Properly and adequately heating a snakes cage is paramount to its well being. There are several methods that can be used to ensure the proper temperatures are reached and maintained. You want to avoid going to extremes either higher or lower than the optimal temperature ranges for the species of snakes you are keeping. It should also be noted that regardless of the type of heating you decide to use the temperatures must be carefully monitored to ensure that it is maintained. A properly operating thermostat is essential for all methods of heating described below.
#1 – Ambient room temperature
If you are able to raise the air temperature of the room that the snake’s cage is setup in that is a great way to heat the cage. This is best accomplished by using a space heater in a smaller space to avoid forcing the rest of the house to endure unseasonably warm temperatures in the summer. During the winter people don’t seem to complain quite as much about the extra heat. Be certain to read and understand all safety precautions related to any space heater you decide to use. We can not be held responsible if anything goes wrong. Also beware of your heating bill. I’ve found a small space heater with a thermostat and an overheat safety is a good method of heating small room such as a guest bedroom, or walk-in closet.
#2 – Heat Lamp
A heat lamp situated to focus in the cage can provide your snakes with additional heat. If you decide to use a heat lamp to keep the cage warm you’ll need to either get to decide if you want to use two bulbs; one for night and one for day, or just one bulb for both. ‘Before you decide either way consider the implications of each approach.
Get two of them. One for day time and one for night time. The night one provides heat and lets you observe your snake but the light is filtered through a coating that makes it invisible to your snake’s eyes. You can get either red or blue. The red ones provide a marginal amount of UVB benefits, which is wasted on snakes because they don’t need it. The UVB won’t harm the snakes it just isn’t an additional buying point.
Get one bulb, a red or blue one, and use it for both day and night. During the day the light provided to your snakes is natural sun light that gets into the room, or whatever overhead lights you use are. The heat lamp still has to be left on to help maintain the proper temperatures.
Whatever setup you decide here is some information about the bulbs themselves.
- Incandescent Bulbs:
These bulbs are what you generally see in overhead lights in a room. They are cheap, provide a high heat output and are easily obtainable. Their heat output can be significant so it is important to monitor your temperatures closely.
- Compact Florescent Bulbs (CFLs):
CFLs are those energy saver bulbs that look like spirals and the manufacturers often claim to last much longer than traditional light bulbs. I’ve not had as many hours out of them as the claims I’ve heard others make but they definitely cut down on my electrical bills when used. They are often significantly more expensive than incandescent bulbs. They also contain mercury which complicates disposal.
- Fluorescent Bulbs:
These lights require special hoods to be fitted on the top of a snake’s cage in order to be used. They are the long bulbs often found in classrooms and office buildings. They are precursors to the CFLs. There are a multitude of issues with these types of bulbs that go beyond the fact that they also contain mercury. For instance –
- Frequently turning them off and on leads to much shorter lifespans
- They hum, an effect caused by minor faults in the electromagnetic ballast, which could could disturb your snakes
- Air temperature effects their operation. The cooler the air is the less efficient they are at heating, the longer it takes them to come on, and sometimes if it’s cold enough they won’t work at all. But if it’s that cold chances are it’s too late to help many types of snakes anyhow.
Heat lamps have a few disadvantages that you should keep in mind as well.
- They dry out the air making humidity more of an issue
- In order for them to heat they have to be left on 24/7 which can be stressful on your snake
- They can be expensive both in terms of bulb cost and electricity
#3 – Ceramic Heat Bulbs (CHB)
I’ve separated this kind of heating element from the rest of the heat lamps because they give off heat but no light. This allows your snakes to take advantage of natural light cycles (photo periods). CHBs use Infrared (IR) to heat the objects in the tank. This is how sunlight works, it mainly heats objects and to a lesser extent the air around us. They become extremely hot and require a special light fixtures designed for the high amount of heat they generate. Due to this extreme heat they should never come into contact with your snakes or any other object. These bulbs dry out the air in your terrarium like the others do so you’ll need to compensate for that as well.
#4 – Radiant Heat Panel (RHP)
These employ the same concept as the ceramic heat lamps in that they both take advantage of infrared (IR) heat to heat the air inside of your snake’s cage. Unlike CHBs the surface of the RHPs do not get nearly as hot. They can still put off a great deal of heat. Don’t be fooled by their relatively cool exterior. The temperature inside the cage, particularly the objects being heated by the IR can be significantly higher. There are several claims made about the RHPs made by pro-products.com that one can’t help but consider. Some of them include:
- Can’t catch on or cause a fire, period
- Can be safely mounted directly against any type of surface
- Made from completely non-combustible materials
- Safe to the touch for both humans and snakes
- 80% more efficient than any other kind of heating source
- 10 year warranty, with a 50+ year expected life
#5 – FlexWatt heat tape
For a long time FlexWatt has been the standard used in heating snake racks. It’s not seen in most homes unless the person happens to have a rack or a larger cage that it came pre-installed in. In order to use it safely you MUST use a thermostat to regulate the output otherwise it just gets hotter and hotter until it burns out, causes a fire, kills your snakes, and sometimes all of the above. It is very effective and safe when used properly. If you chose to use FlexWatt you should request the supplier wire it for you unless you are comfortable working with electrical components.
Like to thanks Kaorte for pointing out that I left off under tank heaters (UTH). Not sure how that happened, but it did. Anyhow a UTH is heater that adheres to the bottom of the snake’s tank and provides belly warmth. This heat is in addition to keeping the ambient air temperature in the cage at proper levels, and helps the snake to digest its meals. While they get very hot and should be regulated with a thermostat they can’t be relied on to heat a tank without any other devices helping. The principle is similar to FlexWatt except each cage requires it’s own UTH and each UTH it’s own power receptacle. They work great for one or two tanks, but if you have much more than that it makes sense to go with FlexWatt as one piece can be used with multiple tanks. I you watch my video on building your own snake tank you’ll see a UTH in it.