All Types of Pet Snakes
If you’re new to snake-keeping, you’ll find that there are many different types of pet snakes to choose from. While I can’t cover each individual species in one article, here’s a list of what’s out there and what’s most popular in the reptile industry.
Pet snake cost
The reptile industry fluctuates like any other market. It also has its fair share of anomalies. An example of such an anomaly is, without a doubt, the rise in popularity of the Mexican black kingsnake.
I have no explanation for why this particular species caught on fire. I also don’t know what’s going to be the next big thing. If I did, I’d be a millionaire. I’m pushing for the Dumeril’s boa but that’s a hope, not a prediction.
The cost of snakes is generally reasonable
You can buy a really nice snake for under $100. On the other hand, you can pay triple that amount if you’re willing to. Take the ever-popular ball python. What a run this snake has had, no? Unbelievable. Today, you can buy a normal ball python for $25 or a rare/new ball python morph for 3 to 5k.
That’s crazy when you think about it. Again, if I had only known back in the 1980s what the future would bring for the ball python, I’d be a millionaire. Anyway, kudos to those who picked up on that one early, your success is well deserved.
Price fluctuations in the reptile industry
Another example of price fluctuations in the reptile industry is the Brazilian rainbow boa. Twelve years ago, I had to buy a Colombian rainbow boa because I couldn’t afford the Brazilian locale. For those who aren’t familiar with these snakes, the Brazilian rainbow boa is far more brightly colored than the Colombian, although the Colombian has its charm too.
Some people picked up on this and basically flooded the market with Brazilian rainbow boas, making them much more affordable. If I’m not mistaken, they’re actually cheaper than the Colombian now, which have become rare.
Pet snake breeding
If you’re going to breed reptiles, keep the attitude that’s you’re having fun and enjoy what you do. This way, if you happen to get lucky, all the better. Some argue that it’s not luck, it’s hard work and determination.
I’ve heard two different veterans of the industry say something similar over the past year. When it comes to breeding snakes, there are good years and bad years, but you never give up. That’s really the key to success in the reptile industry and what separates the flyby nights from the grizzled veterans. No offense to flyby nights either, I’m no longer breeding collared lizards.
Okay, let’s talk about all kinds of nonvenomous snakes that are out there today.
The first group of snakes I’ll cover are the colubrids, an extremely large family of snakes. Some people refer to them as “common” snakes. Never underestimate their beauty and charm.
- New world
New world rat snakes have always been common and readily available. They usually make great pets although exceptions occur. The Texas rat snake tends to stay nippy into adulthood while most other phases are extremely docile.
You may choose the Everglades rat snake, a vibrantly colored orange specimen reaching impressive sizes. The yellow rat snake is a longtime staple of the industry that is often sold for under $50, especially as hatchlings. On the other hand, you may pay up to $100 for an adult.
The white oak rat snake is a phase of the gray rat snake. These are only rivaled in beauty by the Everglades rat snake. It’s hard to choose between them. You may find yourself addicted to collecting different species, phases, or specimens of snakes. They’re a low maintenance pet so building up a large collection isn’t difficult.
For those who want a jet black (or near jet black) version of New World rat snake, that’s possible too. The black rat snake is also sometimes called the pilot snake. Even though some specimens are completely black, they’re not nearly as popular as the Mexican black kingsnake.
The most popular snake from the rat same family
The corn snake is another type of rat snake and probably the second most popular pet aside from the ball python. You can’t go wrong with a corn snake, they’re gorgeous and come in many morphs and phases.
My personal favorite is the okeetee corn snake but the Miami phase is really nice too. One could easily have a huge collection of different corn snakes. It’s hard to beat their docility and charm.
- Old world
The Old World rat snakes seem to be catching on more and more. Some of these species have a reputation for being delicate.
I recently read on someone’s website who breeds Mandarin rat snakes (if I’m not mistaken) that these actually aren’t delicate snakes at all. I’ve found that such a statement is a misconception.
Captive-bred specimens are without a doubt far hardier than wild-caught but I still find them susceptible to stress and flighty. Start out with a New World rat snake before moving on to more challenging species. Trust me, an easily stressed snake is far more challenging than one that’s not. The problems come down to feeding for the most part but also temperature. While most snakes need a warm spot the Mandarin rat snake prefers lower temperatures. They’re best kept at room temperature.
One thing is certain
The Old World rats snakes are stunning in appearance and look nothing like the New World rat snakes. There are bamboo rat snakes, rhino rat snakes and more. Just writing about these specimens makes me think about getting them. It’s sort of like a box of your favorite cookies, who could have only one?
Western hognose snakes are pretty popular and have come a long way over the years. They were once considered a difficult snake to keep, especially the eastern phase. Once again the problem stemmed from getting them to eat since they prefer amphibians like frogs or toads.
Today, this isn’t that big of an issue anymore because those who breed them switch them over to rodents before selling them. This also makes them worth more money. I even came across a baby Eastern hognose at a snake show going for $300. It’s worth it if the snake readily takes frozen/thawed rodents. It’s been discovered recently that these snakes are rear-fanged making them venomous, technically.
Black racers and smooth green snakes
Black racers are another colubrid available from time to time and at very low prices. There’s a reason for that. Most specimens simply don’t make good pets and I’ve yet to hear of anyone pursuing a black racer breeding project. Just writing that made me laugh.
Some docile specimens do exist that readily take rodents so I’m sure someone reading this thinks I’m wrong. Let’s look at the bigger picture, for the most part, these snakes are best avoided.
Smooth green snakes make great display animals but are not a snake for handling compared to other colubrids. These snakes don’t get very big and eat insects.
Indigo snakes and cribos are known for being extremely docile and getting pretty large. They’re also very active and move about during handling. Every kind of indigo and cribo snake is expensive ranging from $500 to $1000. I’ve never kept one but they’re known for being highly intelligent. Some say they’re like dogs in disposition.
The eastern indigo is currently protected by law and you need a permit to legally keep them. Never take an eastern indigo snake from the wild. The Texas indigo is usually half the price of the eastern indigo and I don’t believe a permit is needed to keep them at this time. You’ll find out if you try to buy one. These snakes are active and need spacious enclosures with varied diets, not just rodents exclusively, so there are some challenges here.
Kingsnakes and milk snakes
Here’s another longtime staple of the industry and for good reason. These snakes are not only beautiful but they’re usually docile and easy to handle. Maybe not as hatchlings, but once they get some size, these snakes are hard to beat when it comes to temperament.
There are so many different kingsnakes and milk snakes to choose from, it really depends on what appeals to your taste. I will say this, and some may disagree, but I find kingsnakes more easy to hardier and easier to handle than milk snakes. Consider that a very general statement and only an opinion.
Pine, bull, and gopher snakes
The Pituophis family of snakes are among my favorites. Bullsnakes, gopher snakes and pine snakes are readily available throughout the year. As with any pet snake, I suggest going with captive-bred over wild-caught specimens. These snakes usually make decent pets although they’re flightier than a corn snake.
I’ve kept many over the years. While some are nervous and flighty (but usually reluctant to bite), I’ve also had completely calm specimens that handle great. With these snakes, the odds always seem about 50/50. Still, they’re some of my favorite snakes for a reason. Whether docile or otherwise, they’re always full of personality.
Prices are reasonable for most snakes of this species. The more expensive ones are the northern pine snake and Mexican pine snake. The black pine snake is now protected by law and pretty hard to come by. Some New Jersey locale northern pine snakes have a lot of black in them, especially the head and neck area.
The ones found further south are cleaner and more white. The southern pine snake is another beauty but protected by law. Bullsnakes and gopher snakes are usually under $100 unless when it comes to morphs. For those into morphs, the gophers and bulls have several of them including albino, white-sided, and motley.
Garter snakes and water snakes
Garter snakes actually do quite well in captivity, even wild-caught specimens. Would you believe one of my bloodiest snake bites came from a garter snake that was just over a foot long? It was a wild specimen I came across in the woods near a pond. One of its teeth must have got stuck in my skin because the laceration was surprisingly long and bled profusely.
These snakes also have a musk they readily use until they get to know you. They’re actually on the rise and becoming more popular. Several garter snake breeding projects are being carried out across the country. Some of them are extremely colorful, like the San Francisco garter snake.
Water snakes are fairly common in the pet trade and are usually wild-caught. Similar to black racers, most water snakes don’t make good pets. On the other hand, I’ve come across perfectly docile specimens too. Some of them get big and impressively thick similar to a cottonmouth.
They often easily switch from fish and amphibians to rodents by simply scenting rodents with raw tilapia. After about five feedings, they should readily take rodents without the scent of fish.
Boas and pythons
There’s a lot of variety in the boa family. You can choose a boa constrictor that gets really large like a Colombian or Argentine boa. On the flip side, you may find a dwarf boa species more appealing. They’re even boas that fit in between the two like the medium-sized Dumeril’s boa from Madagascar, or the rainbow boa from South America.
Then there’s the Solomon Island ground boa and various tree boas. As a general rule, tree boas are display-animals. They don’t take well to handling. If you’re looking for an overall positive temperament, then Colombian and Dumeril’s boa is a great choice. If you’d like something smaller and gentle, then you should definitely check out the rosy boa.
Big snakes need big enclosures. Also, remember that boas live a long time so buying one is getting into a 20+ year commitment. They’re extremely rewarding animals and come highly recommended. Prices vary depending on the morph, phase, and locale.
The most obvious species of python kept as a pet is the ball python. They come in an unbelievable number of morphs and varieties. Besides that, they’re probably the easiest snake to handle and are extremely docile. There are some nippy ball pythons out there though. Especially after a mother just laid her eggs.
Other pythons that stay manageable sizes are the spotted python and Children’s python. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous and have the money, there’s the carpet python, black-headed python, and white-lipped python. All truly exotic species.
Pythons also come in a tree variety but like tree boas, these are display-animals and deliver painful bites.
The giants of the python world
Next on the list of upgrades is the giants. The largest snakes in the world! These include the reticulated python, the Burmese python, and the African rock python.
Nowadays you need a permit to keep them due to preventable accidents caused by careless people and their foolish endeavors. Still, these giants are only recommended to those with experience and those who have the room and resources to keep them.
I’ve kept Burmese and reticulated pythons in the past. Even jumbo rats don’t cut it for these guys when they get over ten foot in length. You’ll then need to give them rabbits.
For myself, I’m at an age where I appreciate something smaller such as a spotted python. Besides that fact that they stay small and manageable, they’re also easier to clean up after. Even cleaning up after a ten-foot-long Colombian boa constrictor is a chore. Imagine scooping up the waste of a twenty-foot reticulated python.
Conclusion – The end of this article and the beginning of your journey
Whichever kind of snake or snakes you choose to keep as a pet, just remember to always treat them with respect, don’t overfeed them, and make sure they have an appropriately sized enclosure kept at the right temperature and humidity.
Contrary to what many people believe, snakes actually make wonderful pets and offer rewarding experiences.
Do you have anything to add to this article? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!