Common Gartersnake

Not only the most widely distributed snake in Western Massachusetts but the most commonly observed species. Gartersnakes are diurnal, live in many ecological communities (including around humans), and eat a wide variety of prey from earthworms and other inverts, to small mammals, birds, and amphibians.

When disturbed they may inflate with air, swelling their bodies. This separates the scales and exposes the white skin underneath—presenting a very different checkerboard pattern. This can also be seen after they have eaten a large meal. 

Garternsnake sidestrip-1

Gartersnake. Lateral stripe on scale rows 2 and 3 from the bottom row (which are the ventral scales)

If you need to handle a Gartersnake (or really any of our snakes) be prepared for it to bite (a surprisingly good pinch) and for copious amounts of musk to be discharged from special glands near the cloaca. Imagine a raccoon getting a mouthful of that stuff!

Like most animals Gartersnakes have regular activity patterns. If there’s one on your stone walkway it’ll most likely be there tomorrow at the same time; and the next day after that, too. See if you can tell different individuals apart; look closely at their head patterns, overall size, or any markings or unusual variations that distinguishes them.

Gartersnakes 2-1

Gartersnake pair in April

There are more “common” names for this snake than any other in Western Massachusetts. People call them “grass snakes,” “gardener snakes,” “striped adders,” and “garden snakes.” There's probably more!

  © Tom Tyning 2013