SO YOU FANCY BUYING A SNAKE?
Snakes, like lizards and other reptiles, are beautiful and fascinating creatures. As with any pet purchase, you should consider carefully the following before rushing down to the pet store with your money:
Why do I want to buy a snake?
Perhaps this question has to be asked first of a potential snake owner, just as one would question why a man might want to buy a large dog. There are good reasons for owning either, and there are also bad reasons. If you merely want to impress your friends or shock people, I would ask you to think again carefully. On the other hand, the uniqueness of snakes and their ease of maintenance (see below) makes them good pets, provided an appropriate species is chosen.
Do you have any idea which snake you would like to buy?
If the answer to the above is no, a good idea would be to get a book out of the library. In contrast to lizards, it's hard for a beginner to tell different types of snake apart - they all look pretty much the same apart from size and colour. Having kept reptiles for two years, I found I could distinguish different lizards quite quickly but still have to think about snakes. Books will show what is available, and at what level of cost and difficulty. Most are also well endowed with pictures, and as many snakes are display animals more than companion pets, you can see what takes your fancy.
When thinking about the sort of snake you want to purchase, you will need to consider the next lot of questions:
- Can I afford it? Captive snakes vary in price from species to species, although less so than for lizards. Most snake prices I have seen were between £30 and £200, from the common corn snake to something more exotic like a jungle carpet python. What will normally cost you more is the initial outlay for the necessary equipment: the snake's habitat (its tank or vivarium) plus the heating and lighting accessories, all of which are absolutely essential. You should reckon on spending up to £100 on setting up your snake.
- Can I afford to keep it?Actually the financial maintenance of a snake is not that great. The food your captive will eat depends on the type of snake you have (most normally eat rodents), but snakes are actually quite low-cost pets. Heating and lighting costs surprisingly little in electricity. Frozen rodents are about 25-50p each, depending on the size of the item, and you will normally only need one full-sized item per week. What may cost you more, should your pet need attention at some point in its long life, are vets' bills. A visit to a vet who knows a reasonable amount about reptile care will normally cost at least £10 and normally £20-£30, depending on what care is needed. I must add, however, that I have normally paid no more than this for any of my reptile collection, including one small gecko who has had persistent problems. If you anticipate getting large veterinary bills, the sensible course is to take out veterinary insurance on your pets. To put it into context, I know a family who spent about £1,000 on medical care for their sick dog.
- Can I make the time for it?Snakes do not depend on a lot of human interaction, nor do most of them in fact welcome it. Most are quite content to be undisturbed in their homes. Nevertheless they do need to be fed at certain times during the week (usually only once), and do need their habitats cleaning when dirty. They also benefit from regular observation to make sure there are no health problems. Some snakes are a bit more time-consuming than others, a factor that must be taken into account.
- Can I practically keep it?There are other prime considerations when looking for a snake: space and the reaction of "significant others". In other words, do you have the room for it, and will parents, partners or future landlords be happy with it? This may can be difficult with snakes. You may be okay with a small snake like a corn or a milk snake, but larger (6-12 feet and upwards) may really intimidate some people. In addition, sensitivity to and consideration for your neighbours is strongly counselled.
And, most importantly…..
- Do I have the commitment to it?In comparison with similar-sized mammalian pets (rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, etc), pet snakes normally have long lives. The shortest life span is three years, but normally a snake will live for at least ten years and often twenty or more. Many leopard geckos are still alive in captivity after twenty years, while a slow-worm (legless lizard) was once recorded as being over fifty years old. While people's circumstances do inevitably change, be aware that the commitment you are making to a pet snake is the same as if you were buying a puppy. Furthermore, while you might be able to sell small snakes to another owner, be aware that today there are too many giant pythons, whose owners couldn't or wouldn't keep them, languishing in animal sanctuaries both here and abroad.
If the answer to all of the above is yes, then it is still a good idea to trot down to the library and do a bit of research. Alternatively there are often books available from pet shops on the snake you are interested in.
Having listed all the potential pitfalls, I should also list the advantages of snakes over some over pets:
- They don't take up a lot of room, in most cases
- They don't scratch or gnaw the furniture (obviously)
- They don't smell
- They don't normally eat a vast amount of food
- They don't need to be taken for a walk each day
- They can be left for weekends
- They don't make any noise or disturb the neighbours
Note that the smell and food advantages listed above do not necessarily apply to very large pythons - another reason to avoid these as your first purchase.
In the following section I would like to consider some snakes that are commonly seen for sale, and give my opinion on the level of difficulty of keeping them. Those which I have direct experience of will be marked. All the others I have either read up on to a good degree or spoken to some of their owners.
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