Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
The Eastern Gartersnake or Eastern Garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) is a medium-sized and mildly venomous snake species found in North America. They have a wide range across eastern North America, extending as far north as southern Ontario and Quebec in Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico in the south, along the eastern shores of America to the Mississippi River.
These snakes can be found many different habitats usually near water or moist places including wet meadows, marshes, swamps, streams, canals, ponds, damp woods, and bogs. But the species isn't always found near permanent water sources and sometimes are found a long distance from any water source.
So they are also found in upland hillsides, open deciduous and coniferous forests, weed patches, farms and human modified habitats like parks, gardens or cultivated fields. They will take cover under rocks, logs, boards or other debris.
The Eastern garter snake reaches a size of 20 to 28 inches (51-71 cm), females are normally longer than males. However, the maximum recorded specimen had a length of 48.7 inches (124 cm). Usually, males do possess a longer and thicker tail than that of females.
These medium sized snakes have a highly variable coloration, they may be olive, black or brown. While some populations produce individuals nearly completely yellow, or even solid black. While Eastern Garter snakes inhabiting southern Georgia and Florida often have more of a bluish background color.
Although the color pattern can vary, it almost always displays 3 yellowish stripes, usually well defined, but the middle stripe may be absent in some individuals.
Between the top and lateral stripes, 2 rows of black or red spots may also be present. The back scales are keeled, and the head color is brown, black, gray, olive, tan or even reddish.
The Eastern garter snake belly is green, ivory, gray, cream or yellow with two rows of black spots.
Their appearance is very similar to that of the Queen snake (Regina septemvittata) and they are very often mistaken for them. But unlike the queen snake which as has a divided anal plate, they also have a light colored dorsal stripe.
The eastern garter snake hibernates during cold weather, in snakes, this is called brumation. They will often use large communal dens or rocky outcroppings, and emerge from brumation in the early spring, in March or early May.
The species has a high tolerance to cold, and have been found in the highest elevations, it's probably the most common snake found above 3,500 feet. They can be found day or night, but they are most active during the day hunting or basking on hedges, rocks, wood piles, and stone walls.
When feeling threatened or if cornered, they often flatten the head and body and may strike. May even release a foul-smelling musk although not nearly as bad as that released by the northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon).
In captivity, their lifespan ranges from 8 to 12 Years, but in the wild, it's probably much less. Eastern garter snake predators include skunks, hawks, raccoons, Opossum, larger snakes, and Bullfrogs.
Taxonomy / Etymology
The Genus name "Thamnophis", is derived from the combination of the Greek words "thamnos" meaning "bush" and "ophis" meaning "snake". While the species name derives from the Latin "siratalis" which translates as "like a garter", and refers to their pattern which looks like a striped garter strap.
So the Eastern Gartersnake scientific name translates to something like "bush snake that looks like a garter strap". These striped garters are used by men to hold their socks up.
Venom / Bite
It was recently discovered that garter snakes are actually venomous since they have toxins in their saliva with effects similar to that of snake venom. However their bite is considered harmless and not dangerous to humans, producing only a mild reaction in humans.
But their toxic saliva can be quite deadly to their small prey.Even so unlike most venomous snakes that have long and hollow fangs to deliver their venom garter snakes need to “chew” into their prey, so the venom enter the prey’s bloodstream.
Diet / Feeding
The eastern garter snake will eat almost anything that is capable of overpowering and small enough to swallow.
They feed on toads, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, earthworms, bird eggs, slugs, crayfish, leeches, spiders, and insects. On occasion, they will eat minnows, small mice, other smaller snakes and even feed on carrion.
But they are not constrictors like other non-venomous snakes found in their habitat. They track prey with their excellent sense of smell and vision and then catch and immobilize it using their speed and sharp teeth.
The eastern gartersnake mating season occurs in the spring and runs from late March to early May, soon after they abandon their overwintering retreats, where they brumate. The male snake uses chemical cues to track and court available females.
During courtship and mating when several males find the same female, they will form a "breeding ball", writhing around trying to mate. The species is ovoviviparous, females don't lay eggs, instead, they give birth to live young snakes in late summer and early fall.
A litter may contain from 4 to 85 young but usually, averages about 12. The younglings are 5 to 9 inches (13-23 cm) long at birth, and many of them will not survive, falling prey to their many predators.
Conservation / Threats
The species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern. The Eastern garter snake is an extremely prolific species and is not listed as threatened or endangered on the state or federal level.
Eastern garter snakes are one of the most common and abundant snake species found throughout the eastern United States.
Probably because they have adapted well to live in urban and suburban areas. Even though they are harmless non-venomous snakes, they are often persecuted and killed by humans.
Did You Know?
Ancient Egyptians worshiped the Egyptian cobra, it was known as the Asp