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Eastern Garter Snake

Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis

The eastern garter snake can be found in forests, fields and even suburban gardens throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. (squamatologist/Flickr)
The eastern garter snake can be found in forests, fields and even suburban gardens throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. (squamatologist/Flickr)

The eastern garter snake is a common terrestrial snake known for the three white or yellow stripes that run down the length of its back. 

Appearance:

Adult eastern garter snakes grow to 18 to 26 inches long with keeled (ridged) scales and variation in their coloration and patterns. Their backs are dark brown, green or olive-colored with distinct yellow or white stripe running down center. This center stripe is often paralleled by two less distinct white, yellow, brown, green or bluish stripes, although occasional individuals appear black and without stripes. The area between the stripes often a checkerboard pattern of black or green spots. Some individuals have red or orange on skin between dorsal scales. The snake's unmarked belly is cream-colored to yellowish green. 

Habitat:

Eastern garter snakes occupy a wide range of habitats, including forests, meadows, fields and marshes; the margins of creeks, rivers, ponds and lakes; drainage ditches and suburban gardens; and urban lots, parks and cemeteries. The presence of water is not a requirement, but moist areas are often nearby. These snakes spend winter hibernating in dens formed under large rocks or inside animal burrows or caves. 

Range:

Eastern garter snakes are found throughout the eastern United States from north of the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and west to Minnesota and east Texas, and they are present throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Feeding:

These snakes feed during the day on earthworms, millipedes, spiders, insects, salamanders, small fish, frogs and toads. 

Predators:

Predators include hawks, skunks, raccoons, larger snakes and bullfrogs. 

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

Eastern garter snakes mate in spring after emerging from winter hibernation. Females give birth to a litter of 10 to 40 live young in summer. Young are five to nine inches long at birth. 

Other Facts:

  • Non-venomous, but fairly aggressive and will readily strike and bite, sometimes causing an allergic reaction in humans 
  • If handled, release a foul-smelling musk 

Sources and Additional Information:

  • Peterson Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America by Roger Conant and Joseph T. Collins 
  • Eastern Gartersnake – Maryland Department of Natural Resources
  • Eastern Gartersnake – Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
  • Eastern Garter Snake – Florida Museum of Natural History 

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