False water cobras (Hydrodynastes gigas) are a 6-8’ long, diurnal, semi-aquatic snake native to most of South America. Their preferred habitat is scrub forest and open wetland, and they’re highly active.
False water cobras have slender bodies with smooth scales, a small rounded head, and dark eyes. Coloring is generally a brown to yellow base color with a blotchy black pattern and thick black bands behind each eye. Their most distinctive feature, however, is the hood on their neck that they spread out when they feel threatened.
It’s important to note that although they’re not dangerous to humans, false water cobras are rear-fanged venomous and produce a weak venom. This means that it’s important to take special care during handling. However, if you are up to the challenge and can keep up with their maintenance, false water cobras have engaging dispositions and can make great pets!
With appropriate care, a false water cobra can live 15-20 years.
Minimum terrarium size for false water cobras
False water cobras are quite active and need enough room to stretch out fully, explore, and thermoregulate properly. The minimum acceptable enclosure size for a false water cobra is 8’L x 3’W x 3’H. Of course, larger is always better, especially for particularly large individuals.
Cohabitation (keeping multiple false water cobras in one enclosure) is not recommended, as this is not a social species, and keeping them together causes unnecessary stress. There is also a strong risk of cannibalism.
Do false water cobras need UVB?
Technically they can survive without it, but we still recommend providing appropriate UVB lighting for false water cobras. 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 false water cobras housed in a 3-4’ tall enclosure are:
- Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 5.0, 46”
- Arcadia Forest 6%, 46”
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 9-11” above the basking area if over mesh, and 12-14” 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 false water cobras
Like other reptiles, false water cobras 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, false water cobras should have a basking temperature around 88°F. On the other side of the enclosure, the temperature should be around 77°F. Temperatures should be measured with two digital probe thermometers — one on the cool side and one on the basking surface.
Provide heat for your snake with a cluster of four ~50w 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 72°F.
Best humidity levels for false water cobras
False water cobras should have an average humidity of 30-60%. 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 daily 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.
False water cobras are semi-aquatic, so it’s important to provide them with a basin of water large enough for comfortably soaking in, or larger. Change the water whenever it becomes soiled, and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant before replacing.
Best substrate for false water cobras
Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help cushion your false water cobra’s body, maintain correct humidity levels, and also helps make your enclosure more attractive! We recommend the following substrates for false water cobras:
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 false water cobras are known to be quite messy and defecate frequently, so this will be your biggest chore as a pet owner!
How to decorate a false water cobra 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 and something sturdy for the snake to climb around on. However, it’s best to include other items such as low branches, cork hollows, cork flats, and artificial plants.
The more stuff you add, the more functional your enclosure is likely to become!
What to feed to a false water cobra
False water cobras 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 age:
- Juveniles should be fed every 4-5 days
- Adults should be fed once every 5-6 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.
False water cobras 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, green anoles, frogs, and smaller snakes can also be used to add diversity to your pet’s diet.
False water cobras 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 false water cobra
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. That being said, false water cobras generally tolerate human interaction pretty well, particularly once they’ve grown out of their insecure, nippy baby phase. 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!
If your false water cobra spreads its hood at you or or whips its tail, that means you should leave it alone for the day.
*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!