If you’re bored of common pets and want something that stands out from the crowd, snakes and reptiles are certainly an interesting choice. Much depends on what you want out of your relationship with your new pet.
Snakes are easy to care for and have beautiful colors, but they’re not cuddly pets. You need to know how to handle snakes properly so that you don’t aggravate them and get bitten. Snakes are obligate carnivores, so you must be prepared to feed them mice and rats.
This guide will help you understand what goes into owning a pet snake, and whether you would be a suitable owner. If you are, then a snake would be a fun and exciting choice.
What Are Good Reasons to Get a Pet Snake?
Snakes are rewarding pets. What other pet is only twelve inches long when you first get them but could grow to three, four feet or more by the time you’ve had them a year? Aside from the fact that they’re exciting pets to own, though, why else should you buy a pet snake?
Do Pet Snakes Recognize Their Owners?
Do snakes get attached to their owners? Yes, but not like other pets.
From the experience of owners, it seems like they can become more familiar and more comfortable around certain people. These are the people that feed and regularly handle them.
It’s obvious that if they’ve been around somebody for a long time because they behave differently than when they’re around other people.
This presumably occurs because the snake becomes accustomed to the way that you smell. This might sound odd at first, but snakes are a little like other animals in that their sense of smell is more powerful than their hearing or sight.
That’s why snakes flick their tongue because this helps them detect chemicals and pheromones in the air. Most snakes do so with a specialized organ called Duvernoy’s gland, which helps them detect prey, predators, and mates.
Can Snakes Be Affectionate Pets?
Do snakes feel affection? This is the primary debate in the world of herpetology.
Like we said above, pet snakes can grow accustomed to a particular person. But as for whether they feel affection in the same way that we do, and that other animals do, is unclear.
Some owners will swear on anything that their pet genuinely loves them, but the science behind the question tells a different story.
In humans, we process emotion in various parts of the brain. According to Neurology Times, we process happiness in the amygdala, fear in the amygdala and frontal cortex, and sadness in many locations combined.
Snakes lack the brain structure that humans and many other mammals possess. Snakes can’t feel what humans can feel.
Do Pet Snakes Like to be Held?
Do snakes like human contact? In a way, yes.
So, we’ve established that snakes aren’t affectionate. They won’t come to you for cuddles, for example. But snake owners handle their pets. Do snakes like it, or not? As it turns out, they do, but not because they want your affection. It’s more about your warmth.
Snakes, like other reptiles, are ectothermic (cold-blooded). They have to get heat from elsewhere. In their natural environment, this might be a nice warm, flat rock that was in the sun all day. They’ll find a spot like this, either in the sun or not, that can warm them up and help them digest.
In captivity, their options are a little more limited. So, when a nice warm human comes along and tries to pick them up, they think to themselves “Well, this person isn’t a threat—I recognize them—and they’re nice and warm. I might sit on them for a while!”
That’s why some snakes will happily sit with you while you watch TV. They’re not watching with you; they’re absorbing your heat. But whether or not they’re doing so for affection, you can still have fun playing with your pet.
Are Pet Snakes Easy to Care for?
This is a big plus point when it comes to owning snakes. Caring for them is easy if you put the time and money into setting up their enclosure properly.
Snakes require minimal care, especially compared to other animals. At most, they’ll need food every three days or so, and handling once a day. When you compare that to the time you spend looking after other kinds of pet, that isn’t a lot.
Their diet is simple, too. Almost all pet snakes live on a diet of rodents. You can buy these in bulk, which cuts down on both the cost and on time shopping for them.
That being said, snakes may not need walks, but they do still need stimulation and entertainment. They’ll spend most of their time resting and lying around, of course, but you can tell from owning any snake that they’re curious creatures.
It mustn’t be nice to be stuck in a small box day in, day out, for twenty years with hardly anything to do (even if you are of limited intelligence) That’s why you shouldn’t get a snake unless you’re prepared to spend time with it, like you would with any pet.
Pet Snake Morphs
Another reason why you should consider getting a pet snake is that there are lots of ‘morphs’ available. These are different patterns and colors that breeders have created by picking particular snakes to mate with one another.
You can get normal snakes, just like you would find in the wild, or you can find variations like:
- Different colors, from dark and sleek black to bright white, and lots of colors like yellow and red in between
- Different patterns, including horizontal and vertical stripes, as well as spots
- Snakes without any scales at all
- Snakes with red, pink or blue eyes
Part of the fun of owning these morphs is how unique they are. Some, like albinos, are quite common now. But others, ones that are black all over or have blue eyes, for example, are rarer. The only problem is that these snakes cost more money than average.
What Are the Best and Worst Pet Snakes?
Some species are well-behaved, but some aren’t. The easiest snakes to keep are called ‘starter snakes’ because they make a great first pet. This is normally down to three factors. They’re easy to care for, they’re easy to handle, and they’re easy to feed.
Let’s take a look at the best and worst pet snakes, starting with the best ones for beginners, and what makes them so great if you’re starting.
What Are the Best Snakes for Beginners?
There are three things you have to look for in a beginner snake. These are that they’re well-behaved, easy to care for, and don’t grow too large. Not all snakes meet every single criterion, which is why it’s vital that you read up on the subject before you make your choice.
1) Corn Snakes
Corn snakes are one of the best beginner snakes. They’re a Colubrid and are part of the subgroup of rat snakes that, unsurprisingly, only really eat mice and rats. They can grow surprisingly big, almost as long as a fully-grown man, and get quite heavy for a starter snake too.
That being said, they’re easy to handle. They’re one of the best pet snakes because they’re so calm, and hardly ever get defensive. That’s why they make such a great pet for beginners and experts alike.
2) Ball Pythons
What is the friendliest snake? It might be the humble ball python.
Ball pythons are easily the most popular pet snake because they’re so friendly and comfortable with humans. They’re one of the few snakes that seem to search out human contact regularly as a pet.
Not only that, though, but they’re one of the most fun pet snakes because there are dozens upon dozens of different morphs available for you to choose from.
Because they’ve been popular for a while now, breeders have made more morphs than it’s possible to count. As such, ball pythons come in all sorts of colors, including silver and grey, pure white, black and brown, buttery orange/yellow, banana, and lavender.
They also come in different patterns including stripy like a tiger, completely plain, ‘pied’/spotted, and even striped from head to tail.
3) Garter Snakes
What is the smallest pet snake? It might be the garter snake. They’re great fun, but they’re more nervous around people than ball pythons and corn snakes. They might therefore not be a good choice for a beginner.
First things first, some garter snakes don’t like being handled. Most captive-bred garter snakes will consent to you handling them, but others will get nervous and scared.
Unfortunately, garter snakes react poorly when scared, and can:
- Thrash and roll around in your hands, trying to get away
- Leave foul-smelling musk on your hands
- Bite you, although this is rarer
If your garter snake is more well-behaved, though, they’re curious and fun little snakes. They only grow to two feet on average and weigh a fraction of what a corn snake does.
As always, try handling the snake before you buy them, to see what kind of temperament they have. This will give you an indication of whether they’re right for you, or not.
4) Hognose Snakes
Hognose snakes are so-called because they have a unique snout—almost like a tiny piglet.
They’re many different species, from different families, from places across the world. The most common are western hognose snakes, which are North American. But you can also get hognoses from South America, and even from the African island of Madagascar.
All of them share the same upturned nose, which they use for burrowing deep into loose soil or under leaves so that they can hide.
Hognose snakes are another great choice if you like small snakes. They grow to a maximum of two to three feet, depending on the sex. That, plus the fact that they’re cute, makes them a great pet.
Of course, these aren’t your only choices. There are plenty more snakes that are kept as pets here in North America. California king snakes, milk snakes, and ringneck snakes all make good pets.
Each has its advantages and drawbacks. Kingsnakes are calm and thrive in captivity, ringneck snakes are tiny even at adult size, and milk snakes don’t require as much handling and care and attention as other breeds.
What Are the Worst Snakes for Beginners?
But not all snakes are suitable for beginners. Some are too big, too curious, too defensive or even just too expensive! Let’s take a look at the snakes that you should only consider owning if you know what you’re doing (or if you have more money than most).
1) Boa Constrictors
Boas require high levels of both temperature and humidity, far more than your average snake. This is difficult to do unless you spend a lot of money on the initial setup.
Not only that, but the humidity and temperature make it easier for mold to grow and for your snake to get infections, again, unless you pay a lot for a nice setup.
Not only that, but boas can get quite big. You might therefore not have fun with a boa constrictor unless you really know what you’re doing, and you’ve owned snakes before.
2) Reticulated Pythons
The same applies to reticulated pythons (or ‘retics,’ as they’re known).
They’re officially the world’s biggest known snake species, and they come from southeast Asia. That’s what’s made them popular with breeders and owners in North America because there’s a big market for big snakes like retics.
But just because it would be cool to own a huge snake, that doesn’t make it a good decision to buy one. These snakes can grow to an incredible twenty feet in length, and more, in the right conditions.
There are a few reasons why snakes do not make good pets, too. First of all, as we said, they aren’t affectionate like mammals. So, if you’re after a pet that can offer you hours and hours of cuddles, you should look elsewhere.
But aside from that, there are reasons why you should only get a snake after careful consideration.
Are Pet Snakes Venomous?
Every beginner snake you can buy isn’t venomous.
That being said, they’re still not necessarily safe. Snakes, like every animal apart from ourselves, don’t brush their teeth. This means that their mouths are chock-full of bacteria that they can easily pass on to you in a bite.
According to the South African Medical Journal, snakebites can produce ‘severe local and systemic septic complications’ whether or not the snake is venomous. They found that 40 out of 42 snakes in their study carried either one or two bacteria that could cause severe infections.
Almost all pet snakes also carry salmonella, the bacteria that make raw chicken dangerous. That’s not passed on through bites, but by simple contact. That’s why whenever you handle a snake or their discarded skin, you should wash your hands afterward. This also applies to other reptiles.
Are Snakes Expensive Pets?
Snakes can be expensive, and the amount of kit and equipment they require is more than your average pet.
When you first buy your pet snake, you can expect to pay between $20 and $10,000. Like other pets, the rarer or interesting the species/morph you’re after, the more you’ll have to pay.
If you didn’t know, snakes come in different morphs—colorations and patterns which are created through breeding programs. Albino snakes are an example and are more expensive than ‘normal’ examples from a particular breed. You also have to buy the following items:
- An enclosure for your snake
- Decorations for your snake’s tank, including backgrounds and hides
- Specialist food
- Something to maintain the temperature in the enclosure, and something to measure the temperature too
Depending on the quality of your setup, this can cost upwards of $100, typically about $250. Heating, lighting, and food also represent ongoing costs. So, snakes aren’t much more expensive than other pets, but you need to spend on extras for their tank otherwise you’ll be neglecting them.
Are Snakes Easy to Handle?
Snakes aren’t easy to handle unless you know what you’re doing.
Strictly speaking, snakes are quite easy to handle. All you have to do is hold them, and while they might try and slither away, you can quite easily pick them up again. And like we said above, the kind of snake you’ll be buying won’t be venomous so that you won’t die from a bite.
However, you can still get bitten and infected, and because snakes don’t understand affection, there’s a higher likelihood of that happening. This will only happen, though, if you don’t know what you’re doing, and you don’t know what signs to watch out for. These are signs that your snake is agitated or uncomfortable. These include the following:
- Sticking their tongue out, and keeping it out, a sign that they’re on the lookout for a predator.
- Coiling up into an S-shape—this is the sign that they’re preparing to strike.
- Various species-specific signs like hissing, flattening their head and lowering their head to look straight at you.
What we’re trying to say is that if you don’t understand what your snake is trying to tell you, then no, your pet won’t be easy to handle. They’ll refuse to be handled, and what’s worse, will come to see you as a threat. That’s the last thing you want.
Snakes Live a Long Time
Now, this could be a good or bad point depending on your opinion. But snakes can live for a very long time in captivity.
Let’s say you get a snake as a hatchling. If you take proper care of them, then your pet could live upwards of twenty or twenty-five whole years.
That’s an incredible amount of time, and you have to be able to commit to caring for your pet for their lifetime. It’s not fair to get a pet, but then neglect it and give it away. You wouldn’t do that to any other household pet, so you shouldn’t do it to a snake either.
Examples of snake lifespan include:
- Corn snakes live up to 20 years old.
- Ball pythons (royal pythons) can live up to 30 years old.
- Boa constrictors live up to 30 years old.
- Reticulated pythons can live up to 30 years old, too.
The average lifespan of these snakes is a little shorter. Corn snakes usually live about 15 years, for example, and retics typically live to around 20. But it’s possible that any snake, cared for well enough, could far exceed these averages. Snakes live a lot longer in captivity than they do in the wild, so make sure you do your research correctly before you commit to owning one.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a fantastic thing because you could be getting a pet for life. But it’s also something that you have to think about carefully.