Please see Parts I and II of this article for additional information on garter snake husbandry and natural history. Today I’ll cover some often over-looked aspects of garter snake care that may help to explain why these relatively hardy snakes, and the related ribbon and water snakes, often fail to live as long as might be expected in captivity.
A thermal gradient (varying temperatures within the terrarium) is beneficial to nearly all reptiles, but seems particularly important in maintaining the health of captive garter snakes. This is especially true for Butler’s Garter Snakes (T. butleri), Common Garter Snakes (T. sirtalis) and others that range into the northern half of the USA.
Depending upon the species in question, garter, ribbon and water snakes do best at an ambient temperature of 72-82 F, with a warmer basking site (90-95 F) and a drop to 68 F or so at night. Northern species should ideally be subjected to a winter cooling-off period, even if breeding is not contemplated.
There is some evidence that garter and related snakes (as well as Rough and Smooth Green Snakes, Opheodrys aestivus and O. vernalis), may benefit from exposure to UVA light.
A ZooMed Repti Halogen Bulb should be provided during their normal daytime cycle. Even if not strictly necessary for survival, UVA encourages natural behavior, reproduction and, possibly, a strong immune system.
While snakes have not been shown to require UVB light exposure, anecdotal reports from successful garter and water snake keepers lead me to believe that these snakes may differ from most in this regard.
The Zoo Med 2.0 fluorescent lamp is specifically designed for animals needing moderate amounts of UVB light, and may be a prudent addition to the garter snake terrarium. This bulb also supports vigorous plant growth…in contrast to most snake species, garter and ribbon snakes are very well-suited for terrariums housing sturdy live plants.
Laboratory guidelines concerning the importance of thermal gradients and related aspects of reptile care are posted here.
Next time we’ll cover nutrition and the care of individual garter snake species.