Eastern indigo snakes (Drymarchon couperi) are a 5-7’ long, diurnal, terrestrial snake native to the southeastern United States. Although, they have adapted well to drier climates, usually their preferred habitat is wetland areas.
Eastern indigo snakes have slender but robust bodies with smooth scales, an oval head, and a distinctive “eyebrow”-like ridge over each eye. They are best known for their distinctive iridescent black color, completely with a black belly, although some individuals have cream or orange-red chins and throats.
Eastern indigo snakes are not common pets due to the fact that they are a federally protected species which require special permits to keep. A similar but more readily available species is the Texas indigo snake, Drymarchon melanurus erebennus. However, indigos have docile dispositions and can make great pets for those willing to keep up with their maintenance!
With appropriate care, an Eastern indigo snake can live up to 27 years old.
Minimum terrarium size for Eastern indigo snakes
Indigo snakes are quite active and need enough room to stretch out fully, explore, and thermoregulate properly. The minimum acceptable enclosure size for a pet indigo snake is based on its length. For an average indigo, that’s 6’L x 3’W x 3’H. Of course, larger is always better, and furthermore it is required for particularly large individuals.
Cohabitation (keeping multiple indigo snakes in one enclosure) is not recommended, as this is not a social species, and keeping them together causes unnecessary stress. Indigo snakes are also ophiophagus (snake-eating), so there is a strong risk of cannibalism.
Do Eastern indigo snakes need UVB?
Technically they can survive without it, but we still recommend providing appropriate UVB lighting for indigo snakes. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits.
The best UVB bulbs for indigos housed in a 6’ x 3’ x 3’ terrarium are:
- Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 10.0, 34”
- Arcadia Desert 12%, 34”
For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a high-quality reflective fixture such as Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp, about 15-17” above the basking area if over mesh, and 18-20” above the basking area if not. Don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!
All lamps should be on for about 12 hours/day, or synced with your local sunrise/sunset times.
Best temperature for Eastern indigo snakes
Like other reptiles, indigo snakes are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on external temperatures to manage their own body temperature and metabolism. A reptile’s enclosure should offer a range of temperatures to allow them to thermoregulate effectively.
Specifically speaking, indigos should have a basking surface temperature between 90-95°F. On the other side of the enclosure, the temperature should be between 70-78°F. Temperatures should be measured with two digital probe thermometers — one on the cool side and one of the basking surface.
Provide heat for your snake with a cluster of four halogen flood heat bulbs, placed close together over the basking area (ex: flagstone or stone paver) to evenly heat the snake’s entire body. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
Heating should be turned off at night, but temperatures should not drop below 65°F.
Best humidity levels for Eastern indigo snakes
Eastern indigo snakes need an average humidity of 60-80%. There should also be a humid hide for your snake, placed on the cool end of the enclosure and lined with moistened sphagnum moss. Humidity should be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.
Increase humidity by misting your snake’s enclosure 1-2x/day with a pressure sprayer. Mist first thing in the morning and then again at night if needed. Mixing water directly into the substrate also helps with maintaining high humidity. Decreasing ventilation is not an acceptable way to increase humidity, as this increases your snake’s likelihood of illness.
Best substrate for Eastern indigo snakes
Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help cushion your indigo’s body, maintain correct humidity levels, and also helps make your enclosure more attractive! We recommend the following substrates for indigo snakes:
Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity and provides a source of enrichment as well.
Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every month. Remove poop and urates daily, as well as replacing contaminated substrate. Note that indigo snakes are known to be quite messy and defecate frequently, so this will be your biggest chore as an indigo owner!
How to decorate an Eastern indigo snake enclosure
An empty terrarium makes for a bored snake, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!
At bare minimum you will need at least two hiding places on the ground and something sturdy for it to climb around on. However, it’s best to include other items such as low branches, cork hollows, cork flats, and live or artificial plants.
The more stuff you add, the more functional your enclosure is likely to become!
What to feed to an Eastern indigo snake
Indigo snakes are carnivorous, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the right nutrition. They also have unusually high metabolisms, and eat more frequently than most other snakes. Here is a basic feeding schedule based on snake size:
- Juveniles should be fed every 3-5 days
- Adults should be fed once every 7-10 days
Prey items should be slightly smaller than the snake at its widest point. Although live prey can be offered, it’s best to use frozen whenever possible. Prey should be completely thawed in a BPA-free plastic bag in warm water, then use a pair of soft-tipped feeding tweezers to offer it to your snake.
Indigo snakes have an incredibly varied diet in the wild, so it’s important to replicate this variety in captivity. Aside from offering mice and rats, quail, chicks, eggs, green anoles, frogs, and small snakes can also be used to add diversity to your indigo’s diet.
Indigos can survive without dietary supplements, but using them every once in a while can help prevent your snake from developing a nutritional deficiency, helping it live healthier. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on the prey item before offering.
How to handle your Eastern indigo snake
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. That being said, Eastern indigo snakes are known for their gentle disposition and generally tolerate human interaction pretty well! When picking up your snake, be gentle and try to pick it up from the side or below rather than from above. Support as much of its body as possible, and NEVER pick it up by its tail, as this can damage its spine!
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!
"Eastern Indigo Snake" by Florian Denis is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/?ref=openverse.