There’s a lot to like about keeping garter snakes as pets.
Garter snakes are small enough that they are easy to handle. They are usually friendly.
They don’t require heat lamps or large enclosures. And they don’t have to be fed rodents. Baby garter snakes eat insects and small fish.
In this article, we will tell you how to get your new pet garter snake off to a good start in life with the right nutrition.
Feeding garter snakes (babies and adults) isn’t complicated, but there are some important things new pet owners need to know.
Feeding Your Baby Garter Snake for the First Time
Newborn garter snakes usually start feeding a day or two after the first time they shed their skin, which happens seven to ten days after they hatch.
Once you start feeding your baby garter snake, it will need more food about every three or four days—but no more often than that!
As your garter snake gets older, unless it is a female about to bear a clutch of eggs, it will need to eat about once a week.
Never give your baby garter snake so much to eat that it develops a bulge in its midsection.
And if you do, stop! Let your baby garter snake digest its meals completely and wait three days before offering them more.
What should you give your baby snake for its first meal?
Feeding Your Baby Garter Snake Frozen Fish Filets
The easiest food to give your baby garter snake is frozen catfish or tilapia filets that you have thawed in the microwave.
For humans, there are more nutritious varieties of fish than catfish or tilapia. But for your garter snake, these are ideal.
Here are the reasons why:
Cold-water fish contain lots of healthy omega-3 essential fatty acids, but garter snakes can’t process them.
If you give your garter snake salmon, mackerel, or tuna, vitamin E deficiency will cause a condition called steatitis. Large fat deposits will form under the skin, irritating the scales above them.
Almost any kind of raw fish, especially goldfish and minnows, contains an enzyme called thiaminase.
This enzyme breaks down vitamin B1 and causes thiamine deficiency. Snakes with this kind of vitamin deficiency become listless and uncoordinated.
Thawing catfish or tilapia filets in the microwave breaks down the thiaminase, but keeps the fish raw so your garter snake will recognize it as food.
Feeding your garter snakes previously frozen fish has another advantage. Freezing kills parasites that can appear in fresh fish, as would, of course, cooking their fish.
But giving your baby garter snakes cooked fish may be too unnatural for them to recognize the cooked fish as food—and one of the big challenges of raising baby garter snakes is persuading them to eat their first meal.
Feeding Your Baby Garter Snakes Tadpoles
Tadpoles are natural food for baby garter snakes.
They instinctively recognize them as food by their motion in a bowl of water you set in front of them.
They don’t contain thiaminase, and they provide all the amino acids your baby garter snake needs for normal growth.
A tadpole would be an ideal first meal for your snake. The challenge is finding them.
You can either hunt for tadpoles in a nearby stream, or you may be able to find tadpoles and small frogs in a bait shop.
The tadpoles and frogs you can get in a bait shop, however, may have parasites that can lodge in your snake’s digestive tract and stunt its growth.
Feeding Your Baby Garter Snakes Earthworms
Earthworms are another natural food for baby garter snakes. They instinctively recognize them as food.
They will race across their enclosure to feed on them. Chop earthworms into three or four pieces to make them easier for your baby garter snake to eat.
You can get earthworms by digging them up in your backyard, at a bait shop, or in the pet supply store.
If you dig earthworms in your backyard, take care not to harvest them where you have used pesticides or law chemicals.
The nightcrawlers you buy at a bait shop will be too big for baby garter snakes; you will have to cut them into pieces to feed them to your snakes.
You can apply earthworm slime to thawed fish filets to entice your baby garter snake to eat them. Just be sure to avoid red wrigglers, which garter snakes find to have a nasty taste.
Can You Feed Your Baby Garter Snakes Pinky Mice?
Many fans of keeping snakes like garter snakes precisely because you don’t have to feed them rodents.
However, even baby garter snakes can be persuaded to eat pinky mice if they are coated with familiar scents, like earthworm slime.
Yes, this means rubbing earthworm slime over a thawed pinky mouse before giving it to your baby garter snake.
Some garter snake owners will find this completely defeats the purpose of having garter snakes. But when a baby garter snake simply won’t eat anything else, it’s worth a try.
It’s important to understand that feeding a brood of baby garter snakes 100-percent natural food is hard.
You have to prepare food for each snake, and as well explain in a moment, you will need to feed them separately, too.
But if you don’t give your baby garter snakes food they recognize, they may not eat and won’t live very long.
Basic Technique for Feeding Baby Garter Snakes
Most of the time, pet owners won’t have just one baby garter snake.
They will have a dozen. And when a dozen baby snakes are fed all at the same time in the same enclosure, some will get too much and some won’t get anything at all.
They will get into fights over food and occasionally one baby garter snake will eat another.
The solution to this problem is to feed your baby garter snakes separately.
Get as many clean and used deli cups as you have snakes. Put one snake in each cup. Give each snake their food, and clamp down the lid so you can clean their cage while they are eating.
This method is a lot more work than simply dropping food into your baby snake enclosure, but it’s safer for your snakes and ensures that every snake has a chance to eat without being eaten by a sibling.
Incidentally, it’s also a good idea to separate hatchlings from the mama snake for the same reason.
Baby garter snakes can be picky eaters. Some will reject fish. Others will insist on pinky mice once they have had their first taste.
Keep a variety of foods to make sure all of your snakes get enough to eat, and you have a chance at seeing all your baby garter snakes survive to maturity.
Basic Principles of Nutrition for Garter Snakes
All snakes, including baby and adult garter snakes, are carnivores.
They do not eat plant food of any kind (except to the extent there is undigested plant matter in the digestive tracts of animals they swallow whole).
Snakes will reject vegan foods offered to them. They (really) will starve before they voluntarily eat plant foods.
In the wild, garter snakes prefer fish, frogs, newts, and earthworms, with the occasional water bug if available.
Garter snakes aren’t picky eaters. They will eat any of these foods whenever they can find them.
And because garter snakes are “opportunistic” eaters, they will eat like there’s no tomorrow if they get the chance.
Garter snakes will stuff themselves if you keep giving them food. That can cause problems if they can’t then find the peace and quiet and warm temperature they need for one to three days to digest their food.
Garter snakes recognize their food by sight and smell. They are stimulated by certain kinds of movements that they associate with prey animals.
They respond to the scent of prey animals, although they don’t necessarily have to smell the scent of an animal they are about to eat.
If you were to try to feed your snake thawed pinkie mice, for example, it would be more likely to recognize them as food if you rubbed a piece of raw fish (it’s more usual food) on them first.
Once a garter snake recognizes the presence of food, it moves quickly to grab it in its jaws and swallow it.
You don’t want your fingers in the way of your snake’s eagerly awaiting jaws. Garter snakes eat live prey whole, suffocating it only as it makes its way down the snake’s throat.
Unlike constricting snakes, garter snakes rely on the power of their jaws to subdue their prey to enable them to eat it alive.
You don’t always have to feed live animals to your garter snake. In fact, more often than not, you probably won’t.
Other articles you may also like: