Ribbon snakes live in eastern North America, primarily in coastal plains and Piedmont. Ribbon snakes prefer a wet, humid climate, so they live in creeks, streams, lakes, wet woodlands, and marshy areas.
As I will discuss below, being carnivorous (they only eat meat), ribbon snakes eat the kinds of prey that share their living space.
These snakes are timid and aren’t venomous. Their bite is painful but not dangerous.
Did you know: You shouldn’t describe snakes as being poisonous or non-poisonous. You should describe snakes as being venomous and non-venomous.
A venomous snake can inject venom through its fangs, like a cobra. A poisonous animal is dangerous if it is eaten or touched, like the cane toad in Australia.
Did you know: Garter snakes are poisonous snakes, which are rare among snakes. Its bite isn’t dangerous because garter snakes are not venomous.
However, if eaten, garter snakes can be highly poisonous.
Guess what? Ribbon snakes are a species of garter snake!
What Ribbon Snakes Eat
Ribbon snakes eat rodents like rats and mice, toads, small fish, insects, even spiders.
What Ribbon Snakes Eat in the Wild
Ribbon snakes can eat many kinds of animals and insects. In the wild, ribbon snakes eat a wide variety of food groups: reptiles, mammals, fish, mollusks, small amphibians, and birds.
Specifically, these snakes eat frogs, toads, leeches, slugs, snails, spiders, grasshoppers, tadpoles, mice, crickets, fish, and salamanders.
Basically, ribbon snakes will hunt and eat most small animals in their habitat.
What Ribbon Snakes Eat in Captivity
The first thing to bear in mind with your captive ribbon snake is that it will not be going into hibernation. (I suppose you could arrange matters so that your pet does hibernate, but I’ve never done that, so I wouldn’t know how to advise you to set about achieving it.)
If you go down the normal route, you will provide the snake with sufficient year-long humidity and warmth to stave off its torpor.
With a year-long diet in mind, here are some basic facts and ideas:
- Ribbon snakes strike fast, and their bite hurts! When feeding them, use tongs or thick gloves.
- Ribbon snakes eat 2-3 times in a week.
- Wild ribbon snakes hunt and eat their prey whole. In your vivarium, you should expect that your pet will also swallow its meal whole, even when your pet is still small. Therefore, do not feed your snake food items that are too large for it.
- Ribbon snakes prefer cold-blooded species of prey. However, they will eat warm-blooded prey when their food supply is insufficient.
- Ribbon snakes, unlike corn snakes, for example, do better on a diet that contains more fish than mice.
Tip: ‘Scent’ (see below) pinkie and full-grown mice to entice your snake to eat it.
- In the wild, your snake would normally feed on frogs and toads nearly all the time. In captivity, however, these amphibians (and their tadpoles) seem to carry a lot of parasites. Your pet, having been brought up in a controlled environment, won’t have the same resistance as a wild snake.
- Older ribbon snakes do not generally like earthworms. Nevertheless, you can feed cut-up pieces of earthworms to baby ribbon snakes. Beware though. Earthworms are not that nutritious for ribbon snakes, so you will have to feed them extra portions (without endangering the snake by overfeeding it.)
How to ‘Scent’ a Meal Item
Scent a food item to tempt your snake. First, prepare the food item as normal.
When ready, rub the item against the scent source, for example, fish like cod, for up to two minutes. Use tongs to mimic the action of the live prey near your pet.
If all goes according to plan, your snake should happily consume the meal.
Dangers of a Fish-laden Diet
Thiaminase is an enzyme that destroys thiamine, a major component of vitamin B1. A fish-heavy diet can harm your pet because many kinds of fish have a heavy concentration of thiaminase.
Too much thiaminase will make your pet quite ill.
The solution to this problem is to feed your ribbon snake fish types that are low in thiaminase, which include:
- Brown Trout
- Chub (Bloater)
- Lake Trout
- Smallmouth Bass
- Largemouth Bass
- Northern Longnose Gar
- Rock Bass
- Rainbow Trout
- Northern Pike
Tip: Some ribbon-snake keepers say that in time your snake will adapt to a steady diet of scented mice. I can’t vouch for this, but you might want to investigate on your own.
Your pet’s feces will smell less odious the less fish you feed it.
Multivitamins for your Ribbon Snake
Reptile multivitamins are available at most pet shops. Some are formulated particularly for snakes.
I use Nutrobal®, which comes as a powder. (Full disclosure: I don’t earn any income from mentioning that brand name.) Dust multivitamin powder onto food items fed to your snake.
Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Nutrobal® is a multivitamin and calcium balancer that aids the growth of your snake. It contains important vitamins and minerals, including a high amount of vitamin D3 and calcium, vital for maintaining good bone formation in reptiles.
Multivitamins are particularly valuable for young and breeding snakes.
Tip: Any good pet store will have a whole host of multivitamin complexes from which you can choose.
What Ribbon Snakes Will Never Eat
Ribbon snakes will not consume fruits, plants, or other vegetation. They use vegetation and plants only for shelter and a favorite location to hunt for food.
Although ribbon snakes do not like eating earthworms, they will eat them occasionally.
Frequently Asked Questions about What Ribbon Snakes Eat
Is my ribbon snake poisonous?
If your ribbon snake has snacked on poisonous or venomous fare, then yes, your snake is probably poisonous. However, suppose you’ve had your snake from a hatchling, and you’ve never fed it anything venomous. In that case, your pet probably isn’t poisonous. Just the same, I wouldn’t actually eat it.
Do ribbon snakes make great pets?
Let’s just say they can make ‘exciting’ pets. The thing is, they are less tolerant of rough handling than, say, corn snakes. Ribbon snakes tend to bite, and they are really fast. Bites are not venomous, but they do hurt.
Afterword: What Ribbon Snakes Eat
Ribbon snakes benefit from a mixed diet even when in captivity.
Plan on feeding them mainly with amphibians and fish, but feel free to mix their diet with mice (especially pinkie mice) and other more exotic choices such as snails, salamanders, and even crickets.
Ribbon snakes bite when anxious or mishandled. Always feed them with tongs or while wearing thick gloves.
You may have to scent the meal and mimic the motion of live prey to get your snake to feed.