Larger rodent-eating snakes, especially those that take well to handling, have long dominated reptile collections. However, there is another side to snake-keeping – small, insectivorous species that, unlike their larger relatives, thrive in naturalistic terrariums. Of these, my all-time favorites are the Rough and Smooth Green Snakes (Opheodrys aestivus and O. vernalis).
The captive care information below refers mainly to the Rough Green Snake, which is more commonly kept, but applies to the Smooth Green as well.
The Rough Green Snake ranges from southern New Jersey to the Florida Keys and west to eastern Kansas and Mexico, with isolated populations in Iowa, Missouri and New Mexico. Largely arboreal, it is usually found near water, into which it may retreat when disturbed. Large adults may exceed 4 feet in length, but most individuals are smaller.
The Smooth Green Snake occurs further north, into southern Canada, but overlaps the range of the Rough Green in southern and western portions of its distribution. It also climbs well, but often forages on the ground. It tops out at 2 feet or so in length.
Many people report that both species often occur at high densities in certain areas, and that the eggs of many females may be found together. Interestingly, students of mine consistently claim to have observed Rough Green Snakes in abandoned lots in NYC (Bronx), but I have been unable to confirm this.
Pros and Cons
The care of Green Snakes differs from that of more popular species in many important regards – they rarely do well if handled often, prefer densely planted, slightly humid terrariums and require a varied, insect-based diet.
That being said, there is much to recommend them. Green Snakes are beautifully colored and, because of their small size, we can see many of their natural behaviors in captivity. They are also quite active and their efforts at tracking down live insects in complex displays are very interesting to observe.
A vertically-oriented “tall style” aquarium of at least 30 gallon capacity is ideal is ideal for Green Snakes –cramped, bare quarters will lead to stress and early death.
Substrate and Furnishings
Green Snakes favor humid surroundings – a substrate that retains some moisture, such as Hagen Jungle Earth, should be used – no bare, newspaper-lined cages for these fellows! The substrate should be misted daily and allowed to dry out over a period of 2 hours or so, as consistently wet conditions will lead to fungal infections of the skin.
Plenty of cover, especially in the form of live plants, is essential – Pothos, Peace lilies, Cast Iron, Snake Plants, Chinese Evergreens and other sturdy terrarium standbys work very well.
Thin branches, preferably with intertwining Grapevine or artificial vines, should take up most of the air space. Arboreal hideaways in the form of entwined branches and leaves will provide the security these snakes need in order to feel at home and behave normally. In common with many shy species, Green Snakes are more likely to show themselves when provided with a densely-planted enclosure. When suitable cover is provided, they tend to calm down and become more, not less, visible.
A moist retreat should always be available. Rolled cork bark filled with damp Sphagnum Moss is ideal.
Please see Keeping Snakes in Naturalistic Terrariums for more on these wonderful snakes.
Rough green Snake in foliage image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Patrick Coin
Hawk Moth Caterpillar image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by BotMultichill and Possum
I’m so glad you decided to write a post about green snakes. I’ve kept the rough greens before and found them extremely enjoyable. I hope to get a few again sometime.
My green snakes knew when it was time to eat, and would eat out of my hand. They ate both live and dead insects—sometimes they would eat the cricket or grasshopper legs that were dropped!
What is your opinion about the lighting that should be used for these snakes? Do you think they need UVB lighting? I’ve noticed that most people say they do, though I believe they have been kept in captivity without access to it and had no problems.
Hello Sarah, Frank Indiviglio here.
Nice to hear from you again – somehow I knew this one would catch your eye!
Great info, thank you – I’ve found many individuals to be shy and reluctant to take dead insects; nice to know this is not always so.
The UVB info is anecdotal – zoos don’t pay much attention to Green Snakes, and there has been no serious studies as far as I know. As you say, they have been kept and bred long term without UVB. However, we don’t really know what their maximum wild/captive lifespans are, and some of the folks who lean towards providing UVB are quite knowledgeable. Certainly low-levels do no harm (as can be the case for some amphibians, it seems). The Zoo Med 2.0 seems well suited for use with them, and is good for live plants as well.
Good luck, thanks for the observations, and please let me know when you add them to your collection,
Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.
Realy good article. You can’t find much information about reptiles kept in naturally planted vivariums. When done correctly the plants are beautiful all by them selfs. Then you add a reptile or two and waalaa!! I think more people need to explore the endless possabilities of a live planted environment for their herps.
Hello Mary, Frank Indiviglio here.
Thanks for your interest in our blog and kind words. I look forward to your future comments.
Good luck and please keep me posted.
Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.
Hello Mr. Indiviglio,
First of all Merry Christmas! Secondly, I finally acquired a Rough Green Snake yesterday after seeing them at a store in Baltimore for the past two years. The one I got was the last left but I knew he was healthy since he was active and chasing around crickets, even eating one right in front of me. My question is how do I get him to eat other insects? I think he might have been at the store for a while and was only fed crickets. When I put him in his new enclosure I offered a small dubia roach which he struck at but them subsequently dropped and earlier today I put two in a container with some crickets. When I checked later on the roaches were gone and he was hovering over the container, but I’m not sure if they were eaten or just escaped.
Also, what do you think about dusting the prey items with calcium or vitamin powder? I tried this by dusting some of the crickets earlier with the calcium but I think he was put off by the strange scent. What I wonder is where would they get the calcium needed to grow bones in the wild if they only consume insects? Certainly the addition of a UVB light would contribute to that. Thank you!
Thanks for the kind words..Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy new year to you and yours also.
Great to hear you’re interested in this species…not enough work done with them. They are said to favor caterpillars above all, so try silkworms, hornworms, butterworms (avail online) and waxworms. In spring, offer small spiders, moths and other insects.
We don’t know much about their CA needs, or if they are able to manufacture Vit D in the skin. Low output UVB bulbs are good as insurance, i.e. the Zoo Med 2.0. Dust most meals as well – Calcium with D3, and a Vitamin supplement once weekly.
They have fast metabolisms, so try keeping it hungry for a time and then offer foods other than crickets.
I wouldn’t handle much…provide as much room as possible.
Please keep me posted, Frank
Hello Mr. Indiviglio
I waited a couple days as you suggested and today I offered him a roach and cricket that was dusted with calcium powder plus a waxworm with tongs and he ate all of them with no fuss. Afterwards I misted his enclosure and got to see him drinking off of the leaves. i have to say I’m very glad I decided to get him, he is certainly the most active and entertaining snake I have ever owned. I felt like a little kid seeing his first reptile again! With concern about drinking, would he use the bowl I keep filled with fresh water if he doesn’t get enough to drink from the daily misting? Now all I have to do is get the toad to eat some more, maybe off the tongs even.
Cheers and Happy New Year, Alex
Great to hear! Variety seems to be a key to success with them; try some of the others mentioned earlier and let me know how all goes.
Happy New Year to you and yours, enjoy, Frank