You don't have to buy a snake at a pet store and you don't have to keep one permanently to enjoy it, a Lawrence herpetologist says.
"I really don't look at them as pets," said Joe Collins, adjunct herpetologist with the Kansas Biological Survey. "It can be an educational experience for people to keep them in conjunction with school or if you have a serious interest in studying what they do."
For anyone who wants a snake, Collins suggests catching a nonvenomous one, such as a garter or king snake, in the spring and then releasing it late in the summer. That provides the experience of watching a snake for a few months, including seeing it shed its skin, he said.
But Collins said he didn't think it was a good idea to have big snakes, such as pythons, which can grow quite large.
"Most people don't know that pythons can get up to 15 feet in length and become somewhat of a drag -- literally," he said. "They also can, at that size, be dangerous to smaller creatures, like dogs, cats and your youngest child."
For those who really want a python, Collins recommended getting a ball python, which only grows to a few feet.
"Put them on a coat rack and they'll hang there the rest of the day," he said.
Some of the growing interest in exotic and potentially dangerous animals probably can be attributed to the popularity of wildlife shows on television, such as those on the Animal Planet network, Collins said. Shows that feature someone catching venomous snakes and alligators by hand are deceiving and dangerous, he said.
Many of the alligators and crocodiles seen on those shows are captive animals that Collins described as looking "overfed, slow and quite chubby."
"If you dealt with one that was of normal weight and in the wild, that Australian kid would be history," he said, referring to Steve Irwin of the television show "The Crocodile Hunter."