On of the most expensive parts of the snake hobby is the cost of the cages. Most of us at one time or another have priced out various store bought solutions and found them to be overly expensive. Especially if we’ve gone into one of the common chain stores like Petco or Pet Smart that you see here in America. Beginners rarely know better, but established hobbyist and breeders a like both know a little secret. It’s easy, and much less expensive to make your own snake cage. In this article I will take you step by step through the process of making a simple cage for your snake.
- Planning the cage
- Your first job is to figure out exactly what your snake needs for an enclosure. Take into consideration the following:
- How large is the snake now and how large will it be in 6-12 months?
- Since making your own snake cage is so cheap you don’t need to make something it will live in for the rest of its life while it is still a baby or juvenile. At the same time you don’t want to find yourself building a new cage every other week. Aim for something it can be using in 6 to 12 months.
- What are the temperature and humidity requirements?
- Every snake differs in this regard so do some research into this aspect of keeping them. Different sized cages have different requirements in regards to establishing and maintaining the optimal temperature and humidity levels.
- Where will I keep the cage?
- Admittedly a homemade snake cage has great potential to be ugly. It doesn’t have to be, but it can be. Take that into consideration if you’re planning on the snake being housed out in the living room. You probably don’t want it to be an eye sore. On the other hand if you’re putting it in the spare bedroom that no one but you enters all bets are off.
- Is it necessary to be able to view the animal?
- Keep this in mind because you’ll need to make a choice between clear, smoked, and colored plastic when the time comes to pick up the materials.
- The materials
- Once you’ve gotten the basic plan for the cage in mind it is time to pick up the materials. Bring some money, but expect to have some left over.
- A plastic tub
- Head to your local store (Wal-Mart and Target are both good places) and find a plastic tub with a latchable lid. If you did your homework as suggested above you’ll have a pretty good idea what sized tub you need to work with. I personally use Sterilite brand but you can use whatever will get the job done.
- Under the tank heating (UTH)
- If you’re lazy like me you can just get a pre-made one at your local pet store. I personally use UTH’s made by Zoo Med. They’re about $25-$35 each and get the job done. If on the other hand you prefer to wire your own take a look at Flexwatt tape. Whichever kind you get try to get enough to cover approximately one-third of the bottom of the plastic tub.
- It’s not necessary to have both, but you definitely need at least one with the thermostat being the preferred accessories. A rheostat is basically a dimmer switch, like you find on lights, which allows you to regulate how much energy gets to the UTH and control how much heat it outputs. A thermostat turns the heat off and on depending on the temperature it is set at. Regardless of which one you get make sure you get it and use it. Even though the UTH is a low powered device it has a potential to melt through the plastic bottom of the tub, but only if left unregulated (or improperly regulated)
- Thermometer/Hydrometer gauges
- Pretty self-explanatory. You need a way to monitor the temperature and humidity settings of your snakes cage. There are many to choose from, but I just use the analog kind you stick to the side. Note that these are actual gauges and NOT the stick on the side strips that you see at pet stores. They do NOT work for a snake cages. The only temperatures they are going to measure is the side of the plastic if you use one of them.
- Digital thermometer with probe
- You could eliminate the gauges and just go with a probed version, but I prefer both. Either way have a probe with the sole purpose being to measure the “hot spot” in the snakes cage. You want to make sure that one area (generally directly over the UTH) doesn’t get to hot and burn the snake.
- Soldering iron
- You’ll need to put air holes in the plastic tub. A soldering iron works great for this as it leaves no sharp edges to be concerned about. If you don’t have a soldering iron an appropriately sized awl can be heated on a stove and used. If you choose to use a drill or similar instrument to make the holes do so from the inside out so that the jagged edges are on the opposite side of your snake.
- Duct tape
- Used to cover holes if need be and to help secure the UTH to the bottom. Not to mention helping you tame some of the cords from the UTH and probes that are strewn about.
- Two hides
- You’ll need to get the proper sized hides for your snake and that can vary depending on species, size, and other factors. All of my snakes have always gotten homemade hides. Meaning an old butter or whipped topping top with a hole cut on the side and flipped upside down for the smaller ones and a rubbermaid contain with a hole cut in the side for the larger. Obviously it’ll save you a few dollars to use the butter tub type, but if you need a hide you need a hide. You’ll still save several dollars by making one yourself.
- Water dish
- You can get a good sized dog watering bowl at a local thrift shop for pennies on the dollar of what you’d pay at the store. Size of course is dependent on the snake.
- Old newspapers
- You can use old newspapers as substrate. Much easier to clean up than things like cypress mulch or reptile bark. Besides with a plastic tub humidity shouldn’t be as hard to control as it is with a glass tank.
- Four water bottle caps
- Get 4 water bottle caps of the same size. You’ll use them as spacers to get some clearance between the UTH and the top of whatever your snakes cage sits on.
That wraps up the supply list. It looks like a lot of stuff, but it’s really not. It is pretty much everything you’ll need to get started with a snake regardless of what kind of housing you use. There are multiple advantages to using a plastic tub; ease of cleanup, ease of regulating temperatures and humidity, and last but not least, cost. If you’ve ever priced out glass tanks you know how insanely expensive they can be. Think around $130-$250 for a 20 gallon glass aquarium depending on where you get it and who makes it. A plastic tub will run you around $5-$20.00 depending on size and where you get it. That’s a huge difference in price.
- Putting the snake cage together
- Trust me when I say this takes almost no mechanical aptitude. Which happens to be just about how much I have. So if I can do this so can you, and you, and you, and you… Here’s the way I go about making mine.
- Clean the tub out
- Wash it out with mild soap and water and RINSE very, very well! Some people use a highly diluted bleach mixture and others use veterinarian grade cleaning supplies. Any of it will work but if you don’t think you’ll rinse well enough go with the vet cleaning supplies as they are generally non-toxic and snakes don’t like toxicity, at all.
- Poke some holes
- Fire up the soldering iron (or stove if you’re using an awl) and go to work poking some holes in the side and top of the plastic tub. I generally start with 5 in opposite corners and 5 in the top across the middle for 15 total holes. Once everything else is done I set it up as if the snake were in there and let it sit for about two hours. If the humidity is too high I add a few more holes, to low I tape a few up. Same thing with the temperature. It can take a few tries but with a little effort you’ll come to a happy medium between holes, temperature, and humidity.
- Place the UTH
- After I put the initial 15 holes in I flip the tub upside down and attach the UTH to the bottom of it. I try to cover about 1/3 of the bottom of the tub. I also place duct tape around all 4 edges of the UTH. For the simple fact that I’ve had them fall off before. Please note the duct tape can dry out and potentially be a fire hazard. If you’re not the type who would pay attention to it on a regular basis consider a heat resistant tape of some kind. I just use duct tape because I have it for other parts of the project and it’s simple.
Part of attaching the UTH is to setup the thermostat or rheostat. You can do it at any point, but since I’m working on it this is when I do it.
- Attach the bottle caps
- Self explanatory. Just tape them on with duct tape. You could always melt them in place, but I’m a fan of duct tape. Regardless put them on you don’t want the UTH in direct contact with the surface the snakes cage is sitting on.
- Add the substrate
- Flip it over and put some news paper in. I generally put about 6 layers over the UTH and 2-3 elsewhere. Extra over the UTH to help insulate the snake if he’s lying on it. You’ll need to determine for yourself how thick you need it to be. That’s why a thermometer with a probe is so important.
- Put you gauges in place
- Add the gauges into the tub. I generally put the two analog gauges dead center in the middle about at the height that the snake is tall. I’m just trying to get the ambient background temps and humidity in general with those. I tape the digital to the top of the cage and run the probe into the side where the UTH is and top it down to the newspaper. I keep an eye on it to ensure it doesn’t get to hot or to cold.
- Add the rest of the stuff
- Hides, water bowls, and whatever else goes in should go in now. I also crumble up some newspaper and put it in the tank to give it more “volume”. I’m not setting up a display case so it doesn’t have to be pretty it just needs to make the snakes feel secure. The extra newspaper, and hides help to do that.
- Test your setup
- Like I mentioned before after I’ve set the cage up I like to test it before putting the snake in there. In general the testing lasts for about 3-4 hours as I adjust the number of holes to account for humidity and temperature.
- Move your snake
- Once everything is working and all temperatures and humidity are stabilized move your snake into its new home. Latch the lid down and wrap a bungee cord or two around it for that little extra security. Then just watch. Your snake will probably explore a bit which means “look for a way to get out”. Better that you catch it in the act than not find out until it has escaped.
If you find it does manage to start getting out you’ll need to figure out a way to manage any gaps. I’ve always had great luck with a bungee cord or three. Some people use clips and others will drill holes and use zip-ties. No doubt there are other methods as well.
- Let the snake settle
- Give your snake about five days to settle down in its new home before you offer it food or handle it excessively. Just make sure you keep the basics going (water, humidity, temperature) and it should settle in fairly easily.
Here’s the part you’ve all been wondering about. Total cost of the project I described will vary depending on cost of materials but I’ve had it run me anywhere from $50 to $85. Now take a moment and think back to the price of a 20 gallon glass tank. At least $150.00. So clearly building your own is not just rewarding, it is economically sound. As far as time investment it comes to about 6 or 7 hours including travel to get supplies, putting it altogether, testing and adjusting. Of course if you prefer you can get some very nice tub setups pre-made by various vendors. Some of them might even be advertising on this site.
If you’re at a place where you want or need a new snake cage I hope this article will prove helpful to you.
Watch the video tutorial for clarification of the procedure!