One thing which sets reptiles apart from most other pets is their need for artificial heating, especially in the wintertime. If a snake gets too cold then it will stop eating and eventually pass away, so getting your snake’s heating requirements right is an essential part of successful snake care.
The question then becomes how best to heat a snake cage; after all simply placing your snake vivarium next to a radiator probably isn’t the best idea. What you’ll want instead is a professional reptile heater which will not only run all year long if necessary (many keepers find artificial heating isn’t necessary in the summer months) but will also allow very precise control of the temperature.
However, before we begin looking at the different types of reptile heaters, there are two general rules that are important to understand.
Consider how snakes maintain their temperature in nature. When they get cold, they slither into the sun, perhaps on a hot rock, and sit there soaking up the warmth of the sun. However they don’t stay there all day; when they start to get too hot they then slither off to hunt for prey or a mate.
In other words, snakes regulate their body temperature by moving around, and it’s essential to provide this in captivity. We do this through what is known as a “heat gradient” – essentially heating one end of the cage but leaving the other unheated. This means that your snake can easily move into warmer or cooler areas as necessary, so as to maintain a suitable body temperature and behave naturally.
A thermostat is a device that controls the temperature of a heater. Many reptile heaters come without a thermostat attached, but in all cases, they should be considered necessary. Some reptile heaters are capable of getting very hot indeed, and some may overheat given the wrong conditions.
There is, consequently, a very real risk of cooking your snake alive if you’re unlucky. Using a thermostat will help to eliminate this risk, ensuring that if your snake tank gets too hot, the heater will automatically be switched off, allowing the tank to cool back down to a reasonable temperature. By constantly turning your heater on and off throughout the day, you’ll be able to ensure that your snake cage remains at the optimum temperature for your pet.
With these two tips out of the way, we can begin looking at some of the better heaters that can be used for pet snakes.
The simplest and cheapest type of heating for pet snakes is the heat mat. These wafer-thin heaters essentially consist of a heat-emitting plate, with a cable and plug coming out of the end, sandwiched between two pieces of sealed clear plastic. Heat mats emit only a very low level of heat – up to roughly 25’C – and are simplicity itself to use. Even better, because they’re relatively low-powered, they’re also very cheap to run, costing a matter of pennies per day.
Heat mats are arguably the best type of heating to get started with because they are so cheap and simple to use. The chances of burning yourself are about nil and a vast range of different sizes are available, meaning that they can be used in almost any sized cage.
The only downside, if there is one, is that they are so low-powered that for snakes that like a really hot environment, they may not quite be enough on their own, and supplementary heating may be required.
Heating cables work very similarly to heat mats. They too don’t tend to get overly hot and are cheap to run. The key difference, if you didn’t guess it from the name, is that rather than being a flat heater onto which you place your reptile’s cage, they instead consist of a cable. The length of the cable varies considerably between models.
The reason why some people opt to use heat cables rather than heat pads is quite simply that a single long cable will allow you to heat a large number of cages. Arguably they therefore give you greater control in the future if you plan to expand your collection and would like to use one device to heat multiple cages.
Electric Light Bulbs
Electric light bulbs have long been a popular option for heating reptile cages. They are arguably the cheapest of all to install, though can get very hot indeed. This matters for two reasons. Firstly, while some reptile keepers manage to get away with not using a thermostat with the above heating options, with a light bulb you absolutely will need one to prevent your pet from overheating.
In addition, as the surface of the light bulb gets so hot, you will also need to install a “cage” or cover around the bulb, to stop your pet from climbing up and coming into direct contact with it. You’ll find that reptiles are surprisingly good climbers and a number of snakes and lizards over the years have burned themselves on unprotected heating elements.
Ceramic Heating Elements
The final type of reptile heater we’re going to discuss is the “ceramic”. While there is a range of different shapes and types of ceramic heaters, the best way to think of them is like a light bulb that only gives out heat, but no light. This can be a benefit because they can be run at night without upsetting your pet snake’s daily rhythm.
That said, ceramic heaters can get even hotter than exposed bulbs and so the same level of precaution is necessary. Ceramics are very powerful and cost more both to buy and to run, so in many cases can be considered “overkill” for most snakes. However, some lizards, which need it really hot, can really benefit from these high-powered heating devices.