Care sheet: Brown House snakes
B.fuliginosis, B.maculatus, B.capensis
(Brown, Dotted and Cape house snakes)
By Niki Chinn
The aim of this care sheet is to provide a hard copy of information from where amateur enthusiasts can gather all the details required to successfully keep and breed the house snake in captivity.
There are several suppliers who have house snakes for sale, many are imported from the likes of Tanzania and Somalia yet these exact subspecies can be difficult to identify and it is well reported that intergrades between B. fuliginosis(Brown house snake) , B. maculatus(Dotted house snake) and the B. capensis (Cape house snake) are infertile. These wild caught (WC) specimens are readily available at prices a lot lower than those that have been captive bred (CB). In my experience, it is a lot more beneficial to spend a little more and acquire CB specimens as these pose less health risks and in most cases are feeding before being offered up for sale. They also ensure that the snakes come from a breeder who has identified the exact subspecies of the parents and this would imply that the babies would too be compatible. There are a lot more health risks to both the specimens you have acquired and your entire collection when purchasing WC animals rather than CB.
Choosing a specimen:
Things to look out for when choosing a house snake include the tell tale signs that the snake has an underlying problem. These include visual parasites like ticks or snake mites, avoid these animals and rather look for ones free of parasites as these unwanted guests can quickly spread throughout an entire collection.
Snakes physical appearance is good and it doesn’t look skinny and lethargic. (Signs that the snake could be extremely stressed or carrying internal parasites or problems like respiratory infections).
Healthy snakes should be active with regular tongue flickering and shiny skin. Snakes that have old skin remaining on their bodies are also a sign that the animal has been stressed or subjected to conditions not favourable for their well being.
House snakes are very easy to keep and their requirements are very similar to most other colubrids such as corn snakes. Babies can be kept in tubs as are all my hatchlings. These tubs are fitted into a rack system that ensures they can’t lift the lids off as well as having all their heating needs met by the fitted heating cables present in the racks.
As they grow (and these guys do grow fast) they can be housed in vivariums. It is suggested to house them separately as this reduces problems when feeding and breeding. It also enables you to quickly and accurately detect any health issues. I find that with several house snakes, individually tubbed snakes makes for easy cleaning, feeding and care as well as accurate documentation of individuals’ records.
A number of different substrates can be used in the enclosures and it is a matter of personal preference as to which you choose to use. I have seen them housed successfully on eucalyptus mulch, wood shavings, newspaper, bark, and gravel. I personally use wood shavings for all my snakes’ enclosures.
An adequate sized water bowl is required for these snakes to thrive. This bowl should be kept at the cool side of the enclosure and be significant enough for the snake to submerge themselves inside should they feel the need for additional moisture especially during shedding.
I use hides for my snakes, made out of plastic guttering cut into pieces. Many other hides are suitable and in many cases, people use expensive moulded hides and others make use of cardboard boxes which are easily disposed of when they get dirty and tatty.
Often enclosures can be decked out with drift wood and artificial plants purchased from pet stores. I use bark decor in mine.
By keeping my snakes in tubs, cleaning is relatively simple. I remove the snake and place them safely into a holding tub. Defecations are easily removed along with the affected substrate immediate to the soiled area. Should the substrate begin to appear old, it is easily emptied and replaced. The tubs can then be washed out and sterilized with the use of a diluted steriliser. I use the same sterilizer that I used for cleaning my children’s bottles and this is the safest I have seen. To avoid promoting a single product, you can use any of these safe products designed for cleaning baby bottles. Water bowls and hides and decor can also be cleaned using this cleaning agent
House snakes are relatively tolerant of temperature so the scale they can deal with is quite large. However, there is an optimum temperature that is best suited for healthy snakes to thrive. I suggest that you offer a temperature gradient in the enclosure that has a ‘hot spot’ of 32’C at one end and a cool spot of between 21 and 23’C at the other end. This will enable the snake to move between the gradients and find a temperature ideal for their own personal needs. I also suggest providing a hide at both ends of the spectrum so that the snake isn’t forced to endure temperatures uncomfortable to them, purely for the sake of feeling secure.
This gradient can be achieved by placing the heat source (either heat mats or pads) at one end of the enclosure, approx covering 1/4 of the enclosure. Always fit thermostats to heat sources so that fires and burns are avoided.
Baby house snakes readily take baby pink mice from young. Usually a few days after they have had their post hatching shed, I offer my hatchlings their first meal. I begin trying them on defrosted pink mice offered to them with forceps. The movement can readily cause them to strike the pinkie and this in turn can spark a feeding response. Should they refuse this, I leave the pinkie in their tubs overnight and many do take the meal this way. Should this fail, I leave them another 3 or 4 days and try again. If this fails again, I place them in a much smaller tub along with a defrosted pinkie, over night. If this fails to get them feeding, you can try braining the pinkie. This involves pricking the defrosted pinkies nose with a needle and allowing the fluid to leak out onto the pinkies nose. The scent of this can often get them feeding. Other products can be used such as lizard maker or simply rubbing the pinkie on a piece of shedded lizard skin, then offering it to the snake. Many times I have success by trying to offer the pinkie through the hole in the snakes hide and it will strike the prey and usually eat it.
In the wild, baby house snakes feed almost exclusively on lizards and in parts of the world, frozen geckos can be used to scent and feed these troublesome feeders.
Once the snakes have began to feed, they usually don’t stop and feeding them pinkies twice weekly soon becomes inadequate and they can then be stepped up onto fuzzies and eventually full grown mice and young rats. Avoid feeding them day old chick as these offer very little nutrition to the snake and can cause their defecations to become rather loose and messy.
It is often noticed that males will feed more sporadically than females with mine usually only taking 1 in 3 feeds. Sometimes I get a good run and they will feed twice in a row but this is rare. Other males do in fact feed every time but I did want to include this comment in here as often new keepers of housie snakes can become anxious to the fact that certain males don’t feed with the same gusto and enthusiasm as females. During the mating season, males can and often do, go off food altogether. After the breeding season has finished, normal feeding patterns return.
Breeding House Snakes:
It is useful to have your snakes accurately sexed in order to breed them and this can be done by a number of methods. The first is pop sexing and this is a method that I use especially on young animals. Then there is probing and I only use this on those that I am unsure of as well as sub adult animals.
The easiest method is a visual inspection of the tails. Male snakes have much longer tails than females of the same size. This is especially noticeable in adult snakes.
I have measured some house snakes for a tail/body length comparison. results are as follows:
Body length : 520mm
Tail length : 128mm
Total snake length : 648mm
Body length :615mm
Tail length :142mm
Total length :757mm
Body length :891mm
Tail length :141mm
Total length :1032mm
this shows that a female that is over 250mm longer than a male , has a tail length 1mm smaller . Both snakes are the same age and species.
It is very advisable to keep your snakes separate as mentioned before but especially so if you are wanting to breed them. They are renown for breeding at exceptionally young ages and this can be detrimental to future breeding plans as well as the snakes overall health. Males will often breed as young as 4 months old so separation of the sexes is essential.
Females should be both in good health and up to size before any breeding is initiated. This would mean that the females should be 250grams or over and at least 18months old. I have found that if you leave the females till over the age of 2yrs old prior to breeding them , then their clutches of eggs will be both bigger in numbers as well as size of the eggs . This leads to bigger babies and as a result, a lot easier to get started feeding.
Although it isn’t necessary to manipulate the hours of light for house snakes to breed, I cycle my animals as I do for my other African snakes such as my Royal pythons and this method works well for me .I offer a stable 12/12 summer cycle for them which only changes when I began their cooling and warming up period. This will be explained in the Brumation section.
Hibernation / Brumation
As mentioned earlier, it isn’t necessary to cycle house snakes in order for them to breed and produce fertile eggs. I however cycle them as I do for my Royal Pythons. This means that I have them exposed to 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness during the summer months. I then start to slowly cut down the temperature and lighting hours over a couple of weeks until the winter requirements are met. This is done by decreasing the light hours by 15 minutes per day and slowly dropping the night time temps as well. I slowly cut the night time temps down gradually over a couple of weeks until they are as low as 80F (mat temp) . Day time temps remain constant. When the light hours are down to 10 hrs daylight and 14 hours night, you have met your requirements. The method I first used to adjust the night temps was with a manually adjustable thermostat and each day I would turn it up and each night , down . There is a much simpler method and this is by using a ‘magic eye’ thermostat that can be set to self adjust temperatures when the lights come on and off . So as you turn the timer for the lights down , the temperatures are automatically adjusted for night time temps .And when the lights come on , they re-adjust to the day temp.
This is simply my own cycle for my house snakes and isn’t necessarily the be all of what to do. Many people cycle theirs as they would for colubrids and some, not at all.
Then I leave them like this on the winter cycle for 5 months and all the while, offering smaller food items. Then after the set ‘winter’ period, I begin to up the night time temps and daylight hours back to the 12/12 split. After they have had a month or so at the warmer temp (as well as an increased food intake) I introduce the males to the females and breeding usually takes place rather quickly thereafter. I remove the male every 3 days and give him 2 days off and a good feed, before reintroducing him into her enclosure. This is repeated for a couple of weeks.
Thereafter, in remove him altogether and begin feeding the females bigger food items as well as dietary supplements like calcium, which are injected into the defrosted rodents I offer calcium in every second food item, for a series of 8 feeds. By this time the females have usually stopped feeding and start to get ready for laying.
Females usually lay their eggs about 2 months after mating has taken place , so it is a good idea to offer nest boxes earlier than that .
I also remove their sizable water bowls and provide them with 1 a lot smaller. For example, I place a new water bowl made out of ceramic so that it isn’t easily tipped over but even a plastic one will do.
Nest boxes I use are made out of Tupperware with a hole cut in the lid. This offers them enough room to fit in comfortably and a place they can feel safe and secure inside. In the nest box is some moist (not wet) moss. The snakes will usually settle in here a couple of weeks prior to laying and usually going into their pre-lay shed. Once they have shed, laying usually takes place 7-10 days afterwards.
Remove the eggs carefully from the nest box and place them into the incubation tubs. Be careful not to rotate them as this will cause the embryos to drown .I mark the top of the individual eggs with a cross employing a marker pen to do this. This means if I do drop one accidently during the moving process , I can quickly and accurately re -right them . Inside the incubation tubs I have some moist vermiculite into which I partially submerge the eggs. Some prefer to use plastic grids to prevent the eggs from coming into contact with the vermiculite although I personally prefer to partially submerge my eggs into it .They are now ready for incubation….
I incubate my house snake eggs in the same incubator as my other colubrids eggs although some prefer to incubate theirs at lower temps. My incubator is set at 30’c and eggs hatch at around 60 days. At lower temps, they can take up to 80 days to hatch.
Here is a link to a page that I was given a while ago, that explains how to construct your own home made incubator …
I hope you have found this useful and if you have any thing you would like to comment about it, please do as this way I can try and improve it