Garter Snake

a close up of a Garter Snake's head

Garter Snakes are a popular choice for family pets, and for good reason! These small, non-venomous snakes are easy to care for and make great pets. They come in a variety of colors and patterns, making them an attractive addition to any home.

Garter Snakes are native to North America and can be found in many different habitats. They prefer moist environments, such as near streams, ponds, and marshes. They are active during the day and spend most of their time hunting for food. Some species of these snakes tend to go into hibernation in the cold and come out only during the spring and summer.

Garter Snakes can make great pets for those who are new to reptile ownership. They are relatively small, reaching an average length of two to three feet, and they don’t require a large enclosure or a lot of special care. In fact , they can be kept in a simple 10-gallon aquarium with a secure lid.

The Garter Snakes skin can have several colors and patterns. Currently, there are more than 75 recognized breeds of Garter Snakes. These snakes have an average lifespan of up to 5 years in the wild but can live up to 10 years in captivity.

Garter Snakes are very easy to care for and maintain. They are very clean, and will shed their skin once every three or four months. They are also very attractive, and will look great in a terrarium. Garter snakes are very docile, and are unlikely to bite anyone unless provoked. 

Garter Snakes are a very popular pet snake, and many new snake keepers will start with them as their first snake. They are very easy-going, and will adapt to any environment. They are also very easy to take care of, and will thrive in a home setting.

Garter Snakes make great pets for beginners, and will provide hours of entertainment for children.

Garter Snakes are social creatures and can be kept in groups if they are provided with enough space. It is important to remember that these snakes should not be handled too often, as this can cause stress.

Overall, Garter Snakes make great pets for those who are looking for an easy-to-care-for snake. They’re active, social creatures that can give your family countless hours of entertainment and companionship. With the right care, they can live for up to 10 years!

Garter Snake Information

  • Average Length: 2 to 3 feet
  • Average Weight: Up to 1 pound
  • Snake Type: Colubridae Snake
  • Skin Appearance: Scaled with stripes, spots, and speckles
  • Skin Colors: Brown, green, black, red, and yellow
  • Grooming Needs: Low
  • Shedding: Few times a year
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Biting Tendency: No
  • Tolerance to Heat and Cold: No, they cannot tolerate heat
  • Good Pet: They allow people to handle them, so yes!
  • Safe with Children: Yes
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: Yes
  • Good for Less Experienced Pet Owners: Yes
  • Weight Gain: Normal
  • Health Concerns: Respiratory diseases, stomatitis, dermatitis, ticks and mites.
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: Up to 10 years

Physical Appearance of Garter Snakes

a Garter Snake slinking around outside

Garter Snakes are short snakes that have a stout body. They do not get very long which can make them a great pet for families without much space. The males are a little shorter than the females, but most are between 22 and 30 inches long.

They can have several different colors and patterns. Some of their skin colors are brown, green, black, red, and yellow.

Most snakes have stripes that run along the length of the body. Some will only have one stripe in the center of their back. Most Garter Snakes will have the center stripe but they’ll have two other stripes that are where the top of their back meets their side. The stripes are typically yellow, white or green, but a few subspecies may have orange or even blue.

Some subspecies have spots or speckles on their body. Some breeds of Garter Snakes can have two colored tongues. The Garter Snakes with single color tongues are typically black. The ones with multi-color tongues are a reddish pink, with the tip black.

Temperament of Garter Snakes

Some wild Garter Snakes can be aggressive and coil themselves when they sense danger. Captive Garter Snakes are known for being calm and docile. They stay active during the day and like to climb and burrow.

These snakes are not constrictors and need to be handled with more care than other snakes require.

Garter Snakes don’t tend to attack but will try to escape when being held. Their tank lid should be tightly closed at all times to keep them from escaping.

Their Compatibility with Children

a close up of a Garter Snake's head with their tongue sticking out

Garter Snakes are safe for children to handle but having an adult to supervise their interactions is recommended. These snakes are not constrictors, because they’re different from other snakes they need to be held differently. Children should be taught how to hold the snakes correctly to avoid hurting them. Support the entire body of your snake and your snake should be less stressed.

Anyone handling your Garter Snake should wash their hands immediately after they are done. Most snakes are carriers of infectious bacteria like Salmonella which can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Washing their hands should prevent anyone that touched the snake from contracting bacterial and fungal diseases.

Living Space for Garter Snakes

The living space of Garter Snakes should be large enough to allow them to move around comfortably. These snakes are happier and healthier if their enclosure replicates their natural habitat. A 30 to 50-gallon tank is a good size for these snakes. Even though males are slightly smaller than females, they both should be kept in similar sized enclosures.

The tank lid must be tightly secured because Garter Snakes are known to look for ways to escape. Tiny gaps can act as escape points for them. While the lid needs to be secured to keep them from escaping it should also allow for proper ventilation inside the tank.

The tank should be divided into two sections – warm and hot with hiding spots in each section. To make their living space more natural, wood, vines or other things from their habitat should be added to their tank. By adding wood or vines to the tank it will allow them to climb inside their enclosure.

A water bowl needs to be placed inside the tank so that they can drink and soak in the water. Medium-sized rocks make a great addition to their home. The rocks will give your snake something to rub against when they are shedding.

a Garter Snake slithering across the grass

Newspapers, recycled paper or paper towels can be used as substrate, but only if you don’t have a soil mixture to use. All will let your snake burrow and hide, but the soil is better because it’s natural.

Two or more Garter Snakes can be housed together in the same tank. Make sure that you increase the enclosure size to account for the additional snakes needing more space. A 55-gallon tank is big enough to house two captive garter snakes.

If you do have multiple Garter Snakes in the same tank, it is very important that they be separated while feeding them. If they are not fed separately, it can lead to cannibalism. If you need to, you can move them to a separate feeding tank just for feeding them

Best Climate for Garter Snakes

Garter Snakes are active during the day and need 10 to 12 hours of light. The tank lights should be switched off during the night. Using a timer to automate the light is the easiest way to make sure they get the right amount of light each day.

On the hot side of the tank, the temperature should range between 80 to 90 degrees. In the warm section, the temperature should be set to 70 to 75 degrees. There should be one thermometer in each section to be able to monitor the temperature inside the tank.

To provide the necessary heat, ceramic heat bulbs or mercury-vapor bulbs can be used. A UVB-light should also be used on the hot side. The UBV helps them make vitamin-D as well as makes them more active and better eaters.

a Garter Snake all coiled up

These snakes need a humidity of 30 to 50%. The humidity should be increased to 60% when it looks like they are about to shed. The higher humidity level will reduce shedding related problems and reduce their stress while shedding.

The Attention a Garter Snake Needs

Snakes do not require a lot of attention. They can be handled once a day or many times each week. In the beginning, some Garter Snakes may not allow themselves to be handled. They may curl themselves or get away but with time, and regular handling, they will calm down. Young hatchlings should be handled less frequently until they get used to being held.

Avoid handling them when they are shedding or for a few hours immediately after feeding them. While they are shedding they are already stressed and may not be able to see well because of loose skin. It can be uncomfortable for snakes that have just eaten to be held.

Garter Snakes are not constrictors so they may slide through your fingers instead of curling around. The body of Garter Snakes should be carefully supported to keep them from hanging or being stressed.

Health Issues


Mouth rot, or infectious stomatitis, is an infection in a snake’s mouth. Mouth rot is very serious and can cause your snake a great deal of pain, and can eventually lead to their death. Mouth rot is typically caused by an injury to your snake’s mouth, or their enclosure not being kept at the correct conditions.

Symptoms of mouth rot in your snake are:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Blood in your pets mouth or their water bowl
  • Swollen areas in their mouth
  • Weight loss

The first step to fixing the problem is finding out if they injured their mouth on something, or if their enclosure’s conditions are not right. If their mouth is injured you should get them to a vet to have them look at your pets mouth. If the problem is environmental then fix the problems in their enclosure.

No matter what the cause of your snakes’s mouth rot, you’ll still need to take them to your vet because their treatment requires prescription antibiotics. Surgery may be required depending on the severity of the mouth rot. Because this infection kills tissues in your pet’s mouth, areas may need to be removed, including teeth. It’s better to prevent this problem before it happens by keeping your pets’ enclosure at the conditions they need to be happy and healthy.


Dermatitis is a condition in snakes that is caused by the conditions of their enclosure being not kept right. Either too humid, not humid enough, or too dirty, causing your snake’s skin to blister. Sometimes this is caused because your snake isn’t able to fully shed their skin, and it remains stuck to them for a long time. Eventually the blisters will become too large and burst, creating an open wound.

The best thing to do is to treat the cause immediately so that your snake’s skin does not get any worse.

Symptoms of Dermatitis:

  • Discolored scales, usually on their belly
  • Blisters, usually on their belly
  • Swollen or raised scales

The best way to mitigate the problem is to move your snake into a holding container and then fully clean their enclosure. It’s important that the cleaning is thorough so that none of the bacteria will be in their enclosure once they’re placed back inside. Replace the substrate and clean all the items in their enclosure with disinfectant.

If your snake’s condition does not improve quickly you should call your vet.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are not that uncommon in snakes and reptiles. Especially ones that are kept in enclosures not kept at the correct conditions. Respiratory infections are very contagious, and even if your pet is kept in the best conditions, the infection can be passed to another reptile through touch. That’s why it’s important to wash up between handling reptiles to prevent cross contamination.

Symptoms of a respiratory infection in snakes:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Loud breathing
  • Open mouth breathing
  • Mucus in their mouth
  • Nasal discharge

You’ll want to take your snake into your vet if you see any of the problems related to their breathing or their mouth. A respiratory infection can be serious and can take a long time to get over without treatment.

Treatment for a respiratory infection is typically antibiotics for 10-14 days. It’s very important to administer the medication at the same time each day, and for the full length of the treatment. Not completing the full dose means that your pet could relapse with a more severe infection that’s harder to treat.

To prevent future respiratory infections it’s important to make sure that their enclosure is kept at the best conditions for their health. You’ll also want to make sure to wash up after handling one reptile before handling another to prevent cross contamination.


Mites are tiny black insects that are parasites. They feed off your snake’s blood, and they can be quite the pain in the butt to get rid of once you have them. Most times your new snake will be caught and sold already having mites, or they’ll get them from another snake at the pet store.

Symptoms that your snake has mites:

  • Long soaks in their water
  • Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on your snake or objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on you from handling your snake

We recommend contacting your vet to find out what treatment they recommend for killing mites. Keep in mind that mites don’t tend to stay in one place, and any other snakes or reptiles kept in the same room could be infested with mites as well. Distance between pets is key, just as washing up between handling pets so that you don’t spread mites from pet to pet.


Ticks are blood sucking parasites that are just as bad for your snake as they are for people. They can pass on quite a number of terrible diseases to your snake. Depending on what the ticks carry, or if left untreated, they can cause your snake to die.

Symptoms of ticks in snakes:

  • Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
  • Long soaks
  • Weight loss
  • Scale deformities or red spots

Usually with the above symptoms, especially red spots on their scales, people will be suspicious of either ticks or mites. Ticks are a lot easier to see than mites are, and with a close inspection of your snake you should be able to spot them pretty easily.

The treatment is fairly straightforward and can be done at home, or you can have your vet do it. Once you find a tick attached to your snake, rub the tick with a cotton ball that has been soaked in rubbing alcohol, then use tweezers to pull the tick off. Using alcohol first should help the tick release their grip and make them easier to pull off. If you are at all worried about diseases your snake might have gotten from the ticks you can have your vet take a look and they may prescribe medication based on what they find.

Grooming and Care

Your snake’s enclosure should be thoroughly cleaned once a month. Take your snake out and place them inside a box that they can’t escape from. Remove all the materials from the tank and use a 3% bleach solution to clean the tank.

Clean the walls and the floors of the tank and rinse it with water. Let the tank dry completely. Once everything has dried, carefully place everything back inside the tank and then your snake.

The substrate must be cleaned or replaced every week. The water bowl should be washed and refilled daily. Replace the water even sooner if your snake has left feces in the water. Even your snakes hiding boxes should be spot-cleaned often. All this cleaning is necessary to ensure a hygienic living environment for your snake.

Garter Snakes love eating mice and other small rodents

Keep a close watch on the temperature and humidity levels when your snake is shedding their skin. At least one hygrometer should be put inside their tank to measure the humidity levels. If the snake has problems shedding their skin, try adjusting the temperature or humidity level. Contact your reptile vet if they’re still having problems.

Feeding A Garter Snake

Young hatchlings can be fed small cut pieces of nightcrawlers or pinky mice. The adult snakes should be given pre-killed frozen mice that can be purchased from your local pet store. Any frozen mice fed need to be thawed before being fed to them.

Garter Snakes eat worms, amphibians, fish, and rodents in the wild. They can also eat earthworms and live rodents in captivity. If you give them live mice, don’t leave your snakes alone until they have eaten the mice. Staying with them is important because live mice can injure or kill your snake.

Adult snakes should be fed every 7 to 10 days and younger snakes should be fed every 4 to 5 days. When the snakes shed their skin the frequency of the feeding should be reduced as the snakes tend to eat less after they’ve shed.

Related Questions:

Are Garter Snakes Venomous?

Some species of Garter Snakes produce a mild neurotoxic venom. The venom is used to kill prey in the wild but is harmless to humans. If a Garter Snake does bite you it is not dangerous. For most people the bite will only cause swelling or bruising where you were bitten.

How did Garter Snakes get Their Name?

The longitudinal stripes that run along their bodies look similar to garters that women wore to hold their stockings up. The resemblance is why they are called Garter Snakes.

Are Garter Snakes Endangered?

The popularity of Garter Snakes as pets has led to a decline in their wild population. The Giant Garter Snake and the San Francisco Garter Snake are the only subspecies that are currently considered endangered.

Author Profile
A woman with curly hair holding a cat.
Contributing Author & Social Media Expert

Maryna is an animal expert that has had dozens of animals in her life over the years. She has never found an animal that she didn't love immediately. It seems like every year she finds kittens that have been abandoned by their mom and she nurses them to health and finds homes for them. She contributes her vast knowledge about animals and family pets to our website and we're forever grateful to have her working with us. She's also an amazing graphics designer and has designed all of the social media images that we use across all platforms.