What Snake

The Different Types

There is a wide choice of species now being bred, including some attractive colour variants.

Your best choice of snake would therefore be from one of the following:-

  • Common Garter Snake
  • Milk Snake
  • Corn Snake
  • Rat Snake
  • Common King Snake
  • Indigo Snake
  • Smooth Green Snake
  • Emerald Tree Boa
  • Boa Constrictor

common garter snakeCommon Garter Snake

Name: Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
Common Name: Common Garter Snake
Range: North America.
Habitat: The Common Garter Snake can be found from forests to wetlands. Usually found around some source of water as these snakes are semi-aquatic.
Food: Fish, amphibians and mammals. Worms and birds might be taken as well.
Description: A calm, harmless snake. The Common Garter Snake is a live-bearer, like many species of snake that inhabit colder climates. When they emerge after hibernation, ‘breeding balls’ of males around a single female might be found.
Conservation Status: Abundant in most parts of it range and currently of ‘least concern’.

Milk Snakes

milk snakeMilk snakes are a popular choice for pet snakes, and with good reason. They meet all the criteria that makes for a good pet snake. They are small enough to be housed in a standard-sized cage, but they are large enough to please most snake keepers.

Most of the subspecies do very well in captivity and will eat frozen / thawed rodents on a regular basis. They also have good temperaments and, with regular handling, can become quite tame.

But there’s another reason why milk snakes are such a popular choice for pet snakes. They are beautiful snakes that come in a wide variety of colours, depending on the subspecies.

There are about two-dozen different subspecies of milk snakes throughout North and South America. Most of them have coloured bands down the length of their bodies, in alternating colours. In many cases, there are three distinct colours present within these bands, which is why the milk snakes are sometimes called tri-coloured snake.

The Pueblan and Honduran milk snakes (Lampropeltis triangulum campbelli and L. t. hondurensis, respectively) are among the most popular subspecies kept in captivity. Like most milk snakes, these two subspecies are attractive, brightly coloured, and widely varied in their appearance. They both make excellent pets when cared for properly.

Corn Snakes

Order: Squamata
Family: Colubridae
Genus/species: Elaphe guttata

DESCRIPTION: Corn snakes are slender with a length of 24 to 72 inches (61 to 182 cm). They are usually orange or brownish-yellow, with large, black-edged red blotches down the middle of the back. On the belly are alternating rows of black and white marks, resembling a checkerboard pattern. Considerable variation occurs in the colouration and patterns of individual snakes, depending on the age of the snake and the region of the country in which it is found. Hatchlings lack much of the bright colouration found on adults.

Corn snakes are primarily diurnal. They readily climb trees and enter abandoned buildings in search of prey. However, they are very secretive and spend most of their time underground prowling through rodent burrows. They also often hide under loose bark and beneath logs, rocks, and other debris during the day.

DISTRIBUTION AND HABITAT: Corn snakes are found in the eastern United States from southern New Jersey south through Florida, west into Louisiana and parts of Kentucky. However, corn snakes are most abundant in Florida and the southeastern U.S. Corn snakes may be found in wooded groves, rocky hillsides, meadowlands, woodlots, barns, and abandoned buildings.

DIET IN THE WILD: Corn snakes do not usually feed every day instead they feed every few days. Young hatchlings tend to feed on lizards and tree frogs, while adults feed on larger prey, such as mice, rats, birds, and bats. They are constrictors. First a corn snake bites the prey in order to obtain a firm grip, then it quickly wraps one or more coils of its body around the victim. The snake squeezes tightly until it suffocates the prey. Then it swallows the food whole, usually head first. However, corn snakes have also been observed swallowing small prey alive.

CAPTIVE DIET: They should be fed mice, rats, and chicks.

REPRODUCTION: The breeding season of corn snakes is from March to May. The snakes are oviparous, depositing a clutch of ten to 30 eggs in late May to July. Eggs are laid in rotting stumps, piles of decaying vegetation, or other similar locations where there is sufficient heat and humidity to incubate them. The adult snakes do not care for the eggs. Once laid, the gestation period of the eggs is 60 to 65 days at about 82° F. The eggs hatch sometime in July through September. Hatchlings are 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 cm) long and mature in 18 to 36 months.

LIFE SPAN: The life span of the snake is up to 23 years in captivity, but is generally much less in the wild.

STATUS: Corn snakes are not an endangered species. However, they are listed by the state of Florida as a Species of Special Concern because they face habitat loss and destruction in the lower Florida Keys. Corn snakes are often mistaken for copperheads and killed. They are also popular as pets. They are the most frequently bred snake species for pet purposes. However they are sometimes captured in the wild to be sold as pets. This does not seem to pose a serious threat to this species at this time. Corn snakes help to control rodent populations that may otherwise spread disease.

FUN FACTS: The name corn snake is believed to have originated from the similarity of the markings on the belly to the checkered pattern of kernels of maize or Indian corn. They are also sometimes called the red rat snake.

Rat Snakes

black-rat-snakeBlack Rat Snake: Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta

Captive Diet: Frozen mice and rats.

Natural Diet: Rat snakes dine on eggs, small mammals, birds, and lizards.

Range: Eastern rat snakes are found in the eastern United States from New York to Florida and west to the Great Plains.

Habitat: Rat snakes live in forests, farmland, swamps, and even in buildings and houses!

eastern rat snakeSize: Eastern rat snakes grow 4 – 6 feet long, the record is a giant 8 feet 4 inch snake. In many parts of their range, they are the largest snake species.

Lifespan: Rat snakes can live 20 years or more.

Reproduction: Eastern rat snakes breed April-June. Females lay 5-30 eggs that hatch in about 90 days, usually around September or October.

Conservation: Rat snakes are harmless to humans and highly beneficial to us because of all the rats, mice, and other rodents they consume. They also serve as food to other animals including eagles and hawks. Like all animals, snakes play an important role in the health of the environment.

Cool Facts: There are many myths and misunderstandings with rat snakes. Baby rat snakes are often confused with the venomous copperhead snake because they have a pattern of squares and diamonds down their back that slowly fades to black as they get bigger. Rat snakes also rattle their tails when they are frightened, and flatten their head into a triangle shape. Due to these two traits, there is a myth that rat snakes can mate with copperheads and rattle snakes to produce venomous hybrid offspring. It is actually physically impossible for rat snakes to mate with either copperheads or rattle snakes.

Common King Snake

Order: Squamata
Family: Colubridae
Genus/species: Lampropeltis getulus

DESCRIPTION: Common, or Eastern, king snakes are medium-sized snakes reaching three to six feet (.9 to 1.8 m) in length. Often called ‘chain snakes’ or ‘chain kings’ because of the white chain-like markings on their body, this snake is easily recognized. The snake is a shiny black with a criss-cross pattern of white or yellow lines. The stomach is checkered in black and yellow. They have smooth scales and a single anal plate. Eastern king snakes hide under various objects in their environment. As a defense they give off a smelly musk when captured and may bite. They also vibrate the tail when captured or alarmed; if the snake is in leaves the sound is like that of a rattle.

DISTRIBUTION AND HABITAT: The eastern king snake range includes southern New Jersey to West Virginia, south to north Florida, and west to the Appalachians and southeastern Alabama. This species is mainly terrestrial, but tends to hang out around the margins of streams, marshes, and swamps. This is probably because they tend to feed on water snakes and turtle eggs. They can also be found in open fields, forests, and abandoned dwellings.

DIET IN THE WILD: They feed on other snakes, small mammals, lizards, birds, turtle eggs, and frogs. They are a constrictor.

CAPTIVE DIET: The eastern king snake is fed mice, rats, and chicks.

REPRODUCTION: The eastern king snake mates in the spring and lay eggs mid-summer. The young hatch in late summer or early fall.

LIFE SPAN: Unknown.

STATUS: The eastern king snake is not considered threatened or endangered.

FUN FACTS: Their real claim to fame is the ability to kill and eat other snakes, including venomous species like cottonmouths and rattlesnakes. Because of their natural immunity to pit-viper venom, the bite from a venomous snake has little effect on them.

Indigo Snakes

indigo-head-pathIndigo snakes feed on vertebrates, including fish, frogs, toads, lizards, snakes, birds and small mammals. They are diurnal hunters and travel long distances in a day actively searching for prey. They are non-venomous and they overpower their prey, sometimes swallowing them whole and alive.

The snake has an amazing purple red (or indigo) glimmer in the sunlight. The iridescent colors in an undulating pattern are made by the lines of the scales where they meet and create an optical diffraction of the light.

Types of Indigo Snakes: There are about 7 different known related species/subspecies in the genus of the Indigo – the Drymarchon, all scattered throughout the Americas, from the southern part of the US to South America. Among those species are the Yellowtail, Orizaba, Mexican Redtail, Eastern Indigo, Unicolor, Blacktail, and Margarita Island. They all have the bright shiny iridescence but the underside, head and tails vary in colour as some of their names describe. The belly can be light brown, salmon, pink or dark.

The Indigo may be the longest snake in North America with some being as long as 9.2ft (2.8m) and in Central America they may be as large as 10ft (3m).

The Eastern Indigo Snake is an endangered species. The decline of the eastern indigo snake mirrors the loss of mature long-leaf and pine forests in the South of the US. In recent decades, agricultural and residential development have deforested millions of acres. Surviving stands of forest have also been degraded by suppression of fire or by logging. Large chunks of forest have been logged and replanted with fast-growing pines that can be grown and quickly harvested. These “quick” forests do not support the eastern indigo snake.

Urbanization and agricultural development have destroyed a large percentage of this species’ habitat. Where large areas of otherwise suitable habitat remain, the suitability of those areas has often been diminished by declines in gopher tortoise population and their burrows that provide shelter for this snake. Many factors that reduce the suitability of tortoise habitat, such as fire suppression, hurt the indigo snake as well. Gassing of tortoise burrows to flesh out rattlesnakes has been shown to be lethal to other species as well. A steady loss of habitat has made this species more vulnerable to other human threats. Because it is large, conspicuous, and relatively slow, it often falls prey to people who kill snakes on sight. Snake collectors value it for the pet trade because it is non-poisonous, docile, and attractive. Mail order specimens can bring as much as US $225. Therefore, the eastern indigo snake is in the unenviable position of being killed by some and collected by others.

Because of its large home range, the indigo snakes is especially vulnerable to highway death in areas where its habitat has been fragmented by development, including surface mining activities.

Smooth Green Snake

smooth green snakeThe Smooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis) is a non-venomous North American colubrid. It is also referred to as the Grass Snake, which can cause some confusion with the European Grass Snake (Natrix natrix). It is a slender snake that measures 36–51 cm (14–20 in) as an adult. It gets its common name from its smooth dorsal scales, as opposed to the rough green snake.

This species is found in marshes, meadows, open woods, and along stream edges and is native to regions of Canada, Illinois, Virginia, Wyoming, New Mexico, Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, Texas, and northern Mexico. A non-aggressive snake, it seldom bites and usually flees when threatened. It mates in late spring to summer and females lay their eggs from June to September.

DESCRIPTION: This snake is not likely to be confused with any other snake in Iowa. It is 12-22 inches in length and non venomous. It has no outstanding markings, but it is a bright, brilliant green. The belly is usually bright yellow, but sometimes may be cream instead. The labials are the colour of the belly. Some specimens may be buff or tan above instead of green. These variants have been reported from central Iowa. The scales are smooth (hence the name) and the anal plate is divided.

RANGE: The smooth green snake is found in scattered populations in Iowa. Its range once supposedly spanned across most of Iowa and much of north central and northeastern North America. Now, it is greatly reduced to various populations scattered throughout its natural range. This snake not only suffers the restrictions of many other species of snakes, but it is extremely limited by the use of pesticides due to its insectivorous diet.

HABITAT: The smooth green snake is found in a variety of habitats such as grassy, moist meadows, native prairies, and clearings in coniferous pine forests. This snake is seen crossing bike or hiking trails, or brought home by cats or dogs that hunt in large open fields, particularly near railroad tracks.

HABITS: This snake is largely diurnal and less secretive than our other small snakes. It spends most of its day forging through tall grass or small shrubs, and though it is an accomplished climber, it is mostly terrestrial.

After death, green snakes turn blue in dorsal colouration. Yellow and blue pigments in the skin fuse to produce the bright green colour in the living snakes. After death, the yellow pigment breaks down very quickly, whereas the blue pigment is more stable and remains much longer. This is also why garter snakes, that have been dead for a while have blue dorsal and lateral stripes.

Green snakes hibernate in burrows, rock crevices, road embankments, and (at least in northern Minnesota), ant mounds (Lang, 1969). Large numbers of green snakes have been found together with redbelly and plains garter snakes hibernating in these mounds.

BREEDING: Breeding occurs in spring. They are oviparous laying 3-15 eggs in a clutch. Several females may nest together. Incubation and laying varies greatly among individuals. Some female green snakes may not lay the eggs until a week or even days before they hatch. Some have retained the eggs until they hatch inside the female like ovoviviparous snakes. A friend of mine and I have found green snake eggs under a railroad tie in western Wisconsin. They had grown to the size of milk snake, eggs! They hatched in about a month. The young were 4-5 inches long and noticeably darker than the adults.

FOOD: Green snakes are one of the few species of snake that is entirely insectivorous. They like crickets, grasshoppers and smooth caterpillars. This is probably one of the reasons this snake has declined in abundance. Along with habitat destruction, pesticides have undoubtedly reduced these snakes to the isolated populations they now exist in.

Emerald Tree Boa

green-tree-python_2Scientific Name: Corallus caninus

Emerald tree boas are arboreal (tree-dwelling) constrictors found in South America. These nocturnal snakes are brightly coloured, making them popular in zoos and among pet owners.

Identification: Emerald tree boas are easily identified by their bright green colouration (though young snakes are brownish in colour) and the white bands that appear along their bodies. These snakes can reach more than 6 feet in length.

Habitat: The emerald tree boa makes its home in the Amazon Basin of northern South America. This species is adapted to the rain forest environments along the Amazon River and is found nowhere else on Earth.

Diet: The diet of emerald tree boas consists of mammals (mostly rodents and marsupials) and reptiles. Occasionally, they have also been known to eat small birds.

Benefits: Because emerald tree boas feed primarily on small mammals, they are essential for keeping the rodent population in check. They also provide a food source for guianan crested eagles.

Fun Fact: Though many people think of baby snakes hatching from eggs, emerald tree boas give birth to live young.

Boa Constrictor

urlAs their name suggests, boa constrictors slowly squeeze their prey to death.

Boa Constrictor is a big and heavy. This is one of the Boidae family comes from South America, Central America and North America through the Caribbean. They have some of the most distinctive markings of all reptiles. The colour of their skin depending on their locality. Some have a dark colour, but some others have a lighter colour. Depending on the habitat they are trying to blend into, their bodies can be tan, green, red, or yellow, and display cryptic patterns of jagged lines, ovals, diamonds, and circles.

Boas are non-poisonous constrictors found in tropical Central and South America. Like their anaconda cousins, they are excellent swimmers, but prefer to stay on dry land, living primarily in hollow logs and abandoned mammal burrows.

Significantly smaller than anacondas, boas can grow up to 13 feet (4 meters) long and weigh more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms). Their jaws are lined with small, hooked teeth for grabbing and holding prey while they wrap their muscular bodies around their victim, squeezing until it suffocates. Boas will eat almost anything they can catch, including birds, monkeys, and wild pigs. Their jaws can stretch wide to swallow large prey whole.

Female boas incubate eggs inside their bodies and give birth up to 60 live babies. Boas are about 2 feet (0.6 meters) long when they are born and grow continually throughout their 25 to 30-year lifespan. The largest boa constrictor ever found measured 18 feet (5.5 meters).

Hunted for their fine, ornate skin and for sale in the exotic pet trade, some boa constrictors are endangered and most have protected status in their range.


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