How to Choose Your First Pet Snake
I have 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. I would also hunt down turtles and lizards as often as possible. We would keep them for a few days and then release them into the wild. I was never allowed a pet snake as a child. I don't blame my parents for their decision. We had no idea how to care for them!
As an adult I have kept snakes and other reptiles as pets, including Leopard Geckos, Savannah Monitors and Red-Ear Sliders. When I became pregnant with my daughter my husband and I made the difficult decision to give up our reptiles: we felt at the time that it was better for our daughter that we not have the salmonella or the constriction risk, as we owned, at the time, some very large constrictors and I was interested in venomous snakes.
Before purchasing a snake, I was very well researched. I have included some excellent research links at the bottom of this article, and you should take the time to give them a look-see before proceeding to check-out. Many resources contain information about the choice of first snake. I like to spin things, however, and that's what I'm about to do. I will give you the typical options, of course, but you must make your own decision in the end. Please just ensure that you do your research before making a purchase!
I will be suggesting three different species for your first, with information about each snake and pros and cons of ownership.
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!
Corn Snakes are a beautiful colubrid snake, indiginous to the southeastern United States. Colubrids are constrictors, which means that they are a non-venomous type of snake. Regardless of the lack of venom glands, however, these snakes will (like any animal) bite if very hungry or threatened!
A little bit of research will suggest that Corn Snakes are your best bet for a first snake. I am in agreement that these snakes make a particularly good first pet snake. Let's look at the pros and cons.
Corn Snake Cons
- Corn snakes are mass-marketed at shows
- Certain morphs are overpriced by particular dealers
- Corn snakes may cannibalize
Corn Snake Pros
- Corn snakes come in a wide variety of colors
- Corn snakes are easy to care for
- Corn snakes are relatively inexpensive to feed
- Corn snakes are readily available
Housing a Corn Snake
I have included the two videos at right with information about how to set up an enclosure for your corn snake, should you choose a corn snake as a pet. I agree with the information provided in these videos and the instructor you will hear in them is intelligent in the choices that he makes for his snakes. He proves that you don't have to put a lot of money into something that is complicated or overdo it for your corn snakes. I recommend these methods.
Corn Snake Conclusions
Corn snakes make an excellent pet, and they are quite ideal for beginners. They are generally very docile and less likely than some species to bite. They are good eaters and require uncomplicated care from their keepers. They make a very rewarding pet.
On the other hand, 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. These animals are often over-sold and are sometimes of inferior quality. Additionally, I have seen certain morphs very much overpriced at shows and in pet stores. You need to find a reliable breeder you can trust and stick with them -- they will treat you right! Please see my links below for more information about corn snake breeders.
Royal (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 was just something about these majestic creatures. People fear them and they respect them. Certain species of python are known to grow particularly large (burmese, rock and reticulated pythons notably) and I love the weight of them as much as I love their appearance.
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 I want to share my experience with you: the snake died, almost immediately. He lasted us three days before passing away. Our second snake also died. 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!
Ball Python Cons
- Often specimins are wild caught
- Can be very picky eaters and often require live food
- Often don't tolerate temperature variations well
Ball Python Pros
- A very beautiful snake
- Very docile: ball up when threatened
- Relatively small in size: rarely more than four feet long
- Ball Pythons, a Troubleshooting Guide to
A very comprehensive care guide for ball pythons, addressing issues that include the potential for finicky eaters and choosing between live and dead food for your snake. Remember to check not only this source but others for information on care!
Caring for a Ball Python
The most important thing I can tell you is do not take my word for it. Get out there and explore a bit if you choose to purchase a ball python. Read multiple care sheets. 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. If you choose a ball python, more than with any other species I have handled, ensure you purchase from a reputable breeder and be prepared to pay more!
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 distrubuted inexpensively. Expect to pay up to $100 for a ball python. And make sure to ask questions! I will have a hub about that coming next week!
Ball Python Conclusions
Ball pythons make a great pet. They are beautiful and come in almost as many colors as the corn snakes (but are significantly more expensive to purchase, as you will see once you begin looking around for one!). They can, however, be difficult to feed and might refuse frozen/thawed or freshly killed food. I have owned one ball python who refused even live food. One must be especially careful with asking breeder questions before making the purchase of a ball python!
Red Tail 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 has told me differently than what most people find. Whatever the case, I wish to introduce red tail boas (Boa Constrictor Imperator -- or BCI) into the mix.
I had owned snakes for a little over a year when I decided to purchase my first red tail boa. The snakes were both purchased for $220 at a show, and they were real beauties, too! Boa constrictors are not only beautiful, but they are very easy to care for and are quite hardy in general. The drawback is that they are more suseptible to respiratory infections.
If you are interested in a larger snake (males are generally roughly 6 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 increased experience to own a boa constrictor!
Boa Constrictor Cons
- Susceptible to respiratory infection
- Can be aggressive if not handled regularly
- They grow quite large and need larger housing which must be constantly upgraded.
Boa Constrictor Pros
- Easy to care for
- If you want a large snake, these are large
- Great eaters
Handling a Large Snake
It isn't "Tame"
While I was looking around for videos about snakes, I encountered several narrators who described their snakes as "tame." As I have stated in another of my hubs, 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 animal docile as a pet is to handle the snake 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.
Certain times should be avoided, however, such as when your snake is hungry or is about to shed!
- Red-Tail Boa Care
A good, well referenced care sheet for red-tail boa care. This page gives ideas of other sources you can use to find more information about red-tail boas and how to care for them successfully.
Red-Tail Boa Conclusions
Red Tail Boas are my favorite choice for a first snake, especially for those who prefer a larger snake. They are easy to care for and generally quite docile. Additionally, these snakes are readily available and I will be honest, the higher price can be quite prohibitive, meaning that fewer impulse purchases of these animals are made.
Red Tail Boa Constrictors are beautiful creatures!
Which Snake Will You Choose?
- Dealing with Ball Python Feeding Problems
This is an additional resource for information about feeding ball pythons. I have had so many problems with getting them to feed normally that I thought it might be beneficial to those who are interested in owning a ball python as their first snake.
- Reptile Supplies and Exotic Animals
LLLReptile is the home of reptile 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 - Powered by vBulletin
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!
- NERD - New England Reptile Distributors
NERD is THE name in Ball Pythons! They have some beautiful animals and you haven't seen anything until you've had a look at this site! If you are interested in the pythons or boa constrictors, NERD is a great place to look!
- Reptile Forums
The Reptile Forums are my favorite place to go to talk about snakes and other reptiles. The community here is very realistic and helpful, also welcoming newcomers and striving to provide you with the best possible information on the subject!
- Ball-Pythons.net - Helping herp hobbyists!
An excellent and fairly large forum for herpetology enthusiasts! These forums include a detailed section for ball python keepers as well as areas for those who keep other reptiles as well. As always, I recommend involving yourself in a community.
- Constrictors Unlimited
Constrictors Unlimited has some excellent breeding programs with beautiful animals as the result! If you are interested in purchasing a Ball Python or a Red Tail Boa, please take a look at Constrictors Unlimited!