Wednesday, August 26, 2009


One of the species in my care at the Museum are Chicago Garter Snakes Thamnophis sirtalis semifasciatus and one of our females has just given birth to nineteen lively little babies.

This is one of several species of snakes that gives birth to live young, rather than laying eggs. This system is known as oviviporous, the unborn snake develops in an 'egg' inside the female and gets its nourishment from the egg rather than directly from the mother. As the time of birth draws nearer the shell of the egg gradually dissolves away and is reabsorbed by the mother so that when the babies are born they are only enclosed by what looks like an embryonic sack.

The adult form of this snake has very attractive yellow stripes running down the sides of its body and they are said to resemble the black and yellow garters that gentlemen used to wear! Hence the common name of Garter Snake.

The natural diet of these snakes is a little different from most of the other snakes I have, they mostly consume earthworms and other small invertebrates and occasionally fish. So what to serve as a first meal for my new arrivals? Whatever it is, it has to really small!

Their mother is particularly fond of Silversides so I decide to give those a shot. I buy them frozen and just thaw them out as I need them. These fish are about two inches long - have you ever tried to fillet a fish that size? Trust me it is quite tricky. Why do I need to fillet it? Well when a snake swallows something with bones it would usually swallow it whole so there would not be any bones sticking out, as soon as you start to cut something up to make it smaller, the bones become an issue - hence the filleting!

Then each fillet is cut into snake bite sized pieces! And just to give you an idea of scale, these are the tongs I am using to feed them, against my finger, and FYI I have small hands!

Well I am happy to report that all my efforts on the food prep front were extremely well received!

Each of them gobbled down between six and eight pieces each!

And for an animal that is considerably thinner than a shoelace, that leads to a very bulgy stomach!

This is one of the aspects of my job that I really enjoy - seeing these tiny little creatures getting all ferocious over a microscopic piece of fish!

And even though the pieces really were tiny, they still put up quite a struggle!

But what these guys lack in stature, they make up for in enthusiasm :)

It took me a long time to get all nineteen of them fed, as you can imagine.

But at least they get to sleep it all off when we are done.

The next meal is diced earthworm and believe me, that gets really messy!

For all kinds of fun and fascinating posts about the natural world, go to Nature Notes, you'll be glad you did.

Photo Credits - CJT


Louise said...

I always wondered why garter snakes were called "garter snakes." Dicing up frozen fish for snakes or for people. I wonder if it's much different. But the earthworms. Couldn't do it. What will happen to all the snakes?

RJ Flamingo said...

Yeah, I don't envy you the food prep, but I would probably get just as big a kick from feeding them as you do! Thanks for the education. :-)

I have the same question: What will happen to all the snakes? Will the museum keep them all?

Celeste said...

Louise and RJ,
Actually when the snakes are a little bigger they are going to be released in a wilderness area that we are currently working in.

Arija said...

Ah, the joys of surrogate motherhood! It may be messy and time consuming but could you imagine having 19 human babies?

Rambling Woods said...

I didn't see your link in Nature Notes, so I added it Celeste.. This is so neat. I use those fish as a treat for my frog and I also have to cut them up. Yuck. This was such an informative post.... Michelle

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Well Michelle Duggar will be feeding 19 human children very soon. Yes. She is expecting baby 19! Can you even imagine?
At least she doesn't have to feed them tiny pieces of fillet fish. hehe!

I always learn so much from you. You lead such an interesting life. I never found garter snakes interesting...but through your camera and words...I do now. I had no idea they were so small either.

Thanks for sharing these fascinating creatures!

Bon Appetite!