Eastern Garter Snake - Not Garden Snake


05.30.2006 - The above photo is of an Eastern Garter Snake, (thamnophis sirtalis). This snake is possibly the most commonly sighted snake in North America. There are many variations of Garter Snake, and the colors and patterns can vary, but for the most part, it's a slender snake with a triangular head, usually has some form of dark green and tan, and three stripes down the length of the body, on on top and one on each side. This snake is not venomous, and it's the exact same species that I used to find and pick up and put in a jar and show to my mom for her praise and approval (I hoped) or more likely admonishment (drat) when I was a 7-year-old tyke. These snakes grow to a maximum of four feet, they eat a variety of living prey, from bugs to frogs, and they give birth to live young. They are active during the day, they can swim, and they're pretty well-adapted, as proven by their prevalance. They may strike if handled or cornered, but of course the bite is not dangerous.

Garter Snake vs. Garden Snake - Many people refer to Garter Snakes as Garden Snakes. In fact, I've heard the phrase "Garden Snake" used very frequently, as a catch-all term to describe any kind of non-venomous snake, from rat snakes to racers to ringnecks. "Oh, don't worry honey, it's just a garden snake", I hear people say. Well, the name is "garter", apparently so named after the garters ye menne of olde worre to keep their sockkes from falling downe, and these garters were apparently striped like the snake. But I understand how a layman might think that the name is Garden Snake, since one might find such a snake in a peaceful, lovely garden. It's akin to my childhood believe that Darth Vader was in fact Dark Vader, because the dude was dark, very dark indeed. And while Garter Snakes can be found in the garden, they can also be found in the forest and the meadow and under the rock or log, and sometimes, in my experience, in the pool, garage, or laundry room. Though I have never found one serving as a garter, neither for men's socks or women's stockings, but that doesn't mean I won't keep searching.

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Garter snakes are not large snakes and usually harmless even though they are venomous. They are 18-16 inches in length which is approximately 46-66 centimeters. They have 3 stripes on their body which sets them apart from other snakes. Some of these snakes sport a checkered body along with pale lines and stripes with a body that is either red or grey. There are variations to its color e.g. the Eastern Garter Snake found in southern parts of Florida and Georgia have shades of blue on their body. Parts of their body are lighter in color like their belly which is usually shades of yellow and white. They are often confused with the Ribbon Snake due to similar features and appearance but there are a few differences like the Garter Snake is not as slender as the Ribbon Snake. Not only this but they can also be distinguished by the dark vertical lines present on their lips. Lastly, they are also different regarding where the lateral lines are present on their scales. When it comes to Garter Snakes, the lines are visible on scales 2 and 3 whereas in ribbon snakes it is on scales 3 and 4. The male and female Eastern Garter Snakes can be distinguished by their tail as the tails of females are shorter and slenderer compared to that of males.

They are generally found in parts of the eastern region of North America. They are widely distributed and have diets and habitats that are not limited. They can be found in different types of habitats such as the ones listed below.


They are naturally inclined towards environments that are moist and greasy and can be easily spotted near ponds, streams, lakes, and even ditches. However, it is to be noted that the water sources listed are temporary as they usually stay away from permanent water sources. They are found to travel long distances just to keep a distance from permanent water sources. The Eastern Garter Snake can be found in the suburbs and usually find shelter under boards, logs, dense vegetation, and debris.

Eastern Garter Snakes are carnivorous and feed on earthworms, frogs, millipedes, small fish, insects, spiders, salamanders, and toads. The adult snakes do not have to worry about any predators; however, the younger ones have to be careful as they can be prey of other animals such as bullfrogs, hogs, hawks, raccoons, skunks, and even other snakes. When it comes to mating, their breeding months are around late spring once their winter hibernation has ended. They may form a ‘breeding ball' which is a result of multiple male snakes courting a single female snake. The eggs hatch in the body of the female snake and it gives birth to 10-40 snakes at one time in the summer months. At the time of birth, these snakes are 5-9 inches in length and eventually grow up to be 18-16 inches in length.

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