Level of Difficulty
What are African House Snakes?
African House snakes (AHSs) are relatively smallish colubrids that, despite all their redeeming qualities, are still fairly obscure snakes in the reptile trade.
In my opinion, they can be best described as the raw power and coloration of a Children’s python given the personality and body of a cornsnake along with the spunkiness and feeding tenacity of a kingsnake. Their scales also have a brilliant iridescence that gives a beautiful blue sheen to an otherwise reddish/brown snake.
Where are African house snakes from?
African house snakes, as a group, are very widespread throughout Africa, and can be found almost anywhere except the Sahara desert.
Where do they live?
These snakes get their name from commonly being found in/near human dwellings. However, they generally can be found in scrublands, savannahs, and grasslands, and usually avoid areas that are true desert or heavily forested.
How big can African house snakes get?
Basic/typical colubrid form, rather on the slender side. Males rarely exceed 3 ft and 200 grams, while large females occasionally surpass the 5 ft marker, although rarely exceeding 500 grams themselves.
Can African house snakes be good pets?
AHSs can be somewhat variable in temperament and personality, but generally, most have the demeanor of a young cornsnake; they can be quite high-strung and squirmy when first picked up, but quickly settle down. Like any animal, there’s always a few that can be downright temperamental. However, most accounts of aggression happen around feeding time, as these snakes are have very enthusiastic feeding responses!
African House Snake cage Requirements
An adult male snake could live comfortably in a 10 gallon glass tank all of its life, while an adult female may require something about the size of a 20 gallon long (30” x 12”).
What do African house snakes eat?
African house snakes have fairly high metabolisms and usually, strong feeding responses; in other words, these snakes love to eat! Most of the time, house snakes quickly take to eating frozen/thawed (f/t) rodents, but sometimes, they only prefer live prey. Also, many neonates and wild caught (WC) specimens may initially refuse any rodent prey, and may have to be enticed using the usual tricks.
One thing to remember is that these snakes are naturally slender! Many keepers take advantage of their voracious appetites and power-feed them to get a fatter house snake, which is unhealthy. Generally speaking, it is more ideal to feed smaller prey items more often than large meals less frequently. Also, adhere to the general rule of thumb: keep prey items about same girth as the largest part of the snake’s body.
Hatchling to Sub-adult AHSs can be fed every 5-7 days, and adults do just fine feeding once a week.
One more thing is that because of their vigorous feeding response, it is best to feed them in a separate container if you have your house snakes on any type of substrate. It is very easy for litter to get lodged in their mouths and gums, which sets the stage for possible infections.
Do they require heating?
AHSs are pretty tolerant of a wide range of temperatures, so keeping them warm enough is not difficult. These snakes can be kept at average room temperatures, as long as they have a warm area of about 88-95’F. The smaller sizes of under tank heaters or heat tape do just fine.
The humidity level best suits for these snakes is between 45-60%
What kind of Substrate are applicable to these snakes?
Many substrates can be used for AHSs. Personally, I use aspen because of its cheap cost. House snakes do like to burrow a lot, so this can be a factor for deciding which litter to use. If you live in a climate where humidity is hard to maintain, you may want to choose a substrate more conducive for that, such as cypress mulch, repti-bark, bed-a-beast, etc.
These snakes are generally terrestrial/fossorial by nature, but can be avid climbers. If you have your snakes on a loose substrate they can burrow in, all you really require is an appropriately-sized hide or two, and a small water bowl. Anything beyond that is optional.
How to breed African house snakes?
One thing that AHSs are notorious for is that they are astonishingly easy to breed. All you really need is a mature male and female…and that’s it! These snakes are the proverbial “rabbits” of the snake world.
They do not require any cycling, cooling periods, manipulations of photoperiods…nothing, nada, zip. All you do is put the male in with the female and let them do the rest. However, cycling your house snakes before breeding won’t hurt anything, and many breeders who do so have noticed better productivity in the long run.
Now, there are a few things to remember. First of all, you do want to make sure you have a pair. As mentioned before, there’s a pretty big difference in size between the genders.
But even as sub-adults (10-15”), they’re pretty easy to tell; like many colubrids, looking at them from the side, males have a longer, filled-out tail that tapers smoothly from the vent, while females have a shorter one that tapers more abruptly from the vent.
Second thing is that you want to make sure the female is large enough to breed. She should be at least 30” long and over 250 grams in weight. Females smaller than this will still breed, but it almost always costs them their lives a few months afterwards. BE PATIENT!
Female house snakes sometimes have the odd and annoying habit of laying their eggs in their water bowls, which is obviously not good at all. When a gravid female is expected to lay soon, replace their normal water dish with one as small as you can find to prevent losing any eggs.
The clutch size of house snakes can range from 8-18 eggs, and can be incubated very much like any other colubrid egg. They do best kept at temperatures of 75-84’F and will usually hatch within 60-70 days.
Dealing with Health Issues
Due to their obscurity in the pet trade, captive bred AHSs can be somewhat hard to find, and most AHSs offered for sale anywhere are likely to be wild caught imports. Like any WC animal, these specimens are often ridden with parasites and are reluctant to feed on conventional prey items. However, if you start breeding AHSs and wish to maintain pure bloodlines and species, this is a risk you may have to take.
Check out my own House Snake website for photos and descriptions of each species – www.ShiningSnakes.com
House Snake Forums – http://lamprophis.proboards62.com/index.cgi
Probably the best resource for AHSs – http://www.housesnakes.net/index.php
A nice aid for identifying species – http://www.saltwaterreptiles.com/testforum/index.php?topic=1447.0
A little outdated in terms of taxonomy, but good care info – http://www.kingsnake.com/housesnake/index.html
Taxonomical issues: http://zipcodezoo.com/Animals/L/Lamprophis_capensis.asp and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamprophis