A complete guide to rough green snake care
Snake Care Guides

Rough Green Snakes as Pets – A Complete Snake Care Guide

Rough green snakes are a harmless pet. You can either find one in the wild or buy one from a recognized breeder or pet store. Like many snakes, they go by the following names:

  • Colubrid, because it’s a member of the colubrid family of snakes.
  • Grass snake or green grass snake because it lives in grassy areas.
  • Florida rough green snake or Northern rough green snake.

Rough green snakes are calm and friendly, although they can get nervous. They eat insects, and they only require small enclosures with moderate temperature and humidity requirements.

They’re a good pet for beginners and ‘experts’ alike. Let’s find out more about them in our guide on how to care for a rough green snake.

Rough Green Snake Care Guide for Beginners

Rough green snakes are short, colubrid snakes that are native to North America. They’re a beautiful, bright emerald green. They’ve got quite big eyes for their size, and have a lighter-colored underbelly.  Regarding care, they’re simple snakes.

They’re also quite cheap. How much do snakes cost? $15-$25 is the average price point, with maybe another $150-$200 on top to pay for their enclosure and anything else they need.

Smooth Green Snake vs. Rough Green Snake

Smooth and rough green snakes are quite similar. They’re both small for a snake, with the smooth green snake growing to two feet, and the rough green snake growing to three. They’re also both quite thin. Both snakes being members of the same genus (Opheodrys).

The difference is in the name. Rough green snakes have something called keeled scales, which are what make them ‘rough.’ Keeled scales aren’t flat and smooth. They have a ridge running down their center which runs all the way from the top to the bottom of each scale. These keeled scales help them climb through trees and shrubs more easily. That’s where you’ll probably find one.

Rough green snakes are also easily confused with green vine snakes. The main difference is that green vine snakes have a longer snout, as well as a more square/rectangular shape to their body.

Are Rough Green Snakes Venomous?

No, rough green snakes aren’t poisonous or venomous.

If you think poisonous and venomous are the same thing, they’re not. Poisonous refers to something that you can’t eat because it’s toxic. So, for example, a poisonous tree frog is poisonous because if you have one for lunch, then you’ll be dead before dinner.

are rough green snakes dangerous?

A venomous animal, by contrast, can create the same kind of toxins but it won’t wait for you to eat it before killing you with them. Instead, they’ll bite you and inject you directly. That’s why venomous snakes often have big, long teeth.

In the wild, it doesn’t kill its prey before eating it. The snake will sneak up on its prey from behind either in the trees or the grass, before biting down and eating its prey whole.

Do Rough Green Snakes Bite?

All snakes bite, but the rough green snake hardly ever bites.

Regarding behavior and temperament, rough green snakes are gentle and docile, which is why they’ve become a reasonably common pet.

If you see one in the wild, they’re much more likely to try and escape than to come and attack. Some wild specimens are even docile enough that they don’t mind you approaching quite close.

However, keeping one in captivity is a different story. They are rarely aggressive, but poor husbandry and rough handling can make any snake defensive. This is especially the case in two scenarios:

  • When you catch and keep an adult snake from the wild, that isn’t used to constant close proximity to humans, let alone handling
  • When a captive-bred snake has been consistently mistreated or poorly kept since hatching

In either case, your rough green snake might get cage aggressive. This means that they react badly whenever you open the lid to their enclosure.

This could be because they expect food every time they see you, which is the case if you never spent time with your snake and allowed it to get used to you. It could also be because when you handle them, you’re too rough and sudden for them.

Are Rough Green Snakes Dangerous?

So, they rarely bite, and they’re not venomous. How else could a rough green snake be dangerous?

Well, like all snakes, the rough green snake carries salmonella on their skin. It’s important to wash your hands if you ever handle them to avoid salmonella.

If you do catch it, salmonella will give you food poisoning symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, fever and so on. This applies to live or dead snakes, as well as shed skins.

You also have to treat any bites that you may receive correctly. While rough green snakes aren’t venomous, a bite could still do you harm. Any bite you receive could get infected. This isn’t going to kill you, as venom might, but it can give you serious blisters and even scars.

How Long Do Rough Green Snakes Get?

According to a paper in Herpetologica, they grow between two and three feet.

As hatchlings, rough green snakes are tiny. They’re about 5 inches long but are very thin for their length. They only weigh 1g, which is a quarter of the weight of a teaspoon of sugar. Like all snakes, they grow quickly over their first year. They typically reach full size after a year and a half or so.

In rough green snakes, the female is longer than the male. That’s how it usually is with snakes. The females average out at just over three feet, whereas the males are just under three feet, so there isn’t much difference in size between the two sexes.

smooth green snake vs. rough green snake

The main difference is in weight, with the female being far heavier than the male (although, generally speaking for snakes, she’s still very light). Females reach just under an ounce in weight, whereas males are about half an ounce.

How Long Do Rough Green Snakes Live?

Rough green snakes don’t tend to live as long as other snakes, in part because of their size. Generally speaking, the longer the snake, the longer their lifespan. This applies to most animals, which is why elephants live for decades while flies only live for days.

In captivity, a rough green snake can live for more than fifteen years. This is if you employ optimal care and safety, which is what you’ll learn all about in our rough green snake care guide below. It also depends on the snake’s genetics, because some live longer than others.

Most owners find that their snakes live for about eight years. In the wild, nobody’s sure how long rough green snakes live, but it won’t be as long as they enjoy as pets.

Rough Green Snake Enclosure

Rough green snake tank size is critical. Too big, and your snake will feel vulnerable and nervous because of all the open space. Too small, and they won’t have any room to move around.

Not only that but as your snake grows, it’s vital that your vivarium grows with them. An enclosure that’s big enough for an adult will be far too big for a hatchling. As a general rule, your tank should never be smaller than ¾ of your snake’s uncoiled length. Use the following enclosure size guide:

 AgeEnclosure Size Requirements
Hatchling green snakes:Use a small tank or even just a small plastic box. Pick one with a tight plastic lid. Make sure there are small plastic holes that air can come in through.
Adult Green Snakes:Use a 30-gallon tank. This will be long and wide enough for them to move comfortably, providing enough vertical space for them to climb anything you put in there. As a guide, at least 30% of the floor space should be uncluttered so that they can move around.

Because it only takes a year or so for a green snake to grow to full size, you should consider buying a cheap initial tank and a more expensive tank for when they’re adults.

The cheap tank could be a basic plastic one, which will only cost you a few dollars to buy online. After a year, rehouse your green snake in their new, better, permanent enclosure.

The only caveat you have to consider is that rough green snakes are excellent escape artists. Males, especially, are very thin and can fit through tiny gaps. And once a snake has managed to get loose of their enclosure, they can be challenging to find and put back.

So whatever enclosure you do buy, make sure that it has a secure lid that fits all the way around it, and no gaps, slats or bars that they can escape through.

Enclosure Cleaning

It’s crucial that you clean your rough green snake enclosure regularly.

First, you should practice what’s called ‘spot cleaning.’ This is where you take a look at their vivarium every once in a while, to see if you can ‘spot’ anything that needs cleaning. Your snake might have gone to the toilet, for example, or knocked over their water bowl. If you spot anything, clean it up.

Make especially sure that you clean up after they go to the toilet because they don’t understand that they shouldn’t go crawling around in it once they’re done. Not only does this make it tougher to clean up, but it can also cause infections and poor health.

Rough green snake behavior and temperament

Regularly change the water in their bowl to prevent it from getting dirty. You should also fairly frequently perform a deep clean. This is where you take everything out of their enclosure and clean it, including the substrate. You can do this while your snake is having a bath.

The Temperature of the Enclosure

Rough green snakes in the wild live in meadows and woodlands, near a source of water. Because they live here in North America, they’re used to the temperature variations that you’ll experience in your home.

According to the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program, they live in the wild anywhere from Florida to up north in New Jersey. This means that they are quite forgiving concerning the temperature they need in their enclosure. In terms of specifics:

  • Daytime temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees are fine for a rough green snake.
  • Allow the nighttime temperature to drop, but not too much. Heat to 70 degrees as a minimum.
  • Have two clearly defined sections to the tank. On one side, keep a basking spot of up to 90 degrees. Leave the other half at the ambient temperatures described above.

To heat your rough green snake’s enclosure, you could use a mix of heat sources. The most common is a heat lamp, which is like a regular light bulb, but which gives off more heat.

You could also use a heat pad, which sits underneath your snake’s tank. Alternative heat sources include wires and flexible heat tape. Heat mats and heat lamps are the easiest to install, but wiring and heat tape are, quite literally, flexible and can be used anywhere.

First, they can accidentally burn your snake through direct contact. Secondly, they don’t spread the heat around the vivarium at all. They’re not advised for a beginner, and aren’t even simple for an expert to use safely! They’re best avoided.

Enclosure Humidity

Rough green snakes like humid enclosures. According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, they live near bodies of water to ensure that they get just the right amount of humidity.

In a tank, they like levels of about 55 to 65%. It’s fairly easy to achieve this using a mix of water sources in the tank (i.e., bowls) and spraying a water bottle.

The bigger their tank, the more you have to do to keep it at the right humidity level. If you use a spray bottle to keep the level up, then you’ll have to spray more each time, or more often. If you use a water bowl to keep the humidity level up, then you’ll need a bigger one to compensate.

You also have to be mindful that the more gaps through which evaporated water can escape, the more that the humidity level will drop. You should bear all of this in mind when purchasing an enclosure.

To measure the humidity in your snake’s tank, you’ll need a hygrometer. These are like thermometers, but for humidity. You can either purchase one on its own, or one in a reptile kit that comes with a thermometer too. Just make sure that the reviews say it works well because getting a faulty one could cause health issues in your snake (as they’re at the wrong humidity level).

Enclosure Substrate (Bedding)

Rough green snakes like to burrow, but their wide geographic range gives you many options when it comes to substrate or bedding. Most owners and breeders recommend using gravel, for many reasons:

  • It’s representative of their natural habitat
  • It isn’t hospitable to parasites
  • It can be washed and reused when the tank is cleaned out
  • It doesn’t hold on to too much moisture and therefore affects the tank’s humidity levels
  • It’s easy to burrow under
  • Gravel is cheap
  • If you pick a kind you like, gravel can be quite nice to look at

But you’re not limited to gravel. You can use many natural substrates that will keep your snake happy and healthy. You can choose between coconut husk/orchid bark, mulch or sphagnum moss.

Cypress mulch and sphagnum moss in particular hold onto moisture quite well, so if you’re having trouble keeping the humidity in their tank up, consider using either one of these alternatives.

Just make sure that the substrate isn’t damp or wet all the time, or in every part of your snake’s enclosure, as this can encourage bacterial respiratory infections.

Furniture and Decorations

Rough green snakes are arboreal. This means that they spend most of their time in trees, the closer to a water source the better. You can recreate this kind of environment in a captive environment. Follow these guidelines to keep your snake happy:

  • Don’t just think horizontal. Think vertical. Rough green snakes like to climb branches, so make sure their enclosure is tall enough to do so. In the wild, they love to drape themselves loosely over twigs and branches. While doing so, they’ll increase their range of vision by moving their head from side to side. They hardly ever sit still.
  • Like all snakes, the rough green snake needs a hide. A hide, it might surprise you to learn, is somewhere that your snake can hide during downtime. It should be big enough for the snake to fit snugly, with a small entrance. It should be dark and comfortable inside. Just before their shed, they may like to sit in a moist hide, which is a hide that contains wet sphagnum moss or paper towels.
  • You may want to include a large, flat rock for them to bask on. Hot flat rocks store heat from your heat lamp and let your snake bask. They also look great—very natural.

One branch, one rock, and one hide should be sufficient for a starter snake in their first adult enclosure. Strictly speaking, the branch and rock are optional, but your snake will be happier, will live longer, and will be calmer if they have an interesting environment to live in.

You should also include a water bowl for your snake, for a couple of reasons. A water bowl gives them something to drink although they’ll only rarely drink standing water (instead preferring to drink misted droplets from a spray bottle, which are more like rain). But it also helps regulate humidity in their enclosure.

green vine snake

Not only that, but it gives them somewhere to bathe. Rough green snakes in the wild live within easy reach of a body of water, so it’s only right to give them access to a little pond of their own in their enclosure. Besides, it’s a great help when it comes to shedding their skin because the water dampens and loosens their skin.

What Do Rough Green Snakes Eat?

Rough green snakes are strict insectivores. They like to eat soft-bodied insects, like spiders, caterpillars, moths, and worms. They’ll also eat larvae.

But they can also eat hard-bodied insects like grasshoppers, crickets and similar. This means that they’re a great alternative to snakes that eat rodents.

When you’re feeding your rough green snake, feel free to offer a mix of both live and pre-killed food. Offer them pre-killed as the majority of their diet because it’s less stressful for them.

It’s less of a problem since their food is so small, but live food can injure a snake, e.g., by biting or scratching their eye.

Here’s a brief feeding guide for an adult rough green snake:

  • Feed them once or twice a week. If you notice that they are restless a day or two before their next feed, they may be in search mode, looking for food. If so, increase the frequency of feeding, or the amount that you feed.
  • Feed your snake six or seven crickets per feed. A good rule of thumb is to feed them as much as they can eat in twenty minutes.
  • When first feeding your snake, use tongs to hold the prey close to them. This is to prevent the snake from accidentally biting you. As they grow used to you, you can feed your rough green snake by hand.

For hatchlings, feed them on the same schedule. Begin them on fruit flies and pinhead crickets at first, and gradually increase the size of their food as they grow, until they reach full size. Then, switch to the diet described above.

If you notice your snake becoming either overweight or underweight, adjust accordingly. You can spot that a snake is underweight because their sides become concave.

An overweight snake becomes larger around the middle, and you start to notice scale spread, where you can see the skin underneath their scales. Adjust feeding frequency and amount according to your snake’s requirements.

Rough Green Snake Bathing

In snakes, bathing has two main purposes. First, of course, they have to keep clean. This isn’t as important as it is for us, because snakes won’t often get ‘dirty,’ and of course, they don’t get sweaty.

But if they go to the toilet and accidentally get it on themselves, they’ll need to bathe, for example. Your snake will also need to bathe before they shed to increase the moisture in their skin.

If you include a water bowl in their enclosure, they’ll bathe on their own. They don’t need supervision to do so. You can also encourage your snake to bathe by putting them in a bath or large bowl outside of their enclosure. This gives you the chance to clean their vivarium. To bathe your snake:

  • Handle them safely and put them in a large bowl.
  • Fill the bowl with water that’s deep enough for them to sit underneath, but not deep enough that they can’t easily raise their head above the water level.
  • Leave them be for ten to fifteen minutes. Don’t worry if they’re underwater for a few minutes; they’re holding their breath. They sometimes do this to remove snake mites. While they’re bathing, take the chance to clean their enclosure.
  • After they’re done, hold them in a large soft towel. Let them move around and get dry.

Handling a Rough Green Snake

Handling a rough green snake isn’t the easiest. If you’re looking for a snake that is entirely comfortable being handled, you might want to look at a corn snake or ball python instead.

Rough green snakes are skittish and nervous because of their small size. Sure, they can learn to tolerate being handled, but they’ll never be as comfortable or curious as, say, a corn snake.

Still, semi-regular handling is very much encouraged so that your snake can get comfortable with you and learn that you’re not just there for feeding. Here’s how to handle a rough green snake, step by step.

  1. Start by approaching your snake in their enclosure. See how they react. Do they seem threatened, trying to move away from you? Or do they seem curious? The odds are that your rough green snake will try and get away from you at first. Don’t try and handle them when they’re unhappy. Instead, get them used to your presence by opening the lid to their enclosure every once in a while. Don’t worry, they won’t bite, and even if they do, it won’t hurt.
  2. Once they’re less defensive, move your hand closer to them inside their enclosure, and, again, see how they react. Get them used to your hand before you move on to the next step. If they can’t get used to your hand, use a hook to pick them up instead.
  3. When they’re comfortable being touched, pick them up. Hold them at 1/3 and 2/3rds of the way up their body. Don’t hold them by the tail, or just behind their head. This will make them uncomfortable.
  4. Don’t be annoyed or taken aback if the snake doesn’t want to sit still while you hold them. Very few snakes do apart from ball pythons. Let them move around comfortably without pulling on them or holding them back.
  5. Handle them semi-regularly, but not too much. Rough green snakes don’t all take naturally to handling and would prefer it if they could have more time alone than your average pet snake. Take them out to handle once every few days instead of every day.

Apart from that, do your best not to lose them under the sofa. Rough green snakes have a specific behavior that they perform when threatened.

They don’t like biting, but they do like trying to look much bigger and more threatening than they are. That’s why they’ll ‘gape,’ which is where they open their mouth quite wide to make themselves look big and vicious. If your snake is gaping, wait until they’re calmer to handle them.

How do Rough Green Snakes Shed?

Rough green snakes are much like other snakes in how they shed. But just because they’re not going to pull any surprises on you, that doesn’t mean that their shed isn’t vital and that you don’t need to help them through it.

So, if you didn’t know, snake shedding is crucial to their health. Snakes have to shed periodically because their scales can’t stretch as their bodies get bigger. Since snakes never really stop growing bigger, they have to shed for their whole lives. They shed for the first time about a week after they first hatch, which is also when you should feed them for the first time.

The very first thing you’ll notice is that your snake’s scales look a little less shiny. This is because your snake has been using their old scales for so long that they’ve become dull, almost like they’ve been sanded down.

rough green snake substrate

After this, your snake will go through what’s called the blue phase. This is where your snake’s eyes turn blue for a little while. This isn’t anything to worry about. It’s just a little fluid that collects between your snake’s old skin and their new ‘eyelids,’ also called spectacles.

After a few days of the blue phase, your rough green snake’s skin will clear up, and their eyes will turn back to normal if still a little cloudy. Some people mistake this for them having already shed, but that’s not the case. This is where they’re fully prepared to start shedding, and in the next couple of days, they’ll begin in earnest.

The first thing they’ll do is start rubbing their nose against their enclosure or any furniture they have. They’ll create a small hole in their skin, before pulling it back until they’re completely stripped bare.

Rough Green Snake Health

The most common health issues are the result of improper humidity levels.

Retained sheds are caused by a lack of humidity. If there isn’t enough water in the air, and your snake doesn’t have a water bowl, your snake’s skin and scales will be too dry. When the time comes to shed, they’ll only be able to peel away a little bit of their skin at a time.

If you didn’t know, a healthy snake sheds their entire skin all at once. You can remedy this by giving them a water bowl big enough to sit in, and misting regularly.

You have conditions caused by too much humidity. These include respiratory, fungal, and bacterial infections, such as scale rot in snakes. If the humidity level is too high, it allows infections to breed more easily both on the snake and in their substrate/enclosure.

Respiratory infections are characterized by mouth breathing and a runny nose. Visit a vet for antibiotics. Fungal infections affect your snake’s scales or eyes and will require antifungal treatment.

Your snake is also likely to get mouth rot at some point. This occurs when your snake’s immune system is weak for one reason or another, stress being a common cause, and is made worse by the wrong temperature or humidity.

Their weakened immune system means that the normal bacteria in their mouth are allowed to get worse and cause an infection. When mouth rot (or ‘infectious stomatitis’) occurs, your snake will lose their appetite, and the inside of their mouth will turn red.

You may also notice pus and excess drainage from the mouth or nose. Your snake will need antibiotics, and for their mouth to be cleaned, so visit a vet.

If you’re looking to breed rough green snakes, you should first reduce the temperature in the two snakes’ enclosures. Keep them at this temperature for many weeks to simulate winter temperatures.

Rough Green Snake Facts

Here’s some information that you might not know about rough green snakes:

It’s Camouflaged

The rough green snake is green for camouflage. It hangs out in trees for most of its life, and the fact that it’s such a bright green color means that it’s tough to spot.

The fact that it’s pea green on top and a lighter yellowy-green on its belly means that it blends in better than if it was just a uniform color.

Even so, it still has many predators including eastern racers, kingsnakes, and predatory birds.

Do Rough Green Snakes Hibernate?

The majority of snakes don’t hibernate, they brumate. Brumating is similar to hibernation; it’s just less strict. Instead of being asleep the whole time, snakes that brumate wake up sometimes and find warm spots outside or a little food.

But because of their habitat, rough green snakes do hibernate. It’s triggered by the onset of cold winter weather, in a process known as ‘consequential dormancy.’ It isn’t a gradual process; they suddenly decide it’s cold and that they should get some rest.

Apart from that, there isn’t much more you need to know about rough green snakes. Check our other in-depth guides for information on pet snakes.