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Contains articles and advice on a wide variety of snake species. Answers and addresses questions on species husbandry, captive status, breeding, news and conservation issues concerning snakes.

Pet Snakes That Don’t Eat Rodents: Insect-Eating Snake Care

Snail eating snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by ShareAlike 2.5

Snakes that feed solely upon insects, earthworms, spiders, snails and other invertebrates are a great choice for folks who would rather not handle rats and mice. They also have other attractive characteristics, including small size, inoffensive natures, and adaptability to naturalistic terrariums containing live plants. What’s more, most receive scant attention as captives, and so offer us the opportunity to record new facts about their needs and habits. Several invertebrate-eaters, such as Brown Snakes (Storeria) and Ring-Necked Snakes (Diadophis), thrive in the hearts of large cities, while others, including the Worm Snakes (Carphophis), Black-Headed Snakes (Tantilla), Snail-Eating Snakes (Sibon), Red-Bellied Snakes (Storeria), Pine Woods Snakes (Rhadinae) and Flower Pot Snakes (Rhamphotyphlops), are sometimes collected and offered for sale. Today I’ll introduce this fascinating but over-looked group. Please see the articles linked below to read about others that can do without rodents, including Garter, Ribbon and Green Snakes.


Note: There are thousands of snake species that fit within this general category…please post your own experiences below, thanks, Frank


Eastern Worm Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Greg Schechter


Most invertebrate-eating snakes are shy and secretive, and measure less than 12 inches in length when fully grown (Garter and Ribbon Snakes, covered elsewhere, are an exception). Many, such as Brown and Worm Snakes, are well-camouflaged by their somber coloration, while Ring-Necked and Red-Bellied Snakes flash bright warning colors when disturbed.



Invertebrate specialists occur from southern Canada to southern South America and in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia – everywhere that “typical” snakes dwell.


Nearly all spend most of their time below leaf litter, decaying logs, rocks, or other cover that offers protection and access to grubs, earthworms, slugs and other prey. Some, such as the Eastern Worm Snake, have pointed heads that assist in burrowing, and rarely appear above-ground. However, the lifestyles of these interesting snakes are as varied as the habitats they occupy. Garter Snakes, for example, actively forage on land and in water, while Rough Green Snakes spend most of their time in bushes, hunting caterpillars.



Insect-eating snakes of one type or another may be found in rainforests, cities, farms, arid scrubland, swamps, grasslands, deserts, montane cloud forests and many other environments.


Flowerpot Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Eugene van der Pijll

The aptly-named Flowerpot Snake, a native of India, has been shipped worldwide as a stowaway among plant roots, and is now established in greenhouses and gardens in Florida and elsewhere. Brown Snakes are still to be found in Manhattan, while Ring-Necked and Red-Bellied Snakes frequent gardens, farms, and suburban parks.


Care and Feeding

Note: Husbandry details may vary widely from these general guidelines. Please post below for information about the species in which you are interested.


Depending upon the snake in question, the natural diet may include earthworms, beetle grubs, slugs, grasshoppers, caterpillars, termites, and a wide variety of other invertebrates. The most commonly-kept species accept soft-bodied foods such as earthworms, waxworms, silkworms and butterworms; crickets and mealworms are often rejected. Specialists, such as the Cloudy Snail Eater or the Red-Bellied Snake (which favors slugs) can be difficult to keep unless their natural foods are available. Fascinating snakes that specialize in hunting centipedes, spiders, fish and frog eggs and other unusual prey items are also known, but these are rarely kept as pets.


Ring-necked Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Greg Schechter

A single adult of most species will do fine in a 10 gallon aquarium. Unlike more commonly-kept snakes, they do not fare well on newspapers, aspen shavings or similar substrates. The terrarium should instead be furnished with a mixture of dead leaves and coco-husk. Many will shelter below the substrate, but a dark cave stocked with moist sphagnum moss should also be provided. Due to their small size, insect-eating snakes make ideal inhabitants of naturalistic terrariums provisioned with live plants.


On the menus of predators ranging from frogs and tarantulas to crows and skunks, most insect-eating snakes are shy and retiring. Brown, Worm, and Ring-Necked Snakes can rarely even be induced to bite, but stressed individuals may release musk. Many take short periods of gentle handling in stride.



Further Reading

Brown Snake Care (the Best Small Snake Pet?)

Garter Snake Care & Natural History

Keeping Rough & Smooth Green Snakes

Rainbow Snake Care: Keeping a Colorful but Difficult Aquatic Snake

Rainbow Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Alan Garrett

Once seen, the beautiful and aptly named Rainbow Snake (Farancia erytrogramma erytrogramma) is not easily forgotten. Yet it remains relatively unknown in the pet trade, principally because of its odd dietary requirements. However, some enterprising snake enthusiasts have found ways to surmount these difficulties, and there have even been a few breeding successes. In my opinion, these unique US natives deserve much more attention, and have great potential as fascinating additions to the collections of experienced snake keepers.



Rainbow Snakes average 3 to 4 feet in length, with a record of 5 feet, 6 inches. Even after a lifetime of snake-keeping, the first I saw stopped me in my tracks. Vivid red and yellow stripes line the blue-black body, while the underside is orange to red in color.   Smooth, glossy scales add to the brilliance of these colors. The tail’s terminal scale is hard and somewhat sharp, leading some to mistakenly believe that the Rainbow Snake can “sting” its enemies.


Mud Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by John Sullivan

Its closest relative appears to be the Mud Snake, F. abacura (please see photo). Similar in appearance and habits, the Mud Snake is also largely ignored by hobbyists and zoos.



Known in some locales as the Eel Moccasin, the Rainbow Snake may be found from southern Maryland to eastern Louisiana and central Florida.


A subspecies, the Seminole or South Florida Rainbow Snake (Farancia e. seminola), is limited in range to Lake Okeechobee in Florida. It is known from only 3 specimens, and has not been seen since 1952. Some fear that the Seminole Rainbow Snake is extinct, but I hold out hope that its secretive habits (and lack of interest!) are responsible for the lack of recent sightings.


Rainbow Snake habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Kej605


These largely-aquatic snakes favor cypress swamps, marshes, oxbow lakes and other sluggish bodies of water, but sometimes forage in nearby fields. Much of its time is spent among floating vegetation or, when on land, within shallow burrows.



An average-sized adult Rainbow Snake can be kept in a 55 – 75 gallon aquarium. They are not comfortable unless able to burrow, so cypress mulch, eucalyptus bark and similar materials should be used as substrates. Despite their aquatic tendencies, Rainbow Snakes may develop fungal skin disorders if unable to dry off; we see this in North America’s watersnakes (Nerodia spp.) as well. The substrate may be kept slightly moist, but dry surfaces (i.e. bark slabs) must be available.


A large water bowl, filled to a point where it will not overflow when the snake enters, will suit their needs. If the snake seems ill-at-ease, floating plastic plants should be placed in the water so that it can shelter below.

An ambient temperature of 75-80 F and a basking temperature of 85-88 F should be established.



Wild Rainbow Snakes seem to feed almost exclusively upon American Eels.   Other fishes, and aquatic salamanders such as amphiumas and sirens, may also be taken (as is the case for the related Mud Snake), but field research is lacking.


Most adult captives refuse all food except American eels. However, scenting minnows, shiners and other fishes with eels has resulted in acceptance. Another option is to search for small eels at bait stores; adult eels can be purchased at food markets and frozen until needed for scenting or use as a meal.


Young American Eels

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Uwe Kils

Young Rainbow Snakes are easier to please than adults, and generally accept minnows, shiners, and a variety of other small freshwater fishes. Tadpoles are said to be the preferred food of smaller individuals in the wild; frogs and salamanders are also consumed.


General Care

In common with other fish-eaters, Rainbow Snakes produce copious, watery waste products and require more upkeep than similarly-sized rodent-eating snakes. As nearly all individuals encountered in the trade are wild-caught, new arrivals should be seen by a veterinarian.



Captive breeding is rare, although this seems due more to a lack of interest than any inherent difficulties. A slight drop in temperature (68 F by night, 72-80 F by day) may stimulate breeding. Pairs must be monitored carefully, as biting may occur during courtship.


Rainbow Snakes produce unusually large clutches, which range in size from 20 to over 50 eggs. As the eggs are deposited below cover or within shallow burrows, a large nesting box should be provided to gravid females. Hatchlings measure 8 ½ – 11 inches in length.



Rainbow Snakes are rather inoffensive, although like all snakes they may bite and should be handled with care. Their first line of defense is usually to thrash about while pressing the hard, terminal scale of the tail against one’s flesh. This can do no harm, but folks who are unprepared may drop the snake in response. This defense mechanism has resulted in their being dubbed “stinging snakes” in some regions.



Further Reading


Watersnake Care


Tentacled Snake Care


Corn Snake or Ball Python? Choosing the Best Snake Pet

Corn Snakes and Ball Pythons are close competitors for the title of the world’s most popular snake pet. Among the first species to be commercially bred in huge numbers, either makes an excellent choice for most snake owners, new or experienced.  I’ve kept hundreds of species during my long career as a zookeeper, but a Corn Snake terrarium occupies center stage in my living room!  In the following article I’ll compare the care needs of Corn Snakes and Ball Pythons, so that you’ll be able to plan ahead and maximize your pet-keeping experience and your new snake’s quality of life. Detailed care information is provided in the articles linked under “Further Reading”; as always, please also post any questions or observations you may have, and let me know which species gets your vote.



Although individual personalities vary, both adapt well to gentle handling and are not stressed by human contact. Corn Snakes are more likely to move about when being handled, compared to Ball Pythons, but this is offset by their lighter body weight.  As with any snake, care and adult supervision must be exercised, and the animal’s head should never be allowed near one’s face.


Folks who want a “big snake in a small package” generally prefer Ball Pythons. Thick-bodied and muscular, they can average 4 feet in length, but their girth would greatly exceed that of a similarly-sized Corn Snake.


Activity Levels

Neither is overly active, but Corn Snakes regularly move between basking sites and shelters, and are more likely to wander about the cage when hungry.


Ball Pythons, native to harsh habitats, are extremely efficient at conserving energy and tend to move only when necessary.


Young Corn Snke

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Invertzoo

Life Span

A Ball Python at the Philadelphia Zoo lived for a record 47.6 years, and there are anecdotal reports of a 51 year-old individual. Pets regularly survive into their 30’s.


The published longevity for a Corn Snake is 32 years, and many can approach and exceed age 20.


Breeding Potential

Both species breed reliably, and make an excellent introduction to that fascinating aspect of reptile-keeping. Each species is available in a wide variety of interesting (and even bizarre!) color morphs…at least 25 in the case of the Corn Snake. Corn Snake hybrids with King, Gopher and various Rat Snakes have also been produced. Please see the articles linked below for detailed breeding information.


Ball python

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Izzysworldofherps


The purchase price for a normally-colored individual is similar for both snakes. Prices increase for rare or unusual color morphs. This is especially true for Ball Pythons. Expenses for terrariums, supplies and electricity are similar:


Terrarium Size (single adult)

Corn Snake: 20-55 gallon

Ball Python: 30-55 gallon



Corn Snake: 75-82 F, with a basking site of 90 F

Ball Python: 80-85 F, with a basking site of 90 F


Corn snake eatng pinkie

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dustin Miller


Food intake will vary among individuals and in tune with temperature, season, life cycle stage, and other factors. While Ball pythons are much heavier than Corn Snakes and take larger meals, their habit of fasting tends to even-out food cost differences.


Ball Pythons have evolved to survive in habitats where food may be plentiful for short periods and scarce or absent at other times. Consequently, they seem predisposed to feed heavily and then to fast for weeks or even months. This can happen at any time of the year, and may be tied to circadian, or internal, rhythms. Long fasting periods may be very disconcerting to novice owners; if you prefer a regular feeder, choose a Corn Snake. Feeding preferences can change as well, with a formerly favored food, such as mice, being rejected for no apparent reason (well, none that we can discern…the snakes “know” why they do it!). When in a feed cycle, adult Ball Pythons will take 2-3 mice or 1 small rat each 10-14 days; individual intake will vary greatly, however. Please see the article linked below for more on this topic.


Corn Snakes in good health are almost always reliable feeders. Depending upon the size of the snake, they do well on 1-2 small to medium sized mice each 7-10 days.



Further Reading

Corn Snake Care

Ball Python Care



Venomous Snakes: Care and Habits of the Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin

Threat display

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Upload Bot (Magnus Manske)

Big and bold, the Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin is one of the most frequently-encountered of the USA’s venomous snakes. Stories of its alleged ferocity abound, and many folks living within its range are convinced that it goes out of its way to attack people. I’ve had the chance to work with this impressive serpent at the Bronx and Staten Island Zoos (Note: venomous snakes should never be kept in private collections), and to observe it in the wild, and have found its actual habits to be far more interesting than the supposed ones! From scavenging road-killed pigs to turning up in areas far north of where most people “expect” it, the Cottonmouth is full of surprises. Today I’ll focus on the natural history and captive care of the Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorous picivorous), with some comments on the 2 related subspecies.


Typical adult

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Ltshears


Most Eastern Cottonmouths are olive to dark brown in color, and are patterned with irregular, dark cross-bands. However, nearly-black, pattern-less individuals are common, and hybrids (which vary in appearance) occur where its range overlaps with that of the Florida and Western Cottonmouths.

They are stoutly built, and this makes adults appear larger than their actual size. Most average 3 to 5 feet in length, but occasional “giants” turn up. The published record length is 6 feet, 2 inches…but there’s no shortage of people who will claim to have seen, or even killed, Cottonmouths twice or three times as large (note – they haven’t!).


Green Watersnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by John Sullivan Cali

Several of the larger, non-venomous water snakes of the American Southeast are often confused with the Cottonmouth, as they are superficially similar in appearance and share the same habitat. And if you’ve ever tried catching a large Brown or Florida Green Watersnake, you’ll understand why most “non-herpers” give these irascible brutes as wide a berth as they do Cottonmouths!


The Cottonmouth is classified in the family Viperidae, and is most closely-related to the Copperheads and various Cantils of Mexico and Central America.



The Eastern Cottonmouth is found from southeastern Virginia to eastern Alabama and Georgia. I grew up associating Cottonmouths with Florida’s swamps and canals, and indeed it is there that the Florida Cottonmouth, (A. p. conanti) thrives in good numbers. I was surprised to learn, however, that the Western Cottonmouth(A. p. leucostoma)ranges much further north than I expected – to southern Illinois and eastern Missouri.


Typical Habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Moni3


Cottonmouths are typically found in and along slow-moving bodies of water such as swamps, marshes, canals, rice fields, ponds and weedy lakes. However, they will forage in fields, open woodlands and around farms, often far from water. Individuals in many populations hunt mainly by night, especially during the summer, but they bask in the daytime.


In the northern sections of their range, Cottonmouths hibernate in subterranean dens on land, often on hillsides far from water. Hibernation sites may be shared with copperheads, rattlesnakes, water snakes, ratsnakes and other species.



Cottonmouths can be quite common in suitable habitat and in protected areas such as the Everglades, but are threatened in some regions by wetland drainage. Basking Cottonmouths are said to be used for “target practice” in some places…not much of a challenge, given their size and immobility when basking, I imagine!



Zoo specimens have reached at least age 24; several under my care were in their late teens, and still full of spunk. Longevity in the wild has not been well-documented, as far as I know.



Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Accipiter


In most populations,females breed every-other-year, usually in August and September. The young, 1-16 in number, are born alive and are 7-13 inches in length. They are reddish-brown and vividly marked, and use their bright yellow tail tips to lure frogs, lizards, and other prey. Sexual maturity is reached in 3-4 years.



Cottonmouths take a wider range of prey than do most other snakes, and even scavenge road-kills. I was once very surprised to read a journal note (Herpetologica?) describing a large individual consuming chunks of fat from a dead pig!


The usual diet is extremely varied, and may include catfish, bream, eels and other fish, sirens, amphiumas and other salamanders, frogs, hatchling alligators, small turtles, lizards, snakes, ducks and other birds, and mammals such as rice rats, muskrats and voles.


I once housed a colony of Green Anoles with a pair of Cottonmouths at the Bronx Zoo. Whenever I tossed roaches or crickets in for the lizards, the Cottonmouths would move about in an apparent search for food. I’m wondering if youngsters consume insects as well; the closely-related Copperhead has been observed feeding upon cicadas and grasshoppers.


Cottonmouths under my care were fed minnows, shiners, trout, goldfish, mice and rats; I’ve always meant to try crayfish, but unfortunately did not. Like many fish-eating snakes, they seemed perpetually hungry. The opening of their exhibit door, with or without the scent of food, generally elicited a mad rush forward. All those I’ve kept adjusted well to captivity – thrusting them away with a snake hook did nothing to damper their desire to feed!


Light-colored individual

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Hydriz

Additional Information

The name “Cottonmouth” arose from this species’ threat display – when cornered, it throws back its head and gapes widely to expose the cottony-white interior of the mouth. If this fails to dissuade the intruder, the snake strikes repeatedly. Basking animals usually drop into the water and swim away, either below or at the surface, when disturbed.


Classification of Cottonmouths and other Vipers

Cottonmouths and their relatives, collectively known as “pit vipers”, are placed in the family Viperidae and subfamily Crotalinae, along with palm vipers, rattlesnakes, copperheads and related species. They are considered to be the most advanced, or highly evolved, of all snakes.


Crotalids, or pit-vipers, possess a sophisticated sensory organ (the “pit”) that detects the infra-red rays produced by birds and mammals. Located between the eye and nostril, this organ is far more sensitive than the heat receptors that have evolved among the boas and pythons. The arrangement of the heat receptors within the pit viper’s sensory organs are replicated in the brain and integrated with visual information received there. The pit may thus be considered more of an “imaging device” than mere heat receptor, and likely provides detailed information concerning the size and shape, as well as location, of warm-blooded animals. Aided by these unique organs, pit vipers are able to hunt and escape predators even in complete darkness.


Vipers possess long, hinged fangs that fold back against the roof of the mouth when not in use. Venom is injected with a single bite, in the manner of a hypodermic needle. The snake then retires and allows the prey to run off, and follows its scent trail once the stricken animal has expired. This strategy spares vipers the injuries that can be inflicted by prey animals upon snakes such as cobras, which must hold on while injecting venom. When attacking frogs, fish and other relatively benign prey, however, Cottonmouths hold onto the animal after striking.



Further Reading

The World’s Largest Rattlesnake

Keeping Watersnakes



Hognose Snake: Breeding and Care for the Madagascar Giant

Giant Hognose Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by MrPanyGoff

North America’s Hognose Snakes are well-known for their impressive bluffs, which make them appear large and, to many people, dangerous. If this tactic fails, they feign death most convincingly. Even after a lifetime of working with snakes in zoos and the field, I cannot help but be awed and amused by these harmless “frauds”. But their acts pale in comparison to those given by the world’s largest hognose snake, the 5-foot-long, thickly-built Madagascar Giant, Leioheterodon madagascariensis. This fantastic snake is gaining in popularity, and rightly so…it is far more active than its American counterparts, and, unlike some of them, does not limit its diet to toads.



One can be forgiven for thinking that this impressive beast is related to the Hognose Snakes of North and South America. However, the two groups seem to be an amazing example of parallel evolution (adaptations to similar conditions) rather than close relatives.


Like the American hognose snakes, it is heavily-built, yellowish-tan to dark brown in color, and marked with brown, gray or black blotches. Upturned rostral scales on the pig-like snout, similar to those seen in the New World species, assist it in burrowing and unearthing prey.

Adults average 4-5 feet in length, but appear larger due to the thickness of their bodies.


At Kirindy reserve, Madagascar

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Tom Junek

When cornered, the Madagascar Giant Hognose Snake even puts on the same impressive defensive display used by its American namesakes – flattening the body and hissing loudly, after which it may roll over and feign death.


This species is sometimes offered under the common name of Malagasy Hognose Snake.


Range and Habitat

The Madagascar Giant Hognose Snake is, like many of the creatures that share its home, endemic to Madagascar and the nearby islands of Nosy Be and Nosy Sakatia. An introduced population is established on Comoro Island. Two slightly smaller related species, L. geayi and L. modestus, are also limited to Madagascar.


Natural Habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Masindrano

It favors open habitats such as grasslands, sparsely-wooded savannas, forest edges, farms, and village outskirts.


A colleague of mine who was studying tortoises on Madagascar said that many large individuals would appear from below ground after every rain. They seemed to materialize from nowhere and immediately began foraging for the lizards, toads and small mammals that were also roused to activity by the weather. Single-minded in their pursuit of food, the snakes would glide into and through tents and campsites without so much as a second glance at the surprised biologists they encountered.


Temperament in Captivity

Madagascar Giant Hognose Snakes are rear-fanged, and produce mild venom that is used to overcome their prey. They are not considered to be dangerous to people, but cautions must be exercised by keepers, and the possibility of allergic reactions should be considered. They are best handled with snake hooks, and should be kept only by responsible, experienced adults. Consult your doctor before acquiring any snake that produces venom, however mild.


Like American hognose snakes, Madagascar Giants tend to bluff more than bite. However, individual dispositions vary, and these always-hungry snakes may strike at nearby movements, biting their keeper in the process. Always use a long-handled tongs when offering food or working in the cage.



Madagascar Giant Hognose Snakes are quite active, especially when compared to their American counterparts. Youngsters may be accommodated in 20 gallon aquariums, but adults should be provided a tank or custom-built cage measuring at least 4-5’ x 4’. The enclosure’s screen lid must be secured by cage clips, as they are very powerful, even by snake standards.


Natural burrowers, Giant Hognose Snakes are most comfortable below-ground. A deep layer of cypress mulch or eucalyptus bark is preferable to newspapers as a substrate. A dry cave may also be utilized.


Sheltering in Leaf Litter

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Tom Junek

Heat and Light

Madagascar Giant Hognose Snakes fare best at a temperature range of 80-85 F. An incandescent bulb should be used to create a basking spot of 90 F.


Large enclosures are necessary if a thermal gradient (areas of different temperatures) is to be established. Thermal gradients, critical to good health, allow snakes to regulate their body temperature by moving from hot to cooler areas.


A ceramic heater, heat pad, or red/black reptile night bulb can be used to provide heat after dark.



Not nearly as picky as North America’s Eastern Hognose Snake, which largely confines its diet to toads, the Madagascar Giant Hognose takes toads, frogs, lizards, small mammals and the eggs of tortoises, lizards and birds with equal gusto. Captive adults readily accept mice and rats, but hatchlings often prefer lizard or toad-scented rodents at first. In time, they can be weaned-over to un-scented mice.



Captive-bred individuals have been quite scarce in the past, but hopefully this situation will change as more reptile enthusiasts discover the charms of these spectacular snakes. A winter cooling period of 65- 68 F, with a basking spot of 80 F, will help to stimulate reproduction. Females produce up to 12 eggs, which hatch after an incubation period of approximately 2 months at 85 F. Hatchlings average 12 inches in length.



Further Reading

Your First Snake: Some Considerations

Study Hints at Global Snake Decline

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