A standard aquarium is usually the choice of many customers, but you can be as creative with the cage as you like. A secure lid with fine mesh openings is a must to keep your pet safe from other animals in the house and to keep your slender snake in the cage.
Bedding can range from Repti-Sand
, Keeper’s Choice
, or bark substrates like Repti-Bark.
Smaller pieces of bedding are recommended for smaller snakes so they do not get any obstructions from swallowing large pieces of bedding. The cage can be decorated with pieces of wood
or tree stumps
to provide a more natural habitat. Make sure anything used in the cage is insect-free and secure so it does not fall on your snake. A shelter
in the cage will make the snake feel more secure. A snake is more likely to eat when it is less stressed.
Snakes usually benefit from a small patch of moss
kept damp - this adds humidity and is beneficial during shedding. Always provide a hiding area and objects for your snake to rub against when shedding.
Clean the enclosure weekly to remove any waste material. The entire cage should be disinfected with a dilute bleach solution at least once a month.
Heating and Lighting
Reptiles need heat in order to digest their food and maintain their immune system. Each species has it’s own requirements for temperature
and if these are not met the animal may suffer. One side of the enclosure should be warmer than the other so the snake is able to choose it’s correct temperature. We recommend purchasing two thermometers so the temperature can be monitored at each end of the enclosure. Garter and ribbon snakes will do well in temperatures between 72 to 82 degrees. Natural heat on a warm summer day is sufficient but when the temperature drops, a supplemental heat source
will be needed. We recommend the use of an under-the-tank heater
to maintain air temperature and a full spectrum reptile heat light
for the basking area.
All reptiles, including garter snakes, benefit from fluorescent lighting
. A fluorescent light does not give off the necessary heat but does give the snake UVB rays like sunlight. These UVB rays allow reptiles to change vitamins from their food into a useful form. The fluorescent output we recommend is 3.0 UVB. This bulb should be used only during the day hours and needs to be replaced every six months. A fluorescent bulb will also enhance the many beautiful colors of the snake.
Garter and ribbon snakes usually eat small goldfish and small frogs. Some snakes will also accept earthworms and canned tuna packed in water only, not oil. Large snakes will eat small mice. We normally feed garter and ribbon snakes twice a week - you will need to gauge how much your snake needs by monitoring how fast the prey is consumed and also by checking it’s body fitness. Your snake should not be bloated, but it should have roundness, not flat spots which appear to be caving in. The snake will have natural lumps right after eating.
When you feed your snake, it is important to keep the size of the food item small rather than too large. A large food item can cause difficulty in swallowing and some snakes will regurgitate after eating a large food item due to difficulty in digesting. If you feed frozen food be certain the food is completely thawed
before offering it to your cold blooded snake--swallowing even a partially frozen food item can cause your snake to go into shock and die from the extreme temperature change. We recommend thawing at least 30 minutes in warm water before introducing the food to the snake’s cage.
It is important not to allow an excess amount of food items in the tank. Having excess food items in the tank can be stressful for the snake and some food items (such as small mice) can actually harm the snake. The snake will only kill what it is going to eat.
Fresh water should always be available. If room permits, you may provide a water bowl
large enough for your snake to soak. Place a young snake inside the water dish once a day until you see it go to the dish to drink on its own. This ensures that it does not quickly dehydrate while it is learning how to find water. A second bowl should be used to feed your snake. Your snake will learn to recognize the second bowl as the source of fish or frogs and will look for the food.
Garter and ribbon snakes are great beginner snakes, but they are very active, fast movers. Once your snake eats at least twice for you, you can begin short handling sessions remembering never to over-stimulate the snake. Do not attempt to handle your snake until it establishes a normal eating pattern. Handling causes stress which is likely to add to the time it takes for your snake to feel comfortable in it’s new home.
Over-handling can be stressful to your garter or ribbon snake, especially since you will be removing it from it’s heated area. Always lightly touch the snake first before picking it up as the snake may be sleeping. Keep the snake away from your face and neck area. Always wash your hands before and after handling the snake.
If you notice any signs of illness in your snake such as refusing to eat, no tongue flickering, little movement between different temperature zones, or lack of muscle tone, it is critical to get treatment right away. Most animals are good at hiding an illness until it reaches an advanced stage. We do strive to help customers keep their animals healthy and we recommend regular veterinary checkups for all animals.
If you notice any small parasites crawling on your snake they may be mites
and need to be treated promptly. Mites dehydrate the reptile and can carry diseases just as fleas and tics do in mammals. We have a care sheet on how to rid reptiles of mites. We also have several products which can be safely used for that purpose.
Garter and ribbon snakes are sometimes known to develop a bacterial skin problem. Little blister type lumps may appear and then dry out and become chalky in color. The problem can be caused by housing the snake in wet bedding or by not providing an area for the snake to dry out completely.
If you have a snake that is not eating, please call us, do not wait. Snakes can become weak very quickly.
A baby snake will shed it’s skin often, sometimes once a month. It is very important that all of the shed skin is removed from the snake. If the shed
skin looks dry and tight and is coming off in pieces the snake may be in trouble from lack of humidity in the air. You will need to soak it in warm water with one of the shedding aids we have available.
Sometimes you will find a garter or ribbon snake that remains nervous no matter how often it is handled. If handling is stressful for the snake it is better to not handle them at all. You will not be able to judge this when you first take the snake home, it may be a few months before you realize the snake cannot be handled without causing it too much stress.
We strive to help our customers keep their animals healthy and we do recommend regular veterinary checkups. We also recommend purchasing a book about your new pet. If you have any questions or concerns, please call the Reptile Room at: 717-299-5691 ext. 1246.