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What Do Garter Snakes Eat?

Garter snakes eat earthworms, fish, and amphibians. Occasionally, they also eat small mammals and birds if they can take it on according to their size.

garter snake

The common garter snake has an immunity to the poison of the toad, allowing it to eat toads. It also eats rough-skinned newts, so it is highly adaptable to many types of surroundings.

However, when a garter snake eats a toxic newt, it appears sluggish and inebriated.

Garter Snake Diet

Garter snakes can’t eat larger mammals because they typically only grow up to 60 centimeters (23 inches). They are medium-sized snakes, so they have to pick food that they can swallow.  Like all snakes, garter snakes are carnivorous.

Below is a list of foods that garter snakes eat.

1. Slugs

Garter snakes are not an uncommon sight in gardens where slugs thrive. They’re there to eat the slugs! And in fact, this can be great for your garden because it prevents the slugs from destroying your plants.

Slugs are a kind of mollusc, but they have no shell. Some of them have reduced shell, and their bodies look like that of a snake.

2. Earthworms

Garter snakes eat earthworms, but they have a preference for non-poisonous ones. Even if earthworms are small, they will eat them if food is not abundant.

However, some worms are toxic to garter snakes. Some examples are the nightcrawlers ad red wigglers. Nightcrawlers are a reddish worm that is widely considered as a pest. Red wigglers, on the other hand, are ones that feast on decaying materials.

3. Leeches

Most young garters will eat leeches because they are a good size for a meal. The Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) is an avid hunter of leeches.

In the wild, they will eat leeches for as long as they are available. Some species of garter snakes like the Ribbon and the aquatic garter snakes do not eat leeches.

Related: Ribbon Snake vs Garter Snake

4. Lizards and Amphibians

Garter snakes eat frogs, newts and lizards. If they live in an area where there is water, they will also eat tadpoles.

The diet of the garter snake depends on its age and size. A garter snake that has reached maturity is not likely to waste its energy on tadpoles.

5. Rodents

There are people who say that a garter snake is a gardener’s best friend. Rats and mice are part of the typical menu of a mature garter snake. Since rodents thrive in gardens where there is water and an ecosystem, garter snakes will eventually find them and keep them away from your garden and home.

6. Fish

Although rodents are popular to garter snakes, the aquatic garter snake also eats fish. Those that live underwater even eat fish eggs if it is available.

In captivity, it is ill-advised to feed garter snakes with fish. Fish does not have the right nutritional needs of garter snakes. There are also those that warn against feeding them goldfish.

Goldfish has an enzyme called thiaminase that will eventually kill the snake. Thiaminase destroys a nutrient called thiamine, which is essential for proper nerve function.

FAQs

Do garter snakes eat mice?

Yes, garter snakes do eat mice. This is their preferred prey once they are big enough to eat them. Garter snakes are not great constrictors. They are haphazard constrictors, and they swallow their prey alive. If the garter snake is big and powerful enough, the mouse or rat can escape. 

What this means is that the garter snake rarely constricts its prey. It bites, and then it starts to swallow, much like big toads do when they eat rats themselves.

Since garter snakes do not have venom and rarely constrict, they have to target prey that they can easily bite and fit in their mouths.

Do garter snakes eat chipmunks?

Yes, garter snakes eat chipmunks, but this is rare. They also eat voles and shrews. The size of the snake is what matters, along with its environment. It is not a common sight to see a garter snake prey on chipmunks because chipmunks also eat garter snakes!

But garter snakes will rather go run than attack or fight a chipmunk that is aware of its presence.

Do garter snakes eat frogs and toads?

Yes, garter snakes eat frogs and toads. They are also immune to the toxicity of the western toad.

Adult toads are generally avoided by many predators because they produce toxins. Garter snakes are not afraid of this, however, and will eat one if it is available. Man pet owners feed their garter snakes with toads.

It is a wonder to see a garter snake eat a toad. One would think that the garter snake will not be able to fit a toad in its mouth, but it can.

Do garter snakes eat ants?

Yes, garter snakes can eat ants, but it is a rarity. It is not a weird thing for garter snakes to eat ants. They prey on other insects too, but ants are too small to satisfy their diet, so it’s not their favorite meal.

Do garter snakes eat crickets?

Some garter snakes do eat crickets and grasshoppers. However, it’s not their favorite meal. In the wild, a juvenile garter snake may eat insects if there is nothing else out there.

In captivity, one should not feed insects to garter snakes as they will not get the nutritional value that they need. Expert pet owners also say that their garter snakes ignore crickets and other insects.  

Do garter snakes eat fish?

Yes, garter snakes eat fish, especially if they live close to a body of water. They hunt small fish and fish eggs. In the wild, the juveniles would hunt for eggs. The big ones will do this too but prefer a bigger meal.

Garter snakes have a wide variety of fish food, provided that the fish is small. Garter snakes cannot prey on bigger fish.

Conclusion

Garter snakes are like any other snake that feed on almost anything that is meat. They are carnivorous animals; they eat frogs, fish, rodents, earthworms, and even insects.

In captivity, it is best to feed them with earthworms and minnows when they are small. Garter snakes will eventually graduate to bigger prey like mice as they get older.

Although garter snakes are immune to the poison of toads and newts, they must not be fed with goldfish and catfish, as these fish have thiaminase that will eventually lead to the snake’s death.