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California Red Sided Garter Snake

California Red Sided Garter Snake
Thamnophis sirtalis infernalis

The California Red Sided Garter Snake is a stunning species, will live communally in the right environment, are brightly coloured and easy to care for; making them perfect for any level of experience.

California Red Sided Garter Snake - California Red Sided Garter Snake (CB 04/06/23) Juveniles, can be sexed.
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California Red Sided Garter Snake (CB 04/06/23) Juveniles, can be sexed.
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What does a California Red Sided Garter Snake look like?

California Red Sided Garter Snakes are visually stunning, their bright colours suggest they are venomous which deters natural predators - though their saliva contains toxins, they are completely harmless to humans. Males of this species grow to an average length of around 50-70cm but females can occasionally reach up to 100cm. Their colours tend to intensify as they mature, all displaying a distinctive red head with a bright red tongue. They have a pattern of three stripes down the length of the body, the central stripe can be anything from yellow to a vibrant blue, with black either side. Black spots and blotches run down either side on top of a base colour of red, this is often very bright depending upon the individual. The belly scales and lower sides are a pale white to bright blue colour. 

Where are California Red Sided Garter Snakes from?

In the wild, they are found in California in the United States. They prefer habitats such as coastal marshes and dunes where there are bodies of shallow water, where they are often found in groups.

How do you keep California Red Sided Garter Snakes?

California Red Sided Garter Snakes are a straightforward species of snake to own, as long as their environmental requirements are met. They can be kept communally with care and caution (especially at feeding time); if you are new to snakes we suggest housing a single animal as it is more straightforward.

These snakes are slender and fast, the main thing to consider when choosing enclosures is ensuring the snake cannot escape. Glass terrariums are best, as this species has higher humidity requirements, meaning that wooden vivariums tend to rot quite quickly. Young California Red Sided Garter Snakes can be housed in slightly smaller glass enclosures 24x18” (LxW), but sub and fully-grown adults thrive in a 36x18x18” (minimum) terrarium or Paludarium, aiming for much larger if multiple animals are to be kept.

You will need to provide your California Red Sided Garter Snake with a basking temperature of 30C (85F) during the day with a drop down to 25C (75F) at night. Temperatures can easily be maintained by using either a basking lamp or halogen lamp in a dome outside the terrarium; a suitable thermostat should control all heat sources to avoid risk of over or under heating.

Research shows that UVB exposure contributes to healthy animals, both mentally and physically. We advise the use of UVB lighting within the parameters of Ferguson Zone 2 for your California Red Sided Garter Snake. This species is diurnal (active during the day) and even when they appear to be hiding, many snakes will cryptically bask by leaving a part of their body exposed to the sunlight. The lighting is recommended to be on for 12 hours during the day and switched off at night to allow for a natural night time light and temperature drop. 

This species loves water! They will readily use a large water dish, or if space allows, a large paludarium with a body of water for them in which they will actively swim. Daily spraying of the enclosure to maintain humidity levels of around 50-60% is important, as if kept too dry, this can cause problems shedding their skin. A humidity box filled with damp moss can also be a useful addition to aid the shedding cycle. 

California Red Sided Garter Snakes do exceptionally well in a live planted bio-active terrarium.The only limit with a natural terrarium is your imagination and we suggest looking at the natural habitat of these snakes and recreating a small piece of California in your own home! Dense foliage provides natural enrichment and offers the snakes plenty of hiding places and basking areas. Adding in a drainage layer for bio-active setups, a soil based substrate to cover the floor and then a layer of leaf litter and moss on top can help to retain moisture.Cork bark and vines also work well, adding to the natural look of any wetlands habitat. Artificial plants are also ideal for adding plenty of coverage in areas of the tank which look a little sparse, especially while live plants are getting established. 

In the wild the bulk of their diet consists of fish, frogs and newts, some of which are highly toxic - interestingly, garter snakes have evolved to be resistant to many toxins. Therefore it is important to feed your California Red Sided Garter Snake on a wide variety of food. While small they will readily feed on chopped up earthworms, pinkie mice and a variety of raw fish, eventually eating these food items in larger form as they grow. As they have a faster metabolism than other larger species, young California Red Sided Garter Snakes should be fed every 2-3 days, older California Red Sided Garter Snakes every 4-5 days.  It is best to make a log of when your snake eats and sheds its skin, this helps to keep track of feeding frequency and spot any patterns or behaviours linked to the feeding cycle.

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