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Heating your snake is one of the most important aspects of husbandry. At the outset, you must thoroughly research the needs of your pet, including his range, habitat and climate. Additionally, you must have the right equipment to deliver appropriate heat. Radiant heat panels are the safest and most effective means of providing heat to your snake, though you will also need monitoring equipment to ensure that he stays comfortable.
Research Your Reptile
Nearly 3,000 snake species inhabit the globe, and different thermal preferences are found throughout the group. Some inhabit deserts, basking in temperatures that would cause other snakes to retreat, while other species are adapted to brisker climates, and require very cool nighttime temperatures. In all cases, you must research your pet’s needs and wild habitat so you can replicate it in captivity. In general you need to know the average nighttime low temperatures and average daytime highs, and whether your species is one that prefers to bask frequently to adjust its temperature, or a species of the deep forest that does not thermoregulate very much.
Establish a Gradient
Always supply your pet snake with a thermal gradient—a range of temperatures. This way he can warm up or cool off as he chooses. Do this by placing heating devices at one end of the cage, creating a warm side and a cool side. Though the thermoregulation behavior of snakes differs from one species to the next, most species will adopt a daily cycle of basking and cooling.
Radiant Heat Panels
Radiant heat panels offer numerous advantages over alternative heating methods. Radiant heat panels produce heat without producing visible light—though pit vipers, boas and pythons can see the heat coming from the panel just as with any warm object in their vicinity. Decoupling your pet’s lighting and heating fixtures allows better control of his environment, as you can adjust each parameter separately. Additionally, while you cannot use a thermostat with your snake’s lights, you can—and should—use a thermostat with a radiant heat panel. Finally, radiant heat panels do not get hot enough to burn your reptile as light bulbs and hot rocks can.
Monitor the Temperatures
In order to provide the best possible climate, snake keepers need two tools in addition to their radiant heat panels: a thermostat and a digital thermometer. The temperature in the room in which your snake resides fluctuates over the course of the day; without a mechanism to adjust heat output to offset these fluctuations, your snake’s cage can become too hot or too cold. Thermostats work to keep cage temperatures constant by adjusting the amount of heat that the panel produces, regardless of external temperature fluctuations. As your thermostat may malfunction or be improperly calibrated, a digital thermometer allows you to verify that your animal’s cage is the appropriate temperature. Some keepers prefer to use infrared, non-contact thermometers. It is important to note the distinction between air temperatures—as measured by a traditional digital thermometer—and surface temperatures—measured by the non-contact variety.
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