Snakes: many people fear them, but they still manage to be some of the most fascinating creatures on the planet. Their movements are beautifully coordinated and fluent, and, unfortunately, their actions are often misinterpreted as dangerous, defensive, or threatening when they’re really just being themselves! And speaking of being oneself, the first step to being a good snake owner is to be yourself! Snakes can sense our emotions; they can sense our anxieties, the slight increase in our heart rates, and if we’re uncomfortable, they are uncomfortable. So relax! In rare cases are snakes outright aggressive, unless, of course, you are dealing with an aggressive breed, but this post isn’t about those guys. This post is about the most docile of their kind: corn snakes and ball pythons!
Note: this post is only about corn snakes and ball pythons because I have only owned those two types of snakes. I cannot say with complete confidence that other types of snakes are cared for in the same way, so do research on how to care for other breeds.
Here is what you will need to take care of your snake:
- 10-29 gallon tank
- mesh wire lid
- aspen snake bedding
- a “house”
- water dish
- heating pad
- heating lamp (pythons only)
First you will need to buy a living space. A 10-29 gallon tank should work, depending on the size of your snake. As they get older, they will need to have more room to move around, so the 10 gallon tanks should only be used for younger, smaller snakes. As they hit adulthood, they should be pretty long, and they will need the space to move horizontally and vertically, so they can fully stretch out! Once the snake gets to a larger size, consider upgrading the size of their tank.
Next on the list is a mesh wire lid. I’ve mentioned this type of lid in other posts, but this one needs to be a very specific type. By this I mean that it needs to be able to lock into place. Snakes are very strong, and they can take the top off of a lid that simply site on top of the tank. Usually, lid locks are bought with a tank, so finding one that locks should not be an issue. Do not place anything on top of the lid– this will disrupt the natural airflow and could potentially cause the lid to break!
Aspen snake bedding is a special type of bedding for– you guessed it– snakes! Unlike cedar shavings, aspen bedding is soft and can retain a good amount of moisture, which is crucial for snakes during their time of shedding. That being said, do not put cedar shavings in your snake’s tank. Additionally, don’t forget to periodically change your snake’s bedding. Remove the dirty substrate after they defecate, replacing it with the same amount of fresh material, and be sure to completely clean your snake’s tank every few weeks; clean the tank itself and the “furniture” (bowls, houses, etc), and provide fresh bedding. Finally, the bedding should be an inch or two at the bottom of the tank.
For a “house,” I recommend using a store-bought reptile log. They’re beneficial for several reasons, the most important being that they come with a rough exterior that aids the snake in shedding. It’s something they can rub against to help with the process. It also provides the snake with a place to rest. The water dish can be anything that holds water, but don’t make it too deep or too shallow. Reptile dishes and logs are sold at almost any pet store, so these two items are the least of your worries.
The heating pad should be placed on the exterior of your tank underneath where you decide to place their house. This pad is important for maintaining the warm temperature in the tank, which, for corn snakes, should be anywhere from 75-85 degrees. This temperature, as you’ve probably guessed, is also important for shedding purposes, but since corn snakes are pretty climate resistant, they wouldn’t mind too much if the temperature was a little cooler.
Ball pythons, however, require a little more heat. Their temperatures should not fall below 75 degrees, but that’s on the low end. Ball pythons typically require what’s called a “basking area” where the temperatures range from the upper 80’s to mid 90’s. This can be achieved by placing them under a heating lamp or purchasing a stronger heating pad. Ball pythons should not be kept under intense light for long periods of time, so do not keep their lamp on for more than 12 hours consecutively! The temperature when the “basking area” is not being utilized should be upper 70’s to mid 80’s.
The hygrometer and the thermometer measure humidity and temperature respectively and should be placed on the inside of the tank, attached to the glass. Place them at the halfway point in the tank on opposite sides of the glass; the thermometer should be on the side the heating pad is on. Corn snakes and ball pythons require a humidity of around 50-60%. When shedding, give them a little more humidity by placing a damp, warm towel over the top of their lid.
Please be respectful of your snake. They can be cranky just like we can. If you notice that your snake seems to want to be left alone, try to interact with them at a later time. They may be in the process of shedding, still full from their last meal, tired, or just in the mood to be left alone. Pay careful attention to your snake’s personality (some will be friendly, some will be shy), and be sure to respect them. If you trust and respect them, they will do the same for you.
Note: do not clean anything in your snake’s tank with chemical cleaners! Chemicals are extremely harmful to them, and it could lead to an untimely death. Instead, dilute vinegar with water in a 3 to 1 part ratio, or use salt. This is much safer for your pet, and it is just as effective at killing germs. Be sure to clean their tanks often to avoid a case of mites.
Note: give your snake a bath every once in awhile, especially after you’ve cleaned their tanks! Don’t fill the tub up too much; they should not be completely submerged. Do not add in soap or any other chemicals, and the water should be around room temperature, more warm than cool.