Keeping Snakes as Pets
There is a lot to learn about how to look after a pet snake and you should make sure you do thorough research before buying one. The snakes sold in exotic pet shops and online are not poisonous, as the regulations are very strict and you need a license to own a poisonous snake in the UK. Boas and pythons can be dangerous as they are constrictors and in the wild wrap themselves round their prey to kill it, although a snake kept in captivity is unlikely to be large enough to do this to a fully grown person. However, it’s best to have some experience of keeping exotic pets before buying a boa and python. A variety of harmless smaller snakes are commonly kept as pets, such as king, milk, rat and corn snakes. Snakes are beautiful and fascinating reptiles, with unusual features. For example, they have no eyelids and use their tongues to smell! How to care for a pet snake depends on the type of snake, but there are some general principles for keeping most types that are commonly on sale in the UK.
You will need a tank or terrarium to house your pet snake. How big it should be depends on the size of the snake, but it’s essential that it has a secure lid to prevent the snake from escaping, and it must be kept clean to maintain good health.
Snakes that would burrow in their natural environment will need soil or sand on the floor. Newspaper or bark chippings can be used for others. Snakes will also need places to hide, rest and climb, so provide things such as logs, rocks, branches or ready made snake caves sold in exotic pet shops.
You will need to check before you buy your snake what sort of heating and temperature is best for it. It’s important to have a thermal gradient, which means having different temperatures in different parts of the tank, so your snake can regulate its body temperature. This is usually done by having a heater at one end of the tank, and having a cooler spot at the other end. Make sure you have a guard for any heat source so your snake doesn’t get too close and injure itself. It’s best to use a separate lamp for lighting, so it can be switched off at night and provide a natural daily rhythm. You will need a reliable thermostat to make sure the tank temperature is not too hot or cold.
Snakes in captivity can be fed pre-killed prey, usually dead baby mice known as pinkies, which can be kept in a freezer and defrosted as needed. Larger snakes such as boas and pythons will eat larger things such as dead rats or day old chicks.
These are good snakes for beginners. Corn snakes have calm, docile temperaments and like to be handled. They can grow up to 105-150cm long and come in a range of different morphs and colours. They can live 15 years or more.
There are many varieties of milk snake. Those that are commonly kept as exotic pets in captivity include Honduran, Mexican, Nelsons, Pueblan and Sinoloan milk snakes. These snakes are quite small in size, growing up to 90-120cm long. Although not quite so easy to look after as corn snakes, they make attractive pets, with colourful red bodies and black and yellow or white banded markings. Milk snakes have been known to eat others, so are best kept singly.
King snakes are fairly easy to care for and are a good choice for people new to keeping an exotic pet. The California king snake is one of the most popular to keep as a pet. It doesn’t grow too large, only about 100-150cm long. There are several colour morphs available, from those with black and white bands to albino, or chocolate and lavender. King snakes are cannibalistic so should be kept on their own.
Rat snakes are hardy and straightforward to look after, so are generally good as a first snake for a beginner. There are many varieties in this group. Those popular as pets include Bairds, Everglades, Great Plains or Emorys, Red Mountain and Texas rat snakes. The come in a huge range of colours and patterns.