Pet Snakes for Beginners [the complete guide]
Owning a snake is an interesting challenge, but approached correctly, these creatures can make fantastic pets!
When choosing the best snake for a beginner, you should look for one with a docile temperament, that is easy to handle and easy to care for. It should also be a snake that you enjoy interacting with, and one that fits the space and lifestyle restrictions you have.
How do you pick the best snake for a beginner? There are multiple options to choose from. What do you need to know about snakes before How do you pick the right snake for you?
Keep reading for all the answers to your pet snake questions!
What is the Best Pet Snake for a Beginner?
Before you choose your first snake, there are certain things you need to know.
While every snake comes with its own special needs, below is a list of basics and ‘must-haves’ to consider for every snake.
Pet Snake Information
Before even making an equipment list, here are some things to consider about snakes:
- Long Life Span:
Depending on the breed, your snake could live for 20 plus years. This is a huge time commitment. Be sure you’re ready for it.
- Eating Habits:
Snakes are carnivores. If you’re squeamish about handling live, dead, or frozen animals, a snake may not be your best choice of pet.
Most snakes eat mice, though some do eat other things. Either way, you’ll not only need to feed your snake, but maintain a supply of food for them in your home.
Also, snakes don’t usually eat every day. Knowing the schedule a certain breed prefers is important. So is knowing exactly how much they like, and what their food of choice is.
- Temperature Control:
Snakes are cold blooded, and need external help to maintain body temperature. A good snake habitat has a temperature gradient, with a warm spot to help thermoregulate.
Depending on the breed, even the ambient temperatures in their preferred habitat may be higher than your own.
- Physical Health:
Know how to determine if your snake is unhappy or unwell. Some signs include tail biting as a sign of poor mental health.
Physical health indicators can involve refusing food, bubbles from the nose, not properly shedding skin, and closed eyes.
Know what to look for, so you can take the best possible care of your snake.
- Snakes Shed:
It seems obvious, but it can be a bit of a surprise. Know the signs of an upcoming shed, and how to handle your snake while it sheds its skin.
Snakes can be touchy or anxious during this process, and it helps to know how to keep your snake as comfortable as possible.
A wild caught snake will rarely be happy and it won’t make a good pet. My opinion is the smart choice will be seeking out a reputable breeder.
They can help you find the perfect snake for you, and they usually have a large selection to choose from. If you’re not sure where to find a breeder, search out the nearest reptile shows.
Pet Snake Habitat
If you’ve considered the basics and decided you still want a snake, there are certain items you need to get.
Below is a list experts deem essential for new snake owners, no matter what kind of snake you choose.
Pet Snake Equipment
- A Sturdy Enclosure:
Generally speaking, a terrarium or vivarium. Size will depend on the breed, so research carefully.
You can purchase a simple glass enclosure, or a clear hard-plastic one specially designed for snakes.
The important thing is for it to be a solid material that doesn’t offer escape routes for your reptile friend.
- A Secure Top:
Snakes are escape artists, and they’ll exploit any gap they find. Screen tops are popular with many reptile owners.
If you choose a screen, be sure you keep it tightly secured and in top condition.
- Appropriate Substrate:
Every snake needs something to slither through, around, or over. Some might be content with shredded newspapers. Many prefer aspen shavings, or something similar.
However, some may require sand, vegetation, or even water. It’s important to know what you need to make your snake comfy.
- Water Bowl:
Plenty of clean water is a requirement. For many snakes, a larger, heavier water bowl is important for shedding as well. Other breeds just like to soak for the fun of it!
- Heat Lamp/Heat Pad:
All snakes need a warm spot to curl up. Some snakes might be happy with a heating pad. Some may prefer a basking lamp instead.
Warning: Be sure to put the main heat source OUTSIDE the enclosure. Direct contact with heating elements will hurt your snake.
This is a necessary tool to make sure the habitat stays at a temperature that is comfortable for your snake.
- Hide Box:
To be happy, snakes need a place they can hide. Snakes aren’t happy in the open when they feel vulnerable. A hide box can be as simple as a place to burrow or cardboard tubes.
You can also purchase commercially-made hides, or be inventive in how you make your own.
What Are the Friendliest Snake Breeds?
Snakes aren’t generally considered cuddly. However, some snakes DO enjoy being handled. If you’re looking for a scaly companion who likes regular human interaction, check out these snakes:
- According to experts at HappySerpent this snake is so friendly, even wild ones will sometimes approach humans. As pets, they’re reported to LOVE human interaction.
- Fairly docile and social, to the point of being used as therapy animals to assist in curing snake phobias.
- Native to North America.
- Usually grow to 1-2 feet long.
These snakes aren’t the cheapest or most active but they are listed as some of the friendliest. They aren’t usually listed for beginners due to the price which can be upwards of $300.
Still, if you’re looking for a snake that needs only a small space, low maintenance, and is people-friendly, they are great.
- One of the top contenders for most popular reptile pet today.
- Known to be both docile and colorful.
- Can be found in multiple patterns and colors (known as morphs)
- With the exception of post-feeding, they like being handled
- Adult corn snakes are rarely more than 5 feet in length.
- Easy to feed and care for.
These are known across the world as great pets. Some experts even highlight them as the best pet snakes for both beginners and experts.
The consensus is, you can’t go wrong with a corn snake.
Western Hognose Snake
- Considered one of the ‘cuter’ species of snakes, due to the upturned nose.
- Generally friendly and highly social
- Not very large, rarely more than 3 feet, fully grown.
- According to experts, they have a great personality.
Hognose snakes can have stricter requirements than other breeds. They’re also venomous, though experts agree the venom is mild, and not really dangerous to humans.
Special Note: If you’re looking at a Hognose snake as a pet, be sure to stick to Western or Eastern Hognose snakes if you’re new to snakes.
There are other breeds, but they’re not recommended for beginners.
California King Snake
- One of the more active breeds.
- Known to be social and friendly.
- Actually have a reputation for unhappiness if neglected – these guys want your attention!
- Fairly easy to care for.
- Rarely more than 4 feet long as adults.
California Kings Snakes are known for their various colored stripes. They’re also affordable and easy to find. However, it’s best to house them alone.
Kenyan Sand Boa
- Another lesser known, but highly social snake.
- Likes to burrow, but also likes to be held.
- Colorful – comes in several different morphs.
- Rarely more than 3 feet long.
Kenyan Sand Boas are a bit pricy so they rarely make a ‘top 5’ list. Still, if you’re looking for a friendly snake, this one is definitely a good call.
Also, if you or your family really want a boa they the Kenyan Sand is one of the smaller members of the family.
Downside: These snakes are burrowers. Inside their habitat, it may not be easy to see if they’ve gone underground.
Low Maintenance Pet Snakes
Some snakes are easier to care for than others. If you have limitations to what you can do, you might need a simpler snake, especially to start with.
The snake breeds listed below require minimal care, ideal for those who might struggle with a more high-maintenance reptile.
Rough Green Snake
- Green snakes are smaller and thinner than most snakes.
- Eats insects and spiders, not rodents.
- Shyer, don’t like as much handling.
Many experts hesitate to recommend this snake because it isn’t very social. However, that can be a bonus in certain circumstances.
That’s why EverythingReptiles recommends this as a great beginner snake if you’re not looking for a lot of hands-on contact.
Their cousin, the smooth green snake, has many of the same requirements and preferences.
Dekay Brown Snake
- Smaller snake, rarely more than a foot long.
- Eats things like earthworms.
- Native to North America; doesn’t require the higher temperatures some breeds do.
- Naturally curious, not overly stressed by being handled.
The Dekay Brown Snake coloration and small size mean they aren’t recommended often, but they are one of the easier breeds of snake to care for.
Their small size, simple diet, and gentle nature make them very good pet snakes for beginners.
- Adult corn snakes are usually about 3-4 feet long.
- Known for having fewer health issues than many other breeds.
- Easy to care for, easy to handle.
Corn snakes are among the more docile breeds. They’re very durable. Their temperature requirements are fairly reasonable 72 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
The ease of care is part of what makes these snakes consistent favorites for beginners and experts.
Most Popular Pet Snakes for Beginners?
ReptilesMagazine lists the following snakes as the top contenders for beginner-friendly snakes. These snakes are considered friendly, affordable, and easily housed.
In short, they’re everything experts recommend in good starter snakes.
- They like to be handled.
- They’re highly affordable, discounting some of the rarer morphs out there.
- They don’t grow too big, so don’t have huge space requirements.
- They’re fairly colorful.
- They’re easy to feed.
- They don’t need special lighting or extreme temperature requirements.
Another plus is that this snake, according to some experts, can be housed with others of its species. Some species of snakes can only be housed alone.
With corn snakes, they can live together as long as they have space, separate hiding spots, and eat separately.
California King Snake
- Wide range of different colors.
- Eating habits are simple.
- Reach about 3-4 feet in length at adult size.
- No special environmental restrictions, such as special lighting.
- Biggest need: A water bowl they can soak in, and a ‘hot spot’ to thermoregulate.
These snakes do best when housed alone. They like attention, and some experts say they’ll even get ‘nippy’ if they don’t have frequent enough handling.
Depending on how much time you’d like to spend with your snake, this can be a bonus or a detractor.
- Shy and fairly docile.
- Wide range of morphs.
- Does need some humidity to be comfortable.
- Eats primarily mice.
- Smaller side for a python.
The ball python is one of the most popular pet snakes out there. Highly recommended for beginners, it also has a few quirks that can pose a bit of a challenge.
They’re considered ‘picky’ eaters, so be sure you ask what a particular ball python likes if you’re considering it. There’s also a significant size difference between males and females.
Male ball pythons usually reach 2-3 feet in length in adulthood. Female ball pythons, however, grow to 3 to 5 feet. This can be an issue if space is a consideration.
- Easy to find.
- Adult gopher snakes range between 3 to 6 feet in length, with 4 or 5 being the norm.
- Several different morphs.
- Ideal Temperature: 70’s to 80’s, with a ‘hot spot’ for thermoregulation.
- Food: Mice and rats of appropriate size – frozen/thawed is fine.
The gopher snake is one of the lesser-known stars of the snake industry. They’re a little bit heavier than some other breeds, which can be intimidating to a beginner.
However, they’re also very docile. Something you’ll need to consider: these guys like to burrow. They’re also good at escaping.
But with a secure top and a deep substrate, both you and your gopher snake can be very happy.
- Fairly docile.
- Maximum size: ~ 4ft long, though 2-3 is the norm.
- Variety of colors.
- They only need feeding about twice a month, less in winter.
- Aside from spot cleaning, a major cleaning is only necessary monthly.
- No special lighting needed, just a heat pad.
These guys are friendly and calm snakes. Also fairly active. They like to burrow, so a deep substrate is needed. Also, ReptileMagazine specifically suggests AVOIDING a screen top.
These guys like to look for escape routes and may injure themselves on a screen while looking for holes.
What are the Best Small Pet Snakes?
It should be noted that popular snakes like rosy boas, corn snakes and ball pythons aren’t typically considered large snakes.
They tend to grow between 3 and 6 feet long, usually averaging about 4 feet. A snake this size can be comfortable in a moderately sized habitat, like a 20-40 gallon fish tank.
It’s something to keep in mind while you’re considering where size fits into your list of potential limitations.
Sometimes size is a major consideration. You might have limited space, or be uncomfortable with snakes over a certain size.
If you’re operating under these conditions, Exopetguides, suggests these as some possible options:
- Full grown: Rarely more than 15 inches long.
- Named for the brightly colored ring around their neck, contrasting to gray, black, or brown main coloring.
- They can literally fit in the palm of your hand.
- They eat small things, like worms or very small bugs.
The Ringneck Snake is considered to be fairly docile. Experts say they prefer a slightly damp substrate they can burrow into.
Their temperature preferences are pretty mild, mostly in the 70 degrees Fahrenheit range. They tend to need a little more attention than some other breeds.
- Cousin to the California Kingsnake, but smaller.
- Generally less than 2 feet long, fully grown.
Kingsnakes are known for their bright colors and patterns. While the California Kingsnake may be a more popular breed, this one has the advantage of a smaller size.
- Can be over four feet long, but fairly slender, and very light.
- Well known snake with several different breeds.
- Diverse eating habits, based on the species.
- Gentle and fairly docile species.
Garter Snakes are among the most recognizable snake species. They do have some special requirements, such as a basking lamp.
Also, some species may prefer a fish diet or water features in their habitat. On the other hand, the diversity of this breed means it won’t be hard to find a garter snake suited to you.
- Rarely exceeds 2 feet in length.
- Likes to burrow, somewhat shy.
- Fairly low maintenance.
- Known to be docile and friendly, even the shyer ones.
Among the most popular of these species is the Kenyan sand boa. These breeds can make good pets and come highly recommended for beginners.
In addition to their smaller size, they’re pretty easy to care for.
- If size is your biggest concern, these are the world’s smallest snakes.
- Native only to the Caribbean.
- Adults are only about 4 inches long.
They’re small, but not really recommended for beginners. Threadsnakes are so tiny, their care comes with extra challenges due to their LACK of size, rather than the opposite.
Still, if you’re up for a challenge, this could be an interesting snake to raise.
What are the Best Large Pet Snakes?
Large snakes come with some pretty big challenges. There’s no question these snakes are impressive, but caring for one takes a huge commitment in terms of space, resources, and time.
Unlike smaller snakes, a diet of mice and a desktop enclosure won’t work for these guys. Still, there are a few breeds you can look into if you have your heart set on a bigger reptile.
- Generally 5-9 feet long as adults.
- Named for their stunning iridescent colors.
- Can be shy and ‘nippy’ especially when young.
- Tropical habitat: Needs high temperatures and high humidity.
The Rainbow Boa is a gorgeous snake. They tend to tame down into good pets as they get older. Still, they are somewhat high-maintenance. They also live a long time, often 20+ years.
- Generally about 6 feet long fully grown.
- Comes in a variety of colors and species.
- Native to Australia: Requires higher temperature habitat.
- Food: Rodents.
These are on the smaller end of ‘larger’ snakes. However, young carpet pythons can be temperamental.
Experts say they tend to be ‘nippy’ until they settle down in adulthood. For this reason, you might want to look for a snake with a more docile temperament.
- Can reach up to 16 feet in length.
- Eats larger animals like chickens or small mammals.
- Native to Central and South America.
- Fairly docile, don’t mind being handled.
- Fairly active.
Boa constrictors are some of the biggest snakes out there. They can be great pets, but they need a strong and confident handler.
These snakes have some muscle, and they may coil around you and squeeze if they feel threatened. That’s why they aren’t really recommended for beginners.
Exotic Beginner Friendly Pet Snakes
What if you want something a little…different? Something unusual, but still relatively beginner-friendly?
Here are some options if you want a more exotic pet without a lot of high-maintenance requirements.
- Named for their iridescent scales.
- Very social once they’ve gotten used to handling.
- Burrowers, requiring a deeper substrate.
- Not very large, or very care intensive.
The Sunbeam Snake doesn’t have the range of colors and patterns of some other snakes. Still, their iridescent scales make them a stunning choice.
They might be shy at first, but regular handling will encourage a more social nature. They’re also fairly affordable.
African Egg Snake
- Like higher humidity environment.
- Smaller size: Around 2 feet in adulthood.
- Docile when they’ve acclimated to handling.
- Dietary requirements: Eggs, usually quail eggs.
If you don’t like the idea of handling live rodents or even dead ones, this snake could be a good choice. Their temperature requirements range from 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit.
The specialized diet makes them less popular, but they can still be great pets.
- Named after the man who discovered it: John Children.
- Adults are 2-4 feet long.
- Require minimum 50% humidity.
- Fairly calm temperament..
- Require gentle handling, don’t touch the head!
- Eats rodents.
These aren’t common beginner snakes because of their care requirements. They need higher humidity.
Also, it’s recommended to change their water twice a day, and thoroughly clean their bowl weekly, at a minimum.
Attention to details of temperature, humidity, and water is a must to avoid health problems. They also like live plants to climb. This can present a challenge, but a rewarding one.
What are the Best Pet Snakes for Children?
What if you have children? Or if it’s your child, rather than you, that wants the pet snake? In that case, there are certain things to consider.
Ideally, a child-friendly snake would be:
- Not too small, or too large:
Too large, the snake can injure your kid. Too small, and the reverse is true. A child-friendly size is probably 2-4 feet in length.
They need to potentially withstand youthful errors and occasional rougher handling.
It’s a normal part of growing and learning, and it’s something to keep in mind concerning interactions between your snake and your child.
- Low Maintenance:
It can be difficult to care for a pet and a child at the same time. Lower maintenance snakes will help avoid this. Also, lower care requirements will be easier for your child to learn.
- Docile Temperament: Naturally, a temperamental snake isn’t the best choice around kids. You want a docile, yet friendly, snake.
So snakes with a ‘nippy’ reputation aren’t recommended. Neither are snakes who might not like a lot of handling.
The Best Child-Friendly Pet Snakes
- Corn Snake
- Ball Python
- Gopher Snake
- Western Hognose
Any of these snakes will provide a great pet for you and your child to enjoy. As your child gets older, you can both explore more challenging species of snakes.
Pet Snake Breeds NOT Recommended for Beginners
There are plenty of good beginner snakes out there. On the other hand, some snake breeds are definitely NOT recommended for a beginner snake handler.
Here are the five categories many experts suggest avoiding if you’re just starting out with pet snakes.
The size makes these somewhat risky pets to own. They need lots of space, and larger food sources. Plus, a constrictor that feels threatened can seriously injure you.
- Venomous Snakes:
Poisonous snakes are not known to be particularly docile. They often require special training to handle. Plus, you’ll have to stock the anti-venom.
If you have young children around, these are definitely NOT the snakes for you.
- Water Snakes:
Water snakes require a special habitat. With special habitats come special care requirements.
In general, these can be more difficult to handle, which is why they make the list of ‘not recommended’.
- Green Snakes:
Some people may recommend green snakes as good pets. However, some experts say they are more of a ‘show’ pet.
Green snakes often dislike a lot of handling. Not a good choice if you want a snake that you can interact with.
- Tree Pythons or Boas:
The biggest issue with these guys is size. Some of them can be affectionate, and amazing to deal with.
But the food requirements can get expensive. Plus, handling a snake that big can be daunting.
Venomous Pet Snakes
Venomous snakes are NOT recommended for beginners. They’re dangerous. They require special training and extra resources, such as anti-venom.
However, if you want to learn more about snakes with a level of danger, these are some choices expert snake handles make.
Why these? Because they’re fairly common, and so is their anti-venom. Plus, they’re generally less toxic and deadly than something like a rattlesnake.
Copperheads in particular are less aggressive than some other breeds. Experts say they’ll usually freeze, and only strike if you get REALLY close.
Note: Owning a venomous snake requires a special permit. In some places, it’s illegal, period. Make sure to research the legalities when considering these snakes as well as the high risk.
Best Snakes For Beginners
Many of the snakes on this list could be great pet snakes for a beginner. Even the more challenging types of snakes could be a good fit, depending on your lifestyle and preferences.
But for a snake that doesn’t need much space, is friendly, and easy to care for, the experts suggest these.
These two are the top recommendations suggested by experts worldwide. Still, research is always an excellent idea.
After all, choosing a snake for a pet is something that will affect their entire life, and quite probably yours too.
Related Pet Snake Questions:
What Are Some Other Good Snakes to Research?
There are lots! Milk snakes and rat snakes are just a few of the many breeds that make a good beginner snake.
Is a Royal Python a Good Pet Snake?
Actually, a Royal Python is just another name for Ball Pythons.
What’s a Good Age to Start with Larger Pet Snakes for Children?
Larger snakes, like the bigger pythons and boas, take some serious strength to handle. For that reason, it’s best to wait until your child is at least in their teens before considering one.
Can You Breed Pet Snakes as a Beginner?
It depends on the snake. It’s best to ask an expert breeder for advice if you want to start your own breeding program.
Can You Tame a Wild Caught Garter Snake?
You can, same as corn snakes and ball pythons, but they won’t be as happy as a snake from a breeder. They are also likely to be less healthy.
Do Pet Snakes Hibernate?
It depends on the species. Ask the breeder when you’re looking for snakes which ones might hibernate, and how that might change their care.
Whatever snake you choose, there are certain things to keep in mind. Like any other pet, this isn’t something you want to rush into. So, Remember:
A Pet Snake is a Long Term Commitment
- Be prepared for a long-term commitment
Snakes can live a long time. Depending on the breed, their lifespan can be anywhere from 7 to 30+ years.
Do Your Own Pet Snake Research
Make sure your snake of choice not only fulfills YOUR expectations but also that YOU can fulfill all its needs. We are only providing some information here, nothing more.
Ideally, you and your snake should both be enriched and happy with their time in your care.
Contact a Pet Snake Expert
There’s a good chance you’ll run into problems or have questions. BEFORE getting a snake, know how to find snake experts to help you.
Breeders. Veterinarians with reptile experience. Know who has the information to help you give your snake the best life possible.
There are a lot of different breeds out there, many of whom can make great pets if proper care is taken on your end.
Once you find the perfect snake, being a snake keeper can be a rewarding experience. So have fun and be safe!