Slithering Sniffers

I know where the Gartersnakes hibernate. Its a spot in the forest that I call the Snake Pit because one spring I saw them all waking up together. In retrospect what I saw was probably a mating ball of a hundred snakes having an orgy while they left their hibernaculum.

Agitated Eastern Gartersnake  (Thamnophis sirtalis ssp. sirtalis)

Mummy Gartersnakes give birth to baby Gartersnakes. They don’t hatch out of eggs and there can be 100 babies in a litter! Although it’s usually closer to 30. New born Garters slither strait out into the world ready to hunt and explore and defend themselves.

Gartersnakes communicate with smells. They attract and fool each other with pheromones and they make a stink when they are frightened. I didn’t know that when I saw this snake. She was not happy so see me. She flicked her tongue and reared up to let me know that she was using this spot and I should go away. I kept my distance and snapped a quick pic with my long lense, but I wish I’d sniffed the air.

You can see this snake’s forked tongue. She’s using it to smell me. Each prong collects chemicals from different parts of the air so she can sense a chemical gradient and understand where smells are coming from. Basically she can smell in 3d. So can I but not very well. 

Two of three Gartersnakes tangled in a mating ball

Gartersnakes vary in color from place to place. Ours are mostly black with a snazzy yellow stripe, exactly like the garden hose that makes me jump every time I walk passed it. On the East Coast they are brown, and also make me jump because they look like a species I haven’t met before, but they are the same species as our black and yellow ones, just wearing different styles.


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