False Water Cobra: Care, Appearance, Temperament & Breeding

Looks deadly but isn’t too bad really!

The False Water Cobra is so named because of its similar appearance to the Water Cobra, which is a highly venomous snake. These snakes can ‘hood up’ their necks like a cobra in a defensive or aggressive maneuver to ward off predators.

Falsies are rear-fanged snakes. If they get a good enough grip on you to chew a little, then it can envenomate you. The venom is relatively harmless. However, some people react badly to it and can become allergic after repeated bites.

Falsies have some complicated care requirements but they make great pets!

Common Name:False Water Cobra, Brazilian Smooth Snake, Falsie
Scientific Name:Hydrodynastes gigas
Natural Habitat:Rainforest in South America
Adult Size:6 to 9 feet depending on sex
Lifespan:12 to 20 years
Diet:Mammals, fish, amphibians, birds
Experience Level:Intermediate
Enclosure Size:48 inches L X 24 inches W X 18 inches H

Reptile Overview

False Water Cobras make great pets despite their names. Their venom is only mildly toxic to most people. However, some people are more sensitive to it and can suffer symptoms such as edema, internal bruising, and necrosis.

Some people build up an allergy to Falsies after repeated bites and can suffer anaphylaxis. So, think really carefully about your tolerance of allergens before you buy one.

False Water Cobras are not widely available and it can take some hunting to find a good breeder and they can be quite expensive. With that being said, we always recommend getting your Falsie from a captive-breeder and not getting a wild-caught specimen.

Their care is a bit more strenuous than other snakes as they have a fast metabolism and defecate quite spectacularly, in large quantities, and very regularly. Their enclosure needs to be suited to frequent cleaning or bioactive to help maintain your snake’s health.

Appearance

Another name for the False Water Cobra is the Brazilian Smooth Snake. This is because their scales are un-keeled and rather large, this makes them look and feel exceptionally smooth.

False Water Cobras have stunning coloration and patterning. The standard is a golden or yellow to brown background with black and dark brown markings. The markings are thick irregular bands that get darker and more expansive towards the tail.

False water cobra climbing on rock

The older the snake gets, the darker the markings become.

Their bellies can get to a brighter yellow color than the background coloration. They usually have three rows of black or dark brown spots running vertically from neck to tail down their belly scales.

The back of the head is mostly free of the darker markings.

Their faces have really cool markings! They have raccoon-style dark masks over their eyes and down the sides of their faces. This frames their large round eyes.

Many people comment on their circular pupils and large eyes. They say that this gives them a very intelligent appearance.

Some color morphs are starting to appear in captive-breeding. The ‘Hypo’ morph lacks dark brown or black markings. The ‘Lavender’ morph replaces the browns and blacks with purples and whites.

Temperament

False Water Cobras are usually very even-tempered. They are large snakes so they can be a little intimidating to some people, especially because they look a little like a Water Cobra.

These snakes do well with semi-frequent handling and are easily socialized.

If they bite you, they need to chew on you a bit to envenomate you. Their rear fangs are not designed for attacking predators or warding them off. They are to aid in subduing their prey as they swallow it.

Hydrodynastes gigas

If the False Water Cobra feels threatened in any way, it clearly shows it. It will ‘hood up’ by expanding the skin on the sides of its neck to imitate a cobra. However, where a cobra holds its head up vertically, the False Water Cobra holds its head horizontally.

The False Water Cobra can also expand the skin down the length of its body where a normal cobra cannot!

If your False Water Cobra is agitated, it will whip its tail around quite violently. All of this makes it quite difficult to mistake your False Water Cobra for being in a good mood.

The more you get to know your snake, the better you will get at learning its behavior and predicting if it is in a handleable mood or not.

Behavior

The False Water Cobra is diurnal. This means it is active during daylight. This makes it a great pet because you can watch it and handle it when it is the most active.

False water cobra's head

These snakes are very active. This is why they need a bigger enclosure. They enjoy exploring and moving around. This is also why having an enriching environment is so important for the health of your False Water Cobra.

False Water Cobras are intelligent snakes. Through good care and careful and consistent handling, you will form a bond with your snake and they can recognize you. This means that your snake will enjoy handling and reduce your chances of being bitten.

Lifespan

False Water Cobras can live between 12 and 20 years. The larger they get at an early age usually decreases their life span.

Many owners overfeed their Falsies to encourage rapid growth without realizing they are shortening the snake’s lifespan.

However, good care, maintaining an enriching environment, and diverse food selection means that your False Water Cobra can live a long life.

Enclosure

Falsies need BIG enclosures. They are very active snakes and also very large and thick-bodied. The absolute minimum for one adult snake is 48 inches long X 24 inches wide X 18 inches high.

REPTI ZOO Large Glass Reptile Terrarium

REPTI ZOO Large Glass Reptile Terrarium

If you house more than one Falsie together, you need to increase the size of the enclosure by at least 10 to 20 gallons per snake depending on size. You can house more than one Falsie together provided they have space and are not cramped.

A glass or plastic enclosure is perfect. We do not recommend a wooden enclosure as the humidity levels will encourage mold to grow.

We recommend setting up a bioactive enclosure for your Falsie. They make horrendous messes when they defecate and having a bioactive enclosure will help with the upkeep.

To set one up you will need:

  • Non-toxic live plants
  • Isopods, springtails, and/or earthworms
  • Sterilized branches
  • HydroBalls or rocks for drainage
  • Several blocks of compressed cypress mulch or something similar
  • Sterilized sand
  • Several blocks of compressed sphagnum moss

Rehydrate the mulch and sphagnum moss in a big tub of water and break it all apart with your hands. Mix several cups of sand into the mixture.

Galápagos Terrarium Sphagnum Moss

Galápagos Terrarium Sphagnum Moss

Sterilize your enclosure and put down a drainage layer of HydroBalls or other appropriate drainage substance such as gravel or rocks of different sizes.

Put down a good thick layer of your substrate mixture. Into this, you can plant your plants and place your wooden branches. These branches must be sterilized appropriately before you place them in the enclosure.

Make sure your branches are secure and will not fall on or fall with your Falsie’s weight.

Add isopods, springtails, and/or earthworms to your enclosure. These will help aerate the substrate and clean up any fecal messes you might miss. They will not harm your snake.

Isopods feed on fecal matter, springtails feed on mold, fungi, and dead material, and earthworms keep the substrate healthy.

If you are breeding your snake, we suggest removing the eggs from the enclosure to incubate as some clean-up crews can harm the eggs.

Keep an eye out for excess water draining to the bottom of your enclosure. You can fix this by siphoning off the water with a rubber tube or hose.

Place one end of the hose in the water and one end in an empty bucket that is below the enclosure. Suck carefully at the end of the hose slightly to start the flow and then let gravity do the rest of the work.

Watch out for your plants dying or decaying, they are not receiving enough light or too much water. You have either used the wrong plant or you need to adjust your enclosure settings.

False water cobra in natural habitat

Enrichment is key to your Falsie’s health. Make their environment interesting to be in.

Spot clean the enclosure daily for fecal messes. If your snake has moved through the mess and is dirty then you must clean it. If there is fecal matter stuck to your snake, it can lead to bacterial and parasitic infections.

Clean the walls of your enclosure every month with a mild solution of water and white vinegar. Remember to rinse or wipe down the walls with clean water afterward.

Every couple of months you will need to prune your plant life.

The enclosure must have good ventilation. Stagnant air will cause respiratory problems. Use a screen top. If the air is not moving enough, you can install small computer fans to help circulate it.

Substrate

You can keep your False Water Cobra on newspaper, butcher’s paper, or paper towel. This is cheap and easy to keep clean.

However, we suggest a bioactive enclosure due to the magnitude of their messes.

An appropriate substrate is coconut husk, orchid bark, cypress mulch, or other reptile-friendly substrates. We recommend that you mix this with sphagnum moss to aid in humidity levels.

Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding

Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding

Never use cedar or pine in your enclosure. They are toxic to reptiles. They contain oils that cause skin irritation and respiratory problems.

Make sure the substrate is spot cleaned daily of any fecal messes.

If your bioactive enclosure is being maintained correctly, you should not need to throw out any substrate.

To maintain your bioactive substrate, add new biodegradables such as leaf litter and wood every three months or so to prevent the microfaunal biome from becoming unbalanced.

Temperature

Maintaining the correct temperature gradient in your False Water Cobra’s enclosure will enable your snake to choose what temperature they need to be at.

We recommend an under-tank heating pad that is controlled by a digital thermostat. Place the heating pad under one-third of the enclosure. This will be the warm end. Make sure there is a hideaway within this temperature range.

VIVOSUN Reptile Heating Pad with Digital Thermostat

VIVOSUN Reptile Heating Pad with Digital Thermostat

Your hide could be a cave, an upturned box, or a hollow log that is large enough for your snake to fit itself in but small enough to feel snug. The hideaway must not be see-through.

The cooler side of the enclosure should not drop lower than 75°F during the day. This site needs a hideaway too. You can combine this hideaway with a hydration hide.

Line the hideaway on the cool side with moist sphagnum moss. You Falsie will use this hide to aid in skin hydration during shedding time.

If you do not wish to combine the two, make sure you do not put the hydration hideaway on the warm side of the enclosure as the sphagnum moss will become dehydrated quickly which will influence the humidity levels.

Your False Water Cobra needs a decent basking spot. They are diurnal snakes so we recommend a heat lamp be placed on the end of the warm side of the enclosure. The heat lamp must be in a protective dome to prevent burns.

It is a good idea to place another hideaway in the basking area to provide your Falsie with a safe place to digest its food.

  • Cool Side: 75°F
  • Warm Side:85°F to 88°F
  • Basking Area: No higher than 90°F

Make sure there is sufficient coverage between each hide for your Falsie to travel across the enclosure without too much exposure.

Install thermometers in the basking spot and at the coolest end of the enclosure. It is essential that you monitor this closely.

Zoo Med Labs Digital Hygrometer and Thermometer

Zoo Med Labs Digital Hygrometer and Thermometer

Lighting

False Water Cobras are diurnal snakes so they need a natural photocycle of about 12/12 light/dark.

Unlike most snakes, your Falsie needs fullspectrum lighting. You can get a lamp that is a combined heat lamp and UVB light source. Alternatively, you can install additional lights that provide UVA and UVB lighting.

Zoo Med ReptiSun 5.0 UVB Mini Compact Fluorescent

Zoo Med ReptiSun 5.0 UVB

This lighting is essential to your snake’s health.

Put the relevant lights on a timer, like Zilla Digital Timer, to avoid mistakes that will cause your snake undue stress.

You must put any lights in protective domes or casings. Falsies are active and inquisitive so they will burn themselves on exposed bulbs.

Humidity

Your False Water Cobra needs a humidity range of 50% to 60%.

False water cobra in swampland

You must install a quality hygrometer in the enclosure and check the humidity levels every day.

You can achieve the correct humidity level by misting the substrate once a day or using automatic mister/fogger. Check the hygrometer before you mist. Never mist your snake directly.

REPTI ZOO Reptile Mister

REPTI ZOO Reptile Mister

If you have a bioactive enclosure, maintaining the humidity levels will be easier as you will be able to drain any excess water from the substrate.

Diet

Water is very important to False Water Cobras. They can swim and spend large amounts of time in swampy, marshy areas surrounded by water in the wild.

They should have a water dish that is large enough for their entire body to fit in. If you have more than one Falsie in the same enclosure, the size of the water dish should be increased too.

The water dish must:

  • be heavy enough not to be tipped over
  • deep enough for your snake to soak its whole body in
  • shallow enough for your snake to get in and out of easily
  • non-porous to prevent water from seeping into the substrate and altering the humidity levels

Replace the water daily. If you see that your snake has defecated in the water, replace it immediately.

Falsies are fabulous eaters! They will take food as often as you give it to them. This is great because it means you won’t have a snake that starves itself to death. However, this also means you can easily overfeed your False Water Cobra to the point of obesity.

We recommend that you stick to a weekly feeding schedule of one to two appropriately sized prey items. Use our prey item size guide:

Largest point of girth of prey = Largest point of girth of snake

Prey items can include mammals like mice or rats, birds such as chicks or chickens depending on the size of the snake, frogs that are non-toxic, and feeder fish.

Providing your False Water Cobra with a diverse diet is important to its overall health.

We recommend frozen/thawed (F/T) rats and mice become the staple of your Falsie’s diet. One appropriately sized F/T rodent per week will be sufficient for your Falsie. Every couple of weeks you can offer your snake an F/T chick.

We always recommend F/T prey items. Live prey items can chew on, scratch, and otherwise damage your snake. They can also contaminate your snake with parasites.

To prepare the F/T prey item, place the frozen item in a bowl of hot water. Wait until it is completely thawed and then offer it to your snake.

Never offer your snake partially frozen prey! The temperature difference is fatal!

You can also place two to three feeder fish in your snake’s water bowl. The fish can be live as they will not harm your snake. This will provide dietary variety as well as behavioral enrichment as your snake can ‘hunt’ the fish safely.

Be ready over the next couple of days to clean up a significant amount of feces.

Handling

Always sanitize your hands before holding reptiles.

False Water Cobras have a high prey drive so make sure you and your clothing do not smell like their prey items or other animals when you go to handle them.

Do not handle your snake 24 hours prior to, during, or for 48 hours after feeding. This can cause your snake enough stress that it will regurgitate its food.

We recommend hook training your False Water Cobra for when it comes to handling. Falsies are venomous and have a high prey drive. They are also intelligent snakes.

DocSeward Snake Hook

DocSeward Snake Hook

Through consistent hook training, they will come to associate the hook with being handled and not with food which will help relax you and them enough for a successful handling session.

When you want to handle your Falsie, look at its behavior.

  • Is it expanding its neck?
  • Is it whipping its tail around?
  • Is it musking?
  • Is it trying to get away?

If you answer yes to these questions, sit by the enclosure until your snake calms down.

Then take your hook and gently nudge it and stroke it to make it aware of the hook. Hook the thickest part of your snake and lift it out of the enclosure, use your other hand to support its body.

We recommend using a glove for the hand that will handle the head until you and your snake have had some time to bond and the hook training is going well.

Handle your snake one to two times a week. Be consistent and careful.

Potential Health Issues

Scale and Mouth Rot

Dirty enclosures, poor handling hygiene, bacterial transfer between reptiles, and poorly maintained humidity levels can all lead to an infection of the scales or the mouth.

The mouth of your snake will appear bright red and may ooze pus. Your Falsie needs to see a vet immediately.

Shedding

If humidity levels are too low then your snake will be unable to shed its skin properly. The stuck shed can get infected and cause serious harm to your snake.

You can remedy this by soaking your snake in a tub of room temperature water for 30 minutes at a time and then try removing the stuck shed with tweezers. Repeat this process if the shed does not lift easily.

unlumm Feeding Tongs 15" 2 Pcs

unlumm Feeding Tongs 15″ 2 Pcs

Parasites

Wild-caught snakes need to be treated for internal and external parasites immediately in a quarantine container before being moved to their enclosure.

Mites are a common external parasite that may develop if your enclosure is not maintained properly. They look like small red or black dots on your snake’s body, particularly around the mouth, nostrils, and eyes.

They burrow under the scales to get at the skin and blood underneath. They carry their own internal parasites so they need to be treated immediately. The entire enclosure needs to be fully sanitized.

Obesity

A fat snake is not a funny snake. Overfeeding your False Water Cobra will lead to obesity. Obesity puts strain on the heart and liver and is fatal to your snake.

Stick to a weekly feeding regime of appropriately sized prey items.

Breeding

Housing a female and male False Water Cobra together in healthy conditions will result in breeding. Males are sexually active the entire year. Females may be seasonally active or active the full year around.

Take this into consideration when you house males and females together.

Two false water cobras

Females regularly produce two clutches of eggs a year. The clutch size can range from 14 to 24 eggs.

You will notice the female is gravid (pregnant) when there is a sizeable swelling in her belly. She might increase the amount she basks as well.

Provide her with a nesting box that is lined with sphagnum moss and is large enough for her to fit in and turn around in. Put the nesting box at the 84°F spot in the enclosure.

Once she lays her eggs, remove the nesting box and incubate the eggs in a sealed container at 84°F. The eggs will hatch in 60 days. Hatchlings emerge at roughly 15 inches.

Offer the hatchlings food after their first shed. They will grow quickly, so be prepared!

Conclusion

False Water Cobras are fantastic pets.

They are sizeable colubrids which makes handling them an exciting task. They have stunning markings, even in the standard morph. They produce many eggs, throughout the year which makes them good specimens for captive breeding.

The only drawbacks are the fact that they are rear-fanged venomous and their metabolisms are so rapid they require lots of feeding and even more clean up.

However, they are intelligent and can recognize their owner! We ‘herp’ you have a successful journey with your new best friend!

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