Common gartersnake

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Photo by: Patrick Connolly 

Species: Common Gartersnake

Scientific name:Thamnophis sirtalis

Status: common

Description: Common gartersnakes are black with yellow stripes. They do not exceed one metre in length, and have keeled scales on their back. The background colour is black, with a yellow belly, and yellow stripes. Between the yellow belly, and the 3 stripes, one on either side and one down the back, very little black is visible. The stripes down the side of the body are found on the 2nd and 3rd scale rows. Although yellow is the typical colour, there is a number of variations, including green, orange, or brown. You can even find completely black garter snakes. Juvenile have a chequered patterned and look similar to other juvenile snake species.   

Habitat: This is the most widely distributed snake in Ontario. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including meadows, forests, farmlands and even urban/suburban areas. This snake is typically found near water, so wetlands and forests with streams are ideal home for the common gartersnake. The common gartersnake is active during the day and can be found hunting for food in areas near water.     

Breeding: Common garternskes will breed in spring, soon after they emerge from hibernation. Large numbers of gartersnakes will hibernate together underground and when they leave their hibernacula (place where they are hibernating), they will use the sun and each others bodies to warm up. Females may be seen basking (laying) in the sun to increase their body temperature and speed up embryonic development. Along with a few other snakes, this species gives birth to live young (ovoviviparous). Female gartersnakes will give birth to 10-30 babies mid-summer (usually July), and the young will reach sexual maturity in 2-3 years.

Diet: The common gartersnake will eat mice, insects, and worms. They will also readily enter water to feed on small frogs, fish, toads and salamanders. They also use the water to escape from enemies.

Threats to species: The common gartersnake is abundant (found in large numbers) in Ontario. They are a prey species to a number of animals, including a number of mammals and birds. The biggest threat to this snake is habitat loss, and getting run over by cars and bikes (human cause deaths). Being a snake, they are unable to produce their own body heat and will use the sun to warm up, they are ectothermic. So, snakes will commonly slither to warm roads when the temperature is low to keep their body temperature up.

Threat to humans: This snake is no threat to humans. The worst thing it will do is bite you, and pee/pooh on you if you pick it up.

Fun facts: When handled, this snake may bite and will release a musk from glands found at the base of the tail-trust me, it does not small good.

A single female has given birth to 98 live young at one time.



Macculloch, R.D. 2002. The ROM field guide to amphibians and reptiles of Ontario.


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