Whether you squeal in delight or scream in terror, the common garter snake is the gardener’s friend.
Close to 90 percent of the snakes in North American gardens are in the Family - Colubridae or Common Snakes, Species - Thamnophis Sirtalis or Common Garter Snake. Often mistakenly called gardener snakes, their name comes from the resemblance of their stripes to old-fashioned sock garters.
Common garter snakes are common in both suburban and urban areas with plenty of cover such as debris, boards, vegetation, rocks, or logs. They also love moist, grassy environments and are often found near water, such as around the edges of ponds, lakes, ditches, and streams.
Highly variable in color, garter snakes typically sport three light stripes running along the length of their black, brown, gray, or olive body. The stripes can be white, yellow, blue, greenish, or brown. One stripe runs down the center of the snake’s back; the other two stripes run alongside this central stripe. Garter snakes
The common garter snake breeds in the spring. The females are ovoviviparous meaning they bear live young usually in litters of 10 to 40 babies. Upon birth, baby garter snakes are independent and must find food on their own. Garter snakes can live two years or longer. Active mainly during the day, garter snakes hibernate from late October through March or early April.
The diet of the common garter snake includes earthworms, leeches, slugs, snails, insects, crayfish, small fish and other snakes, all of which they swallow whole. Large fish, bullfrogs, snapping turtles, American crows, hawks, raccoons, foxes, and squirrels are some of the animals that prey on common garter snakes.
Do they help in your garden? Although insects are a favorite in their diet, the population of common garter snakes is generally not dense enough to consider them a biological control for insect problems.
Garter snakes may be more notable for what they don’t do. No plants are harmed by snakes; they neither eat them nor damage plants while moving through the landscape. They don’t contribute one bit to noise pollution and leave very little in the way of droppings. They avoid the gardener at all costs and will never bite unless stepped on, picked up, forced into a corner, or threatened with injury. Even then they would rather escape than fight.
Garter snakes are our friends. I have learned to make just enough noise to let them know I am around, and my garden friends seem to have gotten the point.