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Snakes are elongated, legless animals with dry, scale-covered skin. Their skin is unusually elastic, which allows it to stretch when large prey items are swallowed. Snakes are rather unique because of these features and because they lack moveable eyelids and external ear openings. Snakes may be only a few inches to several yards long. Snakes inhabit a wide variety of ecologic habitats: land, trees, underground, fresh water, and salt water. They are found on every continent except Antarctica. No native snakes are found on the islands of Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand and Ireland.

Selecting a Pet Snake: Some snakes are rare, endangered and protected by law. Zoos and legitimate herpetologists may only keep these snakes with the appropriate permits. This is also the case with venomous snakes, which should not, under any circumstances, be kept by the average hobbyist. The most common snakes kept by enthusiasts are the many and varied constrictor species (boas, pythons, rat and milk snakes, etc.), and the racer, gopher and garter species. The husbandry and dietary requirements for these types of snakes vary considerably. Further, some of the same species (notably the boa constrictors and pythons) reach very large sizes in captivity, and their considerable space requirements must be anticipated.

Usually, an individual eager to own a snake already has a species preference in mind because of some familiarity with it (friend owns a snake of the same species, etc.) or because of an inexplicable attraction to a species' physical appearance, size, activity or habits. Before you acquire a snake, you should carefully consider the following recommendations:

  • Research the major husbandry requirements of the snakes and determine whether or not you can successfully meet them now and in the future. Husbandry requirements include dietary, environmental (living space, temperature, humidity, lighting, etc.) and sanitation considerations.
  • Research the temperature of the species. If you intend to enjoy your snake primarily by observing it within its enclosure and rarely by handling it, this becomes a less important consideration. If you intend to regularly handle the snake, however, you must be able to do so with minimal stress and injury to both the snake and yourself.

Snake temperatures vary among species and among individuals of the same species. Certain snake species almost always retain a gentle, docile nature when they are raised from infancy (boa constrictors). In fact, a healthy young boa constrictor makes the most suitable pet among the tropical snake species available. Other species (the larger pythons) are unpredictable and tend to be quite pugnacious as they mature, whether or not they are handled frequently. Reticulated and Burmese pythons are especially unpredictable when they are anticipating being fed. Snakes of these types, especially those handled infrequently, become conditioned to associating feeding with human contact and often cannot distinguish the difference between these 2 situations. The small Ball python has the most predictable and even temperament of all of the python species.

  • Some species (anacondas) rarely develop temperaments suitable for captivity. Wild-caught adults of all species generally make unsuitable pets because they resist taming. One notable exception to this is the California Rosy boa. Even when obtained as an adult, they have a very shy, docile nature.
  • Select a snake that can feed without difficulty and one that is eating regularly.
  • Select a snake that appears healthy in all respects. Avoid choosing an unthrifty-looking snake out of sympathy with the idea that you can "nurse" the snake back to health. Many of these snakes have suffered irreparable internal damage and cannot be rehabilitated.
  • Avoid selecting a snake belonging to a species that is notoriously difficult to keep in captivity, requires difficult or elaborate environmental setups, or spends most of its time hiding burrowed underground.
  • Avoid selecting a poisonous of venomous species. Only the very experienced herpetologist should attempt to keep these types of snakes in captivity. State and local laws prohibit possession of venomous snakes except by experienced individuals holding legitimate permits.