Garter Snakes in the Garden
As you may know, I said I am very afraid of snakes. Many of us are, an innate fear that is deep-set into us from the beginning of our time on earth I suspect.
There is one snake, and only one mind you, that I am not afraid of when coming across it in the brush. In fact, I have them breeding in the yard, which is OK by me since they are good for the environment and my garden. I have not named them like Gilbert and Gaylord, because when they have babies, we get about 30 or 40 wriggling little garter snakes coming out in spring and unless you are a herpetologist, I doubt you could tell them apart.
Look at me.
They can get to 53 inches in size, depending on the variety, and the patterning of the garter snake allows it to blend into its surroundings. The markings are quite varied and irregularly colored. The striping makes it less visible when moving through the fallen leaves. The continuous line of the snake belies its movement. See how this guy blends. I almost stepped on him. He is a big one at around 37 inches.
You are really starting to bug me.
If you have ever witnessed this event of spring emerging, it is quite amazing, They literally all come out of their winter nesting place at once in spring.
See this You Tube video. It is professionally and beautifully done, well worth the five minutes to see. In fact, they say this snake haven only exists in one location in the world.
It is a little harrowing at first sight, as you stand there mesmerized by all the squirming activity. I saw this not in my garden, but in the garden of my veterinarian. I glanced down by the building foundation and all of a sudden snakes started coming out from the mulch. So many of them I could not move, as if they were growing out of the soil, raising their heads high to catch the suns rays.
Want to sunbathe here, I bet he has plenty of friends?
Most of their habitat is composed of dense foliage close to the ground and they have adapted to a variety of environments, including, streams, fields, wetlands, and urban areas, like mine. If you want them in your yard, be sure to add rocks to warm them, and logs for hiding, like these seen at the farm.
You really are a pain in the butt. Can’t a serpent have a little privacy?
I learned early that garter snakes are harmless, at least to humans. If you are a mouse, earthworm or frog, not so much. What I like about them is that they eat slugs, crickets and grasshoppers too. My garden has these little plant-eating pests, but since my snakes found their way in, no more cricket chirping and slimy, slow-moving slugs. I still see the occasional grasshoppers.
My Scary Snake Story
Living on my grandfather’s huge estate in Pennsylvania when I was small, I had many bad experiences with snakes. One of the most memorable was when I was about six. I remember frolicking around the grounds at will, exploring like any curious little child would at that age.
But one morning, while crossing my favorite fallen log over the stream on the property, my little foot punched through the decaying log causing me to fall on my backside right through the log. I was now surrounded by log like I was in a casket. What I landed on was to me, hundreds of squirming snakes. I can not tell you what that did to my sense of frolicking fun. I screamed louder than any African animal caught by a pack of hungry lions. What I did learn from this experience first hand, not that I cared to find out this way, was that snakes are not slimy.
I jumped up fast and turned to run home as fast as my little legs would carry me. I raced through the front door, slammed it shut and engaged all the locks. Hysterical, I tried to tell my mother, who was calmly ironing in the living room while watching TV, what just happened. I tried to impress upon her that hundreds of snakes were on my trail and would get in if I did not secure the house up tight. Seeing my panic, rather than comfort me, she broke out in boisterous laughter. I can not tell you what this does to a young, fragile ego. My own mother is throwing me to the snakes. I suppose not true as I look back, but you need some background here.
Living in Pennsylvania in the country has its hazards. My grandfather’s estate included a large dam, waterfall and many streams. Our family lived in one of the three servant houses on the property. It was a very rustic abode on a large parcel of property, both forested and open field.
Well, the dam was home to water moccasins and the surrounding forest edges had Copperheads. So little me, thought all land snakes were Copperheads. After this horrid episode and recurring nightmare of falling into wriggling snakes, I would carry around a shovel with me to behead any snake that ever crossed my path. I never actually did it, but saw my parents do it many times. Another image I wish to forget.
Just a note about Cornell’s ID image, no offense intended to Cornell, but who the heck is going to get close enough to look under the tail of a snake? The image below, showing distinctions between venomous and nonvenomous snakes is put out by Cornell Cooperative Extension. My advice is only care about the ID if you are bitten. Then maybe I will check out my attacker.
Funny thing about garter snakes, they actually eat the young of poisonous snakes like my scary Copperheads. So it is good to have them around, but that did not matter to little me back on the Pennsylvania homestead. All land snakes were poisonous Copperheads.
But aging has its rewards. You find out not everything in life is dangerous. Not everything out there is going to cause you harm. There are some exceptions I suppose, depending where you are in the world. When in Costa Rica I did have another scary snake story with a python, but I am saving it for my posts on my summer in the mountains of Costa Rica. This one will keep you up at night. I was so glad to leave the Costa Rica jungle. But as scary as this encounter was, nothing will ever compare to falling on a nest of snakes at six.