Garter snakes, or gardener snakes as they are sometimes called, can be found in most of united states and Canada near water sources; they can even be found in your own backyard! They are quick to warm up to people and make great pets for children as well as adults.
Finding and Catching
Garter snakes are active hunters during the warmer, but not hot, parts of the day. They primarily eat small fish, so you can find them near bodies of water. They can also be found hiding in the leaf litter of forests or in tall grass. Catching a garter snake while it is hunting can be tricky as they are very fast and can swim quite well. The best way to catch a wild snake is to flip over logs and rocks around a water source. Snakes like to rest under such shelters to hide from predators. Once you finally find a snake, there are several way to capture it, depending on what it does.
Garters are more runners than fighters, so the easiest way to catch a fleeing snake is to bring an empty pillowcase with you and place the open end in the snakes path to let the animal slide on in. If you are in a closed area and don’t have room for this, just GENTLY grab the snake by the tail and slip it into the pillow case. If however, your snake wants to fight, it will curl itself up. DO NOT grab a snake in this position. It can launch itself out and bite you.
Granted, garter snakes have very tiny teeth and are not venomous, but it’s always better not to get bitten. To get a snake out of this prone position, use a stick to GENTLY coax it to straighten itself out and then get it into the bag. Of course the very best way to catch a garter snake is to find them in early spring when they come out of hibernation. During the winter, garter snakes huddle together in huge masses to share body heat, then when spring comes, they all emerge at the same time. There be literally hundreds of snakes in one area. Large gatherings also occur during mating season when hordes of males while chase after a larger female. Garter snakes also love sandstone and limestone, so keep this in mind when you are looking for them
Garter snakes, depending on the size of the one you catch, require a minimum of a ten gallon terrarium with about two inches of soil. Larger tanks are recommended for larger snakes; garters are active hunters and need exercise. You will also need to place a piece of bark or other rough material in the tank. Snakes need this to help them shed their skin as they grow older.
You also need a large water dish, garter snakes like to live near, but not in water, and this will give you a place to put its food as well. The last thing you will need is a shelter, just a little something your snake can curl up inside of to feel safe. Plants, fake or real, are optional. You will also need a tight fitting lid. Snakes are good climbers, and it will get out if you leave an opening larger enough for it to fit its head through.
Garter snakes eat a variety of small animals, but their main captive diet is goldfish which you can buy very cheap at a pet store. Alive or dead makes no difference, just put it in your snake’s water dish, and he will eat it when he smells it, but don’t overfeed your snake. One or two goldfish every other day should be more than enough. The occasional earthworm covered in a reptile vitamin B substitute is needed, but don’t overdose it on vitamins. Make sure that these vitamin supplement feedings are at least two weeks apart. In the wild garter snakes also eat newts, tadpoles, and even baby rodents, but getting these on a regular basis can be difficult.
One of the things that makes garter snakes such good pets is that they get used to people handling them quickly. Just remember not to actually grab your snake as it will interpret this as being attacked, and it may bite you. Allow it to slide over your fingers and lift it up, supporting its weight and allowing it to move around on you while putting your free hand under it’s head as it tries to glide through. As long as you don’t startle it, it won’t slither too quickly. The other defense mechanism that garter snakes use is to emit a foul smelling white liquid, but they will stop doing this after they get used to you, and it washes off easily enough. The one thing you should always do after handling your snake or any reptile is to wash your hands thoroughly.
As your snake grows it will shed its skin. It will not eat this like a toad might, so just remove it from the cage. Putting more than one snake in a cage can be problematic. Though they probably won’t attack each other, it they try to eat the same thing at the same time, they can end up hurting each other. Snakes are cold blooded, so try to avoid extremes of heat and cold. Try to keep his cage at room temperature and he should do fine. If you catch a pregnant or breed garter snakes yourself, keep in mind that they give birth to live young so you’ll have to keep an eye on things. And I don’t recommend trying to raise baby garters, but if you do, feed them tiny fish and small worms.