Do Garter Snakes Have Teeth? Yes, Learn Why.

Garter snakes are the most common snake species in North America. They are harmless small- to medium-sized snakes frequently found in backyards, forests, and woodlands.

The snake comes from the Thamnophis genus, a family of 35 species that includes ribbon snakes. Some species have several subspecies under them, resulting in various appearances and lengths.

However, most of them have one thing in common: their teeth.

Garter snakes have teeth, not fangs. Using their three different teeth, they grab, incapacitate, and maneuver their food into optimal swallowing positions. They are venomous but only mildly so: their toxin will only slow down their small prey and rarely harm a human beyond skin irritations.

What are their three types of teeth? Do other snakes have the same? What should you do if a garter snake bites you? Read on to learn more!

Do Garter Snakes Have Teeth Or Fangs?

do garter snakes have teeth

As a rule of thumb, only venomous snakes have fangs. Since garter snakes aren’t particularly venomous (more on that later!), they lack the sharp fangs and venom sacs that other snakes have.

Instead, garter snakes have rows of tiny teeth hidden in their gums. They have about a hundred teeth, but it can be more or less depending on the exact species.

Snakes generally have four rows of teeth on their top jaw and two rows on their bottom jaw.

Types Of Garter Snake Teeth

In 1979, scientists Debra Wright, Kenneth Kardong, and David Bentley published “The Functional Anatomy of the Teeth of the Western Terrestrial Garter Snake, Thamnophis elegans.”

In their work, they identified the three types of teeth of garter snakes, all of which play a different role in consuming prey.

  • Recurved teeth are “re-curved” or curved twice, forming an s-shape. These teeth help the snake hook their prey and keep them trapped.
  • Curved teeth: These teeth are slightly c-shaped, allowing the snake to move the prey around its mouth.
  • Linear teeth: These teeth have straight tips and enable the snake to break its’ prey’s skin and cause damage.

All three types of teeth are ridged. These ridges make the teeth sharp and blade-like, helping them slice down when they bite.

Their teeth are typically shorter in the front of the mouth and longer at the back.

Editor’s Note
Despite having read these descriptions, it may be difficult to spot them in your garter snake’s mouth with your naked eyes since they are tiny!

Garter Snake Teeth Vs. Other Snake Teeth 

green snake fangs

There are four types of snake teeth.

Aglyphous Teeth

Aglyphous teeth are all similar in size and shape. These typically belong to non-venomous snakes, such as Burmese pythons, which do not need fangs.

Opisthoglyphous Teeth

Opisthoglyphous teeth are smaller in the front of the jaw and larger in the back. Aside from being bigger, the back teeth have the grooves necessary for releasing venom.

These are the kinds of teeth garter snakes have.

Proteroglyphous Teeth

Snakes with proteroglyphous teeth don’t have a lot of teeth! They have short, hollow, and downward-pointing fangs at the front of their mouths.

These fangs are perfect for biting prey tightly enough to inject venom into them. 

Snakes with clear proteroglyphous teeth are cobras, coral snakes, mambas, and sea snakes.

Solenoglyphous Teeth

Snakes with solenoglyphous teeth are the most dangerous snakes. Their fangs rest folded against the roof of their mouths and only spring open right before they attack.

These fangs are capable of injecting large amounts of venom very quickly.

Species with solenoglyphous teeth include rattlesnakes and vipers.

Are Garter Snake Teeth Effective?

Aren’t fangs better for snakes than teeth? In a garter snake’s case, not really!

Combined with their quick reflexes, garter snakes make excellent use of their three types of teeth. They can easily trap, immobilize, and consume their prey.

Garter snakes are carnivores that eat insects, worms, birds, small rodents, and more.

However, teeth are less intimidating than fangs. Therefore, garter snakes find themselves the target of many animals looking for an easy meal, forcing them to rely heavily on their stealth and camouflage techniques to survive.

Are Garter Snakes Venomous? 

owner holding garter snake

Garter snakes are venomous, but only mildly so! These snakes inject their prey with a small amount of venom, only enough to slow them down. This venom also helps break down the prey’s body once the snake consumes it.

While their venom can occasionally trigger allergic reactions in humans, the dosage is never enough to be fatal.

However, unlike most snakes that inject their venom into their prey with their fangs, garter snakes employ another method with their teeth.

Garter snakes transmit venom to their prey through their saliva. After breaking their prey’s skin with their teeth, they apply their saliva to the wound to attack their target.

Editor’s Note
What is the difference between “poisonous” and “venomous”? The National Park Service explains that you are “poisoned” by inhaling, swallowing, or absorbing something through your skin. Meanwhile, something is “venomous” if it injects toxins into you.

Do Garter Snakes Bite & Does Their Bite Hurt? 

garter snake ready to bite

Garter snakes often prefer to slither away rather than fight their predator. These snakes release a musky smell to ward off or distract potential attackers if distressed.

Only if these initial tactics fail will the garter snake finally attack.

Though their tiny teeth are sufficient for constraining small rodents, they do little when used against a human being. The bites are rarely strong enough to break skin unless you come in contact with a huge garter snake.

What Should You Do If A Gartner Snake Bites You?

cleaning hands with water and soap

Suppose a garter snake bites you. Clean and treat the wound thoroughly to avoid infection. Beyond that, there isn’t much you usually need to do.

Though garter snakes release toxins, it is not enough to cause any severe harm to human beings. At most, it may irritate your skin and cause it to become red and itchy.

However, if you are hypersensitive or allergic to venom, getting yourself checked is a good idea!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Keep A Garter Snake As A Pet?

Garter snakes are popular pets because of their short lengths and docile natures. Females grow a maximum of three feet, while males only grow to two feet. Additionally, they are a rare reptile that doesn’t mind sharing its enclosure with others of its kind!

They can live up to ten years in captivity. 

However, it is illegal to catch a wild snake from your backyard and keep it as a pet. Always buy your pet from registered pet stores or breeders.

Why Do Snakes Need Teeth?

Snakes need teeth because they do not have the arms to grasp their prey. Therefore, they compromise by using their jaws to hold onto their target before suffocating or injecting them with venom.


Garter snakes are frequently found in backyards–and it’s great that they are!

These snakes eat bugs, slugs, and small rodents. They can be a big help in managing all sorts of pest populations!

As a bonus, they are harmless to you, your family, and your neighbors.

So the next time you see a garter snake slithering around, just let it be. It’s simply your natural pest control agency doing some rounds!

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