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Snakes as Pets
Only a few kinds of snakes make good pets. Some snakes, of course, are poisonous, and many of the harmless kinds are too active or too nervous to thrive under captive conditions. Still others require such exotic and unusual foods that their needs cannot be met by the pet owner. Nevertheless, thousands of snakes are kept as pets in Europe and the United States. Snakes favored as pets include the more colorful water snakes, which may be fed pieces of fish, and the American garter snakes, which will eat almost anything, including raw fish or raw hamburger. The king snakes, rat snakes, and small boas are kept by people who are able to obtain the live or freshly killed mice that are eaten by such snakes.
The professional snake collector, who is usually after poisonous species, carries a snake hook or a set of snake tongs to pick up the animals he finds. A person searching 3r a harmless pet snake, however, needs nothing but keen eyes, his hands, and a cloth bag to put the snake in.
In almost every part of the world there are snakes that potentially are good pets. The difficulty is in finding and identifying them. Some knowledge of the habits and usual habitats of the snakes is essential. Garter snakes occur throughout most of North America, in fields as well as in woodlands, but almost always near a stream. Brown snakes may be found even in populous parts of cities but only if they are sought under rubbish in vacant lots.
Care of Snakes
Snakes are very easy animals to maintain once their basic requirements are met. These include a clean, dry enclosure that is escape-proof; a place to hide; and a water dish. Snakes must be provided with surroundings at proper temperatures, and at least some of them require a period of bright light each day. These minimum requirements may be met by a common aquarium tank with a tight-fitting, screen-covered top and a desk lamp. The cage can be decorated with gravel or houseplants, or it may be left with only a newspaper on the bottom, which makes it easier to clean. A small bottomless box or flat can with a hole cut in the side is sufficient for the hiding place. A light bulb of appropriate size furnishes both warmth and light.
Cleanliness is essential, and the enclosure should be thoroughly cleaned after each defecation, which ordinarily means once or twice a week. Food is usually the critical item. Most small snakes need to be fed once a week, larger ones less frequently. Earthworm-eating snakes, such as the brown snakes and small garter snakes, can be fed, as an alternative to earthworms, which sometimes are hard to get, the Tubifex worms that are available from dealers in tropical fish. Water snakes and garter snakes can be fed strips of raw fish or meat, although it is preferable to feed them a whole animal occasionally. Even mouse-eating snakes sometimes can be taught to eat other foods, and one pet king snake is fed only the raw necks and gizzards of chickens.