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Snakes as Pets

Choosing the Best Snake for Beginners

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corn snake photo

Corn Snakes

Lianne McLeod
Snakes are fascinating, and with regular handling can be quite tame. However, snakes are obviously not the right pets for everyone. They have unique requirements and should only be kept by those with the commitment to understand and meet their needs. If you are new to pet snakes, find out what you should consider before deciding on a pet snake, and what species are the best snakes for beginners.

Choosing a Snake as a Pet - First Things First

  • When choosing a snake, you are making a long term commitment - many can be expected to live longer than 20 years.
  • You must be willing to feed prey animals to your snake (though frozen, pre-killed prey is the best choice), and you will probably have to devote some freezer space to frozen prey items (i.e. rodents).
  • Snakes are very adept escape artists, so make sure you have an escape-proof tank, keeping in mind that snakes are persistent about finding and squeezing through any small gaps.
  • Finally, as beautiful as they are, I strongly recommend against anyone keeping large constricting snakes or venomous snakes.

About Choosing Your Snake
Get a captive bred snake from a reputable breeder, if at all possible. Wild caught snakes tend to be more stressed and prone to parasites and disease, and more difficult to tame. For more about the advantages of captive bred reptiles, see Should I Get a Wild Caught or Captive Bred Reptile?

You will also want to do a cursory exam of your snake to check for any signs of illness: see Choosing a Healthy Reptile for areas and signs to look at.

It also doesn't hurt to ask for a feeding demonstration, to make sure your new snake is readily taking pre-killed prey and feeding well. Ball pythons are somewhat notorious for having feeding problems, so this is especially a good idea with ball pythons (though if you get a captive breed ball python it seems less likely that feeding problems will crop up).

Recommended Beginner Snakes
These are all reasonably sized, fairly easy to care for, and tend to be quite docile:

Snakes to Avoid
Beginners should avoid large constricting snakes, venomous snakes, and snakes with more difficult care requirements, including such snakes as:

  • Boa constrictors / red-tailed boas (not as large as some constricting snakes, but still a handful, especially for beginners)
  • Burmese pythons
  • Tree boas or pythons
  • Water snakes
  • Green snakes

Snakes Not Recommended as Pets at All Snakes that are potentially very dangerous (to their owners or others around them) are best avoided as pets, including:

  • Reticulated pythons
  • Anacondas
  • Any venomous snakes

General Pet Snake Information for Beginners

  • Feeding Snakes: Pre-Killed vs Live Prey - feeding pre-killed prey is recommended, since a live rodent can inflict some serious wounds on a snake in self defence (bonus: it is more convenient to keep a supply of frozen prey in your freezer than raising or buying live animals for feeding).
  • How to Provide a Thermal Gradient - snakes need to be able to regulate their body temperature by moving between cooler and warmer areas. Providing a gradient and making sure the warm side of the tank is warm enough are essential to your snake's health and ability to digest its meals.
  • Signs a Snake is About to Shed - there are some fairly common signs in a snake about to shed that might seem a bit alarming to a new snake owner.
  • How Can I Tell if My Snake is a Male or Female? - the short answer: you will probably need a pro to find out for sure.
  • How to Find and Escaped Pet - just in case your new snake turns out to be an escape artist, this general information on finding lost pets might help you track down your pet (keep in mind, a snake will most likely head for a warm, enclosed space).
  • Constricting Snakes - some cautions about larger constricting snakes and handling guidelines, along with information specific to boas and pythons.

Whatever snake is chosen, new owners should be familiar with the proper care and feeding, the behavioral characteristics, and the commitment required to keep the snake.

Related Video
Identifying Poisonous Snakes

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