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Biological Survey

Herping the Siouxland

Garter Snakes: Basically 3 different varieties: The Common Garter, the Red-Sided Garter and the Plains Garter Snake.  These small to medium sized striped snakes are still fairly common, even near Human habitation. (Although their numbers seem to be declining every year) They average about 2 to 2 and 1/2 feet in length.        

(3' long individuals are now extremely rare)   

Often times in the  early Spring "mating balls" are sometimes encountered. (Much to the horror of your typical suburbanite) These usually consist of several smaller males courting with a single larger female. Garter Snakes eat Frogs, Toads, and  Worms. They do not lay eggs but instead give "live birth" in late Summer. The babies emerge from the vent in what looks like tiny plastic baggies. (Individually wrapped) The babies soon break out of these clear membranes and shortly after they leave the mother to fend for themselves. Large females may have dozens of babies at a time. (I once captured a huge female Plains Garter Snake that had 76 babies!!!) The photo above is a Red-Sided Garter. (Thamnophis sirtalis) These are usually found near water. They are also the most aggressive and won't hesitate to give you a series of quick, short bites! Their little teeth are sharp and will easily break the skin. (And because of an anti-coagulant in their saliva it will bleed pretty good for a little bit. A bit un-nerving even to a seasoned naturalist who's been bitten many times!)    Here is a Plains Garter (Thamnophis radix) These are usually found farther away from water...out in the prairie grasslands, farm fields and pastures.  They also eat Frogs and Worms but will also take very small Mice when they can catch them. These are much less likely to bite when captured or molested, however, they Do have a defensive technique that is Not very pleasant at all: They will Crap all over you!!! It's a particularly musky odor, too and will stay with you the whole rest of the day no matter how much soap you apply.             

The Common Garter has the same yellow stripes as the other 2 but has more "greenish" blotches between the stripes. This is actually the skin color between the scales.


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