Garter snakes are very small and thin snakes with three longitudinal stripes in many different colours. The name ‘Garter’ comes from the comparison of these snakes to the fancy garters that were used years ago to hold men’s socks. These snakes are fast, alert and
Garter snakes are docile and harmless to people, though they may bite in self-defence. When alarmed, they may coil and strike, many flatten their bodies, making the stripes on their back more prominent. They also discharge musk, which has an unpleasant, sweetish odour, from glands at the base of the tail.
Garter snakes have slim and agile body. They have dark and distinguishable head. These snakes can differ in appearance from region to region. Their colouring can be of many shades of green, blue, yellow, gold, red, orange, brown, and black. But generally, they have three stripes on their backs, one down the centre and one on either side of it. These stripes run the length of the snake’s body and can be blue, green, yellow or white. Garter snakes have hard, dry scales and are cold-blooded. Underneath their scaly skin, snakes have internal organs and bones like those of other vertebrates. The backward-pointing teeth and throat muscles are used to work the prey slowly down into the stomach.
The red and black, forked tongue of these snakes is used as a detection device. They pop out their tongue to collect chemicals in the air. They then place their tongue back into mouth and insert the fork into a special organ, called the Jacobson’s organ, on the roof of their mouth. The snake uses this process to detect scents like pheromones from other snakes and their next meal. They also gather information about their environment from their sense of smell.
Garter snakes are one of the few snakes that give birth to live young. Females give birth to about 20 to 30 young, but 85 have been born in one litter. The young snakes are on their own immediately after birth. They are 7.5 to 9 inches long and are fully capable of hunting. They reach maturity in three years.
The length of garter snakes ranges from 20 to 30 inches although some may be longer.
Garter snakes are opportunistic hunters. They will eat almost any animal that they can catch. Their main foods are earthworms, frogs, fish, leeches, tadpoles and sometimes mice. They also eat snails, crickets, grasshoppers and birds. Venom of these snakes is neurotoxic, slowing down the movement of a prey animal while it is consumed.
Garter snakes are most commonly found in Canada and central United States. They are found in parks, meadows and woodlands, wherever there are ponds and streams nearby. They live in colder temperatures and they need to hibernate in winter. They will find shelter in cracks in the ground where the frost doesn’t reach.
Garter snakes live for two years in the wild and six to 10 years in captivity.