Garter Snake (genus Thamnophis)

The other day I went for a dog walk, and because it wasn’t freezing cold, I decided to bring my camera. I was just about to let the dogs off leash when my little one spotted something in the bushes. I went over to investigate, and there was an adorable little garter snake! I of course reacted by stomping through the bushes, trying to get the best pictures of the snake possible. I had to switch lenses a couple of times, and I stumbled across a second snake along the way. The pair were very obliging, barely moving as I leaned in close to get pictures of them. It was a very good day indeed! I also realized I hadn’t done a post on garter snakes, so now I have the perfect place to showcase my photos.

There are many different species of garter snakes, though there is much disagreement about the exact number. Garter snakes can be found pretty much all over North America, though they stay out of the Arctic. They can be found in a large variety of habitats, and are almost always found near a source of water.

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One of the snakes I found. Pretty cute, right?

This has to do with what garter snakes eat, as a large part of their diet is composed of amphibians. They aren’t too picky, however, and will eat anything they can get their fangs on. This includes slugs, worms, fish, and rodents. They do possess mild venom, but they can’t do much harm to people with it, because their teeth aren’t really meant to bite humans.

Before winter, garter snakes prepare for a hibernation-like state called brumation. They will starve themselves for about two weeks, to ensure their stomachs are empty before they brumate. The snakes hibernate in large groups, and then emerge together in spring. This is when the real fun starts. Upon emerging from their long sleep, garter snakes have giant orgies.

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Garter snakes in a ‘mating ball’. Looks pretty fun to me. Image source: Wikipedia

Mating in garter snakes is driven largely by pheromones; both sexes produce very distinct smells, the female version of which serves to attract male snakes. Some male garter snakes take advantage of this, imitating the female pheromone. As a result, other male snakes will attempt to mate with the ‘female’ snake, and the tricksy male gets to absorb all the heat from his peers. And when you’re coldblooded, and have just woken up from a months-long sleep, a little extra heat can make all the difference.

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The other snake I saw. He wasn’t too impressed with me. 

When male garter snakes actually do find a female, there is a frenzy of action around her. Often males will form mating balls around females, with as many as 25 male snakes to one female. Females give birth to live young, between three and 80  young in a litter. They are independent immediately after birth.

I’m not entirely sure what species of garter snake the ones I saw were. My guess is eastern garter snakes, but if anyone is a snakeologist  (more properly known as ophiologists), feel free to let me know what you think!

Featured image credit: Me!

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