Erica Mede, CVT
Garter snakes are shy snakes reaching lengths of 2-3 feet.
With a life span of 10-12 years, these snakes are common in
captivity and are exceptional escape artists.
There are various species of Garter snake available in the
reptile industry and a plethora of morphs (color variations) as
well! Hatchlings are
about 4-5 inches long. These
snakes are generally patterned with full length stripes starting
behind the head and progressing down the body with large round
eyes and slender bodies. Garter
snakes are diurnal and terrestrial, sporting the classic round
pupils that most people associate with “safe” snakes.
When startled, these snakes will often mimic rattling by
vibrating their tail quickly and when all else fails, musk their
captors with a fluid that leaves the captor smelling unpleasant.
These snakes are great swimmers as well and agile low level
These diurnal, terrestrial semi-aquatic snakes are found
and portions of
in fields, forests, wetlands, marshes, and residential areas.
This species of snake does brumate during the winter months
in large masses. Generally,
before exiting the brumation den, these snakes will breed.
Up to three adults can easily be kept in a 20-30 gallon
glass aquarium with a screen lid.
It is recommended to house they animals alone for the best
monitoring capabilities but if a group housing situation is
desired, two females and a male or all females is acceptable.
The larger the cage and the wider the cage the better!
Wider enclosures allow for more exercise and fulfill this
species urge to explore. Custom
designed enclosures can be created but are not commonly utilized
in the pet industry. However,
custom enclosures created with a little ingenuity and imagination
can offer supreme naturalistic set-ups.
Hatchlings can be kept in 10 gallon aquariums.
Substrate should be easy to clean and dry.
Newspaper, reptile carpet, and paper towel are favorites
for hatchlings and new individuals to help monitor fecal output.
Most established individuals can be maintained happily on
the above or aspen shavings as long as it is agitated frequently
and changed every 7-14 days. Never
use pine or cedar shavings which have aromatic oils that can cause
irritation and respiratory issues in snakes.
Enrichment can be provided by placing hay, straw, or even
dried leaves in the cage for the snake to explore and navigate
Temperature and Humidity
Garter snakes require an ambient temperature of 75-85F°
which is easily provided with under tank heaters, heat tape, heat
cable (on the outside of the cage not the inside).
The temperatures can be controlled easily with a thermostat
and monitored with the use of three thermometers.
One thermometer placed on the warm end an inch above the
substrate, one placed at the level of the basking site, and
another placed an inch above the substrate on the cooler end.
A basking site should be 85-88F°.
At night, the temperature can drop as low as 72F°.
Humidity should be moderate, 35-60%, with the higher end
utilized during shedding. Humidity
can be monitored with a hygrometer and increased with the use of a
large water bowl, fogger, mister, or daily spraying.
Low branches for climbing should be offered to Garter
snakes for exercise and increased basking sites.
Garter snakes will climb low branches but are not excellent
climbers so it is important not to have the branches at severe
angles. Natural and
artificial foliage can be placed in the cage to increase hiding
locations. Hide boxes
in the form of half logs, PVC pipes, and half flower pots can be
utilized. Rocks can be
added especially for basking areas if they are placed over a heat
source and under the basking light to warm the rock.
A large water bowl is highly recommended to allow the snake
to soak at will and swim. Small
plastic storage containers make excellent “swimming pools” for
this species and does not require a heater.
If a custom enclosure is created with a custom pond
situation then a filter system and heating element may be needed.
In the wild, these snakes feed primarily on small rodents,
fish, earthworms, and slugs. In
captivity, these snakes are fed primarily earth worms, fish,
and/or mice. It should
be noted that snakes fed primarily earthworms must be fed more at
least two times a week while fish eaters and mice eaters should be
fed every 7 days. It
is recommended that only pre-killed prey be offered as live prey
has the potential of severely injuring or killing captive snakes
in the case of mice and can transmit parasites in the case of
fish. Chicago Exotics
recommends feeding properly thawed frozen rodents.
Hatchlings can be fed every 3-5 days depending on diet
offered. Juveniles and
adults every 4-7 days depending on diet offered.
A word of caution against feeding night crawlers from bait
shops, these large powerful worms are very difficult for these
snakes to eat. If
night crawlers are to be offered, it is strongly recommended to
cut these worms into pieces first.
Owners wishing to feed mice to their Garter snakes may find
it frustrating when some individuals simply refuse to eat them.
Not all will. Scenting
mice by rubbing them on fish or earthworms seems to help but is
not always successful. Very
small snakes should be fed pinky mouse parts as they cannot eat a
whole mouse. Adult
snakes typically can eat hopper mice or fuzzies.
Sources and Recommended
Garter and Ribbon Snakes
R. D. Bartlett and Patricia Bartlett
The General Care and Maintenance of
Gater Snakes and Water Snakes
The Garter Snakes: Evolution and Ecology
D. Rossman, N.B. Ford, R.A. Siegel
Give us a call if you need to make an
appointment! (847) 329-8709.
An educational handout concerning reptiles
and Salmonella is available through the Association of Reptilian
and Amphibian Veterinarians. Please
ask your veterinarian for a copy.
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