Corn Snakes, Ball Pythons, and Red Boas—Good Beginner Snakes?
I wanted to own snakes since I was just a little girl. For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by these remarkable creatures. My father enjoys recalling an incident where I came racing home on roller-skates holding a garter snake in my hands and begging him to let me keep it. I was never allowed a pet snake as a child, so when I brought home reptiles, we would keep them for a few days and then release them into the wild.
As an adult, I have kept a variety of snakes as pets. Before purchasing a snake, I did my research, which I include here. I will be suggesting three different species that make good pets for first-time snake owners. Each section contains species-specific information and some pros and cons.
The 3 Best Pet Snakes for Beginners
- Corn Snake
- Royal/Ball Pythons
- Red-Tailed Boas
1. Corn Snake
Corn snakes are beautiful colubrid snakes indigenous to the southeastern United States. Colubrids are constrictors, which means they are non-venomous. Regardless of their lack of venom glands, however, these snakes may (like most animals) strike or bite if they feel hungry or threatened!
Experts agree that corn snakes are your best bet for a first snake. Let's take a look at the pros and cons.
Corn Snake Pros and Cons
Come in a wide variety of colors
Mass-marketed at reptile shows
Easy to care for
Certain morphs are overpriced
Relatively inexpensive to feed
May cannibalize cage-mates
Why Corn Snakes Make Great Pets
- They are generally very docile and less likely than some other species to bite.
- They are good eaters and require uncomplicated care from their keepers.
What to Keep In Mind When Choosing a Corn Snake
- They are often oversold at shows. On more than one occasion I have been able to purchase a handful of them for less than $50. When overbred and oversold, these animals are sometimes of inferior quality.
- I have seen certain morphs very overpriced at shows and in pet stores. Avoid overpaying for a unique pattern or color if possible.
- You need to find a reliable breeder you can trust and stick with them—they will treat you right!
My Experience With Corn Snakes
When I was a teenager, I encountered my first corn snake. I was working for a movie theatre at the time, and we had Jungle Terry's animals come in for a movie promotion (George of the Jungle, if I remember correctly). One of the animals he brought with him was an albino corn snake. I was ripping tickets at our door stand and had the snake draped around my shoulders, while another of our girls had a dove on her shoulder as she mingled with guests. It was an interesting experience and sparked my love for this gorgeous species of snake!
2. Royal/Ball Python
I've always had a love for pythons, and when I discovered the relatively small ball python, I knew that I had to have one. My second snake was a ball python, and unfortunately, the snake died—almost immediately. He lasted three days before passing away. Our second snake also died fairly soon after we acquired it. The honest truth is that this is fairly common with ball pythons.
In our case, we were given inaccurate care instructions. That was the reason for my first encounter with reptileforums.com—I needed more and better information than what I had initially been given. Ball pythons can be a difficult species to raise! Despite my experience, however, experts agree that ball pythons are another great starter snake for first-time keepers.
Ball Python Pros and Cons
More likely to be wild-caught
May be picky eaters, some require live food
Relatively small (usually under four feet)
Not very tolerant of variations in temperature
Why Ball Pythons Make Great Pets
Ball pythons are beautiful and come in almost as many colors as corn snakes. They are, however, significantly more expensive as you will see once you begin looking around for one.
What to Keep in Mind When Choosing a Ball Python
Get out there and explore a bit if you're thinking of purchasing a ball python. Read multiple care sheets and get the facts about the animal you are about to purchase. Ensure that you are getting a captive-bred (and not just captive-born) individual. Ball pythons may be difficult to feed and might refuse frozen/thawed or even freshly killed food. I owned one ball python who even refused live food.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to look for a reputable breeder, in particular with ball pythons. Many snakes sold in pet stores or at shows are caught in the wild and distributed inexpensively. Expect to pay up to $100 for a ball python. Make sure to ask questions!
My Experience With Ball Pythons
I have always loved the boids (boa constrictors, pythons, and anacondas). My first real experience with a snake was with a Burmese python, and for a long time, I thought that all snakes were that large!
For me, there is just something special about these majestic creatures. People fear them, but they also respect them. Certain species of python are known to grow particularly large—notably Burmese, rock and reticulated pythons. I love the weight of them as much as I love their appearance.
- A Troubleshooting Guide to Ball Pythons
This is a very comprehensive care guide for ball pythons. It addresses issues like finicky eating and choosing between live and dead food for your snake. Remember to use multiple sources when researching your snake.
3. Red-Tailed Boas
This is where I begin to diverge from what is "normal" in terms of recommendations for a first pet snake. Maybe I'm just weird, or maybe my personal experience simply varied from that of other keepers. Whatever the case may be, I wish to introduce red-tailed boas (Boa constrictor imperator, or BCI) into the mix.
If you are interested in a larger specimen (males are generally about six feet long) and you like the appearance of these snakes, there is no reason why you shouldn't seek more information about these beautiful animals. You do not need advanced experience to own a boa constrictor!
Red-tailed Boa Pros and Cons
Easy to care for
Susceptible to respiratory infection
Beautiful pattern and color
Can be aggressive if not handled regularly
Large (if that's what you want)
Housing must be upgraded as they grow
Easy to feed
Why Red-Tailed Boas Make Great Pets
Red-tailed boas are my favorite choice for a first snake, especially for those who prefer a larger pet. They are easy to care for and are generally quite docile.
What to Keep in Mind When Choosing a Red-Tailed Boa
These snakes are readily available on the market but can be somewhat expensive. This higher price tag can be quite prohibitive, so impulse purchases of this species are not common. Red-tailed boa constrictors are beautiful creatures!
My Experience With Red-Tailed Boas
I had owned snakes for a little over a year when I decided to purchase my first two red-tailed boas. My snakes were both purchased for $220 at a show, and they were real beauties, too! Boa constrictors are gorgeous, easy to care for, and are quite hardy in general. The only drawback is that they are more susceptible to respiratory infections than some other species.
- Red-Tailed Boa Care
This is a good, well-referenced care sheet for red-tailed boas. It includes other sources you can use to find more information about the species and how to care for them successfully.
Which Snake Will You Choose?
Are Pet Snakes Tame or Docile?
While I was looking around for videos about snakes, I encountered several narrators who described their snakes as "tame." As I have stated in other articles, any snake you choose is a wild animal and cannot be considered tame. It may be "docile," but tame is the wrong word to use.
The key to keeping your snake docile as a pet is to handle it regularly. This needs to be done with gentle patience and persistence and on a consistent basis. If you want a docile snake, you need to handle it two or three times a week.
Snake-Handling Safety Note
While you should interact with your snake frequently, you should never handle it when it is hungry or about to shed.
- Dealing with Ball Python Feeding Problems
This is an additional resource for information about feeding ball pythons. I have had so many problems getting them to feed normally that I thought this might be beneficial to those who are interested in owning a ball python as their first snake.
- Reptile Supplies and Exotic Animals
LLLReptile sells supplies as well as animals. You can usually find a representative from this company at local reptile shows, and they have some of the best supplies in the business. Look them up!
- CornSnakes.com Forums
Cornsnakes.com is not only a great forum for talking about corn snake husbandry, but it is also a wonderful place to purchase your corn snakes. Please check this site out for some beautiful color morphs and more information on corns!
This in an excellent and fairly large forum for herpetology enthusiasts. Forums include a detailed section for ball python keepers as well as areas for those who keep other reptiles. As always, I recommend involving yourself in a community.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.