Questions people ask you when you own a snake

As you may or may not know I have a pet snake.
I bought her from the breeder when she was only 2 months old, a tiny red worm slithering around like crazy, and now she is 8 years old.

I’ve had many other snakes over the years: several corn snakes, a black rat snake, 2 ball pythons, and even a western hognose. But Flamma was my first. When I started studying and moved to a tiny student flat I got rid of the other ones and kept only her. I think/hope she’ll stay with me all her life.

Since snakes are somewhat unusual pets I always get a lot of questions (and raised eyebrows) when people find out about her, so in honour of my Lady in Red I thought I’d take a moment to share some information with you!

Note: the info below is very general and/or mostly aimed at owning corn snakes. It’s only meant to give you a vague idea of what it’s like owning a snake, not a full guide. You should always do thorough research before getting a pet – any pet.

Also, don’t worry, there are no nasty pictures :P

– WHY would anyone want a pet snake?

By far the most common question, usually followed by a shudder. ;) Most people are either afraid of snakes or think they’re just plain disgusting.

When people ask I usually respond with “Why do people keep goldfish?”. You can’t pet a fish or cuddle with it, but they’re pretty, and a nicely done aquarium is a beautiful addition to a room.
Same goes for snakes. I think they’re beautiful and interesting and the terrarium is decorative.

Different people have different preferences and interests. I like snakes, simple as that. If you prefer goldfish, get a goldfish. If you prefer cats, get a cat etc.

– But can you pet it? Can you talk to it?

Yes, I can pet her. She’s used to being handled and will allow me to pick her up and carry her around.

When people say “Can you talk to it” they usually mean “Does it respond when you talk to it? Do you form a personal relationship with it”. The answer to that is sadly no.

First of all, all snakes are deaf so there’s no point talking to them at all… Also, they’re not pack animals, they live alone and don’t communicate well with other species.

I will talk to my snake and pet her and such, but I’m under no illusion that it makes any difference to her. I don’t think she cares about me and if I’d sell her to someone else she wouldn’t miss me. Sometimes when I take her out and let someone else hold her she might try to slither her way back to me and the other person will go “Aww, she wants to go back to mummy”, but in reality she’s probably just unfamiliar with the other persons scent and is therefore trying to get back to a more familiar (i.e. safer) scent/place.

Snakes are wonderful animals – but they’re not social. If you buy a snake thinking you will get a loyal and loving friend you will be very disappointed.

– What does it eat?

In Flammas case: small rats. She’s pretty big for a corn snake so mice are a bit too small. Fully grown rats are too big on the other hand, so I give her young, half-grown rats.

In captivity you’ll most likely feed all snakes rodents of some sort, unless it’s a really big snake, like a tiger python or such, that might eat rabbits or even small pigs.

Also worth mentioning is that snakes doesn’t eat very often. Flamma for example only eats about twice a month. I give her a rat, she eats it and then crawls into her cave to digest it for like a week, then take a huge poop, I clean out the poop, wait a few days to see if she’s gonna poop again, then I feed her again. Rinse and repeat. Smaller snakes eat less and therefore also more often. A newly hatched one will eat pretty much every day.

A fun fact is that most snakes (once they’ve reached a decent size) can go a really long time without food. Flamma could probably go without food for like 6 months without being in any immediate danger.

– You don’t give her live rats, do you!?

No, live prey is a bad idea and should always be avoided!

I buy rats frozen from the pet store and when it’s time to feed her I take one out of the freezer and put it in a bowl and leave it to defrost for a couple of hours. When it’s completely unfrozen I give it to her using a huge pair of tweezers.
I don’t feed her by hand because she strikes with lightning speed and isn’t always 100% accurate. If I hold the rat in my hand she might miss and bite me instead.

For a number of reasons it’s actually best to never feed live prey to a snake in captivity.

On one hand it’s cruel to the prey, on the other hand the snake might get injured if you feed it a particularly feisty rat that tries to defend itself. On the third hand, the snake might get a taste for fresh blood and moving targets and then it will NEVER take dead prey again – and having a snake that only eats live prey can get really really difficult.
I mean, you’d have to run to the pet store to buy new rats all the time which might lead to uncomfortable conversations with the shop clerks questioning you about what you’re doing with all the rats. Or you’d have to start breeding rats yourself – and rats are way more high maintenance than snakes so you’d end up spending more time caring for the rats than for the snake.

– Is it dangerous in any way? Have you ever got bitten?

No. She’s perfectly harmless and has never bitten anyone. Although I have been bitten by another snake of similar shape and size and I can say it’s honestly not that bad.

Thing is, this type of snake doesn’t have the large fangs you see on cobras and rattle snakes, instead they have lots of small, sharp, needle-like teeth. When I got bitten I didn’t even feel it, it didn’t hurt at all. When he let go (almost instantly) only a few of his teeth had even managed to pierce my skin. I had like 4-5 tiny red dots in the skin between my thumb and index finger. A quick rinse with cold water later there was no sign of any damage.

I got bitten by a hamster once and that was WAY worse. Really, I’d take a corn snake bite over a hamster bite any day.

Of course, bigger snakes have bigger teeth and stronger jaws. Or venom. I recommend staying away from the huge and/or venomous ones unless you REALLY know what you’re doing.

– How do you keep them? Are they difficult to keep?

One of the reasons why I decided to get a snake in the first place was because they’re so easy to care for. Unless you buy some exotic, super special species, a snake is probably the most low-maintenance pet you can have.

To keep a snake happy you need the following:

Terrarium
You need a terrarium big enough for the snake to live comfortably in. The bigger the better of course, but as long as there’s enough room for it to slither around and stretch out it’s fine. It can be made out of any material. The one I have for Flamma is (self) made out of wood but I’m going to buy one completely made of glass as soon as I find one big enough (I don’t think I’m handy enough to build a glass terrarium by myself). In my experience glass is generally easier to keep clean.

What you fill it with is up to you. You should provide some kind of cave for the snake to hide in, and of course a water bowl. Think of the species of the snake and try to mimic it’s natural habitat as best as you can.

Some people cover the bottom of the terrarium with ordinary cat litter, but I think that looks rather cheap and boring. I use a type of bark I buy from the pet store. It looks natural and Flamma likes digging in it. If you have a desert snake it might be nice to put sand in it.
You can put some fake plants (or real ones if you’re up for it) and some rocks and/or branches in there for decoration. A tree dwelling snake will probably like a higher terrarium with lots of branches.

Heating
Snakes don’t produce their own heat like us mammals, so you need either a spotlight or a heath mat. How much heat is required varies depending on the species. Of course an African desert snake will want more heat than a European forest snake.
But it’s not that tricky, a standard heat mat/spotlight will do just fine in most cases.

You can also give the snake different temperatures by putting the heat mat/spotlight in only one side of the terrarium, that way the snake can regulate it’s body temperature by moving to different parts of the terrarium.

Water
Just like most other animals they need to drink. Some species of snakes (like the tropical rain forest types) need more humidity and/or like to take baths. In that case you might need to take a spray bottle and spray inside the terrarium every now and then (i.e. making it rain) and maybe get a terrarium with some type of swimming pool. Or just a really big water bowl.

Food
Look above.

– If I want to get a snake, where do I start?

Same as for all pets: do your homework. Find as much information as possible about the species you’re interested in and how to care for them. Then if you’re still interested you should find a reputable breeder to buy from. And find a pet store that sell snake stuff like frozen rats and such.

You should know that snakes can live for a very long time in captivity – over 20 years is not all that uncommon!

As far as species go, rat snakes in general make pretty good pets even for inexperienced owners. They’re generally hardy, non-aggressive and come in a huge variety of colours and patterns. Just read up on the different species as they’re not all exactly the same.
Of course I’m biased and will say “get a corn snake!” to everyone who asks. ;)

The various species of milk snakes and king snakes are also worth looking into.

Other popular species are constrictors like boas and pythons, but they’re generally larger and tend to require more special care.
My personal favourite is the ball python (python regius). They are arguably the calmest and most non-aggressive snakes in the world. Their first instinct when threatened is to curl up in a ball (hence the nickname “ball python”) and stay perfectly still. It’s almost impossible to get them to bite you. They’re also one of the most beautiful snakes and the cutest with almost dog-like faces and dark, round eyes. :heart:
Unfortunately though, some ball pythons can be rather sensitive (need perfect temperature and humidity etc.) and need attentive care to stay healthy.

Just do your homework and I’m sure it’ll be fine.

In conclusion: snakes may have an unfortunate reputation but in my opinion they’re interesting and beautiful animals. Give them a chance. :)

Comments

  1. 21 September 2012

    While id be afraid of a snake if it was in the room, the thing that really scares me is mice and rats, and im afraid of snakes because they are associated with them. As soon as i got to the
    aragraph about wha snakes eat i felt like a rat was on me and did a shudder. Its really ridiculous, but scares me horribly.

    I have an odd pet, too–a bunny rabbit. Rabbits are actually very social creatures, but people always assume theyre not. People always have a lot of questions about him, too.

    How did you decide on the name Flamma?

    • 29 September 2012

      Yeah, the rats is an unfortunate aspect of owning snakes…

      Flamma is the Swedish word for flame, I thought it suits her bright colours. :)

  2. 21 September 2012

    Flamma is gorgeous! Named after her pretty colours? Snakes have always fascinated me, I was in heaven the first time I held an albino python :D Lucky you!

    • 29 September 2012

      Yes, her name is inspired by her colours! Albino pythons are so pretty, I’ve never even seen one in real life so lucky you too! :D

  3. 22 September 2012

    I was on board until I got to the part about feeding it rats. I definitely would not be able to do that, frozen and already dead or not!

  4. 22 September 2012

    Jag skulle inte vilja ha en orm själv eftersom jag föredrar gosiga djur som visar mig tillgivenhet, som mina katter gör. Dock har jag ingenting emot ormar och tycker att de är vackra djur. Min syster hade en majsorm när hon var liten och likaså en nära vän till mig.

    • 29 September 2012

      Ja, gosiga djur spelar ju i en helt annan liga. Det är därför jag har hund också. En orm att titta på och en hund att faktiskt göra saker med. :P

  5. 24 September 2012

    Flamma is so pretty! I love her colors. I thought this was interesting to read since I don’t know anything about owning a snake :) I own turtles, and I get a lot of similar questions. I guess if you own something other than a cat or dog, people are weirded out by it.

  6. 25 September 2012

    Very informative blog post! It still doesn’t make me want a snake, but if I did, I think this would be very useful haha.

  7. 28 September 2012

    I’ve always thought snakes were really cool, and I really wanted a terrarium when I was younger, but my mom wouldn’t allow it. The most I could get by with was an iguana, but we ended up giving him to one of my brother’s friends after he outgrew his cage. Now I have a boyfriend who’s terrified of snakes, so it looks like I might have to give up my dream. :P Anyway, Flamma is gorgeous, and this post has lots of great info. If I ever do happen to get a snake, I’ll be sure to come back to this. :)

  8. 1 October 2012

    I’ve wanted a corn snake for a very long. I’m really considering getting one.
    I do have two questions though.

    How do you move with a snake? XD

    lol I know for travel purposes cats can be in a cat carrier and dogs can just ride in a car, but I plan to move and don’t want to have to worry about hurting the poor thing.

    And around how much is a decent terrarium? Including heating pad and such ? : :)

    Thanks,
    A

    • 1 October 2012

      How fun that you’re considering getting a corn snake! :D

      I moved last month actually and here’s what I did: I transported the snake in a large plastic box with a lid (the ordinary kind they sell at pretty much every supermarket) and a couple of air holes drilled in it. Remember the air holes, very important! ;) Put a towel or two in the box so it has something soft in there. We also planned ahead so that I would have time to set up her terrarium right away when we came to the new house so she wouldn’t have to spend more time than necessary in the box. With that said, corn snakes are hardy and can easily manage in room temperature for a couple of hours. A few years ago I moved from one city to another and she had to spend almost 4 hours in the box in the car, and it wasn’t a problem for her. You just have to make sure the box isn’t bumping around too much (have someone hold it in their lap) and that the car is warm.

      As far as costs go I don’t know how much help I can be as I don’t know what the prices are like in the US… In Sweden, if you buy a glass terrarium from a pet store I think you’ll have to pay the equivalent of around 100-150 USD for a medium sized one. I built my terrarium myself and spent maybe 50-80 USD on wood, glass and paint. Heat mats range from 15-30 bucks depending on size. Rocks and branches and such you can take from nature, just make sure everything is 100% clean and dry before putting it in the terrarium.
      All in all it can be pretty expensive to buy everything at once but a great way to reduce costs is buying second-hand. Search the local ads, both offline and online, every now and then there’s a terrarium for sale! Sometimes people get tired of their pets and sell a snake + complete terrarium with heating and decorations and everything for very decent prizes.

  9. 5 October 2012

    Oh my gosh, this post was SO interesting to read about!! Thank you so much for sharing. It actually makes me consider a snake as a pet. Something I never thought would happen.