Snakes ALIVE!

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.

Hello there!

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.

Amazing Garter Snakes

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.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
This entry was posted in Animals, Farm Life, garden, Identification, In the Neighborhood, My Garden, Niagara Falls and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Snakes ALIVE!

  1. Karen says:

    Donna, Oh, WOW…I was running right along with you back to the house!!! Bar the doors! This sounds like an excerpt from an ‘Indiana Jones’ movie–were you one of the writers for the script?

    What a scary (and delightfully told) thing to have happen and to think you can still remain calm around snakes of any kind after that experience. You are a very brave lady! What a day.

    • It was so traumatic that I remember to this day as if it happened yesterday. Lucky for me, they were garter snakes. If you looked at the video, the biologist is walking through thousands of garter snakes, picking up handfuls, and bringing them close to his face. I get the hebbie-jeebies thinking about this video, but realize that he is in no danger. Great post again today, Karen. Your series is a good read.

  2. Uhhh…yeah. Nice…snake story. Dang. Funny you should mention Costa Rica. We had a forestry friend there that got bitten by a fer-de-lance and survived, miraculously, without any loss of limb.

    • I was fortunate not to run across any of their poisonous snakes. We did see them in their herpetology center. This center was in Monteverde, and it was a very rustic and rundown place. All reptiles were alive and not nearly as secure as they would be in the States. I was not a happy camper in this place.

  3. One says:

    Those were cool pics of the snakes. They didn’t hiss at you, did they? Did you say 30-40 of them? Bunnies and squirrels may be preyed upon when all these grow up.

    There are snakes around here because it was a palm oil estate before houses were developed here. I don’t think they will come near because Goldee and Clifford are very diligent. If they ever come, I think my pots might all just overturn and plants trampled on. That’s what happens when they find a toad.

    • No the garter snake in the closeup did not make any sound, but when he got annoyed with me, he stuck his red tongue out to let me know, plus kinda gave me a dirty, sideways look. Do you have poisonous and constrictor snakes? We have no constrictors, but a couple of poisonous ones in New York.

  4. Ah!!! I have similar experiences and thoughts about snakes. I love the little ones in my garden that only eat insects, but I’ve had my fair share of experiences with poisonous ones being inches away from me back in Tennessee.

    • The poisonous ones scare the heck out of me. Especially those in the viper family. They are mean and aggressive snakes, plus they just sit there waiting for a meal to go by. You must have Copperheads and rattlers in Tennessee, I bet.

  5. Shirley says:

    I’ve never had such terrifying experiences with snakes and yet I am afraid of them. I remember my mom telling me about some experiences my grandfather had with rattlesnakes. One time, in particular, he was out with a shovel and found a rattler in his path. Aiming the shovel at the venomous critter, he aimed to kill but the rattler shot up the handle of the shovel! Somehow he managed to escape harm, though I don’t remember how. That story left a lasting impression on me.

    • Having a rattler slither up the handle of my only weapon wound make me never leave the house again. Snakes are fast, much faster than we can get away. Wait until I post my python story. You can tell I was saved, but almost not. What saved me was faster than the python. That was on my last day in Monteverde. What a final memory of a place to have.

  6. fer says:

    Wow, that must have been a terrific experience. No wonder why you are afraid of snakes

    I had a run with a snake recently, I was walking down a little urban neighborhood close by to my school, when suddenly a person walking on the opposite side froze and stare down. I looked and there was a snake crawling less then a feet from me. I was in a bit of a shock, I never would have expected to see a wild snake roaming in the middle of tokyo. I just kept on walking a bit more then turn back to saw it disappear on a garden nearby.

    • Maybe it was a pet snake. We have stories like that here in the States. People get them as little babies, then they grow up and are no longer cute. They let them go and, being somewhat tame, find there way into urban environments, sometimes homes. But, like here in the Falls, you could have a wild snake in your midst. Their food being mice, the mice find urban environments pretty good restaurants. Food follows food.

  7. Wonderful story! I love your pictures and I sense you might be coming to terms with snakes, just a little teeny bit…
    I don’t generally mind snakes. There are only 5 poisonous ones around here and once you figure out how to recognize those, you can pretty much not worry about the other ones. But my mom is terrified of snakes. Recently she and Dad came to dinner and we walked them out to the car afterwards. We leaned in the window, chatting like you do, until they pulled away. After they moved their car, we were horrified to discover a medium-sized water moccasin underneath. I prayed for Mom and Dad to just drive around the corner without noticing, but no luck. They turned around just time to see me running over with a sharp hoe. Now she’s very cautious about dinner at my house!

    • When I was in elementary school, we had pet snakes in the classroom. They made each of us care for the snakes. That is why I have no fear and have appreciating for garter snakes. Once you care for an animal, the fear kinda goes away.

      But, that lack of fear did not translate to an other slithering beast. The rest of the snakes are not my friends. I can appreciate their beauty of design, and even the biology and anatomy of snakes… but do not want them in my home environment, except of course the harmless and helpful garter snakes.

  8. Mary Ellen says:

    Have an interesting story to tell about Garter snakes. Have many house plants that were housed outside this past spring and summer. Put one in our basement bathroom for decoration. Our computer is in the basement also-sitting there one day I looked down and saw what I thought to be a string or small rope like object-it started to move and after many screams (on my part) and evaluation by my ” hero husband” we found it to be a Garter snake-must have traveled “Piggy back” on the plant.!!!! It had traveled from the plant in the bathroom to the computer area-I’m glad I wasn’t using the bathroom!!!!!! Ugh!!!!!!

    • I am guessing one of my baby snakes made its way west. The stonework in my yard has produced three births so far. The dogs and hawks used to eliminate the snakes, but with the dogs gone, I have seen a garter snake two feet long. They are either growing, or this is mom.

  9. Mary Ellen says:

    Meant to comment on your experience.The log (like a casket) very scary-falling on the snakes-even more scary.You must have been so frightened.Words can’t even express what was going through my mind when I read your post. Simply horrific!!!!!!!!! What a terrible experience for a little girl!!

    • I remember it so clearly. I even have had nightmares of this experience. At least what I fell on was not a nest of Copperheads. I would not be here today to talk about it. Most venomous snakes hatch already as lethal weapons. Did you know that garter snakes bear live young. A cool fact, since many snakes are brought into the world from laid eggs.

  10. Patty says:

    I don’t mind snakes. Oh they might give me a fright if I am surprised but once I know it’s there I am curious George. When I was a kid I got to hold some big snake in my arms. Had to have been 6 inches thick and very long. But being a kid I never knew what kind it was.

    • Kids are fearless. If I would have been handed one by an adult, I would have taken it too. My fear of snakes was all about this one incidence, and it made me fear an animal that I may not have had an aversion to had it not happened.

      My curious nature got me into the mess in the first place since I was told not to go to the waterfall and creek in the first place. I guess my mom knew I would never go again after it happened. But the funny thing was, when I told her the story and made her go back and look where I fell, she never looked to see if I was bit. Bad mom, bad mom.

  11. I’ve just seen 2 grass snakes in all my life in the garden but that scene you described as a child must have been awful. You must have been traumatised for so long after that – I know I would be for sure. It must be an amazing sight to see so many of those snakes appear in the spring all at once – and be assured that they are safe to be around.

    • I would never want to be in the company of poisonous snakes emerging. What the heck would you do. They come from everywhere. I have seen on TV when the rattlers out west come out of the hillside rocks it is like the hillside is alive and moving. Scary.

  12. I love garter snakes too and do not mind when they sliver out from under rocks when I walk nearby. I wonder what kind of snake pit you fell into? It must have been a more friendly kind and you most likely scared them as much as yourself. ;>)) That last photo does frighten me big time however! ;>)

    • I am sure it was garter snakes. They were so plentiful on the property and they winter in places just like I fell into. They need water in winter so it was a prime spot. I never walk across logs anymore though. In Costa Rica, we had to cross water over logs, and I almost had a meltdown.

  13. p3chandan says:

    How can you photograph them without being squimish even they are harmless, Im amazed! I was bitten by a snake on my foot when I was a kid, couldnt tell what type cos it was at night…probably not too poisonous one cos I live to tell abt it! But it was a very painful experience, it got the 2 holes mark of a snake bite, was swollen and I cried the whole night! Now Im really scared of them n hope I dont have to come across another snake in my life time…

    • Well getting bitten would have a lasting effect too. And you have the scars to prove it. I was lucky not to be bitten, that was another reason I was sure it was garter snakes. They rarely will bite. If you saw the video, the biologist, handling many at one time, was not bitten. I looked.

      When I took my mom back there, at least 20 minutes passed, and the snakes disappeared, probably further into the log. It was a huge downed tree. That is why when I went in, even though I was little, it was like a coffin. Any wonder why I will not cross a log today. In Costs Rica I had to, but almost lost it walking across. Fall in the water there and a big boa or python might have you for dinner. Crocs too, but they were not in the forests at least. Saw plenty of them at the rivers and open waterway though.

  14. Jennifer says:

    Your early childhood introduction to snakes was scary to say the least. I don’t dislike snakes, but know many, many people who do. The tiny garter snake is kind of cute, but that one with the fangs is pretty terrifying!

    • The garter snake was not tiny at 37 inches, but pretty friendly since I had the lens almost in his face. I was starting to annoy him though, so he decided to move, that is how I saw how long he was.

  15. PatioPatch says:

    Hi Donna – your superb images of the Garter snake show the fondness you have for them! You can tell by looking at their eyes if they mean to do you harm – those slit eyes on the Copperhead are a dead giveaway but by the time you have noticed this, it’s probably too late.
    Really enjoyed your narration of the childhood scary encounter – and you had all that freedom in the midst of so much potential danger. Were parents more sensible back then?
    We are blessed with only 3 snakes in the UK – the only venomous one stings like a bee and yet I confess to being a bit of an Ophidiophobic


    • I can spot the garter snakes easily, even though they do have some color variation, but no looking into the eyes of any other snakes. That Copperhead image, I am hoping the photographer had a telephoto lens. I almost wrote to him to ask. I was so amazed he would get that close. Had to be too. The snake was showing defensive behavior. I am glad I am not a professional photographer. I do have it in me to go all out for what ever I am doing, so if I did this for a living, I would probably taking chances too.

  16. Great post and I love your snake story. Garter snakes are always welcome in my garden because they keep the spider population down. I HATE spiders. I actually have a Spider story to tell… maybe another day.

    • I have no fear of spiders. I just never had a spider episode. I can see a few of you are spider phobic. I will remember that if I post images. None showing the spiders in attack mode and ending the life of a fly or useful insect.

  17. lifeshighway says:

    Great photos and as I don’t have snake fear, I managed to live through it. Now if you do a series on spiders, I just wave hi and not come in.

    My son was bit by a copperhead and ending up at Duke Hospital for a week. He was extremely ill and had to be administered several doses of anti-venom. They almost had to split his arm down to the bone because of the swelling. He lived of course, but does have a lot joint damage in the finger that was bitten.

    • How you can not fear snakes is beyond me. I never got bitten, but did see the Copperheads on my parent’s property. A few of them became headless, courtesy of my father. Same with water moccasins. My dad would take out the shot gun, hand gun or rifle, he was an ace marksman, and shoot the snakes as they raised their heads in the dam or out in the brush. He went with his dad to Africa on hunts, so he had no fear of game at any size. My mom was the one with the shovel.

      I can not imagine the pain your son went through. And you, the worry and fear for his life. They are mean and aggressive creatures and I am just imagining your son being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What a sorry he lived to tell.

  18. Thank you all for your stories. I am so amazed that people have had these experiences and venomous snakes visit their properties. My next post will have a much more gentle look at garden visitors. No spiders either, so safe to come back and see.

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