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Rough Green Snake

Rough Green Snake Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

Overview 

Opheodrys aestivus

Rough green snakes are small, dainty, nonvenomous snakes with beautiful emerald-green skin. Native to North America, they live in wetlands in nature, where they hunt for insect and amphibian prey. As they stalk their prey, they move their bodies in a random swaying motion to make themselves look like green branches waving in the breeze. As they are diurnal (active during the day), they make great pets for people to watch all day.

Typical rough green snake appearance & behavior 

  • Have emerald green-colored skin on their bodies, with yellow skin along their sides and yellow to white skin along their bellies
  • Some have light blue scales dotted over their heads and bodies (more in juveniles)
  • Females tend to be heavier and longer than males
  • Their bodies are long and thin and taper to very thin, fragile tails that camouflage them to look like vines in their environment to escape predators
  • Their heads are small with very large eyes on either side 
  • Their scales are keeled (each has a ridge down the center), making their skin appear rough
  • While they are gentle, often quick-moving snakes, they are timid and become stressed easily, thus, they are often better observed than handled
  • They do not typically bite, even when they are stressed, but instead release a malodorous musk from their vents to scare away attackers
  • They do well when housed with others of the same species but must be housed in larger habitats if they are housed together
  • When eating insect prey, they do not constrict it but instead grab it and swallow it whole while it is still alive
  • They are semiarboreal, so they enjoy spending some time climbing trees, but they also enjoy swimming

Characteristics

Care Difficulty Intermediate
Average Life Span Up to 15+ years with proper care, depending on species
Average Adult Size 2 ½-3 feet long
Diet Insectivore
Minimum Habitat Size At minimum, 20-gallon tank for a juvenile, 30-gallon tank for an adult

Habitat

Habitat size

Provide an appropriately sized and shaped habitat to accommodate an adult rough green snake’s normal behavior and exercise. Habitats should be long enough for the snake to stretch out (at least a 20-gallon tank for a juvenile and a 30-gallon tank for a single adult). Habitats also should be tall enough for snakes to climb (at least half the length of the snake). They reach adult size in 2 to 3 years under ideal conditions. Upgrade their habitat size as your snake grows. These snakes are quite active and need the space to move around accordingly. The habitat should have a tightly fitting mesh lid to allow proper ventilation and prevent escape.

Building your habitat

Substrate

  • Paper-based bedding, reptile carpet, Aspen shavings or cypress, mulch can be used as substrate. Aspen shavings and cypress mulch must be changed frequently, as these substrates hold water and tend to get moldy. If shavings or mulch are used, snakes should be fed in a separate feeding tank without bedding to lessen the incidence of accidental substrate ingestion. Cedar shavings should never be used, as they contain oils that can irritate snakes’ skin 

Décor

  • As these snakes are very active, the habitat floor should be relatively clear to allow them to move around freely
  • These snakes need hiding boxes to help them feel at ease, as well as branches and vines to climb on. Hiding boxes should be available in both the warm/basking zone and in the cool zone
  • Nontoxic live plants (such as pothos, ivy and others) or artificial plants should occupy the length of one side of the habitat so that these snakes can travel from plant to plant on that side without touching the habitat floor. Plants should fill at least half of the habitat

Lighting 

  • As these snakes are diurnal, they need a clear day/night cycle to perform normal behaviors. While rough green snakes do not require ultraviolet (UV) light to survive, some studies suggest that UVB light may increase snakes’ activity levels and their psychological wellbeing, as well as aid in their overall health. Providing snakes with low-level UVB lighting 10 to 12 hours per day will not harm and may actually help them. UV bulbs should be replaced every six months, as their potency wanes
  •  A nocturnal or infrared light can be used at night 

Temperature

  • Snakes are ectothermic reptiles, meaning that they rely on environmental temperatures to control their body temperature. To help them regulate their body temperature, their habitat should have a temperature gradient (85 to 90°F in the warm/basking zone and 75 to 80°F in the cool zone/nighttime)
  • Heat may be provided by a heat bulb, ceramic heat bulb or an under-tank heating pad 
  • Heat sources should be attached to thermostats to regulate temperatures. Thermostats are especially important with heating pads, as they can get hot and cause burns through the tank floor if not regulated properly 
  • Hot rocks should not be used as a heat source, as they can burn reptiles 
  • Temperature should be monitored by at least two thermometers (one in the hot zone and the other in the cool zone) 
  • Reptiles not kept at the appropriate temperature ranges are more likely to become immunosuppressed and get sick  

Humidity

  • The habitat should have a water dish large enough for the snake to soak in to help sustain humidity levels, maintain their hydration and aid in shedding 
  • Humidity also may be increased with damp sphagnum moss, which must be changed frequently to prevent mold growth 
  • Humidity level should be monitored with a humidity gauge and should be maintained between 55 and 65% 
  • Snakes typically require higher humidity during shedding and will often soak before a shed cycle

Cleaning your habitat

Spot-clean the habitat daily to remove droppings and discarded food. Thoroughly clean and disinfect the habitat at least once per week:

  • Place snake in a secure habitat
  • Remove all substrate and habitat décor
  • Scrub the tank and furnishings with a reptile habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution
  • Rinse tank and furnishings thoroughly with water, removing all traces of habitat cleaner or bleach smell
  • Dry the tank and furnishings completely
  • Add clean substrate and put furnishings back into tank
  • Put snake back into clean, dry habitat

Feeding 

What to feed 

  • A well-balanced rough green snake diet consists of:
  • Gut-loaded (recently fed) cricketsmealwormswaxworms, moths, caterpillars, soft-bodied beetles or fly larvae, spiders or superworms, as rough green snakes are one of the few insectivore snakes
  • Mealworms and crickets should only be offered occasionally, as they have tough exoskeletons that may lead to gastrointestinal tract obstruction if eaten too frequently
  • Insects offered should be varied to ensure balanced nutrition and to help keep snakes interested in eating
  • Insects fed should be no wider than the largest girth of the snake (excluding their head)

Things to remember when feeding your rough green snake:

  • Feed once or twice a week
  • Offer no more than they will eat in a 20-minute period (about a half dozen insects)
  • Sprinkle food lightly with calcium supplement without vitamin D3 at each feeding and with a multivitamin supplement once a week
  • If the snake does not seem interested in eating, they may be too stressed. Verify the habitat is at the correct temperature and humidity and move the habitat to a quieter location before offering insects again
  • While rough green snakes generally like to hunt insects, in smaller habitats they may be overwhelmed trying to hunt too many insects at once, and live insects that are not consumed can bite the snake  
  • Fresh, clean water should be available at all times in a bowl that’s large enough for the snake to soak in. Rough green snakes typically prefer to drink water droplets off leaves, rather than drinking water from a bowl, so the habitat should be misted daily to enable them to drink from plants

Care

  • Snakes will regularly shed their skin and the covering over their eyes (called the “eye cap” or spectacle). Ensure the humidity of the habitat is at the appropriate level to allow the snake to shed properly. Skin should be shed in a single, long piece
  • Never try to remove retained eye caps by yourself, as you can easily damage a snake’s eyes doing this. Seek veterinary care if eye caps are retained 

Where to buy 

 Rough green snakes are available for purchase at your local Petco location. Please call ahead to check availability.

Rough Green Snake Supplies

Habitat mates 

Rough green snakes enjoy being housed with other same-species snakes. Two to three can live together, as long as their tank is large enough (55 to 75 gallons). Do not house different snake species together.

Health 

Signs of a healthy snake

  • Active and alert
  • Clear eyes (except when shedding)
  • No discharge or bubbles from eyes, nose or mouth
  • Eats and passes stool regularly
  • Supple skin without lesions, swellings, scabs, parasites (mites, ticks) or discoloration
  • Regularly sheds skin in one complete piece
  • Moves by slithering on their abdomen with their head held slightly off the ground

Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.)

  • Unusually frequent or infrequent shedding
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy or reluctance to eat
  • Abnormal feces or lack of feces
  • Lesions, swellings, scabs, discoloration or parasites (mites, ticks) on skin
  • Labored breathing/breathing with open mouth
  • Difficulty shedding/shedding in numerous pieces/retained skin after shed
  • White, cheesy discharge or redness or scabs in mouth
  • Lying on back, unable to turn right-side-up, or prolonged staring (“star-gazing”?)

Common rough-green snake health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health Issue Dermatitis Symptoms or CausesBlisters, red skin, scabs or rapid shedding caused by skin infections from bacteria, viruses, fungus or parasites or an unclean habitat or one that has inappropriate temperature or humidity. Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian, clean the habitat and ensure proper temperature and humidity.
Health Issue Respiratory disease Symptoms or CausesLabored breathing/open-mouth breathing, stretching neck out, mucus or bubbles in mouth, eyes or nostrils. Can be caused by bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic infections or a habitat that has inappropriate temperature or humidity. Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and ensure proper temperature and humidity.
Health Issue Stomatitis Red, swollen or scabbed gums and/or white, cheesy discharge in the mouth, loss of teeth, decreased appetite, weight loss. Can be caused by bacterial, viral or fungal infections or habitat that has inappropriate temperature or humidity. If untreated, can be fatal. Suggested ActionImmediately consult your veterinarian and ensure proper temperature and humidity.
Health IssueTicks and mites Symptoms or CausesParasites on skin causing itchiness, red skin and hyperactivity; can transmit disease. Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian. Empty habitat and thoroughly disinfect it.

FAQs

  • What do rough green snakes eat? Rough green snakes eat insects such as mealworms, crickets, waxworms, superworms, caterpillars, moths, spiders and fly larvae.  
  • How often do rough green snakes eat?  Rough green snakes eat once or twice a week.
  • Can rough green snakes eat mealworms? Yes, but mealworms should only be offered occasionally, as they have tough exoskeletons that may lead to gastrointestinal tract obstruction if eaten too frequently.
  • How to take care of a rough green snake? Provide a habitat with a temperature gradient of 85 to 90°F in the warm/basking zone and 75 to 80°F in the cool zone/nighttime. Feed gut-loaded insects sprinkled with calcium powder and multivitamin supplements. Provide hide boxes and plenty of plants to hide behind and to climb on and maintain humidity between 55 and 65% to ensure proper shedding and hydration.
  • Where can I buy a rough green snake? Rough green snakes are available at Petco stores. Call your local location to check availability. 
  • How big do rough green snakes get? Rough green snakes can grow 2 ½ to 3 feet long.
  • How long do rough green snakes live? Rough green snakes can live up to 15+ years with proper care.
  • Where do rough green snakes live? In North American wetlands.
  • Is a rough green snake poisonous? No, these snakes are nonvenomous.

Additional care sheets

Notes & sources 

Ask a Pet Care Center employee about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases such as salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your reptile or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing or caring for reptiles and should consider having a pet other than a reptile.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about reptiles and disease.

 

The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.