Many Iowans, even those living in urban areas, may be startled to see a fast moving snake in their yard. No worries. Most likely it is a garter snake. While startling to see, they are a desirable predator in yards and natural places. They are easily identified by it s small head and the three stripes running down its body. The name may be a misspoken form of German or refer to ‘garters’ that people used to use to hold up stockings. At any rate, they are interesting, helpful , and thus, desirable reptiles to have in the yard.
Garter snakes eat snails, worms, insects, small rodents, and nearly any other animal life they discover. However, they are also on the list of prey for other predators from raptors to other snakes. So this petite species normally flees when it detects danger. They also can emit a foul smell when threatened. Females give birth to as many as 70 babies in late summer or fall. These six inch mini snakes can be common in yards. Most do not survive because other predators gobble them up. So if you see one slithering under leaves or a rock to get out of danger, let it be. It helps keep the balance of nature in your yard.
Many species of garter snake inhabit North America. Three species – the common and plains garter snakes and the ribbon snake – live in Iowa. All have slender bodies with lines extending from head to tail. These native reptiles thrive in a diversity of habitats but usually prefer living in moist places near streams or in well-watered gardens. They are excellent swimmers and move quickly and gracefully over the ground.
The common garter snake ‘s range is wide spread and more cold tolerant than most reptiles and even inhabits southern Alaska. In Iowa they are sometimes spotted in late fall after other snakes have entered hibernation.
Of all snakes the garter is the one most likely to be seen in town. Although they startle humans this colorful and shy wild animal is no more harmful or dangerous than goldfinches or cottontails. Winding Pathways encourages folks to respect and thank them for the part they play in keeping the balance of nature.