While the most popular snakes for pets tend to be the corn snakes, king snakes and ball pythons, other species can also make rewarding pets, given the right care and commitment. However, these alternative species may perhaps be better suited to more experienced reptile keepers than complete beginners.
Smooth and Rough Green Snakes
Originating from North America and Canada, these are very attractive snakes due to their brilliant green colour and yellow underside, as well as big, distinctive eyes that seem to stand out. They are also a reasonable size, reaching only about 25 inches as adults, with a long thin tail that is used to grip plants when searching for food.
One of the great reasons for their increasing popularity is that they do not need to be fed on rodents but thrive instead on a diet of live insects, supplemented by the occasional amphibian or small lizard. Variety is important so try to vary the types of insects you offer, although avoid feeding too many spiders.
As they come from quite a humid habitat – the bushes and grasses of semi-moist areas – it is important to maintain a humidity of 70-80% by regularly misting their enclosure with water (at least twice a day). In addition, providing a tray of moist sphagnum moss or similar will help to keep the humidity levels up. Like all snakes, they will need an artificial thermal gradient maintained, with daytime temperatures reaching 25-30C (77-86F) and dropping down to 20C (68F) at night.
One of the key factors of keeping green snakes healthy and happy is having a correct set-up. Unfortunately, this is not a species that is often bred in captivity so many individuals are wild-caught, therefore having a captive environment that mimics the natural habitat as much as possible and disturbing the snakes as little as possible, especially during the initial settling down periods, is crucial. Make sure the terrarium has a large water area and is well-planted, ideally with real plants and branches. These snakes do not do as well with artificial plants. Once it is obvious that they are settling in and feeding well, you can begin to accustom them to handling through short, gentle sessions.
The Egg-Eating Snake
This is a unique snake as it has no teeth and feeds completely on eggs. It originates in parts of Africa and in the wild, climbs through tree branches to feed on freshly-laid eggs, being particularly active during the bird-breeding season. As it is from a hot climate, it likes daytime temperatures of 28-30C (82-86F) with a drop to 25C (77F) during the night. Fine orchid bark is a good substrate for the enclosure and make sure that there is a water dish as well as a humidity retreat at the cool end of the enclosure – this will be extensively used during the shedding period. Make sure you also add branches, twigs and plants (artificial will do) to replicate its natural environment and use some cork bark to provide hiding spots.
Adult egg-eating snakes grow to 30 inches and it is often mistaken for the Night Adder due to the similar colouring and markings of light brown body spotted and lined with black.
One advantage of keeping this snake is that there is almost no danger of being bitten. Although it may go through the motions when disturbed, the completely toothless mouth means that it is unlikely to break the skin. (These snakes do actually have teeth-like projections along their backbone to help saw and break the eggs).
While feeding may seem easy in that there is no need to struggle with defrosting rodents, it is essential that you provide fresh eggs as these snakes will eat nothing else. Many supermarkets now stock a variety of smaller eggs, such as quail, or you can even breed your own finches, quails and chickens for a constant fresh supply. Most snakes are happy with a diet of a few eggs per week – however, you can also simulate conditions in the wild by letting the snake “gorge” itself for a while and then withholding food during the “wet season”. Either way, always remove any uneaten eggs after a few days to prevent decay and bacteria. In many instances, it may be nice to construct a false bird’s nest and place the eggs in there for the snake to find. Moving the location of the nest will again simulate conditions in the wild and keep the snake active. Alternatively, you can simply leave the eggs on the substrate.
The Texas Rat Snake
Strictly one for experienced snake-keepers, the Texas Rat Snake has a notorious reputation as one of the most aggressive snakes with an irritable nature and a very painful bite. However, having said that, many will “calm down” in captivity and many individuals, especially those raised in captivity, can actually be relatively docile. The aggression tends to be defensive so it is important not to make any sudden, fast movements around these snakes and no matter how experienced, care must always be exercised when handling these snakes.
As the name suggests, this snake originates in Texas and is fairly common in its natural habitat, with adults usually around 4-5 feet although they can grow bigger. Despite their tendency to bite, they are in fact constrictors and are very large, powerful snakes that are voracious hunters. In fact, it has been known to constrict several mice simultaneously while at the same time eating another! Captive animals can become obese easily so monitor their diets carefully.