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Ribbon and Garter Snakes

Updated on August 26, 2018
naturegirl7s profile image

Louisiana has abundant wildlife, including reptiles such as snakes and turtles. All are welcome in Yvonne's backyard wildlife habitat.

Common Garter Snake - Thamnophis sirtalis
Common Garter Snake - Thamnophis sirtalis | Source

Ribbon and garter snakes are beneficial, non-venomous (non-poisonous) reptiles of the genus Thamnopsis. Several different species of ribbon snakes inhabit Louisiana. They are blackish or brownish with gold or yellow stripes. Most live near water, and all have live young, in litters of from 4 to 24 baby snakes.

Face to face with a very young ribbon snake.
Face to face with a very young ribbon snake.

Ribbon and Garter Snakes are the Gardener's Friends

Ribbon and garter snakes are harmless snakes that should be welcomed into gardens because they eat small rodents, snails, slugs and harmful insects, among other things.

Below are descriptions of some species of ribbon and garter snakes we have in our area.

Most of the photos on this page (unless otherwise noted) were taken by the author, Y. L. Bordelon (aka naturegirl7) on our property in Southeastern Louisiana.

Eastern Ribbon Snake

Eastern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus)
Eastern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus) | Source

The eastern ribbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus) is a medium-sized, slender, reddish-brown snake, with a golden yellow stripe down its back and a light yellow lateral stripe on the third and fourth dorsal scale rows. In the Florida Parishes of Louisiana, where we live, it is often confused with its close relative the western ribbon snake, which also lives here. However the eastern ribbon snake is confined to the Florida Parishes north of the marshes bordering Lake Pontchartrain.

It eats fish and adult and larval amphibians. It bears live young in broods of from 3 to 26.

Ribbon Snakes probably mating by our water garden in Baton Rouge.
Ribbon Snakes probably mating by our water garden in Baton Rouge.
A colorful western ribbon snake
A colorful western ribbon snake | Source

Western Ribbon Snake with red stripe observed in Western Kentucky

Western Ribbon Snake

The western ribbon snake (Thamnophis proximus) is a moderately long, slender, olive brown to black snake with a gold or orange stripe down its back. It is found all over Louisiana and is the most commonly encountered snake here. It lives near ponds, streams, ditches, swamps, rice fields and other wet areas. It eats fish and adult and larval amphibians.

The Gulf Coast ribbon snake (Thamnophis proximus orarius) is a sub-species of the western ribbon snake characterized by an olive brown dorsum and a broad gold vertebral stripe. It lives adjacent to marshes.

Gulf Coast Ribbon Snake Video

This young ribbon snake was hunting for frogs around our pond in Southeastern Louisiana.
This young ribbon snake was hunting for frogs around our pond in Southeastern Louisiana. | Source

The small ribbon snake above was photographed as it was hunting a cricket frog along the edge of our pond in southeastern Louisiana. It didn't capture the cricket frog, but I got a picture of both of them as they went about their daily duties.

This is yet another example of the cycle of life in action:

  • Insect eats plant
  • Frog eats insect
  • Snake eats frog
  • Larger predator eats snake
  • And on and on, until the largest predator dies and turns back to soil which feeds the plants.

Young ribbon snake in SE Louisiana. This baby ribbon snake was unusually peckish.
Young ribbon snake in SE Louisiana. This baby ribbon snake was unusually peckish.

Common Garter Snake

The eastern garter snake or common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) is a moderately long, brown, gray or nearly black snake with a yellowish or red-orange vertebral stripe and a light yellow lateral stripe on the second and third dorsal scale rows. It looks similar to the Western Ribbon Snake, but can be distinguished by the position of the lateral stripe. The Eastern garter snake (T. s. sirtalis) is the only subspecies reported in Louisiana. Some individuals have a red-orange vertebral stripe, which suggests genetic influence from the Texas garter snake.

The eastern garter snake lives in forests, along the banks of small streams, and in other habitat near water. Its diet consists of primarily earthworms and amphibians, but also small mammals, fish, leeches, other snakes, crawfish, snails and slugs, birds, sowbugs and insects, which is why it is welcomed by gardeners for its free pest control service. The young are born alive in broods of from 9 to 38 little snakes.

This photo was taken in Ohio and the coloring of this specimen is more brown than the ones in Louisiana.
This photo was taken in Ohio and the coloring of this specimen is more brown than the ones in Louisiana. | Source

Hibernating Garter Snakes

Snakes of the Southeast (Wormsloe Foundation Nature Book Ser.)
Snakes of the Southeast (Wormsloe Foundation Nature Book Ser.)

This wonderful guide is my favorite identification book for snakes of the Southeastern United States. It is filled with sharp photographs and excellent information. A must for any snake lover.


Eastern Garter Snake

Crayfish, Ribbon, and Garter Snakes of Louisiana

Ribbon and Garter Snakes
Ribbon and Garter Snakes | Source

A. Graham's Crayfish Snake, Regina grahamii

B. Glossy Crayfish Snake, Regina rigida

C. Eastern Ribbon Snake, Thamnophis sauritus

D. Western Ribbon Snake, Thamnophis proximus proximus

E. Gulf Coast Ribbon Snake, Thamnophis proximus orarius

F. Common Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis


Dundee, Harold A., and Douglas A. Rossman, The Amphibians and Reptiles of Louisiana.

© 2008 Yvonne L B

Squiggle Out a Line.

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    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      5 years ago from San Diego California

      Surprisingly enough, here in San Diego I have never seen a garter snake, although where my Mom lives in Colorado they are all over the place. It disturbs me how the "only good snake is a dead snake" philosophy still prevails with a lot of people I know. I don't even think it matters if people study the role of snakes in pest control - they choose to remain ignorant and kill snakes in spite of the facts. Great hub.

    • suepogson profile image


      6 years ago

      A lovely down-to-earth lens - beautiful photos. I don't live in an area where tehre are garter snakes ande I'm sad to hear comments that they are declining. I hope they can recover.

    • JeffGilbert profile image


      6 years ago

      When I was a kid, I saw a lot of garter snakes in my neighborhood. Now even the butterflies have dissapeard. I don't know what's happening. But urban environments are becoming less and less friendly to these animals. Great lens though, very informative!!

    • espressoman lm profile image

      espressoman lm 

      7 years ago

      We used to see garter snakes all the time when I was a kid. Sadly, they have all disappeared from our area.

    • AcornOakForest profile image

      Monica Lobenstein 

      7 years ago from Western Wisconsin

      I just got to hold a snake for the first time a couple of weeks so and it was so cpl! I liked snakes before and now I really love them. You have some great photos here and a vert informative lens. Well done!

    • flinnie lm profile image

      Gloria Freeman 

      7 years ago from Alabama USA

      Garter snakes are good for the garden, I like that they eat bugs and things.

    • potovanja profile image


      7 years ago

      Likes for your LENS:). Thank you 4 visit my...

    • potovanja profile image


      7 years ago

      Likes for your LENS:). Thank you 4 visit my...

    • SpenceG profile image


      7 years ago

      One thing that I did remember from 6th grade was that garter snakes are good for the garden.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      It's not that I don't like snakes. I don't like them near ME.

    • Rangoon House profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      Snakes are not my favourite creature, but you present them very well. Blessings.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is amazing information and looking all pictures nice.

      Dog Kennels | Chicken Coops | Rabbit Hutches

    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 

      8 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

      We have rattlesnakes where I live so whenever I am in the garden and encounter a snake I am very wary. I check it out and so far I've only had garter snakes. It used to be that I couldn't even look at snakes in a photo and chills ran up my spine. Now, I am more conditioned to seeing them and understanding them .. they only scare me when I come onto them unawares. I scare them too! lol The video you picked is excellent! Angel blessings.

    • Showpup LM profile image

      Showpup LM 

      8 years ago

      The photos alone make this lens worth visiting but the information is great. I really enjoyed it.

    • acisni lm profile image

      acisni lm 

      8 years ago

      I just love snakes. I live in Ireland where we have no snakes at all - thanks to St. Patrick or so the saying goes. Thanks for a great lens and good luck.

    • profile image

      Pete Schultz 

      8 years ago

      you certainly know and appreciate snakes...something I have a hard time with...but I generally leave them all alone, 'cause I head the other way. Never-the-less, and interesting and educational lens. Thanks.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Wonderful lens - glad to see snakes are appreciated by many! Blessed by a SquidAngel.

    • naturegirl7s profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne L B 

      9 years ago from Covington, LA

      @anonymous: Oh how clever you were and at such a young age. So the little snakes returned your favor by eating those nasty pests from the garage. What a great story!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      My brother and I found 5 garter snakes when we were little and put them in a big bucket. When mom found out she was furious! We had to get rid of them, but we did it in the yard! A year later we were cleaning out the garage and a big snake came out ... one of our babies from the last summer. It had been eating the mice in our garage all winter. :)

    • NanLT profile image


      9 years ago from London, UK

      Where I grew up in Kansas we were always finding garter snakes.

      Added to "Another 100 Lenses for my 200th Lens"

    • ss834 lm profile image

      ss834 lm 

      10 years ago

      We found a snake in the backyard and I came here to ID it. Sure enough, it looks like a garter snake. Very helpful lens!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Another great lens. I had a garter living under my porch for about 8 years, I no longer see him, but have lots of pics of him. I called him Speedy. Please visit my lens here and sign my guestbook.



    • profile image

      The Goblins Den 

      11 years ago

      Lots of good pics and info! 5 stars!

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image


      11 years ago

      I'm not real fond of snakes but they have their place in the natural order of things.

      Great lens


    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Great lens. Snakes are the most maligned animals on earth. When encountering a snake, one should walk around them or nudge them to allow them to go on their way. Live and let live, for snakes have just as much a right to live as we do. Thanks again for an very educational lens, which I hope more people will read.


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