Pine snakes (Pituophis melanoleucus) are a 5-6’ long, diurnal, terrestrial snake native to the southeastern United States. Their preferred habitat is pine forest, but they are also known to inhabit prairies, agricultural fields, brushland, and rocky areas.
Pine snakes have slender but robust bodies with a relatively small oval head, and a distinctive “eyebrow”-like ridge over each eye. Coloring and pattern vary by subspecies and locality, although pine snakes are typically arrayed in earth tones with a lighter base color and a darker pattern. Some are entirely patternless.
Despite their reputation, pine snakes can be surprisingly tractable in captivity and can make engaging pets for those willing to keep up with their maintenance! With appropriate care, a pine snake can live over 20 years.
Do not steal snakes from the wild to keep as pets!
Minimum enclosure size for pine snakes
Pine snakes are quite active and need enough room to stretch out fully, explore, and thermoregulate properly. The minimum acceptable enclosure size for a pet pine snake is based on its length. For an average pine snake, 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 pine snakes in one enclosure) is not recommended.
Do pine snakes need UVB?
Technically they can survive without it, but we still recommend providing appropriate UVB lighting for pine 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 pine snakes housed in a 6’ x 3’ x 3’ terrarium are:
- Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 5.0, 34”
- Arcadia Forest 6%, 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 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 pine snakes
Like other reptiles, pine 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, pine snakes should have a basking surface temperature around 90°F. On the other side of the enclosure, the temperature should be between 75-85°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 ~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. If the basking temperature gets too warm, dial things down with a rheostat. If too cool, use higher-wattage bulbs.
Heating should be turned off at night, but temperatures should not drop below 65°F.
Best humidity levels for pine snakes
Pine snakes need an average humidity of 60-70%. 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 humidity. Decreasing ventilation is not an acceptable way to increase humidity, as this increases your snake’s likelihood of illness.
Best substrate for pine snakes
Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help cushion your pine snake’s body, maintain correct humidity levels, and also helps make your enclosure more attractive! Plus, pine snakes love to burrow in their substrate. We recommend the following substrates for this species:
- Zoo Med Eco Earth
- Exo Terra Plantation Soil
- Zilla Jungle Mix
- Zoo Med Repti Bark
Alternatively, you can create a custom mix of 60% clean topsoil and 40% play sand.
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 pine snakes are known to be quite messy and defecate frequently, so this will be your biggest chore as an owner of this species.
How to decorate a pine snake enclosure
An empty enclosure 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 a pine snake
Pine 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 3-4 days
- Adults should be fed once every 5-7 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.
Pine snakes should have a varied diet for best health. Aside from offering mice and rats, try also offering quail, chicks, and eggs!
Pine snakes 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.
Of course, don’t forget a large water bowl for your snake to drink from and soak in! Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
How to handle your pine snake
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. That being said, pine snakes can tolerate human interaction pretty well once they’ve hit maturity and are accustomed to humans. 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! Also, avoid handling until after 24-48 hours after feeding.
*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!
"Florida pine snake" by FWC Research is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.