Best Snakes for Pets

Clare Deming
Corn Snake

Snakes can make interesting and unique pets, but which species is right for you? Most snakes are easy to care for, requiring infrequent feeding and cleaning. Any of these snakes could be an appropriate pet for a child as long as an adult supervises the care, and the child can understand that snakes have to eat other whole animals. Choosing the right snake for your interest and experience will help ensure that you and your pet will be happy for years to come.

Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttatus)

The corn snake is one of the most popular snake pets and is a great choice for beginners as well as experienced herp keepers. According to The Corn Snake.co.uk, this species makes a great pet because they have a docile temperament, are easy to care for, are attractive and interesting, have few health problems, and can live 15 to 20 years.

Pattern and Size

Corn snakes are available in a variety of color patterns. A snake with the classic color morph is red-orange, with black markings, and is known as a Carolina. All About Corn Snakes shows the great variety of colors available for corn snakes, including white, gray, pink, yellow, and other shades of orange. Some types have bands of color while others will have stripes that run the length of their body. Corn snakes reach four to six feet in length as adults.

Habitat and Housing

According to the National Zoo, corn snakes are native to the eastern United States. Their range extends from New Jersey to Florida, and west to Louisiana. In captivity, Reptiles Magazine recommends housing a corn snake in at least a 20-gallon aquarium. They are solitary animals and should not be housed with other snakes. No special lighting is needed, but they do require a temperature gradient with a hot spot of 85°F at one end. The bottom of the cage can be lined with non-aromatic shavings, newspaper, or a reptile carpet.

Feeding Requirements

Corn snakes eat rodents, from newborn mice to large mice or even rats for adults. The prey should be chosen to be as wide as one and a half times the snake's head. Avoid feeding your snake live rodents because they bite and injure your snake. Young corn snakes only need to eat every five to six days, and adults, every seven to ten days.

Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getulus)

King Snake

The common kingsnake is a great starter snake. Kingsnakes are good pets because they are easy to care for, have calm temperaments, are inexpensive and are available in a variety of colors.

Pattern and Size

The common kingsnake is black with a pattern of white chain-like bands along its body. Several color morphs and subspecies are available and different names exist for snakes with these color patterns. Their natural range is similar to that of the corn snake. They reach anywhere from three to six feet in length when fully grown.

Habitat and Housing

Petco recommends that this pet be kept in an enclosure appropriate for its size, approximately 15 to 20 gallons. Use aspen shavings, coconut fiber bedding, or reptile bark to line the cage. Kingsnakes require a temperature gradient from 78 to 95°F and a humidity of 40 to 60 percent. As with corn snakes, individual kingsnakes or several species of snake should not be housed together.

Feeding Requirements

In the wild, kingsnakes are known to eat other snakes, even venomous species. In captivity they should be fed mice. Reptiles Magazine recommends feeding your king snake about once a week.

Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer)

Gopher Snake

According to MyNaturePlace.org, gopher snakes make good pets because they can be handled frequently. They also do not tend to coil around your arms like many other species. This snake is native to the western United States and parts of western Canada and Mexico.

Pattern and Size

Gopher snakes can grow to be as long as nine feet, but more commonly only reach four feet. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum reports that gopher snakes are yellow or tan, with blotches of dark red or brown over their backs. Their scales appear rougher than those of other snakes, and some people will mistake them for rattlesnakes due to their coloring.

Habitat and Housing

Since gopher snakes are often larger than corn snakes or kingsnakes, they may need a more spacious enclosure, such as a 30-gallon aquarium. The Long Island Herpetological Society states that the cage should be lined with newspaper, paper towels, or aspen or pine shavings. No special lighting is required, but a supplemental heat source should be provided to produce a range from 75 to 85°F. Gopher snakes also need a hiding place which can be either a box, or plastic or rock "cave."

Feeding Requirements

The Long Island Herpetological Society notes that gopher snakes eat rodents, and usually need to be fed once to twice a week, depending on whether they are growing or not.

Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum)

Milk Snake

Milk snakes are very similar to kingsnakes and share some of their attributes. They are sometimes called scarlet kingsnakes. According to ReptileKnowledge.com, they make good pets for some of the same reasons as the kingsnake, but also because they are brilliantly colored, beautiful snakes.

Pattern and Size

Several subspecies of milk snake can be found, all with a pattern of alternating red to brown and white to yellow bands, separated with black. Milk snakes grow to a length of four to five feet.

The most brightly colored subspecies of milk snake can be easily confused with the venomous coral snake. The phrase "red touch black, venom lack" can be used to describe the banding on a milk snake to distinguish it from the coral snake's "red and yellow, kill a fellow." The harmless milk snake has adjacent red and black bands while the coral snake's red and yellow bands are beside each other.

Habitat and Housing

Big Apple Pet Supply notes that baby milk snakes can live in an enclosure that is as small as ten gallons, but adult milk snakes will need a habitat that is 20 to 70 gallons. Use aspen shavings, coconut fiber bedding, or reptile bark to line the cage, and use an external heat source to provide a temperature gradient from 78 to 95°F and a humidity of 40 to 60%.

Feeding Requirements

According to VMSHerp.com, milk snakes should be fed mice appropriate for their size. Hatchlings will need to eat every five to seven days, and an adult milk snake needs a meal every ten to fourteen days.

Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta)

Rat Snake

Rat snakes are closely related to corn snakes, and share many of the characteristics that make the corn snake a good pet. A rat snake is a good pet because it is active during the day, has a docile temperament, and is easy and safe to handle.

Pattern and Size

The Savannah River Ecology Laboratory reports that rat snakes are found across a large area of the eastern and southern United States. They typically reach three to five feet in length and can be found in a variety of color patterns. The most common subspecies are uniformly gray to black, or have a lighter underside with stripes of brown or gray over a yellow or tan body.

Habitat and Housing

As with other snakes of this size, a rat snake can be kept in a 20-gallon aquarium with a substrate of mulch, paper towels, or newspaper. According to ThatPetPlace.com, the cage temperature should be kept at 75 to 82°F, with a basking area of 88 to 90°F. Rat snakes will hide in a box or artificial cave if that is provided, and fresh water should always be available.

Feeding Requirements

According to ThatPetPlace.com, rat snakes eat mice and other rodents. Generally, they can be fed one mouse once a week. Juvenile snakes may be fed more often to promote faster growth.

Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)

Garter Snake

Garter snakes are great for beginning snake enthusiasts. It is active, easy to handle, easy to tame, and they stay relatively small. They are also inexpensive and easy to maintain.

Pattern and Size

According to Utah Veterinary Clinics, wild garter snakes prefer to live in moist environments, near a pond or other source of water. Several different subspecies of garter snake exist, but in general, they are small, thin snakes, reaching three to four feet in length when full grown. Most types are patterned with black and yellow stripes.

Habitat and Housing

Herp enthusiast Jonathan Crowe recommends that a garter snake be kept in an aquarium from five to fifteen gallons in size, depending on the age and size of the snake. While wild garter snakes prefer habitat near water, a captive snake should not be kept in an overly wet or humid environment. A large water bowl should be provided, large enough to allow the snake to swim in it. The cage can be lined with paper towels, a reptile carpet, aspen shavings, or cypress mulch.

Feeding Requirements

Garter snakes can eat a variety of small prey items, including fish, worms and small mice. Feeder guppies or platies can be placed into the water bowl for your snake to find. If your snake will not eat mice, the diet should be varied to include whole fish, pieces of fish fillet, earthworms, and pinky mice parts. If a garter snake will only eat worms, then you'll need to supplement his diet with calcium. For those snakes that eat fish, avoid goldfish and certain other species that contain a dangerous enzyme called thiaminase.

Ball Python (Python regius)

Ball Python

While it may sound exciting to keep a very exotic species of snake, many of these are not suitable as pets. One type of snake that can look more exotic, but still makes a good pet is the ball python. This species is easy to care for, stay relatively small, and are docile when handled.

Pattern and Size

According to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, ball pythons are native to west and central Africa. These are heavy bodied snakes and can grow to reach three to six feet in length. Ball pythons are mottled in a pattern of light and dark brown to red-brown, and their undersides are white.

Habitat and Housing

Ball pythons can be kept in an aquarium from 20 to 30 gallons in size. A hatchling can start out in a 10-gallon aquarium. The enclosure should be lined with paper towels, a reptile carpet, or shredded cypress or fir bark. The temperature needs to be kept at 80 to 85°F, with a basking area of 90°F. At night, the temperature can decrease to 73 to 75°F, with the basking area at 80°F.

Feeding Requirements

Ball pythons can have a reputation as picky eaters, but this can be a normal attribute for the species. The World of Ball Pythons reports that these snakes are binge feeders, eating well for a few weeks or months, and then refusing food. They eat mice and rats, and the food can be varied if the snake is not eating well. Make sure that the housing requirements are being met, and that the snake is left undisturbed with its food. If your ball python still refuses to eat, it may be suffering from stress, nearing a shed, or have come down with a disease.

Snakes Make Great Pets

If you select carefully, you will certainly have a great pet snake for several years to come. With minimal day-to-day care required, snakes are some of the easiest and most interesting pets out there.

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Best Snakes for Pets