Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Feisty Eastern Garter Snake

Three weeks ago, I was once again up in northern Ohio to assist with some salamander research. Our journey that day brought us across a rough and windy Lake Erie to South Bass Island. To get to the site, we had to walk about halfway across South Bass Island, one of the many islands found in Lake Erie. South Bass Island is better known for the town of Put-In-Bay which covers most of the island. Once we arrived at the forested site - a piece of secondary forest with caves scattered about - we began looking for the lead phase of the Red-Backed Salamander. This post isn't about the salamanders, but instead it's about another "herp" we found. A very feisty herp.

Common Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis
Meet the Common Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis. Specifically, this is the subspecies Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis, the Eastern Garter Snake. This is the only subspecies of T. sirtalis found in Ohio, and is one of the more drab subspecies if you ask me. Eastern Garter Snakes are the most common garter snake species in Ohio and are also one of the most common snake species in Ohio. This species is a medium-sized snake, normally reaching lengths between 1 and 3 feet. Eastern Garter Snakes can be found in a variety of habitats, inclduing forests, fields, abandoned farmland, city parks, and more, many times preferring to be in a moist place near water.

Eastern Garter Snake Ohio
This individual immediately coiled up and took a defensive stance when we flipped the tile over (the tiles are used to attract salamanders). If we got too close it would strike. This was, from both of our experiences, unusual. This individual was a male, and typically the males are pretty calm and prefer to flee instead of trying to fight. The females are the more "violent" ones. Like most reptiles, Eastern Garter Snakes tend to be more calm the cooler the temperature, and this day was quite chilly (mid 40's). Studies have shown that as the body temperature of a Common Garter Snake decreases, they tend to become more defensive instead of trying to flee. When it gets to a certain point, the lower the temperature is, the more apt they are to remain passive instead of becoming defensive. This individual kept up the defensive act the entire time though.

Eastern Garter Snake
We snapped a few more photos and left him alone. His defensive behavior allowed for some great photos. It is important to note that Eastern Garter Snakes are harmless. They can and will bite (especially the females), but a bite will only draw a bit of blood, if that. They will only bite if you go to pick them up, so don't try to pick one up if it is acting like this. In fact, most snakes in Ohio are relatively harmless, aside from the three venomous species found here (which are all relatively uncommon to rare). Snakes, as a whole, are very beneficial to humans and definitely don't deserve the bad rap they get, but that's a rant for another time.

I've been really busy lately with college, and sadly I haven't been able to get as many posts written as I would have liked. I have about 5 more in the works, so be on the look out for those! I'll have a lot more time to write once the semester is up, so hopefully I can catch up. Thanks for reading!

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