Snakes have beautiful colors and are fascinating creatures to watch, but they’re definitely not the right type of pet for everyone. Snakes, such as ball pythons and corn snakes, do make good beginner pets, but you need to be able to deal with the responsibilities that come with snake ownership.
Snakes are relatively easy to care for and have stunning colors, but they’re not ‘cuddly’ pets. You won’t be able to build a loving relationship with a snake. However, your pet snake will learn to trust you once it realizes that you’re not a threat. Snakes are obligate carnivores, so you must be prepared to feed your snake mice and rats.
This guide will help you to understand everything that goes into owning a pet snake, and whether you would make a suitable owner. If you are, then a snake would be a fun and interesting choice. What other pet is only 12 inches long when you first get it, but grows to 3-6 feet long within a year?
Can Snakes Be Good Pets?
Snakes make good pets for the right people. Those who most enjoy the experience tend to have a natural appreciation of snakes, and are prepared to do what it takes to keep their pet healthy.
Do Pet Snakes Recognize Their Owners?
Do snakes get attached to their owners? Yes, but not in the same way as other household pets, such as cats and dogs. Based on the experience of owners, snakes become more comfortable around certain people over time. These are always the people that feed and handle them the most.
It’s obvious if a snake has been around someone for a long time because it will behave differently than it does around a complete stranger. This occurs because the snake has grown accustomed to the way that you smell.
That’s why snakes flick their tongue, because it helps them to detect chemicals and pheromones in the air. Snakes use a special organ, called Duvernoy’s gland, to detect prey, predators, and mates. The smell that an owner emits, if treated well, will then be considered safe by the snake.
Can Snakes Be Affectionate Pets?
Do snakes feel affection? Pet snakes can grow accustomed or learn to trust a person they spend a lot of time around. But it’s unclear whether they are able to feel affection in the same way that humans and other animals do.
Some owners feel certain that their pet snake genuinely loves and feels affection for them, but scientific research tells us a different story.
According to Neurology Times, humans process happiness in the amygdala, fear in the amygdala and frontal cortex, and sadness in many locations combined. However, snakes lack the brain structure that humans and other mammals have. So, snakes are unable to process these types of complex emotions.
Do Pet Snakes Like To Be Held?
Do snakes like human contact? They do, but not due to a need for love and affection. It’s more about absorbing the warmth from the human body.
Snakes are ectothermic (cold-blooded). They have to get their heat from their natural environment. This heat source might be a warm, flat rock. They’ll regulate their body temperature and be able to digest a large meal.
In captivity, their options are more limited. So, when a warm-blooded 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’m OK about spending some time with them.”
That’s why some snakes will happily sit with you while you watch TV. They’re just absorbing your heat. But even though it’s not for love or affection, you can still have a lot of fun handling your pet snake.
Are Pet Snakes Easy to Care for?
Snakes require minimal care, especially compared to other animals. At most, they’ll need to be fed every 3-7 days, and some occasional handling.
Almost all pet snakes live on a rodent-based diet. You can buy these pre-killed, so you don’t have to feed your pet snake live prey.
While snakes don’t need walks or to play a game of ‘fetch’, they do need entertainment. They’ll spend most of their time resting, of course, but you can tell from owning any snake that they’re very curious animals.
You also have to take care of your snake’s health. Mites, scale rot, and respiratory conditions are common illnesses that affect snakes. Make sure that you set the temperature/humidity correctly (based on the species of snake), and change its bedding when required (every 2-3 weeks).
Here’s some advice on how to keep your snake’s enclosure clean.
Do Snakes Have Interesting Colors?
Another reason why you should consider getting a pet snake is that there are lots of beautiful ‘morphs’ available. These are patterns and colors that breeders have created by picking certain snakes to mate with one another.
You can get normal snakes, just like you would find in the wild, or you can find interesting variations like:
- Different colors, from dark and sleek black to bright white, and lots of colors like yellow and red in between
- Various patterns, including horizontal and vertical stripes
- Snakes without any scales at all
- Snakes with red, pink, or blue eyes
Part of the fun of owning these snakes is that they’re so unusual. Some, like albinos, have become 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 to buy than your average pet snake.
Do Snakes Live a Long Time?
Let’s say you get a snake as a hatchling. If you take proper care of it, then your pet snake could easily live for 20-25 years. That’s a long time, and you’ll need to commit to caring for your snake for its entire lifetime. Examples of a pet snake’s lifespan include:
- Corn snakes can reach 20 years’ old
- Ball pythons (royal pythons) can reach 30 years’ old
- Garter snakes can reach 10 years’ old
- Hognose snake can reach 18 years’ old
Now, this could be a good or bad point depending on your perspective. But snakes can live a long time in captivity. They live shorter lives in the wild due to the higher risk of predation and harsh living conditions.
Are Snakes Dangerous Pets?
Pet snakes aren’t venomous. They’re constrictor snakes, but their mouths are full of bacteria, which they can pass on to you when they bite.
According to the South African Medical Journal, snake bites 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 carry salmonella, the bacteria that make raw chicken so dangerous. That’s not passed on through bites, but by contact. That’s why, whenever you handle a snake or its discarded skin, you should wash your hands afterward. This applies to all types of reptiles.
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.
Corn Snakes (Pantherophis Guttatus)
Corn snakes are a Colubrid, and are part of the subgroup of rat snakes. Corns live on a diet of mice and rats. They grow to an average of 4 to 5.5 meters long. As with all snakes, the females are larger than the males.
Corns are easy to handle because they’re so calm and rarely get defensive. That’s why they make such a great pet for beginners, and are the second most popular pet snake in America to the ball python.
Here’s our full care guide for corn snakes.
Ball Pythons (Python Regius)
What is the friendliest snake? It may well be the ball python. They are the most popular pet snake because they’re so friendly towards humans.
Not only that, but they’re one of the most fun pet snakes because there are dozens of different ball python morphs available.
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.
While female ball pythons reach an average of 3-5 feet, male ball pythons only grow to 2-3 feet. So, a male ball python would be a good choice if you want a small pet snake.
Here’s our full care guide for ball pythons.
Garter Snakes (Thamnophis)
Garter snakes are small, harmless constrictor snakes. If you manage to get a relaxed garter snake, it’ll be a curious and fun pet. They only grow to about 2 feet on average, so they’re a good option if space is limited.
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 around in your hands, making handling more difficult
- Production of a foul-smelling musk
- Hissing and non-venomous bites
A garter snake’s fear will diminish once it learns to trust you. However, you’ll need to be prepared to put up with the period of adjustment.
Here’s our full care guide for garter snakes.
Hognose Snakes (Heterodon Nasicus)
Hognose snakes are so-called because they have a unique snout. They’re many different species, but the most commonly kept pets are western hognose snakes, which are native to North America.
All species share the same upturned nose, which they use for burrowing deep into loose soil or under leaves so that they can hide. If you do decide to get a hognose snake, you’ll need to pick a burrowing substrate (bedding).
Hognose snakes area good choice if you like small snakes. They grow to a maximum of 2-3 feet, depending on their sex. That, plus the fact that they’re cute, makes them a relatively popular pet.
Here’s our full care guide for hognose snakes.
What Are the Worst Snakes for Beginners?
But not all snakes are suitable for beginners. Some are too big, curious, defensive, or expensive. Let’s look at the snakes that you should only get if you know what you’re doing because you’ve owned snakes in the past.
Boa Constrictors (Boidae)
Boas require high temperature and humidity levels because they’re from a tropical climate. If you get the settings wrong or the equipment falters, this can lead to problems digesting food and shedding skin. Consequently, you’ll have to spend more money on the initial setup.
Not only that, but boas can get quite large and difficult to handle. You might not have fun with a boa constrictor unless you really know what you’re doing, and you’ve owned large-sized snakes previously.
Reticulated Pythons (Malayopython Reticulatus)
Reticulated pythons (or ‘retics’) are the world’s biggest snake. That’s what makes them so popular with breeders and owners in North America, because there’s a fascination with very large pet snakes.
But just because it would be cool to own a huge snake doesn’t make it a good decision to get one. These snakes will grow to between 10 and 20 feet in length and weigh hundreds of pounds. In the wrong hands, these powerful constrictor snakes could be very dangerous.
You want a snake that doesn’t grow too large, has an easy-going temperament, and is easy to care for in captivity.