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Ribbon Snake - Thamnophis spp
Ribbon snakes are all members of the North American genus Thamnophis. They are found as far north as Southeast Alaska and as far south as Mexico (Wikpedia). The various species and subspecies found throughout North America are common in the pet trade. The ribbon snake is similar in appearance to the garter snake but with a much longer tail. Tail length for the ribbon snake generally accounts for one third or more of total body length. Their heads have no distinct join to the neck or body, and three (usually) longitudinal stripes, one along the back and one along each side. In the wild they are typically found in or near water.

They are good snakes for the beginner due to their gentle nature and the ability to maintain more than one in an enclosure. In nature they live near water but they need dry conditions in which they can dry off and raise their temperature by basking. The enclosure for ribbon/garter snakes should be dry, with a bowl for the snake  to soak in. They prefer fish and earthworms (what I feed to ribbon snakes) and also insects (although I have never had a ribbon snake that ate insects for me) should be offered. They also take frogs and newts.


 Average Size 3-4 feet long

Life Span Up to 15+ years with proper care

Diet Feeder fish, tadpoles, frogs, crickets, earthworms - These snakes do like to eat and I usually feed at least twice each week. Be sure to vary the snakes diet. They may really tend to favor fish - make sure you include worms and frogs.

Feeding Feed 2 to 3 times a week

Housing Size - At least a 20 gallon long aquarium with tight-fitting lid – these snakes will escape.

Substrate - Provide a deep substrate, such as bark chips, aspen shavings, sphagnum moss, coconut fiber - keep substrate dry to prevent skin blisters and sores

Habitat - Provide multiple hiding places and foliage for hiding and climbing in

Temperature - Temperature (85 degrees F. for the warm end and 65 degrees F. for the cool end during the day, 68 for the warm end and 59 for the cool end at night); use an incandescent light or ceramic heater as primary heat source, use under tank heater as secondary source

-Snakes need a photoperiod light cycle; provide 8-12 hours of light daily; These snakes are diurnal so a full spectrum UV light is important. Set the light periods to about 12-14 hours on. If you plan on resting your snakes during the winter, drop the light periods and decrease the temperature in the enclosure. If you do that remember to make sure that there is no food in its digestive system - undigested food could rot in its system and kill your pet.

Normal Behavior and Interaction Mainly diurnal (awake during the day), but are often active in the early evening. They tend to be very active snakes - one of the attributes that make them a great snake to own. As with all snakes, when the snake gets ready to shed, its eyes will turn a milky blue over the course of a few days and body color will start to dull and develop a whitish sheen. Expect your snake to not eat for a few days before shedding. Can be very active, exploring every inch of their habitat; escape artists - I cannot stress this enough; they can fit through amazingly small openings – I have had these snakes escape from a tank and show up in dressers, shoes etc.. You need to ensure the cage top in secure and tight.

Water - Provide a large bowl of fresh, chlorine-free water for drinking and swimming, change daily - the snake likes to soak and will defecate into the water. This is very important – ribbon snakes do like to soak.

Recommended Supplies:

  • Habitat with secure lid
  • Thermometer
  • Misting bottle
  • Humidity gauge
  • Book about garter or water snakes Light timer
  • Substrate
  • Hide box or driftwood
  • Water dish
  • Undertank heat source
  • Incandescent light or ceramic heater
Habitat Change water daily. Make sure shed skin is cleaned out. Make sure feces is removed daily.

Maintenance Thoroughly clean the tank at least once a week. Set snake aside or place it in a secure habitat; scrub the tank and furnishings with a 3% bleach solution; rinse thoroughly with water, removing all smell of bleach; dry the tank and furnishings; and add clean substrate

Grooming and Hygiene Will regularly shed their skin; ensure water dish is large enough for the snake to soak its entire body to allow snake to shed properly Ribbon snakes rarely bite if handled, but they do secrete a foul musk from their anal glands when alarmed.

Always wash your hands before and after touching your snake or habitat contents to help prevent Salmonella and other infectious diseases

Signs of a Healthy Pet:

  • Clear eyes (except when shedding)
  • Clear nose and mouth
  • Body is rounded and full
  • Active and alert
  • Eats regularly
  • Healthy skin

Common Health Issues and Red Flags:

  • Wrinkled or rubbed skin
  • Vomiting
  • Discharge in nose or mouth
  • Lethargy
  • Abnormal feces or urine
  • Decreased appetite

If you notice any of these signs, please contact your exotic animal veterinarian.

As with all pets in this category, it is important that you find a veterinarian that practices in EXOTICS – this is critical. The typical small animal practitioner may not have sufficient knowledge in this area.

Even this guide is general in nature and should not be used to diagnose your pet.

Related Ribbon Snake Categories

Ribbon Snake - Garter Snake Questions and Answers

Ribbon snake pet care information including health issues, feeding advice, proper habitat and the supplies needed to maintain a healthy pet
Page Last Updated: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 21:25 EST
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