Care sheet: Rat snake, King snake & Garters

A BASIC GUIDE ON THE GENERAL CARE OF:

RAT SNAKES, KING SNAKES & GARTERS

GENERAL INFORMATION

THESE THREE SPECIES OF SNAKES ARE PROBABLY THE MOST POPULAR AMONGST REPTILE KEEPERS, BECAUSE OF THEIR EASE OF KEEPING AND THEIR ATTRACTIVENESS.

RAT SNAKES: THE MOST POPULAR SPECIES OF RAT SNAKE IS THE AMERICAN CAROLINA CORN SNAKE (Elaphe guttata). IT IS BRED IN A VARIETY OF COLOURS. THE NORMAL WILD COLOUR IS RED AND BLACK, BUT ITS IS POSSIBLE TO GET RED AND WHITE (AMELANISTIC), BLACK AND WHITE (ANERTHERYSTIC), WHITE AND PINK (SNOW). THESE RAT SNAKES GROW TO BETWEEN 4-5ft AS ADULTS AND GENERALLY HAVE A CALM AND EVEN TEMPERAMENT.

KING SNAKES: KING SNAKES (Lampropeltis sp) ARE NATIVE TO THE SOUTHERN USA AND ARE CALLED KINGS BECAUSE THEY ARE IMMUNE TO RATTLESNAKE BITES AND CAN OVERCOME AND KILL A RATTLESNAKE. THEIR NORMAL WILD COLOUR IS BLACK AND YELLOW BANDING, BUT THEY ARE ALSO BRED WITH STRIPES AND AS ALBINOS (PINK AND YELLOW)

GARTERS: GARTER SNAKES (Thamnophis sp) ARE POPULAR WITH KEEPERS WHO DO NOT WANT A SNAKE THAT FEEDS ON RODENTS. GARTERS FEED PREDOMINANTLY ON FISH. THERE ARE NO UNUSUAL COLOUR VARIETIES, BUT SOME SUBSPECIES ARE MORE DRAMATICALLY MARKED THAN OTHERS.

HOUSING

ALL OF THESE SNAKES ARE BEST HOUSED INDIVIDUALLY IN A PURPOSE MADE MELAMINE VIVARIUM. AS A GUIDELINE, THE SIZE OF THE VIVARIUM SHOULD BE APPROXIMATELY TWO THIRDS THE LENGTH OF THE SNAKE IN LENGTH AND ONE THIRD THE LENGTH OF THE SNAKE IN WIDTH, AND AT LEAST 1ft HIGH. THE OVERALL AIR TEMPERATURE SHOULD BE BETWEEN 76-84F , A WATER BOWL AND HIDE MUST BE PROVIDED. UNLIKE LIZARDS, IT IS NOT ESSENTIAL TO PROVIDE HIGH LEVELS OF ULTRAVIOLET LIGHTING AS THE OBTAIN THEIR CALCIUM FROM THE BONES OF THEIR FOOD.

DIET

RAT SNAKES AND KING SNAKES FEED ON RODENTS. HATCHLINGS FEED INITIALLY ON PINK MICE, THEN FLUFFY MICE PROGRESSING TO FULL GROWN MICE. THESE SNAKES SHOULD BE FED ONCE PER WEEK WITH ONE OR TWO FEED ITEMS. MAKE SURE THE FOOD IS AT LEAST AT ROOM TEMPERATURE OR SLIGHTLY HIGHER. ALWAYS USE TWEEZERS WHEN FEEDING.

GARTERS FEED ON FISH, ALTHOUGH SOME ADULTS WILL ALSO TAKE RODENTS. COMMERCIAL FOOD PREPARATIONS (GARTER GRUB) ARE AVAILABLE FOR BOTH JUVENILES AND ADULTS. THESE CONTAIN ALL THE NECESSARY VITAMINS. FROZEN FISH, SUCH AS LANCE OR GAMMA FISH CAN ALSO BE USED. IF USING THESE FROZEN FISH, IT IS IMPORTANT TO SUPPLEMENT THE FOOD WITH VITAMIN B1 (A SUPPLEMENT CALLED ACE-HIGH CONTAINS THIS). THIS IS BECAUSE FROZEN FISH CONTAINS AN ENZYME WHICH BREAKS DOWN THE THIAMIN IN THEIR FOOD. WITHOUT THIAMIN, THE SNAKE WILL DEVELOP NERVOUS DISORDERS.

ON RECEIPT OF YOUR SNAKE

ALWAYS SET UP YOUR SNAKES VIVARIUM AT LEAST ONE DAY BEFORE BRINGING YOUR SNAKE HOME. THIS WILL ALLOW YOU TO ENSURE THE TEMPERATURE SETTINGS ARE CORRECT. YOUR SNAKE MAY NEED A FEW DAYS TO ACCLIMATISE. DURING THIS PERIOD DO NOT STRESS THE ANIMAL BY OVER HANDLING. WAIT A FEW DAYS BEFORE OFFERING FOOD TO THE SNAKE.

RECOMMENDED READING

KEEPING & BREEDING CORN SNAKES (AVS), COMMON KING SNAKES (AVS), GARTER SNAKES & WATER SNAKES (AVS), GARTER SNAKES & THEIR ALLIES (PRACTICAL PYTHON PUBLICATIONS), CORN SNAKES (TFH)