Butler's Garter Snake

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Is the Butler's Garter Snake right for you?

Species group:

Scientific name: Thamnophis butleri

The basics:
The Butler’s Garter Snake can make a fine pet, and is in need of captive breeding efforts. However, as it is endangered, and protected by law, throughout much of its range, care should be left to serious keepers with proper permits.

The Butler’s Garter Snake is found from southern Ontario, Canada to northeastern Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, where it is at home in brushy prairies, swamps, forest edges and parks within suburban and urban areas.

Appearance / health:
The slender, graceful Butler’s Garter Snake averages 18-30 inches in length, making it one of the smallest of North America’s garter snakes. It is black, brown or olive in color, and sports 3 yellow to light orange lines along the body.

When given proper care, Butler’s Garter Snake is quite hardy. Fungal skin infections are common in overly-damp terrariums.

Behavior / temperament:
Butler’s garter snakes are best observed rather than handled, although long term pets may “submit” to a bit of contact. When stressed, they will not hesitate to bite and to release copious amounts of musk.

A single Butler’s Garter Snake will do fine in a 10 gallon aquarium; a 20-30 gallon will support a pair. Unlike most snakes, they do not fare well on newspapers, aspen shavings or similar substrates. Their terrarium should instead be furnished with a mixture of dead leaves and coco-husk, a soil/sand mix, or cypress mulch. Many individuals will shelter below the substrate, but a dark cave or cork bark slab hide-away should also be provided. The tank’s screen lid should be secured by cage clips. Due to their small size, Butler’s Garter Snakes are ideal inhabitants of naturalistic terrariums provisioned with live plants. A water bowl large enough for soaking should be available. Ambient temperature: 72-78 F; Basking temperature: 85 F.

There is some evidence that garter snakes benefit from exposure to UVA and low levels of UVB light.

Butler’s Garter Snakes have narrower heads (in proportion to the body) than do their relatives, and seem to feed mainly upon invertebrates. The natural diet includes earthworms, beetle grubs, slugs and other soft-bodied invertebrates, as well as small frogs, toads, salamanders, tadpoles and fish. Pets do fine on a base diet of earthworms, with small fish, waxworms and butterworms added regularly.

Well-adjusted Butler’s Garter Snakes often delight their owners by reproducing. Five to twenty young are born alive at various times from spring through fall. A short cooling off period and reduced light cycle may encourage breeding, but seems not essential.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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