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Snake Keeping - It's Easier than You Think!

The Basics of Snake Care

Cinnamon Spider Special Ball Python (Python regius) - Source: Arcane Exotics

Snakes can be some of the most rewarding pets in any animal lover's collection. Choosing one of these stunning reptiles as a pet may seem a bit intimidating, however, there are several reasons why snakes make the perfect pets.

These amazing creatures are super easy to care for. Caring for snakes varies between species. However, the basics are simple. 

Snakes typically only eat once a week. Some can go two weeks without eating, and others even more. Snakes are opportunist feeders, meaning that they'll eat whenever food is available. This does not mean to feed your snake daily.  If fed too often, your snake will eventually struggle with obesity, which leads to other health problems. Be sure to do your research before obtaining your new pet, so that you can determine how often to feed your snake.

Most snakes are sufficient eating a rodent diet including mice and rats. Be sure to feed appropriately sized rodents to your pet. Some other snakes feed on more complicated prey, such as frogs, lizards, or even carrion. It's difficult to continue buying frogs and lizards to feed to snakes, so it's always best to begin with a snake that eats a strict rodent diet.

The rule of thumb when it comes to feeding snakes is feeding prey no larger than the thickest part of their body. Some snakes stay relatively small and can continue eating mice at an adult age. Other species of snakes may grow to massive sizes. For example, reticulated pythons (Python reticulatus) are the largest snakes in the world, and they can eat prey as large as rabbits. Some have been known to eat pigs successfully. Male royal pythons (Python regius), commonly known as ball pythons, can take down small rats at their adult size.

Snakes come in several different sizes. Some stay relatively small, and others grow to massive lengths. For example, Kenyan sand boas (Eryx colubrinus) range from 18 to 24 inches in length. Kenyan sand boas are very small snakes, and western hognose snakes (Heterodon nasicus) stay in the same size range. If you're interested in a small snake, these two species are definitely worth looking into.

Average sized snakes range from 3.5 feet to 5 feet in length. Don't let snakes this size intimidate you. Snakes this size are all perfectly manageable, and cannot seriously injure you. Ball pythons (Python regius) and corn snakes (Pantherophis guttatus) are prime examples of average length snakes. 

On the other end of the scale, we have the largest snake recorded in the world: the reticulated python (Python reticulatus). The length of the largest snake to exist is heavily debated. Some sources say the largest reticulated python in the world is 25 feet 2 inches, whilst other sources state that the longest recorded snake is 32 feet 8 inches. Regardless of which source is correct, twenty-five feet alone is a very impressive length for a snake. 

It's always best to research different types of snakes in order to see which species is right for you. It is recommended that first-time snake owners go with a beginner snake, such as a Ball python, Corn snake, Kenyan sand boa, etc. These beginner snakes are a fantastic starting point for the first-time snake owner, and won't require too much time or maintenance. Their size is also a plus, since they typically grow to a smaller, or average size.

If you were thinking of going simple with your snake enclosure, by all means, go ahead! You don't need a fancy or expensive set-up to please your scaled friend. Most snakes will suffice with a tank, bedding, hideboxes (one on each side of the tank), heat source, and a water bowl. It's really that easy! Most local pet stores, not to be confused with chain pet stores, will often give customers discounts when they buy a set-up for their animal. 

Breeders often house their snakes in tall, simple, space-efficient shelving units called rack systems. Rack systems are very common, and snakes can be comfortably kept in these systems. Racks are often built from PVC board, but can also be built from wood or steel. Shelves are positioned at precise measurements, allowing for Rubbermaid or Sterilite tubs to be slid into the openings. Heat tape is secured beneath the tubs in the rear of the shelving system to supply warmth to the snakes. The point is, you can comfortably keep a snake in a plastic tub with a heat-pad, water bowl, hide, and bedding. If you plan to keep multiple snakes at a time, rack systems are going to be your best friend.

A lot of pet owners want to have immaculate enclosures for their animal, rather than a minimalistic set-up. You can complete your snake's enclosure with decorations such as Bamboo Bars, faux plants, naturalistic hides, and water bowls. There are also ways to make your own hiding spaces for your pet if you are feeling a little crafty.

When decorating your enclosure, keep in mind the locality of the species that you're adopting. If your snake is from the rainforest, try to mimic the rainforest. If the species is from the desert, mimic the desert. However, do your best to stray away from sand as a substrate. Sand can be dangerous to reptile gastrointestinal tracts.

Substrates are quite easy when it comes to snakes. You can successfully keep most species on paper towel, or even newspaper. However, these types of bedding aren't the easiest to spot-clean. Bedding such as aspen, coconut fiber, or cyprus mulch can be spot-cleaned much easier, and look a lot nicer than paper. Please note that reptiles should never be housed on cedar bedding, as it is dangerously harmful to all reptiles. Stray away from using sand as substrate as well. Be sure to conduct your own research on specific snake species that you're interested in keeping. This helps you understand which bedding type will be required for your pet to thrive.

Since snakes are cold-blooded animals, they cannot create their own body heat. Snakes rely on external heat sources to keep warm and healthy. Due to this, snakes require a heat lamp or a heat mat. Snakes take in heat through their bellies, so it may be better to provide a heat mat in contrast to a lamp. Lamps simply heat the air around the snake, and have proven to keep the animal warm and healthy. It is all up to your personal preference as to which heat source you choose.

Snakes make fantastic pets for anyone, including those who work for long hours or travel. Snakes do not have to be fed daily like your average pet, nor do they require large amounts of upkeep. Some species require a little more care than others, so it is always best to do your research before acquiring an animal. Overall, snakes are relatively easy to keep, and can be rewarding pets.

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