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Western Terrestrial Garter Snake Thamnophis elegans


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Western Terrestrial Garter Snake, Wandering subspecies
credit: David Hofman/CCSA

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Alternate name: Wandering Garter Snake

Family: Colubridae, Colubrid Snakes view all from this family

Description Many different colors and markings on various types; resembles the Western Aquatic Garter Snake. A side stripe occurs on the 2nd & 3rd scale rows and the back stripe is usually well defined. The space between stripes is marked with dark spots and scattered light specks. They have 8 upper lip scales with the 6th and 7th being enlarged. Scales keeled, in 19-21 rows. Anal plate single.

Dimensions Length: 18-42".

Subspecies Mountain Garter Snake has conspicuous stripes a back stripe in yellow or orange, pale or plain belly sometimes with light spotting and no red markings. Found in extreme w. Nevada, Sierra Nevada, and e. slope of n. Coast Ranges of California, north in Cascade Mountains of w. Oregon. Coast Garter Snake has a wide bright yellow back stripe, red or orange flecks on sides and belly. It is found along the coast in extreme sw. Oregon south to Santa Barbara County, California. The Wandering Garter Snake has a narrow dull yellow or brown back stripe which fades on the tail. The light areas between stripes are marked with small dark spots which are sometimes absent or enlarged, fused and filling space between stripes. These are found in sw. Manitoba, sw. South Dakota, and extreme w. Oklahoma west to coastal British Columbia, w. Washington, c. Oregon and ec. California. Arizona Wandering Garter Snake is found in e. Arizona (Apache and Navajo Counties) and w. New Mexico (Catron and McKinley Counties). Upper Basin Garter Snake mainly found in Colorado and Green River drainages of e. Utah.

Breeding Females do not eat for 2 weeks beforehand in order to clear their stomachs of food that would otherwise rot. Females release a sex-specific pheromone to attract males resulting in mass male attraction. There can sometimes be up to 25 males to a female in a mating ball. After copulating females leave the mating area to find food and a place to give birth. Females can store a male's sperm for years before fertilization. They give birth to live young, around 4-19 young, 6 1/2-9" (16.5-23 cm) long in late July to September. As few as 3 and up to 80 have been documented too have been born in one litter. They are born from The Young is independent from birth.

Habitat Western snakes are more water loving that thir eastern counterparts. Generally occupy moist areas near water such as ponds, damp meadows and open grassland forests.

Range Ranges from Alaska, Northern America, Canada and central America. Single most widely distributed genus of reptile in North America.

Discussion Cold blooded. Flees to water when disturbed. As a general meat eater its diet consists of any creature they are able to overpower. When living near water they will eat aquatic animals. Pheromonal communication takes place. Male and female pheromones are immediately identifiable. Males can however emit female pheromones in order to confuse other males during mating. Preyed on by Hawks, crows, raccoons, King and Coral snakes. Reside in the sun to regulate body temperature. Originally thought to be nonvenomous it is now proven that they produce a mild neurotoxin. The venom is harmless to humans due to minute quantities in which it is produced and the fact that they lack an effective means of injecting it properly.