Meet the Animals

Serpents of the Green Mountains: Discovering Vermont’s Garter Snakes

Garter Snakes in Vermont: Exploring the Green Mountains and Water BodiesWelcome to the Green Mountain State of Vermont, a place known for its stunning landscapes, including the majestic Green Mountains and numerous water bodies. Amidst this natural beauty, one can find an array of fascinating creatures, including the garter snake.

In this article, we will delve into the world of garter snakes, learning about their habitats, behavior, and their role as garden companions. Vermont’s Green Mountains and Water Bodies:

Vermont’s Green Mountains, spanning over 400 miles, provide an ideal habitat for garter snakes.

These snakes can be commonly found in areas near water bodies, where they can bask in the sun and hunt for prey. The lush foliage and varying elevations of the mountains offer an abundant food supply and a safe haven for these intriguing creatures.

– Vermont’s water bodies, such as Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River, serve as vital resources for garter snakes. They depend on these water sources for hydration and as hunting grounds, where they can find frogs, fish, and other small creatures.

– The Green Mountains, with their dense forests and diverse flora, provide garter snakes with a myriad of hiding spots to escape from predators or seek shelter during the colder months. – The snake-friendly environment of Vermont is a testament to the state’s commitment to preserving its natural heritage.

Garter Snakes as Garden Companions:

Garter snakes may not be the first creatures that come to mind when thinking of garden companions, but they can actually be helpful in keeping gardens free from pests and rodents. – Garter snakes are expert hunters, preying on insects, slugs, and small rodents that can be detrimental to gardens.

With their speed and agility, they can quickly eliminate these pests, reducing the need for chemical pesticides. – These snakes possess specialized saliva that immobilizes their prey, making them efficient hunters and garden guardians.

– The presence of garter snakes in gardens is also an indication of a healthy ecosystem, as they require a stable food supply and suitable habitat to thrive. Transition: Now that we have explored the garter snakes’ ecological role and their companionship in gardens, let us dive deeper into their biology and unique characteristics.

Garter Snakes and Their Biological Traits:

Garter snakes belong to the Natricinnae subfamily within the Thamnophis genus. As ectotherms, they rely on external sources to regulate their body temperature.

– These nonvenomous snakes have a slender body covered in scales, which can range in color from greenish-gray to brown with distinct longitudinal stripes running down their length. – A remarkable adaptation of garter snakes is their ability to regulate their body temperature by basking in the sun or seeking shade.

This behavior allows them to remain active in varying temperatures. – Garter snakes are known to be excellent swimmers, utilizing their lateral undulation for efficient movement in water and on land.

Overwintering and Venomous Species of Garter Snakes:

In Vermont, garter snakes, including the common garter snake and the eastern ribbon snake, undergo a state of inactivity known as brumation during the winter months. – Brumation is similar to hibernation, during which garter snakes retreat to underground dens or seek refuge in rock crevices to conserve energy and survive the cold temperatures.

– While Vermont is home to various nonvenomous garter snakes, it is also worth noting that some species of garter snakes, such as the western terrestrial garter snake, possess mild venom. However, these venomous species are relatively rare in the region.


By exploring the world of garter snakes in Vermont, we have gained a deeper understanding of their habitats, behavior, and unique characteristics. From their affinity for the Green Mountains and water bodies to their unexpected role as garden companions, these snakes continue to intrigue and captivate nature enthusiasts.

Next time you encounter a garter snake, take a moment to appreciate their beauty and the important role they play in Vermont’s vibrant ecosystem. Common Garter Snake, Eastern Garter Snake, Maritime Garter Snake:

In addition to the various subtopics covered earlier, let’s explore three specific types of garter snakes: the common garter snake, the eastern garter snake, and the maritime garter snake.

These snakes share certain similarities but also have distinctive features that set them apart. The common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) is undoubtedly the most widespread and well-known species of garter snake.

Found throughout North America, including Vermont, these snakes exhibit incredible variation in their appearance. They can range in color from brown to greenish-gray or black, with distinct longitudinal stripes along their bodies.

Interestingly, the stripes can vary in color, from vibrant red or orange to pale yellow. This diversity in appearance makes common garter snakes highly adaptable to their surroundings.

The eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) is a subspecies of the common garter snake and is commonly found in the eastern part of North America, including Vermont. While their appearances are similar to the common garter snake, eastern garter snakes generally have a lighter coloration, with lightly pigmented stripes that contrast against a pale background.

These snakes are often mistaken for ribbon snakes due to their similar appearance, but they can be differentiated by the presence of scales on their upper lip. Moving beyond the mainland, we encounter the maritime garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis pallidulus), which inhabits coastal regions from Nova Scotia to northern Florida.

These snakes have adapted to a unique environment and exhibit specific characteristics to thrive in saltwater marshes and coastal dunes. Maritime garter snakes are generally darker in color, with black or brown stripes on a lighter background.

They have a keen sense of smell, which allows them to find food sources even in brackish water. Unlike their counterparts in inland areas, maritime garter snakes have thinner bodies and longer tails, which aid in swimming through the marshy terrain.

While these garter snakes are generally harmless and play a vital role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem, their bites can occur when they feel threatened or cornered. It is important to note that their bites are typically non-venomous and pose no serious threat to humans.

However, it is always advisable to respect their space and observe them from a safe distance, allowing these fascinating creatures to continue their essential role in nature undisturbed. Ribbon Snake and Eastern Ribbon Snake:

While we briefly touched upon the eastern ribbon snake in the previous subsection, let’s delve deeper into this unique snake species.

The ribbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus) is closely related to the garter snake, but there are noticeable differences in appearance and behavior. The eastern ribbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus) is a subspecies of the ribbon snake found in the eastern part of North America, including Vermont.

These snakes, known for their elegance and grace, have a slender body, much narrower than the garter snake. Their coloration consists of a distinct olive or dark green background with three yellow or white stripes running along their bodies.

Ribbon snakes are mostly found near water bodies, such as rivers, streams, and wetlands, making Vermont’s diverse landscapes an ideal habitat for these species. They are adept swimmers and climbers, often using their long tail for propulsion in water.

While they predominantly feed on small fish and amphibians, they may also consume invertebrates like insects and earthworms. Compared to their garter snake counterparts, ribbon snakes tend to be less common and are often considered elusive due to their specific habitat preferences.

Their rarity adds to their appeal, making sightings of these sleek snakes a memorable experience for nature enthusiasts. In conclusion, by exploring the various species and subspecies of garter snakes and ribbon snakes, we have gained a deeper appreciation for the incredible diversity and adaptability of these reptiles.

The common garter snake, eastern garter snake, maritime garter snake, and the eastern ribbon snake all showcase unique traits, appearances, and behaviors that contribute to their survival in their respective habitats. As we continue to coexist with these fascinating creatures, let us ensure that we appreciate and respect their valuable place within Vermont’s natural ecosystem.

In this article, we have explored the world of garter snakes in Vermont, focusing on their habitats, behavior, and unique characteristics. From their affinity for the Green Mountains and water bodies to their role as garden companions, garter snakes have proven to be fascinating creatures that contribute to the state’s vibrant ecosystem.

We have also discussed specific species like the common garter snake, eastern garter snake, maritime garter snake, and the ribbon snake, each with their own distinct traits and appearances. By appreciating and respecting these snakes and their vital role in nature, we ensure the preservation of Vermont’s natural heritage for generations to come.

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