LEVEL 3: Tricky, time-consuming or best left to the experts... or dangerous

Burmese Python

Burmese Pythons are easily available, often have a gentle personality and are attractive creatures. Their drawbacks are size-related: an ordinary adult Burmese will grow to about 20+ feet and weigh 200 lbs, and will eat (and defecate) like a horse. Their huge size necessitates a room-sized enclosure, and being jungle creatures they need comparable humidity. Finally, if an adult Burmese has an off day, or worse, mistakes you for a prey item, it can easily kill you. THIS IS NOT AN IDLE THREAT - KEEPERS AND THIRD PARTIES HAVE DIED THIS WAY. While it is rare, it does happen. Don't plan on dumping your hatchling Burmese when it gets older, by the way, as you will find it hard to get anyone to take it, unless you can pay.

Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus) and African Rock Pythons (Python sebae and P. natalensis)

The dangers of the Burmese Python apply to the giant Reticulated Python, but even more so because the "retic" does not have the normally mild personality of the Burmese. Instead it is cantankerous and grouchy and will be ill-disposed towards you from the start. They are also probably the biggest snake in the world, reaching 32 feet in full adult length. This sort of snake needs plenty of attention and a lot of money in housing and feeding. 99% of private collectors should leave this one to the zoos. A similar warning could apply to the African Rock Pythons, although their size and temperament are somewhat more manageable.

Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus)

What the Reticulated Python is to pythons, the Anaconda is to the boas. Gerald Durrell relates how on one of his collecting trips he found that even in the wild these snakes would occasionally rear out of the river and tear at the shirts on his men's backs. Now try to imagine a 30-ft Anaconda in your house. Furthermore, in addition to the normal demands of a giant snake, Anacondas need a body of water to soak in, as they are river-dwelling creatures. For most people, particularly in the UK, adequate space for suitable housing of one of these magnificent predators would impossible to find.

Emerald Tree Boas (Corallus caninus)

The Emerald Tree Boa is a beautiful South American snake whose availability decreased steadily due to protection. This is perhaps as well, since it is considered difficult to keep in captivity. Emerald Tree Boas are easily stressed, which often leads to a regurgitation habit that is difficult to stop. They are also finicky feeders, the colour of prey apparently often as important as its type. Wild-caught specimens are often heavily parasitised. Like chameleons, these snakes seem to need a quiet place away from most human and animal traffic to thrive properly in captivity.

File- or Wart Snakes, Acrochordus species

Acrochordus is a genus of three rather odd-looking snakes distinguished mainly by their baggy, granular-scaled skin, which sometimes hangs in folds on them. They lack the flat ventral (belly) scales of most terrestrial snakes and are more or less completely aquatic, living in estuaries or freshwater rivers near the coast. Although their diet of fish is not hard to provide, in captivity they never seem to do well, and it has been suggested that they need increasing amounts of salt in their water with age. Keepers with long experience of both marine aquaria and snake keeping might have some success with them, but usually these interesting animals should be left to research institutions and the like.

See Acrochordus

Fishing Snake, aka Tentacled Snake (Erpeton tentaculatum)

This is quite simply one of the most bizarre-looking snakes you will ever see, should you get the chance (which is not often). The Fishing Snake comes from South-East Asia and is totally aquatic. It is normally reddish-brown and grows to nearly 3ft. Its most prominent feature is a small pair of frond-like appendages on the front of its snout, the purpose of which is unknown. Unlike some water-loving snakes, a totally aquatic set-up is essential., well-planted with either floating or bottom-rooted plants and wth a gravel or pebble substrate. The Fishing Snake will feed only on living fish. The biggest problem seems to be an attack of fungus after a while, which eventually leads to its demise. Mattison suggests a treatment similar to that used for tropical fish, but adds that he does not know of any such attempts.

Venomous Snakes of any description: Vipers, Rattlesnakes, Kraits, Adders, Coral Snakes and especially Cobras

While I am not in principle against the keeping of venomous snakes by experienced keepers, there are a number of factors that make them not only unsuitable but dangerous for most people. Firstly and foremostly, if an accident happens (eg during feeding time or cage cleaning), then your health or even your life could be at stake, if not forfeit. Secondly, the need for security and care means that they are more demanding in terms of time and money than some people can afford. Thirdly, antivenin (in the case of snakebite) is not always available, and if it is, it can be expensive. Fourthly, it is harder to find information on keeping venomous snakes in captivity than on other, non-venomous. Fifthly, some of the species (not all) have a poor temperament to go with their dangerous abilities. Finally, there may be local, regional or national legislation in your country restricting or banning the keeping of dangerous animals.

The various cobras are the most glamorous of the snakes in most people's minds, but also unfortunately perhaps the most dangerous when all things are considered. While they are not the most venomous snake in the world, they can grow to large sizes (18 ft in the case of the King Cobra), and are also highly intelligent. Some species have the ability to spit venom from a distance into the eyes of a human, causing at least temporary blindness. Diet can also be a problem, as the King Cobra at least tends to prey on other snakes.

I have placed information elsewhere on the families of venomous snakes (see the link below), which is included mainly in an attempt to bring a balance to people, ie to dispel some of the mystique and fear about them while at the same time trying to inculcate a healthy respect for them. To reiterate, I think that for most people's circumstances (experience, time, money, housing or whatever) venomous snakes (and other potentially dangerous animals, such as big cats) are not suitable captives.

See A Look at Venomous Snakes

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