This is not cheaper or easier than buying a store-bought hide! You should only attempt this if you enjoy the crafting process. If you are someone who doesn’t want to spend the time building your own hides (I don’t blame you… it takes a long time!), then I definitely recommend using something like Reptile Basic Hide instead.
STEP ONE: TINFOIL
The first step is rolling out and folding up some tinfoil.I used 3 lengths of about 8′ long side by side and then folded it up to about a 2′ x 2′ square (roughly, probably slightly smaller).
Then, find a bowl or something of similar shape to use as a mold for your snake hide. Stuff the tinfoil into the bowl!
Pop the foil out of the bowl and you’ll see you hide starting to take shape. You may also cut out a door hole at this phase.
STEP TWO: MASKING TAPE
Now that we have a rough hide made from tinfoil, the next step is covering the entire hide with a layer of masking tape. Both the outside and the inside of the hide!
Once the entire snake hide is covered in masking tapeyou can use this opportunity to add shape detail to the hide. By that I mean you can make the surface of the hide look more like a rock by adding indents and angles to the surface. I found giving the hide a good “whack” with an object worked well to create realistic looking indents.
STEP THREE: PAPER MACHE
Next up, paper mache! The entire snake hide needs to have at least one layer of paper mache.
Using the foam brush and glue, paint on the tissue paper in small strips over the entire surface of the snake hide (outside and inside).
Let the paper mache completely dry before proceeding to the next step. This usually takes anywhere between 6-12 hours. Use a fan to reduce drying time.
STEP FOUR: PAPER CLAY
Last step before we paint! Go to your local craft store, or Amazon and pick up some Paper Clay. I do not recommend making your own paper clay, store-bought paper clay is non-toxic when dry (be sure to read the package)… I can’t say the same about DIY paper clay.
Tear off chunks of the paper clay from the brick and begin spreading it across the top surface of the hide (no need to do the inside surface).
Paper clay air dries very slowly so this is your opportunity to etch in any additional details you may want to add, crevasses and cracks for example.
Once you have fully applied a layer of clay, allow it to dry and harden. This takes about 12-24 hours or 30-40 mins in the oven set at 170°F (keep an eye on it if you do this!)
STEP FIVE: PAINT!
Once your hide’s clay has hardened, you may paint it!
I painted my DIY snake hides in two different ways:
Whether you live in an arid climate or you care for a species that requires a high level of humidity (such as a rainbow boa or amphibian species), you’ll certainly need to know how to increase humidity in a terrarium!
SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE FOR MY VIDEO REVIEW OF SPHAGNUM MOSS
Sphagnum Moss is one of the best, natural ways you can increase your humidity levels.
Humidity vs Relative Humidity
Before we go any further it is important we understand what we are talking about!
Humidity: as you probably know is the term we use to describe the amount of water vapor in the air.
Relative Humidity: on the other hand, is the actual measurement of the amount of vapor in the air represented as a percentage of the amount needed to fully saturate the air at its current temperature.
Relative humidity is what you are working with when discussing humidity levels inside your terrarium. The reason it is “relative” is due to the fact that air is capable of holding different amounts of water vapor at different temperatures.
Warm air can hold more moisture than cool air as shown in this image below.
An equal volume of water vapor will result in different levels of relative humidity at different temperatures. Therefore it is important that you are trying to balance your reptile’s humidity levels after you have established the proper temperature parameters.
If you are looking for how to increase humidity in a terrarium… then here are the first two keys takeaways:
Higher relative humidity will require more water vapor in the air
You must ensure your temperatures are set properly for the species you care for before trying to establish proper humidity levels.
How to Measure: Best Hygrometer for Reptiles
Okay, so I understand what relative humidity is but how do you measure it? What is the best hygrometer for reptiles?
There are many digital hygrometers on the market, typically you can save money by buying one off of Amazonrather than your local pet store.
You have two options when it comes to hygrometers:
Inexpensive ($3-8), the two below are the ones I use (the white one seems to be more accurate, see below).Inexpensive hygrometers have two fairly serious faults. The first is that they are typically not that accurate and the second is over time they will become even more inaccurate as extended exposure to high humidity tends to damage the sensors.
Or expensive ($10-25). You’ll find high-quality hygrometers in the cigar hobby. Those guys are serious about there relative humidity! Cigar hygrometers are very accurate, can handle high humidity for a very long time and can be calibrated and recalibrated to maintain accuracy.
If Cheap Hygrometers are Inaccurate, Are they even worth it?
You don’t feel like spending the extra money on an expensive, more accurate hygrometer hey? I don’t blame you! I didn’t either. Fortunately, there is a way you can calibrate even the cheap units!
Instead of a ziplock bag, I used a Tupperware container like in this video:
Note: You need to wait the full 24 hours, as the video says. Not 6 like the wikiHow article says.
Your inexpensive hygrometer will not have a button to adjust the reading it gives you so it is just something you’ll have to keep in mind. For example, this was my result after calibrating my units:
This meant that the white hygrometer bang on but the black ones seem to read about 10-12 % high. There is nothing I can do to the black ones to make them display an accurate figure, instead, I just have to do some mental math every time I look at them.
NOTE: I redid this calibration about 1 year later and the white one then displayed 72% (i.e. 3 % low) and the black ones displayed 79% (4% high). As I said above, over time the inexpensive hygrometers will fluctuate in their accuracy.
How to Increase Humidity in a Terrarium
There are several different ways you can increase humidity in your animal’s terrarium. Your goal should be to set your enclosure up in a way that the relative humidity stays within your animal’s requirements with little to no regular intervention.
In other words, you should not be fighting with your humidity levels on a regular basis. Things should be set up in a way that your humidity natural sits in the healthy range for your specific animal.
How to Increase Humidity in a Terrarium: Various Methods
The more ventilation you have the lower you relative humidity will be. If you have an animal that requires high levels of humidity than limited ventilation is in order.
My Brazilian Rainbow Boa enclosure only has eight vent holes, four of them are shown below:
This one is pretty straightforward! The larger the surface area of your water dish, the more evaporation, the more water vapor in the air of your terrarium. Some people like to but their water dish on the warm side of the enclosure to illicit more evaporation. In my opinion that encourages bacteria growth in the water dish.
I like to use large plastic containers for my water dishes (without the lid obviously):
These are great substrates but keep in mind there affects on your terrarium’s humidity is not permanent. They will slowly dry out over time and no longer provide as much moisture as they did right out of the bag.
Misting your terrarium is one of those controversial methods! Many people say you should not use misting as a way to maintain humidity (unless of course, you are using it for your animal’s drinking water).
Generally, people say to avoid this method for two reasons: 1) it implies that you have not done a great job setting up your enclosure so it can maintain proper humidity on its own and 2) it can lead to too much sitting-water in the terrarium.
“Anti-misters” definitely have a point! This is a method that should be used sparingly but I do think it has its place provided it is done properly. If you are like me and have to deal with an extremely arid climate then misting may be a necessity for you on occasion.
When I mist, I make sure to mix around the substrate while I do it. I am looking to create a slightly moistened substrate and that is it, not sopping wet!
Sphagnum moss for Snakes and other Critters!
Just recently I tried outsphagnum mossby Zoomed and loved it! It is a very easy (and reusable) product that holds moisture for a very long period of time! I added it to my Brazilian rainbow enclosure and it maintained a relative humidity of over 90% for more than 2 weeks straight without having to be re-moistened.
I highly recommend this product if you are needing a boost in your humidity levels. Watch my full video review below:
See a pattern? Yep, pretty much every type of heat source should be controlled by a thermostat.
Why Use a Thermostat?
I don’t want to spend to much time writing about why a thermostat is necessary but here are the Cole Notes—Your reptile does not feel the temperature in the same way you do. Because of this, your animal can EASILY burn itself on a malfunctioning heat source… Google it… it’s horrible to see. Also, having an unregulated heat source is a fire hazard… you can Google that too if you like.
Best Thermostat for Reptiles: Types of Thermostats
There are two main types of common thermostats:
An “On/Off Switch” Thermostat
A Proportional Thermostat
On/Off Switch Thermostat:
This type of thermostat operates in the same way your room thermostat works by setting a minimum and a maximum temperature.
For example, if you want to maintain a hot spot of about 90°F you would set you the maximum temperature to 90°F. When the probe reads a temperature of 90°F the thermostat clicks the heat source OFF. The thermostat will also allow you to set a temperature for the heat to be switched back ON, typically 1-2° lower than the maximum temperature setting.
Typically On/Off Switch thermostats are relatively inexpensive, although due to the constant switching from On to Off they enviability wear out and break. I recommend checking your temperatures manually at least once per week (see below).
This type of thermostat is more advanced than the On/Off version above. A proportional thermostat operates by oscillating the electrical power being sent to the heat source.
In other words, it “smoothly” adjusts the heat source’s power to maintain a very stable heat. The heat source is on all the time but will go through waves of delivering more/less power.
These thermostats are usually quite expensive but for good reason. The quality is much higher than the On/Off thermostats and they are much more versatile. Typically they allow you to program in night drops and the really expensive ones allow you to run multiple heat sources with multiple probes. Definitely what you want if you have several enclosures in close quarters.
My Recommendations: Best Thermostat for Reptiles
Here is a list of thermostats I recommend because I personally use them. I will not recommend any “inexpensive” thermostats that I have not personally used.
•This was the first thermostat I had ever purchased and as I said in the ‘pros’ column, it does work as it should.
•But honestly, I only give this thermostat a 2 out of 5. The probe is annoying because it is so short and the tip is quite large.
Again, the thing functions but your dollars can go much further on one of the examples above.
If you are truly looking for THE BEST THERMOSTAT FOR REPTILES than these would be your answer! Here is a list of the two main proportional thermostats on the market. I do not have personal experience with them but they are both highly valued and widely used in the reptile hobby.
It is very important that the probe is kept outside of the enclosure (or if using a radiant heat panel the probe should be hovering in the air somewhere). If your animal has direct access to the probe i.e. if it’s on the floor, the temperature reading can be very inaccurate. This is because your animal can move the probe or even worse the probe could get wet and stop working.
NOTE: The temperature you set your thermostat to WILL NOT automatically equal the hotspot temperature inside the enclosure! Since the probe is between the heat source and the bottom of the enclosure, it will likely be reading a much higher temperature than the hotspot inside the enclosure is showing. This is because the heat has to penetrate the bottom floor of the enclosure meaning this is very dependent on the type of material your enclosure is made from.
The thermostats above are maintaining a hotspot inside their respective enclosures of about 90°F. As you can see I have had to overshoot the thermostat setting to reach my desired temperature.
This is a crucial step!! When setting up a thermostat to the proper temperature these are the steps you should follow:
•Set your thermostat for the temperature you are aiming for and let it warm up for 1 hour or so.
•Point your IR Temp gun at the hotspot to read the temperature.
•Adjust your thermostat setting accordingly until you reach the desired temperature inside the enclosure.
This is NOT the Best thermostat for Reptiles!
Unfortunately (at least in my experience), decent thermostats are not often carried in chain pet stores. Considering how vital they are to your reptile’s health I can’t understand why that is the case.
Anyway, most pet stores do carry a device they like to pass off as a thermostat. This device is a Rheostat. These are NOT thermostats! They basically act in the same way as the dimmer switch I described above. They allow you to control your heat source’s power output.
The issue with this is that it has nothing to do with temperature. For example, let’s say you set up your enclosure and find that you get a perfect hotspot of 90° with the rheostat set at the “medium setting.” Now let’s say your room temperature rises the next day unexpectedly… your rheostat is still going to be pumping out heat at a “medium” level, making the hotspot far hotter than your original test. Whereas a thermostat would have clicked off.
In other words, don’t buy a rheostat!
Best Thermostat for Reptiles: Things to Remember
1. You should always be checking your hotspot temperatures manually to ensure everything is functioning properly.
2. Make sure you set up the temperature setting properly. I.e. use an IR temperature gun to establish the correct setting.
3. Remember, the cheaper the thermostat the more likely it will fail but a cheap thermostat is better than no thermostat! Saving up for a high-quality thermostat should be on your list of things to do eventually, especially if your collection starts to grow.
How to train a snake not to bite? Can you tame a snake? How to pick up a snake without it biting you?
Well these are certainly loaded questions as there are many reasons your snake may be trying to take a piece of your hand every time you reach into their enclosure.
In this article I will cover common reasons for snakes biting (mainly bites that take place inside their enclosure) and will show you a simple technique (video) you can use to slowly train your snake not to bite.
Why Snakes Bite
“My snake hates me!” … that may actually be true…
There are a few things that we need to understand first:
1) Your snake does not enjoy being held. I know this can be painful for some to admit. Truthfully, some snakes do tolerate being handled quite well and some do not (really depends on the individual snake and species). However, even the ones that do tolerate being handled do not necessarily enjoy it . Remember, you are just another animal to them.
2) Having said that, I know we can’t resist handling our animals at least a little bit so luckily there are ways we can make sure it is an enjoyable experience for you (no bites!) and a somewhat relaxing experience for the animal. HINT: If your snake is biting you or striking at you, you can bet it is having a stressful experience.
Reasons your snake might bite:
If you are wondering how to train a snake not to bite… you’ll find below that it might be YOU who needs the training and not the snake! Here are some reasons that your snake might be biting and what do to about it.
1) New Arrival/ Environmental Stress:
Give your new snake at least 2-3 weeks in its new home before you handle it (I know it’s hard!). It can take several months for a snake to become comfortable in a new enclosure and adding the stress of handling can easily draw a strike or bite.
General stress can also elicit a strike. For example, if your snake is in a high foot traffic area with lots of noise, etc. it could put the snake in somewhat of a “heightened state”, which could easily lead to a bite. If you have a “biter” in a busy room, I would recommend moving the enclosure to a quieter space to see if that makes a difference.
2) Inadequate Husbandry:
Again, another stress inducer and unfortunately quite a common reason for snake bites in the hobby! This is one of the first questions I would ask someone who is wondering how to train a snake not to bite. If your husbandry is off (wrong temperature, poor humidity/ventilation, food schedule, etc.) it can EASILY make your snake aggressive. Think about it… are you pleasant to be around when you are in discomfort? I know I’m not!
Great husbandry can turn an aggressive snake into a puppy dog and bad husbandry can turn a calm snake into a beast!
3) Going into Shed:
Some (most?) snakes do not like being pestered when they are going through shed. Especially while deep in blue because at this stage they are almost completely blind due to the build up of secretions behind the eye cap.
Make sure you understand the signs of your snake going into shed. Dull appearance, cloudy eyes, normally spending time in their warm hide, etc. As a Rule of Thumb: don’t move your snake while it is in shed, let them be! Messing with a snake in shed is asking for a bite!
A defensive strike is something you snake might do if you are rummaging around in its enclosure for longer than it is comfortable with. Generally this is caused by surprising your snake with your presence in its enclosure (snakes hate surprises).
Your snake will react with a defensive strike if they are under the impression you are a threat. They will strike, bite and recoil before you have blinked.
5) Feed RESPONSE:
I think this one is self explanatory. If you snake thinks your hand is food… good luck! A feed response bite is likely going to be followed with a constriction, which would be a real pain in the a..arm! Apparently running the snake under water will get them to let go…? I have never had it happen so I am no expert!
This is not likely to occur unless your hand smells like your feeder rodents so always remember to was your hands!
Of course there are other reasons your snake may be biting, such as illness or breeding activity but I think those five cover the most common reasons.
How to Train a Snake Not to Bite?
As you can see from the list above, there are quite a few reasons your snake may be trying to bite you. The majority of the reasons have nothing to do with “training a snake not to bite” and everything to do with how you are caring for your animal.
However, we can use the technique of hook training to help reduce or prevent bites from taking place. I have consistently used the method of hook training from the first day I brought my snakes home. To date I have not been bit or even struck at by one of my animals. I certainly attribute this to hook training.
Presently, it seems scientifically uncertain whether or not snakes can learn. In other words, it has not been made clear in any research that I could find that snakes can be successful taught or conditioned. This means hook training may not actually work by technically conditioning the snake to respond to the hook… you’ll have to try it for yourself and see what you think!
What is Hook Training:
Hook training (sometimes called tap training) is a method used to condition your snake when removing them from their enclosure.
Here are the steps:
Buy a snake hook!I don’t recommend one of the cheap “collapsible ZooMed” ones. The one below is very similar to the one I own and honestly it’s not even that expensive. Definitely worth the investment!
Now that you have you snake hook, the rest is very simple.
Open you snake’s enclosure
Reach inside with your hook and give your snake a few taps.
After the snake has been tapped a few times, they can be scooped out of the enclosure with the hook.
After the snake has been removed from their enclosure your snake can be handled freely by hand.
Why does Hook Training Work?
Here is the basic theory behind hook training—
Tapping your snake with your hook accomplishes a few things:
a) It warns the snake that you are there. Since the hook is not emitting a heat signature, your snake is not going to interpret its presence as a threat. This allows you to safely pull the snake out of its enclosure without risk of triggering a defensive strike.
b) By tapping the snake with the hook every time you interact with it (other than feeding) you are conditioning it to understand that the hook means it’s not being fed i.e. you will eliminate any accidental feed response bites.
If you are looking for how to train a snake not to bite, hook training is really your best bet in my opinion.
My Snake Never Bites, Should I still use Hook Training?
My answer is, yes! Even if you have a very docile snake that does not have an issue with being handled I still recommend using hook training.
1) Hook training provides very consistent stimuli for your snake. Your hand is constantly a different temperature, and will have a different scent from day to day. The hook is always the same. This, in my opinion, reduces the stress experienced by the snake every time you pull them from their home.
2) If you have a larger species of snake, you’re going to want to trust that they aren’t going to bite when they are full grown. Hook training will give you the confidence to trust that your animal is not going to bite.
3) Snake bites are hard on the snake! Quite often snakes will loose teeth when they bite their humans. This is usually caused by the human pulling their hand away quickly, teeth stick in the skin and rip out. Try not pulling your hand away when being struck at…. good luck!
My Snake is Still Biting!
Be patient! It can take a lot of time to calm down a nervous snake. Every day is a new day, if your snake was on the nasty side today… try again tomorrow! Your snake is not going to hold a grudge against you (even if it seems like it), every day is a fresh start.
How to clean a snake tank? Well there is definitely more than one way to do this but I will layout the way I go about it and the reasons why!
SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM FOR A FREE SNAKE CARE LOGBOOK!
Spot Clean or Full Tank Clean?
Spot Clean: When people use the term “spot clean” they essentially mean they remove feces & waste when the see it. Basically the same thing you see people do with their dogs when they take dumps in the park.
During a typical spot clean, the owner scoops out the waste (and usually some of the substrate) throws it out and moves on to the next enclosure. This is a quick method for removing waste, especially if you have many animals to clean.
People who subscribe to this method normally do a full tank clean every few weeks so they can wipe down the floor, and replace the substrate etc. as spot cleaning does not normally take care of all the waste (especially urates).
Full Tank Clean: The other common way people clean their snake’s tank is by doing a full clean. In other words, they pull everything out (animal, decor, water dish, etc), throw all the old substrate out, and then sanitize the floor and the walls. Once clean, they re-add fresh substrate, decor and of course the animal!
This method is common for tanks with a paper towel or newspaper substrate because the urates are not contained very well i.e. snake pee tends to spread out over a larger foot print.
So what is the better of the two methods? In my opinion: neither!
How to Clean a Snake Tank-The Hybrid Method:
The method I use is a combination of both a “spot clean” and a “full clean.” First, let’s take a look at the reasons I don’t like the spot clean and full clean methods.
Why I Don’t Spot Clean:
Urates tend to remain in the enclosure. Feces are very easy to scoop up in a spot clean but urates (snake urine, which is both solid white clumps and liquid) are harder to pick up because the liquid seeps into the surrounding substrate.
This can leave the offensive smell of snake urine inside the enclosure. This is a very bad smell. If you’ve ever been to a reptile breeder or pet shop that doesn’t do a good job cleaning, the smell of snake pee will hit you like a truck when you walk into the door. I do not want my office smelling that way (the room I keep my snakes).
There are a few reasons why I don’t like to do a full clean of my snake enclosures every time they defecate. The first (and less important of the two) is to save time and money, doing a full cleaning takes more time and you end up going through way more substrate because you replace all the bedding every time you clean.
The real reason I don’t like doing a full cleaning is because I think it is important to keep the snake’s environment as consistent as possible. Snakes are very sensitive to their environment, especially due to their powerful sense of smell. Drastically changing a snakes environment can actually induce a stress response in the animal.
Think of it this way— your snake has been crawling and borrowing all over its substrate and decor for weeks, it becomes familiar with the smells of the enclosure. I also think (me speculating) that the animal itself emits its own body odor throughout the enclosure, an odor which that maybe we can’t perceive but it can. In other words, its enclosure “smells like home.”
When you perform a full clean, you completely strip all of that away in one fell swoop. This thrusts the animal into a brand new environment, an environment it has not explored (even if it looks the same, it doesn’t smell the same), an environment that may not be safe. Hence a stress response. Take a listen to this HerpNation Podcast @ 45:10 ,the whole podcast is good but the 45 minute mark discusses this in more detail.
In my opinion, the “hybrid” method I use is best of both worlds. It removes all the urates, removing the pee smell and allows most of the substrate to remain in the enclosure to hopefully keep environment slightly more familiar to the animal.
Remove feces, urates and substrate! I ONLY remove the substrate that falls within about a 8-10″ radius around where the waste was found. Essentially I am trying to remove all substrate that has absorbed any of the urine.
Once I am left with only unsoiled substrate, I push what is left over to the sides of the enclosure.
Next, I spray the area down with the 10% bleach solution. I let the solution sit for 10-15 minutes to give it time to kill any bacteria.
Then I wipe up the bleach!
Once the bleach is wiped up, I then mist the whole area down again but this time with fresh water. The idea here is that the water is absorbing any leftover bleach solution that remains on the floor of the enclosure.
Once I wipe up the water, I try my best to use my nose to determine if I can either still smell urine, or bleach. If I don’t smell either, I move on!
Time to replace the soiled substrate with fresh substrate!
Once the new substrate is in, decor can also be re-added!
This is a crucial step in my opinion! I know not everyone is going to do this but I highly recommend keeping a logbook. I have attached a PDF copy of the logbook I made and use below. Download it, print it and use it if you like!
Snake care is not complicated, but a lot of the care is “few and far between,” especially feeding and cleaning. A logbook just makes your life easier, and allows you to maintain healthier animals.
After every defecation I always weigh my snakes. Waiting until after they have defecated will allow you to get a more accurate weight, as you will be weighing close to “empty.”
A healthy snake should be always gaining or maintaining their weight (give or take). Of course if you are breeding your animals they will be subject to weight changes but generally you are looking for any unexpected changes in weight. An animal that is loosing weight unexpectedly could be ill, and if that is the case I would consider taking them in to see a vet.
Here is a snapshot of my logbook. First I write in the date, then the weight of the snake, next to the weight in brackets I right how much weight was gained or lost, then I will make a note regarding the waste itself (eg. usually I put an, “N”= normal, but if I notice anything strange or different I will jot that down instead), and finally I put another number in brackets indicating how many days since last defecation.
The particular example above the animal actually lost weight but if you look at the line above you will see why. The day before the snake produced urates only and when I weighed him he was still holding on to 50g of feces.
Question: What is the best substrate for ball pythons (or for any snake for that matter)?
In this article I am going to give my review and opinion on 5 different substrate options you could use for your ball python, boa, corn snake, king snake, etc.
I am all about NATURAL SUBSTRATES! The best substrate for ball pythons in my opinion is either aspen or coconut husk. If you own a different species of snake, you may find another substrate on this page to be beneficial.
Here are the 5 Snake Substrates I review in the article:
What is the Best Substrate for Ball Pythons and Other Captive Snakes- VIDEO:
Brands/ Where to Buy:
The most common brand available is Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding.There are other brands of “pet” aspen bedding widely available as well but the nice thing about the Zoo Med product is it is designed for snake use.
The issue with “general use” aspen bedding, i.e. bedding that is made for rodents, birds, etc. is that the chips are much larger (could potentially lead to digestion issues if swallowed), and they tend to be quite dusty.
Zoo Med Aspen Snake Beddingis “double shredded” for smaller chips (can safely pass through digestive system if they happen to ingested, this needs to still be avoided!) and they have also removed all of the dust!
Aspen has a nice, natural “woody” scent
It absorbs waste well
Its texture and size make it a great substrate for burrowing animals
It is very light in color— this may seem like a random “pro” so let me explain. The light color makes it very easy to spot your snakes waste in the enclosure. Spot checking is much quicker with aspen when compared to darker substrates (the waste sticks out like a sore thumb!)
Messy! No matter how careful you are… you will need to vacuum or sweep your floor on cleaning day. The light weight aspen will find its way to the floor no matter what!
If aspen is left damp for a long period of time it will grow mold
Aspen is often considered the best substrate for ball pythons, boas, corn snakes, king snakes, hognose… well pretty much any kind of snake! This is totally subjective but I definitely recommend trying it out to see what you think! This is a great substrate if you are looking for something natural looking (and smelling) and will give your animal something to burrow through.
I would only advice against using it in very humid enclosures, for example I wouldn’t use it for my Brazilian Rainbow boa.
Brands/ Where to Buy:
There are many different brands of coconut husk available on the market, and it really comes down to your personal preference. A few of the popular pet brands are:
Repti-Chip(I have not tired Repti-Chip but I always hear it advertised on Herp Nation Radio)
This substrate is highly absorbent! It does a great job of not only absorbing liquids but also smells too.
Like most coconut products, coconut husk is anti-bacteria/microbial meaning you do not need to worry about mold growing on the substrate.
Coconut husk is made of fairly large “chips”. Because of this I am always extra careful when feeding my snakes on this substrate, as swallowing a large piece of substrate could cause digestive issues. On occasion one of my animals will ingest some coconut husk… It has never caused a problem but I still try and avoid it.
Due to its size it in not the best substrate for burrowing
I highly recommend coconut husk as a snake substrate for pretty much any snake you own (ball python, boa, corn, etc.). Is it the best substrate for ball pythons or other snakes? Again, it is up to personal preference. I love coconut husk and it is pretty much all I use for my boas (although right now they are on a aspen/coconut husk mix). Here is a reason you might not want to use it:
Due to its coconut husk’s color and amazing ability to absorb smells and waste it can actually make spot checking a little more challenging as your snakes waste is camouflaged better (both visually and scent-wise). Now this is hardly a “con” but it you have many animals to check on, you might gravitate towards a lighter color substrate (such as aspen) so you can more easily see your snakes waste.
Brands/ Where to Buy:
The only brand of cypress mulch I have found locally is Zoo Med Forest Floor, although you might be able to find better deals on Amazonfor other popular brands. You can also find cypress mulch at your local gardening store but make sure it contains CYPRESS MULCH ONLY, some contain pine and cedar chips which are toxic to your animal.
Cypress mulch is the go-to substrate if you need a bump in your humidity. When cypress mulch is bagged it begins to go through a decomposition process, this process releases moisture from the wood chips. You will notice when you first open a fresh bag, the chips are very damp.
Luckily cypress mulch is very resistant to mold growth so the heavy moisture level is not an issue.
Initially, cypress mulch will induce a humidity spike in your enclosure. Although, over time cypress mulch will dry out. After that you can mist down cypress mulch every few days to try and re-hydrate it, as it holds onto moisture quite well…although it will never be as wet as it is right out of the bag.
I would not consider cypress mulch as an ideal burrowing substrate as it is not easily dug through (without feet and claws that is!).
The chips size is variable but some pieces are very large, and rather sharp. This is another substrate I am very careful when feeding on.
Cypress mulch is not the best substrate for ball pythons, as most likely it would provide more humidity than you require. However, cypress mulch is a fantastic substrate for other snakes, especially humidity living animals such as rainbow boas.
This is another GREAT smelling substrate too, it will give your animal’s enclosure a nice “woody” scent and provides some awesome environmental enrichment.
Brands/ Where to Buy:
Coconut fiber is the last natural substrate I am covering in this article. The brand I use is Eco Earth Loose Coconut Substrate. You can find it in both a “loose” form and “compressed” form. The loose stuff is definitely easier to work with as the compressed stuff needs to be soaked first. This is another subsrate you may be able to find in a gardening store: Kempf Compressed Coco Fiber.
Due to coconut fibers “soil like” texture it makes for a great burrowing substrate!
Again, just like coconut husk, coconut fiber is highly absorbent of snake waste (including smell).
Its high surface area allows it to retain much more moisture than coconut husk
This is a messy substrate! When it is dry it gets everywhere and is actually quite dusty which is a definite downside.
This is a snake substrate that I would again reserve for animals that require higher humidity, i.e. I wouldn’t rank it as the best substrate for ball pythons, and would actually recommend against using it for any snake that doesn’t require elevated humidity. Again it is quite messy and retains quite a lot of moisture. Used on its own is usually more work that its worth (gets in water dishes etc.) although, I have come up with a good solution:
I am currently using a blend of cypress mulchand Eco Earth for my Brazilian Rainbow boa. I find the cypress mulch contains the mess of the Eco Earth and the Eco Earth allows for more opportunity to burrow than the cypress mulch would have to offer on its own.
PAPER TOWEL/ NEWSPAPER
Paper towel and newspaper are probably the most frequent substrate recommendations, however, are they actually the best substrate for ball pythons or other snakes?
I think NOT! Although they can still play an important role in your animal’s care.
There are two scenarios (actually maybe 3) when I would consider paper towel to be the best substrate for ball pythons and other captive snakes. The scenarios are:
Each of these scenarios require you as the caregiver to observe your animal more closely and more carefully. Eliminating the variable of substrate can be highly beneficial when monitoring an animal’s health.
If you are not using paper towel in one of the 3 scenarios listed above, I highly recommend against using it!
Paper towel provides no enrichment for your animal. They can’t dig through it, burrow under it, or smell it. When they slither over it, it provides zero environmental feed back.
Many claim paper towel/ newspaper to be the “easiest” and “quickest” substrate to use, clean and maintain. I totally disagree with that! Unlike the natural substrates listed above, paper towel allows for urates and waste to spread across a much larger area as it is not capable of absorbing as much liquid.
I find the mess from your snake’s waste is much less contained (smell included!) and requires a much larger clean up.
All in all it is a boring substrate to use. As animal owners we can do much more to provide a more enriching environment for our captive animals! There is plenty of research showing, environmental enrichment leads to healthier animals… I find that very easy to believe, I hope you do too!
Looking to create and build custom terrariums from home? Hopefully this article and video can point you in the right direction! This article would also be helpful if you are looking to convert an aquarium into a snake cage.
IN THIS ARTICLE:
Detailed description for Step by Step Process
Pros and Cons of a Glass Terrarium
Step by Step Video (Scroll to Bottom)
Pictures of Brazilian Rainbow Boa (Scroll to Bottom)
Should I build my own terrarium?
This is a good question. I believe you should only tackle a DIY build if:
You aren’t trying to save money: DIY doesn’t always mean cheaper, after time and supplies doing-it-yourself can sometimes be more costly than purchasing something new.
You actually enjoy building: This one seems obviously but some people go into a build with the idea that they are going to save money regardless of whether or not they enjoy building. Someone who doesn’t enjoy building will end up get very frustrated with the process and most likely spend MORE money than they would have if they just bought sometime brand new.
If you love to build and you don’t mind spending the money than you need to 100% move forward with your build! Custom terrariums will open up a door of possibilities for your animal, far beyond anything a store bought enclosure can provide.
In this article I breakdown my Custom Terrarium build for my Brazilian Rainbow Boa. If you want to skip right to the video, scroll right to the bottom of the article!
Side note: Why are Brazilian Rainbow Boas named after the rainbow? Scroll to the bottom for pictures of my boa… her colors will shock you!
Supplies and Plan
In the summer I stumbled across a stack of of old windows at a family farm. I immediately saw past their rough shape and started mentally building an enclosure out of them.
The windows cleaned up quite well and I was able to examine precisely what I had. What I had was this:
8 Windows with dimensions of 36″ L x 21″ W
This would work!
There are very few examples of custom terrariums being built from glass for snakes (for reasons I discuss below) so I really had to think through a detailed plan to determine whether or not this would work.
Here is a picture of the sketch I came up with:
The plan was to:
Create a glass box using 3 full sized sheets of glass (36″ x 21″), 1 for the top, 1 for the bottom and 1 for the back.
I would have to cut glass for the side pieces which would measure roughly 21″ x 21″.
The front facing opening would be trimmed with “something” (at the time I wasn’t sure I was going to use glass or wood, I used wood).
A drop down acrylic door would be installed with the necessary ventilation drilled.
The sides, back and bottom would be blacked out with paint.
As I am typing this I am realizing this exact procedure would probably also be suitable for converting an aquarium or fish tank into a snake enclosure.
The Glass Box
As stated about, the first step was to build the glass box.
First, I cut the glass for the sides. I used this cheap glass cutterdipped in mineral oilto score the glass. Once the glass was scored, a little bit of pressure was enough to force a break at the score line. Easy Peasy!
**Remember to wear safety glasses AND be mindful of the fact that the fresh cut edge of glass is sharp as hell! Sand it down afterwards**
The actual assembly of the glass box was fairly straight forward. I followed Joey’s instruction from The King of DIY YouTube channel. If you’d like more detailed instructions on how to do this I highly recommend checking out his video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSKIT2OLOYQ He has an AWESOME channel. Thanks for the help Joey!
Before I even started the build I spent some time thinking about the structure itself. How did I want the weight to be supported? It is very important to think this through.
Especially because I had to assemble the box in its wrong orientation. I.e. The front opening would have to face vertical during the assembly… assembling it in the right orientation would have required me to lower the top panel of glass on to the sides and back wall, I didn’t think that would be a smart way of doing it.
So the initial panel I placed flat on the table is actually the back panel. So back to the original point, how did I want the weight to be supported? Well I did not want any of the panels to be “hanging”, in other words I want the appropriate panels to be supporting the weight of the others.
The side and back panels are placed directly on the bottom panel and the top panel is placed directly on top of the sides and back panels. This way the weight of the top panel is supported directly by the sides and back which is resting right on top of the bottom panel.
But remember… I had to assemble it out of its correct orientation so I had to keep that in mind. I.e. the “bottom” during the assembly was actually the back.
I set up strips ofpainters tapethat could be flipped up once a sheet had been placed. The tape is strong enough to keep the glass in place while you work.
Other than that, all I did was run a bead of GE Silicone I(very important to use GE Silicone I and not II, I is non-toxic when dry) along the appropriate edges and place the glass in its rightful spot.
I used a square as I went to make sure things were straight. Silicone and glass is quite forgiving, you have time to move the panels around once they have been placed.
Done! Easy has that, it took only about 10 minutes from start to finish.
I did also add a bead of silicone on the inside seams to add more structure and a better seal.
Pros and Cons of a Glass Terrarium
If you build your own custom terrariums you know there are pros and cons to the materials you use. Here are the pros and cons of the glass terrarium I built.
I already had the glass
Glass is relativity easy to work with
Hard to raise humidity- I solved that by having a front facing acrylic door that closes tightly
Too much light- snakes like to be in dark space, a clear glass terrarium can stress a snake out. I solved this by painting the sides black.
Hard to maintain temperature- glass tends to loose heat relatively easy compared to a plastic enclosure. I plan on using Reflectixto help insualte the walls… although I was also pretty surprised at how well the paint itself works as insulation.
Paint it Black
Time to paint the walls! This was also pretty straight forward.
Afoam rolleris really the best way to go here as it will not leave any brush marks.
At first I used regularblack acrylic paint as I was naive enough to think I would one have to do 1 MAYBE 2 coats. Wow was I wrong! It took a good 5-6 coats to fully cover the glass, luckily the dry time between coats is very short (15 minutes).
The acrylic paint worked fine but since I required a larger volume of paint I upgraded to a quart of Black Indoor/Outdoor Latex paint. I didn’t notice a difference between the two types of paint, it was just cheaper to buy the latex paint due to the quantity I needed.
I alternated between doing one coat with horizontal strokes and one coat with vertical strokes and eventually…
It was finished! I was actually pretty happy with the result… although I was definitely nervous through the first few coats.. “Is this ever going to cover..?”
As stated above, I used wood to trim out the front facing hole where the door would go. I used:
Oak 1″ x 3″ for the bottom
Oak 1″ x 2″ for the top and sides
The purpose of the trim is three fold:
Stop substrate from falling out
A place to fasten the door and hinges
A place for the door to rest and lock against
I decided to also paint the wood black to match the rest of the custom terrarium. I used the same latex paint from above, and I did 3 coats.
It was also important for me to seal the wood to protect it from moisture damage. I used 3 coats ofMinwax Polyurethane to do the job.
I prepped the wood by running very fine steel woolover the entire surface to remove any fine hairs and wiped off the dust with a dry cloth. Then, I brushed on the polyurethane.
And of course, I went through the identical process with the side/top trim pieces!
The Sample Door
Now it was time to assemble the door. This was the part of the build I was the most worried about. Acrylic cracks quite easily and it is priced at $70/sheet!
So instead of jumping right into drilling the door panel … I decided to exercise some patience and used a scrap piece of acrylic and scrap piece of oak to build a “test door”.
I used black 3″ door hinges, pictured below. This way I could get a feel for what drilling through acrylic was like.
Instead of using screws for the top hinge, I replaced them with bolts and acorn nuts. Obviously, I couldn’t have 6 screws poking through the door into the enclosure.
The Real Door
Once I felt ready I screwed the hinges to the bottom oak trim and then was ready to tackle drilling the holes for the door.
I dry fit the acrylic door (I bought the acrylic sheet from the local hardware store and cut it to size) and marked off where the hinge holes needed to be drilled with a dry erase marker.
Drill time! The trick to drilling acrylic is you have to start small and slowly increase your bit size until you reach the desired size of hole. If you start with a bit to large, the acrylic will crack under stress… and so will you probably!
Eventually I made it to the final bit… 2 hinges, each with 3 holes, each hole took 9 drill bits… wow! But nothing cracked so going slow and steady was well worth it!
I ended up having to make wooden spacers to sit between the hinge and the acrylic door. Without the spacer the door wasn’t sitting vertical, luckily the spacers completely corrected that. I eventually painted them black.
Whenever I create custom terrariums I try and make everything as professional looking as possible. I am happy with the way the hinges turned out, the wooden spacer completely blends in.
Mounting the Trim
At this point I was ready to fasten the wooden trim to the glass terrarium. Gluing wood to glass is a relatively uncommon thing to do… I’m not sure I have seen anyone else online build custom terrariums this way.
I used the products No More Nailsas the main adhesive for this job. I have been very impressed with this stuff! It bonds well to almost anything.
I first roughed up the gluing edge of the wood with 60 grit sand paper, and then ran a generous bead of No More Nailsdown the entire length of the board.
I used spring clamps to hold everything in place for 24 hrs.
And then I followed the same process for the top and side trim!
Once everything was cured, I ran a bead of silicone on the inside seam to seal it and also provide extra support. Now that everything is dry, it feels incredibly sturdy!
As a nice touch, I also painted out the trip on the top. This way I could keep the top clear as a viewing panel but also could hide the No More Nails and Silicone that was holding everything together.
The light at the end of the tunnel! All I had left to do at this point was to add locks to the door, and polish up the acrylic!
I went with cam (or cabinet) locksbecause they are quite easy to install and do a good job of keeping everything secure.
The only down side to these locks was the size of hole I needed to drill to fit them into the acrylic door. The locks require a 3/4″ hole, the largest drill bit I own is 5/8″ so I had to get creative.
Once I reach the 5/8″ bit, I dropped back to a smaller bit and slowly “carved” out the hole to increase its diameter.
I also used sand paper and a whole lot of elbow grease to bring the hole to size.
Eventually, it fit!
A couple small things left and then I was done!
First, I had to polish the acrylic. Acrylic scratches pretty easily and over all the panel needed a good cleaning. I used a headlight buff kitto make the door as clean as I could!
I wasn’t quite satisfied with the way the door was locking. The cam locks made the door feel very secure on the top and sides, but I felt like the bottom could be flexed enough for a snake to try and squeeze through (and probably get stuck).
And just like that, I was finished! I have to stay I am pleased with the way this turned out! It looks a lot better than I thought it would.
Here’s the deal
I made a plan, and I stuck to it! Scroll up to the top and take another look at the original plan sketch I drew up before starting the build.
I live in an apartment, I do not own many tools. Because of that, I was required to very thoroughly plan the build. I built this terrarium in my head 100’s of times before even starting the work.
Do not be intimated by making custom terrariums of your own! If you create a detailed plan and follow it, you can build anything you like! You do not need any expensive tools or specific craftsman skills, I have neither.
I hope this article can point you in the right direction, and like I said above, I believe this process would also work if you are wanting to convert a fish tank or aquarium into a terrarium!
Consider this a “check mark” off my wish list! I have recently added a Brazilian Rainbow Boa to my collection and I could not be more excited! In this article I will breakdown how I setup the quarantine tub for this new addition (scroll to the bottom for the video).
Brazilian Rainbow boas are some of the most beautiful snakes in the world. They range from deep to bright orange in color with a very interesting spotted pattern. Although, what really sets them apart from other snakes is there brilliant iridescence. A rainbow boa under sunlight (or artificial light), explodes with color. They truly glow.
Naturally, when a 2 year old female was posted on my local classifieds I had to scoop her up!
I plan on building her a new adult sized enclosure in the coming weeks but first she must be quarantined!
Anytime you bring a new animal into your home, a quarantine period is highly recommended. An animal may appear healthy but could be carrying parasites, or bacteria/viral infections that could be transmitted to your other animals. A isolation period of 60-90 days is recommended, some people even do 5-6 months to be safe. This means, your new animal should be kept in a separate room (or floor or building if possible) and any tools should be cleaned with bleach before/after use.
Brazilian Rainbow Boa Setup
For the enclosure, I used a Sterilite 110-Quart. This is definitely a little small for her — she is about 44″ and 650 g — but it will work well for the next 60- 90 days as a quarantine enclosure.
The tub has been placed in a quiet corner in a separate room.
Brazilian Rainbow boas do not require a ton of heat… actually prolonged temperatures over 85°F can be dangerous. That being the case I just went with a medium sized Exo Terra Heat Mat 8 Watt. This mat is more than enough to do the job. Here are the temperature perimeters I aim for:
Cool Side Ambient: 72° – 74° F
Warm Side Ambient: 75° – 80°F
Hot Spot: 83° – 85°F
Of course, no heat mat should ever be installed without a thermostat to regulate it! I ordered Inkbird Temperature Controller off of Amazon. It is a good little thermostat so far! Very easy to set up, it was inexpensive and the probe itself is long and detachable which is great!
My only regret is I just noticed they make a slightly more expensive model that is capable of doing Day/Night temperatures! Dang I wish I had noticed that before. Next time that will be the one I order!
Here is how I set up the heat mat and thermostat probe:
Stick the thermostat probe to the heat mat withfoil tape.
Stick the heat mat to the bottom of the tub (the probe is between the mat and the bottom of the tub)
Normally I would secure the heat mat to the tub with foil tape, but since this is only a temporary Brazilian rainbow boa setup I didn’t bother.
DIY Snake Hide
Here is a quick DIY snake hide for ya! This is a take home food container from Boston Pizza… not sure if you have that restaurant where you live. Anyway, we have a bunch of these laying around and I decided to turn this on into a hide.
Here are the intricate, complicated steps:
Use pair of scissors and cut out a door
Use sand paper to smooth the edges
For a thermometer I ordered this: Indoor Outdoor Thermometer Hygrometer. I put the actual device on the cool side of the enclosure, the strung the probe up through the lid, around the back and through a small hole I drill through backside. The device is very basic but seems to be accurate for both the temperature and humidity.
Since this is a quarantine tub I have decided to use paper towel as a substrate. Although I hate the look of paper towel as well as the mess it makes when the snake eliminates waste (aspen and/or coco husk tend to absorb more urates and reduce smell), it is much easier to monitor the health of the animal. Mites are much easier to spot and you can inspect their waste much easier.
I treat quarantine tubs the same way I would treat a “hospital tub,” i.e. I err on the side of making things more clinical than visually appealing.
If you know anything about Brazilian Rainbow boas you know they need a high level of humidity. These tubs easily hold humidity but a large water dish is necessary to get there.
With a sub-adult to adult rainbow boa you want the humidity to be above 75%, keeping in mind that as long as the substrate isn’t wet there is no such thing as “too humid” for them.
I haven’t had to mist or spray the tub at all and the humidity has balanced somewhere between 85-95%, luckily without producing any condensation.
Again, I didn’t plan on adding much decor to this tub. I did however add a branch to climb on. I purchased Closet Pole Socketsfrom Home Depot to suspend the branch in the air. Brazilian Rainbow boas aren’t avid climbers but they will climb from time to time. I also added a second hide on the cold side, I just bought it the day after I took the photo below.
Setting the Thermostat
Now that the Brazilian Rainbow boa setup was complete, I was able to set the thermostat and wait to see if my temperature and humidity perimeters fell in line.
The top temperature is when the heat mat turns on and teh bottom temperature is when the mat turns off.
I simply, set the temperatures, plugged in the heat mat and the probe and that’s it! The red LED comes on when the heat mat is on and the temperature on the left hand side of the screen is the current temperature reading.
A few days later I picked up the new snake! So far she seems to be in great health. After letting her settle in for a week, I have been handling her every couple days for 3-5 minutes at a time, she has been very relaxed.
Again, this is an appropriate Brazilian Rainbow boa setup for a smaller animal ( I would say up to 3.5′ and under) or in this case is ideal for a quarantine tub for the next 2 months or so.
I will be doing another DIY snake cage build for this animal so make sure you subscribe on YouTube so you don’t miss it!