Howdy, Nandi!

Let me introduce you to a new friend of mine, Nandi the garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). Unlike most of the snakes whom I have encountered in my gardens, this one was much more amenable to being held, and didn’t thrash about, pee, or exude stink from its postanal gland. We decided to adopt him. (I think it’s a him; the tail after the vent is slender and shortish. Also, males emerge from hibernation first.)

Isn’t he just the cutest thing?

3/4 profile portrait shot of a Garter snake

Despite what pet stores may tell you (or told me), garter snakes are not insectivorous. So In his roomy terrarium/herpetarium, I ended up with a bunch of crickets (and some cricket feed cubes). The crickets will end up as chow for Rosie, my tarantula. Meanwhile though, the male crickets serenade the females, as well as Nandi and Rosie and me. Chirp, chirp, chirp! It’s the cricket equivalent of, “Hey, ba-by! Ooh, sexy!”

A pile of randy crickets hanging out atop the rock under the heat lamp

And as you can tell from this picture, Nandi is not a threat to them. In fact, he seems a trifle annoyed at times, and a few days ago after I fed him a hyuge earthworm, he burrowed into the soft plant substrate to digest, unmolested by the jumping jiminies.

At about 22 in. / 56 cm., Long Snake Is Long. Well, not really; that’s about an average size for an adult, although he could grow longer.

Nandi warming atop his cave, crickets all around and even atop him.

In the picture below, you can see him sniffing around. Snakes smell with their tongues, flicking them out to catch odor molecules, and then tasting the smells with their Jacobson’s Organ, AKA the Vomeronasal Organ (VMO), which is at the bottom of the nasal cavity. (Humans have VMO during fetal development, but there’s debate on whether it remains in [some] adults.) Smelling with your tongue may sound funny, until you remember how hard it is to taste food when you’re too stuffy to smell it.

Nandi sniffing the air with his tongue flicked out

“Dang, all I smell are crickets!”

Today I was pulling some weeds, and found a nice long earthworm. Garter snakes eat other small herps (frogs and such), fish, and earthworms (but not red wrigglers, such as are used in composting, because those make the garter snakes vomitously ill). Happily, garter snakes also eat slugs and small rodents, which may well be one reason why they’re sometimes affectionately called “garden snakes”. But alas, they don’t eat snails, those “slugs-with-motor-homes”.

Nandi is a daytime critter (diurnal), out and about in the morning and late afternoon. I was glad I’d found him that worm today, because I noticed him wandering about again, after I’d eaten dinner.

My daughter was thrilled to have the opportunity to feed Nandi. Here’s another reason why this particular individual makes a good pet: he’ll actually take food offered to him. Garter snakes locate their food visually, too, so all it took was dangling the wiggly worm in front of him and — GLOMP!

Nandi grabbing one end of an earthworm being held above him

“Um, you can let go of the worm now. He’s got it.”


Nandi swallowing the worm, gulp, gulp, gulp

For excellent information on the care of garter snakes, I recommend Jonathan Crowe’s site:


  1. thedamari said,

    13 May 2012 at 17:12

    I’m going to show this to my 17-year-old daughter, who likes critters. I have consistently enjoyed your blog, and found the posts on APD most helpful. In fact, you’re one of my five nominees for the Liebster Blogger Award. Read here for details:

  2. 27 March 2012 at 18:10

    I relate, a bit, to Emily Dickinson’s, “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass,” yet I enjoyed the photos and information. Gotta love Nandi. He’s handsome…as garter snakes go.

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