The Suitability of Gopher Snakes as Pets

wild gopher snake - picture by Rex Trulove

wild gopher snake – picture by Rex Trulove

Not everyone wants a snake as a pet. In fact, many people fear snakes whether they are venomous or not. However, if you do want to have a pet snake, gopher snakes are among the best to keep.

Gopher snakes are quite interesting animals. They have beautiful coloration, at times looking similar to a diamond-backed rattlesnake, though gopher snakes are non-venomous. They are also one of the largest native snakes in North America, not including imports that have escaped containment such as with burmese pythons and anacondas. Full grown specimens grow to around four or five feet in length. This is also similar to the size of some rattlesnakes, but again, gopher snakes aren’t venomous.

It is natural that some people would wonder if this kind of snake would make a good pet. The answer is that they can be quite suitable, in the right circumstances.

Gopher snake size consideration

The first consideration to be made is the size they grow to when they achieve maturity. A snake that can become five-feet-long or longer needs to have plenty of room to move about. Even a 55-gallon aquarium is a bit small for an adult, though some gopher snakes are kept in 20-gallon aquariums. There are cages that are specifically designed for large snakes, which are large enough to house this kind of snake comfortably, though.

This type of snake is mostly ground-dwelling, but they occasionally do like to climb, so a branch should be provided for that purpose. They also should have a supply of fresh water, and since they are native to hotter areas of the United States, should also be kept warm. Supplying gopher snakes with a basking light is a great idea. All of this is important in determining how suitable they are as pets.

The one that I’m holding in the picture above was a rescue and she is only four feet long. Make no mistake, this snake hasn’t yet been tamed, but as you see, she is particularly non-aggressive.

Diet of gopher snakes

As with most animals, some thought should go into the diet of these reptiles. In the wild, they eat primarily rodents like mice, rats, or their namesake, gophers. They will also consume small birds and bird eggs. Since the potential pet owner might not be keen on raising mice or rats in order to feed their pet gopher snake, it might seem that the diet would make them unsuitable as a pet. However, these snakes will eat dead rodents, too.

In fact, for a pet gopher snake, it is recommended that they be fed only dead meat. Otherwise the snake might be injured when it tries to eat its prey. This reptile also only needs to be fed once every week to 10 days. Rodents can thus be procured dead, they can be frozen, and they can be thawed out one at a time for feeding purposes.

It is possible to teach them to eat other meat, too, since they have a good sense of smell. An occasional small egg can be fed to the animal as a treat. A caution is in order, though. The hands should be washed after handling the food for this creature, because they might smell the meat and strike at the hands, thinking that they represent something to eat. Though they aren’t venomous, the bite can be painful.

Gopher snake temperament

Gopher snakes, even those in the wild, are incredibly docile animals. As long as they are handled properly, they aren’t likely to bite unless they smell food on a person’s hands. Proper handling means holding the reptile gently, with the hands under the animal in a non-threatening manner so the body and the neck is supported, but also so the creature doesn’t feel constricted.

Gopher snakes tame readily if they perceive no threat and often appear to enjoy being held. They are also curious and strong, so they will often wave their heads around to check their surroundings, while they are being held. This normally isn’t a sign of aggression.

There are very few wild snakes in North America that have a milder temperament than gopher snakes, with the possible exception of corn snakes.

In large part because of their docile nature and the fact that their needs aren’t greatly different than many other snakes that are kept as pets, gopher snakes are considered by many to be one of the most suitable snakes to keep as a pet. They don’t have demands and requirements that make them difficult to keep, provided that they have the room to move around. Gopher snakes tame so easily that they make excellent pets, if their simple needs are met.


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