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Looking at Snakes? These are 12 amazing snakes for beginners
Snakes On A Plane! Honestly, I think that would make the flight pretty enjoyable, esssssspecially if they were the kinds of snakes discussed in this article.
Important Questions to Consider
Snakes are very different from companion animals and livestock. Because of this, they have very different husbandry and care requirements. Choosing an appropriate beginner snake will depend very much on the characteristics of the beginner, not just those of the snake species itself.
- Is the beginner a child, or an adult?
- Does the beginner have plenty of space for an enclosure, or do they live in a tiny apartment where the tank will be placed on a bookshelf?
- Is the budget for purchase of the animal a few dollars, or a few hundred dollars?
- Is the new owner super busy, or is that owner working from home and wants an active, yet docile, diurnal species to keep them company during the day?
The answers to those questions will help the newbie sift through the selections below and make an informed decision.
Dekay’s Brown Snake
This species is common throughout North America and does not require the high temperatures and humidity of tropical species. They are extremely tolerant of human activity, so much so that they are often found in Manhattan and New York City, thriving in abandoned lots and similar places. Their resilience therefore makes their husbandry very easy. Dekay’s Brown Snake is a naturally curious species, and they are usually not stressed by handling. In eastern urban areas, they are often the first reptile species that schoolchildren will encounter in the wild. Their small size and docility makes them the perfect starting snake for children.
They may grow as large as 15 inches, but generally they peak out at about a foot long.
This reptile has a short lifespan for a snake species, seldom past 7 years, which may appeal to parents who want their child to have the fun of caring for a pet snake, but can see a time in the future when the child is off to college, leaving the animal in the care of the adults. Also, they are super affordable, being under $30 in most pet stores.
Because they are a small species, they tend to eat insects and earthworms rather than small mammals. Almost any kind of worm or slug will be consumed eagerly. Earthworms, night crawlers, waxworms, and such are all good choices, as long as they are properly dusted with calcium supplements. There is an exception to this rule. Never use red wigglers (Eisenia foetida), which are the worms used in vermicomposting and are sometimes sold as trout bait: they are reportedly toxic to snakes and other reptiles. A disgusting yellow ichor that they exude repulses most predators, but if they are eaten, can result in sickness and even death.
Red Wigglers aside, this snake is easy to supply food items for, and the invertebrate foods are often more acceptable to newbies who find feeding pinky mice gross and distressing. Many potential snake owners out there may not care much, but for those that do, this species is one of several insectivorous choices that can reduce the yuck factor.
This species reproduces easily in captivity. So if a beginner decides that two snakes might be nice, and doesn’t know the sex of each, said beginner may become a grandparent to 20 or so live babies before they know it! Yep, live, because this species is viviparous and does not lay eggs.
Rough Green Snake
This slender reptile is native to the southeastern US and northeastern Mexico. They are like a green shoestring of an animal, and can reach up to 2.5 feet long. Rough greens can live up to 15 years, though many in captivity don’t live that long. They have a gentle but nervous disposition, are not a good choice for a beginner with lots of small, active children running about the house.
They are a really attractive snake and live well communally. Three can live together quite amicably in a vertical 30-gallon tank that is provided with plenty of greenery. So while this species is not ideal for those new owners who place a high value on frequent handling, they may be perfect for the beginner who is motivated by aesthetics.
Although indigenous to North America, unlike the brown snake above, they are becoming rare in many parts of the country. This is a snake that should not be collected from the wild and should only be purchased from a reputable breeder.
Garters are one of the most populous wild snakes in the United States, and you can also find them as a pet in many homes. Even in the wild they are mainly harmless, and tame very easy. They are a great pet for beginners and are easily handled with their gentle and docile nature.
These snakes are a nice choice for folks who object to feeding mice. They can be fed small fish and worms instead. They have similar lighting and heating requirements to other common snake species. They typically reach 1.5-2 feet in length with some reaching four feet. A 10-gallon tank may be sufficient, but if the snake exceeds 2 feet, a larger tank will then be required.
They need a water source in their tank to be perfectly happy and healthy, such as a really large, shallow water bowl. They also like to bask in the sun, so are one of a few beginner snakes which require a basking lamp.
A relatively inexpensive pet ranging from $15 to $50.
These are closely related to the popular Corn Snake, sharing the same genus Pantherophis.
Average sized, reaching 3-5 feet, they are commonly found throughout the United States. They commonly eat rodents and tend to live in wooded areas or in barns. They can live up to 30 years and generally cost between $30-$300 (depending on the morph).
Like their Corn Snake cousin, they are very shy and docile, especially if they are handled regularly. Husbandry is very easy, with heat and humidity seldom being an issue. In general, they will require higher temperatures in their tank than most humans would be comfortable with, they will not suffer if the temperatures decrease to that of standard room temperatures for a while. Very busy new owners with a chaotic schedule may find this comforting, knowing that their hardy pet is not badly chilled at 70 degrees.
Because rat snakes are good climbers, maintaining an extra secure enclosure is key to keeping your pet in its home. Warning…this something that beginning owners often overlook! Small children are especially likely to neglect latches because they forget to secure them, whereas adults acquiring this large, strong, and active species tend to underestimate their strength (and length). A solid latch is necessary for any black rat snake house.
Not Ideal for Homes with Limited Space
For those with limited space, this may not be the best choice, since these are large snakes and some height to the cage to allow your snake climbing room is essential. A 30- to 40-gallon tank is suitable, though the larger (and taller) the better. For keepers with room and a desire for a pet they can, and should, handle frequently, then this pet could be a great choice.
As the name implies, this snake requires vertebrate food, sometimes pretty big items for mature adults. If this is a concern, then this should be factored into taking home one of these for your very own. This pet is quite affordable at $30 or so, but some designer morphs can cost as much as $300. Beginning owners are advised to purchase the basic model, at least until they have a bit of experience with this active species under their belt.
For those wanting something a little more exotic, there are some very nice species to choose from, such as Children’s Python.
The Children’s Python, named by the zoologist John George Children, is a medium-sized python about 2.5-4 feet long that inhabits the rocky areas of northern Australia. And yes, they are a great species for children, too!
They are not as colorful as many on this list, but they can make great pets as they have little extra care requirements and have docile temperaments, especially if they are handled frequently and gently. They are not a huge species at maturity (for a python), and will only need an enclosure 3x2x2. They will need a warm side and a cooler side and around 50 percent humidity.
Children’s Pythons can absolutely be handled by beginning herpetologists. They seem to enjoy being handled gently by the body, but hate being touched around the head. They can live up to 30 years and generally cost between $70-$350 USD (depending on where they come from). So if you have a bit of extra cash, a bit of extra room, and a hankering for an exotic, this species could be a great choice.
Common Boa Constrictor
The reason Boa Constrictors are not usually recommended to beginners is because of their very large size, reaching a whopping 13-16 feet long! They need a confident handler who is strong enough to hold them. This makes them an interesting choice for a beginning adult keeper, but probably not the best choice for little kids.
This Boa is indigenous to most of Central and South America. In the wild they eat deer, fish, lizards and other animals. Captive boas will eat rats, rabbits, or chickens (depending on their size). This is a consideration for new keepers, as many people are grossed out by feeding a live bunny to their enormous snake. Further, although Boa Constrictors are often tame when they are handled frequently, they are also very strong and may coil themselves tightly around you if they feel threatened.
If these characteristics are not an issue, then they can be a good choice since, and they have the same general care requirements as most snakes, except they will require a bigger enclosure to accommodate their size.
They are tame and tolerate handling if it is done frequently, and they have the potential to be a great pet. They live up to 30 years and can cost between $60-$200 USD.
Kenyan Sand Boa
The Kenyan Sand Boa is one of the smaller species of boa, reaching just a little more than 2 feet in length. They are naturally a brightly patterned snake, but come in a number of attractive morphs as well.
Difficult to Clean Habitat
The Kenyan Sand Boa is known for burrowing into the sand, which is exemplified by their aerodynamic shape and smooth scales. These boas also use the sand to suffocate their pinky mice prey. One thing that these reptiles need that others don’t is several layers of substrate on the bottom of the tank for burrowing. This means that the tank may be harder to clean for beginners than a tank with simple substrates (e.g. newspaper). Sand is an obvious choice, but deep aspen works just as well.
Feeding Should be Done by Adults
They are very docile snakes, and would rather squirm away than bite if they don’t want to be handled. They can occasionally be cranky, but with gentle-handling the sand boa can make a great beginning snake for an older child. They may not be suitable for very young children as they have a very swift feeding response. If a sand boa is gifted to a young child, adults should be the ones to feed it in order to avoid the child receiving an accidental bite.
This Boa likes heat and needs a warm tank. It does not need a huge enclosure, and a 10 gallon tank will do just fine. For beginners who want more than one snake, this species is a good choice and can live communally, as long as they have enough space. However, two males should not be housed together.
Typically costing $75-$200 (depending on the morph), they can live up to 30 years. This means that folks buying one for a child may find themselves as snake grandparents long after their child has graduated from college!
These brightly tri-colored snakes are very striking appearance and come in a variety of natural colors and morphs.
This species is known for its rapid growth rate and can achieve their full growth in 2 years’ time. They are a very active snake with huge personality. Some of the larger varieties can can grow up to 6 feet and therefore will need plenty of room. Beginning keepers with limited space should consider one of the smaller species that only grows to around 24 inches in length, such as the Louisiana milk snake, the Pale milk snake, or the Mexican milk snake. Central and South American species have great personalities and gorgeous coloration, but at maturity demand a large enclosure.
Often found in the woods or rocky areas, they do not necessarily like to soak up sun, but rather enjoy soaking up heat from rocks and logs, so an under-tank heater may be better for them. They otherwise have very basic care requirements and live up to 20 years.
Like other King species, Milk Snakes are very docile and rarely bite. They can be a little nervous and nippy as hatchlings, so frequent and gentle handling is recommended at that age to get the youngsters used to their keepers. Old milk snakes can get a little crabby and should be handled infrequently at the end of their life span.
They are certainly manageable for a beginner and typically cost $50-$200 USD.
Naturally curious, Rosy Boas seldom bite or strike and are certainly easy for beginners because they enjoy being handled. Rosy Boas are a brown-rosy-pink color and adjust to captivity very well.
They can live up to 30 years in captivity and can cost $80-$450. They come in an impressive number of morphs. This species is protected in the wild, mainly because they have been over-collected for the pet trade. They are indigenous to the west coast of the United States and parts of Mexico. Please do not remove this species from the wild but purchase one from a reputable breeder instead.
This species is easy-to-care for and have simple husbandry requirements. Being a sand boa, they will have similar requirements to the Kenyan San Boa above. They can grow up to 4 feet long and so require a 20-gallon horizontal tank with plenty of deep substrate to burrow into.
These lovely, inquisitive, affectionate creatures are my all-time personal favorites. They get their name from their tendency to form into a ball shape when they feel stressed or threatened. They tend to grow out of this behavior if they are handled frequently.
They are naturally brown with lighter patches, but captive-bred Ball Pythons come in a variety of beautiful color morphs. Adults are usually about 3.5-5 feet in length and can live 20-30 years.
Ball Pythons are very docile creatures and are very reluctant to bite. They are an excellent snake for children to begin with. There is really only one drawback to this species. They are well known for their dietary pickiness, a trait that makes some beginning keepers wary. The secret is either to feed a small live mouse, or to thaw and feed a mouse that has been brought to a ‘warmer than room temperature’ heat. The heat signature radiating from the food item will cue the python’s pit organs and induce a strike response. Food items that are too cool simply will not do. Simple as that.
They typically cost $45-$900, depending on the rarity of the morph. Albino morphs are really pricey. It is advisable that the beginning owner start with an already attractively patterned natural-color hatchling.
California King Snake
The California King is the most popular subspecies of King Snake. They naturally come in a huge variety of morphs and patterns, from banded to striped.
Also native to the United States, they are typically a brown-black color with yellow bands, stripes, or speckles, growing to 2.5-5 feet long (about the same size as a Corn Snake). Unlike Corn Snakes, these reptiles are diurnal. They should, however, still have regular hours of daylight and darkness. Due to their eventual adult size, they should be housed in a 20-gallon tank. As with most of the snakes on this list, they require a diet of mice and can live up to 20 years. This pet can be a little shy, but they are very docile and thrive with frequent handling.
These snakes generally cost $70-$190 and have the basic care requirements of most of the snakes on this list. For beginning keepers who want a really unusual morph to start with, this species may be the way to go, with albinos commanding the upper price range, but generally below $200.
Without a doubt, the Corn Snake ranks as the most popular beginner snake.
Native to North America, they can be found in a number of terrestrial habitats. These snakes are red brown to orange, typically with dark red-black blotches, but a variety of colors can be found in many captive-bred snakes.
Baby Corns are 10-12 inches long and grow to 3-4 feet long. An adult Corn Snake can be kept in a 20-gallon aquarium, and the tank should be provided with a gradient range from 72℉ to 90℉ between ends. As with the rat snake, a secure top is required. They require a rodent diet and when properly cared for can live up to 20 years. They typically cost between $45-$300. If their natural coloration doesn’t suit, then as usual, there are a lot of morphs to choose from.
Overall, they have a very easy-care regimen and a very gentle temperament that makes handling and care of them manageable, even for new snake owners! They have very unflappable personalities and can tolerate a lot of human interaction. Their affordability, availability, and temperament is the reason they tend to be regarded by most in the pet trade as being the number 1 most frequently kept snake for beginners.
Make an informed choice and then have fun with your new serpent pal!