Beginner’s Guide to Caring for Pet Snakes

Malaysia is one of the most biodiverse places in the world, populated with a rich collection of wildlife that is often not found anywhere else on the globe.

Much of biodiversity is unfortunately threatened by various causes, including deforestation, climate change and invasive species. Given this situation, it makes sense that there are strict controls on which animals can and cannot be imported, bred or kept as pets in the country.

Snakes, of course, are some of the most infamous invasive species, from the brown tree snake in Guam to the Burmese python in the Florida Everglades.

Naturally, the types of snakes that can be kept as pets are very limited. This makes it more difficult for new snake owners, in particular, to find an animal that will meet their particular needs.

Fortunately, some of the snakes that are allowed as pets are also some of the easiest for beginners to take care of. So, there is no reason that with a little research a beginner cannot start a thriving snake keeping hobby.

1. Royal python (Python regius)

The ball python is probably the most popular pet snake in the world, in large part because of its calm and even temperament and its openness to being handled by familiar people. King pythons are larger than most of the snakes on this list, both in terms of length – females can reach 4 feet to 5 feet (1.5 m) in length; males 3ft (0.9m) – and weight, because they have the strong muscles needed for a constrictor to hunt in the wild.

A royal python. – The star / Filepic

In captivity, they should be fed a mouse or rat (depending on their size) every one or two weeks. So normally one mouse per snake once a week or once every two weeks. Normally, around 9 to 12 months old, they can switch from mice to rats. They don’t eat anything else the rest of the time. It is more than enough for them. In fact, some snakes quickly become obese after consuming one rat per week. It is a common mistake for beginners to overfeed them.

King pythons are ambush predators in the wild and will want to replicate this behavior in their aquarium, so be sure to provide them with plenty of rocks, plants, and other hiding places.

2. Corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus)

Corn snakes are very popular with novice snake keepers, and for many good reasons. There are logistical reasons – they are readily available and affordable at almost any pet store. Practical reasons – they are small and relatively easy to maintain. More fun reasons – their beauty, high activity levels, and ease of handling. Even children can safely handle corn snakes, which are not poisonous and pose virtually no danger to their owners.

While corn snakes have been bred in just about every color combination imaginable, they are best known for their surprisingly bright fall coloring.

Corn snakes should be fed thawed rodents or similar foods every week to two weeks, depending on their age and size.

3. Russian rat snake (Elaphe schrenckii)

Ratsnakes include nearly 50 species of snakes, most of which are suitable and popular as pets. The Russian rat snake is among the largest of them, reaching almost 1.8 m in length. They are known for their distinctive dark and light colouration, which has been refined by captive breeding to produce beautiful yellow stools.

Russian ratsnakes love water and require a humid environment, but can thrive in lower temperatures than many other snakes because their natural habitat is found at such high elevations. They have a diet similar to that of the ball python.

4. Royal Scarlet Serpent (Lampropeltis elapsoides)

One of the main defenses of the royal scarlet snake in the wild is its resemblance to the poisonous coral snake, which also has bright red scales with black and yellow stripes. The royal scarlet snake is not poisonous, but this evolutionary living room trick has also made it a popular pet for its striking coloring. Kingsnakes rarely grow more than 2 feet (0.6 m); they are largely nocturnal snakes that like to hide in the earth and under plants and logs.

They have a diet similar to that of the ball python. Generally, as pets, snakes are only fed on mice or rats. They are not fed on anything else. Normally, they are fed a mouse or rat during each feeding session. The size of the mouse or rat is important because of this.

5. Milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum)

Milk snakes may not be an ideal first snake for most people, but they are popular with more experienced enthusiasts for their bright colors and more lively personalities.

Milk snakes are perhaps best known for their distinctive red, black, and yellow striped coloring and visual resemblance to the highly poisonous coral snake, but are generally harmless; the most trouble they are likely to give their owners is to try to escape from their enclosures.

Most milk snakes are between 2 and 4 feet (1.2 m) in length. They should be fed pinky mice in their youth, before becoming larger prey after six months of age.

Laws as they currently exist protect the country’s incredible biodiversity, including its over 150 native snake species, while allowing amateur herpetologists to indulge their hobby and collect a wide range of beautiful and interesting pets. Be sure to check state and local regulations before purchasing a new specimen, they can rest assured that there are still many wonderful options available to them.

Nigel Robert is a reptile lover and editor of No more reptiles, a magazine and a reptile community.