3 Garter Snake Species in Michigan

This article titled “3 Garter Snake Species in Michigan” provides readers with a comprehensive overview of the three garter snake species found in Michigan. Garter snakes are known for their distinct stripes and ability to adapt to various habitats, making them a common sight in the state. The article not only lists the three species but also offers valuable background information on each. From their diet, which includes amphibians, fish, and even smaller snakes, to their preferred habitats near bodies of water, readers can gain a deeper understanding of these fascinating reptiles.

Garter Snake Diet

Garter snakes have a diverse and varied diet that allows them to obtain all the necessary nutrients. Their primary food source consists of amphibians that live in the same habitats as the snakes. This includes frogs, toads, and salamanders. However, garter snakes are not picky eaters and have been known to consume a variety of other organisms. They may also eat fish, leeches, slugs, lizards, and even smaller snakes on occasion. When food is scarce, garter snakes will eat anything they can fit in their mouths, including small birds and rodents.

Garter Snake Habitat

Garter snakes are highly adaptable and can thrive in a variety of environments. While they can be found in grasslands, forests, and suburban areas, they prefer habitats that are close to water sources. This includes streams, ponds, marshy areas, and even gardens and parks near bodies of water. Garter snakes are opportunistic feeders and enjoy eating aquatic organisms such as small fish, tadpoles, and frogs. The cool, moist environment around water sources provides an ideal hunting and hiding ground for these snakes.

Butler’s Garter Snake

The Butler’s garter snake, scientifically known as Thamnophis butleri, is native to Michigan. It is primarily found in the middle of the Southwest to the Southeast part of the state. This species is named after Amos Butler, an ornithologist. Butler’s garter snakes are between 15 and 28 inches long and have a stocky body. They have a dark body color, either black or olive, with yellow or cream stripes. One distinguishing feature of the Butler’s garter snake is the presence of two rows of dark or black spots running down their back between the central stripe and the side stripes. They inhabit open or semi-open wetland environments, such as wet meadows, prairies, and marshy edges along lakes. During winter, they burrow underground to survive the harsh conditions.

Eastern Garter Snake

The Eastern garter snake, scientifically known as Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis, is one of the three garter snake species found in Michigan. It is a subspecies of the common garter snake and the only one found in the state. Eastern garter snakes are commonly encountered in Michigan and can be found in various habitats near water, including agricultural areas, fence lines, stone walls, gardens, urban lots, and even abandoned buildings. They can grow between 18 and 26 inches long, with females usually being larger than males. Eastern garter snakes have the typical garter snake coloration, with a dark body and yellowish stripes on the back and sides. Some individuals may also have green, brown, or blue stripes on their bodies.

Northern Ribbon Snake

The Northern ribbon snake, scientifically known as Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis, is a small and relatively thin snake with a long tail that makes up about a third of its body length. This species can be found in Michigan, particularly in marshes or along the edges of lakes, ponds, and streams throughout the state. The Northern ribbon snake can grow between 18 and 34 inches long, and its stripes can be yellowish or greenish in color. These snakes primarily feed on fish and amphibians and are excellent swimmers. While their appearance may resemble other garter snake species, they can be differentiated by their longer tails and thinner bodies.

Comparisons and Similarities

All three garter snake species found in Michigan share several characteristics. They all belong to the genus Thamnophis and are non-venomous. Garter snakes are known for their distinctive striped patterns, which help camouflage them in their environments. They also have long, slender bodies and are excellent swimmers. Another similarity among garter snakes is their ability to adapt to a variety of habitats and their preference for environments near water sources.

Garter Snake Conservation Status

Garter snakes face various threats to their populations, primarily due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Urban development, agricultural practices, and the drainage of wetlands have resulted in the destruction and degradation of their habitats. Additionally, road mortality poses a significant risk to garter snakes, as they often attempt to cross busy roads. Pesticide use, pollution, and invasive species also contribute to the decline of garter snake populations. However, there are ongoing conservation efforts to mitigate these threats and protect garter snakes.

Interesting Facts about Garter Snakes in Michigan

Population estimates for garter snakes in Michigan are relatively unknown, as these snakes are widespread and have adapted well to human-altered environments. However, they are considered common in the state and can be readily found in appropriate habitats. Garter snakes in Michigan are an integral part of the state’s natural history, serving as important predators in their ecosystems. They help control populations of amphibians, insects, and small mammals.

Interaction with Humans

Garter snakes are often observed in suburban areas, as they are excellent at finding hiding spots and are attracted to the abundant food sources found in gardens and parks. While some people keep garter snakes as pets, it is important to note that capturing snakes from the wild should be done responsibly and with proper permits, as it can negatively impact wild populations. Interactions between humans and garter snakes in suburban areas are generally harmless, as garter snakes are not aggressive and will typically flee if approached.

Overall, garter snakes are fascinating and beneficial reptiles that play important roles in their respective ecosystems. Learning about their diet, habitat preferences, and different species found in Michigan can enhance our understanding and appreciation of these slithering creatures.

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