20 Smallest Pet Snakes That Stay Small (Beginner Snake Breed Guide)

When you hear the word ‘snake’, you might think of boa constrictors, colossal anacondas and fearsome cobras popping out of sand dunes. Snakes have appeared in scary (and magical) stories for hundreds, even thousands, of years. As a result, the prospect of keeping a snake as a pet might well cause a shiver to run down your spine. But the truth is that many snake species make perfect pets!

Which are the best small snake pets? In many ways, a smaller snake is an easier snake to look after. It requires less space, and often less maintenance. I particularly recommend the following snakes: rosy boa, ball python, ringneck snake, western hognose snake, corn snake, scarlet king snake, California king snake, milk snake, garter snake, gopher snake and sand boa. And then some! Why these ones? Because they are even tempered, low maintenance and, last but not least, perfectly sized!

The words ‘snake’ and ‘cute’ might not strike you as belonging in the same sentence. But there are actually many species of snake which are fantastic household pets, requiring little maintenance and only a small amount of research and know-how.

Another important thing to watch out for is that not all tiny snakes make great pets. The Barbados threadsnake, for example, is the smallest snake in the word, but it doesn’t make a great pet—though some people might disagree.

In this guide, I’ll talk you through:

  • What you should know before you take on your first pet;
  • The 20 smallest (and best) pet snake breeds;
  • Whether they’re at all dangerous;
  • How much they cost;
  • Why these snakes are the perfect snakes for beginners;
  • What you should feed your pet snake, from hatchling through to maturity, and what you should not feed them.

So, get ready to learn about snakes!

The basics – What should you know before you get your first snake?

  • Snakes live for a long time – sometimes upwards of 20 years. Be sure that you are ready to take on a long term commitment.
  • Snakes are carnivorous – be prepared to feed prey animals to your snake. Freezer space will be required for frozen prey animal storage, for example, baby frozen mice.
  • Wild caught snakes find it very difficult to acclimate to their captive surroundings. Go to a reputable breeder who sells captive bred snakes.
  • Some snakes (highlighted below) are excellent escape artists. Ensure that your snake’s enclosure is escape-proof – locking doors, sealed roof, etc. Snakes may be long, but they can squeeze through small gaps!
  • When selecting a snake, look out for signs of bad mental or physical health. A cursory examination can avoid problems down the line.
    • Bubbles coming from the nose, retained skin, closed eyes and mouth rot are examples of bad physical health.
    • If a snake is biting its own tail, as in the ouroboros symbol, this is a sign of very bad mental health.
  • Ask for a feeding demonstration before you buy, especially if you’re buying a ball python. Feeding problems can be very problematic down the line; it is vital that your snake is taking to pre-killed prey and eating well.

What else should you know about keeping snakes?

  • Live rodents can inflict damage on young snakes who are naturally vulnerable and less experienced predators. Frozen prey are more convenient anyway, compared to keeping and raising live animals.
  • Snakes shed: even if you know this, it might come as a surprise when it first occurs. Learn what you should look out for.
  • Snakes are cold-blooded, which means they cannot regulate their temperature internally. For this reason, they require a temperature (or thermal) gradient in their enclosure in order to effectively digest food and maintain good physical health. Place a heater at one end of the tank and use a thermostat to monitor the temperature.
  • If your snake escapes its enclosure, look in the closest warm, enclosed space. Snakes may be slithery but they are ancient creatures of habit, and are relatively easy to predict.
  • If in doubt, check out an online forum! And go for one of the smaller snakes on the list below.

Keeping snakes can be incredibly rewarding. Mapping your captive snake’s behavior against that of its wild kin is very interesting. Plus, if members of your family suffer from allergies, such as hair or fur, then the reptile route may be for you. Snakes are virtually odor free, because they are so easy to clean up after: they defecate and urinate infrequently, and in controlled areas.

Smaller snakes are easier to care for, even if you only don’t have much space at home, and even if you’re inexperienced in animal husbandry. All of the snakes I’ll talk about in this guide are non-venomous, and relatively small.

What are the best small snake breeds which stay small?

Rosy boa

Rosy boas are gorgeous little snakes that tend to stop growing somewhere between 2 and 3 ft long. They are affordable, typically costing $30-40 as hatchlings, and can be purchased from reptile stores, online or at reptile shows. They are non-venomous, docile animals, and come in a marvelous mixture of colors and patterns.

Rosy boas can live up to 25 years, so make sure you will be able to provide care for your pet snake for its entire life. It is still not as popular as the corn snake or California kingsnake, but it is becoming increasingly so!

A 20 gallon enclosure is ideal for a rosy boa, and you should at least start by limiting yourself to one snake per tank. Newspaper, paper towels or aspen bedding make for adequate substrates, though you can buy more specialist materials from pet stores.

Make sure your rosy boa’s enclosure is sealed and escape proof, as they are even better escape artists than many other snakes! Rosy boas are especially lovely because of their stunning appearance.

They come in a variety of different base morphs, and herpetologist breeders experiment by combining these morphs into new designer morphs. While some of these more complex designer morphs can be expensive, the majority are affordable for first-time buyers.

Length & Weight
Variable! Rosy boas usually grow to 17-34 inches long, and weigh approximately 1lb (400g) at a length of 30 inches. Californian rosy boas tend to grow longer than their cousins. Check out our guide on rosy boas to make a really informed decision!

Ball python

This is the most popular pet snake in the United States right now, for a similar reason to why the rosy boa is so popular – color morphs. Ball pythons come in hundreds of designer morphs, so there is something to suit every taste!

Ball pythons are also well loved for their even temperament and shy demeanor. To accommodate their shyness, provide a hide box at each end of the enclosure. They are not large, generally growing to 2-3 ft (males) or 3-5 ft (females), but they do have relatively thick bodies.

Like rosy boas, they live for a very long time, often upwards of 30 years in captivity. Also like rosy boas, screen tops are not recommended, as they can abrade their noses on the rough surface when nudging it, and screen tops make it more difficult to regulate humidity.

It is worth noting that ball pythons are native to central and western Africa. For this reason, they are evolutionarily accustomed to high humidity levels. You can monitor and regulate humidity in your snake’s enclosure by using a hygrometer and automatic mister, or by misting the tank manually.

Length & Weight
Ball pythons are short, but heavy. Hatchlings are 14 inches long. Males grow to max 3 ft, females to max 5 ft. Its weight depends on its length, but average ball python weight is 3.3 lbs / 1.5kg.

Ringneck snake

These ones are really tiny. So tiny, in fact, that they are sometimes mistaken for worms. The best distinguishing feature is the characteristic orange necklace which encircles the neck, just behind the head. Aside from this, they are black or dark brown.

Ringnecks are so small that many people assume they are actually baby snakes, but the truth is that full grown ringnecks are just 15 inches long. What’s more, they are rarely thicker than a pencil in diameter.

Wild ringnecks eat anything they can get their jaws around: small worms and invertebrates, mainly. Whatever you choose to feed yours, just make sure it is not too big!

Length & Weight
10-15 inches, or 25-38cm. Juveniles are 8 inches long and grow around an inch, or possibly two, per year. Adults weigh 1.3-1.5g – very light indeed!

Western hognose snake

Hognoses have very distinctive noses, which make them adorable pet snakes. Their short, upturned snouts allow them to shovel sand and burrow under loose soil. They have stout bodies, but vary greatly in terms of color and pattern, and are on the whole very agreeable snakes for first-timers.

Don’t be fooled – it may resemble a rattlesnake, but these snakes only have very mild venom, which they use to subdue small prey animals such as frogs and toads. It’s not considered dangerous to humans.

They are also reluctant biters and, despite being slightly larger than a few of the others on this list, they are still considered small snakes. Measuring 2-3 ft and typically available for an affordable price, western hognose snakes are a great starter snake.

Length & Weight
males grow to 14-24 inches / 35-60cm. females are longer, averaging 36 inches / 90cm. Average weight: 800g / 2 lb.

Corn snake

The corn snake is one of the most popular species among beginner snake keepers. They are docile, hardy and seldom present problems when feeding. They may not be the smallest snake of the bunch (they often surpass 3 ft, and can reach up to 5 or even 6 ft), but they belong on this list for their popularity.

Corn snakes require a rodent-based diet – thawed or frozen – but rarely refuse food in captivity. Many even take to raw chicken straight from the packet. Thanks to selective breeding efforts, they are available in just about any color, and are generally easy to handle. Also, as supply meets demand, they are very affordable snakes for first-time buyers.

Length & Weight
Like the rosy boa, corn snakes vary greatly in size. Length: 2-6 ft, but most often 3-4 ft. Average weight: 900g, but they range from 450g to 1200g.

Scarlet King snake

Make sure to keep king snakes individually, as they are known for eating other snakes. Aside from that, they make very amenable pets. They tend to live 10-15 years and reach 3-4 feet in adulthood. The most popular varieties are the striped or banded California king snakes, but there are many others available!

Length & Weight
Scarlet Kingsnake—typically these snakes grow to 16-20 inches / 40-50cm, and weigh between 50 and 70g.

California King snake

The same goes for the California king snake—it comes with many different subspecies, with different color and pattern variations. The California king snake is one of the most popular snakes kept as pets.

Length & Weight
California Kingsnake—most grow to 30-40 inches / 75-100cm and weigh 6-800g / 1-1.5 lbs.

Milk snake

Milk snakes and king snakes both belong to the genus Lamproletis, and both contain various subspecies. Some subspecies mimic the appearance of venomous coral snakes, with red, black and yellow bands. But milk snakes are not dangerous. Generally speaking, the king snake information also applies to milk snakes.

Length & Weight
Most adults reach 36 inches, or 3 ft, and weigh somewhere between 1 and 3 lbs.

Garter snake

If you’ve spent a lot of time outdoors in North America, the chances are you’ve come across a garter snake somewhere before. There are several garter snake species available, but most are fairly similar, differing only in terms of pattern and eating habits. Some prefer worms, others prefer fish, for example!

Length & Weight
Garters come in many different sizes. The smaller subspecies grow to just 18-20 inches / 45-50cm, whereas the larger subspecies can grow up to 54 inches / 137cm or more. Their weight varies accordingly, but seldom weigh much more than 150-200g.

Gopher snake

This is a lesser known snake species, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a delight to keep! Gophers come in a variety of morphs, tend to be available in pet stores, and are very affordable snakes. Prices start at around $50. They are a bit longer, often growing to 4 or 5 feet, but they are easygoing and even-tempered, and only need a slightly larger terrarium than the others. A 20-gallon tank is OK to start with, but they will require a 30-gallon tank as adults.

Length & Weight
The vast majority of gophers max out at 4 ft., and most weigh between 2 and 4 lbs.

Sand boa

These delightful, bite-size snakes are the perfect pets for first-time snake owners. They are smaller than most other boas, and are usually very tame and easy to feed. While they are not particularly social – they spend a lot of their time beneath the substrate – this makes them lower maintenance snakes than some others. The most readily available subspecies is the Kenyan sand boa.

Length & Weight
Males usually reach 16-18 inches, while females can grow to 24 inches. However, these are stocky snakes, especially the females, so they weigh more than most others of equivalent length. Females can weigh as much as 1kg (2.2lbs), while males typically weigh just 150g.

Barbados Threadsnake

This is the teeniest, tiniest snake known to man, found only on a select few Caribbean islands. It’s not very often kept as a pet, but it certainly qualifies for this list based on its petite dimensions.

Length & Weight
Barbados threadsnakes usually only grow to 4 inches / 10cm. Hatchlings are just 1/10 of the size of an adult. Weight: incredibly light! Just 0.6g.

Bimini Blind snake

Not much bigger is the Bimini, or Brahminy, blind snake. Native to Africa, this teeny creature is often mistaken for an earthworm, and has been introduced to the Americas. Fun fact: they are not actually blind! Their eyes are just so tiny that they certainly look it.

Length & Weight
The longest specimens reach 6 inches / 15cm, but most are 5-10cm, and weigh up to 1g.

Smooth Green snake

Native to Canada, the United States and Mexico, this green snake is as smooth as its name denotes. It is non-aggressive, but can be difficult to look after—they are fussy eaters.

Length & Weight
Small to medium—the longest ever was 26 inches / 66cm, but most don’t grow past 20 inches / 50cm. Its slender body keeps its weight comparatively low: juveniles weigh just 1g, while adults can reach 30g.

Rough Green snake

Like its smooth cousin, the rough green snake is slender and whip-like. The difference is that it is longer (…and rougher).

Length & Weight
Length: maximum 46 inches. Most males grow to 35 inches, females to 37 inches, so it is still a manageably sized snake. However, as they only reach an inch in diameter, an average male weighs just 16g (female: 26g).

Anthill Python

Otherwise known as the pygmy python (this is a much cuter name), this python is often found around… you guessed it: anthills and termites, specifically in Australia. It is relatively heavy-bodied, and has leopard-like spots along its body.

Length & Weight
Hatchlings are just 8 inches / 20cm, while adults are 20 inches / 50cm. Heavy for its length, the anthill python generally weighs around 200g, but can be more.

Children’s Python

This may not be the most common pet snake, but it still belongs on this list, if only for its namesake. While it may sound like a snake designed for lower years snake husbandry, it is actually named after scientist John George Children.

Length & Weight
Length: from 3 to 5 ft. Weight: fairly bulky, weighing in at up to 300g.

African Egg-Eating snake

As its name suggests, this snake predominantly eats eggs. This sets it apart from many other species. In order to accommodate this, its jaws open wider than other snakes’ jaws. It also has no discernible teeth, opting instead for spurs along its spine, which it uses to crack the eggs after swallowing.

Length & Weight
Certifiably small, these snakes grow to between 1.5 and 2.5 ft (45-75cm). However, they are thick-bodied, and often weigh more than 300g.

Ribbon snake

This svelte, ribbon-like snake has long, thin stripes running down the length of its back. It comes in many sizes, most of which are diminutive – hence its position on this list!

Length & Weight
Specimens range from 16 to 35 inches, or 40-90cm. Hatchlings tend to be ½ the adult’s size, so you can often gauge a ribbon snake’s future length. For a snake, this is almost no growth at all! Weight: around 100g.

Last but not least: Worm snake

Worm snakes are small, brown snakes with smooth scales, found in eastern United States. They are non-venomous Colubrids, and while they are not particularly popular as pet snakes, owing to their subterranean habits, they can make for great pets!

Length & Weight
Length: 13 inches (33cm), but usually just 10 inches – small! Weight: just a few grams.

What snakes should beginners avoid?

As a rule, avoid large constrictors, venomous snakes, and snakes with more difficult husbandry requirements, such as the following:

  • Water (aquatic) snakes
  • Tree boas
  • Tree pythons – because arboreal snakes have more specific t – because arboreal snakes have more specific terrarium requirements.
  • Burmese pythons
  • Boa constrictors

Some green snakes can also be demanding, so do some research online about specific subspecies.

There are obviously many types of snakes that ALL people should avoid, owing to the high level of danger which they pose. Some examples are:

  • Anacondas
  • Reticulated pythons
  • Any highly venomous snakes

What do small snakes eat?

Consult our detailed snake guides for dietary requirements for individual snake species. The two most important things to remember are:

  • Snakes are carnivorous. As a rule, they only eat animals. Most small- to medium-sized snakes can subsist predominantly on rodents, which can be bought frozen and stored. Some prefer fish, while other smaller snakes prefer worms or crickets.
  • If you opt to feed your snake live rodents, be sure to avoid those which are too large for your snake to safely subdue.

Conclusion

Snakes have specific housing requirements, eat strange foods (sometimes) and interact in a less warm and fuzzy way than a cat or a dog. This is all certainly true. But if none of these points deters you from owning and keeping a pet snake, then I wish you all the best on your herpetological adventure!

Are there any snakes you would add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!

Click to rate this post!
[Total: 0   Average: 0/5]

0 Replies to “20 Smallest Pet Snakes That Stay Small (Beginner Snake Breed Guide)”

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.