Pet snakes originally came from the wild. That’s why if you want to get rid of one, it’s a tempting idea just to let them go free. But it’s not that simple.
Survival in the wild depends on their preferred climate. Ball pythons, for example, live in Sub-Saharan Africa. They will die if you let them free in Vermont or Oregon. And if they form a breeding population, they could disrupt the local ecosystem and kill local species.
Nobody can stop you from releasing the snake if that’s what you’re going to do. But it’s usually bad for the snake, and the environment. In this guide, we’ve looked at why that’s the case. We’ve also detailed a range of alternatives to releasing your snake to the wild that is better for everyone.
Will Pet Snakes Survive in the Wild?
Initially, the only snakes in the pet trade were wild-caught. Today, the majority of common pet snakes like ball pythons and corn snakes are almost all captive-bred.
That means that they were the offspring of two captive snakes, and were hand-reared by a breeder or owner. They’ve never had to live outside.
But just because they’re captive-bred, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be able to survive outside. If you reintroduced them to the wild, they’d get along fine. The only exceptions are as follows:
- Pet snake morphs that make them more visible. An albino snake, for example, has less chance of being able to survive outside because they’re more visible to predators.
- Morphs that make them more vulnerable. Spider ball pythons, for example, have a neurological condition (the head wobble). This makes it difficult for them to strike at prey, or even make sure that they’re the right way up. Again, this would make them more likely prey.
- Pet snakes that are released into the wrong environment. Ball pythons like Sub-Saharan Africa. If you release them during a snowy winter up north, they won’t survive an hour.
Pet snakes aren’t unlike other pets. Cats and dogs, for example, can comfortably turn ‘feral’ and live for themselves in the wild. Of course, their lives aren’t as nice as they would be if they were kept at home, but they can survive.
What Might Happen If Your Pet Snake Survives?
Let’s say you’ve got a corn snake that you release into the wild. Because corn snakes have a wide range across the American South, your pet would be comfortable if you released them in Florida, for example. This wouldn’t have any effect on the local environment, and the snake would be fine.
But if you’ve got a non-native snake, releasing it into the wild could be a big mistake. If you’re from Florida, no doubt you will have heard about the Burmese python epidemic in the Everglades. Burmese pythons are native to Burma (now Myanmar) in southeast Asia.
But because the environment in the Everglades is quite similar to their habitat back home, Burmese pythons have colonized most of southwest Florida. According to a paper in the Journal of Herpetology, Burmese pythons like habitats that are close to fresh water, with a substantial tree canopy for cover. That’s exactly what they find in the Everglades.
Now, this might seem quite interesting—and it is—but it’s also terrible. Burmese pythons have all but killed off many local species including small mammals, birds, and other snakes. Many species that were endangered before are now all but gone, and many other species that were fine before the Burmese python arrived are no on the brink of extinction too.
Scientists think that a combination of hurricane damage to a breeding facility, plus years of people releasing pet Burmese pythons to the wild are what caused this problem to begin with.
Best Alternatives to Releasing Pet Snakes
Admittedly, it would be very convenient if you could release your pet snake to the wild. But since it’s not a smart idea, what alternatives are there? There are four main ideas, each of which results in a better life for your snake.
Sell Your Pet Snake Online
Your first option is to sell the snake. We won’t go into too much detail on how to do that here, since we’ve actually got a comprehensive guide on all the ins and outs of selling a pet snake.
But you can sell the snake and make a little bit of money, rather than letting it go for free. Better yet, you can sell it along with all the equipment you have for it (i.e., enclosure, heat mat, water bowl, etc.) and actually make a few hundred dollars, if you have a nice setup.
Give Your Pet to a Local Breeder
Alternatively, you could give your pet away for free to a local breeder or owner. Experienced snake owners usually have more than one snake at any time. As such, many are happy to take in a ‘homeless’ snake that needs a careful owner. You should be careful too, though, and make sure that they actually know what they’re doing before you give them your pet.
Believe it or not, but there are also reptile and snake sanctuaries you could give your snake too. Of course, there’s no guarantee that there’s one close by you. Do a little online research to see if you can find one, and give them a call to see if they have any room. The sanctuary might rehome snakes, or it might not. Either way, they’re a much better choice than letting your snake free.
Give Your Pet to a Friend
Most people trying to get rid of their pet will at some point think about giving it to a friend or relative. It gets rid of the pet quicker than other options, plus it’s a nice thing to do for your friend/family member.
The problem is that giving your pet to somebody you know might not be good for them—the snake, that is. People will accept anything if it’s for free. There’s always the chance that they like the idea of getting a free snake, but don’t actually know about all the care and attention they’re going to need.
So, while they might be enthusiastic at first, they’d quickly get bored with their free pet and would neglect it. It’s far better to give the snake to a local breeder or sanctuary of some kind instead.
Keep Your Pet Snake
Last but not least, you could always keep your pet snake. If you want to get rid of them, take a moment to think about why that is. There are lots of good reasons:
- Your snake is always trying to bite you, and doesn’t like being handled
- The snake won’t eat any food that you try and give them
- The snake seems to be ill, and nothing you do helps them
These problems can all be frustrating, and nobody that isn’t a snake owner can understand. But before you ‘pull the trigger’ so to speak, take a look at one of our care guides. We have care guides on all of the most common pet snakes, which detail what might be going wrong and how to fix it. So, for example:
- The snake might be trying to bite you because they see you as a threat. You can use a combination of handling techniques and physical tools like tongs to get them used to you.
- They might not be eating because their enclosure is too cold. Snakes need warmth to digest, because they’re cold blooded.
- The snake might also be ill because it’s too warm, cold, humid or dry.
These problems can easily be fixed, so do a little research to see if you can make a more suitable home for your snake. Then both you and your pet will be happier, and you won’t have to release them or sell them after all.