Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
 Issue 3   
March, 2007
Heating Snake Cages
In this Issue

by Barry Neilsen

Most snake cages are easily heated from below by putting a heating pad under about one-half of the cage. Heat pads come in many different forms, including the ones made for humans that are about one foot square and have low, medium and high settings, large fiberglass "pig blankets" originally made for farm animals, the stick-on type sold at pet stores for the bottom of aquariums, and thin strip heaters encased in plastic that come in a roll and are purchased by the foot. The last type requires you to do some basic electrical wiring, but you have the advantage of being able to cut off exactly what you need and, in effect, customize the length to your specifications. One of these strips, when laid out on a shelf, can heat numerous cages.

By putting only part of the cage on the heat pad, you give the snake a choice of temperatures. This is an important point that even some experienced snake keepers either miss or ignore. Some people with large collections may find it easier to just heat the whole room and use no heat pads to provide varying temperatures. Snakes can be kept this way, but it prevents them from controlling the single most important feature of their environment. Each individual snake has different temperature requirements from day to day as it goes through its natural cycles of eating, digesting, shedding skin, etc. By providing your captive with a thermal gradient (cooler and warmer zones), you give it the opportunity to choose the optimal temperatures that it needs to carry out these bodily functions efficiently.

There are basically two cage temperatures that you should be concerned with. Those are, first, the temperature on the floor of the cage at the center of the heat pad (the hottest spot), and secondly, the ambient air temperature at the cool end of the cage (the coolest spot). You want both of these extremes to be within the preferred range of your captive. This may seem like quite a trick, but usually it's not all that difficult.

However, be aware that just because a snake lives in a place that gets up to over 100°F on a regular basis during the day, that does not mean that it prefers those temperatures. Many species adopt a nocturnal lifestyle during warm seasons and come out at night, during cooler temperatures, to hunt for their food. You should locate your snake's house where it will not get direct sunlight, which could overheat it. Constant temperatures in the 90's F are dangerous for many species. Also, keep it away from any air conditioning units or cold drafts. Avoid temperature extremes, and many snakes will do well in normal household temperatures (70's F) if they have a properly regulated heat pad.

My recommendation to anyone serious about keeping their snakes healthy is to purchase and use digital indoor/outdoor thermometers with a high/low memory feature and a remote probe. One can be purchased for between $20 and $50, depending on where you buy it and the features of the unit, and it's well worth every penny if it keeps your snake from being burned or prevents it from getting too cold and falling prey to an infection. Digital thermometers will prevent you from making poor temperature decisions due to guessing wrong about how warm or cool your snake's environment is.

As seasons change, and the average air temperature in your house changes with it, your heat pad should be adjusted accordingly. Even day to day fluctuations from sunny, hot days to cool, rainy days will impact your snake's habitat unless you have it in a temperature-controlled room.

Here's one way to go about getting the right temperatures. Take the sensing probe of your digital thermometer and tape it to the floor of the cage near the center of the heat pad. This should be the hottest spot, and that's what you're looking for. With the heat pad on, zero out the memory of the thermometer and leave it alone to stabilize for a while. By checking the digital readout and clearing the memory occasionally over a period of a day or two, you can get a very accurate picture of the highs and lows at that spot as the ambient temperature in the room fluctuates. You can switch the indoor/outdoor thermometer to the "indoor" mode and see the room temperature displayed. This will be roughly the same as what it is in the cool end of the snake's cage. It's best to test these temperatures even before introducing a snake into the habitat you've set up. But even if you already own a snake, it's not too late to employ these techniques. It's "better late than never" when it comes to fine tuning the temperatures in your snake's home.

Extract from "Snake Keeping - Proven Techniques Everyone Can Use" by Barry Neilsen


Losing snakes

Mark Chapple

I thought it would be useful to print some email questions and replies I have recieved, particularly in relation to lost snakes. Anyone who has kept them would know they are escape artists and damn hard to find when they go missing. One of mine, in particular, works hard at squeezing through any space he can find. I had to extract him once from between two pieces of class in a sliding door when he was younger once and it took ages to do it without causing him any damage - I think was more damaged after I had finished!

The first email was from Rick, in Illinois.

I have a question for you and maybe you can give me some advice.

On 11/03/06 I purchased a maybe 20" hatchling from a breeder in Texas. It arrived to Illinois on 11/09/06. He escaped the next night. I found him today on 1/23/07! I was so excited! I put him in a sterlite container, hydrated him, and gave him a extra small weanling. He didn't eat it so I rewarmed it and put the weanling and him in a small container over night to see if he will eat.

Would you have any other ideas, I need help if he doesn't eat tonight. His brother and him are both Yellow South Texas Bull snakes they are so beautiful and I would really hate to loose him again this time permanently. Can you please give me some sound advice? His brother started on these weanlings and now is two and half feet long and eating small adult mice. Thank you for your time. Rick.

No need to panic at this stage. Can you get hold of some live baby mice? That might entice him. Also he/she is likely to be a bit out of sorts, being in a new environment. It would also have been fairly cool so he/she my not be particularly hungry at this point. Let it settle down for a bit without handling and give it a bit of time.

You didn’t say how long it was or whether it had grown much. I imagine you have put it into a warmer environment and again he might take time to adjust to that. I would make sure the temperature is right (75-85 F) and give it some time. As you know, they do not need to feed that often, so even a few weeks will not be an issue. It has survived for quite a while outside so that it is obviously a hardy beast!

Again, I wouldn’t worry if he does not eat tonight, as he could go many weeks in the cooler months without eating. I don’t feed my pythons for two months in the winter. Let it go for a week and try again. I would also get rid of the weanling once you have re-heated it and use a new one.

Let me know how it goes.

I just wanted to say you gave me some great advice and thank you very much he was 20 inches long or so when I got him. I received him through the mail on 11/09/06. He must have escaped in the night he has been gone 2 mo. 15 days. Back to his growth maybe a couple of inches. His brother I bought to replace him is probably 3 ft. long. Now I have two Yellow South Texas Bulls, which doesn't matter. I put a f/t small weanling mouse in a Dixie cup last night and to my surprise he had eaten this morning! I have several other reptiles to. Thanks alot and if you don't mind I may be coming at you with other ideas in the future.

This one was from Lisa:

my ball python has escaped n ive seen him under my floorboards upstairs,some one said to entise him out with food but as he hasnt eaten for a while i feel this wont work,he got out just before christmas.any ideas please? lisa.

I've had a couple dissappear over time. I lost one but the others have turned up eventually. Putting some water out would be good as that is one thing he will not be able to get there. It may be that there are some rats or mice to eat between the floorboards so that will feed him for a while.

The food doesn't work that well but he should come out when he goes hunting if he cannot get food under the floor. It's probably reaonably warm there so he will be able to survive. They can go for a long time without food but I would think that he shoud start to get hungry after about a month or so and come out. Look in high places. I've had friends discover them months later in sock drawers and all sorts of odd places.

Don't panic yet and just keep a lookout and some water somewhere.

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