Venomous snakes are among the most interesting and colorful pets, but their bites are dangerous and potentially deadly. These snakes may issue a bite with venom or a dry bite. They pose a significant health risk to their owners and the wider public should they escape. That’s why each state has state laws on the ownership of ‘poisonous’ snakes.
In most states, it is legal to catch and keep venomous snakes as pets, but only with a permit. In other states, it is entirely illegal to own them. However, there are some endangered species that are protected by the law. There are also laws on breeding, importing, and exporting that may be separate from the laws on keeping venomous snakes.
It is vital that you check your local municipal and county law to make sure that you comply with those laws, too. Certain cities ban venomous snakes outright, while it’s legal to own them in the state in general. The law varies significantly depending on what part of America you live.
Is It Legal to Own Venomous Snakes?
In every state, the legality of owning certain wild or dangerous animals is regulated. And in most states, these laws pertain to venomous snakes as well as other animals.
Most states require that you purchase a yearly permit for owning one, in the way you would buy a hunting license. However, in other states, it is entirely illegal.
There are also federal laws related to wildlife that must be adhered to. No federal law says what kind of snake you can own, but how you catch, breed or sell them is regulated.
Venomous Snake Laws by State
Before we dive into the laws in each state, please do bear in mind that these are summations of relevant laws. To check whether owning a venomous snake is fully legal where you live, you should also check county or municipal law to ensure that you are not breaking those laws.
Under ALA. ADMIN CODE r. 220-2-.26, it is unlawful to possess any non-indigenous venomous reptile without a permit.
Black pine snakes, eastern indigo snakes, eastern coachwhip snakes, Florida pine snakes, Gulf salt marsh snakes, and southern hognose snakes cannot be caught or killed, permit or otherwise.
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, it is illegal to hold any wild species as a pet. A permit is required to possess an exotic venomous snake.
Under R12-4-406. Restricted Live Wildlife, it is illegal for anybody to own a venomous snake in Arizona without a permit. This includes elapids, vipers, sea snakes, boomslangs and asps.
No permit is required to own native or exotic venomous snakes in Arkansas.
Under CAL. CODE REGS. Tit. 14, §671 and §671.1, it is unlawful to possess what are considered wild animals. This prevents you from catching and keeping venomous snakes without a permit. However, keeping live, native rattlesnakes is not prohibited by fish and game laws, permit or otherwise.
Under the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Regulations, 2 CCR 406-8., Chapter 11 (Wildlife Parks and Unregulated Wildlife), it is legal to own a venomous snake in Colorado provided that you have a permit. A similar requirement applies if you want to import or export a venomous snake. You must apply each year to keep your permit up to date.
Under CONN. GEN. STAT. §26-40a and §26-55, it is illegal to possess potentially dangerous animals. However, venomous snakes are not listed under the law’s definition of ‘dangerous animal.’ As such, you can apply for a permit to keep one, although it will most likely be denied.
Under DEL. CODE ANN tit. 3, §7201, §7202, and §7203, it is entirely illegal to keep venomous snakes. While you can keep wild animals, reptiles included, with a permit this does not extend to “any poisonous snake not native to or generally found in Delaware where the venom of such snake poses a risk of serious injury or death to a human, and no permit for the same shall be issued by the Department of Agriculture.”
In Florida, it is legal to own a venomous snake provided that you have a permit. Owners must have 1000 hours or more experience with venomous reptiles, and must also provide two reference letters from existing license holders. Here is a detailed post on the types of venomous snakes in Florida.
Georgia’s odd laws concerning keeping snakes mean that it is illegal to keep non-venomous snakes like corn snakes, garter snakes and the like.
However, it’s perfectly legal to own venomous snakes like rattlesnakes and copperheads. That’s because they are classed as exotic venomous animals, for which you can acquire a permit, while nonvenomous species are specifically outlawed.
Under HAW. ADMIN. RULES §4-71-5, it is illegal to import or possess any exotic animals, venomous or not. The purpose of this law is to protect Hawaii’s unique ecology—there are no native amphibians or snakes in Hawaii, and if any were introduced, they could easily kill many unique native species. Even parasites from exotic pets could cause untold damage.
Under IDAHO ADMIN CODE §02.04.27, private possession of “deleterious” wild animals is forbidden without a permit. This includes venomous snakes.
Under P.A. 98-752, § 1-1, eff. Jan. 1, 2015, it is held to be illegal for any private individual to own a venomous reptile. The only exception is for bona fide educational programs, for which a permit is still required.
Under IND. CODE ANN. §14-22-26-1-§14-22-26-6., a person who possesses a wild animal must have a permit for each animal. This includes venomous reptiles, which are considered Class III wild and potentially dangerous animals.
Under IOWA CODE ANN §717F.1-.13, it is illegal to possess or breed any “dangerous wild animal.” As defined specifically in the law, this includes any “…member of the family Elapidae, Viperidae, Crotalidae, Atractaspidae, or Hydrophidae which are venomous, including but not limited to cobras, mambas, coral snakes, kraits, adders, vipers, rattlesnakes, copperheads, pit vipers, keelbacks, cottonmouths, and sea snakes.”
Under KAN. STAT. ANN §32-1301-32-1312, it is illegal to possess or breed any dangerous regulated animal. This includes venomous snakes. Only anybody licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and hold a particular license is exempt, as are zoos, aquariums, and research institutions.
Under 301 KY. ADMIN. REGS. 2:082, it’s illegal to possess any “inherently dangerous wildlife.” This includes large animals like alligators, bears, and elephants, but also applies to “venomous exotic snakes of the families Viperidae, Atractaspididae, Elapidae, and Colubridae, except for hognose snakes (genus Heterodon).”
Under LA. ADMIN. CODE tit. 76, §115; Part XV §101, it is illegal to own a venomous snake without a permit. It’s also illegal to own any snake, venomous or otherwise, that’s longer than 12 feet without a permit.
Under ME. REV. STAT. ANN. tit. 12 § 7235-A, it is legal to own any wild animal subject to permit.
In Maryland, you need a permit if you want to keep a native reptile or amphibian.
Under 321 CMR 9.00: Exemption List, all venomous snakes require a permit. Under this list, various nonvenomous snakes may be kept as a pet without a permit, including kingsnakes, gopher snakes, garter snakes and similar.
Under MICH. COMP. LAWS §287.731, it is clearly defined which animals cannot be kept as pets. These are large cats (i.e., lions and tigers), bears, wolves, and wolf hybrids. According to the law, all animals not specifically listed can be kept provided that the owner has a permit.
MINN. STAT. 346.155 lists various animals considered to be ‘regulated animals,’ which includes big cats, bears, and primates. However, since snakes are not listed, you can legally keep venomous snakes provided that you have a permit to do so.
MISS. CODE ANN. §49-8-5 regulates which exotic animals can or cannot be kept in Mississippi. Currently, only animals held to be “inherently dangerous” require a permit.
While snakes are not currently on this list, lawmakers are trying to add them to it. HB951, for example, proposed to do so but died in committee on Jan. 30th, 2018.
Under MO. REV. STAT. §578.023, it’s illegal to keep any “poisonous reptile” without registering the animal with local law enforcement in the county.
Under MONT. ADMIN. R. §32.3.202, it’s illegal to import an exotic snake into Montana without a one-time permit. However, once inside the state, no permit is required.
Under NEB. REV. STAT. §37-477—the law specifying which animals require a permit—no mention is made of reptiles, venomous or otherwise. You can therefore legally keep a venomous snake without a permit.
NEV. ADMIN. CODE ch. 503, §110 lists several animals which are illegal to keep, for which a permit cannot be granted. Listed here are boomslangs, keelbacks, coral snakes, cobras, kraits, mambas pit vipers and true vipers, and Australian elapids. Other snakes may be kept with a permit.
Under N.H. CODE ADMIN. R Fis §804.01, it is illegal to possess “venomous reptiles,” which includes venomous snakes. No permit may be given to own one. Other non-venomous snakes require a permit to own one.
Under N.J. ADMIN. CODE tit. 7, §25-4.8 and §25-4.9, it is illegal for anybody to own a potentially dangerous species of animal, wild or not. Examples given include coral snakes, cobras and pit vipers.
It is legal to import and own venomous snakes in New Mexico without a permit.
Under N.Y. ENVTL. CONSERV. §11-0103, it is unlawful to possess any wild animal without a permit. Venomous reptiles, as well as many large constrictors like reticulated pythons and Burmese pythons, are included under the definition of “wild animals.”
Under North Carolina G.S. 14-417 it is unlawful to house any venomous reptile in an enclosure that isn’t sturdy and secure. The enclosure has to be permanent, and have an operable lock. It must be ‘designed to be’ both escape proof and bite proof.
Under N.D. ADMIN. CODE §48.1-09, venomous snakes are considered non-traditional livestock, category 3. As such, you do need a permit to keep one.
Under the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act, it’s unlawful to keep certain venomous snakes without a permit. It’s also necessary to keep antivenom for the snake or snakes in question on hand.
These snakes are defined in the Ohio Revised Code 935.01 as elapids, vipers, boomslangs, twig snakes, asps and many non-venomous constrictor snakes.
Under OKLA. STAT. Tit. 29, §4-107, it is illegal to keep any wildlife either for commercial purposes or as a pet without a permit. You will need a Wildlife Breeder’s License, even if you don’t plan on breeding your snakes.
According to the Oregon Department of Wildlife, venomous snakes in Oregon are listed as prohibited species. This includes rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths, cobras, brown tree snakes, puff adders and several other vipers.
These animals may not be imported, exported, traded or owned and there is no permit available except to zoos and research facilities.
To legally own a rattlesnake or other venomous snake in Pennsylvania, you’ll need a license. These licenses (Venomous Snake Permits) can be obtained for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and should be sought before you acquire the snake. The snake would then have to be legally collected from the wild during open season.
Venomous snakes may be caught and kept, but again only if you have the correct permit. This right is detailed under the Rules and Regulations Governing Importation and Possession of Exotic Wild Animals.
The law in South Carolina with regards to owning or selling venomous snakes is unclear. While it is illegal to own an exotic animal without first obtaining a license, and while venomous snakes are included under that definition, this law seems very vaguely enforced. South Carolina is one of the few places in the country where you can find venomous snakes for sale at reptile shows.
Like many other states, you need a permit to catch and keep rattlesnakes in South Dakota. These permits can be obtained from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Under TENN. CODE ANN §70-4-401, §70-4-403, and §70-4-404, it is illegal for anybody to possess or breed ‘Class I wildlife,’ which is a catchall term that refers to venomous, endangered or otherwise inconvenient species to own. This includes “all poisonous snakes.”
To own Class 1 wildlife, you must be 21, have 2 years’ experience handling the animal, have a full-time resident caretaker for the animal, and have plans in place should the animal get free. Needless to say, but that rules out most people who want to own them.
It’s legal to own venomous snakes in Texas. The permit costs just $20 and is obtainable from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
However, possession of cobras and similar venomous snakes (or snakes over six feet in length) is not permissible within Houston city limits, regardless of obtaining a state-wide permit or not.
In Utah, a permit is required for both native and exotic venomous snake species. To obtain one, you first need to get written permission from the town or city where the snake will be kept. You then need to apply for a certificate of registration (C.O.R.) permit, and pay $200 to go through a hearing.
The requirements for the hearing are either that you run a zoo or similar facility, an educational facility, a circus or sideshow, or a research facility. If you don’t, then you can’t get a permit. So while it is possible to get one, you’re likely not to meet their strict requirements.
Several laws govern venomous snake ownership in Vermont. To collect native venomous snakes, you’ll need a scientific collection permit. Exotic venomous snakes require separate importation permits, and protected native venomous snakes need a separate permit still.
In Virginia, snakes are classed as non-game species. This means that they are protected under non-game regulations. While you can’t kill them, you can ‘take’ them from the wild if they are a nuisance (particularly on your property).
Under WASH. REV. CODE §16-30, it is illegal to own or breed a potentially dangerous animal. Venomous snakes are included within that definition.
You are allowed to keep rattlesnakes in West Virginia, with no permit required for keeping them. However, the legal limit on the number of rattlesnakes you’re allowed to keep is just one. A West Virginia man faced charges in 2018 for keeping 17 rattlesnakes, far more than the legal limit.
In Wisconsin, no permit is required for the keeping of venomous snakes. However, you should check with municipal law to see if they are banned where you live. Janesville, for example, restricts ownership of both venomous and constricting snakes.
Wyoming Statutes Title 23. Game and Fish § 23-1-101 defines any wild animal not native to Wyoming as exotic. Exotic animals are not prohibited under § 23-1-103., meaning that you don’t need a permit to own exotic snakes. As always, check with local laws before purchasing or catching a venomous snake.
How to Get a License for a Venomous Snake
Now, just because you can legally obtain a license for a venomous snake, that doesn’t mean that it’s at all easy to do so. Take Tennessee for example, where the regulations on who can and who can’t get a license are strict. It’s similar in many states across the country, which means that your application is likely to be rejected.
All you can do is tick every box that they need you to, and prove that you’re a suitable owner. That involves proving that you have a strong enough enclosure, one which has a lock so that they can’t get out, and that you know how to handle them.
But even if you can prove that you tick those boxes, don’t be surprised if you’re rejected. Law at every level—municipal, state and federal—tends to frown on any one that wants to own a venomous snake, whether or not they tick every legal box to own one.
Federal Laws on Venomous Snakes
There are also federal laws on venomous snakes that you have to comply with. These don’t necessarily relate to owning a venomous snake. But they do relate to how you take, transport and keep them. Let’s take a look at what they are.
The Lacey Act and Venomous Snakes
The Lacey Act is a law that makes it illegal to import or export certain animals if they were not caught according to federal, state or foreign law. The Lacey Act is strict and clear, with no permits or certificates available that mean you can violate it.
If you do violate the Lacey Act, you may be charged with either civil or criminal sanctions even if you didn’t know you were breaking the law at the time.
The Endangered Species Act 1973
The Endangered Species Act, or ESA, protects native species by preventing anybody in any state from harassing, killing or taking snakes from the wild.
On the list are many protected snakes, which are:
- The dusky sea snake
- The Aruba Island rattlesnake
- The New Mexican ridge-nosed rattlesnake
- The eastern indigo snake
- The Maria island snake
- The Alameda whipsnake
- The Atlantic salt marsh snake
- The copperbelly water snake
- The black pine snake
- The Louisiana pine snake
- The eastern massasauga rattlesnake
- The northern Mexican garter snake
- The giant garter snake
- The narrow-headed garter snake
- The San Francisco garter snake
Several species are also under review, meaning that they may be added shortly. As such, this list may not be complete—so check to see which snakes are protected in your area.
It’s also necessary to contact both county and municipal authorities in your area to identify which venomous snakes can and cannot be kept as pets. Even if it’s legal in your state to own a venomous snake, it may not be in your city.