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The importance of a thermostats for your pet snakes

A thermostat is an important part of any snake owners setup. Keeping the temperatures properly regulated can mean the difference between your animal thriving or just surviving. Thermostats are devices used to maintain a specific temperature within an environment. Nearly every modern house has a thermostat that can be turned up or down to raise
or lower the heat as desired. Your pet snake also needs a thermostat to keep the temperatures at the appropriate levels for them to be comfortable. The thermostat you use for your snakes is much the same as the thermostat you use for your home except they generally aren’t mounted to the wall and for the safety of your reptiles they often have safety features such as shutting the heating device down completely if there is a malfunction.

How it works

The mechanics of a thermostat is fairly basic. There’s a thermometer inside that reads the temperature and then depending on if it is mechanical or digital it sends an electrical current to the heating device that either keeps it running, turns it on, or turns it off. The mechanical thermostat does this by way of mercury switch. A digital thermostat is different in that they rely on a resistor that’s resistance changes due depending on the temperature.

Types of thermostats used for reptiles

Due to their specialized needs you shouldn’t just throw any old thermostat on your snake’s tank. I’m sure it’s possible if you’re inclined to do the wiring, but I don’t know that I’d trust the average household Wal-Mart or Home Depot thermostats to be able to make the adjustments that are needed as quickly as they are needed for the purpose of keeping your pet snake healthy. That’s why you should consider a thermostat that is designed for use with reptiles. In order to make the best choice as to which kind thermostat to use you’ll need to know a little bit about them.

  • On/Off

    This is a very simple design. When the temperature reaches the proper level it shuts off and when the temperature drops below that level it turns back on. These work fine for general husbandry practices but aren’t well suited for incubation because they often allow the temperature to go a few degrees above or below the set-point before they turn on or off. Jeff Ronne of Boaphile Plastics has written an article on his site advocating the on/off thermostat as a money saver. You can read the article for yourself, but essentially he points out that all the microadjustments the proportional thermostat does causes more energy to be used than is necessary.
  • Proportional

    This type of thermostat micromanages the temperature by constantly adjusting the current that is going to the heating device. It works great for incubation purposes because if it is working properly it will keep the temperature exactly at what you’ve set it for.

Choosing the right one for your pet snake

If money is no issue go for the proportional thermostat. Even if you don’t have an incubator to run with it you might one day. If money is an issue buy the best on/off thermostat you can afford. Normally I’m an advocate of doing things cheaply, but not when it comes to the health of your animals. It’s not always true, but in the case of a thermostat you really do get what you pay for.

When you buy a thermostat you want to make use it has some specific features:

  • Remote probe of an appropriate length

    At this point I believe all thermostats that are designed for use with reptiles come with a remote temperature probe. It’s a necessity and if you see one that doesn’t use a remote probe look elsewhere. The probe needs to be long enough to reach from the thermostat to the snakes’s cage. Most are between 3 and 6 feet in length.
  • Remote probe of an appropriate size

    Because you’re going to be putting the probe against the heat pad/tape you need to be sure it can fit through any openings you need it to. I’ve yet to find one that either doesn’t fit or that the opening in the cage can’t be enlarged to accomodate, but just keep it in mind.
  • Digital display

    While there are still a few models floating around out there that use analog dials to set your temperatures you are much better off using one that has a digital display. You want to be sure it increments the numbers by one and doesn’t do them by fives or something similar. I’m not aware of any that do this, but be sure to ask before buying one.
  • Capacity to handle the load

    For the average keeper of pet snakes, with a small home setup this won’t be an issue, but if you are controlling multiple racks of snakes your choosen thermostat needs to be able to handle the load you place on it. Which means you need to keep track of how much power you need and see to it that your thermostat of choice can provide it.

We won’t get into how to properly use the thermostat because each one is different and the manufacturer should have provided those instructions to you. I’ll just close by saying that the purpose of the thermostat is to regulate the temperature of your snake’s basking spot, not the ambient air temperature. With that in mind you’ll need to mount the probe inside the tank directly over the heating element which is most likely to be an Under Tank Heater (UTH) or flexwatt heat tape. Be sure to mount it directly over it and not off to the side. After you’ve mounted the probe then put your substrate of choice down over the top of it. It should be noted that I’ve seen a few people advise that it should be mounted outside the tank, directly against the heating element. I don’t see the reasoning in doing it this way as the snake isn’t going to be hanging outside the tank, attached to the bottom of it.

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