Acquired: Online breeder / seller
Posted Jul 22, 2014
Bull snakes are large impressive animals as adults (72" is somewhat common I currently own a male that is around 82") that when properly acclimated make wonderful pets. It is imperative that if you are going to own these you understand that you need to put time in with them when they are young or you could end up with a large imposing colubrid that goes out of its way to intimidate you. Unlike their relatives, gopher snakes, they do not usually calm down if they are not handled from a young age. Put your time in when they are young and you will have a very active, pleasant, and impressive adult snake that will exhibit loads of personality. They are very alert snakes that are also easily stimulated visually. It is best to pick them up by sliding your hand under their belly as reaching at them from above can elicit a defensive strike (this is the case with most snakes as predators attack snakes from above).
When considering a bull snake it is important to remember adults will require large enclosures. I house mine in commercial reptile enclosures measuring 48" x 30" x 12". Large bull snakes may require larger enclosures. The do not do well in glass aquariums and seem to feel insecure in such enclosures. Cage furnishings are pretty simple for bulls: A large water dish, a large rock for shedding, and bedding. Shy bulls will utilize a hide spot as well. Most of the bull snakes I have kept did not use them and preferred to remained out in the open. Aspen bedding works best as a substrate.
These are highly active colubrids and their enclosures will require frequent (sometimes daily) servicing. I usually spot clean as needed and completely clean the enclosure every two weeks. I have seen a tendency with bulls to defecate it the same area of the enclosure that I have not seen with other snakes I have kept.
I provide heat via heat tape on the outside bottom of the enclosures (the enclosures I use are manufactured with the tape installed on the outside bottom. Do not install heat tape or heat pads inside the enclosure). The heat tape should take up approximately 1/4 of the enclosure. Ambient air temps in the enclosure should be around 82-84 degrees. The heat tape in my enclosures is set at 94 degrees though the actual "belly heat" temp provided fluctuates between 92-94. Nighttime ambient air temperature can be allowed to drop to 70-74 degrees. Mine are still provided with the option of belly heat at night.
Juvenile bull-snakes will take small mice and grow quickly. Adjust the size of the prey item once the snake can take 2-3 of the current prey item. Adults will take several medium sized rats per feeding. My large male has taken as many as 4 medium rats in a feeding, though I usually refrain from giving him that many. My typical feeding routine is two medium rats every 10 days. This has worked well for me for maintenance keeping. If you are going to breed them every 7 days is a better routine as they will go off feed when brumated and benefit from the extra meals. Fresh water should be available at all times.
A mad or nervous bull snake is a sight to behold, they will take up a strike position, gape their mouths widely, hiss loudly, and sometimes mock strike. I learned early on it is better to call their bluff than to let things escalate. If this routine works repeatedly eventually they will make good on their "bluff" with a degree of frequency. Handling them for even just a few minutes when they do this will eventually make these displays disappear. They may or may not bite when picked up while in threat display (this is why it is best to go through this process with established juveniles) but once they realize they are in no danger and the threats don't work they usually abandon them all together with those they are familiar with. New care givers introduced into their routine must of course be tested!
In general once they have acclimated bull snakes make wonderful pets and tolerate handling quite well. They are quite capable of recognizing different people and will act differently towards different people. They are active when handled and will make several attempts to explore anything you don't want them to explore. Every now and then they will sit quietly when handled but this is not common and should not be expected. When the weather is appropriate I have found they enjoy being handled outside and are generally quite curious wanting to investigate whatever strikes their fancy. None of mine have ever shown a strong desire to leave their human "perch" outside but that may not be the case with all individuals so use caution when outside or in public with them.
These snakes are best kept by older (teen) children or adults. Younger children may find them to be intimidating and a bit strong willed for their liking. Well socialized bull snakes will interact well with children but adult supervision should be constant for interactions involving young children. Females are more aggressive than males and I have found they take a little longer to calm down. Bull snakes should not be housed together or with other snakes as they can be cannibalistic. For the purpose of pet companionship males are preferential to females as with most snakes.