Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Garter Sssssnakes...

The first time I saw a snake in my backyard, I froze in place and thought to myself: “This is either a worm on steroids or a snake...” I’ve already written about that experience in a previous post, so I won’t bother you all with it again.


What I failed to mention in that post is that I had no idea at the time what type of snake I’d encountered. After all, having lived in a big city until recently, on a second floor apartment, with no outdoor garden to putter around in, I didn’t have that many opportunities to run into that type of snake. Or any type of snake, for that matter. Which, now that I think about it, isn’t such a bad thing.


So all that to say that the first time I saw a snake in the backyard of my home was the first time I’d ever seen a snake. Any snake. And even though I didn’t know what type it was, the first thing that came to mind is that it ‘must be some kind of garden snake’. Because on some dilapidated shelf in the back of my (also at times dilapidated) mind, in a dust-covered, mold-laden box labeled ‘trivia that will probably prove to be totally useless’ I found something about it being normal to occasionally find snakes in the garden, typically referred to as garden snakes. This made me happy. Not the knowing-about-the-snake part – yes that made me happy too - but that all those hours of my life wasted on collecting worthless information finally paid off. So yay for that.

Watch out trivial pursuit opponents!

Another thing that I want you all to know is that I wasn’t frightened that day, since I’m not particularly bothered by snakes. Well, maybe if I suddenly found myself standing a couple of feet away from a rattlesnake or a cobra or a python, it would be scary. And terminal. But a cute, harmless, itsy bitsy snake like a garter? Pffft. Puh-lease.

“Oh come on, Water Roots lady. You expect us to believe that half-baked story? Aren’t you the one that runs away screaming when you find a millipede in the house? And yet here you are telling us that you’re not intimidated by this ‘itsy bitsy’ snake?”


Okay, the experience was a little alarming. But certainly not frightening. In fact, it was more exciting than anything else.

“Exciting? That’s the highlight of your day? Seeing a snake in the garden? Wow, do you live an interesting life or what?”


Alright, enough already...crazy voice in my head. Let’s move on.


Being someone with an insatiable appetite for information, after I identified the ‘worm on steroids’, I needed to learn a little something about garter snakes. Here’s what I discovered:

- Garter snakes are the most widely distributed snakes in North America. They can be found throughout the continent, except in the dry southwestern states.

- They are called garter snakes because the patterning on their sides resembles that of garters once warn by men to hold up their socks. (I have no idea what men’s sock garters look like, so, you know, shrug)

Photo from SXC

- Garter snakes give birth to live young. Anywhere from 3 to 80 baby snakes are born in a single litter. (Can you imagine giving birth to 80 babies? Ack!) On average, though, litters usually consist of between 20 to 40 babies. (Still fairly high number of births, if you ask me)

- When they are born, baby garters are about 12.5 to 23 cm (4.9 to 9 inches) long.

- The babies are independent upon birth. (Talk about leaving the nest early. And they never return; unlike human babies that move back home when they’re like, I don’t know, about 35 or so)

Photo from SXC

- The first reaction of these snakes when faced with a predator (this means you) is to hide, so most of the time you won’t even know that these reptiles are in your garden. (This is probably a huge blessing for people that are terrified of them)

- Garter snakes are carnivorous, meaning they eat meat. Their diet consists of anything moving that they can overpower; this includes mosquito larvae, leeches, spiders, slugs, snails, crickets, lizards, rats, mice, voles, various other insects, other snakes that may be poisonous, birds, bird eggs, earthworms, frogs and even fish (if living near the water). Food is swallowed whole. (No chewing thoroughly for these critters)

- Garter snakes prove beneficial to the garden by eating a number of detrimental pests, but they’re also an important source of food for a number of birds and mammals. (The food chain, folks)

Photo from SXC

- If backed into a corner, garter snakes will try to scare their predator away through a show of temper. If picked up, they will release a foul-smelling liquid as a form of defense and attempt to bite their captor. But generally speaking, these snakes are not aggressive and they will more often than not try to hide or run away rather than confront the ‘enemy’.

- Although recent discoveries have revealed that garter snakes do produce venom, the amount is very mild making it quite harmless to humans. A bite may cause mild swelling and some itching, but not much else.

- Garter snakes hibernate from late October to about early April. (Something I wouldn’t mind doing – on a tropical island, of course)

- Because of the similarities in sound, garter snakes are also called garden snakes, gardener snakes, garder snakes, guarder snakes and gardner snakes. (I personally have always referred to them as ‘garden’ snakes)

My Photo – Taken On A Recent Walk

I think that’s pretty much enough data about a snake that most of you who have gardens have encountered at some point (and most of you honestly don’t really care about, right?). And why do I bother learning all this information, you ask? Well, aside from the fact that I have a very inquisitive mind and enjoy learning new things, I also find that the more I am informed, the more I understand what I can expect and what I’m dealing with. In this case, I’ve learned that these abundant little snakes are basically harmless to humans while being quite beneficial in the garden. They’re the good guys.

And just for the record, I do not run away screaming when I see millipedes.



  1. Wow .. now that is a stack of information Martha .. more than I can process at the moment.
    Did I ever tell you at some point and time I took John on a nature trail and we bumped into a nest of baby snakes .. I have never seen anyone run THAT fast in my life ... men ?? LOL
    Joy : )

  2. Ha ha....oh Joy, that's funny. I'm not particularly frightened of snakes (that are harmless, of course) but my mother is absolutely terrified. Even the thought of coming face to face with a snake, any snake, is traumatic to her. I guess it depends on each individual.

  3. Wow, that's really interesting information about garter snakes---I had no idea they produced such big litters. I'm not afraid of them, but I can't say I'd fancy an encounter with a whole nest of little writhing baby snakes. *Shudder* We see a lot of black snakes here, which are harmless, but we do have copperheads and rattlesnakes in the area, which are not harmless. Do you have venomous snakes there in your area?

  4. Very interesting info. about the garter snake! Men's socks? Who knew!
    I grew up and have always lived in "the country" so I've seen many, many animals, creatures and critters so I forget that if you did not grow up there, you may have never encountered them, ever! Glad to see you can tough it out! :) Snakes don't bother me either, but spiders...oooooo!
    And I am sure they are one of a few creatures that will actually eat slugs..yuck!

  5. Them are some cute snakes. My only encounter with them is hearing them hiss and slither away in the grass in the summer. Although I have NO idea what snakes they are when they do that, just go on faith that they're harmless garters. Where do they FIT 30 8" babies though? They're not that big to begin with. Crazy. For the record, I'm much more scared of millipedes than I am of snakes... something about them extra legs gets me.

  6. Beth, I don't like the idea of a bunch of baby snakes in a nest either. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

    Now, I'm not sure about the rest of the country, but here in Ontario (from what I've learned while researching about garters) there are 17 different snakes, but only one of them is venomous: the Eastern Massassuaga. The rest are non-venomous and generally quite timid, more likely to run from people than try to bite them. Maybe that's why you hardly ever spot any, aside from running into a garter now and then in the garden.

    Pale Gardener, snakes have never really bothered me. But I suppose if there were more venomous ones around, I'd be a little more worried about them. The advantage of living in a climate where winters are long and harsh is having less dangerous critters to deal with. They can't survive up here, so we're not exposed to them.

    I'm not bothered by spiders either. Aside from the big spiders that you see once in awhile in the garden, the rest are too small to be worried about.

    Tatiana, as far as looks go, some spiders are quite beautiful; the patterns and colours on them are stunning.

    It's funny you should mention how all those babies could possibly fit in the mother. I found that weird. I guess the larger the litter, the smaller the babies. Still. That's a lot of babies to fit in one mother snake.

    Me too about the millipedes. They really do make me want to run away screaming. Maybe you're right; maybe it's all those extra legs that kind of freak me out.