The folklore about snakes, or serpents, has been long and enduring. People are seemingly either enthralled by their “sneaky” nature or terrified that they represent something dangerous or sinister.
In fact, mammals are biologically inclined to be wary of snakes in their environment, which explains why SO MUCH mythology has been created about them over the millennia.
Snakes can be represented from evil beings to omens of fertility and rebirth, depending on the origin story. And with this knowledge, it’s easy to understand the fascination people have with snakes and why SO many want to have them as pets!
And when it comes to variety? Well, let’s just say snakes take the cake…
They come in so many variations (around 3,600 species!!!), colors, and sizes. They are often incredibly powerful and potentially dangerous, or completely harmless – which is what we want in a housemate.
It’s crucial that a beginner snake owner plans out his or her snake journey so that he not only doesn’t get overwhelmed but is also able to provide the snake has the best home possible.
Below are some tips on getting into snake husbandry as well as the 5 BEST snake species that make wonderful pets for first time snake owners.
What You Need to Know About Having a Pet Snake
Before we dive into the specific recommendations, you should also first consider the following key points. These points will help ensure you find the right fit for you and your home.
Snakes are great pets for all ages. Yes, some pets are potentially dangerous, especially for children who don’t know how to respect their snake, but the serpents on this list will be wonderful for first-time snake owners.
However, it is important that we briefly address 2 points all prospective snake parents should know…
First and foremost, ALL snakes are carnivorous. This means once or twice a week you will HAVE to feed your snake a mouse or other small rodent.
You have the option of buying dead, frozen mice for your snake, which you will defrost completely before you feed it to your snake.
You may also find a supplier that provides freshly killed, but not frozen mice.
Many snake owners will breed their own mice in order to save money and control the quality of food their snakes are getting.
For some snake owners, watching the snake hunt its prey is part of the joy of snake ownership.
Additionally, ALL snakes are cold-blooded and need some sort of heat supply.
This means you will need a proper set-up with an electric source in order to keep your snake healthy.
However, once the terrarium is set up there is very little work and you may even choose to make your snake’s home a focal point in your house!
Terrariums can potentially be quite beautiful show pieces with the added benefit of housing magnificent creatures.
✅Buyer’s Tip: Looking to study up on all things snakes before moving forward with an adoption? If so, feel free to check out our top picks for the best books on snakes all owners (be they seasoned or beginner) should read!
Best Pet Snakes for Beginners
And now, our TOP picks for the best pet snakes for beginners! Below you will find only the most reliable and easy to care for species that will have you feeling like a confident snake mom or snake dad in no time!
So, without further ado, just keep reading to discover the best picks for new snake owners!
Best Pet Snakes Recommendation #1: Corn Snake
The corn snake is almost always the number one recommended snake for new owners and so it remains in its well-earned spot on our list. The corn snake got to this position by being such an easy, affordable, and gentle snake.
They are flexible in the food they take and will very rarely go off their diet. They accept mice that were previously frozen, whereas other snakes may be picky to the point of making themselves sick.
These snakes are beautiful to look at and are sometimes called the “red rat snake” because of their coloring. There are variations, but generally the corn snake has patterned scales in degrees of orange-yellow or yellow-black.
They are incredibly gentle, easy to handle, and are harmless in the wild. In fact, they’ve even often been considered a friend to gardeners and farmers because they are excellent at pest control.
However, the corn snake is not perfect. It is a larger, long-lived snake with a lifespan of 15-20 years and the potential to grow up to six feet!
Corn snakes should be kept in a minimum 20-gallon aquarium. Corn snakes need an ambient temperature between 70 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit but also need a heat lamp to bask under.
Corn snakes also like to burrow in their substrate so you may not always see them until they are ready.
Best Pet Snakes Recommendation #2: Gopher Snake
The gopher snake is a common snake often seen in North America. It is the largest variation is the bull snake (which is often considered its own species) which actually happens to be one of nine Gopher Snake subspecies.
Gopher snakes are adaptable, hardy, and generally widely available. It is worth noting, however, that there may be regulations on these snakes depending on local laws so please check before you purchase.
And if you thought I was using the word “hardy” when describing these snakes, consider this…
Gopher Snakes live an average of fifteen years, but some have been known to live in captivity to a ripe old age of thirty!
They are a foot long when they are born and reach four to five feet on average but may sprout out to six feet – especially if you got a bull snake.
But, you may find yourself wondering…
“With all the preamble about lifespan, size, and regulations, how did this make it onto our best beginner snake list?”
Well, to put it simply…these guys sure are fun to watch and interact with!
🤓Expert Tip: Not 100% committed to the idea of adopting a snake? No worries! There are plenty of other options if you have your heart set on reptiles. In fact, there are several lizards that make great options for first time reptile owners as well.
Unfortunately, they are often mistaken for a Pacific Rattlesnake due to their coloring and behavior. In the wild, this can put them at risk, but in a home it makes them an excellent conversation starter.
They will often rear back and lunge at people, warning them by bopping them with their nose. Like a rattler, they will even shake their tail, but they do not actually have a rattle, and generally do not bite, especially once they are used to being handled.
The hardiness and availability of this breed makes it a worthwhile consideration for a new snake owner as long as you have the space to house it…
A small adult gopher snake might do ok in a 30-gallon terrarium, but a full enclosure of at least four feet is much better once they reach full length.
Best Pet Snakes Recommendation #3: The California Kingsnake
The California Kingsnake is another extremely hardy snake species that thrives in the western United States and northern Mexico.
These snakes grow to be a maximum of six feet but are generally between three and four feet long.
They don’t seem as big as other snakes though due to their slender body. They live to be about 20-years-old and are renowned for their escape artist antics.
They need a minimum of a 20-gallon terrarium with escape-proof openings. These snakes HAVE to live on their own because they are known to eat each other, especially during their adolescents.
It is possible to keep more than one together when they are mature, but you’ll need to separate them during feeding and for a few hours after.
However, as a beginner it would be best to solely own one snake housed by itself.
Of course, if you are eventually going to consider breeding (these are easier snakes to breed) you will need to find breeding pairs that are compatible.
California Kingsnakes prefer to have a warmer and cooler side of the terrarium (including heat lamps and heating pads) so it can self-regulate to its preferred temperature.
At first it won’t want to be handled but with some patience it will make an easy-to-handle pet.
Best Pet Snakes Recommendation #4: Ball Pythons
Did you know you could have a python for your first snake? Is this your dream snake? So many people LOVE the idea of a python because of their perceived power.
In reality, very few pythons are a threat to humans and the ball python is definitely not one of them!
Males tend to be two to three feet while females could grow to be a foot longer. Records have some ball pythons reaching around six feet, but this is unusual.
They also live to be around thirty so, if a ball python is what you are dreaming of, be prepared to make commitment that will last longer than many marriages!
Ball pythons can be a bit shy and need a hiding spot for those times when they need a little quiet. A commercial hiding box or flowerpot will work well.
⭐️Fun Fact: Did you know, there are easily over a thousand ball python morphs?! Breeders are constantly pushing the limits of what is aesthetically possible by cross breeding different morphs together in their search for the most rare and striking mutations.
Also, you MUST be willing to take the time to build trust with your ball python to show him you mean him no harm. Eventually, ball pythons seem to enjoy being handled by people they know.
The ball python is nocturnal so it needs a basking spot, but not any supplemental light. He prefers to move around in stealth mode as much as possible.
Keep his terrarium warm and have a heat lamp to let him regulate his temperature. Like many snakes he may go off his food in the colder months. This is not a concern as long as he seems otherwise healthy.
Best Pet Snakes Recommendation #5: Garter Snake
This snake is a bit of an anomaly from the others. It is the MOST common species of snake in the world with dozens of subspecies. In fact, chances are that you’ve encountered one while on a nature walk or even in your backyard.
The garter snake is small, skinny, and comes in a wide variety of colors. Garter snakes are alert and active during the day, making them great for people who want a snake that is busy and always on the go!
Male garter snakes are about two feet long and females are around three feet. They have excellent eyesight and will be watchful of movement around their habitat.
In the wild they only live about five years but in captivity they can reach the ripe old age of ten.
They need a terrarium of about 30 gallons and can be housed together. However, as with all snakes should be separated during feeding time so they don’t try to feed on each other.
Since they are active during the day they enjoy more light than nocturnal snakes. A UV light is necessary to them as is a basking spot.
And when it comes to diet? Their food selection is quite varied and includes:
In captivity it’s a good idea to try and mimic a varied diet by offering them different foods at EACH feeding (ideally).
Also, it should be noted that Garter Snakes take a little longer to adjust to handling than some other snakes. They are quite defensive, expecting attack, but with patience they will get there.
They may never seem to enjoy it like the ball python, but they won’t resist and like every other living creature, each one has their own unique personality.
What to Consider When Choosing Your First Snake
Consideration #1: Longevity
The lifespan of a snake can vary considerably. Generally, the smaller a snake is, the shorter his lifespan will be.
On average, the smallest snakes will live to be five to ten years old. This is a nice introduction to the world of snake ownership.
You will have plenty of time to know exactly what it looks like to own and care for a snake, but you won’t need to consider who you will bequeath it to in your will.
This can happen with larger snakes who can outlive their owners. And while this would be unusual, it can happen that a snake that lives to be 20 or 30 years old may outlive its owner.
Consideration #2: Location and Laws
Along with the personal choices you need to make when deciding on the best snake for you, you also need to consider where you live and if what you are buying is legal in your area.
Some snakes are illegal nation-wide like the yellow anaconda, which is illegal everywhere in the United States. Others might be banned by a condo board or at the municipal level.
Still, other snakes might be banned because if they escape, they are destructive to the natural environment.
Even if a snake is not outright illegal, you may need a permit to own it. As such, make sure you research what you are allowed to have, or, better yet, stick to this list of commonly owned snakes.
In most of the world the “big four” most deadly snakes are not allowed to be owned anywhere. These include the:
- Russell Viper
- Saw-Scaled Viper
- Common Krait
- Indian Cobra
If you have ideas of showing how tough you are by owning one of these poisonous beasts, put that right out of your head! These are NOT pets for either beginner or expert snake owners.
If you think that the rules do not apply to you, remember that snakes are notorious escape artists. This should be considered when you factor in your location.
Don’t ignore condo board rules just because you think you have a handle on snake husbandry. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you have to choose between rehoming your snakes or becoming homeless yourself.
Wrapping Up the Best Pet Snakes for Beginners
As a general rule, any snake that is easily bred and widely available is likely a good choice for a first pet. These tend to be easy-to-handle, hardy, and if purchased from a quality breeder, free of diseases.
Naturally, other factors such as where you live, how much money you have to devote to a vivarium, and whether or not you have children should also be considered.
As with any potential new pet, prospective snake owners should put much time and thought into how having a pet snake will affect their daily dynamic as well as that of the rest of those in their household.
By NO means is a snake a pet you can simply plop in a tank and relatively forget about!
However, as long as you put thought and planning into picking your first snake you are likely to end up with one that is just right for your circumstances.