Snakes – Keeping Exotic Pets Tue, 26 Dec 2017 10:39:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Feeding Ball Pythons Fri, 05 May 2017 14:06:44 +0000 When I first started to keep reptiles in the 1990’s ball pythons were still seen as something very unusual and exotic. Any mention of a “python” drew awe from other people, and with their stout, chunky bodies they really were something totally different to the corn snakes and garter snakes that were prevalent at that […]

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Feeding advice for ball python owners. As you know, ball pythons can be fussy feeders, but this guide reveals all you need to know to feed pet ball pythons the right way from the beginning.When I first started to keep reptiles in the 1990’s ball pythons were still seen as something very unusual and exotic.

Any mention of a “python” drew awe from other people, and with their stout, chunky bodies they really were something totally different to the corn snakes and garter snakes that were prevalent at that time.

They also developed a bad reputation for going off food for long periods of time and for generally being fussy eaters. At the time, some keepers were advocating not handling ball pythons at all, as they believed the stress was one factor in their refusal to eat.

Of course, that was a long time ago. Largely wild-caught adult pythons have been replaced by a mind-blowing array of captive bred specimens in an almost infinite array of colors and patterns.

These captive bred specimens tend to adapt to captivity much better, generally being calmer and less prone to stress.

In addition, we as hobbyists have learned much about these pythons. We know, for example, that it is reasonably normal for ball pythons to go off their food in the winter months, and that adult males seem particularly prone to this.

We also known from past experience that so long as your python isn’t losing condition that this extended fast likely isn’t anything to worry about.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning, in case you’re just planning to get your very first ball python…

ball python photo

What Do Ball Pythons Eat?

Ball pythons are carnivores, and need to be fed meat on a regular basis.

Based on the size of the python and the ease of finding food, this tends to mean rodents in captivity; the vast majority of ball pythons are fed on either rats or mice of a suitable size.

How Often Should I Feed My Ball Python?

Ball pythons can grow surprisingly quickly when they are well fed. At the same time, ball pythons can be lazy, and some specimens do seem to get a little overweight.

While each keeper has their own routine, personally I feed my youngsters twice a week initially, slowly increasing the time between feedings to roughly once a week for my adults.

Note that these timings aren’t “fixed”; some pythons will eat far more regularly than others, while moving your snake from one type of food to another can also affect the feeding regime.

One of the best things you can do is to start a feeding chart for your ball python.

Keep records of what food was offered on what dates, and whether it was accepted. Combine this with regular health checks and weigh-ins and you’ll be in the perfect place to assess your ball pythons health and appetite.

If you are unlucky enough to find your ball python suffers from any health issues in the future, such a chart can also be of great interest to your vet, allowing them to spot anything obviously wrong.

What Size Food Should I Give My Ball Python?

When selecting a prey item for your snake, the easiest process is to think of the circumeference of the item. This should be no larger than the fattest part of your snake. Thus a hatchling may need tiny mice, while larger adults may eat adult rats.

Be aware, however, that there is a lot of flexibility in this. I have found that my ball pythons are far more likely to eat smaller prey than larger items, so if your snake seems to turn it’s nose up at the food offered you may want to try feeding something a little smaller.

Pro Tip: Speak to the breeder or pet shop when you actually buy your ball python. Ask them about what they’ve been feeding, and how often, to give you a good starting point. If they have been keeping feeding charts – as many people do – then all the better.

At least in this way you can start off feeding your snake in the manner to which it has become accustomed. Changes can then be made slowly over time.

How to Move Up Food Items

Baby pythons will probably start off on very small rodents.

As the python grows, however, so they’ll need more and more food. Consider both the size of the prey item given and the frequency.

These two combine to provide your snake’s total calorie intake.

As you increase the size of the prey item given, so you might want to increase the time between feeds. This time drops slowly over time until your snake is ready to move up to the next size of prey and so on.

An alternative solution is to keep feeding frequency the same, but increase the number of items being given.

If your ball python is eating large mice, and you think he or she may be ready to move up to something larger then try them on two mice – either fed together or one day after the other.

After a few weeks like this you can feel confident that your snake now has the appetite to eat their new prey source.

ball python photo

Should I Feed Rats or Mice?

Whether to feed rats or mice is a contentious issue in ball python circles. In truth, for small pythons it can be easier to feed very small mice.

Rats obviously aren’t available quite as small, and can be rather more expensive. An adult ball python, however, will probably require something bulkier than even the largest mouse; feeding rats of varying sizes therefore makes sense (and can be cheaper than feeding multiple mice).

The problem is that some ball pythons can become fixated on mice if fed them for long periods of time, and seem to find rats far less appealing. If you’re not careful you can end up with a large python that is eating you out of house-and-home each month, downing armfuls of adult mice while turning it’s nose up at the cheaper and more practical option of rats.

In my experience, given enough patience, even hardened mouse-eaters will eventually get used to eating rats – though the process may take some patience.

My advice would therefore be to start off with rats if they are available in a suitable size for your snake.

If you can only find small mice that your snake can consume then this is certainly better than nothing, though your goal should be to gently “convert” your ball python to eating rats as soon as possible.

Doing so will increase the growth rate of your snake, and make feeding them as an adult much more cost effective.

Frozen Vs Live Food for Ball Pythons

There are two traditional ways to feed a ball python; either giving them live rodents to catch and kill, or providing dead animals that are bought frozen.

Some keepers like to feed live rodents, believing it is more “natural” and secretly enjoying the “hunt”.

Others claim that feeding live rodents elicits a better feeding response; ideal for those snakes that go off their food for a period of time.

The flipside of course is that a rat or house has the potential to do some serious damage to your snake; cases exist where snakes have had chunks bitten out of them by a rodent trying to escape becoming dinner.

The act of watching a snake catch and eat a live rodent is also more than many people can stomach, while in many parts of the world feeding live rodents is actually illegal.

Frozen food is, in my opinion, the way to go. Its cheap and easy to buy, and can be stored for some time in the freezer. When it’s feeding time the food can just be thawed out and fed.

There’s no worry about your snake getting damaged, no mess left in the cage from a live rodent fouling it and no awkward conversations with pet shop owners when buying another “pet” mouse from them.

What About Uneaten Food?

Uneaten food is bad news. A live rodent, as discussed, can bite and nip at your snake. But even frozen food left in the cage for long periods isn’t good news; it can quickly go off in the warmth of a ball python cages and smalls rancid!

Leftover food should therefore be removed from the cage promptly. Quite what “promptly” means depends on the snake.

Some of my pythons are voracious feeders and grab their prey within moments of being presented with it. If it is left untouched for more than a few minutes then I know there’s little interest and remove it.

Another python of mine is surprisingly shy, and tends to prefer eating at night long after I’ve gone to bed. He therefore is left with his prey until the following morning, by which time he’s normally finished it off.

Some keepers will refreeze uneaten food, assuming it hasn’t been left in the cage for too long, but I personally do not. I worry that thawing and refreezing the food may cause stomach upsets, so each item is presented once and then thrown away if not eaten.

For keepers with more than one ball python, an alternative solution is to feed them on different days. If snake number one won’rt eat their food, it is then presented to snake number two, who will hopefully eat it.

This eliminates waste and, so long as you’re keeping feeding charts, can be an efficient way to make feeding your snakes as cost-effective as possible.

ball pythons photo

How Should I Actually Feed My Ball Python?

Once you’ve selected a suitable prey item, next you need to actually feed it to your ball python. Here’s the process I use…

Firstly, I boil the kettle.

Next, I fill a plastic tupperware container with water; roughly 50% boiling and 50% lukewarm.

The snake’s food is then placed into a plastic bag (a sandwich bag tends to work well) and suspend it in the tub. The lid is then placed into the tub to keep the heat in. This speeds up the process of thawing out the mouse or rat, which makes feeding a quicker experience.

The key, as I have discovered, is to use moderately warm water.

If the water is too hot then the rodent thaws out too quickly, which often ends in the stomach bursting. This is not a pleasant smell, rest assured.

Once the rodent is thawed I then repeat the process with the water. The reason for this is that ball pythons have heat-sensitive pits above their mouths. As a result, a warm prey item is more appealing than a cold one.

This second process serves to gently warm the mouse to around body temperature. This time around you only need to suspend the rodent for a few minutes.

The warm rodent can then be gently placed into your ball python cage.

Many of my pythons grab the rodent almost before it touches the ground. Others are rather more bashful, and prefer to wait until I’m gone. Either way, I aim to feed in the evening (when your ball python will naturally be waking up anyway), to keep the light levels low and to keep noise to an absolute minimum. In short, my pythons get peace and quiet while eating.

The snakes are checked again a few hours later, and any uneaten food is removed, together with any “spillage” from the carcass.

A few additional notes on feeding your ball python…

Firstly, some people like to move their snake to a different “feeding cage”. They claim that this reduces the chances of your snake mistaking you for food at a later date, as they only eat in one specific place. Personally, I’ve never had any issues with feeding my pythons in their cages.

Secondly, while I tend to just throw the rodent into the cage, some keepers like to actually feed the snake by holding the rodent in long tongs and waving it around infront of the snakes face. Once again, I haven’t found this necessary and my snakes continue eating without issue.

Where To Buy Snake Food

As reptiles have gained in popularity, so the number of places selling frozen snake food has ballooned.

These days most cities have a reptile shop selling such items.

Even better, there are almost places where frozen rodents can be ordered online and delivered to your home. They typically come carefully packed, in a well-insulated box together with packs of dry ice.

I have personally found that the prices online tend to be far more reasonable, and with a hectic schedule the opportunity to have the rodents mailed to my home also makes my life easier.

Feeding advice for ball python owners. As you know, ball pythons can be fussy feeders, but this guide reveals all you need to know to feed pet ball pythons the right way from the beginning.

Images c/o The Reptilarium, snakecollector & brian.gratwicke

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Best Ball Python Cages – Types & Setup Tue, 16 Aug 2016 07:13:23 +0000 Much has been written in the past about ball python cages, and each keeper will have their own preferences. The intention of this article is to provide a balanced guide to choosing and setting up your ball python cage, in order to keep your pet snake happy and healthy throughout its life. If there’s one […]

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Much has been written in the past about ball python cages, and each keeper will have their own preferences. The intention of this article is to provide a balanced guide to choosing and setting up your ball python cage, in order to keep your pet snake happy and healthy throughout its life.

If there’s one key factor that differentiates keeping reptiles from other types of pets it’s the importance of their cage.

While a rabbit cage is really just a container designed to stop the rabbit from escaping, ball python cages have rather more factors to consider. For example, the right ball python cage will:

  • Allow the maintenance of a warm environment (they are cold blooded animals after all)
  • Allow the maintenance of of a suitable humidity (especially important at moulting time)
  • Provide an environment where your ball python can feel safe and secure (ball pythons without this can cease to feed)
  • Prevent the escape of your python, where damage could come to it
  • Provide an attractive feature for you to enjoy observing your pet

As you can see, there are a lot of factors involved with selecting the best ball python cage, but we’re going to cover everything you need to know…

Ball Python

Types of Ball Python Cages

Over the years ball python keepers have experimented with a wide range of different caging alternatives. Here are the most suitable options being used at present in the pet trade:

Glass Tanks

Glass fish tanks have been used by numerous keepers in the past, as they offer excellent visibility for the owner. They do, however, represent a significant number of difficulties when it comes to creating the ideal ball python habitat.

For starters, ball pythons are well-known as escape artists so it’s critical that any fish tank you consider using has a closely-fitting (escape proof) lid. Fortunately a number of cage toppers are now available on the market, and typically consist of a black mesh lid, often with a glass panel which slides in and out for easy access to the cage.

Truth be told, however, even these tank toppers aren’t perfect. Ball pythons are adept climbers and are surprisingly strong for their size, so its not unheard of for them to manage to push such lids off the top of their cage before making a break for freedom. If you are to use such a device, therefore, be certain that it is very tight-fitting or weigh it down with some heavy books.

Another consideration when selecting the best ball python cage is how you’re going to heat it – and keep the warmth inside. These mesh lids can present problems with warm air rising up and out of the cage, making it difficult to maintain the required temperature for your pet. For this reason it may be necessary if using an aquarium to cover up some of the mesh or install more powerful heating than in other types of cages.

As you can see, while glass tanks certainly have their benefits, they also represent a number of potential pitfalls too. Personally I have used them as short-term homes for young snakes when the weather is warm, but as the mercury starts to drop (or the snake starts to grow) I prefer to make use of other cage types.

Ball python

Wooden Vivariums

Wooden vivariums which are designed specifically with snake owners in mind can make far better ball python cages.

The wooden surroundings of the cage mean that keeping in warmth and humidity is far simpler. This keeps your electricity bill down and helps your ball python to feel more comfortable.

Furthermore wooden vivariums are easy to “modify” – meaning that attaching or installing heaters of all forms is quite simple and efficient.

Another aspect of ball python vivariums which makes them such a tempting option is that the solid walls and back of the cage provide extra privacy for your pet. Ball pythons tend to be quite sensitive and shy animals, and benefit from areas where they can escape your gaze and feel safe.

Warning: I strongly advise you to invest in a suitable cage lock for any wooden vivarium you’re using for a ball python. This prevents your muscular snake from accidentally opening the sliding glass doors, and also ensures that children or visitors to your home aren’t tempted to open the cage without your authorization.

Exo Terras

Exo Terras are specially-designed glass cages designed for keeping reptiles and amphibians. They offer handy glass doors that make accessing your tank a breeze, while also locking shut when not in use. Thanks to their design, adding heating to Exo Terras is also simplicity itself and they represent, in my mind, one of the most attractive forms of caging around.

That said, the greatest weakness of Exo Terras for ball pythons is that they come only in a small range of sizes, none of which are really suitable for larger pythons. As a result while an Exo Terra can make a fantastic-looking and very practical cage for a hatchling ball python, they’re next-to-useless for larger specimens who require suitable space to feel comfortable.

Plastic RUBs

ball python photoPlastic containers have become surprisingly popular as ball python cages over the last few years, mainly thanks to exhaustive experimentation by experienced breeders.

The reality of keeping ball pythons is that they’re not the most active of snakes, they can be nervous in captivity when exposed for too long and in the wild they’ll spend most of the day hiding out in a burrow.

All this means that ball pythons don’t necessarily need the biggest cages in the world; indeed a huge cage with nowhere to hide is arguably the worst thing possible for a ball python.

Compact plastic containers therefore have a number of particular strengths. While they’re certainly not the best-looking caging option they do make it very easy to keep warmth and humidity in the cage.

Their plastic nature also makes them lightweight, cheap to buy and easy to clean. Just as importantly (for breeders) these plastic cages take up minimal space, meaning that those with a large collection can accommodate them in a relatively small space.

Here in the UK I use a brand known as “Really Useful Boxes” (or simply RUBs for short) which are strong, light and have useful locking handles that keep the lid on no matter what. All you need to do is to drill some ventilation holes (simplicity itself with an electric drill) and you’ve got a perfectly serviceable ball python cage. These can also be purchased in the USA from sites like Amazon (direct link).

Homemade Cages

Wooden vivariums are such a practical option that some keepers opt to make their own. Doing so can reduce your costs and allow you to build a cage of the perfect dimensions for your home and your snake.

Of course you’ll need some DIY skills, and the ability to source the parts you’ll need. Remember that it’s not just the wood you’ll want to buy and cut to size, but you’ll also need the glass doors, runners and ventilation panels.

As an alternative to buying a premade wooden vivarium homebuilt cages can be highly effective cages if you’ve got the skills and patience to build one in the first place.

So What’s The Best Ball Python Cage?

We’ve covered quite a few alternatives by now, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each. The obvious question is really what’s “best”? Personally my preference is for wooden vivariums. I feel they’re ideal for retaining heat and humidity while providing an excellent view of your pet. They’re also available in a dizzying range of colors, sizes and shapes to suit any home and really create a fantastic focal point for any room.

As a secondary option, for those who plan on keeping a number of ball pythons, are the plastic tubs.

What Size Cage Does My Ball Python Need?

ball python photoSelecting a suitably-sized ball python cage is a critical part of the whole process.

Too small and your snake won’t have suitable space to move around.

Too large and some snakes can feel insecure, refusing food and losing condition.

Generally speaking it is my belief that ball python cages should be at least as long as your pet is, and a minimum of half this width.

Height is unimportant for ball pythons who may try to climb, and risk potentially harming themselves in the process.

More specifically I would suggest the following measurements:

Hatchling Ball Python Cages – Minimum of 24″ long, with the knowledge that you will have to keep an eye on your python’s growth and invest in a larger vivarium and he or she grows.

Adult Ball Python Cages – Should measure a minimum of 36″ long and ideally more. Personally I typically house my ball pythons in 48″ long vivs.

Here are what some other authorities recommend in terms of cage sizes:

“Adults require at least 400-600 square inches of floor space.” –

“A royal python needs a vivarium which allows it to fully stretch out. Allow at least third of the snake’s length for the width and height. For example, a 120cm long snake will need a minimum 120cm long, 40cm wide and 40cm deep vivarium.” –

“Adult ball pythons do not require exceptionally large or elaborate enclosures. A 36-inch by 18-inch by 12-inch enclosure will more than comfortably house an adult ball python.” –

Creating The Habitat

One of the most effective strategies for keeping any species of reptile or amphibian successfully in captivity is to consider its wild habitat. The more we can understand about where ball pythons live, and how they spend their time, the better we can replicate this in captivity.

The ball python naturally occurs in sub-Saharan Africa. Here it is a surprisingly wide-spread snake, found in countries such as Senegal, Benin and Uganda. Here it spends much of its life in the security of a dis-used rodent burrow or natural crevice.

While many of these countries are relatively dry, within the confines of the burrow the humidity levels are likely to be much higher. Indeed, many authorities point to the problems that can occur from low humidities in captivity, especially in terms of difficulties moulting.

Equally it should be noted that keeping snakes on damp substrate can lead to all manner of problems, including respiratory problems and skin complaints.

There are a number of factors we can draw from this in order to provide a suitable captive habitat for ball pythons:

  • Artificial heating will be necessary for your ball python to feel comfortable.
  • A dry substrate should be used, but with the option for higher humidities especially during moulting.
  • We should aim to mimic the ball python’s burrow by providing a number of secure hides for concealment.


There are ever more substrates available in the reptile trade, and many of these are ideal for ball pythons.


This light and fluffy substrate is excellent at absorbing any excess moisture and looks fantastic within the confines of a cage.

Unfortunately the fact that the particles are so soft and light can cause problems with feeding. On more than one occasion I have observed ball pythons grabbing a rodent to eat, while taking a large mouthful of aspen shavings at the same time.

The consistency of these shavings mean that they can get lodged in the ball python’s mouth, causing discomfort and distress. Sometimes the python will be able to get the sticky chippings out of its mouth; at other times you might need to intervene.

While aspen shavings are far from a bad substrate in captivity, great care should therefore be taken when feeding your pet. You may opt to either select a different substrate or to move your ball python to a different cage for feeding purposes.

Beech Chippings

My personal choice for ball pythons is beech chippings. While these aren’t as absorbent as aspen, they look great and – being heavier and chunkier – tend to cause far few feeding problems in my experience.

Just be aware how much you’ll need; with a good-sized vivarium you’ll find that you always rather more than you expected. If in doubt, buy a bigger bag of chippings, just in case.

Corn Cob Granules

Less commonly-seen than either of the two previous substrate options, corn cob granules are another possible option for your snake. Just as the name suggests, these are the ground-up middles of corn cobs, which dry into a tough and gritty consistency.

A range of different “grades” are available though I would always advise that you use the largest particles possible to minimize the chances of accidental ingestion when feeding.

Note that while corn cob granules look great, they do have a nasty habit of going mouldy quite easily. Therefore you should keep a close eye on this substrate, especially around the water bowl or where you pet feeds, to make sure that no mould is growing. Spot-clean as necessary and replace with fresh bedding.


Some ball python keepers – especially breeders with large collections – promote the use of newspaper as a potential substrate. After all it’s free, and makes cleaning simplicity itself. Personally however I must admit that I’m really not a fan of newspaper for a number of reasons. Firstly, of course, it looks terrible. I want my snake tank to look fantastic.

Secondly newspaper has very low absorbency meaning that it needs to be replaced far more regularly than the other substrates listed above which can be “spot cleaned” when required.

Lastly, I dislike the way it is so “unnatural”. Call me soft but I like to provide a substrate to my ball pythons which at least has a passing resemblance to a “natural” substrate. I believe doing so adds an extra layer of environmental enrichment for my pets.


ball python photoAs stated earlier, it is critical that your ball python should be provided with at least one secure place to hide.

If space allows I always like to offer two hides; one at each end of the vivarium in order to give my snakes the ability to choose the hide that suits them best.

Any hide chosen should allow your snake to safely curl up beneath in its entirety.  There are a number of possible options for ball python hides:

Cork Bark

Cork bark is the bark of tropical oak trees. It is harvested from the tree, which then carries on to grow more. This means it is a natural and renewable resource.

There are a number of things that make cork bark ideal for a ball python hide. Firstly cork bark looks great in any cage. Secondly cork bark is very lightweight, which means there is little chance of damage to your snake if he or she tries to burrow underneath.

The only thing to be aware of is that cork bark is a “natural” product so you’ll find a range of sizes and shapes. For best results try to find a piece of bark with a decent “curve” to it, creating a dark “burrow” beneath for your snake to recline to.

Custom-Designed Bark Hides

While I’m a huge fan of cork bark, my personal preference for ball python hides are specially-made hides. The model I use is made from wood, giving it an attractive rustic and “natural” feel.

They’re also available in a wide variety of sizes, meaning that no matter what the size of your snake you’ll be able to find an appropriately-sized hide. Best of all, I’ve found these custom hides to be much easier to clean than cork bark – and hence rather more hygienic.

Cereal Boxes

Cereal boxes are another simple idea as a hide for your ball python. These are of course free and easily replaced, though quickly become soiled in the cage.


Ball pythons require artificial heating to keep them healthy, though the specific type of heating will be affected by the type of caging you use.

Ideally ball pythons will benefit from a thermal gradient, with one end of their cage being far warmer than the other. In this manner they can pick-and-choose the area most agreeable to them.

For the hot end, a temperature of around 30-34’C tends to work well, with the cooler end measuring somewhere closer to 24’C.

In some containers, such as rubs or wooden vivariums, these temperatures can often be reached with a simple heat pad placed at one end. For more open cages, with greater air movement, it may be necessary to add a secondary form of heating, such as a heat lamp or ceramic bulb, to the hot end of the cage.

Do you have questions about housing your ball python? If so, why not leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible…?

Photos c/o The Reptilarium, daveparker & snakecollector 

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Keeping Milk Snakes (Care Sheet) Sun, 19 Jun 2016 10:39:30 +0000 My obsession with keeping exotic pets began at a very young age. By the time I was twelve I had already kept a range of different tarantulas, stick insects and praying mantis. I’d also begun to branch out into reptiles, where I started by keeping green anoles. However it wasn’t until the age of 16 […]

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Learn all you need to know to care for milk snakes as pets in this extensive care sheet, written by an experienced reptile keeper of over 25 years.My obsession with keeping exotic pets began at a very young age. By the time I was twelve I had already kept a range of different tarantulas, stick insects and praying mantis. I’d also begun to branch out into reptiles, where I started by keeping green anoles.

However it wasn’t until the age of 16 that I landed my first few snakes. Alongside the handful of corn snakes I soon became the proud owner of a breeding pair of milk snakes; a species I later went on to breed myself.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, milk snakes hold a very special place in my heart. To my eyes they’re still one of the most beautiful snakes of all, and one that I still keep to this day.

With their colorful, contrasting rings of red, white and black and their smooth appearance milk snakes really are something special. Fortunately, with a little information they’re also quite easy-going and forgiving pet snakes. If you’re considering buying a milk snake read on to discover how to care for these stunning reptiles…

Wild Habitat

Beautiful Nelson's milk snake.

Milk snakes are a surprisingly diverse group. While most of the pet trade focuses on either the Sinaloan or Pueblan Milk Snakes, there are currently over 20 different varieties recognized.

Interestingly, the Milk Snake is generally categorized as a single species (Lampropeltis triangulum) with the different varieties being classed as sub-species.

However not all authorities, agree, however, and believe that many of the varieties deserve to be classified as unique species in their own right. Their taxonomy may well change in the coming years, therefore, as experts disagree over how best to classify them.

Milk snakes are a New World species, occurring across a wide range. They are to be found as far north as southern Canada, throughout the United States and down into much of Central America.

In the wild milk snakes may frequent a wide range of habitats, though are most commonly found in more arid areas.

From rocky mountainsides to prairies and even woodlands these are snakes that are well-adapted to drier conditions and highly adaptable in their lifestyle. This adaptability helps to make them ideal pets as they will tolerate a wide range of different conditions with ease.

It is interesting to note that their presence in cattle-farmers fields led to their common name, whereby a myth arose that they must be drinking the milk of these animals they were so commonly found in close proximity.

Milk Snake Caging

Sinaloan milk snake.
Sinaloan milk snake.

Like all snakes, milk snakes are born escape artists. When I bought my first milk snakes they seemed to forever be getting out, though were always soon found relaxing on the windowsill above the radiator.

I soon learned from personal experience that it is critical to ensure that these slim and agile snakes are kept in escape-proof containers. You’ll be astonished by just how small a gap they can get through or how well they can climb (my original problem was a loose lid, which they could nudge just enough to slip through the gap).

Milk snakes tend to be quite modestly-sized snakes in captivity, generally quite a bit smaller than corn snakes (though exceptions do of course exist). Despite their smaller size, milk snakes should not be kept in overly-small cages as they can be surprisingly active when going about their nocturnal activities.

I recommend a cage that offers at least one square foot of space for every foot of snake length. This means that a four foot milk snake will require a cage no less than 4 feet long by a foot wide at the bare minimum, though larger is of course better.

Milk snakes can be surprisingly adept climbers in comparison to many other commonly-kept snakes, so a vivarium which provides a degree of height can also be beneficial. Personally I sometimes include carefully-fixed pieces of wood to provider some vertical interest in their cages, and will quite often see them climbing.

While there are a range of different vivariums available for snakes, my own personal preference in the case of milk snakes is a wooden vivarium. As milk snakes tend to be kept on a dry substrate there is little worry of the wood warping or rotting, as can happen in a humid set-up.

The solid sides of the vivarium help to provide privacy, making your snake feel more confident in their surroundings. As the same time the wood construction can be ideal for keeping in heat. Even a standard heat pad placed inside the viv can keep it warm and toasty on a cold winter’s day.

Lastly you have the benefit of the sliding doors at the front, which provide excellent visibility for keeping an eye on your snake and watching their activities. The fact that these slide open can be helpful for tank maintenance, as you don’t need to open the entire cage to change the water or spot-clean the substrate. For a species of snake that can be surprisingly fast when it wants to be, this minimizes the chances of them slipping past you when the cage is open.

A milk snake makes an ideal first pet. Read on to discover how to care for them in captivity.Siting the snake vivarium is as important as its construction. As milk snakes tend to be most active after dark, especially at dawn and dusk (a lifestyle known as “crepuscular”) they generally appreciate a darker cage than diurnal species.

Additionally, it is important to appreciate that snake cages can rapidly overheat if they are in direct sunlight – especially during summer months. Lastly, take into consideration any chills or drafts that may be about. Placing a milk snake vivarium next to an external door, for example, will rapidly chill it when you open the door in winter.

All of these elements should be considered when deciding where to place your milk snake tank. Ideally this will be away from direct sunlight, radiators and windows, all of which can affect the internal temperature. Also, try to avoid “noisy” areas of the house such as children’s bedrooms or close to your TV set. A quiet room tends to be kindest for your pet.

Heating Milk Snakes

milk snakes photo

Milk snakes are cold blooded creatures and so will require artificial heating in all but the very hottest months of the year. In comparison to my ball pythons I have found that their preferred temperature tends to be quite a bit lower; typically a hotspot of 25’C tends to work well with milk snakes.

This is most easily provided with a heat mat. If you use a wooden vivarium then this should be placed inside the tank, at one end. If you have opted to use a plastic or glass tank then this can be placed underneath.

It is important when purchasing a heat mat that it should be of the correct size. Ideally the heater should cover no more than a third to a half of the overall floor area. This means that one end of the cage will be kept noticeably warmer than the other end. In this way you create a “thermal gradient”, allowing your snake to choose the temperature that suits them best.

The option to choose their location can also be useful for modifying the environmental conditions in the cage. For example if your snake seems to spend most of its life curled up in the hot area then you can surmise that the cage may not be warm enough. Here a second heat mat, attached to the back of the cage, can be used to increase the temperature further in colder weather.

Alternatively if you snake spends the majority of his or her time right down the cold end of the cage then it may be that the cage overall is too warm. Try moving the cage off the heater a little to see if this improves matters.

A healthy, happy and suitably warm snake will still hide away during most of the day, but will be active and inquisitive in the evening, coming out to explore and hunt for food.

Experts recommend that a thermostat should always be used with heat mats, in order to eliminate the chances of overheating. These can be particularly effective as the seasons change. As spring moves into summer, a thermostat is your insurance if the weather suddenly gets hotter one day while you’re out of the house.

In this instance the thermostat will turn off the heater to maintain a suitable temperature, only turning it back on again when the room temperature drops again.

A digital thermometer can also be a handy (and cheap) addition to your milk snake cage. With such a device you can quickly and easily monitor the temperature of your snakes cage without needing to disturb him or her to try while trying to “feel” whether the heating is working effectively.

Water & Humidity

While milk snakes may largely come from drier environments, it is critical that they should have a bowl of fresh water available at all times. I have found that from time-to-time my milk snakes like to bathe in their water, so I recommend providing a bowl that is large enough for your snake to fully immerse itself. Additionally, don’t fill water bowls to the very top or your snake could make quite a mess if it decides to go for a swim!

Generally speaking milk snakes aren’t fussy when it comes to humidity. A normal household humidity level should serve them fine, though a few keepers recommend giving your snake a very occasional spray with tepid water to mimic a light rain shower.

Cage Furnishings

milk snakes photoOnce you’ve selected your milk snake cage and heater, you’ll want to invest in a few other pieces of hardware to keep your snake healthy.

Firstly, you’ll want to consider substrate options.

Here there are a wide range of possible options, including corn cob granules, beech chippings and aspen, each of which can make a suitable substrate for your pet.

Personally, my preference is for beech chippings or aspen, with a layer several centimetres thick on the bottom of the cage.

As discussed previously, milk snakes can be surprisingly adept climbers, so if you have space in your snake tank it can often be fun to put some climbing apparatus in there to provide additional interest. Drift wood, as sold for aquariums, can be used if firmly fixed in place to avoid it moving.

Lastly milk snakes tend to be much shier and more secretive than many other snake species. As a result you’ll want to ensure that your pet has a suitable hide in which they can feel secure.

Feeding Milk Snakes

Milk snakes are avid feeders and I have never had any major problems with encouraging them to feed. Studies suggest that in the wild milk snakes tend to be quite “generalist” feeders, and may eat anything they can fit in their mouths. For youngsters this can include invertebrates, while adults may on occasion take baby birds or lizards.

An interesting study carried out by scientists involved inspecting the stomachs of wild milk snakes, with some surprising findings. Not only have milk snakes been shown to feed on the chicks of ground-nesting birds, but the study also found one specimen in Central American that had consumed the eggs of an iguana.

However other studies have suggested that their most common food stuff in the wild for adults are five-lined skinks (Plestiodon fasciatus).


In captivity the most common source of food is dead mice (most milk snakes won’t get large enough to take rats).

Rodents can be bought frozen from most reptile stores. When feeding day comes around you can simply place a rodent into a plastic bag and suspend it in hot water. This will not only thaw out the item quickly, but the warmth of the rodent itself can serve as an attractant for your snake.

If you are prone to feeding room-temperature mice, but find that you snake is being fussy, try warming them up in warm water before feeding. This increases the scent they give off and can make them rather more appealing for milk snakes.

As a rough guide try to feed a food item which roughly matches the widest part of your snakes body. This means that hatchling milk snakes will readily accept pinkies and fluffs, with the size of the prey items increasing as the snake grows.

Adult milk snakes will happily take jumbo mice, with the largest specimens sometimes accepting smaller rats.

I have found milk snakes to have healthy appetites, so tend to feed youngsters two or three times a week, with adults eating slightly less frequently. Under such conditions they will grow rapidly, only going off food for short periods of time immediately before or after a moult.

Try to avoid handling your snake for a 24 hour period after feeding. Some owners have found that the stress of handling can on occasion encourage milk snakes to regurgitate their last meal. This is neither pleasant for owner or snake.

Handling Milk Snakes

Milk snakes can be wonderful snakes for those that want a pet they can handle. I have found them to be some of the most docile snakes, and despite 20 years of keeping them I have yet to be bitten by a single specimen. This is in contrast to other typically docile snakes – where both corn snakes and ball pythons have taken the odd pop at me over the years!

That said, milk snakes can be surprisingly quick, and also rather skittish. A startled milk snake can make quite a getaway when you open the tank, so take the time to get to know your snake. The last thing you want to do is open the vivarium only for them to dash out of the corner and make a break for freedom.

Once in the hand, milk snakes will normally remain calm, and prove to be highly inquisitive, exploring the world around them. Note, however, that even a tame snake may be easily startled and suddenly try to bolt to safety. It is key, therefore, when handling milk snakes to remain slow, calm and deliberate at all times. They may not be the ideal snake for children, therefore, who may accidentally spook these sensitive snakes.

It is worth noting that a scientific study in Japan found Salmonella in the stomach of a captive milk snake. While the sample size was tiny, it is wise to carefully wash your hands after holding your snake to avoid the risk of any cross-contamination.

Do you have any other questions not answered here? Please feel free to leave your queries on the comments section below where I will try to answer them as quickly as possible….

Learn all you need to know to care for milk snakes as pets in this extensive care sheet, written by an experienced reptile keeper of over 25 years.

Photo by Ben Evers, Sheila in Moonducks & ShadowWolf13

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The 5 Best Small Pet Snakes (for Beginners) Sun, 08 May 2016 11:37:39 +0000 These days there are masses of different species of snake currently available in the pet trade. This raises an interesting problem: what are really the best small pet snakes which are suitable for beginners and require minimal space in captivity? As it turns out, while some snake species are difficult to look after thanks to […]

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Looking for the best small pet snakes? The species outlined in this article all achieve a reasonable size - perfect for reptile keepers with limited space. Most are also ideal for beginners, making them ideal pet snakes for enthusiasts of all experience levels. These days there are masses of different species of snake currently available in the pet trade. This raises an interesting problem: what are really the best small pet snakes which are suitable for beginners and require minimal space in captivity?

As it turns out, while some snake species are difficult to look after thanks to their natural habits, eventual size or level of aggression, there are a surprisingly large number of snakes which are perfectly suited to the beginner.

If you’re considering investing in your very first pet snake and are looking for the best options then read on for my personal “hot list”.

Corn Snakes (Pantherophis guttatus)

A wild-type corn snake - a perfect small pet snake ideal for beginners.

Corn snakes are some of the most popular small pet snakes, and for good reason.

Sometimes known as the “red rat snake”, corn snakes typically make very docile and forgiving pets. As a result they are one of the easiest – and hence best – pet snakes to keep for a beginner.

As this species has been “the” snake that most owners start with so long, they have been bred in captivity for decades.

This has two benefits for the keeper. Firstly, baby corn snakes are for sale in most good reptile shops on a regular basis. Not only are baby corn snakes unbelievably cute but they’re also typically much cheaper than buying a larger snake.

Just as importantly, buying a hatchling allows you to get your snake used to handling early on, and so to be certain that it remains tame and docile throughout its adult life.

The second benefit of so many corn snakes being bred each year is that there are now dozens of different colors (known in the trade as “morphs”) available.

While I have to admit I’m a bit boring and still have a preference for the typical “wild type” of corn snake, it’s entirely possible these days to purchase corn snakes that are an almost limitless combination of reds, oranges, pinks, whites, blacks and brown.

Here are some of the more popular corn snake morphs which may appeal to the first-time keeper:

Amelanistic Corn Snake

corn snake photo

Sometimes known as the “amel corn snake” this color form lacks the black pigmentation seen in “wild type” snakes. As a result this variety really shows off the reds and oranges, though the eyes too generally match these colors.

Anerythristic Corn Snake

corn snake photo

Sometimes known as an “anery corn snake” this color form generally lacks the reds and oranges seen in wild corn snakes.

This gives it deep gray or black saddles on a pale gray or white background.

While this sounds rather boring in appearance, the result is a truly stunning snake which can be exquisitely patterned.

Snow Corn Snake

corn snake photoBesides the wild type, I must admit that the snow corn is my favorite color form. Bred by crossing both an amel and an anery corn together, the resultant is a pale white/pink snake with subtle pink saddles. These really are stunning snakes and totally unlike the common type.

Butter Corn Snake

The butter corn is another stunning variety. The best way to describe the butter corn snake would be looking at a wild type snake through a yellow camera filter. All the markings remain, but rather than a base color of reds and oranges this variety is primarily deep yellow in color – hence the “butter” name.

More information on the various corn snake morphs available can be found at the following excellent websites:

Common Corn Snake Questions

Are corn snakes poisonous?

Corn snakes are constrictors, meaning that they kill their prey by restricting the breathing. Unlike many other species of snake they do not possess venom and so are unable to cause harm to you if handled.

Are corn snakes constrictors?

Yes. Corn snakes feed primarily on rodents in the wild (hence their alternative name of “red rat snake”) and kill them by coiling around the rodent tightly, thus suffocating it before consumption.

Why are corn snakes called corn snakes?

A number of theories exist as to why corn snakes are so-called. Possibly the most likely is that in the past these snakes were most commonly encountered around farmer’s fields, where they would hunt the small rodents found living among the corn.

An alternative suggestion comes from the yellow/orange coloration of these snakes which in some specimens is the color of corn.

Are corn snakes harmless?

Unless you’re a small rodent then corn snakes are generally harmless. They possess no venom, and instead constrict their prey before eating it. Corn snakes are generally quite docile. A wild corn snake would rather slither away to safety than stand its ground, while pet corn snakes can generally be handled with ease.

Ball Python

The ball python - a perfect pet snake for beginners.

I’ve got to be honest with you; ball pythons are one of my all-time favorite snakes, and one that I still maintain to this day.

There are a number of reasons why I think this is one of the best pet snakes.

When new acquaintances of mine hear that I keep pythons in my bedroom they often imagine one of the larger pythons – perhaps a burmese or reticulated python that they’ve seen in the zoo.

They imagine I have a vivarium the size of a small apartment and risk life and limb every time I open it. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Firstly, ball pythons typically only reach around 5 feet in length. As a result they’re a surprisingly small pet snake. Perhaps just as interestingly they’re also typically quite stocky and sturdy-looking snakes.

This can make them far more eye-catching as a pet. Additionally, they tend to move rather more slowly than corn snakes, making them perfect for handling.

Then of course there are all the different color morphs available. Just as with corn snakes, this means there are colors suitable for almost every taste, from the original “wild type” through to all manner of reds, whites, yellows and browns.

Here are some of the more popular color morphs:

Spider Ball Python

royal python photo

Possibly the most popular ball python morph besides the wild type, in this morph the saddles are enlarged, with the black lines between then creating an incredible “spider web” or “step ladder” appearance.

Spiders are also an integral part of many more complex morphs, so if you decide to get into breeding these fantastic little snakes then owning a spider or two can set you down an ideal path of experimentation.

Albino Ball Python

ball python photo

As with other species, the albino ball python lacks the dark pigmentation, which therefore removes the blacks and browns from the body. What you’re left with is a red-eyed snake with yellow/orange saddles on a pale cream background.

Piebald Ball Python

piebald ball python photo

The piebald ball python is a fascinating snake, with variable patches of white and colored sections. Each of these piebalds is different, making each one unique.

For loads of information on ball python morphs take a look at:

Truth be told, while I think the ball python is one of the best small pet snakes it is not without it’s weaknesses. Possibly the biggest of these is that ball pythons can be fussy feeders. Many go off food for long periods of time – especially the males.

While this can cause anguish for new snake owners, when their pet refuses to eat for weeks or even months at a time, this is entirely natural. So long as your snake is not losing condition visibly it should be nothing to worry about.

It’s just a quirk of keeping ball pythons and one that you’ll need to get used to if you’re not going to tear your hair out looking after these fantastic snakes.

Common Ball Python Questions

How big does a ball python get?

Ball pythons are surprisingly small snakes by python scales. On average ball pythons will reach roughly 4-5 feet in overall length, with the adult females often being larger than the males. Note that this is a stocky snake, so even at these modest sizes they can look very impressive indeed.

How long do ball pythons live?

Ball pythons are known to be very long lived snakes. Estimates suggest that 40 years or more is not unrealistic for a captive ball python. This means you should think carefully before buying one as it’ll outlive a cat or dog many times over so really represents a long-term commitment.

What do ball pythons eat?

Like all snakes, ball pythons are carnivores. This means that they need to eat meat, as opposed to plant matter. In captivity most ball pythons feed on rodents. Adult ball pythons will normally eat large weaner (sub-adult) rats, while smaller specimens eat correspondingly smaller rats or mice.

Unfortunately, keepers have found that some ball pythons learn to prefer mice over rats, which can make feeding the adult snakes rather expensive. It’s much cheaper (and easier) to feed one rat than multiple mice. For this reason it can be wise to introduce your snake to the taste of rats early on.

Hognose Snakes

The hognose snake - a perfect starter pet reptile for beginners.

Hognoses really are small pet snakes, growing to only around 3 feet in length (males can be even smaller than females). As a result they’re one of the best pet snakes for those individuals with limited space available for vivariums. The hognose is so-called because it has a unique up-turned snout, resembling a pig’s snout.

Now, truth be told, hognoses are far less common than either ball pythons or corn snakes, so if you opt for one of these little beauties you may have to do a little more hunting around for a specimen, but it can be well worth the effort.

Easily handleable, sturdy and easy to care for, and small in dimensions, the hognose makes an unusual but easily cared-for pet snake.

As the hognose snake is less common than many of the other suggestions here they have not undergone quite the same level of breeding. This can not only mean slightly higher prices, but also a much smaller range of color morphs.

For a full list of the options available take a look at:


A kingsnake makes an ideal small pet snake for beginners.

King snakes represent a large group of snakes, with huge amounts of diversity within that group. Small pet snake examples include the beautiful chocolate-and-cream Californian kingsnake and the stunningly-spotted Florida King Snake (the first species of snake I ever personally bred).

California Kingsnake held in Caucasian mid-adult male's hands.Many such snakes reach very modest proportions indeed, with my Florida kings growing to only around 3-4 feet long in total. This makes them considerably smaller than either ball pythons or most corn snakes.

Other less regularly-seen king snake species include the black king snake and the beautiful mountain king.

Note that unlike corn snakes and ball pythons, many king snakes aren’t naturally docile. If you purchase a snake that hasn’t been handled regularly these snakes can prove to be rather skittish, and may even defecate on you in order to encourage you to put them down.

In other words, when selecting a king snake it’s critical that you actually get the specimen out and get to know its unique personality. It’s also important that these snakes are handled on a regular basis in order to keep them comfortable with the process.

Milk Snakes

A milk snake makes an ideal first pet. Read on to discover how to care for them in captivity.

Milk snakes represent one of the best small pet snakes in my opinion. After over a decade of looking after milk snakes I still feel that they’re one of the single most attractive groups of snakes available, with their incredible red, white and black rings.

Sinaloan milk snake.
Sinaloan milk snake.

Very few other species of snake even get close to the overall appearance and contrast of colors you will find in these snakes.

They’re also sturdy feeders who rarely stop eating (unless a moult is coming) so can grow quite quickly. This is nothing to worry about, however, as many milk snake species rarely reach 4 feet or so in overall length. This makes them easy to accommodate in the home.

I have also found that milk snakes are incredibly unlikely to bite. Even after all these years I have yet to have a specimen go for me, which is quite some achievement. Indeed, in terms of their personalities, milk snakes seem far more likely to try and make a break for freedom than they are to turn around and bite.

That said, you should be aware that milk snakes can be pretty quick when they want to be. Whereas one can typically open up a ball python cage and simply scoop the little snake out without any fuss, when you open your milk snake tank you’ll need to be on full alert.

Gently remove the hide and then gently but swiftly get hold of your snake. Remember: the chances of being bitten by a milk snake are close to zero, but if you take your eye off them they can be out of the cage in the blink of an eye.

For this reason, while they are stunning and small pet snakes, they may not be the best solution for children or beginners. Instead, a more “plodding” snake like a ball python or corn snake might be more easily cared for and handled.

Note that due to their small size and speed, milk snakes can be true escape artists. When I got my first ever pair, back in my late teens, I was forever getting home to find the cage empty and the snakes relaxing by the radiator in my room.

In other words, if you’re going to keep milk snakes, be certain to invest in a good quality vivarium without any nasty gaps or holes through which these natural escape artists could make a break for freedom!

Got questions? Please use the comments section below and I’ll try to respond ASAP to any questions you may have

Looking for the best small pet snakes? The species outlined in this article all achieve a reasonable size - perfect for reptile keepers with limited space. Most are also ideal for beginners, making them ideal pet snakes for enthusiasts of all experience levels.

Photo c/o Carlitos Pereira, highlander411, forestwildlife, mariposavet, robertnelson & golgarth

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Risks When Handling Exotic Pets Thu, 07 Apr 2011 09:43:41 +0000 While many exotic pets can be handled safely both from your point of view and that of the animal itself I thought that it might be beneficial to provide you with a list of “warnings” or things to be aware of while handling exotic pets. None of these risks are really too serious when you […]

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While many exotic pets can be handled safely both from your point of view and that of the animal itself I thought that it might be beneficial to provide you with a list of “warnings” or things to be aware of while handling exotic pets.

None of these risks are really too serious when you know about them, understand them and plan for them. Indeed potential problems really only occur with inexperienced exotic pet keepers who aren’t aware of some of the potential pitfalls when holding exotic pets and how to avoid them with minimal effort.

Read the following if you’re new to exotic pets, remember the tips and you’ll have a lot more success when it comes to handling your new pet.

Falling From A Height

If I pushed you off the top of a building I think it’s fair to say that it would hurt and the same goes for your exotic pets. If they’re dropped from a reasonable height (such as an adult standing up straight holding a lizard infront of them) then there is a serious risk of damage to your pet.

Risks may include broken bones, sprains or even death for something like a tarantula where the abdomen has been known to split. Even a broken bone can be a serious problem – especially with smaller herptiles – as it can be very difficult to repair such damage successfully.

In other words when you’re handling your exotic pets try to do so close to the ground so if you do slip (or they make a dash for freedom) they only have a small, safe distance to drop. Holding your herptile over a bed or couch is a great idea because as well as the reduced potential dropping distance if the worst happens they will land on a soft surface which will minimize the chances of any damage occurring.

Chemicals On Your Hands

Many of the everyday chemicals we use – from household cleaning chemicals to standard toiletries – can cause problems for some exotic pets. This is mostly a problem with amphibians who have a very sensitive, permeable skin where even small amounts of chemicals can cause significant health problems.

There are a number of potential ways to avoid these risks. Firstly it goes without saying that you should wash your hands thoroughly before touching your pet and ideally apply one of the reptile safe hand cleaners too which will ensure any pathogens have been killed off. Some keepers opt to wear latex gloves though generally I have never had any problems when just using the “wash and sanitize” technique.

Overly Dry Hands

Amphibian skin needs to stay moist at all times so before handling any amphibian you should ensure your hands are damp. Doing so will make handling your pet a little more difficult because the whole experience will be far more “slippery” but this prevents damage occurring to the amphibians skin.

Also, when it comes to moistening your hands, try not to use water directly from the tap but instead use distilled water or dechlorinated tap water so there are no unpleasant chemicals in the water you just lovingly applied to your hands.

Amphibian Toxins

Some amphibians like poison dart frogs and marine toads can give off defensive toxins designed to stop predators from eating them and if you manage to ingest these or get them in your eye the experience can quickly become quite an unpleasant one.

Once again consider using latex gloves when handling amphibians or thoroughly wash your hands after handling your pet and use a reptile-safe sanitizer.

Insect Defences

Just because you’re so big and insects are so small don’t necessarily think that they’re harmless. Some stick insects have sharp spines on their legs which they can close around a finger if they feel threatened and may cause discomfort or even draw blood. Assassin bugs can squirt toxins at you from some distance as can some stick insects. Larger praying mantis are capable of drawing blood if they “catch” you with their front legs.

In other words don’t assume that all insects are perfectly safe to handle and that you can do anything you like to them. Treat them with as much respect as any other exotic pet by moving slowly and calmly when handling them so as to not scare them and keep them away from your face to avoid any risks from toxins.

Urticating Hairs

Some tarantulas from the Americas have what are known as “urticating hairs” on their abdomen. These spiders can kick the hairs off with their back legs and these hairs can then cause considerable discomfort if they come into contact with you. Itchy skin is the most common problem though this will quickly subside. However if you inhale these hairs they can make your nose feel sore and “prickly” for a good day or two afterwards while getting these hairs into your eyes can require medical attention as quickly as possible.

Now I’ve been keeping and breeding tarantulas for over a decade and I’ve had dozens of spiders kick off urticating hairs at me. I’ve never got them in my eyes, got them up my nose a couple of times and on my hands far more often. But generally the feeling of these hairs is more a minor irritation than anything else.

If you keep tarantulas then treat them gently and calmly to minimize the risks of them trying to defend themselves by flicking hairs at you, wash your hands thoroughly after handling any spider and keep them well away from your face at all times to avoid the risk of urticating hairs getting into your nose, mouth or eyes.


The snakes commonly kept in the exotic pet hobby are almost all constrictors – that is they capture a prey item and then squeeze it until it dies through lack of air. They then eat the prey item.

In smaller snakes this ability to constrict is rarely a problem. Even a full-grown corn snake is hardly able to do you any damage if it decides it wants to constrict your arm or such.

But larger snakes such as many pythons or boas do pose a potential risk if they decide to try and constrict you – especially if they round your neck at the time.

To minimize this risk take great care if you decide to buy a snake that is going to reach a large size as an adult, take the time while it is young to get it used to being handled, avoiding placing large snakes around your nexk and only handle them when you have another person with you to offer help should the worst case scenario happen.

Allergic Reactions

Some exotic pets that we keep such as tarantulas and the popular species of scorpion are venomous but the venom is typically too weak to do any real damage to a human. I’ve been bitten by a Chilean rose tarantula and stung by an imperial scorpion and both felt at worst like a bee sting. I felt a burning sensation in my skin which subsided after a few hours and was none the worse for wear.

But there is always a minor risk of anaphalactic shock where your body can overreact to the toxins causing you to swell up and have difficulties breathing.

Venomous bites and stings are few and far between – and the chances of you being allergic are even slimmer – so this is probably not a situation you’re going to get yourself into but to be safe should you ever get bitten by any venomous creature – no matter how low the levels – seek medical attention just incase.

Microbial Pathogens

Some herptiles do potentially have microbial pathogens like salmonella that can be passed on from one specimen to another or even onto you. So after handling any of your exotic pets carefully wash and sanitize your hands to remove any risk and remember this should be done not just when you’ve finished your handling routine but also between handling each individual specimen to reduce the risks of cross-contamination.

Bites, Scratches And Swipes

Larger herps in particular can case bites, scratches or swipe you with their tail. Learn how to handle your pet properly, don’t take risks and consider using equipment like leather gauntlets and snake hooks for larger or more aggressive specimens to help keep you safe.

Almost every potential risk of handling exotic pets here can be avoided with a little common sense. Very few people experience any negative consequences from handling their pets and I’m a perfect example of this. After over a decade of dealing with all sorts of animals I have never had any significant damage done to either myself or an animal as a result of handling them.

The intention of this article is not to scare you off from handling your pet – or to prove to the “anti exotic pets brigade” that these animals are dangerous killers. But they are wild animals and a degree of thought, preparation and knowledge is recommended if you are going to keep both you and your pets safe from harm.

Wash and sanitize your hands before and after handling each of your exotic pets. Keep them away from your face at all times. Use specialist equipment when necessary. Learn how to handle your pets properly. Seek professional medical assistance should anything occur to you or your pet. But above all be smart, be safe and enjoy the thrill of getting in direct contact with your exotics.

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How To Clean Out Your Exotic Pet Mon, 04 Apr 2011 10:01:30 +0000 One of the benefits of exotic pets are that the vast majority make very little mess on a weekly basis. Certainly terrapins (turtles to our American readers) can quickly make a mess of their water but for those of us keeping tarantulas, snakes, lizards and the like we tend to have quite an easy life […]

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One of the benefits of exotic pets are that the vast majority make very little mess on a weekly basis. Certainly terrapins (turtles to our American readers) can quickly make a mess of their water but for those of us keeping tarantulas, snakes, lizards and the like we tend to have quite an easy life in terms of cleaning.

Cleaning out exotic pets can be broadly split into two kinds of job – the spot clean and the full clean.

The spot clean is the kind of maintenance that can and should be done on a regular basis. My royal python, for example, only defecates once every week or so and because of this my typical spot cleaning involves carefully removing the faeces as they are deposited by picking them up in a plastic bag, turning the bag the right way, tying it at the top and putting it in the bin.

Occasionally during feeding a little mess will be created – such as blood dripping on the substrate but I then just follow the same procedure to remove any obviously-soiled substrate. Every so often my snake moults and I remove the skin as soon as I see it.

That’s the full gamut of most of my cleaning routine. A couple of minutes a few times a week cleaning individual problems up and leaving the tank in a clean and hygienic state.

Doing these regular spot cleans as you see a problem will significantly cut down on the other type of cleaning necessary and will also keep your cage looking (and smelling) nicer for longer.

The other type of cleaning is the full clean where every part of the cage gets attention and that’s what I’d like to discuss in a little more detail below so you can see just how much more work this is and therefore why spot cleaning is so important to save you from this job for as long as possible.

Here is the process in detail as I do it:

1) Remove Exotic Pet

Firstly remove your exotic pet from their vivarium. Doing this ensures you can complete freedom over the rest of the process and so makes things much easier than trying to clean around your pet.

The whole cleaning process can take quite some time depending on the condition of the vivarium, the size of the housing and the time of year (which will affect drying temperatures) so you need to put your exotic pet somewhere that it will be safe and secure for a period of time.

For this purpose I generally keep a range of old vivariums, tubs and containers of assorted sizes that cover the full range of my livestock collection. I place the animal in, secure the lid, place the container in a warm place and cover it with a towel so that my movements as I go about my work won’t stress them.

2) Remove All Vivarium Decor And Clean

Once the animal is secured I remove all the vivarium decor such as rocks, wood, the water bowl, any hides, fake plants and so on. Using a new toothbrush and a bucket of reptile-safe detergent I scrub each item to within a inch of it’s life to remove any faeces, blood, dirt or bacteria that may be present, rinse them thoroughly and set them down to dry naturally.

This is an ideal point to discuss how many household chemicals can be tremendously dangerous to exotic pets and so you need to keep these as far away from your pet and it’s vivarium as possible. It is therefore a smart idea to go and buy brand new equipment the first time you clean out your exotic pet and then use a marker pen to write on the outside of them so you know that they have never been used for household chemicals.

The most important parts of your cleaning kit are going to be a plastic bucket or two, a dustpan and brush and a firm brush such as a toothbrush, together with some cloths for wiping the cage.

Never, ever try to use household chemicals for cleaning your exotic pets. No bleach. No glass polish. No washing up liquid. Use only detergents from a specialist exotic pet store designed specifically for reptiles and amphibians. OK, rant over 🙂

3) Remove Vivarium Substrate And Dispose Of

Next up I get rid of all the vivarium substrate. The easiest way I have found of doing this is to use a dustpan to scoop it up then place it into a bin bag. This can either be disposed on in the bin or put on your compost heap if you have used a natural substrate. Typically you will be left with some fine dust at the bottom of the vivarium and this can easily be removed with a vacuum cleaner.

4) Clean Inside Of Vivarium Including Glass

Next grab your clean cloths and your reptile-safe cleaning spray and get to work wiping down every surface inside the vivarium. Every bit of wall, glass, every fitting, nook and cranny. We want the anti-bacterial formula of the cleaning detergent worked into every area of the cage to fully sanitize it.

5) Allow Vivarium To Dry Thoroughly

By now you should be ready for a short break. Making yourself a cup of coffee or tea at this point is ideal because you now need to wait for the vivarium itself and all the decor which have been thoroughly washed to dry out naturally. You don’t want to be putting your exotic pet back into a cage still damp with the detergent no matter how “reptile safe” it is. Once you’re confident that everything is dry you can move onto the next step.

6) Check Vivarium For Issues

Take the opportunity while the vivarium is empty to check it over carefully for any potential problems. Is the wood warped? Are the electrical fittings in good condition and are they where they should be or have things moved? Do the doors/lid still fit securely? Are there any gaps or holes appearing anywhere? If so, resolve these issues before putting the vivarium back into use.

7) Replace Substrate

Grab a new bag of substrate and fill up the base of the vivarium so that it looks just like it did before you started.

8) Replace Vivarium Decor

Put all the decor back into the cage, changing the layout where necessary based on how your exotic pet uses the vivarium.

9) Replace Exotic Pet

Lastly when the vivarium is fully clean and has been set back up with all the heating and lighting working properly you can gently replace your exotic pet. Don’t be surprised if your pet either spends a lot of time exploring or hides away for a while. The vivarium will likely smell – and possibly even look – rather different and so your pet may behave a little strangely at first as they get used to the changes.

The post How To Clean Out Your Exotic Pet appeared first on Keeping Exotic Pets.

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Keeping Hatchling Colubrids Tue, 30 Mar 2010 17:21:53 +0000 Whether we’re talking about milksnakes, kingsnakes, rat snakes or the classic corn snake, luckily the care of hatchling colubrids is very similar indeed. Baby snakes can feel vulnerable and the more stressed they are the more likely they are to get ill and/or go off their their food so this is the first thing to […]

The post Keeping Hatchling Colubrids appeared first on Keeping Exotic Pets.

Whether we’re talking about milksnakes, kingsnakes, rat snakes or the classic corn snake, luckily the care of hatchling colubrids is very similar indeed.

Baby snakes can feel vulnerable and the more stressed they are the more likely they are to get ill and/or go off their their food so this is the first thing to consider.

This means that a small cage (around the length of the snake long, by half the snake’s length in width) is generally better than a larger one and ideally you will also provide your baby snake with somewhere to hide where it can feel safe.

Some people include a special hide from a reptile store while others add a toilet roll tube, small cardboard box or plastic plant pot for the purpose.

The next consideration is cleanliness which is vitally important so that diseases and infections do not occur. This is even more important if you keep more than one pet snake.

Because of this it is important to keep the cage spotlessly clean at all times, and ideally to also keep each baby separately. This is of particular importance in kingsnakes which have been known to cannibalize each other.

The substrate of the cage should reflect this level of cleanliness. Many professional keepers and pet stores simply use kitchen paper which is soft, absorbent, cheap and your snake can also hide underneath it. Others prefer a more natural look and will use something like birch bark or corn cob granules. Whatever you choose, ensure that the substrate remains clean at all times and that no mould is allowed to grow.

While reptiles are adapted for living in dry environments, a small water bowl should also be available at all times so your snake can drink whenever it has the inclination and the water should be changed daily.

Baby snakes typically do not require artificial lighting though some gentle heating to around 24’C is very welcome and will help to encourage feeding. A range of different reptile heaters are available for the purpose though typically a heat mat is the cheapest and easiest option for a baby snake.

And that just leaves feeding. Being carnivorous snakes require meat to eat. For baby snakes this is most commonly fed in the form of dead pinkies. These baby mice of only a day or two old are the ideal size for a baby snake and one should be fed once or twice a week.

Be aware that it is normal for a baby snake to go off it’s food for a week or two either side of a moult so if your snake stops feeding keep an eye out for the tell-tale sign of their eyes going cloudy. A short while after your snake moults he or she should start feeding again without problems but as with anything else if you have any concerns a visit to a specialist reptile vet is recommended.

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