Snakes get a bad rap for being icky or creepy, but they’re actually very useful animals that have been around for millions of years.
Aside from their awe-inspiring longevity, snakes perform a vital function in their various ecosystems — they help keep animals lower on the food chain in check. For example, many snakes eat rodents. Rodents breed quickly and if snakes didn’t prey on them, they would quickly become a serious threat to global food supplies.
Of course, there are some snakes that we need to steer clear of. Snakes are carnivorous predators and some have developed formidable defensive and offensive weapons, like venom or incredible size. While you may want to avoid those more dangerous types of snakes, here are 4 that make pretty cool pets.
1. Corn Snakes
Corn snakes are wildly popular as pets due to their wide range of colors, smallish size, long life span and – provided they are handled properly — a generally easygoing temperament.
This snake is a constrictor — like the boa, it crushes its prey before eating it, and a corn snake in captivity will even crush a dead rodent before eating it. Corn snakes are also excellent climbers. “Corn snakes can climb straight up the side of a tree,” says Van Wallach in Corn Snakes. Make sure your cage has a good cover, or you may get the surprise of your life one morning!
Corn snakes are protected in a few states and are usually available from pet shops. Avoid finding a corn snake in the wild and bringing it home — corn snakes bred in captivity tend to be more complacent toward humans and are less likely to carry disease.
2. California Kingsnakes
California kingsnakes can be found in the wild in — shockingly — California and other nearby states, but they make good pets just about anywhere. These snakes tend to do well in captivity once they adjust to you. Be prepared, though — during the adjustment period, your kingsnake may urinate or defecate on you. It’s one of her self-defense mechanisms.
California kingsnakes can live for 20 years or more, with some in captivity reaching over 30 years. They don’t require special lighting, but like other reptiles, they need you to provide a warm and cool end of their aquarium or cage. Just be sure you have a good, solid enclosure and cover — kingsnakes can be escape artists.
These snakes are constrictors, so they will crush their prey before eating it. While they tend to stick to the ground, they can occasionally climb smaller bushes or trees. The kingsnake is a solitary creature, and she likes to spend most of her time alone. She will prey on other snakes, so we wouldn’t advise getting her a “roomie.”
3. Gopher Snakes
The gopher snake is a nonvenomous constrictor — but due to his coloring, he’s often mistaken for the deadly rattler. These snakes eat lizards, birds, eggs and (of course) gophers and other small mammals. They tend to be easygoing eaters, usually rejecting food only around the times that they’re shedding.
With proper handling, gopher snakes have a fairly placid personality. They do get a little big, topping out at over 6 feet, but this is by no means unreasonable. In the wild, gopher snakes spend most of their time in underground burrows, although they do enjoy sunning themselves. In fact, some gopher snakes have spent so much time sunning that they’ve contracted skin cancer.
Like their rattler cousins, gopher snakes will hiss, flatten their heads and vibrate their tails when threatened.
This wild gopher snake sure is a beauty:
4. Ball Pythons
The ball python is also a constrictor, although they do bite. These snakes can be picky about eating — some prefer fresh rodents, some frozen or even both. Ball pythons can reach sizes around 5 feet and tend to live 30+ years in captivity.
The ball python will rarely bite — she’s pretty easygoing. Ball pythons have a range of beautiful coloring, making them one of the most popular pet snakes.
Ball pythons may struggle with environmental changes and can be a bit slow to warm up to you. “Ball pythons require several weeks, sometimes even months, to acclimate to captivity,” explains Philippe De Vosjoli in The Ball Python Manual. “Once acclimated, and with occasional gentle handling, most ball pythons become quite tame and far less likely to adopt their characteristic defensive behavior.”
Whether you’re an experienced snake handler or just starting out, there is a breed out there for you. Do your research, understand what local and federal laws allow and be prepared for a pet that will be with you for many years.
Above all, enjoy your snakes — they’re impressive creatures.