Not all potential pet snakes are friendly. But there are pet snakes that get along well with people and even enjoy being held.
Almost any list of pet snakes that like to be held will include corn snakes, ball pythons (although they will need some time to get over their fear of you), Dekay’s brown snakes, California-king snakes, and common boa constrictors.
We will tell you everything you need to know about these friendly pet snakes, plus over a dozen more pet snakes that like to be held for every budget and every level of experience with pet snakes.
All prices in this article are quoted in US dollars.
Dekay’s Brown Snake
Just about everyone can have a good result with a Dekay’s brown snake.
Although they aren’t usually recommended for beginners by snake experts, they have a number of things going for them.
- A Dekay’s brown snake will only be about a foot (30 cm) long when it is fully grown. It is easy to handle, needs very little food, and thrives in a small terrarium.
- A Dekay’s brown snake is naturally active and curious. It will check you out while you check it out.
- A Dekay’s brown snake doesn’t object to being handled, although you should give it space to keep it from getting stressed out. Once a day is enough.
Dekay’s brown snakes eat insects and earthworms. They aren’t large enough to eat rodents.
They live up to 30 years in captivity. You can find Dekay’s brown snakes for sale at $30 to $300.
Corn snakes don’t mind being held, and with experience, they seem actually to like it.
They are very easy to handle, baby corn snakes just 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) long and the largest adult just 5 feet (1.25 m) long, weighing about 6 ounces (170 g).
Corn snakes are native to the United States and can be captured in the wild.
Most corn snakes available for sale, however, are captive-bred, making them even easier to manage.
These popular snakes cost less than $50 to acquire.
They need an enclosure about the size of a medium fish tank, 20 gallons (80 liters), with a temperature gradient giving them a warm side (90° F or about 32° C) and a cool side (72° F or about 22° C).
The rat snake is the woodland relative of the corn snake.
Growing up to 5 feet (1.25 m) long, it travels through leaves and debris in search of baby mice and other rodents as its principal food.
When a rat snake feels threatened, it will play dead. Rat snakes tend to be very docile about being handled.
You can buy a rat snake for $30 to $300, depending on the color morph.
They are a good choice for beginner pet snake owners.
California King Snakes
California king snakes are a little shy about being handled at first.
They may try to hide or to escape, especially if you make the mistake of picking them up from directly overhead.
In the wild, predators that eat snakes will attack them from overhead. They have an instinctive fear of being approached this way.
Once you learn to approach your California king snake in a non-threatening way, however, it becomes docile and will eventually enjoy being handled.
California king snakes are easy to find. They may cost $70 to $120 in pet shops, but you are more likely to get a pet snake free of parasites and phobias if you get one that has been captive-bred rather than wild-caught.
Housing requirements for California king snakes are similar to those for corn snakes, with one important exception: California king snakes are great escape artists. Their enclosure will need an escape-proof lid.
Ball pythons have an unusual defense mechanism that kicks in automatically when they are scared.
They are very reluctant to bite. Instead, they roll themselves into a tight ball, protecting their head in the middle.
Their coil is so tight that you could pick them up and roll them across the floor. But don’t.
You make your ball python pettable by giving it experiences with you in which it is not harmed.
Ball pythons come in interesting morphs and colors. They aren’t prohibitively expensive, usually $70 to $250 from the dealer or pet stores.
The issue with ball pythons is that they are picky eaters.
They eat rodents, but often refuse previously frozen or even fresh-killed prey. They prefer to eat their prey live.
Children’s pythons aren’t pythons for children.
They were named by the herpetologist who discovered them in the rocky deserts of Australia, John George Children.
Children’s pythons aren’t colorful or exciting, but they are very easy to care for. They have even and predictable temperaments, especially if you handle them frequently.
You can find a Children’s python for $70 to $300. They live as long as 30 years.
Rosy boas are a friendly, relatively small boa constrictor native to northwestern Mexico and a few locations in the desert southwest of the United States.
Unlike tropical boa constrictors, they don’t grow too large for one person to handle. These non-aggressive snakes will max out at about 4 feet (a little over a meter) long.
Your rosy boa will need about two weeks after its first feeding, and a day or two to digest it, before it feels comfortable living with you.
You can start by standing to its side and reaching down into the enclosure to stroke it.
After a few get-acquainted sessions, you can lift it out of its enclosure, grasping it by the middle of its body, for longer contact outside its cage.
Rosy boas seldom bite, but that doesn’t mean they never bite. Always go slow in getting to know your rosy boa.
Your rosy boa will cost about $200 to $350 up-front. Plan on keeping a very long time. These snakes live to be as many as 30 years old.
Colorful, easy-to-care-for milk snakes are just the right size for most people who are looking for a snake to keep as a pet.
They can be kept in a medium-sized cage, and they are OK with eating thawed, previously frozen mice for most of their diet. And it is possible to tame them with a little effort.
You should be aware that these relatives of the California king snake are naturally wary of being held.
They will defecate, release musk, or nip at your fingers the first few times they are held.
Their fangs are tiny and the most they could do to you is to give you a scratch. With repeated handling, milk snakes become friendly and docile.
Like other reptiles, milk snakes enjoy having a heat source, but they are OK with heat that comes from below rather than just a heat lamp above them.
They require an initial investment of $50 to $200 for the snake and $200 to $300 for enclosure and equipment, but they are easy to care for once you get started.
Gopher snakes can add a little drama to their terrarium. When they feel threatened, they can coil like rattlesnakes and hiss.
They look like rattlesnakes, too. This fact will not be overlooked by casual visitors to your home.
You can tell the difference between a gopher snake and a rattlesnake by the gopher snake’s rounded nose and pupils and the absence of rattles, although you may not want to get close enough to do this.
Gopher snakes aren’t poisonous, but they can inflict a painful bite. You socialize a gopher snake to being held by letting it exercise its natural curiosity.
Gopher snakes are active during the day and love to watch what is going on around them.
Offer them your gloved hand and your arm in long sleeves and stroke them. Do this often enough, and they will trust you and let you pick them up.
Gopher snakes sell for $100 to $200, albinos cost more. They need a heat lamp for basking.
Garter snakes appeal to pet owners who don’t want to deal with dead mice.
These native-American snakes feed on fish and insects and worms (which are more likely to be parasite-free if you buy them from a pet supply store rather than digging them up) and can go their entire lives without eating a mouse.
However, if you start them on pinky mice when they are young, they may go on a hunger strike to demand more.
Garter snakes don’t mind being handled if you don’t mind letting them explore your fingers. They don’t like to be squeezed.
They prefer some freedom of motion, although that doesn’t mean you have to let them be free to slither away under the sofa.
Garter snakes have small teeth and a mild venom that is only toxic to insects, tadpoles, and minnows.
Still, you could have a mild, local allergic reaction to garter snake venom in the unlikely event that it bit you.
Garter snakes are available for as little as $15. Get a captive-bred garter snake rather than a wild-caught garter snake. Captive-bred garter snakes are happier and healthier.
Western Hognose Snakes
Western hognose snakes are active, curious, highly interactive snakes that are pricey but rewarding first pet snakes because of the ease of handling them.
They will rear back and lunge at you with their flat noses. This contact is almost always a thump, not a bite.
They can be trained to consent to being held—if you make a point of only returning them to their enclosure when they are calm, rewarding good behavior.
Western hognose snakes usually would rather play dead than bite. If your snake is playing dead, however, don’t try your luck.
Leave it alone in its enclosure and try petting it some other day.
Western hognose snakes are native to North America. Parasite-free, captive-bred Western hognose snakes usually cost $100 to $700 in pet shops.
Kenyan Sand Boas
Kenyan sand boas are desert snakes, burrowing into the sand to wait for their prey.
They use the sand to suffocate the rodents they eat, rather than coiling around them like other, larger boas.
A Kenyan sand boa fully grown may only be a very manageable 2 feet (50 cm) long.
Kenyan sand boas love to burrow, so if you take it out of its enclosure to pet it, it may crawl up your sleeve.
If they really don’t want to be held, they will usually try to squirm away rather than bite.
A bite from a Kenyan sand boa is no worse than a scratch from a house cat, but it’s traumatic for both you and the snake.
Kenyan sand boas live as long as 20 years. Depending on the morph, you should be able to buy your Kenyan sand boa for $70 to $200.
Rough Green Snakes
If you love snakes, but don’t like to deal with dead mice, a rough green snake may be for you. They like to eat insects and spiders.
Their jaws don’t open wide enough to eat rodents.
Like many other small animals, rough green snakes have an intense fear of potential predators, including humans.
Even after you have habituated your rough green snake to handling, it’s not something you should do every day.
Frequent handling can cause your rough green snake to stress out.
These snakes only grow about 2.5 feet (63 cm) long. The wholesale cost of a wild-caught rough green snake is just $8.
Common Boa Constrictors
When many people think of handling a pet snake, they have a mental image of a common boa constrictor.
These powerful tropical snakes grow large enough to eat rabbits, chickens, and deer.
They wrap themselves around and suffocate their prey, and a distressed boa constrictor will wrap itself around you.
Boa constrictors aren’t a pet for children or most teens. If you lack upper body strength, you shouldn’t keep a boa constrictor if you live alone.
Boa constrictors require larger enclosures than other snakes, and some municipalities require them to be licensed.
It doesn’t cost a lot to acquire a young boa constrictor, just $60 to $200, but you will need to feed and house and keep it healthy for as long as 30 years.
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