The common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) is one of the most frequently encountered snakes in North America. Garter snakes are found throughout the United States with the exception of the arid Southwest. Garter snake color varies greatly by region, but they typically have a bicolored appearance with a black base and several bright green or yellow lines running the length of their body.
The garter snake is a small species with an average adult length between 18 and 36 inches. However, some specimens over 4 feet long have been found in the warm, southern portions of their range. A garter snake's base color varies between black, brown or olive coloration. All garter snakes have three parallel stripes that vary in color from bright green to pale yellow and run the length of their body, from head to tail. Often, the snakes have a light checkered pattern in between the lines. Garter snakes have a conspicuous red tongue and keeled scales that feel rough and rigid.
A garter snake is a resilient reptile that lives in wide variety of habitats throughout its range. The snakes are found near aquatic environments such as lakes, streams, drainage ditches and retention ponds. Garter snakes are one of the most commonly encountered snakes in urban environments, since the snakes prefer to live in damp grassy environments and readily feed on insects and animals that populate home gardens.
The garter snake is an opportunistic predators that feeds on any animal it can overpower and fit in its mouth. Garter snakes swallow their prey whole, often when it is still alive. Small animals such as earthworms, slugs, snails, insects and spiders are frequent prey -- the snakes can eat up to 14 earthworms each hour when feeding. Their saliva is toxic to amphibians, and garter snakes will readily feed on any small frogs, toads or salamanders it can catch. In aquatic environments, garter snakes will hunt down tadpoles, fish and crayfish. Garter snakes are cannibalistic and will also feed on other snakes
Garter snakes are eaten by many different animals including turtles, birds, fish, squirrels, raccoons and cats. Garter snakes rely on their black and green coloration to hide from predators in the wild. When threatened, garter snake release a foul-smelling secretion, similar to a skunk, and then rush away towards cover. The parallel lines and slithering motion creates an optical illusion that makes it difficult for predators to catch garter snakes in the open.
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