits available that are great for beginning snake owners.
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.
Full Habitat Kits
Zilla’s Reptile Starter Kit comes in two versions. The first is set up for the desert snake, including the terrarium, liner, humidity and temperature gauge, and two light fixtures with bulbs. The second is set up for a tropical snake. It includes the same items, but only one lamp.
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.
Bedding And Decor Kits
The bedding and décor kits vary widely, but most include things like bedding, hiding spots, moss, and plants. Let’s take a look at the best options.
Galapagos offers a Terrarium Deco Starter Kit for Dry Environments that comes with four types of moss and decorative stones. This kit only includes the decorations and not any of the actual enclosure equipment.
xyzReptiles creates a Corn Snake Kit Starter Habitat Setup complete with aspen chips, thermometer, heating pad, water dish, and tree trunk hiding spot. They have similar starter kits for other snake species, like a ball python and a boa.
A combination of a terrarium starter kit and deco starter kit can make the process much easier when you buy your first snake. But read the labels carefully! You don’t want to miss something critical for the terrarium.
Now that you’ve got all your supplies, how do you go about actually setting up your snake’s home?
Setting Up Your Snake’s Habitat
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. These are fake rocks that are 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 basking time.
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 above (coconut, aspen, cypress) and avoid plants that might be poisonous to your pet.
Snakes prefer to eat live prey; however, live prey can also attack the snake and injure it. If you are feeding it 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 is 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 completely 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 maintain the habitat.
Check the temperatures frequently, both of the terrarium overall and of the basking area. Make adjustments as needed to maintain a healthy pet.
Change the water daily. As 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 completely at least once a month. 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 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.
Creating A Snake Habitat: Final Thoughts
A snake can be an outstanding pet. They are generally sociable and 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. They can differ considerably in how long they live, what they survive on, how large they grow, and whether 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 do require care and attention. If you are willing to provide that, your snake will be happy and become a positive addition to your home and your life.