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Care of Smooth And Rough Green Snakes (Grass Snakes)

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Rough Green Snake

Rough Green Snake

Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey, Florida Integrated Science Center

Introduction to Rough Green Snakes and Smooth Green Snakes:

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 wild, there is concern about declining populations of these snakes, possibly due to habitat loss and use of pesticides. In fact, in some states one or both of these species is considered threatened or endangered. Keep in mind that taking these snakes from the wild may be illegal depending where you live.

In the pet trade, rough green snakes are seen more commonly than smooth green snakes.

Names:

Scientific Names: the rough green snake is Opheodrys aestivus, and the smooth green snake is Opheodrys vernalis.

Common Names: these snakes are sometimes called by a variety of other names, such as grass snakes, green whip snakes, garden snakes, vine snakes, and keeled green snakes. This can lead to much confusion (for example the term grass snake is also used for the European grass snake, Natrix natrix). When adopting a snake, it is best to find out the scientific name of your snake so you know exactly what you have.

Size:

Rough green snake: usually around 2-3 feet
Smooth green snake: smaller and shorter, usually maximum of about 2 feet

Life Span:

Up to 15 years reported (for rough green snakes), though most don't survive that long; 6-8 years is a more likely expectation.

Description:

Both rough green snakes and smooth green snakes are a bright emerald green color. They usually have a pale yellow or cream coloured belly. They are reported to take on a bluish tone when excited. Both rough and smooth green snakes have thin bodies, which makes an escape-proof enclosure a must.

Temperament and Suitability as Pets:

Green snakes tend to be timid, shy snakes. They can be nervous and reluctant to feed, and are not recommended for beginners. Smooth and rough green snakes tend to be stressed by handling so are better suited for watching than handling.

It is best to find a captive bred green snake if possible, as wild caught specimens may be stressed and have a difficult time adjusting to captivity especially with their shy nature. Wild caught snakes may also be carrying a heavy parasite load. Also keep in mind that taking these snakes from the wild may be illegal.

Housing:

These are small snakes so do not need a huge tank, but do need vertical space for climbing (even the more terrestrial smooth green snake). A 30 gallon is a good choice because it provides lots of space for greenery and hiding spots. Green snakes are peaceful, so can be kept in groups (3 can live comfortably in a 30 gallon). The tank will need a very tight fitting fine mesh screen lid to prevent escapes.

Furnishing the Tank:

If green snakes do not have lots of greenery to hide in they will be stressed. These snakes are small enough that live plants (pothos, ivy, other non toxic 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, and some hide boxes provided as well. For the substrate, reptile carpet makes a good choice, as does simple paper towels or unprinted paper. Substrates that could accidentally be ingested are best avoided.

Heat:

A suggested temperature gradient is 70-80 F (21-27 C) (though some references suggest a higher range such as 77-90 F or 25-32 C). At night the temperature can be allowed to drop - a gradient of 65-75 F (18-24 C) is suggested. An overhead heat source such as a heat lamp (days only - must be turned off at night, or a night time bulb used) or ceramic heater is considered best. The overhead heat source can be supplemented by heat from an under tank heat mat if necessary.

Light :

Being diurnal (active during the day) these snakes should have a UVA/UVB bulb for 10-12 hours a day.

Food :

Green snakes are insectivores, and are among the few snakes that eat a diet entirely consisting of insects. In the wild they mostly eat 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 is is extremely important to make sure the diet is varied. Add items such as grasshoppers, spiders, moths, earthworms as much as possible. Meal worms can be fed, but only occasionally as their tough exoskeletons may post a risk of impaction (pick freshly molted meal worms to reduce the chances of this). Other soft feeder worms, such as wax worms, could also be fed occasionally.

Gut Loading
All prey items should be gut loaded (fed a nutritious diet themselves, including a vitamin and mineral supplement) before being offered to green snakes. The Wyvern's Lair suggests gut loading with a commercial reptile food (e.g. iguana, bearded dragon or turtle diet) combined with carrots and collard greens. Dusting the diet with calcium supplement is a good idea too, but can't substitute for proper gut loading as dusting is sometimes not effective at getting the nutrients to the snake.

Notes: don't offer any prey items that are wider than the snake's body. Be sure to put some of your gut loading food into the snake's tank with the insects, to keep them from nibbling on a sleeping snake (putting insects in a wide mouthed, deep container is suggested - this helps to monitor how much is eaten).

Water A shallow dish of water large enough for the snake to climb into for a soak (shallow enough to prevent drowning) should be provided. 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.

References:

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