I don’t mean FUNCTIONALLY natural enclosures/decor (i.e., places to hide, foliage for cover, basking area, proper substrate). I mean from a purely cosmetic stand, would a reptile be aware of or benefit from having natural-looking plants, hides, and decor? As opposed to “fun” decor, like what’s often used in aquariums (castles, unrealistic backgrounds, colorful decor, etc.)? I admit, I like novelty enclosure furnishings. XD If the animal itself does better surrounded by a “natural” environment (most closely resembling what they would encounter in their native region), I would obviously prioritize that, though. Does a snake or lizard care whether its hiding under a dinosaur skull or a realistic stone, or log?
I wouldn’t imagine to them that it matters.
Otherwise we wouldn’t find reptiles in our buildings, garages etc.
Lol! So so true Randall!
I was thinking most of our animals are captive bred. I don’t think they have any idea/concern what they’re natural habitat or natural substances for things like substrate ect. are. I for one love the look of natural enclosures and do envy the people that can do a bioactive or a natural zoo looking type enclosure. I could or would never do it, I may someday design a natural “looking” enclosure with fake plants, rock walls ect. but it would have to be super easy to clean. I am in the cleanliness is next to godliness camp for sure! I want to F-10 disinfect things and I am even on the fence about using substrate(unless your reptile needs to burrow or physically needs some sort of substrate of course!) I still use paper towel or acid free blank newspaper since after my corn snakes had mites way back in the 90’s! Although I have heard great things about coco block type substrate. Just don’t know if I could ever do it😂
My crested gecko is in a bioactive environment and it’s working quite well. However, I would rather see a squeaky clean tub, clean water and clean substrate and a healthy snake that eats consistently. So yes all my snakes are in tubs. I simply do not have the room for anything else. But they all came from breeder tubs and are now in much larger tubs with hides, water bowls, and greenery.
I don’t know or could not even try to guess if my guys would know the difference between real and fake or would even care. Do I feel they are mistreated? No. As a matter of fact they even share my room! Come to think of it I have created a giant enclosure with me in it too! Lol!
So true, lol!
I guess I was thinking partly in terms of color recognition, since reptiles (as far as I know, all?) see color. Like, if certain colors would seem to indicate danger, while others indicate good cover to hide in?
In the case of a blue tongued skink, their entire defense mechanism seems to be partly based on: “Look! I have a scary tongue! It’s BLUE! Run away!” I know the tongue color also functions as sun protection, but since it seems particular to the bts… I’m guessing it’s part of the intimidation display.
My dog once came back from the groomer with her claws painted green for a holiday season… and she chewed at them all week. When they were painted red or pink though… she ignored them completely, every time. I figured out that she couldn’t tell that anything was different… since dogs can’t see red.
That’s interesting about the color thing with snakes because I always thought that they can see shadows but they depend on their sense of smell mostly……
I’ve always read that most snakes see blue, green, and UV, and many see well in low light. Interestingly, this would mean that most species should be oblivious to bright oranges and reds… which are common “warning” colors on insects, frogs, and the like.
I don’t think so. I think that as long as they have shelter, heat, water, food, and enough space to thermoregulate, they’ll do well. People who keep their snakes in big fancy bioactive enclosures love to talk about how happy and enriched their snakes seem, but let’s just be honest, none of use have a clue what snakes are feeling outside of defensive behavior.
I think this is part of a larger issue of us anthropomorphizing snakes. Most human emotions are relevant to us because they help guide social interaction. Happiness, anger, love, all of them only exist to make interaction between multiple humans easier. Snakes, aside from garter snakes, aren’t social at all. Why would they have the same emotions as us? I suspect that snakes primarily feel hunger, fear, thirst, and protectiveness. What more would they need for survival? Given anatomical differences between them and us, they would also feel those things differently. They don’t have much of a reason to feel happiness like we do, so why would they evolve it?
Given how many snakes in the wild use boards or tin as cover, and given that lizards almost seem to prefer walls and manmade structures to natural ones, I suspect they don’t care. Why would they? If it provides shelter and security (the most important things on the mind of any prey animal), it’s good enough. That’s why I think it’s fine to keep snakes in racks. I keep mine in 4’ naturalistic PVC terrariums for my own viewing, but I know that they’d do just as well in a smaller enclosure or rack.
Thank you @monty_pituophis! You have expressed my own feelings to a T!
Agreed. This is an issue.
This is inaccurate. Rattlesnakes, for instance, have well documented social ties. Here’s a fascinating article on that. Rattlesnakes are Surprisingly Social Animals - Animal Cognition
I suspect there are other species with more social structure than we’ve realized. We’ve made assumptions and accepted them as fact.
I believe that, in every species, there’s a lot we don’t understand. It is virtually impossible to evaluate the cognition or emotion of many human, let alone other species. Turns out even trees appear to communicate. Do Trees Talk to Each Other? | Science| Smithsonian Magazine
I do not think we can know just what our snakes are feeling. I do not think their feelings are like ours. But I have observed behavior which indicates that they have them.
I recently had an unexpected opportunity to “test” at least one aspect of whether or not snakes care if their enclosures look and/or feel natural.
When changing the substrate for my blood python’s enclosure recently, I realised that I didn’t have anywhere near enough coco husk. I looked to see what I did have, and noticed I had some recycled paper bedding normally sold for small mammals (someone had given it to me for my chinchilla, but it’s not safe for chins, so this big bag had been sitting in my closet for over a year). I figured that would do, at least for a few days until my new bag of coco husk arrived.
I’ve noticed literally zero changes in her behaviour since using the paper bedding. She burrows in it just like the coco husk, ate just fine, and is doing all the snake things she normally does. I’m a little worried about the paper potentially being more prone to mold growth, so I’ll probably go back to the coco husk, but I don’t think my snake cares one way or the other.
I don’t think reptiles care what their enclosure looks like so long as it allows them to feel safe and engage in their natural behaviours. Granted, we can’t really ask them about their aesthetic preferences, but all behavioural indications are that they don’t care.
So I totally agree with your conclusion. I believe the first and only thing any snake needs is to feel secure in their enclosure so they will eat. If you put a baby ball python in a 40 gallon tank with nothing but substrate, there is a good chance that baby won’t eat. Then you start putting all of these “enrichment” things into the tank but the baby still won’t eat. Then you add a hide, won’t eat, then another hide, then another and so on. Until finally there is so much stuff in that tank you can’t put anything else in it but the baby still won’t eat.
Finally you take him out of that 40 gallon tank filled with all kinds of gadgets and you put him in an 8 qt, or equivalent, with at least one hide, preferably 2, an uth and of course some substrate and a water bowl and all of a sudden that little baby is chowing down. Because he finally feels safe and secure enough to eat.
In the wild, imho, snakes need food to survive and a safe place to eat that food. The rest of the time they hide from predators in the brush or in the trees.
I also think snakes seem to “explore” when in fact they’re stretching out, over, under or through whatever is in their way. My vet told me once that a snake has to be able to stretch out occasionally to keep its respiratory system functioning without issues. And that includes climbing up a branch, tree, vine, etc. in the wild, or being housed in an enclosure that is long enough on tall enough.
Now there are plenty of other folks here who would and will argue the opposite, which is totally fine with me! But until we can see a snake smile, or hear one laugh or say ahhhhhthis is nice, we will have to continue to share differences of opinion constructively.
But if a snake is eating consistently, then security wise, all is well In whatever said snake lives in…….
That study on rattlesnakes is fascinating. The behavior almost reminds me of coyotes, which hunt alone most of the time but often congregate together. I know that Snake Discovery has seen better feeding responses from baby hognoses when they’re housed together. I wonder if this is more common than we think.
This is something I’m struggling with, as far as my plans for getting a snake down the road. I plan to feed in a separate enclosure (to avoid unwanted feeding responses at other times), so it’s simple enough to just get a small, cozy space for the snake to “dine out” in. But… do they end up feeling unsafe once they get “back home”, because now they’re in what they perceive as an “open space” again? In the end, would they be happier living in a smaller space altogether, and getting exercise and enrichment from being handled and interacted with? I can see where a big tank would be horrifying for a tiny baby, especially a very shy species… It kind of makes me sad to think that snakes have to feel “on edge” when they’re eating, instead of just enjoying their meal… but it makes sense. It takes them a (relatively) long time to swallow, and they’re putting themselves in a vulnerable position…
(Obviously this is going to vary a lot by species—the ones I’m interested in are mostly heavy-bodied constrictors that act as ambush predators. The vast majority of those would be living a pretty sedentary life in nature, right? Big or small enclosure, I only want to do what’s right for the snake… but it really can be hard to avoid the impulse to anthropomorphize. I know that I—as a human—would always try to take the biggest bedroom in the house before my brother could call dibs… but I’m not a snake, with a snake’s-eye-view of comfort and security. To a snake, does all that extra room just mean: “More potential weak points in the perimeter! ”?)
All of those are North American species, too (assuming you don’t mean Madagascar giant hoggies, haha)… Garters, rattlesnakes, and possibly hognoses… even species like fox snakes and blue racers will share inter-species dens for hibernation purposes. Is there a regional/environmental impetus for social behavior in NA? The European adder is faced with harsher cold, but is extremely solitary, so that alone wouldn’t explain it… Fascinating stuff.
I know this is common advice, but in my opinion, it’s completely unnecessary in most circumstances, and just ends being an added source of stress for both you and the snake (which can make the snake not want to eat, which adds even more stress for you). Being fed in the enclosure doesn’t make snakes more “cage-aggressive.” I have a very food-motivated snake (blood python), and I feed her in her enclosure. When I’m not going to feed her, I just touch her gently with a snake hook to “turn off” any expectations she has of getting fed, and she knows what that means and settles right down. After that I can pick her up, mess around with stuff in her cage, or do whatever else I need to do, and I don’t worry about her mistaking my hands for food.
And honestly, most snakes don’t have the feeding response of a blood python or retic. There are plenty of snakes you don’t even really need to “tap train.” I mostly did it out of an abundance of caution, even though my blood python is a doll, just because I know that she (and her species in general) often have a strong feeding response, so it seemed prudent.
So yeah, just plan to feed your snake in its home. It’s easier and better for all involved. If your snake has a strong feeding response, tap training is a better option than moving to a separate container for feeding, at least in my view.
So without opening up a Pandora’s box I will reply to the questions you asked and of course these are my opinions ONLY just from keeping for years.
I feed in the enclosure. Unless a snake smells food it is not going to strike. If your hand smells like a yummy rodent and you put it in the enclosure, chances are you are going to get bitten, especially if the snake is hungry. But it helps to know your snake. There are a few that are going to strike no matter what. I would still feed in the enclosure. There are people however who feed in a different enclosure because of the feeding response notion but not me.
The reason for this is thatI think it can be stressful for a snake that already feels safe in its home (will get to that) to be pulled out of that safe feeling home and put into an unfamiliar scary box of some sort with a prey item that it may or may not eat. The bottom line is that if a snake has an enclosure created for it to feel safe enough to eat it meals in it, then why should it be yanked out of it to eat its meals somewhere else?
Of course you have to be careful with babies and the risk of impaction from loose substrate so it’s a good idea to keep the little ones on paper towels until they grow a bit. But that’s a whole different discussion.
As far as enclosures go, I don’t have the room for huge elaborate enclosures because I have 17 snakes and they are all in my bedroom. Granted all but one of them are small snakes but still. Hence they are all in tubs, but not racks. But even if I had a huge room dedicated to only my snakes, I would still keep them in tubs. Does that make me a bad keeper? Others may think so but I don’t.
For me tubs are so easy to clean, they hold heat and humidity well and I just think snakes feel safer in them because ALL of my guys are eating and thriving! Sure the elaborate enclosures are beautiful but all I see is the maintenance/cleaning involved. And if a snake lives in a dirty environment for very long illnesses can take over quickly. The more cage furniture etc the more maintenance etc, even in a bioactive enclosure. I just like nice clean tubs.
Now lastly enclosure size. A snake should be able to stretch out in an L shape minimum. If a snake cannot stretch out once in a while respiratory issues can arise, or at least this is what my vet recommended. So a snake needs to either go vertically or horizontally to stretch out. Imho, if you keep a snake for viewing only, then that animal needs as much space as possible because it gets no exercise from handling.
But again imho, I think a snake greatly benefits from exercise outside of its enclosure, whether it’s on a (enclosure) cleaning day or another day just to be out with its human. Unless of course it’s stressful for the snake. Otherwise just letting your snake slither a bit through your hands or explore a little, supervised of course, would be a great exercise for the snake and “enrichment” for you! But imo the majority of the time all snakes want to do is hide and eat safely , the two things necessary for survival in the wild.
So this stuff is just some of the things I have come away with in the years I have been keeping and none of it would hold up in a court of law of course Lol! But for me most of it is just plain old common sense.
Hopefully others will come along with their experiences, maybe constructive criticisms, differences of opinion etc. Breeders and keepers!
All the advice here is solid. I dont believe snakes care about how fancy their enclosure is as long as it feels safe, room to move and proper temps can be maintained. I handle my snakes multiple times a week with a 3 day break after feedind which includes outside time so they get plenty of enrichment and are used to being held. I usually remove to feed to avoid substrate getting ingested and I’ve been doing that for over 20 years of keeping large snakes including burmese pythons. I’ve never had an issue of regurgitation or stress related issues but thats just my experience, doesn’t mean it wont happen to you. However, I have never noticed a difference in how my snakes reacted when opening the enclosure regarding feeding responses from feeding outside the enclosure, they’re always hungry. I always use a hook on my larger snakes and give them a gentle rub on their head to let them know its not feeding time and the smaller ones get a little rub from my hand. Keep in mind as a snake gets larger it can be a chore to move from place to place. I most likely will move to paper in the future and all my boas will eat in the enclosure.
Hmmm… yeah, I had considered the issue of moving back and forth for feedings being stressful, but wasn’t sure if the benefits outweighed the risks? The substrate blockage thing kind of scares me, in all honesty.
Do snakes (in general, not counting extremely fossorial species like sand boas or dragon snakes) get much out of substrate, really? It almost seems like it would be rough or “pokey” on their belly scutes as they’re moving around. Are towels or some type of “reptile carpet” a smarter choice, and of equal benefit to the snake? In nature, I don’t think many species would be moving consistently over mulchy terrain, after all. There would be sand, soft topsoil, smooth, hard ground, leaf litter, tree branches, rocks (rough and smooth alike), and even manmade surfaces like pavement, concrete, outdoor wood flooring in barns, or on decks and patios, trampled down pastures, etc., etc…. It would be impossible to truly emulate ALL of that… so is just sticking with one (like aspen, for instance) really the best choice? I’m asking from a standpoint of complete inexperience, for the record. I’ve seen a lot of debate around the best ways to outfit a snake’s enclosure, and it really can be overwhelming.
The boas I keep love to bury themselves and coconut keeps odor at bay since my enclosures are in the house