Eastern Garter Snake

Recently, on a cool April afternoon, as I was walking through some woods near my house, I happened to notice this Garter Snake warming itself in a small patch of sunlight. This Garter Snake is known as the Eastern Garter Snake, or Thamnophis sirtalis for all of you scientific types. (Thamnophis is a Greek word meaning shrub snake).

About Sir Sirtalis
According to the excellent book Snakes of the Southeast by Whit Gibbons and Mike Dorcas, this snake can be found in every Southeastern state (Louisiana to Virginia.) They typically eat during the day- but may begin foraging at night during the summer. Garter Snakes seem to be more active during cool weather then other snakes- perhaps being more tolerant of the cool temperature. They breed in the spring- and sometimes in the fall as well. Unlike many other snakes- the Garter Snake does not lay eggs- instead it gives birth to live young, usually 20 - 30 baby snakes. The baby snakes look like minature models of the adults.

Kid Question
My kids favorite question about animals in the wild- what does an Eastern Garter Snake eat? These snakes adore frogs and toads. Absolutely love 'em. If they can't get frogs and toads they will settle for insects, fish, baby birds, smaller snakes, and mice. In other words- pretty much any small animal that will fit in the Garter Snake's mouth.

Dangerous Reptile?
Are these snakes dangerous? No. Their defense mechanism against other animals is quite literally poop. They relase a foul smelling musk like liquid when caught.

A Bit of Folklore
In Maine, if a cow that has been grazing gives less milk than usual, or than is expected, it is often believed that the common garter-snake has sucked the cow. This strange belief, doubtless is of remote origin, as it is very common among housewives of the Russian peasantry. (The Popular Science Monthly, 1888)


Shellmo said...

He looks harmless.... Never thought I'd say this - but nice photo of the snake! (I fear them greatly!)

Sandpiper said...

That's a beautiful snake! I sometimes see them on the trails where I walk.

KimP said...

Yeah in as so they are harmless... I know they can still bite...thats the part that scares me....