Choosing a Pet Snake

Some people shudder at the mere thought of a snake in their home. For others it’s a long held dream. The reasons for having a snake as a pet are as varied as the owners who adopt them.

Green Python Snake isolated on white background

Ever since the dawn of man, people have been fascinated by snakes. This serpent has been an embellishment of evil since it handed the apple to Adam in the fabled Garden of Eden. Every mythical sorcerer and underworld Lord has one by his side, the hissing presence used to fill their foes with fear. The asp was Cleopatra’s demise; movies and storybooks readily associate snakes with death and horror.

We cringe at the sight of snakes taking prey, disgusted by the spectacle of their victims being swallowed alive and intact, yet we watch in quiet fascination as the scene unfolds before us. Snakes continue to fill the nightmares of children and adults, so why would anybody want to have a one as a pet? Whatever the reason, owning a pet snake is becoming quite commonplace these days.

Not all snakes make good pets

Snakes are definitely not a pet for everyone, but if you’re interested then do some serious research. Be aware of the commitment involved. For some obvious reasons, not all snakes make good pets and each species has its own diet and environmental needs. New owners should start out with a gentler species like garter snakes, corn snakes, king snakes, or ball pythons. They’re not as difficult to provide healthy diets and environments for.

These types are relatively small (as snakes go), with adults ranging from 4-5 feet up to 7 feet for King snakes. Because their life spans can reach 20 years for the Corn and King snakes, and 40 plus years for the Ball Python, snake ownership is a long term obligation.

Red Corn Snake wrapped around a tree branch
Corn Snakes can be found in almost any exotic pet dealer

Stick to captive bred snakes

Unless you’re experienced with snakes, stay away from Burmese Pythons, Red-tailed Boas (Boa constrictors), tree Boas or Pythons, water snakes, or any snakes caught and taken from the wild. These varieties grow from 10-20 feet in length and can weigh in excess of 200 lbs for the Burmese Python. Each has strict temperature and humidity requirements in addition to the obvious problems of handling a reptile that large. Being prone to illness and difficult to feed, wild snakes simply do not do well in captivity.

Anacondas and reticulated Pythons are definitely not recommended. Their size and poor temperaments make for a dangerous pet. Ownership of any venomous snake should be an understandable no. Like any exotic animal, taking proper care of pet snakes can be complex and requires a great deal of dedication. Taking a snake as your pet should be done for the right reasons, not because it’ll keep the in-laws away.

Here are some suggested choices for your first snake based on temperaments, ease of handling, and overall level of maintenance required.

Ball Python:

Like most pythons, the Ball Python is a curious and gentle snake. They are a slow moving, calm reptile that will grow to be 4-5 feet long and live for 20-30 years. These snakes are called 'Ball Pythons' because, when frightened, they coil around their head and into a ball.

Corn Snakes:

The Corn snake will stay fairly small at 3-4 feet and live to be 8-12 years old. This snake is a hardy, docile species that comes in a large range of bright colors. They are good eaters and can tolerate a range of environments, so maintenance is fairly easy. Corn snakes received their name from the pattern on their belly which looks like Indian corn.

King Snakes:

The King snake will grow 3-7 feet long and can live for 20 years, or more. This snake is relatively docile, but will try to eat its cage mates, so they should be housed on their own. Because they prey on and eat other snakes, they became known as the King snake.

Milk Snakes:

The Milk snake is closely related to the King snake and, like its cousin, will feed on other snakes so it should be housed by itself. They come in a range of colors like the King, but slightly less brilliant. They grow from 3-7 feet and may live to 20 years. The name originated from a legend that says they would ‘milk’ cows.

If you decide that a snake is the pet for you, then do as much research as you can so you know the requirements needed in the raising and care of your new pet.