Setting up a tank for water snakes

Garter snake, a kind of harmless water snake

Garter snake, a kind of harmless water snake

In most of the places where we have lived, there have been water snakes nearby. I’ve rescued several and have had the fortune to keep some as pets.

Water snakes can be really interesting pets. They are usually mild-tempered and they usually aren’t difficult to feed. To keep them as pets, though, it is a good idea to set up a tank properly to house the snake so it can remain healthy.

Tank selection for water snakes

When selecting the tank, remember that it needs to be big enough for the snake to be comfortable. This might seem to be a common sense statement, and it is, but water snakes tend to grow larger as they get older. A person who has a baby water snake and gets a tank that has a capacity of five gallons may quickly find that the tank is far too small. A good size to begin with is a 20-gallon aquarium capable of holding water. A 55-gallon tank is even better since it affords the snake more room to move around. A glass aquarium is preferred over plastic as it doesn’t scratch as easily.

Tank cover

It is important to know that water snakes are master escape artists. For this reason, there should be a tight-fitting tank cover that allows for air circulation but which has a fine enough mesh that the snake can’t wiggle through. There are specialty tank covers on the market that are designed to contain reptiles in glass aquariums and these tend to work well. It is easier to buy one than to try to make one.

Setting up the tank

Water snakes require water to swim in of course, if they are to be kept happy and healthy. However, they also need a place where they can get out of the water periodically. This can be accomplished by placing flat rocks or bricks at one end of the tank. Bricks are additionally useful since they provide a rough surface the reptile can use to rub off skin when they molt. The bricks need to only cover a third to a half of the tank bottom and the height of the rocks or bricks needs to be such that the other side of the tank that contains water is deep enough for the snake to swim about while also being dry on the surface of the bricks, so it can dry off or bask. For a standard-sized water snake, this is around eight to 10 inches in depth.

Fire bricks work well. The bricks should be washed thoroughly before placing them in the tank, however, and they should be new rather than used since old bricks can contain chemicals that might be harmful to the pet. Once the bricks have been stacked carefully into the tank, add water to a point just below the top of the bricks, then allow 24 hours before introducing the snake to its new home. This time is to allow chlorine in the water, assuming that it is regular tap water, to dissipate.

Additional touches

Many water snakes love having a branch to climb, especially in the wild. While space is limited in an aquarium, putting something in the tank that the snake can climb on not only shows consideration for the snake, it can also be visually appealing.

Additionally, water snakes are cold-blooded, meaning that they take on the temperature of the air around them. To stay healthy, they need heat and sunlight. This can be difficult to provide in the winter, particularly in the north. However, there are also light bulbs, designed with reptiles in mind, that simulate the rays of the sun. Setting up such a bulb, perhaps over the branch or bricks, can help the snake remain healthy.

It isn’t difficult to set up a tank for water snakes, with a bit of planning and some insight. The result can be that the pet is allowed to live for a long time. It may even become so tame that it enjoys being held. If a person is going to have a pet, it stands to reason that they are probably also going to want to keep it safe and healthy. At least one would hope so.

My pet water snake enjoyed curling up in my lap, though it always wanted to be within sight of its home.




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