Your Snake Has Escaped: Now What?

by David Lowbridge
corn snake escape

When the words “snake escape” are mentioned, as a snake owner, your blood will run cold. We’re responsible for the animals and any out of their enclosure are not safe. There are lots of dangers outside of the snake’s enclosure: other pets, equipment, wild animals, diseases, etc..

The key is to find the animal as soon as you realise that there is a potential snake escape. In our current collection, we’ve had two escapees. From both of their ‘adventures’ we’ve learned hard lessons. At the same time, we’ve taken notes and improved upon our care to ensure it is less likely to happen again.

So, in this article, we’re passing on our experiences about how you can handle a snake escape, without pulling your hair out.

Pre-Emptive Actions To Prevent A Snake Escape

Housing Suitability

The first action should always be to prevent a snake escape. However, despite me using the word prevent, I don’t believe now that there is ever a 100% chance your snake won’t escape. A mistake on the owner’s behalf can often allow a snake to escape.

That being said, pre-emptive actions can reduce the chances of a snake escape. The first is to ensure that you aren’t housing your snake in an unsuitable enclosure. There are several aspects to this. The first is to check heat and humidity.

Francais, our Royal Python escaped because he was too cold. This wasn’t because we had set the temperatures too low, it was because there was a fault on the new equipment I had installed that day. As a result, he decided to look for a more ‘suitable’ environment.

You should also check they’re fed enough not to be too hungry and that they aren’t scared by the environment around them. These are two things that are sure to make a snake start looking for a new home.

Snake Escape Proof Enclosure

Another thing to check is that there are no option for the snake to escape. Francais’ escape was helped by the fact that his enclosure had a design flaw. When buying the vivarium, I had looked for one that had a solid, heavy door that had two locking systems. This was the Monkfield/Pro-rep top opening vivarium.

I thought it was great because it even had a solution for placing a heat mat and thermostat in without having to drill a hole into the enclosure. However, what I didn’t realise was that the rubber plug that secure the thermostat probe wasn’t as secure as I thought. Francais found that pulling on the wire allowed for the rubber plug to come out and for a big-enough hole to open up allowing him to escape.

Babe, our other snake to escape, did so because the wrong lid was supplied with the RUB. It was close, but was 5mm too wide. This extra space was enough to allow the slender snake to escape.

The lesson here is to ensure that there are no ways that a snake can escape. Check all equipment for any faults/mistakes before placing the snake in. When a fault is found, you can quickly solve it.

Immediate Actions When You’ve Found A Snake Escape

The first few moments are critical when you have a snake escape. In fact, they are so important that I regularly check that all snakes are in their enclosure as the last thing I do before going to bed and the first thing in the morning when waking up. This is because the chances of finding an escaped snake diminish the longer the snake is missing.

By checking first and last thing, I’m limiting the time that the snake has to move after an escape. That being said, a lot of species of snakes (Boas, Pythons and some colubrids) don’t move far from their enclosure on the first night. Two exceptions to this I’ve found are the house snake and corn snake.

So, before pulling your hair out, check around the enclosure for the snake (and inside it, the number of times people have thought that snakes have escaped only for them to be hidden in an ornament is amazing), Heat sources are key places to find snakes.

This is where Francais was. We found him 30 seconds after we realised he was missing on a shelf underneath where another heat mat was about 20 centimetres from his enclosure. This one was working and was radiating heat through the shelf.

snake escape 2
A snake escape can be very distressing, but you can find them.

The Next Steps In The Search

Now you’ve done an immediate search for the escaped snake, you need to call in action. A search is better if there are more people doing it. The more the merrier. But there should be at least two people.

Everyone needs to go through a room, checking every small space possible. We have a female house snake that is three foot long, but can fit into a 45 gram yogurt pot. So be sure to check everywhere. This includes all the possible places where they might find warmth (cooker, behind fridges, freezers, etc.) and hides (clothes, behind radiators, etc.).

With at least two people searching, there is always a second pair of eyes to ensure that you’re being methodical and not missing out on potential hiding spots.

This process can take a whole day. It isn’t something that can be done within an hour. And it has to be done fast. The longer you wait for your search, the further the snake can go. And it is better to find the snake in the first 24 hours.

If you have a dog/cat, keep an eye on their behaviour as well. If they start barking, scratching or sniffing at an unusual point in the house. Then the snake might be somewhere around there.

After The First Day Search

If your search isn’t fruitful on the first day, don’t worry. Many lost snakes aren’t found on the first day. But that doesn’t mean that your snake doesn’t show up. We’re going to give you some tricks you can use here for finding your snake/evidence it is still around. However, none of these techniques have worked for us.

The first is to set up a heat trap. This is a heat mat with a hide placed over it at the side of the room. The idea is that if the snake is cold, it will go into the hide and you can find it. Another trap is mouse in a bottle trap. This allows the snake to find food, but they get stuck in the bottle.

Other breeders and snake keepers recommend that you lay flour across door entrances or plastic bags at the sides of rooms. These don’t capture the snake, but the idea that a rustle or a path across the flour will narrow down where the snake might be.

We’ve never found these successful, so I don’t know how effective they will be for you. But it is worth a try.

Another method is to shut all the doors in the house when the room is not in use. If there is little room underneath the door (or you stuff towels, sheets or something else to block the gaps), the snake will forever remain in one room, unable to escape. Personally, I keep the room to the snakes shut anyway. Although there is a small gap underneath the door, it prevents all but the smallest snakes (i.e. my two house snakes) from escaping that room.

Night Time Search

In addition, it is always wise to conduct regular checks at night. Using a torch, look at all the sides of every room. Snakes like to move at night, and they are particularly good and sticking close to the edges of room. Therefore, if you’re lucky, you can find where the snake is by conducting searches for the snake every 3 or 4 hours after dark.

Don’t put on the light. This will encourage the snake to dart for the nearest hiding place.

Also think like a snake. They like warm, dark places to hide. They aren’t the most gregarious of species. Therefore, look underneath beds. Our warm bodies radiate downwards and these are often small spaces that are dark, often not disturbed and with our constant heat: warm. The perfect hiding location. And this is exactly where we found Babe, our male house snake.

The Waiting Game

If all else fails, you have to play the waiting game. When Babe escaped, he was out for 22 days. We think we disturbed him from his hiding place when we were cleaning. This may have made him think that his current hiding space wasn’t safe and he tried to find a new place.

The next day one of the children saw him move under a bed, where he was hiding underneath a folded-up kids play tent. Our quick thinking child got us straight away and directed us straight to it. Thankfully, we were able to catch him, we have never been so pleased to see a snake as we were Babe that day! Of course, it is entirely possible, he was hiding underneath the bed the whole time.

It was such a great moment for us. But it isn’t always like this. I have known people who have lost a snake and it hasn’t returned for months. One example of this was Emily from Snakes Discovery, a YouTuber. One of her snakes, Candy Cane, unfortunately escaped from his enclosure. For at least three or four months, he hadn’t be found.

Some people don’t find their snakes for six months or even a year. I’ve never heard of a time longer than that, though I have heard of some people who have never found their snake. This can be upsetting to hear, but you need to be made aware of the potential outcome. Sometimes, snakes don’t come back.

But if you do look for your snake like we’ve suggested above, you’ve got a chance of finding your snake. Good luck.

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