Friday, October 26, 2012

Garter Snakes

A Wandering Garter Snake
In my opinion, if you mess with an animal and it bites, scratches or pees on you, you deserve it. Currently, I try to let wild animals be; however, as a kid, I often tormented garter snakes in the garden. They would bask in the heat on the black plastic we used to control weeds. This preferred location made them easy to find and I never had any difficulty snatching them by the tail as they tried to slither away. Once caught, their typical defense mechanism was to pee. This potent musky-smelling pee would persist on my hands even after thoroughly washing them in soap and hot water.

Even though they are carnivores, garter snakes don’t want anything to do with people. Wikipedia claims that a garter snake may coil and strike - but I’ve never seen them do anything like this (I've just discovered that a friend and my husband have seen a snake do this - especially when garter snakes are cold). Generally, they retreat from humans as people kill more snakes than snakes kill people.

Since, garter snakes play an important role in keeping pests down, I’d love to have them in my current garden to control the slugs. These streamlined snakes can be quite colourful with black or brown bodies and stripes that range from blue, to yellow or red (the San Francisco Garter Snake is pink).

Garter snakes have saliva that acts like a mild venom, which is dangerous to a frog, but not a person. Only once was I bitten (I totally deserved it). I had the snake by the tail, but moved my hand in range of its mouth. I ended up with two tiny pricks on my hand which healed cleanly without even a hint of infection.

As an aside, I always let the snake go and I still feel bad that I was once keen on interrupting their day.

Thanks to G. Hanke for the photo

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