Snakes are a great starter pet for anyone at any age. They can teach you more about the natural world, relieve stress and aren’t particularly demanding in their care. There are a wide variety of beginner snakes, those that have the easiest care and are easily accessible. But what are the best beginner snakes?
We’ve sat down and talked about the snakes that we keep and together we’ve come up with a list of the best beginner snakes that any first time owner should think of. So what are those five best beginner snakes, what are their advantages and disadvantages and who are they most suitable for?
1. Kenyan Sand Boa
Without a doubt, the Kenyan Sand Boa is probably one of the best beginner snakes that you can get. It is a small snake that has simple care (read our care guide here). Male Kenyan Sand Boas can live in a 2ft vivarium or 12 litre Really Useful Box, which means they don’t take up much room.
Considering the nature of the Kenyan Sand Boa (being a burrowing species) I would really recommend a Really Useful Box for all keepers. This way you can give them a deep substrate that allows them to burrow to hide. However, our male rarely burrows and instead uses the two hides we provide him.
Kenyan Sand Boas have a very sweet look and calm disposition. They’re also poor strikers, in order to borrow effectively they’ve developed stronger and thicker neck muscles compared to others on the list, Therefore, they can’t bend their necks in an ‘S’ like a Royal Python or others. So even if they’re in a grumpy mood, they’re unlikely to strike. Their strike range is really only a couple of centimetres. This reduces the potential of being bitten.
In addition, because they’re small, bites from a Kenyan Sand Boa are small pinpricks, barely a scratch on someone. I’ve only ever been bitten when changing water on a Kenyan Sand Boa and surprised them when they were hiding under the water bowl. Both times I had the flu as well. In general, a Sand Boa will not strike and would prefer to retreat and hide.
A down point of the Kenya Sand Boa is that they’re not as visual as other snakes. They are often hiding and sometimes it can seem you’ve got a pet enclosure rather than a snake. They’re also clumsy when handling and will often try to borrow into your hand. But you’re not going to get bitten.
While they’re not as common as other species on this list, they’re not hard to find and don’t cost a fortune to buy or keep. Without a doubt, if someone said to choose them a beginner snake, my first answer would be the Kenyan Sand Boa.
If you would like to know more about Kenyan Sand Boa care, read our full care guide here.
2. Royal Python
Most people expect the Royal Python to be on a list of the best beginner snakes and with good reason. They’re a docile species that are easy to care for and rewarding. Unlike the Kenyan Sand Boa, a royal python will interact with you. I’ve found that many royal pythons enjoy the opportunities of being handled because it gives them some enrichment. They’re happier with regular handling.
Royal Pythons do get a lot bigger though and a bite from one is going to hurt initially, though long term, their bites don’t hurt and won’t cause any harm. The time when you’re likely to get bitten is during feeding. Royal pythons like to lunge at their prey, like they would in the wild and a mistimed lunge and bad positioning on your part and you can find that you’re the one with the bite not the prey. However, this is really rare and generally speaking keepers don’t get bitten that often and you shouldn’t fear it.
One of the problems with Royal Pythons is that they’re fussy eaters. I’ve heard of individuals who refuse rats for really weird reasons (like wrong colour, wrong supplier, etc.). Royal Pythons are also easily stressed. Too much handling, not enough cover, not enough hides, prey being moved about in the wrong way and they’ll refuse to eat. There are ways around this.
The good news is that Royal Pythons are generally simple to care for. Just give them a good home, heat, food and water and they’ll be happy. They’re personalities and engagement is something that is treasured. I’m pretty sure that they’re very intelligent too as one of our royal pythons recognises their name.
Royal Pythons do come in various colours and patterns, which make them a fantastic collection style snake. You could buy dozens and not have any look the same. There are some problems with some morphs, like the Spider, Champagne, etc.. So just be sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.
3. Western Hognose
The Western hognose is an easy to care for snake as long as you can get past some of the basic food issues. Western hognose snakes have a wide range in the US, so can tolerate a lot of differences within captivity, but you can read our care guide here about the ideal conditions.
They’re not a large snake, with females growing to about 3 foot long at most. Therefore a 24 litre Really Useful Box or 2-3 foot vivarium is often the maximum size you need to get. This should be furnished with hiding boxes, water, logs and plants. This will generally keep your hognose really happy.
Western hognoses have great personalities and some of my females love to interact with me. One of the females we have even has favourites on who cares for them. I’ve worked with her a lot and now she actively comes to the front of the enclosure to engage with me. In contrast, other people, including guests, she will mock strike or hiss at them. Its one of the endearing traits of the hognose, their ability to recognise their owners.
They’re also eating machines most of them, once you get them on defrosted mice/rats. They can also come in some exciting patterns and colours too, making them a great snake for watching.
There are two problems with Western hognoses that should be noted. The first is that young hognoses can sometimes struggle to switch to unscented frozen thawed mice. Sometimes you have to scent with salmon or tuna. Once off scenting they don’t go back, but there are individuals that will sometimes do this. Also, you might find that some individuals will go on a hunger strike during the winter. This is normal brumation behaviour.
Another problem is the bite. Western hognoses are mildly venomous as they’re rear fanged. However, their venom is not enough to kill a human. In fact, their venom is so mild it doesn’t even kill their prey every time, it is just enough to incapacitate them. And for the venom to enter your body, the Western hognose would need to be chewing on your finger for about five minutes. Therefore, the risks are very little.
One of the cutest things about Western hognoses is that their defence mechanisms. They can hiss, mock strike and play dead. But generally it is all just a waste of time, when picked up they seem to just chill out and like to explore in your hands.
4. House Snake
The House snake is probably one of the biggest surprises on the list, but there are great reasons why they should be on the list. The males can live in 12 litre Really Useful Boxes as they’re small (about 75 grams) and the females can live in 33 litre Really Useful Box. Their setup is also really simple, you just need to have aspen, two hides, water and decorations. Generally speaking they’ll be happy in that. They like to feel safe with good hides.
The House snake is a great eater generally. They will accept a wide range of prey items from mice to rats and more. Some will prefer nesting as a feeding strategy but others will take readily from you.
Cape House Snake morphs are limited with just a couple, but they are a beautiful snake none-the-less. And they’re a smaller species.
What I would say about the Cape House Snake is that their temperament can be a little off. But this could be because most individuals have parents or grandparents who were wild caught. As more individuals are bred in captivity, they show great potential to be good handlers. A couple of ours are good handlers when caught, but are skittish to catch.
It is harder to find the Cape House Snake, but not impossible. And their cost is really good at the moment.
5. Dumeril’s Boa
While the Cape House Snake might have been a little shock, the Dumeril’s boa is probably one of the biggest surprises you will have. However, the Dumeril’s boa is a great choice as a beginner snake for a couple of reasons:
- They’re a docile snake that will rarely show any signs of displeasure.
- They’re slow moving.
Your hardest challenge is going to be finding a Dumeril’s boa. They’re not a commonly kept species within the UK for a couple of reasons. One of these is because it requires a CITEs certificate. All Dumeril’s Boas have to be microchipped and registered. Another reason is their breeding cycle. Being a boa, they’re live bearers. And the female Dumeril’s will carry the young for nearly 300 days and have few offspring. As demand isn’t very high and the costs of producing them is high, prices are inflated and there aren’t many on the market.
Gerald, our Dumeril’s Boa is a great addition. At 4.5 feet long, he is about as large as he’s going to get and his strength is amazing. He is the strongest snake in our collection, even though he isn’t the biggest. At the same time, his natural colourings are fantastic. I don’t think another snake could have better colouring.
Their docile nature is perfect as well. But their size makes them a worry for some. But they don’t get as bulky as ball pythons and some ball pythons and corn snakes can get longer. Therefore, I think the Dumeril’s Boa is one of the most underrated snakes in the hobby.
Final Word: The Best Beginner Snakes?
Before I conclude on what is the best beginner snake I would like to say that these are my opinions. Everyone has different experiences and therefore different opinions.
Finally, I would like to add that the best beginner snakes aren’t limited to what I’ve written above. You’ve got to love the snake you’re looking after, not me. That is why I recommend you see and handle a few before buying a snake. While I recommend the species above, you might have different preferences.
Also, you might want to read our top beginner reptiles list.