Smaller snakes—if they stay small—are easier to care for.
They take less space and need less maintenance. And they usually have a more even temperament.
Pet snakes that stay small include Corn Snakes, California King Snakes, Scarlet King Snakes, Western Hognose Snakes, Garter Snakes, Rosy Boas, Sand Boas, Ball Pythons, Gopher Snakes, and more.
In this article, we’ll cover the best of the smallest pet snakes that never get too big to handle, discussing:
- What you should know before you buy them,
- How much they cost,
- What you feed them, and
- How well suited they are for beginners.
All prices are in US dollars.
Before I get into the individual species, below is a table that shows all the snakes that I have covered in this article, with their expected size and life expectancy.
There are not in the order of their size, but of their popularity as pet snakes.
|Ball Pythons||2 to 5 feet (50 to 125 cm)||Up To 30 years|
|Corn Snakes||2.5 to 5 feet (63 to 125 cm)||8-10 years|
|Garter Snakes||18 inches (40 cm) to 5 Feet (150 cm)||Up To 10 years|
|Gopher Snakes||Up to 5 feet (150 cm)||Up To 30 years|
|Milk Snakes||Up to 3 feet (90 cm)|
|Ringneck Snakes||8 inches (20 cm)||Up To 20 years|
|Rosy Boas||Between 2 and 3 feet (60 and 90 cm)||Up To 25 years|
|Sand Boa||16 to 18 inches (40 to 45 cm) for males and 2 feet (60 cm) for females||Up To 20 years|
|Scarlet King Snakes||16 to 20 inches (40 to 50 cm)|
|California King Snakes||30 to 40 inches (75 cm to a meter) long|
|Rough Green Snakes||Up to 3 feet (75 cm)||Up To 15 years|
|Smooth Green Snakes||20 inches (50 cm)||Up To 15 years|
|Anthill Pythons (Pygmy Pythons)||24 inches (60 cm)|
|Western Hognosed Snakes||Male – 14 to 24 inches (35 to 60 cm) | Female – 36 inches (90 cm)||Up To 30 years|
|African Egg Eating Snake||1.5 and 2.5 feet (45 and 75 cm)|
|Barbados Threadsnakes||4 inches (10 cm)|
Ball Pythons are the most popular pet snake in the United States right now, because they come in hundreds of beautiful and exotic colors and design combinations.
They are also popular because of their demeanor. Ball Pythons are shy and like to hide in the boxes you will provide for them.
A male Ball Python will only grow to a length of 2 to 3 feet (50 to 75 cm). Females will grow to 3 to 5 feet (75 to 125 cm). They can live to be 30 years old.
Ball Pythons are native to the higher elevations of western and central Africa and need high humidity to prevent skin problems.
You should provide their enclosure with a mister to keep it appropriately moist and use a hygrometer to make sure their humidity levels stay in a healthy range.
Ball Pythons should not be kept in a cage with a screen top. They will rub their noses against the screen and get cuts and scrapes.
Common morphs cost around $50.
A Ball Python that is offered for $25 or less may have health problems. Designer morphs in exotic colors and albino Ball Pythons can cost $150 to $300.
Feed your Ball Python small defrosted, previously frozen mice or rats. Be sure that the rodent you feed your Ball Python is no more than 1-1/4 times as wide as your snake.
Ball Pythons are prone to feeding problems.
Ask for a feeding demonstration before you buy.
Also read: How Often Do Ball Pythons Shed?
Corn Snakes aren’t the smallest snake on this list, but they may be the easiest to feed.
They are constrictor snakes, and they like to have the sensation that they are catching their own food. (This means that they won’t bite your hand when you feed them, although it’s still a good idea to put their food in their enclosure with tongs.)
Corn Snakes don’t live as long as many other snakes on this list, just 5 to 10 years, making them a good choice for people who may have a change in lifestyle after they adopt their snake.
Corn Snakes need an enclosure with hiding places to stay stress-free. A mesh lid on a 30- to 40-gallon (125 to 175 liter) enclosure works well for them.
Corn Snakes grow to 2-1/2 to 5 feet (63 to 125 cm). They live about 8 to 10 years.
If you live in North America and you have spent any time outdoors, chances are that you have encountered a Garter Snake.
These common snakes make great display snakes because they are alert and active and will interact with you through the glass of their enclosure.
Buy your Garter Snake from a reputable dealer who knows the species you are getting. Some species of Garter Snakes grow to just 18 inches (40 cm) long, but others can grow to nearly 5 feet (1.6 meters).
Garter Snakes like to soak in a bowl of water before they shed their skin, and they need a basking area kept at 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (33 to 35 degrees Celsius) to properly digest their food.
Feed baby Garter Snakes cut up night-crawlers (worms), but give adult Garter Snakes rodents.
Garter Snakes can eat fish, but shouldn’t be given a diet exclusively of fish because it can cause thiamine deficiency.’
A Garter Snake may cost as little as $15.
Garter Snakes live to the age of about 10 years with good care.
Never heard of a Gopher Snake? You’re not alone.
They aren’t very commonly kept as pets. But Gopher Snakes are calm snakes that grow to a length of up to 5 feet (1.3 meters), occasionally more.
Even a newly hatched Gopher Snake is about a foot long.
Gopher Snakes are friendly, but they are talented at escaping their enclosures. They eat mice when they are young, but should be fed rats when they are adults.
You can buy a Gopher Snake for about $130. It will live as long as 30 years.
Milk Snakes have red, yellow, and black bands like poisonous Coral Snakes.
You can tell the difference between harmless Milk Snakes and dangerous Coral Snakes by the position of the colors.
Red and yellow bands are always adjacent on poisonous Coral Snakes, while red never touches yellow on harmless Milk Snakes.
Adult Milk Snakes of both sexes grow to about 3 feet (75 cm) long. It’s important to have two enclosures for them, one for them to live in, and another for them to feed in.
You don’t want your Milk Snake to associate opening the enclosure or your hand with feeding. If you feed your Milk Snake in its tank, it will not be safe for you to hold it.
Milk Snakes cost $70 to $200.
They primarily eat thawed mice that were previously frozen, but they can also eat small eggs, like quail eggs, every third or fourth feeding.
Ringneck Snakes are really tiny.
When they are fully grown, they may only be about as wide as a pencil. It’s easy to mistake them for worms, except the Ringneck Snake will have an orange collar.
If you are looking for a snake you will never have to feed rodents, this snake is for you. Ringneck Snakes can’t eat rodents, although they thrive on insects and worms.
Juvenile Ringneck Snakes are about 8 inches (20 cm) long.
They grow about an inch (25 mm) a year.
Ringneck Snakes cost about $30, and are easiest to find online.
They do well in a 10-gallon (40-liter) enclosure with a mesh top. Ringneck Snakes live to be about 20 years old.
It may seem odd to describe a snake as “cute,” but rosy boas fit that description. Rosy Boas come in a variety of colors with a range of skin patterns.
They are non-venomous, docile reptiles, and they only grow to somewhere between 2 and 3 feet (50 and 75 cm) long.
A fully grown adult will only weigh about 1 pound (a little under 500 grams). You can buy them at reptile stores, at snake shows, and online.
They usually cost between $30 and $40 as hatchlings, although designer morphs in rare colors and designs can cost considerably more.
Rosy Boas are a great escape artist.
It is very important to make sure that their enclosure is sealed. Screen tops aren’t recommended, because these snakes will rub their noses against them and get cuts and scrapes.
Rosy Boas do well in a 20-gallon (75 liters) enclosure and should be kept one per tank, at least when you are starting out.
Feed them pinky or hopper mice every 7 to 10 days. Rosy Boas can live to be 25 years old.
Sand Boas are tame, easy to feed, and smaller than the other boas, just 16 to 18 inches (40 to 45 cm) for males and 2 feet (60 cm) for females when they are full-grown.
They are not really social. They like to spend a lot of their time in the sand in the bottom of their enclosure.
Sand Boas are beautiful snakes.
Their natural brown and tan pattern is attractive as it is, but there are color morphs in snow, striped, tiger, anerythritist, paradox, and others.
Male Sand Boas eat hopper mice, but female Sand Boas should be fed larger mice.
Even though you should never feed any snake live mice (the mouse can attack the snake), Sand Boas will usually strike at and constrict the thawed, previously frozen rodents you give them and constrict them before eating them.
You can buy Sand Boas for $150 for natural colors and up to $500 for morphs.
They live as long as 20 years in captivity.
Scarlet King Snakes
Scarlet King Snakes are famous for eating other snakes. You don’t want to try to keep your Scarlet King Snake and another pet snake in the same enclosure.
Ironically, Scarlet King Snakes are usually cheaper when you buy two, for $100 each, but you may be better off just to buy one at the usual price of $200.
Scarlet King Snakes have alternating rings of red, yellow, and black, but they aren’t venomous like Coral Snakes.
(You can rely on the children’s rhyme “Red next to yellow kills a fellow, red next to black is safe for Jack.”)
In the wild, Scarlet King Snakes feed on lizards, frogs, and insects.
They crush their prey by constriction before eating it whole and prefer to be given food that they can wrap around and eat in this manner.
Scarlet King Snakes release a smelly musk when they are cornered, so you may not find this snake very cuddly.
Scarlet King Snakes grow 16 to 20 inches (40 to 50 cm) long. They can do well in a 10-gallon enclosure.
California King Snakes
California King Snakes are the larger cousins of the Florida-native Scarlet King Snakes. These western snakes grow 30 to 40 inches (75 cm to a meter) long.
Because they are more popular and easier to find, they come at a lower price, around $100 for a single California King Snake, although some California King Snakes with unusual coloration sell for up to $300.
California King Snakes like to bask under a heat lamp, burrow in their substrate, and hide in the boxes you put in their enclosure.
They need either full-spectrum lighting or natural sunlight to stay healthy, and it’s important to turn off the lights over their enclosure at night.
Never put a heat lamp in your California King Snake’s enclosure. They are well known for wrapping around heal lamps and burning themselves.
Rough Green Snakes
Rough Green Snakes are the least expensive small pet snakes you can find for sale in North America. They often cost just $8 to $10.
That’s because it’s easy to catch them in the wild. Rough Green Snakes move silently, deliberately, and slowly through bushes and vines as they stalk the insects and amphibians they eat.
They don’t stand a chance against collectors determined to catch them.
Because of their gentle nature, they never try to bite, but if you handle them too much, they can suffer severe stress and stop eating.
If you are looking for a snake that doesn’t eat rodents, then consider giving a home to Rough Green Snake.
Rough Green Snakes need fresh drinking water at all times, and their enclosure needs to be misted once a week.
They eat spiders, moths, crickets, caterpillars, and beetle larvae. In the wild, they sometimes eat baby frogs and lizards.
It is important not to feed them too much. In nature, their prey is scarce. If you give them too much live prey, they will stress out and stop eating at all. Rough Green Snakes can starve because of stress.
Rough Green Snakes grow up to 3 feet (75 cm) long.
They may live to the age of up to 15 years in captivity.
Smooth Green Snakes
Smooth Green Snakes are the smaller cousins of Rough Green Snakes. Most Smooth Green Snakes only grow to about 20 inches (50 cm) long.
They are also very inexpensive (around $20), and they also don’t bite. They don’t eat rodents, and they are easy to care for.
Unfortunately, like Rough Green Snakes, they suffer stress when they are handled. If you handle them too often, the stress will kill them.
Smooth Green Snakes can also live up to 15 years as pets.
Anthill Pythons, also known as Pygmy Pythons
Anthill Pythons—you guessed it—naturally inhabit anthills and termite mounds, These Australian natives grow to about 24 inches (60 cm).
They are the smallest of all the snakes in the Python family.
It’s hard to predict what the price of an Anthill Python will be.
They tend to be available in waves. Breeders will hatch a clutch of eggs and send the hatchlings out to stores. Then there won’t be any more Anthill Pythons for another year.
In nature, Anthill Pythons eat lizards, small birds, and mice.
They can be fed thawed, previously frozen mice in captivity.
Western Hognosed Snakes
Western Hognosed Snakes have distinctive, upturned noses that they can use to dig through sand and loose soil to find toads, their principal food.
When they strike at their owners, they don’t bite, but instead “bop” them with their noses.
They do have venom that is toxic to toads and frogs, but most of the time they “dry-bite,” delivering no venom.
Their venom is not dangerous to people, although they can sometimes cause painful bites.
Western Hognosed Snakes look a lot like Rattlesnakes.
They are a definite conversation starter when their enclosures are displayed in a teenager’s bedroom or a family living room.
Males grow as long as 14 to 24 inches (35 to 60 cm). Females average 36 inches (90 cm). Feed your Western Hognosed Snake thawed previously frozen mice. Western Hognosed Snakes live 18 to 30 years.
Western Hognosed Snakes usually cost $175 to $250 from a breeder.
Exotic morphs may cost as much as $1250.
African Egg Eating Snake
The African Egg Eating Snake definitely won’t bite, because it has no teeth. This tree-climbing snake eats bird eggs whole.
But it is a very fussy eater. It only eats unfertilized bird eggs, that will never hatch, and it only eats eggs that have been freshly laid.
It grows between 1-1/2 and 2-1/2 feet (45 and 75 cm) long.
You may be able to find this snake for $150 to $200, but you will spend considerable money finding it fresh quail eggs to eat. It is not large enough to eat chicken eggs.
If you are looking for a teeny, tiny pet snake, consider Barbados Threadsnakes.
These natives of the Caribbean grow to just 4 inches (10 cm) long. It’s as thin as a strand of spaghetti and can rest on a US quarter.
British authorities introduced mongooses to Barbados in the 1800s, and these small snakes were one of the few species to survive.
You can find Threadsnakes and Worm Snakes for sale from dealers from time to time. Ask the dealer for the best ways to care for them.
Even though they are small, by the time you get one legally into the United States or Canada it will probably cost several thousand dollars.
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