Garter Snakes As Pets
Snake Care Guides

Garter Snake Pet Care Tips and Feeding Advice for Beginners

Garter snakes are one of the easiest snakes to care for in captivity. Their calm temperament, small size, and harmless (non-venomous) bite make them the ideal pet for any budding herpetologist.

How do you look after a pet garter snake? Garter snakes are cold-blooded (ectothermic), so you’ll need heat lamps or heat pads to regulate their body temperature. They need a meat-based diet to grow and thrive. Check periodically for health problems, such as worms, mites, blister disease, and gastrointestinal parasites.

Garter snakes live for longer in captivity than in the wild if you meet their food and care needs. Many people are misinformed about the types of food, heating, humidity, and the size of vivarium that are needed for pet snakes. In this care sheet, we’ll explain how to look after a garter snake.

Why are Garter Snakes Good for Beginners?

Garter snakes are perfect for budding herpetoculturists because they require less maintenance than most other reptiles. At the same time, they are fascinating creatures to behold.

Here’s why garter snakes can make such great pets:

  • Garter snakes are a ‘natricine’ species, so they do not constrict their prey. As a result, they do not build up lots of thick muscle, so they’re thinner and smaller than many other snakes. This means that they’re easier to house and handle.
  • The cost of setting up their tank and feeding them is comparatively low.
  • They can be fed a wide variety of foods.
  • Although they may become nervous in a new environment, garter snakes settle down after a couple of weeks, and their temperament can become very relaxed.
  • Most subspecies of garter snake are diurnal (active during the day), so you can observe their activity at a convenient time.

Things to Be Aware of Before Getting a Garter Snake

It’s essential to be aware of the following points:

  • They are low maintenance but not zero maintenance. They often defecate so you’ll have to clean your snake’s cage regularly. Reptiles and amphibians spread germs and disease more readily than other types of pets. You will need to stay on top of the cleaning, especially if there’s anyone in the house with a weakened immune system.
  • Although garter snakes rarely bite, they do musk (a foul smell).
  • Garter snakes caught from the wild cannot always adapt to captivity and may refuse to feed. Recognizing the signs of an overly-stressed snake is vital.
  • Garter snakes can be prone to vitamin deficiencies if you don’t vary their diet.

If you’re prepared to clean the snake’s vivarium regularly and provide it with a nutritious diet, your snake will be calm and easy to handle. With this type of snake, you can build your confidence slowly because you’re unlikely to encounter too many problems with feeding or handling.

How to Identify a Garter Snake

Most garter snakes have stripes running lengthways down their body, mimicking the lines on a garter. Although these characteristic stripes can identify many types of garter snake, some subspecies have additional markings.

how long can garter snake go without eating?

In addition to their markings, garter snakes have the following characteristics:

  • Thin – most adult garter snakes are 1 inch in diameter
  • A dark colored body that is olive, brown, dark red, or black
  • The stripes on the snake’s body are often yellow but could be white, orange, or tan
  • The belly is pale green or yellow
  • An adult grows to 18” – 26” on average (46 – 66cm)
  • The average body mass is 150 g
  • Keeled scales (ridged scales that are rough to the touch)

These features are all found in garter snakes, though do bear in mind that there are some differences within the species.

What are the Types of Garter Snakes?

The garter snake (Thamnophis) can be found in most parts of North America. Some types of garter snakes are located in the colder regions of Alaska, whereas others are endemic to warmer southern states like Florida.

According to most sources, there are 34 different subspecies of garter snake (though there is some disagreement over the exact number).

So, are all garter snakes suitable for keeping as pets? Some subspecies have rarely been kept in captivity, so herpetoculturists haven’t had the chance to observe their behavior.

The most popular garter snakes to keep as pets are:

  • Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis Sirtalis)
  • Checkered Garter Snake (Thamnophis Marcianus)
  • Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis Sauritus)

These subspecies are renowned for having a favorable temperament, feeding well, and thriving in captivity. So, if you’re a beginner, you’d probably be best opting for one of these snakes.

How to Identify a Common Garter Snake

The common garter snake is the garter snake most frequently encountered in the wild. It can cope with a wide range of temperatures so can be spotted in most parts of America.

It has the following physical characteristics:

  • One narrow stripe running lengthways down the snake’s back with a thicker stripe on each side.
  • Yellow stripes on a black, brown or greenish background.

Common Garter Snake (T. Sirtalis) vs. Ribbon Snake (T. Sauritus) Identification

Ribbon snakes look very similar to common garter snakes, but there are some differences:

  • Ribbon snakes have a bold line separating the yellow side stripe from the belly. Common garter snakes do not have this bold line separating the back and the stomach.
  • The ribbon snake has a longer tail than most other types of garter snake. The tail accounts for at least one-third of the entire length of the snake.

How to Identify a Checkered Garter Snake (T. Marcianus)

The checkered garter snake is favored for its calm temperament. Wild-caught checkered garter snakes often thrive in captivity because they can adapt quickly.

Checkered garter snakes rarely bite and can be easily handled, so they are one of the most popular garter snakes to keep as pets.

As you might expect, the snake has a checkerboard pattern on its body, but those characteristic lines and stripes are still visible, too. Often, checkered garter snakes have an olive-green back with light colored stripes and a black checkerboard pattern.

Checkered garter snakes are sometimes mistaken for common garter snakes because some common garter snakes have very faint patterns of their back that resemble a checkerboard.

If the checkerboard pattern is light in color, this might suggest it is, in fact, a common garter snake rather than a checkered garter snake.

Garter Snakes and their Habitat

Garter snakes are common in most regions of North America – apart from the South West. They love to bask in the morning sun, so they can often be seen sunning themselves on rocks, sidewalks, or in suburban gardens.

If there are unsealed cracks in your house, you might find a garter snake hibernating in your cellar over winter. They tend to emerge from hibernation around March or April. The males immerge from hibernation up to 1 month before the females.

They are drawn to water, so you might catch a glimpse of one near a pond, river, or swimming pool deck.  Although garter snakes enjoy being around water, they shouldn’t be housed in an aquatic or semi-aquatic tank because this will blister their skin.

Are Garter Snakes Safe to Keep as Pets?

They are considered one of the safest snakes because they can be handled quite easily. If your snake does feel threatened when you go to pick it up, it may respond in one of the following ways:

  • It may flatten itself to the ground and get ready to strike or bite (uncommon)
  • It may try to hide its head and thrash its tail
  • It might release an unpleasant musky odor (and any feces it has available)

garter snake handling

Garter snakes tend to musk or thrash their tail when they’re stressed. This behavioral response is quite common when they’re moved to a new environment.

Once your snake has settled in and has been handled a few times, it’s less likely to musk you.

Is a Garter Snake Poisonous?

Are garter snakes venomous? Because garter snakes are non-threatening towards humans, people assume that they do not produce venom. Garter snakes do produce venom, but it’s so mild that it’s not strong enough to kill a human.

A garter snake’s venom is potent enough to subdue its prey (i.e., small amphibians), but nowhere near strong enough to do any damage to a human. The greatest risk from a garter snake bite would be the risk of infection if you didn’t clean the wound properly.

What’s the Life Expectancy of a Garter Snake?

How long do garter snakes live? In the wild, garter snakes live for around five years. However, in captivity, they can live for 8-10 years. This is assuming that the owner takes good care of the snake and offers it a varied, nutritious diet.

How Big Do Garter Snakes Grow?

Garter snakes give birth to live babies (rather than eggs). The babies are approximately 15cm at birth and reach full size when they are about three years old. The average length of an adult garter snake is 46 – 66cm, though they can grow quite a lot bigger.

According to CBC, the record for the longest garter snake was 132cm. Male garter snakes are shorter and thinner than their female counterparts, so they don’t require as much tank space. So, if you’re short on space, you’d be better off opting for a male garter snake for this reason.

How to Care for a Garter Snake

If you provide your snake with the right diet and appropriate housing, it will be happy, healthy, and easy to handle. If you don’t offer an appropriate enclosure for your garter snake, it may become stressed and refuse to eat.

Where Can I Get a Garter Snake?

Generally speaking, it’s best to purchase a captive-born baby garter snake, rather than a wild-caught adult. Snakes born in captivity are free of parasites and can tolerate being handled because they’re introduced to humans from birth.  Captive-born babies are mostly available in early spring.

If you want to buy a garter snake, look for a local snake breeder in your area. Snake breeders sometimes advertise themselves on the notice-boards in pet stores, or website directories.

If you’re struggling to find a reputable breeder, contact your local Reptile Society or Herpetological Association, and they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.

If you intend to capture a wild garter snake yourself, you should check federal and state laws before doing so because this may not be legal, or you may need a license to do so. It’s not recommended.

For example, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, it’s illegal to capture the San Francisco garter snake as this is an endangered species.

How to Choose a Garter Snake

Perform a visual check for any garter snake health issues:

Health Check Symptoms of Illness in Garter Snakes
Injury: Check there are no protruding bones as this could indicate that there’s an injury.
Skin Problems: Make sure that there are no visible scabs or blisters on the skin.
Parasites: Check the snake is not wheezing or gasping for breath as it’s an indication of a parasite problem.
Lethargy: If the snake is sluggish and doesn’t move around in your hands, this is a sign of illness, disease, or an inability to thrive in captivity.
Mouth Issues: If there is excess mucus in their mouth, they may have a respiratory condition. If there are red bumps around the mouth or a cottage cheese-like substance in the mouth, this indicates that a snake has mouth rot.
Eyes: They should be clear, and free of injury. However, if the snake is about to shed its skin, the eyes might be a bit cloudy. A responsible breeder would be able to tell you if the snake is about to shed its skin.

Questions to Ask the Seller

Ask your breeder questions before taking your snake home. This information will help you to understand your snake’s needs, so you can make them as comfortable as possible.

Here are some critical questions to ask your breeder:

  • What type or species of garter snake is this? – If the subspecies is native to a particularly warm region, you may need to provide additional warmth or light in your vivarium. Also, if you’re planning to keep two snakes together in one cage, it’s advisable not to mix subspecies.
  • When was this snake born? A garter snake will be fully grown by the time it is three years old. It’s useful to know its age so you can plan how big its enclosure needs to be.
  • What have you been feeding this snake? Is it feeding well? – When the snake is rehoused, it might become stressed and avoid feeding for several days. It’s good to know what the snake has been eating so you can help it to feel at home.
  • Have you kept a record of its skin changes/shedding? – When snakes are going to shed their skin, they temporarily lose their appetite, so this information can help you understand your snake’s feeding behavior.
  • Can I see the parent snakes (if applicable)? If the snake has been born in captivity, but the breeder can’t show you the parents, this could also be a red flag. You may be purchasing a wild-caught juvenile snake.
  • Has this snake been handled often?
  • What sex is this snake? This can help you decide on the size of the cage.

Housing a Pet Garter Snake

They are notorious escape artists, so their enclosure needs to be very secure. The easiest way to accommodate your snake is to purchase an aquarium tank or reptile cage (vivarium) with a lockable lid.

Although a natural vivarium is considered beneficial for reptiles (i.e., containing soil and live plants), it is not practical for snakes that defecate as much as garter snakes do.

Garter snakes will be much easier to keep clean in a laboratory-style tank which has some well-chosen pieces of furniture and suitable substrate (see below).

Choosing the Right Tank Size

It’s crucial for the enclosure to be big enough for your snake to move around but not too big that it feels exposed and unsafe. According to Science Direct, the perimeter of the base of the cage (the distance around it) should be at least double the length of your snake.

For example, a 12” x 8” cage has a perimeter of 40”. This means it could comfortably house a snake up to 20” long. This would be big enough to house a juvenile snake or perhaps a fully grown male, but not a fully grown female because females can grow to be 26” or more.

In terms of gallons, the following measurements are considered appropriate for garter snakes:

Garter Snake Age and Development Tank Size Requirement
Baby Snake: 2.5-gallon tank
Snake: 5.5-gallon tank
Fully Grown Male Garter Snake 10 or 15-gallon tank
Fully Grown Female Garter Snake 20-gallon tank

Ideally, you’d start with the smallest size and work your way up as your snake grows. Dimensions vary between suppliers. You’ll need to purchase an extra tank to keep your snake in when you’re cleaning out its primary enclosure.

Vivarium Furniture and Landscaping

Once you’ve prepared the correct size cage, you’ll need to think about the furniture.

  • Hide Boxes – Provide your snake with at least one hide box (a small enclosure where your snake can hide). If you can offer your snake two or three hide boxes, then they’ll appreciate this. Hide boxes can be purchased cheaply. You could also repurpose Tupperware, plant pots, or household items but make sure there are no sharp edges. Hide boxes need to be cleaned so if you’re repurposing something choose a material that can be cleaned and sanitized (or dispose of them regularly).
  • Water Bowl – Your snake, needs a water bowl. The water is essential not only for drinking but also for helping to snake to keep cool. The bowl should be big enough for the snake to curl up in. Garter snakes should never be housed in aquatic or semi-aquatic tanks because they’ll quickly develop blisters.
  • Natural Furniture- As well as hide boxes, try placing a bit of branch or rock in your vivarium to create some height and texture. This is by no means obligatory but may help your snake feel more at home. These pieces of ‘furniture’ cannot be sterilized, so they should be replaced once they are soiled.

Vivarium Substrate

Keep the base of your cage clean and dry to stop your snake developing a blistered skin. But what is the best material to use?

The following are all suitable bases:

  • Paper towels (for babies or young snakes)
  • Newspaper pellets
  • Aspen wood shavings
  • Cypress Mulch
  • Wood pulp (i.e., CareFresh bedding)
  • Repti Bark

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In the wild, garter snakes burrow to help themselves cool off, so this type of substrate can help them to feel more comfortable. Sometimes, it takes some trial and error to see what your snake likes, and what you find the easiest to keep clean.

Avoid the Following Substrates

  • Sand – your snake might ingest it by accident, and it can be messy changing the cage
  • Cedarwood or Pine shavings – these smell too strong for a snake
  • Corrugated card – the texture can make it difficult for the snake to move quickly so they might become stressed.

The substrate should be replaced once a week.

Cleaning a Vivarium

If you want a healthy snake, you must clean and disinfect their cage once a week. To keep the cage sanitary, clean up any defecation at the end of each day.

Also, change the water every 2-3 days; garter snakes occasionally defecate in their water bowls, so these need to be changed often.

When cleaning your snake’s vivarium, follow these steps:

  • Remove your snake to a second secure tank so you can clean the tank/vivarium thoroughly.
  • Wear protective gloves.
  • Empty everything from the tank and dispose of the substrate.
  • The furniture, food bowl, and tank should be washed with hot water and soap.
  • If there are any particularly dirty areas, scrub these with a sponge or an old toothbrush.
  • Once you’ve rinsed the furniture and tank, apply a disinfectant. Pet-friendly disinfectant sprays can be bought from pet stores, although most odorless disinfectants will work just fine.
  • Wait for everything to dry out thoroughly before reassembling. This could take many hours.
  • Disinfect any cleaning equipment you’ve used, and get rid of any single-use items.
  • Wash your hands with antibacterial soap.

Keep a set of cleaning products specifically for this job and do not wash the items in your kitchen. Instead, keep a separate sink or use a bucket of water to prevent cross-contamination.

Vivarium Temperature

Garter snakes are poikilothermic ectotherms. Essentially, this means they rely on the external environment to help regulate their body temperature. This is why you see garter snakes basking themselves on rocks in the morning sun.

Because they use their environment to regulate their body temperature, they need to be able to warm up – and cool down – according to their needs. To keep your snake happy, you need to create a temperature gradient in its vivarium.

Create a Temperature Gradient

What’s the proper temperature for garter snakes? Garter snakes need the temperature to be 25-30°C (75-85°F) – so slightly warmer than the average house. It the temperature goes above 33°C (91°F), your snake will be at risk of overheating.

The simplest way to create a temperate gradient is to place a reptile heating pad on the base of the cage and set it to a temperature of 84°F. The heat pad should cover no more than one-third of the cage. You should aim for the cooler end of the cage to be around 70°F (21°C). This way, the snake can warm up, or cool down, depending on its needs.

It’s best to choose one with an inbuilt thermometer so you can keep an eye on the temperature. You can add overhead lighting instead of (or as well as) a heating pad if desired.

You should turn off all heat at night, so the snake does not become overheated. In the wild, snakes would encounter lower temperatures at night. The only exception might be if your house is very cold and the ambient temperate is well below 21°C. In this situation, you’d be better off trying to heat the ambient temperature of the room, so it reaches at least 21°C,

Remember, always supply a clean bowl of cool water – big enough for your snake to curl up in. This will allow the snake to cool down if it needs too.

Signs your Snake is Overheating

  • They are racing around the cage.
  • They have started burrowing more than usual (snakes typically burrow in the wild to cool down, which is why it is so important not to cover the entire base of the cage with heat mat – else they’ll burrow to their death).

If you believe your snake is overheated, move it to your holding tank and douse it with cool water.

Signs your Snake is Too Cold

  • Your garter is refusing to eat (this could signal many things, but it could show they’re trying to conserve their energy).
  • It is always in the warmer part of the cage and never moves to the cooler side.
  • They seem very lethargic.

If the snake seems too cold, first measure the temperature at the hotter side of your cage. Has it reached 84°F? If not, you can try lighting that part of the cage from the top in addition to heating it from the bottom.

Vivarium Lighting

Most garter snakes are diurnal (awake during the day) so having access to good-quality light during the day will help them to thrive. It should be noted: snakes should never be placed in direct sunlight and left unattended as their cage will start to overheat very quickly.

Some garter snake owners believe that lighting is unnecessary. It’s true to say that many garter snakes could live healthy lives without access to additional lighting. However, in some cases, additional lighting could make a positive difference.

  1. If you’re struggling to get the warmer side of your cage to 84 °F with a heat mat alone, and the ambient temperature of your room is a lot less than 70°F, lighting can help you achieve extra warmth. A reptile basking light is your best choice as this will emit warmth.  (Having said that, a standard incandescent bulb will also emit a bit of extra warmth). Make sure you use a thermostat to check the basking light/thermal mat combination is not making the cage too hot.
  2. If the lighting in your room is very dim, a garter snake will benefit from extra lighting during the daytime. This could be achieved with an incandescent bulb or a reptile basking light.
  3. Black-neck garter snakes come from a hot climate so they will appreciate the extra warmth and brightness of a reptile basking light.
  4. If you’re trying to mate two snakes, you should install a reptile basking light during the day. Several studies have shown that light encourages their mating behavior.

Is Full Spectrum Lighting Necessary?

Incandescent lights and reptile basking lights can be bought reasonably inexpensively from pet stores. Full spectrum light bulbs (emitting both UVA/UVB rays) are more expensive. Some have questioned whether they are necessary.

In theory, UVA/UVB lights may help to protect against a vitamin D3 deficiency because full spectrum lighting mimics the suns natural rays.

At the same time, lots of garter snakes have been able to thrive in captivity with simple incandescent lighting, or no lighting at all, as long as their diet is good.

Instead of spending the extra money on full spectrum lighting, it might be better to focus on keeping the ambient temperature warm enough for your snake (i.e., through central heating).

Important Things to Consider

  • Do not use any white light during the night as this will interfere with your snake’s sleep cycle. If you’re prone to forgetting, most lights can be set up on a timer, so they’ll turn off at night automatically. If you need to keep the lighting on during the night for warmth, you should select a tinted reptile light.
  • If you’re caring for an albino snake, avoid lighting altogether.
  • Many tanks or cages come with holes to fit lights into. Make sure your snake cannot get within 12 inches of the bulb. If that’s not possible, the bulbs can be fitted with a mesh covering, or you can purchase lighting that sits on the outside of the cage.
  • Often, lighting is a case of trial and error. What works for one snake may not work for another, so always observe your snake’s behavior to determine a healthy set-up for them.

Vivarium Humidity

We’ve talked about heat and light, but humidity is vital to mention, too. According to this study from NRC Research Press, garter snakes require a certain level of humidity to stay healthy and hydrated. If your snake becomes too dehydrated, they will be unable to shed their skin effectively. Baby garters are particularly prone to dry skin and dehydration.

If you have a garter snake less than 1-year-old, provide a humid hide box for them. The easiest way to do is place some damp moss in the hide box. It’s a good idea to provide a dry hide box as well, so the snake has variety. This should stop their skin drying out.

Snakes should always be provided with a bowl of cool, clean water, big enough for them to curl up in. As long as the water bowl is topped up, this will promote a good level of humidity in the tank.

It’s recommended that you purchase a humidity gauge to monitor the humidity in your vivarium. These are very affordable and can be obtained from most pet stores. You should be aiming for a humidity between 40% and 60%, and no greater than 70%.

What to Feed a Garter Snake

In the wild, garter snakes are opportunistic hunters, so they eat a very varied diet. According to Northern State University, they’ll consume grasshoppers, earthworms, frogs, toads, salamanders, small birds, rodents and other small mammals. It would be hard to offer such a variety in captivity, but you should try to vary your snake’s diet.

The following are suitable feeds that are quite easy to get your hands on:

  • Earthworms and Nightcrawlers – These can be bought online, from fishing bait stores, or harvested from your garden (as long as you don’t use pesticide on your soil). Worms should be cut into small pieces for baby garter snakes. While the common garter snake tends to eat these without fuss, a ribbon snake might not take to them as well.
  • Frozen and thawed rodents – If you’re feeding a baby garter snake, start them on pinky mice chopped into pieces.
  • Frozen and thawed fish – Try to source salmon, trout, tilapia or silverside. These fish do not contain thiaminase which is essential. If your snake is fed a diet rich in thiaminase, they can develop a life-threatening vitamin deficiency. Where possible, try to feed your snake fish with bones in, rather than fish strips or fish fillets.
  • Processed snake food – It offers complete nutrition, but it can be quite expensive.

The following feeds are NOT suitable foods for garter snakes:

  • Crickets
  • Red wigglers – these worms look like earthworms, but they have red and yellow stripes. They are sometimes sold as Panfish worms, compost worms, or trout worms. These can be toxic for some snakes.
  • Thiaminase-rich fish – examples include catfish, goldfish, and carp but there is a comprehensive list here.
  • Wild-caught, live amphibians or fish – this is considered unethical, and these could harbor dangerous parasites.

Supplementation

It’s a good idea to supplement your snake’s diet with calcium. Buy a calcium supplement that contains vitamin D, because this will help your snake metabolize the calcium.

Brush your snake’s food with a light coating of calcium powder once a month. Do not exceed this dose as calcium overdose can be toxic.

Feeding Techniques

  • Some snakes need to see their food moving to kick-start their appetite. Feeding them with live fish is generally discouraged. Instead, try dangling some food in front of your snake using tongs to see if this encourages them to eat. Don’t ever dangle food with your fingers.
  • If you’re trying to introduce a new food, but you’re not having any success, try scenting the new food with the food that your snake is already used to eating.
  • If you’re keeping a wild-caught adult snake and it’s refusing to eat, you may not be able to persuade it to eat. Don’t persevere for too long as the snake may perish.

How Often do Garter Snakes Eat?

How regularly should I feed a garter snake? Juvenile garter snakes (0-2 years) should be fed once every 2-3 days, and adults can be fed once a week. It’s uncommon for snakes to overeat; they will only eat what they need to survive.

How Long Can Garter Snake Go Without Eating?

How long can a garter snake survive without food? Garter snakes can go months without eating, but this would be a red flag in captivity. When babies are first born, they won’t eat for about ten days.

However, by this time, baby garter snakes should be showing some interest in food. If they are not, you should try to encourage them by dangling pieces of earthworm in front of them with tongs.

how big do garter snakes grow?

When a snake is about to shed its skin, it may lose its appetite for several days. However, if your garter snake has gone two weeks without eating, this is a red flag and should be investigated.

Reasons a Garter Snake Might Refuse Food

  • Brumation. When winter arrives, it’s body may be preparing for brumation (hibernation), so your snake may refuse food. This is most likely to happen in wild-caught adult snakes. If this happens, try rotating its food for variety, or artificially hibernating your snake.
  • Stress. It’s stressed and cannot live in captivity – if you’ve caught an adult snake from the wild, and it is refusing to eat for 2 weeks or more (despite trying a variety of foods), it would be kinder to release it back to where you found it – as long as it’s not the winter time.
  • Temperature. It’s too cold or too hot (check the thermometer in your vivarium)
  • Food type. It may not like the food you are offering it – try something else instead.

Garter Snake Handling

Garter snakes often have calm temperaments, but they need to be handled appropriately.

If you’re unsure how best to handle your garter snake, follow these tips:

  • While your snake is getting used to you, consider wearing gloves to protect your hands.
  • Although many garter snakes are tame, it is best to assume they are not until proved otherwise.
  • When holding a garter snake in your hands, you’ll need to provide quite a lot of support to the snake. Whereas corn snakes will explore your hands, garter snakes could quite easily slip through your hands if you’re not vigilant.
  • If you support the snake firmly, it’s less likely to thrash around in your hands.
  • Your garter may musk on you when you pick it up. This may happen many times while your snake gets acquainted with you. Clean any mess up to prevent the spread of bacteria.
  • If you are bitten, and the snake won’t let go, gently push its head forward to disengage its jaw but don’t be too rough with your snake.
  • If you are bitten, you should wash and dress the wound immediately to prevent infection. As mentioned, garter snake venom is not potent enough to seriously harm humans.

Can You Keep Garter Snake Together?

Although garter snakes can sometimes live together comfortably, it’s advisable to keep your snakes separate if you’re new to snake handling.

If you’re new to snake handling, you’ll still be learning about ‘normal’ snake behavior. As such, you might find it hard to keep an eye on more than one snake at once.

Health problems or feeding issues can sometimes go undetected if you keep more than one snake in the same cage. Also, if your snakes were to clash, you might not feel confident enough to deal with this situation.

If you do decide to keep two garter snakes together, it’s vital to consider the following:

  • Garter snakes should never be fed together. If you have two in the same cage, move one to another cage for feeding. Garter snakes will fight voraciously for food and may accidentally eat their cage-mate if they are left to fight over food.
  • Make sure the cage is large enough to accommodate both snakes.
  • Make sure there are plenty of hide boxes in your cage so that the snakes can spread out.
  • Always have a ‘standby’ vivarium so you can separate your snakes if necessary, but remember that female and male garter snakes are escape artists.

Taking Care of your Garter Snake as a Pet

Garter snakes are one of the calmest snakes to handle, especially once they have had their basic needs met. If you want to enjoy your snake as it grows and develops, you’ll need to give it the correct resources and remain intuitive to its changing needs.

Most garter snakes can thrive in captivity, as long as you keep the following in mind:

  • Offer your snake variety – garter snakes enjoy variety, so don’t feed them the same food all the time. A varied diet is not only more enjoyable but will also help to prevent vitamin deficiencies and promote good health.
  • The perimeter of their tank (the base) should be double the length of the snake – This will ensure they’ve got enough room to be comfortable.
  • Provide 2 or 3 hide boxes – this will encourage your garter snake to stay calm because it won’t feel overexposed.
  • Provide a temperature gradient – this will help your snake regulate its body temperature – as it would in the wild.
  • A fresh supply of water – this must be available at all times.
  • Keep things clean – garter snakes frequently defecate, so be prepared to clean their tank regularly.
  • Support your snake – When handling a garter snake, offer it adequate support so that it doesn’t slip through your fingers.

If you follow all these tips, your garter snake should be calm and content. With time, it may even gravitate towards your hand when you go to pick it up.