The African House Snake - Captive Care
Currently, L. fuliginosus is the only species of Lamprophis commonly found in captivity. This is largely due to the small size and more fastidious dietary requirements of some of the other species in the genus. This is a pity, because some of the other species, such as L. guttatus, L. aurorae,
and L. fiskii are very attractive snakes.
However, the lack of availability of other Lamprophis species in captive populations is easily compensated by the diversity of color phases being produced. This includes every color from black to orange and now even some amelanistic (albino) house snakes being bred in small numbers by a few breeders.
African House Snakes are among the easiest reptiles to keep. Because of their modest size, they can easily be maintained in inexpensive containers, such as ten gallon aquaria. Like all housing for snakes, the container must have a secure lid or closure that to make it escape proof.
I prefer plastic cages as they are lighter and easier to manipulate. I
like to use sweaterboxes or shoeboxes for smaller females and males.
I currently house my adult females in Vision
cages (the smallest Vision cages are large enough for even the larges house
snakes). I find the attractive and very practical. I have had to
modify my Vision cages for house snakes as they are relatively slender and can
squeeze out between the two sliding glass panes at the front. I simply
replace the sliding glass panes with a single sheet of glass and attach handles
to the glass so I can lift it up and out of the glass groove.
Although they come from relatively dry areas of the African continent, these snakes must be given access to clean water at all times. Prior to shedding, they should be given access to an area with higher than normal relative humidities. (When I first started keeping house snakes, I lived in the Chihuahuan Desert, in far west Texas, and my house snakes frequently had trouble shedding if I didn't provide them with a small container of moist sphagnum to help them shed. When I moved to the more humid climates of South Carolina and East Texas, however, they no longer had this problem).
Cage substrate is largely a matter of preference. I have kept house snakes on newspaper, paper towels, aspen shavings, pine shavings, pine bark and cypress mulch with equal success. These snakes eat a lot and so produce a lot of waste. Therefore, it is crucial that you choose a substrate that is easy to keep clean.
I have also found L. fuliginosus to be very susceptible to opportunistic infections to their oral mucosa (i.e. mouthrot). They are particularly susceptible to this after ingesting sharp pieces of cage substrate when eating. Because they are such aggressive feeders, they frequently end up with some of the cage substrate in their mouths. For this reason, I recommend you either keep your snakes on a non-ingestible substrate, such as paper, or feed the snakes in a separate container (with no substrate or paper).
African House Snakes should be housed separately for two reasons: to prevent them from eating
each other and to prevent them from mating. This is not a joke. For more information on these two problems, see the feeding and reproduction pages, respectively.
African House snakes are relatively tolerant of a range of temperatures, but
like all captive reptiles, their temperature requirements must be maintained for
successful captive care. I believe that one key to keeping snakes healthy
in captivity is to provide a gradient of temperatures so that they can choose
the temperature they require for their needs at any given moment. The best
way to do this is with some type of undercage heat source.
I think the best types of heat sources are heat tapes and heat pads that can
be placed under one end (25%) of the cage. Over this heat source, the
temperature of the substrate should be around 90°F (32°C). The
temperature of the substrate at the cool end of the cage should be around 70°F
(21°C). This gives the snake a wide range of temperatures to
choose. There should be a hide box at both ends (warm and cool) of the
cage so that the snake does not have to choose between a temperature preference
Many heat pads/tapes are too hot to give temperatures in these ranges and
must be controlled by some sort of rheostats. This allows you to control
the amount of power going to the tape and therefore control the temperature the
tape can attain. These are available from home improvement centers (sold
as lamp dimmers), electrical supply houses (sometimes as controls for soldering
irons), and even some pet stores. You should get your heat tape adjusted
to the required temperature and then mark your rheostat so that you can look at
it and confirm that it is set right.
Photoperiod and Brumation
I don't manipulate the photoperiod of my house snakes other than having a
window in the room where I keep them (I have bred them while living between 30°
and 33.5° north of the equator).
I have brumated (hibernated) my males in the past at temperatures between
45°F and 60°F (7° to 15°C) for 6 to 12 weeks. I have done this more as
a matter of convenience (don't have to feed them in the winter) than as a matter
of biological necessity. I does not seem to affect their reproductive
output significantly. I do not brumate my females (I use the winter while
the males are brumating to fatten up the females).
House Snakes can become extremely tame in captivity. Wild-caught adults may bite at first, but soon calm down with occasional gentle handling. For a small snake, however, they have very long teeth, and bites will frequently draw blood. Babies can be a little nippy and high strung, but their little bites are too weak to be noticeable.
One curious and unfortunate habit I have noticed with house snakes is they violently resent being restrained behind the neck. Even tame adult house snakes will open their mouths and try to bite if restrained this way. This is unfortunate, since wary snake handlers frequently restrain unfamiliar snakes by this method, and this brings out the worst in an otherwise gentle snake.
House Snakes have an extraordinary feeding response, and it is very unwise to place your hand in front of one that is expecting its food! Once they smell food, anything that is moving seems to be a candidate for constriction!
© Chris Harrison