Snakes. People either love them or hate them. For those who know enough to love them, keeping a snake (or two, or three, or ten) can be a fun and interesting experience.
Before adding any snake to your home, there are some very important points to consider.
#1. Snakes are strict carnivores. In captivity, snakes usually eat mice and rats. Almost all snakes can be trained to take frozen/thawed rats which you can buy from a supplier or pet shop, but on occasion, you may have a picky eater who will only eat live or fresh killed food. You must be prepared and willing to do this if necessary.
#2. Snakes can bite. Captive snakes are generally very docile, but they are not domestic animals, and can on occasion be feisty or cranky. All of the snakes below are non-venomous and pose no danger to humans, but they do have teeth. If you are bitten, it could hurt a bit (but a lot less than if you were bitten by your dog or hamster!).
#3. Snakes aren’t cuddly like dogs or cats. They can learn who their owner is, and even prefer to be with their owner than other people. But they aren’t too big on belly rubs and hugs like a dog, or playing with toys like a cat. Regular handling will keep them docile, but they don’t seek out your companionship. What makes them happiest is food, water, warmth and a secure hiding spot.
#4. Snakes need heat. Proper temperature and humidity is a must, and depends on the species of snake. They don’t need special UVB or other lights like some lizards and turtles, but they do need a heat pad or heat tape under their enclosure to keep them happy and healthy.
#5. Snakes are best housed alone. Some people have success keeping more than on snake in an enclosure. As a general rule, though, it is best to house snakes each in their own enclosure, unless they are being bred. It is not unheard of for a snake to attempt to eat its cage mate. This is especially true with King snakes. NEVER house a King snake with another snake.
Here are my top six suggestions of snakes that make great pets for beginners, in no particular order.
Corn Snakes are one of the most popular snakes for a good reason. They are docile, long lived, and don’t grow unmanageably large. They are also an affordable snake, and usually found at pet stores and from breeders. Adult corn snakes can reach 4-6 ft in length and can live up to 20 years in captivity.
Ball Pythons are another very popular species. Most would rather hide than bite, and are very docile. They are quite cute and friendly. Their popularity has led to many breeders working with them, and the wide variety of beautiful color morphs is very impressive. The only downside to ball pythons is that a few can be very picky eaters. But other than that, they are excellent pet snakes. Adult ball pythons grow up to 3-5 feet, with females growing a little larger than males. They can live up to 20 years.
King Snakes are a good beginner snake which comes in many different varieties. Among the most popular are the California King snake and the Florida King snake. King snakes earned their name from the fact that other snakes are on the menu, including other King snakes. Always keep King snakes alone and never put another snake of any kind in their enclosure. Fortunately, King snakes are more than happy to thrive on a diet of mice or rats. Reaching lengths of 4-6 feet and living up to 20 years, they are great snakes to keep.
Western Hognose snakes are another great beginner snake. These little snakes are among the smallest and by far the cutest on this list, with males growing only to about 20″ and females growing up to 35″. They live 15-18 years in captivity. With their upturned snouts (which gives them their name) to their active and entertaining personalities, they are a favorite with everyone who keeps them.
Milk Snakes are among the most colorful and beautiful of snakes, and are great beginner snakes, too. Some species of Milk snakes look very much like the venomous Coral snakes, but are completely harmless. “Red touches black, venom lack” says the rhyme. Milk snakes grow to about 3-5 feet and live 15-20 years.
Garter Snakes are one of the most underrated, but also among the most familiar of the beginner snakes. Most kids who’ve spent a lot of time outside in nature have seen or caught these little backyard visitors. Garter snakes are an excellent choice for someone who wants a small, docile snake, but would rather avoid feeding mice or rats. Garter snakes will readily eat earthworms and goldfish. Fishing worms can readily be found at many stores, and make a great food source. Garter snakes are relatively small, maxing out at 2-4 feet, and live between 10-12 years.
No matter the type of snake you choose, always remember that they are a long term commitment and depend on your for all their needs. As with any animal, do your research and make sure you choose the best snake for your wants and abilities. And most of all, enjoy the rewarding and addicting hobby of snake keeping!