• By Phyllis B. Smith
  • Posted Friday, July 12, 2019

This snake earns its stripes as one of the most widely ranging snakes in the United States!

The Eastern Garter Snake, (Thamnophis sirtalis) is distributed over a wide range, both geographically and in terms of habitat. In the wild it inhabits forests, meadows, or marshes; is often found around lakes, ponds and streams; and readily takes up residence in suburban lawns. Most individuals are characterized by three distinct yellow stripes running the length of the body, but some display a more checkered pattern with fainter stripes. Garter snakes are often confused with the slenderer Eastern Ribbon Snake, but the two can be distinguished by the presence of dark bars between the lip scales of the garter snake, a trait not seen in the ribbon snake. See the pictures below for comparison.

Garter snake

Ribbon snake

Garter snakes have a varied palate that includes earthworms, slugs, frogs, toads, salamanders, fish and tadpoles. If threatened they may attempt to bite and emit a foul-smelling musk, but like most of our native snake species they are nonvenomous and these negative consequences can be avoided by simply leaving it alone. Females give birth in the late summer to a number of live young which are miniature versions of the adults. Avoid having these snakes in your yard by clearing debris that would provide good hiding places and trimming back overgrown shrubs and weeds.

For further details on all North Carolina snakes visit the Amphibians and Reptiles of North Carolina website, http://herpsofnc.org/ maintained by the Davidson College Herpetology Lab and click on any “Snakes” thumbnail.

N.C. State University Extension offers the publication Reptiles and Amphibians in Your Backyard, https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/reptiles-and-amphibians-in-your-backyard Download here, or drop by the Forsyth County Center of N.C. Cooperative Extension at 1450 Fairchild Road in Winston-Salem to pick up a free copy.


Dorcas, Michael E. (2005). A Guide to Snakes of North Carolina. Davidson College Herpetology Lab, Davidson, N.C.

Beane, Jeffery C., Braswell, Alvin L., Mitchell, Joseph C., Palmer, William M., and Harrison, Julian R., (2010). Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia, Second Edition. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Gleaton, Amelia. Eastern Garter Snake. Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia. Retrieved from https://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/thasir.htm (2019, July 11)

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