Scaly, slithery and for sale

(Credit: Urbanite)

A Pueblan Milk snake

Credit: Big Apple Pet Supply

By Perrie Samotin


Snakes have gotten a reputation for being creepy, cringe-inducing creatures. However, there are a large number of enthusiasts — New Yorkers included — that keep the reptiles as pets because they are inexpensive and easy to care for.

Before becoming a snake owner, there are a few steps to take to ensure you’re getting the safest, best quality reptile you can get.Step 1: Find a reputable vendor

The best bet is to find your snake through a breeder, who often will have more information about your animal’s past than general pet stores, experts say.

“Consumers really need to talk to who it is they’re purchasing from,” says Steven Spitz, owner of Big Apple Pet Supply in Hauppauge, Long Island, who has bred more than 100 types of reptiles.

He recommends asking a series of questions before settling on a breeder. “Do they have a Web site where you can see photography? Do they breed themselves or purchase? Are there records of when the snake last ate? If there are no records, walk away,” Spitz says.

Another crucial factor when it comes to choosing a breeder is how much they know about caring for snakes. “You don’t buy from someone who doesn't have correct information and equipment to care for your snake,” Spitz says.

Potential owners also have to be aware that a snake has the lifespan of more than 20 years with proper care.

Step 2: Choose your snake

Of the overwhelming number of types to select as a pet, Spitz recommends neophytes stick with king snakes, milk snakes and corn snakes.

While still visually striking, these snakes are a breeze to care for and stay between 3 ½- to 5 feet long - a crucial factor for snake owners in New York City, where keeping reptiles over 6 feet is against city laws.

If you’re looking to buy more than one snake, Spitz advises going for corns and milks, which can be kept in tanks together. Kings need to be separated, as they’re known to eat one another as well as other types of snakes. Spitz points out that at feeding time, all snakes must dine separately, regardless of type, so as not to view each other as prey.

Kings, corns and milks typically run between $50 and $300 each.

Step 3: Getting set up

Unlike cats and dogs, snakes are cold-blooded and unable to regulate their own body temperature, so their environment will provide the temperature and humidity that their body can’t self-regulate, explains Garret Pachtinger, chief resident of emergency and critical care at the University of Pennsylvania veterinary hospital.. Keeping this in mind, Spitz recommends a 40-gallon tank with a front-opening enclosure, such as sliding glass doors.

Once you’re set with the tank, you’ll need something to heat it from above, such as a ceramic emitter, which produces no light, just infrared heat that mimics the sun. The heating element must be placed flush right or flush left, giving the snake one side of the tank to cool down, according to Spitz. The warm side should hit 86 degrees and the cool side 78 degrees. Buyers should also pick up a water bowl, a hiding place and some bedding to put in the tank. In total, expect to pay around $200 for a basic setup, Spitz says.

Step 4: Food and fun

After the initial costs, the only thing left to buy is food - thawed-out dead mice bought in bulk are the norm, Spitz says. Snakes need to be fed a mouse once every 5 to 7 days. A year’s worth of mice may cost under $100.

While snakes aren’t as playful as other pets, Spitz encourages owners to take them out of the tank to play and points out that while the reptiles are not especially personable, it’s important to connect with them. “If you handle your snake often, it will stay calm and chill out with you. It will recognize you’re not food,” Spitz explains.

Pachtinger agrees. “They won’t play fetch, but they’ll appreciate the interaction,” he says.

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