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A Hillbilly Guide to Snakes: The Western Terrestrial Garter Snake
Thamnophis Elegans... The Western Terrestrial Garter Snake.
Also refereed to as a wandering garter snake, the western terrestrial garter snake is one of the many subspecies of garter snakes found throughout the United States. There are an additional 7 subspecies of the western terrestrial garter snake.
As I understand it, garter snakes of various species can be extremely difficult to tell apart even for the professionals. The western terrestrial garter snake is no exception. It comes in a large variety of colors and can look almost identical to other species of garter snakes. Similar to some other species of garter snakes, the western terrestrial garter snake has a solid stripe running all the way down the middle of it's back. It has two additional stripes running down it's side that will be the same color. The color of the three stripes can vary from a white or cream color to a brighter orange or yellow. They can also have sort of checkered spots in between the stripes that can be red, black, or greyish.
Like other garter snakes, the western terrestrial garter snake isn't very big. Adults generally range between 18 and 42 inches.
Generally speaking, western terrestrial garter snakes can be found near a water source. This isn't always true however. As with most snakes, the wandering snake can be found in places that they can hide and find food, they just prefer that place have water.
Western terrestrial garter snakes range from the middle of the United States to the west coast. As far south as Mexico and as far North as Alaska and Canada.
The western terrestrial garter snake is not picky about it's food and will eat pretty much anything. Like many snakes they will eat rodents, amphibians, insects, and other reptiles. They will even eat slugs and leeches... Yum!
For a long it was believed that garter snakes were nonvenomous, but recently people have begin to think otherwise. It turns out that all garter snakes contain a very small amount of neurotoxin they use to subdue and weaken their prey. The venom is in such a small amount that it isn't likely to affect a human being, and they don't use the same as other snakes. Most of the snakes that we think of as venomous have large fangs in the front of their mouth to deliver venom. Garter snakes deliver venom from teeth at the back of their mouth so that it injects in their prey while they are chomping on them. It would be very hard for a garter snake striking in defense to sink it's back teeth in to a person to deliver their trace amounts of venom.
Interactions with humans
When a western terrestrial garter snake comes in contact with danger, it will attempt to flee to water if there is some nearby. Even if there isn't water they will generally attempt to flee, and I can tell you first hand that they are generally pretty quick. If cornered it is possible that they may attempt to bite, or they might not. As mentioned above if they do bite it's not likely to cause much harm.