Thursday, December 15, 2011

Eastern Garter Snake, Red-sided Garter Snake and Butler’s Garter Snake

Eastern Garter Snake

Did you know that in Ontario, snakes are found as far north as James Bay??? Only Eastern Garter Snakes survive that far north here, but in western Canada the Red-sided Garter Snake is even found in the Northwest Territories, around Wood Buffalo National Park. They’re among the most coldhardy reptiles in the world! Since there are few suitable hibernation sites (called hibernacula) so far north, hundreds or even thousands of snakes may all share the same one for the winter.

Eastern Garter Snake probably the most commonly encountered snake. Named after the fancy striped garters historically worn by men, they are usually dark in colour with three yellowish stripes from head to tail, though the pattern may be faint. Reddish-orange markings along the sides are common. Extreme variations occur, such as melanism- an all black form found in some isolated populations. Excellent swimmers, these snakes will eat frogs and fish, as well as worms and sometimes mice. Most are 50-70 cm, but large individuals may be over one 1 m in length. They have scent glands that exude a strong musk if caught, and some individuals will bite.

Red-sided Garter Snake 

Red-sided Garter Snake virtually identical to the eastern garter snake, but found only in northwestern Ontario, close to the Manitoba border. Despite the name, not all of them have red on the sides. Ontario’s Snakes!!

Butler’s Garter Snake 

The Butler’s Garter Snake a smaller (less than 50 cm) but very similar snake to the eastern garter. It is found only in southwestern Ontario in certain locations, usually near wetlands. These garters have smaller heads, and the lateral stripes are on different scale rows (2, 3 and 4 instead of just 2 and 3, for those who like to count). Designated as a vulnerable species in Ontario. Butler’s Garter Snakes feed on worms and leeches.


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