In order to give your garter snake the best care, you need to set up its enclosure correctly. A garter snake is a relatively small snake that enjoys a warm, humid environment. You want to give it a home that’s big enough to be comfortable, but not so big that it feels exposed and vulnerable.
The average adult garter snake will grow to be about 3 feet long. This snake will be most comfortable in a 25-gallon tank. Glass is a good material for garter snake enclosures, as it is easy to clean and allows the creation of an optimized temperature gradient.
Here we go over what you need to look for in an enclosure for a garter snake – the sizing, the material, and the inescapability. Our favorite is the Exo Terra Allglass Terrarium, a great home for a garter snake. You can see the details of what we like about it below. As a bonus, we will also give you some tips for setting up the enclosure.
Table of Contents:
Best Enclosures for Garter Snakes
Let’s take a look at the essential features of a great garter snake enclosure. This includes the size, material, and security of the enclosure. Then we will look at the top 3 garter snake enclosures and their features.
Size of The Enclosure
How large an enclosure you choose really depends on the size of the snake. According to the Journal of Zoology, a male garter snake usually has a longer body and tail than a female. A female garter snake will usually be heavier than the male and have a larger head.
You don’t want to keep your garter snake cramped in a tiny enclosure, unable to move freely. At the same time, you don’t want to give it so much space to move around in that it feels exposed and unsafe. You should be able to add together the length and width of an enclosure and get a number a little larger than the snake’s total length. Here are some sizing guidelines for housing a garter snake of various sizes.
|Age Group||Length||Enclosure Size|
|Hatchling:||4 to 5 inches||2.5 gallons (12 x 6 x 8 inches)|
|Small Adult:||20 inches (1.7 feet)||15 gallons (24 x 12 x 12 inches)|
|Average Adult:||35 inches (2.9 feet)||25 gallons (24 x 12 x 20 inches)|
|Largest Adult:||50 inches (4.2 feet)||30 gallons (36 x 18 x 12 inches)|
Glass vs. Plastic vs. Wood Snake Enclosures
Snake enclosures come in a variety of materials. You are looking for a durable enclosure that is easy to clean.
In order to take care of your garter snake, you need to keep it free of bacteria and mold, which means you will be disinfecting it at least once each month. An enclosure that is easier to clean will be easier to maintain.
You also want a material that will help you maintain proper temperature and humidity levels for your garter snake. An article in the Canadian Journal of Zoology explains that humidity is an important part of keeping a garter snake hydrated and healthy.
Your snake will also need a temperature gradient across the enclosure so that it can choose how much heat it wants in a given moment. Let’s take a quick look at what kind of atmosphere your garter snake needs.
- Enclosure Warm Side: 85 degrees Fahrenheit
- Enclosure Cool Side: 75 degrees Fahrenheit
- Maximum Safe Temperature: 88 degrees Fahrenheit
- Minimum Safe Temperature: 72 degrees Fahrenheit
- Humidity Range: 35% to 60%, higher when shedding
Some materials let heat and moisture escape more easily than others. Let’s explore the 3 main material options for a garter snake enclosure.
Glass enclosures tend to be the heaviest and the least durable, for obvious reasons. They also do not keep in heat very well.
However, it is easier to create a temperature gradient in a glass enclosure, maintaining separate warm sides and cool sides. These enclosures are also nice to look at. Just make sure you put it in a sturdy frame, with 2 or 3 opaque side walls to help your snake feel less exposed.
Wood is the best material at retaining heat and moisture, so it’s easy to keep temperature and humidity levels higher. Wooden enclosures are also very attractive to look at, fitting well with your home décor.
It is a little more difficult to create a temperature gradient in a wooden enclosure, however. They also more commonly come in sizes much larger than a garter snake will be comfortable with.
Plastic containers are the most durable and lightweight enclosures. A plastic enclosure is also easy to clean, and keeps in humidity well.
These enclosures tend to run small, making them popular for owners who have a smaller snake. They are often not as nice looking as glass or wood enclosures, but they do the job of keeping your snake safe.
Is Your Snake’s Enclosure Easy To Escape?
All snakes are a bit like Houdini – they like to try to escape. As a smaller snake, a garter snake is even more likely to take advantage of any small opening it can find. Keep in mind that if a snake can fit its head into a space, it can get itself out.
To avoid losing track of your snake, you need to find an enclosure that is completely escape-proof. It needs a tightly attached lid, or at least a lid held down by clamps. If the top of the enclosure is a mesh screen, make sure the holes of the mesh are too small for the snake to squeeze through. An enclosure with a lock on the door is a good investment.
Zilla 28015 15-Gallon Critter Cage
This glass terrarium puts durability and security as its top priorities, perfect for keeping a young or small garter snake safe. It has a sliding metal framed top, difficult for a garter snake to push aside. It also has a built-in lockable front latch for even more security.
This enclosure measures 24.3 x 12.8 x 12.5 inches, amounting to around 15 gallons in volume. This is an ideal size for a growing young garter snake or a smaller adult about 2 feet long. The enclosure weighs 16 pounds.
The top of the enclosure is made of an escape-resistant mesh. While mesh does not hold in humidity, you can easily raise the humidity in such an enclosure by placing a towel over half of the lid. The lid itself fits tightly to ensure inescapability.
The Zilla Critter Cage also has wiring ports for channeling heater cords if necessary, as well as a recessed hanging space for natural features and water bowls. The enclosure is transparent on all sides, so for your garter snake’s comfort, you will need to set up some kind of opaque covering on the walls, such as construction paper.
Tetra Reptile Glass Kit with Two Dome Lamps
Aquariums can be repurposed into a perfect enclosure for a garter snake, and this aquarium is a great example. This is a 20-gallon tank that comes with two heating lamps incorporated into the screen top. The included lamps allow you to easily set a temperature gradient across the enclosure. A basking bulb and UVB bulb are also included for the lamps.
The tank measures 30 x 12 x 12 inches, a good size for the average adult garter snake. The kid also comes with other useful features for your enclosure included, such as a basking rock, a hide tunnel, and some decorative boxwood plants to create a natural environment.
This enclosure is easy to clean and attractive to feature in your home. For security, it has a screen top with locking clips. It weighs 41.4 pounds.
Exo Terra Allglass Terrarium
This 25-gallon enclosure is our favorite home for a garter snake. It is a glass terrarium with front window ventilation to help you maintain humidity levels. Its bottom frame is raised with a space underneath for easy inclusion of a heating pad under the tank. The bottom of the tank is also waterproof just in case things get a little too damp.
The dual doors on the front of the tank allow you easy access to your snake, but they also lock to prevent the garter snake from escaping. Also, the doors are elevated, so you don’t have to worry about letting substrate fall out every time you open the doors.
On top of the enclosure is a full screen top with a stainless steel frame. This lid is held in securely with durable locks, but it can be completely removed for cleaning purposes.
The enclosure has a wide ground surface to give your garter snake plenty of room to move around. The natural-looking rock background provides your garter snake with the comfort of an enclosed space like it would find to live in in the wild.
Additional Enclosure Setup Requirements
Once you have chosen an enclosure for a garter snake, you will need to add some things to it in order to make it a good home for your snake. We’ve already talked about temperature and humidity. Here are some other setup requirements:
Your garter snake needs an absorbent substrate which will hold liquid well without becoming damp. Good substrates for a garter snake include paper products, aspen shavings, coconut husk, cypress, and repti bark.
Avoid using potentially harmful substrates such as sand, cedar, or pine. These substrates can irritate a garter snake’s skin and lungs.
A garter snake needs a source of fresh water every day. This can be a simple water bowl. Around 16 ounces is the minimum size for an adult garter snake’s water bowl. The presence of the water bowl will also help maintain the tank’s humidity.
You want to bowl to be big enough for the garter snake to put its whole body into if it chooses to, but not so big that the snake will struggle to get out again. In the wild, a garter snake loves to swim around.
If you notice the garter snake urinated or defecated in its water bowl, clean the bowl and replace the water immediately. You don’t want your garter snake getting sick from bacteria. Otherwise, cleaning and disinfecting the water bowl once a week should be enough.
Lamps are about more than just heat. A garter snake is a diurnal animal, most active during the day. It needs a natural day/night cycle of about 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness to be fully healthy.
You may be able to achieve this lighting cycle by placing the enclosure near a window and using the natural light of the sun. However, if you expect that that won’t be enough light, then a lamp with a timer for day and night settings should do the trick.
Now you know enough about the sizing and setup of garter snake enclosures to get one ready for your own snake.