Garter snakes, (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) can be found nearly anywhere, from swamps to forests and fields. Some people even have an overpopulation of them next to their house. These thin snakes are enjoyable to keep, and can eat many things other than mice.
Most garter snakes are striped black and yellow or have a checkered pattern. They donít get very thick, as thick as our pointer finger. They average about at 3 to 4 feet long. Wild caught garter snakes may be shorter than captive bred because they donít receive a constant food supply. Handling and Aggression
Garter snakes can be taught to stay calm around humans, but when you first get one, it will bite. Luckily, their bite wonít really hurt, and they can rarely draw blood. If you respect your snake, it will respect you, like any other animal.
Garter snakes will eat mice, frogs, earthworms, and fish. Frozen thawed mice are much better then live, because live can injure your snake. If you do not like the idea of feeding mice, earthworms are the next healthiest.
If you feed a garter snake worms, they will need to be fed more often because worms are not as filling as mice or fish. Feed worms cut about half inch twice a week. Provide as much as they will eat in ten minutes.
Fish and mice eaters only need to be fed once a week or every ten days. A mouse or fish should be 1 ľ times larger than its body at maximum. Platies and guppies are the best choice for a garter snake; some fish are toxic to them.
In the wild frogs and toads make up the majority of their diet, but they are loaded with parasites. If you buy yours captive bred, their bodies may not be immune as much to them as a wild garter snake. Buying captive bred frogs is acceptable, but costly.
Garter snakes, like most snakes are escape artists. They can squeeze through cracks you might not even know exist. A tight fitting screen is essential on every cage they are kept in.
An adult can be housed in a 10 gallon tank minimum. 15 or 20 gallons will give them more room to move around and a larger temperature gradient. Hatchling and juveniles can live in a 5-10 gallon tank. Hatchlings and juvenile snakes should not be housed in a tank too big or else they may get confused and not know where to find their food.
Paper towels, butcher paper, and even newspaper are simple substrates that make cleanup short and sweet. Whatever you use for a substrate, make sure you do not use cedar. This wood is toxic to all snakes, and should be avoided at all costs.
Other shavings can be used, but if you want a loose substrate, wood chips are the way to go. Safe wood chips can be found at most pet stores, and look natural. It is much better than sand or soil because it is difficult to swallow.
Garter snakes should be provided with a hide on the warm end of the tank and a hide on the cool end. They will spend a lot of time in them because they are shy snakes most of the time.
A shelter should be nice and snug for garter snake or else it will feel exposed. A small hole is also enjoyed because they can peek their heads out when curious. These shelters can be simple or elaborate, but either way, make sure they are sturdy.
Garter snakes do not need very high temperatures, but you should have a basking spot of about 85F. The rest of the cage can be kept at about 75-80F, a little above room temperature.
A heat pad (UTH) or heat lamp works well. Do not use both or else it will be too hot. UVA and UVB bulbs are not necessary. Do not use heat rocks because they have been known to fail and become too hot in one area, and have even resulted in burns.
Water and Humidity
A water bowl to soak in is important because in the wild, they are found near lakes and swamps and are able to swim. Garter snakes will often use this water bowl as a bathroom. The water should be cleaned when needed.
Mist the cage biweekly or if the snake is getting ready for shed.
Cleaning is basic. Clean the water when needed, and remove any other feces. Replace the substrate every six months so parasites do not grow.
Some keepers put their snakes into hibernation, also known as brumation. Brumation is not necessary, just as long as the garter snakes experience shorter days turning longer.
Garter snakes should meet in April to May. Multiple males shouldnít be kept together, or else they may fight. Let them do their stuff and separate them again after a week or two.
Garter snakes give live births and the babies will come 80-100 days after a successful mate. Females should be alone when the babies are born because males have been known to eat the hatchlings.
Caring for hatchlings is much related to adult care, except everything is smaller. Smaller food for a smaller body, and they do not need as much space. Garter snakes can be kept together until they reach about two feet or else they will start fighting and/or mating.
Garter snakes can be found nearly everywhere with water, shelter, and food. They are elegant, swift snakes with a fascinating design. Before you go out and catch or buy one, make sure you did your research on them.
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Deborah Schmitt - February 6, 2018
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