Many pet snakes hail from tropical regions and require a cage that's warm like their native habitat. Even snakes that come from temperate climates must have access to a warm basking spot to thrive. Providing this heat for snakes is one of the key components of their husbandry and requires careful forethought, product selection, implementation and monitoring.
Thermal Needs of Snakes
The specific thermal requirements for snakes vary with the species, age, size, gender, reproductive condition, digestive condition and individual. It is important to research the needs of your pet, but in general, tropical snakes require ambient temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s Fahrenheit, with a basking spot in the low 90s. Temperate snakes typically thrive in habitats about 5 degrees cooler, though a 90-degree basking spot is still ideal. Night temperatures can drop into the low 70s for most species; snakes from rain forests require slightly warmer nighttime temperatures than those from arid regions.
Establishing a Thermal Gradient
Contrary to popular thought, snakes do not always seek out warmth. Wild snakes spend a lot of time thermoregulating by moving between warm and cool microhabitats. Additionally, snakes will adjust their postures to speed or slow their rate of heating based on their current needs. To facilitate this, place the primary heating source at one side of the cage; this way the snake will have a variety of temperatures to choose from. Snakes generally seek higher temperatures when they are ill, digesting food or pregnant. Be sure that each side of the enclosure has hiding spots so that the snake does not have to decide between heat and security—often they will choose security.
Providing Supplemental Heat
Use a primary heating device to provide the basking spot; in most cases a heat lamp or radiant heat panel is the best choice. It is also possible to provide this basking spot via heat tape or heat pads used under the cage. In some cases the ambient cage temperature will be warm enough without further heating devices. If you must raise the ambient temperature, use low-wattage light bulbs, additional heat panels or heat tape. Avoid commercially produced faux rocks and branches that have heating elements inside; these items have a high rate of failure and may burn your animal.
Measuring and Controlling the Temperature
A quality digital thermometer is necessary for measuring the ambient cage temperatures and the air temperatures under the basking spot. Additionally, in the interest of preventing burns to your snake, a non-contact infrared thermometer allows you to measure the surface temperature of objects. Thermostats are not necessary for heat lamps, but are required for safely using radiant heat panels, heating pads or heat tape. The thermostat will adjust the power going to the device in order to maintain a consistent temperature.
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