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How to Identify and Control Snakes in the Garden

Garden snakeWhat kind of snake IS that?

It's the cry heard from homeowners from coast to coast, especially in rocky, marshy or wooded areas where garden snakes like to dwell.

Because it once resembled thin garters that held up women's stockings in the 19th century, the common garden snake is still more correctly known as the "garter" snake.

Today, 28 species of garter snakes (genus Thamnophis) and many more subspecies have been identified with different markings and in a range of colors from blue, red, brown and green.

A garter snake's most identifiable markings are stripes down the center and one stripe on either side of it. Depending on the variety, their stripes may be extremely visible, or have dark spots alongside the stripes. Stripes may range in color from tan or even red or yellow or green.

Measuring from 15 to 26 inches long, the non-poisonous snakes in your garden are more slender and smaller than their more famous cousin, the poinsonous rattlesnake. That said, they do produce venom (to slow their small prey), but in any human encounter a bite may only result in a rash or slight swelling. The garter snake is also very timid and will not attack unless cornered or provoked.

Thamnophis marcianus
Checkered garter snakes
are common to the southern
United States and Mexico.
blue garter snake
Blue garter snakes are most
commonly found in Florida and
along the Gulf Coast.
butlers garter snake
The yellow-striped Butler's
garter snake is native to
northern and midwest states.

Garter snake fun facts:

• Garter snakes are the most common snakes in North America. They have even been found in Alaska, making them one of the most northern snake species on the planet.

• One of the few serpents that give birth to live young, female garter snakes can have as many as 70 to 80 young in a single litter.

• In northern climates, garter snakes will hibernate in the winter and often travel for miles to gather in a communal den with hundreds of other snakes where there is warmth and safety in numbers.

• Although non-poisonous, garter snakes defend themselves by squirting a smelly, skunk-like fluid (called musk) from the base of its tail as protection against attack.

Controlling snakes in the garden:

To have a snake or two in the garden is good. Garter snakes are beneficial creatures because they eat pest insects, mosquito larvae, slugs, snails, crickets, rats, mice, voles and even other snakes which may be poisonous.

But if you really don't want snakes in your yard and garden, here are a few tips on getting rid of them without hurting or killing them.

  • Snakes need cover for protection. Don't leave wood or brush piles sit in one spot for more than a month.

  • Clear the yard of thick leaves and other debris.

  • Don't keep piles of rocks where snakes can hide.

  • Stack firewood on a rack 12" off the ground.

  • Remove old lumber or junk piles.

  • Remove their source of food. Keep the insect and rodent population under control.

  • Place garbage bags in sealed trash cans away from the house.

  • Repair cracks along the foundation and fill holes around pipes. Snakes only need about a ¼ inch crack to get inside.

  • Don't plant bushes and other plants too close to the foundation of the house.

  • Use mulch in the garden beds but not too thickly.

  • Trim the lowest limbs on shrubs and bushes so they are at least 12 inches from the ground.

  • Construct a fence around your garden with heavy galvanized screening. Make it three feet wide with quarter-inch mesh. Be sure to bury the bottom of it six inches below the soil surface.

Source: Marilyn Pokorney - Freelance writer of science, nature, animals and the environment. Website:

also see in Pets -> Keeping Snakes as Pets

More about garden snakes around the Web:

The garden snake - the mother of all garden pests


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