Whilst snakes can be seen in groups in the wild, they are better off as solitary inhabitants when enclosed. In the wild as a group, they can be called a variety of collective names such as pit, den, nest, bed or knot. Rattlesnakes’ group name is a rhumba or coil – quite evocative for reptiles that can breed fear in the human race!
Many people believe that snakes can be ‘slimy, wet and uncomfortable’ to be around, but this in fact is not the case. Snakes are warm-blooded, but certainly not wet to the touch. They are dry and scaly in most cases, and can enjoy human contact on a limited basis, with some interacting with company better than others.
The only dangerous snakes in the UK are adders (also known as common vipers) but you will never encounter these snakes for sale in licensed pet shops. This is the only snake that you could be frightened of, as it has a venomous bite which does need treatment. However, since 1975, there has been no reported incidents of fatalities due to adder bites.
Snakes are very popular as pets in the UK, which some people do not understand, whilst others find the companionship of a snake so comforting and relaxing that they yearn for more than one. Herein could be the problem when keeping more than one snake in the same encaged environment.
Most passionate snake owners would throw their hands up in horror at the thought of snakes cohabiting – for them, it is a serious ‘NO’. Other owners have a different school of thought but do put up a good argument as to why.
One of the biggest reasons is that snakes are cannibals – they are more than happy to eat their compatriots with great gusto, whether their own breed or another variety. You could be the lucky one and never witness it, but if snakes are hungry, they really don’t care about eating another snake. The worst snake behaviour with regards to cannibalism is found in King Cobras, who will happily sit down to dinner with another guest snake, only to eat him as the dinner. Smaller snakes will generally not stand a chance if a King Cobra has a voracious appetite.
Try not to be fooled into believing that placing snakes in a cohabited environment is a money-saving exercise, one vivarium as opposed to one for every snake that you own has a high potential to be a false economy. Buying the adequate amount of vivaria is far more economical than risking the life of any of your snakes that are costly to buy in the first place. Your only real problem will be if you have enough room in your house for more than one!
If you do decide to house two or more snakes together, you may think when they are cuddling up and entwined with one another, that they are getting on like best pals. This is not the case – they are merely ‘jockeying’ for top position and the best place in the vivarium!
The best-case scenario if you wish your snakes to cohabit, is to house ‘same sex’ snakes together, and they should also be around the same age and size and in full adulthood. This tends to prevent one of them exerting their dominance, with the larger snake stealing food from the other, who will tend to be pressurised into being the more docile. There is a high chance than one will become ‘bullied’ in this ‘dog eats dog’ or ‘snake eats snake’ environment. If you do allow your snakes to live together, try to create a ‘hide’ for each snake so they can live in relative peace, each having their own space.
The threat of disease is quite rife, particularly when you add a ‘new’ snake to the vivarium. Special attention needs to be made to any quarantine situation in the first instance – something may not happen for a period of a few months, but then your established snake can become ill after being exposed to the new addition, who has introduced disease to the snake ‘home’. A period of quarantine for the new snake is by far the best route to take, somewhere between 3 and 6 months. Most dedicated owners will tell you to follow this procedure without fail, as it can be costly to lose a snake that you have lovingly reared over a period of time.
As previously mentioned, if you have snakes sharing the same vivarium, one will always become dominant. This provides an issue with feeding without a doubt. The other snake(s) will simply not be allowed to feed – Mr Dominant Greedy will want to eat everything that is placed in the home. Snakes become submissive very quickly in this environment, so you will be able to spot by looking into the vivarium, which snake has become the ‘boss’. This will obviously result in a somewhat sad ending – eventually the more submissive snake will suffer health wise and deteriorate due to lack of nourishment.
The only time that snakes should live together is during breeding, any other time provides a risk of losing one of your pets. Whilst relatively easy and economical to keep as pets, if they cohabit, the risk is greater of having to replace them.