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SIOUX CITY | While snakes might cause most people to recoil in fear, they actually are one of the cheapest and easiest reptiles to own, according to Jade Sanchez, Sioux City PetSmart’s pet care lead.

“They don’t need to be fed very often and after the initial setup cost, there isn’t much to buy after that,” she said.

The most common pet snakes are corn, milk and king snakes. Outside of city limits, ball pythons and various species of boa constrictors are popular choices. Temperaments are something to consider before getting a snake.

“For a beginner, I’d go with a corn snake or a ball python,” said PetSmart’s pet care manager Kari Cheever. “They are the most docile. King snakes you have to watch. They tend to have more of an attitude. Same with milk snakes. Generally boas aren’t too bad. They are usually somewhere in the middle.”

Feeding a snake is more complicated than just setting out a bowl of food for a dog or cat, for example. However, feeding them live animals isn’t necessary.

“It’s best to use frozen mice because you’re guaranteed no parasites,” Cheever said. “Terrariums are humid and warm. Let’s say a mouse gets bit. That’s an open wound and could make for an infection.”

One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to feeding snakes is feeding them in their terrariums instead of putting them in a separate container to eat, said Cheever.

“If the only time you open their cage is to feed them, they’ll think that your warm 98-degree hand is food and lunge at you,” she said.

Snakes only eat typically once per week, depending on age and size, so the complications associated with feeding aren’t a problem that has to be dealt with often. It’s important to not handle the snake for a few days after a feeding as they are still digesting their food and will regurgitate, Sanchez added.

Certain mannerisms that snakes possess that cause people to shy away from them are often just misunderstandings, Cheever said.

“Most people get freaked out when they see a snake flick its tongue because they think it’s going to bite, but snakes actually smell with their tongue,” she said. “So, really, it’s like they are sniffing you.”

Shedding is another common occurrence and needs to be monitored closely as a snake should never be handled while shedding. This is because they often can’t see due to the skin getting in the way of their vision. The lack of sight makes them nervous and more likely to bite.

Getting a terrarium that is long enough for the snake to stretch out completely is important for the snake’s health and happiness. They also need a heat lamp to keep their terrarium warm and, if not kept in a room that gets natural light, a UV light that provides light during the daytime.

Confidence when handling a snake is key to snake ownership, said Cheever.

“Most bites come from human error,” she said. “If you are tense, they can sense that.”

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