Garter snakes are found in almost every state in North America and can survive in pretty much any habitat.
That being said, they prefer watery environments and, for this reason, are most often found living alongside bodies of water, like lakes or dams. This is also where garter snakes find most of their meals.
While these shy little snakes are harmless to humans, they can have quite voracious appetites when they’re hungry. In this post, I’ll discuss what garter snakes love to snack on most.
What Do Garter Snakes Eat?
Like all snakes, garter snakes are carnivores, and they’ll eat what is easiest for them to overpower. This includes earthworms, slugs, leeches, amphibians, small fish, snails, insects, small birds, lizards, and other snakes. In captivity, garter snakes will also eat chicken, mice, and other meat products.
What Garter Snakes Hunt
Before I discuss what garter snakes eat, let’s take a look at how they hunt, as this impacts the type of food they have access to.
To track down prey, garter snakes employ their superior vision and excellent sniffing skills. Their scent receptors are located on their tongues, which they will flick about to pick up information about what is in the area.
When a garter snake is on the lookout for something to eat, they will crane their heads to peer over foliage and into the water before launching an ambush on their target.
Once they have located their next meal, they will quietly wait for the perfect moment to strike, taking care not to alert their target to their presence.
They have sharp teeth that they use to paralyze their prey, and it is believed that they also release toxins through their salvia, further immobilizing their dinner.
Once a garter snake has sunken its teeth in, it will rub its target against the ground or press it against a solid surface until it stops moving for long enough to be swallowed whole.
What Garter Snakes Love to Eat
Garters are surprisingly unfussy eaters and generally survive on whatever is available to them in relation to their size.
Baby garter snakes will live on smaller food items like earthworms, slugs, leeches, and snails until they are big enough to swallow something larger.
Mature garter snakes are opportunistic hunters and eat anything from frogs, lizards, and small fish to insects, like grasshoppers, to mice and voles.
When they’re close to water, they’ll tend to eat more water-dwelling creatures, including tadpoles and leeches.
While they mostly prefer their prey to be alive when they catch it, they will occasionally feed on eggs that they find too.
Garter snakes are exceptionally valuable members of the natural ecological system, as they keep pests and rodent populations under control while causing very few problems for humans.
What Garter Snakes Eat in Captivity
Snake enthusiasts recommend garter snakes for first-time reptile owners because they make wonderful pets and are less dangerous than their venomous or constricting cousins.
When they’re kept in captivity, you also have plenty of options for what to feed them.
Pet garters can be fed small live fish, like guppies or mosquito fish, or bite-sized chunks of frozen fish that has been defrosted just before dinner time.
Of course, we know that they love earthworms, but they need to be fed at least every two days to obtain enough nutrition from them. Insects work too.
Other foods to feed captive garter snakes include chicken offal, like chicken hearts or canned cat food.
Some breeds of garter snakes are more discerning about what they eat when in captivity, so you may need to experiment with a few different foods if your pet snake is being fussy.
The important thing to remember is that these animals are hard-and-fast carnivores, so don’t think you’ll get away with sneaking in a veggie.
They need plenty of protein, calcium, and other vitamins and nutrients to survive, which they obtain from their chosen diet.
To avoid them turning on one another, make sure to feed them two to three times per week.
Frequently Asked Questions about What Garter Snakes Eat
What hunts garter snakes?
Garter snakes have a few natural enemies themselves, including bears, hawks, foxes, squirrels, raccoons, and crows. This is because they’re small and easy to grab and subdue. However, garter snakes have a built-in defense mechanism and release an awful-smelling musk when they are threatened.
Can garter snakes eat toads?
Toads are a favorite snack of garter snakes because of their affinity for watery environments. While toads are known to give off toxins through their skin, garter snakes are immune to this and therefore not affected by it.
How long do garter snakes live?
On average, garter snakes reach about five years of age in the wild, with their safety in their first year of life being most crucial to their survival. In captivity, garter snakes have been known to live up to 10 years.
Garter snakes have always fascinated me because they provide a window into snakes’ world and behaviors without presenting a threat to humans.
In fact, many people keep them in their gardens willingly to keep pests at bay.
With their keen hunting skills and buffet-style appetites, it’s easy to see why these creatures abound in so many areas and parts of the world. Just let it be in case you come across one.
It’s probably just minding its own business and looking for a snack.