Frequently Asked Questions

If you’ve gone through the Q&A section and read this FAQ and you still have questions, don’t despair. Browse through the articles and, if your question is about pet garter snakes, be sure to read the Care Guide. But if all else fails and you’re truly stumped, contact me. But I might not know the answer either.

Questions About Wild Garter Snakes

Snakes in the Yard

If they’re in your yard or house, it’s because something there is attracting them to it. That something may be a food source, such as mice or slugs, in which case you probably want them around as pest control. Or you may simply, and inadvertently, be offering good snake habitat: apart from a source of food, that could mean a warm spot to bask or a good place to hibernate over the winter. If you have snakes coming to visit, it’s probably a good sign that you have a healthy yard and a healthy neighbourhood, with enough habitat to sustain not only snakes, but their prey as well.

Many people who write me worry that if they find one snake, there will be more of them. As a rule, snakes are solitary, and don’t swarm, flock, herd or run in packs. They tend to go where the food, basking spots, and hibernation sites are; sometimes, when those spots are few and far between, you get a few or more snakes in the same spot. But otherwise it’s pretty random.

There is no such thing as snake repellent: there is nothing, so far as I am aware, that will discourage snakes but encourage everything else. Dennis Ferraro suggests keeping your lawn mowed and your yard free of clutter: garter snakes are eaten by other animals, and they won’t feel safe if they have nowhere to hide from predators.

Please keep in mind that I’m in favour of having snakes around: I’m not going to be very sympathetic to people who can’t stand them or want them killed.

Snakes in the House

Garter snakes sometimes turn up in people’s homes, especially in winter, when they’re looking for somewhere safe to hibernate. As winter comes I get lots of e-mail from worried homeowners. If you have a snake in your basement and you don’t know what to do, read the following articles: Garter Snakes in Winter and Finding Garter Snakes in the House.

Basically, they’re in your basement because they’re trying to stay warm in your winter, but also because they were able to find a way in. Your foundation and walls likely have some cracks that need sealing up.

This article offers some insights.

Identifying Snake Species

Identifying a snake’s species is one of the most frequently asked questions about garter snakes, and I hope to have some pertinent information here eventually, including photos, range maps, and maybe even an identification key. But we’re (still!) a long way from that right now.

One thing you can do in the meantime is narrow the field of potential candidates. Many people think they have found a snake species that’s impossible for their area — for example, they think they’ve found Butler’s Garter Snakes on the West Coast (when they’ve probably found Northwestern Garter Snakes). This is usually because they’ve been looking for a photo that best matches what they’ve seen. Unfortunately, some snakes are extremely variable in appearance, and others are hard to tell apart.

So what you can do is check to see what species are found in your neck of the woods. Go to the Species Guide and select your province, state or country. Note which species are found there. Then start searching the web for photos and use the species names as your search terms. (Keep in mind that this only works if what you have is actually a garter snake; you’ll probably want to consult a good field guide for a broader sense of what’s out there. I have links to such field guides on each province, state and country page.)

If you want me to help identify a snake, I will need to see some digital photos. Send me an email at Attach the photos or upload them to a photo sharing site (like Flickr) and send me the link. Be sure to mention where you found the snake: where it’s from makes a big difference in making a positive ID. I usually won’t be able to identify a snake based on a verbal description.

Another option, particularly if you’ve come to this page looking to identify a snake from outside North America, is to ask the experts on the Snake Identification Facebook group.

Questions About Pet Garter Snakes

The Care Guide is designed to answer most questions about keeping garter snakes as pets. Here are a few specific questions I get on a regular basis.

What Garter Snakes Eat

I get a lot of e-mail from people with a newly acquired garter snake asking what they should feed it. Before you contact me, read the Care Guide’s page on Feeding: I’ve tried to make it as comprehensive as possible. It should cover most questions.

If you plan on feeding fish to your garter snake, learn about vitamin B1 deficiencies that can result from a diet based on certain kinds of fish.

If you plan on feeding earthworms to your garter snake, make sure you use the right worms. Read about the difference between red wigglers (bad) and nightcrawlers (good).

Garter Snake Won’t Eat

If you’re new to snake-keeping, please keep in mind that your snake will not need to eat more than a couple of times a week, and even less often if it’s eating mice: see How Much and How Often. Don’t panic if it won’t eat more often than that; it’s not supposed to.

If you just got the snake, give it at least several days to calm down from the trip and get adjusted to its new home before offering it food.

Garter snakes sometimes stop eating. Read the Care Guide’s section on problem feeders and “Some Garter Snake Feeding Problems.” If it’s fall and your garter snake has suddenly stopped eating mice, try hitting the reset button.

Raising Baby Garter Snakes

If you are suddenly facing a litter of newborn garter snakes and you’re not sure what to do, start by reading “The Seven Rules of Raising Baby Garter Snakes”; for more details, see “Raising Baby Garter Snakes: Some Personal Observations.” Of course you should also read the Care Guide.

Keeping More than One Snake in the Same Cage

Please read the Care Guide’s section on housing garter snakes together.

Finding an Escaped Snake

If your pet garter snake has escaped its cage and you’re not sure what to do, please read Melissa Kaplan’s page on finding escaped snakes.

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