Herping the Siouxland
Garter Snakes: Basically 3 different varieties: The Common
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)
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