What do garter snakes eat? 50 Primary Prey of Garter Snakes

What do garter snakes eat? This simple question opens up a fascinating window into the dietary habits of one of the most common and widely distributed snake species in North America, the garter snake. From insects to amphibians, these slender reptiles have a diverse palate that reflects their adaptability and ecological role.

Garter snakes are opportunistic predators with a varied diet that primarily consists of small prey such as insects, worms, slugs, and amphibians. They are particularly fond of frogs and toads, which make up a significant portion of their diet, especially during warmer months when these amphibians are more active.

In addition, garter snakes also feed on small fish and sometimes even small mammals like mice and voles. Their diet largely depends on what is available in their habitat, and they are known to adapt their feeding habits based on seasonal changes and local prey abundance.

Understanding the Diet of Garter Snakes

What do garter snakes eat

Garter snakes are fascinating creatures with diverse diets that primarily consist of small prey items. Here’s a breakdown of what they typically eat:

  1. Amphibians: Garter snakes are known to feed on amphibians like frogs, toads, and newts. These creatures are often found near water bodies, which are natural habitats for both garter snakes and amphibians.
  2. Fish: Near aquatic environments, garter snakes may also prey on small fish. They are skilled hunters in water and can catch fish using their agility and speed.
  3. Insects: Insects form a significant portion of a garter snake’s diet. They consume a variety of insects, including crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and beetles. Garter snakes are known for their ability to control insect populations, making them beneficial to ecosystems.
  4. Earthworms: Garter snakes are often found in areas with moist soil where earthworms thrive. Earthworms are a common food source for garter snakes due to their abundance and ease of capture.
  5. Small mammals: While less common, garter snakes may occasionally consume small mammals such as mice, voles, and shrews. However, this typically occurs when other prey sources are scarce.
  6. Bird eggs: Garter snakes are opportunistic feeders and may raid bird nests to consume eggs. Their slender bodies allow them to access nests that are otherwise difficult for larger predators to reach.

Also, garter snakes are non-venomous and rely on constriction to subdue their prey. Their diet may vary based on factors such as habitat, availability of prey, and seasonal changes. Additionally, garter snakes play a vital role in maintaining ecological balance by controlling populations of various small animals and insects.

What do garter snakes eat?

The primary prey of garter snakes typically consists of small vertebrates and invertebrates. Here’s a more focused breakdown:

  1. Amphibians: Garter snakes have a strong affinity for amphibians such as frogs, toads, and salamanders. These creatures are often abundant near water sources, which are favored habitats for both garter snakes and amphibians.
  2. Fish: Near aquatic environments, garter snakes may target small fish as a significant part of their diet. They are agile swimmers and adept at catching fish in water.
  3. Insects and other invertebrates: Garter snakes feed extensively on insects, including but not limited to grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, beetles, and worms. Invertebrates form a substantial portion of their diet, particularly in terrestrial habitats.

While garter snakes may occasionally consume other prey items like small mammals and bird eggs, their primary prey tends to be amphibians and invertebrates due to their abundance and accessibility. This dietary preference is influenced by the snake’s habitat, hunting behavior, and metabolic needs.

50 Primary Prey of Garter Snakes

What do garter snakes eat

Here’s a list of 50 primary prey items commonly consumed by garter snakes:

  1. Frogs
  2. Toads
  3. Salamanders
  4. Small fish
  5. Earthworms
  6. Crickets
  7. Grasshoppers
  8. Caterpillars
  9. Beetles
  10. Moths
  11. Slugs
  12. Snails
  13. Newts
  14. Tadpoles
  15. Minnows
  16. Small rodents (e.g., mice, voles)
  17. Lizards
  18. Worms
  19. Insects (general)
  20. Spiders
  21. Ants
  22. Termites
  23. Beetles
  24. Fly larvae (maggots)
  25. Dragonflies
  26. Damselflies
  27. Small birds (e.g., nestlings)
  28. Bird eggs
  29. Grass snakes
  30. Slow worms
  31. Small turtles
  32. Millipedes
  33. Centipedes
  34. Isopods (woodlice)
  35. Small snails
  36. Small slithering mammals (e.g., shrews)
  37. Fish eggs
  38. Worm eggs
  39. Cricket eggs
  40. Aphids
  41. Leafhoppers
  42. Fleas
  43. Ticks
  44. Mosquito larvae
  45. Springtails
  46. Mayflies
  47. Caddisflies
  48. Stoneflies
  49. Water beetles
  50. Diving beetles

This list encompasses a wide range of both vertebrate and invertebrate prey items that garter snakes commonly consume in their natural habitats.

Hunting Strategies of Garter Snakes

What do garter snakes eat

Garter snakes employ various hunting strategies to capture their prey, depending on the type of prey and the snake’s environment. Here are some common hunting strategies employed by garter snakes:

  1. Ambush Predation: Garter snakes often use ambush tactics to capture prey. They may lie in wait, partially concealed in vegetation or under cover, and strike when suitable prey comes within striking distance. This strategy is particularly effective for capturing small vertebrates like frogs and salamanders, as well as unsuspecting insects.
  2. Active Foraging: Garter snakes are also adept at actively searching for prey. They use their keen sense of smell and vision to locate potential prey items. When actively foraging, garter snakes may move through their environment, exploring various hiding spots and hunting grounds in search of food. This strategy is common when hunting for fast-moving prey like insects and small mammals.
  3. Aquatic Hunting: In aquatic environments, garter snakes become skilled hunters in water. They use their streamlined bodies and powerful muscles to swim with agility, allowing them to pursue and capture aquatic prey such as fish, tadpoles, and aquatic invertebrates. Aquatic hunting involves both stalking and ambushing prey, as well as actively pursuing targets in the water.
  4. Constriction: While not a hunting strategy in the traditional sense, garter snakes rely on constriction to subdue larger prey items like small mammals. Once they’ve captured their prey, garter snakes use their muscular bodies to coil around the prey and squeeze until it suffocates. Constriction is typically employed for larger prey that cannot be immediately consumed whole.
  5. Nest Raiding: Garter snakes may also engage in nest raiding to obtain food. They may target bird nests to feed on eggs or newly hatched chicks. This strategy involves locating and accessing bird nests, often through climbing or using their slender bodies to squeeze into tight spaces.

Overall, garter snakes are opportunistic predators that employ a combination of ambush, active foraging, aquatic hunting, and other strategies to capture a diverse range of prey items. Their hunting behavior is adapted to their environment and the specific challenges posed by their prey.

Feeding Behavior and Consumption Patterns of garter snakes

Garter snakes exhibit distinct feeding behaviors and consumption patterns that reflect their opportunistic nature and dietary preferences. Here’s a closer look at their feeding behavior and consumption patterns:

  1. Frequency of Feeding: Garter snakes are ectothermic (cold-blooded) animals, meaning their metabolic rate is influenced by environmental temperature. As a result, their feeding frequency varies depending on factors such as temperature, activity level, and the availability of prey. During warmer months when temperatures are higher, garter snakes tend to feed more frequently, sometimes consuming multiple small meals in a single day. In contrast, during cooler periods or in winter when their activity slows down, they may go for extended periods without feeding.
  2. Size of Prey: Garter snakes typically consume prey items that are small enough to be swallowed whole or with minimal effort. Their diet primarily consists of small vertebrates such as frogs, toads, salamanders, and small fish, as well as various invertebrates including insects, earthworms, and snails. While they may occasionally consume larger prey like rodents or bird eggs, such instances are less common and usually occur when other food sources are scarce.
  3. Feeding Mechanism: Garter snakes are non-venomous and lack specialized fangs for injecting venom. Instead, they rely on subduing their prey through constriction or swallowing them alive. When hunting larger prey, garter snakes may use constriction to immobilize and suffocate the prey before swallowing it whole. For smaller prey items, they may simply seize and swallow them alive without constriction.
  4. Dietary Adaptations: Garter snakes are adaptable feeders capable of adjusting their diet based on prey availability and environmental conditions. They are known to exhibit seasonal shifts in their diet, with a greater emphasis on certain prey items during specific times of the year. For example, they may consume more amphibians during the breeding season when frogs and toads are abundant, while turning to insects and other invertebrates during periods when vertebrate prey is less available.
  5. Efficiency in Feeding: Garter snakes are efficient hunters capable of capturing a wide range of prey using various hunting strategies, including ambush predation, active foraging, and aquatic hunting. Their ability to exploit diverse food sources contributes to their success as opportunistic predators in a variety of habitats, ranging from woodlands and grasslands to wetlands and urban areas.

Overall, garter snakes demonstrate flexible feeding behaviors and consumption patterns that allow them to adapt to changing environmental conditions and maximize their chances of securing food resources.


What do garter snakes eat? Garter snakes are opportunistic predators with a diverse diet consisting primarily of small vertebrates and invertebrates. Their menu includes frogs, toads, fish, insects, earthworms, and more.

They employ various hunting strategies, from ambushing prey to actively foraging, depending on their environment and the type of prey available. With their adaptable feeding behavior, garter snakes play an important role in controlling populations of numerous small animals and insects, contributing to the balance of ecosystems they inhabit.