Warwick, C., Grant, R., Steedman, C. et al. 2021. Getting it straight: Accommodating rectilinear behavior in captive snakes—A review of recommendations and their evidence base. Animals 11(5), 1459.
Snakes are sentient animals and should be subject to the accepted general welfare principles of other species. However, they are also the only vertebrates commonly housed in conditions that prevent them from adopting rectilinear behavior (ability to fully stretch out). To assess the evidence bases for historical and current guidance on snake spatial considerations, we conducted a literature search and review regarding recommendations consistent with or specifying ≥1 × and <1 × snake length enclosure size. We identified 65 publications referring to snake enclosure sizes, which were separated into three categories: peer-reviewed literature (article or chapter appearing in a peer-reviewed journal or book, n = 31), grey literature (government or other report or scientific letter, n = 18), and opaque literature (non-scientifically indexed reports, care sheets, articles, husbandry books, website or other information for which originating source is not based on scientific evidence or where scientific evidence was not provided, n = 16). We found that recommendations suggesting enclosure sizes shorter than the snakes were based entirely on decades-old ‘rule of thumb’ practices that were unsupported by scientific evidence. In contrast, recommendations suggesting enclosure sizes that allowed snakes to fully stretch utilized scientific evidence and considerations of animal welfare. Providing snakes with enclosures that enable them to fully stretch does not suggest that so doing allows adequate space for all necessary normal and important considerations. However, such enclosures are vital to allow for a limited number of essential welfare-associated behaviors, of which rectilinear posturing is one, making them absolute minimum facilities even for short-term housing.