Wandering Garter Snake

Wandering Garter Snake
Wandering Garter Snake

NPS

Characteristics
Wandering garter snakes (Thamnophis elegans vagrens) are medium sized snakes with a head a little wider than the neck and keeled dorsal scales. The dorsal stripe is often well defined and straight down the back in yellow, orange, cream or white but can be irregular looking because of black markings. The lateral stripes will often be lighter, but might be the same color as the dorsal stripe.

The ground color varies and can be black, olive, brown, greenish or bluish gray. The space between the stripes can be marked with dark spots or with scattered light colored specks. The belly is pale, dark or bluish gray, greenish or brown and can be mottled with black or reddish specks. The head usually matches the ground color. The red tongue is black from just behind the fork on out to the tips.

Prey Preferences
Garter snakes have a wide prey preference that includes fish, frogs along with tadpoles, slugs, snails, worms, grasshoppers, and other small invertebrates. These include any small vertebrates from mice to small birds and reptiles. They are active in daylight. If frightened they may either seek cover in vegetation or slip quickly into the water and swim away. They have a life expectancy of around ten years.

Habitats and Territory
Wandering Garter Snakes are found primarily in riparian habitats and other moist habitats like ponds, lakes, damp meadows. They may also inhabit coniferous forests, or sagebrush. They can be found from sea level up to surprisingly high altitudes in the range of 10,000 feet. They still need to hibernate and get below the frost line and often do so with other snake species. They range from the prairies to the west coast.

Mating
They mate in the spring and bear 4-19 live young between July and September that range from 6 ½ to 9 inches long. As a larger female can bear more live young, natural selection favors them as there is a greater chance of some surviving. Males are usually smaller as they are busy searching for the females instead of fighting over them.

Did You Know

  • Their scales are keeled in 19-21 rows and the anal plate is single.
  • Adult females are usually 30-36 inches, and adult males are usually 16-24 inches.
  • They are not venomous, but do have toxic saliva.
  • There are about 75 species and/or subspecies of garter snakes in North America.

At A Safe Distance
When handled they may bite repeatedly and/or release cloacal contents and musk from glands at the base of the tail. They no doubt do this to support park rangers in their efforts to educate the visiting public: that it is best to enjoy all wildlife at a safe distance without disturbing them.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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Mailing Address:

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Headquarters Office
PO Box 7458

Fort Smith, MT 59035

Phone:

(307) 548-5406

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