The pattern of garter snakes varies little between species, it consists of 1,2 or 3 longitudinal stripes on the back. In between these strips are rows with blotchy spots.
Their range is huge, all the way from Central America to Alaska, and they live in a variety of habitats, from dry to wet regions. The more northern species hibernate in huge groups containing hundreds of snakes.
The Chequered Garter Snake is typically green in color, with a distinct, black checkerboard pattern down its back. It is capable of growing to lengths of 42 inches, but 28 inches is closer to average. These are also seen in an albino form.
Garter Snakes can be housed in either glass or wooden vivariums. Always remember to shut the doors properly as snakes are the best escape artists! (The use of a viv lock can help to remind you to close the doors properly). A wooden vivarium will offer more privacy as they only have a glass front, yet a glass viv is less likely to overheat. In my opinion there is no better option between the glass and wooden vivs, it all comes down to your personal preference!
For a hatchling snake we would recommend either a small hatchling tub, a faunarium or best yet the Komodo Snake Starter kit. This kit has everything you will need for your snake to start out. After approximately a year, you will need to upgrade to 2ft or 3ft vivarium, but bear in mind more room is always better and your vivarium will need to be at least two thirds the total length of your snake ie. 3ft snake – 2ft vivarium.
If young snakes are put into a large vivarium they often become stressed and refuse to feed. Garter snakes are very active, so once your snake is established a large vivarium will be appreciated.
Temperature is extremely important in reptile care as they cannot produce there own body heat, and need to be kept within a suitable range to help the body function correctly with digestion etc.
Garter snakes require a temperature gradient of 22°C – 30°C (71f-86f) So you would aim for 71f in the ‘cool end’ and 86f in the ‘hot end’ during in the day; the this can be achieved by using a heat mat and a basking light on thermostats mounted at one side of the vivarium to create a warm side – the ‘hot end’. At night the temperature should drop to around 16°C to 20°C (60f-68f).
It is very important to know what the temperature is, so check regularly with an accurate thermometer, digital thermometers tend to be the best and most accurate. Do not guess or take temperature by hand (if snake feels warm or cold)
A simple 12 hour light cycle is ideal for Garter snakes, so have any lights on during the day, and off at night ie 8am -8pm. You can use a timer if you wish to ensure a proper routine. We would also recommend using a 2% UVB light with your snake, as this will help to more closely mimic their conditions in the wild, however this is not compulsary.
It is important to provide your snake with fresh water every day, ideally in a bowl that is large enough for the snake to submerge in as these snakes are often found in bodies of water in the wild. If you choose to use a very large water bowl, be sure to check you have adequate ventilation to avoid developing respiratory or skin infections etc.
Hides and Décor
The snake will require a few hides in the vivarium so that it can feel secure. By having 2 or 3 in different areas the vivarium (providing at least one in both the hot and the cold side) the snake will be able to chose the one that is at the best temperature. Plastic plants are also good to use, as these look very attractive in the vivarium as well as offering privacy.
In the wild Garter snakes eat a variety of prey, including amphibians, earthworms, fish and small rodents. In captivity we tend to offer then a mixture of frozen whole fish and small mice. It is important if feeding fish and worms etc to supplement the foods with a vitamin powder as freezing causes the development of thiaminase, an enzyme which destroys thiamin. Frozen fish and amphibians however, are not as easily come across as mice, and although a diet of just mice is not a completely natural diet for a garter snake, they are nutritionallly complete and there is no risk of parasites. In which case a diet of mice is actually the recommended food source to offer your snake.
Feed your snake weekly. The prey should be no bigger than the fattest part of your snakes body.
As snakes do not use energy to warm their bodies (as mammals do) they need less energy to function.
Resist the urge to feed your snake more often or larger prey as this can lead to the snake growing to fast, which can result in the head of the snake not growing at the same speed as the rest of the body. Obesity can also be a problem. If a snake is overfed they have no reason to move around their vivarium and this is detrimental to their health.
Snakes are known to soemtimes refuse to food while shedding, this is perfectly normal behaviour and is no cause for concern. Some snakes however, will eat in even if they are in shed and this is neither harmful in any way, nor detrimental to your snakes health, so if your snake will still take food, you may as well feed it.
Spot-clean your snake’s enclosure as necessary, removing waste as soon as possible. Clean and disinfect the water bowl on a weekly basis and always provide fresh water daily. Remove all substrate & cage furniture when the cage needs completely cleaning, and disinfect using a reptile specific disinfectant with no added dyes or perfumes.
Snakes shed their skin as they grow; it is normal and should always come off in one piece. Always provide your snake with a ‘humid hide’ containing sphagnum moss as this aids in shedding. The first stage in the process is when the eyes go opaque (cloudy) at this point the snake will sometimes not want to feed and will hide away in it’s humid hide or even soak in the water bowl, and it is best to leave it to do so. After a few days the eyes will clear again and this means the shed will usually take place within the next week or so. If the snake has trouble removing the skin it is best to put the snake in a tub with some damp moss to help soften the skin and help buy gently rubbing. If you have trouble removing the skin please ask a member of staff for help, or seek veterinary advice.
Garter snakes are an interesting species to keep and are more active than most species