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Caresheet: colubrid snakes

Aug 9, 2001
San Francisco, CA
The Captive Care for Common Colubrid Pet Snakes

The group of snakes that are associated with the colubrids are, the ones that are most commonly seen in the pet trade, the corn snakes (Elaphe guttata), Milksnakes (Lampropeltis triangulum ssp.), Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis gutula and other ssp), and the Gopher/Pine/Bull Snakes (Pituophis). These are snakes that usually constrict to kill prey and grow to reasonable lengths. The largest of the above listed snakes would be from the Gopher Snake group, with some specimens reaching 8' long. Despite being different snakes, all require similar care.

A suitable sized glass aquari/tank with a secure fitting screen cover is the best for these snakes. For corn snakes, a 20gallon long tank would be fine for most adults, as they usually stay at about 3.5feet long on average. Milksnakes tend to stay small, so a 15 gallon should be fine for average specimens. Kingsnakes under 4feet should be in a 20gallon long tank, atleast. As for the Gopher snakes, the length of the snake should give you an idea about the cage size.

*Note that some subspecies may be quite longer then others of that species. For example, Honduran and Black milksnakes can reach past 6feet.

For the most part, milks and kings can be heated via an undertank heater placed under one side of the tank. These snakes are usually nocturnal and won't require a basking light, but making sure some light is present will do no harm. Corns and gophers are somewhat durnial in nature, so an undertank heater and a small basking area would be fine. All of these snakes should be kept at around 85F at the "warm" side and room temperature at the "cool" side. Allowing for a warm side of the tank and a cool side will let the snakes thermoregulate and choose which temp. is best at which times.

*Note that some subspecies of milksnakes, like the Andean and other South American milks can be kept much cooler.

Substrate, Furniture, Water:
Aspen shaving is the best bedding to use for these snakes. It is non-toxic, absorbent, and allows for burrowing. It is easy to spot stool on and is quite inexpensive. Other beddings like Care-Fresh can be used, but make sure it fits that needs of that pet snake. Have atleast 1 inch of bedding and about 2" for burrowing ones.
Furniture for snakes can range from branches, etc. Branches, etc are optional, but what is required the most is a hiding area. This can be a hollow piece of bark, cork bark, a box, etc: anything that a snake can hide in. This will allow for a snake to avoid a lot of stress. Is it best to have one on both the "warm" and "cool" side of the tank.
Water: Water should be available for the snake. If you live in a humid area, a water bowl may be placed in about twice a week, but for people who live in drier places, a water bowl in the tank 24/7 is ok. The bowl should be large enough for the animal to soak in: that will help ease shedding.

*NEVER use CEDAR shavings or anything cedar with snakes. It contains harmful oils that can kill a snake.

Cleaning: Try to pick up pieces of feces when they are visible. About every month, totally clean the whole tank and replace new bedding.

Feeding: All of these snakes should feed regularly on mice or rats. Milks and Kings usually are perfect size for mice, while Corns and Gophers may grow large enough for small rats. Try to feed pre-killed or frozen thawed, as this will prevent any accidents during feeding. When appropriate, up size the mouse that is being fed. Try to keep a schedule of feeding times. A snake should be eating once a week on average. Snakes may stop feeding during the shedding process. If you see that your snake looks duller and has blue eyes, it is about to shed. You can hold of feeding until it has completed.

Colubrid snakes are the perfect beginner snakes. They stay relativly small and are quite handelable after some time.