Is this snake poisonous #406169 - Ask Extension


Is this snake poisonous #406169

Asked June 11, 2017, 10:14 AM EDT

Hi I am in Richmond Va. This snake was by my above ground pool. I don't think he is poisonous because of his round pipes but I would like expert advice.

Henrico County Virginia

Expert Response

Thank you for your question.  You're correct! The snake in your photograph is non-venomous. It is the Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis).

Gartersnakes are found in many states in the U.S.  Different subspecies are common throughout every state in the eastern U.S., except parts of western and southern Louisiana, and there are additional subspecies in the Midwest and western states. They are usually found fairly close to water, so drainage ditches, steams, ponds, bogs and wetlands, damp areas in pastures are all good places to find them. They usually prefer open grassy areas, but can sometimes be seen at edges of forests. Typical length is around two feet and maximum length is approximately four feet.

Gartersnakes have a varied diet. They feed primarily on frogs, toads and earthworms, but also feed on invertebrates, fish, small mice, small snakes and baby birds.

Their first response when threatened is to attempt to escape. If cornered, they may flatten their head to make themselves appear larger and release a strong-smelling musk. Some individuals may play dead or attempt to hide their head beneath their coils. If you pick them up, chances are pretty good that you will get bitten, probably several times. Recent research has determined their saliva has some toxic properties, and some people have reported some swelling and itching following a bite. They do not possess venom, however. I have been bitten numerous times by this species, and never experienced any of these symptoms. It may be that some people are especially sensitive to the components of the saliva.

There are two excellent field guides for snakes in your area:

Gibbons, Whit. (2017). Snakes of the Eastern United States. Athens: The University of Georgia Press.

Mitchell, Joseph C. and Beane, Jeffrey C. (2010). Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Hope this answers your question and thank you for contacting Ask An Expert.

Jim Burke Replied June 11, 2017, 1:48 PM EDT
Thank you so much for your response, I really appreciate knowing he is only going to eat my frogs:)
The Question Asker Replied June 19, 2017, 7:39 AM EDT
You're welcome.  Contact us any time.

Jim Burke Replied June 19, 2017, 7:56 AM EDT

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