So you’ve decided that you want a pet snake, but you aren’t sure where to go from there. With over 2,000 species known today, it can be a daunting task to choose your first snake. Before we start discussing the different types of snakes and which may be best for you, you need to evaluate why you want a snake, and make sure you really understand what is involved. Do you want a snake because they are exotic and you want to be able to tell your friends you own one? Or do you want one because you think they are easy to care for? Neither of these are good reasons, and in both of these situations the snake would likely be abandoned within a month.
The average captive snake will live approximately 20 years, though some have lived as long as 40 years. Owning a snake is a life-long commitment, and if you are not willing to devote a large amount of time to it, you should not purchase one.
Snakes require a great deal of care, far more than a cat or dog. Cage temperature and humidity must be maintained at a certain level at all times using a thermometer and hygrometer; special care must be given during feeding, lighting has to be regulated to certain times of the day. Also, weekly cage scrubbings must be done to prevent Salmonella. You must also be willing to invest approximately $250 USD initially to get set up for a snake. And finally, you must be willing to feed live creatures to your snake. While some snakes will eat frozen mice, others will refuse food unless it is alive. If you can’t stand the thought of feeding your snake like rodents, don’t get a snake.
Okay, if you’re still considering a snake at this point, you’re probably serious. Now its time to consider what kind of snake to get. You may already have one in mind, having seen one at a friend’s house or pet shop that caught your interest. Be sure to research it thoroughly before purchasing. I advise first- time snake owners to avoid anything that gets large or has a bad temper; also, unless you are a herpetologist, never purchase a poisonous snake.
Corn snakes: the number one beginner snake
Corn snakes are considered the best first snake, but are owned by snake lovers of all levels simply because they are wonderful. Corn snakes are calm, easy-going creatures. It is very rare to be bit by one. These snakes come in nearly every color and pattern imaginable, and are beautiful creatures.
Corn snakes grow to be an average of 4 feet long, though they may get as large as 6 feet and remain as small as 3 feet. They can be housed easily in a 30 gallon aquarium and they eat once a week.
If you are a fist time snake owner, I highly suggest you start with a corn snake; they are not only great beginner snakes, but they are great snakes in general.
Garter Snake: Beginner/Intermediate
Garter snakes will make a good first snake, though they require a higher level of care than a corn snake. Garters are very active, and do tend to bite when first handled; don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt.
Garter snakes eat fish and worms instead of mice, and because of this require vitamin supplements once every two weeks. This is simply a powder the food is rolled in.
Garter snakes also have the ability to musk when angry or frightened. Musk is a secretion the snake can produce from its body that has an offensive smell and is meant to keep predators away. After handling the snake a couple of times, it will come to realize you mean it no harm and stop musking.
Garters usually grow no larger than three feet in length, and can be house in a 20 to 25 gallon tank.
King and Milk snakes: Intermediate
These are both great snakes, though I mark them as an intermediate first snake because they are slightly more temperamental than corns and garters and have different diet requirements. With adequate handling they will calm down, but expect to get nipped a time or two before they do.
Also, note that Kingsnakes are called ‘king’ because they will eat anything, including other snakes. Because of that, you cannot house kings with other snakes.
Milk and Kingsnakes can get as long as 6 feet, and should be housed in a thirty gallon tank. The will both survive on a diet consisting solely of mice.
Ball Python: Advanced
I mark the Ball Python as an advanced first snake because of its size. The ball python, while calm and slow, will get larger than the other snakes listed. Because of this they will cost more. They will require a large cage and more food.
Ball Pythons have anal spurs, something that others in this category don’t. They will grow to be about 4 – 5 feet long, but will be a great deal thicker than the other snakes listed here, and because of this will not be as active. The snake will require a 30 gallon tank, and will eat mice.
These are very broad guidelines meant to give you an idea of which snakes a first time owner should limit to. I recommend adequately researching each of these breeds in turn before deciding on one. If possible, visit a local pet store or breeder and have a look at the snakes. Simply looking can help you decide which snake you want. When I got my first, I had thought I wanted a garter until I went to the pet store and saw the corns; I fell in love with them an haven’t looked back.
After you have selected your snake of choice, be sure to seek more specialized instructions on how to care for it, including temperature requirements and housing conditions. Usually pet stores will provide a care sheet upon purchase.