Snakes As Pets? ... Are You Sure You Want To?
Are you the type of person that lingers by the reptile cages in the pet stores? Or, maybe, one that has developed an intense interest of snakes after having been beseiged with viewing them on the multiple television programs that present them as "loving" creatures?
The decision to own a reptile is a major one to make. These are animals that, with the proper care, can live for decades. This entails constant feeding, watering, cage cleaning, added costs in electric bills for proper lighting and heating, and dealing with future landlords and local laws that prohibit their existence. Are you sure you want to face that for the the next twenty to thirty years?
And, if you're looking for a pet that will return the love you need so desperately to share, buy a warm and fuzzy dog or cat! Snakes have such tiny brains that love is never a factor in their life of instincts. When they're hungry they'll strike at anything considered to be a food source. When they're shedding, their vision is so clouded that any quick motion made can be taken as a threat and striking is their only defense. Keep the cage too moist and infections can require expensive medical treatment. Worst of all, they're natural born escape artists. Without proper caging you will one day awaken to an empty fish tank with a dislodged screen cover!
So, regardless of the above, you still want one. You're either a glutton for punishment or think you're a true snake lover. Only time can decide.
Let's make sure you don't get into trouble. Here's a list of things you need to do before you ever make your purchase:
1) Check Local & State Laws
As I mentioned above, it's up to a landlord to say "Yeah" or "Nay" to you keeping one on rented property. Of course, that's a personal, or corporate thing. City, county and state laws have to be researched. Unless you want to find your animal(s) confiscated, heavy monetary fines and/or possible jail time, make sure you stay within the law. In addition, you may be required to purchase a license or permit to keep a reptile. Again, follow the law. (I hope I've made that clear).
2) Purchase A Cage For Reptiles, Not Fish!
Too many snake owners have found themselves searching for an escaped serpent. Screen tops with plastic screws are offered by many pet stores as temporary abodes for smaller species. However, you don't want to keep an adult in one, especially if the snake grows substantially in size and length. I used to sleep with rattlesnake cages in my bedroom. When people asked how I could do such a thing, I simply told them that if I can't trust the cages I've got them in enough to sleep in the same room, then the cages weren't safe enough to keep them in at all! (No, I no longer sleep this way. Local and state laws now prohibit me from keeping venomous.)
There are many distributors of professional cages designed specifically for snakes that your local pet store can order for you. Most are lockable, front opening, easy to clean cages that give you full vision of where the snake is when you open the glass door, which is always a great thing to know. These cages cost below $200, and are worth purchasing. Otherwise, expect the worse!
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3) First Snake Mandatory Rules
Rule One: NO VENOMOUS!!! There are stages to keeping snakes and venomous are about ten steps up the ladder from where you are now. Under no circumstances make the decision to start with a venomous species. Any responsible venomous keeper realizes the old addage "It's not if you get bit, it's when you get bit" is a true statement. When you find yourself knowing strike zones, learn how to handle a hook and grabstick correctly, spend time learning under an expert that has years of experience with venomous, and can afford your own 10-12 vials of anitvenom to keep in your refridgerator, then you might find yourself ready. Otherwise, forget them!!
Rule Two: STAY AWAY FROM BIG CONSTRICTORS! The largest I would ever suggest for a beginner is a Ball Python. These usually don't get over three or four feet maximum, and have moderate temperments. (One did bite my thumb once, but it was a feeding response.) And, the last thing we need are more big snakes being set loose in the wild. Florida is already suffering because of this in the Everglades and surrounding areas.
My choice for a beginner would be a milk snake or corn snake. These are generally very easy to get along with, have tendencies not to often bite, and make good starter snakes. Plus, they're plentiful, allowed by most laws, and not harmful to the indigenous species if they escape.
4) Educate And Prepare Before Purchase
Read everything you can on keeping snakes before you buy. Properly prepare the cage with the right substrate, nature setting, and heating elements so that it's home is ready to move into when you get your snake home. Make sure you're familiar with where to purchase food that's available year round. (I once had to ship frogs from Louisiana to Kentucky because of seasonal availability.)
Another consideration is to ensure you have access to a food supply for your animal. I once found myself having to ship frogs from Louisiana to Kentucky in the dead of Winter to feed two Eastern Hognose snakes. Unfortunately, I received a bad batch of frogs (unknowingly) and awoke one Sunday morning to find both snakes as hard as rocks. One might say I was somewhat upset.
Be sure your local pet store carries the food required by the animal. Pinkie mice, mice, rats, frogs, other small snakes, crickets, and other food items may be required. Know this before ever purchasing, unless you like rocks!
A Final Thought
Remember, keeping a snake is not keeping a pet. A snake is a wild animal that lives by instincts. Don't humanize it and think otherwise. Snakes, with their various patterns and colors, can be looked at as beautiful in some aspects. They are remarkable in that they can live without limbs and bring fear to the toughest of bullies. They are to be respected and treated with care. Enjoy viewing them and remember it's not a short term commitment!
"If you're going to do it ... do it right!"
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