To avoid being accused of speciesism, let’s follow last two weeks’ “why dogs dig” and “are cats social?” columns with one about our legless friends. Why would anyone want to live with snakes?, a question I get asked with surprising frequency, often by adolescent boys’ mothers.

Whether this assures or terrifies you, pet snakes are not uncommon. The American Pet Production Association claims 85 million U.S. household (or 68% of us) have companion animals, and that includes 9.4 million pet reptiles. That’s roughly one-tenth of the number of dogs (89.7 million) and cats (95.6 million) in our homes; in other words, for every ten people you know who have cats or dogs, likely you know one who lives with a turtle, lizard or snake. Focusing on the legless reptiles, most estimates claim about 750,000 snakes kept as pets in U.S. homes. Why do people keep them? Seriously? Why do people do anything? Why do we spend billions of hours and dollars watching grown men in Spandex chase a two-pointed ball back and forth? Ok, football is more socially and commonly accepted than, say, collecting stamps or hugging boas, but all of it is based on what some individuals find intrinsically interesting while others sit back in wonder.

It is not ok for some snakes to be kept (for example, those species collected in the wild, legally or not, and transported great distances to land in a glass tank in someone’s living room). For other species (venomous snakes or the largest constricting species, for example), it’s definitely not ok for people to have these animals in homes. Certain species (corn- and king-snakes, ball pythons, as examples) have been captive bred for generations and while not truly domesticated can safely and even ethically be housed, if housed and cared for appropriately. One needs to be careful about where acquired (PHS/SPCA often has rescued snakes for adoption) and to make sure husbandry information is right. For those types that make acceptable pets there is no reason to feed anything but frozen (defrosted!) mice available at most pet supply shops. Back to that “why?”: I don’t watch football or keep snakes, but I’ll definitely pick the latter if I have to choose.

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