Hoehfurtner, T., Wilkinson, A., Walker, M. et al. 2021. Does enclosure size influence the behaviour & welfare of captive snakes (Pantherophis guttatus)? Applied Animal Behaviour Science 243, 105435.
There is much evidence in mammals and birds demonstrating the importance of providing sufficient space to allow captive animals to exhibit natural behaviours, however, little such evidence exists for reptiles. The aim of this study was to ascertain whether enclosure size impacted on the behaviour and welfare of captive corn snakes (Pantherophis guttatus). Snakes (N = 12) were housed in enclosures that were either 2/3 their length (small) or longer than the length of the snake (large) for c.32 days. Their welfare was assessed through observations of the animals in their enclosure and behavioural tests; after completing these tests, each animal was switched to the other housing condition (order counterbalanced across individuals) and received the same welfare assessment. Following the second set of behavioural tests, all animals received a preference test. When housed in large enclosures, snakes were found to be more active and spent time stretched out - a behaviour that was not possible in the small enclosure. The behavioural tests revealed few effects of space provision; however, when given a choice, snakes showed a clear preference for the large enclosure whilst active, although this preference was not observed while resting. These findings suggest that providing a larger enclosure is beneficial to the behaviour and welfare of captive snakes. Not providing sufficient space to allow snakes to fully elongate appears to thwart a behavioural need and thus impacts negatively on their welfare. We therefore recommend that captive snakes be kept in an enclosure longer than their body length.