Corn snakes and garter snakes share the same habitats in the United States, but both are pretty different in appearance. The corn snake is brightly colored, whereas the garter snake’s colors are quite dull.
While it is easy to identify a corn snake, pointing out a garter snake is not always straightforward. This is because there is a wide variety of garter snakes, as the name covers any snake that belongs to the genus Thamnophis.
Thus, their physical attributes may vary to a degree according to the individual species. Generally, though, a standard garter snake has three stripes running the length of their bodies. Some species have checkers and other markings.
The Better Pet: Corn snakes are non-venemous, look beautiful, and are quite docile. They’re a superior pet snake than garter snakes, although both are kept as pets.
Disclaimer: This is information for entertainment and educational purposes only. Do not approach a wild animal and keep your distance. Only professionals should handle wild animals. Seek professional help immediately if you have been bitten or otherwise harmed. Consult your local wildlife authority for the right advice for your situation and locality.
Corn Snake vs Garter Snake
|Feature||Corn Snake||Garter Snake|
|1. Scientific Name||Pantherophis guttatus||Thamnophis|
|2. Size||2 – 6 feet||2 – 2.5 feet|
|3. Colors||Reds, oranges, whites, pinks, yellows, grays.||Varies. Usually black, brown and yellow.|
|4. Range||South-Eastern United States.||Throughout North America.|
|5. Hunting Behavior||Hunter & Constrictor.||Non-Constrictor, Low Venom Toxicity.|
|6. Breeding Season||Spring.||Spring.|
|7. Lays Eggs||Yes (oviparous).||No (ovoviviparous).|
|8. Pet Behavior||Usually docile||Skittish.|
|9. Warm Side Cage Temperature||80-85°F||80-85°F|
|10. Cool Side Cage Temperature||75-80°F||75-80°F|
|11. Venom||No||Yes, but very low toxicity.|
|12. Cost||Starting at $70||Starting at $20|
|13. Life Expectancy (In Captivity)||6 – 25 years||2 – 9 years|
|14. Diet||Rodents, frogs, bird eggs.||Frogs, earthworms, lizards, slugs, minnows, and small rodents.|
Corn Snake Overview
Corn snakes are a variant of the rat snake family, which is primarily found in the southeastern United States. They belong to the genus Pantherophis, and their scientific name is Pantherophis guttatus.
The main food for this species is rats. However, that does not mean that they do not feed on anything else. Corn snakes also feed on other types of rodents, birds, and small mammals.
As they are non-venomous and pretty docile, corn snakes are popular snake pets, especially for beginner hobbyists. They are small, meaning they can fit in small enclosures. Moreover, they are not the most high-maintenance of snakes.
Related Article: Do Corn Snakes Bite?
Garter Snake Overview
There are 35 species of garter snakes under the genus Thamnophis. Some of them include the Western Ribbon snake, the Giant Garter Snake, the Western Ribbon Snake, and the Common Garter Snake.
Garter snakes are also closely related to water snakes of the genera Nerodia, as they tend to spend a lot of time near water bodies.
Garter snakes have a wide distribution within North America as different species have different diets and are adapted to different habitats.
Moreover, garter snakes tend to be smaller than most other snake types, including corn snakes. They are very good at hiding themselves in small spaces, and unless you are purposefully hunting for them, you could easily miss them if you are not vigilant.
Comparison Between Corn Snakes and Garter Snakes
It is not always easy to identify a garter snake as they have varying physical appearances. However, most garter snakes have three stripes running down their bodies from the neck to the tail. This is the most effective way to identify a garter snake on sight.
You can see the typical garter snake stripes on this image:
Still, different species have stripes of different colors as well as different-colored bodies. Generally, the stripes will be more brightly colored than the backgrounds. If the snake is not brown, it is either tan, red, or yellow.
On the other hand, corn snakes are colorful as they have brightly colored scales, usually red and brown. They have random blotchy patterns on their skins, which sets them apart from their venomous lookalikes, the copperheads. See the patterns here:
Corn snakes are slightly bigger than garter snakes. While corn snakes grow to a range of 18 to 44 inches, garter snakes have an average length of 23 to 30 inches. In fact, some garter snakes are so small that they weigh less than a pound.
Another distinguishing feature of garter snakes is that they have dual-colored tongues that they tend to flick very often. For most garter snakes, the tongues are red at the bottom and black at the top.
On the other hand, the tongues of corn snakes are mostly black, just like many other snake species.
Did you Know: Corn Snakes can Be Orange
2. Behavioral Differences
In captivity, both snakes are generally well behaved, although garter snakes are known to be more skittish. Corn snakes are nocturnal while garter snakes are diurnal.
Corn snakes are mostly nocturnal as they get out to forage at dusk and at night, especially when it is hot during the day. They only come out during the day when the weather is so much cooler. Meanwhile, garter snakes are diurnal snakes. They are quite active as they come out during both the day and the night.
During winter, reptiles are known to go into a state of prolonged sleep, commonly known as hibernation. But in the case of garter snakes, they go into “brumation”, a type of hibernation where the snakes wake up occasionally to quench their thirst with water.
While corn snakes are solitary snakes, they tend to bundle up together in a single location during hibernation. For both snakes, the mating season comes soon after hibernation, where males fight for the right to copulate with particular females.
Fun Fact: Both corn snakes and garter snakes are endemic (native) to the USA, however over the recent years they have been introduced to other regions such as Europe.
Corn snakes enjoy a wide range of habitats depending on the climate. When it is hot, you are likely to find corn snakes in forests, grasslands, and rocky places. They also visit abandoned buildings and places that are adjacent to rodent burrows. One of the reasons they are called corn snakes is that they tend to lounge around corn farms waiting on rats and other rodents to feed on.
During the cold season, corn snakes seek out places that will protect them from intense cold, such as mammal burrows, stump holes, and subterranean refuges. These snakes are also known to be good tree climbers, and thus, it is not unlikely to find one lying on a tree branch.
Just like corn snakes, garter snakes also have a wide range of habitats. As we have already established, there are many species, and their diet and habitat needs tend to vary. As such, you can expect to find garner snakes almost anywhere.
Hence, they can be found in woodlands, grassy knolls, and meadows. Most garter snake species prefer riparian areas. These are places that are close to a water body. Therefore, the chances of coming across a garter snake close to a river, lake, or swamp are high.
Both corn snakes and garter snakes are spread throughout North America, although the latter has a wider range. Corn snakes are most common in the southeastern United States, while the bulk of the population of garter snakes resides in the Eastern part of the country.
While garter snakes just capture and consume their food, corn snakes are constrictors. This means that they squeeze their prey to death before swallowing them whole.
Like all snakes, both garter snakes and corn snakes are carnivorous. Corn snakes, as part of the rat snakes family, love eating rats. They also eat other rodents such as mice and squirrels. They also eat birds, bird eggs, and small animals. Usually, juvenile corn snakes feed on cold-blooded animals such as lizards, while adult corn snakes eat small animals, like rodents.
The diet of garter snakes consists of any small creature that they can easily pin down and consume. As such, they eat anything from earthworms, lizards, slugs, minnows, and small rodents. They also eat aquatic animals like frogs since they spend a lot of time in wet places.
Generally, garter snakes are not picky eaters. They eat whatever they can find, especially seeing that food can become scarce in the wild.
Read More: What do Corn Snakes Eat?
5. Venom Differences
Fun fact: All non-venomous snakes have round pupils while venomous ones have vertical ones similar to those present in cats.
Corn snakes are non-venomous. As such, they are totally harmless to human beings, which is one of the reasons they are among the most preferred snake to pet.
Interestingly, garter snakes also have round pupils, which should mean that they are non-venomous. However, it was recently discovered that they produce a neurotoxic venom. Even so, they produce a small amount of venom and lack effective means of delivering it. For these reasons, a bite from a garter snake does not pose serious harm to people. At worst, the bite will cause swelling and itching, for which you should seek immediate remedy.
The toxin in their bodies enables garter snakes to feed upon toxic animals, like newts. The snakes tend to retain the acquired toxins in their livers for a while. The serpent is both poisonous and venomous for the period the toxins are inside the snake’s body.
6. Defense Mechanisms
Corn snakes exhibit Batesian mimicry when faced with a threat. Batesian mimicry is the technique of acting like a dangerous snake in an effort to scare away the predator.
They do this by shaking their tails in much the same way as rattlesnakes do. However, this technique could be counteractive, as a corn snake may be killed for being thought of as dangerous.
Apart from Batesian mimicry, corn snakes eject a foul smell to keep the predator from coming too close, to give them time to escape. When threatened enough, these snakes twitch their heads as if to attack the predator. Predators of the corn snake include human beings, eagles, and raccoons.
Usually, the garter snake’s first instinct is to slither away to safety. But when cornered, a garter snake will coil and strike. Fortunately, its bite is not lethal to human beings.
The snake will also keep its head hidden and flail its tale as a way of keeping itself safe when faced with imminent danger.
Just like corn snakes, garter snakes discharge a musky-scented secretion when threatened.
Some of the animals that threaten garter snakes include snake-eating snakes like king snakes, hawks, raccoons, and cranes.
The mating seasons for both snake types happen after brumation when the weather is warmer.
In both cases, the male snakes earn the right of mating with a female by fighting off other males. For instance, corn snakes engage in ritual combat where two males battle in the presence of a receptive female, and the winner earns the right to copulate with her.
Additionally, garter snakes rely on communicative chemicals known as pheromones during the mating season. Male and female pheromones smell completely different, so it is easy for them to locate each other.
While corn snakes are oviparous, garter snakes are ovoviviparous. Oviparous snakes are those that lay eggs and let them hatch from outside the mother’s body. Ovoviviparous snakes, on the other hand, are those that retain the eggs in their bodies until they hatch.
A female corn snake lays anywhere between 10 and 30 eggs per clutch, while garter snakes give birth to a litter of 4 to 80 live younglings.
8. Which is Easier to Pet?
Between corn snakes and garter snakes, the corn snake is preferable as a pet.
For one, corn snakes are more pleasant to look at with their bright colors. Also, they are completely non-venomous, so they pose absolutely no harm to people. Moreover, they are extremely easy to care for and do not require too much of your time and attention. Besides, they are not endangered species.
However, this does not mean that garter snakes are not kept as pets- there are hobbyists who keep them. This is not common, though, because most of the species are endangered as a result of human activities and an increased population of predators. As a matter of fact, it is illegal in some places to capture this snake from the wild with the intention of petting it.
If you want to pet a garter snake, it is better to get one from a pet store or breeder. Better yet, you could try a rescue organization.
All in all, the basics of taking care of any snake cuts across the board: provide a spacious enclosure, provide adequate food, regulate the temperature, and give the snake ample time to enjoy its alone time.
More Snake Comparisons:
- Corn Snake vs Milk Snake
- Kingsnake vs Garter Snake
- Corn Snake vs Rat Snake
- Ribbon Snake vs Garter Snake
- Rattlesnake vs Garter Snake
Corn snakes and garter snakes are more different than they are similar. For starters, corn snakes are brightly colored, while garter snakes are a bit dull-looking. Secondly, corn snakes are oviparous, which is the opposite of the ovoviviparous garter snakes. Also, corn snakes are non-venomous, but garter snakes have venom in their system, albeit in small doses.
Even so, there are some similarities between the two types of snakes. For instance, both live in the Northern parts of America, most specifically the United States. Also, they feed on rodents as part of their diets. Between the two, corn snakes are easier to make a pet out of than garter snakes.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.