Snakes

While not the cuddly type, snakes can make great pets, even for first-timers. They are generally tame and can tolerate regular handing. As far as their care requirements, snakes do demand a commitment of time and energy. Of course, some types of snakes are more appropriate than others for beginners. To find out what you should consider before welcoming your snake to your home, take a look at their relative cost and care requirements:

Some things to consider are:

  • The size of the snake, as this informs the size and type of the habitat required
  • How much attention is required to attend to the particular needs of the species
  • The amount of equipment required, e.g., cage or aquarium, substrate for the floor, sticks for climbing, places to hide
  • The cost to purchase the snake and required supplies
  • Care and feeding requirements — veterinary fees, cleaning schedule
  • Activity level and compatibility with the owner’s/family’s activities
  • Lifespan – some varieties live longer than others

Following is a guide to some of the most popular varieties and their associated costs and care requirements:

a large green snake
a coiled Western Hognose Snake

Western Hognose Snake

The Western Hognose Snake is a recognized subspecies of Hognose Snakes. They get their name from slightly upturned snouts, similar to that of hogs. In the wild, they can be found in North America in an area that ranges from Southern Canada to Northern Mexico. Not surprisingly, their preferred living areas are flat and sandy. This is a sturdy snake that can live up to 20 years in captivity.

This is a small snake that has relatively low maintenance needs, although they can be picky eaters. Nevertheless, first-time snake owners with families will enjoy their company. An unusual habit of this type of snake is to play dead when threatened. Some will simultaneously emit a foul smell and hiss to dissuade predators. Before purchasing your snake, make sure that it is legal to do so in your area. As this type of snake is not as popular as most, it may be difficult to find, but when you do find one for purchase, you will be sure to reap many hours of enjoyment through caring for it.

Milk Snakes

Milk Snakes make very good pets mostly for what they don’t do — they don’t get very large, they don’t carry venom and they don’t tend to bite. What they do, however, is come in 24 recognized variations and are found in the wild from Southeastern Canada to South America. This is a calm, passive, secretive type of snake that is active at night and will otherwise hide in the dark.

This snake is known to be a slow mover. They will climb, swim, and hide. Their first line of defense is to try to get away. Their coloring that blends in with their surroundings occasionally makes them hard to spot. The Milk Snake’s diet is protein rich, with the adults preferring to eat rodents. As with most snakes, they are safe for children, but do not get along with other household pets.

a coiled milk snake
a corn snake coiled on itself

Corn Snakes

Corn Snakes, also known as Red Rat Snakes, get their name from their habit of hunting mice in corn granaries. They originate from the Southeastern United States and are land-dwelling reptiles that generally restrict their activities to dawn, dusk, and nighttime. Over the years, captive breeding has produced beautiful colors and patterns for this snake’s skin.

These snakes take well to handling, but be warned that they will hide if they escape their confines, making them somewhat challenging as pets. Corn Snakes like to burrow as well as climb, so these habits should be taken into consideration when designing their habitat. In general, this is an easy-to-care-for snake and popular with families. The lifespan of the Corn Snake is typically from 15 to 20 years.

Garter Snakes

The most common of snake varieties, the Garter Snake is made up of more than 75 recognized breeds. The Common Garter Snake is the most widely distributed variety. Garter Snakes can be found all over North America and prefer to live near bodies of fresh or standing water. Those that live in colder climates will hibernate over the winder and return in spring. They are totally harmless, and fun to keep as pets, even for the first-time snake owner.

This snake tends to be active during the day, preferring to rest at night. Garter Snakes have an average lifespan of 5 to 10 years in captivity. Note that these snakes are safe with children, yet not good with other pets. They have low grooming needs and prefer consistently moderate temperatures, which make them ideal indoor pets. Fun fact: Garter Snakes get their name from their coloring, as they have stripes that run along their bodies which look similar to women’s garters.

a coiled garter snake
an african ball python coiled on itself

African Ball Pythons

The African Ball Python, or Royal Python, originates from the West African grasslands. Their natural habitat includes grasslands as well as scrublands, savannas and open forests. They enjoy the shelter and temperature moderation afforded to them by inhabiting the burrows of rodents. The Ball part of their name comes from their habit of curling themselves into a tight coil, or ball, with their heads hidden inside.

This type of snake is both docile and gentle. Considered to be on the smaller side, they are comfortable with handling and are not known to bite. An added attraction is that this snake is not venomous. They prefer a simple enclosure that includes a hide box. Ball Pythons have low grooming needs, high heat tolerance, and an average lifespan of 20 to 30 years. As this snake is safe for children, it is a good choice for the beginner snake owner.

Snake Breeds that Make Good Pets
Snake Type Length Characteristic Cost Lifespan
Garter snake 2 – 3 feet The snake is docile and doesn’t mind  handling $25 – $50 8 – 10 years
African Ball Pythons 2 – 5 feet Calm and often coils to hide their heads when frightened $30 – $50 25 – 30 years
Western Hognose Snake 1 – 3 feet Easy to handle because they rarely bite. However, they engage in bluffing $100 – $500 8 – 10 years
Milk Snakes 1 – 5 feet Calm snakes but can bite if frightened. $50 – $100 15 – 20 years
Corn Snakes 2 – 5 feet Docile, hardy, and disease resistant. $25 – $40 15 – 20 years

As a beginner with snakes, you should consider the temperament of your new pet. You should also be ready to live with the snake for a very long time because snakes live for many years. Some snakes live 20 to 30 years.

Cost of Buying a Snake

Buying new equipment for a pet snake can be daunting. Probably you’re a beginner and you don’t know where to start or what to buy. The good news is in this section we’ve provided a checklist for all anything you may need for a new snake.

Item Cost
Snake cage/terrarium/tank $50 – $400
Lighting equipment $15 – $60
Heating equipment $15 – $50
Substrates (bedding) $20 – $30
Bowls $20 – $100
Reptile humidifier $10 – $50
Snake hides (things for snakes to hide in) $15 – $25
Snake food $50 – $200 yearly
Veterinary charges $100 – $125 yearly

 

It’s also important to consider the cost of owning a pet snake. You can buy a snake from a breeder or snake auctions. Did you know that you can get a healthy snake from auctions at a fraction of the cost breeders charge?

Snakes are easy to maintain and feed, unlike other pets. Snakes also rarely become ill, so you should expect fewer visits to the veterinarian.

What’s the Best Habitat for a Pet Snake?

Unlike other pets, snakes require certain conditions for them to thrive in their habitats, especially because they are cold-blooded. Here is a guideline on what conditions to provide to your pet.

Temperature

Snakes need temperatures of about 80 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit during daytime and about 75 degrees Fahrenheit at night. During the day time many snakes like to lay out in the sun where it is warm to raise their body temperature.  You should have a light that can provide a basking temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit for your snake. Because snakes are cold blooded animals the body of a snake adjusts to its environment, and snakes need both warm and cold temperatures to survive.  If the temperature is not high enough it will have a difficult time digesting its meals, and could have other adverse health effects.

Ultraviolet light

Some snake species require light to help them make vitamin D on their skin. Most pet snakes such as the African Python, the Corn snake, and the Milk snakes don’t require UV light. However, providing the snakes with UV light helps boost prevent some diseases and also gives them a healthier-looking skin.

  •         Humidity

You should provide your pet snake with the right level of humidity. Humidity helps the snake while it is shedding its skin. It also helps to prevent their current scales from drying out especially in the winter. Having a humidifier in your snake’s cage is a no brainer.

How to Choose a Snake Terrarium

Snakes love exploring their habitats, and thus, the terrarium should remain safe and without any holes for them to escape. Otherwise, you could spend quite a while trying to figure out exactly how small of a space your snake can hide in.

Terrariums exist in different shapes, sizes, and designs. Whether you choose one with a screen lid or an enclosed one, ensure the cage is sturdy and safe.

When buying a snake tank, consider the full length that your snake will be as an adult. Buy a terrarium that gives your pet enough space to move around, not only now, but in the future.

Temperature Adjustment

Since snakes cannot regulate their body temperature, you should have different temperature conditions available in your cage for the snake.  This lets them adjust their body temperature by simply moving to a different part of the cage. 

Some pet owners use under tank heating methods while others use lamps.  Based on how you set up the cage for your snake you can create a hot exposed place with a lamp, and a slightly cooler place where it can hide as it sleeps.

The lamp method of heating is the easiest for beginners.  In the event of damage, lamps are easy to replace. Lamps are also not very expensive, and you’ll know it’s not working if it’s off. 

If you decide to use an under tank heating method, then you should connect it to a rheostat. A rheostat helps pet owners adjust temperatures by controlling the electricity output. The currents from an electric connection are hotter than what a snake can handle, thus the need for a rheostat.  A rheostat is like a dimmer that you can use to reduce the power a heater is given, giving you better control of the heat output.

Snake Hides

Naturally, snakes love hiding whenever they get scared or as a way of cooling their bodies. Snakes in the wild often hide under tree leaves, hollow rocks, or tunnels. As you prepare the habitat for your pet, think about different places you could add a hiding place for them.

Luckily for you, snake hides are cheap to find in pet stores, or you can find some materials in your home and convert them into a hiding place for your snake.

If you don’t provide your snake a hiding place, they will be a lot more stressed than they should be. This can lead to illnesses or their refusal to eat.

Substrates

The ideal habitat for your snake should have a substrate or bedding material. Substrate material refers to what lines the surface of your snake tank.  Different materials make good substrates. For example, if your snake loves humid conditions, you could opt for cypress mulch, while if your pet loves drier conditions, you should consider dry wood shavings. Some substrates are also made of smooth paper that only needs cleaning once in a while.

Whatever material you choose, do some research to ensure it’s the best for your snake type. You should also change the substrate material regularly whenever they get dirty.

Food Preferences for Snakes

Snakes eat meat and nothing else. Here is a table of some pet snakes and what they eat

Snake Food preference
Corn Snake Rodents, lizards, eggs, birds, frogs
Garter Snake Frogs, slugs, earthworms, rodents, fish
African Ball Python Rodents
Milk Snake Slugs, crickets, birds, bird eggs, lizards, fish, small snakes, small mammals
Western Hognose Snake Rodents, lizards, frogs, eggs

 

Some snakes are okay eating dead mice while other snakes prefer feeding on the live ones. Many pet stores sell live and frozen mice specifically for feeding snakes. However, before feeding your snake, always let the mice warm to room temperature to prevent your snake from becoming ill.

Snakes have flexible jaws and are therefore capable of feasting on an animal bigger than their head. It’s also worth noting that snakes feed by swallowing their food whole.

Snakes are not heavy feeders. One good meal could last them several days, or even a week. You should know about how often your pet likes to eat and feed them whenever they want to eat.

It’s possible to determine whether your snake has appetite depending on how they react when you give them food.  If they appear aggressive it is a good sign that they are quite hungry and you should feed them more often.

Aggression in Snakes

Defense and aggression in snakes aren’t easily distinguished. Pet snakes are generally docile and only defend themselves whenever they feel threatened. In most cases, snake owners take defense for aggressiveness.

Snakes can act differently and are probably aggressive for several reasons. Here are some things that could easily agitate your pet.

Possible Causes of Aggressive Behavior in Snakes 

Discomfort During Shedding

Young snakes shed their skins every few weeks, while adult snakes only shed a few times each year. During shedding, the eyes of the snake often get cloudy and turn bluish or white, making them effectively blind. The snake feels vulnerable because it cannot see approaching objects and may attack in defense. However, their eyesight returns to normal as soon as shedding is complete.

Improper handling

Snakes aren’t used to human contact, and if improperly handled, snakes can attack. You should handle your snake for about ten minutes everyday to get them accustomed to human touch.

When handling your pet, you should do it the same each time so that the snake gets accustomed to touch in a particular way.

Hunger

Your favorite pet could easily attack you when you try opening the tank. If you let your snake go for prolonged periods without food, the snake can attack your hand, thinking its food.

Illness

A sick snake can act agitated and may hurt their owner.  You should check for any signs of illness in your pet and take it to a veterinarian for monitoring should anything appear strange.

Poor living conditions

If a snake doesn’t have the proper living conditions such as heat, light, and hiding areas, it will get stressed over time. The stress could make the snake attack whoever comes close to it.

Signs of an Aggressive Pet Snake

–          Hissing loudly

–          Release of smelly substance common in Garter snakes

–          Raising the head above the ground

–          Hiding for a very long time

General Care for Pet Snakes

Snakes are low maintenance pets that don’t require a lot of attention. The skin of your snake can be quite delicate, and that requires the right living conditions to remain healthy.

If you notice that the snake hasn’t shed its skin in a long time, check whether the conditions inside its habitat are ideal for your particular breed.  You can help your snake shed quickly by providing damp materials inside a box and placing it in the tank. Having several climbing branches and rocks in the terrarium also helps the snake to scratch against them and aid shedding.

In summary, snakes are lovable pets that are docile and require low maintenance. This compilation provides a complete guide for anyone who wants to be a snake owner.

Basic Facts about Snakes

According to statistics, there are more than 3,000 snake species in the world, but only a few are harmless and ideal for use as pets. 

The only continent without snakes is Antarctica.

The skin of a snake is covered with scales that feel smooth and dry upon touch. The skin sheds several times in a year, and the process takes several days to complete.

Snakes have strong sensory abilities for heat and vibrations, probably because they mainly slither on the ground.

Did you know that a snake doesn’t have external ears? Don’t let that fool you because the snake can detect movement from a good distance away.

A snake flicks its tongue whenever it wants to taste the air.  It can do this for a number of reasons.  In the wild it can be while hunting, looking for its next meal, or it can be to identify its owner when its cage is opened.  The snake is able to collect the odors on its tongue and has something called a Jacobson’s organ at the top of its mouth which is able to identify the different smells.

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