Having a happy, healthy pet snake whose mind is adequately stimulated is no easy feat. Many snake owners might wonder how they can tweak their snake’s terrarium to offer the greatest enrichment and most closely mimic a snake’s natural habitat. You may also wonder what types of items are safe for your snake and what could potentially harm them.
Can I put rocks in my snake tank? Yes, you can put rocks in your snake’s tank. Just be sure these rocks are the right size and have been cleaned properly before placing them in your pet snake’s terrarium. Disinfected branches and hollow logs also make great additions to your snake’s habitat.
Ample “bio enrichment” will ensure good health, both mental and physical, in your pet snake. Read on to learn about the benefits of this type of enrichment, find out which items can pose a threat to your snake when placed in their terrarium, and how to prepare natural items for your snake’s habitat.
An Enriching Enclosure
Snakes need more than just food, water, and shelter to thrive. They also need the right type of environment and enrichment. Much of this enrichment will come from items you place within your snake’s enclosure.
First, your snake needs access to a water dish. This dish should be heavy and shallow so your snake does not knock it over, and can climb into it easily. Your snake will not only drink this water (which should be changed daily to keep it fresh), but will also soak in it from time to time.
Snakes also need good hiding spots. The general rule is that your snake, whether it be a corn snake or a ball python, should be given at least two hides, one on the warm side of their enclosure, and one on the cool side. More hides are always better. Snakes need these hiding spots to feel secure and unstressed, and will often sleep, eat, and relax within them.
You can also give your snake access to both live and artificial plants. Snakes, especially a ball python, for example, love lots of natural cover within their enclosure. Fake plants are easier to maintain, but do have some downsides.
For example, they may contain protruding wires and can be fatal to your snake if they are ingested. Live plants are a bit trickier to maintain, but are much safer for your pet.
You can also provide climbing branches for your snake. Ball pythons, for example, are both terrestrial and semi-arboreal, meaning that some snakes (particularly males and some juveniles) prefer hunting in trees. Ball pythons of all ages and sexes will still climb from time to time, when given the opportunity to do so.
In addition to live plants, you can add leaves to your snake’s enclosure. Leaf litter provides an excellent sensory experience for your snake. They can slither over these leaves and burrow into them.
Just be sure to inspect leaves that you find outdoors for insects before putting them in your snake’s enclosure. Parasitic insects, such as ticks and mites, can latch onto your pet snake and seriously affect their health.
Lastly, you can put rocks in your snake’s enclosure. These can be rocks that you find outside and clean appropriately, or artificial reptile habitat rocks purchased online or at a pet store. Rocks promote exploration and basking.
They can also provide a great health benefit to your snake by providing a rough surface on which your snake can rub their body when they are shedding their skin. Refrain from using heat rocks with your snake, as they can pose some serious dangers.
Terrarium Dangers to Snakes
Although there are several items that can be hazardous to your snake when they are placed in its habitat, rocks are not typically one of them. As long as the rocks you select do not have jagged, sharp edges, are not placed directly under a heat lamp so that they become too hot, and are well-anchored so that there is no danger of them toppling onto your snake, they are typically quite safe.
The terrarium dangers you should be aware of, include the following:
- Excessive heat: All reptiles are cold-blooded and require the right amount of heat to survive. You should do careful research about the temperature requirements for your specific species of snake before setting up their enclosure. However, reptiles can be susceptible to excessive heat as well. Always be sure to place reliable thermometers at each end of your pet reptile’s enclosure to monitor the temperatures at the cool and warm ends. If your snake spends too much time above their ideal temperature, it can have serious effects on their health.
- Heat rocks: As mentioned previously, heat rocks can be quite dangerous to your snake, or to any pet reptile. If you are going to use them, do so with extreme caution. These rocks can reach temperatures that can easily burn your snake if they spend too much time sitting on them. Snakes often coil around hot rocks and can receive serious burns.1
- Improper substrate: There are many good options for substrate when it comes to a pet snake. Natural reptile bedding, reptile soil, and coconut husk substrate are all excellent options. You can provide additional enrichment by switching the type of bedding in your snake’s enclosure from time to time. Just keep in mind that the wrong kind of substrate can be deadly. Pine and cedar shavings, for example, contain oils that can cause neurological damage in reptiles. Sand can be ingested by your snake and can cause serious harm.
- Poisonous plants: If you are going to provide your snake with live plants (which is highly recommended!) just be sure that you are not placing plants in their enclosure that are toxic to your pet. Aloe, Azaleas, Calla Lilly, Daffodils, Foxglove, Impatiens, Holly, Morning Glories, Oak, and Poinsettia are all on the list of plants that can poison your reptile. Do careful research before introducing plant life of any type to your snake’s habitat.
- Live prey: When it comes to feeding your snake, frozen food is best. You can thaw and warm your snake’s frozen meals in a way that will make them a lot more appealing. Live mice and rats can scratch and bite your reptile. These wounds are not only painful, but can be fatal. They can also get infected, causing a serious health risk to your snake.
Preparing Natural Items for Your Snake
Items obtained from the wilds of your own back yard can provide excellent enrichment for your snake, you’ll just need to keep several things in mind when gathering these items.
First, select rocks that are relatively smooth, without jagged, sharp edges that could injure your snake. Select rocks that have flat bottoms and low centers of gravity and are large enough that they cannot be toppled over by your snake.
Be careful to avoid branches or hollow logs that come from pine or cedar trees, since the oils in these types of wood are toxic to reptiles, especially snakes.
Second, any natural item that you intend to give your snake should not be gathered from an area that has had any pesticides or fertilizers used on it, ever. Even if these pesticides were sprayed in the area two years ago, some of them can linger within porous rocks and branches, rendering them unsafe for your reptile.
Third, you must clean natural items before placing them in your snake’s enclosure. Do not use bleach or other household cleaning products. Wood and various types of rock can be quite porous and will absorb harmful chemicals that can then be transferred to your reptile.
Instead, you can simply scrub these items with a scrubbing brush and hot water. You can also bake natural items in your oven (at about 225°F for approximately 20 minutes) to remove harmful bacteria. Remove these heavy items from the oven with extreme caution and allow them to cool for at least ten minutes before attempting to touch or move them.
When you place natural branches in your snake’s enclosure, be sure that they are well-secured and will not fall onto your snake. These branches should be placed in a snake’s tank so that they slope from the bottom of the tank to the top and can be easily climbed. You can bury the bottom of rocks in your snake’s substrate to anchor them to the ground.
Rocks provide excellent natural enrichment for pet snakes and can be used in your pet’s enclosure when they are gathered and prepared correctly.
Be sure that you also provide your snake with adequate hiding spots, a shallow dish of fresh water for soaking and drinking, the proper type of substrate, and some live or artificial plants.
To keep your snake safe, only provide live prey to snakes who have consistently refused frozen rodents of all types and avoid live plants that are toxic to your reptile.