Humidity is important in our lives, and without water vapor in the atmosphere, the surface temperature of the earth would be much cooler. But then again high humidity can be pretty uncomfortable and actually be detrimental to our health.
High humidity conditions encourage mold growth and mildew, and these can lead to dangerous allergies and asthma. So if we as humans battle with humid conditions, what do the earth’s creatures have to say about it, particularly snakes? Having a reptile for a pet is quite different from caring for a cat or dog. Unlike a cat or dog, a reptile’s very health depends on its environment – they require the right heat, humidity, and lighting.
UNDERSTAND THE NATURAL HISTORY OF YOUR SNAKE
It is important to get to know the natural history of the snake you ‘re going to keep as a pet and to set up home for it appropriately – making it as close to nature as possible. Temperature and humidity in a terrarium require ongoing observation. You can’t just set the temperature and humidity and think that it will suffice day after day, month after month. Adjustments will be needed to cater for the changes in your pet.
Many people just assume a snake needs humidity but there are snakes that require far less humidity. Therefore, lower humidity in these snake tanks may be required. A desert species snake for instance which is placed into a high-humidity environment will never be able to cope with the excess water vapor in its lungs.
Before setting up your pet’s micro-climate, find out all you can about the needs of your particular snake pet. The needs of various species are very specific and you can’t just keep different species together in the same enclosure. Likewise, one standard humidity doesn’t apply to all snakes. Needs will certainly change within your snake’s enclosure, depending on species and the stage of life the snake is at.
WHAT IS THIS ALL-IMPORTANT HUMIDITY?
It’s the amount of water vapor in the air, measured in relative humidity and expressed as a percent. When humid air is warmed, it becomes dryer as it expands. A hygrometer is necessary to monitor humidity. It is used to measure relative humidity, and usually, there is one hygrometer in the enclosure for this purpose. It’s not easy trying to get the right environment for a snake and there are many tropical species that require these humid, warm environments, while others do not.
Reptiles most times require higher or lower levels of humidity, depending on where they come from. The wrong humidity for your snake’s enclosure can be catastrophic. Too high and your snake can develop all manner of skin infections or even pneumonia. Too low and a snake can become dehydrated and die.
As already discussed, there are many ways to provide either more or less humidity to your pet snake. Some snakes that require low humidity can get by with a water bowl, but others may need a bigger water bowl and a mister and then an automatic misting system may be a good idea.
HOW TO LOWER HUMIDITY IN A SNAKE TANK
Some snake owners have trouble keeping moisture down in a snake enclosure. You can’t afford to have the vivarium too damp as your pet could even develop scale rot. Scale rot is a bacterial infection often found with captive snakes and can occur because of an over-moist condition in the enclosure.
To lower humidity, for starters, replace the large water bowl with a smaller one and simply place it at the end of the snake enclosure. Most snake vivariums have a warm and a cool end so you need to place the bowl in the cool end.
Another idea is to replace the enclosure’s lid with a mesh screen and to look at a drier, more moisture-absorbing substrate. You can also increase ventilation by making some holes in your snake’s enclosure and allowing humid air to escape and cooler, drier air to flow in. Bear in mind also that plastic enclosures tend to hold on to humidity more than glass terrariums. Plastic retains heat more, so if you’re battling to bring the humidity down, you can try switching to a glass enclosure.
A dehumidifier is another fairly good solution for lowering excessive humidity. It isn’t likely that you will need a dehumidifier running all the time as you don’t want to totally dry out the environment, but rather to bring it within the 30-40% range. There are small, portable dehumidifiers for lowering humidity for reptiles. Desiccant dehumidifiers range from small units to those which can be used for an entire room.
WE LOOK AT THE HUMIDITY REQUIREMENTS OF 4 DIFFERENT SNAKES
|Ball Python||West Sub Saharan Africa (grasslands, savannas, and sparsely wooded areas.||50%||Water bowl and misting during shedding only|
|Kingsnake||The Americas (varied habitats – forests, swamps, grasslands, deserts, and suburbia)||40 – 60%||Water bowl, misting and high humidity retreat during shedding only|
|Corn Snake||North America (trees, forest openings, abandoned buildings)||40 – 60%||Water bowl, misting|
|Amazon Tree Boa||From northern South America, Amazon Basin east of the Andes.||80 – 90%||Water bowl, misting 2x daily|
Snakes are reptiles and they’re cold-blooded or ectothermic and they raise their body temperature by coming out of the shade and lying in the sun. The body temperature of the snake changes to the temperature of its surroundings. When a snake is in a cold environment it is unable to keep its temperature above that of its surroundings.
Snakes living in colder climates will hibernate through the Winter. There are close to 3000 snakes species in the world and they live in forests, deserts, and the ocean, but you won’t find snakes in Antarctica or north of the Arctic Circle as they wouldn’t be able to survive such icy conditions.
NOT ALL SNAKES HAVE THE SAME HUMIDITY REQUIREMENTS
The first thing you need to realize is that not all snakes have the same humidity requirements, and that means their cages will need to be set up differently. There are snakes that come from areas in South America with high annual rainfall and a snake from this area will require a cage with quite a bit of humidity. It will be different for a desert snake of the American south-west which will require far less humidity.
If the humidity level in your snake’s room remains at an appropriate level, you may not need to do much. If you’re keeping a popular pet snake species such as the corn snake in a room that averages 50% to 60% humidity, the humidity won’t need to be increased much.
SHEDDING A GOOD TIME TO GAUGE HUMIDITY
If you find that humidity levels are low, you can either increase the relative humidity in the room or within the cage itself. The secret to knowing whether the humidity levels are right is to monitor your snake at shedding time. The way your snake’s sheds will be a guide as to the correct humidity levels. When your snake sheds mostly in one piece, this is a healthy sign, and when it sheds in lots of broken pieces, this is indicative of poor health and improper humidity.
The shedding of skin, or ecdysis, is a natural process for your snake but which is dependent on many factors – species, nutrition, age, and humidity – and takes place roughly once a month.
Certainly, if the humidity in your snake’s enclosure is lower than the requirements of your snake so that he has trouble shedding, you’ll need to do something about it. You may want to look at increasing a room’s humidity simply by using a regular household humidifier.
CHECKING- AND INCREASING HUMIDITY LEVELS
There are a few ways you can check for- and increase the level of humidity inside a snake cage –
Know precisely what the humidity level is inside the snake room. Invest in a hygrometer which measures humidity levels and keeps one of these (available at a garden center or pet shop) in the room where your snake enclosure is.
A good idea for ensuring your snake has the best chances, is to also mount a small hygrometer within the snake enclosure. If you’re prepared to spend just a little bit more, you can get a thermometer/hygrometer combo and get to check out the temperature- and humidity levels all in one go.
Remember that the substrate you use in the cage also plays a significant role in humidity levels. There are some shavings and mulch which tend to dry out while others can increase humidity. That is why it is important to choose the best type of substrate for your particular snake species.
The amount of moisture in the air of your snake enclosure will usually be controlled by 3 variables – temperature, ventilation, and water into the atmosphere. There are a number of other ways to add moisture to the environment.
There are some snakes that need a pool of water in which to submerge themselves. This water will need to be changed frequently.
These add moisture by simulating low clouds and dew.
A humidifier supplies fresh, humid air to your snake’s terrariums. There are several types available including misters and foggers and you will need to research them and find the best for your particular breed. There are plenty of options, allowing you to buy a store-bought humidifier for your snake’s enclosure, but you can always make your own with little time and effort.
- Taking a plastic jar, drill two 1/4’’ diameter holes in the top of the lid, spacing them evenly and put the cap back on the jar.
- Insert plastic tubing into one of the holes and attach an air stone to the end of the tubing.
- Add water to the jar so that it is two-thirds full. Place lid back on the jar, with the airstone resting on the bottom.
- Plug the other end of the tubing into an air pump, attaching the tubing to the outflow.
- Insert the second piece of plastic tubing into the second hole and see that it rests 1” below the top of the lid. Ensure it doesn’t touch the water level.
- Insert the loose end of the second piece of tubing into your snake’s enclosure, feeding it through one of the holes in the lid.
- Turn on the air pump and you’ll see bubbles forming inside the jar from the air stone. Moisture will be forced into the enclosure through the other tube. Add more water to the jar as needed.
With a drip system, the water constantly drips into a pool at the bottom of the cage, and in this way humidity levels can be increased. These systems are usually made up of a container of water above the cage with plastic tubing and holes which drips water onto the plants.
These natural looking waterfalls are usually made from materials which prevent the development of harmful bacteria. They can be installed anywhere in the terrarium, with water circulation being provided by a pump which is usually included. These waterfalls come in sizes small, medium and large. There are some snakes which will thank you for providing them with running water from which to drink.
Some people keep a spray bottle close at hand which is an affordable, low-tech way to add humidity. All that is required is to simply spray the enclosure at intervals. Can be a little bit unreliable if something happened to you and you were unable to continue spraying the enclosure.
A LITTLE BIT OF INFO ON MISTING?
The whole purpose of these misting systems is to maintain vivarium humidity. Keeping a snake requires you know what humidity is normal for the reptile in its native habitat. If you need to maintain high humidity in your snake’s enclosure or vivarium, a misting system is an easy way to do it.
There are truly simple set-ups and there are also those more sophisticated, automated misting systems. Among the different misting systems, there are a number of basic fundamentals to think of.
You will want a misting system that uses very little water and which just provides a fine mist or fog. You get a low- or high-pressure system, with most low-pressure systems operating with less than 40 or 50 psi. High pressure is more than 100 psi to even 250 psi.
The higher the pressure of a misting system, the better it creates a fine mist. It won’t soak the vivarium. In fact, low-pressure systems tend to be less efficient, producing a coarse spray almost like rain effect. It goes without saying that the type of misting nozzle you go for will play a role in the type of mist produced.
IT’S A FINE MIST YOU WANT
For a high-pressure system, a stainless steel or brass nozzle, for instance, is capable of producing a nice, fine mist. You’ll find for irrigation purposes, the output of misting nozzles is measured essentially in gallons per hour. Gpm or gallons per minute is more useful for low-output nozzles for humidity-creating purposes. The nozzles you want for a vivarium misting system will, therefore, more likely to be rated using gpm. Nozzles need to deliver only a fraction of a gallon per minute when operating under high pressure.
NOTHING BUT PURIFIED WATER FOR YOUR SNAKE
Of course, we all know that regular tap water is problematic these days – full of minerals and chemicals that can make one sick let alone our pet snakes. This water can seriously jeopardize the health of your snake as well as the plants you have in the vivarium.
Not only that, if you use tap water it won’t be long before you experience your nozzle clogging. You’ll also notice a hazy film that covers your tank glass. Without knowing about it, you may wonder why you’re having difficulty with seeing through the enclosure’s glass. The solution is purified water.
You can buy distilled- or purified water and eliminate the need for a water filtration system. The other way is to incorporate a water-filtration system into your misting system if you will be using your municipal water source. A basic carbon filter is a minimum requirement, capable of reducing some of the most harmful compounds. You may need to do further research on these filters so you can be really safe when it comes to the welfare of your snake.
THE BALL PYTHON AS A PET AND ITS HUMIDITY REQUIREMENTS
Ball pythons hail from the northwestern part of Africa – an essentially arid or semi-arid area. These snakes do well in enclosures with a normal level of humidity – 50% to 60% range.
When you include proper hydration for your snake as in good water bowls with a constant supply of fresh drinking water, your pet ball python should have the moisture levels it requires to be content. An indicator that all is well with your ball python is his shedding habits. Dehydration will mean a problem known as Dysecdysis – problems with shedding the skin, where the skin comes off in many broken pieces.
Other health issues include upper respiratory tract infections and even anorexia and regurgitation, leading to weight loss in your snake. The shedding process requires a lot of moisture. When your snake is preparing to shed, you can increase the humidity level to about 65%. If you have an under-the-tank-heater for instance, you can place the water bowl above it so that it acts as a humidifier, albeit a rough and ready one.
The heat will warm the water which will encourage the water vapor to rise. As already suggested, you could also be looking at a substrate material that increases the humidity inside the cage. A good example of this kind of substrate is cypress mulch. Also, if you’ve got a glass terrarium screen top, you can partially cover the top to help retain moisture.
Snake experts often say that a plastic snake cage is a good idea because they are enclosed all the way around, making it easier to control the level of heat and humidity inside.
THE CORN SNAKE AS A PET AND ITS HUMIDITY REQUIREMENTS
Corn snakes are crepuscular/nocturnal. And just as there is bright daylight in the wild, your pet corn snake will require a day/night cycle in captivity. Providing terrarium-specific lighting for your corn snake is needed for regulating the snake’s natural biorhythms and the lights should be on 12 hours a day.
Studies show that UVB can be beneficial for a snake’s mental and physical health. If you want to ensure ideal temperatures for your corn snake, you’ll want different temperature zones across the terrarium. When it comes to humidity, corn snakes do well between 40-60% humidity.
These levels are important for your corn snake if you want your snake to shed well and to help maintain respiratory health. Remember, as suggested previously, you can maintain proper humidity with a good substrate and a decent sized water bowl. Unless you are living in extremely dry conditions, this humidity range will do well with your corn snake.
TOO MUCH HUMIDITY AND YOUR SNAKE CAN DIE
A reptile such as a snake requires heat for instance for their many biological processes – fighting off disease and digesting food. If the enclosure you’ve rigged up for your snake isn’t warm enough, it can succumb to infection. Then again, if you heat the enclosure too much, the snake can overheat and die.
Reptiles like snakes are such popular pets that manufacturers of pet accessories have had to rethink and redo their product offerings. Reptiles suit the modern lifestyles of today and birds, gold-fish, cats and dogs are no longer the standard pets for children and adults. These manufacturers know that those keeping snakes and reptiles have to replicate the natural environment of their pets as closely as possible.
Humidity is a key ingredient, affecting life, health, and reproduction in the life of a snake. Dehydration will result when water and humidity aren’t provided. Nasty skin conditions can develop when humidity is too low or too high. Researching your pet’s natural environment is extremely important for determining moisture requirements and ensuring the best for your wonderful reptile pet. Thank you for reading this article, I hope it helped you. Please feel free to leave a comment below. Read more about other snakes like the Blood Python.
SageJournals. Ophidian Spectaculitis and Spectacular Dysecdysis: A Histologic Description. Available at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0300985815588605
ADW-Animal Divrsity Web.Python regiusBall Python, Royal Python. Available at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Python_regius/
PetMD – Reptile and Amphibian Center. Corn Snake – Pantherophis guttatus. Available at https://www.petmd.com/reptile/species/corn-snake