- Garter Snake Information & Facts
- How to Catch a Snake in Your House
- Snake Safety Tips Before Trapping
- 7 Best Snake Traps That Work
- 3 Types of Snake Traps
- Physical characteristics
- Species: 30, including:
- Conservation status
- Additional resources
- Where Did Garter Snakes Get Their Name?
- Why Are Garter Snakes Called “Garden” Snakes?
- What Do Garter Snakes Look Like?
- Are Garter Snakes Considered a Pest?
- Are garden snakes poisonous?
- Related Questions
- Field Ecology
- 12 Ways to Stop Snakes From Slithering Into Your Yard
- What attracts snakes?
- How to Keep Snakes Out of Your Yard
- How to Chase a Snake Away
- DIY Snake Repellent
- Keeping Snakes Away from Your Pool
- Another Way to Keep Away Snakes
- 5 Tips To Attract Snakes To Your Yard
- What attracts snakes?
- Snakes slither through the garden eating slugs, grubs and other pests
- Questions About Wild Garter Snakes
- Questions About Pet Garter Snakes
Garter Snake Information & Facts
Many people mistakenly refer to these snakes as Garden Snakes, because the name sounds so similar to Garter Snake. Garter Snakes are very common, with a broad range covering most of the United States, especially the populated areas. The most easily defining feature is a stripe along the spine, for the entire length of the snake.
Are garter snakes venomous or dangerous? No. They are totally harmless. Like most snakes, they may defend themselves if threatened, and strike, but this will rarely result in any injury – maybe just a light scratch and bleeding from their tiny teeth. If in doubt, just leave the snake alone. But no, garter snakes are not poisonous.
Garter Snake Appearance: Garter snakes are small bodied serpents living in North America. They are not dangerous to people, and most have a striped pattern, often over a green or brown body, though colors can vary. This snake is surprisingly adaptable for a reptile, living in multiple regions, temperatures, and adapting to excess of water or lack thereof. These snakes are often small enough to be considered the prey of large frogs and crayfish.
Click any of the below Garter Snake photographs for a high-resolution image:
Garter Snake Habitat and Behavior: Garter snakes have adapted to live in all regions of North America, even as far north as Alaska. Some types of garter snakes have developed exceptional swimming capabilities due to their close proximity to water or moisture-dense environments. Snakes in colder climates will hibernate, commonly in groups. During this hibernation phase, they are often collected by people to be sold as pets.
The garter snake is similar to other non-venomous snakes in its desire to have a den, preferably under a large rock or other support structure. For this reason, garter snakes are often found along building foundations, under steps, or in rock walls. Snakes are temperature sensitive and require means to regulate their body temperatures. Rocks provide a place to bask in the sunlight or to retreat under if the day is too warm. A small snake will often remain close to its den for quick retreat if a predator comes by. Prior to mating season and hibernation, garter snakes will travel miles to communal den sites.
Garter snakes are one of the few serpents that give birth to live young. Prior to the breeding stage, a female snake will stop eating for a period of a few weeks. After this time frame, she will release a pheromone to attract males. This potent odor will attract large numbers of males and is often the reason why homeowners suddenly think they are being overrun by garter snakes. The female snake will store the sperm until their bodies determine all the factors are appropriate for creating young. This storage of sperm can last for years. When the young begin to develop, the mother snake will find a safe den site to give birth. When the baby snakes are born—in groups of up to eighty—they are immediately on their own, receiving no nursing or care from their mother.
Pheromone communication is a key in the garter snake population. Male snakes coming out of hibernation will sometimes produce female, breeding pheromones, tricking other male snakes into an attempt to breed with them. What this really does is steal heat from the other male snake, something that is advantageous when coming out of a long, dormant state.
Garter Snake Diet: Garter snakes are carnivorous. Because of their size, they will eat anything they can overpower. The most common victims are snails, slugs, worms, crickets, grasshoppers, birds, and small mammals. Larger garter snakes can eat frogs and rodents. For a long time, garter snakes were thought to be non-venomous. This is now known to be untrue, though their venom cannot kill a human. Garter snake venom is neurotoxic, slowing down the movement of a prey animal while it is consumed.
Garter Snake Facts: Garter snakes are the most common snake in North America.
All garter snakes, regardless of base color, have a side and a back stripe.
The name “garter snake” comes from the comparison of the serpent to the garters men wore years ago to hold up their stockings.
When garter snakes hibernate, they will do so in communities with numbers reaching into the hundreds.
Bottom Line: Garter snakes are harmless to people, though they will bite if cornered and antagonized. Because of their diminutive size, these snakes are often the target of young children who want to pick them up. A garter snake will bite, and a child that has been bitten is in no immediate danger but should be taken to a medical professional for treatment if you’re concerned about a bacterial infection. Even bites from small snakes can become infected. Puncture wounds often close quickly, sealing in any dirt or bacteria that were pushed under the skin. However, I’ve got to say that I was bitten by garter snakes a couple times as a kid, and never had any problem.
Many people want to know how to kill a Garter snake, but you don’t need to. The best way to get rid of Garters is to simply leave them alone. You can also use a Garter trap to catch them – that’s one of the best ways for how to remove Garter snakes. For more information, go to my Snake Removal – How to Get Rid of Snakes home page.
How to Catch a Snake in Your House
If you need snake help, click on my Nationwide List of Snake Removal Experts for a pro near you.
If you have a pesky snake in your garden, or are just interested in learning how to catch a snake, there are numerous things that you are able to do to safely and humanely capture the reptile.
Identify It First
The first thing you want to do is examine the snake. Take into consideration the length, size and color of the reptile, as well as other distinguishing characteristics. Once you have examined the snake, you may want to place the characteristics into a search engine to determine if the snake is venomous. If there is any question if it is poisonous, you should contact your local animal shelter and inquire with them. If the snake you are trying to catch is venomous, you should contact a local animal shelter or wildlife rescue, you should usually not attempt to catch a venomous snake.
Before you begin handling the reptile, you should always wear protective gloves. Some snakes can carry bacteria that can be harmful for humans. Once you have protected your hands, you can use a long stick or other slender object that is long. You should use the stick to distract the reptile. Once the snake is distracted, you can firmly grasp the snake’s tail and lift up. Make sure that you are leaving the top half of the snake’s body on the ground and as far away from you as possible.
Once you have a firm grasp on the tail of the snake, you can use your stick to lift the rest of the animal. You are able to do so by placing the stick underneath the top portion of the snake. Remember not to make sudden movements or startle the snake. Reptiles are more likely to bite when they are startled or scared.
When you have a firm hold on the snake you are able to transition his location. Put it in a snake sack or pillow case. You will usually want to relocate the snake to a location that offers it many places to hide such as a stone wall or bushes. If you are able to walk your snake to his new area, you will just need to release the snake by aiming his head at the location where you would like it to go, and release the tail. The reptile will usually seek shelter to get away from you.
Learn more: Does rope act as a snake repellent?
If you are unable to relocate the snake to a location that is within walking distance, you will need to place the snake into a cage. The snake can be placed into the cage in a similar fashion to the above instructions for releasing it into a bush. Once you have transported the reptile to his new home, simply lay the cage on its side and allow for the reptile to slither into his new environment.
With Tools – Broom, Snake Tongs, Snake Hook
Snake tongs are a good tool to grab a snake from a distance. You probably don’t own a pair, but the pros do. A snake hook is good for larger heavier snakes – the snake drapes over the hook. Put it in a snake sack or pillow case.
Find out more: Types of Florida Water Snakes
If you do not wish to touch the snake, you can always just sweep it out the door with a push broom. Or you can use a garbage can or cage. Lay the garbage can or cage on its side and use a broom and shovel to push the snake into the unit. Once you have captured the reptile, you will be able to safely transport and humanely relocate the snake to a new area.
A thin snake like a garter snake is usually too small to capture with a snake stick or tongs. If you are attempting to catch a garden snake, you may be more successful to use your hands, with gloves of course. Approach the snake slowly so that you do not scare him into a bush or somewhere close by for him to hide. Once you have approached the snake, you can grab the tail and use a stick or similar object to hold his head into place. Make sure that you are not choking the snake. Once you have the snake pinned down you are able to grab the snake as firmly as possible by the neck as close to his head as you are able to grab. You can use your other hand the support the body of the snake to prevent it from moving around. Once you have captured the reptile, you are able to humanely relocate him.
If you spot the snake that you are trying to capture you should not run over to it. This will startle the snake and cause it to move away quickly or bite. You should always approach the snake very carefully and slowly.
More in-detail how-to snake removal articles:
Information about snake trapping – analysis and methods for how to trap.
Information about how to kill a snake – with fumigants or poison.
Information about how to keep snakes away – prevention techniques.
Information about snake repellent – analysis of types and effectiveness.
Learn how to get snakes out from under a shed or porch, what snake feces look like, and if snakes make good pets. Find out if a pest control company will remove a snake, or if the city or county animal services will help with a snake issue. Memorize the snake poem that can save a life, and learn all about The Northern Water Snake. I can show you what to do if you find a nest of snakes, and tactics to find a lost snake in your house. Learn about Snake mating habits, what animals catch and kill snakes and if snakes have ears. Read about The Garter Snake and the problem of Burmese Pythons in south Florida. I can show you how to keep snakes out of the garden, if snake feces are dangerous, if snakes lay eggs, and if a high pitch sound deterrent machine will work against snakes.
You are here to learn how to catch a snake in your house or yard. This site is intended to provide snake education and information, so that you can make an informed decision if you need to deal with a snake problem. This site provides many snake control articles and strategies, if you wish to attempt to solve the problem yourself. If you are unable to do so, which is likely with many cases of snake removal, please go to the home page and click the USA map, where I have wildlife removal experts listed in over 500 cites and towns, who can properly help you with your nuisance snake. Click here to read more about how to get rid of snakes.
Snakes can bite in less than a second, injecting venom into a human and causing death within hours. Most snakes are nonvenomous snakes, but you don’t want to take the chance of an emergency room visit. Professional snake trappers can help, and if you know a snake is venomous, you’ll want to call in a professional.
Trust me, you won’t be thinking about saving a few dollars when you’re fighting for your life in the ER. And you never know when an extremely rare snake is going to slither its way into your home or yard and strike. I’m going to tell you about a few snake traps that work really well, and then we’ll be discussing the various types of traps a little lower on the list to get a better understanding of each traps’ benefits.
Snake Safety Tips Before Trapping
I get it: you want to get rid of your snake problem yesterday. It’s an issue for sure, but you need to take every precaution possible to protect yourself from snake bites. I am not saying this is going to provide you with 100% protection, but if you follow these simple tips, you’ll reduce your risk of landing in the hospital.
1. Leave the snakes alone
If you corner a snake, it will attack. Set the trap and check it – don’t just chase down the snake like some kind of rabbid human hellbent on destruction.
2. Wear thick gloves If you have a snake trap that has a snake inside, wear thick gloves when handling. There’s always a chance the snake can break loose and try to bite.
3. Try to identify the snake If you know that the snake is not venomous, this will lower your risk of injury greatly. But if you find that you have caught a deadly snake, do yourself a favor and call in a professional.
4. Don’t try and kill the snake A venomous snake is no joke. These snakes can kill you so quick that you won’t have a moment to contemplate your mistake. Don’t try killing the snake with a shovel or shooting it or anything crazy you might be thinking.
Again, if you find a cobra or rattlesnake, don’t risk your life for a few dollars. Call in a professional and keep your distance from the snake.
【Read more about Rattlesnake】
7 Best Snake Traps That Work
Cahaba Snake Traps
- FEATURESMade with rigid plastic
Traps are freestanding
Can be used in wet places
$$ Humane Snake Trap
- FEATURES Can be used indoor and outdoors
Easy to use & setup
For all types of weather conditions
$$ Woodstream Live Animal Cage Trap
- FEATURESResistant to rust and corrosion
Spring loaded door
You need the best snake trap to catch snakes infesting your yard. Sure, you can let them roam around, but if your cat goes missing, don’t say we didn’t warn you. Venomous snakes are extremely dangerous, and a quality snake trap will protect you and your family from being bitten. And you’ll sleep better at night knowing you’re not going to wake up with a snake nibbling away at you. A few traps that I’ve known to work really well are:
1. Cahaba Snake Traps
Cahaba Snake Traps are from a brand, so you’ll find plenty of different options from this company. I wanted to mention this brand because their products are top-notch, and there are a ton of products from this company worth buying.
Cahaba products destroy the competition because:
- They’re made with rigid plastic
- Can be used in wet places
- Traps are freestanding
- Traps are reusable
- Traps are kid- and pet-friendly
This brand offers snake traps that are designed by professional snake removers, so they’re made to commercial-grade quality standards. They’re extremely high-quality.
2. Humane Snake Trap
The Humane Snake Trap is better than most reusable glue traps, and it’s designed to withstand all types of weather conditions from snow and rain to heavy winds. Rated for indoor and outdoor use, this trap is smart and lures snakes into the trap from 10 feet away.
Snakes can’t get enough of this trap.
Day or night, this trap works to lure in snakes 24/7, and it’s so easy to use that a 5-year-old can set it. Simply set the trap where you see the largest population of snakes – the rest is done for you.
What’s really cool is that the snakes will remain alive, but they’re immobilized in the trap when caught. This allows for a humane removal of the snake while keeping the remover (you) safe from potential snake bites. Cooking oil will loosen the glue from the snake without harming the snake in the process.
Find a Trusted Local Pest Expert Need to hire an exterminator? Get a free estimate online from top local home service pros in your area.
The snake will be able to slither away once the cooking oil reacts with the trap and loosens. If you have kids and want to teach them about humanely removing small animals and reptiles, this is the perfect trap for you.
3. Woodstream Live Animal Cage Trap
Place a snake trap outdoors, and you never know what you’ll catch. I will admit, this snake trap isn’t ideal for smaller snakes, such as your gartner snakes or small snakes that can squeeze right through the galvanized exterior.
But if you have a thick snake that is large, you’ll be able to humanely catch the snake right in the trap.
Mesh openings keep everything from raccoons to groundhogs trapped, yet it’s durable and spring loaded to allow for a quick and efficient capture. Handle guards allow for easy transport, so you can pick the trap and snake up and drop it off miles away from your home.
Resistant to rust and corrosion, the Woodstream is the friendly way to catch snakes, and several other large animals, including: groundhogs, skunks, opossums, raccoons and more.
4. Snake Trap Large LiftTop
Cahaba makes a large, LiftTop model with two catch inserts. You’ll love the easy setup of this snake trap, and it is made to withstand rain, sun and snow outdoors all year long. If you have snakes indoors, no problem – it can be placed indoors, too.
Designed with durable commercial plastic, this trap is pet safe, so you don’t have to worry about Mr. Mittens getting injured in the trap.
And what’s really great about this LiftTop is that it was designed by a professional snap trapper. Your neighborhood trapper probably uses this model to catch pigmy rattlers all the time. Ideal for snake removal, Cahaba designed this trap to be commercial grade and reusable.
This is a snake trap glue design, so the snake will stick to the glue trap and die.
Sticky pads can be replaced, and they slip right out of the bottom, so it’s super easy to use even for someone like me who screeches every time I see a snake.
5. Pest Control Trap
Forget lethal snake traps, this trap by Cahaba is environmentally safe containing no harsh chemicals. If you’re an environmentalist like myself, this is the trap for you. Shipped from the great state of Alabama, this snake trap includes four catch pads and allows for reordering of pads to keep catching those creepy crawlers.
This trap can catch all sorts of animals and insects: mice and spiders, too.
Smaller than a snake trap box or cage snake trap, this snake trap is just 16″ x 6″ x 3″ and is designed for catching small snakes.
Five years of industry use has proven that this snake trap works, and it’s one of the most effective when trying to rid your yard of pesky spiders and other bugs.
6. Snake Guard Snake Trap
Forestry Supplies offers a patented technology snake trap that’s able to catch snakes and release them without causing injury or harm. If you have a love for animals, this is a great way to feel happy about your catch and release.
Wax coating on the trap will help the trap withstand the elements while still remaining effective.
Do you have vegetable oil in your home? If so, all you need to do is pour the vegetable oil over the caught snake and a chemical reaction will occur that allows the snake to wiggle free and slither it’s way into another person’s yard – not yours.
Specially formulated glue is used in the Snake Guard, and it works best when placed against a wall.
If it’s a warm sunny day, you can use this trap outdoors. But if it’s raining, I find that the trap is far less effective.
For me, this trap works best indoors – saving you from any indoor infestations you may have.
7. Snake Trap Small with Catch Inserts
Cabana offers a small snake trap that includes three catch inserts and is reusable. If you’re like me, you like professional grade traps because if it’s good enough for the pros, it’s good enough for you. These catch inserts are patented, so no other company can use this unique design.
Multi-use, this is one of the snake traps that work, and it’s awesome because it’s pet-friendly.
If you run out of the inserts, simply reorder them. The opening of the box is 3″ in height, so a snake thicker than three inches won’t be able to fit inside the box – find another model that will. When a snake is caught, simply remove the sticky pad and slide it out.
Place it against the wall for best results.
And if you want to release the snake back into the wild, simply pour some cooking oil over him and the trap will loosen, allowing the snake to slither out into the wild again.
3 Types of Snake Traps
A good sized jug and a homemade snake trap are all well and good, but these aren’t just pests that you can handle without risk. You need a high-quality, professional trap to ensure that you don’t get bitten by a venomous snake. There are common minnow traps, cage traps and glue traps to pick from.
And some are humane while others are going to kill the snake in some circumstances. The top 3 types of snake traps are:
1. Minnow Trap
A galvanized steel minnow trap can be found online or in many retail stores. While not a traditional trap for snakes, these traps have been found to work very well in catching snakes – even copperheads. The issue is removing the snake from the trap.
If you have chickens that are being killed by snakes, set the trap up against the wall.
Cheap and effective, these traps will house the snake, and you can use specialty tools to remove them afterwards. Some people will place the trap in a freezer with the snake inside to kill it if it’s a poisonous species.
While this sounds inhumane, the snake will go into hibernation and die without feeling a thing in the process.
2. Glue Trap Glue traps can be humane, or they can be deadly. A lot of people choose to leave the trap and starve the snake to death, and I am against this if it’s a snake that doesn’t pose a danger. But, everyone has their own preference and fears, so I can’t judge a person really.
A lot of glue traps nowadays can be used to release the snake, too. Using a little cooking oil, many of the traps will lose their adhesiveness and allow the snake to slither away, which is really cool.
But play it smart. If you don’t go far enough away from your home before releasing, the snake will come back.
3. Cage or Box Trap Cages and box traps are another option. These traps will slam shut, causing a snake to be trapped. You’ll find that many of these snake traps are meant for larger rodents, mammals and reptiles, so they will not work well with your everyday garter snake or smaller species of snakes.
It’s really up to you whether you want to use the cage method. But if it’s a small snake you’re worried about, I recommend trying one of the other types of traps for best results.
These are snake traps that work. Just remember, that if a snake is dangerous, you want to do your best to avoid the snake at all costs. This may mean that you’ll have to hire a professional to get rid of the snakes for you.
Safety is paramount, so hire a good snake trapper and you’ll sleep better at night.
7 Best (Affordable and Simple) Snake Traps of 2019
Snakes can bite in less than a second, injecting venom into a human and causing death within hours. Most snakes are nonvenomous snakes, but you don’t want
Garter snakes are among the most common snakes in North America, with a range spanning from Canada to Florida. Often kept as pets, they are relatively harmless, although some species do possess a mild neurotoxic venom. However, it is not dangerous to humans.
Where did the garter snake get its funny name? According to Doug Wechsler, a wildlife biologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia and author of “Garter Snakes” (Powerkids, 2001), their stripes resemble garters men used to wear to hold up their socks. Another theory is that it is a corruption of the German word for “garden.” Garter snakes are sometimes erroneously called “garden snakes.”
Garter snakes come in a wide variety of colors depending on the species, but “most have three longitudinal stripes — one in the center of the back and one on each lower side of the body,” according to herpetologist Jeff Beane, collections manager of amphibians and reptiles at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. “In most species, the stripes are yellowish or greenish, but this varies with species and region.”
Some garter snakes have intricate splotchy patterns between their stripes, making them look checkered. And their appearance really does depend on the species — Beane pointed out that some garter snakes are “virtually stripeless.”
Garter snakes are relatively small, usually between 23 and 30 inches (58 and 76 centimeters), though sometimes growing as long as 5 feet (1.5 meters). Beane described them as “slender to moderately stout-bodied … obviously keeled,” meaning they have a ridge down the center. He added that many species of garter snakes have two-colored tongues.
These non-venomous snakes are the most common reptile in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park. They live near water and eat small rodents as well as tadpoles, snails and leeches. (Image credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Beane described garter snakes as “generalists, inhabiting a wide variety of habitats.” They live in woodlands, meadows and grassy knolls and like to be near water, especially “in the arid parts of the West,” Beane said.
The common garter snake occurs throughout North America, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and into southern Canada, according to the Virtual Nature Trail at Pennsylvania State University New Kensington.
The garter snake is abundant in the eastern United States; it is the state reptile of Massachusetts.While no snakes are known to be native of Alaska, a road-killed specimen of a garter snake was found near Haines, Alaska, in 2005, according to an article in the Journal of Herpetology. Researchers who identified the snake through mitochondrial DNA concluded that the single snake represented a relict, or remnant, population, a recent natural colonization or a fresh introduction.
Garter snakes are generally active during the day. Beane described them as “relatively fast-moving highly terrestrial, but may climb into shrubs or vines; some species climb more than others.” Wildscreen’s ARKive Initiative pointed out that some species are also excellent swimmers.
When threatened, garter snakes give off a bad-smelling musk. Because of their small size, garter snakes have many predators, including hawks, crows, bears, bullfrogs, snapping turtles, foxes, squirrels and raccoons, according to the Animal Diversity Web (ADW), a database maintained by the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology.
Cold-climate garter snakes hibernate during the winter. They hibernate in dens in large groups, with hundreds of garter snakes sometimes found together (and sometimes other snake species, according to Beane). According to the Virtual Nature Trail, one den in Canada was the hibernation spot of more than 8,000 snakes. Garter snakes will travel long distances to a communal den for hibernation, according to the ADW.
Beane said that garter snakes “feed mostly on fishes, amphibians, and earthworms; other prey are occasionally taken.” The snakes immobilize their prey with their sharp teeth and quick reflexes. The saliva of some species contains a mild neurotoxin that causes paralysis, making small prey easier to swallow. Like other snakes, garter snakes swallow their food whole, according to the ADW. Beane said “some larger prey may be dragged and chewed until killed by trauma.”
While most species are classified as harmless (non-venomous), their bite can cause minor swelling or itching in humans, and anyone bitten by a garter snake should clean the bite thoroughly. It is not ultimately a cause for concern. Allergic reactions to the saliva have been known, but cases are extremely rare, according to the ADW.
According to Beane, the best situations for mating are “when they emerge in the spring and also when they congregate again in fall … because they are already gathered together for hibernation and do not have to waste energy seeking mates.” But for garter snakes in more temperate areas where they don’t hibernate, the snakes rely on pheromones.
Female garter snakes give off pheromones to attract males. Dozens of males will come to one female, which is why homeowners sometimes think garter snakes are overrunning their neighborhoods. According to the biology department at Reed College, this mass of mating snakes is called a “mating ball.”
Some males use trickery to confuse their competition, according to Reed College. They will secrete female pheromones to lure other males toward them rather than to the female. After the other males are away from the mating ball, the males posing as females will dart back to the female to attempt to mate.
Garter snakes are ovoviviparous, meaning they bear live young. After mating, females store sperm in their bodies until they want to fertilize their eggs. Garter snakes give birth to 20 to 40 live young at a time, though Beane pointed out that litter sizes can vary greatly. “As few as five and as many as 101 have been reported,” he said. Parent snakes do not care for their young.
There are 30 species of garter snakes and many more subspecies, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System. The taxonomy of garter snakes is:
Kingdom: Animalia Subkingdom: Bilateria Infrakingdom: Deuterostomia Phylum: Chordata Subphylum: Vertebrata Infraphylum: Gnathostomata Superclass: Tetrapoda Class: Reptilia Order: Squamata Suborder: Serpentes Infraorder: Alethinophidia Family: Colubridae Subfamily: Natricinae Genus: Thamnophis
Species: 30, including:
Thamnophis sirtalis (common garter snake): The common garter snake has the largest range, occurring in most of the continental United States with several subspecies, according to Beane. They are found everywhere from Alaska to Florida, though they do not live in the Southwest. Common garter snakes usually have three white, yellow, blue, or green stripes running the lengths of their brown or olive bodies. Their heads are darker than their bodies.
Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis (Eastern garter snake): This subspecies of common garter snake is typical throughout the eastern United States. Though its body color may vary from brown to green, it almost always has three yellowish stripes on its back, according to the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. Sometimes its body is splotchy, giving it a checked appearance. Eastern garter snakes in Georgia and Florida sometimes have bluish coloring.
Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis (red-sided garter snake): This California subspecies of common garter snake can be stunning. Blue or yellow stripes pop against the dark olive or black body, and red bars line the sides of the body. The red-sided garter snake has a red or orange head and a blue underside. North of the San Francisco Bay Area, the underside is sometimes a brilliant bright blue. Its eyes are larger than other garter snake species. According to California Herps, it is able to eat Pacific newts, which are poisonous to other predators.
Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia (San Francisco garter snake):According to California Herps, this San Francisco peninsula snake has a red head, big eyes, and wide, blue-green, black, and red stripes. Its underside is blue-green. Like the red-sided garter snake, it eats Pacific newts.
Thamnophis marcianus (Checkered garter snake): This small, southwestern snake has a dark checkered pattern over its entire body, plus three thin light-colored stripes, according to Herps of Texas. It is rarely longer than 2 feet.
Thamnophis sirtalis annectens (Texas garter snake): This common garter snake subspecies primarily resides in the Lone Star State, though according to Wildlife North America, there is a population in Kansas. It has a dark colored back with a bright red stripe down its center and two light-colored stripes on its sides.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species lists common garter snakes as “least concern” for threat of extinction, noting their wide range and population size, estimated to be more than 1 million adults in the wild.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists the San Francisco garter snake is listed as “endangered” because it is threatened by habitat loss and over-collection.
- Canadian Geographic: Facts about the common garter snake
- Animal Diversity Web: Thamnophis sirtalis
- Virtual Nature Trail: Common garter snake
As a young girl living in Arizona, I would go to visit my great grandmother and her amazing garden. I would always be searching for little snakes. I called them garden snakes, as she and everyone else in my family did. Later, someone told me they are actually called “garter” snakes, not garden. I felt silly. But what’s the difference between a garter and a garden snake? I did some reading to figure this out.
So, what is the difference between a garter and a garden snake? There isn’t one. So-called “garden” snakes are just another term for a “garter” snake.
It’s a simple mix-up. So, the next time you go to visit your grandmother’s green, welcoming garden (or even your own, if you’re a green thumb), be sure to look out for these striped, cute little reptiles, and remember: “garter”, not “garden”…
Where Did Garter Snakes Get Their Name?
Garter snakes are adorable and common in many areas, and they love gardens… which is probably one reason why they’ve sort of been nicknamed “garden” snakes. But that’s not where they get their name from originally.
So where do garter snakes get their name? Garter snakes are named after clothing garters. Garters essentially look like stripes. These snakes have stripes down their back, hence the name.
Garters were common when women wore stockings, around the 1920’s, and they are belt-like straps that help hold up the tops of the stockings. They came in a lot of varieties, much like the colorful little serpents that were named after them. Women working in their gardens probably saw the snakes and went, “Look, they’re wearing garters too. Cool.”
Funny enough, the Latin word for garter is “sirtalis,” and the technical name for garter snake is Thamnophis sirtalis (which translates to bush or shrub garter). Basically, Latin or English, these little garden-loving reptiles are named after a piece of clothing.
Garter snake on the rocks looking at you
Why Are Garter Snakes Called “Garden” Snakes?
The Thamnophis sirtalis, or the garter snake, is a common visitor to a lot of people’s yards and greenhouses. They also look like clothing garters. So should we coin them “garter” or “garden” snakes?
How did garter snakes start getting the name “garden snakes”? They are called garden snakes because they are in gardens most often and also because “garden” and “garter” sound the same, especially to kids.
In our day, when the use of garters is primarily at weddings or by women who have been using them for years (but their grandchildren still don’t know what they’re called), it probably makes just as much sense to call these little reptiles garden snakes. After all, we all know what gardens are, and they really are there a lot…
So when your son, daughter, nephew, or even your cousin’s boyfriend’s little sister’s friend starts calling these friendly little creatures a “garden” snake (bypassing the garter), should you correct him or her? Not necessarily, unless you want to explain what a garter is and how they have anything to do with garden snakes.
If you do want to educate them and explain what garters are and how they look similar in any way to a snake, feel free to read on.
What Do Garter Snakes Look Like?
Garter snakes, also called garden snakes, are friendly and very fond of vegetation. They’re a common snake to see in North America.
What exactly do garter snakes look like? Garter snakes are usually around two to three feet long, can come in a wide variety of colors (most often greens, browns, and grays), and always have “garter”-like stripes down the length of them.
Garter snakes are cute and virtually harmless, but sometimes they can seem like a pest. For example, when your little sister or your cousin’s boyfriend’s little sister’s best friend has an Indiana Jones-like fear of the little slithery things and won’t go into the yard because she thinks they’ll bite her.
Do garter snaked really deserve that fear? Are they actually pests?
Are Garter Snakes Considered a Pest?
So they’re little, kinda adorable, and… absolutely everywhere. Garter snakes are garden-lovers, but you might start to find that they are hogging your beloved garden.
Are garter snakes considered a pest? Pest Controls near you might offer a snake removal option, but garter snakes aren’t usually considered pests. They actually help with other garden pests.
As far as pests go, they usually are up to no good–birds that eat off your grapevines, or spiders webbing up your entire house, or other creepy-crawlies that seem to find a way into your house no matter how many essential oils you drip around your doors and windows…
Garter snakes? They just might startle you. Whether there are many of them or few, they’re not there to attack your home or even your plants. They’re really good for removing other pests, though, as they are carnivorous and can only eat little rodents or bugs and other mini creatures you probably don’t want to find in your lovely garden or lawn.
So fear not. The little green “garden” snake slithering past you is dangerous in no way and won’t eat your veggies. Just your spiders and mice. If you’re wanting to safely remove a garter snake from your yard, read this article we wrote that gives natural ways to get rid of garter snakes.
Are garden snakes poisonous?
Garter snakes are common in North America, but not considered dangerous. I wondered why that was and looked into some recent research.
Are “garden”, or garter, snakes poisonous? They are very mildly poisonous, and cannot hurt humans.
Garter snakes produce a very mild venom that does not hurt humans. It might irritate your skin for a bit. In fact, if you get bitten by a garter snake (which is not very likely, as they are a lot keener on camouflage or slithering quickly out of sight), you’ll probably see tiny little puncture wounds, and your skin might feel itchy or annoyed. Clean the tiny wound, but don’t worry that you’ve been poisoned. The itchiness will fade fast.
If you have a dog or another small animal that has a run-in with one of these garden dwellers and gets bitten, the bite will most likely irritate them a little as well, but will not be fatal. Unless you have a pet lizard that got loose in the garden. In that case, he’s probably the garter snakes’ next meal. If a garter snake does bite you, read this article that we wrote that talks about what happens if a garter snake does bite you, and how to prevent it from happening.
How can I get rid of garter snakes? Make sure your yards or garden are kept tidy, as garter snakes like to hide in junk or overgrown, low-hanging plants. Find other ways to make sure your garden is relatively garter-snake-food free, such as getting mouse traps or using bug repellants. You could also consider getting chickens is the snakes are bugging you very badly, as they are natural predators of the reptiles.
What do garter snakes eat? Garter snakes are carnivorous and eat creatures such as rodents, bugs, slugs, lizards, frogs, and other small, meaty animals that they can conquer and actually digest. Most things considered pests are what they are looking to eat.
Are garter snakes nocturnal? No, they are not. They are awake during the day but usually more active around sunrise or sunset, or any time a lot of bugs or other potential prey are out and about.
Where do garter snakes live? Garter snakes might build nest-like dens in colder climates (think northernmost North America), but otherwise they don’t make their own homes. If they find a small abandoned hole dug out by a rodent, they might inhabit that, as well. In general, these little snakes are found nearer to water than deserty lands, but they are found everywhere.
Mow grass often and keep it short. Snakes are less likely to hang out and move through short grass because it increases their exposure to predators (e.g., coyotes, hawks). Short grass also makes snakes easier to spot by you and your family members.
Avoid watering your lawn. Watering of your lawn and garden may attract prey species (e.g., worms, slugs, frogs) which may attract snakes seeking a meal.
Keep trees and shrubs trimmed. Trim trees and shrubs away from your home and garage, and keep branches away from the ground. Creating a 24-36″ space under trees and shrubs will reduce snake use and will make snakes easier to spot if present.
Move the bird feeder. Birds are messy eaters and often leave seed scattered below their feeder. Seed on the ground attracts rodents which may attract snakes seeking a meal. Move feeders away from the house or stop feeding altogether. Store bird seed in a metal can with a tight fitting lid.
Install a perch pole. Hawks and owls are natural snake predators that can be attracted to an area with the aid of a well placed perch pole. Poles should be placed in open areas so the hawk or owl has a good view of the yard and surrounding area. Learn more.
Feed pets inside. Feeding pets outside can attract insects and rodents which attracts snakes. If feeding outside is necessary, be sure to cleanup uneaten food right away. Store pet food in a metal can with a tight fitting lid.
Move your woodpile. Store firewood, excess lumber, and other types of debris away from your home. Stacks of lumber and firewood, and other piles a debris are prefect places for snakes to hide.
Think before you landscape. Avoid using mulch and large rock in your landscaping. These materials attract snakes and their prey, and can create breeding and overwintering habitat. Instead, use smaller tight-fitting rock such as gravel or river rock. Avoid water gardens and Koi ponds as these water features attract snakes.
Seal the cracks. Seal cracks and crevices on the house, sidewalks, and foundations to prevent snakes from using these areas. Consider getting an energy audit. Energy audits can be a great way to identify cracks and crevices that allow air conditioning and/or heat to escape the home – these same cracks and crevices may be used by snakes and other small creatures.
Fencing. There are no sure-fire ways to keep snakes away, but when all else fails fencing may be worth consideration. Fencing should be buried a few inches into the ground, be constructed using 1/4″ or smaller rigid mesh or solid sheeting, and include a bend at the top to prevent snakes from climbing up and over. Several companies make wildlife-specific fencing to save you time, a couple example: ERTEC Environmental, ACO Wildlife.
12 Ways to Stop Snakes From Slithering Into Your Yard
June 29, 2018
Ask an Expert – 12 Ways to Stop Snakes from Slithering into Your Yard
With a drier and hotter start to summer this year, more snakes are following their prey into areas that are irrigated and provide good cover and food. Unfortunately, this describes many people’s yards, and for a lot of people, the sight of a snake strikes fear. To further the problem, many companies take advantage of people’s fear of snakes by selling products or services that are ineffective, and in some cases, may increase the danger to people and pets.
Most people’s fear of snakes stems from the worry that they are venomous. Most won’t want to be close enough to tell, but venomous snakes have a pupil that resembles a cat’s. It has an oblong shape with peaked ends that look like a slit in the center of the eye. Non-venomous snakes usually have round pupils. The snakes most people are likely to see in their yards will be non-venomous, such as the garter or gopher snake.
If you encounter a snake in or around your home, keep calm and follow these tips.
Mow grass often and keep it fairly short. Snakes are less likely to reside and move through short grass because it increases their exposure to predators such as owls and hawks. Shorter grass also makes snakes easier to spot.
Avoid over watering your lawn. Too much landscape water may attract prey species such as worms, slugs and frogs, which in turn may attract snakes seeking a meal.
Keep trees and shrubs trimmed and away from your home and garage, and keep branches off the ground. Creating a 24-to-36-inch space under trees and shrubs will help keep snakes away and will make it easier to spot them if they do slither in.
If you feed birds, keep the feeder away from the house or consider not feeding them. Birds are messy eaters and often leave seed scattered below the feeder. Seed on the ground attracts rodents, which may also attract snakes seeking a meal. Store bird seed in a metal can with a tight-fitting lid.
Feed pets inside. Feeding them outside can attract insects and rodents which, again, attract snakes. If feeding outside is necessary, be sure to clean up uneaten food promptly. Store pet food in a metal can with a tight-fitting lid.
Store firewood, excess lumber and other types of debris away from your home. These provide prefect places for snakes to hide.
Think before you landscape. Avoid using mulch and large rocks in your landscape, as they attract snakes and their prey and can create breeding and overwintering habitat. Instead, use smaller, tight-fitting rock such as gravel or river rock. Also avoid landscaping with water gardens and Koi ponds.
Seal cracks and crevices on sidewalks and foundations, and consider getting an energy audit. These can be a great way to identify places that allow air conditioning and heat to escape the home. These same cracks and crevices may be used as an entry point by snakes and other small creatures.
When all else fails, consider fencing. Use 1/4 inch or smaller rigid mesh or solid sheeting and bury it a few inches into the ground. Include a bend at the top to prevent snakes from climbing up and over.
Do not use snake repellents or sulfur, as they are ineffective. Do not use mothballs because the active ingredient is naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene – chemicals that are toxic to insects and mammals, but are not effective against snakes. Using mothballs outside your home also violates product labels and puts your family and pets at risk. Do not use sticky traps outside. Traps placed outside capture all sorts of non-target animals and result in a slow, agonizing death.
If you have issues with snakes in your chicken coop, avoid using ceramic eggs or golf balls. Snakes that eat these artificial eggs die a slow and painful death over many weeks, and new snakes will show up to take their place. Instead, focus on improving your coop to prevent snakes from entering and follow the deterrents recommended above. If using ceramic or other artificial eggs to encourage a brooding hen to lay, glue them down to prevent snakes from eating them.
Do not bring out the guns, shovels or other weapons. Discharging a firearm toward the ground can result in bullet ricochet. If needing to get a snake to move on, use a water hose to spray the snake, which will encourage it to find a new place to take up residence.
For more information, go to: https://extension.usu.edu/news_sections/agriculture_and_natural_resources/snakes-out-early
What attracts snakes?
A snake may be attracted to houses or yards if there is shelter and food that are unknowingly being provided by humans. Taipans and brown snakes eat rodents and they are attracted to farm sheds or gardens where they can hunt mice or rats. The python may eat chickens or other birds. They are also found in roof cavities where they hunt for possums and rats. Brown snakes are known to eat chickens and they can get trapped within the coop after eating one. Snakes may hunt during the night and come near window sills to find geckos and other prey. Tree snakes can come onto your property to hunt for frogs during the day, and they are often seen around gardens or near houses. Carpet pythons may curl up in the ceiling where they get the warmth and security they want. There are a number of snake species that are found mostly in timber piles or under sheets of corrugated metal.
Snakes eat small mammals, snails and slugs that destroy gardens. A garter snake is not harmful to people, and they like to be in the warm sun and near gardens. The diet of this snake will help you keep annoying and crop destroying pests away from the garden. Black snakes can also be attracted to the garden because of small rodents, and this is also true with poisonous snakes like copperheads.
Learn more: Do snakes come out in the rain?
The snake will come into your yard if there is a place where they can hide. They can hide under an old piece of plywood or in another shelter like a metal roofing panel or an old stump. Anything that can offer a safe place for the snake will work well. The snakes will also like to come to your place if there is a source of fresh water. A ground level birdbath or a small shallow fountain can attract snakes if it is accessible and has clean water.
The snakes will be more attracted to your garden if you do not use harmful chemicals. Going organic may increase the number of snakes in your garden. Using herbicides and harsh fertilizers may keep away snakes since they will also eliminate their food source. The snakes are attracted to places where there is well-aged manure, crop rotation and companion planting. The snakes’ activity in your yard will change according to the time of the year; you may not see too many snakes and other reptiles around during the winter months.
For more information about what attracts snakes to your yard or property, go to my Snake Removal – How to Get Rid of Snakes home page, and to learn how to keep them away, visit the How to Keep Snakes Away page.
Read more articles about snakes:
What is a snake’s natural diet, and how does it obtain its food?
Do snakes drink water?
Can snakes crawl up plumbing or toilets?
Plants that keep snakes away
Will a high pitch sound machine repel snakes?
Will a pest control company remove a snake
How to Keep Snakes Out of Your Yard
If you live in an area where snakes are common, chances are high that at some point, you may have walked out into your yard to find an unwelcome guest! Many people are afraid of snakes, and it can be hard to think clearly when these pests appear on your doorstep. So this week, we’re here to share four handy tips to keep snakes away from your home so that you and your kids can rest easy.
- Use the hose
- Make your own snake repellent
- Break out the condiments
- A hairy solution
How to Chase a Snake Away
If you spot a snake, make sure to call animal control immediately in case it’s poisonous. But if you know it’s just a garden (non-poisonous) snake and you wish it would go away, it can be as easy as reaching for the hose. Spray the snake until he slithers away, hopefully before you get the creeps.
DIY Snake Repellent
If snakes seem to always find their way into your yard, keep them away with ammonia. Snakes hate the smell and won’t come near it. Soak rags in ammonia and place them in unsealed plastic bags. Leave the plastic bags where you usually see the snakes, and they won’t come back again.
Keeping Snakes Away from Your Pool
To keep snakes and even bugs like flies away from your pool, pour white vinegar around the perimeter. Snakes can absorb liquids through their skin, and won’t slither over the vinegar. Meanwhile, it’s same for kids and pets!
Another Way to Keep Away Snakes
Believe it or not, snakes dislike humans just as much as we dislike them. To keep snakes out of your yard, it can be as easy as letting them know humans live there! To do this, save the hair from your hairbrush, and sprinkle it around the perimeter of your property. Snakes will smell the hair and keep away.
Check out more ways to keep pests out of your yard on our Bug and Pest Natural Remedies board on Pinterest. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook for our Tip of the Day!
The suggestions offered here are for informational purposes only. The Authors and Publisher do not accept liability for damages arising from the use, attempted use, misuse or application of any of the suggestions included on this website.
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5 Tips To Attract Snakes To Your Yard
Southerners love snakes. And I’m gonna give you five tips to make sure that your yard is absolutely crawling with serpents. Number one. Don’t cut the grass and don’t trim that bushes. So, let everything grow out of control. And you’re gonna get more snakes. Number two leave these big hot a smelly dog and cat food outside. Because what is going to come that bowl Of pet food, besides your dog or your cat. Rodents! And snakes love rodents. So leave that cat food and dog food outside and you can have more snakes. Number three Three, throw lots of junk in the yard that collects water, like old satellite dishes, and pans, and old tyres. Why? Because, in the summer it gets hot and snakes get thirsty, they need places to drink. So, give them the opportunity, welcome them to your yard. They’ll thank you for it and they’ll come back with all their friends. Number four, if you’re one of those people with a backyard chicken coop. What you wanna do is screen off your coop using chicken wire. Because chickens can’t get through chicken wire. But snakes can really easily. So if you’ve got chickens back there. Just leave it wide open for snakes, and the snakes will come. Number five, do not seal any entries near the base of your house. So that snakes may enter at their will. So don’t block off those spaces, don’t fill them. Let all the snakes come into your house any time they want because snakes are people too. When it’s hot they might want to come inside because it’s cool and when it’s cold they might want to come inside because it’s warmer. They’re cold blooded. They need a little consideration. And if they like it in your house, maybe a female snake will decide to start a family. Hey, it worked for you!
What attracts snakes?
During spring time as well as fall, the temperature around are just snake perfect and you may see them as they move about in the day. This is because the weather at this time is neither too hot nor too cold. It is just right for the crawling creatures. In the summer time, you are more likely to encounters snakes during the night or the early morning but most probably they will be in a dark place that is cool all through the day. Most snakes are non-venomous and they avoid contact with humans at all costs. However, they can still give you a great scare if you are unaware of their presence. So as to avoid any kind of trouble with them, it is important that you understand their different habits and stay away from them.
Snakes love to be in damp, cool and well protected areas. Stay away from the rocky streams and the wooded areas or any place within your property that has a cave like condition. These are areas that you should totally avoid. Keep all sorts of wood piles and debris away from the house and also screen off the crawl spaces and porches so as to make sure that snakes stay out. These are the areas that may attract snakes.
Find out: Should I hire a pro, or remove snakes myself?
It is important to note that watering also attracts snakes. If you have a garden and lawn that is well irrigated, you may attract rodents, birds, lizards and frogs and these may in turn be an attraction to snakes. The watered and mulched areas offer a very cool shelter for the snakes especially in summer time so be very careful as you work or walk in such areas.
Rodents are also a main snake attractor. To be able to keep snakes away, you will have to make sure that you control the rodent population within your property. Snakes feed on birds, small reptiles as well as rodents. Keep nesting boxes and bird feeders far away from your house and eliminate any rodent population in and around the home.
Learn more: How do snakes kill their prey?
Shaded areas and cool areas attract snakes especially when it is hot outside. They will be found beneath the wood piles or debris in your compound or under the car. Clearing your home is one way of eliminating a snake problem.
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Go back to the main How To Get Rid of Snakes page for more information about What attracts snakes?
Other popular snake education articles:
How To Get Rid of Snakes
How to Kill a Snake
How to keep snakes away from your property
Snakes slither through the garden eating slugs, grubs and other pests
CORVALLIS, Ore. – Gardeners should be glad to see snakes glide through the garden. These much-maligned reptiles consume garden pests, including slugs, grubs, mice, voles and rats.
“The vast majority of snakes in Oregon are very beneficial,” said Bob Mason, a professor of integrative biology at Oregon State University who specializes in snakes.
Snakes eat a variety of pests. The garter feeds on slugs; the sharp-tailed snake adds grubs to their diet, including the destructive Japanese beetle grub. Rubber boas specialize in eating mice and voles, going down their tunnels after them. And gopher snakes snack on mice and rats.
“I’ve even had farmers call me up and ask if I had any snakes available,” Mason said.
Garters are the type of snake most often seen by urban and suburban gardeners, he said. Two species of garter snakes are commonly found throughout much of Oregon, except the mountains: the abundant western terrestrial garter snake and the common garter snake. In western Oregon, a third species is also present, the northwestern garter snake. An aquatic garter snake resides in southwestern Oregon.
Garter snakes generally breed in the spring and give birth to live young in the late summer or fall. Often, young are not seen until the following spring, after they emerge from hibernation after their first winter.
“Most young garter snakes don’t survive into adulthood,” Mason said. “They are killed off by predators, cars and lawnmowers.”
To make your property garter snake friendly, Mason advises:
- Walk your lawn before you mow it to scare the snakes into hiding. Lawn mowers are deadly to snakes because they can’t hear like we do. Rather, they feel vibrations.
- Provide habitat for snakes if you have room. Old plywood or corrugated metal roofing left loosely on the ground in an out-of-the-way place on your property provides hiding and nesting places for slithering creatures. Old stumps and large rocks also make good snake habitat.
- Don’t use chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers, in areas used by snakes, including lawns.
- If you have pets, the likelihood of attracting snakes is minimal.
The western rattlesnake, the only species of truly venomous snake native to Oregon, feeds on mice, rats and other smaller animals. Rattlesnakes were once more commonly found on both the west and east sides of the Cascades, however they’ve largely been killed off on the west side, Mason said.
“Rattlers are rare in northwestern Oregon,” he said. “They were shot out 100 years ago by early settlers. There are a few dens left, but only in really isolated places.”
In southern and eastern Oregon, however, rattlers are more common.
“Rattlesnakes are part of the natural environment,” he said. “They should be respected. When you encounter one in its natural environment, away from homes and children, stay away and leave the snake alone. They are quite reclusive and rarely aggressive.”
Learn more about snakes from the Extension publications Common Garter Snake and Attract Reptiles and Amphibians to Your Yard. Mason also recommends the photo-illustrated book, “Reptiles of Washington and Oregon,” published by the Seattle Audubon Society and edited by Robert M. Storm and William P. Leonard.
If you’ve gone through the Q&A section and read this FAQ and you still have questions, don’t despair. Browse through the articles and, if your question is about pet garter snakes, be sure to read the Care Guide. But if all else fails and you’re truly stumped, contact me. But I might not know the answer either.
- Questions About Wild Garter Snakes
- Snakes in the Yard
- Snakes in the House
- Identifying Snake Species
- Questions About Pet Garter Snakes
- What Garter Snakes Eat
- Garter Snake Won’t Eat
- Raising Baby Garter Snakes
- Keeping More than One Snake in the Same Cage
- Finding an Escaped Snake
Questions About Wild Garter Snakes
Snakes in the Yard
If they’re in your yard or house, it’s because something there is attracting them to it. That something may be a food source, such as mice or slugs, in which case you probably want them around as pest control. Or you may simply, and inadvertently, be offering good snake habitat: apart from a source of food, that could mean a warm spot to bask or a good place to hibernate over the winter. If you have snakes coming to visit, it’s probably a good sign that you have a healthy yard and a healthy neighbourhood, with enough habitat to sustain not only snakes, but their prey as well.
Many people who write me worry that if they find one snake, there will be more of them. As a rule, snakes are solitary, and don’t swarm, flock, herd or run in packs. They tend to go where the food, basking spots, and hibernation sites are; sometimes, when those spots are few and far between, you get a few or more snakes in the same spot. But otherwise it’s pretty random.
There is no such thing as snake repellent: there is nothing, so far as I am aware, that will discourage snakes but encourage everything else. Dennis Ferraro suggests keeping your lawn mowed and your yard free of clutter: garter snakes are eaten by other animals, and they won’t feel safe if they have nowhere to hide from predators.
Please keep in mind that I’m in favour of having snakes around: I’m not going to be very sympathetic to people who can’t stand them or want them killed.
Snakes in the House
Garter snakes sometimes turn up in people’s homes, especially in winter, when they’re looking for somewhere safe to hibernate. As winter comes I get lots of e-mail from worried homeowners. If you have a snake in your basement and you don’t know what to do, read the following articles: Garter Snakes in Winter and Finding Garter Snakes in the House.
Basically, they’re in your basement because they’re trying to stay warm in your winter, but also because they were able to find a way in. Your foundation and walls likely have some cracks that need sealing up.
This article offers some insights.
Identifying Snake Species
Identifying a snake’s species is one of the most frequently asked questions about garter snakes, and I hope to have some pertinent information here eventually, including photos, range maps, and maybe even an identification key. But we’re (still!) a long way from that right now.
One thing you can do in the meantime is narrow the field of potential candidates. Many people think they have found a snake species that’s impossible for their area — for example, they think they’ve found Butler’s Garter Snakes on the West Coast (when they’ve probably found Northwestern Garter Snakes). This is usually because they’ve been looking for a photo that best matches what they’ve seen. Unfortunately, some snakes are extremely variable in appearance, and others are hard to tell apart.
So what you can do is check to see what species are found in your neck of the woods. Go to the Species Guide and select your province, state or country. Note which species are found there. Then start searching the web for photos and use the species names as your search terms. (Keep in mind that this only works if what you have is actually a garter snake; you’ll probably want to consult a good field guide for a broader sense of what’s out there. I have links to such field guides on each province, state and country page.)
If you want me to help identify a snake, I will need to see some digital photos. Send me an email at [email protected] Attach the photos or upload them to a photo sharing site (like Flickr) and send me the link. Be sure to mention where you found the snake: where it’s from makes a big difference in making a positive ID. I usually won’t be able to identify a snake based on a verbal description.
Another option, particularly if you’ve come to this page looking to identify a snake from outside North America, is to ask the experts on the Snake Identification Facebook group.
Questions About Pet Garter Snakes
The Care Guide is designed to answer most questions about keeping garter snakes as pets. Here are a few specific questions I get on a regular basis.
What Garter Snakes Eat
I get a lot of e-mail from people with a newly acquired garter snake asking what they should feed it. Before you contact me, read the Care Guide’s page on Feeding: I’ve tried to make it as comprehensive as possible. It should cover most questions.
If you plan on feeding fish to your garter snake, learn about vitamin B1 deficiencies that can result from a diet based on certain kinds of fish.
If you plan on feeding earthworms to your garter snake, make sure you use the right worms. Read about the difference between red wigglers (bad) and nightcrawlers (good).
Garter Snake Won’t Eat
If you’re new to snake-keeping, please keep in mind that your snake will not need to eat more than a couple of times a week, and even less often if it’s eating mice: see How Much and How Often. Don’t panic if it won’t eat more often than that; it’s not supposed to.
If you just got the snake, give it at least several days to calm down from the trip and get adjusted to its new home before offering it food.
Garter snakes sometimes stop eating. Read the Care Guide’s section on problem feeders and “Some Garter Snake Feeding Problems.” If it’s fall and your garter snake has suddenly stopped eating mice, try hitting the reset button.
Raising Baby Garter Snakes
If you are suddenly facing a litter of newborn garter snakes and you’re not sure what to do, start by reading “The Seven Rules of Raising Baby Garter Snakes”; for more details, see “Raising Baby Garter Snakes: Some Personal Observations.” Of course you should also read the Care Guide.
Keeping More than One Snake in the Same Cage
Please read the Care Guide’s section on housing garter snakes together.
Finding an Escaped Snake
If your pet garter snake has escaped its cage and you’re not sure what to do, please read Melissa Kaplan’s page on finding escaped snakes.