The first and foremost ingredient to choosing the right snake is the health of the animal. Once that is out the way, a number of other elements come into the equation. Species, age, temperament, colour, pattern, sex, feeding habits and price are all points to think about when looking for a snake.
If you are looking at a snake in a pet shop or other premises, do not look only at the snake. Look inside and outside of the cage for signs of dirty, unhygienic surroundings. No matter how good the shop is, inevitably you will find sloughed skins, feces and other dirty materials in the cage. However, look at the consistency of your findings and excessively dirty surroundings. Overcrowding in tanks should be avoided, and if any dead animals are found in nearby enclosures, stay away from purchasing the animal. Make sure you are buying captive bred stock; wild caught snakes can harbour all sorts of problems and should be avoided by beginners.
Look at the shape of the snake in its resting position. Never buy a snake that you see resting sideways, with its head tilted on the floor. If its mouth is slightly agape, stay away. The spine of the snake should be visible, but not to an excessive measure. It the snake looks skinny, do not buy it, regardless of its feeding habits. Most snakes are generally very consistent when sloughing their skin, so if you see one with bits of skin stuck all over it, be cautious. Loose folds in the skin are apparent in dehydrated snakes, advise the shop owner if you see this in their stock but do NOT purchase the animal.
‘Never purchase a snake or any other reptile based on your feelings for that animal. Many pet shops have come and gone, the best have always stayed the longest. Neglectful shops soon realise their problems and either fade away, or amend their problems. Buying a snake which has suffered through neglect of the shop will only make the shop continue with their onslaught. However tough it is, please remember, the death of one snake, could potentially save many more.’
If you purchase an animal knowing of any possible problems, make sure it is vet checked as soon as possible. Keep the latest fecal sample from the snake and store it in the fridge until the vet can examine it. Never introduce newly acquired snakes into the enclosures of other snakes without having it fully examined. Larger breeders should keep quarantine areas separate from the rest of their collection. Newly acquired snakes should be quarantined for at least 3 months if this is feasible for the breeder.
With snakes, age is often an irrelevant factor in deciding what species you would like. Baby corn snakes are good beginners’ snakes, and although they can be a little feisty, they calm down quickly and can evolve into lovely animals. One thing to be careful of when purchasing a baby, is to make sure it feeds. If you are unsure of its feeding habits, buy a slightly grown on juvenile. Adult or grown on snakes which have already been handled and are guaranteed feeders, maybe a better choice for the complete novice. However, baby snakes may be more rewarding for anyone to successfully rear.
Always ask yourself; ‘quality or quantity?’ If something is cheap, there is reasoning behind it. Often, under paying for something you really want may in fact turn out to be something it wasn’t bought to be. If you pay too much, you will lose money at the worst, but you can be sure of acquiring something of quality. Do not look to buy any animal which is excessively cheap. Instead, buy the animal you really want to buy, and pay what the animal is worth.
Where to Purchase?
There are a number of places to look when purchasing a snake. I would urge anyone to seek a reputable breeder who has vast experience and a good reputation in the industry. Honesty is the most important factor for any breeder selling animals; do not buy from anyone who you know has misrepresented animals in the past.
It is important to realise that a breeder does not have to breed many hundreds of snakes. In fact, some of the best snakes will come from dedicated hobbyists, often only having a pair of a particular species. If you are buying the more commonly seen species, you might want to look for private individuals and seek their advice. With the more expensive snake species and colour morphs, there are fewer breeders to choose from. Always communicate with the breeder before actually purchasing the animal. Ask questions regarding the age, size, lineage, temperament, health and feeding habits of the animal in question. A good breeder will spend time trying to help you, while many other breeders will shrug you off, giving minimal detail and answering only what needs to be answered. As a breeder myself, please be aware that with hundreds of snakes to care for, plus doing various things in your personal life, time can be a virtue. Do not expect an essay when e-mailing a breeder, rather, a polite response with all the necessary information should be expected.
Most breeders will not offer a refund after the sale; this is commonplace when dealing with animals. Unfortunately with animals, mistakes by the buyer can easily be made. It is therefore too risky for the seller to guarantee an animals life, when it is completely out of their hands. However, try and be confident when dealing with a breeder, that they will help you even after the sale. If you run into any problems, they will be there to give you more advice.
Reptile Shows / Expos
Reptile shows offer a great place to meet new people and see many new things, not only with snakes but other reptiles as well. Look for breeders who have spent the money showing off their animals. Well built, classy looking display stands with clean cages and tubs show that the breeder is making an extra effort to sell his or her animals. It shows that the breeders are dedicated, and their effort stems further than just breeding and selling animals. These people are often the ones that will make the effort to help you further if need be after the sale.
If buying a snake from a show, be careful. You must realise that you do not know the people standing in front of you, nor do you know the background behind any of the snakes. Many good breeders will have photo albums of their adult stock on the tables. This is a great bonus; it enables you to view the parents and the lineage of the particular animals you are looking to buy. It also shows that breeders are again, putting more effort into selling their animals and taking pride in their stock.
Avoid any breeders who are unable to answer your questions. Ask for hatch dates, parental information and feeding records. These are minimal details that any good breeder should be able to offer without a problem. Any vendor at the show who is unable to provide this information should be avoided.
Do not feel in a hurry to purchase from the breeders at the table. Ask as many questions as you feel appropriate and take a look at what they have to offer. Ask for the breeders contact details, e-mail, web site and their phone number. If they are unwilling to offer their phone number, try and stay away from them. Not giving their phone number allows them to choose whether or not to answer your e-mails. It is these people which are unlikely to help you after a sale is made.
Newspaper Adverts / Internet Classifieds
This is a way to pick up some fantastic animals, but at the same time the most common way for buyers to be ripped off and often left with unhealthy animals. Many breeders, good and bad will use the internet classifieds. Remember to ask all the necessary questions before buying, ask for photos where possible and expect a reply which is polite and informative. Be careful when viewing photos, that they look normal coloured and not distorted or strange in appearance. Look for other objects in the photo to get an idea of accurate size and colour of the animal. It is commonplace to see people falsely advertising animals, and enhancing images to fit their descriptions better. Try and build a relationship with the seller before you purchase the animal.
Also remember, ‘you get what you pay for’. Do not expect to get bargains; you get what you pay for and rarely anything else. Look for the people who are less willing to give you a good deal, these are often the people who are confident in their animals, and confident that another buyer will come along if you do not buy.
Be wary of ‘Free’ Snakes. It is commonplace to see adverts for ‘Free to Good Home’. Ask yourself why, and check to see if the snake is really what you want. Pretend the snake is actually quite expensive; would you still buy it? If not, don’t get it.
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