5 of the Best Pet Snakes for First-Time Keepers
What’s the best pet snake for beginners and why? There are so many choices out there but what’s the right one for you? Some of the best pet snakes for beginners include the corn snake, certain species of kingsnake, the rosy boa, the spotted python, garter snakes and more!
Hey, we all have to start somewhere, right? Let’s talk about some nice snakes and also snakes that beginners should avoid. There are some snakes many recommend for newbies that I disagree with. I’ll be covering them too. Let’s get started!
Just a few starter tips
Newbies to the hobby will likely keep their first snake in an upright enclosure like a fish tank, or an Exo Terra cage. I started out with a fish tank too. Some veteran hobbyists still prefer glass terrariums even when their collection grows large.
That’s okay if you have the room for it. I prefer tubs and snake racks which I’ll talk more about in another post. Just make sure the snake has enough room for both a warm spot and cool area. Stay away from ceramic heaters and heat stones. For under tank plastic heaters, use a thermostat so you can check and control the temperature. Be sure to wash your hands both before and after handling your snake.
Let’s talk about stress and snakes. If you’re new to snake keeping, you have to understand that the number one reason snakes won’t eat and die is because of stress. When you get a new snake, give it time to acclimate to its new surroundings before excessive handling. Give it at least a week before doing so. The first priority is to make sure it’s eating.
Give it a few days in its new enclosure before trying to feed it. After the snake has eaten, give it 48 hours before handling it. Handling too soon can lead to stress and regurgitation. If the snake regurgitates, do not attempt to feed it again for ten days. This is the time needed for the enzymes in the stomach to build back up. If you feed a snake too soon after regurgitation, it will regurgitate again. This damages the snake’s digestive tract.
- Avoid placing a new snake enclosure in a high traffic area
- Be sure the snake has something to hide in within its enclosure
- Refrain from handling the first week
- Do not handle 48 hours after it eats
- Never power feed
- Wash your hands before and after handling the snake
Decorating the tank – simple is good
Always have your enclosure ready before you get a new snake. If you’re new to snake keeping, you’re probably going to want to keep your first snake in a decorated display enclosure. Just remember, the simpler, the better, especially when it comes time to clean. You’ll soon discover this on your own.
Some species of snakes need a specific substrate but most do well on paper towels. You’re going to think that sounds boring but again, simple is good. You’ll see what I mean as time goes on. Avoid dirt and potting soil at all costs unless you’re keeping a garter snake. Speaking of garter snakes, they’re still somewhat underrated among snake keepers and the first specimen listed in this article.
The best pet snake for beginners
1. The garter snake
The garter snake may sound like a mundane species to start out with but for a child, it’s good for many reasons. First, garter snakes won’t get big. They often feed on nightcrawlers that are easy to get and keep as opposed to rodents. They can also be fed other kinds of bugs and fish. The garter snake tames down quickly and rarely bites once it’s comfortable with its surroundings. They are more likely to use their defensive musk when handled. Still, they won’t give you trouble with feeding as other stress-prone snakes will.
It seems like garter snakes are growing in popularity as different morphs have been surfacing. Some, like the San Francisco garter snake, has beautiful natural coloring. They’re also easy to breed and bear live young.
As a first-time snake keeper, breeding is a goal somewhere down the road. First, you have to develop your husbandry skills. Keeping a garter snake is a good place to start and even longtime hobbyists keep them. They’re readily available and low in the price unless you go with a higher-end morph.
- A small enclosure will do for one specimen
- They are relatively easy to handle
- Their food is easy to get
- Garter snakes stay small
- Reasonably priced and easy to find
- They may skunk you with their musk
- Newly acquired specimens may bite
2. The corn snake
One can’t produce an article on the best pet snake for beginners without the most obvious choice, the beautiful corn snake. It seems like these snakes were born for pet keeping. Actually, with all the decades and generations of captive breeding, they are. So many morphs exist, I don’t know where to get started.
My favorite is the hypomelanistic and the okeetee. The striking appearance of the okeetee started out with wild-caught specimens from South Carolina.
Even the classic, normal corn snake is beautiful. As long as I’ve been keeping snakes, I never get bored with the corn snake. I could easily keep a collection based on them alone.
The corn snake is actually a rat snake but stays smaller than the black, yellow, gray, Everglades, and the Texas rat snakes. They require rodents as their staple diet and rarely present a problem when switching over to frozen/thawed. Eventually, they will carrion feed.
These snakes usually start off on frozen-thawed as hatchlings but sometimes need lizard scented pinkies to get started. Make sure the corn snake you buy is eating and preferably pre-killed.
Their caging requirements are simple and their temperament is truly one of the best of all snakes. Hatchlings are sometimes nippy but they grow out it quickly.
- Great temperament
- Many different types to choose from
- Beautiful coloring and appearance
- Good eaters, easy to switch to frozen/thawed
- Not especially prone to stress
- Readily available at reasonable prices
- Maybe nippy as hatchlings
Other new world rat snakes
The aforementioned rat snake including the gray, yellow, black and Everglades phases also make decent starter snakes.
Remember though, rat snakes grow larger and could have a more flighty disposition. This usually subsides by adulthood. They’re also more likely to use their musk as a defense when stressed. Avoid the Texas rat snake when starting out. They are nervous and nippy and rarely improve.
3. Thayer’s Kingsnake
The Thayer’s Kingsnake makes a great first-time pet snake. Also known as the variable kingsnake, this awesome serpent comes in several beautiful natural phases. Although aggressive feeders, they are extremely docile and rarely bite.
I also highly recommend California and Florida kingsnakes to first-time snake owners. Never keep more than one kingsnake in the same enclosure due to cannibalism.
- Readily available at reasonable prices
- Great feeders
- Docile and not very shy
- Extremely hardy and resistant to health issues
- Can be kept at various humidity levels
- Cannibalistic. Keep them in separate enclosures except when breeding
4. The Rosy boa
The rosy boa is the only boa species that I recommend for first-time snake keepers. These snakes are super docile with a great disposition that stay small. Adults average out to only three feet. They also display nice coloring due to different localities and morphs.
They readily take frozen/thawed but during the first month, they might seem a bit finicky. Once comfortable within their new environment, they’ll always want to eat. Nevertheless, do not power feed these snakes!
- Easy to find online and at pet shows
- Docile temperament rarely bites
- Good feeders
- Very hardy, generally free of health ailments
- May take some time to adjust to its new environment but not as much time as a ball python or Dumerl’s boa
- Can be pricey but worth it
5. The spotted python
The only species of python I can recommend for first-time snake owners are the spotted python. They stay small and are usually docile. I find them a better alternative to the ball python for many reasons. First and foremost, the spotted python is less susceptible to stress. While great eaters like their cousins the reticulated python, resist power feeding.
Remember, this is a dwarf species of python with a slow metabolism so only feed once a week. Appropriately sized food items only!
- Eats well on rodents
- Readily available online or at snake shows at reasonable prices
- Not especially prone to stress
- Doesn’t take much work to keep up with compared to other pythons
- Be sure to test the mood of your spotted python before buying it. While usually docile with an even temperament, some specimens may bite, especially as a food response.
Snakes I wouldn't recommend for beginners and reasons why
While members of the Pituophis family are hardy and makes a great pet, they are also nervous and flighty, especially as juveniles. Being more prone to stress than a corn snake, this might lead to feeding issues and regurgitation. These snakes also have the potential of getting big.
I know many will disagree with me here. Just because a snake is docile in nature doesn’t make it the best pet snake for beginners. Ball pythons are prone to feeding issues and stress. Although they can go extremely long periods without eating, this isn’t an animal suitable for a first-time snake owner.
Both juveniles and adults may go on hunger strikes when entering a new environment that causes stress. Do not handle a new ball python until you know it’s feeding by itself. Would a new snake owner want to wait six months before being able to handle it? I don’t think so.
While the boa constrictor is another hardy species with a generally docile temperament, it won’t make a good first pet snake. This is mainly because of their size and feeding requirements.
Taking a bite from an adult boa constrictor due to novice handling is not a pleasant experience. Never start out with any of the giant snakes. This includes the monster-sized pythons as well.
Water snakes are not a good choice for first-time snake owners. They are generally very nervous and prone to bite and musk. Also, never keep a water snake in an enclosure completely filled with water. Such a set-up leads to blisters and eventually death.
Instead, set up water snakes in a dry enclosure with a water bowl big enough for it to fit into. If the water snake spends most of its time in the water bowl, place a smaller bowl in the enclosure instead. They can blister from spending too much time in a water bowl too. I recommend full-spectrum UVB lighting for water snakes. My recommendation for beginners is to avoid them.
They also need more warmth and higher humidity levels making them a poor choice for a first-time snake owner.
Tree boas and tree pythons
While tree boas and tree pythons both make great display animals, they are not good for handling. They readily bite. Such snakes also need specific humidity levels so what more is there to say?
The Dumeril’s boa
As much as I like and admire the Dumeril’s boa, I cannot recommend them to first-time snake owners. This is because they are very sensitive to stress and prone to going on long hunger strikes.
One must have both patience and experience before attempting to keep this species. While incredibly docile, they are also very shy.
The Arizona Mountain kingsnake
The Arizona Mountain kingsnake is both beautiful and docile. It is also very delicate which is why I don’t recommend them for beginners. They are sometimes finicky eaters and more prone to stress than other kingsnake species.
Never attempt to power feed this snake. In the wild, the Arizona Mountain kingsnake eats mostly lizards. That, in itself, is a red flag for first-time keepers.
Switching them over to rodents is usually not a problem, but requires patience and experience. It’s best to buy these snakes when certain they readily accept frozen/thawed rodents. The same goes for their close relatives including the gray-banded kingsnake and the Knoblochi mountain kingsnake. With some experience, these snakes make excellent pets.
It’s very important for first-time snake keepers to choose a snake that they can properly care for and handle. After all, handling the snake is a. Rey important part of being a first-time snake owner. This is why I suggest the specific species to start out with and those to avoid until you can a little more experience.
What snakes do you recommend for first-time keepers? Please share your knowledge and experience in the comments section below!