Eastern Garter Snake

Thamnophis sirtalis

Copyright, Jeff LeClere

The Eastern Garter Snake is one of our most common snakes. It grows up to four feet long. It's color patterns can vary, but it almost always has three yellow stripes. Usually there is a checkerboard pattern of dark spots between the stripes.

These snakes are usually found near water or moist places, including marshes, streams, damp woods, wet meadows, parks, gardens, weed patches, farms, and forest edges.

Garter snakes are very active, and can be found day or night, though they're most active during the day. They are usually seen among vegetation (plants).

Martin C. Schmidt, Ph.D.

Copyright 2001, Troy Bartlett (http://troyb.com/photo/index.htm)

Eastern Garter Snakes hunt or bask during the day. Basking is what cold-blooded animals, like reptiles, do to get warm. Their bodies need the heat of the sun to digest their food. Snakes usually bask somewhere that gives them a place to quickly hide, such as rocks, logs, or mammal burrows.

Garter snakes have many types of prey, including: frogs, toads, salamanders, earthworms, small fish, tadpoles, mice, bird eggs, slugs, crayfish, leeches, insects, and small snakes. They also eat carrion, and often get run over by cars when they try to eat some small dead animal (such as a frog) off a road.

Copyright, Mike Pingleton

Eastern Garter Snakes mate from late March to early May. Sometimes when several males find a female at the same time, they form a "breeding ball." A breeding ball is when snakes wrap themselves around each other, trying to mate. See the picture of a garter snake breeding ball further down the page.

Females do not lay eggs, like most snakes, but instead give birth to live young. Each baby snake is five to nine inches long. Over 50 young can be born together. Most of them will not survive as young snakes have many predators.

Predators of garter snakes include: hawks, skunks, raccoons, Virginia Opossum, larger snakes, and Bullfrogs.

Copyright 2001, Troy Bartlett (http://troyb.com/photo/index.htm)

Copyright, Mike Pingleton

In Winter, garter snakes hibernate, usually with other garter snakes, and sometimes with other species. Winter dens may be under large rocks or inside mammal burrows.

Eastern Garter Snakes are the first snakes to become active in Spring. They have even been seen crawling over snow.

Garter snakes are good swimmers, but are not as good at climbing as some other snakes. They spend most of their time on the ground or in low shrubs and other plants.

If attacked, a garter snake will release a bad-smelling odor. They also bite.

Garter snakes can live up to 10 years.

Eastern Garter Snake breeding ball (Copyright, Mark Khosravi)

Relationships in Nature: 
PREY
PREDATORS
SHELTER
OTHER

Earthworm

Red-tailed Hawk

Buttonbush

Woodchuck SP

Leopard Slug

Striped Skunk

Kentucky Bluegrass

Meadow Vole SP

Meadow Vole

Northern Water Snake

Red Clover

White-footed Mouse SP

American Toad

Black Rat Snake

Poison Ivy

Red-backed Salamander

Common Snapping Turtle

Bracken Fern

Southern Leopard Frog

Raccoon

Common Dandelion

White-footed Mouse

Virginia Opossum

Goldenrod

Crayfish

Bullfrog

Highbush Blueberry

Eastern Mosquitofish

Japanese Honeysuckle

Creek Chub

Lizard's Tail

Golden Shiner

Marsh Bulrush

Bluegill

Running Cedar

Northern Ringneck Snake

Skunk Cabbage

Freshwater Leech

Spicebush

Field Cricket

Swamp Rose Mallow

Differential Grasshopper

Tussock Sedge

Fiery Searcher

Virginia Creeper

Chinese Mantid

Wild Grape

Dogday Harvestfly

Virginia Rose

Spring Peeper

Wild Strawberry

Relationship to Humans:

Eastern Garter Snakes are useful to have around your yard, since they control slugs, mice, insects, and other pests. Garter snakes will bite if you pick them up, but they are not venemous. They will sometimes enter basements and garages when it gets cold and they are looking for a place to hibernate.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM
Animal
PHYLUM
Chordate
CLASS
Reptile
ORDER
Squamata
FAMILY
Colubridae
GENUS
Thamnophis
SPECIES
Thamnophis sirtalis

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