Snakes are cold-blooded (ectotherms), which means they cannot generate their own body heat. This means that snake habitats must be warmed using external heat sources. The problem is that there are genuine safety concerns about the use of heat rocks in your snake’s enclosure.
Heat rocks provide a constant heat, allowing snakes to bask. However, they concentrate all heat into one area. Snakes may lie on this rock for hours as the rest of their vivarium is cooler. This leaves them at risk of burning their belly, and this will negatively affect their digestion.
Fortunately, there are much safer, more consistent options available. Read our comprehensive guide on heating pads for snakes to find out the best way to heat a snake’s habitat. We will now provide an in-depth assessment of the suitability of heat rocks for pet snakes.
What is the Purpose of a Heat Rock?
A heat rock is a novelty decoration for a reptile’s vivarium.
Most snakes and lizards have rocks in their habitats, so pet stores will sell heat rocks to build on this theme. These can be plugged into a power source, and generate an intense sensation of warmth.
Are Heat Rocks Suitable for a Snake’s Vivarium?
A pet lizard will love a heat rock, as they can lie upon them for hours. But a snake needs a balance of warmth and coolness to remain healthy and flourish.
Heat rocks will not necessarily provide this balance, and can even be dangerous. This means that they are unsuitable for a snake’s habitat.
A snake tank will have two very distinct temperatures: a cool side and a hot side. This is because a snake will increase their body heat, then cool off.
By crisscrossing their habitat regularly, a snake will be able to remain comfortable. The warm side of a vivarium will need an even distribution of heat.
A heat rock is just one small source of warmth, contained to a small surface area. This means that a snake would lie upon it, possibly for hours, and burn their belly.
Also, many snakes are considerably larger than a heat rock. This means that they will only be heating small parts of their body at any one time.
Why Are Heat Rocks Available at Pet Stores?
Hot rocks were very popular in the earlier days of reptiles being kept as pets. As the practice has become more common, safer methods of heating a snake’s habitat have been devised.
Heat rocks are not necessarily dangerous to all reptiles. They may be unsuitable for snakes, but a lizard may enjoy them.
Have you ever seen a lizard contentedly basking on a rock in the desert for hours? These additions can replicate the experience for a pet bearded dragon. They are just unsuitable for snakes.
Discuss the heating options of your snake’s vivarium with a professional before bringing them home.
What is the Ideal Temperature of a Snake Tank?
This depends on the breed of snake. Different species are different sizes, leading to varying needs. Snakes also need a gradual shift in temperature from one end to another (thermal gradient.)
Learn about the best substrate for your breed of snake. This will help you to achieve the optimum level of humidity and most comfortable temperature for your snake.
Will the Ambient Temperature of a Room Affect a Snake Tank?
You will need to monitor the temperature of your snake’s habitat. The room that you choose to house your pet can affect their health.
Placing a vivarium close to a radiator or window can cause it to heat excessively. Placing it beside a wall may cool off the enclosure as little air is circulating.
A warm room will combine with an artificial heat source to overheat a terrarium. A vivarium in a cold room, meanwhile, may struggle to reach a safe temperature. It’s critical to monitor your snake’s habitat, ensuring that it balances heat and coolness appropriately.
Direct sunlight can be dangerous. A snake trapped in a glass vivarium facing a window will be far too hot. It’s like trapping an ant under a magnifying glass. If you house your snake close to a large window, you should invest in blackout blinds or drapes.
Don’t be tempted to leave the windows open, though. This may not help with the sunlight and could reduce the temperature of your home. Your snake will be in danger from both extremes.
What’s the Best Way to Heat a Snake Tank?
Opinions vary on this, so as always, seek professional advice. However, it is agreed that heat rocks are not the way forward!
Instead of a heat lamp, consider using some of these heating options in your snake’s vivarium:
- Heat Lamps. Heat lamps will provide a direct heat source from above your snake. Remember that your snake will need different levels of light between night and day. This means you will need a bulb that adapts accordingly or two that you can interchange.
- Under Tank Heating. You could warm your snake’s vivarium from below. Under-tank heating will warm your snake’s belly, aiding digestion greatly.
- Infrared Heat Bulbs or Panels. These provide heat according to the sun’s natural light cycle, but no light. They can be used all day, and will not have to be switched off at night. Just be warned that they get very hot. You will need to ensure that your snake cannot touch them.
- Heat Tape. This is an ideal solution for extensive habitats, or multiple vivariums placed side-by-side. An electrician must install it. Heat tape will keep getting hotter if not managed.
What Happens if a Snake Gets Too Warm?
In theory, hot conditions should be ideal for snakes. After all, as cold-blooded animals that rely on external heat sources that they surely love it?
Lizards worship the sun and cope with the heat, but the same cannot be said for snakes. They can be very delicate when they’re too hot.
They are unable to sweat or pant, and so they struggle to cool off. If a snake starts to overheat, it could be fatal. Even if the snake does not die, they could suffer neurological damage.
How Can I Tell if My Snake is Too Warm?
There are many behaviors that your snake may exhibit if they are too hot. They include:
- Slithering around their cage with their mouth open.
- Laying on their back and staring at the sky. This behavior is referred to as ‘stargazing.’
- Hiding in the cool end of the enclosure or hiding box, refusing to move.
- Clambering into their water bowl and staying there to cool off.
- Erratic behavior and movement. This could involve your snake being a little clumsier than usual, or displaying uncharacteristic aggression.
- Attempting to eat their tail. This is a result of disorientation and a false sense of hunger.
- Marks and blisters on your snake’s belly due to a burn.
If you notice any of these behaviors in your snake, check the temperature in their vivarium. There is every chance that your snake is uncomfortable, and experiencing stress and discomfort.
What Should I Do if My Snake is Too Hot?
If your snake is overheating, get them away from the heat source. Handle your snake delicately. Methods of helping a snake cool down include:
- Turn off any additional heat sources, such as heat lamps.
- Allow your snake to submerge themselves or swim in fresh water, such as a sink. This water must be cool, not cold, as that could send the snake’s body into shock.
- Spray some cold water into the vivarium. Again, make sure this cool and not cold. This will cool down the habitat as the water evaporates.
- Move the entire habitat to a cooler room
What Happens if a Snake Gets Too Cold?
It’s not just excessive body heat that can be dangerous for a snake. Letting the habitat become too cold can be just as problematic. Complications include:
- Difficulty digesting food. This could lead to the snake becoming constipated.
- Inability to shed skin. A snake that cannot shed its skin is at risk of disease.
- Dehydration. Your snake won’t be getting enough moisture through its skin will become dehydrated. This can lead to urinary stones and dry feces.
PetMD has further information on the dangers of hypothermia in reptiles. It is crucial that a snake owner learns about and understands the warning signs.
How Can I Tell if My Snake is Too Cold?
There are three symptoms of a snake with a low body temperature:
- Reluctance, or inability, to move.
- Reluctance to eat or drink.
- Food remains visible in their belly days after eating.
These symptoms should be taken very seriously. If your snake is running a low body temperature, you’ll need to warm them up quickly and safely.
How Can I Treat My Snake if They are Too Cold?
If your snake has hypothermia, these solutions will help:
- Wrap your snake’s tank in blankets to improve insulation.
- Tape a heat pack to the side of the tank.
- Fill a jug or other receptacle with warm water and place it in your snake’s vivarium. Your snake will be able to lean against this and increase their body heat. You will need to replace this water every fifteen minutes, as the heat will be lost.
- Let your snake swim or submerge themselves in warm water.
- Handle your snake, and allow it to nestle into your body.
However, a snake that has this condition may need the attention of a vet. Hypothermia can be fatal for snakes, and they may need medication or fluid replacement.
Hot rocks are not an ideal addition to a snake’s habitat. In some rare cases, they may be suitable, but they are best avoided. If you must use a heat lamp, apply some protective layer of fabric.
Even after applying heat sources, such as lamps, you’ll need to monitor the vivarium’s temperature. Leaving your snake in a tank that is too hot is just as dangerous.