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Snakes

 Behavior

Most snakes tend to be shy, solitary creatures. Depending on species, snakes may be more active during the day or at night. Some species are ground dwellers, while others prefer to live in trees. Snakes investigate their surroundings through a complex system of sensory organs. They use their tongues to sense smell and subtle air changes.

Housing

All snakes are great escape artists. Their enclosures should have smooth walls (such as aquariums, 20 gallon capacity or greater) and a lid with a secure locking mechanism or clips to prevent escape. Enclosures should be at least as long as the snake is and half as wide as the snake is long.

Whether the snake is fossoreal (spends most of its time under its bedding) or arboreal (spends most of the time in trees) dictates the enclosure height. Climbers need taller enclosures.

The temperature and humidity for each species varies, but most snakes should not be housed at temperatures lower the mid-70s and not higher than about 90°F with humidity levels between 50 and 70%. Heat sources can be over-the-tank heat bulbs or under-the-tank heat pads. Heat rocks are not recommended, as they often cause burns.

There should be a temperature gradient in the enclosure with one end of the tank as the cool end and the other as the warm end. Thermometers should be placed at each end.

As snakes’ body temperatures are determined by their environmental temperatures, establishing a range in tank temperature allows the snake to effectively regulate its metabolism and digestion. An ultraviolet light (shining wavelengths in the ultraviolet B range) should be provided to help the snake make vitamin D essential to calcium and phosphorus balance.

Ideal cage bedding is newspaper or other commercially available recycled paper product or reptile carpet (like Astroturf). Bedding should be several inches thick to enable burrowing and should be kept clean and dry.

Wood shavings, bark, chips, and soil are not recommended, as they are dusty, indigestible, and may contain parasites. Snakes should be provided with a hide box, a shallow water pan for bathing, and rocks (large enough to not be swallowed) for rubbing when shedding their skin.

Nutrition

All snakes are carnivores (meat eaters). Depending on species, their diet may include rodents, birds, amphibians, fish, invertebrates, and even other snakes. Most domestically-kept snakes thrive on rodent (mice, rats) prey.

Young snakes may initially only accept live food but should introduced to and fed only killed (or, at minimum, stunned) prey, as live prey may injure or kill a snake in the process of feeding. Most snakes fewer than 3 feet long should be fed once weekly. Larger snakes may only accept food every few weeks.

Healthcare

All snakes should be examined initially after purchase and then annually by an exotic animal veterinarian. Dietary and environmental requirements should be reviewed. Snakes should receive a complete physical examination, including a thorough check of mouth, scales and skin, heart, and lung.

All snakes also should be de-wormed, as most snakes carry gastrointestinal parasites. Proper preventative medicine can help avoid the development of disease and ensure the lifelong health of your snake.

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