A beautifully marked, small to medium-sized snake that measures 18 to 26 inches (45.7 to 66 cm) in length. Scales are keeled. Coloration is variable, but most individuals are grayish black with darker checkerboard patterns on the back. Three light stripes, one at midline and the other two along each side, extend from the head to the tail. These stripes are usually cream, yellow or orange in color. The two lateral stripes are on the second and third scale rows. Some populations produce animals that are nearly completely yellow, or solid black. Albinism is known to occur in this species as well. At right, a typically patterned individual from Pennsylvania.
Live-bearer. Gives birth to 10 to 40 small young in a single litter in midsummer. The young have color patterns similar to the adult.
Found in many different habitats, often near some source of water. Frequents marshes and drainage ditches as well as woodland ponds. Often found in or near yards, where it likely feeds on slugs and earthworms.
Eats nearly anything. Primary prey items in the wild include soft-bodied invertebrates, amphibians and fish. However, they will also eat young mammals and occasionally smaller snakes.
The species is found in nearly every state in the United States. The Eastern Garter Snake has the largest distribution of any of the subspecies. It occurs in every state (except Maine) east of the Mississippi River, and in all the states on the western bank of the Mississippi. Additionally, it is found in southeastern Texas, and into Canada (Ontario and Quebec). It can be found throughout Connecticut.
Not federally protected.
One of the most common snakes in Connecticut, its name refers to a woman’s garter belt, which the snake’s pattern may resemble. It is not a “garden” snake, nor is it a “gardener” snake.
Conant, R. and J.T. Collins. 1991. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern/Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 450 pp.
Klemens, M.W. 1993. Amphibians and Reptiles of Connecticut and Adjacent Regions. Hartford, CT: State Geological and Natural History Survey of Connecticut Bulletin 112. 318 pp.
Text by Gregory J. Watkins-Colwell.
Photograph © Twan Leenders. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Animals featured on this page are from Connecticut and Pennsylvania.