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Your Guide to Selecting a Snake

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Snakes can make great pets for the right kinds of people. However, they are definitely not for everyone. Some people are so frightened of snakes that even a photograph can result in a panic attack.

Others like snakes, but are a little squeamish when it comes to the feeding habits of some species, while still others find the feeding habits and other factors fascinating. By considering husbandry requirements, availability and housing needs, you can determine which species would fit into your life.

Garter snake. Garter snakes, like every other snake species, have their good points and their bad points. In their favor, they are fairly small (usually 3 feet or less), eat a wide variety of food, are readily available and hardy. On the negative side, garter snakes are nervous, may bite, will smear cloacal contents on a careless handler, emit a pungent musk, and, if kept only slightly too damp, are prone to skin disorders.

Corn snake. It's easy to see why corn snakes are the most popular pet snakes. Also known as the common or red rat snake, they generally are placid and easy to care for. They adapt well to captivity. They generally are healthy if provided with good basic care and can live into teenaged years.

King snake. The California king snake is an animal of fascinating contrasts. It is a powerful constrictor that will bite and, according to some, got its name because of a readiness to eat other snakes, including some venomous species. King snakes have an amazing resistance to the debilitating effects of snake venom. At the same time, California king snakes are usually reasonably gentle, can be handled relatively easily and display a wide variety of "designer colors."

Milk snake. Called milk snakes due to the fable that they milk cows, Honduran milk snakes, are secretive and powerful constrictors that can attain a length of up to four feet. They are primarily terrestrial and are nervous creatures that can be difficult to handle.

Rat snake. Yellow rat snakes, make fine pets – once they are accustomed to being handled and you get used to dealing with a snake that can, and will, bite. Yellow rat snakes with ordinary coloration usually are inexpensive and most often available from neighborhood pet shops.

Bull snake. Bull snakes are large powerful constrictors that can overcome several prey items simultaneously. They make fine pets once they are accustomed to being handled, but they can and will bite. They can hiss loudly, at times drawing attention to themselves when they would otherwise be overlooked, and some are not at all hesitant to make themselves as unpleasant as possible. Despite all of that, bull snakes are easy to keep for the experienced snake owner.

Colombian boa. The Colombian boa constrictor is a beautiful and easily kept snake – if you can meet its housing and feeding needs. We consider a baby of the Colombian boa an excellent beginner's snake, but there is always the problem of what to do with the creature when it attains adulthood. An adult boa can be a handling and caging problem, as well as a legal problem. Many municipalities now prohibit the keeping of snakes of more than 6 feet in length, and Colombian boas often exceed this length.

Rosy boa. Although they are very secretive and quite apt to bite, rosy boas have a devout and continually increasing following. There is a sufficient diversity in color and prices to interest both beginning and the advanced hobbyists. And the fact that a pair or a trio of these snakes can live nicely in a tank of only 20-gallon size contributes to their popularity.

Burmese python. Burmese pythons are beautiful snakes and are the most widely bred species of python in captivity in the United States. As a result, they are also among the least expensive and are often bought on impulse rather than as a result of considered thought. This is a very bad idea. Burmese pythons are extremely powerful constrictors and are capable of overpowering and eating large prey. It seems that at least one human fatality each year can be attributed to a pet Burmese python. It takes only one misstep to become a statistic.

Ball python. The ball python is one of the smaller pythons, and if obtained as a captive bred and hatched baby, it is usually hardy and long-lived. In fact, longevity of more than 45 years has been reported for one captive ball python and 20 to 25 years is commonplace. The small adult size of a ball python also prevents him from being in violation of regulations instituted by many municipalities prohibiting the keeping of snakes more than 6 feet in length.

The most important consideration when purchasing one of these snakes is that you understand you are making a commitment to the snake for many years. If you have a small home or apartment, you may want to consider one of the smaller species.

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