Common Garter Snake

Common Garter Snake
Common Garter Snake
Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Colubridae
Subfamily: Natricinae
Genus: Thamnophis
Species: T. sirtalis
Binomial name
Thamnophis sirtalis
(Linnaeus, 1758)

13 sspp., see text

  • Coluber sirtalis Linnaeus, 1758
  • Tropidonotus sirtalis Holbrook, 1842
  • Tropidonotus ordinatus Holbrook, 1842
  • Eutainia sirtalis Baird and Girard
  • Eutænia sirtalis Cope, 1875
  • Thamnophis sirtalis Garman, 1892

The Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) is a snake indigenous to North America. Most garter snakes have a pattern of yellow stripes on a brown or green background and their average length is about 50 cm (20 in), maximum about 125 cm (49 in).[1]



Current scientific classification recognizes thirteen subspecies (ordered by date):

  • T. s. sirtalis (Linnaeus, 1758) – Eastern Garter Snake
  • T. s. parietalis Say, 1823 – Red-sided Garter Snake (has also been introduced to northern Halland in Sweden)
  • T. s. infernalis Blainville, 1835 – California Red-sided Garter Snake
  • T. s. concinnus Hallowell, 1852 – Red-spotted Garter Snake
  • T. s. dorsalis Baird & Girard, 1853 – New Mexico Garter Snake
  • T. s. pickeringii Baird and Girard, 1853 – Puget Sound Garter Snake
  • T. s. tetrataenia Cope, 1875San Francisco Garter Snake (endangered)
  • T. s. semifasciatus Cope, 1892Chicago Garter Snake
  • T. s. pallidulus Allen, 1899 – Maritime Garter Snake
  • T. s. annectens Brown, 1950Texas Garter Snake
  • T. s. fitchi Fox, 1951 – Valley Garter Snake
  • T. s. similis Rossman, 1965 – Blue-striped Garter Snake
  • T. s. lowei Tanner, 1988[2]


Life history

The Common Garter Snake is a diurnal snake. In summer, it is most active in the morning and late afternoon; in cooler seasons or climates, it restricts its activity to the warm afternoons.

In warmer southern areas, the snake is active year-round; otherwise, it sleeps in common dens, sometimes in great numbers. On warm winter afternoons, some snakes have been observed emerging from their hibernacula to bask in the sun.


The saliva of a garter snake may be toxic to amphibians and other small animals. For humans, a bite is not dangerous, though it may cause slight itching, burning, and/or swelling. Most garter snakes also secrete a foul-smelling fluid from postanal glands when handled or harmed.


In the early part of spring, when snakes are coming out of hibernation the males generally emerge first to be ready when the females wake up. Some males will assume the role of a female and lead other males away from the burrow, luring them with a fake female pheromone. After such a male has led rivals away, he "turns" back into a male and races back to the den, just as the females emerge. He is then the first to mate with all the females he can catch. There are generally far more males than females and that is why, during mating season, they form "mating balls," where one or two females will be completely swamped by ten or more males. Sometimes a male snake will mate with a female before hibernation and the female will store the sperm internally until spring, when she will allow her eggs to be fertilized. If she mates again in the spring, the fall sperm will degenerate, and the spring sperm will fertilize her eggs. The females may give birth ovoviviparously to 12 to 40 young from July through October.


The habitat of the garter snake ranges from forests, fields, and prairies to streams, wetlands, meadows, marshes, and ponds, and it is often found near water. It is a semi-aquatic animal like most snakes. It is found at altitudes from sea level to mountain locations. Their diet consists mainly of amphibians and earthworms, but also fish, small birds, toads, and rodents. Garter snakes are effective at catching fish and small to medium tadpoles. Animals that eat the Common Garter Snake include large fish (such as bass and catfish), bullfrogs, snapping turtles, milk snakes, hawks, skunks, foxes, and domestic cats.


Water contamination, urban expansion, and residential and industrial development are all threats to the garter snake. The San Francisco Garter Snake (T. s. tetrataenia), which is extremely scarce and occurs only in the vicinity of ponds and reservoirs in San Mateo County, California, has been listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 1967.

See also


  1. ^ Conant, Roger. 1975. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin. Boston.
  2. ^ Thamnophis sirtalis , Reptile Database

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • common garter snake — noun a garter snake that is widespread in North America • Syn: ↑Thamnophis sirtalis • Hypernyms: ↑garter snake, ↑grass snake …   Useful english dictionary

  • Garter snake — Taxobox name = garter snake image size = 240px image caption = Coast garter snake Thamnophis elegans terrestris regnum = Animalia phylum = Chordata classis = Reptilia ordo = Squamata subordo = Serpentes familia = Colubridae genus = Thamnophis… …   Wikipedia

  • garter snake — any of numerous harmless snakes of the genus Thamnophis, common in North and Central America, ranging in size from 14 to 30 in. (36 to 76 cm) and typically having three longitudinal stripes on the back. [1760 70, Amer.] * * * Any of more than a… …   Universalium

  • garter snake — noun any of numerous nonvenomous longitudinally striped viviparous North American and Central American snakes (Freq. 2) • Syn: ↑grass snake • Hypernyms: ↑colubrid snake, ↑colubrid • Hyponyms: ↑common garter snake, ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • Garter snake — Snake Snake, n. [AS. snaca; akin to LG. snake, schnake, Icel. sn[=a]kr, sn?kr, Dan. snog, Sw. snok; of uncertain origin.] (Zo[ o]l.) Any species of the order Ophidia; an ophidian; a serpent, whether harmless or venomous. See {Ophidia}, and… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • garter snake — ☆ garter snake n. any of various small, harmless, striped colubrid snakes (genus Thamnophis) common in North America …   English World dictionary

  • garter snake — n. harmless and common snake with yellow or red stripes running lengthwise and found in North and Central America; poisonous burrowing African snake which is usually dark with lighter strips …   English contemporary dictionary

  • garter snake — noun 1》 a common harmless North American snake with well defined longitudinal stripes. [Thamnophis sirtalis and related species.] 2》 a venomous burrowing African snake, typically dark with lighter bands. [Genus Elapsoidea.] …   English new terms dictionary

  • garter snake — gar′ter snake n. ram any harmless snake of the genus Thamnophis, common in North and Central America, usu. with three longitudinal stripes on the back • Etymology: 1760–70, amer …   From formal English to slang

  • Chicago Garter Snake — Scientific classification Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Reptilia …   Wikipedia

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