Learn powerful up to date methods from the experts that will stop Garter Snakes in their tracks and get rid of them for good.
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Garter snake is a common term used for about 35 different species of snakes found in the United States. Varying species of garter snakes are found from Canada to the Florida Keys and everywhere in between. Generally speaking, garter snakes in North America, sometimes called grass snakes, pose very little threat to humans.
North American garter snakes are snakes in the genus Thamnophis. Thamnos is Greek for bush and ophis is Greek for snake, suggesting that garter snakes are often found in bushes. Taxonomists often disagree as to which snakes belong in this genus, but the genus Thamnophis encompasses snakes with a wide variety of colors and patterns. To add further confusion, garter snake is also the common term used for venomous snakes in Africa of the genus Elapsoidea. Snakes of Elapsoidea are unrelated and quite different from our North American garter snake. The African “garter snake” is characterized by permanently erect fangs and powerful venom.
There are a few hypotheses as to the origin of the term garter snake. Since most species of garter snakes exhibit bold longitudinal lines down the length of their bodies, it reminds one of a garter that was used to hold up men’s socks. The other theory is that the term garter is a corrupted or diluted form of the German word for garden, which is garten. Whichever theory is true, they both accurately describe the garter snakes in North America as they are often found in and amongst our gardens, and most species have long lines running down their backs.
It is important to know the snakes in your area. Distinguishing a venomous snake from a benign rodent eating snake may save your life. Because garter snake is a generic term encompassing about 35 different species, a garter snake in Alabama will look different than a garter snake in California. Garter snakes are extremely common and well adapted for their geographic regions, but if you recently moved to Florida from New York, you’ll be facing down a variety of unfamiliar snakes.
Generally speaking, garter snakes of the genus Thamnophis have large round eyes, slender not bulky bodies, keeled scales (appear raised), and a pattern which includes longitudinal stripes. They range dramatically in length depending upon the species, from 18” in length to 51” in length. Many garter snakes have a colored strip down the center of its back and a strip down the length of each side. Some garter snakes incorporate spots into this color pattern, while other garter snakes appear to have no spots or stripes at all. Garter snake color patterns appear in shades of blue, red, yellow, tan, and black. The extensive variety of garter snakes highlights the importance of learning to recognize the snakes of your region.
Garter Snakes in Georgia
Georgia is home to 2 species of garter snakes, the Eastern garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis, and the Eastern ribbon snake, Thamnophis saurita.
The Eastern garter snake found in Georgia is a subspecies of the common garter snake. The Eastern garter snake is typically between 18-26” in length although the largest Eastern garter snake found measured in at nearly 49 inches. Eastern garter snakes have the characteristic 3 stripes running down their backs although the colors may vary. They are usually either a brown, olive green, or black color with yellow or white stripes. Sometimes the stripes are less distinct, but most often you can quickly identify this garter snake in Georgia by the yellow or white stripe down its back. Often the Eastern garter snake exhibits a checkered pattern with very light stripes and a grayish or reddish body color. However, Eastern garter snakes found in South Georgia and Florida often present as a bluish background color. The diversity found within this snake species makes identification challenging when you spot a garter snake in the field.
Eastern garter snakes are plentiful in woodlands, grasslands, and marshes across Georgia. They are well adapted to living close to humans. They are probably the most commonly spotted snake species in Georgia. Eastern garter snakes can be found in suburban yards, farmland, city parks and gardens. Because their diet consists of frogs, toads, worms, salamanders and other aquatic animals, they are often found near bodies of water. They are considered harmless, but they will release a foul smelling odor and strike out if they feel threatened.
The Eastern ribbon snake, Thamnophis saurita, is another species of garter snake found in Georgia. The Eastern ribbon snake is characterized by its slender body. When observed in the wild, it strikes you as a particularly thin snake with a seemingly long tail. The tail on the Eastern ribbon snake may be about 1/3 the length of its body. The name ribbon snake is derived from its svelte lithe appearance. These wispy looking snakes range from 16-28” in length. Their background color is dark, usually brown or black, and they usually have a yellow stripe down the center of their back. There are also distinctive yellow stripes on each side of the Eastern ribbon snake’s body. Their underside is a pale yellowish color. If you look closely, you’ll see a thin brown line between the yellow lateral stripe and the pale underbelly. This slender snake has no pattern around its mouth opening, but does have a yellow or white vertical bar in front of its eyes.
Eastern ribbon snakes will most likely be found near bodies of water. They are considered semi aquatic snakes and are often found at the edges of lakes, bogs, and salt marshes. Eastern ribbon snakes are common throughout much of the eastern United States, but in Georgia, they are most commonly found in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions. Eastern ribbon snakes eat small fish and amphibians and are often seen swimming near the shorelines. If your home provides the watery atmosphere required to support an Eastern ribbon snake, they can be found in suburban yards. The Eastern ribbon snake is nonvenomous and is not known to bite even when it feels threatened.
Garter Snakes in Florida
In addition to hosting the Eastern garter snake and the Eastern ribbon snake described above, Florida’s diverse ecosystems protect a few other types of garter snakes. With abundant water sources and warm sunny climate, garter snakes thrive in a variety of Florida habitats. The additional Thamnophis genus snakes found in Florida are the blue-striped garter snake, the southern ribbon snake, and the blue striped ribbon snake. These specific snakes are considered subspecies of the already discussed Eastern garter snake and Eastern ribbon snake.
The blue-striped garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis similis is a subspecies of the common garter snake. It can be found throughout most of Florida, but particularly in the Big Bend area along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Rather than distinctive yellow or white stripes running down the length of its body, the blue-striped garter snake has blue stripes.
The southern ribbon snake, Thamnophis saurita sackenii, is sometimes called the Florida ribbon snake or the Peninsula ribbon snake. The Florida or Peninsula ribbon snake is a subspecies of the Eastern ribbon snake and as expected is similarly slender and wispy with a long tail. The Florida ribbon snake is significant because it is the only striped snake in the Florida Keys. However, its population is declining due to loss of habitat and damage from storm surge. The Florida (Peninsula) ribbon snake lives in marsh grass, and freshwater ditches in the Lower Keys, including Big Pine Key, Cudjoe Key, Little Torch Key, Middle Torch Key, and Sugarloaf Key. Like other snakes of the genus Thamnophis the Florida ribbon snake colors and markings can vary between individual snakes. However, it is usually lighter brown than other ribbon snakes. Generally, the Peninsula ribbon snake is brown, with black and/or tan stripes running down the length of its body. Its underbelly is usually a pale creamish yellow color. The Florida ribbon snake is unique in that it does not hibernate. Due to the exceptionally warm climate, it is active year round.
The blue-striped ribbon snake, Thamnophis sauritus nitae, is yet another snake from the garter snake genus that is found in Florida. The blue-striped ribbon snake has many of the same characteristics of the Eastern ribbon snake described above, but the stripes running down its back are blue rather than yellow or white. This particular snake is most often found along Florida’s Gulf Coast in the northwest part of the state. Like other ribbon snakes, the blue-striped variety are usually found near bodies of water.
Behavior and Habitat of Garter Snakes
Garter snakes is the general term used for over 35 species of snakes and many other subspecies of snakes. They are easily one of the most common snakes encountered by humans, and are often kept as pets. Their appearance is greatly varied even within the exact species, but many of their behaviors are similar. Regardless of the species, garter snakes are generally considered harmless.
Some species of garter snake can be found in all of the lower 48 states and much of Canada. Garter snakes have adapted to their respective environments quite easily and thrive in meadows, woodlands, grasslands, tropical and subtropical climates, and suburban yards. They almost always prefer to be near water as amphibians are a large part of their diet.
Garter snakes are carnivores. Although they prefer amphibians that congregate in or near sources of water, garter snakes are pretty adaptable. They will consume any animal they can overpower. Garter snakes are usually small to medium sized snakes and therefore unlikely to consume large animals. They survive mostly on a diet of insects, earthworms, frogs, salamanders, lizards, minnows, and small rodents such as mice. Like other snakes they consume their meal whole. Because of their relatively small size, garter snakes have many natural predators. Hawks will swoop from the sky and grab them, water birds such as egrets, herons, and cranes will peck them out of the water, and if captured, racoons will eat a garter snake as well. Larger fish such as a largemouth bass and gar can easily consume a garter snake. As both predator and prey, garter snakes play an important role in the food web.
A unique attribute of many species of garter snakes is the fact that they give birth to live young. They are considered ovoviviparous. This means that after mating, their fertilized eggs remain inside the female garter snake’s body. The eggs hatch inside her body and she gives birth to live young. Garter snakes usually give birth to between 20 – 40 baby snakes at a time. Baby garter snakes are on their own from the time of their birth; they receive no care from their mother.
Do Garter Snakes Bite?
Most species of garter snakes are not aggressive in the least. They are most often seen slithering through your lawn or garden minding their own business, or sunning themselves to keep warm. Most garter snake “incidents” happen because people try to pick them up and handle them. If given the opportunity, garter snakes will usually flee from humans. If provoked or threatened, garter snakes can release a foul-smelling musk before biting their handler. This stinky musk serves as a final warning before a bite. Like a skunk spray, this odiferous warning is not dangerous, it just leaves your hands, shirt, your hair, and skin with an offensive aroma.
If the smell released by a garter snake did not cause you to leave it alone, it will bite. Although garter snakes are considered harmless to humans, some species do have venom. It was long believed that garter snakes do not possess venom, it is now understood that they do have a mild venom, it just does not cause a significant reaction in most humans. The toxins in the garter snake’s venom cause deadly reactions in its prey, but thankfully most humans do not react similarly. Human reaction to a garter snake bite is usually mild to moderate pain, redness, and minimal swelling at the site of the strike. However, the garter snake bite will often leave a small puncture wound, which opens the door to infection. If you are bitten by a garter snake, be sure to clean the wound with soap and water and apply an antibiotic ointment to the area. Furthermore, if you are bit by a garter snake, think about your last tetanus booster. If it has been more than 10 years since a tetanus shot, consider taking this opportunity to proactively protect yourself with a booster.
Garter Snake Repellent
Although garter snakes are generally considered harmless to humans, many people live in fear of any snake surprising them in the grass or hanging over them from the trees. Or perhaps you own a business with a large outdoor component and cannot permit garter snakes to scare your customers. There are many products marketed to repel snakes from a given area. Products containing the chemical naphthalene (same as mothballs) are a popular, although stinky, snake repellent. Other products combine various strong-smelling substances such as sulfur, garlic, onion, ammonia, cloves, cinnamon into granules that are spread throughout the yard. The goal with these products is that your yard will smell so offensive, garter snakes can simply not stand it and move on to a neighboring yard which smells of fresh green grass and amphibians a plenty.
A major problem with these repellent products is that they smell offensive to humans as well. Have you really won the battle against snakes if you cannot use your yard because of a persistent stink emanating from your grass and bushes? Additionally, most people notice that when they spread snake repellent throughout the yard, they notice an initial improvement. This may be objectively true, or it may be confirmation bias, which is the mental processing of information that is consistent with what you already believe to be true or desperately hope to be true. However, as time goes by, even though your yard may smell to high heaven, the snakes return! Whether the snakes get accustomed to the odor or they were never really diminished in the first place, makes little difference. Spreading snake repellent throughout your yard in perpetuity is not a long-term snake solution.
How to Prevent and Get Rid of Garter Snakes
Garter snakes inhabit your yard because it provides what all living things require, food, water, and shelter. By removing these characteristics, you can dramatically reduce the number of garter snakes calling your yard home. Snakes are attracted to high grasses which offer protection, yard debris, rocks to hide under, and fallen logs or dead tree stumps. Garter snakes are likely to hide any place that might harbor its next meal and shade it from the view from its aerial predators. Therefore, to reduce or prevent garter snakes in your yard, clean up extraneous yard clutter. Rotting trees that have fallen over, children’s toys or unused play structures, and wood piles are all perfect garter snake hiding places.
Although you wouldn’t want your yard to be a silent spring where no sounds of animal life can be heard, reducing the number of rodents, frogs, and lizards can prevent or reduce the number of garter snakes in your yard. The most effective snake prevention method involves enrolling in your pest control company’s rodent prevention program. By eliminating rodents from your yard, you are no longer offering a smorgasbord to neighborhood snakes passing though. Of course, you get the added benefit of eliminating rats from your yard and preventing them from getting inside your home.
Getting rid of excess snakes in the yard most often involves altering the landscape, and reducing food sources. However, it is sometimes necessary to enlist the help of a professional snake remover to clear your yard of garter snakes. In cold climates, garter snakes gather together and hibernate in dens together. Typically, there are a few hundred garter snakes gathered together to hibernate, but scientists have found as many as 8,000 garter snakes in one hibernation den. When they awaken from their winter rest, since they are already gathered together, it is an ideal time to mate. This spring awakening results in a breeding ball of garter snakes. If you are unlucky enough to be hosting this party, you will surely want to call in the services of a professional snake remover. Here at Nextgen Pest Solutions, our wildlife removal specialists can professionally and calmly remove a nest of snakes that may be either sleeping or breeding on your property.
Garter Snake In My House
A lone garter snake may sometimes seek shelter inside your home. As cold-blooded animals, snakes seek warmth during a cold snap. Whether they slither in from a door left ajar or from a crack in the basement, garter snakes can get inside and hide amongst your belongings. Especially in basements that are not properly sealed, garter snake’s choice foods may enter through the same portal that brought the garter snake indoors. For garter snakes, unsealed basements are an ideal environment, but they’ll sneak into other areas of the house as well.
Due to garter snakes’ relative non-threatening nature towards humans, some people may feel comfortable evicting them yourself. Be sure to wear thick gloves as a cornered garter snake may release a foul odor and it may bite. When closing in on a garter snake inside your house, try to minimize the escape routes. For example, if the garter snake is visible and in the open, you don’t want him slithering off to hide in the dirty clothes pile in your children’s room. If possible, close the door to the room the snake is in and stuff a towel in the crack under the door. The last thing you want is to lose sight of the snake as it hides deep in the bowels of your home.
Depending upon where the garter snake is inside your home, you may be able to just sweep it out the door with a broom. If you are 100% positive that the snake is a benign garter snake, you may pick it up (with thick gloves on) and carry it outside. Some people remove a garter snake from their home by sweeping it into a bucket and carrying the bucket outside. Other people prefer to toss a towel over the snake and carry the snake outdoors wrapped in the blanket. Probably the most failsafe garter snake removal method is to cover it quickly with a bucket to prevent it from darting away. Once covered, you can slip a piece of cardboard or a thin sheet of wood under the opening trapping the snake inside. You can securely carry this makeshift trap outside and release the snake without touching or even having to look at it too closely.
If any of the above snake removal methods simply make your skin tingle and a wave of revulsion shiver down your spine, have no fear. Nextgen Pest Solutions snake removal service will treat your snake call like the emergency it is. Our snake handlers are experienced with venomous and nonvenomous snakes alike. Our garter snake removal service is prompt and professional. After we remove the snake, our expert eyes can inspect your property and give you tips to prevent garter snakes in the future.