AARC Blog #9
Dr. Teresa Bousquet
Exotic Animal Veterinarian and AARC Board Member

Why Garter Snakes Make Good Neighbors

There are 3 species of garter snakes living in Alberta: The Plains Garter Snake (Thamnophis radix), The Wandering Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans), and the Red-sided Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). None of them is considered venomous, and they are non-aggressive, avoiding human contact rather than standing and defending themselves. If caught, they may (in my experience, almost certainly will) excrete a foul-smelling fluid, but they rarely bite.

If there is a snake in your yard, it means that there likely is also a food source in your yard. Garter snakes will eat small fish, amphibians, small mammals, earthworms, slugs and leeches. Most of these are unwanted tenants, so the snake is providing a valuable service.

Garter snakes do not dig holes themselves, so they will not harm garden plants by digging around them. Being carnivorous, they also will not chew or eat the plants. Apart from over winter, when garter snakes famously garter in hibernacula, they are generally solitary hunters, so your neighbors need not fear that the presence of one snake will soon have their yards seething with snakes.

If you see a wild garter snake, and would like to encourage it to hang out in your area, here are some tips to making your yard garter snake friendly:

  1. Provide a basking area, such as a pile of wood or rocks. Snakes like these types of habitat because they can bask, but also have quick access to a bolt hole should a predator appear
  2. Provide ground cover for hiding. This may be low-growing plants, or (as many herpers will tell you), a board lying on the ground.

External link opens in new tab or windowhttp://www.livescience.com/44072-garter-snake.html
External link opens in new tab or windowhttp://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/462/
External link opens in new tab or windowhttp://www.gartersnake.info/questions/faq.php