Top Five Starter Snakes
Updated: Apr 6, 2020
Of all of the reptiles available as pets, snakes seem to be the most popular. If you go to any reptile show, the majority of the animals there are those of a legless disposition, and it’s no surprise because they can make great pets!
They have their own personalities and depending on the individual snake and its species, they can be shy or outgoing, adventurous or cuddly, and some snakes are easy to care for. Here’s five beginner friendly snakes for those people new to snake keeping or simply for people who’d like to add a new animal to their collection that’s easy to keep.
Let’s start off with the good old Corn Snake!
Before the Ball Python took over the thoughts and imagination of snake lovers like a noodle shaped siren, the corn snake was the family favourite. Well maybe not the family favourite, snakes are popular but have nothing on Lassie. Anyway, they’re fairly docile and both easy to handle and care for. They’re still readily available all over the place and are still popular because of their demeanour and colour combinations. They don’t grow very big either, and won’t need a big enclosure. Also, if you want to breed them, this is quite easy!
A few of the variants are the “normal” corn snake, the albino corn snake, the Okeetee corn snake and the anerythristic Corn Snake! Corn snake hatch-lings will set you back around £20-£40 depending on where you buy them from and for their colour variation. Housing them is pretty straightforward - an enclosure with an under tank heat pad, aspen substrate, a ceramic water bowl and two hides. You don’t need special lighting for them and when you feed them you can either add a mouse/rat into the enclosure in its own Tupperware box or you can take the snakes out into a separate box to feed them. This way they know when food is happening so they won't get peckish whenever you open the doors - this is known as a visual cue.
Californian Kingsnakes range in colour morphs from black and white stripes or bands to chocolate, lavender, albino and many more. They are one of the best first snake species to own as a beginner. They’re named kings because of their tendencies to eat other snakes including rattlesnakes! In the wild as well as other snakes, they’ll also swallow down small rodents, lizards, birds and even bird eggs. In the home though, they’ll stick to mice and rats.
California King Snakes are one of the easiest and best-kept species of snake to own as a beginner or just to add to your collection. Due to them not growing to large, adults can be kept in a 36” (3ft) long vivarium. You should provide a daytime temperature of 74-79F with a hotspot of 84-86F. This should be allowed to drop by an extra 5F during the night. You can maintain the temperature by using a heat mat under the warm side, an infrared bulb on a thermostat can also be used. Stay away from heat rocks, these have been said to burn snakes. Hides should be provided throughout the enclosure to allow your snake to hide during the day, we recommend the same set up as a corn snake, heat pads under the enclosure creating a warm side, a cooler side, and a range of hides (one on the warm pad, one on the cooler pad and a third, humid one in between.
Feeding Kingsnakes is very easy, frozen mice and rats can be purchased either online or from your local pet store. The size of the food and amounts depend on the size of the snake. All hatchlings should be fed on pinkies (baby mice) every 3-5 days. As they grow, this can be increased to two pinkies every 10 days, then slowly increase the size of the food. It is best to make a log of when your snake eats and sheds its skin, as this will show good records if you ever decide to sell it on or if the snake becomes ill.
You should include in the enclosure a water bowl that should be large enough for the snake to soak in, and heavy enough so the snake doesn’t tip it over. No special lighting is required to keep this species. You can purchase a baby kingsnake for about £50 ($55) give or take.
The rosy boa isn’t as popular as the corn snake or the california kingsnake, but it is still a popular snakey pet. It’s fairly docile and doesn’t grow too large (Maxing out at around 4 feet when fully grown, but typically are 2 to 3 feet in length at adult size). You can typically find them for around £30 ($30-40) as hatchlings from reptile stores, your standard pet shop typically won’t stock Rosy Boas whereas you will usually find corn snakes and ball pythons. The Rosy Boa’s a long life snake, capable of living over 25 years.
The enclosure, as with every enclosure, needs to be fully escape proof. Also because they’re always on the lookout for an escape, the top of the enclosure shouldn’t be screened as they can rub their noses against it and it becomes quite abrasive. Adult rosy boas can be kept in a 3ft tank which hatchlings are happy enough in a shoebox sized enclosure. For a substrate you can either use newspaper, paper towels or aspen bedding. Give your rody boa around 2 inches of substrate to bury into. Change the substrate every other month or so but remove wet spots and snake poop as soon as you see it. As with the other snakes on the list, special lighting is not necessary, but a heat source is. The best heat source is an under tank heat pad or tape on one side of the enclosure so the snake can thermoregulate. This also aids in digestion. Feed your rosy boa an appropriately sized frozen thawed mouse two to four times a month during the spring and less during the winter.
Gopher snakes are probably one of the best kept secrets in the hobby. They come in a variety of morphs, are fairly easy to find for sale, and their prices stay very reasonable. Gopher snake pricing starts at around £45 ($50). You can find them cheaper at local reptile shows. The gopher snake grows to about 3 to 6 feet in length, with an average length of 4 to 5 feet. They are a heavy bodied snake that can live 15+ years in captivity.
You can start these snakes in a two foot long enclosure and move them up as they grow, with four foot long enclosures the optimum size for adult gopher snakes. For substrate, about two to three inches of aspen wood bedding is ideal as this allows the snake to burrow. Special lighting is not necessary for the health of a gopher snake. Keep a single heat source on one side of the enclosure so the gopher snake can thermoregulate as they prefer temperatures from around 23 degrees celsius to 29 degrees celsius (mid-70s to the mid-80s). Keep a water bowl that is large enough for them to soak in full of non-chlorinated fresh water. You can feed your hatchling gopher snake appropriately sized pinky mice, that is the same size or just slightly larger than the widest part of the snake, while full grown adults can be fed frozen/thawed rats.
The ball python is currently the most popular pet snake, made so primarily by the crazy amount of morphs that are available as well as their generally very shy demeanor. With proper care techniques, it is not too difficult to keep a ball python. Unlike most of the other snakes on the list, the ball python needs some humidity in its cage as they are native to central and western Africa. The snake is not a large python but is heavy bodied. The female ball python grows to about 3 to 5 feet in length while the male is smaller at around 2 to 3 feet in length. Your size may vary. Ball pythons, like rosy boas, are long lived snakes, with some living more than 30 years in captivity. You can keep ball pythons in enclosures around 3 feet in length. Avoid screen tops if you can as a screen top makes it hard to keep the humidity up in the enclosure. A 30-gallon enclosure works well. A hide box is essential for the well being of this species. As it is generally shy, you should keep a hide box on both sides of its enclosure. Water bowls should be large enough to soak in. Heavy bowls, such as ceramic bowls are ideal over plastic bowls.
Normal ball pythons start at around £25 ($30) at most reptile shows. Pet stores sell them around that price as well. When you get into the morphs, the sky's the limit. While the price of certain morphs have come down considerably since their ridiculous highs, there are still some pricey ball pythons out there. The good news is that reptile shows are chock full of breeders selling all manner of ball python morph, and at these shows, it's a buyer’s market. It all depends on how much you wish to spend.
Ball pythons are available in a range of morphs with price points to match. Of all the snakes on this list, the ball python sits right at the edge of a good beginner snake as it has more specific care requirements than the others. In addition to its care requirements, the ball python often stops eating, or going “off feed” for whatever reason at any time of the year. One of the most popular questions with regard to ball pythons is “why my ball python won’t eat.” For most circumstances, this is a perfectly normal part of a ball python being a ball python. There is no rhyme nor reason why they stop eating, they just do. This can occur for months at a time. And for the most part, if your ball python looks healthy, there is no cause for alarm. If it starts to look thin or emaciated, then you have a problem and you should visit a veterinarian immediately.
And there we have it! Five options for your first pet snake. Take this information and run with it, look at specific care guides for whichever one you’re thinking about getting!