Best Pet Snakes for Beginners: Are Snakes Good Pets? (with pictures)

pet corn snake

Snakes are unique animals:

  • They require very specific housing,
  • They eat strange foods,
  • They interact with humans much differently than warm-and-fuzzy pets do.

And while they’re undeniably fascinating, these differences leave many people wondering if they make good pets. We’ll answer this question below (spoiler alert: some species make fantastic pets).

We’ll also talk about:

  • The best pet snakes for beginners
  • A few of the friendliest species available
  • Some of the smallest snakes that make good pets
  • Snakes that don’t require mice for food

And because there is a lot of overlap among the snake species that make good pets, we’ll conclude with a review of the basic facts about the species mentioned in each of these categories.

So, without further ado, let’s jump right in.

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Best snakes for beginners
Friendly pet snakes
Pet snakes that stay small
Pet snakes that don’t eat mice

Are Snakes Good Pets?

The answer to our primary question is a qualified “yes,” depending on your definition of “pet.”

Let me explain:

Snakes will not interact with you in the same way that a dog does. They’ll never fetch your slippers nor want to accompany you on a trip to the park. They won’t bond with you emotionally or become a lifelong friend in the same way canines and cats may.

In actuality, snakes are more akin to birds or fish. Some tolerate occasional interaction, making them a bit like a cockatiel or similar bird, while others would prefer if you never touched them. Such snakes are a lot like pet fish. They’re certainly interesting and rewarding animals to live alongside, but you won’t directly interact with them much.

But, snakes also exhibit a number of advantages over dogs, cats, and other traditional pets. For example, your snake will never become bored, frustrated or lonely if you don’t pay him enough attention. Your snake won’t miss you while you are gone, nor will he require a large yard – he’ll live almost entirely inside his habitat.

Snakes are also much cheaper to feed than dogs or cats of similar size are, as their cold-blooded metabolisms operate at only a fraction of the speed that a dog’s or cat’s does. And although sick or injured snakes will require veterinary care, they won’t need regular vaccinations or checkups.

So, while snakes may not be affectionate companions who become members of your family, many make very rewarding pets.

pet ball python
Ball pythons are calm and considered to be the best python for beginners.

What Are the Best Pet Snakes for Beginners?

There are roughly 3,700 snake species in the world, so would-be snake owners have a number of options available to them. However, the vast majority of these species are difficult to care for and best left to experienced keepers.

Beginners should stick to those species that are docile, easy to feed and remain relatively small. Additionally, beginners should only acquire snakes that were born and bred in captivity, as wild-caught snakes often present a number of challenges.

Some of the best species for beginners include the following:

  • Corn snakes
  • Ball pythons >
  • Rosy boas
  • Garter snakes
  • Brown snakes
  • Kingsnakes

See our Ball Python Guide

pet kingsnake
Most kingsnakes stay small and make great pet snakes for beginners.

What About Those Teeth? Are Any Pet Snakes Friendly?

One of the leading reasons that would-be snake owners are reluctant to acquire a pet snake is the fear of being bitten. This is certainly understandable, as nobody wants a pet that greets them with a mouth fall of sharp teeth and snapping jaws.

Fortunately, there are a number of snake species – including several that make good pets – which are typically regarded as docile and uninclined to bite. But, you can never guarantee that a snake won’t bite, and even the tamest individuals can have bad days.

Nevertheless, the following species are typically unlikely to react adversely to being handled:

See our Ball Python Guide

Note that bites from small snakes (those less than about 3 feet long or so) rarely cause serious injuries. In fact, a run-in with a rose bush will cause much more pain than a small snake bite will. Most small snake bite wounds will heal in a day and require little first aid aside from a bit of warm soapy water.

Green snakes will thrive on an insect-based diet.

Small Pet Snakes That Stay Small

There are a number of snake species that usually remain relatively small (less than 3 feet in length). A few of the most notable examples include:

  • House snakes
  • Ringneck snakes
  • Green snakes
  • Brown snakes
  • Sand boas
  • Garter snakes

For a variety of reasons, small snakes generally make better pets than large snakes do.

For example, snakes will live most of their lives inside an enclosure of some type. And while snakes don’t require as much space as many other animals do, their space needs are not insignificant. This means you must make sure your home is big enough for a sufficiently spacious snake cage.

As a general rule, snakes require a habitat with a perimeter of at least twice their length. In other words, a 6-foot-long snake would require an enclosure that measures 4 feet long and 2 feet wide. Such habitats may not be prohibitively large, but few people have the room for anything much larger.

Additionally, large snakes can represent a safety hazard. Large snakes are not only stronger than small snakes are, but they are also equipped with larger teeth too. In fact, it is generally advisable to avoid handling snakes over 8 feet in length without the help of a friend.

garter snake
Garter Snake are pretty common in North America, they also make good pets.

Pet Snakes That Don’t Eat Mice

Aside from concerns relating to body size or temperament, diet is another roadblock that prevents some people from keeping a snake as a pet. The majority of pet snake species require a rodent-based diet, which many people find upsetting.

This causes many would-be keepers to wonder if there are snakes that can survive eating other types of foods. Unfortunately, all snakes are carnivores, who require other animals for food. However, there are a number of species that don’t require mice or other mammals for food.

Some species, for example, can subsist on insects and other invertebrates, and a few species will live long healthy lives on a diet of frogs or fish. A few such species are detailed below:

  • Garter snakes
  • Water snakes
  • Ringneck snakes
  • Brown snakes
  • Green snakes

It is important to note that modern snake keepers typically feed rodent-eating species pre-killed, rather than live, rodents. Pre-killed rodents are not only safer for snakes to eat, but they do not suffer at the hands of a hungry snake either. This may make it easier for some keepers to keep rodent-eating species.

ringneck snake
Ringneck snakes will make great small pet snakes.

Notes on Selected Species

Below, we’ll provide some basic information about the species mentioned in each of the sections above. This information may help you narrow down your choice, but don’t stop here – always strive to learn as much as you can about the species you intend to keep before you make your purchase.

Corn Snakes

The corn snake – see article’s main picture – (Pantherophis guttatus) has been one of the most popular species among snake keepers since people began keeping snakes as pets. Corn snakes are typically docile, hardy and they rarely present feeding difficulties or health problems. Corn snakes do require a rodent-based diet, but they remain relatively small (most individuals are about 4- to 6-feet-long).

Ball Pythons

Ball pythons (Python regius) are likely the best python for beginning snake keepers to maintain. They are typically quite calm, who rarely bite. Instead, they prefer to bury their head in their coils when frightened. Captive bred individuals are typically very easy to feed, and they are available in a wide variety of color varieties, including albino, hypomelanistic and others.

See our Ball Python Guide

Rosy Boas

Unfortunately, rosy boas (Charina trivirgata) are not as commonly seen in pet stores as corn snakes or ball pythons are. Nevertheless, they make very good pets, especially for beginners. Rosy boas are very attractive, and they are generally undemanding captives. Most are quite tame and don’t present problems at feeding time, once they’ve begun taking food regularly.

Garter Snakes

Garter snakes (Thamnophis spp.) are familiar to almost everyone who’s spent time outdoors in North America, and it turns out that they often make good pets too. There are a number of garter snake species on the market, but most are relatively similar. They primarily differ in terms of color pattern and food habits. Common garter snakes, for example, will typically live on a fish-based diet, while others prefer to eat worms.

House Snakes

House snakes (Lamprophis spp.) are interesting snakes from Africa, who make fantastic pets. House snakes usually don’t bear bold colors or patterns, but they have very mild, easy-going temperaments and are usually very easy to feed. Additionally, if you’d like to try breeding snakes, house snakes are one of the best choices for beginners.

Ringneck Snakes

Ringneck snakes (Diadophis punctatus) are very small snakes, who are generally brown to black, with a yellow to red belly and matching ring around their neck. They typically feed on elongate ectotherms, which means keepers can usually feed them an earthworm-based diet. Ringneck snakes do have a mild venom, but only the largest individuals can effectively bite humans.

Brown Snakes

Brown snakes (Storeria dekayi) are very commonly encountered around human habitation, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they also make good pets. Small and mild-mannered, brown snakes are usually a great choice for beginners, and they can subsist on a diet of earthworms, snails, and slugs. It may, however, be difficult to find captive bred individuals on the market.

Green Snakes

There are two species of green snake that are available to hobbyists: the smooth green snake (Opheodrys vernalis) and the rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus). Both make good pets, remain pretty small and will thrive on an insect-based diet. However, while they are rarely aggressive, they can become stressed if handled too much.

water snake
Water snakes can be fed with fish and frogs.

Water Snakes

Water snakes (Nerodia spp.) aren’t especially popular among snake keepers, as they require relatively complex habitats, and they often have foul temperaments. Nevertheless, water snakes are occasionally quite attractive, they reach moderate yet manageable sizes, and they are easy to feed. Most water snakes consume frogs or fish.

Children’s Pythons

The children’s python (Antaresia childreni) is a small Australian species that is sometimes kept as a pet. Children’s pythons are normally rather tame, although young individuals may be nippy. Young children’s pythons can be difficult to feed, so beginners should try to acquire a juvenile or adult specimen to avoid these problems.

Sand Boas

Sand boas (Eryx spp.) are small boas who are much easier to maintain than some of their larger cousins are. Most sand boas are relatively tame, and they are typically easy to feed. Some species are quite colorful and attractive, but they do spend most of their time buried beneath the substrate. There are several species of sand boa on the market, but Kenyan sand boas (Eryx colubrinus) are the most readily available.

Kingsnakes

There are a number of different kingsnakes (Lampropeltis spp.) available to snake keepers, and most make pretty good pets. A few kingsnake species grow large enough to present challenges, but the vast majority remain less than 4 feet long. Kingsnakes typically eat rodents in captivity, but wild individuals consume just about anything they encounter, including snakes, lizards, rodents, frogs and other animals.

pet snake

As you can see, snakes – at least some species – can make very rewarding pets.

You just have to make sure that you understand what to expect and select a species that is suitable to your living situation and skill level. It’s also important that you learn as much as you can about the species you choose. This will allow you to give your pet the best life possible.

Of course, this doesn’t represent a comprehensive list of the snakes that make good pets – there are many others that do too. Let us know which snakes you think we missed in the comments below and be sure to share this article with your friends if you found it helpful.

— Main photo by Kapa65

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Ben Team

Ben Team

Ben is a life-long environmental educator who writes about the natural world. He’s kept and bred a diverse array of reptiles and amphibians over the last three decades, but he’s always been particularly fond of snakes in the genus Morelia and monitor lizards. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler.

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