Northwest Garter Snake

Northwest Garter Snake - Squamata Colubridae Thamnophis ordinoides


Identification & Description:
The common garter snake is extremely variable in appearance, both in size and color. Adults range 18 to 54 inches in length. It has three light stripes (located on the midline and each side) on a black, brown or olive background. The lateral (side) stripes are only on the 2nd and 3rd scale rows. The stripes and belly may be yellow, yellow-green, bluish, brown, or white in color.

It is easy to recognize most garter snakes by the three light stripes that run along the body. One runs down the middle of the back, and the others are on each side near the belly. In many species, a pattern like a checkerboard fills the spaces between the stripes. The various kinds of garter snakes differ in size. Grown females are usually 20 to 30 inches (51 to 76 centimeters) long. Males are slightly shorter and much thinner. Two kinds of garter snakes, called ribbon snakes, have an extremely slender body. The red-sided garter snake lives farther north than any other reptile in the Western Hemisphere. It is found as far north as Canada's Northwest Territories.

Three things make garter snakes different from many other snakes. (1) They like to live in the parks of cities and towns. In the spring and warm autumn when snakes are most active, many people in the suburbs find them in backyards and gardens. (2) They bear their young alive instead of laying eggs. The size of a litter varies, but the average is 18. Records show one brood of 80. (3) They catch and eat other cold-blooded animals, such as frogs, salamanders, and fishes. The young of some species of garter snakes eat earthworms.

Truely a species of the Pacific Northwest. Northwestern Garter Snakes are found west of the Cascade Mountains from northwest California to British Columbia. This garter snake is not as found of sources of water as its relatives, but may still may be found near ponds, creeks, and streams. However this snake is also found in grassy fields and forest clearings far from water.

Garter snake is one of a group of harmless snakes familiar throughout the Canada & United States. The 13 native species (kinds) vary greatly in color. Most states have at least one kind of garter snake. These snakes also live in Mexico and Central America.

While the Northwest Garter Snake occurs in a variety of habitats, they prefer moist, grassy areas near water. Earthworms are its primary prey, but they also eat other invertebrates and small amphibians.

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