Snakes are fascinating, and with regular handling can be quite tame. However, snakes are obviously not for everyone. They have unique care and handling requirements and should only be kept by those with the commitment to understand and meet their needs. Also, some grow very large and can be dangerous, so any potential snake owner needs to carefully research snakes before acquiring one.
There are several snake species which can be found as pets - but some are more suitable than others. The types kept range from the common garter snake to huge pythons. Different species have different diet and environment requirements. No matter which type of snake, a secure escape proof enclosure will be necessary. Snakes can be quite persistent in trying to get out of an enclosure, so make sure it closes securely with no gaps, or prepare to become an expert at tracking your snake in your house. If at all possible, pet snakes should be captive bred by reputable breeders.
If You Choose A Pet Snake
For new owners that are inexperienced with snake, corn snakes, king/milk snakes, or ball pythons are the best choice for pet snakes. These types of snakes tend to be gentle, and meeting their diet and environmental needs is not as difficult as for some other species. These are relatively small snakes, ranging from 4-5 feet adult length (up to 7 feet for some King snakes). All these snakes represent a commitment to long term care, though, with life spans of about 10 years for Corn Snakes, 20 years for King Snakes, and perhaps 40 or more years for a Ball Python (record is 48 years). Ball pythons have a reputation as being difficult to feed due to their tendency to sometimes stop eating for months at a time. If choosing a ball python, make sure it is captive bred and used to being fed killed prey. You may even want to ask for a feeding demonstration to ensure the snake readily takes pre-killed mice. With any snake, feeding pre-killed prey is recommended. A live rodent can inflict some serious wounds on a snake in self defense. If a snake hesitates or is not hungry when you put a live prey animal in the cage, the snake is the one who might end up injured. Of course, it is also more convenient to keep a supply of frozen food in your freezer rather than raising or buying live animals for feeding.
Beginners should avoid snakes such as Burmese pythons, red-tailed boas, any tree boa or python, water snakes, or any wild caught snakes. Burmese pythons have been involved in cases of human fatalities (mainly due to improper housing or handling) and need careful handling. It is generally recommended to have extra people around when handling or feeding large Burmese pythons due to their size and strength (can reach 20 feet and 200+ pounds). Red-tailed boas (also known as boa constrictors) aren't quite as large (10 feet, 50+ pounds) but are more work to care for than smaller snakes and may require assistance for handling (experts say any snake larger than 8 feet requires two people to handle safely). Tree boas and pythons tend to have very strict temperature and humidity requirements, and water snakes have very specific care requirements too. Wild caught snakes tend to be nervous, prone to illness, and difficult to feed in captivity.
Snakes that are huge, have poor temperaments, and are potentially dangerous include anacondas and reticulated pythons. These snakes aren't recommended as pets. Also, venomous snakes are poor pet choices, not only for the obvious risk to the owner but for the danger to others, and liability to owner, if the pet should escape. Whatever snake is chosen, the owner should be familiar with the proper care and feeding, the behavioral characteristics, and the commitment required to keep the pet.