7 Pet Snakes You Can Hold (Great for Beginners!)

Pet Snakes You Can Hold

One of the most important things to consider when deciding on which pet snake to get is whether or not they are suited for handling. No snake species are known to be aggressive, but some are much more suited for regular handling than others.

Some snakes, like the stubborn green tree python or the flighty ribbon snake, are referred to by the reptile community as display reptiles. This means that they are better suited to be shown off in a fancy vivarium (or paludarium, if you’re looking for a challenge!) rather than a pet to be held.

While almost any snake can be tamed, the best snakes to handle are those that are slow-moving, easy to tame and have a calm temperament. These include popular pets such as the ball python and corn snake as well as hidden gems like the Hog Island boa and Children’s python.

In this article, we’ll discuss what makes a snake good to hold, 7 of the best pet snakes you can hold, and key information about how to handle your scaly friend.

What Makes a Snake Good to Hold?

Before we get into our picks, it’s important to outline the traits that make a snake suitable for handling. This includes a snake’s speed, temperament, and size.

Slow-moving

Although many snakes can move pretty quickly, snakes tend to prefer only moving as much as they need to in order to conserve their precious energy. Considering the different niches snakes have, with some species actively seeking prey and others motionless for hours on end in preparation for an ambush, there is a similar variance in how active a snake species is.

A fast moving snake is not only overwhelming to hold, but can easily worm its way into an unreachable crevice. Whether you want to hold a snake that is practically catatonic or one that likes to explore at a moderate pace is ultimately your preference as long as it moves slowly enough to be manageable.

Calm Temperament

Certain snake species are known among the reptile community for having different temperaments, and the best species to hold are those that can tolerate being handled. That being said, individual snakes have individual personalities, and some snakes are much calmer than others. An unusually placid garter snake can be a much better critter to handle than a skittish ball python.

Small or Medium-Sized

The best snakes to handle are those that are large enough that they aren’t easy to lose, but small enough that they can be comfortably carried. It would be entirely incorrect to say that large critters such as reticulated pythons or red-tail boas can’t be incredibly docile and easy to pet or hold, but adult-sized animals are a lot to handle, with the largest snakes reaching over 20 feet and above 400 pounds.

Are There Snakes That Like to be Handled?

One of the reasons that snakes are so low-maintenance is that they don’t actually require social interaction. While there are a few rare instances of snakes living in groups, snakes aren’t generally considered social animals, even with their own kind. That being said, snakes can still benefit from being handled and even seemingly enjoy it.

Pythons in particular are susceptible to obesity, and time outside of their enclosure encourages exercise from this frequently lazy genus. Beyond that, it can be argued that a snake could appreciate relaxing in a warm, high-up “perch” or tucked away in the pocket of a hoodie.

7 Best Pet Snakes for Handling

Now that we’ve discussed what makes a snake good for handling, it’s time to go over our list. Bear in mind that every snake is different and that there are plenty of amazing snakes out there that aren’t on this list– these are just the cream of the crop!

1. Ball Pythons

  • Species Name: Python regius
  • Adult Size: 3 to 5 feet (0.9 to 1.5 meters)
  • Captive Lifespan: 30 years
  • Adult Enclosure Requirements: 40 gallons

Ball pythons are easily one of the best beginner snakes and are a pleasure to handle. While the specific adult size and weight of a ball python vary depending on its gender and even morph, the average adult is an incredibly practical size, being easy to transport but just heavy enough to not forget it’s there!

This slow-moving and calm species, named for its habit of curling up into a ball when scared, can easily stay wrapped around your shoulders for hours. Unfortunately, their hefty size and prominent fangs can make them intimidating to some children.

2. Corn Snake

  • Species Name: Pantherophis guttatus
  • Adult Size: 3 to 5 feet (0.9 to 1.5 meters)
  • Captive Lifespan: 15 to 20 years
  • Adult Enclosure Requirements: 40 gallons

Along with ball pythons, corn snakes are the most common beginner snakes in the pet trade and are a popular pick for children. These easy-to-care-for critters come in countless colors and typically have a laid-back disposition. While they technically have teeth, corn snakes lack any fangs and are barely able to make a mark if they bite.

Bear in mind that compared to ball pythons, corn snakes are on the adventurous side. While many people enjoy holding an active snake, that means these snakes require much more attention to hold and any children holding them should be closely supervised.

3. Western Hog Nose Snake

  • Species Name: Heterodon nasicus
  • Adult Size: 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm)
  • Captive Lifespan: 15 to 20 years
  • Adult Enclosure Requirements: 30 gallons

With their upturned snouts, stout bodies, and relaxed temperament, these cute little guys are about as sweet as a snake can get! Even more so than other snakes, this species is known to avoid biting at all costs. Instead, hog nose snakes engage in thanatosis, a unique defense mechanism more commonly known as playing dead. Luckily, tamed hog nose snakes are typically relaxed and are much more likely to calmly explore their surroundings. This unique species even loves to burrow!

It’s worth mentioning that male hog nose snakes are considerably smaller than their female counterparts at 14 to 24 inches (36 to 60 cm), so you should get a snake according to your size preference.

4. Rosy Boa

  • Species Name: Lichanura trivirgata
  • Adult Size: 17 to 34 inches (43 cm to 86 cm)
  • Captive Lifespan: 30+ years
  • Adult Enclosure Requirements: 15 gallons

Known for their ease of handling and easy care, these North American boas are often recommended for beginners. Rosy boas would rather curl up in a ball than bite, and even wild boas can be incredibly docile. Rosy boas enjoy hiding in burrows during the day and are nocturnal, so you may have better luck handling them at night. Rosy boas are incredibly active and can often tolerate long periods of handling.

This small, blunt-tailed snake is characterized by its tiny head, and the rare accidental bites from this species are often painless. It’s important to note that these long-lived snakes are known to be escape artists, so be sure you have an excellently locked tank for them!

5. Hog Island Boa:

  • Species Name: Boa Imperator
  • Adult Size: 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters)
  • Captive Lifespan: 20 to 40 years
  • Adult Enclosure Requirements: 90 gallons

As the largest snake on this list, the Hog Island Boa may seem like a bit of a strange pick, but a quick look into its history makes the rationale behind our choice clear. Hog Island Boas are actually a locale of Boa Constrictor, but they are very different than the standard type.

The Hog Island Boa, only found on two small islands off the shore of Hondura demonstrates insular dwarfism, making it substantially shorter than most boas. Once feared extinct, this increasingly popular snake is remarkably docile due to lacking any natural predators in the wild. In other words, these snakes are much less timid than most reptiles and are easy to tame and handle.

6. Children’s Python

  • Species Name: Antaresia childreni
  • Adult Size: 3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 meters)
  • Captive Lifespan: 20 to 30 years
  • Adult Enclosure Requirements: 30 gallons

Although the Children’s python’s namesake is actually John George Children, a historical British biologist, they may as well have been named for how gentle they are! These semi-arboreal snakes are known for their active nature and are naturally nocturnal.

Children’s pythons are relatively uncommon outside of their native Australia due to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999, but captive-bred individuals are luckily available. Although young individuals may be nervous or nippy, they soon mellow out as adults.

7. Kenyan Sand Boa

  • Species Name: Eryx colubrinus
  • Adult Size: 15 to 30 inches (38 to 76 cm)
  • Captive Lifespan: 20 years
  • Adult Enclosure Requirements: 15 gallons

As opposed to most of the snakes above, sand boas are non-arboreal, meaning they do not dwell in trees. As their name would imply, Kenyan sand boas are desert-dwelling snakes that love to burrow through the sand. Not only does this make Kenyan sand boas less eager to climb out of your hands, but watching them burrow between your fingers can be fascinating for even experienced reptile keepers.

These snakes also have granular scales, which give them a unique, beaded texture. Kenyan sand boas tend to be good for handling, but certain individuals may be jumpy for a while.

How to Handle a Snake

Now that we’ve discussed some of the best pet snakes you can hold, we should go over how to actually handle one. This involves a good setting, proper hygiene, and proper handling.

Pick a Good Environment

The first step to holding your snake is making sure you’re in the right setting! Taking your snake outside is a bad idea for a variety of reasons, and the ideal setting is a closed room without many nooks and crannies for your snake to escape to. A soft floor without any hazards is key to avoiding any injuries if your snake should fall.

It is also important to make sure any other animals such as dogs or cats are out of the room– a bite from a four-legged friend could prove fatal. As a cold-blooded critter, your snake will also appreciate being in a warm room.

Wash Your Hands

One of the most important things about handling a snake actually has little to do with touching them at all! Over 90% of healthy reptiles and even amphibians harbor salmonella in their gut, and this bacteria can easily spread to their skin.

Accidentally touching your mouth or otherwise ingesting salmonella can result in salmonellosis, a nasty infection to deal with. Luckily, this can be easily prevented by simply washing your hands.

Move Slowly

When it comes to handling a snake, it’s important to move slowly in multiple regards. Along with having steady, predictable movements, handling should be considered a process.

Instead of grabbing your snake from its enclosure on day one and carrying it around for hours, you need to acclimate your snake to being around humans. Once your snake is comfortably able to be around you and does not shy away when you put your hand in its enclosure, you can slowly and gently pick it up by scooping it up and supporting its body. A comfortable snake will be relaxed and may even wrap its tail around you.

Don’t Pet Certain Spots

Depending on the snake, petting may not be tolerated well, but even the most permissive of snakes will get stressed if you touch vulnerable spots. These spots include their head, vent, the tip of their tail, and underbelly.

Ideally, you should use two fingers to pet your snake on the side of its body with the scales. To reiterate though, many snakes aren’t fond of being petted at all and will twitch to show their discomfort. You should always respect your snake’s boundaries and stop petting it if it shows any signs of nervousness.

Which Snakes Not to Handle

While there are plenty of excellent types of snakes you can hold, certain snakes are not ideal to handle. This can either be for your safety or the safety of the snake itself.

Venomous Snakes

While some expert snake handlers are willing to hold and even milk their venomous animals, it is not recommended for anyone to casually handle them. Most experts recommend that beginners do not own venomous species, much less attempt to hold them. That is not to say that venomous snakes are vicious by any means, but even the possibility of a deadly bite is simply not worth the risk.

Snakes That Have Just Eaten

The stress of handling can often cause a snake to regurgitate, and they may even do so as a defense mechanism. Considering how infrequently snakes eat and therefore, how little their bodies produce digestive juices, regurgitation is a big deal in the snake world and may even require a vet visit. Give your snake a day or two to begin the digestion process and avoid the likelihood of regurgitation.

Timid Snakes

As we’ve explained above, some species or individuals are simply a bit on the skittish side. While it’s possible for some snakes to be acclimated to handling, others are simply too timid to ever feel comfortable being handled. As a responsible snake owner, it’s important to avoid stressing your snake out unnecessarily and be able to accept when your scaly friend is better off being a hands-off pet.

How to Avoid Being Bitten

Despite their bad reputation, snakes are surprisingly timid creatures that only bite in very specific circumstances. As a result, it is easy to avoid being bitten as long as you do a few key things.

Feed Your Snake in a Separate Container with Tongs

The most common cause of accidental bites is not out of aggression, but from a snake mistaking their owner for food. There are a few easy steps to take to reduce the likelihood of your snake making this error. Snakes should ALWAYS be fed with tongs for the safety of everyone involved.

Feeding your snake in a designated feeding container can also teach your snake that they will only get food when they are in that container. For snakes with a lower prey drive, it may not be necessary to feed them in a separate container, but it’s still good practice.

Pay Attention to Body Language

It’s easy to tell if a snake is feeling nervous if you know what to look for. Subtle signs that a snake is getting nervous are twitchy, fast movements, …. A desperate snake will resort to hissing, bearing its teeth, or species-specific defense mechanisms like balling up, playing dead, or musking. If your snake is demonstrating any of these signs, you should respect its need for space and try again later.

What Do I Do if I Get Bitten?

Although smaller snakes such as corn snakes or hognose snakes rarely break skin, getting bitten by a snake is never fun.

Take A Deep Breath

Often, the worst part of a snake bite is simply how nerve-wracking it can be! Before anything else, calm your nerves and assess the situation. Make sure you and your snake are safe and uninjured and return your snake to its enclosure. Chances are, the poor thing is just as freaked out as you are! Once you know whether or not the bite has broken skin or was from a venomous snake, you can act accordingly.

Wash Your Hands and Sanitize

As we’ve covered above, it’s necessary to wash your hands after handling any reptile in general, but this is especially important if you have been bitten. Regardless if the bite has broken skin or not, you should wash your hands in warm water with anti-bacterial soap. If the bite has broken skin, you may want to also apply a triple antibiotic and bandage to prevent infection.

See a Doctor for Deep Bites, Infected Wounds or Venomous Bites

If you avoid holding venomous or large species and sanitize your bites carefully, it’s unlikely you’ll require any medical care. That being said, you should see a doctor for any bites from a venomous species or those that are showing signs of infection for immediate treatment. In the case of a bite from a venomous snake, it’s important to know the species that has bitten you so you can be matched with the appropriate antivenom.

Final Thoughts

Despite their reputations, snakes are peaceful creatures that can be some of the best reptiles to handle. There are plenty of great species for handling, even outside of the ones listed above.

Of course, individuals of any species can be docile or nervous, and even timid individuals can often be tamed. No matter what, be patient with your snake, and always wash your hands before and after handling!

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