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Species Description- Eastern Garter Snake
Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis

Eastern Garter Snake
Eastern Garter Snake
Thamnophis s. sirtalis
Chemung County, NY

Identification- 18-26 in (45.7-66 cm) Variable. Base color is black, green, reddish, or brownish. The three longitudinal stripes are normally yellow, but may be green, red, orange or blue. Lateral stripes are on scale rows 2 and 3. There are two rows of dark spots between each stripe. Often the spots are very prominent and the stripe is occasionally lacking. The ventral surface is light yellow or tan, sometimes with two rows of black spots. Melanistic and albino individuals are rare, but not unheard of. Scales keeled, anal plate single.
    Similar Species- Ribbon Snakes have lateral stripe on rows 3 and 4. Shorthead Garter has a more limited range and a head no wider than the neck.

Range- Common throughout our range.  Probably integrades with Maritime Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis pallida) in extreme eastern New York.
Eastern Garter Snake Range Map- NY
Eastern Garter Snake Range Map- PA

Habitat- A somewhat semi-aquatic snake, the Eastern Garter Snake is most common near water, but may be found in a wide variety of habitats. Woodlands, meadows, stream edges, and marshes are common haunts. This snake is one of the most common snakes in suburban areas and does well in gardens, yards, and parks.

Reproduction- Mates soon after emergence in early spring, occasionally in fall. Mating balls, consisting of many males attempting to mate with one female, are occasionally witnessed. Only one male will successfully mate with the female. It has been found that some males have the ability to mimic females by producing female hormones. Other males, confused, will court this male, ignoring the female. The mimic will attempt to mate with the female while the other males are distracted. Eastern Garter Snakes are viviparous. Four to thirty (avg= 23) young are born June to August and measure 5-9" (12.7-22.8 cm). Females have proportionately shorter tails than males.

Eastern Garter Snake
Eastern Garter Snake
Thamnophis s. sirtalis
Tioga County, NY

General Characteristics-
    This is the most common snake throughout its range. Garter Snakes (commonly called "Garden Snakes" or "Gardener Snakes") get their name from a resemblance to the striped garters men once wore to hold up their socks. They have adapted well to human presence and are commonly seen patrolling stone walls and gardens in search of earthworms, their favored food. These snakes are diurnal and often seen during the daylight hours. They do very well in captivity and will feed on fresh or frozen fish, earthworms, or other soft bodied invertebrates. Although some can be quite vicious when first captured, many are actually quite docile and will tolerate gentle handling.  Most individuals will calm down with time.  Frightened Garter Snakes flatten their bodies tight against the ground.  This serves several purposes.  It makes the snake look bigger, makes it physically difficult to pick the snake up, and exposes the brightly colored skin between the scales.  These characteristics make predators think twice about attacking a Garter Snake.  If these tactics do not work, the snake will emit a foul smelling musk onto the handler.