The keeping of reptiles as pets has increased massively since I first started keeping snakes back in 1992. The choice of species available now is incredible and most of these are bred here in the UK.
My First Snakes
I was 12 when I got my first 2 snakes, Sid and Sussie which were Plains Garter Snakes. These are beautiful small snakes but not the best snakes for a beginner because they are a fast as lightning! But there were very few snakes available back then and finding someone selling them was hard.
I kept them as in an aquarium which they kept escaping from always to be found, sometimes within an hour but once it took about 6 weeks before being found. Now we know that aquariums aren’t suitable and vivariums are much more available escaping snakes is a much rarer occurrence.
The Garter Snakes were fed on fish and earthworms with added dog vitamins! They seemed to do well on this diet, but the vitamins will not compare with the reptile vitamins available now.
I was always very interested in reptiles but keeping the Garter Snakes encouraged my interest.
Moving to Rat Snakes
It was only a couple of years later that I persuaded my parents that I needed another snake, this time a beautiful Yellow Rat Snake which I named Ned after a famous mountain biker! He was a totally different kettle of fish! He was much more intelligent and inquisitive, so when I would go to pick him up he would come over to see what I was doing. I found this behaviour a bit intimidating.
The more nervous I got, the longer it took to pick him up which in turn made him nervous and he would rattle his tail to scare me off, which worked many times! I soon realised that if I was confident it made him easier to pick up, some believe snake sense your nerves but I think you behave differently when you are nervous.
I got my first pair of Corn Snakes when I was 16 and working in a Reptile Centre near Oxford. I was amazed how calm and easy-going they were, altogether a much easier snake to care for. With the advice from my colleagues, I managed to breed these very successfully.
Now if someone asks me which species of snakes they should start with, I don’t recommend Yellow rat snakes or Garter Snakes I always recommend a Corn Snake. They are the most popular species of pet snake and with good reason, they are easy to handle, feed well and grow to a manageable size (1.2m). They are also available in many different colour morphs.