Eastern Garter Snake

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Is the Eastern Garter Snake right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Common Garter Snake

Scientific name: Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis

The basics:
The Eastern Garter Snake, one of 13 subspecies of the Common Garter Snake, has introduced countless aspiring herpetologists to snake-keeping.

Although often thought of as “child’s pets”, it makes a fascinating addition to any collection. Most individuals are attractively-colored, adjust well to handling, and are relatively easy to breed in captivity. Eastern Garter Snakes do not require rodents as food, and bear their young alive…all told, ideal pets for most any snake fancier!

The huge range extends from southern Canada (Quebec and Ontario) through most of the eastern and central USA, from Maine to Minnesota to southeastern Texas and Florida. Highly adaptable, Eastern Garter Snakes may be found along creeks, streams and canals, as well as in meadows, swamps, forests, rocky hillsides, farms, suburban gardens and even within NYC and other large cities. At home on land and in shallow water, Garter Snakes shelter beneath leaf litter, rocks, logs and human rubbish.

Appearance / Health:
The thinly-built Eastern Garter Snake averages 18-26 inches in length, with rare individuals slightly exceeding 4 feet. The dark-colored body is usually marked by three yellow lines along its top and sides. However, some specimens exhibit a checkered pattern, while in others the background coloration is reddish or blue-tinted gray. A wide variety of color morphs have been established by breeders.

Properly cared-for Eastern Garter Snakes are among the hardiest of reptile pets. “Blister disease” and other skin infections can take hold if your pet is kept in a damp terrarium. Wild caught specimens should be checked carefully for mites.

Behavior / Temperament:
Youngsters and wild-caught individuals may bite and release musk when approached, but many calm down in time and accept gentle handling. However, many feel that Garter Snakes are best viewed as pets to observe rather than handle…and in a large, planted terrarium, they will provide a great deal to observe!

Youngsters may be raised in 5-10 gallon aquariums, and the average adult will do fine in a 20 gallon tank. Garters are well-suited to life in naturalistic terrariums stocked with sturdy live plants (Chinese Evergreens, Pothos, Cast Iron Plants). Driftwood and branches can be added as basking sites. A reptile cave or other hideaway should always be available. A mix of topsoil, sphagnum moss and forest-floor bedding works well in planted terrariums, while newspapers, washable terrarium liners or dead leaves can be used in simplified set-ups.

Eastern Garter Snakes fare best in a temperature range of 72-82 F, with a dip to 68-70 F at night and a basking spot of 82-85 F. Large enclosures are necessary if a thermal gradient (areas of different temperatures) is to be established. Thermal gradients allow snakes to regulate their body temperature by moving from hot to cooler areas. There is some evidence that Garter Snakes may benefit from exposure to low levels of UVB and UVA light, but many have been kept and bred without access to either.

In the wild, Eastern Garter Snakes are opportunistic feeders, taking fish, tadpoles, earthworms and other invertebrates, salamanders, occasional nestling rodents, toads, and frogs – both live and road-killed! Earthworms, goldfishes and minnows can form the basis of the diet, with other fish species and a pink or fuzzy mouse being offered on occasion. Garter snakes have fast metabolisms (as snakes go!).Youngsters and gravid females should be fed every 3-4 days; adults every 4-6 days.

A cooling-off period of 6-8 weeks at 50-62 F and with a daylight cycle of 8 hours will often stimulate reproduction. Females give birth to 10-50+ live young after a gestation period of 2-3 months.

Written by Frank Indiviglio


good feeders, docile temperament, amazing color morphs, coloration, great starter snake, active hunters


Flighty Garters, swimming area, dreadful nasty musking, notorious muskers, wild-caught individuals


water bath, little guppy feeders, widely distributed reptile, science classroom

Helpful Eastern Garter Snake Review

Eastern Garter Snake

From AnneGarage Oct 8 2015 3:20AM


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