Garter Snake | Facts, Diet, Habitat & Pictures

Garter Snake | Facts, Diet, Habitat & Pictures

Garter Snake Overview


The garter snake is a slender and relatively small snake with a distinct appearance. Its body is typically covered in smooth, keeled scales, and its coloration varies widely, often featuring a combination of green, brown, or gray hues with longitudinal stripes running down its back. Garter snakes have a distinct head shape and round eyes with round pupils.

Their bodies can grow to lengths ranging from a foot to several feet, depending on the species. These snakes are known for their gentle demeanor and unassuming appearance.

Origins And Evolution

Garter snakes have ancient origins dating back to the Paleocene epoch, approximately 60 million years ago. Fossil evidence suggests their presence in North America during the time of the dinosaurs. Over millennia, they evolved into a diverse group of species, each adapted to specific habitats and regions.

Garter snakes belong to the family Colubridae and have developed unique traits, including resistance to certain toxins, which allows them to consume a variety of prey. Their evolution showcases their ability to thrive in various ecosystems, from wetlands to forests, adapting to changes in their environment over millions of years.

Behavior and Lifestyle

They are often found near water sources, as they are skilled swimmers and may hunt amphibians and fish. These snakes are known for their docile nature and are non-venomous, relying on constriction to subdue their prey, which mainly consists of small animals like insects, earthworms, and small vertebrates.

Garter snakes are social creatures and may hibernate in communal dens during the winter months. They are also known for their defense mechanism of emitting a foul-smelling secretion when threatened.

Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Squamata
  • Suborder: Serpentes
  • Family: Colubridae


  • North America
  • Central America
  • South America
  • Some islands in the Caribbean
  • Introduced populations in regions outside their native range

Fast Facts

  • Name: Garter Snake
  • Scientific Name: Thamnophis (genus)
  • Habitat: Varied (wetlands, grasslands, forests, gardens)
  • Diet: Carnivorous (insects, earthworms, amphibians, fish)
  • Physical Features:
  • Slender body
  • Smooth scales
  • Distinctive longitudinal stripes
  • Rounded head with round pupils
  • Nocturnal: Diurnal (active during the day)
  • Solitary: Sometimes social, may hibernate in groups
  • Unique Order: Squamata order
  • Lifespan: Typically 2-4 years in the wild, up to 10 years in captivity
  • Conservation Status: Generally not threatened, but specific populations may face localized threats
  • Fun Facts: Emit foul-smelling secretion when threatened

Physical Characteristics

  • Color: Variable, typically green, brown, or gray with longitudinal stripes
  • Skin Type: Smooth scales
  • Top Speed: Up to 10 mph (16 km/h)
  • Lifespan: Typically 2-4 years in the wild, up to 10 years in captivity
  • Weight: Varies by species and size, typically 2-4 ounces (57-113 grams)
  • Length: Varies by species and region, typically 18 inches to 3 feet (46 cm to 91 cm)
  • Age of Sexual Maturity: 1-3 years, depending on species and environmental factors
  • Age of Weaning: Not applicable (garter snakes do not nurse their young)

Garter Snake FAQs

Are garter snakes venomous?

No, garter snakes are not venomous. They are harmless to humans and use constriction to subdue their prey.

What do garter snakes eat?

Garter snakes primarily eat a diet of insects, earthworms, amphibians, and small fish.

Can garter snakes be kept as pets?

Yes, garter snakes are often kept as pets, but they require proper care and a suitable habitat.

Are garter snakes good for pest control?

Yes, garter snakes play a valuable role in controlling pest populations, especially in gardens and agricultural areas.

Do garter snakes hibernate?

Yes, garter snakes often hibernate during the winter months in communal dens.

Are garter snakes aggressive?

Garter snakes are generally docile and not aggressive toward humans. They may release a foul-smelling secretion when handled.

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