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 that are native to North America, where their numbers are becoming threatened or endangered in many states. Both species are a bright emerald-green in color with a pale yellow or cream-colored belly; they are reported to take on a bluish tone when excited. In the pet trade, rough green snakes are seen more commonly than smooth green snakes, but both make good "look only" pets for the experienced reptile keeper. Since they are shy feeders and prefer quiet habitats, they are not the best match for a first-time snake keeper or for environments with young children.
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 are roughly 2 to 3 feet long; smooth green snakes are smaller and shorter, at about 2 feet.
Life Expectancy: 6 to 8 years; 15 years has been reported
Green Snake Behavior and Temperament
Green snakes are green because they are arboreal; they spend most of their time hanging and hunting in plants and trees. 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 suited to just viewing.
Housing the 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. As green snakes are peaceful, they can also be kept in groups—three can live comfortably in a 30-gallon enclosure.
A 30-gallon hexagonal tank is a good choice because it provides lots of space for greenery as well as hiding spots. Since rough and smooth green snakes both have thin bodies, an escape-proof enclosure is a must. The tank will need a very tight-fitting fine mesh screen lid to prevent escapes. Clamped down lids work best.
Green snakes that do not have lots of greenery to hide amongst will become stressed. These snakes are small enough that live plants such as pothos, ivy, and other nontoxic plants will do fine in the tank, and even silk plants will work in a pinch. The greenery should fill at least 50 percent of the tank. Branches and vines should also be provided for climbing. Also, include some hide boxes.
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 heated glass, because thermal burns may follow.
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).
Being diurnal (day dwellers), these snakes should also have a UVA/UVB bulb on for 10 to 12 hours per day. Any visible light and any UVB light source should be turned off at night to give the snake a light-dark cycle.
Assuming your snake will not have access to bright sunlight, ZooMed's reptile or iguana lights, and Durotest's Vita-Lite are two good products. Replace the UVB light sources every six months.
This species does not require high humidity. In addition to some occaisional misting, the snake's water dish will add to the humidity in the tank which should be maintained at roughly 40 to 50 percent. Use a hygrometer to measure interior levels, and monitor closely during dry winter months if you are keeping your snake in a colder climate. A temporary increase of up to 60 percent humidity will assist any snake during its shedding process.
Materials that line the bottom of the enclosure (the substrate) should be carefully selected for both safety to green snakes and ease of cleaning. For these arboreal snakes, reptile carpet makes a good choice, as do simple paper towels or inkless newspaper. Substrate materials that could accidentally be ingested are best avoided.
Food and Water
Green snakes are insectivores and are among the few snakes that eat a diet consisting entirely of insects and worms. In the wild, they consume a variety of prey such as crickets, moths, grasshoppers, caterpillars, fly larvae, spiders, and worms.
In captivity, feed a diet consisting mainly of soft-bodied prey such as caterpillars, although it is extremely important to make sure the diet is still varied. As much as possible, add in items such as pesticide-free spiders, moths, flies, and their larvae.
Mealworms, grasshoppers, and crickets can be fed to green snakes but only occasionally, as any insects with a tough exoskeletons may pose a risk of impaction if eaten too often. Pick only the freshly molted mealworms to reduce the chances. 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 that they have been fed a nutritious diet themselves—including a vitamin and mineral supplement—before being offered to green snakes. Prey items should also be dusted with a calcium supplement a few times a week.
Feed your green snakes a few times on feeding day, totaling what they will eat over a 20 minute period. But feeding days should be only once or twice per week. Feeding at dawn or dusk will bring out a snake who is most willing to eat, but if your snake still is uninterested in food, try moving the enclosure to a more quiet room where there is less activity.
Like the arboreal lizards, these snakes prefer drinking water droplets off of leaves rather than from a bowl or other groundwater source, so a daily misting of the greenery is required. However, it is still important to provide a shallow dish of water that is large enough for the snake to climb into for a full-body soak, but shallow enough to prevent drowning.
Common Health and Behavior Problems
There are some health concerns that should receive care from a reptilian veterinarian. Both types of green snakes 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 be lost when the infection reaches the bone.
Choosing Your Green Snake
There is concern about the declining populations of both of these snake species 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; you may be further depleting an already declining population if they are endangered or even threatened in your area.
It is best to find a captive-bred green snake as wild-caught specimens are much more likely to become significantly stressed and have a difficult time adjusting to captivity. Wild-caught snakes may also be carrying a heavy parasite load.
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