10 California Red-Sided Garter Snake Facts: the Most Colorful Safe Snake - Odd Facts (2023)

The California red-sided garter snake, often known as the red-sided garter, is a North American subspecies of the garter snake. These snakes are among the most colorful in the world due to their unusual coloring. Here are 10 facts about California red-sided garter snakes!

California red-sided garter snake

Scientific name: Thamnophis sirtalis infernalis
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Genus: Thamnophis

Table of Contents

1. California red-sided garter snake is huge

The California red-sided garter snake belongs to the Colubridae family. It is a subspecies of the common garter snake which is native to North America. They are easily identified by their special yellow/blue band pattern on a red and black base.

This is a medium-sized snake with the usual size of 36 inches (91 cm). However, they can reach up to 55 inches (140 cm). The males are quite smaller than the females.

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Despite their large size, they are incredibly slim, which allows them to have lightsome movements. These snakes can lunge with the speed and agility that few other snakes can match.

Compared to the other family members, the red-sided garter features very big eyes, and the head is just fairly broader than the neck. It has keeled dorsal scales.

(Video) 10 Most Unique And Colorful Snakes Ever Discovered

2. They have unique scales

California red-sided garter snakes, as well as other garter snakes, have a distinct scale structure and kind. The scales of these snakes are keeled down their bodies. This implies that these scales have a ridge running down the center of them.

The keeled scales are not only for show, they play an important role in the snake’s survival. These scales are not smooth and lustrous, making the snakes’ scales seem dull. This bland appearance makes the snakes more hidden and difficult to spot in the wild.

With this genetic trait, the red-sided garter has a higher chance of surviving in nature. Natural selection has enabled it to become a widespread trait among garter snakes.

3. One of the most colorful snakes

The base color of these snakes is red or red and black blotch. They have lines along the entire of their back and those lines are usually electric blue or yellow.

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The snakes also have bands of spots or blotches patterns that run down the backs. These lines can be subtle and typically blend in with the belly color, ranging from yellow-green to blue.

Their head is also red or orange, depending on where it comes from. Juvenile snakes are not different from adults.

The California red-sided garter snake is one of the most colorful animals in the world, you may find related articles below:

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4. They’re often mistaken for the San Francisco garter snakes

People frequently confuse the red-sided garter with its cousin – the San Francisco garter snake. They frequently overlap in their two patterns. Moreover, patterns differ slightly amongst the snake species.

However, the black on the red-sided snake is sometimes more dominant than the red. This gives it the appearance of the San Francisco garter snake rather than the California red-sided snake. Sometimes, its blue line is often barely visible, and it is identified instead by a bright yellow line.

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Because of these changes, it is possible for the red sided California garter snakes to be mistaken for one of their relatives.

The IUCN Red List status of the California red garter snake has not yet been determined. However, the San Francisco garter snake is listed as threatened/ endangered species. The most serious risks to these garter species are habitat destruction and overcollection for the pet industry.

(Video) Garter Snake, The Best Pet Snake?

5. Habitat

The California red-sided garter snake lives in California, as the name suggests. They can, however, be found in a variety of locations throughout the US. They locate from northern California’s Humboldt County all the way down to San Diego County.

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The red-sided snake is usually found near water. This contains places surrounding streams and ponds, as well as forests, meadows, farmlands, hillsides, and swamps. It also lives around gardens and parks. They like to stay in the water to minimize attention and to escape from any predators or dangers.

6. Behavior

California red-sided garden snakes are diurnal, they are active during the daytime. They are cold-blooded animals, so they have to keep their temperature within 28°-32° C by using thermoregulation. That’s why you can see them frequently lazing in the sun.

In the winter, from late October-early April, the snakes hibernate under rock piles, in logs, holes, and in the burrows of rodents or crayfish.

They communicate with other snakes using skin pheromonal signals. Because each gender of these snakes has its own pheromonal, they gather and analyze chemical signals to follow other garter snakes.

7. They’re not safe as you think

Garter snakes were once thought to be non-venomous snakes, however current research has revealed that they have a deadly toxin. However, you shouldn’t be worried because their venom is just lethal for their prey, not humans. We are too big to be affected by modest amounts of weak poison.

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The California red-sided garter snake is not a dangerous snake, to humans. It will almost probably flee if threatened. But it can bite you as a way to defend itself if it is cornered or feel frightened. Don’t be startled if you get bitten by it. Its venom would merely cause minor irritation.

You only need to wash the affected area and cover it. The teeth of the red-sided garter are neither lengthy nor powerful. The wounds won’t be serious enough to necessitate immediate medical attention. If you are afraid that infection, go see a physician for a checkup.

8. Diet

California red-sided garter snakes are neither especially lengthy nor wide in circumference. Therefore, they have a low body mass index (BMI). Because of their limited appetites, they can survive on tiny prey.

Their diet mainly includes insects, slugs, earthworms, reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish, leeches, bird eggs, and small mammals. They can also eat adult Pacific newts that are poisonous to most animals. They preserve the poison of these species to protect themselves from their enemies.

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(Video) Garter Snakes Are.... VENOMOUS?!?

Garter snakes hunt their prey by using techniques like gazing, extending, and ambushing. They have rapid reflexes and keen teeth to immobilize their prey.

Although the California red-sided garter snakes have large teeth, they can’t inject their venom into the prey like other extremely venomous snakes (pit vipers). This is because they don’t have an adequate mechanism to inject venom. That’s why they have to chew their prey to deliver the venom into its bloodstream.

The California red sided garter has quite a few predators. They can be eaten by king snakes, shrews, coral snakes, squirrels, American crows, snapping turtles, hawks, raccoons, and bullfrogs.

9. Reproduction: mating ball

The mating habit of t​he California red-sided garter snakes is similar to the other garter snakes. Their breeding season takes place in early spring and sometimes in fall, right after their hibernation.

When the snake emerges from hibernation, the males immediately begin looking for females. Whereas the female snakes emit a sex-specific pheromone in order to lure a great number of partners. This frequently results in the development of a mating ball, where males fight for breeding opportunities.

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After finding the mate, the male red-sided garter snakes coil themselves around a female in the desire of mating with her first. They literally “lick” the female quickly to collect the smell of her pheromones. This helps the males know a lot of things about their partners; from species, population, gender, and reproductive status, to season, age, and size.

That information is very crucial since the males need the female to be the same species. The size and reproductive status of the female are even more essential, because these will decide the number of snakelets the female can give him.

The males’ purpose is to choose the most productive partner to have as many snakelets as feasible. As a result, larger female California red-sided garter snakes are frequently desired after more than smaller ones.

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When finished breeding, the female releases a distinct scent that informs all other candidates that she’s done; the competition is over; there’s a winner. This causes all the other snakes to untangle themselves from her and leave to find another partner.

These other males then repeat the procedure. They seek another appropriate mate, intertwine themselves in massive groups, and find an opportunity to mate with her before another one does.

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After reproduction, the female seeks food and a suitable location to give birth after a 60-90 day gestation period. These California red-sided garter snakes are ovoviviparous, meaning they give birth to live snakelets. The clutch size is usually from 8 to 20 offspring.

(Video) How to Care for Baby Garter Snakes!

The offspring are born in the mid-summer to early autumn and are self-sufficient from birth. They often have a length of 5 to 8 inches (12 to 20 cm) and have paler colors.

Most juvenile California red sided snakes are born yellowish. As they age and shed, the colors get bluer and brighter. They reach sexual maturity in 2-3 years and can gain a size of up to 55 cm.

10. They can make good pets

These California snakes can be kept as pets. They are often low-maintenance and gentle. Due to their diminutive size, they don’t need too much room or expensive food. However, California red-sided garter snake price is quite high, about $500. You can buy it online or at pet shops.

Here are a few things you need to know to take care of your California red sided:

– Tank: A tank of 20-gallon is enough. However, you should give them more space if possible. Because in nature, the California red-sided garter snakes can move hundreds of miles in a single year.

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– The bedding: Cypress mulch is the most commonly suggested bedding. It’s worth every single penny you pay for. It looks nicer, assists your snake shed better, and it won’t dry up the enclosure.

– Temperate should be between 70*F and 72*F on the ambient side and between 80*F and 82*F on the basking side.

– The water dish should be large enough for your garter snake to stay in as well as drink from. This will allow it to absorb more moisture when needed. The greater the amount of water in the tank, the greater the amount of moisture in the air.

– A hiding hole is necessary for your snake to feel safe and comfortable in its environment. You should put a hole in each side of the tank. Don’t be complicated, a box is enough.

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What are some fun facts about the California red-sided garter snake? ›

Eats a wide variety of prey, including frogs and newts and their larvae, fish, birds, and their eggs, small mammals, reptiles, earthworms, slugs, and leeches. This species is able to eat adult Pacific Newts (genus Taricha) which are deadly poisonous to most predators.

What are 2 interesting facts about garter snakes? ›

These snakes use their excellent sense of smell and vision to hunt prey. Snakes use their tongues as a way to “smell the air.” They do have nostrils primarily for breathing, but by flicking their tongue they can pick up the scent chemicals of prey or predators close by.

What is unique about garter snakes? ›

Garter snakes are ovoviviparous, meaning they bear live young. After mating, females store sperm in their bodies until they want to fertilize their eggs. Garter snakes give birth to 20 to 40 live young at a time, though Beane pointed out that litter sizes can vary greatly.

Are garter snakes safe to touch? ›

Almost all garter snake subspecies are classified as harmless, according to Live Science. These tiny, innocuous snakes are generally considered to be non-venomous and won't usually bite unless thoroughly provoked. However, if handled improperly, garter snakes are prone to discharge musk or defecate when handled.

What do garter snakes do when they are scared? ›

If threatened, they quickly seek cover, concealing themselves in vegetation or hiding under rocks. If captured, they emit a foul musk odor, thrash violently to escape, or will even bite. Snakes and People: Gartersnakes are harmless to people and are NOT venomous.

Can garter snakes swim? ›

They are typically ground-dwellers, but they may also climb shrubs, vines, or trees to escape predators. Some species of Garter snakes are even proficient swimmers.

What do garter snakes love? ›

Garter snakes are numerous partly because they will eat a variety of prey. Our Boulder snakes' favorite foods include: frogs, toads, tadpoles, fish, earthworms, snails, leeches, grasshoppers, slugs and salamanders. They will also eat mice, shrews, voles, chipmunks, birds, and other reptiles including other snakes.

Do garter snakes got teeth? ›

Garter snakes don't have fangs and are not venomous, however, they do have small teeth and can bite. Their bite can become infected if not cleaned and cared for properly. Although the condition is rare, some people are allergic to garter snake saliva.

Do garter snake bites hurt? ›

All snakes, including garter snakes, are capable of biting their prey or biting predators in self-defense. However, the garter snake's bite is not particularly painful, and it lacks enough venom to present a threat to humans.

Do garter snakes have feelings? ›

Generally, reptiles do demonstrate basic emotions. According to Dr. Sharman Hoppes, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, the main two are fear and aggression, but they may also demonstrate pleasure when stroked or when offered food.

What is the rarest garter snake? ›

The San Francisco garter snake has been dubbed “the most beautiful serpent in North America,” and it's arguably one of the most endangered species, too.

Are garter snakes intelligent? ›

* Garter snakes are not poisonous or dangerous; when frightened, they may discharge a slightly unpleasant-smelling musk, but few species bite. Don't fear them or harm them - they are intelligent and beneficial animals!

Will a garter snake let you pick it up? ›

Many garter snakes, particularly if they are captive bred, are gentle and do not mind being handled, and handling them is simply a matter of picking them up and letting them explore your hands. If you have experience handling other snakes, it's important to remember that garter snakes are not constrictors.

Do baby garter snakes bite? ›

Though garter snakes will use their sharp teeth to catch prey, it's very unlikely these pests will choose to bite a human. They typically only lash out at humans when they are provoked or feel threatened. Many garter snakes will also release a foul-smelling musk just before lashing out at their victim.

Why are garter snakes good? ›

Garter snakes are important animals to have around because they eat pests such as slugs and rodents. While they are not dangerous to humans, they do have a rear fang that excretes venom as they swallow their prey.

What do snakes fear most? ›

Ammonia: Snakes dislike the odor of ammonia so one option is to spray it around any affected areas. Another option is to soak a rug in ammonia and place it in an unsealed bag near any areas inhabited by snakes to deter them away.

How do you calm a garter snake? ›

Garter snakes need support while being held since they don't have the strength that constrictors possess. Occasionally, garter snakes may have a snappish disposition and may try to defend themselves with a nip or spraying musk. However, most snakes soon calm down with frequent, gentle handling.

Do garter snakes puff up? ›

When anxious, garter snakes puff up their bodies with air, and a checkerboard pattern appears. The snake I saw was about 2 ½ feet long, average for an adult garter snake in our region.

Do garter snakes smell? ›

Western Terrestrial Garter Snake

They are generally found near water, though they can also be found in the more open sections of the forest, and are often found in tidepools. If handled, they will bite and secrete a foul odor.

Can garter snakes survive snow? ›

To survive the winter, garter snakes will find a safe and snug place underground. They may look for a natural cavity or use a rodent burrow. They also find hibernation areas under rock piles or stumps. Sometimes, they may even look for warm places inside structures and have been found in basements.

Do garter snakes make friends? ›

Not so garter snakes, the harmless serpents that live throughout North America and part of Central America. Researchers have discovered that garter snakes not only prefer to hang out together, but also seem to have "friends" with whom they spend much of their time.

Do garter snakes like garlic? ›

Garlic and onions not only work when planted in your yard, but they also work as a natural snake repellent product as they both contain sulfonic acid which is known to repel snakes. Chop up both garlic and onions and mix them with rock salt. Sprinkle the mixture around your yard to repel snakes.

What food attracts garter snakes? ›

Diet. Common garter snakes typically eat earthworms, amphibians, leeches, slugs, snails, insects, crayfish, small fish and other snakes.

Do garter snakes sleep at night? ›

The temperature is lower during the evening. Garter snakes will often sleep together to keep their body temperature warm at night. They also sleep in large nests next to one another's body during hibernation. These snakes will migrate large distances to hibernate.

Do garter snakes eat mice? ›

The main staples of a garter snake's diet are earthworms, frogs, lizards, and mice. Garter snakes prefer to hunt small and weak animals due to the fact they lack powerful venom or the ability to constrict their prey.

Do garter snakes have toxic saliva? ›

Garter snakes have a mild venom in their saliva. For humans, a bite is not dangerous, though it may cause slight itching, burning, and/or swelling. Common garter snakes may also secrete a foul-smelling fluid from postanal glands when handled or harmed.

Will garter snake hurt a cat? ›

Although not nearly as dangerous to our pets as venomous snakes, nonvenomous snakes will defend themselves when encountering our pets. For example, the most common nonvenomous snake that dogs and cats encounter are garter snakes (so named because of the stripes down their backs that look like clothing garters).

Can a garter snake hurt a dog? ›

Garter snakes

You'll typically spot them in gardens, but dogs often run across them while munching on grass in the wild. Neither the snake nor grazing will hurt your dog.

Do garter snakes eat ants? ›

Many people report significant benefits to having garter snakes in their yards; they are seemingly a natural pest control. Garter snakes feed on earthworms, snails, grasshoppers, ants, crickets, and occasionally, rodents. Many of the insects garter snakes feed on are the ones feasting in our gardens.

Can snakes trust you? ›

Snakes are able to recognise and distinguish between humans and may recognise the scent of their owner as familiar or positive with time. However, snakes are unable to view humans as companions so cannot form a bond with their owner like other pets can.

Can snakes feel anger? ›

Yes, Snakes have emotions. Like most animals, they can feel things. However, how snakes feel and show emotions is different from that of humans. We know for sure that they can feel and show fear and aggression when they're disturbed.

What is the cutest snake? ›

Summary Of The Cutest Snakes In The World
1Rosy BoaCalifornia, Nevada, Arizona and Mexico
2Eyelash ViperSouthern Mexico through Central America to Colombia, Ecuador and Western Venezuela
3California KingsnakeMost of California, neighboring states, and northern Mexico
4Garter SnakeNorth America
7 more rows
Apr 4, 2023

What is the rarest snake color? ›

Answer: I'd say you were correct the first time in thinking blue is the least common color in the herp world.

What is the biggest garter snake? ›

The giant garter snake is one of the largest garter snakes that can grow at least 63.7 inches (162 centimeters) in length.

What is the biggest garter snake ever? ›

The largest garter snake ever recorded was a red-sided garter that measured 52.8 inches. According to an article published by CBC NEWS on May 19, 2006, the discovery was made by Jonathan Wiens, a master of science student at the University of Manitoba.

Can snakes have friends? ›

Rattlesnakes, in particular, are often thought of as cold, solitary creatures, but Amarello's thesis offered a new take: Snakes, like people, prefer to hang out together, rather than be alone. In other words, snakes have friends, too.

Can snakes look in the mirror? ›

Snakes can recognize themselves

Research published in the scientific journal Behaviour, shows that garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) can recognize their own chemical cues as distinct from those of other snakes – this is considered the snake equivalent of recognizing yourself in the mirror!

Are garter snakes playful? ›

Garters are very inquisitive by nature, and they seem to have an almost playful nature.

What do garter snakes hate the most? ›

Similar to vinegar, sulfur is effective in garter snake removal if you sprinkle it around your residence. There are commercial products containing sulfur and made specifically to deter snakes. Some of them contain naphthalene as well, which will also get rid of these reptiles without harming them.

Why do garter snakes ball up? ›

About two weeks later, when a female emerges, emitting her sex pheromone, they rush to her to mate. But if several to many males converge on a single female, a mating ball is formed by the athletic competition to push other males aside and to maneuver into the appropriate position to mate.

Do garter snakes stay in one spot? ›

In contrast, harmless garter snakes and ringneck snakes will often burrow underground or find natural cavities (such as rodent burrows) to evade the cold. And they tend to stick in the same area. So if you see one in your yard, it may remain there for years.

Do garter snakes give birth? ›

Unlike most snakes, garters do not lay eggs. In fact, up to 80 garters are born through a live birth after a gestation period of about two or three months.

Can garter snakes climb walls? ›

Garter snakes of any size can climb up the exterior of a building under siding.

What month do garter snakes have babies? ›

Gestation is usually two to three months, although females can also store the sperm if the habitat is not right. Most females give birth to 10 to 40 live young between late July and October. Baby garter snakes are independent at birth and must find food on their own.

What attracts garter snakes to your house? ›

Like all reptiles, garter snakes are cold-blooded creatures, so they are often found in locations that offer warmth and food. These slender snakes can enter your home through fairly small cracks. Garter snakes often snack on small mammals, too, such as mice, and small amphibians, such as toads and frogs.

Can snakes live in your mattress? ›

"A snake may burrow into bedding to seek warmth. If you have a vent under or near your bed, snakes will likely hide there for warmth and to feel safe." And since snakes are such skilled hiders, the first sign that one is cozying up under your bed may come from your ears tipping you off that they're hiding out.

Are California garter snakes poisonous? ›

No, they're not considered poisonous to humans. With the exception of a few species, which are capable of causing anaphylaxis in certain individuals that are bitten due to their mild venom but are still not considered dangerous to humans.

What is the rarest garter snake in the world? ›

The San Francisco garter snake has been dubbed “the most beautiful serpent in North America,” and it's arguably one of the most endangered species, too.

How big do California garter snakes get? ›

Physical Characteristics. The giant garter snake is one of the largest garter snakes that can grow at least 63.7 inches (162 centimeters) in length.

Do garter snakes have teeth? ›

Garter snakes don't have fangs and are not venomous, however, they do have small teeth and can bite. Their bite can become infected if not cleaned and cared for properly. Although the condition is rare, some people are allergic to garter snake saliva.

Do garter snakes have diamonds? ›

Garter snakes have extremely slender bodies with stripes, while rattlesnakes have thick bodies with diamond or blotchy patterns along their backs. While most snakes prefer to be left alone by humans, there are some key differences in the behavior of garter snakes compared to rattlesnakes.

What is the rarest snake alive? ›

Lucian racer is considered the rarest snake globally, with an estimated 18 individuals left in the wild. The snake became threatened when black rats and the Asian mongoose were introduced to the island, killing large numbers of the snake and eating its eggs.

Do garter snakes squeeze? ›

Garter snakes do not constrict their prey but rather rub them against the ground or squeeze them against a fixed object with their bodies until the prey can be swallowed.

What do garter snakes eat the most? ›

Food. Garter snakes eat a varied diet including frogs, small mammals, earthworms and insects.

What is the prettiest garter snake species? ›

With a rust-red head and bright red and turquoise stripes running down its dark black body, it is clear why the San Francisco garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia) has been called the most beautiful snake in the world.

How expensive is a garter snake? ›

The average price for a pet snake is about $75.
Snake SpeciesAverage Price
Garter Snakes$20-$300
Corn Snakes$40-$1,000
Hognose Snakes$100-$700
Sunbeam Snakes$50-$125
5 more rows
Oct 12, 2022


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