mysterious snake #262018 - Ask Extension

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mysterious snake #262018

Asked July 14, 2015, 9:56 PM EDT

In my yard today as i was playing with my 4 year old and stumbled upon this not so plesant snake. Unfortunatly no one has been able to identify it for me. Plz help as i have children im very worried about being outside.

Monroe County Pennsylvania

Expert Response

Thank you for your question.  Your snake is an Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis).  It is a common species throughout Pennsylvania and most of the United States and some parts of Canada.  It doesn't look like the photos you usually see of garter snakes, because your snake has adopted defensive measures to try to intimidate you and make you leave it alone.  It is spreading its head and has inflated its body to make itself appear larger and more fierce.  As a result of inflating its body, it has stretched its skin and distorted its pattern.  I have attached a photo of a "relaxed" garter snake so you can see how they normally appear.
Garter snakes were once thought to be non-venomous, but research has shown they have a mildly venomous saliva, but they do not have fangs to deliver it like the copperhead and rattlesnake.  If they bite, the saliva can enter the wound, but usually does not cause a problem in humans.  However, some people who may be particularly sensitive have reported mild swelling and itching after being bitten.  I have been bitten numerous times by garter snakes and never experienced any problems.  A garter snake's first response, when you discover it, is to try to escape.
Garter snakes have a varied diet.  They feed primarily on amphibians, but also eat a wide variety of invertebrates, fish, small snakes, baby birds, mice and shrews.
Habitats frequented by garter snakes are generally close to some water source and can include areas around drainage ditches, streams and creeks, ponds, swamps and wet areas in meadows and pastures.
Many snake lovers started out keeping garter snakes as pets, and they provide you with an opportunity to teach your children about the environment and ecology of your area.  Generally, they don't pose a risk to your children and are not a reason for keeping them inside.
For more information about reptiles and amphibians in Pennsylvania, check out PA HERPS at: http://www.paherps.com/
Hope this answers your question and thanks for using Ask an Expert.
Jim Burke Replied July 15, 2015, 8:09 AM EDT

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