Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Garter Snake

[What? Another post? That's four in two days? What's up you ask? I'm trying to update my resume and start looking for a job in my new state of Massachusetts and this blog is a great procrastination tool.]

I wandered out in the garden mid afternoon today and spotted movement. A snake! I've seen garter snakes in my yard before and I rushed inside to get my camera. This one, unlike all previous ones, was still around when I came back. It's a garter snake.

Garter snakes are probably one of the most commonly encountered snakes in the US and Canada. They are very versatile in their habitat choices and prey choices. They can use sight, taste/smell and vibrations to find prey. I welcome the garter snakes in my yard because I know they will eat mice, insects and slugs. They will also eat earthworms but I have a plethora of those in my garden so I guess I can spare a few.

I followed this cute guy around the base of my only front yard tree, trying to get better pictures (I didn't have the right lens on the camera and didn't think I had time to grab it so I had to get close) and nearly stepped on what he was chasing.

That's right he was following the scent trail laid down by a second, larger garter snake. Garter snakes will mate in both Spring and Fall. Females impregnated in the fall will give birth to live young the following year. Young are born all summer and into early fall but with a four month pregnancy she'll wait till next year to bear his offspring. I have spotted a young garter snake in the yard but it didn't hold still for pictures.

Garter snakes will hibernate during the winter in communal dens, called hibernaculum, of up to thousands of individuals. They are very cold tolerant (for snakes) and are one of the last snakes to enter hibernation in the fall and one of the first out in the spring. They will even come out of their hibernaculum to bask during warm winter days.

Garter snakes are still common but in many parts of the country they are in decline due to habitat loss and artificially high concentrations of predators (ie domestic cats that go outdoors). Yards with brush piles and dense, low growing shrubs provide necessary cover for these snakes. Garter snakes are not likely to bite and will first run away and then, if you insist on picking them up, they will excrete an unpleasant odor, biting only as a last resort. Since many of their prey species are considered garden pests this is one snake you might want to welcome into your garden.

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