Snake Facts

By PetMD Editorial on Sep. 4, 2009

So You Say You Want a Snake?

If all the facts about snakes that you know you learned from the movie Snakes on a Plane, you might be forgiven for thinking that snakes are naturally aggressive and mean. But that’s just not true. The truth is that snakes are interesting creatures, and many of them are pretty passive. So if you’re thinking of getting one, or merely interested in learning a little more before you decide to think of getting one, we have plenty of information and resources to teach you all about snakes and how to care for them.

The Snake Diet

All snakes are carnivorous critters. So it’s no good to try to tempt them with a lovely salad, they’re not going to be interested. It’s meat, meat, meat all the way with them. You do have some options when it comes to feeding time. Most pet stores keep a stock of live mice to be sold as food for snakes, and most will, on request, kill the mouse for you so that you do not have to handle a live mouse yourself, or so you can drop it into a zippered storage bag and store it in a freezer for later. In fact, this is an excellent way to stock up on food for your snake. When it is feeding time you just allow the mouse to warm to room temperature before dropping it into the snake tank (frozen mice can make your snake feel ill).

Of course, you can also keep the mouse alive and drop it into the snake tank as it is, allowing the snake to take care of business. A word of caution: do first make sure that your snake is hungry, since you don't want the mouse to stay alive too long in the tank, possibly biting the snake before the snake has a chance to 'bite' the mouse. Snakes are generally not big eaters. Sometime between every 5-14 days is best, but you will get an idea of how often to feed your snake depending on how ravenous it appears to be when it is feeding time. While some snakes are perfectly fine with eating already dead mice, others prefer their food to be still breathing. It is recommended that you begin with dead mice if that is what you plan to stick with, since it may be harder to switch to dead if you have already been feeding live mice all along.

Your Very Own Snake Skin Snake

Now, we all know that snakes are covered in scales, but even so, a lot of people assume that snakes will be slimy, like worms. They are not. Rather, they are dry, surprisingly soft, and smooth to the touch. The scales lay flat against the body, so that when you rub against the natural lay of the scales, it has a rough feeling – comparable to very dry skin, or a cat's tongue. Don't let curiosity get you into any trouble though. If you want to pet a snake, go to a pet store, or visit a friend who has a snake. Do not attempt to handle a snake in the wild, especially if you’re in Australia, where seven of the ten deadliest snakes in the world reside.

Physically, snakes rely strongly on their ability to sense heat and vibration; being ground animals they are sensitive to even the slightest vibrations. Though they have no external ears, they can hear, and their ability to smell is very keen. Eyesight is not one of their strongest suits, thought some are better than others. Mainly, they can see enough to track movement. The snake's main sensory organ is the tongue, which they use to find their way around the world. A snake with its tongue out is a healthy and knowledgeable snake.

This almost goes without saying, but snakes tend to be very muscular and strong, so you don’t want to loop one around your neck, even if it happens to be a pet you have had since it was a baby. Ok, maybe you do want to loop it around your neck, because it looks cool like that, but always make sure that you have another person with you when you do it. Our official stance is, don't do it at all.

Besides, it's a fact snakes aren’t really touchy-feely creatures, they don't like to be handled much and get stressed after too much handling. They’re more the look-but-don’t-touch-I-can-admire-you-from-over-here sort of creature – sort of like that pretty girl you never had a chance with in High School.

With that in mind, you do want to handle a pet snake for a few minutes a day so that it is accustomed to human contact and is not fearful of your presence. Five to ten minutes of handling a day should be sufficient. Snakes are not naturally aggressive and generally will not bite unless they feel threatened or fearful. Taking care to create a safe environment for your snake, and making sure that it is familiar with your contact should minimize any chances of being bitten. Learning how to handle a snake before you bring one into your home will make you feel much more confident about how to do it without anyone getting hurt (and that includes the snake).

Where To Find Pet Snakes

Before getting a snake, consider where you are going to get it from. Nowadays, it is rare, and not recommended, to get a snake from the wild. There are plenty of breeders to choose from, and it is agreed that snakes bred in captivity are safer to handle than snakes from the wild. Only highly trained professionals deal with wild snakes and snakes that are venomous, owning snakes like these should never be attempted by a non-professional.

A Happy Home is a Snake Home

Make sure you find out all you need to know about your chosen snake's habitat, temperature needs, and any other physical needs it might have. FACT: Snakes are low maintenance pets. All they really need is clean water, food, and a clean and spacious tank with a place to hide away when it needs its own space (like a box with a hole cut into it). They’re solitary creatures, but that doesn’t make them boring. They’re fun to watch as they eat, explore and sleep, and if you get really ambitious, you can create a snake world, with tubes and tight spaces, so that you can watch the different ways in which snakes get around. It's really quite fascinating. (Really!) Just make sure that the tank and any other space you keep your snake in is escape proof. This is essential. Snakes can quickly disappear into the vents, or even out the window. Remember, it's a snake, and it will always behave like a snake.

A well looked after snake can live for up to 40 years, so make sure you’re willing to commit to having a scaled, mouse eating companion around for a long time before fully plunging into snake ownership. Good luck, and happy slithering!

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