Green Snakes

Rough green snake
Getty Images/Gary Kemp Photography

Name: Rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus), smooth green snake (Opheodrys vernalis), grass snake, green whip snake, garden snake, vine snake, keeled green snake.

Size: Rough green snakes grow to be around two to three feet long while smooth green snakes are smaller and shorter and usually max out at about two feet.

Lifespan: 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.

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

In the wild, there is concern about the declining populations of these snakes, 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.

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 both rough and smooth green snakes have thin bodies, an escape-proof enclosure is a must.

Green Snake Temperament

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.

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.

Green Snake Housing

Green snakes are small snakes, so do you not need a huge tank, but 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. Green snakes are peaceful so 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.

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

Heat and Lighting for Green Snakes

A suggested temperature gradient for green snakes is 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit (21-27 degrees Celsius) though some references suggest a higher range.

At night, the temperature can be allowed to drop to 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit (18-24 degrees Celsius). 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 or thermal burns may follow. Being diurnal (active during the day) these snakes should also have a UVA/UVB bulb on for 10-12 hours a day.

Feeding Green Snakes

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 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 but only occasionally as their tough exoskeletons may pose a risk of impaction (pick freshly molted ​mealworms to reduce the chances of this). Other soft feeder worms, such as wax worms, could also be fed 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 (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 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 (like a chameleon needs).

Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT