If you’re planning on getting a pet bullsnake or gopher snake, then the first thing you need to do is set up an appropriate terrarium for it to live in. Bullsnakes aren’t like other types of pets that you may be more familiar with, such as dogs or cats. They can’t simply live free-range with you in your home; instead, they need a terrarium that has the right equipment in the right arrangement to create a usable environment that replicates the conditions of their native habitat.
If you haven’t read our Gopher Snake Care Sheet yet, read that first! Once you have a basic understanding of what your new pet needs from its habitat, you’re ready to start setting up a bullsnake terrarium.
It may seem expensive to buy all of these supplies for “just a snake,” but they are essential to your pet’s survival. Without an appropriate terrarium to live in, your new pet is likely to get sick and die. Here’s our step-by-step guide to successfully setting up a bullsnake terrarium so you and your beloved pet can enjoy many years together!
Step 1: Choose the Right Terrarium
Bullsnakes are terrestrial and capable of growing up to 7’ long, depending on subspecies. If you are unsure of how long your particular subspecies will grow to be, a 4’L x 2’W x 2’H makes a good starting point. As your pet grows, you may need to upgrade.
This terrarium can be made from wood, PVC, or glass, but it should be front-opening and have plenty of ventilation for healthy airflow, whether in the form of a mesh top or side vents. We prefer enclosures with a mesh top design, as they make it much easier to safely install heat, UVB, and 6500K lamps.
If your terrarium doesn’t have opaque sides, you will need to cover them with something to help your bullsnake be comfortable in its environment. This can be as simple as construction paper or as elaborate as a 3D textured background.
Products we recommend:
Step 2: Arrange Your Lighting and Heating Equipment
To heat and light your bullsnake’s terrarium appropriately, you will need the following equipment:
- Heat lamps (at least 2)
- UVB lamp (roughly half the length of the enclosure)
- 6500K lamp (most of the length of the enclosure)
Both heat lamps should be placed on the right or left side of the terrarium, close together. The UVB lamp should be placed on the same side so it fully overlaps with the beams from the heat lamps. The 6500K lamp should be placed on the same side as the others, extending along most of the length of the terrarium.
Products we recommend:
- Fluker's Mini Sun Dome Lamp, 5.5"
- Zoo Med Repti Tuff Splashproof Halogen Lamp, 50w
- Arcadia T5 HO Forest 12% UVB bulb, 22”
- Arcadia ProT5 Lamp Fixture, 24”
- Arcadia Jungle Dawn LED Bar, 34”
Step 3: Start Minimalist
With any new pet reptile, it is best practice to quarantine them for 3-6 months after bringing them home, especially if you have other pet reptiles. When you first set up your bullsnake terrarium, it’s best to start simple so you can quarantine them efficiently.
Here’s what you need at minimum:
- blue shop towels
- basking platform
- caves/hideouts (x2)
- large water dish
- digital thermometer/hygrometer device (x2)
The easiest way to make a large basking platform is to put a piece of flagstone securely on top of wood block “stilts”. This shouldn’t be so tall that it brings the snake dangerously close to the UVB lamp (UVB intensity increases the closer the snake gets to the lamp), but not too far away, either. If at all possible, buy or borrow a Solarmeter 6.5 to check that the maximum UVI is no higher than 3.0. Generally speaking, this means that the snake should not be able to get closer than 15” directly under the bulb if the lamp is mounted over mesh. Be mindful of this if you place climbing branches later.
Place the thermometer probes so one is on the basking platform and one is on the cool side of the terrarium. Your temperature gradient should look like this:
- Basking temperature — 85°F
- General air temperature — 70-75°F
If temperatures are too high, use a plug-in lamp dimmer, thermostat, or a lower bulb wattage. If the temperatures are too low, you will need higher-wattage bulbs.
Products we recommend:
- Exo Terra Reptile Cave
- Zoo Med Repti Rock Corner Bowl, Large
- Zoo Med Digital Combo Thermometer Humidity Gauge
Step 4: Quarantine for at Least 3 Months
The purpose of using a minimalist setup for quarantine is to make it easy to keep clean. During this time, monitor your bullsnake for signs of parasites or illness.
The paper towels should be changed out whenever they get soiled, and the enclosure and all accessories should be disinfected at least 1x/month. Use a bleach solution (¾ cup bleach per gallon of water) or veterinary-grade disinfectants like F10SC and Clean Break.
Step 5: Add Substrate
Once quarantine is over, you can work on giving your bullsnake’s terrarium a fully-enriched, long-term layout. It won’t need to be cleaned quite as often — only once every 3-6 months, depending on how good you are about spot-cleaning.
The first step of setting up a long-term terrarium design is adding a naturalistic substrate. For a bullsnake, it’s best to use sand or sandy soil. You will need at least 2” of substrate to help maintain humidity, so for a 4’x2’ terrarium, count on at least 40 quarts or 1.4 cubic feet of substrate.
If your terrarium has different dimensions, you can estimate the amount of substrate you’ll need by multiplying the length x width to get the number of cubic inches of substrate it will take for 1” deep of substrate. Then multiply that number by the desired depth of substrate, then convert the resulting number to quarts or cubic feet.
Step 6: Add Environmental Enrichment
Environmental enrichment is the process of strategically adding items to your snake’s terrarium that make it more functional for the occupant. Now it’s time to get creative! The best way to get inspiration for your terrarium’s appearance is by looking at pictures of bullsnake habitat on sites like iNaturalist and Flickr.
Place the water bowl, hides, and basking platform first, and build around those. Make sure the water bowl is accessible and easy to remove, but provide plenty of hiding and even climbing opportunities around the setup.
Magnetic ledges offer great lookout points for bullsnakes to survey their surroundings, and encourage climbing. Hammocks also offer a similar function.
Wood makes a great material for your snake to climb on or hide under, encouraging good muscle tone and/or helping reinforce their sense of security. Because of the semi-arid to temperate conditions that bullsnakes generally prefer, cholla, grape vine, mopani, cork, and manzanita can all work. Whichever you choose, make sure the branches are large and stable enough to support your snake’s size and weight.
Whether real or fake, plants perform the very important role of providing visual obstruction, and also do a lot to make a terrarium more attractive. Live plants help with maintaining humidity, but artificial plants are much more durable.
Live plants should be kept in pots to help keep the water close to the roots, unless the enclosure is bioactive (which this article is not covering). Use drought-tolerant plants tolerant of higher ambient temperatures and moderate to high amounts of light. Some suitable options include:
- Carex grass
- Elephant bush
- Festuca grass
- Hens and chicks (Echeveria)
- Ice Plant
- Jade plant (Crassula ovata)
- Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia danicolor) (spineless)
For more safe plant ideas, visit The Tortoise Table.
Even after you’ve set up your bullsnake’s long-term terrarium arrangement, it’s okay to rearrange it every so often as you come to understand bullsnake husbandry better. It also helps keep your pet’s environment “fresh” and stimulates them to explore and exercise!
“Photo 179531895” by charlie_myles is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0