Myth 1: Snakes are slimy.
Snakes are shiny, not slimy! People often confuse reptiles and amphibians. Snakes are reptiles, which means they are covered in shiny scales while amphibians, like frogs and salamanders, have slimy skin. If you ever get a chance to pet a friendly snake you will notice that they are very smooth. Remember to always pet a snake in the direction of their scales, as petting them the other way is uncomfortable for the snake.
Myth 2: Snakes are dirty and stinky.
It is important to clean your snake’s enclosure regularly. With good tank hygiene, snakes are actually very clean animals and do not have a strong smell. Snake poop does smell, as does musk, a substance that snakes may release if they are stressed, scared, or upset in an attempt to make themselves appear less appealing to predators.
So how do you keep your snake smelling fresh? You should clean their enclosure as quickly as you can after they poop. Snakes do not defecate often and you’ll quickly learn when to expect it as it will coincide with their feeding schedule. When handling your snake or cleaning their tank, try to avoid stressing your snake to prevent musking.
Myth 3: If you own a snake you have to own mice too.
This myth is the result of a small contingent of snake owners who believe in “live feeding” their snakes. At Calgary Humane Society we do not live feed snakes nor do we recommend this method of feeding: it is cruel to the mouse and could be dangerous for the snake. In the wild a mouse who becomes dinner for a snake is unfortunate, but part of the natural order of things. That mouse also has a chance to escape. In a tank, the mouse cannot escape and so they experience much more stress. In addition, mice can bite and injure a pet snake because captive snakes often do not have the hunting skills of their wild cousins.
If you struggle with feeding a meat-based diet to your pet (particularly a meat-based diet that includes whole animals) then a snake will not be a good choice for you. Snakes are carnivores and cannot be fed vegetarian diets. Calgary Humane Society recommends purchasing frozen rodents. Make sure to get the right size rodent for your snake. You should warm the frozen mice up with water before feeding.
Myth 4: Your snake will get bigger and try to eat you.
No snake you can legally own in Alberta (or adopt from Calgary Humane Society) will ever get large enough to eat you. Even the largest legal pet snakes would not be able to eat anything bigger than a small rabbit. In fact, there are few snakes in the world that would ever get large enough to eat a human.
Where does this myth come from? Large tree-dwelling and constricting snakes can pose a threat to humans if the human carries the snake around their neck and the snake becomes scared. In the wild, tree-dwelling snakes will constrict around a tree branch to hold on, constricting tighter when the wind blows. A snake can’t tell the difference between a tree branch and your neck or arm, so if they feel as if they might fall they could constrict and injure you by accident. This isn’t a problem you are likely to see with a smaller snake like a corn snake.
Myth 5: Your snake will escape and live in the walls.
This one is only partly a myth. Snakes can be escape artists… they climb better than people expect and they can fit into small spaces. Most snakes probably aren’t looking to make a break for freedom so much as they are curious and taking the chance to explore. Properly securing your snake’s tank with a locking lid will help prevent them from escaping.
What’s the best thing I can do if I am thinking of getting a pet snake?
If you are thinking of getting a pet snake, the best thing you can do is lots of research. Snakes can live longer than most dogs or cats so they can be a big commitment. You should check out online reptile resources or, if you are local to Calgary, go to an event put on by The Alberta Reptile and Amphibia Society (TARAS). Additionally, our adoption counselors can help you to determine if a snake is a good fit for your family.