How to Choose Your First Pet Snake (Including Pictures and Costs)

Choosing a first pet snake is exciting but can appear to be a daunting task. As a kid, I always wanted to have a pet snake just like two of my friends had. If you are as excited about getting a snake as I was, you’ll want to do it right the first time.

I did some research to help you in your search so you do not have to do as much work. Here is a list of great beginner snakes, along with their defining features:

  • Garter snake. This snake, like the rest of the beginner snakes on this list, are nonvenomous and very cute.
  • Corn snake. Corn snakes have a corn-like pattern and docile temperament. They’re great snakes for kids.
  • Ball python. This snake is epic and a great size. This is possibly the most popular pet snake, period.
  • Rosy boa. The rosa boa constrictor has a beautiful pattern and comes in other morphs, as well. They are very tame.
  • Kingsnake. California kingsnakes, in particular, are tamable and come in a pretty good size.

All of these snakes are non-venomous (because a venomous pet snake is not advisable) and make wonderful pet snakes for first-time snake owners. To learn more about each of these snakes, read on, and good luck in your quest to find the perfect first pet snake.

My Choices for Your First Pet Snake

If you are looking for a pet snake that is small and cute and low-maintenance, I would recommend a garter snake or a corn snake. These guys can be relatively little and are the classic small-headed snakes like one sees on Little Bear. Little kids love snakes like these, while they might be wary of the larger ones such as rosy boas or kingsnakes. 

If you’re on the hunt for a pet snake that will awe your friends with its awesomeness, but you are still a first-time snake owner who doesn’t want to get a high maintenance snake with an unpronounceable name, then ball pythons, rosy boas, and California kingsnakes are all pretty epic and can grow accustomed to regular handling, most particularly the ball pythons.

The Garter Snake

Sometimes called a “garden” snake, this species is regarded as a strong snake and when in the wild, helps keep the rodent population low. You’ve probably seen one of these guys casually slithering through a garden at some point in your life. To learn more about the garter snake’s name, feel free to click here.

This snake has twenty subspecies and has an average lifespan of thirteen years. They are commonly confused with a rattlesnake, but they are longer and thinner than their venomous lookalike.

While it is likely that you can go searching for one of these snakes in the great outdoors, such as a relatives backyard garden or even in the woods by a river, it may be wiser to purchase one.

You can buy one from a pet store or snake breeder, as snakes picked up outside don’t usually get used to domesticity quickly and can either pass away quicker than other snakes or simply transfer diseases or bacteria in general into your home.

Pet stores such as Petsmart or Petco often have garter snakes available for purchase, and there other other websites to consider, as well. These snakes cost anywhere from $20 to $150. depending on the breed or morph. To look at more of these options, here is a website that may help.

Corn Snake

Corn snakes are a very docile species and wonderful for younger children who also want a pet snake. They don’t generally get longer than five feet and can be found in reptile shows, pet stores, and with breeders.

From what I learned, these snakes can be oversold at reptile shows and even overpriced for morphs. Be sure to find a reliable breeder or pet store to buy these little guys from.

Corn snakes make awesome pets for their adorable size and great temperament. They come in beautiful morphs and are technically constrictors, like all of the other snakes in this list. This means they constrict their prey rather than poisoning it with venom. If a corn snake bites you or a child who owns it, you’re in luck. It’s a tiny squeeze of a bite.

Most morphs of the baby corn snakes (including my favorite, the strawberry corn snake) can be purchased for $30 to $60. Again, reliable breeders or pet stores might be the best option, because while these guys are worth the money, they don’t have to be worth too much money.

Ball Python

Arguably the shyest of this group, the ball python is also the most popular species in the pet snake market. This is partially due to the wide range of morphs this snake comes in, as well as the thick size and long lengths.

They grow to be anywhere from two to five feet long, which is short for a typical python, but this species is quite long-lived. Sometimes in captivity, a ball python will live twenty to even thirty years.

A typical baby ball python (without any unusual morphs or fancy parents) starts around $30 on average at both pet stores and reptile shows. My favorite morph, the Albino ball python, can be fetched for $170 to $200. These snakes make great pets, as evidenced by their raging popularity in the snake owners’ community. If you do buy a ball python, here you can find an article about everything a beginner should know about taking care of a ball python.

I recently wrote an article highlighting 26 interesting facts about ball pythons. Some of these really opened my eyes to how awesome this snake is! Find it here.

Rosy Boa

The Rosy Boa isn’t nearly as popular as the California king snake or corn snake, but this beautiful snake is still a friendly and very common choice. They average two to three feet in length, with rare exceptions of four feet. While shorter, these snakes can live for long periods of time, just like the ball python mentioned earlier–up to 25 years! Here, you can find an article all about how long Rosy Boas get, and other helpful facts for someone who may be interested in purchasing one of these beautiful snakes.

These snakes are occasionally escape artists, so be sure to buy an enclosure that is secure with no easy exits for this particular snake. Be sure to purchase substrate for the container that allows for easy burrowing, because rosy boas are burrowing snakes and buying cheap substrates can occasionally lead to sickness or irritation for your pet snake.

This species of boa can’t be found at pet stores, but can be purchased as hatchlings from breeders for $30 to $40 on the Internet or at reptile shows. If you’re thinking about purchasing this snake, here you can find an article I recently wrote about the proper care and feeding schedule for a Rosy Boa.

California Kingsnake

California kingsnakes get their name for their impressive ability to eat almost anything, be it prey, larger prey, or other snakes (including rattlesnakes). In captivity, I suggest feeding it pre-killed mice about the size of the largest width of the snake’s body.

This snake is known to populate desert regions and will get to be about three to four feet big but never thicker than an average adult human forearm.

I found prices for the kingsnake, including many varieties of the California kingsnake to cluster in the $60- $90 range with a few outliers on both price ends, depending on the morph and the breeder.

While kingsnakes might eat rattlesnakes, they are not venomous and in fact are immune to most other snakes venom. Kingsnakes make great pets due to their easy attitudes and ability to eat anything (so when you go to pick up this guy’s lunch and they only have large mice or rabbits or something like that, it’ll work for this particular reptile).

I found that there are many different morphs of this popular snake, so I recently wrote an article going over each morph and talk about the differences of each one. Find it here.

Do Your Research

Although this list comes heavily recommended for those looking for a first pet snake, you’ll still need to do research on your own regarding snake species and whatever specific morphs that you are interested in.

As you might have noticed in the beginner-level snake list, common morphs can have a much lower price than the exotic-looking morphs. This is just one component to weigh when deciding what variety of snake to purchase.

Here are some important elements that you need to consider in your search for a great first pet snake.

Type of Snake

There are nearly 3,000 species of snakes in the world. Many species have subspecies and variations of skin patterns and/or colors. This variation, as mentioned earlier, is called a breed or morph. Depending on the rarity of the morph, a snake’s price could be more astronomical than that of a more common morph.

Typically, this means exotic or exciting-looking snakes. Do your research about what a snake with the morph you are interested in goes for in the market before you pay extra in a shady deal.

In addition to how cool a snake looks, you should take into consideration the temperament of a species. Ball pythons not only have a plethora of morphs but are also shyer than other snakes on the beginner snake list. Do you want to hold your snake frequently, or would you prefer to admire your reptile from afar?

If this is your first time owning a snake, I highly recommend leaving dangerous and venomous snakes to those with a lot of deep experience handling and taking care of snakes for at least a decade. Recently, I wrote an article where I list the top pet snake breeds that people like. Find it here.

Habitat

Before you go and buy a snake, you need to prep a little home for your future pet. Depending on the snake, you may need to get a bigger cage to make room for the snake to grow into.

I suggest for smaller snakes this Amazon’s Choice terrarium, the Exo Terra small cage. 

For larger snakes or snakes that will grow in a shorter time frame, this Exo Terra Allglass Terrarium looks to be the best one on Amazon right now.

In addition to the actual terrarium, you will need the following six items for your new pet snake:

#1: Hideouts

All snakes will need one to several places where they can hide. This is especially important for snakes that are more solitary or shy. These hideouts can take many forms: a hollowed log, an overturned empty flower pot, or other artificial shelters.

I researched the best hideouts on the market and found a few favorites. I love this rocky hideout that provides not only shelter but levels for the snake to climb. Another classic is this hollowed log that comes in three sizes.

You’ll want to put one hideout on the warmest part of the terrarium and another on a cooler side. This will help your snake stay in control of its temperature and have places to either warm up or cool down.

Not only do hideouts help the snake relax and feel secure, but rough edges and textures can also help the snake shed its skin faster when they brush up against it as they are going through the shedding process, which is inevitable. If a snake is having a hard time getting the old layer of skin off, they will instinctively crawl and rub against a rough log or uneven surface.

#2: Water basin or bowl

The water basin is an important element which both serves as a water source for your pet snake (most snakes don’t actually drink the water but instead soak it up through their skin), as well as keeping the tank at liveable humidity levels for your reptilian friend. Anything can work as a water basin as long as it is not too deep.

Feel free to do further research on whichever pet snake you think will suit you best, but most snakes tend to like some water to play in. If you have a desert snake, you only need to have a water basin in their tank once a week or less.

#3: Heat mat and/or heat lamp

Almost every snake species will need a heat mat and/or a heat lamp to maintain healthy humidity levels and temperature. Snakes are cold-blooded, so if you leave getting warmed up to them… they’ll freeze. Certain snakes need it hotter in their terrariums than others, and some do better with heat mats while others, particularly desert species like the California kingsnake, will do well with a heat lamp.

#4: Thermometer

To make it easier to gauge the temperature in your pet’s enclosure, I suggest investing in a thermometer that can be installed in his or her living quarters. If you get one that reads humidity as well as temperatures, that will be most beneficial for you and your snake. This will help you keep the temperature and humidity levels where the snake will need it in order to survive, as most snakes need humidity and heat or they will get sick.

#5: Substrate

The last required item on the list is substrate, which is the flooring or bedding in the snake’s cage. There are several different options to choose from, depending on if the snake has burrowing tendencies or not. You should consider each type with the species of snake you are interested in. Doing so will ensure you not only purchase the right substrate but know what you’re getting into with your snake.

#6: Burrow-friendly substrate:

  • Sand
  • Coconut Fiber
  • Aspen Shavings
  • Cypress Mulch

My favorite option is the coconut fiber bedding for its low price and how easy it is to clean and replace. I found a really good option here.

Sand probably looks the coolest but is the easiest to get dirty and hardest to clean. In addition, some species of snakes will be adverse to sand as it can easily get in between scales of snakes not accustomed to areas without sand.

Non-burrow friendly substrate:

  • Newspaper
  • Paper Towel
  • Artificial Turf
  • Carpeting

Most of these options in the second list can be found around the house. Things like newspapers or paper towels are thin and will need to be layered to cover the ground at least an inch or two thick.

As a reminder, all of these options, both burrowing and non-burrowing will need to be routinely cleaned and changed as they are soiled. Never use cedar bedding. All snakes find cedar toxic.

Any other safe and fun decorations you want

Finally, feel free to get creative with your snake’s home. Don’t be over-the-top so your snake is uncomfortable, and I also recommend keeping it pretty natural, but otherwise, your creativity is your only real limit. If you want to make a cobblestone pathway leading up to a hollowed-log house for your pet snake with a backyard pool shallow enough to be safe, go for it. Here, you can find an article I wrote specifically about my all time favorite accessories for pet snakes.

We also have a post on our site just about terrariums and how to find the right one for your snake, in your budget. You can find this post right here.

Food Supply

A snake’s diet can vary from species to species. Most snakes will eat a variety of:

  • Insects
  • Rodents
  • Birds
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Frogs
  • Lizards
  • Small mammals.

Knowing what your snake likes to eat as well as the frequency will most helpful in not only planning how to meet its needs but in the decision making process.

You may need to purchase pre-killed mice to be stored in a freezer. I know this can be a dealbreaker for some people who get squeamish around dead things, particularly rodent dead things which you must feed to reptilian live things. If you will have problems feeding the snake a pre-killed mouse then you should consider a species that won’t care for a mouse.

You won’t want to purchase a live mouse, as they may attack the snake or simply heighten aggressive tendencies in some snake species. This can become particularly dangerous if the snake isn’t hungry. You may be wondering, can snakes eat wild mice? I recently wrote an article answering that question. Find it here.

Expected Care

Knowing the type of care your snake will expect is crucial in the decision-making process. Some snakes are shier than others and therefore won’t want to be held as often. Snakes, in general, are not cuddly creatures, but some are better at adapting to handling than others. Take this into account if you plan on holding your pet snake a lot, as this is a big factor in which pet snake would best suit you.

Knowing the type of care your snake will expect is crucial in the decision-making process.

All snakes are wild, but there do exist different species that are better around kids, such as the list of beginner snakes we covered at the beginning and particularly the corn snakes from that list.

Ask yourself, “How long do I want to own and take care of this snake?” Some popular species have long lifespans in captivity, some up to thirty years. Would you be willing to commit to caring for your snake for that long, or should you consider a different option, like a turtle?

What if you have kids and are worried about how they will do with a pet snake? I wrote an article where I list 5 different snake breeds that do well when children are taking care of them (with help from their guardian of course). Find it here.

Where to Buy A Pet Snake

When you search for the right pet snake for you, you will want to find the right breeder. A good, reputable breeder won’t rip you off on a snake that is claimed to be exotic or a morph that is said to be more “rare” than it really is. Also, buying a snake through breeders that are legal and hold good standards will give you a much smaller chance of buying a snake that has diseases or mites that will elicit a trip to the reptile veterinarian.

A simple test for mites is to put your hand around the snake and let it run through the opening in your hand, applying gentle pressure. If you can see blood or coffee colored specs, this is a good bet the snake hasn’t been properly taken care of and will need to see a reptile veterinarian.

Another option is to attend a reptile show. Many different vendors attend these shows and much more information about snakes and the care and prices pertaining to each one can be obtained at these shows.

Never buy from an illegal breeder or a reptile smuggler. Illegal breeders bring in exotic, dangerous snakes in many ways that lead to agitation in these breeds that are beyond normal levels. In some cases, this leads to an outbreak of reptiles such as the one in southern Florida that established the python as an invasive species. Illegal breeding, poaching, and smuggling increase the risk of extinction for many species.

Here, you can find entire article dedicated to helping first time buyers know where to buy their pet snake. It goes over places, prices, and how to’s of buying a pet snake.

Tips for First-Time Snake Owners

Now that you (hopefully) have figured out the best snake species for your first time caring for these little reptiles, I want to give you some starter tips for how to take care of your new friend. Below are the first five steps to caring for a new snake:

#1: Give Him Some Space

Snakes are not typically excited to be taken from wherever they are and brought to a new habitat. They need time to get to know their environment. Once you have the proper conditions and habitat down and you have placed your new pet in there, give him or her some time to adapt before feeding or handling.

#2: Feed Her First

Everyone is a little grouchy when they’re hungry. Before trying to handle your snake or even clean its tank, make sure it has a solid meal of a thawed, pre-killed mouse and that you’ve given it a couple of days to digest before trying to handle it.

#3: Be Aware of His Discomfort

If you try to handle your pet snake after giving him time and a meal and some digestion time, be very cautious and pay attention to signs your pet may be exhibiting of discomfort or aggressiveness. If your snake needs some more space, give him some. If not, read on.

#4: Handle Gently

Snakes might look like slippery little creatures, but don’t squeeze them to death. When you hold your pet snake, hold him or her gently and in a way that doesn’t make them feel like they are about to be dropped. If they are feeling like they’re not supported, they will squeeze your arm. That’s not a hug. It’s discomfort, and you either need to adjust your snake or give him a break.

#5: Don’t Forget a Name

This one’s not as important, mostly for fun. If you have a sweet new snake pet and you don’t name it… that’s no fun. Do the world a favor and give your snake a name to be proud of, like Nagini, Noodle, or Legless, the elf.

Finally, just enjoy having an awesome new pet, and take great care of him or her! You’ll likely have this pet for quite a while.

Related Questions

Can I buy a pet snake online? Yes, and while you should be wary of any snake being sold on Craiglist, there can still be good purchases made with online markets. Be sure to find a reliable seller with lots of credibility and reviews which establish their snakes as safely bred and healthy.

What species of snake is the worst to own as a pet? Any venomous snake is not recommendable as a pet, which shouldn’t be a surprise. Other snakes that are aggressive or high-maintenance include pythons such as the reticulated python, constrictors that are huge or aggressive, and any snake that is caught in the wild, such as black racers (these are typically caught in the wild and are often violent and do not tolerate handling well).

What is the smallest snake species that makes a great pet? Ball pythons and garter snakes, as well as ring-neck snakes and Western Hognose snakes, are the smallest species which do well in captivity and take up less space than some of the other species (such as pythons or rosy boas), which can make them great pets for people not looking for a living snake scarf.

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