Some snake enclosures are quite bare: substrate, a water dish, and two hides. But just because snakes are reptiles doesn’t mean they don’t need toys to keep them occupied. Snakes love to investigate new things, hiding places, and smells, just as they would in the wild.
Climbing branches are entertaining toys for snakes. You can bend them into different shapes to give your snake new ways of navigating its enclosure. Snakes also really enjoy exploring tunnels, climbing on rocks, and hiding in fake plants.
Snakes don’t play with toys in the same way as other mammals. However, ‘toys’ are 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 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 go to the toilet. 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 like having accessories in their tanks that enable them to interact with the world. A boring enclosure with just bedding, a hide, and a water bowl doesn’t provide much stimulation. Snakes with no incentive to explore can end up becoming overweight.
If the enclosure is too open, or doesn’t have enough hiding spaces, the snake can become stressed. This can lead to a refusal to eat and health problems due to a depleted immune system.
It’s in the best interest of your snake to include 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.
Snake Enrichment Toys
There are enrichment toys that you can include in your snake’s vivarium. Anything that your snake can climb on, under or into will be appreciated. If it looks natural and helps your snake relax, all the better.
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.
This hollowed-out log is available 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 in order 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. Your snake might even use it as a hide.
The only downside of a hollow log is that it’s difficult to clean. This is because it’s 100% natural. We recommend occasionally baking it in the oven to kill any bacteria.
Zilla Vertical Rock Cave
Another 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 from 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 most useful feature 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 much-needed exercise. If you use a heat lamp, you could even turn the flat top surface into a basking spot.
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.
Exo Terra Jungle Vine
If you have an arboreal (tree-climbing) species, providing climbing branches is absolutely 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 best 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.
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 inside.
Fluker’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 pieces of driftwood. 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 hat a practical use. Its naturally-textured surface provides the ideal material for your snake to rub against when shedding its skin.
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 getting natural items because they are all completely unique.
Exo Terra Plastic Terrarium Plants
Snakes feel more at home with plants in their enclosure, particularly if they naturally live in grassy or forest habitats.
Boa constrictors, for example, are found in dense rainforests. Having greenery to explore makes them feel more at home in captivity.
Real plants, however, don’t always work particularly well in snake vivariums. They require soil and water, which can lead to bacterial or mold growth. They can also disrupt your enclosure’s humidity levels.
Synthetic plants, also known as silk plants, won’t cause this issue for snakes. They require no maintenance and are snake-safe.
The Exo Terra Plastic Terrarium Plants are a particular favorite. They come in different styles, and three sizes to suit every vivarium. They also look realistic.
The long, hanging branches and leaves provide your snake with a new texture to explore. You can attach them to the side or 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 in the unlikely event that you were to run into this sort of problem.
Ways to Enrich Your Snake’s Life
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.
Introduce New Smells
Snakes don’t have good eyesight, but they do have an amazing sense of smell. It’s their most reliable sense, and how they navigate the world. Including different scents in a snake’s enclosure will trigger its natural curiosity. It will give it an urge to explore its 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. You could use:
- Fruit, but not citrus as the smell can become 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/reptile. Check for parasites
- Bird feathers from clean, healthy animals
- Rocks and twigs from the outdoors. Sterilize them first
- Something which smells like you, such as a small item of clothing
Substrate Suitable for Burrowing
There are many different substrates which you can use for snakes. Newspaper and paper towels are the cheapest options. However, they don’t offer much in the way of enrichment.
Aspen shavings, cypress mulch, orchid bark, paper pellets, etc. are all more interesting 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 snake, it’ll also dig small tunnels. You can hide objects underneath the substrate, such as plastic piping, to give them something to find.
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 take them on a “treasure hunt” to find the prey.
Be aware that this may not work for ambush predators, like pythons. They naturally wait for their food to appear in front of them.
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. Once in a while, empty your snake’s vivarium and put everything back in a different place. Take accessories out of the rotation and add new ones.
Aim to do this every time you clean out your snake’s enclosure and it will keep everything feeling and looking fresh.
Do Snakes Play with Each Other?
Snakes don’t enjoy the company of other snakes. In fact, with most species, keeping two snakes together can be dangerous and harmful.
Most snakes, except garter snakes, are asocial animals. They don’t interact with other snakes, unless they’re mating. They don’t play together.
Why is Enrichment Important for Snakes?
If snakes don’t have anything to explore or investigate, they can become bored, stressed, or sick. It could even trigger aggressive behavior. According to General and Comparative Endocrinology, stressed snakes are more prone to aggressiveness than snakes that are relaxed.
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 away from their dens.
Which accessories you choose for your snake’s enclosure will depend on what kind of snake you have. For example, corn snakes are semi-arboreal. In the wild, they may climb trees to hunt for birds and their eggs. In a corn snake enclosure, you could include some branches for them to climb.
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 (bedding). They’ll naturally dig tunnels for themselves.