Reptiles in Roanoke

Both of our kids have been interested in reptiles for a while. Our older son is more predisposed to the extinct variety. He fills notebooks with dinosaur drawings and has gotten quite knowledgeable. Just the other evening after dinner, he was chatting with me about one of the stories he wrote that involved a stegosaurus. (“ya know Dad, that he used his tail spikes to fight off his enemies… he only ate plants, ya know.” “Well no, son, I actually didn’t know that.”)

That kind of reptile is all well and good. No actual commitments on my part. It’s our younger son that’s the problem. He prefers his reptiles live and wriggling. (“Dad, can we go to Carvins Cove and hunt for a rattlesnake? Or maybe just a copperhead? Please? Mom, can we go out in the woods and turn over every single piece of dead wood until we find a garter snake?”) After reading the same three snake encyclopedias to him for a year straight, one of the adults in our house (being a thoughtful soul) finally decided that maybe we should look into getting pet snakes. She did, and one day my kids found themselves the proud owners of two scaly, cold-blooded, carnivorous reptiles.

Pardon my lack of excitement. It’s nothing personal. I understand that some people enjoy having pets that mistake your finger for a small rodent and sink their fangs into it, or crawl up your shirt sleeve and poop. 

Obviously, I am not the snake-affirming parent in this family.

Nevertheless, I have finally come to the conclusion that snakes have their place. First of all, in the wild, I have a grudging respect for their ability to keep down the pest population. This includes mice (prime tick carriers), slugs, grasshoppers, and other garden pests.

Even as pets, I admit snakes have advantages. (One of them unfortunately is not indoor pest control. We had a two week long battle to catch a mouse in our kitchen, but for multiple reasons, we couldn’t let our snakes loose in the kitchen; that would certainly have been a case of the cure being worse than the disease.) However, I will say this on behalf of our pet snakes:

They are beautiful. We have two different morphs (varieties) of corn snake, and both of them have remarkable patterns and colors.

After some initial expenditures, they are inexpensive to keep. Snakes need sufficiently large cages, heating strips, food, bedding, and hiding places. We got the cage and heating strips with the snakes, and the food is cheap (more on that in a minute).  They go through their mulch bedding slowly, and their hiding spots are just cardboard boxes in their cages.

They are low maintenance. Our snakes eat (and poop) approximately once every two weeks. Yes, that’s right… that’s how often you have to feed them and clean their cages. Our corn snakes eat frozen-thawed mice, which are under $2 each. Snakes are not gregarious animals, so there is really no need to “spend time” with them; our kids take them out to hold them every few days, but the only real goal is to keep them semi-familiar with being handled by humans.

They have educational benefits. Our kids have learned lots of cool stuff about molting, metabolism, sensory organs, predation, brumation, and anatomy. As the snakes pounce on their prey and swallow it whole, I get to explain that this is an illustration of the way politics and business work. When our two snakes mate, I get to have a preliminary version of “the talk” with the kids. Oh yes, snakes are educational.

So… if your kids are truly reptile obsessed, and they can’t be placated by watching Jurassic Park, I suppose I can recommend live snakes as pets. If all other options have been exhausted.

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Tim Carr

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