Misty Johnson is quite a charmer. And she has 75 pet snakes to prove it.
Her place has become a hissing shrine to the scaly, limbless reptile, where baby snakes that barely have hatched and giant boas slither in separate display tanks. Johnson, 27, is a vet technician, but on the side she collects, breeds, feeds and sells diverse snakes. “It’s more of an addiction than a hobby,” says Johnson, who lives in Elk Grove.
In Sacramento, serpents are everywhere, from garters to gophers to the California king snake, and even rattlesnakes that slither around the city’s outskirts. It wasn’t until Johnson moved out on her own that she got her first garter snake from a pet store. Then she began attending reptile shows and collecting more and more. Now Johnson, a registered breeder, sells snakes ($20 and up) and helps parents teach their kids the responsibility of owning a pet snake through her business Sneaky Serpents (www.sneakyserpents.com). And if you have a serpent sneaking in your home or yard, call Johnson and she’ll come retrieve it for free.
When did you first get interested in snakes?I’ve kind of always loved creepy crawlers. I’ve always been the tomboy that was into all the cool guy stuff. I was catching them as a kid at the local canal by my house. My mom was terrified of anything that slithered or crawled or moved, so I could never bring any back home. I was probably about 19 when I got my first one, when I moved out of the house. It was a regular California-type garter snake, black with a red stripe down the back.
What made you want to rescue unwanted serpents from homes?I was having a conversation with one of my friends and he had mentioned not wanting snakes and he was just going to release it if no one took it. I’m a very naturalist-type person and I know that introduction of foreign species is very detrimental to the environment. Some of them may not make it and they may be basically killing them by releasing them. I figured I have room and I love snakes. Once I became a vet tech, I was able to get them the medical care. I rescue some whether they are sick or injured and I keep those and get them better. And sometimes I find homes for them. Most people don’t look at snakes the way they look at other pets, like cats and dogs. I would rather take it in and take care of it than have someone release it and let it die.
Where do you keep them all?I have a whole bedroom dedicated to snakes and I put them in display tanks that I get from pet stores that are going out of business. I have about 75 pets and about 120 in total because I have some babies hatching right now. The ones that hatch out I sell. I sell local, but I am certified to ship to anyone in the U.S.
Does it cost much to feed that many snakes?I get the mice online through RodentPro. When I have baby snakes, it’s a lot more expensive. For a two-month supply, it’s about $450. It’s about 2,500 mice, give or take. Some of my snakes only eat live food and I have to buy that separately.
How does owning a pet snake work? Do you have to wash them or take them for crawls in the park?[Laughs.] They’re actually one of the easiest pets you can own. If you’ve got a cage and mice, they’re really easy to care for. They need fresh water every other day and need to be fed once a week. It also depends on the snake. If you have a boa constrictor, they only need to be fed once a month. All snakes require a place to hide so they feel safe.
And you stay in touch with your snake buyers?I give them my e-mail, Web site address, phone number and a care sheet. I will show and tell them how the tanks are supposed to be set up and what to expect, growth-wise. I keep in touch with some of the people that have continual questions.
Do you have a favorite snake?My California king snake is one of my favorites. She’s mainly black and she has white spots down her back. She’s probably close to 5 feet long. I’ve had her for about three years. I bought her out of the PennySaver. Somebody had used her for teaching kids about snakes at school. It was a pet and I think they were getting out of the hobby. I bought it for about $40. Her name is Star.