Scientific name: Thamnophis

Size: Average 60cm (2ft)

Lifespan: 10 – 12 years

Wild Population: 1,000,000+

Primary Colour: Variable Commonly, Black or Grey

Endangerment: Common

Habitat: North & Centeral America

Difficulty of Keeping: Easy

Optimum environment Temperature: 90-95°F hotspot with ambient temp of 80°F

What do they eat? Mice, fish, amphibians & eggs.

Eggs or Live birth: Egg baring snake.

Venomous: None venomous/ None poisonous

Are they kept in captivity? A great pet snake for new keepers, though they are very fast and this can throw some off, great pet snakes.

Cost: Ranges between $30 – $500 dependant on morph (colour)

Garter Snake Overview

Garter snakes, a very cute snake which is kept across the globe and renown for the ease of care and just how much of a great beginner snake they are.

A garter snake is a mid to small sized snake, this means they are perfect if you do not have a whole lot of space open to you.

A non-venomous snake that is not big enough to pose any threat to children, though we always recommend that handling of snakes be monitored by a responsible adult.

Why would you choose a garter snake over a Hognose or king snake? We the first is simple, garter snakes are diurnal whereas the others are not.

Diurnal means they are awake during the day like humans are.

They are such characters and are active around their caging a lot of the daytime, garters also love to eat little fish, so if you do not want to feed a snake’s mice, a garter snake may be the snake for you.

Lifespan of a Garter Snake

The garter snake is short lived compared to other species on average.

Living to an average of 10-12 years old in captivity with good care they have been known to exceed this.

In the wild unfortunately garters are more vulnerable to predators which dramatically drops their lifespan down an average of 5 years.

Short-lived snakes, yes, other species of snake such as the corn snake (15 – 20 years) & Ball python (20 – 40 years) is very short in comparison to these.

How big do garter snakes get?

A garter is classed as a small snake at around 2.5ft on average for all sex of snake.

Now this seems like a lot when it is stretched out in a line, but snakes often curl into a ball to bask or sleep.

With garter snakes being a thin bodied snake, they will take up around 10cm² at most.

What you will need:

  • Vivarium
  • Thermostat
  • Heat source
  • Hides & Decor
  • Water Bowl
  • Feeding Tongues
  • Bedding
  • Food (Mice, Fish)

Vivarium Type For Garter

Because a garter snake is on the smaller side, you are better getting the adult size straight away as this will cut the costs of owning a garter snake.

As we said a garter gets to 2.5ft on average, so the best size is a 2ft x 1ft enclosure, this will allow them space to grow and fully stretch if needs be.

This size is readily available at most stores or online for cheap.

Choosing the type to go for depends on your heat source, garters will do just fine with a heat mat and this will allow you to use almost every type of housing.

We recommend a plastic or wooden vivarium as they are longer lasting, and a glass is not necessary.


Before even getting a pet snake, you need to get the right thermostat and heat source for your snake.

If you are looking to use a heat mat, this is a cheaper option and will cost no more than $50 to setup.

Whereas a heat bulb setup is more costly but looks better and gives a better viewing point of the snake, costing around $120.

We currently just use mats for our garters as they are a diurnal snake, so they are active in the day, so lighting at night will rarely reveal anything.

A mat stat and heat mat are all you will need, click link to see mat stat & heat mat.

Temps & humidity

Humidity is important to a garter snake; they need this to be high to thrive in captivity.

Anything over 75% is great and this can easily be achieved with a super large water dish which serves another purpose.

If you struggle with humidity and live in a dry state, the use of moss or humidity boxes can really improve the humidity level within their enclosure.

Garter snakes like to bask, they require a basking spot of between 90-95 degrees consistently.

Putting the heat source on one side of the cage will allow the cooler side to naturally be good for the snake.

Garter snakes are cold blooded and therefore depend on heat to thermoregulate their body temps.

Bedding / Substrate 

Another area in which increasing the humidity in the caging can be done is the snakes bedding.

Substrates like aspen and newspaper are dry and therefore will absorb a lot of the humidity in the cage.

Whereas options such as cypress mulch or orchid bark are great for increasing the humidity level and can really make increasing humidity easier.

These beddings can be sprayed also without going mouldy.

Where to get a garter snake

 Local reptile shops are a given, they will most likely keep garter snakes. But there are more options open and often cheaper & more knowledge private breeders.

Hobbyists and snake breeders alike have more specialist and more information to give about successfully keeping the species.

Things to ask for upon checking is feeding records or proof that the baby garter snake is eating.

Also is to do a full health check of the snake from head to tail which we will include next.

Garter Snake Health Check

The most common things to look out for when buying a pet garter snake is:

  • Stuck shed on the eyes, underbelly or the tail of the snake.
  • Any discharge or liquid that is surrounding the outside of the mouth.
  • Signs of an unclean cloaca (bum) or discharge from the area.
  • Mites, any bugs that may be moving around on the garter snake. We would check the underbelly, around the eyes and under the head as these are popular places for mites to go.
  • Alertness from the snake, when handling a garter snake is naturally fast and not slow & docile. They will move around a lot whilst handled so this is important as it can highlight underlying health issues.

What To Feed Garter Snakes

Garter snakes are one of the more diverse eaters, they will eat fish, rodents, chicks and even worms in the wild.

A garter will happily live a life just eating frozen mice, they cannot live off just fish as it does not have all the required nutrients.

A varied diet for a garter snake has been proven to improve their lifespan and reduces any later stage health issues.

Fitting the vivarium with a large bowl will allow you to put the occasional fish in there.  We do not feed live rodents here, but garters do not like pre-killed fish and rarely eat them.

Feeding on a weekly basis is a great guideline and due to being a thin bodied snake, they do not need big meals, most only need a small/medium mouse as an adult.


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