So you want a pet snake, huh? Well, as much as we love all snakes at Snake Buddies, it is important to remember that there are many variables to consider before buying your scaly critter. Most first time snake shoppers will simply pick out the one that appeals to them the most, aesthetically. Looks are certainly important, but there are other factors that should not be overlooked when deciding which one may be the best for you.
In this article we will discuss several aspects that one should take into account before handing over the credit card. Admittedly, there are many topics we will not cover for the sake of keeping the article readable and simple. Please understand that each individual animal may have its own personality and buck the trend entirely as well.
Today we will take a look at 10 of the most commonly available snakes in the pet trade. It should be noted that, when grouping snakes of multiple varieties together, there is an ample amount of wiggle room and subjectivity. My OPINIONS are the result of personal experience only, and though debatable, should be considered as “approximately” correct. Please don’t take it personally if I’ve rated your favorite snake toward the bottom of any certain category, as ALL of the snakes we look at today can make excellent pets for the right person.
The categories we look at today, will be hardiness, temperament, cost, feeding issues, breeding success, variety of colors, and size. Some of these factors, (i.e. cost and size) may be very important to you, while others (breeding success and color morphs) may not matter at all, so you are welcome and encouraged to add or subtract points based on those components that matter to you personally.
First, lets give some detail to each of these categories to help you understand how they might apply to your purchase.
Hardiness – This topic has to do with how healthy your snake is likely to be so long as you provide it with all necessary husbandry requirements and care it needs. It may also be an indicator of how likely your pet may be to survive if you happen to drop the ball at some time. Simply put, some snakes are easier to take care of, and can handle wider swings of consistency than others. If you worry that you may not be able to provide optimal care for your new pet, both you and the snake would be better off if the purchase is not made. However, a hardy pet will be more likely to survive, should you temporarily lose focus.
Temperament – In short, some snake species are quite docile, while others can be exceptionally nervous and shy. Regular handling of your pet will likely help it become “tamer”, but be aware that during this transition, you may need to be prepared for the occasional attempt to escape, bite, musk or even poop while being held. If you wish to avoid these experiences, your odds will improve with a more laid back species.
Cost – Depending on the species, gender, color and age of your pet, you can expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $100 for regularly available specimens of the snakes we have highlighted. For less common morphs, you can pay a great deal more!!! Please be aware that this is the cost of the snake only! Be prepared to spend more on an appropriate cage, bedding, heat source and place to hide etc. Some snake do require larger cages than others adding expense to your pet purchase.
Feeding issues – This category can be looked at in several different ways. Your snake may be prone to go off feed every once in a while making it very difficult to get it to start eating again. Perhaps you decide on a Garter Snake, and must resort to feeding it fish. Or maybe you have that great eater, that assumes you want to feed it every time you open his cage and comes out mouth open and ready to bite whatever it sees first!! Most of these issues can be dealt with, but should be a consideration for a new snake owner.
Breeding success – Most of us buy a pet because we like it and want to take care of it, but some of us have hopes to produce our own at some point down the road. Breeding snakes can be a trial if you have King snakes that would rather eat each other than mate. Perhaps you have snakes that simply don’t express interest in one another, or maybe you’ve successfully bred them, they’ve laid eggs that have hatched, but now the babies refuse to eat. If you plan to try breeding for the first time, it might save you some grief by starting with any easy one.
Variety of colors – This one is pretty self-explanatory, but you are more likely to find a rainbow of colors and patterns amongst Corn Snakes and Ball Pythons than you are with a Mountain King or a Garter. This can also come in to play if you plan to breed your snakes down the road.
Size – There is no good size or bad size of snake, just make sure to purchase one that will fit your preference as an adult. For the purpose of the spreadsheet below, a “1” indicates the smallest snake, and a “10” represents the largest.
Rating system – We will be looking at 10 families of snakes, and 7 purchasing factors. Each snake will be rated 1 – 10 amongst its peers in each category. For all factors, a “1” will be given to the snake with the most “appealing” trait, while a “10” will be given to the animal with the least desirable tendency. There is a sum of all scores in the last column. The snake with the lowest total score would, all things being considered, make a better first snake, than the snake with the highest score.
So is there any surprise that Corn snakes are the most common pet snakes in the U.S.? They are hardy, easy-to handle, inexpensive and pretty. Does this mean that a Corn snake is definitely the first snake you should buy? Absolutely not! The snake is as individual as the owner and you should purchase the one that appeals to you the most in all categories important to you. Let’s quickly discuss the individual snake families we’ve highlighted in this chart, and work our way from number 10 to number 1.
The Red Tail Boa is certainly one of the most common snakes in the pet trade, but they are also one of the most commonly gotten rid of. They are attractive enough, and make a fun show-piece, but ultimately get much larger (in excess of 10 feet) than most people are comfortable with long-term. Add to this, that they are a tropical species requiring high humidity and temperatures that are difficult to duplicate in captivity, and it’s easy to make the case that these snakes are better left to those that have at least moderate reptile experience. They certainly can still make a great first snake, however, for those resolved to give it proper care and attention.
As pretty as they are, these snakes can still be a challenge to a novice snake keeper. As mountain dwellers, they prefer cooler temperatures than many of their close relatives. Babies can be very difficult to get eating, and even adults may occasionally become problem feeders. That said, they still tolerate some handling and are a good size to work with. So long as you are confident in be able to meet its needs, a Mountain Kingsnake can be a very rewarding pet.
Though they live at lower elevations, Gray-bands, like Mountain Kings, are notoriously poor feeders as babies, and may often die before eating. It is best to pay a little extra, and buy one that has already been eating regularly. They come in a variety of patterns and their buggy eyes give them a unique personality for the moderately experienced snake keeper.
Milk snakes come in a wide variety of colors and sizes. They can make great pets, but it should be noted that they are commonly more shy than King snakes, and especially as babies, will typically be more prone to musk or bite when being held.
These snakes are amongst my personal favorite! They are relatively small, but have as much or more personality than any other snake I have ever seen. Though they are rarely defensive, they are masters at bluffing, and will sometimes hiss loudly, hood up almost cobra like, and even play dead if threatened. These behaviors are rather uncommon in captive conditions, but if it happens, don’t let them fool you!
Bulls and Gopher snakes are some of the hardiest snakes on the market, and they rarely have feeding issues. Some varieties, can however get a little on the large side, may exhibit some aggressive behavior, and will eat much more than most pet snakes.
Ball Pythons make some of the best pet snakes out there! They come in as many different patterns as you can imagine. Normal Ball Pythons can be found for around $50, but it is not uncommon to find rarer color schemes upwards of $10,000 and higher! They stay relatively small for a Python (5 feet), are durable and calm for handling by even the inexperienced person, and are fairly hardy and easy to breed.
Common King Snake
There are multiple subspecies of common kingsnakes (California, Mexican Black, Desert, Speckled, Brooks etc. etc.) and many different morphs of each. Common Kings attain a manageable size, are hardy, and eat well. They are extremely common in the pet trade as well, and most of those available are captive bred. All things considered, this is one of the best starter snakes on the market.
Garter Snakes are one of the most common snakes in the U.S. and are often kept as pets. Though they are typically inexpensive ad hardy, Garters can have the tendency to musk more often than most pet snakes. They also tend to do better on a diet of fish, which may make feeding a bit more problematic.
Cheap, hardy, common, readily available as captive bred, good eaters and pretty to boot. A well started (already eating readily) Corn snake is hard to beat for the novice snake keeper. These snakes come in more colors than anything else on the market and can make for exciting breeding projects as well!
Welcome to the exciting world of snake ownership! Keeping snakes as pets requires an additional amount of care and consideration. If you bring a snake home, be prepared to be confronted by family members and friends that do not care as much for snakes as you do. It is important to show understanding to their preferences and try to educate them. It is NEVER a good idea to tease, chase, or surprise anyone with your pet snake. Snakes are not meant to be prank material, and treating them as such, is a good way to end up with an injured or dead pet, and costly therapy bills for the one exposed to the traumatic event. Please exercise common sense and responsibility when introducing others to your pet.
We hope that this blog has been informative and useful. We openly admit that while trying to be completely objective, our own opinions and preferences have likely bled into the data. That said, if it were entirely up to me, the Hognose would have placed much higher, and the Garter much lower, but the math simply went in favor of the Garter.While we concentrated today on some of the best pet snakes, it is also important to recognize that there are some species that make VERY poor pets. Please consult with a snake expert prior to any purchase to avoid costly mistakes and bad experiences.
Keeping pet snakes, can be a very rewarding hobby, and an extremely educational experience. I learned many fascinating things while keeping snakes, that I never learned from reading the countless books I had my nose in as a kid. Snakes are one of the easiest pets to keep, yet can still be as stimulating as a bird, cat or fish.
If you are fellow snake keeper, we would love to hear what your first pet snake was, and what you would have done differently, given the chance. If you are thinking about buying your first pet snake, please share the experience with us!
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