Lee Richardson Zoo

Plains Garter Snake

Order: Squamata - snakes and lizards
Family: Natricidae - nonvenomous, live-bearing snakes

Scientific Name: Thamnophis radix


Description:   Adults reach lengths of 15-28 inches.  Characterized by keeled scales, a stripe on either side of the body, a bright stripe running down the middle of the back which may be yellow or orange, dark vertical bars on the upper lips, and alternating rows of black spots between the stripes on the back.  This snake is usually greenish gray, light olive, or tan with black spots between the three stripes on the body.  Some adults may have bright red on their sides.  Males have longer tails than females.

Home Range:   Texas and Oklahoma panhandles northwest to southern Alberta and northeast to Iowa and Minnesota. Common throughout most of Kansas, but absent from the southeast corner.


Habitat Type:  Prefers open grassy areas along streams, marshes, and lakes.


Reproductive Habits:  Garter snakes mate during April and May and occasionally in the autumn.  One or more males will crawl beside and over a female with jerking movements.  Successful males will curl their tail beneath the female’s tail until their cloacal openings are aligned and copulation can begin.  More than one male may mate with a female.  Litter size varies between 5 and 60, with 20 being an average.


Diet in Wild:  Earthworms, toads, frogs, salamanders, fishes and small rodents.  Experiments show they have a preference for whichever food they eat first in life.


Diet in Zoo1 small mouse on Sundays.


General InfoNamed after the colorful, longitudinally striped garters once fashionable to support men’s stockings.  Garter snakes are semi-aquatic and are generally found near bodies of water.  When captured or threatened, they will defecate as well as produce a pungent musk from glands located at the base of the tail.  They will attempt to smear these fluids on their attacker in order to discourage them.


Conservation Status: Once common throughout most of their range, these colorful snakes have declined due to capture for the pet trade, loss of habitat, and pesticide use.


Predators:  Large birds, mammals and other snakes.



Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas. Third Edition. Joseph T. Collins. University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, KS. 1993. pp. 253-255.

Peterson Field Guides:  Reptiles and Amphibians.  Roger Conant et al.  Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 1991. pp. 133, 167.