Do Garter Snakes Eat Mice? Sssensational Snake Sssuppers

Arpitha Rajendra
Feb 25, 2023 By Arpitha Rajendra
Originally Published on Nov 11, 2021
Eastern Garter Snake on Log

Garter snakes look like rattlesnakes but lack white bands on their tails.

Garter snake species swallow prey whole without a bite when their prey is alive. They will always swallow prey even when it is dead.

Garter snakes are beneficial as great pest control in gardens and yards. Garter snakes, or Thamnophis sirtalis, are small to medium-sized reptiles that are not dangerous to humans.

They are classified under the genus Thamnophis. They are endemic to Central and North America. Thamnophis snake species occur throughout Canada's subarctic plains extending to Costa Rica.

These reptiles weigh around 0.3 lb (140 g) and are 18-54 in (46-137 cm) in length. They are closely related to the genus Nerodia consisting of water snakes.

The eastern garter snake, or Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis, was the first garter snake species to be identified by Carl Linnaeus, a zoologist, in 1758. These snakes occur in most parts of North America. These small creatures can adapt to various habitats, have big diets, and live near water bodies.

Snakes of western North America tend to be aquatic creatures compared to the species of the eastern part. Habitats of garter snakes include woodlands, grasslands, fields, lands, and forests.

The population of these garden snakes has been declining due to people collecting them as pets in a huge number. With the introduction of predators like American bullfrogs and pollution in aquatic areas, garters are still common in their natural habitat ranges.

Since the year 1969, San Francisco garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia) have been listed as endangered. The population decline of narrow-headed garter snakes (Thamnophis rufipunctatus) is largely due to crayfish predation.

If you enjoy reading these fun facts about do garter snakes eat mice, then do make sure to read some more interesting fun facts about the most venomous snake in the US and Florida snake identification here at Kidadl.

Do garter snakes keep mice away?

No, garter snakes do not keep mice away but feed on them like many other animal species.

Garter snake species have a typical snake body and only vary in color and size. They can have stripes of green, yellow, gray, red, or orange colors.

They can also have other patterns of yellow, red, and green. All garter snake species are carnivorous, but their diet varies because some garter snakes have huge teeth at the back of their mouth with larger gums and a Duvernoy's gland, which will produce mildly toxic venom.

Garters will also eat mice and other small rodents in captivity.

Young garter will also feed on mice smaller than their size. However, they love to feed on insects more than small mammals and lizards.

Species like checkered garter snakes will readily feed on mice, but species like red-sided garter snakes are not very fond of mice in their diet. Some also state that young garters do not easily eat mice compared to sub-adult and adult garters.

Although garter snakes are venomous, they were thought to be non-venomous snakes for a long time. It was proved in the early 00s that these garden snakes produce neurotoxic venom.

However, they do not have the proper technique to injure or kill humans. If they bite you, the venom will sometimes cause bruising and swelling.

These wild creatures will gladly eat small mammals like rats that they can fit into their mouth. Animals that live in a moist environment are food to these animals.

As this wild snake's diet varies and is also adaptable, a garter snake can slither into your garden or even home.

These species of snake are great at controlling pests but might also hunt small pets. If there is proper food and shelter around your house or yard, which might attract rodents, then garter snakes tend to find a way to live there.

If you do face this problem, make sure to clean up your yard or garden by taking out fallen leaves, water, food, or other moist objects. Some people have garter snakes as pets.

How does a garter snake kill a mouse?

A garter snake kills a mouse by using speed and suffocation.

Mice are quite hardy, and they can live in many places, including a garter snake's habitat. The types of environment that mice live in are forests, grasslands, and many manmade structures.

They build burrows to stay protected. They will forage around these environments for food items like earthworms, insects, fruits, grains, or seeds. Garter snakes tend to hunt in such regions.

Garter snake species will suffocate their prey instead of using their venom. Usually, a snake needs to increase its body temperature to digest its prey.

These venomous snakes often feed on whatever they come across, and this food can either be abundant or scarce. These snakes sometimes eat eggs but typically feed on small animals. It is always necessary to consider the garter snakes' size.

They feed on prey that they can swallow. It is rare for garter snakes to eat prey that is bigger than their widest body part.

Whenever garter snakes come out to eat, they will find a suitable animal and get into a position to eat it. Most of the time, these snakes will swallow the head first.

The advantage of doing this is that the prey's hair, ears, limbs, and other body parts will fold when the snake swallows.

However, if it is the other way round, then these parts can get stuck in these snakes' throats. All snakes have a jaw that is modified to dislocate itself out of the skull socket and can split into two halves, held by an elasticated joint.

This mechanism allows snakes to swallow food in one go. Rear fangs will help garters to swallow food in the right direction without prey popping out of their mouth.

Snakes then swallow food by slowly moving one side of their jaw forward, then the other side repeatedly until they move along the prey's body and completely swallow it. Then, the snake will close up its mouth, putting its jaw right back into place.

The food is then moved forward by the digestive system through the snake's gut for digestion, and this is called peristalsis.

It is also recommended that snakes in captivity must be fed dead animals instead of living ones. Sometimes when snakes are provided with live rodents, the prey will try to escape by biting, which can cause injuries to your pet.

Understanding Garter Snakes Through Their Diets

A garter snake's diet in their natural habitat includes lizards, earthworms, slugs, insects, amphibians (like tree frogs and toads), leeches, rodents, fish, minnows, birds, eggs, and other small mammals.

The western terrestrial garter snake can even feed on reptiles. Some exceptions, like the Mexican Alpine blotched garter snake, only eat lizards.

Garter snakes will hunt in the morning, afternoon, or at night. They do not always eat mice. However, mice give all the required nutrients for garter snakes' good health.

They must also eat other items like fish, frogs, or earthworms for missing nutrients. Young garters might refuse full mice, so they can be given small pieces of earthworms and fish fillets. A nutritious diet can keep garter snakes healthy, but snakes are often exposed to parasites, which can be dangerous.

You can also try to provide pinky mice to your pet garter snake, and scenting the mice will also attract your pet. Mice must be included in their primary diet, and worms can be fed in moderation.

When your pet snake is young, it can be fed more frequently. Small snakes are mostly fed tiny fish and earthworms. Young snakes eat more times than adults in fewer amounts.

An adult garter snake can be fed every seven to 10 days. If your pet is immature, developing, or pregnant, then it must be fed every four to five days a week. Sometimes owners cannot stick to one routine for long because of their garter snake's changing food preferences.

Garter snakes in the wild will depend on their habitat to provide a proper diet. Aquatic garter species will not only hunt on the surface but also underwater.

These snake species will not feed on mice that have a fish scent in captivity. They won't even hunt mammals on land. Some will just eat earthworms.

The Benefits Of Owning A Snake That Doesn't Eat Rodents

A snake that does not eat rodents can be kept as a pet by people who fear rodents, alive or dead, and if you have a rodent as a pet.

There are only a few snakes that do not eat rodents. Some species of garter snakes do not even feed on rodents like mice or rats. All garter snake species stay on a varied diet and receive their required nutrients from other animals.

These animals are tadpoles, frogs, insects, slugs, fish, leeches, snails, and lizards. If your garter snake eats a lot of fish or earthworms, then make sure to give them supplements.

African egg-eating snakes will feed on whole chicken eggs. However, it can be a little hard to find small enough eggs to feed young African egg-eating snakes. Young ones can be fed finch or quail eggs.

Snakes can go without eating for a while, but they will continue drinking water. Rough green snakes are a non-venomous species that only feeds on insects and other critters. They can easily get stressed.

Some of their prey are caterpillars, crickets, soft-boiled beetle larvae, moths, and spiders. Water snakes feed on fish and frogs.

You can also include worms and insects in your pet water snake's diet. These snakes are not too good for beginners as they are aggressive. Smooth green snakes feed on spiders and insects like moths, snails, crickets, and small roaches.

Many snake owners are also rodent owners, and they do not like to feed any kind of rodent to their pets. Others might just feel creeped out by dead, frozen rodents.

Sometimes, the frozen-thawed rodents can rupture or leak when they are warmed up. A live rat or mouse can seriously hurt your pet before they are eaten. It is better to avoid this risk.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestion for 'Do garter snakes eat mice?', then why not take a look at 'The smallest snake' or 'Garter snake facts'?

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Written by Arpitha Rajendra

Bachelor of Engineering specializing in Aeronautical/Aerospace Technology, Master of Business Administration specializing in Management

Arpitha Rajendra picture

Arpitha RajendraBachelor of Engineering specializing in Aeronautical/Aerospace Technology, Master of Business Administration specializing in Management

With a background in Aeronautical Engineering and practical experience in various technical areas, Arpitha is a valuable member of the Kidadl content writing team. She did her Bachelor's degree in Engineering, specializing in Aeronautical Engineering, at Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology in 2020. Arpitha has honed her skills through her work with leading companies in Bangalore, where she contributed to several noteworthy projects, including the development of high-performance aircraft using morphing technology and the analysis of crack propagation using Abaqus XFEM.

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