African House Snake Care 

by Helen Lowbridge
African House Snake Pet Care

The African House Snake is one of the top beginner snakes that can be kept as a pet and is a less common species. While most individuals found available are plain brown, there are numerous colour morphs and localities. However, one of the best aspects of the African House snake is their personalities.

This article will not look at a specific species of African House Snakes. Instead, we will focus on the care that we provide our breeding group, which will also provide good care for most of those house snakes kept in captivity.

Why African House Snakes?

African house snakes are included in our best beginner snakes guide for a good reason. Their cost is relatively low, especially when compared to other species like Ball Pythons or Western Hognoses. The average price of a house snake is about £50 to £80, whereas a ball python can cost hundreds of pounds in comparison.

Of course, there are few morphs currently, and as more morphs become available, house snakes may become more expensive.

Another reason for their inclusion is their temperament. We have four African house snakes; our two breeding females are calm and docile and not likely to strike at you. In fact, between the two of them, they have only struck once after travelling. So this is likely to have been due to arriving somewhere new and having just been travelling.

Generally speaking, the species prefer to run rather than turn and fight. Our male has never struck at anyone. He is very sociable, and we have found house snakes appear to enjoy us being around. They will frequently come out from a hide to see us as we enter the reptile room.

Compared to other species, like corn snakes, we have generally found them a calmer species. Corn snakes can be very docile, but some can also be temperamental. This variance may account for the numbers that need rehoming.

African house snakes are generally great feeders. While a couple may prefer the nesting technique, the feeding success of African House snakes is about 98-99% (i.e. 1-2 meals missed out of every 100 attempts). One female, Acorn, has even been known to eat and then shed within an hour, which is uncommon for snakes.

If a African house snake refuses to eat, the reason is usually because of shedding.

African House Snake Housing

Which Enclosure to Use?

There are four types of housing that snake keepers use for an African House Snake. 

A common housing option is a vivarium. These are wooden enclosures with a glass slide-to-open front. Top-opening versions are also available. These are easily bought online or from a reputable pet shop. You can add heating and lighting to these with ease.

There is a plastic version of these known as terrariums. These don’t have doors that open at the front but plastic lids that clip on. These can be a suitable option, especially for a younger snake, but lights or overhead light sources are challenging to add.

A third option is an aquarium. These are a good option for garters and similar species, but not for African House Snakes. It can be hard to find a secure lid, attach overhead lighting and add a heat source.

The problem with many of the options above is that people tend to buy one, a good size for an adult, and place a baby inside. Snakes are adept at escaping, and larger enclosures are easier for smaller snakes to escape. And a small snake in a large vivarium can also become stressed and refuse to eat.

Therefore, at least while the snake is maturing, we recommend a RUB setup. This setup is a plastic storage box with a tight and secure locking lid. The best version of this product is the Really Useful Box. You can read how to prepare a Really Useful Box for a snake in our blog.

RUBs, if they are the right size, are great for snakes because they can better control the humidity and heat, especially compared to glass enclosures. They are also lighter, easier to move for cleaning, and you can buy several different sizes at low cost to allow the snake to have the right size enclosure for their age.

RUB setups are used by breeders and reptile enthusiasts worldwide. They are great for maintaining steady humidity, are secure and can be kept very hygienic.

RUBS have a bad reputation, because many keepers leave decorations out of their enclosures. However, any RUB offers space for hiding boxes, cork bark, fake plants, climbing opportunities, etc..

A 0.9 litre RUB is perfect for a very young house snake. You then increase the size as your snake grows. The minimum size RUB is for the length and width to be the same length of your snake. A 33ltr RUB should be sufficient for an adult house snake.

If you would like to try a bigger enclosure, you can do so and see if your snake is happy. If your snake becomes more secretive or stops eating, you can revert to the smaller one until your snake is ready to move up a size.

Enclosure Substrate

You can use paper towel as a substrate which is easy to keep clean and replace when dirty. House snakes are not big burrowers, but they will enjoy hiding underneath layers of paper towel.

Alternatively, you can use any other reptile safe loose substrate such as lignocel, aspen, coconut chips if you prefer the aesthetics of this. These substrates are more popular for a vivarium or aquarium.

Heating Your House Snake Enclosure

You will need a heat mat that is 1/3rd the size of the vivarium or RUB that you are using. You will need to attach it to a thermostat to ensure the heat mat does not get too hot or cold. We would recommend a digital thermostat, it is worth the extra cost. Set the thermostat to between 32 and 34 degrees Celsius (90 to 94 degrees Fahrenheit).

When using a vivarium, you can use a heat mat inside the vivarium, as long as you have a sheet of plastic or a ceramic tile to go on top of it to prevent your house snake from coming in direct contact with the heat mat. Direct contact with heat mat can cause burns. Some vivariums have a slide in the section underneath to fit your heat mat.

You can use a ceramic heat bulb in a vivarium. You will need to use a guard around it. House snakes, and snakes in general, like to wrap themselves around the bulb, but this can cause burns. Adding a guard prevents your house snake from coming in direct contact with the bulb. You will need to use a dimmer stat to ensure the temperature isn’t too high. However, a standard thermostat can damage the bulb when continuously turning it on and off.

Whichever heating system you decide on, you will need to create a temperature gradient. You need one side of the enclosure warmer than the other with a gradual change. Snakes are ectothermic and move to a warm or cool area to regulate their body temperature. Often the snakes will be on the hotter side after eating.

Enclosure Lighting

Most snakes do not require specialist lighting. House snakes are crepuscular; they are more active at dawn and dusk. You can use additional lighting but stick to daylight hours for your lighting to be on and ensure that you are only using UVB lighting for 8-10 hours per day.

Enclosure Essentials

You will need two hides that are the right size for your snake to curl up securely. You will need to increase the size of the hide you use as your snake grows. Place one hide on the warm side and another on the cool side.

Hides come in a variety of styles. Smooth, plastic ones are easily cleaned and maintain a steady temperature. You can make hides but make sure all the sides are nice and smooth. There are other styles available. Coconut halves can be an excellent choice young house snakes.

You can also include a damp hide containing slightly wet paper towel or moss to help with shedding. Convert a live food tub or plastic lunch box into a misting box to save on costs.

You will need a water bowl, which should be large enough for your snake to soak in but shallow enough for them to move in and out of with ease.

Decorations and Enrichment

All enclosures should have decorations to add enrichment for your house snake. Great ideas for house snakes are cork bark pieces, tree branches, plastic leaves, and tubes with holes. There are numerous choices. Our house snakes often have a favourite item. One loves her cork bark tunnel and often winds in and out of it. Our male prefers plastic leaves, and one of our females likes to lie on her flat piece of cork bark. You can have fun working out what enrichment your snake prefers.

Snakes generally like clutter as it provides them with numerous places to hide.

Feeding Your House Snake

The main prey item for house snakes is rodent. You can purchase frozen mice and rats from numerous online and local pet stores. These items can be defrosted and fed to your house snake as required. When purchasing your snake, the breeder or previous owner will tell you what size mouse or rat your house snake is eating and how often.

Babies and juvenile house snakes eat a small pinkie every 3-5 days. As they grow, the size of the prey item will increase, and they will be fed less frequently (once a week). As a rough guide, the prey item should be 1.5 times the size of the thickest part of the snake.

Some adult house snakes may prefer a larger meal once a fortnight. However, most fully grown females will eat a medium to large mouse once a week. An adult male house snake will enjoy a fluff, crawler or a large pinkie once a week. Our male house snake often enjoys a couple of pinkies instead of a larger meal.

You will need to defrost your prey item at room temperature. A pinkie can defrost in as little as 30 minutes. A larger mouse will take up to 2 hours to defrost. Never use a microwave and throw away any prey items not eaten after defrosting.

You can place the prey item on a heat mat to warm it, then use clean tongs to pick the item up from the tail or the back legs. Then offer the house snake the prey item from the front of their enclosure or, if using a RUB, slide across a portion of the lid. Don’t move your snake to feed it. They can regurgitate their food, and eating in their vivarium allows them to feel comfortable and retreat with their meal to where they would like to eat it. We like to think, imagine how we would feel being picked up just after eating a big meal!

To encourage a reluctant feeder, you can dangle the prey item and may need to give it a little wiggle. Snakes who are hesitant to strike feed might need another strategy. You can try to leave the prey item somewhere. Ensure this is a location you can clean easily. The top of a plastic hide box is a great location. Your snake may take the prey from here when you have left.

You should also ensure that your feeding time is right. Most snakes prefer to feed in the evening at dusk. This time is natural for them.

Remember to remove any rejected mice or rats promptly in the morning and clean all utensils, mats and hides that have touched prey items.

Try not to worry if your snake misses a meal. Just wait until the next feeding session. Look for a reason such as:

  • The snake is in shed.
  • It is the wrong time.
  • The temperature is too low.
  • The snake is in too big an enclosure.

If your snake refuses another meal, consider offering a smaller prey item or look at the enclosure. We rarely have snakes miss a meal.

Handling Your House Snake

We find that house snakes are in-between a ball python and a corn snake for handling. They are faster than a ball python but less skittish and generally, shall we say it, friendlier than some corn snakes!

Temperaments vary, but they can be nervous and like to feel secure when being handled. To pick up your house snake, you should reach into the enclosure and confidently scoop your house snake about 1/3rd from the head. As you lift your snake, you can use the other hand to guide your snake onto it as it moves forward each time from the 1/3rd from the head and supporting the other half of the body with the other hand.

A fifteen-minute handling session will be more than enough. Generally, house snakes will tell you when they want to return to their enclosure. So, we tend to handle them near their home. Then they have a choice when they want to go back home. This style is another difference we notice from corn snakes. House snakes seem to love their homes and the items in them. Corn snakes are avid explorers and are prone to escape when they get the chance!

House snakes are very responsive to their owner’s voices. They will come out to see you when you call their name. Our male even has a favourite song that he enjoys.

House snakes are not keen on lights or cameras, so if you are looking for a snake to take lots of photos while handling, this is perhaps not the species for you. Ball pythons tend to be much more receptive and interested in cameras, lenses, tv etc..

Remember not to handle your house snake for 48 hours after it has eaten and also when in shed.

Handling your snake is essential for checking their health, so you should get used to this aspect of their care. Once in your hands, you can let your snake guide the handling session. If you have any difficulties handling your snake, you can contact us for advice.

Shedding

Your African house snake will regularly shed their outer layer of skin, like all reptiles. This process is how they grow. The first sign of a snake going into shed is that their eyes will go cloudy. The milky eyes will last 2-3 days. After this they will shed their skin.

House snakes can struggle to shed sometimes. A rough surface like some cork bark, and a humid area such as a mist box can help your snake shed. If the snake has trouble shedding or has some stuck shed, bathe the snake or gently rub the snake to remove old skin.

Regular Maintenance

You will need to maintain your snake’s enclosure daily. Replace the water and clean the dish as necessary. You will need to spot check for poop, and if the home needs cleaning, remove your snake to a holding box, replace the substrate or paper towel. You can clean the house with a reptile disinfectant.

Every month, disinfect the whole vivarium or RUB. All areas should be cleaned, including the sides and glass. Then completely replace the substrate or paper towel.

Breeding House Snakes

African House snake breeding should be left to experienced and licensed breeders. Breeding house snakes is a real privilege for us. It is also vital for breeders to share best practise and information. Here is our advice for breeding house snakes.

Females should weigh over 250g and be at least three years of age. Males should be more than 50g and be at least two years of age. Male and female house snakes will indicate when they are ready for pairing by becoming more active. When you think they may be looking for a partner, you can introduce the male two days after both have eaten their usual prey item.

Ensure the female and male like each other, and the male will position himself alongside the female. House snakes are generally tolerant of each other, and we make sure they are happy together with several checks. You can leave a happy pair together for two days and nights. Some breeders find that they can live together for longer; however, we don’t. We repeat this process weekly until they lose interest.

House snakes will produce about ten eggs roughly two months after mating. A week before laying, they will have a pre-lay shed. Place a lay box in the house snake’s enclosure after the prelay shed for somewhere for the house snake to lay her eggs. You might also want to remove the water dish.

Eggs should be incubated at about 26 degrees Celsius on a layer of vermiculite, in a ventilated incubator. The baby house snakes will hatch roughly 2 to 2 ½ months later.

Are African House Snakes the Right Pet Snake For You?

African House Snake Pet Care
An adult African House Snake

House snakes make excellent pets. They are friendly, inquisitive and responsive to their owners, yet they can be fast to handle. They only require a short amount of handling and daily maintenance. They do not get too large, so housing them is easy in a standard-sized vivarium or appropriate RUB set up for their size.

House snakes are affordable, but there is less availability of them. Small numbers do become available from time to time. If you are interested in keeping a house snake, then it is a good idea to contact a breeder, they will be able to let you know about availability, and you can sometimes go on a waiting list for babies.

They eat small prey items and enjoy their enclosures, often becoming attached to favourite enrichment items. They live for up to 15 – 20 years so they will be part of your family for a significant time. A house snake is a fascinating snake that will become a well-known member of your family!

If you would like to find out more about keeping African house snakes you can contact us on 01255 775 876 or 07837090000. You can join our mailing list or follow us on Facebook.

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