Garter snakes? The simple order is, don't kill them because they are great for your home garden. They are non-venomous, let alone being harmless, and they won't bite you. If you force them to bite, they won't hurt you at all. Read this writeup to find out more about these reptiles



For many years, we have been made to believe that a snake is an enemy, and that is why we tend to hit its head every time we come across it. Unless you're a staunch Christian (think the Book of Genesis where God declares enmity between man and serpent), you don't have to do that kind of injustice to every snake you find. If you're determined to kill a black mamba, death adder, tiger snake, eastern brown, King cobra, or Russell's viper, that's fine, as long as the authorities in your country allow you to do that. I say it's fine because these snakes are deadly, and unless you deal with them fast, they will ruthlessly deal with you and send you back to your creator. It is a whole different story when it comes to the harmless garter snakes.

How to Tell If It's a Garter Snake

Did you know that a garter snake may have borrowed its name from a band that people used to wear around their leg to hold up their sock or stocking? That band is also known as a garter. Some scholars have also theorized that the name is a corrupted form of the German word, garden. That's why garter snakes are synonymous with a garden.

While we can't fully ascertain the veracity of the two theories, there are some hard facts about them that we can't simply wish away. For one, a garter snake has stripes which actually look like the band mentioned above. In the second theory where garter snakes are associated with the garden, it's true that garter snakes like being around the garden because that's where they find their prey, including rodents. So, how can you know that it's a garter snake?

Stripes: Yes, garter snakes exists in many colors, but a trait that runs across all of them are stripes, which run along their body. The color of the stripes and the snake, however, varies from one garter snake species to another. Don't forget that there are garter snake species with intricate patterns besides stripes. That means each species may be unique in terms of skin appearance.

Size: Don't bump into a 3-meter long snake and try to interact with it thinking that it's a garter snake. Garter snakes are typically small reptiles, with a length between 23 - 30 inches. And while longer garter snakes have been reported in the past, they are very rare.

Tongue color: A garter snake will usually have a tongue with two colors, which vary between species.

Lifespan

The lifespan of a garter snake can vary depending on a number of factors, with a habitat proving to be a key factor. While garter snakes in captivity can live up to 10 years (on average), their wild counterparts can only manage up to half this lifespan. That is because life in the jungle is not a bed or roses. A good tip is to give your pet proper care and allow nature to take it's course. All living things must die, after all.

Garter Snake Species

There are tens of garter snake species in existence today. However, for purposes of this writeup, we will confine ourselves to some of the most commons ones. Giving detailed description of each species here would take volumes. Let's dive in.

Common garter snake: Its not news to come across the common garter snake, especially in North America. You can also find them in Canada. You can tell that it's a common garters snake if it has a black, gray, tan, or olive base color, plus at least one cream stripe along their length. While they can grow up to 4 feet in length, most common garter snakes reach just 2 feet. Please bear in mind that common garter snakes exist in about 13 subspecies, with each of these having its own unique physical characteristics (pattern, color etc.). These subspecies include Texas garter snake, Eastern garter snake, red-sided garter snake, and San Francisco garter snake. The San Francisco garter snake, for instance, is native to San Francisco, and it features a blue-green belly. Its eyes are big, while the head is red. The stripes are red, black, and blue-green.

Checkered garter snake: This species is common in Texas, but if you're living in Kansas, Oklahoma, or New Mexico, you shouldn't be surprised to come across the checkered garter snake, since the conditions in these states also favors their survival. They are called so because their bodies have a dark and light marks, which are laid in a checkered pattern. Underneath their eyes are dark stripes.

Blue striped garter snake: As its name suggests, this species has blue stripes on the sides and the top. They have a gray-colored base. This species is known to produce some of the longest garter snakes, which can be as long as 26 inches. That's actually a very big measurement for a garter snake, considering the fact that most species don't grow to that length.

Albino garter snake: Wondering whether there are albino snakes? There you found it; the albino garter snake. Just as it's rare to see an albino person, the albino garter snake is also rare, and you may not see it in your yard in your lifetime. Its name is informed by its color, which is typically a blend of peach, orange, yellow, cream, and white. You can also identify an albino garter snake by looking at its eyes; they are usually pink in color.

Plains garter snake: If you come across a snake with a bold vertebral stripe, then it's probably a plains garter snake. The stripe can either be golden yellow-orange or light cream in color. This species is mostly found in the southern part of Canada and central US. Although plains garter snakes may have a reddish base, most of them have a gray, olive, or cream base, with some dark marks. The sides can also be solid black. Plains garter snakes can be longer than 28 inches.

Black-necked garter snakes: You're in Colorado, New Mexico, or Texas and you come across a snake with black markings on the neck sides. Don't hit it because it could be a black-necked garter snake; the markings are their most unique physical characteristic. If the markings are not enough to help you identify the snake, then check for a bright, orange or yellow stripe running along its spine. There are two subspecies of black-necked garter snakes, and these include the Western black-necked garter snake and the Eastern black-necked garter snake. While each of these has got its own defining traits, they are similar in many aspects.

Giant garter snake: This is the biggest species of them all, with some subspecies growing to almost double the average size of garter snakes. It usually grows to 4 feet, and it typically has a grayish belly. Giant garter snakes are increasingly becoming rare because their habitat in central California valleys is gradually undergoing degradation. Could be better if you handled yours (if you have one) with great care since the species is already staring at a possible extinction.

Other notable mentions as far as garter snake species are concerned, among others, include the following:

Narrow-headed garter snake

Butler's garter snake

Short-headed garter snake

Valley garter snake

Santa Cruz garter snake

Blackbelly garter snake

Chicago garter snake

Western terrestrial garter snake

Are Garter Snakes Poisonous

While garter snakes may be the most popular snake species you will find with most people, there are people who still wonder whether or not this type of snakes is poisonous. Technically, a garter snake is non-poisonous. A poisonous substance, if ingested, makes you sick, and can be deadly in some cases. This is not to be confused with venomous. Yes, some garter snakes have venom, which is a substance they use to immobilize their preys. The good thing is that this venom is completely harmless to human beings. Thus, there should be no cause for alarm if you happen to be bitten by a garter snake. The worst damage the snake can cause is an infection, which can only occur if the snake had the bacteria in its mouth and it got transferred to you through a bite. But that is very rare. If you happen to experience changes in your body health following a bite, it's advisable to seek medical attention.

Can Garter Snakes be Good Pets

From the little we know so far, you can easily tell that garter snakes are easy to care for, and that makes them good pets. But let's be more concrete in justifying this claim.

Garter snakes are generally human friendly: Their docile and gentle nature gives them an edge over other pet snakes. Besides being non-poisonous, the chances of biting are almost zero. Instead, the snake prefers spraying its musk if your presence seems to pose danger. You can simply splash the musk off your skin with water and that's all.

Small in size: Being small in size, a garter snake makes for a good pet. You don't want a companion that is too long or too heavy to handle or play with. Most garter snakes range between 23 and 30 inches long, so, there are no safety issues to concern you, even if your two-old angel is playing around the pet. Besides, their small size means that you don't need a big tank/vivarium, which may need a lot of material to make. If you're purchasing one, a small vivarium tends to be cheaper than a larger one.

They are garden guards: If you're having problems with crop devourers, such as mice, rats, and other rodents in your garden, then a garter snake will destroy them, and you may not have to visit a pet food store more often. There is also a revelation here that a garter snake is easy to keep and maintain. Just catch a rat, through it inside the snake's vivarium and it will have it meal.

Simple diet: With a garter snake, you don't have to be worried about diet; the snake is one of the simplest when it comes to feeding. Its simple diet covers such things as slugs, leeches, earthworms, fish, and mice, which are actually easy to find. Add to this the fact that garter snakes generally eat only twice every week and you have every reason to choose a garter snake as your pet. If you make up your mind to breed garter snakes, then eggs incubation will not be a bother to you since garter snakes are naturally livebearers.

Affordability: Compared to other pet snake species, garter snakes are very affordable. You can purchase one with as little as $10.

Attractive nature: You don't want an ugly pet in your home, I too. Most garter snakes have attractive looks, and that alone makes them good pets. Isn't an albino garter snake super attractive?

The Best Garter Snake for a Pet

The majority of garter snake species make good pets. And while you may have your own preference on best pet, garter snake lovers tend to fall in love with certain species of the snake. The reason for this? No one knows exactly why, given that most garter snakes have the same basics, in terms of care and maintenance. Maybe, factors such as availability and appearance play a role when it comes to choosing the best garter snake for rearing, who know? That said, the truth is that if you walk into a home where garter snakes are reared, then you're likely to find any of the following snakes:

Common garter snake

Albino garter snake

Checkered garter snake

Black-necked garter snake

Plains garter snake


One thing you should put in mind when acquiring a garter snake pet is that a captive-bred garter snake has a better relationship with people than a wild-caught garter snake. That is because of the different environments they were bred in taught them different things. The former, for instance, is used to seeing people; thus, your presence or that of other people won't bother it much. So, which one will make the best pet for you? That's food for thought.

Reproduction

Most garter snakes mate during the time of hibernation. During that time, the snakes come out from their communal dens to mingle. This is different when it comes garter snakes living in warm climatic conditions, since they don't undergo hibernation at all. For these particular garter snakes to mate, they rely on the so-called pheromones, which is a strong-smelling substance secreted by female garters to attract the attention of their male counterparts. Once they mate, the sperm will live in the body of the female snake until the right time for fertilization. Garter snakes usually give birth to multiple babies, with some managing up to 40 live babies (garter snakes are ovoviviparous) at a time. There is a report of up to 101 babies, although that is so rare. Remember, garter snakes don't care and fend for their babies.

Diet

What do garter snakes eat? That's is one of the questions you will need answered before buying a garter snake. As mentioned earlier on, garter snakes have a simple diet, which makes them good pets. As long as you understand the advantages and disadvantages of each food, you will be able to feed your snake and keep it healthy.

Unless your garter snake is a strict mice eater, a varied diet is highly recommended for purposes of ensuring the snake gets all the nutrients it needs. Yes, a mouse has almost every nutrient, and that's why its the best meal for any garter snake, but eating one thing over and over again could be boring. So, what are the alternatives?

Toads and frogs: This is what most wild garter snakes eat. However, this diet tends to have heavy parasite loads. Besides, it can be illegal to collect these amphibians in some jurisdictions due to negative environmental impact.

Fish: Fish is a good meal for garter snakes and can come to your rescue especially when your snake refuses to eat any other food. However, like toads and frogs, live fish can be parasite careers and this could wreak havoc on the health of the snake.

Earthworms: This is one of the most preferred foods in the wild. Worms are especially eaten by baby garter snakes. However, they are not as nutritious (e.g. they lack calcium) as, say, fish, mice, toads, or frogs. Some earthworms, especially those harvested in sidewalks and roads, may be toxic. Worms can also transmit parasites.

Rats: Rats are a good alternative to mice, and they are especially eaten by large garter snakes.

Other foods eaten by garter snakes include leeches and slugs, although they are difficult to find. They contain high levels of calcium, which is an essential nutrient for any reptile. Salamanders and newts are also potential preys, and so are small lizards.

Ideal Housing Conditions

A 30 to 50-gallon aquarium can be an excellent choice for a pet garter snake. Garter snakes are naturally escapists, so the aquarium must be covered properly with a lid. The aquarium should also contain a water bowl to allow the snake soak when the temperature conditions go south. Garter snakes prefer temperatures between 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Paper towels, butcher papers, or shredded newspapers can provide good bedding. The bedding should be cleaned daily and replaced when necessary.

Possible Health Problems

A garter snake will stay fit and healthy as long as it feeds well and the conditions favor it. However, the reptile is not immune to health issues. For instance, most garter snakes tend to have gastrointestinal parasites. Fortunately, this is something that can easily be resolved with the help of a pet vet. You can also prevent parasite transmission by switching to parasite-free foods. Hygiene is also vital, especially when it comes to handling your pet's food. Be sure to wash your hands well before you touch the pet food. Dirty hands can transfer parasites to your snake through food.

Nutritional imbalances is yet another health problem that your snake is likely to suffer from. This may result from excessive feeding on frozen foods, such as fish and rodents. A garter snake may also become overweight if its not allowed to exercise. This may happen if the cage is too small and does not allow the snake to sufficiently move around, stretch, or exercise. Additionally, a garter snake may become dehydrated if its housed in conditions that are too hot. Have a pet vet to check your snake in case of any health problem.

Where to Get a Garter Snake

Garter snakes exist in abundance in the wild around lakes, streams, and other water bodies. And while countries such as Mexico, the United States, and Canada prohibit the rearing of garter snakes, there are jurisdictions which allow people to keep garter snakes as pets. Thus, you could simply obtain your snake from its natural habitat and take it home as a pet. Don't want to go through the hassle of catching a wild garter snake? You can purchase a captive-bred snake from a dealer. Be sure to take a snake-savvy person with you for examination before you spend your money.

Baby Garter Snakes

Taking care of a baby snake comes with extra responsibilities, which is why many people opt for adult snakes. But what if you caught a garter snake from the wild and took it home only to realize that it's pregnant? Will you throw it away and start over again the hassle of finding another one? Baby garter snakes can be fun to keep, as long as you understand a few things about them. For instance, they won't eat mice or rats because they are still very small. Earthworms may be ideal, but again be mindful of potential parasite transmission. Here are some facts you need to know about baby garter snakes:

It can be difficult to feed a baby garter snake because of obvious reasons, with their small size being one of them.

They shed immediately after birth (within 10 or so days)

Baby garter snakes feed more often than adult garters

Desiccation on a hot day could result in death

They are not taken care of by their mother