How to Care for an Eastern Ribbon Snake

The eastern ribbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus) is found in the northeastern United States, most commonly in areas surrounded by water. With a body that's thin as a ribbon, this slender snake grows between 18 and 38 inches long. Considered one of the best pets for novice snake owners, eastern ribbon snakes are easier to care for than most other species. To ensure the best temperament, eastern ribbon snakes should be purchased from a pet store or reputable breeder, not captured from the wild.

Housing

Provide your eastern ribbon snake with at least a 20-gallon aquarium so he has plenty of space to move around. Line the bottom of the aquarium with 3 inches of peat moss, cage carpet, folded newspaper, potting soil, several paper towels or large bark chips. Avoid using sand or small wood chips -- the lizard might swallow them, leading to possible blockages in his stomach and intestines. To feel secure, the ribbon snake requires hiding places in his environment. You can create them using foliage, small hollow half logs found in pet stores, anchored rocks or driftwood. One or more chlorine-free water bowls should be placed in the aquarium, large enough for both soaking and drinking.

Temperature

The temperature of the eastern ribbon snake's cage should be kept warmer than room temperature, about 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow him to have some control over his needs to heat up or cool down by warming one side of his cage, creating a basking area for him. To create the basking area, place a heating pad or electric blanket underneath one side of his cage, or a reflector or incandescent bulb above it. Maintain the temperature of the basking area at 85 degrees. If you use a heating bad or electric blanket, keep it at the lowest setting. Place a stick-on thermometer on the aquarium so can monitor the temperature to ensure the basking area doesn't get too hot.

Diet

Snakes are carnivores, and the eastern ribbon snake is no exception. In captivity, ribbon snakes typically dine on fish, such as guppies, minnows and goldfish. They also enjoy grasshoppers, crickets, earthworms and tadpoles. Offer a variety of food to ensure his nutritional needs are met. For an occasional treat, feed him a live frog, tadpole or mouse. To feed your ribbon snake, place several live fish or other food in his water bowl. When hungry, he'll slither into the bowl and grab a fish, swallowing it whole. Ribbon snakes have heartier appetites than most other species, needing to be fed two or three times per week.

Handling

The eastern ribbon snake is easily tamed, likes attention and can be picked up and handled without fear of agitating him or provoking him to bite. The only exception is if a ribbon snake was captured from the wild and not properly socialized -- he can become fearful, reticent of humans and dislike being handled, even causing him to bite. When a ribbon snake doesn't wish to be held, he can quickly slither out of your grasp and be difficult to catch. The intelligent ribbon snake can also manage to slither out of even the most seemingly secure habitat -- so be sure your aquarium or cage is escape-proof.

Maintenance

Clean the habitat at least once each week. If you use bleach, be sure the space is entirely free of both the bleach and its odor before placing your ribbon snake back inside. Scoop out the ribbon snake's feces on a daily basis. Ribbon snakes require fresh chlorine-free water each day, as they often defecate in the same bowls they use for bathing and drinking. If the water isn't changed, it can harbour water-borne disease and parasites, which can be harmful to your snake.