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Garter Snake Questions..

Discussion in 'Garter & Water snakes' started by Frognut, Jan 10, 2011.

  1. Frognut

    Frognut Subscribed User Premium Member

    I'm torn -- I have a spot for a 20 gal (with 7" of space above it for lighting). It will be set in the middle cabinets of my credenza, so it will be surrounded by wood with the front space open where I remove the doors. (The tank sits inside this space, I'm not making a tank out of the space).

    I'm looking into either a pair of Garter snakes or some Dart Frogs (I"ll ask Dart Frog questions in the frog section, and I'll just post the Garter Snake questions here)

    Correct any of the following information, please:

    Garters need a water supply, but a container will work fine - doesn't have to be a water feature.

    Basking spot only 80º

    They eat bugs when they are little, and switch to pinkies as soon as they are big enough - and supplemental vitamins are needed until they take to pinkies. Would they eat Dubia Roaches of appropriate sizes?

    Humidity levels?

    Live potted tank okay? Recommended?

    Do they like to climb branches? They are so small as babies I'd be worried about them escaping -- recommendations on enclosure lid would be helpful.

    How often do they feed, I thought I read that they fed weekly or more often.

    Do I really have to use pinky parts? Can I keep them on bugs until they are big enough to eat a whole pinky? Feeding thawed mice is fine - but cutting them up???? :-&

    **I'm leaning toward the Dart's only because of the controversy with snakes and my hubby -- but then I see some of the pics of Jeepguy's Garter Snakes and I change my mind again!

    Hubby knows a tank is going there, but he doesn't have to know what is in there --- until he looks :eek:
  2. bucher70

    bucher70 Elite Member

    Garter snakes really shouldnt be housed together, like all snakes, are solitary creatures, and undue stress will be added if housed together.
    I think the reason for pinky parts is they have to be transitioned from fish and insects to mice. They are not part of a normal diet from them. I read about having to shake the pinkie parts in a bag full of feeder fish to scent them.
  3. peter84jenkins

    peter84jenkins Well-Known Member

    You should check out the book "garter snakes" by Roger Sweeny. It was one of my very first books since an eastern garter was my first herp.

    I would not recommend getting a herp unless you are 100% dedicated to tending to its every physical, biological and environmental needs; as it is 100% relying on you to provide such.

    Garters do need a constant source of water, such as from a dish.

    They do fine with a gradient of 70 deg to 85 deg. Provide a spectrum.

    A live potted tank would be awesome for your garter!

    The only insect you will need to feed a garter will be earth worms. I use to put 2 or 3 in my garters water bowl and he would immediately come a feeding. You can get them from a bait shop, or walmarts that sell that stuff.

    Also, you can feed your garter gold fish.

    Keep in mind due to the snakes diet it will pass waste quite often, so you will have a lot more cleaning to do with a garter than with a ball python. Also, their food is messy!

    Personally I would not recommend feeding a garter pinks, but that is just me.

    Hope I hit all your concerns.

    Daniel D.
  4. mld

    mld Subscribed User Premium Member

    I think that Garter Snakes are just so gorgeous! Barak666 has 3 in the same enclosure, they are too cute and seem to get along really well! In his last post they were all at the worm dish together like little puppy dogs.
  5. bucher70

    bucher70 Elite Member

    So ... just because someone else has them housed together, does not mean its a good idea, the only time garter snakes congregate in the wild is to breed and when they brumate for the winter. If you read good litature, housing any 2 snakes together is ill advised due to stress. Some people do, I personally never would, most lizards dont do well together either except for breeding purposes.
  6. mld

    mld Subscribed User Premium Member

    I do agree with you, most reptiles/snakes prefer to live alone except for breeding. I don't know enough about these snakes to suggest that someone do this. I know that there are people out there that house more than one reptile together, I would personally would not ever do this. Just made a statement of another members garters, that's all. Sorry If I upset anyone! :">
  7. bucher70

    bucher70 Elite Member

    Definately not upset. Just dont want people to get the wrong idea. Did not mean to sound like a jerk. I apologize.:-"
  8. Frognut

    Frognut Subscribed User Premium Member

    Okay - just one. I know most reptiles are kept solitary (I give this advice often enough). I've seen many Garters housed in multiples, I just thought I could keep 2 together.

    I also thought I read somewhere not to feed goldfish, but you could feed other fish (like maybe guppies?). I was surfing the threads here, but maybe I read that wrong.

    Garters stay small enough to not feed pinkies? What supplements do you need to add to their diet if they are not getting whole prey? Earthworms don't provide much in the way of nutrition -- how do you get around that?

    Messier tanks + potted tanks = not so much fun cleaning.... hmmmm

    This is why I'm asking questions - don't worry, I'll have a ton more :rolleyes:

    I need to decide which route I want to take - Garters vs. Poison Dart Frogs.

    I also read about scenting the pinkies to get the Garters to eat them, I'm okay with that part - as long as I don't have to offer up cut-up pinky parts soaked in fish :-&

    So with Garters, heat/light and water source is easily accomplished. But they have a messier tank which means more tank maintenance. And the question about the food -- mixed reviews on that.

    Oh - and I'll look into that book, thanks for the reference.

    Keep the advice coming. I'm not new to herps, just Garters.
  9. jeepguy

    jeepguy Elite Member

    Steph I would suggest checking out It is a garter specific site and may be more apt in answering your questions. Some of the info given is incorrect and i am just not in the mood to argue.
  10. peter84jenkins

    peter84jenkins Well-Known Member

    I am not sure what you mean by supplements? How is it that they would be lacking in nutrition if you are feeding them their natural prey of fish and or earth worms? Supplements are rarely, if ever, for snakes.

    You can feed them many types of fish. Guppies, goldfish, slices of tilapia, salmon etc. They also prey on salamanders, tadpoles and mud-puppies. Are you willing to acquire any of these to feed a garter snake?

    If you decide to feed your garter pinkies, or pinkie parts, you may very well need to scent them with fish. Scenting is at certain times a natural part of snake ownership and something you will have to consider.
  11. jeepguy

    jeepguy Elite Member

    You can not feed snakes goldfish or rosy reds, among other fish. These particular fish contain Thiaminase, an enzyme that will break down thiamine, cumulatively causing a lethal thiamine deficiency in your snake.

    Supplements are necessary if you are feeding fish filet or worms. Calcium needs to be supplemented as there are no bones in those food choices to provide it. A good multivitamin supplement makes up for the lack of other organs that they would get were they to eat whole fish like guppies or eating rodents.

    Despite their preying on amphibians in the wild, you would probably not wish to feed these in captivity. Unless you could secure a known source of parasite-free 'phibs, you will probably be introducing parasites and disease into your snake with wild caught tads or other phibs.

    Some garters, mainly piscivores, may need to have the pinks scented. However, our eastern babies needed no encouragement to take pinky parts. Most of the common pet species quite readily take to pinks, even from their first feeding.
  12. kaitala

    kaitala Active Member

    Garter snakes are wonderful animals. Jeepguy has it right but I'll add some details:

    No a water feature is not necessary. However, they like to swim, so the larger the water dish the better.

    Feeding- they don't eat bugs, ever. Nor will they eat any worm-like larvae such as mealworms, waxworms, butters etc. However, night crawlers and slugs are some of their favorites. Be sure NOT to feed red wigglers (trout worms) as they secrete a toxin that will at best cause a regurge, at worst kill the snake. Live fish are a choice, but stick with guppies. I don't like to feed live- too great a chance of disease or parasites.

    They are diurnal, and love to "play" during the day. They are not truly arboreal, but will climb with the best of them. An ideal enclosure for them offers plenty of space with substrate for burrowing, branches for climbing, and light for basking. They will use all the space you give them, the bigger the tank the better.

    They most certainly can be housed together. They aren't as sensitive to the reported "stress" other snakes might experience from being co-habbed. They actually seem to "enjoy" the company of other snakes, and when hosed communally, despite offering enough hides for each to have their own, you'll usually find them all piled in one hide.

    They do not need full spectrum or UVB, despite being diurnal. However, they surely thrive when a basking light is provided, either alone or in conjunction with under tank heating. Most keepers agree, the basking light is essential for them.

    They do have a higher metabolism, and will eat more frequently and poop more frequently. They are also fast, squirmy, and high energy. They are usually great to handle, but you have to work with them to get them calm when handled. Otherwise, don't let your guard down or you'll be chasing them across the floor and moving furniture to recover them. I have to say, I don't know how they do it, but they "jump"!!! They will launch themselves if they feel threatened.

    If you have any more questions, I'd be happy to help in any way.
  13. bucher70

    bucher70 Elite Member

    With some garter snake species, there is a risk of cannibalism, and they should be housed individually. This is especially true of the Western Terrestrial Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans), the most commonly kept subspecies of which are the Wandering Garter Snake (T. e. vagrans) and the Coast Garter Snake (T. e. terrestris). There have been many reports of Wandering Garter Snakes that ate their cagemates. While some have kept this species collectively with no trouble at all, play it safe and keep no more than one per cage. Cannibalism has also been reported in Checkered Garter Snakes (Thamnophis marcianus) and occasionally with Common Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis). The risk with common garters is probably quite small, and I keep mine collectively, but it has been known to happen, so consider yourself warned.
    Housing -
    Ok, so I did read that certian species of garter snakes can be, and might be benificial to house them together. But I did read that certain species are Cannibalistic, and have been known to practice it in captivity, relatively rare per the author, but has happened. I try not to jump the gun without researching what Ive heard first, But I did in this case. I am also aware of alot of bogus information on the internet, so I am carful to believe every thing I read. My intention is never to misinform, for it can be detromental in the long run.

  14. kaitala

    kaitala Active Member

    Just some pics of my first set up, looking for pics of others for you..



    and here's some pics of a rock hide I made for them:




    Attached Files:

  15. Frognut

    Frognut Subscribed User Premium Member

    Thanks! This information confirms what I've been reading and getting from Garter breeders.

    Just to clarify - I don't have a problem with scenting pinkies with fish or whatever, it's the cutting the pinkies into parts I'm a bit squeemish over. Warm pinkie parts are yucky!

    Kaitala - love the rock hide!! (I'll need detailed directions - or you could just make and mail me one....:-") And the tank pics.

    So, with the Garters diet and more regular eating habits, the tank needs more constant cleaning. That is also not a problem. However, I wanted to do a full planted tank -- for those that keep them, how messy is it? Will I be needing to pull the plants regularly to change out the substrate?

    With the location I have for the tank, it looks like I will need 1 basking light and a florescent daylight bulb for the plants and day/night schedule.

    What are their humidity requirements?
  16. peter84jenkins

    peter84jenkins Well-Known Member

    calicum is a natural mineral found in soil and therefore calcium can be found in worms. As a matter of fact, calcium is a major component to worm castings (worm waste), a favorite nutrient for florists, along with phosphorous etc.

    Gold fish do contain Thiaminase, so just do not feed your garter snake a diet comprised wholly on these fish. I would not recommended feeding a garter snake a diet comprised of one food source anyway, but that is just me. They are unique among snakes and their diets range quite a bit. Personally I am not a proponent of feeding an animal a non natural diet just so I can keep it in a box. Just me though. It's kind of like feeding an iguana nothing but lettuce there are a whole range of nutrients it will be missing from its diet and therefore will always be in poor health. There is no herp vitamin supplement that can quite take the place of a good natural diet.

    Like I stated earlier, there are tons of excellent books available from very knowledgeable people. A good library is a must for herp hobbyist.
  17. kaitala

    kaitala Active Member

    Steph, (great name by the way ;) ) just chop the pinks when they're frozen. They aren't yucky then. Let them thaw in the pieces. Spritz with a little water to keep them from drying out as they thaw.

    For nutrient content here are some links:

    mice, rats
    scroll down for tables of nutrient content

    earthworms Papers/NAGFS00397Insects-JONIFEB24,2002MODIFIED.pdf

    various, centered on diet of fennec foxes, but includes prey for many reptiles. You'll have to create an account to access it, but it's free

    Personally, if I set up a vivarium (live planted tank with animals), I prefer it to be a mini-ecosystem. Therefore, when you set it up, seed the substrate with springtails and isopods to take care of the feces, and use "disposable" plants. Springs and isopods will eat feces and detritus (dead plant material). Feces and detritus will also feed the plants. Escaped earthworms will live in the soil, and be an unexpected treat for the garter industrious enough to look for them.

    Use disposable plants, in that the garters do LOVE to burrow. Chances are they will uproot your plants quite often. $3 "angel plants" from Lowes/HD are a good choice. Save prized, delicate, or expensive plants for your windowsill. Since the garters won't chew on the plants, the only worry would be plants that are toxic by contact. I don't really know of any, but most of the typical "angel plants" aren't toxic to the touch.

    Personally, I prefer a naturalistic tank to a vivarium. Small areas like tanks are great for vivs for PDF's and the like, but harder with garters. Naturalistic would have some natural elemnents, but also some fakes. I love giving them plants, but prefer silk and plastic. Good silk plants are still very cheap and can be put in the dishwasher for cleaning and sterilization.

    Some fun things to include in your naturalistic tank are branches from outside, and leaves. They LOVE to rustle around in the leaves! Bake leaves and sticks in the oven around 300 degrees. When you start to smell them baking, turn off the oven and let them cool with the oven. They should not catch fire, as the ignition point is much higher than 300 degrees.

    Hides are easy to make. If you decide to go with garters over PDF's, I'll give detailed instructions.

    Humidity requirements vary, but just use common sense. My florida blues seem to like higher humidity, upwards of 65%. Radix aren't that particular. Misting the substrate is usually enough, and hides full of moist sphagnum allow them a spot of high humidity, while allowing them the freedom to choose their humidity level.

    I know there are lots of good books out there, but, just as with information on the internet, you can't believe everything you read, either. I'm glad you're talking with people who actually breed and keep garters. Many of those books are written by people who merely did literature reviews or small studies. I personally have 28 garters now, and work with some of the country's top breeders, as well as having a good (albeit distant) relationship with Dr. Rick Shine of the University of Sydney. He has done some interesting work with garters including spending time at the Narcisse Dens. I loved his paper on semi-arboreality of garters.

    Lastly, if you get them, you will fall in love with their little personalities. However, if hubby is not on board with it, you may want to err on the side of the PDFs. I keep 3 species of those, and love them too, and would be more than happy to help answer any questions. Anyway, you don't want to have the snakes become a bone of contention in your house. Life is hard enough, even with a great hubby, you don't need to add strife. See if you can get him on board in some way, or go for the PDF's.
  18. Frognut

    Frognut Subscribed User Premium Member

    Wow - Thanks! Lots of information to read up on and digest - just what I was looking for! :)

    Hubby is just not a snake guy, but finally gave in and I have a Ball Python and an adult Albino Corn Snake. The only concern would be if they got out --not worried about the other two, little tiny garter snakes are another story. :rolleyes: (big scary guy afraid of little teeny snake...)

    That's why I'm really doing my research - I want to make sure I get what I want. We will be closing in our porch, which will be my reptile room - but that is at least a year away. I may wait on the Garters until then - but since this is my LAST available spot in the house, I want it to be good! >:)
  19. mld

    mld Subscribed User Premium Member

    Talking about books, you should enter some books that you would recommend in the book selection of the site!
  20. peter84jenkins

    peter84jenkins Well-Known Member

    Will do. Seems like there are already a few good titles on garters in the book section.

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