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The Complete Guide to Keeping Pet Snakes in the UK

For many, the idea of a snake evokes fear, intrigue, or a blend of both. However, for a growing number of UK residents, snakes symbolise an unconventional yet captivating choice of pet. These sleek reptiles have a certain allure β€” their graceful movement, striking patterns, and unique behaviours can be truly enchanting. If you’ve ever considered sharing your home with one of these incredible creatures, this guide is for you. We will unravel the intricacies of pet snake ownership, from types and purchasing tips to their care, habitat, and much more.

Choosing Your Serpentine Friend: A Deep Dive

For those venturing into the fascinating realm of pet snakes, the UK offers various options, each unique in its charm. While snake enthusiasts have their preferences, some snakes stand out due to their temperament, beauty, and suitability for captivity. Let’s delve into the most popular choices available for potential snake owners in the UK.

1. Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttatus)

  • Origin: Native to North America, from New Jersey to Florida and as far west as Utah.
  • Appearance: They boast a myriad of captivating colours, from the traditional reddish-brown with dark blotches to diverse morphs like albinos and snows.
  • Temperament: Corn snakes are heralded as the perfect beginner snake. They’re docile, rarely displaying aggressive behaviour, making handling relatively easy. 
  • Size: Typically range from 60 to 180 cm, making them a moderate-sized snake ideal for home habitats.
  • Lifespan: With proper care, they can live for 15-20 years.

2. Royal Python (or Ball Python, Python regius)

Origin: Found in the savannahs and forests of West and Central Africa.

  • Appearance: They’re known for their rich patterns, and breeders have developed numerous colour morphs, from pied to blue-eyed leucistic.
  • Temperament: Their name ‘Ball Python’ comes from their habit of curling into a ball when threatened. They are docile, which combined with their striking appearance, makes them a popular choice.
  • Size: Averaging between 90 to 150 cm in length.
  • Lifespan: Can impressively live up to 30 years with the right care.

3. King Snake (Lampropeltis)

  • Origin: Spread across the Americas, from southeastern Canada to southern Ecuador.
  • Appearance: Their colour patterns vary significantly, from bands to stripes and speckles, in shades of black, white, yellow, and red.
  • Temperament: Often active during the daytime, they’re alert and curious. While they may be feisty as juveniles, with regular handling, they mellow down.
  • Size: Depending on the species, they can range from 60 to 210 cm.
  • Lifespan: Typically live for 20-25 years.

4. Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum)

  • Origin: Spanning from southeastern Canada through the US to Central and South America.
  • Appearance: They can often be mistaken for the venomous coral snake due to their tricolour pattern, but remember the old saying: β€œRed on black, friend of Jack; red on yellow, kill a fellow.”
  • Temperament: Generally docile, they might be slightly more timid compared to their King Snake relatives.
  • Size: Depending on the subspecies, they range from 60 to 150 cm.
  • Lifespan: With proper care, they can live between 10-20 years.

5. Boa Constrictor (Boa constrictor)

  • Origin: Native to Central and South America, ranging from northern Mexico down to Argentina.
  • Appearance: Boas are heavy-bodied snakes with a myriad of colours and patterns. They can be brown, grey, or cream-coloured, with reddish-brown or dark brown saddle-like patterns. The tail might have a reddish or rose tint, a feature that distinguishes them from other snakes.
  • Temperament: Generally, they are known to be quite docile, especially when they’ve been raised in captivity from a young age. However, due to their size, handling requires caution and, preferably, the presence of another person.
  • Size: Boa Constrictors are large snakes. Females are typically larger than males, with some reaching lengths of up to 10 feet, though most average between 6-8 feet.
  • Lifespan: With the right care, a Boa Constrictor can live for 20 to 30 years in captivity. There have been cases of Boas living into their 40s, but that’s exceptional.
  • Housing: Due to their size, Boas require large enclosures. A young boa might start in a 10-20 gallon terrarium, but a fully grown boa will need a space at least 8 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 2-3 feet tall. Temperature gradients, suitable substrates, and hiding spots are as essential for Boas as they are for other snakes.
  • Feeding: Their diet primarily consists of small to medium-sized mammals. In captivity, they’re often fed rats or rabbits, depending on the snake’s size.

UK Specific Note: It’s essential to note that while Boa Constrictors are legal pets in the UK, their size and strength mean potential owners should be well-prepared. Housing such a large snake requires space and commitment. Regular handling from a young age is recommended to keep them tame, but always with caution due to their strength.

Potential owners should also consider the long-term commitment and ensure they have adequate provisions for the snake’s care throughout its life.

When choosing a snake, it’s essential to reflect on its expected lifespan and the required commitment. Each snake species has its distinct requirements, behaviours, and charms. Ensure you’re well-informed and prepared to offer your serpentine friend a comfortable, stimulating, and safe environment.

What to Look for When Buying

When purchasing a snake, it’s crucial to ensure they’re in good health. Look for:

– Clear, alert eyes (unless they’re about to shed).

– A body free of mites, ticks, and scars.

– Active, curious behaviour, without any sign of lethargy.

– Buying from a reputable breeder or store ensures the snake’s well-being and proper care.

Creating a Snake’s Paradise – Housing and Habitat

Creating a Snake's Paradise - Housing and Habitat

A snake’s enclosure, often called a vivarium, should reflect its natural habitat.

Size: The vivarium should be large enough for the snake to move comfortably. As a rule of thumb, the length of the tank should be at least half the snake’s length.

Temperature: Snakes are ectothermic; they can’t regulate their body temperature. Use heat lamps or heat pads to maintain a gradient, with a warmer basking spot at one end.

Substrate: Aspen shavings, newspaper, or reptile carpet are commonly used. Avoid cedar or pine, as they can be harmful.

Hideouts: Provide at least two hiding spots – one on the warm end and another on the cooler side.

Feeding Time

Feeding a snake is a unique experience and different from feeding any other kind of pet. Their dietary habits and feeding frequency have evolved to suit their ectothermic nature and energy-conserving lifestyles.

Diet: Almost all snakes are obligate carnivores, which means their diet consists strictly of meat. The size of the prey is typically correlated with the size of the snake. Hatchlings or small snakes might start with pinky mice, while larger species, such as Boa Constrictors, can consume whole rabbits.

Frequency: While many adult snakes eat every 1-2 weeks, younger ones, which are still growing, might need to eat more frequently, often every 5-7 days. It’s essential to monitor your snake’s weight and adjust feeding frequency accordingly.

Pre-Killed vs. Live Prey

Using pre-killed prey is widely recommended due to several reasons:

  – It’s safer for the snake, as live prey can bite or scratch, causing potential injury or infection.

  – It’s more humane for the prey.

  – Pre-killed prey can be purchased in bulk and frozen, making it more convenient for the owner.

The Pros and Cons


1. Low Maintenance: Apart from feeding and occasional habitat cleaning, snakes don’t require the daily care some other pets might. There’s no need for walks, regular playtimes, or constant interaction.

2. Space-Efficient: Most snakes, especially species suitable for beginners, don’t require large enclosures compared to other pets of similar size. This can be particularly advantageous for those with limited living space.

3. Hypoallergenic: Snakes are an excellent choice for those allergic to fur-bearing pets.


1. Misunderstood Pets: Snakes often suffer from negative stereotypes. Many people are either scared of them or misunderstand them, which can pose challenges in social situations or when seeking accommodation.

2. Specialised Care: While they might be low maintenance, snakes do require specific care. They need controlled temperatures, humidity, and proper diet, which might not be straightforward for a beginner without research.

3. Longevity: This can be both a pro and a con. A long life means a long commitment. If circumstances change, rehoming a snake, especially a large one, can be challenging.


Snakes, contrary to some misconceptions, are not short-lived creatures. Their lifespan varies significantly across species:

  • Corn Snakes: Often live between 15-20 years.
  • King Snakes and Milk Snakes: Can live anywhere from 10-20 years.
  • Boa Constrictors: Can live for 20 to 30 years.
  • Royal Pythons: Some have been known to live up to 40 years under exceptional care.

While these numbers can be heartening for those who grow attached to their slithery friends, it’s also a testament to the commitment required. Prospective owners should be prepared for the long haul, ensuring they can provide consistent care throughout their snake’s life.

Embracing the Serpentine Splendour

Embracing the Serpentine Splendour

Delving into the realm of snakes introduces one to an enchanting universe of grace, mystery, and striking elegance. However, these creatures are not just about their aesthetic appeal; they embody a complex blend of nature’s marvels. As with any pet, adopting a snake necessitates a profound understanding, unwavering commitment, and meticulous care. Yet, those who dare to take the leap are rewarded with remarkable and unparalleled companionship. To truly appreciate a snake is to embrace a world where wonder meets reality. If you’re poised on the threshold of this adventure, serpentine marvel beckons. Step into a world where scales glisten and coils tell tales of ancient allure.

For the love of all things furry, feathery, and scaly – The Bournemouth Observer.

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