What Do Garter (Garden) Snakes Eat?

Snakes eat a variety of things including insects, frogs, gophers, small rodents, amphibians, earthworms, eggs, slugs, birds, mice, chipmunks, and other small animals. The largest snakes in the world can even eat pigs, deer, monkey, and livestock. Garter snakes, known sometimes as Garden snakes typically eat small rodents, frogs, toads, lizards, minnows, earthworms, leeches, and salamanders.

Have you ever wondered what snakes eat? You may think of a snake swallowing a mouse whole and alive, but not all snakes eat their food live. In truth, snakes eat a wide variety of food, including things like eggs and insects. Snakes can also hunt their food in a variety of different ways, including constricting prey or killing it with venom first. Let’s take a deeper look at the various diets snakes have.

Snakes can be found on every continent in the world except Antarctica. The wide variety of regions and climates snakes have evolved to live in means that they also have a wide variety of diets. Since snakes live in so many different climates and have different body sizes, behaviors, and metabolisms, they eat a number of different meals. However, there’s one thing in common to all snake meals, they subsist on animal parts. Snakes are strictly carnivorous creatures, so they can’t subsist on plant material.

The diet of a snake will depend on a number of different variables. Things like the climate the snake lives in, its body size, and the other animals the snake shares its environment with impact the niche it inhabits and the meals it will eat.

Let’s go over some commonalities of snakes, before moving on to what makes them different and the different meals they eat.

General Facts About Snakes

Snakes are legless reptiles, and they exist within the Serpentes suborder. They’re cold-blooded creatures, and as such they must make use of external sources like warm rocks or cool underground burrows to regulate their body temperature. Snakes track prey through their sense of smell. Snakes don’t smell like humans or most mammals, they use their tongue to sense the air around them. The particles that snakes collect on their tongue are passed off to a smelling organ known as a vomeronasal organ, which processes them. Snakes can learn about their environment this way, getting information about the ground and air around them, like how moist the environment is, the temperature, and more. Vibrations in the air and ground clue snakes into the location of their prey, so their smell is integral to finding and eating food.

“The snake will always bite back.” — Jake Roberts

The jaw of a snake is very flexible, and the two halves of it are very loosely attached. This means that snakes don’t actually dislocate their jaws to eat food, their jaws are just capable of substantial movement.

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Snakes reproduce by laying eggs, which they often abandon shortly after laying them. Parent snakes don’t need to feed their young, as young snakes are capable of fending and hunting for themselves when they hatch. (Though some species of snakes will stick around to defend their nests until they hatch.)

What Different Snakes Eat

While snakes sense and hunt in the same way, the prey that snakes hunt can vary substantially. Smaller snakes frequently subsist mainly on insects and other small animals like small frogs and mice. The smallest snakes often eat things like earthworms and insects. Larger snakes can eat impressively large prey like monkeys and pigs. Some snakes even eat other snakes, like the Kingsnake. Common meals for various types of snakes include mice, voles, squirrels, birds, and eggs.

Garter Snakes

Photo: Paulket1968 via Pixabay

Garter snakes, also called garden snakes and ribbon snakes, are small snakes that are found all across North America. There is disagreement about whether the two kinds of garter snakes are just a subspecies of one species or belong to two different species, but garter snakes are part of the genus Thamnophis.

“Luckily there were no venomous snakes around Hoosick, N.Y., so I amassed quite a collection of milk snakes, garters, ribbons, and ring-necked snakes.” — Romulus Whitaker

Garter snakes can be found throughout all of the lower 48 states, much of Canada, and into Central America. They produce a mild venom, not dangerous to humans. Garter snakes eat any small animal they can find, including small lizards, slugs, and mice. They also like to eat frogs eggs and tadpoles when they are near water.

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Boa Constrictors

Photo: IanZA via Pixabay

Boa constrictors refer to members of the Boidae family, and they are distributed mainly throughout the Americas. They can be found in southern North America, across much of Central and South America, and on some islands in the Carribean. Boa constrictors are referred to as constrictors because they constrict their prey to kill them. Boa constrictors wind themselves around their prey, crushing their skeletons and cutting off the animals’ blood supply to their brain.

Boa constrictors can eat many different animals, including pigs and deer, but most of their meals aren’t very big. They typically eat smaller animals like lizards, mice, birds, bat, and frogs.

Inland Taipan

Photo: Kapa64 via Pixabay

The Inland Taipan is a snake that uses venom to kill its prey. In fact, it is one of the most venomous snakes in the world. The Taipan is found throughout eastern-central Australia. Different venomous snakes use different chemicals in their venom, depending on what kind of prey they hunt. The venom of the Inland Taipan consists of a potent cocktail of neurotoxins like paradoxin, and hemotoxins, which affect the blood.

The Inland Taipan eats small mammals like rats and mice. It also eats numbats (a small marsupial anteater), birds, and quolls (a carnivorous marsupial). It tends to take prey down with a serious of quick strikes, unlike some other snakes that only bite once and then wait for the prey to die.

Indian Egg-Eating snake

The Indian Egg-Eating snake is found throughout much of the Indian subcontinent, distributed mainly throughout the northern and central parts of India. It’s a nocturnal creature that sneaks through underbrush and scrubs looking for food.

As the name of the snake implies, it eats eggs to sustain itself. It feeds only on the eggs of birds, taking advantage of the fact that most birds sleep at night to get to their eggs.

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Threadsnake

The Barbados Threadsnake is one thought to be the smallest snake in the world. It is only about the size of a quarter. The snake inhabits the low-lying forests of Barbados, where it burrows into the soil of the forests to make its home.

As the smallest snake in the world, the prey of the threadsnake is comparatively small. It feeds itself mainly by eating ant larvae, termites and other small insects found in the forest.

Green Tree Snake

Photo: SeppH via Pixabay

The Green Tree Snake, sometimes referred to as the common tree snake, is found within parts of Australia and Papua New Guinea. It has only a weak venom, and its fangs are actually located at the rear of the upper jaw, requiring it to partially swallow prey for its venom to be effective.

The snake eats small reptiles, frogs, geckos, and water skinks. They also take advantage of eggs wherever they can be found. They may even eat fish if they can find them, and they swallow their prey alive, without constricting them.

Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake

The Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake is part of the group of snakes known as sea snakes or Hydrophiinae. Sea snakes are venomous snakes which live in aquatic environments, and can’t move around on land. The yellow-bellied sea snake is found throughout tropical waters around the world, giving it a large range. Sea snakes sometimes come up to the surface to bask in the sunlight, but they can also swim down to depths of almost 90 meters (300 feet).

Yellow-bellied sea snakes, like most sea snakes, feed on small fish and aquatic creatures. They sense their prey by feeling the vibrations in the water that fish create when they swim and then lash out to inject their venom.

Though all snakes are carnivores, their prey consists of a number of different animals. From eggs and insects to pigs and deer, snakes will eat just about anything they can effectively kill. They are opportunists they play a key role in their respective environments and ecosystems.

Comment (1)

  1. – Aside from their vomeronasal organ, snakes also can smell like we do
    – Many snake species are viviparous (e. g. rattlesnakes), so they don’t lay eggs
    – You may want to avoid the term “Boa Constrictors”: Boa constrictor is a valid species, but beneath this subtitle you put a photo of a burmese python. Both boas and pythons and even some colubrids are constrictors. And, by the way constricting does not include bone crushing…
    – Under the title “Green Tree Snake” there is a photo of a boa: Corallus caninus, and not a Dendrelaphis punctulatus, a colubrid described in the text.

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