what do garter snakes look like

What Do Garter Snakes Look Like?

Garter snakes are the most commonly seen neighborhood snakes usually found in the region of North America, spanning from Canada to various parts of Florida and can also be found as far as Alaska.

They get their name garter from a wildlife biologist that thought the stripes on the back of these snakes resembled garters that most men used to wear for holding up their socks. That wildlife biologist was the author of the book “Garter Snakes” and was working at the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Some other theories related to these getting their names are also available, but they are just theories and people often don’t tend to buy into these theories. Garter snakes are considered to be nearly harmless and not dangerous to human life. Some species of garter snakes do possess neurotoxic venom, although it’s so mild that it possesses very little danger to human life.

What Do Garter Snakes Look Like – Physical Characteristics

Garter snakes are generally considered as friendly snakes. They are often found in the garden and possess a very calm nature. They stay under the rocks or somewhere hidden to keep them safe. They usually have a length ranging between 18.11 inches to 53.94 inches so they can be found in varying lengths.

They are very lightweight in comparison to many other snakes having an average weight of only 5.29 ounces that is merely 150 grams. They also look small in appearance but despite that, they move fast slithering from one place to another.

They generally don’t attack when disturbed. The exciting feature of these snakes is the stripes on their back, which differs them from every snake in the snake kingdom. The color of these stripes varies as it can be of any of the colors from grey, yellow, black, olive or brown.

Some Garter snakes have also developed swimming capabilities due to their closeness to the watery environment. Cold climate garter snakes hibernate in colder environments and are also sold as pets to people. Regardless of the base color of garter snakes, they also have a stripe on the side and also on the backside. They have very beautiful patterns with varying colors on their body. They have 31 types of species included within the genus and many more subspecies are also out there.  

Habitat and Diet


Garter snakes are very shy and avoid any meetings with human beings and they also hide from other pets due to their nature. They are a peace-loving creature and can live with you and your family without getting known. If you go nearby them, they will silently slither away to avoid any contact remaining in stealth mode.

They are very selective about their living place and try to find a den to live in harmony. They also get under large rocks and some other solid structures to survive. They usually stay near their den or a living place so that they can easily hide under in the presence of a predator. They also live in rock walls and under most building foundations to keep them cool on warm sunny days.

Garter snakes are very active reptiles as they are normally found slithering at both day and night.

They survive by eating pests and insects from your garden. Like all other snakes, garter snakes are carnivorous and they feed on snails, grasshoppers, frogs, tadpoles, fishes, and worms too. This also gives them quality for having them as pets as they clean up your garden from these small monsters that are creating havoc in the garden.

They make good pets due to their calm nature and children can too hold them easily in the presence of an adult for safety purposes. But you can’t catch a wild garter snake to make them your pet as it could violate the law. So, if you want to get one of these as your pets, you can visit a pet breeder or a pet store. You can also get one from the pet rescue organization so that these harmless snakes can also get a home.

The minimum requirement for keeping a garter snake as a pet is an aquarium of 30-gallon capacity with a lid on top. It should be warm and have some rocks as garter snakes love to rub their bodies against rocks. Place a heat lamp for providing optimum heat to them.

As for their bed, you can place shredded papers or soft dried grass which has to be changed regularly to keep it clean. You can even have an aquarium of 50-gallon capacity if you want to add something more inside it or want your pet snake to have more space to move around easily.

For feeding them, you can give worms, fishes, frogs, and small insects to maintain a proper diet. Always ensure that the lid is tightly packed and have space for air passage only otherwise it can get out of the aquarium.  



Garter snakes tend to be more active during the daytime. You can easily find them slithering here and there during the daytime. They have a very complex system for pheromonal communication. Garter snakes find other snakes by using their pheromone scented-trails.

They are easily distinguished as male or female due to their different skin pheromones but male garter snakes have the exceptional ability to produce pheromones of both male and female types.

Male garter snakes use this ability for their advantage by producing female pheromones fooling other male garter snakes to mate with them that results in the transfer of heat to their body which is beneficial for them to get more active immediately after the hibernation period.

For gathering chemical cues in the environment garter snakes use their vomeronasal organ for communicating through their pheromones by flickering their tongue outside to sense. The chemical then enters the lumen of the vomeronasal organ get in contact with sensory cells that are attached to the neurosensory epithelium present in the vomeronasal organ of the garter snakes.

They normally hide, preventing any contact with humans and surroundings. But if disturbed, it gets angry and roll it up in a coil shape and frail its tail to show aggressiveness. They also discharge a smell that is secreted from the cloaca gland present in their body.

Garter snakes frequently use this technique to escape from the predators and also swim their way through water for resisting land predators. Hawks, raccoons, cranes, crayfish and other snake species, including king snake and coral snake are the common predators of garter snakes.


Garter snakes are one of the few snakes from the snake kingdom that give birth to live young ones. The perfect time for them to mate is after the hibernation period in the spring. Garter snakes hibernate together in groups so they don’t have to waste their energy seeking for the female partner.

There can be as much as 100 garter snakes in a group together for going into hibernation. Female garter snakes attract male snakes by releasing pheromone scent which attracts numerous numbers of snakes. After Copulation, female garter snakes store the sperm until they determine the surroundings so that it is appropriate for producing young ones which can last as long as years before fertilization.

When the young ones start developing the female garter snake searches for a safe place or den to give birth to young ones. After they are born the female snake immediately leaves them on their own. Garter snakes grow without the caring of their mother snake. They don’t receive any nursing and care from their parents and have to live on their own from the start.


Garter snakes are widely available in the North American region. The average lifespan for a wild garter snake is normally two years, but some garter snakes, even die in the first year of their life. If kept in captivity, they can survive ranging between 6 to 10 years at an average. The maximum hold in captivity for them is 20 years. They have declined in population, mostly from the collection as pets during the hibernation period.

Many garter snakes are not able to survive due to this. Even after the decline in their population, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species have listed commonly found garter snakes as “least concerned” for the threat of extinction but the San Francisco garter snakes are listed in “endangered species” category from the year 1969. This species starts vanishing mostly due to being killed by the crayfish. Many breeders and conservationists have taken these garter snakes for providing them better living so that they don’t get caught in any future extinction lists. 


Garter snakes are friendly, harmless reptiles that clean your garden from the pests and insects that are creating havoc. They will only show aggressiveness when they are disturbed or cornered otherwise, they will keep themselves away from any contact to human beings. These are peace-loving reptiles and remain in their harmony silently.   


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.