Why Is There a Snake in My Garden?

Image of a garter snake

The garter snake lounges in the shade of the cool garden eating insects and worms.

On a July evening, Rich reached down to pick string beans and was startled to spot a garter snake peering up at him from beneath a plant. We’ve seen the three-foot-long snake many times this year around the yard but it seems to particularly like lounging in shade cast by bean plants.

We’re used to snakes, have no particular fear of them, and appreciate their benefits. It’s helpful that no poisonous snakes live in our area. Yet, it’s startling to see one inches from our fingers. “Our” garter snake practices social distancing and is probably more alarmed than we are with an encounter. He or she quickly vacates, letting us pick beans and tomatoes without its company.

What Do Garter Snakes Eat?

Garter snakes are common across the United States and range north into Canada.   Constrictors wrap their bodies around a hapless mouse or chipmunk to eventually dispatch it. Garter snakes use a different strategy. They’re versatile carnivores and enjoy dining on insects, worms, slugs, and just about any other small enough animal to fit in their petite mouths. They quickly grab small prey and swallow whole and alive.

How Do Garter Snakes Help in the Yard?

We like our garter snake because of what it represents. If we’d doused the garden with toxic spray to kill insects, we would have no snake. Its presence signifies a healthy yard.  Although garter snakes eat both beneficial and harmful insects, they probably devour many more of the latter. And, our compost-rich soil produces an abundance of worms, so the snakes can have all they want. Plenty will survive to aerate the soil.

striped garter snake

This garter snake was seeking cool shade on a hot summer day.

Startling as our snake may be, it’s as beautiful as a goldfinch or bluebird. Spotting it gives us a moment of joy. After we are done being startled.

  • If having a garter snake around really troubles you, Iowa State University Extention has non-lethal ways to reduce the appeal of your yard.

Channeling Wisconsin’s Wildlife

Susan Hrobar 
guest blogger

Fun Through the Window

We are fortunate to live at the end of a channel on a small lake.  Our north facing windows face our backyard and the channel.  One of our friends, who knows very little about nature, does not understand that after living here for 18 years, we still get excited when we see any wildlife in our yard and in the channel.  Most of my photos are taken from windows inside the house, hoping to not spook my photo subjects.  We frequently have deer coming through and we can tell which paths are being worn into the ground.  During the winter we’ve taken photos of deer amidst the falling snowflakes.  And, on our trail cam, we have “caught” coyotes, fox, raccoons, opossums, and neighborhood kitties.

Tom Turkey

Male Turkey

Strutting

This spring we have had a special bonus of occasionally watching a male turkey strut between our and the neighbors’ yards.  Usually, he is skittish and if he spots me looking out a window, he quickly moves out of sight.  One morning he must have felt like he was “king of the hill” and actually posed for photos about 20 feet from where I was watching him.  I have also watched him fly over the channel near dusk and find a tree to roost in for the night.  It always amazes me to watch these big birds fly through the trees, as normally you only see them walking and running on the ground.

Turtle Habitat

Turtles

Lounging on a log

Last summer when the water level was high, an oak tree uprooted and fell into the channel, covering both sides of the channel, and completely blocking our water access to the main lake.  Because the channel is narrow, there is little clear land on either side. The oak landed at the bottom of a steep hill, so removing it was quite a process.  It took a bucket truck on top of the hill, a small boat in the channel, lots of ropes, and a very talented arborist to take care of the problem.  This spring the water is lower and that downed tree is now a horizontal stump about four feet long partially submerged from where it fell.

The turtles love this new sunning perch!  We have never seen so many turtles at one time.  So far, our biggest count has been nine painted turtles on the log.  In spring we sometimes get lucky to see a large soft-shell turtle swimming in the channel and climbing out onto the shore.  The females are much larger than the males.

Wood Duck- Goose Dustoff

On a recent rainy day, we spotted a pair of wood ducks.  They are also very skittish and do not like to pose for photos.  We watched as they flew up into a large basswood tree and perched on the branch. I think that is the first time I have ever seen ducks sitting in the trees.  It was not a great day for photos, but I tried anyway.

The ducks flew to another tree, rested for a while, and then flew down to the water.  Mr. Wood Duck and Mr. (Canada) Goose then had an altercation on the grass with much hissing, honking, flapping of wings, and chasing.

Wood Duck

Male wood duck

Mr. Wood Duck was very proud of himself for chasing the goose parents and two goslings of out “his” channel.  Mrs. Wood Duck cheered him on while sitting on top of our boat motor.  My husband, John, had the fun of watching the goose and duck stand-off.  I was trying to get to a different window without all the raindrops obscuring my view.  That did not work, but it made me smile to hear John laughing and enjoying the whole spectacle.

Loving Our Wildlife

Even after nearly two decades, we still so enjoy our yard and sharing our stories about animals and plants.