How to Set Up Your Snake Vivarium
Congratulations on your pet snake! The great thing about keeping snakes as pets is that compared to dogs, they’re really not very demanding on you to keep them entertained. They do however, require an initial investment of time and money. Because of there being a fair amount of things involved in a snake set up, it can feel quite overwhelming but don’t sweat it, we’re here to help.
We’ll break it down into sections and just so we’re catering to anyone that would need this guide, we’ll assume you’ve just become set on buying a snake and you’ve got nothing yet, we’re going fully basic!
The first thing you’re going to need is their home, the vivarium. If you’ve got a ground dwelling snake, you’ll want your vivarium to be wider than it is tall. Likewise if you’ve got a tree dwelling snake then you’ll need a taller style vivarium to place the branches in. Research the particular snake you’d like and look at their tank size requirements, for example a corn snake requires a 4ft tank when they’re adults.
If you’re going for a baby snake, you can get your large tank but they would become anxious at the size as they feel vulnerable in open spaces. You can place them in a breeder box which can also be placed inside the main tank until they’re 8-9 months old, then they should be okay in the larger tank. Make sure they’re great at being fed and that they’re settled in nicely before you move them to a bigger tank.
There’s plenty of types available made of different things. They all have their benefits and their cons, so let's mention a few.
Plastic vivariums are cheap and durable - in fact they’ll be around for hundreds of years if they get no physical wear from you. They’re usually all clear so you can see exactly what’s going on in your snake's enclosure. They’re usually also pretty good at retaining heat too. They’re the cheapest option but you’ll mainly only find smaller ones built to house hatchlings.
Glass vivariums are usually the best looking ones and they’re also really easy to clean. They’ll also give you a great show of what’s happening inside the enclosure from all sides but a lot of designs especially with mesh lids will let out heat and humidity. They’re beautiful but expensive.
Wooden vivariums are great for retaining heat, they’re usually cheaper than glass vivariums and large ones are typically easier to find. They’re more resilient than glass as they can withstand being dropped. You won’t be able to see the action from all sides but they’ll help your snake find hiding places where they aren’t feeling as though they’re out in the open.
On the base of your vivarium you’ll want to place heat mats. These should go down before the substrate. If you're using a glass vivarium you can either put these inside the vivarium or underneath, and the heat will travel through the glass into the aquarium. If you’re using a wooden vivarium the heat mats must go inside. You’ll do well to have 2 heat mats - one for a “hot” side and one for a “cool” side, the cool side is still probably higher than room temperature especially in winter.
A lot of people only use one heat mat and this is fine, the snake still gets a warm and cold side. Place heat probes next to the mats to make sure they’re within an ideal range. You can turn down the heat slightly at night - this will mimic their natural environment. Check out the specifics for your snake breed, but most will be fine with a cool side of 68F to 74F, and a warm side of 80F to 86F.
Next up you’ll need to add a substrate. For a snake substrate we typically use Aspen Bedding, but bark is also available and some people just use newspapers. We prefer not to use newspapers because although it’s much cheaper, it doesn’t really mimic their natural environment which is what you should be aiming for. Clean up your snake's messes as soon as you spot them, and replace the substrate every 5 weeks.
Lighting? Most snakes do not require UVB lamps, some owners do include these lamps but the science says snakes do not need UVB, as they are nocturnal and wouldn’t be out in the sun in their natural habitat. However you might want to add a regular lamp to your snakes vivarium to help simulate a day and night cycle.
You’ll need at least 2 hides, but we opt for 3. One hide on the hot side, one hide on the cool side, and our third hide we have in the middle filled with moss that we keep damp - this really helps them shed their skin when the time comes.
For decorations you’ll need a climbing branch even if your snake is ground dwelling, this will help them feel more at home in a natural habitat and they will use it for climbing. Some rocks would benefit them but only opt for smooth ones - snakes rub against things when shedding and sharp rocks would injure them.
You’ll also need a water bowl, short but wide and preferably heavy as your snake will go for a bath occasionally. And that’s it! You’re all set up! For tips on how to acclimate your snake to their new vivarium, you can read our acclimating guide here.