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  • Austin Educational Article of the Month - The Garter Snake

The Garter Snake

The Garter Snake

Garter snakes can come in a wide variety of colors but most garter snakes come in some shade of yellow or green. Most garter snakes have three stripes running across the entire length of its body - one at the center of its back and two at the sides of its body. There are some Austin garter snakes have splotchy/blotchy patterns between those stripes, giving it the illusion of it being checkered. There also some garter snakes that don't have any patterns or stripes at all. Garter snakes are often known as being very small Texas snakes. They can somewhere between 23 to 30 inches long but there have been reports of Austin garter snakes that are as long as five feet!

Garter snakes or otherwise known as Texas garden snakes or gardener snakes, are classified under the species of snake called Thamnophis. However, they are often mistaken for Austin water snakes and in fact, some subspecies of garter snakes have been moved back and forth between the two species. Garter snakes unlike some water snakes are not venomous or dangerous! In fact, garter snakes despite being found across many states in the US and are even prolific in populated Texas ares, are completely harmless! They have tiny teeth that, if threatened, they can use to bite with however, they rarely cause any injury above a small scratch or bite.

Life Cycle
The average lifespan of common Texas garter snake in the wild is about two years. Most garter snakes sadly die in just the first year of life. In captivity, their life expectancy is made much longer - six to ten years. There are some cases where they live up to twenty years but this is very rare. Most garter snakes will reach sexual and physical maturity in about 1.5 (male) to 2 (female) years. When this occurs, they will start mating as soon as their hibernation period is over which is in spring. Male garter snake will most likely mate with more than one female while the female after mating will return to her Austin summer habitat. Female garter snakes are "ovoviviparous" which means they give birth to live young. Their gestation period is somewhere between two and three months and will give birth to as few as four young but as many as eighty!

Garter snakes are found in what is called the Nearctic region and can be found in:
• Across the United States (except for the more arid, southwestern states)
• Quebec
• British Columbia
• New Mexico

Garter snakes are rather hardy snakes. They can live in the most extreme environments and therefore have one of the most varied habitats among snakes.
They might be found in:
• Meadows
• Marshes
• Woodlands
• Hillsides
• Edges of water (ponds, lakes, streams)
• Ditches
• Urban or suburban areas with sufficient cover (debris, vegetation, rocks, etc.)

Commonly they will eat:
• Earthworms
• Amphibians
• Leeches
• Slugs
• Snails
• Insects
• Crayfish or small fish
• Other smaller snakes
• Small mammals
• Lizards
• Baby birds
To some animals, the saliva of a common garter snake can be toxic which allows them to eat their victim much easier. Like most other snakes, garter snakes will swallow their prey whole.

Garter snakes are often seen in the day time and can survive in a wide range of varying temperatures unlike other Texas snakes. They are mainly solitary creatures but during the hibernation months will congregate with other Austin garter snakes to ensure that they can maintain their body temperature during those colder months.

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