Originally posted at Urban Science Adventures! © on November 2, 2010 as Snakes up close.
I've got to make a confession. I really don't give reptile (or amphibians) their just due. I'm a mammalogist, true and through. But I'm also an opportunist, which is why I feature so many plants, flowers, and trees in my post. They never go anywhere.
But I was able to get a really great photo of a garter snake this summer at camp. On my list of 100+ Things to do outside – a growing list of suggestions for family-friendly outdoor activities, this is activity#47. See a wild snake.
This little fellow was making his way through the cracks of this stone that border the walking/biking trail at Forest Park (St. Louis). He poked his head out for a while, several of the kids saw him and quietly watched. I came over and didn't see him at first, and then I did. I took out my little camera and snapped as quickly as it would allow and was very proud of my two images.
Garter snakes are common urban snakes. Most people have encountered one in the back yard or park. If you have tall grass, then you've created a cozy place for them. They can live in/near woody areas with water. So if your neighborhood has some wooded lots and/or overgrown fields and subject to soggy boggy ground in the spring and summer, then you live in perfect garter snake habitat. They feed on the smaller critter like mice, insects, worms, and small toads and frogs. I know of many people who handle them (they aren't venomous), because they don't tend to bite. But I recommend against it anyway. A bite can still cause irritation and call for a tetanus shot. No fun!.
As the weather cools in the autumn, garter snakes prepare for winter. They hibernate in very large groups or aggregations of sometimes a hundred or more snakes. Both males and females overwinter in the hibernaculum and research suggests that individuals return to the sames hibernaculum year after year. They remain there for 4 months and emerge in the spring ready to mate.
Most garter snakes are out of sight, but depending on where you are in the country, and if you get a warm snap, you might spot a snake or two. If so, let me know.