How To Prepare A RUB As A DIY Snake Setup

by David Lowbridge
snake setup in six steps

I’m a big fan of a using Really Useful Boxes when you want to create a snake setup. They’re strong, lightweight, generally hard to escape from, and make it easy to control the environment the snake is in. While this is sometimes controversial, I’ve found that snakes are often happier, and eat more readily, in the RUB setup.

While I often give the advantage of the RUB being a great, cost-effective option, in truth cost has little to do with it. My first snake was placed in a terrarium and the second in a vivarium. It was only after having these snakes for months and two escapes that I tried RUBs. Young hatchlings, especially of certain species (house snakes, corn snakes etc.), can get into very tight gaps so even RUBs may be escapable for some snake Houdini’s. But generally, I’ve found that snakes find it harder to escape from RUBs.

However, people are often confused at how they should set up a RUB as a DIY snake setup as they do need some amendments and additions to make them a suitable home for a snake. So, here is our quick guide to building a great snake setup using a RUB.

Creating Your DIY Snake Setup

1. Choose The Right RUB

A RUB is becoming synonymous with any plastic box that has a lid, but when I, and many others, talk about a RUB, we’re talking about those that have the product name Really Useful Boxes. Confusingly there are two types of RUB; we’re talking about the version that has the vertical reinforcement. So why are they…really useful boxes?

Firstly, the vertical reinforcement makes it harder for the snake to pull on the plastic to create gaps to slip out of. It also means they are harder to break during the snake setup construction and maintenance.

Secondly, they have handles which clip the lids on. This prevents the snake from simply pushing the lid off and escaping this way.

Thirdly, they are a great design. They are more standard in shape, allowing for better use of heat mats, thermostats and for stacking. They’re also widely available and reasonably priced.

You do, however, need to select the right size. The RUB comes in lots of sizes, so be sure you have the right size for your snake. The length and width of the box should be at least the length of the snake. Others will say that the snake should be the same length as the longest side of the enclosure. Personally, I prefer to consider the diagonal of the box.

However, there are a few exceptions to this. Royal (or Ball) pythons prefer smaller spaces. Too large a space and they can refuse to eat. Some colubrids need larger spaces because they are more active. And Kenyan Sand Boas can be challenging. Some prefer smaller spaces while others will like large spaces to explore at night.

2. Add Ventilation To Your RUB

Now you need to add ventilation to your RUB. Start by drilling, using a small drill part, five holes in each corner of long sides of the rub. Be careful not to use too much force as this can break the box.

Snake setup needs a drill
To create a DIY snake setup, you only really need a drill and a RUB.

The holes should only be a couple of millimetres big. This prevents the snake from using them as an escape point or from getting their tongue stuck in the hole.

You need to start with five per corner on the long sides because you need to drill enough holes for the right humidity. Too few and the humidity will be too high, too many, and your humidity will be too low.

I then recommend testing the humidity by placing a water bowl in the RUB for six-twelve hours with the lid on and a heat mat under the RUB on the other side. If the humidity is too high, you can drill more holes in the corner. If it is too low, cover some holes up using Aquarium sealant.

Remember to do this job before adding your snake!

When you’ve completed this task, you need to clean down the inside and outside of the enclosure. There are plenty of cleaning solutions available from pet shops that are great for this task.

3. Location of Your Rub

Now you need to place your RUB into the correct location. Place a heat mat that will cover a third of the base of the enclosure at one end. Do not use overhead ceramic heaters as these can melt the lid of the RUB. Inside the enclosure you should place a thermostat probe. A thermostat probe is vital for the health of your snake as they prevent the heat mat from overheating.

This should also be done on the inside of the RUB as the outside can result in inaccurate readings of the heat that keep the snake too cold inside. Most thermostat probes have cables that easily squeeze between the lid and the box without allowing for a gap for the snake to escape from.

You can also add in digital thermometers and hydrometers to the enclosure to monitor current conditions. However, I prefer to have a couple of these that I can put in the RUBs temporarily on a regular basis to monitor conditions, and for when I have any concerns. I don’t leave them in the enclosure because Wally, my Kenyan Sand Boa, has twice destroyed thermometers left in his enclosure. So I don’t like to take the risk.

4. Add Substrate

snake setup
A really simple snake setup

Next add your substrate to the enclosure. My favourite types of substrates are aspen and lignocel. You might want to use reptile bark or a similar substrate for some snakes. If you have a snake coming in new to your collection, you might want to use paper towels during quarantine.

The depth of the substrate depends on the species of the snake. Some species, like a Kenyan Sand Boa or a Western Hognose Snake, will prefer to have a deeper substrate. However, other snakes can have shallower substrate as they don’t burrow as much.

5. Add Hides And Water Bowls

snake setup, green tree python in tree
Only a few snakes, like this Green Tree Python, don’t need hides. But these require a specialist setup not covered here.

Always have two or three hides in your RUB snake setup. One should be at the cold end and one at the hot end (on top of the heat mat). If you have a third, you can place that in the middle. The best hides, in my opinion are simple black plastic hide boxes. They are easy to clean and cost effective. Plus, whenever I’ve had lots of hide options available, the snakes seem to prefer them.

You should also add in the water bowl. Place this at the cold end of the enclosure. Your water bowl should be large enough for your snake to bathe in while it is in shed. I very rarely see a snake drink, except for my Dumeril’s Boa, which are known for being heavy drinkers. However, water should always be there and refreshed regularly.

6. Add Decorations

Now you need to add clutter. The more clutter you add to your snake setup, the happier your snake will be. Plastic plants, wooden objects and plastic vines are all great choices. Our house snake loves a wooden log with holes in!

Plastic plants are great because they are lightweight and easy to clean. I also like to keep lots of decorations to rotate. This adds environment enrichment into the snake’s lives and keeps them from getting bored. Our Dumeril’s boa loves his artificial Madagascan vine.

Your Complete DIY Snake Setup

Now you have a complete DIY snake setup. This system can be used for many species including Western Hognose Snakes and Kenyan Sand Boas. All it needs is the snake. If you have any questions, don’t forget to ask in the comments or contact us.

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