Top 7 Best Snake Breeds for Total Beginners

Owning a snake can be very rewarding especially as beginners, including those who feel inadequate or underqualified. I have compiled a (quite exhaustive) list of top seven best snake breeds that even the total beginner could handle. The top seven snake breeds for total beginners include, in no particular order:

  • Corn snakes
  • California King Snakes
  • Rosy boas
  • Gopher snakes
  • Ball pythons
  • Milk snakes
  • Hognose snakes.

In this article, I’ll go through general maintenance for each breed, their temperaments, diet, and habitats.

Corn Snake

Corn snakes are known to be the most popular breeds to keep as pets. They often tie with the ball pythons, although corn snakes have been around for longer, and that fact alone gives them a leg up in this competition.

Before we even get to the benefits of keeping a corn snake, it warrants mentioning that corn snakes are also favorites of long-time reptile owners.

Corn snakes have brilliantly colored scales and come in a variety of shades. Every snake is different, adding new variety and excitement, just in case you were thinking that keeping a pet snake could possibly be boring.

Corn snakes are famous for their docile temperament. They are one of the few snakes that actually seem to enjoy being held. This means they are very good with children, so they are ideal as a family pet. Of course, if your child is holding the snake, it is important that you are there to supervise, but corn snakes are arguably safer than dogs or cats when it comes to handling.

These snakes are also ideal for a pet for your child because corn snakes often times live for up to 20 years or more. Your child can raise the snake from a hatchling, and form quite a bond. There’s no fear of your snake dying on you a few years in, as long as you take good care of it.

Corn snakes are pretty small, the biggest ones only getting up to about five feet long. Roughly three feet is more typical.

Because of their small size, you only need a 20-gallon enclosure. Make sure it’s secure; snakes are extremely talented at escaping and then giving you a heart attack a few days later when you find them happily nestled amongst the fancy dinner plates in the cupboard.

A long, low terrarium is ideal, seeing as corn snakes like to burrow, not climb. However, adding a climbing log will probably make your snake pretty happy.

“They are one of the few snakes that actually seem to enjoy being held.” 

Hailing from the Southeastern part of the United States, corn snakes prefer warmer climates, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are tropical snakes. In fact, no scientist goes that far.

Subsequently, corn snakes should be kept at a temperature of around 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. This is generally the average temperature of the average household, so it shouldn’t be a hassle to keep the right temperature.

Just like all snakes, corn snakes like to bask. Keep one area of the enclosure warmer and another area cooler. This gives the snake options since they are cold-blooded and need different temperatures in order to regulate their body heat. Have a hide-box for your snake in both areas.

These boxes can be just as simple as a small cardboard box turned upside-down with a door cut in the side. The boxes should be just big enough for a snake to curl up in, no bigger.

Corn snakes require no extra lighting, as they are most active during the night, and around dawn and dusk. That being said, if you do want to provide a UVB light for them, they would definitely benefit from that.

Have a water dish available, and keep the water clean at all times. Snakes, for some reason quite beyond me, like to defecate in their water. You have been warned. Check every day, multiple times a day, to make sure the water is clean.

The dish should be big enough for the snake to curl up in; they like to soak when they are about ready to start shedding.

Corn snakes like to burrow, so loose substrate to line the enclosure is a pretty good idea. Bark chips are ideal, as you can scoop them out, wash them, and reuse them. Aspen shavings are another option.

Like most snakes, corn snakes need to be fed every seven to ten days. Frozen mice are the food of choice and bigger corn snakes can be fed small rats. The food should be just about as wide as the widest part of the snake. Mice can be purchased in bulk, frozen, and thawed when it comes time for feeding.

You may even want to relocate the snake to a different box for feeding time so they don’t accidentally ingest any of the substrate or try to nibble on your hand.

California King Snake

King snakes are also about three to four feet long and can live upwards of 20 years.

They have a little bit more of an attitude than a corn snake’s, but that can be cured simply by handling them more often. The less trust they have with you, the nippier they are going to be. They are non-venomous, so if you do get bit, don’t worry.

Although, now that I’ve said that, I realize that you are definitely going to be worried if your pet snake sinks its fangs into your hand. What I mean to say, is: you don’t have to go to the hospital. Just slap on a band-aid and chalk it up to experience.

King snakes are even better at escaping than your average slithery friend and are infamous for testing the boundaries, pushing their nose along the top of their enclosure. A 20 -gallon tank is adequate for a king snake as well, just make sure there are no lapses in security.

Never house two king snakes together. They will eat each other, and I don’t mean metaphorically. Trust me, I wish I did.

The substrate doesn’t really matter in this case, just as long as you never use cedar, redwood, or pine. Those woods, especially cedar, contain oils that negatively interact with the snake’s skin.

The substrate will need to be changed often, in order to keep the cage as clean as possible. Newspapers are a good option, as it is cheap and simple to clean up (simply change it out).

If your snake can’t burrow in their substrate, that perfectly fine, but you might want to consider adding one or two more hide-boxes for them to “burrow” in instead. Climbing branches and faux foliage are nice additions as well.

King snakes, like corn snakes, don’t need any more lighting than the lights in your house or the light filtering in through the windows.

The heat requirements are pretty typical: keep the temperature at around 75 to 85 degrees, with a basking area at around 85-95 degrees, with warmer and colder spots around the enclosure so the snake can alternate at will. 

California kingsnakes will eat once or twice a week. Pre-killed mice are ideal since they can’t injure your snake.

King snakes got their name from killing and eating other snakes (making them the “king,” or top of the food chain), so they eat slightly bigger prey. Start out your baby snakes with pinky mice, then move up to fuzzies, hoppers, and so on until your snake has stopped growing. King snakes usually end up on baby rats.

After your snake has had a few days to settle in, start handling them for a few minutes a day. Be consistent and persistent. They won’t take to you at first, but just gently hold them, and eventually, they will begin to trust you and relax in your hold.

King snakes are constrictors, so they will wrap around your arm. This isn’t dangerous, but it also shouldn’t really be encouraged, so just gently unwind them starting at their tail.

In the beginning, they might excrete a foul-smelling musk when you try to hold them. Apart from making your room smell like a landfill, this musk does no harm, and after your snake gets used to you, they will stop excreting it.

Rosy Boa

Rosy boas are extremely common and can be purchased for as little as $25 at any reptile show or on the internet. They live even longer than corn or king snakes, often reaching the ripe old age of 25 or more.

Like king snakes, rosy boas like to probe for weak spots in their enclosures, especially at the top. Or maybe they just like a good neck stretch. In any case, having an enclosure with a screened top will prevent any bruising or abrasions that your rosy boa might get from rubbing their snout too much.

Again, a 20-gallon tank is just fine. Rosy boas only reach up to about three feet long at maturity. Again, provide hide-boxes, climbing branches, and varying temperatures throughout the enclosure. Rosy boas prefer warmer temperatures than most, with the low end being around 80 degrees and the high end in the mid to upper 90-degree range. The basking area should be around seven to ten degrees warmer than the ambient temperature of the rest of the tank.

Strangely, rosy boas actually do better if they are not provided with a constant water source. Place a water dish in the enclosure about one day out of the month. Do not give your snake water the day preceding a feeding day, rather aim for two days before. For young snakes, one day every three weeks is ideal.

Do your best to mimic the seasons with your rosy boa. During the winter, for about three to four months, you should lower the temperature of your tank to no lower than 55 degrees.

This is what your snake would be doing in the wild. Start this period by having your snake fast for 14 days, not giving them anything to eat. During this fast, gradually lower the temperature until it reaches the aforementioned 55 degrees, then feed your snake. Cooler temperatures inhibit digestions, and the snake’s digestive tract needs to be “extra-ready” for food when you lower the temperature.

After three months, gradually raise the temperature again.

Rosy boas prefer to eat live prey. This is dangerous, as the mice could harm your snake. Buy domesticated mice to minimize the possibility of the mouse attacking the boa. Start your snake out with smaller mice, and have the prey grow as the snake does. Once again, feed them every seven to ten days. 

As a rule of thumb, make sure your snake’s prey is roughly the same width as your snake’s head. 

When handling your rosy boa, keep in mind that they can have a strong feeding response. Before you pick up your snake, gently prod them with a different object, like forceps.

This tells your snake that they are not being fed, and they should submit to handling without argument. They like to wiggle a lot, so do not restrain them. Just support them with both hands and let them slide through your fingers. Don’t do anything to make them feel restrained, or they’re going to resist.

Gopher Snake

Gopher snakes are bold, curious, forgiving, and non-venomous, making them perhaps the number one choice for most beginners, and even well-seasoned hobbyists. Because they are so active and inquisitive, they thrive in captivity in a way that most snakes, and even most animals in general, do not.

Gopher snakes enjoy being held, and are very active. They are diurnal, meaning they’re active during the day, which is nice because unless you’re a blogger, you’re probably active during the day as well. Gopher snakes like to move around as they are being held, so just keep switching your hands underneath them as they move.

These snakes are one of the largest of the list, reaching easily up to six feet long. They are heavy bodied and live an average of 15 years.

Of course, there are some outliers, and there are documented cases of gopher snakes who live up to 30 years in captivity. However, you might just want to count on keeping your snake around for closer to 15 years.

Due to their larger size, you’ll want to house your gopher snake in closer to a 30-gallon tank. They are burrowing snakes, so they will prefer a long, low enclosure with plenty of loose substrate to nestle in. Again, bark chips or aspen shavings are very good options. Just make sure to keep the enclosure clean.

As always, provide hide-boxes, varying temperatures (high 70’s to high 80’s), a basking area, branches, and water. Constant water for gopher snakes is important, unlike the rosy boas.

Keep the water, substrate, and rest of the enclosure clean. Take necessary precautions to prevent escape.

Around winter time, especially if their enclosure is within view of a window, gopher snakes will start to slow down and will eat less. In the wild, gopher snakes hibernate, so this is normal. If you want to prevent this, however, move them away from a window and provide them with 12 hours of light. There is no extra light requirements for gopher snakes.

Gopher snakes actually like it drier than most snakes, as they are usually found in the deserts of the Southwestern United States. The average humidity of your house is around 40%, and that will definitely suffice for your snake.

When gopher snakes get ready to start shedding, they will become reclusive, and their scales will look dull and clouded. When you notice this, provide them with a humid box. This is a box just big enough for them to curl up in, lined with damp paper towels or moss. This keeps their skin dry and will help them slough off their dead scales. You can also mist their enclosure once a day.

Gopher snakes eat once a week. They will eat thawed, pre-killed mice, which is ideal, as it prevents live prey injuring your snake. They will eat adult mice and even baby rats.

As a rule of thumb, make sure your snake’s prey is roughly the same width as your snake’s head. I’d like to see you try to eat a mouse whole when it’s bigger than your entire head.

Gopher snakes can be shy eaters. If your snakes won’t take the mouse, try wiggling it with a pair of tongs, simulating live prey. If that still doesn’t work, try leaving the mouse in front of a hide-box and let the gopher snake “hunt” for it. If your snake’s refusal persists, take it to a vet.

Ball Python

Out of the seven, ball pythons are probably the hardest for beginning snake owners. They are a little unpredictable and sometimes a little nippy. Still, they are non-venomous and actually not as escape-prone as the others (though they’ll still make a break for it, given the chance), so they definitely deserve to make the list.

Ball pythons are the oldest of the group, living up to 50 years in some cases. They are also right next to gopher snakes in terms of size: they are typically around 5 feet and are thick-bodied. That being said, they are about as active as the average teenager, so they don’t need much room to move around, as they won’t utilize it often. They can be housed in a 30-gallon tank.

As per the norm, make sure to provide clean water and substrate, branches, a temperature ranging from 80 to 85 with a basking area around 90, and a hide-box.

Ball pythons prefer it more humid than most, so be sure to provide a bigger water dish than you would normally. Ball pythons like to soak, especially around shedding time. No additional lighting is required.

AstroTurf is a fantastic candidate for the substrate of ball python enclosures. Ball pythons are not burrowing snakes, so they do not need loose particles.

AstroTurf is reusable and washable. Have two different sheets of it, switching them out as you wash one. You can wash them in one gallon of water with two tablespoons of bleach.

Ball pythons go longer between feedings and eat bigger prey. They often times eat medium-sized rates. Just make sure that you are measuring whatever you are feeding your snake against the width of its head. Feed them every two weeks. If they are refusing to eat, try wiggling the prey with tongs. Pre-killed mice and/or rats are ideal.

Sometimes, ball pythons will just randomly stop eating, even for a month or two at a time. This is normal, though it might seem odd. If your snake looks healthy, its body is round and filled out, and you can’t see its ribs, then there is no need for concern. Continue to offer your snake a mouse or rat every two weeks until it decides to go back to eating.

With ball pythons, it is best to relocate them to a separate enclosure when feeding them. This way, they will only associate feeding time with that enclosure. You can feel safer reaching in to grab your snake when you know they will not strike, thinking that your hand is a tasty meal.

Handle your snake the way you would handle a book. That is, carefully and often.

Ball pythons are a little harder to get a hold of. Wild snakes brought into captivity are often a little nippy and take a while longer to adjust. Those bred in captivity are more expensive and less common. This mostly boils down to the fact that they are harder to find, and live for a very long time.

Milk Snake

Like a king snake, a milk snake can be territorial and will fight, kill, and eat other snakes if kept in the same enclosure. You want your snakes to be as safe as possible, which I assume is why you are reading this post, so make sure you provide the appropriate housing.

Milk snakes are often praised as the best pet snakes, due to their small size and brilliant colors. They are infamous for being mistaken for the poisonous coral snake.

Milk snakes are extremely docile and the least likely to bite of all the snakes on the list. They are known for their appetite and grow quite quickly, though they rarely reach four feet. They are particularly expert at escaping, so just keep an eye out when you open their cage. One lapse in attention and they’ll be gone. Because of their speed, they are perhaps not the best choice for children, but still a viable option for the eager beginner.

Invest in a tight, well-made enclosure with no holes or gaps. Snakes can slither through surprisingly small spaces. They can be housed comfortably in 20-gallon tanks.

The substrate options for milk snakes are wide open. They are not burrowing snakes, so you can use newspaper, AstroTurf, aspen shaving, or bark chips. Like always, avoid dusty substrates and oily woods with a strong scent (i.e. pine, cedar, redwood, etc.). For ease of cleaning, I would suggest newspapers. For the sake of the environment, I would recommend cleaning and reusing AstroTurf.

Feed them a mouse every 10 days. As mentioned before, they are voracious eaters, and generally, have no problems going after their prey. They are widely accepted as the least likely to bite out of most pet snakes, so you can feel safe placing the prey in the cage with your hands. Pre-killed, thawed mice are once again the ideal.

Milk snakes do not typically hibernate, so just keep the heat and lighting consistent throughout the year. They do not require any additional lighting. They need a temperature of about 78 to 86 degrees with a basking area of around 93 degrees. Make sure to provide clean water, hide-boxes, and branches.

Hognose Snake

If you got to the end of the list: congratulations! We saved the most interesting for last. It’s your treat, on the house. Hognose snakes are the least common of the list. However, their eccentricity makes up for it. True to their name, their snout turns up at the end, and they sport keeled (ridged) scales.

Hognose snakes are small, generally three feet in length, sturdy, easily handleable, and consistent eaters. They live up to 18 years. They’re great if you have limited space to house them because they don’t need much.

When threatened, they mimic the hiss of a rattlesnake and the “hood” of a cobra. They do not bite, but will occasionally strike with a closed mouth. They are very docile and take handling quite well.

They are active during the day, and hail from the desserts, so they prefer warmer temperatures. Try to keep their enclosure around 78 to 86 degrees with a basking area around seven to ten degrees warmer.

Full spectrum lighting is required and should be proved for 14-16 hours during the summer and 10 hours during the winter.

They do not need as much of a secure cage, as they are not prone to escaping. House them in a 20-gallon tank. As usual, water, substrate, branches, and hide-boxes are necessities. They are not burrowing snakes, so loose particle substrate is not required, and you can go more towards the newspaper route.

They can live quite peaceably with another snake or even two additional snakes in the same enclosure. Just adjust the size of the enclosure as needed.

Hognose snakes are very eager eaters, and when they see you coming with food, they will go straight for you with an open mouth. For this reason, it is best to use tongs when feeding your snake. Feed them a pre-killed, thawed mouse every seven to ten days that is no wider than it’s head.

Related Questions

What is the smallest pet snake? The smallest pet snake is Bimini blind Snake, followed by the ringneck snake. 

Are garter snakes good pet snakes? Garter snakes are very good pet snakes, they not as easy as the snakes in the article above. They are good as intermediate pets.

Are pet snakes dangerous? Non-venomous snakes are not dangerous. Obviously, venomous snakes do have some risk attached to them, and there are always the horror stories involved. However, if you get a tried and tested good pet snake, you will be perfectly fine.

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