In this caresheet we’ll cover all you need to know about keeping a Trinket Snake (Coelognathus helena, sometimes listed as Elaphe helena) as a pet, including housing, heating, lighting, handling, diet and more. We class this species as beginner friendly.
Meet the Trinket Snake
The Trinket snake is a small attractive species of rat snake, famous for the ability to puff up their necks and arch into large S shapes to scare off predators. The Trinket Snake comes from central southern Asia, Pakistan, southern India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, where they live in humid or subtropical forests, as well as grasslands. They are active, and although primarily nocturnal, frequently travel and explore by day. Although they are primarily terrestrial and live on the floor, they have a long slender tail and they use this for balance and support whilst traversing and exploring branches and bushes, so will use all the available space a vivarium has to offer.
Males are significantly smaller than females, growing to approximately 20 – 30 inches. Females on the other hand can grow from 36 – 48″, but they remain long, slender and light bodied.
You’ll usually see Trinket Snakes described as defensive. For such a small snake they have a big personality and they’re famous for filling their body with hair and flattening their neck to make them look as big as possible. They will also readily rear up into the famous snake “S” pose, and will not hesitate to strike as a warning. If pushed beyond this defensive posture, they will flee, as it’s all bluff. Once picked up and no longer threatened they calm down and become handleable.
They live for approximately 10 years.
Housing for Trinket Snakes
The adult housing depends on whether you have a male or female, as females can be up to twice the size of males. For an adult male we would recommend a 30x18x18″ or a 36x18x18″ enclosure whilst we’d recommend a large enclosure for a female such as a 36x24x24″ or a 48x18x18″, but you can be a little flexible with the size and offer some height if you want. This is because despite their small size they are a very active snake, so the more space you can offer them the better. For hatchlings you can start with much smaller enclosures and upgrade as they grow.
As this species does require a higher humidity than many other rat snakes, coming from rainforested areas of Asia, a glass tank can also be a viable option. The largest reptile terrarium on the market in the UK at the moment is 36×18″ in floor space, but has a variety of height options as well which a Trinket Snake will well utilize. If going bioactive, a glass terrarium is also an excellent choice as the glass will not get warped in the same way as wood. If you’re interested in this option, you could check out the 90cm Habistat or Exo Terra enclosures.
Trinket Snake Heating and Temperature
You need to create a hot and a cold end of your tank for your Trinket snake, as with all reptiles. This is so they can thermoregulate – choose between hot areas and cold areas depending on their body temperature. All your heating should be on one side of the tank, and this should provide an ambient of 26-28C (78-82F), with a hot spot directly under your lamp of 30C (86F). On the unheated cool side of the tank your ambient temperature should be around 24C (75F). At night you can allow the temperature to drop as low as 21C (70F), but maintaining it at 24C (75F) is fine as well.
You have two main options of heating:
1. Heat Mat
A heat mat is a device that goes underneath the substrate or against the back wall of a wooden tank. If your tank is made of glass, you can put the heat mat underneath. The heat mat should be well covered by substrate – you do not want your snake to sit directly on it, and should also be kept dry. Heat mats are a more old fashioned method of heating and suitable for smaller snakes and hatchlings, but due to the light bodied nature of the Trinket Snake, remain suitable for adults. However, they do not provide a hot spot for basking.
Your heat mat should always be controlled by a thermostat.
2. Ceramic Bulb
A ceramic bulb is an excellent option for providing heat. It has a much higher heat output than most heat mats, making it more suitable for larger tanks and for obtaining more reliable temperatures. Heating from above is more natural as well. Ceramic bulbs are particularly good for larger snakes or larger enclosures. Your Ceramic Bulb should be controlled by a thermostat and must be guarded so the snake cannot burn itself as well.
Keep a thermometer in the vivarium at all times – digital ones are best – to ensure the temperature is correct.
Trinket Snakes come from areas that have a humidity around 70-80%, but are very adaptable to dryer scrubland areas as well. We would recommend spraying your tank once a day to give a lift in humidity, but making sure the substrate is not wet, as this could lead to mold. Their higher humidity requirement than some colubrids makes them ideal for bioactive setups.
Providing a humid box will help keep the humidity higher in one small section of the enclosure. This will help during shedding periods. If you find your Trinket Snake is constantly sleeping in the humid box rather than using it occasionally, this is an indication that your general humidity is too low.
Lighting for Trinket Snakes
Having a small daylight bulb in the tank helps provide a natural photoperiod allowing the snake to distinguish clearly between night and day. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it has plenty of benefits and is very inexpensive. You can use a low wattage LED which won’t raise the heat much at all, or you can use a low wattage basking bulb if you do want to raise the heat a little in this area.
If you use any heat-emitting bulb you will need to put a guard around it to ensure the snake does not curl around the bulb and inflict burns upon itself. Snakes do not recognise pain very quickly and a snake can have horrific burns before it registers to move away.
UVB for Trinket Snakes
In the past people didn’t use UVB for nocturnal species of snakes such as Trinket Snakes. However, more recent research has shown that most snakes are active at dawn and dusk and will sometimes even bask in full sunlight. Trinket Snakes in particularly often travel or explore during the day so would experience some UVB in the wild. UVB has been shown to offer benefits to health, such as increased appetite, more activity and brighter colouration. Following recommendations from Arcadia Reptile, we would recommend having a UV Index of 2-3 in your tank for a Trinket Snake. This can be obtained with a 6% T8 UVB or the T5 Shadedweller at 10-15″ height or at a 15-18″ height you can use a T5 6% UVB or a T8 12% UVB. You should use a UVB guard to stop the snake damaging themselves or the bulb.
The T5 Pro Kit – Shadedweller which is specifically designed for snakes and nocturnal species is the easiest to use.
- Arcadia Pro T5 Kit 7% Shadedweller 8w£38.99
- Arcadia Lamp Guard Pro (20″-50″)£14.99 – £21.99
- Reptile Systems D3 T8 5% UVB Lamp£18.99 – £19.99
- Reptile Systems D3+ T8 10% UVB Lamp£18.99 – £19.99
- Arcadia D3+ Reptile Lamp, 12% T8£23.99 – £29.99
- Arcadia D3 Reptile Lamp, 6% T5£22.99 – £28.99
- Arcadia T8 Control Unit (Dry)£32.99
UVB remains optional when it comes to nocturnal snakes like the Trinket Snake, but we highly recommend it. You can read our entire UVB guide here.
Substrate & Bioactive Options
There are a few options for substrate. Aspen / lignocel is good for a dry environment and is easy to clean and offers good burrowing. Orchid Bark is a more rainforest substrate that holds moisture well.
The third option is to go more natural with a bioactive, soil or coco fibre mix and this is also a viable option if you’re thinking of going bioactive. If you’re using this as an option we’d recommend a waterproof layer at the bottom of the vivarium to protect your wood from the moisture or using one of the largest available glass terrariums on the market, as well as potentially adding a drainage layer with clay balls. followed by mesh, and then your bioactive substrate. As Trinket Snakes are relatively light bodied, and have a medium humidity requirement, they do really well in bioactive setups with live plants.
You will want to place at least two hides; one on the hot end and one on the cool end, big enough for your Trinket snake to feel secure in and then add decor.
Branches, plants, cork bark – all will give your snake an interesting and natural looking habitat. Trinket Snakes are active and will climb, so providing as much decor as possible will enhance their behaviour as well as make them feel confident and secure.
A water bowl containing fresh water should be provided at all times. If the water spills, make sure you clean up the damp substrate.
Trinket Snakes do not have any social needs and can be kept solo their entire lives. It is worth noting that a mature solo female can frequently lay infertile eggs, but these take much less calcium and nutrients out of her body than fertile eggs. Trinket Snakes are not aggressive to each other or territorial but keeping groups together can lead to problems such as competition for the best hiding spot, competition for hot spots, accidents during feeding, and can spread communicable health problems such as parasites or mites to all the occupants.
In general we advocate for snakes to live alone unless they are specifically being bred, but if you do keep your Trinket Snakes as a group, ensure you provide a much larger enclosure than for a single snake, with lots of decor, and always feed separately.
Feeding Trinket Snakes
Trinket snakes have big appetites for a small snake, but will not eat a large meal. They will take regular small meals of defrost mice, starting on pinkie mice as babies, and graduating to medium to large mice as adults. Feeding every 5-7 days is fine for hatchlings, and 7 days for adults. Always wash your hands after feeding and use feeding tongs to avoid any confusion between your fingers and the mice!
Handling Trinket Snakes
As previously mentioned Trinket Snakes can be quite defensive. They can huff, puff and arch themselves up to make themselves look big and scary. They may even strike, but they rarely connect with their teeth and even if they do, the bite is going to be very mild. Hatchlings cannot even break the skin. However all this defensive posturing can be quite off putting and even frightening to new keepers or those buying a snake as a family pet who mistake it for aggression. You should be aware of this behaviour before purchasing, and be willing to move past it. When your Trinket Snake exhibits this behaviour you can simply calmly and firmly pick them up. Once they are picked up they can be fast, but drop their defensive actions. Over time as your snake is picked up and realizes he or she is not about to be eaten, they will be much easier to handle. Defensive snakes are only acting the way they do out of fear.
Sexing Trinket Snakes
Trinket Snakes can be visually sexed as adults. Males are considerably smaller than females, but also have a distinct hemipenal bulge at the base of the tail, due to how thin the tail is. Before this is developed, they can also be sexed by probing as juveniles, or popping as hatchlings. Both of these should only be done by someone experienced.
I hope that this Trinket Snake has provided all the information you need to know, but if there’s anything you have a question about just drop it in the comments, leave us an email or contact us on Facebook! We provide free advice on all species of reptiles.