How to Care for Your Pine Snake
Pine snakes (Pituophis melanoleucus) are medium to large, terrestrial, diurnal snakes native to the southeastern US. They can be found most commonly in pine forest with loose, sandy soil, but can also be found in prairies, farmland, brushland, rocky desert, and mountain slopes.
Pine snakes are generally 5-6’ long, although larger is possible for some subspecies. Coloring and pattern varies between subspecies. All have round pupils, a prominent ridge above the eyes, keeled scales, and slender but robust bodies with a relatively small head. When startled, they hiss loudly and may rattle their tail against the ground.
Although pine snakes have a bad reputation for being aggressive, captive-bred individuals can make good pets. They are messier than most snakes, however, so this makes them relatively high-maintenance. With good care, they can live over 20 years!
Although pine snakes are native to the US, that does not mean it’s a good idea to capture one from the wild if you want one as a pet. Wild-caught snakes are often more stressed in captivity and often carry heavy parasite loads.
How much space do pine snakes need?
A good starting point for the average pine snake is a 6’L x 3’W x 3’H enclosure, but larger will be required for particularly large individuals. Pine snakes are highly active when given the opportunity, so larger is always better.
Cohabitation (keeping multiple pine snakes in one enclosure) is not recommended.
Do pine snakes need UVB?
They can survive without it, but it’s still best practice to provide UVB lighting for optimal health and wellbeing. Pine snakes are diurnal after all, so it’s likely that they are routinely exposed to sunlight in the wild. UVB gives snakes all of the vitamin D that their bodies need, stimulates better appetite and activity, and generally allows them to be healthier than they would be without.
Here are the best UVB bulbs for pine snakes in a 3’ tall enclosure:
- Arcadia T5 HO Forest 6%
- Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0
The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture (Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics) and placed on the same side as the heat lamp, half the length of the enclosure. Place the basking surface so the snake’s back will be 9-11” below the bulb if there is mesh obstruction, or 12-14” without. UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so you can’t give your snake UVB by placing its terrarium in front of an open window. Replace the bulb every 12 months to maintain optimal performance.
Lights should be on for 14 hours/day during summer and 10 hours/day during winter. This replicates seasonal light cycles, encouraging healthier hormonal rhythms and possibly better long-term health.
What basking temperatures do pine snakes need?
Like other reptiles, pine snakes are ectotherms, which means that they need a temperature gradient in their enclosure to help them regulate their metabolism and stay healthy.
Pine snakes should have a basking temperature around 90°F directly under a heat lamp placed to the extreme right or left of the enclosure. On the other side of the enclosure, the temperature should be between 75-85°F. Measure temperatures with a digital probe thermometer placed on each side.
Provide heat for your pine snake by imitating the sun with a cluster of four 50w halogen heat bulbs placed on one side of the enclosure. The basking surface should be an elevated piece of stone or large piece of wood. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), heat mats, red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective. If the bulbs are too cool, you need a higher wattage. If too warm, use a rheostat.
Heating should be turned off at night.
What humidity levels do pine snakes need?
Pine snakes prefer environments with low to moderate humidity and good ventilation. Average air humidity in your snake’s enclosure should average between 60-70%, as measured by a digital probe hygrometer placed in the middle of the enclosure. Humidity should fluctuate lower during the day and higher during the night.
To increase the humidity levels within your enclosure, use a pressure sprayer 1-2x daily. It also helps to use a substrate that holds moisture well. Always offer a humid hide lined with moistened substrate for the snake to use as desired. This is especially helpful during shedding.
What substrate is good for pine snakes?
Substrate (also known as bedding) cushions your snake’s body, stabilizes humidity, and helps make the enclosure look more attractive! Pine snakes like to burrow in their substrate, so the substrate should also be loose enough for burrowing.
We recommend the following substrates for pine snakes:
- Zoo Med Eco Earth
- Exo Terra Plantation Soil
- Zoo Med Repti Bark
Alternatively, you can create a custom mix of 60% clean topsoil and 40% play sand. Either way, a generous layer of dry leaf litter on top is likely to be appreciated!
Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced once a month, as they tend to stink up their enclosures pretty quickly. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
What décor can you use in a pine snake enclosure?
It’s terribly boring for a snake to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except substrate and a water bowl. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with.
Here are some décor ideas to help entertain your pine snake:
To help your snake feel secure in its environment, make sure to provide plenty of places to hide.
What do pine snakes eat?
Like other snakes, pine snakes are carnivores, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the nutrition that they need. Here is a basic feeding schedule:
- Babies and juveniles — every 3-4 days
- Adults — every 5-7 days
Prey items should be no larger than the snake’s widest point. Although live prey can be used, it’s safest and most humane to use frozen instead. Prey should be completely thawed in a plastic bag in warm water before offering with a pair of soft-tipped tweezers.
Remember, the key to great nutrition is variety! Aside from offering mice and rats, hamsters, gerbils, chicks, quail, and eggs can also be used to create nutritional variety in your snake’s diet.
Pine snakes can survive without vitamin or mineral supplements, but occasionally using them can help prevent nutritional deficiencies and optimize your snake’s health. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD.
Your snake should have access to clean, fresh water at all times. Provide a heavy water bowl large enough for the snake to soak its entire body as desired. Keep the water clean and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly.
Do pine snakes like to be handled?
Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, but captive-bred pine snakes often tolerate handling well. Be gentle, and pick up the snake from below rather than from above. Support as much of its body as possible, but don’t try to restrain it; let it explore. More frequent handling is likely to result in a more tame snake, although handling should not take place more than once a day. Also avoid handling within 24-48 hours of a feeding in order to prevent regurgitation. NEVER pick up a snake by its tail!
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species.
"Florida pine snake" by FWC Research is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.