Monday, June 15, 2015

Rough Earth Snakes (Virginia striatula) in captivity

General Information

Rough Earth Snakes are small snakes found in the central area of the United States, with some populations reaching into the southwest. In the areas where they are found, they are a common species. However, one usually does not see them unless they are flipping rocks and grass looking for them as they are a secretive serpent. Their frequent habitats are anywhere where there are rocks, wood, pieces of metal, concrete, or other heat-attracting substances, soft-bodied insect larvae, and cover in some form, ideally grass, dead leaves, or other foliage. Often, they can be found in man-made areas including trash dumps, under decks, on sidewalks, my backyard.

Rough Earth Snakes in captivity

In my backyard, we have a very large, thriving population of Rough Earth Snakes that has been there since we moved in, and probably longer. Often, they are found under rocks and grass when mowing or edging. When my mom discovered two healthy, full-grown individuals hiding under the grass near the sidewalk, I had the opportunity to keep them inside for approximately a week. As soon as they came in, I sketched their appearances and some other information about them.

My scanned sketches of the two Rough Earth Snake specimens. Click on the images to enlarge.
In captivity, their care conditions were in a 10-gallon vivarium with a lid that snapped on to prevent predation by cats living in the same house. The bedding was suitable for burying and a small dish of water was in the corner. Hiding places were available in the bedding. The snakes did not have external heating as they were native to the area and it was summer, so they could safely be kept at room temperature. The snakes' diet was waxworms, a soft-bodied, high fat insect larva available at our local bait shop. Waxworms were fed to snakes and water was refilled daily. This continued for approximately a week until specimens were released. On date of release, I noticed a complete shed from one of the specimens. The fact that these animals, caught from the wild, could have shed cleanly in captivity shows that they were thriving for that week. Another shed from another of the two specimens was found. It was in two pieces, but any sort of shedding in captivity, especially for a wild-caught animal, shows that the care of that animal was optimal for its survival. My family was newly entering this as little information was known about captive husbandry of Rough Earth Snakes and we did not know how to care for small, underground-dwelling animals. I did disturb the animals while digging in their bedding daily to ensure that they were both alive and well.


Rough Earth Snakes can be kept in captivity successfully with little effort. If they were bred in captivity, I can see them as a good addition to the pet trade. Even when wild-caught they are fairly docile. Their only threat displays that I have seen are freezing and secreting feces onto a predator or human. However, a captive-bred specimen could easily be an easy to keep pet snake. They require minimal space and could be kept in a small apartment. They have the same appeal as a Kenyan sand boa, but unlike the boa, can be kept at room temperature in most of the US and do not require rodents. If they were to bite a human, they could not hold a grip on any body part. For that reason, they could be a good first pet for children. So, if you are blessed with being in an area of the States that has Rough Earth Snakes, I encourage you to bring them in for short periods of time and record your findings.

Trauth, Stanley, Robinson, Henry, Plummer, Michael. "The Amphibians And Reptiles of Arkansas" The University of Arkansas Press. 2004.

Powell, Robert, Collins, Joseph, Fish, Lee. "Virginia striatula (Linnaeus) Rough Earth Snake" Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. 1994.  

Niemiller, Matthew, Reynolds, Graham, Miller, Brian. "The Reptiles of Tennessee" The University of Tennessee Press. 2013. 


Shed skins from both specimens, labeled and bagged.


  1. Hi Alli,

    I recently found my cats picking on a rough earth snake in the house. Judging from the size (maybe 5" long, tops), it's still a baby/not fully grown. I went ahead and got a small tank to see if I could raise it until adulthood. Were waxworms the only food that you fed yours? I bought some mealworms that I'm hoping it'll take to once it gets used to the new surroundings, as earthworms seem a bit too big for it at this point. Thanks! ~Andy

    1. I, too recently found one with my daughter. mine does not seem to want meal worms, but we are pretty sure it ate a small cricket from petsmart. The snake is in a smaller enclosure than OP used, and does not seem as active as when we brought it in ( about two months ago). It does appear to be on the verge of shedding, and since we are in the middle of February, maybe its biological clock is telling it to hibernate?

  2. Waxworms are a lot softer bodied than mealworms. Some people have observed them eating freshly molted Arthropods. You may want to try a different soft larvae.