Ribbon and Garter Snakes
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Hibernating Garter Snakes
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
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