Eastern Garter Snake - Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis

Eastern garter snakes are good swimmers but not particularly good climbers.

“Where I live”

Eastern garter snakes are plentiful across the eastern United States. They are found in a variety of habitats but tend to prefer moist grasslands such as marshes and meadows.  They are often found near water.

You can see Eastern garter snakes on exhibit in the Maryland Wilderness Tree at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.

“How I live there”

The Eastern garter snake grows up to four feet long and has black and yellow stripes.  If you find one in your yard or sheltering under debris or in a nearby rock outcropping, let it be. These snakes will not harm you, and are potentially helpful because they like to eat garden slugs!

Eastern garter snakes are active reptiles that may be out hunting during the day or at night.  Depending on the temperature outside, you might see one basking in the sunshine to keep warm or taking cover under a pile of leaves or in a rock wall in order to keep cool.

Eastern garter snakes brumate, which is very similar to hibernation but involves different metabolic processes and allows the animal to be mostly asleep but still capable of occasional activity, such as waking up to drink water, in large groups during the winter and are the first snakes to become active again in the spring.   Their winter dens are usually in rock outcropping or abandoned mammal burrows.

“Making my mark”

During breeding season, if several male garter snakes come upon a single female, they may form a “breeding ball” around her in an effort to claim her!

Raising Young

Eastern garter snakes mate in the spring, from about late March to early May. Female garter snakes give birth to live young and will have anywhere from 6 to 50 babies per birth.  The young are about 5 to 9 inches long at birth.  Few will survive their precarious first weeks of life, as they have many predators.

“What eats me”

Many animals prey upon eastern garter snakes, particularly young ones.  Predators include raccoons, skunks, hawks, opossum, bullfrogs, and larger snakes.  The garter snake will try to defend itself either by fleeing or by releasing a foul-smelling musk and biting.

Many eastern garter snakes also are killed by passing cars when trying to approach carrion on a road.

Conservation

The Eastern garter snake is stable throughout its range and is one of the most common snakes in Maryland.  Nonetheless, it and all native snakes in Maryland are protected by the Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act.  This means that native snakes cannot be killed, possessed, bred, or sold without first acquiring the proper permit from the Department of Natural Resources.  Additionally, according to the Maryland DNR website, Maryland requires a Captive Reptile and Amphibian Permit for the possession, breeding, and sale of native reptiles and amphibians in the state.

Quick Facts:

Range:
eastern United States

Status:
stable

Habitat:
meadows, marshes, woodlands, hillsides, gardens, farmland

Diet- Carnivore:
worms, slugs, frogs, toads, salamanders, fish, tadpoles

Active:
diurnal, although sometimes active at night too

Lifespan:
up to 10 years

Offspring:
6 to 50 young per birth

Length:
avg. 18-26 in (45.7-66 cm)

Weight:
aobut 1 lb.

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