Saturday, August 22, 2015

Coastal BC Reptiles: Common Garter Snake

Common Garter Snake

Coastal BC doesn’t have many kinds of snakes, and none are venomous, thank goodness. But what we lack in variety, is made up in quantity, especially when it comes to garter snakes. There are at least three species in our area, the Wandering Garter Snake, the Northwestern Garter Snake, and the Common Garter Snake.

Around the cabin we see mostly Common Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis). They can be identified by the yellow dorsal stripe going down the back, a dark band between the yellow back and side stripes.

Garter Snakes are mild mannered snakes that live in both dry and moist habitats. They are good simmers, often entering lakes and rivers to feed or escape predators. On warm days, they like to bask in the sun.

Benefits of having garter snakes around include their eating habits. They prey on mice, insects, amphibians (including young invasive bullfrogs), and small fish. They are also fun to watch.

In the winter, garter snakes group together winter underground in hibernacula. In spring, the males exit first. They wait around at the entrance until the females emerge to what amounts to a mating frenzy. Unlike some snakes, young are born live in mid-summer.

We call our garter snakes Buster.
We see them either sunning on the lower cabin decks, or swimming in the water nearby.

The undulating motion is mesmerizing to watch. One memorable day we saw a battle to the death between Buster and an unsuspecting frog on our natural swimming pool’s rocky beach. The poor frog disappeared to be digested slowly starting with a hind leg, then progressing slowly up to the body with the head disappearing last. What a terrible experience for the poor frog! But that’s nature.

Do you have garter snakes where you live? Do you have any observations to share? -- Margy


  1. Love your photos! There must be garter snakes here in Montreal, but I never see them. :) I remember seeing a documentary on snakes once, and it told how to tell a venomous snake from a non-venomous one. They said that if the eyes are round, it is non-venomous, but if they are slanted, it is venomous.

  2. They seem to be more plentiful this year, I have seen several on walks with Buddy.

  3. I love our garter snakes! We have a huge hibernacula. Dorah loves her snakes. She brings them home all the time! I set them out.

  4. Since we live close to your area we too have no poison snakes - thank goodness. In our yard we see very few snakes - but when we do it is fun to watch and see what they will do Since we don't seem to have mice around, perhaps there are more snakes that we don't see. Great photos.

  5. might not be venomous but I really do not like snakes! X

  6. Lovely shots! I scream when I see a snake. I have never liked them.

  7. We do have garter snakes here in northern Alberta, but I don't see them very often. I have seen the odd one over the years.

  8. Yikes, Just when I thought I would like visit your region of Canada you tell me you have snakes... I am terrified of them, I'd never sleep in a water cabin knowing that there were snakes slithering around... shudder... shudder.
    After reading the other comments I'm pleased to learn I'm not the only wimp.
    The most common snake in the UK is the grass snake or the adder and thy hang our more inn damp grassy places and moorland,.

    Best wishes,
    ABCW team.