The most popular pet snake breeds can vary depending on whether or not you’re a newbie or a veteran snake owner. This being said, I can tell you the most popular breeds for BOTH stages of snake ownership.
What are some popular pet snake breeds? If you are a beginning stage snake owner, the most popular breeds are the corn snake, the milk snake, and the k
Keep reading to learn not only about popular snake breeds but how you might acquire them and specific details you might want to know about each species.
Domestic Snake Hunting 101
If you’re a novice to the ever-expanding emporium of snake ownership, don’t worry. I’m not going to send you into the vast serpentine marketplace without some solid advice.
There are plenty of resources on the world wide web that can help you locate your new scaly sidekick, but some of them are more reliable than others. Petco will sometimes list live animals on their site, rather than just pet supplies, but you usually have to pay for and pick these up in-store. Underground Reptiles offers a much wider variety of species and can ship them directly to your front door.
Both of these destinations promise well-cared-for snakes at affordable price points.
You can, of course, purchase snakes from breeders in your area. Before you buy any snake, however, you’ll want to check for signs of poor health. Beginners especially are ill-equipped to care for diseased or malnourished snakes. Thesprucepets.com provides a convenient guide of qualities to look for in healthy snakes:
- “Firm, rounded body.
- Clear eyes (may be a little cloudy if about to shed), no discharge from eyes.
- No signs of mites (check especially around head/eyes, look for dusty specks on body, and check hands after handling snake).
- No open mouth breathing or gasping for breath.
- Inside of mouth uniformly pink (reddened areas or cheesy looking matter may indicate mouth rot).
- Shiny, smooth skin with no scabs or sores.
- Clean vent with no swelling.
- Should move smoothly with no tremors.”
Be observant as you visit breeders or other vendors. If a snake looks weak or sickly, avoid purchasing it. If a certain breeder seems to own an unusual number of distressed snakes, read this Humane Society article on animal abuse and neglect. It takes you through the processes of identifying and reporting animal cruelty.
Aside from the health of the snake, there are some other things to consider before buying a pet snake. One of these things is deciding what type of a snake will fit your needs. Some snakes are better with kids than others, and some will be safer as pets. For example, a California king snake is much easier to handle for children than a boa constrictor would be. Part of it is the temperament of the snake and part of it is the physicality of the snake.
Speaking of physicality, making sure you are capable of caring for your pet snake is a priority to understand before you purchase a snake. Many snakes are bought as pets and then released into the wild because the owners weren’t prepared for the commitment that comes with having a pet snake. If you aren’t prepared for that commitment, read this article on pet snakes in the wild before you do anything.
Snakes require a lot of space. Some are smaller and more manageable, but many still reach lengths of five feet or more. This means at least a twenty-gallon tank, if not bigger. The tank needs outfitting, it needs cleaning, and the snake needs feeding and handling. Snakes are a commitment of both time and money, so if you aren’t prepared for that, you may need to consider a different pet. For ideas of terrariums you can buy, try this link. But you can build a terrarium yourself too, so if that’s more your speed, check out these tips. I recently wrote an article all about how to choose your first pet snake. I go over tips for how to know it’s right for you, along with pictures of each snake I mention. Find it here.
Snakes for Beginners
The corn snake—scientifically known as the Pantherophis guttatus—is possibly the most popular pet snake in town. It’s recently been rivaled by the ball python (which we’ll talk about later), but I’m here to remind you all of its strongest selling points.
Corn snakes are gorgeous, for starters. They come in so many different sizes, colors, and patterns. If you’re looking for a pretty pet to match your aesthetically flawless living room, you should definitely get a corn snake. No other snake can parallel these stunners in terms of beauty.
But the benefits of owning a corn snake extend far beyond eye-appeal. Corn snakes live for a long time—sometimes up to twenty years—and they’re a happy size medium of about three to five feet in length. These snakes are extremely docile, and they’re easy to care for, so they’re perfect for those of you who don’t have much experience with snake supervision.
Corn snakes need at least a 20-gallon aquarium, but, as with all snakes, the bigger the better. We don’t want these poor fellas getting too cramped. (If you’re at all interested in why snakes need large terrariums, read “Even Snakes Get Spinal Aches” on phys.org.
We mustn’t forget that snakes have “between 300 and 400 vertebrae, each with a pair of ribs attached.” Forcing any snake into a too-small space can cause serious damage to its skeletal system, and that’s no fun for anyone.
A corn snake’s tank should be covered in a soft, scent-free substrate. (If you didn’t know, the substrate is the material that lines the bottom of a snake’s enclosure.) Corn snakes like to burrow and hide, so the substrate layer should be somewhat thick. There are several types of substrate that you can use, ranging from cheap to expensive. If you want some recommendations of substrate and other accessories for your pet snake, read this article.
The tank should be kept at about 70 to 85 F (21 to 29 C). This temperature can be achieved with most generic heating lamps. I don’t suggest heating pads or heat tape in any snake enclosure, as these can make it difficult to monitor how warm the tank’s floor is. Heating pads can also be dangerous for your pet because they can cause burns and overheating. As a rule of thumb for owning any species of snake, it’s important to always have a thermometer on hand to ensure that your pet isn’t getting too hot or too cold.
Corn snakes primarily eat mice and other rodents. This is typical for most snakes (though some eat larger mammals and/or birds), so I hope you weren’t expecting to feed it veggies and whole grains. As ethically enticing as that sounds, snakes are obligate carnivores, meaning they just don’t have the capacity to digest vegetable matter.
They only eat meat. (You can read more about it in another one of our articles, “Is There Such a Thing as a Vegetarian Snake?“) You can give your corn snake the occasional quail egg, but these are just cheat-day delicacies and should only be fed to your pet once every few weeks or when it’s been especially well-behaved.
Finally, make sure to always have fresh water available for your corn snake. I know this probably seems obvious to you, but some people truly don’t realize that snakes actually drink water. Not only do they drink water, but its presence helps keep the surrounding air humid so snakes can retain some moisture in their skin.
Keep an eye on your snake’s water basin and be ready to refill it whenever necessary. (Note: You don’t need to buy any special distilled water for your pet. If it’s safe enough for you to drink, it’s safe enough for your snake, too.) Snakes also like to soak in the water, which sometimes leads to them to defecate in the water. If this happens, clean the water as quickly as possible so your snake can be as healthy as possible.
Corn snakes sometimes sell for as low as 60 U.S. dollars, but you can expect to pay at least 1500 dollars over the course of its life for food, living accommodations, and general health expenses (vaccinations, veterinarian visits, etc.).
This overall cost is consistent for most snakes. If you’re not willing to invest so much money in a snake, you might do well to buy a fish, a hamster, or another low-maintenance animal. Snakes tend to be big-ticket pets.
Corn snakes, because of their medium size, are easy to handle and are great with kids. Their temperament can be a little nervous, but once they adjust to their environment and owners, they will make great pets.
If a corn snake seems like a good option for you, find out more about them from our other article here.
King Snakes and Milk Snakes
King snakes and milk snakes are two closely-related species that don’t require too much upkeep or prior snake knowledge. They’re generally tame snakes, each one unique and striking in appearance.
They can grow quite large, sometimes reaching a full span of seven feet, so you’ll need to buy a fitting terrarium of 20 to 70 gallons. The necessary tank dimensions will vary depending on a snake’s exact species, so be sure to consult with your snake’s breeder or previous owner to determine its full adult size.
Milk snakes live for about ten to twelve years; kingsnakes live for up to twenty. This is vital to know if you’re concerned about keeping up with food costs for an extended period of time, as both of these snakes eat several times a week. Being aware of your snake’s eating schedule helps you keep from over or underfeeding your snake.
Feed your snake mice that are roughly equivalent to the widest part of the snake’s body (not including its head). Keep in mind that most milk and kingsnakes eat significantly less in the fall and winter. Watch out for changes in your snake’s eating routine so you know how much to feed it and when.
Milk and kingsnakes do fine with aspen substrate, which can probably be found at your local pet supply store. Cypress mulch works, too. These snakes need a “thermal gradient consisting of a warm side (86° F) and a cool side (78° F).” (You can learn more about how to maintain tank temperature here.)
Like most snakes, they should have some sort of hiding place in their tank, like a log or a rock, so they can duck away when feeling tired or nervous.
Milk snakes especially need a sizable water bowl that they drink from and soak in. As the cage should have a cool side and a warm side, make sure you place the water dish in the cool side of the tank so it doesn’t evaporate too quickly.
Another important note about milk snakes: They’re cannibals. Yes, as terrifying as it sounds, milk snakes are known to eat each other. Kingsnakes don’t necessarily eat their own siblings, but they won’t hesitate to dine on their second cousins, so don’t house two of these snakes in the same terrarium, unless you’re trying to raise a serpentine Ed Gein. “
(It’s totally not my style to explain my humor, but I can’t find a specific enough article to link here that can subtly explain it for me, so if you’re unfamiliar, Ed Gein was a serial killer who allegedly ate his victims. There you go. The joke’s ruined.)
Milk snakes cost about 50 to 70 dollars. Kingsnakes can be similar in price, depending on the breeder. Some kingsnakes sell for as much as 150 dollars, but, if you do enough digging, you can find them for about the same price as a milk snake.
While this article gives some information on these two species, our website has some more specific articles on king snakes and milk snakes. For more on California king snakes, follow this link. But if the milk snake is more your speed or aesthetic, try this article.
Corn snakes, kingsnakes, and milk snakes are the easiest snakes to own if you don’t know too much about snakes in general. If you’ve done your research, you’ve served your time as a tenderfoot, and you’re ready to become a full-on snake connoisseur, get ready for some killer propositions.
(See, “killer” was the perfect word to use because I’m about to recommend some seemingly-dangerous-but-actually-super-cool snake breeds, but you don’t know that yet, so I now have to explain my hilarity once again. Yikes.)
Snakes for Veterans
If you’re a real snake-ownership veteran, you probably know that it’s not a great idea to own a dangerous snake. On the other hand, you might just have enough knowledge and experience to handle even the most treacherous snakes safely, in which case, you can totally own one—if your local laws and regulations allow, that is.
Okay, okay. I’m not going to tell you to buy a “treacherous” snake. It’s never a good idea to put yourself in a threatening position, and I can’t in good conscience recommend any venomous or unpredictable snakes. Some large snakes, however, make surprisingly good pets for those who already have a decent understanding of snakes’ needs and behaviors.
So long as their tank is secure and they’re not able to escape and roam freely about your home, they’re not too difficult to take care of and the two of you might just become good friends. I’m not kidding: Once you’ve handled your pet snake enough, it’ll feel comfortable with you and become relatively interactive.
Big snakes aren’t so skittish as their smaller counterparts. Unless threatened, plenty of large and seemingly-scary snakes are perfectly amenable.
Boas and Pythons
Pythons and boa constrictors are actually pretty common pets, and I can see why. They’re absolutely massive (some pythons can grow up to 20 feet in length), they’re exotic, and they’re very impressive if that’s a concern for you.
Burmese pythons, reticulated pythons, ball pythons, African rock pythons, boa constrictors, and anacondas are all relatively popular, but they require special accommodations, and you’ll need to be mindful of your actions around them.
We already have articles written about most of these snakes, so you’re welcome to peruse our site and learn all about them individually. For now, however, I’m going to give you a brief overview of each and then focus on a collective lowdown regarding the ownership of colossal snakes.
- Burmese Pythons – These pythons have a beautiful pattern of dark spots on a lighter brownish-yellow color and can reach up to 20 feet long. They are native to jungle areas of Southeast Asia. But they can live anywhere in captivity so long as their terrarium gives them the right conditions. Burmese pythons eat small rodents and birds. They are seen as pretty docile but are known to injure their handlers, especially when feeding. Find more about Burmese pythons here.
- Reticulated Pythons – Once considered highly aggressive, these snakes are now often kept as pets. They are extremely strong. On average they are 15-20 feet long but have been recorded at a whopping 32 feet and 350 pounds. Don’t worry, it wasn’t overweight, just super muscley. They are all about food, so before you try to pick it up, make sure it knows it isn’t being fed. Otherwise, it might dive for food and bite you instead. This article about the temperament of these pythons may be helpful.
- Ball pythons – Possibly one of the cuddliest looking snakes you will ever see, these pythons are known for their lovely patterns and various morphs. On average they are 4-5 feet long. They also have a friendly temperament once they are used to handling. They do eat rodents, and it is recommended that you feed them in a different tank than they live in so they don’t think they are being fed every time the tank opens. These are extremely popular pets, so to learn about their care, read this article.
- African Rock Pythons – Though people do keep these snakes as pets, they are a big challenge compared to other snakes. These snakes do not have a friendly temperament in general. If you are looking for a buddy for your kids, this is not the snake for you. African rock pythons can reach 14-16 feet in length, and it is recommended that you only handle this snake if you are a true expert.
- Boa Constrictors – Boa constrictors, though well-known as large snakes, are not actually the largest on this list. They only reach about 10 feet in length. They need large, simple cages and humidity. 27 facts about these snakes can be found here.
- Anacondas – Yep, these beasties can be kept as pets too. They can be up to 13 feet long and need a well-trained and practiced hand to care for them. As adults, some anacondas are capable of eating rodents as big as guinea pigs. They can be difficult to buy as pets because of legal issues, but it is possible in some places. We also have some crazy facts about anacondas in this article.
Large snakes need—you guessed it—large tanks. This terrarium is high-quality and comes in a wide range of sizes, so you can tailor it to your snake’s specific needs. This is one of the most versatile substrates on the market, and it’s sold in large quantities, so it should cover the enclosure’s bottom entirely. Some experts recommend purchasing a second tank for feeding:
“The general rule about feeding any breed of snake is to avoid giving prey items larger than the snake’s widest body part. While you should never feed boas or pythons by hand, you also should avoid handling it for at least a day after it has eaten. There’s a strong chance of regurgitation if the snake isn’t given sufficient time to digest its prey.
Most boas and pythons prefer to hide while eating their prey. Their enclosures should have hide boxes for this purpose; you can expect your pet constrictor to disappear into a hide area during meal time and for a day or two afterward.
If you have the space and the resources, many experts recommend feeding large snakes in a different enclosure than their home cage. That way, they tend to associate feeding only with the feeding cage, and are less likely to approach a person entering the home cage.”
(Read the rest of the article here.)
And with any snake, you’ll want to treat these bigger snakes, especially constrictors, with a certain level of caution. That’s not to say you can’t ever touch them, but you should definitely stay away if they’re displaying any sort of agitation.
Don’t approach them from above, as this can be mistaken for a predatory attack. If you aren’t completely confident in your abilities to wrangle a large snake, keep some ultra-devoted, non-ophidiophobic friends on retainer who can lend their helping hands as you feed the snake or clean its enclosure(s).
Repeat. These are not snakes you buy just because they seem cool. You only get them as a pet when you have A LOT of experience. If you aren’t sure about it, trust your gut and don’t get the snake. Go for a corn snake. They still make really good pets, even if they aren’t as big as an anaconda.
Ball python and boa constrictor prices range from 50 to 200 dollars.
These are on the cheaper end though. Some of these more dangerous snakes will reach prices to match their size. African rock pythons can cost up to 300 dollars, as can reticulated pythons. I’ve seen anacondas sell for as much as 1000 dollars, so those might not be as fiscally justifiable as other snakes unless you’re Bill Gates. Interestingly enough, the larger a snake can grow, the longer it tends to live. If you’re purchasing a supersized snake, expect to pay for its lavish lifestyle for a significant amount of time (sometimes upwards of 20 years).
Just a quick disclaimer: If you’re planning on purchasing an exceptionally strong or otherwise physically imposing reptile, don’t use this article as your only reference. Do as much research as you can. Consult experts and current snake owners alike. Make sure you know what exactly what you’re getting into. Your personal safety should always come first.
What are the friendliest pet snakes? While snakes aren’t proven to feel affection, so we can’t really classify any of them as “friendly,” the most generally sociable snakes are corn snakes, California kingsnakes, rosy boas, and gopher snakes. You can read all about their amicable tendencies here.
What is a diurnal snake? Diurnal snakes are snakes that are active during the day and that sleep at night. These are often preferable pets to nocturnal snakes, as nocturnal snakes require night lamps and, naturally, aren’t much fun to be around during daylight hours.
What is the longest species of snake I can own? The longest recorded reticulated python was 33 feet. Your reticulated python probably won’t be quite so huge, but it might grow to about 20 feet, which is still pretty neat.