Caring for a young snake
As most people buy snakes as hatchlings this care sheet is to give some general advice on keeping baby snakes.
Always read up and get as much information and advice as you can on your animal before buying it. Make sure you have the vivarium etc., set up and running for 24 hours before you get your snake.
Whether you get you snake from a shop or a breeder make sure you see it feeding even if it means going back on feeding day and make an appointment. If you are fobbed of for any reason be wary and go else ware.
A young snake should look in good condition the skin and eyes bright unless it is due a shed and the eyes will be opaque or milky. Look for mites on the snake around the eyes or vent. Mites are very small reddish brown the size of small pinhead and can be very difficult to eradicate. Mites should not be confused with other insects that can come in on some substrate materials which are harmless. When you start using substrates like Aspen or Beech chips it is a good idea to put it in the freezer overnight to kill anything off. Or you can just bag the amount that you are going to use and freeze this for a couple of hours. Vivariums: As the snake is a hatchling it will not require a large vivarium and they will do extremely well in one of the plastic tanks sold for hamsters, mice and other small animals look at our plastic tank range I would recommend the Fer-Plast or the Exo Terra Faunariums.
Young snakes being at the bottom of the food chain are quite nervous and think everything is going to eat them so are very secretive when you first get them and may hide away for a week or two. Though they soon learn that you are not a threat with careful and regular handling and soon settle down.
After the first year or eighteen months they will be getting too large for the plastic tank and you should be thinking of a proper vivarium. I would recommend getting the full size vivarium that your snake is going to need. This means less expense and I feel better for the snake as they now live in this for the rest of their lives which can be up to 25 years + In some species. They learn the smells and layout of their home and become very settled and less stressful.
Décor: This is important as it will give your snake something to explore and move around in rather than a bare tank. A water bowl is a must always pick one that is stable and does not tip over easily. Even a small snake can get under a bowl and tip it over. I prefer the solid resin types that are flat bottomed and very stable, the Exo Terra and Royce water bowls that we have are all ideal. The choice is yours rock or bark finish etc. Choose one that is not too small as most snakes love to bathe especially as the come into shed.
The water dish should be checked at least daily and changed daily as some snakes will use it as a toilet.
A hide or cave is a good idea as it gives the snake a feeling of security and doubles up as a moss box when they are due to shed. When the snake is due to shed about every 4 weeks roughly in hatchlings, place some damp moss or sponge into the hide or cave this gives them a damp area making it easier for them to shed the old skin.
The Exo terra range of caves and hides is excellent from the plain cave to the Snake cave and the Rock outcrops the Royce range is also excellent looking like bark. Chose one that is not too big as they like to be able to feel the sides around them for security. Always give them a choice of two hides one at the warm end and one at the cooler end. Plastic plants are really up to you and will set your vivarium up and look more natural. Vines and branches can be used as most small snakes like to climb amongst the branches and it gives them something to rub against when shedding.
Substrate: We recommend that you use kitchen paper or newspaper for the first year or 18 months this makes it easier to clean and also stops them from ingesting bits of substrate like wood chips, sand or aspen which can cause impaction of the gut in small snakes. When they are bigger they can generally pass any through their systems.
Heating: Use a heat mat that covers about half the vivarium floor. If you are using a plastic tank then the tank stands on the heat mat. If the vivarium is a wood one the heat mat should be taped down onto the floor only use the paper decorating tape as other tapes are dangerous if the animal accidentally gets wrapped up in it. A better method is to place a flat slate roofing tile or tiles on top of it. This is to stop the snake from getting under the heat mat.
Always use a thermostat with any heating system this will stop the heat mat from overheating as the new heat mats can get quite hot especially the higher wattage ones. It is also peace of mind; there have been accidents and even fires when mats have been used without a thermostat.
Lighting: Lighting is for viewing but I like to give my snakes some light with 2% UV they look better and the skin colours are brighter. There are a couple of choices Fluorescent tubes, you will need a starter and a tube this depends on the size of the vivarium and there is a large choice to choose from on the valueaquatics pages. Or if you are using a plastic tank then a simple desk lamp over the top will suffice or an exo terra reflector clamp lamp and a uv2.0 bulb type fluorescent. I prefer these to incandescent bulbs as they do not get too hot.
Feeding: All snakes are Carnivorous so they have to be fed as such. As this is only intended as a beginners guide I will not mention the specialised feeders but talk generally. So the food will mostly be fed are defrosted frozen rodents, these you can buy frozen from your pet shop or reptile shop. What you feed depends on the size of your snake a good general rule of thumb is to feed a defrosted rodent that is no fatter then twice the girth of your snake. A hatchling should take a pinkie mouse every 5-7 days. Due to their feeding response they will look hungry and be searching more food do not be fooled into over feeding one rodent per week of the correct size is sufficient. After two - three months try a fuzzy mouse if it takes it all the better and you can start feeding these once a week. At a year old they should be on small mice and at two on extra large mice or small rats. Snakes are like people and grow at different rates it all depends on food, feeding and species.
Get your snake used to being fed outside its home I feed all mine in one of the RUB (Really useful Box) these have lockable lids and come in many different sizes from Staples etc. Put the defrosted rodent in the box then the snake and lock the lid down and allow the snake to eat in its own time. With most of this type of box there is a light gap around the inside and the lid so I have glued down some foam strips around the inside top edge as small snakes can squeeze through. Semi adults and up are too big to get out.