Common Garter Snake Feeding - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 16 (permalink) Old 10-02-2018, 06:28 PM Thread Starter
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Common Garter Snake Feeding

A cat at my apartment has made it his life's mission to bring me a Garter Snake, repeatedly. It's been 5 times now since the beginning of the year that I open my door to see this poor snake playing dead, sometimes injured, sometimes not. I usually let it go in our little patio garden but this time I was thinking about keeping it, contingent on being able to feed it.

I've had it for 4 days now. I looked up basic short term care, so it is in a 5 gallon with a hiding spot and water dish. I don't have a basking lamp so right now the tank is in the garden where it gets partial sun for about 2 hours a day.

It is very active during the day and only seems to cower when there is a sudden movement. I figure this is because it is stressed. I've tried several different foods, live nightcrawlers, live fish, and live snails and it doesn't seem interested in any of it. I have a pinkie mouse but the snake appear too small to eat it right now.

Does anyone with more experience with snakes have any suggestions on how to get it to feed?

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post #2 of 16 (permalink) Old 10-02-2018, 07:26 PM
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That snake would absolutely be able to swallow a pinky mouse.

The challenge with wild caught reptiles is stress. If you want to keep it long term/turn it into a pet, I'd suggest getting a minimum of a 20 gallon long for it. Provide it with plenty of cover and a large enough water bowl for swimming. Have a warm and cool end, with a hot spot of around 90-100 degrees surface temperature. IR guns are perfect for taking temperatures.

Set it up like this and don't handle the snake unless absolutely necessary, let the creature de-stress for a couple of weeks. Fish and frogs are favorite prey items of the garter snake. Once it starts eating, a great way to transition the snake onto rodents is to "scent" the prey items by taking a frog/fish/whatever it is eating at the time and rub it all over the rodent you want it to eat. That will trick the snake, in a way, into going after the rodent as food. And as time goes on, it will get used to the taste of rodents and you won't have to scent them any longer. I had to do this once with a false water cobra, it's actually quite easy.

Reptiles have their own tricks to them - but much like fish, stress is probably the #1 killer. However, unlike fish, even under optimal conditions, a stressed reptile can go quite some time before it starts accepting food.
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post #3 of 16 (permalink) Old 10-03-2018, 12:08 AM Thread Starter
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That snake would absolutely be able to swallow a pinky mouse.

The challenge with wild caught reptiles is stress. If you want to keep it long term/turn it into a pet, I'd suggest getting a minimum of a 20 gallon long for it. Provide it with plenty of cover and a large enough water bowl for swimming. Have a warm and cool end, with a hot spot of around 90-100 degrees surface temperature. IR guns are perfect for taking temperatures.

Set it up like this and don't handle the snake unless absolutely necessary, let the creature de-stress for a couple of weeks. Fish and frogs are favorite prey items of the garter snake. Once it starts eating, a great way to transition the snake onto rodents is to "scent" the prey items by taking a frog/fish/whatever it is eating at the time and rub it all over the rodent you want it to eat. That will trick the snake, in a way, into going after the rodent as food. And as time goes on, it will get used to the taste of rodents and you won't have to scent them any longer. I had to do this once with a false water cobra, it's actually quite easy.

Reptiles have their own tricks to them - but much like fish, stress is probably the #1 killer. However, unlike fish, even under optimal conditions, a stressed reptile can go quite some time before it starts accepting food.
Thanks for the info! I'll try feeding the mouse to him when I get home, I thought there was no way he could eat that but it seems I've underestimated how wide their jaws can get.

I think I'll keep it, I read they often live longer in captivity than the wild and I've been itching to do a planted terrarium with air plants
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post #4 of 16 (permalink) Old 10-03-2018, 01:02 AM
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Thanks for the info! I'll try feeding the mouse to him when I get home, I thought there was no way he could eat that but it seems I've underestimated how wide their jaws can get.



I think I'll keep it, I read they often live longer in captivity than the wild and I've been itching to do a planted terrarium with air plants


Theyíre a great candidate for that! And being quasi-aquatic, they would appreciate a water feature too.


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post #5 of 16 (permalink) Old 10-05-2018, 10:47 AM
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You can also feed them crickets and other medium sized insects.

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post #6 of 16 (permalink) Old 10-05-2018, 12:46 PM
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Don't forget reptiles need to warm up a bit before they might eat (advice my friend gave me when I mentioned I had a couple baby toads), get some leaves, moss and a heated rock or something.
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post #7 of 16 (permalink) Old 10-05-2018, 02:58 PM
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A paludrium would be awesome for that little guy. On thing is you don't want it to be too humid all the time, make surethere is air circulation. I would also not use a heated rock in any tank as those can malfunction and burn the animal. I would stick with ceramic heating bulbs and and some reptile lights for the UV spectrum. A plant light that provides UV would work as well I imagine.
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post #8 of 16 (permalink) Old 10-05-2018, 03:00 PM
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Basking or overhead heat is better for garters although theyíll do well with belly heat as well. They could benefit from mild UVB exposure, so an Exo Terra forest bulb would be perfect.


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post #9 of 16 (permalink) Old 10-10-2018, 05:06 PM Thread Starter
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So it's been about a week and it still has not eaten. I glued some air plants to driftwood and made him a more natural shelter and environment which the snake seems to enjoy based on its activity level. I got a basking lamp which has also increased its activity.

After trying a pinkie mouse and nightcrawlers I bought a bunch of feeder minnows. I put them in his water dish and while he has gone into the dish and poked his head around he does not go after the fish.

One encouraging sign is that he pooped quite a bit yesterday which leads me to believe that he recently fed before I found him and is far from starving.

I've had to handle him a few times to set up his habitat so I'm sure that hasn't helped his appetite. I now have him in a quiet closet where he can be absolutely alone all day. He's got a basking spot on one side of the tank and a dark driftwood cave setup on the opposite side with air plants to provide just a bit of humidity. I've got a fan going in the closet too so there is some light circulation.

Upon observing him he is very active and alert, just not hungry
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post #10 of 16 (permalink) Old 10-10-2018, 08:52 PM
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Id buy 6 small crickets and put them in. 90 to 100 is way too hot for a garter snake. 70 on one side 85 on the other. I e kept many garter snakes. I prefer to start with a 20L but eventually you will need to upgrade and id suggest a 40B. Crickets spiders ants small frogs slugs and things like that are what it will mainly eat until it gets larger.
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post #11 of 16 (permalink) Old 10-11-2018, 12:05 AM
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Id buy 6 small crickets and put them in. 90 to 100 is way too hot for a garter snake. 70 on one side 85 on the other. I e kept many garter snakes. I prefer to start with a 20L but eventually you will need to upgrade and id suggest a 40B. Crickets spiders ants small frogs slugs and things like that are what it will mainly eat until it gets larger.


I guarantee you 90-100 degrees surface temperature isnít too hot for a basking surface for a garter snake. Thereís a big difference between surface and air temp.

My ackies air temp in their cage on the warm side is 85 but their basking temp is 130. Yes 130 is too much for a garter but the point remains.

I challenge you thusly: spend $20 on an IR temperature gun at one of the big box hardware stores. If you go herping, every time you witness a wild reptile basking in the sun, use the temp gun to measure the surface temperature of where they were basking. Iíve personally witnessed garters warming up in higher surface temperatures than 90-100 degrees. But that isnít difficult to achieve whatsoever even on what seems like a mild spring day. Rocks, wood, etc get really warm.


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post #12 of 16 (permalink) Old 10-11-2018, 05:46 PM Thread Starter
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I'm not too worried about it getting burned. I got a 15 gallon tank yesterday so the temp gradient will be better and the air temp is maybe getting to 80 in the closet if that. In the tank directly under the light (I don't have a meter yet) it can't be more than 90 and is cooler on the other side of the tank. I see the sanke comfortable basking under it for lengths at a time. Also I figure if the snake gets too hot on a rock or something it can just move.

I'll try to get a pic up later today. I've handled the poor thing quite a bit move it from place to place but it still seems very energetic and curious about it's surroundings.

I think I have a skewed view of how this acclimation process should go because of fish. I start getting worried if it's been a week since a fish has eaten. It's very strange to me to see him behave like he is comfortable but have not much of an appetite
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post #13 of 16 (permalink) Old 10-11-2018, 06:13 PM
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I'm not too worried about it getting burned. I got a 15 gallon tank yesterday so the temp gradient will be better and the air temp is maybe getting to 80 in the closet if that. In the tank directly under the light (I don't have a meter yet) it can't be more than 90 and is cooler on the other side of the tank. I see the sanke comfortable basking under it for lengths at a time. Also I figure if the snake gets too hot on a rock or something it can just move.

I'll try to get a pic up later today. I've handled the poor thing quite a bit move it from place to place but it still seems very energetic and curious about it's surroundings.

I think I have a skewed view of how this acclimation process should go because of fish. I start getting worried if it's been a week since a fish has eaten. It's very strange to me to see him behave like he is comfortable but have not much of an appetite


Yeah, with reptiles itís all about time. Sometimes they eat right away sometimes they take their time. Best thing to do is not handle it at all until itís regularly eating.


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post #14 of 16 (permalink) Old 10-18-2018, 06:52 PM Thread Starter
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@varanidguy thanks for the help, he finally ate a couple nights ago! So I've decided to keep him

I also found out why it wasn't eating, it was about to shed. My wife texted me the other night asking if I had seen that he shed his skin. I got home and saw that he'd in fact shed and was very actively roaming around the tank. I took the opportunity to put a nightcrawler in a mason jar and some feeder minnows in his water.

I left him alone for the night and in the morning the nightcrawler was gone and he was basking on a flat rock right under the lamp digesting his meal, a bit fatter in the middle. I'm super happy he ate, I'm assuming it's a male because it's body is quite long and narrow and I understand the females are thicker.

Here is a pic of the temporary 15g setup I've had him in, though I replaced that water bowl with a much larger one. He hides in the little cave created under the wood between the rocks on the left hand side. I'll go purchase some substrate for him this weekend and more air plants to give him a proper home.

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post #15 of 16 (permalink) Old 10-18-2018, 07:54 PM
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@varanidguy thanks for the help, he finally ate a couple nights ago! So I've decided to keep him

I also found out why it wasn't eating, it was about to shed. My wife texted me the other night asking if I had seen that he shed his skin. I got home and saw that he'd in fact shed and was very actively roaming around the tank. I took the opportunity to put a nightcrawler in a mason jar and some feeder minnows in his water.

I left him alone for the night and in the morning the nightcrawler was gone and he was basking on a flat rock right under the lamp digesting his meal, a bit fatter in the middle. I'm super happy he ate, I'm assuming it's a male because it's body is quite long and narrow and I understand the females are thicker.

Here is a pic of the temporary 15g setup I've had him in, though I replaced that water bowl with a much larger one. He hides in the little cave created under the wood between the rocks on the left hand side. I'll go purchase some substrate for him this weekend and more air plants to give him a proper home.



Fantastic! Iím always happy to help.


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