Eastern Garter Snake
Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis

Family: Natricidae - Harmless Live-Bearing Snakes

Typical Adult Size: 18 to 26 inches

Reproduction: live bearing

Eye Pupil: round

Dorsal Scales: keeled

Anal Scale: single

SC Range Map

Additional Images

Eastern Garter Snakes are medium-sized snakes found throughout most of the eastern United States. Their dorsal background color is usually a shade of green. Three longitudal light-colored stripes are usually very noticeable. There are also usually dark spots in the spaces between the stripes. However, there are many variations of pattern and coloring from the typical. In some specimens the stripes are less noticeable or abscent and the spots dominate. Background colors may be brown, olive, bluish, or red. Bellies are plain with a row of dark spots on each side. When threatened Gater Snakes will inflate their bodies and flatten their heads in order to make themselves appear larger. The inflated bodies take on a checkerboard pattern.

Garter Snakes are often called "garden snakes," probably due to the similar sound of that name and the fact that Garters are often found in gardens. However, the name "garter" is derived from its dorsal patter being similar to the garters once used by men to hold up their socks or sleeves.

Eastern Garter Snakes eat a wide variety of small prey. However, they are partiularly fond of toads. They usually capture the toad by biting and holding a hind leg until the prey stops struggling. The Garter then proceeds to swallow the toad.

Although not considered dangerous to humans, there is anecdotal evidence that some persons may have allergic reactions to the saliva of Garter Snakes. Apparently, exposure to the saliva requires a sustained bite that has penetrated the skin.

Additional Images:

Eastern Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
adult, male
adult, male
immature, approx. 14 inches
young adult, with broken center stripe
young adult, male, belly
adult, male, red phase, approx. 21 inches (1999)
adult, male, red phase, approx. 27 inches (2000)
adult, male, red phase, approx. 27 inches (2000)
adult, dull specimen
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July 07, 2009
Contact: South Carolina Reptiles and Amphibians