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Garter Snake (Garden Snake)


Classification: Reptile
Other Name: Garden Snake
Color: Green, brown, black or olive back with white or yellow stripes on the back
Other distinguishing features: Black or brown head, cream to yellow belly
Size: Averages 22 inches, can grow as long as 54 inches
Diet: Amphibians, earthworms, slugs, fish, small birds, rodents
Natural predators: Large fish, bullfrogs, snapping turtles, larger snakes, hawks, raccoons, foxes
Interesting fact: A male garter snake will sometimes produce fake pheromones to lure other males away from the female. The first male then returns quickly to the waiting female.

Don’t Let Garter Snakes Scare You Out of Your Garden

Garter snakes are sometimes referred to as garden snakes because they are very much at home in flower and vegetable beds and in backyards.  Because they have varied coloring, it can be hard to immediately distinguish a garter snake, but they do have some other distinctive physical characteristics:

  • White or yellow longitudinal stripes along the back on a green, brown, black or olive skin
  • Cream to yellow belly
  • Black or brown head
  • Keeled scales (raised ridge on each scale)
  • Average 22 inches long
  • Very thin
  • Weighs less than half a pound

The preferred habitats of garter snakes are backyards, edges of wetlands, forests, fields, prairies, meadows and marshes.  (They are good swimmers, but not particularly good at climbing.) They are found throughout much of North America.

Sun-loving reptile

Garter snakes are most active during the day, when it is warm. On cooler days they’ll bask in the sun; when the temperature rises, they’ll seek out shady spots under leaves or stones to get their body temperature under control. As the weather gets colder they find warmer places to stay, living under stumps and logs, in muskrat and crayfish burrows and around mud banks and rock walls. During the winter months they bromate, meaning they are awake but inactive.

At mating time as many as 10 males may cluster around the female. This is called a mating ball, and it happens because males outnumber females. The female gives birth to 15 to 20 nine-inch-long young at a time, but few survive.

Garter snakes can be fairly aggressive but their bite, while painful, is not harmful to humans. The toxins in their saliva can kill small amphibians and rodents. They also prey on earthworms, slugs, and small birds.

Keeping garter snakes out of your home

Although garter snakes aren’t frequent visitors to a home, they may make their way through a crack or hole in a foundation seeking warmth as the weather gets cooler. To bar them from your home, you can:

  • Seal up any openings or small cracks in the foundation (remember, these snakes are very thin)
  • Move woodpiles, rock piles and other potential hiding places away from your home
  • Keep the grass cut so that snakes don’t hide in it

 

If you do find a garter snake, you can move it away wearing  a heavy pair of garden gloves. But don’t squeeze; when it feels threatened, a garter snake will emit an unpleasant musk smell.

Better yet—if you’d rather not deal with snakes at all—give Brody Brothers a call. We’re equipped to handle snakes of all sizes.

 

If the snake if your yard looks different than the one pictured, it could be one of the following:

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