Garter Snake Care – The Ultimate Care Guide in 2019

Garter Snake Care

Garter Snake Care.  A garter snake can be a tricky snake to have, but it is one of the best snakes as they don’t take up much space and more than one can be kept in the same enclosure. Add to that their beautiful appearance, feisty character, and a wide range of morphs, and you have just about the perfect pet.

Thirty-five species of garter snakes are found in a vast swathe of America; from Canada and Alaska to Central America. In the colder climates, the garter snakes will hibernate in groups where they are often caught to be sold for pets. Other garter snakes are bred in captivity specifically to be sold as pets.


One defining characteristic of garter snake patterning is a black or very dark colored stripe down the center of the snake’s back. The checkered garter snake is one of the few exceptions to this rule and will be discussed later in this article. – Garter Snake Care


Garter snakes are one of the few snakes that give live birth and don’t lay eggs. Rather, the female snake will protect the sperm inside her body for up to a year after mating until she is ready to become gravid (pregnant).

A female garter snake can give birth to up to eighty baby garter snakes in one litter. However, she shows no care towards them after they have been born and they are left to fend for themselves. Baby garter snakes bred in captivity are usually sold as pets after their first few feedings. But how exactly do you care for and raise baby garter snakes?


The average size of newborn garter snakes is between 6-8 inches. They are usually born between July and September. The babies will shed almost immediately and can then be fed.  If they don’t want to eat what you are offering to them, try another food. Being quite finicky eaters, they can be fed on earthworms or pinky parts (for example, the tails of the pinky mice. They also like to see their food move, so try not to keep the pinky tail too still when feeding them and they may take it. Remember also to give them fresh, clean water.


The baby garter snakes do not each need to be kept in a separate enclosure and seem to be less stressed when there are a few of their siblings in the enclosure with them. This is especially handy when your female has had a large litter! They must be fed separately, however, to avoid accidental cannibalism.

For enclosures, you can use the Exo Terra Faunarium that has been lined with a thin layer of substrate. Add a small hide or two for the babies to hide under and there you have it! These quick-moving garter snake babies are still good at escaping so, whether you’re using the Faunarium or another small enclosure, it must be made escape-proof for very small snakes. – Garter Snake Care


Garter snakes were thought to be non-venomous for a very long time. But, although garter snakes are all harmless to humans, they do produce a neurotoxic venom in their saliva. This neurotoxic venom is only venomous to your snake’s prey. Your garter snake is also not a constrictor, making it a very safe pet to have when it comes to the vast range of snake species. – Garter Snake Care


Garter snakes are too small to bite humans when they are babies but can bite once they have grown up. They are only likely to bite when they are feeling threatened, however. Luckily the bite will leave little more than scratches. It’s important, however, to clean the scratches. Even though they may not look like much bacteria from your snake can still enter the scratches and infect them.

A garter snake’s bite is usually very quick, but there are some who won’t let go once they have bitten you. If that happens, you should very gently push your snake’s head forward in order not to hurt their backward facing teeth or their mouth. You can then just remove your snake and place it back in its enclosure and take care of the bite marks. – Garter Snake Care


Garter snakes range from 6 – 8 inches when newborn. Adult males measure approximately 2 feet in length, while the females average at 3 feet. Some garter snakes have been recorded at 5 feet in length, but this is out of the ordinary. – Garter Snake Care


The checkered garter snake, or Thamnophis marcianus, is a colubrid snake endemic to the southwestern United States, Mexico, and South America. It is found in various habitats, including semiarid regions of California and the moist forests of Costa Rica. The range also includes elevations from almost sea level to some 7 200 foot above sea level. The checkered garter snake has three recognized subspecies, Thamnophis marcianus marcianus (Northern Checkered Garter Snake), Thamnophis marcianus praeocularis (Yucatan Checkered Garter Snake), and Thamnophis marcianus bovalli (Nicaraguan Checkered Garter Snake). The albino morph of the Northern Checkered Garter Snake is very popular in the exotic pet trade. – Garter Snake Care


The checkered garter snake is typical of a greenish coloring, but instead of having a stripe down its back, has a black checkerboard pattern. This pattern is very distinct, even in albino checkered garter snakes. Although they can grow to be some 42 inches long, the average length of a checkered garter snake is 28 inches.

Like many of the other garter snakes, the checkered garter snake’s diet includes small amphibians (frogs and toads), small fish, small mammals, salamanders, some insects, and earthworms. The checkered garter snake actively forages for prey.  Most of the checkered garter snakes that are kept as pets are trained to eat thawed mice from the time that they are born. This is predominantly because the other foods the snake would eat in the wild are either very difficult to come by, or prohibitively expensive. As can be deduced from its diet, the checkered garter snake is never found too far away from water. Some of the checkered garter snakes are even good swimmers. – Garter Snake Care

These snakes are most active during the day to the north but may be more nocturnal to the south. The reason for this change is the change in the temperature and amount of sunlight.


Female checkered garter snakes also give live birth. Their litter sizes range from 6 to 35 snakes, with a gestation period of 80 to 105 days. Baby snakes, that measure some 9 inches, are born in the spring or summer.

The checkered garter snake will strike out and bite if they are either provoked or feel threatened, like any other snake. Their bite is not serious and the snake is also not venomous to humans. The snake is, however, more likely to release a foul-smelling musk. Almost all garter snake pets do this until they are used to their keepers, unfortunately, so be prepared. – Garter Snake Care

The checkered garter snake — like other garter snakes — can be kept as pets very successfully. Their enclosures can mimic a wide variety of habitats, but water must always be available to your snake. – Garter Snake Care


Many garter snake morphs besides albinos are available to the enthusiast and more morphs have appeared over the years through breeding. A favorite is the “flame” morph, that occurs in the wilds of southwestern Quebec in Canada.

Garter Snakes MORPH

It is very important to make sure that the snake that you get from a (second-rate) breeder hasn’t been inbred, as this is a possibility where someone tries to create new and unique morphs. – Garter Snake Care


Thamnophis elegans terrestris (red morph) — a red morph of the Coast Garter Snake

Thamnophis melanogaster canescens (melanistic and red morph) — a morph of the Mexican Black-bellied Garter Snake

Thamnophis sirtalis pickeringii (blue morph) — a beautiful blue morph of the Puget Sound Garter Snake

Normal and Melanistic morphs of Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis (the Eastern Garter Snake) – Garter Snake Care


Your garter snake may live longer in captivity than it would in the wild as long as it gets proper care and nutrition. Garter snakes may live 4 – 5 years in the wild but may live 10 years in captivity. They are, therefore, not as long-lived as many other pet snakes. The responsibility of caring for a garter snake and ensuring its good health, however, should not be underestimated. The good health of your snake starts with the right enclosure with the right accessories. – Garter Snake Care


One of the things which makes the garter snake such a sought-after snake (apart from being gorgeous) is that it is quite robust and also doesn’t need too large an enclosure.

The snake enclosure you use for your adult female garter snake or breeding pair can be between 20 and 30 gallons. A male can even be kept in a 15-gallon enclosure. If you are planning on using a lot of plants and other decorations, though, rather opt for a 35-gallon enclosure. Some of the Exo Terra snake enclosures perfect — just have a look at this one. – Garter Snake Care

If you need to, get extra clips as well — those wily snakes are brilliant escape artists!

Remember that your snake can feel exposed and vulnerable if their enclosure is too large and this will cause stress. An enclosure that is too small, however, will also keep your snake from getting adequate exercise. If you are not sure which size enclosure to get, it’s best to ask. – Garter Snake Care


Besides the enclosure, you must also keep the substrate, temperature, light, and humidity in mind. We will start with the different types of substrate which can be used for the garter snakes. – Garter Snake Care


Do not use cedar chips or shavings! You can, however, use aspen shavings that are specifically meant for snakes. Other substrates which can be used, are cypress mulch and bark nuggets. You should also not use pine shavings. You can keep your snakes on paper towels or butcher paper too, however, and this is especially a good idea if they are still young.

If you’re using the shavings or mulch, be sure to clean the areas where your snakes have urinated or have soiled it thoroughly. Add more substrate as needed (you don’t need to change the substrate completely every time). If you do this properly, you only need to change all the substrate about every two months. – Garter Snake Care


Garter snakes, like other snakes, need heat sources to regulate their body temperatures. For your garter snake to be able to do this in its enclosure, you have to ensure that it is the correct temperature. The ideal temperature is between 75F degrees and 85F degrees. One side of the enclosure should, however, be cooler than the other side. This will allow your snake to also cool down when it gets too hot. You only need to heat one side of the enclosure. To heat the one side of the enclosure, you can use a heating pad which you place only underneath one third to one half of the enclosure’s base. – Garter Snake Care

Temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius can be very dangerous for your snake and should be avoided. Get a thermometer for your heating pad as well to make sure that it doesn’t get too hot.


The hides you choose for your garter snake should be just big enough for them to curl up inside and fit. Try hollow logs, half logs or the hides that can be bought online or in pet stores.

As for humidity and water, you need to give your garter snake ample water as they are found near water in the wild. But, it is very important that the enclosure not be semi-aquatic as this could cause blister disease. For humidity just a bit of damp sphagnum moss is fine. – Garter Snake Care

Whatever you use for your garter snake enclosure, make sure that the enclosure will still be easy enough to keep clean. The last thing you want is for your snakes to get ill because you were not able to clean their enclosure thoroughly.


  1. Garter snake (in addition to ribbon snake) is a common name for the nearly harmless, small to medium-sized snakes belonging to the genus Thamnophis.

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