Just Slithering Past

The Garter Snake has a distribution that is the largest of any reptile in North America. They range from Canada to Central America. There are so many sub-species and color variations within species that it would be difficult to describe, except that they all have 3 racing stripes that run from the neck to the tail. The body runs the gamut of colors from almost black through tan and olive through bright green. Some have spots between the stripes and others look like checkerboards. The racing stripes are usually a shade of yellow, but others have orange or red stripes. They are a wonderful addition to any yard or garden. Originally thought to be non-venomous, it turns out that Garter Snakes do in fact possess this chemical weapon. The venom is very weak and not toxic unless you are toad or lizard. The reason they were thought to be non-venomous is that they don’t have fangs and the reaction of humans or their companion animals to a bite is mild redness and maybe an itching sensation. The venom is delivered by two “teeth” located in the very back of the mouth. Garter Snakes don’t strike prey; they have to “chew” on it to deliver the venom. Again this is not an issue if you aren’t a toad or lizard. Garter Snakes communicate with each other via pheromones. They lay down a scent trail wherever they go – which is helpful if you are a male snake looking for a mate. But some males have an interesting adaptation – they possess both male and female pheromones. This causes other males to waste energy chasing a “she-male” instead of successfully mating with a female. What a dirty trick!