10 July 2012


Even before the recent weather change, we were starting to see snakes in the bog. We have two types of garter snakes, the Northwestern and the Red-sided, or Common Garter Snake.

Like all reptiles, they cannot regulate their body temperatures internally, so are reliant on the outside temperature. When the weather is cold, they have to find somewhere warmer to brumate - the reptile equivalent of mammals' hibernation.

In this part of BC, there are no venomous snakes like the rattlesnakes we find in the interior. Rattlers tend to be quite shy and don't actually stalk people, they use their fangs only when faced with danger or food, and even the most optimistic snake doesn't see a human as potential supper.

So do non-poisonous snakes have teeth? Yes they do. Their teeth are like the rough part of velcro, and they point backwards in the snake's mouth, so that as their prey wriggles, it gets more stuck. Tricky huh?

Then there is the snake's mouth. Next time the dentist asks you to open wide, just think how much easier her or his job would be if you could unhinge your top and bottom jaw as a snake can. All of which means that a snake really can eat something bigger than its head.

If a garter snake feels threatened, all it can do is make a really awful smell, a combination of snake poop and musk. And believe you me, speaking as someone who has been pooped on by snakes in the course of doing their job - it is really, truly stinky!

People often asked me how it's possible to tell the sex of a snake. My answer is - definitively - very difficult, the genitals are very well-hidden, but as a general rule, the Red-sided Garter Snake is bigger than the Northwestern and the females are larger than the males. So, if you see a snake that looks quite thick and about a metre in length, that's a pretty good indicator that you are seeing a female Red-Sided.

Another question I get asked sometimes is, is it possible we could get poisonous snakes if the climate changes? Of course it's possible, but current climate change projections do not necessarily show this part of the Lower Mainland getting hotter and drier, so the answer to that one is, we'd have to wait and see.

Picture from http://snakesnmoresnakes.blogspot.ca/2008/10/photo-of-normal-red-sided-garter-snake.html

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