Garter Snakes Are Friendly, Page 2

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Another type that is of marked interest is Butler's garter snake, characterized by its remarkably small and dainty head. This creature we find in western Pennsylvania, thence westward to Ohio and Indiana. Dr. E. B. Shelley Logier of the Royal Ontario Museum of Zoology, Toronto, and the foremost authority on the serpents of Ontario, reports that on a trip recently in search of rattlesnakes, he was much surprised to find this little serpent well established in Middlesex County, southwestern Ontario, This discovery, made in July, 1938, was the first record for Butler's garter snake north of the United States.


Young garters are born in August or early September, the young greatly resembling the adults, but they ordinarily have less distinct markings. From birth, like all other serpents, the young shift for themselves. The mother snake is not in the least concerned about her offspring, yet certain people, seeing young serpents near older ones, have wrongfully jumped to the conclusion there must be some parental care over the young. While many young are born, comparatively few survive, for they have many enemies, including humans, who think they have done something wonderful if they slay a serpent no larger than a lead pencil. Other snakes eat the young garters. Crows, ducks, grouse, wading birds, hawks and owls, all relish serpents as a dainty tidbit. Frogs and fish, cats, skunks, rats, foxes, and barnyard poultry, all take toll of young serpent life. With all these unfriendly hazards, besides the danger from grass and forest fires, the miracle is that so many garters survive to continue their race.

While the young at birth are small, old female garter snakes may actually measure a yard or a little more, while male garters usually do not attain a length of more than two feet and a half. Frequenting our yards and gardens, the garter is a sociable, friendly creature. It would meet man more than half way, but almost seems to realize man is the sworn enemy of all serpents. Man is the killer who slays snakes without regard to the fact that the harmless ones are, in most instances, the friends of agriculture. They deserve protection and not destruction. Gradually, however, the attitude is changing toward the harmless and beneficial snakes; Farmers and others are no longer so determined the whole snake world must be exterminated, for it is at last being realized that, by their consumption of armies of rodents and injurious insects, serpents, are benefiting agriculture by millions of dollars.

There is seldom any more excuse for slaying a harmless serpent than a song bird. The garter snake consumes immense numbers of insects and eats mammals even up to the size of mice. It is not a serpent that harms any human, and is a thousand times more afraid of man than he should be of this lowly creature. It is a sociable dweller of our gardens, dooryards and fields. It asks only to be left alone to lead its life as it pleases. It likes nothing better than to bask at times on a shrub, frequently choosing a blackberry hush, and how it misses the briars we do not know.

I recall a mid-June day when I witnessed peculiar actions on the part of a two-foot-long garter snake. The serpent crawled out of some fairly high undergrowth to a recently-mowed lawn. Finding itself on the closely-cropped grass instead of in a wilderness of thicker, higher growth, it seemed dazed and utterly be-wildered. It reared up in the air, as a blacksnake will when it stands on its tail. It surveyed the surroundings in a way I had never seen before. I walked up to the serpent but it made no effort to escape, seeming like a creature in a dream. When picked up, it continued quiet, at no time trying to free itself as most serpents would do in fright. Not until I carried it to the high undergrowth from which it had first emerged did it seem to regain its senses. Then it quickly glided away to thicker cover.

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