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Corn Snakes, Ball Pythons, and Red Boas—Good Beginner Snakes?

As an adult, I have kept snakes and other reptiles as pets, including leopard geckos, savannah monitors, and red-ear sliders.

Snakes make fantastic pets, but some species are easier to care for than others. These three make great choices for beginners.

Snakes make fantastic pets, but some species are easier to care for than others. These three make great choices for beginners.

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

  1. Corn Snake
  2. Royal/Ball Pythons
  3. 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

ProsCons

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

Widely available

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

ProsCons

Beautifully patterned

More likely to be wild-caught

Very docile

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

ProsCons

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.

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.

Additional Resources

  • 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!
  • Ball-Pythons.net
    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.

Comments

Cool on July 14, 2020:

Cool

bella on May 15, 2019:

i am getting a snake as my esa (emotional support animal). which should i get?

Elle Altsman on February 27, 2017:

what is a good snake for a 8 year old?

Keaton on December 18, 2016:

I have another question: Where do you buy the snakes?

Keaton on December 18, 2016:

What snake is most timid?

My favorites are Boa's and Pythons.

Which would be the best for a 11/12 yr old kid?

alex on March 16, 2016:

Thanks

jth112 on September 01, 2011:

For a first time snake owner you should really base your decision on your knollege of the animal. If you know very little I would suggest a corn snake as they are very easy to take care of. If you know a decent amount then corns kings some boas and some pythons would also make good first snakes.

Aussie-Pythons on November 13, 2010:

What a great article. It's very in-depth and comprehensive.

Becki Rizzuti (author) from Indiana, USA on April 22, 2009:

I believe that is a matter of opinion and depends on how much you are willing to put into the animal. If I am correct, your suggestions are largely based on the size of the animal and the fact that most beginners aren't doing much research before they start out.

I've discovered over the past several years that someone who is reading an article such as this one is very likely not to say "ooh! Pretty!" and make a purchase just based on appearance, size or... Well, whatever else. Read one article, you're likely to read more, especially if the first article suggests doing more reading!

It is my honest opinion that an educated beginner will do fine with a red-tail. Of our snakes, our male red-tail had the best temperament (the female not so much) and our albino burm came in close behind (though I would never recommend a giant snake for a beginner -- or for anybody really!).

Strangely, I have talked to many herpers who feel that kingsnakes and rat snakes don't make good first snakes. We have never owned them since I am such a fan of the boids and prefer them over the colubrids (by a mile).

So much just depends on personal preference! I know you are a dog lover, too... My husband's first dogs as an adult were a Rottweiler and a Chow -- not exactly the breeds I would suggest for a first dog. But he did fine with them.

By the way, we're looking into making a purchase in the next few weeks. I'm glad you commented when you did so I can remember to look up the date of our next (tiny) reptile show. The last time we went a breeder had some beautiful albino balls and I want to see if the price has come down on them at all. They were selling for $1500 for a female sub-adult.

Whitney from Georgia on April 22, 2009:

Red tail boas are not the best first pet snake.

You should include king snakes, milksnakes, rat snakes, rosy boas, and sand boas, but that would make for a rather long hub the way it's written (which is a nice layout would just be lengthy if the other good beginner snakes were listed as well).