Snake_Introduction | Housing
| Disinfection | Environment |
Inspection | Feeding |
Transporting | Initial
Veterinary Care | Signs
Of Ill-Health | Quarantine |
Related Topics |
References & Further
This Page | Snakes For Sale |
Snakes do not only make interesting pets, but it is also popular to collect snakes, sometimes together
reptiles, as a hobby. With about 2 300 species, varying in shape,
colour and size,
it is easy to select the appropriate pet snake that will suit
you. The name herpetoculture among hobbyist might as well have been
"snake keeper". Snakes are quiet, usually docile, do not stink and you need little effort
from your side to keep them happy and healthy.
This page will give you the
general care sheet for snakes. For more details on a specific
species use the appropriate link on the Snakes
or Care Sheets pages.
With enough snake breeders right around the world it is easy to go
out and buy a local bred, healthy, non-poisonous exotic pet snake.
There is no need to go out and try to catch
a potential dangerous snake from the wild.
As with all indigenous animals, it is illegal to own, keep, breed, trade or transport indigenous snakes in
most parts of South Africa without a permit from Nature Conservation. Because of
various laws and regulations protecting indigenous fauna, it is easier to purchase popular captive-bred species
that originated from an another country (exotics). Refer to the
Reptile Permits section for more information on reptile permits
in South Africa.
Wild caught snakes
can harbor and transmit various infectious diseases and parasites
to the rest of an established
snake or herptile collection. Captive bred and wild caught
snakes can also transmit some pathogens to humans and other
non-reptile pets. Refer to the
Quarantine section for more info on quarantine and
other bio-security related issues.
Pet snake prices varies considerably. Prices range between R20 and R7 000 depending on
age, species, gender, availability, breeding status, origin and physical condition of a snake.
Some colour or pattern variations like for example albinism
(absence of melanin or black pigment) and striped are more expensive.
buying a new-born snake remember to make sure the snake is in good health, is a good eater
and has at least shed once or twice. Some pet shops and breeders
do not allow the exchange of live animals after purchase.
Find out whether the snake is male or female and if possible
also get the date of birth, the
scientific and common name, the size of the final enclosure size
the expected size of the snake when it is mature etc. More info
will make it easier to properly care for the new pet. Make sure
to call the seller and ask if there are any uncertainties.
A healthy snake will have a well fleshed body with no , no visible cuts or
abrasions, clear, alert eyes, regular tongue flicking, no signs of mites or ticks and a clean nose
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Different snake species should never be housed together. Some of the kingsnake and milksnake species tend to be cannibalistic and
two of the same species (i.e. male and female) should not even be housed together.
Snakes are masters of escape. Whatever enclosure or cage is used, make sure it is secure.
Snake are quite strong for their size and they are more than
able to climb up impossible surfaces, lift unsecured lids and to squeeze through small openings.
It is said that when the head can go through a much thicker body
can easily follow.
The main idea of housing a snake is to give it a large enough
environment where it can live, grow and breed normally during
its stay. Notice the practicality of an enclosure in terms of
cleaning and disinfecting and some other aspects like heating
Most reptiles will grow larger
than its captive environment allows and will keep on
growing and become miserable when the proper sized
enclosure is not provided. Always find out what the mature size of an animal
is going to be before
taking it home. Do not be fooled by a small sized snake
before enquiring about the age. It is known that some pet shops deliberately underfeed snakes so that they
look small and cute. A snake can also be small for its age when
a pet shop do not know how to, or do not bother to
spend money on food to feed snakes or on the correct heating
The sides of a snake enclosure should be smooth,
non-abrasive and preferably non-absorbent. Smooth edges will
prevent self inflicted injuries and waterproofing will prevent
absorption, subsequent expansion and deterioration of the
panels. Popular materials with both these properties include glass,
plastic, plexiglass, stainless steel and melamine covered press wood or super wood.
Enclosures made from wood, press wood or super wood must be
sealed with polyurethane or a similar non-toxic, waterproofing
agent and the seams should be caulked to allow easy cleaning and
disinfection. This will also prevent potential parasites like
mites from hiding between the panels. To prevent inhalation of
potential toxic fumes the fresh polyurethane must be
allowed to dry for several days while the cabinet is thoroughly
Consider something small for new-born and juvenile snakes.
Youngsters tend to get nervous when they find themselves in a
too large environment. It is preferable not to house more than one
hatchling in the same container. Larger and older snakes will generally not mind some extra space, but
keep in mind that some individuals or species might. The mature size of medium and larger snakes
species must be kept in mind before buying or constructing a final cage or enclosure.
Medium and large frame ground dwelling snake species need a
floor space of
at least between a half and a full length of the snakes length, squared.
a snake which has an adult size of about one meter will
ultimately need a floor space of at least 500 cm² (1 m /
2 = 500 cm²). Some hobbyists also recommend using enclosures in
which the sum of the length and width are equal or longer than
the length of the snake. The cage
should be enlarged by
25% or more for each newly added individual.
Aboreal snakes spend more time climbing
than on the floor. With these snakes
the bottom area of the enclosure or container can be a bit smaller than the recommended
floor space for ground dwelling snakes, but it
should be high enough to add a branch
or two and some artificial plants or logs for climbing. To
handle the weight of the snake, climbing branches should be at least the
same width or thicker than the body of the snake. With bigger
and higher enclosures it is relatively more difficult to obtain
the correct temperature ranges (discussed
a bit later on this page).
Enclosures should be adequately ventilated A permanent
supply of fresh, draught-free air is essential for optimum
health. The ventilation will not only have an effect on the air
quality, but it will also regulate the temperature and relative
humidity of the enclosure (discussed a bit later on this page).
Holes can be manually drilled
in the sides of larger self made cages. Commercial ventilation
vents are also available from some hardware stores. Ventilation
holes should be small enough to prevent snakes from escaping. For proper ventilation the holes should not be too high up in larger
and on at least two opposite sides or the enclosure. Most cages
has ventilation holes only at the back. Holes can also be
drilled on the lid in the case of small containers like lunch
and ice-cream boxes.
Small snakes can be housed in small to medium size lunch boxes, ice-cream boxes or
in size. Small ventilation holes can be drilled in the sides and/or in the lid of the box.
Small to medium acrylic containers marketed for small pets,
or so called Pal Pens or "Desert Dens"
are also commercially available
from most pet
For bigger snakes, anything large enough will be appropriate. Glass
tanks or aquariums used for fish make good housing and can be cleaned
and disinfected easily.
The lid should have a tight fit and should have adequate
ventilation holes. Cabinets with
sliding glass-fronted doors, or so-called vivariums are also widely
used. Melamine coated press wood or super wood and fiberglass
cabinets might be a good idea as it is easy keep clean and to drill holes in for
ventilation. More stylish pine or oak coated cabinets are also
Glass tanks and acrylic type containers, having three times
as much open viewable sides than cabinet type
containers have the disadvantage of being
very "open". Snakes cannot always
understand why they cannot go forward when "there is nothing in the way". This
might lead to self inflicted trauma and avoidable stress.
For large species, like some of the Python and Boa species,
extra large cages
or rooms are commonly used. Before actually getting to the final
adult sized enclosure, the current enclosure should grow as
the snake grows. Large snakes should have at least five changes
during their lifetime.
For those who are not sure about a cage or container, there
is always the option of buying a snake cabinet or vivarium
and all the necessary accessories from a professional snake
breeder or a pet shop. The professional breeder or
seller should also be able to help with the current and final size of
a cage or container.
Different types of enclosures for housing snakes.
a & b Smaller
acrylic containers; c Addis™
container; d Aquarium;
e Melamine cabinet;
f & g Oak
coated cabinets; h Converted fish tank. Note that the bottom of the
lid of this tank is reinforced with heavy materials to make it
more escape proof.
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should be cleaned and
disinfect at least once every two months. Reptiles can carry potential diseases
in their mouths, on their skin and in their faeces which can infect
humans (zoonosis) and other animals. Droppings should be removed as soon as possible by either
replacing the substrate or by taking it out manually. Soiled water bowls should be removed
disinfected and replaced with fresh water.
Enclosures should be washed thoroughly with a soap
/ detergent mixture after which it should be
washed or sprayed with disinfecting solution like Milton™, Jik™
or a suitable Veterinary F10 product. These and additional
products is available from veterinarians and reptile
friendly pet shops. Follow the instructions mentioned on the label
of the product that is used. Allow for at least 30 minutes
contact time (or the time mentioned on the bottle of the
product) and rinse
cage decorations, water bowls and substrates should be washed and
disinfected in the same way. Non-washable substrates should be replaced
chemical disinfection, containers and decorations can be left
outside in direct sunlight for ultraviolet disinfection and to dry.
To prevent the transmission of harmful pathogens from
snakes, the hands and arms of a handler should be washed with a
proper skin disinfection product directly after contact with
these animals. their enclosures or cage furniture. Possible
pathogens include the much discussed Salmonella group of
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The overall physical characteristics, growth and reproductive
performance of an animal (phenotype) are the summation
of the potential coded in the genes (inherited from the parents) and
the direct environment.
An unfavorable environment can have detrimental effects on the
phenotype. To prevent stress, the environment of a captive snake should be as
close as possible to its natural environment. The most
important aspects of a captive snake's environment are the temperature,
humidity, the availability of food and hiding. Food is an indirect element of
the environment. These and some of the other aspects of the
environment are discussed below:
Refer to the
page for more information on the use of suitable substrates for
Water Bowl & Hiding Place
Apart from water intake, snakes also use moisture to cool down (also
known as thermoregulate)
and to aid in the shedding (ecdysis) process.
When temperatures become too hot or it is time to shed, captive snakes
will often choose to spend some time in the water bowl. Water bowls should be large enough to facilitate the
entire body of the snake.
snakes get most of their water requirements from the food they eat.
Even if this
is the case, fresh water should always be available for these captive snakes. Water bowls should be rinsed
and washed on a daily basis and disinfected weekly or when soiled with
faeces before being replaced with fresh potable water.
A Corn snake (Elaphe guttata guttata)
drinking water from a natural looking water bowl;
B Dog water
bowl on top of a custom made hide box. Note the hole in the side
of the water bowl where the snake is passing through. This water
bowl serves as an additional hiding place;
C Adult Corn
snake (E. g. guttata) submerged in his water
Important properties for adequate water bowls
include size, ease of cleaning, durability and aesthetic
properties. Bowls used to feed dogs, plastic
containers, large lids, water baths or similar items can be used as appropriate water bowls.
Avoid using water bowls that can tilt or prevent tilting by
strategic placing or by placing a heavy object such as a rock in
the bowl. Make sure the water bowl is secure if it is used as
additional hiding place. Any degree of water spillage should be cleaned and
dried immediately. Custom-made "pool type" bowls can be made with clay, cement or
a bit of imagination.
Snakes might get nervous when housed in a too large environment.
To feel safe, they
like to squeeze into small spaces like tunnels, between bricks and rocks
and under flat
objects. This sense of security can be supplied by adding
hiding, or objects where snakes can hide in. Large plastic water bowls
with an appropriate sized opening in the side can serve as
attractive hiding places can be made from rocks or pieces of
wood or bark or are sometimes commercially available. Make sure
these structures are secure! Commercial snake hide boxes made from wood or
plastic are also available. Empty shoeboxes, plastic containers, wood boxes
or something similar with custom made openings can also be used.
Some of the different types of water bowls & hiding
available for snakes.
a Large & small plastic dog bowls
with an opening in the side;
b Artificial wood bowl
& artificial hollow log for hiding; c Artificial-stone water bowl.
Temperature is literally how hot or cold it is. It is a very important aspect of the environment
of captive snakes. Unlike
mammals, reptiles are ectothermic (relying on external heat
sources to keep their body temperature at a suitable level) and poikilothermic
(having a variable body temperature which is dependant on the
external environment). When there is no external heat, i.e.
supplied via external heat sources, snakes will cease feeding,
have a reduced metabolic rate, become lethargic
and susceptible to disease and can eventually die. Wild snakes
regulate their body temperature by basking in the sun or by lying around in-
or on hot
When captive snakes get cold they will move towards the warmer areas
of the enclosure
like close to a hot rock or heat pad.
When a snake's body temperature gets too hot it will move to
cooler surroundings. This is termed thermoregulation.
It is impossible to determine the exact temperature range for each
and every individual snake or species. The correct temperature is dependant on the time of
the year, the size/age of the snake, the
breeding status, whether it is male or female, its feeding status and the species itself.
The normal temperature range for most snake species range between 25 and 30 ºC
/ 77 and
86 ºF. Larger species and desert species might need higher temperatures
species might need cooler temperatures. A drop of about 5 ºC / 40 ºF during the winter or
during the night will in most cases not do any harm or can
even be beneficial and are sometimes necessary
to induce breeding or
Snakes can be allowed to thermoregulate by placing the
desired heat source on one side of the enclosure with a natural
heat loss gradient away from the source, i.e. towards the other
side of the enclosure. The gradient should exceed both ends of
the optimum temperate range for the species by 1 or 2 degrees C
/ 30 degrees F. In smaller enclosures the heat source should
only be allowed to emit about one third of the total floor area.
In larger, walk-in enclosures multiple heat sources might be
Various commercial thermometers are available to read and monitor
temperatures. The price of a thermometer is usually
dependant on the accuracy and reliability. The more
expensive digital thermometers are generally more accurate, but
are dependant on some sort of energy source for operation. Thermometers on thermostats
can also be used to monitor and control temperatures. Which ever
thermometer is used, it is advised that it is
permanently and securely mounted into the enclosure for constant and easy
monitoring. A thermometer should preferably be installed on
both sides of simple enclosures on in multiple locations of
In the warmer parts of South Africa, like in the northern
provinces and Kwazulu-Natal, no heating equipment might be
necessary for most captive species. A sunlit room i.e. room
with a sun roof
should be warm enough during summer, even in temperate areas.
When room temperatures drop below the recommended range
appropriate heating equipment must be installed.
The best option when it comes to external heat sources for snakes is
low-output heat pads or heat strips. Appropriate heating
equipment is available from most reptile friendly pet shops. Smaller pads/strips give off more heat per area
and are generally warmer when touched directly. Heat pads and
strips should always be covered by the substrate of the
enclosure to prevent direct contact.
snakes are kept in one room it might be more economic to heat
entire room with a normal heater. Make sure not to overheat the
room. This will obviously only work for species which need a
similar temperature range. When keeping species with different
temperature needs in the same room, the room temperature should
be set to the requirements of the more cooler or temperate
species and additional heating should be installed in the rest.
dangerous! When working with electricity, caution must be taken
at all times. Buy accessories that are approved by the SABS or
any other quality regulatory body.
Seek assistance if you do not know what you are doing!
Electrical equipment & their wiring should be inspected at
least every six months.
Refer to the Accessories & Other Stuff for
Herptiles section for more information
on heating equipment for snakes
Electrical heating equipment can and sometimes should be used in conjunction
with thermostats to obtain and maintain the correct temperature
range. Thermostats can "sense" the environmental temperature and
switch the heat source on when the temperate is too cold or
switch it off when the temperate is too high. Some thermostats
can also be connected to cooling sources such as fans to reduce
the temperature when the temperature gets too hot. Whatever
thermostat you use, make sure whether it intended to read air or
water temperatures (i.e. aquarium thermostats). Some aquarium
thermostats will also work outside water. Refer to the Accessories
& Other Stuff for Reptiles section for more information
on thermostats for snakes enclosures.
When other (more dangerous) heat sources like spotlights, infra red lights and heated-
or "hot rocks" are used, direct contact with the
snake should be prevented at all times. Snakes are know
to explore and coil around these objects to seek warmth which can
lead to avoidable thermal burn wounds. When the abovementioned
are connected to electrical thermostats they are the most dangerous
When the unit is switched off the animal coils around
it, and when the electricity is switched back on again
the snake burns itself before sensing it. Refer to the Accessories & Other Stuff
section for more information on other heat sources for snakes.
To prevent thermal burns, heat pads and strips should be
covered with a heat transmitting substrate to prevent direct contact. Another reason for covering heat
pads is that the glue that
keeps the layers of most heat pads together gets hot, melts and the layers get
separated, leaving a strong,
sticky, lovely looking hiding place for a snake. See the Suitable
Substrates for Herptiles section for more information.
Heat pads or strips can be placed both inside ("in-cage"
heating) or on the outside (i.e. container is placed onto the
heat source). The amount of exposure of these sources can be
adjusted to attain the desired overlapping temperature and
temperature gradient, but it should never be allowed to emit
more than about a third of the total floor space. In-cage heat
pads and strips can be folded and coiled to expose the desired
The relative humidity (RH) is defined as the degree of evaporated
or vaporised water molecules in the air.
The term is
expressed as a percentage and can be measured with a hydrometer.
Tropical snake species need a significant higher RH compared
to non-tropical species, whereas desert species on the other
need lower humidities. Most snakes do not need a particular
humidity and no attempt should be made to alter it.
enclosure RH can be increased by any or a combination
of the following:
- Decreasing the amount of ventilation holes - make
sure not to remove ventilation totally
- Spraying the enclosure once or twice a day
with a spray bottle
- Placing a large shallow water container filled with
water over the heat
source - heat will cause water to evaporate slowly -
make sure to fill this container up as needed
- Adding electric humidifiers or mist makers and vaporizers
- Adding a hide box with a moistened substrate such as wetted
vermiculite, spagmum or peat moss
- Adding a large enough water bowl for the snake to completely
submerge itself under water
- Adding a wetted pot clay hide box
- By using water as total or partial substrate
Note: By reducing ventilation the humidity will be maintained for
longer, but the enclosure still needs to be adequately ventilated.
Rather try to increase the humidity instead of reducing the
ventilation to prevent water escape.
Vaporizers and humidifiers or mist makers can be connected to hydrostats
which can maintain the humidity on a desired range. This can
be used in combination with a hydrometer as backup monitor
tool. Refer to the Accessories
& Other Stuff for Herptiles
section for more information on humidifiers, hydrometer,
hydrostats and other accessories for snakes.
Shedding problems, dehydration, skin and respiratory problems can
all be due to inadequate RH. Snakes with chronic shedding
problems, i.e. partial or prolonged shedding, should be exposed
higher humidities. Higher humidities or ventilation
problems can also lead to a
buildup of bacteria and other parasites such as protozoans and
fugi. Skin disease like blister disease or "skin rot" is
associated with poor husbandry in conjunction with a high RH. To overcome this problem, high humidity
enclosures should be cleaned and disinfected regularly.
Most captive kept snakes are nocturnal (mainly active
from dusk to dawn - at night). Light will be more important to the keeper than to the snake.
Natural or skylight
entering an enclosure through a rooms window are
usually enough, but additional in-cage lighting such as
artificial lights are more necessary when the terrarium is used for
decorative or displaying purposes. Where strict breeding environment standards
are enforced, artificial light is also necessary to have
accurate control of the photoperiod. Refer to the
Photoperiod & Brumation / Hibernation section for more information.
Low output fluorescent lamps, so called energy saving light
bulbs or long fluorescent tubes is the preferred artificial
light source for snakes. These light units emits a low light illuminance or
(quantity measured in lux), have a low wattage / are economic to run and
usually does not emit significant amounts of radiant and local
heat which will prevent it from interfering
with the environmental temperature and are safer for
snakes to coil around.
unprotected incandescent light bulbs in snake enclosures. These
bulbs usually give off a lot of local and radiant heat which can
interfere with the environmental temperature and can induce
severe thermal burn wounds when a snake coils around it!
When natural light is used to light up a snake enclosure,
i.e. skylight from an open window, it is important to prevent
cage contact with direct
sunlight. Glass is a potential light
magnifying medium and can heat up
enclosures to extreme temperatures. Refer to the Accessories & Other Stuff for
section for more information on different lighting methods for
Light also have a qualitative property. In some reptile species
(incl. some snake species), full spectrum lighting (UVA and UVB)
are necessary for normal physiology. Various artificial lighting
bulbs and tubes are commercially
available at specialized pet shops or reptile friendly vets.
Make sure to buy products specifically designed for snakes,
and more specifically the type of snakes.
When a snake does not need full spectrum lightning rather use
normal fluorescent lamps or tubes to regulate the photoperiod for
breeding. When a
snake does not need full spectrum lighting it will not benefit from it even if it is
supplied. Whether a snake needs extra light will be stated in its particular
Care Sheet on
page. Also refer to other literature sources for species that
are not mentioned. Refer to the
Photoperiod & Brumation / Hibernation
page for additional information.
Decoration & Cage Furniture
Enclosures used for displaying purposes or so called
terrariums might need appropriate
decoration and cage furniture. Snakes might also feel a bit more at home and less
stressed in natural scenarios. Even if a total natural
environment is created, the
health and safety requirements of the animal must still be taken into
consideration, for example, using a natural-looking water bowl or hide box
are more difficult to clean and disinfect and can lead to
the buildup of potential disease causing pathogens. Another
thing to take into consideration with extra decoration is that it will give more hiding
live prey which can make it difficult for a snake to catch or
kill prey properly. Proper overall cage disinfection might also be more
difficult in these scenarios.
Natural looking logs, pieces
of bark, rocks and driftwood can be used to decorate enclosures.
Items should be washed and disinfected,
especially when it was collected from outside. Commercial natural
looking and artificial water bowls, hide boxes and logs are also
available. Enclosures can also be decorated with artificial
or live low-light-tolerant plants.
Cage furniture which can be used to decorate display cages.
a Self-made root log; b Treated
logs (driftwood) & rocks can be bought from pet shops,
can be collected from outside.
Heavy objects such as rocks and big pieces of logs and
driftwood should be adequately secured. Objects must be
sturdy enough to prevent it from being moved or tipped by a
snake. Rocks should be secured on the bottom of the
enclosure's floor surface and not on top of the substrate to
prevent a snake from digging underneath it and potentially
When setting up a naturalistic environment, a more
aesthetic pleasing substrate such as forest leafs, wood
chips or bark, sand or soil can be considered. Some of these
substrates are commercially available, but can also be
collected from outside. The health
implications must once again be weighed up against the advantages of
having such a scenario.
Regular enclosure inspections are not only necessary to correct problems,
but also to prevent potential ones. Regular daily inspections include
water replacement and water bowl disinfection, faecal,
sloughed skin and uneaten food removal and to monitor the
functionality of the
heating and lighting equipment. We clean our cages at least
once a week / when necessary. Ultraviolet (UV) lighting should be replaced
every six months or according to the recommended
manufacturer's requirements. Normal non-UV lighting should be replaced when
faulty. All electrical equipment and their
wiring should be inspected at least every six months. Full enclosure
disinfection should be done as needed or every two months.
Enclosure inspection records includes
cleaning/sterilizing dates, UV replacing
and electrical inspection dates. For easy reference these
records can be stuck on the
side or the back of enclosures.
Most captive kept snakes are rodent-eaters. Species that will mainly
feed on something else, for e.g. eggs, insects, toads, birds, other snakes, etc. will be
discussed in their particular care
sheet on the Snakes
page or in other appropriate literature resources.
Snakes swallowing their prey. a &
b Corn snakes (Elaphe
guttata guttata) eating a mouse; b
Snow corn snake (E.
Except for hatchling and baby
snakes, food is generally offered on seven to ten day intervals. Very
young, active growing snakes can be fed after defaecation (usually
three to five days after feeding). Breeders can start to
sell babies after they have
shed and had at least one or two normal meals. Buyers should
make sure that this is the case before purchasing any
Mice pinkies or pinks are the obvious choice when it comes to
hatchling and baby snakes. Very small
snakes often present with feeding problems. In this case only
very small one day old
pinkie mice should be offered. The size of the prey should be adjusted
as the snake grows i.e. from pinkies to fuzzies, hoppers, small adult mice, rat
pinkies, adult mice and adult rats.
FeederInsects for more information
on the keeping & breeding of rats & mice
Snakes should be fed ad libitum per feeding after which no
feeding should take place again until after defaecation. Larger snakes
like the some of the boa and python species will need rats, guinea pigs, rabbits and chickens. The diameter of the food can be anything
from the same to two times (sometimes more) the diameter of the snake itself.
Refer to the Reptile & Amphibian Feeding Problems
section for more information on problamatic feeders.
Individual snakes should be fed separately. Two or more snakes in the same
enclosure might go for the same prey which might end up in one
snake (usually the larger one) swallowing the other. When snakes are taken out of their
familiar environment they might choose not to eat - rather remove
the snake(s) which are not to be fed while feeding the remaining one.
While some snakes like to kill their food before eating, other may like their pray
already dead. In some countries like the USA, UK and South
Africa it is illegal to feed some live prey items such as
rodents and lagomorphs (rabbits) to snakes and other reptiles.
Larger snake species like the pitvipers and some of the boas and
pythons might refuse to take dead prey due to their thermal
dependant hunting methods.
snakes will eat live pinkies but refuse live adult food later in their lifetime and
vice versa. This preference may also change over time. Some snakes may kill its first and sometimes up to second victim and eat it, but are only
willing to take more food if the food is already killed. Sometimes a snake will kill three
victims after which it will start eating them one by one. Refer
to the Live
Vs. Dead Prey section for more information on which prey
items to feed to snakes.
Some snakes will take rats and mice by holding and wiggling
them by the tail.
Thawed or live food can be held in front of a snake for it to strike at. Most snakes will eat prey
placed in the enclosure, dead or alive. Blunt ended forceps can be used to
hold and wiggle
dead pinkies or fuzzies in front of smaller snakes. Offer food head first.
Refer to the Preservation
Of Live Prey section for
more information on how to preserve food.
Shedding snakes will almost always refuse to eat. Food
refusal might also be due to disease or stress, because the snake is still
satisfied after the previous meal or because of seasonal changer
When a snake refuse to eat on its attempted feeding day, the
feeder should wait
and try again the next day or week. It is normal for snakes not to eat
each and every week, just like it is normal for some snake
species to eat
less or not eat at all during colder or winder days.
When a snake refuses to eat for two or three weeks or more, the
possibility of non-induced brumation should be investigated or potential
housing or health
problems should be eliminated. Refer to the
Reptile & Amphibian Feeding Problems section
for information on how to get a snake to eat and the
& Brumation and the Record Keeping sections for
Although snakes are not particularly prone to primary
ingestion of nonfood items, they can still accidentally
consume pieces of substrate while swallowing prey. For this
reason it is recommended to feed snakes on a feeding
platform, such as a flat board or a shallow feeding
container when using a potential ingestible substrate. See
Suitable Substrates For
Herptiles section for more information on safe and
non-recommended substrates and other substrate properties
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As a snake grows, it simply becomes too big for its
current skin, which it needs to get rid off to be replaced by a new one. This
process is called shedding, sloughing or ecdysis. A few days prior to shedding the old skin starts to turn
grey/blue/white for a few days after which it will turn normal
again. The faded skin over the eyes are usually the most apparent. This condition is described as "going into
the blue" or "turning opaque". During this time
the snake cannot see optimally and may appear nervous and even
agressive. A snake will usually shed
within a few days after the eye colour has turned normal again. This
phenomenon of turning blue will not always be apparent and a
snake can be seen shedding after no indication.
After the snake's eyes colour turned normal
humidity can be raised to aid in the shedding process. A low RH
increases the risk of shedding problems. The water bowl
should be large enough to fit the entire body for the snake to soak
in. During this period particular attention should be paid
to the cleanliness of the terrarium and a rough dry surface, like a piece of bark, carpet or a rock,
can be added to the enclosure to rub against and start the peeling process.
Remaining pieces of skin on the body or eyes (retained
spectacles) should not be removed manually
before they are identified as causing (potential)
problems or hinders the snake in any way. After the peeling
process the skin should be inspected for retained
skin should only be removed by an experienced person or a
reptile friendly veterinarian. To soften remaining pieces of
skin before manual removal the snake can be soaked in luke-warm water
for a short period of time. Pieces of skin can also be
removed by placing the snake in a large enough container
filled with moist (not dripping wet) towels for the snake to
slither through. Skin should always be removed from the head
towards the tail.
Snakes may refuse to eat starting a long time before they are due to
this time they can also become very
aggressive towards people and live food. The new skin is very sensitive
and handling should be kept to a minimum around shedding until at
least one or two days after the shedding process has completed.
Snakes shed according to their growth rate. Newly hatched snakes often shed for the
first time within minutes after hatching. Young snakes may shed as regularly as once a
month and adults two to three times a year.
Snakes in various stages of the shedding process or ecdysis.
a A Corn snake (E. g. guttata) "in the
blue". Note the bluish discolouration of the eyes; b
A Corn snake starting to peal its old skin. The peeling
process can be aided by supplying a rough surface for the
snake to rub against; c The
same Corn snake shedding the rest
of its old skin.
Shedding records can be used to monitor
the growth rate, husbandry related humidity and health
status of individual snakes. Refer to the
section for more information on record keeping of snakes.
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Snake Handling &
When handling a snake the head should always be restrained
with one hand while the other hand is holding
the middle of the body. A snake should never be gripped tightly
and should be allowed to curl loosely around
the arm of the handler. It is extremely dangerous to allow
large boas and pythons to curl around the neck of a person. The
body of these snakes should rather be carried over one shoulder
while the handler controls the head. Never let irresponsible
adults or children handle snakes without proper supervision.
Most snake species will not wrap around your arm like pythons or kings. They tend to pick a
direction and go for it. Though small snakes are small in body mass, they are quite
strong. Always support the middle of the body. If the head starts going
into an unwanted direction, gently guide it into another direction. Many snakes are nervous when
introduced into a new situation. Give them a couple of days to settle down
before letting new people handle them.
Aggressive and poisonous snakes can be
lifted out of their enclosures with self made or commercially
snake grasping tools or any other snake handling tools. Before
handling such a snake make sure the head is secure before
picking one up. Strong sedation or tranquilisation might also be
necessary to handle, evaluate and/or treat injured or diseased snakes. Grasp firmly but gentle behind the head while
supporting the body with the the handling tool. While handling a
poisonous snake make
sure the head is secure at all times and that the snake is
unable to turn its head or snap.
Snakes should preferably be transported individually or in
familiar pairs. Small snakes can be carried in ventilated plastic containers with
newspaper, corn cob, vermiculite or dust free wood shavings as substrate.
Newspaper will only help for hiding. Larger individuals can be carried in escape proof canvas bags with a firmly tied
top or in large storage containers with adequate ventilation.
Multiple dry towels can be used as substrate in larger transport
Transport containers recommended for snakes.
a Small Addis™ container with
ventilation holes drilled in the lid & the sides; b
Larger Roller box container to transport large & giant
It is illegal to transport
indigenous snakes in most provinces in South Africa without a
transport permit from Nature Conservation. Transport permits might also be needed to transport exotic
species in and between some South African provinces. Please
contact the representative Nature Conservation before
attempting to transport exotic species between provinces.
Refer to the About
Reptile Permits in South Africa page for more information
on snake permits.
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Initial Veterinary Care:
All snakes (even healthy ones), should have initial- and
routine checkups done by
an experienced reptile veterinarian. Each snake should be
accompanied with a separate fresh faecal sample. Pooled
samples can be collected in the case of multiple snakes per
After the initial checkup,
it is recommended to have a snake for yearly checkups. The
vet will probably take a short history of the
husbandry, diet, etc., do a full physical exam from the
mouth to the tail tip, do a faecal
examination and should be able to answer any medical related
Common medical related conditions in snakes include internal
and external parasites with or without dehydration,
microbial infections, physical injuries and an- or dys-ecdysis.
Internal parasites include helminths and protozoans,
external parasites includes ticks and mites, microbial
infections includes bacterial stomatitis or "mouth rot",
secondary bacterial skin infections and various viral
infections. Parasites can be transmitted to other reptiles,
mammals and even to
humans (zoonosis). Various medications are available to treat
most of these
conditions. When some of these conditions are left untreated,
self-cure is impossible and it can lead to the ultimate
preventable death of the snake.
Faecal samples should be fresh and collected in
bags. Faeces can be collected with latex gloves or
grasped on the outside of an inside-out reversed bag which
is then turned back again to secure the faeces on the
inside. Bags should be identified with a permanent marker with
the owners name, contact details, collection date and
the name or description of the snake. Hands
and arms should be washed with a proper skin disinfectant after faecal collection. Individual
samples should preferably be collected in separate bags.
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Signs Of Ill-Health:
A lot of snake diseases are caused by incorrect or improper
husbandry and management. Listlessness, failure to eat over several
weeks, regular regurgitation of meals, dehydration and
slow emaciation can all be signs of ill health. Other signs include mucous
pouring from the mouth or nostrils, growths or exudates in the mouth,
blisters on the skin and
changes in appearance of the waste or urate portions of the
colour, consistency, frequency). Animals showing these signs should be presented to a reptile veterinarian with a faecal or
regurgitation sample enclosed in a ziplock™ bag as mentioned in
the Initial Veterinary Care
section above. These animals will need symptomatic treatment
before or while a diagnosis is being made. Daily observation is
important to catch potential problems early on.
Snakes with ectoparasites such as ticks and mites must also be dealt with. With proper instructions
from a veterinarian,
this is something the keeper can manage at home if the infestation is mild.
When ectoparasites are allowed to escalate they can
ultimately lead to the death of their hosts.
Dehydration can be assessed by looking at the skin around the neck
of a snake. If this skin forms wrinkles and puckers, the snake is
severely dehydrated and must be presented to a vet. Dehydration
is usually secondary and can be due to ill health, severe vomition/regurgitation,
diarrhoea and endoparasites. The vet will either administer subcutaneous
fluids or explain and show the keeper how to force fluids.
Dehydrated animals generally
refuse or are unable to eat and cannot digest food and emaciation will set in if the condition is allowed to continue untreated.
Dehydration can also lead to secondary problems such as respiratory infections, parasites, other problems and
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Quarantining animals ensures that no subclinical transmittable diseases
are transmitted from new to established animals in a
collection. A new snake should be
quarantined for at least six months before it can be safely
introduced into a new collection. Quarantined snakes should be kept in
seperate containers in a separate room and air contact between rooms should be
minimized. Procedures such as feeding and cleaning should be
done last in the quarantined area (i.e. after the
established animals are looked after) and the hands and arms of the
in-contact handler should be washed and/or disinfected with
an effective disinfectant before moving from one animal to
the next. It is during this period where individual snakes
should be observed closely for poor appetite or any signs of
ill health. A elective inspection by a reptile veterinarian
is also recommended. Refer to the
& Amphibian Quarantine section for more information on
how and why to quarantine any new snake.
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"If you think I should add more information to this section,
think that something is incorrect or you have any additional information regarding
keeping of snakes, use the form below or
go to our contact page to get in
touch. I would love to hear your ideas or methods you might use
that is different than ours."
Last updated 23 May 2008 by Renier Delport
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only to buy healthy animals from reputable pet shops and
breeders. Make sure to buy animals that are captive bred in your
own country and that it is not illegally imported or caught from the
"If you've read
something funny, or heard something that sounds out of place,
use your common sense before applying. It is extremely important
to do research from more than one source (before buying
or accepting a new animal). For additional information, browse other internet pages, read
related magazines and books and talk to experienced people."
Suitable Substrates For
Accessories & Other
Stuff For Herptiles
How To Rehydrate A
Snake Burn Wounds
Reptile Permits In South Africa
Photoperiod & Brumation / Hibernation
Rats & Mice
Live Vs. Dead Prey
Preservation Of Live Prey
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Bartlett, R.D. The 25 Best Reptile And Amphibian Pets. Barron's
Educational Series, Inc.
Brames, H. Aspects Of Light And Reptilian Immunity.
Iguana Volume 14, Number 1, March 2007.
Mader, Douglas, R., 2006 Reptile Medicine & Surgery,
Second Edition. Saunders Elsevier.
Alderton, David, 2001 The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Small Pets
Benson, Keith G.,1999 Reptilian Gastrointestinal Disease.
W. B, Saunclers Company
Mattison, Chris, 1998 Keeping
& Breeding Snakes, Second Edition. Blandford.
Mattison, Chris, 1994 A Practical Guide To Exotic Pets.
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Snake_Introduction | Housing
| Disinfection | Environment |
Inspection | Feeding |
Transporting | Initial
Veterinary Care | Signs
Of Ill-Health | Quarantine |
Related Topics |
References & Further
This Page | Snakes For Sale |
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