Some snake enclosures are quite bare: just substrate, a water dish and a hide or two. However, just because snakes are reptiles, that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate things to do. Snakes love to investigate new objects, textures, and smells, as they would naturally explore outdoors in the wild.
Climbing branches, such as Exo Terra Jungle Vines, make great toys for snakes. You can bend them into different shapes to give your snake new ways of navigating its enclosure. Snakes also love exploring tunnels, climbing on rocks and hiding in fake plants.
Snakes don’t play with toys in the same way as other animals. However, enrichment is still crucial for their mental wellbeing. We’ll look at what snakes do for fun, and assess some snake enrichment toys. We’ll also share other ways that you can enhance your snake’s enclosure.
What Do Snakes Do for Fun?
Snakes aren’t like most other pets. They’re reptiles, and they don’t interact with the world in the same way that mammals do. They have quite primitive brains. The only things snakes do are rest, mate, eat, drink, and poop.
Because of this, snakes don’t really “have fun” in the way humans think of. They don’t play games, chase balls or cuddle up with teddy bears.
However, snakes appreciate having accessories in their enclosures which help them to interact with the world. A boring enclosure with newspaper, a hide, and a water bowl doesn’t provide stimulation.
Snakes with no incentive to explore their environment can end up becoming overweight through lack of exercise.
If their enclosures are too open, or they don’t have enough hiding spaces, they can also become stressed. This can lead to a refusal to eat, and a depleted immune system.
It’s in the best interest of your snake to include lots of different accessories in the vivarium. Different textures, surfaces and things to explore will stimulate your snake’s natural curiosity.
Choosing natural-looking items your vivarium will also look more aesthetically pleasing.
Our 5 Favorite Snake Enrichment Toys
There are many different kinds of enrichment toys that you can include in your snake’s vivarium.
Practically anything that your snake can climb on, under or into will be appreciated. If it looks natural and helps your snake feel at home, all the better.
If you’re stuck, we’ve put together a list of our five favorite enriching vivarium accessories. Here’s where to start.
1) Zoo Med Cork Bark (Natural Cork Rounds)
Our first suggestion is the
Zoo Med Cork Bark. Essentially, this item is a hollow log made from cork. It can be used for both decoration and enrichment in your snake’s vivarium.
As it’s made of real wood, it looks completely natural. It also smells like wood, so it will stimulate your snake’s sense of smell. It would particularly suit species that naturally inhabit the forest.
The product comes in two sizes – medium or large. It can also be cut to any length, or cut in half lengthwise to form two half-rounds. You could even loosely cover one hole with artificial foliage, to provide a more secluded spot.
The main appeal of this item is that snakes can climb onto the top of it, and also explore inside it. Your snake might even use it as a hide.
As with all natural items, each cork log can vary in size and shape. Ordering online is a bit like a lucky dip. However, whatever you end up with should be suitable for most small to medium snakes.
The only real downside of this product is that, as with all natural wood items, it’s difficult to clean. We recommend periodically baking it in the oven to kill any bacteria.
2) Zilla Vertical Rock Cave
Our next favorite enrichment accessory for snakes is the
Zilla Vertical Rock Cave. It’s a cave with a small entrance and a flat top, made to resemble a rock formation.
It’s made out of a synthetic material, but looks very realistic, with painted mossy details. This makes it easy to clean. As a bonus, because it’s manufactured, each piece will be the same.
The exciting feature about this decoration is its powerful suction cup. This allows you to attach the cave to the side of the vivarium. Your snake will have to climb to reach it, providing it with exercise.
If you use a heat lamp, you could even turn the flat top surface into a basking spot.
One thing that lets the product down slightly is that there’s not much space inside for a heavier-bodied snake.
The opening is 1.75 inches by 1.75 inches. It will suit smaller snakes such as corn snakes, garter snakes, and hognose snakes. You could use it for a juvenile ball python, but it probably won’t fit an adult female.
3) Exo Terra Jungle Vine
If you have an arboreal (tree-climbing) species, providing climbing branches is essential. Green tree pythons, for example, are rarely seen not wrapped around a branch.
Most species of snake will enjoy being able to climb. Even mostly terrestrial species, such as ball pythons, sometimes climb and explore in captivity.
The Exo Terra Jungle Vine is one of the best climbing toys for snakes. It’s 6 feet long, and can be bent into any shape. You can create horizontal, vertical or bendy “branches.”
The vine itself is about the thickness of a finger, but it’s quite sturdy. You can also twist the vines together to make a thicker perch for your snake.
One of the brilliant things about this product is its versatility. You can bend it into any number of shapes, allowing you to switch up your snake’s environment. It also looks realistic, despite being made of artificial materials.
Do be aware that the coating of this product can shed when you’re twisting it. Twist it into your desired shape outside of the enclosure before placing it in.
4) Fluker’s DriftwoodFluker’s Driftwood
is what it sounds like: a natural vivarium decoration made from California driftwood. As with the cork bark, no two pieces of driftwood are alike.
This tank accessory isn’t hollow, so your snake can’t go inside it. Its crooked shape makes for an excellent climbing object. Your snake will enjoy climbing it and resting on the top. It’s sturdier than the jungle vine, though it isn’t bendable.
Because each piece of driftwood is a different shape, you could even buy multiple. This would allow you to create a large, interesting area for your snake to explore and climb.
Not only does it provide enrichment, but it’s also got a practical use. Its naturally textured surface provides the perfect material for your snake to rub against when shedding.
Some reviewers do mention that the piece of driftwood they received was significantly smaller than they’d expected. It’s a risk you have to take when buying natural items online.
5) Exo Terra Plastic Terrarium Plants
Snakes love having plants in their enclosure, particularly if they naturally live in grassy or forest habitats.
Boa constrictors, for example, are found in dense rainforests. Having lots of greenery to explore makes them feel more at home in captivity.
Real plants, however, don’t work particularly well in snake vivariums. They require soil and water, which can quickly lead to bacterial or mold growth. They can disrupt your enclosure’s humidity levels, too.
Synthetic plants, also known as silk plants, are excellent for snakes. They require no maintenance and are safe for your snake.
The Exo Terra Plastic Terrarium Plants are a particular favorite of ours. They come in different styles, and three different sizes to suit every vivarium. They look realistic, too.
The long, hanging branches and leaves provide your snake with a new texture to explore. You can attach them to the side of the back of the enclosure, or drape them across the floor. You can even place them on top of other decorations, such as hides.
Some reviewers have had trouble getting the suction cups to work. However, you could always tie it onto the tank, or stick it with glue.
Alternative Ways to Enrich Your Snake’s Life
As well as purchasing different accessories, there are many other ways you can enrich your snake’s life. Implement as many of these ideas as you can, and your snake will never be bored.
Snakes have an incredible sense of smell – it’s their most powerful sense, and how they navigate the world.
Including different scents in their enclosure will trigger their natural curiosity. It will give them an urge to explore their environment.
You can safely introduce scents by placing scented objects into a plastic bottle, or tub with a lid. Make a few pinprick holes so that the scent can escape. Then, add it to your snake’s vivarium.
For example, you could use:
- Fruit (except citrus, as it can be irritating)
- Cuttings of flowers, plants, and herbs. Avoid anything oily, and research the plant first to make sure it isn’t toxic to reptiles.
- The shed skin of a different snake or reptile (providing it’s free from mites)
- Bird feathers (from clean, healthy animals)
- Rocks and twigs from the outside
- Something which smells like you or another human, such as a hair band
You could also let your snake investigate the different rooms of your home, under strict supervision.
Substrate and Water
There are many different substrates which you can use for snakes. Newspaper and paper towels are the cheapest option. However, they don’t offer much in the way of enrichment.
Aspen shavings, cypress mulch, orchid bark, paper pellets and the like are all more exciting choices. They allow your snake to explore different textures. Try changing the type of substrate every once in a while to give your snake a new experience.
If you’ve got a burrowing snake, such as a hognose, they’ll also dig little tunnels. You can hide objects underneath the substrate, such as plastic piping, to give them something to find.
You can also use water as enrichment. Try swapping the dish for a bigger, deeper one, so that your snake can swim around. Or, add a second dish at the other end of the enclosure, so your snake can choose between hot and cold water.
If you’re creative, you could even use PVC piping to create your own waterfall!
How do you feed your snake? Most snake owners dangle the frozen-thawed rodent directly in the snake’s eye line, and wait for them to grab it.
While this is the simplest way to do it, it’s not the most interesting. Snakes in the wild have to hunt for their food. This is how they get their exercise and mental stimulation.
Try hiding the prey item somewhere in your snake’s vivarium. Do this when your snake is in its hide, or a separate enclosure. Before you do so, create a scent trail by rubbing the food on different items.
When your snake picks up the scent, it’ll lead them on a “treasure hunt” to find the prey. They’ll get exercise while they’re occupied.
Be aware that this technique may not be appropriate for ambush predators, like pythons. They naturally wait for their food to appear in front of them.
Finally, no matter how elaborate a vivarium you’ve set up, your snake may get bored eventually.
After all, in the wild, a snake’s environment would naturally change all the time. As they move from place to place, there’s a whole world of things to see.
So, once in a while, empty your snake’s vivarium and put everything back in a different place. Take some accessories out of the rotation, and add new ones in.
Aim to do this every time you clean out your snake’s enclosure, and it will keep everything feeling “fresh.” Your snake will appreciate it, even if they might not say thank you.
What Do Snakes Like In Their Cage?
Some vivarium accessories are non-negotiable. The following items are necessary for any enclosure, regardless of your snake’s species.
- Two hide boxes. Snakes need dark, covered spaces to feel safe. They’ll use their hides when digesting and sleeping. The hides should be just big enough for your snake to curl up inside. You should put one on the cool end, and one on the warm end.
- Water dish. Snakes need to drink, so a water bowl is essential. Most species also like to bathe occasionally. You should clean and refill the dish each day.
- Substrate. This is the “bedding” which lines the vivarium floor. It makes it easier for your snake to move around, and soaks up spills and waste.
- Heat. All snakes are ectothermic (cold-blooded), and require their vivariums to be a certain temperature. Tropical snakes, such as ball pythons, need more heat than snakes from temperate areas. Ceramic heat emitters and heat mats are both popular choices.
- Light. All snakes require light to help them regulate their day-night cycle. If the vivarium is close to a window, this will suffice. If not, you can set up a heat lamp.
The above requirements are the bare minimum. While your snake will survive on them, they won’t provide much stimulation.
For this reason, you should also include accessories and objects that your snake can interact with. This is what we refer to as enrichment.
Do Snakes Play with Each Other?
Snakes don’t enjoy the company of other snakes. In fact, with most species, quite the opposite is true. Keeping two snakes together can be quite dangerous and harmful.
Most snakes are asocial animals. They don’t interact with other snakes unless they’re mating, hibernating or (in the case of king snakes) eating them. They certainly don’t play with one another.
If you keep two snakes in the same enclosure, they will never be able to relax. Snakes love solitude, and there’s no way to be alone if you’re sharing a small box with someone.
Snakes kept together may fight over space or food. In rare cases, they may even each other.
The only pet snakes which can sometimes live together successfully are garter snakes. These snakes often cohabit in the wild, and generally get along quite happily.
They still don’t entertain one another. You’d still need to provide enrichment for garter snakes.
Why is Enrichment Important for Snakes?
It used to be thought that pet snake accessories and snake enrichment toys were unnecessary.
We now know that this isn’t true. If snakes don’t have anything to explore or investigate, they can become bored, stressed, overweight or sick.
It could even trigger aggressive behavior. According to General and Comparative Endocrinology, stressed snakes are more prone to attacking.
After all, snakes are wild animals. They are used to being able to explore the world with no limitations. Even rattlesnakes, which are ambush predators, travel hundreds of yards from their dens.
This is, of course, a much wider area than captive snakes have access to. To make up for it, you should give your snake lots to do.
Which accessories you choose should depend on what kind of snake you have.
Corn snakes, for example, are semi-arboreal. In the wild, they’d climb trees to hunt birds and bird eggs. In a corn snake enclosure, you could include branches for them to climb up.
Hognose snakes don’t climb trees, but they do burrow. A good source of enrichment for these snakes is a very thick layer of substrate. They’ll naturally make little tunnels for themselves. Burying plastic pipes for them to discover provides great entertainment.