Rough and smooth green snakes are closely related, and while there are some differences between them, their care in captivity is essentially the same. These are both small, thin-bodied snakes native to North America. In the pet trade, rough green snakes are seen more commonly than smooth green snakes.
There is concern about the declining populations of these snakes in the wild, possibly due to habitat loss and the use of pesticides. In some states, one or both of these species are considered threatened or endangered. Keep in mind that taking these snakes from the wild may be illegal depending on where you live.
Common Names: Rough green snake, smooth green snake, grass snake, green whip snake, garden snake, vine snake, keeled green snake.
Scientific Names: Opheodrys aestivus, Opheodrys vernalis
Adult Size: Rough green snakes grow to be around 2 to 3 feet long, while smooth green snakes are smaller and shorter, usually maxing out at about 2 feet.
Life Expectancy: Up to 15 years is reported for rough green snakes, though most don't survive that long. Six to eight years is a more realistic expectation.
Behavior and Temperament
Both rough green snakes and smooth green snakes are a bright emerald-green color. They usually have a pale yellow or cream-colored belly. They are reported to take on a bluish tone when excited. Since rough and smooth green snakes both have thin bodies, an escape-proof enclosure is a must.
Green snakes tend to be timid, shy snakes. They can be nervous and reluctant to feed and are therefore not recommended for beginner snake owners. Smooth and rough green snakes also tend to be stressed by handling, so they are better to be watched than handled.
Housing a Green Snake
Green snakes are small snakes, so while you don't need a huge tank, you do need to provide vertical space for climbing. A 30-gallon tank is a good choice because it provides lots of space for greenery as well as hiding spots.
As green snakes are peaceful, they can be kept in groups—three can live comfortably in a 30-gallon tank. The tank will need a very tight-fitting fine mesh screen lid to prevent escapes.
Green snakes that do not have lots of greenery to hide in become stressed. These snakes are small enough that live plants such as pothos, ivy, and other nontoxic plants will survive in the tank, but silk plants are fine, too.
The greenery should fill at least a third of the tank. Branches and vines should also be provided for climbing, as well as some hide boxes. For the substrate, reptile carpet makes a good choice, as do simple paper towels or paper. Substrates that could accidentally be ingested are best avoided.
A suggested temperature gradient for green snakes is 70 to 80 F (21 to 27 C), though some references suggest a higher range. At night, the temperature can be allowed to drop to between 65 and 75 F (18 to 24 C).
An overhead heat source such as a heat bulb (white light during the day and red or blue/purple at night) or ceramic heat emitter is best. The overhead heat source can be supplemented by heat from an under tank heat mat, but make sure your snake cannot sit directly on the glass, because thermal burns may follow. Being diurnal, these snakes should also have a UVA/UVB bulb on for 10 to 12 hours a day.
Food and Water
Green snakes are insectivores and are among the few snakes that eat a diet entirely consisting of insects. In the wild, they mostly consume a variety of insects such as crickets, moths, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and fly larvae and spiders.
In captivity, it is most practical to feed a diet primarily of crickets, although it is extremely important to make sure the diet is still somewhat varied. Add in items such as grasshoppers, spiders, moths, and earthworms as much as possible.
Mealworms can be fed to green snakes but only occasionally, as their tough exoskeletons may pose a risk of impaction. Pick freshly molted mealworms to reduce the chances of impaction. Other soft feeder worms, such as wax worms, could also be offered on occasion. Be sure that you don't offer any prey items that are wider than your snake's body.
All prey items should be gut loaded, meaning they're fed a nutritious diet themselves—including a vitamin and mineral supplement—before being offered to green snakes. They should also be dusted with a calcium supplement at least a few times a week.
A shallow dish of water should be provided, large enough for the snake to climb into for a soak, but shallow enough to prevent drowning. However, these snakes seem to prefer drinking water droplets off leaves rather than from a bowl, so a daily misting of the greenery is required, as you would do for a chameleon.
Common Health Problems
Both types of green snake are prone to fungal and respiratory infections. Open-mouthed breathing and wheezing are signs of a respiratory infection, and discoloration of the skin is usually a symptom of a fungal infection.
Another ailment common among snakes, including the green snake, is mouth rot, or infectious stomatitis. This bacterial infection of the mouth causes saliva bubbles and inflammation in and around the mouth. If left untreated, the snake's teeth may fall out when the infection reaches the bone.
All of these health concerns should receive care from a reptilian veterinarian.
Choosing Your Green Snake
It is best to find a captive-bred green snake as wild-caught specimens may be stressed and have a difficult time adjusting to captivity. Wild-caught snakes may also be carrying a heavy parasite load, and you may be depleting an already declining population if they are endangered where you live.