The Common Garter Snake
Species: Thamnophis sirtalis.
There are many subspecies that slightly differ from each other. It can be hard to determine subspecies since they can have very varied coloring.
The common garter snakes are found all over the North and Central America.
Their habitat ranges from valleys and forests to mountains (up to 2800 m above the sea level). They prefer humid areas, but also live in conifer forests and in prairies.
The nominative subspecies Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis can be found from southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and also in the north of Mexico. This snake can be from 46 to 66 cm long. The longest specimen reported had the length of 128.8 cm.
The subspecies Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis has much brighter coloring than the nominative subspecies. It can reach 51-66 cm, the record length noted was 124 cm. The habitat as the same as the nominative subspecies’.
Thamnophis sirtalis similis lives in the north-western part of Florida. It averages 55-66 cm, the record reported length was 99 cm.
These snakes are not very long, from 50 to 80 cm. Their head can hardly be distinguished from the body. The species can have varied coloring, so it is difficult to determine the precise subspecies. The coloring is bright and vivid, with the shades of red and blue.
Thamnophis sirtalis similis has blue and turquoise stripes on the sides.
Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis has three yellow bands on the olive-brown background and red spots on the sides.
The common garter snake has a fixed albino morph.
The common garter snake is very peaceful and friendly snake, sometimes even skittish.
This snake can pretend it is dead.
They can get tame and take food from tweezers.
They can be handled.
The common garter snake needs a large tank, about 60х40х40 cm in size. You can put a heat mat on the bottom. For substrate you can use coconut husks that can hide pots with low-maintenance plants. The snake will also need branches and logs to climb (grapevine is the best option). It is also possible to put the plants directly into the potting soil and cover it with moss and fallen leaves. A water bowl is a must; it has to be big enough to fit in the whole snake. The common garter snake likes bathing, so the water soils quickly and should be changed daily. Several snakes can be kept together, but then the tank has to be bigger.
The ambient temperature should be around 20°C at night and up to 35°C in the basking spot at daytime.
The air humidity should be about 50%.
The snakes need light of fluorescent and UV lamps as well as filament lamps. They need 14 hours of light a day in summer and 12 hours in winter.
In the wild the common garter snake eats frogs and their larvae, toads, newts, fish, lizards, mice, small birds and even snails, mealworm, spiders and various insects. Such a variety of menu proves high ecological valence.
In captivity these snakes can eat frozen fish, lizards, mice, hamsters, snails, mealworms and spiders. Then their diet will be very varied. You should add to the food calcium supplements and vitamins.
The garter snake loves snails and mealworms, they are rich in minerals, but vast quantity if this food can result in poisoning.
Comprising the snake’s menu, you have to remember that the common garter snake is very sensitive to the lack of vitamin B1 (thiamine). Some fish contain the enzyme of thiaminase that destroys B1 vitamin (B1 participates in aminoacid metabolism and in the resynthesis of carbohydrates, therefore the snakes with its deficiency experience considerable movement disorders, convulsions and paralysis). The first sign of B1 deficiency is that the snake turns on the side or on the back. It the reptile has clear convulsive disorder, you will need to inject it with 10% solution of calcium gluconate every second day in the amount of 1 ml for 100 gr of the snake’s weight.
It is a brightly colored and beautiful snake.
The common garter snake is easy to feed and to care for.
It doesn’t require a large tank.
It can get used to people and be hand-fed and handled.
The most popular home-kept snake is Thamnophis sirtalis and some subspecies.
It prefers live feed but can be taught to eat frozen fish.
If the snake refuses to eat, it can be caused by stress, unsuitable food, or it can happen that the snake just is not hungry. You should not try and force the food into the snake: they can live without food for a long time without any damage for their health. You should only start worrying if your snake doesn’t eat for several months. Then you need to analyze its living conditions and the menu prior to this situation. In worst case you might need to force-feed the snake.
The snake can vomit because of stress, illness or if the prey was too big. Also it can vomit if it was fed during shedding or if the temperature in its enclosure is not suitable. After vomiting you mustn’t feed the snake for 7-10 days, and then you can offer it food taking into account the previous mistakes.
Shedding is not a disease, it is a necessary step in the snake’s growth. Its eyes get milky, their color grows paler and the skin starts coming off. During this time you should be extra careful about the humidity and clean water in the enclosure.
Respiratory diseases are usually caused by potentially pathogenic bacteria if the immune system of the snake doesn’t function properly either due to a stress or to unsuitable living conditions. The symptoms include gasping, open mouth, runny nose. These diseases are treated by the injections of antibiotic called Baytril.
Ticks are easily noticed and can be removed with the help of tweezers. The bite spot should be wiped with alcohol.
Salmonellosis is a dangerous disease that can be treated with antibiotics once the stool sample has confirmed the diagnosis.
The common garter snake is sexually mature at the age of 8-12 months. For successful breeding you will need to organize the brumation period, although some species living in Central America don’t need it. All the northern American species need brumation. In order to prepare the snakes for brumation you will have to decrease the temperature by 8 degrees and make the lights dimmer. Two weeks before the temperature is decreased, you should stop feeding the snake. Then you need to switch off the lights completely and not to disturb the snakes. The snakes spend the brumation period under the temperature of 6-10 degrees and in complete darkness. 10-15 weeks later you should start gradually increasing the temperature up to 22-25 degrees.
When the snakes wake up, males reject food, they become brighter and they start following females. The copulation lasts for 10-20 seconds only.
It is It is an ovoviviparous species (the eggs develop in the snake’s body and after a while the young snakes hatch). The shell resolves in the female’s genital tract. A few days before the “delivery” the female stops eating. Before that females need to get UV light and mineral supplements. If you don’t do that, the hatchlings can be weak, malformed and unviable.
The pregnancy lasts for 67-78 days, and the female gives birth to up to 40 hatchlings. After the first shedding they start moving actively and look for small insects and pink mice.
Average life span is up to 10 years.