18 Mar African House Snake Care Guide. By Rolf Dennison
Out of all the different species of snakes we keep at Ultimate Exotics, House Snakes are one of our favorite species of snakes that we work with. Although these snakes are considered to be hardy and tough, they should not be kept under the impression that they do not need any special requirements or can be neglected for long periods of time. Like any other snake they have a few important requirements in captivity that are essential for them to do well and thrive. In this article we will refer to the care of African House Snakes from the genus Boaedon, as in most cases the House Snakes under the genus Lamprophis have much more specific requirements within their individual species.
African House Snakes or House Snakes occur in sub-Saharan Africa inhabiting dense forests and deserts as well as all other habitats in-between. They are commonly found around towns and in human settlements where they will feast on the rodents and geckos which gather there hence where they got their common name from House Snake. Growing up in South Africa the House Snake is something we find on a regular basis in our gardens and inside and around our homes. For many of us as young children this was our first snake which we tried to keep and most of the time did so successfully. Today all our snakes that we work with at Ultimate Exotics are multiple generations captive bred snakes which mostly consist of the many beautiful different colour morphs around. When we first bred our wild-caught House Snakes many of the babies were more interested in geckos then pinky mice, but over the years we have selectively bred this out and all our babies eat pinkie mice from their first shed.
House Snakes are not very fussy snakes when it comes to their accommodation and can be kept in a wide variety of different enclosures as long as a few certain requirements are met. Their hot spot needs to be maintained between 29 – 32°C, their humidity needs to be around 40 – 60%, they need a water bowl at all times with clean drinking water and they need substrate and a hide. House Snakes are excellent at escaping out of enclosures so make sure there are no gaps or spaces where your snake can escape from. Pretty straight forward! We would have recommended your house your House Snake separately for two reasons, one is to prevent the risk of them eating each other due to their very aggressive feeding response and the other is to prevent them from breeding. Even if you are planning on breeding them, it is best to have separate enclosures for the male and female. This is to prevent them from consistently breeding which could put unnecessary pressure on the females health. So it is best to rather have a breeding period where you pair them up and then a rest period with no breeding for at least 6 months of the year.
There are many different cages available for sale that will work for your House Snake. You can use an Exo-Terra style glass enclosure and make an attractive naturalistic setup. You can use a reptile display enclosure which is made from laminated chipboard with glass sliding doors. You can use a desert den plastic enclosure, a glass fish tank with a custom-built lid or keep them in a racking system in plastic tubs of a suitable size.
There are many different substrates available that are suited for House Snakes. The one thing you need to keep in mind is that House Snakes are very good feeders and they seem to have fast metabolisms which means as much as they eat they also defecate. So their cages get messy quickly, this is why it is important to use a substrate that will absorb their feces well and that it is also affordable and can be change easily as you need to change their substrate often to make sure it stays clean. We use untreated wood shavings as our substrate for all our House Snakes, but other substrate that can be used is newspaper/paper towel, premium woodchips and reptile bark substrate.
The best option for heating your enclosure for your House Snake will be to use a heat pad. A temperature of around 29 – 32°C is your goal hot spot in the enclosure. This means the warmest accessible area (which is on top of your heat pad) in your House Snake enclosure is at this temperature.
It’s best to put a small heat pad near the far left or right-hand side of the enclosure, as this allows a temperature gradient from one side to the other. Basically – the farther you move from the hot spot, the cooler it gets, which is important for House Snakes since they are cold-blooded. The opposite side of the enclosure which is the opposite side to the hot spot should be around 20 – 25°C, which is normally around room temperature. Once you have setup your heat pad in the enclosure turn it on and check the temperature of it, where the snake will be sitting, it might be getting too warm and therefore it is best to attach a temperature controller that will automatically turn the heat pad on and off and maintain the temperature at the desired temperature you have set it at.
Other heating options can be used such as heating cable (which is best suited for racking systems), heat bulbs and ceramic heat emitters as long as you are achieving the desired hot spot temperatures. For most of these heating elements a temperature controller will be necessary.
House Snakes are not too fussy when it comes to humidity but they do best at around 40 – 60% humidity. A moist hide can be beneficial when it comes time for them to shed their skin. If your humidity is on the low side and you are seeing stuck sheds then it would be best to add a moist hide in the enclosure and then you won’t have any issues.
House Snakes are excellent feeders and in my opinion are one of the most effective constrictors we keep. If you have ever fed an adult House Snake and see how they strike and tightly constrict their prey in a perfectly tight coil you will understand. In the wild House Snakes are opportunistic feeders and feed on a variety of different prey items such as geckos, lizards, bats, frogs, small rodents and even small birds. Many of the adult House Snakes that we find in the wild here in Durban South Africa have got scares on their bodies and I am sure many of the wounds are from them tackling large prey items. That and possible from other predators trying to attack them. In captivity through multiple generations of captive breeding House Snakes are fed on a diet of rodents which mainly include mice and rats.
Young House Snakes can be fed often (twice a week) and if so will grow fast. This isn’t necessary though and a once a week feeding routine will be perfect. Make sure to not over feed older House Snakes as they have a large appetite and will keep eating if you offer them food. Over weight house snakes will breed poorly and may suffer from other health complications. Males are in most cases significantly smaller than females and therefore will require small rodents. Males may also go off food for periods of time during the breeding season so don’t be alarmed just keep offering food once a week as per usual and after a few hours if the snake has not eaten take the food out.
African House Snakes are sexually dimorphic in size. Females attain larger adult size than males. Adult males are around 60-75 cm while females typically range from 90-120 cm. House Snakes are slender snakes and a large heavy bodied female would rarely exceed 300 grams whereas the smaller males rarely exceed 150 grams. House Snakes can attain sexual maturity quickly and at surprisingly small sizes in captivity.
Male House Snakes also have longer tails then female House Snakes and this can be seen even as hatchlings. If you are ever unsure of sex, you can also sex your House Snakes using the same methods we use to sex Corn Snakes. Hatchlings can be pop-sexed and sub-adults and adults can be probe-sexed.
House Snakes are generally good breeders with some of the wild type varieties laying 3 – 4 clutches a year in captivity where the conditions are ideal. One must remember that if they are trying to get this many clutches a year out of their House Snakes, their snakes breeding life will be shortened. House Snakes can only develop so many egg follicles in their life time whether it is over 4 years or 8 years. So if you are getting 3 – 4 clutches a year from your House Snakes they will probably only be able to lay fertile clutches for around 4 years.
House Snakes can be bred anytime of the year without any winter cooling etc. With that being said I think a winter cycle is important as this will help with controlling their egg laying pattern and also give them a break from egg laying out of season in the cooler months. As House Snakes are from sub-Saharan Africa, this means that it doesn’t have to get very cold for long periods of time to cool them like we do with our North American colubrids. All we do is turn off the hot spot and drop night room temperatures to around 18 – 20°C and then during the day maintain hot spot temperatures at around 24 – 26°C. Feeding is greatly reduced and even stopped at this time if females are in good condition. With the cooler temperatures their metabolism slows right down and therefore their digestion slows down.
About 6 – 8 weeks after mating your House Snake will be ready to lay. Around two weeks before laying your House Snake will have a prelay shed. At this time it is important to make sure you have an egg laying box in your House Snakes enclosure. This enclosure can be a plastic container, we use a 2-liter ice-cream tub with a hole in the lid and some damp peat moss inside. This egg laying enclosure is important for House Snakes to have as they well known for laying their eggs in water dishes if they are not provided with an egg laying box with a damp substrate inside.
Once the eggs have been laid they can then be moved into an incubation tub. This can be a plastic container containing damp vermiculite a few centimeters thick and a few small holes drilled in the lid. Water need to be added to the vermiculite to make it damp. We use a 1:1 water to weight ratio so for example if you add a 100 grams of vermiculite you will then add 100 grams of water. Dig a small indent in the moist vermiculite and carefully move the eggs as they were laid in the egg laying box to the incubation box. Be careful not to turn the eggs during this process as this may cause the embryo to drown. Incubate the eggs at 29 – 30°C, at this temperature eggs will take around 60 days to hatch.
House Snakes have developed a bit of a bad reputation of being extremely prolific egg layers, giving people the impression that they just lay and lay throughout the year producing hundreds of babies. This false reputation devalues them as people think that a new mutation can quickly be bred in large quantities bringing down the price fast. We have found that this is not the case, although some House Snakes (mainly wild type) may be very good breeders we have found that many of the mutations lay smaller, fewer clutches and good care needs to be taken to ensure fertile healthy eggs.
Although hatchlings and juveniles can be jumpy and bitey the adults tame down very well and are easy to handle. A bit of advice is to be very careful when opening the tubs or cages of the hatchlings as they are like a loaded spring and often come flying out of their tubs and you don’t want them to fall from far and hit the ground possibly causing them harm. Like I mentioned as they get older they do tame down and you won’t have this problem. We also find their temperament varies between individuals, some are very calm even as hatchlings and others are just a bit more jumpy and might always be. Keep in mind they have a very good feeding response so make sure they don’t mistake your hand for food. House Snakes have long teeth! When handling them and working with them they remind me in many ways of a miniature python and they have been one of our favorite species to work with over the many years of keeping snakes.
We hope this article has covered everything you need to know when it comes to keeping and caring for House Snakes. House Snakes have had a growth in popularity over the recent number of years due to the beautiful variety of mutations that have become available. For a complete article on House Snake mutations, take a look at our article under the blog section on www.ultimateexotics.co.za. Another appealing aspect is House Snakes are easy to care for and can be kept the same way as other colubrids such as Corn Snakes and Kingsnakes. This in turns make them an easy species to add to a collection for someone who already has had experience with other colubrids.
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