Snakes That Make Good Pets for Beginners
If you’re thinking about getting your first snake, you have many species to choose from. It’s important that you get a snake that matches your experience level. The following article covers snakes that are good for beginners, intermediate, and advanced keepers.
I have many years of personal experience with all of the snakes listed in the following three categories of pet suitability.
Snakes that make good pets for beginners
- Garter snakes: Simple to keep. These snakes tame down fast and eat well in captivity.
- Corn snakes: One of the best choices for first-time snake keepers. Known for their excellent disposition, they don’t mind gentle handling.
- New World rat snakes: Except for the Texas rat snake which is known for being nippy. Most new world rat snakes make good pet snakes for beginners. They include the yellow, grey, Everglades, black, and Baird’s rat snakes.
- Great Plains rat snake: Also known as Emory’s rat snake. These snakes remind me of the corn snake. Although duller in color, the body pattern, head-shape, and their docile tendencies are very similar to that of the corn snake. They actually share more physical similarities with corn snakes than other rat snakes. They’re great pet snakes for beginners.
- Rosy boa: Docile, easy to care for and stays small. These snakes are known as the gentle gems of the snake-keeping hobby.
- Honduran milksnake: The largest of the milksnake family that still stays manageable throughout its life. Other milksnakes are more delicate, especially as hatchlings. If you buy a milksnake, make sure it’s well-started.
- Spotted python: Usually docile, easy to care for and stays much smaller than other pythons. A great alternative to the reticulated python.
- Mexican black kingsnake: The current and reigning star of the kingsnake family and colubrids in general. They make great, hardy pets. Hatchlings are sometimes nervous but quickly grow out of it.
- Most other kingsnakes: Except for Gray-banded kingsnake and most mountain kingsnakes. These kingsnakes are sometimes tricky feeders.
Snakes for the more experienced hobbyist
- Gray-banded kingsnake: These snakes are more delicate than other kingsnakes and may present feeding challenges.
- Boa constrictors (common boa, red-tailed boa): While these are some of the best pet snakes one can possibly have, they get big, live long, and require large enclosures. Those found in South America are the giants (8 to 10 feet) while those from Central America and several offshore islands are dwarves (3 to 5 feet). Dwarf boas stay smaller. Get one that’s more suitable for the space you have available.
- Black racer: Usually nippy, nervous and might not take rodents. They also need a large enclosure. Wild-caught specimens often languish in captivity. I’m almost tempted to place them in the third category of this article.
- Bullsnake: Can be wiry (especially as hatchlings) and headstrong but usually calm down as adults. Needs a large enclosure. Even large, tame bullsnakes are a handful.
- Pine snake: Can be wiry (especially as hatchlings) and headstrong. They almost always calm down as adults. Northern and Mexican pines are more expensive. Black and southern pines are now protected by law.
- Amazon tree boas: A longtime staple of the pet trade. They do well when set up correctly which includes tall enclosures and proper humidity levels. Captive-bred specimens are becoming more common. Treat imported Amazon tree boas for parasites by a reptile-competent veterinarian. Go with captive-bred specimens whenever possible.
- Gopher snake: Can be wiry (especially as hatchlings) and headstrong. They usually calm down tremendously as adults. Get them as captive-bred.
- Arizona Mountain Kingsnake: These snakes are more delicate than other kingsnakes and may present feeding challenges.
- Most Old World rat snakes: These snakes need specific conditions in order to thrive. They usually need cooler temperatures with high humidity levels. This is tricky to provide without causing upper respiratory infections or skin blisters.
- Water snakes: They tend to be defensive and emit foul-smelling musk when handled. I’ve kept many over the years without much variation in temperament.
- Dumeril’s boa: The only reason the Dumeril’s boa is in this category is that feeding newly acquired specimens can sometimes be difficult. Otherwise, they’re probably the most docile boa available today. Buy them from a reputable breeder who confirms they’re eating.
- Blood pythons: The blood python is known for being nippy at all stages of life. They also need certain humidity requirements. They can make a decent pet for those with experience.
- Solomon Island ground boa: Young, captive-bred specimens that readily take rodents make great pets. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to obtain such specimens. I got lucky.
- Ball pythons: Ball pythons are listed here because some are very picky eaters that those new to snake-keeping will find challenging. Many experienced keepers claim that they make great first-time pets. With all due respect to experienced snake-keepers, make sure a ball python is feeding before buying it.
Snakes for the advanced hobbyist with the proper training and knowledge
- Reticulated python: These pythons grow very large and become very difficult to handle as adults. Their bites can also inflict damage to a human. Human fatalities are recorded. Leave them for the experts or consider getting a dwarf. Just remember, little snakes equal big money.
- Burmese python: The Burmese python grows very large and becomes very difficult to handle as adults. Their bites inflict damage to humans and are painful. Human fatalities are recorded. Best in a zoological environment.
- Anaconda: These snakes grow very large and become very difficult to handle as adults. Their bites can also inflict damage to a human.
- African rock python: The African rock python has a reputation for having a nasty disposition. They also grow very large and become very difficult to handle as adults. Their bites can also inflict damage to a human. Human fatalities are recorded.
- Any kind of venomous snake: These snakes pose a serious threat to human life. There is no room for error and you only get one chance at it. Respect them from afar.
Snakes, generally speaking, are low maintenance pets. They require little space compared to other kinds of animals kept as pets and many species thrive as captives. I recommend buying a captive-bred animal from a reputable seller over wild-caught specimens.
Captive-bred animals are usually healthier and tame down much easier. Examine your new snake before buying it if in person. If the snake is shipped to you, make sure to ask what it’s feeding and is mite free.
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