Authored by: JoAnn Lutmer-Paulson
Perhaps you have considered keeping a snake as a pet or you may have a child begging you to let them do so. Lots of people have pet snakes and even more of us know people that do, but maybe you still have concerns or need answers. Whether you find the idea mesmerizing or creepy, there are many myths about snakes that may be influencing your thoughts. The question is: are your suspicions unfounded or right?
Myth: No one ever died from a pet snake. At least, they don’t from the right kind of pet snake.
Fact: Wrong. Even the ball python, the most common species of pet snake, has been responsible for human deaths. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it certainly can occur. Smaller children, like infants and toddlers, are naturally at the most risk. Animals, including other traditional pets, are also at risk from pet snakes.
Myth: Snakes are always dangerous.
Fact: Right. Of course, any venomous snake should never be kept as a pet. Some constrictor snakes are unsafe for all children (and most adults) like the Reticulated Python or the Boa Constrictor – these snakes are simply too powerful and can sometimes be aggressive. This also explains why you might not want to allow any snakes in the home if you have infants or toddlers, since even smaller constrictors can be a threat due to the size of the small child. But certain tamer, smaller pythons are considered safe for kids as long as they are handled and kept with care. So it’s important to remember that snakes can always be dangerous if not handled appropriately.
Myth: As long as it’s not venomous and you have the room and an older child, any snake would be fine as a pet.
Fact: Again, this is wrong! While venomous snakes are obviously a major concern, they are certainly not the only dangerous snakes. Even though most pet snakes are constrictors (like pythons), not all constrictors make good pet snakes. You want a particularly docile species, like ball pythons or corn snakes and you want smaller versions of even these tame serpents.
Myth: If I catch a snake that I know is a more docile species, I should just keep that one instead of buying one.
Fact: Wrong again, but not entirely. For an adult that is very well educated on snakes, it may not be a terrible concept. For most people though, especially kids, it’s not a good idea. First, a positive identification is absolutely necessary – you do not want the mistake of misidentifying something you bring into your home! But even if you are sure, consider the age, size, and maturity of the kids in the house. Also, check out your state laws – many states don’t allow the capture and keeping of wild animals from refuges and protected areas, including snakes. They may also have internal parasites and other issues you may be ill-prepared to deal with. Lastly, wild snakes may have more difficulty adapting to the feeding style of pet snakes. Overall, snakes that are bred in captivity tend to be safer than ones that grow in the wild, so they make better pets.
Myth: Pet snakes are cheap and easy to take care of.
Fact: Right and wrong. Most snake that are sold as pets (by reputable breeders) should be relatively easy to care for, but there is still a lot of responsibility involved in having a pet snake. There are a lot of the same tasks as other pets – cleaning out cages, cleaning up feces, feeding, and more. The initial cost can be sizeable by itself since you need the snake, a large enough cage, bedding, and other items. Then you have to use electricity to keep the cage’s heat and humidity right, you have to pay vet bills like any other pet, and you have to pay for food. Many snake owners think it’s well worth the cost, but be aware of the reality.
Photo: Courtesy of Stefan Baudy via flickr (CC by 2.o)