INTRODUCTION: This large family includes two thirds of current snake species. Lifespan and adult sizes vary greatly with species, and many can get quite large and live a long time, so be sure to research your prospective pet well.
HOUSING: Colubrids should generally be housed singly throughout their lives.
– Cage – Appropriate cage size varies considerably with species due to the great variety of sizes of colubrids. For example, a 30 gallon aquarium is fine for a most single hatchling snakes, and may even be adequate for some smaller snake species as adults. Larger species require very large enclosures that can be purchased through reptile supply companies. Whatever the size of the enclosure, always use a secure mesh top to prevent escape and allow proper ventilation.
– Bedding/substrate – Newspapers or paper towels are safest and easiest to replace/clean. Vinyl tile (from hardware store) or Repti-Carpet can also be used. Replace the bedding/substrate or clean the hard surface every couple days to prevent exposure to waste. **SAND, GRAVEL, MULCH/BARK, OR OTHER NATURAL SUBSTRATES SHOULD NOT BE USED DUE TO DIFFICULTIES IN CLEANING, RISK OF GASTROINTESTINAL ISSUES IF EATEN, AND PROBLEMS WITH IRRITATION OF EYES AND DELICATE TISSUE OF MOUTH.
– Cage “furniture” – Offer a hiding box or humidity box on the warm side of the enclosure (depending on your species’ specific humidity needs). A simple design for a humidity box is a Tupperware style container with a hole cut into one side through which your snake can enter. Fill it with damp sphagnum moss, which can be checked for moisture and rewet daily or as needed. Replace the moss and clean out the box approximately every 2 weeks or as needed to prevent mold growth or waste build-up. Branches, driftwood, cork bark and/or large rocks can also be used in the environment, but be sure everything is easy to clean. **HEATED ROCKS SHOULD NEVER BE USED DUE TO RISK OF THERMAL BURNS.
– Temperature/heating – A temperature gradient should be created within the enclosure, with a warm side and a cool side. This allows the snake to regulate its temperature by changing location. An under tank heating pad placed under 1/3-1/2 of the enclosure is ideal (large enough for snake’s entire body to fit over it), as snakes need a good heat source beneath them in order to properly digest food. The temperature over the heating pad should reach about 90 degrees F at all times (day and night). If the heating pad is inadequate to reach this temperature, an incandescent light bulb or other reptile safe ceramic heater/colored bulb can be used as an additional heat source in this area. Use multiple digital thermometers with probes to ensure appropriate temperatures are maintained. Dial thermometers are often inaccurate. Due to risk of burn injuries, always use appropriate rheostats/thermostats if using the commonly available ZooMed heating pads. Heating pads with which we have had good experiences include Ultratherm Heat Pads (beanfarm.com) and Cobra T-Rex Heat Pads (available from many pet stores).
– Lighting – Colubrids do not need a UVB light source or basking area.
FEEDING: Snakes are carnivores requiring a diet of WHOLE PREY ITEMS. They should be fed ONCE A WEEK until mature, after which they should be fed ONCE EVERY OTHER WEEK. Prey items offered should be no larger than the widest part of your snake. This means that you may need to feed multiple smaller items (rather than one larger item) in order to fulfill your pet’s needs. Prey options available commercially are generally mice or rats, with the size depending on the age of the rodent, ranging from pinkies through adult animals. In hatchling or very small snakes, you may need to cut up the pinkies into even smaller pieces. Always feed pre-killed/frozen and thawed prey items, as live rodents can bite and seriously injure your snake. Snakes do not generally eat while in shed.
– Water bowl – On the cool side of the enclosure, always provide clean, fresh water in a dish/bowl. It should be large enough to fit your pet’s entire body. Change water daily.
– Soaking – Soak your pet 2-3 times a week in warm, shallow water for 15-20 minutes to encourage drinking, improve hydration, and help with shedding. When your snake is shedding (scale colors dull, eyes appear blue-grey), you should increase soaking to ONCE A DAY.
SHEDDING: Snakes should shed all at once, rather than in patches or pieces as in lizards. If your snake is having trouble shedding, try setting up a humidity box (described above) if you don’t already have one, mist the enclosure 2-3 times daily, and perform daily soaking. If your pet continues to have trouble shedding, please contact your veterinarian, as this may indicate a health problem. NEVER forcefully remove shedding skin that is not ready to come off, as this may cause permanent damage to the underlying tissues. Snakes do not generally eat while in shed.
SIGNS OF ILLNESS: We highly recommend that your pet be seen for an annual physical examination and possible fecal analysis with an experienced reptile veterinarian. Please consult a reptile veterinarian should you notice any of the following signs: weight loss, decreased appetite, abnormal stools, abnormal swelling of the body, inability to close the mouth properly, discharge from eyes and/or mouth, difficulty breathing/open mouth breathing, masses/lumps, or wounds/cuts/scrapes.